About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

“There is no frigate like a book…”

I shifted earlier today from the “manic” gear of my personality into the “depressive.” I saw it coming, given that this is the time of year where we turn where the day is of darkness more than of light. To pile on, if you will, a friend of long standing remarked during a telephone conversation about how many books and authors there are plying their wares, and asked rhetorically, “Why bother?” Indeed. Through this and other static, I could hear Churchill’s black dog baying in the wee hours, even though he was not yet in sight. 

I, fortunately, had some St. John’s Wort at the ready in the form of a Lawrence Block novel entitled The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, which is part of the Bernie Rhodenbarr series. Block may be semi-retired now (he keeps threatening to stop, but only pauses), but when he was more actively pursuing his career he was quite prolific. It is difficult to have read everything he has written to date and somehow I had missed reading this title even though I have had a copy of it for almost a decade. One cannot come away from a Block novel without chuckling here, smiling there, and learning something along the way. There were some lessons presented in this book— how to bypass a home burglar alarm (circa 1979), for example — that I already knew, but —no surprise — there was plenty that I did not.

I learned that St. John of God is the patron saint of booksellers, and, interestingly enough, of alcoholics (there is a lesson here, I think).  I should digress to note, in case you are wondering, that the patron saint of writers and authors is St. James Sco… I mean, St. Francis de Sales.

 

The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling also includes also a quotation, however, that Block just kind of tosses out there and which, I have appropriated as the title of my offering du jour to you. 

“There is no frigate like a book.” That quotation is the title of a poem by Emily Dickinson. I must have been absent (or, more than likely, daydreaming) when poetry was covered in my Senior English because it was a case of first impression for me. I should have paid attention in class because it contains an important observation about the reason that we read and write, succinctly stated in seven words. I stopped reading the book for a bit and started down the internet rabbit hole, doing a bit of research concerning Dickinson, because I could, thus proving Dickinson’s point. You can’t hop off of a frigate in the middle of the ocean (well, you could, but it’s not a good idea) but the blessing — and yes, the curse — of a book is that you can stop reading, set it down, and start up again. I learned as a result of my digression that Dickinson was a virtual recluse for much of her life.  She communicated mostly by letter (for those of you under thirty, a “letter” was something that people wrote to each other before texting became popular). Dickinson wrote approximately 1,800 poems, of which not even a dozen were published during her lifetime. She apparently, unlike my friend, was not concerned with the number of other authors who were out there already published and plying their trade. She felt the need to write, so she did, to the exclusion of much, if not all, else. It is interesting to me that relatively few of her contemporaries (we’re talking mid-19th Century) are even remembered, let alone mentioned in, for example, a Paul Simon song. 

You may be click-click-clicking along on your word processor in obscurity right now. Keep doing that. If you get discouraged, think of Emily Dickinson, her life, and her words. There is no frigate like a book. You can build it at and on a desk and it can take you and your audience to places that they never would have imagined but for you. You can’t top that with a Ferrari or a Nintendo Switch or even Netflix, either. 

The gloom is now officially shaken off, thanks to a contemporary author, his burglar creation, and a long-deceased reclusive poet. It’s time to go back to work. First though, please tell us: who or what shakes you out of your doldrums, if doldrums you have, and why? Whether you choose to share or otherwise, thank you for being here. 

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Clearing Out the Spirits

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez courtesy unsplash.com

Today I’m giving you a bit of an update and a short observation. Let us start with the former. Some of you may recall my blog “…for the repose of the soul…” which I posted at TKZ on June 16, 2018. It concerned a husband who murdered his wife at their home on the street where I live during what had been a peaceful and quiet early summer evening. They had been separated for an extended period but were trying to work things through. The incident was accordingly totally unexpected. 

