Saturday, February 27, 2016

Whoring Yourself Out: Book Reviews

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It is not uncommon for advice givers to tell you not to care about what other people think, that you need to be proud of your individuality, and that you should really only be concerned with your friends' and family's opinions. While that might be true about life, in general, when you are an indie author, the opposite is true about what you publish--or at least that's what I'm told.

The people who regularly promote this point-of-view say that your success, at least in part, relies on your getting positive reviews from as many different sources as possible. If you want people to buy your books, you need to care what others think about your work, and that means sending your book out to be reviewed as many times as possible so you can use the positive reviews to market your book to your audience, and hopefully get some sales.

Clearly, I am not entirely sold on this idea, but if you are committed to pursuing it, I would say there are a few things that you can do before seeking reviews to help make sure that you get at least three stars out of five, which I consider to be a positive review, and it all comes down to competent writing (whatever that means to you) and professionalism (which is doable, if you are careful).

Make sure that your writing is at least somewhat focused and cohesive, grammatically correct and carefully proofread, that the copy is formatted and designed professionally (or if you do it yourself, it gives off the appearance of being designed professionally), and that you are marketing it to the right audience (and reaching out to the right reviewers). Review sites list the criteria their reviewers look at when judging a book, so make sure that you read the criteria carefully on each site before you send any anything.

This is something I am still working on myself, and I know that it might take some growing pains before I finally get it right. If you are struggling, there is plenty of information on websites like this and this (and here).

Realistically, success doesn't happen overnight for most people, no matter what you do, and writing is no different. Most have to keep working at it, and if you are persistent and patient, eventually your hard work might pay off. It's good to try lots of different things while in the pursuit of success (however you view it), and while the present thing may or may not work for you, it is worth at least trying (because it could work).

At least that's what I read on the internet.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

New Flash Fiction:

Being Present

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Rain hammered the tin roof of the garden shed. Larry sat there, expressionless, cradling his backpack, waiting for it to let up. Ghosts from his past haunted him as he rested his chin on the top of his pack and stared vacantly at the floor in front of him. He had spent his entire life reaching for his potential, but he wasn’t ever able to really grasp it, and one day, he realized that maybe he never would, that some people just didn’t.
Clenching his jaw, he became even more determined never to go back, silently thanking the owner of his shelter, hoping that the unconsciously kind person didn’t discover him squeezed between the push mower and the rakes, shovels, and other implements. His back was pressed against the small shelves where the potting supplies and other tools lived when they were not in use, and he knew that he would be feeling the kinks from being crammed into that space—but it was better than being soaked and cold. He sighed, realized that he was tapping his foot against the floor and stopped—although, it would start again as soon as he stopped thinking about it.
His stomach reminded him that he had not eaten all day, so he felt around in his pack until his fingers crinkled the brown paper bag with the last of the sandwiches he had found in a dumpster behind a gas station. The use-through dates had expired, but as far as he could tell, the sandwiches were still edible. He hadn’t died.
Lightning flashed and thunder cracked in quick succession, so close that Larry nearly choked on his mouthful. Resuming chewing, he peered up to the small, semi-transparent window: the landscape was still blurred out of existence by the pounding H2O.  He swallowed, closing his eyes, taking a deep breath, the half-finished sandwich trembling in his hand as he sat, hypnotized by the nearly continuous flashing of indigo and rumbling of nature’s artillery.
After finishing the sandwich in a few more bites, he twisted himself into a fetal position. Using his bag as a lumpy pillow, he tried to catch a bit of sleep, which eluded him for a time, but the flashing and booming subsided, leaving him with the steady droning of the rain…
His eyes opened; the rain had stopped and the sky was clearing. With a little effort he stood and kicked open the door, knocking over the tools and quickly fixing them, then closed the door and sat the lock on the handle—like he had found it.
Stopping a moment to stretch the kinks out, he felt more refreshed than he expected.
A chorus of birds heralded the sun as it broke through the clouds, which dissipated before his eyes. He took in deep breath and smiled, then started on his way, jumping over the puddles that had taken over the now muddy path. He didn’t know where he was going, but at the moment, he wasn’t going to worry about it.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

All Hail the Internet, Keeper of the Sacred and the Profane

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In Kevin Pickard's January 19, 2016 article on Electric Literature, "Should Fiction Be Timeless? Pop Culture References in Contemporary Novels,"  he discusses the fact that there is a debate within the writer community that  goes back to the 1980's when pop culture really became a pervasive part of our society. The old school folks on one side believe that any kind of reference to pop culture should be omitted in a work so that it has a sense of "timelessness." On the other side, there are those, like Brett Easton Ellis, who intentionally use pop culture to situate their work in a specific time and place. Pickard argues that there is no real right answer, that it is up to the author to decide whether the specific cultural context is a necessary part of the story or not.

He does go on to state that the endeavor of creating timeless fiction is in and of itself "nonsense," and through a quote from David Foster Wallace's essay, "E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction," makes the point that even if you omit references to pop culture, by the setting, the language you use, the level of technology even passingly referenced, you are putting the novel in a particular time and place; however, he also makes the point that omitting such references does serve a function, using  Hanya Yanagihara's novel, A Little Lifeas an example, in which the desired function is "to give her novel a 'fairytale quality,' where it seems out of time," which I can definitely buy as an artistic choice. However, Pickard also makes the point that while Yanagihara's novel, and the other in this category that he discusses, Jesmyn Ward's novel, Salvage the Bones, both, while omitting pop culture, include many references to high art, including "artists, poets, and filmmakers."

While creating this distinction between high art and pop culture might in and of itself be an artistic choice that serves a function, perhaps as a reflection of a character's interest, as is the case with Yanagihara, if the goal of omitting pop culture is to create a sense of seeming "out of time," then by including "high art," it implies that "high art" is more timeless than pop culture.

