Howdy, so I’ve not been abducted by aliens (yet), but I’ve been largely and somewhat sadly absent from this blog. My absence is in part due to the drain of school work and the struggle of not having the energy and drive to continue throughout the semester However I have some thoughts I’d like to share, as I get back into the habit of posting.
While sitting at my internship or staring dead-eyed into the pages of a textbook all I want to do is write more. Even when I’m doing nothing the urge to write is there when the ideas are not. You can imagine how frustrating it is to have such a strong desire, but then look at the page and NADA! NOPE! Brain gone bye-bye. Still this has been somewhat affirming because that means I really care about writing. Oddly, this has also driven me to pursue submissions to various magazines again. Last year I submitted to about 20 different places and heard back from ,I think, two if any. I wasn’t angry or depressed about it. The situation just made me switch focuses as I kept hustling. I resolved to try and improve my submissions, but I stopped because while some people can operate without direction I can’t. So I figured I would take my time to develop and finish some stories…which brings me to another issue.
As I’ve been thinking and planning submissions I’ve found myself struggling with something I have been trying to fight…I very rarely finish my stories. I’ve been trying to figure this out for years now and while the usual answer authors give is that they lose interest…I think I have another problem. Finishing stories, as I have been, is both satisfying and frightening. A finished story can disappoint you, and worse to make it shine it has to be developed, which means possibly discovering the story isn’t actually good. Call it commitment phobia, but it really stinks.Concluding a story even to later edit it seeds this strange doubt that I can’t quite get over except by forcing myself to write more. Truthfully I think this can be easiest when I limit distractions, turn off wi-fi and ignore everyone. This isn’t a matter of just being distracted, but of forcing my brain to focus. Now if I can’t write regardless then I won’t write. Why? Chances are I will barely string words into a pleasing sentence.
But those things are actually a very small part of the issue. The truth is it is hard to finish a story when that means finishing the story. I hate good-byes. I do. I have a problem letting go for a whole host of reasons. Over the last week I have been using submission deadlines to push me.
I highly reccomend that everyone try to incorporate reading three micro fictions a week. They’re quick ways to get your imagination engine running. For writers they’re amazing ways to learn and practice how to condense a story. For readers, especially of genre fiction, this gives you a quick potent fix of your favorite stories. We don’t always have time to sit down and read a whole chapter, needless to say a whole trilogy. Seeking out micro fiction can be a great way to get a wonderful story into your day’s schedule. They’re short enough for lunch breaks or coffee breaks. They’re great for when you just can’t concentrate on anything for long periods of time. Being mom or dad or gran, or babysitter means you do a lot of running around, but you just might be able to read a whole piece of micro fiction before someone needs their next cup of juice because they changed their mind about wanting the glass of milk you poured five minutes ago. By searching blogs for short fiction, or buying collections on kindle or nook you may find exciting new authors and stories that stick with you forever.
Trust me the right micro fiction by the right author is totally worth it!
One of the first short stories I remember falling in love with was A Rose for Emily by William Faulkner. There were countless things that fascinated me from the narrator seemingly being the town itself to the descriptions of old southern decay. As a woman who grew up in the south, right as economic downturns and outsourcing devastated the textile industry the aesthetic of southern gothic had an intrinsic appeal to me.
There are some genres you can’t help, but fall in love with from the time you are young. For some people this happens with fantasy or romance, and often it can happen again as you grow older. Certain genres have always had an appeal for, but southern gothic and southern based literature always finds it way back into my life with vengeance, leaving my kindle full and my bookshelf ready to explode. In short, the southern gothic genre is Addictive, but I’m not the only one who feels this way. Despite the genre often being left out of everyday conversation it manifests in some of the most remembered cultural icons of our era, even as it goes unrecognized.
Southern Gothic is a classic and often under appreciated genre with infinite possibilities in text and on screen. When it shows up it shows out, whether through Beyonce’s Formation video, or stirring controversy through The Beguiled. As a little girl, I caught a few glimpses of the movie Beloved based on the novel by Toni Morrison (amazon link below) and ,though I utterly forgot I’d seen that movie until one day I saw it on the screen, imagery of it remained in my mind. A house full of ribbons. A daughter trying to save her mother from the burdens of guilt and the history of southern slaves and freedom. A woman, nude and screaming in giggling unnatural tongue before a prayer circle. The images stuck with me as fascinating concepts for years to come even as they faded to the back of my memory.