The husband was almost immediately arrested and jailed  The aftereffects of his actions roiled and rippled beneath the surface of neighborly encounters over the next several months. Conversations on the street either began or ended with a discussion of what had occurred and what would happen next. If there was any benefit at all to what had occurred it was that everyone on the street became just a bit closer. Folks who before had only waved in passing stopped to talk for a few moments or longer and there were a couple of block parties where those assembled talked out what had happened but discussed other things, too. The husband ultimately in November 2018  pled guilty to a charge of aggravated murder pursuant to a plea agreement which guarantees his imprisonment for the next two decades without the possibility of parole. 

Time and life have moved forward now that justice of a sort has been obtained.  The home where the couple lived and raised their children, the home where the evil deed was committed, was extensively redecorated. There was some question as to what would happen to the house and how quickly, whether a buyer would find it sooner rather than later or if it would be on the market for an extended period of time, given the history. It actually sold very quickly. The new neighbor moved in on a quiet, snowy day in February 2019. She is delightful, a very down-to-earth person of southern origin who leads with a twinkle in her eye and who is a bit of a character around the edges in all of the best ways. When I first met her I told her that I was glad that the house had a new owner so quickly, given that people tend to shy away from places where darker incidents have occurred. Her response was that in such situations the problem is with the people who commit the actions and not the house. Just so. 

It is the house, however, which she ultimately decorated for Halloween a few weeks ago. And what decorations they are. She has transformed her front yard into a graveyard, with tombstones sprouting from the ground like toadstools after a summer rain. She has giant spiders — I mean these are big-posterior spiders — crawling up (or is it down) the front of the house around the upstairs windows. The most noteworthy decoration, however, can be found on the front porch. The entrance is festooned with hazard tape and the front storm door features with bloody handprints and the words “HELP ME” written in crimson.

Now for the observation. What does it say about me that I find this by turns to be wonderfully appropriate and hilariously inappropriate in ways that I have difficulty describing? Not everyone on the street is amused as I am, of course. A couple of my neighbors whispered to me that the display was in poor taste. My response was that if they felt strongly about it they should take up a collection and start paying our neighbor’s mortgage and property taxes. Otherwise, it’s her home, and she can decorate it for Halloween the way that she wants. The most telling reaction came from the neighbor across the street from her, who with his wife was best acquainted with the husband and wife who are respectively now in prison and deceased. The close neighbor said that, if our late neighbor were able to do so, she of all people would probably enjoy the display the most. I get that. It’s exactly the way I would want to be remembered, should I meet my unplanned but inevitable demise in a memorable if notorious way. 

There’s more than that going on here, however. I can recall when people who were moving into a new domicile would invite a clergyman over to bless the home. Nobody called it an exorcism, and that wasn’t the form of it by any means, but it was done not only with the hope of keeping things reasonably happy and peaceful going forward but also chasing out any nasty emotions that might be lingering and hiding in the rooms, corners, and cupboards. I think that is what my very practical and savvy new neighbor is doing. That’s my observation and I’m sticking to it.

So let’s raise a glass a frosted glass of apple cider (or your favorite fall beverage) to that most macabre of holidays just past, when tastes, rich or poor, are celebrated. If you have any similar stories, be they recent or long ago, that raised a “tsk” or two when they occurred, please share. And thank you as always for being here today. 

 

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What Writers Can Learn from the Housecat

(c) Copyright Fennec the Cat. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

It is October. Dark and light chase each other as they battle for supremacy,  a conflict which the dark is pre-ordained to win at this time of year. A potentially paralyzing ennui has a tendency to sit in and take its grip on some of us during this time of year. There are many ways to break this, such as turning on every light in the house, reading that backlist of your favorite author, blasting music, binge-watching a television series on your favorite streaming service, or all of the above, sometimes at the same time. Still, for writers, the flow of ideas with the transformation to sentences occasionally tends to ooze like syrup rather than flow like water. At such times we would be wise to consider the housecat. 