I agree with Pickard's premise the debate itself is missing the point, and that the discussion should be focused on the fact that "allusions are intentional and malleable features of building a fictional world," but I wish to add a nuance that Pickard doesn't consider: that the pervasiveness and availability of the Internet slows the fade from relevance works that are set in a specific time and place, so that the idea of "timelessness" being a function of helping works endure for future generations is itself somewhat of a moot point.

Furthermore, whereas once upon a time, when literacy and class differences allowed for what we consider to be "high art" to endure, and what we consider to be "pop culture," or, to follow the implied dichotomy, "low art," to disappear over time, the Internet has blurred that distinction by allowing pop culture to endure past it's prime as no other technology before has permitted it to do. Of course, public education systems and higher levels of literacy across all classes have also helped what appeals to the masses to have a longer lasting impact.

If television, cinema, and radio helped to create this hyperreal postmodern world of Lyotard's, where  the dichotomy is blurred and "low art" is placed as being equal to "high art," then the Internet has only further complicated the distinction to the point where it is no longer really even valid.

In a world where classically trained musicians play pop songs, and pop stars make works of high art, it is possible to read something like American Psycho, and if you aren't sure what the author is referencing, you don't have to seek out your parent's record collection, you can simply Google Huey Lewis and the News and find the music on Youtube.

Even in works with pop cultural references that have long since faded into obscurity, like if you were compelled (probably in a graduate seminar) to read Herman Melville's The Confidence Man, where, even in a highly annotated edition, the references are difficult to understand, with the internet, you can perform the kind of research that even relatively recently might have forced you to go to several different libraries and spend hours or even days searching through archives or microfilm, in order to understand the text even better.

While it might still take some extra work, the internet has vastly simplified this process, and it has in fact even extended what constitutes as contemporary pop culture, since fads are able to extend the amount of time that there is still an audience left to participate in them.

And really, it's not always necessary to understand to the fullest extent what is being referenced as long as you understand the context. While you might not be familiar with every song that  Easton Ellis refers to in Less Than Zero, you know the story takes place in LA in the early 1980's, and so you are able to get the idea fairly quickly, especially when you add in the lifestyles of the characters, the many mansions, and the mountains of cocaine and other drugs that are consumed.

Not to mention, who doesn't still love music from the 80's? As I am sure that any host of any karaoke night at any local bar will tell you, the music is almost as popular today as it ever has been. It takes longer for it to fade from our cultural consciousness since it is still a relevant part of our culture today, which in turn makes it easier for audiences to understand when referenced in a novel, since it still exists and is within our ability to easily grasp.

So, if you feel like including a pop cultural reference in the novel that you're writing, go right on ahead. So long as we don't go through some kind of complete cultural collapse, which I suppose is possible, as it does happen from time-to-time, the Internet will still be here to make it possible for your future readers to understand just exactly what the hell it is that you are talking about, and chances are, it might even still be relevant. However, if for some reason we are sent back to the dark ages, if anything survives, it will at least be a clue for some future archaeologist. I'm sure they'll be wondering just exactly why the Hell we were so obsessed with these Kardashian people.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The More Things Change, the More they Stay the Same...For A Little While Longer

I will be starting my Saturday blog posts this coming week. If you read my last post, you know that I intended to start it this weekend, but, well, it just didn't work out that way. Long story short, I need a little more time to plan things out and make sure I am getting it right.

Technically, though, as far as my goal of posting at least once a week, I am killing it right now.

I do need to be better about following through with posting on a regular schedule, though, and Saturdays seem like a good day to do it, as long as I publish early enough. Past three or four o'clock, and people tend to be more focused on getting ready for the evening. My goal, then, will be to post by early afternoon on Saturdays.

As I said before, the first one will be my perspective on whether or not writers should incorporate contemporary pop culture into their fiction, or whether that makes it less timeless.

Although, actually, my argument is more about whether or not that is even a relevant argument anymore, with technology extending our cultural memory beyond what it was prior to the internet.

Check back this coming Saturday, and you will get to read all about it.

Monday, February 1, 2016

More Content Makes Gabe a Happy Boy

A lot is happening here at Gabe Gott Central, as always. For starters, I am in the process of looking for a new job, so if you see anything, please let me know. Because of this, I don't have nearly as much time to devote to this venture, so the sooner I get one, the sooner I will be able to devote more time to writing and publishing.

In the time that I do have to devote to this, what I hope to make a living off of by the time I am in my fifties, I am trying to be more effective at social media marketing. I have done pretty well with Twitter, having more than tripled my number of followers over the past year (to nearly 1,700), but I really need to work harder on my Facebook page and start building my follow there, as well (as I only have 61 likes).

To be honest, I am just going to need to do some research and figure out the best way of going about it. If only I had the time... That would be nice.

It is also my goal to write a new blog post every week, starting this week. While this one does technically count towards that, I will be posting a new one every Saturday, so look for the actual first one this Saturday.

Instead of just rambling about myself, my goals, and my projects (there will still be plenty of that, too, just FYI), I plan on focusing the majority of my posts on discussions of issues involving writing and being a writer. I also plan on writing some reviews and more in-depth essays, and really, as always, I will also write posts about whatever else strikes my fancy, including music and politics.

I believe this will help me draw more of a following here, but only time will tell. The first one will be somewhat of a response to an article on Electric Literature that I posted to my Facebook page.

In the article, the author discusses whether or not authors of novels should include contemporary pop culture references in their work. As you might imagine, I have a few things to say on that regard, and one particular point that the author of the article doesn't make that I feel is relevant. I don't necessarily disagree with his point, but I want to add a nuance to the discussion.

Anyways, back to the job search, and I will see you all again on Saturday.