Thursday, September 19, 2013

It Was the Best/Worst of Times…

Brave New World: Publishers and booksellers are perishing. But how are e-books, online bookstores, self-publishing and other new industry developments affecting authors? Is it a great time to be a new writer or are things too shaky for comfort?

I can say, without a doubt, it’s a great time to be a writer. With the (relative) ease of self-publishing, and the rise of the ebook, it’s never been easier for a writer to get his/her work to a vast number of readers, quickly and inexpensively. Social media lets writers attract and interact with readers on a one-to-one basis, whether they live in Denver, Dubai, Delhi, or Denmark. Word-of-mouth has become word-of-Twitter. You don’t have to actually know someone to hear their opinions, and if you’re lucky, word of your great book can go viral. And, if you do it all yourself, the lion’s share of the royalties go straight into your pocket.

I can say, without a doubt, it’s a terrible time to be a writer. Publishers have consolidated and, in turn, have put the squeeze on the midlist author. Advances are down. Royalties remain relatively low. Outlets (read: brick-and-mortar bookstores (ie, showrooms)) are dwindling in number and size. With fewer “gatekeepers” in place, self-publishing authors are flooding the market with books that aren’t quite ready (in many cases), creating confusion for the readers. Too many distractions—Fruit Ninjas, Netflix, YouTube, Instagram, ad infinitum (isn’t that the name of another social media site?)—compete for potential readers’ attentions.

I know what you’re thinking: Alan, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. Again.

So which is it? Great or terrible?

As it often comes down to in writing (and life, in general), it’s all about your viewpoint. If you’re a pessimist, then it’s a terrible time. If you’re an optimist, then it’s a great time.

Here’s what I do know. Optimist or pessimist, there’s one fundamental strategy to follow: There’s only so much you can control in this business, so write the best damn book you can. Then write another. And another.

Because it’s the writing that really matters.

(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)


Thursday, September 5, 2013

At the Scene of the Mime

If your computer's web cam was secretly on and broadcasting you while you're writing, what's the weirdest thing your audience would see you do in a typical workday?

You’d probably see me practicing some of my classic mime moves. You know, the dude trapped in the box, carrying an umbrella in a storm, sitting on a chair sipping tea, climbing a rope. All research for my story…

At the Scene of the Mime

Detective Ted Sullivan surveyed the scene. A dead mime sprawled on the sidewalk, face down, knife in the back. Off to the side, the uniformed cops had corralled three witnesses who belonged to the same mime troupe as the victim. All wore black pants and black turtlenecks. All sported black berets. All had black smiles painted on their ghost-white faces. Sullivan strode over to begin his questioning.

He addressed the first mime. “Okay. Tell me what you saw.”

The mime made an “X” over his mouth and bugged out his eyes.

“Look, I need to know what happened here.”

The mime started working his arms, laying flat palms against walls in the air.

“The victim was being held, against his will?” Sullivan asked. “In a box?”

Three shakes of the head. Now the mime climbed an imaginary rope.

“He was trying to escape? Climbing out of a hole?” Sullivan glanced around. No boxes. No ropes. No holes. He turned to the second mime.

“Who killed your friend?”

The second mime frowned and knuckled away a pretend tear, then began eating a non-existent ice cream cone. And he was making a mess.

“Are you trying to tell me the victim was eating when he bought it?”

The mime shook his head, then leaned against a counter. Or a lamppost. Or a wall. It was hard to tell.

Sullivan always hated cases involving mimes. He moved on to the third witness. “How about you, buddy? You got something to say?”

Another “X” across the mouth. Then the mime started to fight his way against a fierce wind. A moment later, he pulled out an invisible umbrella and tried to keep it from blowing away.

“Enough,” Sullivan bellowed. “Your mime friend is lying there, dead. And you’re not helping me one bit.”

The third mime stopped struggling with his umbrella. He laid it down on the sidewalk gently. He smoothed out his unwrinkled clothes, adjusted his beret, then faced the detective. “Okay. You cracked me,” he said, aloud. The other two mimes slapped their hands over their ears and recoiled in horror. The third mime continued, “I did it. I killed Marcello. I’m sorry.”

“You killed him?”

“Yes, yes, it was me. I stabbed him.”

The other two mimes shrank away farther, pretending to bawl.

“Why’d you do it?” Sullivan asked the mime murderer.

“Jealousy. He did the best walking-in-the-wind the industry has ever seen. I just couldn’t take being in his shadows any more. I do a great wind thing myself. You’ve seen it. But it didn’t measure up.” The mime started crying; this time, the tears were real. “Please, don’t put me in jail. Please.”

Sullivan simply shook his head. Don’t do the mime, if you can’t do the time.


(This entry is “simul-posted” on Criminal Minds.)