The south, post-civil war, is a place where hairstyles are always twenty years behind; where rocking chairs to over look your property are sources of pride passed down through generations; where tradition and culture is complex and divided; Where people prefer to say southern history is embodied by confederates while other southerners l(ike myself) look on and know they’re much more embodied by the slaves; where people watch meth ravaged communities scream “the south will rise again” while others try to move forward; where kids can run around the neighborhood alone and often find their friend’s door unlocked and fresh brownies waiting for whomever arrive.
The south is welcome and warning; it is where long standing tradition meets long standing decay. Where the past is present, and the present is always past.
This is why I love to write it, and why I’m currently finishing a six chapter short story called The Hell I Burn Through in the genre. Mind and Frost, turned out to be a bigger project, and I’m letting an associate go through it as we speak, but in the mean time I need something to work on when not finishing upFive Days with the Stranger, so I began to ponder something to write about in-between chapters of Five days rewrites. Suddenly, a vista of pine and river came to my vision, old houses with cared for porches, children playing beneath old water towers in the summer heat, and the streets of my own childhood cast in the intense pallor of Southern Gothic filled my vision. I opened a word document and wrote a six page outline for a novelette. Within the day I had 6,000 words written, characters who I completely fell in love with. It feels like coming home.
And yet my relationship to the southern is complicated. Perhaps this is why I love the genre in the first place.
If you were born below the Mason-Dixon it can be hard not to romanticize the south. Gone with the Wind is a racist nightmare to many modern day black folk, but even still it has a glorious and sweeping appeal. There’s something wonderfully addictive about the south’s attitude of genteel welcome. By that same measure there is something wonderfully addictive about the south’s decay. The hypocrisy of that southern style kindness v.s normalized prejudices is part of why To Kill a Mocking Bird has lasted in the public mind. As a black southern woman, I experienced southern fried racism from a young age. No one ever called me the n-word, but there were times I was followed in stores, witnessed my incredibly intelligent parents being patronized, had visited restaurants with my friends families only for us to be stared at and glared at the whole time we were there because I was there. There were things I did not understand, but came to understand as I grew older and realized “Oh that wasn’t just weird people. That damn near a whole restaurant full of old white folk and their families who don’t like that I ate there, and didn’t understand why I was with that nice white family“. The darkness of the south wasn’t something I could ignore, and it wasn’t something my parents hid from me either. Some of the nicest, well-mannered, and polite people you will ever meet are old fashioned southern racists. Unlike the north –where racism is often excused as “at least we’re not them”(them being the south)– the south continues to have a lot of normalized bigotry and ignorance that contributes to that darkness. Knowing this, despite my love of Fried Green Tomatoes or Steel Magnolias, the inclusion of decay in southern society rings true to me. The romanticism still exists, but it exists alongside southern shadows I, as a black southerner, can’t escape from. Truthfully I don’t want to.
No matter the media the aesthetic of southern gothic is fascinatingly beautiful and distinctly American, whether a story is set in a bayou, the eastern shore, or urban buzz of Atlanta. The swamps of the bayou and foothills of Georgia all have a unique and poignant natural beauty. Fields of collard greens go for as far as the eye can see, creating unique visuals amidst fields of grass green. The physical beauty of approaching a grand old house fascinates us when confronted by the old slave cabins not quite hidden by the trees. We walk down former main streets lined with businesses with faded paint from the 1960s and 1970s, whose owners still maintain the place with pride, knowing if their grandchildren will ever come back to mind the store. Those grandparents leave and drive old pick up trucks and sedans to lovely little houses on quite, safe, streets. They sit on the porch, have a coffee and way at their neighbors as they come home from school. It is both idyllic and decaying.
A decayed and perpetual beauty. In a way the south is an atmospheric vampire; perpetually the south and yet slowly, beneath a beautiful though tarnished surface, filled with unknowns and entropy.
When I was eight years old, I first saw the movie Eve’s Bayou, and that movie has stuck with me even when the name left my mind, only to return years later. The imagery of well-to-do southern blacks in their communities, struggling with position without power; with creating the illusion of southern manners against the reality of small town gossip and misunderstandings leaves a permanent impression. That film laid a similar ground work that Toni Morrison did in her novels such as Beloved or The Bluest Eye; exploring the complex and taboo world of the secrets below the Mason Dixon. Those stories, though darker than others, create a space for black diversity in fiction. Wealthy blacks, poor blacks, root workers, pastors, and people just trying to get by create a complex reflection of black history and life through the ages. Eve’s Bayou situates the audience as a little girl about to lose her innocence, with her we learn those secrets and her own strength. In that film, we learn the reality that not everything is as it seems is one of the greatest southern narratives ever told as far as I’m concerned. It’s a change from every novel, person, and genre that assumes “urban” without “fantasy” or “paranormal” attached is inherently the black experience.