Yes. The housecat. It has so prestigious a title, yet so little to do. Its brain cannot conceive of us as anything other than giant cats (so we are told) which possess opposable thumbs, placed on earth to do their bidding on demand, even if we are doing something more important (such as listening to The Complete Prestige 10-Inch LP Collection by Miles Davis) or otherwise. Fennec, my own black-and-white cat, occasionally interrupts his eat/litterbox/sleep/repeat cycle to request entry to my attached garage. Herein lies the lesson. 

The garage for Fennec is what the mind is to writers. We search our minds for ideas. Fennec, particularly at this time of year, goes into the garage in search of mice. Rodents find the garage to be attractive at this time of year due to its (relative) warmth. It took me a while to figure out why Fennec, immediately after entering the garage, rolls around on the garage floor. I figured out that he is masking his scent. Once Fennec is sufficiently garage-odiferous he waits patiently for a mouse — the idea, if you will — to manifest itself. Sometimes Fennec waits on the floor. He at other times sits atop the car, like a vulture on a branch. A mouse eventually appears. Fennec pursues. Sometimes he comes up empty. When I open the door and he comes in empty mouthed he appears to be forlorn, the same way that we do if an idea fails to bear literary fruit. If Fennec catches something, however, he runs into the house triumphantly, with the mouse — his completed novel — in his mouth. He tosses it up in the air and catches as he runs from room to room without missing a beat as I — his most avid reader — chase after him, hoping that 1) the mouse is squeaking in the Choir Invisible or 2) the mouse is stunned enough that I can get it into a plastic bag and dispose of it before it scatters off into an inaccessible corner of the house where it will no doubt bear a litter. 

We’ve gone through this Mr. Punch routine several times in the past two weeks. To paraphrase Yogi Berra, I’ve learned a lot by watching. I’ve been taught that ideas will come and will be transformed into sentences. I just need to wait patiently. I also need to be ready to pounce when they manifest themselves. And yes, I am allowed to throw them in the air, juggle them, and catch them if the mood strikes me. As are you. 

Enjoy October and Halloween. I hope you catch what you seek. In the interim…what have you learned about writing, life, or anything, from your or someone else’s pet? Thank you for stopping by, as always.

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Nurturing That Nature

I spent a bit of this past week reading a newly published collection of shorter fiction titled FULL THROTTLE written by an author named Joe Hill. You may or may not know that Hill is one of the sons of authors Stephen and Tabitha King. It is a very generous volume with stories — his second, in addition to several novels — that stand smartly in the horror genre while dipping a toe or two into the fantasy, romance, mystery, and thriller genres as well. Hill, as it happens, is a magnificent author whose work has been or is being adapted to video for cable networks and streaming services. He is so good, in fact, that I believe that the stories in FULL THROTTLE may well mark a turning point of sorts that leads to the point where King will eventually become known as Joe Hill’s father instead of Hill being known as Stephen King’s son. Who becomes more famous than who, however, is not really the question that brings me here today. 

Hill begins the festivities in FULL THROTTLE with an introduction titled “Who’s Your Daddy?” where he discusses growing up in a house where a child has a parent who is very, very good at what they do — who is a household name in other households besides their own — and what occurs when the child decides to make their mark in the same endeavor. “Who’s Your Daddy?” is a good sixteen pages long and rambles wonderfully in the manner of the best conversations. Hill along the way kind of/sort of answers the unspoken question of whether nature or nurture is responsible for his success. My take on what Hill says is that he is not a great writer because his parents were and are great writers so that he thus acquired his abilities by osmosis. No. If you read the lines and in between them Hill acknowledges that he is able to do what he does at the level he has accomplished because Stephen and Tabitha King are terrific parents. 

Hill describes a bunch of things that formed the constellation of life in casa de King. Two of the many which stood out are that 1) Dad read to him, every night; 2) his folks rode through his difficult years with him; and 3) his parents supported his career choices every step of the way. Think about having Stephen King reading to you every night, as opposed to the reverse — you reading Stephen King — which many of us experienced. #2? Yes, those of us who grew from kids to parents have experienced both ends of that. Not all of us become great writers, however. Or necessarily great anythings. And #3? Maybe that is the biggie. It’s not just that Mr. and Mrs. King understood where their son wanted to go. They tossed him the keys to a car with a full tank of gas and let him know they had his six. That might be the most important element of all.