Southern gothic is and always will be a genre that feels natural to me. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by recent media, like Resident Evil and True Blood, truly capturing that aesthetic and culture in exciting ways. Video games and HBO? Wow. It’s spreading. But we can always do with more…and bring more attention to the power of this tantalizing genre. Then again I may just be looking for another fix.
How do you feel about the Southern Gothic? Do you read these books often or not at all? Do you prefer movies with the aesthetic? And isn’t Formation a perfect video?
Today I read this opinion piece on why diversity in books is often poorly mishandled and encountered a quite familiar mantra that has never sat right with me, and that we’re gonna discuss today. I’d love to hear your opinions and urge you to read this piece for yourself.
Before you start throwing rotten mangoes at me, let me explain. I don’t think diversity in books is WRONG. NOT AT ALL. I just think that the way some authors and readers go about it is wrong. NOW THAT THAT’S CLEARED UP, hello! Welcome to yet another discussion in which I am more rambly and […]
My first instinctive reaction to this piece as a #blackgirlnerd #blackauthor #femaleauthor #contrarianPOS was “What the hell is “natural” and how do we know what “natural” is?” It is often one of those I-know-it-when-I-see-it scenarios, but the whole concept of natural v.s unnatural diversity is laughable to me.
Let me tell you a little story, recently I was on twitter and came across a woman I’d been aware of before. She’s a white nationalist mommy blogger, who hopes to use her promotion of motherhood to prevent “white genocide” and she posted an image of the countries of the world. On this map were white figures to represent population density of white people and black figures to represent population density every other ethnic/racial group in the world. The captions basically were “Do you believe in white genocide now?”. When I first saw this image I wasn’t even upset or bothered by it. All I could think was “Did you…did you honestly think most of the world is white?” and instantly my mind was flooded by examples across my 25 years that confirmed that yes, a lot of people do.
And why shouldn’t they if they’re in the western world?
This isn’t exactly a common scene
Television, books, radio shows, newscasts, newspapers, and even the toys sections of children’s stores are dominated by the imagery of white people to an excessive degree. As a kid it was a struggle to find black media in North Carolina, and even when the X-Men movie came out I spent at least a half hour going through the action figure section, filled with Rogue and Jean Grey, until my mom asked a salesperson to go in the back and see if they had any Storm figures. That was a blockbuster film and still not all of the characters were available based on the perception of what people wanted and who could buy.
Diversity as a concept is deeply influenced by individual perceptions of the world even if they are not accurate. As a result the whole concept of “natural diversity” is buggered. What is natural diversity in a world where writers of color are told their minority characters aren’t realistic for not conforming to stereotypes, when constantly imagery exists predicated on the belief that white is universal and in high quantity. It simply does not exist.
With that said authenticity does and it isn’t limited to people of a character’s background being the only ones to write it. The above piece makes an excellent point, and I’ve seen much of the same where people struggle with including minorities of any kind into their work. While I sympathize with trying to create a character and struggling this is an excuse. What is it an excuse for? Bad writing at best and someone’s unconscious biases at worst. Why do I say this? Because I’m a person who is also black, and while that impacts my perception of the world it doesn’t not negate that I’m a person. I talk a hell of a lot about race because it impacts my life, because of the rise of nationalism, and honestly because I’m in an interracial relationship and if he can’t take me at my Angela Davis he can’t take me Marcus Garvey. But I remain a person, and I have friends who are gay. They are not just my gay friends, but my friends who are gay. They are people.
If you have problems with a character because they are not like you then you need to do research, and if that’s too hard for you then you need to just write something else. Find beta readers like your characters, email other authors for advice, and don’t get upset if someone says “How you asked that question and wrote this character is fucked up”. That is a question of authenticity, of whether the character sounds natural. If it is easier for a person to write dragons than asians…something is wrong, and I extend that to white people as well (but that’s not as big of an issue because white is used as the universal story).