That brings us to the tip of the real key to Hill’s success. His parents couldn’t give him his talent, but supported his choices and let him make his own mistakes. What Hill also describes is writing, from the time that he could hold a pencil properly and knew what to do with the business end (jab it into someone’s eye, of course! EEEEEEEEEEEE!) (just kidding. I mean it is Joe Hill, after all). He mentions trying, unsuccessfully, to write in the style of The New Yorker, and composing three novels which were just never meant to be published. Hill also discusses his decision to adopt a pen name so that he wouldn’t get published because of who he is as opposed to what he is. Yes, some doors opened a little more quickly once his identity was revealed. Those same doors would have shut very quickly — heck, they would have slammed shut — if he did not have the goods, Hill wrote, wrote, and wrote some more before he ever had a word of his writing see the light of day. In addition to the books, movies, and television adaptations, Hill even has his own comic imprint coming very quickly from DC Comics, which doesn’t hand those things out like Frosty coupons at Halloween just because of who his (or anyone’s daddy is. No, Hill got there the same way his dad did, which was to sit and write every day and night — sometimes into the night — until he got close to where he wanted to be, and then he wrote some more. There is a theory that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to get really good at something. Maybe that is true, and maybe it’s something to remember when you feel in the middle of winter like you’re a monkey at a typewriter, hoping to randomly strike the keys and come up with Macbeth. In Hill’s case, his folks helped him out by giving him the tools he needed and staying out of his way by turns, according to what he needed. 

That’s his story and I’m sticking to it. What say you? Which do you think has had a greater role in helping you get where you are, or where you are going? Nature or nurture? If I don’t reply immediately it will be because I am out buying my granddaughter art supplies. Have a great day, and thanks for being here. 

 

5+

Knives Out!

It is Thursday, September 19, 2019, as I write this. I had been working on my blog for Saturday, September 21 — what you who are reading this will call “today” — when I realized that it just wasn’t working. I started with the intent of presenting some suggestions concerning how to make good writing even better. Soon, however, I found myself discussing Miles Davis, Henry Kissinger, and Kurt Godel. That was all well and good, but I was meandering down multiple roads and decided to save that piece of work for another time. 

Instead, I’m going to talk about a new movie titled Knives Out. An ad for it popped up while I was looking at knives online and I was quickly diverted. It is scheduled for wide-release in the United States on November 27, which by amazing coincidence is Thanksgiving Day this year. Knives Out is pertinent here because it is a mystery, dark comedy film about a fabulously successful crime novelist who invites his very dysfunctional family back home to help him celebrate his eighty-fifth birthday. The novelist is named Harlan (you’re laughing already) Thrombey who physically bears an uncanny resemblance to a popular thriller author who is not the one you are laughing about. Thrombey is murdered during the gathering and a police detective is called in to sort out who in his family did what.

Knives Out will almost immediately you in the mind of an Agatha Christie novel, and from what I have seen in the film’s trailers (which you can find links to here) it winks at its heritage — and thriller and mystery novels in general — several times. The camera lens glides over rows and rows of books (“Did I see one by Harlan Coben?!”). Thrombey, it is clear,  is a fan of A Game of Thrones, as demonstrated by a particular piece of decor in his home. I also don’t think that it is coincidental that one of the primary members of the cast happens to be associated with one of the most enduring characters in action film history, which in turn is based on a gold standard series of spy novels.  

Oh. I mentioned the cast. Daniel Craig has a lead role. You will forget fairly quickly that he plays whats-his-name in the movies. Jamie Lee Curtis is here. Let’s talk for a minute about Jamie Lee Curtis. No one realizes how good an actress she is. Curtis played a lead role in a horror movie franchise that would have sunk the career of a lesser actress. Think about that. She’s still around because she is really, really good at what she does. Don Johnson. Yes, Don freakin’ Johnson, who in his seventies is still the coolest guy in the room, even when he’s not in the room. There are others. Check out the link to the website, above and you’ll see several million dollars worth of talent on the screen. There are supposed to be all sorts of theatrical easter eggs throughout the movie as well. I even learned that the viewers will actually be able to figure out whodunnit if they can identify five clues that are presented during the course of LIGHTS OUT and put them together correctly. 

The primary reason I am psyched on KNIVES OUT, however, isn’t the cast, the scenery or the dialogue (which sounds exquisite from what I heard in the trailer). It’s not how wonderfully it’s staged and filmed, even though I jumped each of the three times that I saw the same two-second clip. The clip? It involves a cheek and…something else. No. What I love about KNIVES OUT is that it is about an author. Yes, he gets murdered, but he has lots of cool stuff in his house, seems to be a bit of a jerk, and is worth killing. He is interesting, in other words. Authors are interesting. They have to be to think up stories that are worth reading. It might not seem that way to everyone, but everyone doesn’t get to hide behind a palm tree the way that I did several years ago in a hotel lobby with a famous author, a really interesting author, who was trying to avoid a clinging, stalking fan. KNIVES OUT doesn’t look like it is quite up to that experience — what possibly could be? — but it is close. Check the website and trailers, and make your plans to see it in a couple of months at a multiplex near you. It will be showing in the theater with the line of grownups waiting to enter. 

Are there any movies that you are looking forward to or any films about authors that you love? Let us know. And thanks for stopping by. You’re the best.

 

5+

The One-Millionth Storytime

I had originally intended today to gripe gently about a couple of topics.  During my research,on those topics, however, I stumbled across something else — check out Sue Coletta’s excellent blog from last week about “research rabbit holes” to read about how that happens — that I found to be very interesting and incredibly hopeful and which makes, I believe, for a better topic. 

Barnes & Noble (B&N) is celebrating today (September 7) and tomorrow (September 8) c something they are calling “Our One-Millionth Storytime.” I don’t know how they arrived at that number or how close it is to accurate. What I do know is that whenever I have been in a B&N store anywhere I have always peripherally noticed an announcement posted in or near the children’s section about a scheduled storytime. This is going back to 2001 or so, and probably before that. Someone who when they were two or three years old and may have been taken there by their parent for storytime may well be taking their own child there now, braving the gauntlet of books and book-related toys, dolls, stuffed animals and the like, to enjoy the shared experience of hearing a story, of being read to. The good folks at B&N have weathered several wounds over the years, some by circumstances beyond their control (drops in readership) and others by friendly fire (the, uh, Nook). They still, however, present those storytimes, week in and week out. 

That is dedication.  An undertaking of that type involves more than just pulling out a book and reading to a gaggle of children and a place and time certain. B&N has to have someone there who is good with children and who is ready to show up and smile even when they don’t feel like it, someone else to deal with the accidents that little ones have at the drop of a Huggies, and someone else to restore the children’s section to its pristine condition afterward. All of this is predicated on the hope of generating goodwill and planting the seed of love of reading in the minds of those assembled. Talk about your Hail Mary forward pass. They still do it, however, and someone has calculated that they’ve done it around one million times, collectively. Well played. 

I am not sure if every single B&N in the country is participating in this commemoration but if you are lucky enough to have a little person in your life, whether one or more generations down, you might want to consider checking to see if your local store is marking this event and if so taking your little loved one so that they can participate. If your financial circumstances permit you might also consider showing a bit of commercial appreciation to the folks at B&N by purchasing something for yourself or, better yet, your child. I like Kindles — my Fire HD8 is velcroed to my hand — but there are some things, darn it, that you can’t do with an eReader, and a group story session with a bunch of other kids who listen to the words while they hear the sound of pages turning is one of them. 

Thank you, B&N. And thank YOU for stopping by today. 

10+

Perchance to Dream

Photo by Donovan Reeves courtesy unsplash.com

(This will be a short post today as I am hosting the most adorable granddaughter who ever walked the face of the earth and her friend for a sleepover. Pizza Hut stock may go up a point or two. I will still be answering comments though I may be somewhat late in doing so. Thank you.)

Regular visitors to TKZ on alternate Saturdays are probably aware that I am somewhat dream-conscious. I’ve written here and there about dreams inspiring my writing. They do more than that, however. Occasionally they scare me. Badly. 

I had an extremely frightening one this morning. The duration in dream time was extremely short. The entire dream consisted of me opening my front door to find the Angel of Death standing there. No “Hey-how-are-ya,” no “Are you making as much money as you wish you were?” or “Would you be interested in selling your home?”… no nothing. It just filled the doorway and I was swallowed up in blackness. Badda-bing-bang-boom! I woke up shouting, and, of course, couldn’t get back to sleep. I may not be answering the door for a few days. Or weeks. Maybe not until after Halloween.

The flip side of this concerns my favorite commercial of all time. It ran on MTV for a while in the late 1980s. Death played a prominent role. Even if you never watched a second of MTV or any music video you might almost certainly appreciate how clever it is/was so I have ever so thoughtfully included it here.

So…what has been the most recent dream that you have been able to recall? Do any of your dreams bother you? Have they ever come true? Have you used one or more for inspiration? Jack Kerouac made an entire book out of his. Please share if you are so inclined, and thank you as always for stopping by. 

 

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Incident at the Library

Photo by Chuttersnap courtesy of unsplash.com

I still go to the library regularly. Books appear like magic on my front porch practically every day but there is something — a few things actually — about a library that you can’t beat. My favorite is a metropolitan branch office located in a shopping center a few miles from my home. It’s the type of library — location-wise, anyway — that I patronized as a wee lad and it will no doubt be the kind that I will be walking into when the engine known as “Joe H.’s circulatory system” decides to call a wildcat strike. Yes, the interiors of libraries and the services they provide, moving far beyond books, have changed from sixty years ago and will continue to change. Joltin’ Joe Moore wrote a blog about those modifications almost seven years ago (which you can find here) and it is still on point. There is something, however, that speaks to me about this library, whose exterior is so similar to the one I visited two or three times a week as a child.

I was in that library this past Sunday and was reminded in an up-close and personal way of the reason that we still need libraries. I usually go there just to pick up books I’ve reserved, and this visit was initially no exception to that rule. I got a few graphic novels, consisting of some collections of Ed Brubaker’s and Sean Phillips’ Criminal anthology series and the first two volumes of Brian Azzarello’s and Eduardo Risso’s 100 Bullets. I  also knew that the branch had a copy of Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (which has been on my “must-read” list for three years) so I picked that up as well. It took me a second to find the non-fiction section amidst the CDs, DVDs, reserves, audiobooks, and magazines, but find it I did. Seeing the books with the Dewey Decimal System numbers on the spine was like greeting an old friend. I in due course found Hillbilly Elegy right where it belonged (“305.562 VAN”). I was about to go to the self-serve checkout kiosk when I noticed a book displayed on the shelf where I found Hillbilly Elegy. The book — Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell (“302 GLA”)— looked interesting, so I checked that out as well, thanks to a librarian who liked the book enough to put it on display so that would stand out. 

Digital editions of books are becoming more popular, This has caused a bit of a dispute between publishers and libraries which you can read about here).  The market for physical books may be decreasing but it hasn’t collapsed. I like physical books — there is something about the tactile experience with a book that can’t be beat — but I have come to prefer eBooks for two reasons. One is that I can adjust the font and its size. The other is the “search” feature. If a novel has more than a couple of characters I often forget by page 135 who was doing what on page 40. One can obtain either format, regardless of preference, of many titles at or through the library. Take the aforementioned Hillbilly Elegy. There was a waiting list — a long one — for digital copies (author Vance is an occasional resident of the Columbus area) but a physical copy was readily available. And yes, many of you like audiobooks, which are available at and through the library as well. I am amazed at the width, breadth, and depth of audiobooks which are available digitally and physically through and at the library.

One last story. While I was browsing an announcement was made that the library was closing soon and that anyone who needed a ride home should contact the front desk. After I checked the books out at the kiosk I walked to the front counter, and asked the three women sitting behind it, “Who do I see about that ride home?” They all laughed, and one said, “Wellll…Uber, Lyft, Yellow Cab…” Everyone laughed again, and then the quick-witted librarian happened to look at the books which had been checked out by the half-witted patron. “Oh! I’m glad you got that,” she said, pointing to the copy of Outliers I had checked out. “I put that up weeks ago!” So there you go. You don’t get that type of human interaction on Amazon.

 

That brings us to you. Joe M., at the conclusion of his long-ago post, asked when your last visit to the library was. What I want to ask is when was the last time you recommended the library to someone. I did it two weeks ago. And when was the last time you visited the library and came away with something that you didn’t go looking for? Bedbugs don’t count.  But you do. Thanks for being here today.                

 

10+

youBooks?

Photo by Daniel von Appen, courtesy unsplash.com

Let me set my current mood for you. It is a beautiful, picture-perfect summer day in Westerville, Ohio. One of my backdoor neighbors is having some work done on his home’s exterior, and the rhythmic sound of busy hands and happy hammers has been heard through our little corner of the world practically non-stop since eight o’clock this morning, which, all things considered, is a reasonable time to start working. The carpenters, however, are also playing music. The song they have been playing over and over without pause is “Photograph” by Ringo Starr. I decided that enough was enough about a half-hour ago. Since my emotional development was arrested at age eighteen and sentenced to life I decided upon a passive-aggressive approach. I am playing “Psychosocial” by Slipknot through a Bose SoundDock amped to eleven and pointed out the window in the direction of the workers. “Psychosocial,” for the uninitiated, sounds like a freight train commandeered by demons and driven straight at the listener. We’ll see how this develops. 

That said, today’s topic comes by way of a lifelong friend of mine. He spends what some might consider to be an excessive amount of time on YouTube but it gives him a unique perspective on what is currently happening in popular culture and, perhaps more importantly, where it is going. My friend suggested that I go to YouTube and search for “short stories.” I did so. A number of videos popped up on the menu. Some were videos which consisted of stills of pages of books in the public domain, synched with a sonorous reading of the appropriate page. There were also videos which displayed each page of a children’s book which someone read the page aloud. Those were interesting, but I hope that parents aren’t using that as a substitute for reading their children a bedtime story. 

I eventually found what my friend was referring to. I located several videos, each of which consisted of a written story, comprised of white text being slowly scrolled against a black background while an acoustic guitar played as accompaniment. The stories are original, (mostly) graphically erotic in nature,  and generally running from between three to twenty minutes. They have names such as “Pastor’s Daughter” and “Short Story #031.” The stories are variously credited to “Jim Bray” and “Stacey” but I suspect that the same person is writing each and all of them. I can’t attest to the quality of the stories as they weren’t really what I like to read. I was surprised, however, at the number of views that each of the stories has obtained. These ranged from the thousands to the hundreds of thousands. I don’t think it was because of the subject matter, either (though a number of comments for each of the videos were very laudatory in nature). 

The reason that I was surprised is that I don’t get it. I asked myself, and will ask you: why would someone go to YouTube to read a story in such a fashion? The format is similar to an eBook.  A reader, however, can control the speed at which one reads with an eBook, while this video book — let’s call it a youBook — scrawls at a slow pace which cannot be increased or decreased. It’s not as if reading material of an erotic nature is unavailable as an eBook, either. YouTube is free, of course, but one can sample almost any eBook on a Kindle at a similar cost and can often purchase the entire work for an amount equal to the change one can find under their car’s floormats. I asked my friend why he read them in the format. He told me that he doesn’t like eBooks but loves YouTube and that this was another way that he could enjoy the website, one that did not feed into his addiction to Taco Stacks videos and stop-motion animation.  

What say you? Forget about the erotic genre, which seems to be the exclusive genre in the format for the moment. Ask yourself if this format appeals to you as a reader of any genre or as an author. You could utilize YouTube in this fashion to get your own work out there — it apparently isn’t too difficult to set up  — in order to see if your work flies with an audience or not, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the trouble. I don’t really see this as something an audience would want, what with other, and to my mind better, formats being so readily available. I’m not always the go-to guy to ask about such matters. I appreciated the concept of eBooks almost immediately, but it took me years to embrace the idea of digital music. So what do you think, as a reader and as a writer? 

And just like that…no more “Photograph.” Enjoy your weekend.

 

 

 

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The Graveyard of Stories

Photo by Chris Liu, unsplash.com

I have at least once before mentioned in passing how what we see with respect to a published novel — or for that matter, any work of art — is but the tip of the spear, the polished, honed, and sharpened result of a whole lot of effort. I happened across something recently that everyone who labors in the arts to whatever degree of success needs to read over and over about again about getting to that tip. 

You may know of John Clarkson. He is an extremely talented author whose novels, particularly those in his current James Beck series, stand as an example of what the job of writing looks like when it is perfectly and professionally done. John intermittently blogs and recently told a story about his current work-in-progress. I will summarize it but you really need to read John’s brief dissertation to get the full flavor of what happened. John describes the process of writing what would have been the third novel in the Beck series, and realizing, upon completion, that it didn’t work (and why). He concluded that it could not be fixed so he trashed it and started over. His account is illuminating, tragic, hopeful, and ultimately inspiring. Oh, and it is very brave, too. John, in workmanlike, understated prose gives us the reasons why what would have been his latest novel didn’t come together. Ouch. How many of us would willingly and intentionally exhibit what we perceived to be a screwup on the internet town square in a forthright manner and without reservation? I know of at least one person who would pause before doing so. He’s typing these words right now. 

The truth is that John is not alone in what he went through, though he is certainly walking point when describing the experience. Not every written volume of every successful series makes it to the finish line.  They lay on the blacktop and the finish line rises up to meet them. Sometimes being successful is as much knowing what doesn’t work as what does work, and being brave enough to pull the pin, rather than hoping that no one will notice. There is a term used for these books which don’t make pass the author’s own white glove test. Such manuscripts are called “trunk novels.” I am reasonably sure that every successful author has at least one. I daresay that we will probably not walk with Jack Reacher down every mile of middle America that he traverses, or that we see the account of every mystery that Spenser or Bryant and May encounter and/or solve. What is different here is that John takes us through the process of determining whether the book goes to the agent or the trunk. It’s not a pretty sight, but it’s an informative one.

It doesn’t just happen with books.  Music? It happens all the time. I personally know of one band that was huge in the 1980s and labored for seven months on their fifth album. They spent well into six figures while doing so. There was a change of personnel at their record label and the new sheriff decided to pull the plug on the new record on the theory that the label wasn’t going to chase good money after bad. The band was informed of this in the middle of a tour. The same thing happens in the film industry. At least with books you can sometimes and to some extent control that portion of your destiny, as John has.

My best advice? Be like John. Confront the failure, embrace the suck, and try again. Oh, and you might pick up a book or five of his to see what he is striving for and will no doubt achieve once again. You won’t be sorry.

That is all I have for today. How is your summer going? Are things humming along or are you turning a project into compost and trying again? Good luck and best wishes either way. 

 

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