The idea of natural diversity is an admirable one, and yes I do believe it makes sense to reflect the realities of diversity in context. While I enjoyed the black victorian soldier in a recent Doctor Who episode, the unwillingness to acknowledge that he was a black victorian soldier and just make him a soldier is problematic. To me it signals avoidance, but it still was nice to see. It was a clunky aspect of that episode’s casting that did feel forced, and it felt forced because no one wanted to deal with it. When The Doctor brought black woman, Martha Jones, to meet Shakespeare she addresses it directly and part of what makes it work is…characters respond to her race. Even in being flirted with she’s treated as an exotic dark woman. It wasn’t just glossed over. That felt natural. Not every setting, character, etc. will address race, but pretending it doesn’t exist is unnatural. In fantasy settings, and Americans have trouble conceptualizing this sometimes, ethnicity matters too. Race is noted because physical differences are noted, toted, and demonized. Over that? Ethnicity. Historically we know that is natural to people. That is an issue of authenticity.
The problem has never been that there are all white settings. I’m from the south where in the 1990s and 200s my family was often stared at in restaurants. Two years ago I was on vacation/research with my mother and a white woman did a fucking double take. She was tall like me, and she looked from my mom to me with utter confusion because two black women were in the nice part of down town because that usually doesn’t happen there. There are neighborhoods I know of that a white person gets stared at because they are so not common. At black BBQs I’ve been to a person’s white partner is accepted but also exceptionally rare. Majority asian, white, black, latin, etc. settings and places exist, but that isn’t an inherent problem. That is equally natural.
The problem has been that majority to all white settings have been unequivocally accepted as natural for centuries, creating a belief that white is the majority, which then feeds back into “It is natural to have majority white character settings as the relatable settings and cast”. The default is white, natural is white, in the west, to such a degree that people are uncomfortable with the modern reality of globalism as “white genocide” when what they’re experiencing is population reality. So this idea of natural v.s unnatural diversity is a big farce in the context of reality.
What is natural to write isn’t always actually natural, and the assumption that this would be the case or can be the case is one done with a lot of optimism, as the blogger of the piece reflects, or in more negative terms, as has been my experience.
When I send my work to an alpha reader, on the other hand, what I’m looking for is encouragement. I’m looking for someone to read my work and tell me it’s fantastic, amazing, enthralling, the best thing they’ve ever read, and could they please read some more of it immediately, if not sooner.
Jo Eberhart makes an amazing point about the need for encouragement in pursuing our passion projects and work. This doesn’t just apply to writers, but anyone pursuing their work. Alpha level support doesn’t mean blindly praising people, but pushing them towards seeing their goal to the end and then developing that end further. No writer just sits down and does draft one perfectly. No dancer automatically performs choreography perfectly from the first try. As we learn we cannot simply critique without the support of those who encourage us and highlight what we can do well.
People say that encouragement can be too much, but I disagree. Encouragement is about pushing people to do better and supporting their triumphs no matter how minor. The baby boomer generation, unintentionally, has eliminated “average” and trying to develop as acceptable standards while regarding my generation as entitled. I believe this is due to a gross misunderstanding of what encouragement is. Encouragement isn’t demanding the best. It isn’t disregard the middle ground. It is praising the best of what a person does and still acknowledging the trials and talents of those who do alright or even poorly, so we can push them to analyze where they failed or can improve. Encouragement, regardless of age, is what makes us more likely reach our goals.
As some of you may know, I have been publishing for over a year (under a pen name) and in that time I have done better than most authors without 100+ page books or an editor. Even the reviews that comment on my editing have been more than kind about the stories themselves. So far I’ve made $60-$100 with no real advertising and just using my other(more popular) blog. It isn’t much, but let me tell you it is better than most indie authors out there who have just gotten started with putting in exactly $0.
And I am happy with this because after a year of lurking, and preparing books/short stories for release under my name I have learned one solid fact…self-publishing eBooks is not a money making scheme. Data Guy of the Author Earnings Report had an interview with the Science Fiction & Fantasy Marketing Podcast in Feb. 2016 that broke down the difficulties and successes of the market brilliantly. One comment he made really stuck out to me, however, because he recounted how the media seemed totally uninterested in the AER’s discovery that a large number of authors were getting by fine with their writing. They weren’t making millions, but they weren’t making cents. The stories people were interested in, and the stories I kept/keep finding when I first began researching self-publishing were the million dollar success stories or the failure stories.
These people had one thing in common…they couldn’t possibly be the majority of self-published authors. There’s two groups in those who “fail” at self-publishing. The 1st of those who claimed to fail? They’d written books purely to get rich off a market, usually erotica or romance. They rushed a book, published it, and though any schmo would buy it because why wouldn’t they? They didn’t have a real long term plan. They were hopeful or desperate in a way most of us have been in our lives. But they had no heart in their book and sometimes no respect for their genre or audience. They listened to the people whose only advice was “write a thing. Hit publish.”.
Elsewhere the successful indies all have a variety of stories, and the most authentic were often the most unique and inexplicable. Their situations were happenstance. The right person read, word of mouth, and they struck at the right moment. There is talent involved, but the reality is plenty of talented people in this world don’t get a damn lick of attention of praise. Remember Van Goph was pretty much only known by other artists until Johanna Van Goph, his sister-in-law, refused to let his work be forgotten after his suicide. These people are not common and their books might not even be that well written (which is fine the goal is for people to enjoy them)
While every other no name blogger may include “write an ebook” as an easy way to make passive income the truth is nothing about ebook sales or writing is easy. The truth is most of those bloggers began with a large audience they could sell to, and that’s why they made what money they did. Book quality aside they had buyers before they thought of a book. More seedy individuals have turned kindle, kobo, and smashwords into a means to get you to give them money. These individuals may have written a handful of actual books, but their main skill is marketing. While they can have very useful advice attached to that advice is convincing people that ebook sales are easy. You will look at their backlogs on their blogs, on amazon, or their websites only to see how they’ve made their money is convincing people like you to buy their book, course, etc. Every blue moon you will find someone like Mark Dawson who actually walks the walk, and loves the craft of writing. One thing that differentiates him and others like him from the former? They will tell you how to do better, write more, and become a better marketer for your writing. They don’t promise you instant sales. They don’t belittle legitimate ebook authors. They will tell you this can be fullfilling, but full of hard work. That said there’s something about people, even Dawson who I’ve interacted with and who is a nice man, whose fortunes are spent on marketing you techniques perhaps more than their actual writing.
If you notice I didn’t mention the other half of those who feel they “failed“. The reason is the second group is far more common, and unfortunately is the majority of us self-publishers. For the rest of us authors, both successful and not, the trouble is we’re all trying to get noticed. With hundreds of books being released every month every author is tasked with the torturous task of pimping themselves, and we don’t even get a pimp cup for it. The sad thing is here is where a lot of authors struggle. Those with the mean green to buy $300 worth of facebook ads or use ad services have an upper hand over those of us who simply can’t. This is a tremendous problem for black authors who traditionally face both prejudiced gate keeping, the racist belief that black books have no value for black people, and who don’t always have the social or economic capital to spend $300 or make that $300 really turn into sales.
A bit of advice, the best way to spend $300 is to find an editor and someone who knows how to put together the cover you want. I’m cheap, artistically inclined, and honestly hate 90% of covers in the genres I write in. So I make my own covers. However, I am preparing to send my proper novels to an editor once they’re complete and I find one who understands my work. My 99c story, Mind and Frost, will be self edited, and released in the next three weeks or so because I just don’t see the benefit in paying for the short story with experimental tense use. But perhaps I’m dumb as rocks because those who receive any sort of help on book production see a spike of around 34% in sales.
Despite that we can work our buts off instead, really making constant mistakes and correcting in order to find the best marketing tactics for our audience. We just have to market differently, be more aggressive, and more clever. It’s not that simple by far, but that’s the long and short of it.
Book marketing, book writing, and taking the time to create your brand isn’t something you can just throw together. Story after story after story gets published about authors who break the bank only because they’re extremes. Humans like extremes because they make for eye catching stories. The reality is most self-published authors don’t quit their day job unless their partner has a stable job or, I suspect, they come from money. The reality is most self-published authors of any quality with a good cover sell, based on observations over the last year, about 20-50 copies on average depending on the genre, and supposedly make under $500. But that’s money you didn’t have before, and money that if you hit critical mass (let’s say 3+ books in a series/world) you can make twice over that, take what you’ve made, and reinvest in your passion.
But you will not get rich quick.
Instead focus on getting your book done in a way you will be happy with.
That’s the first step to making your life richer.
One of those articles I sort of trash has some good advice.
This is the classic trap most new writers fall into. I know I did. We get into storyteller mode: “once upon a time, in a kingdom far, far away, there was a____ who for many years….”
Great for fairy tales. Not so much for modern novels. In a contemporary novel the reader wants to be in the story, not outside telling or hearing about it.
If this is sci-fi or fantasy, your job is tougher, because you have world-building to do, and there’s going to be a huge amount of history to get across. But you don’t have to do it on page one. Slip in the world-building on a “need-to-know” basis.
Damn this article is both hilarious and thought provoking as a writer. No matter the genre some of these themes bring me back to my high school composition class, but many crop up again and again despite writer experience. This article captures both why they don’t work and is a damn funny take on the omnipresence of Disney princess sheets. Take a look over at: