Friday, October 27, 2017

The Blame Game: The Amorality of Making Everything Your Fault



Shame is a powerful tool, one I personally believe is a last resort. Sometimes shame truly is the best means to get someone to change their behavior, but it can be cruel, manipulative, and misdirected if used without restriction.

Truth is, you can shame someone pretty easily even if they logically realize they didn’t do anything wrong.

However, there is a philosophy about shame versus blame personality types suggesting that some personalities have the tendency to “shame” themselves while others have the tendency to “blame” others.

You’ve experienced it before, the person who plays the victim, who every time something goes wrong for them they practice extreme mental gymnastics in how everyone is to blame but themselves. And you’ve possibly been aware of someone who tends to assume everything is their fault, who is too hard on themselves, from the guy who panics over picking up his coworkers’ slack to the woman who claims being struck only happened because she talked back. Some people take responsibility for everything.

In all likelihood, you’ve been both at some point in your life. You’ve probably foolishly allowed someone to walk all over you, or worked tirelessly to find external solutions to problems caused by your own behavior. Most people fall somewhere in a spectrum and fluctuate back and forth. But overall, you probably have a tendency to err on one side or the other.

This isn’t a bad thing either. Life is full of gray areas and rarely is “who’s at fault” cut in stone. Trying to figure out both how others screwed us as well as how we messed up is the foundation of improvement and preventing something from happening again. It’s how you learn.

But what I find is, while many people criticize those who play the victim and feel it’s better to blame yourself, leaning too much in either direction is unhealthy and useless. An individual needs to, at least momentarily, reassess when something goes wrong to see if she can accurately decide what to do differently when it happens again.

I advise people that constructive criticism should be fun. It’s probably not going to be your first time around, and just because one meeting wasn’t that morale boosting, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t useful. Overall, you should be striving to be inspired and high energy after discussing your work, and if you’re constantly leaving upset and distraught—shamed even—something needs to change.

Most advisors tend to blame the author. I think this is a pendulum issue; because the vast majority of new writers pass fault to those around them—"You didn’t understand it," "You’re just jealous," "You’re not representative of everyone," "You’re a jerk"—most people would assume that if you’re not having a good time, it’s because you’re an egomaniac.

But I find that the people first to accuse someone of defensiveness were pretty sensitive themselves. He who insists to ignore everyone else and just listen to him is going to be the one who lectures you on not taking others' opinions (his) well enough.

Despite the horror stories I like to tell here, most criticism sessions go well and the people who I work with leave feeling energetic and inspired.  The drama occurs when dealing with specific people. In about half the cases, I would say it’s more of an issue of different philosophies and tastes. Writers who like simplicity, are more literal minded, and I don’t get along intellectually. We can be pleasant of course, but their foundation of truth differs drastically from mine and it makes it hard to understand each other. If both of us try to respect the other’s viewpoint, this doesn’t matter; we can effectively talk things over. The issue arises when one of us is having a bad day, doesn’t like the way we’ve been spoken to, or allows for catharsis to eclipse logic, and the other responds with hostility.

Which is a fancy way of saying, in most cases, both of us are at fault. Or, another interpretation is, neither of us; sometimes you just aren’t the best fit for each other, sometimes you unintentionally say something that means something different to the listener than it meant for you.

Yet sometimes you are very much the cause of the issue. They’re trying hard to help you and you’re allowing your emotions to boil over. But, just as frequently, they’re at fault. They put no effort into respecting you or your opinion, demand for obedience with no actual authority, and are needlessly antagonistic solely because they think they can get away with it.

Which brings me to my point: people like that need to be treated differently than people who are trying in order to make a successful conversation.

If you’re not enjoying yourself in your critique sessions, the first step is to consider what you can change.

You can change how you react to things, certainly.

You can change how you approach things too.

But you can also change your environment, choose not to surround yourself with certain types of people.

In some situations, the best solution is to disengage and go about your way. It truly isn’t that you need to change yourself, but you need to find a place that fits you, your tastes, and your personality better.

However you can also run away from things. If the problem is actually in your attitude, you’re likely to find changing locations just transfers the problem. It’s also sometimes easier and more effective to try to fix something instead of constantly just attempting to replace it or start over. Most importantly, finding out what is really wrong is difficult when you keep starting from scratch rather than tweaking things here or there.

Some people insist that when you don’t like criticism you should look inward because it’s probably your fault, but I find that to be dangerous. I know too many kind-hearted people (not me) who were unfairly torn to shreds in a critique because they were dealing with assholes and amateurs. For these people who tend to blame themselves initially, being told that these attacks are their doing is counterproductive. They've already thought about why it happened to them, what they could have done differently, and someone else confirming their fears that they're just "too egotistical" to handle awful critiques exacerbates their lack of assertiveness. It’s far more productive to put shame and blame aside completely and look purely analytically for where things went wrong and what you have control over, regardless of who was "at fault."

So if you don’t like getting criticized, evaluate the situation accordingly. You’re not a jerk, they’re not a jerk, things just happened.

When things go wrong, say to yourself…

I made a decision based on the information I had at the time. I had my reasons.

Then ask yourself…

What were those reasons?

Hindsight is 20-20. Sometimes things make a lot more sense after the moment has passed. Objectively determining what went wrong without seeking who’s to blame (including yourself) will give you more experience to make an informed decision next time around.

If you’re not use to self-reflecting, this can be difficult to remember what exactly caused you to get upset and/or why. You need to practice putting yourself in others’ shoes before you’re good at it, while also remembering not to get so obsessed with other people’s thoughts that you stop respecting your own. It’s okay to say, “I don’t understand where he was coming from,” and move on if you can’t figure it out.

It’s not a good thing to think everything is your fault all of the time. That can lead to unreasonable insecurity as well as make you a target for jackasses and manipulation. While the believe that blaming everyone else for your problems won’t solve anything either, it’s important to realize that you can’t control everything.



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Monday, October 23, 2017

What I'm Glad I Learned about Writing



1) No choice is a strong choice.

One of the more common factors in two-dimensional dialogue is when the character doesn’t have a lot of opinions. In most cases, making strong, active decisions about what the character thinks of things tends to be more interesting. It’s not just a cup of coffee, he gets only the best beans, and people who add cream are monsters!

Sometimes people want to be more realistic: He’s just ordering a cup of coffee to wake up.

Which is a valid, though restrictive, choice, but even if his opinion isn’t a big one doesn’t mean he isn’t experiencing subtle little judgments throughout the day. Everyone has at least fleeting opinions on most things in their life, and though he has “no problem” with Starbucks, if two coffee shops are standing right next to each other, equal distance away, he’s going to either choose Starbucks or intentionally not, and he’s going to have a reason, even if he can’t verbalize it. Likes the vibe of Ma and Pa shops, he shrugs.

When your character is doing a perfunctory daily activity with a person he doesn’t know, that interaction made him feel something. Is it a chore? Does he like talking to people? Is he made uncomfortable by strangers? If you decide it is so common that he’s removed from the situation (not mentally present in the room) that’s a reasonable choice too, but it is a strong one that needs to read in his character.

This applies to everything. An “absence of style” is a style, not the default, not the norm that will work for everyone. An absence of opinions is a distinctive personality trait. A non-existing prior relationship will highly alter the interaction. Humanity is created by complexity, and absence of something will not go unnoticed.

Most decent writing needs to make stronger choices in order to achieve that intangible mojo of great works, so if you’re going to defend passivity, do so with vigor and creativity. Your character is not just not something. He is REALLY not something.

2) Subjectivity is a real thing, and it’s a pain in your ass.

The word subjectivity is thrown out there as sort of an excuse to not listen to other people. “Writing’s subjective. Leave it as is.”

It’s actually more of a problem than most authors realize when we first start. Most people tend to assume their tastes are universal, and it can be an obstacle. At one point, I struggled with drastically conflicting opinions from a myriad of readers. When I tried to dig deeper for their perspective, my critique partners thought I was saying they were wrong and shut down or got angry when I asked questions like, “Do you mean…”

Because most people don’t think you’ve gotten other feedback, and if you had, those critique partners would agree, right?

The more you write, the more you’ll find that subjectivity is real. People simply don’t have the same tastes, goals, pet peeves, or life experiences and so your stories will affect them differently.

Unfortunately, this is a pain more than a blessing if you want to improve because the first step becomes defining what you think good writing is and realizing that there’s others who vehemently disagree. It’s hard to tell if you’ve taken a wrong step in the right direction or need to change your goal completely.

3) Have fun with form while worrying about subtext.

Contrary to popular opinion, I say it’s great to play around with form. Use big words, long sentences, passive-sentences, exclamation points, short and choppy, weird descriptions and anything that you want to convey a visual. Just be honest if it actually worked or not and make sure that you’re also experimenting with the opposite. Keep in mind what is supposed to happen in each scene and use your form as a diverse palate tool to achieve different effects. Sometimes short is better. Sometimes long. Use both, figure out when.

However, playing with style is more for fun and getting out of your box than actual improvement. Style falls strictly into the subjective realm, and so even if you do learn how to write non-invasively, it doesn’t actually mean you’re writing better. It takes a lot of skill to be sure, however if you have simple, ignorable words it doesn’t matter if there’s nothing behind them. Some people honestly prefer Shakespeare to Hemingway, yetlovers of both would claim it’s because of the unspoken humanity in their work.

Most mediocre writing (or even pretty good writing) struggles in its depth. Whether it’s the poor dialogue or narration, flat characters, uninteresting plot, unengaging description, I’d say the issue isn’t really the word choice, rather directly in the narrative: What is this actually saying?

A lot of times, the subtext in poor fiction is meta: The writer wants me to think…

This dialogue moves the plot forward, yet the characters lack chemistry. I have no idea what they’re feeling at the moment. There’s no sense of life other than to deliver the necessary information.

The narration clearly and concisely shows me images, but it’s spoon feeding me everything I need to know. All information is laid out clean and simply. “Unnecessary” details are left out, and it becomes a clinical summation of events.

If you want to write better, find questions about the world that you didn’t even think to ask. Answer them and use that information to imagine a fuller, more complex situation, which will integrate itself into the writing without you forcing it.

4) Experiment, take risks, and remember it’s darkest before dawn.

You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. You can’t find out what you’re missing if you refuse to change what you have.

You do not have to constantly be a good writer, especially if no one’s reading your work. When you first start, you’re often relearning how to talk. You no longer have things you depended on before (like body language). Meanwhile, you have gained some tools you’ve never had (like time to choose your words carefully.) It’s a totally different culture, fiction, with alternative expectations and norms. Just test things out. Make decisions and if they’re wrong, learn from them; you’ll be surprised to find out the vast world of options you have at your disposal. Most decisions work in the right context.

You will learn far more from messing up and making mistakes than you ever will from sticking to only what is said to work, and once you understand the choices at your disposal, you will best know when to use them.

5) Confidence comes from either self-awareness or delusion. Only one of those can be learned.

Writing is a lot more fun when you have confidence. Pretty much everything is, in fact. Getting to that point takes most people a long time, and some never get there. I believe, however, that you can actively work to be more confident and enjoy your writing more, even if you’re not that good at it. Which will, in turn, make you better at it.

How?

I didn’t gain confidence because I realized I had my shit together. On the contrary; the more you learn, the more you realize you don’t know. I feel confident in my writing because I feel confident in my self-awareness. I know the kinds of mistakes I tend to make. I know what my strengths are. I know my weaknesses. And while I’ll still learn something new every day, for the most part, I’m never really taken back in shock by someone’s opinion.

That awareness means that I’m not nervous when I give people my writing. That when they tell me something isn’t up to their standards, I typically know what they mean, and if I don’t, I’m confident that it’s because I’m missing something—not that my ego is fighting it.

Because I’m aware of what that feels like when it is.

Delusional people are confident too, and there’s something to be said for it. Some of the most creative individuals are those with their heads up their asses.

Unfortunately, you can’t force yourself to be a delusional egomaniac. You can, however, figure out what your insecurities are, what your talents are, and have opinions about your work.

6) Your opinions matter. So do other people’s. Just not as much.

How can I say that?

Okay. Here’s the thing: Egomaniacs are a pain in the ass and can sabotage themselves right along with our teammates pretty consistently. Listening will enable you to improve yourself far faster than being stubborn, and most of the breakthroughs you’ll have will be something that people have been telling you all your life.

I know. I am that egomaniac.

I’m not worried about those types of people. I care about their success as much as anyone else’s—it’s in my personality, strangely enough. I truly do want to solve everyone’s problems and for everyone to be happy.

BUT! Egomaniacs usually do fine. They tend to get a reality check after some point, someone finally tearing them a new one. Or two. Or three. Or sixteen. Their hard-headedness made them impervious to the jackasses who try to tear others down (sometimes being those jackasses, of course.) If they do quit, the dream usually died in its sleep, abandoned to other interests. I rarely have a moment of seeing a I’m The Real Writer Here have a fall to Earth where he realizes he’s “a failure and will never succeed.”

That is far, far more likely to happen to those who are kind. Those who believe in solidarity. Those who care about the opinions of others. They are the ones who are likely to get beaten, chewed up, and spit out. That’s who I’m most concerned for.

It’s your book. We don’t need just another good one, we have plenty. We need the one that encompasses your unique perspective and tastes. You just need to figure out what that is.

Other people are invaluable to helping you get there. It’s pretty much impossible, and not really beneficial, to solve your complaints without having another brain to puzzle it out.

Despite that, you’re still trying to get to where you want to be. No one else gets to decide it for you. You might end up compromising, deciding ‘where you want’ to be is a published author, so you do something you’re not fond of to make your editor happy. That’s a valid choice, but it’s still yours. You always have control. (Unless you’ve signed a stupid contract. Always know what you’re signing.) You get to order your priorities, find solutions to problems, and even define if something actually is a problem in the first place.

Find critique partners and collaborators that respect your opinions. Trust your instincts. Be a respectful team player, utilize the information given to you, however, make sure to stand up for yourself and stay strong for the things you actually care about. Don’t ever shy away from speaking your mind because you don’t think you’re “worthy enough.”

Because you’ll just be giving more room to us assholes who unreasonably think we are.

7)  It’s supposed to be fun.

Criticism. Writing. Editing. These are very inspiring and enjoyable parts of life.

What world am I living in, you say?

Alright. So admittedly, it’s ridiculous to expect that it will be all sunshine and roses. Or even often sunshine and roses. In fact, sunshine and roses are pretty boring, so I’d be a little alarmed if an author described his process like that. Writing is painful and boring and frustrating. There’s a lot of anger and uncertainty involved. I write every day and a lot of times I’m itching to quit.

My point is though that it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’re never having fun, there’s something wrong. You can fix it, you just got to think how.

It might be your attitude. It might be the way you go about things. It might be the people who you surround yourself with. Make little changes like where you work, the medium you work on, what you’re writing, who you’re discussing it with. Maybe you should outline. Maybe you should throw it out. Maybe you need to write on a different subject.

I can’t say why you’re not enjoying it, just that you shouldn’t give up and assume that’s the way it has to be.

8) Writing rules are amazing tools based on insight from our forefathers.

That doesn’t mean they’re always a good thing.

As I say, if I strictly adhered to writing rules I wouldn’t like my writing. If I strictly refused to follow them, I wouldn’t like my writing as much.

Writing rules are amazing problem solvers. As a foundation for a good book? Not so much. Not a single person in the world claims a masterpiece follows all the rules. It can’t, for one thing, some of them in existence specifically to contradict others.

It’s hard not to balk at writing rules when they are spewed with vitriol by frustrated authors. It’s hard to follow them even when they’re politely discussed restrictions. However, they are useful, and while I highly, highly recommend not thinking following the rules will automatically get you  where you want to be, they are still tools it’s self-sabotaging to ignore.

9) If you don’t care about something, that’s the time to pander to your audience.

I worked on a film produced, directed, written, and starred in by the same guy. It was low budget, an indie, and he got a volunteer camera guy who was learning about film from the local community college.

The director was not a man who took advice very well, and he did not care one iota about the camera angles. The cameraman attempted to give some opinions and the director refused to hear it.

One of the worst parts of the film is the long, distant shots. He would set up the camera and then refuse to move it throughout the entire location.

This is exactly the sort of area in which he should have paid more attention to.

One of the most infuriating critiques is when someone claims not to care about a big, problematic aspect and refuses to adhere to his audience’s expectations. I see this most commonly with writers who insist on having typos and other errors all throughout their books because, “If it’s good, it shouldn’t matter.”

Of course, it’s pretty infuriating to get it in reverse. A couple of times I’ve had someone say to me, “You need to change this one word,” and I didn’t agree, to which I was told, “It’s just one word!

Then let it go. If it changes it for the better, you can’t claim it doesn’t change it.

The point is, pick your battles. I’m not saying to obey every inane request you get, but if you hear that an audience typically really doesn’t respond well to something and you’re thinking, “They shouldn’t care about that!” it’s probably precisely the thing that will make you more trustworthy than your counterparts.

If you DO care, of course, and disagree, that’s a different matter.

10) Be aware of what other people are doing.

They say you can’t be a writer if you don’t read. I say that reading makes everything a thousand times easier, and you are a real disadvantage if you don’t. But do you need to? That’s for your own assessment.

Even if you decide that you don’t read, or that you don’t read certain things to avoid being too influenced by them, or even if you say, “I don’t care what anyone else is doing, I’m going to do what I want!” you should still have some sort of understanding about the conventions, otherwise your techniques might not achieve the same effect they do for you.

I personally believe the best way to learn the rules is by practicing breaking them. When it comes to “the rules” sometimes people just want you to be aware of what is the current standard when you’re thinking about the effectiveness of an alternative option.

So yeah, even if you’re going to write a book that is grammatically incorrect, play around with commas, and publish a book without a genre, you should still make sure you’re informed about what you’re being compared to.



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Friday, October 20, 2017

How Do I Get Rich Quick? He Asks the Internet



Posted on a writing forum, an inspired soul asks:

I have a wealth of short story ideas so instead of leaving them dormant in a folder on my computer, I want to start publishing them on kindle.

I'll group 3 or 4 of them together, Use public domain images for the cover, start a website and offer up some stories for free so if people like them they can read more of my work for just 2.99 a month.

My friends also have some ideas so I can work with them and we can create new interesting stories together.

I love old pulp novels and serials and really want to recreate that with my work.

I have a ton of ideas, and I even have a few serial ideas so I can carry them through issues to, hopefully, keep people coming back. If this becomes profitable I may even start buying stories from people to put in the magazine.

I know I'm just an amateur but I've written 2 novellas, I've tried writing full length novels but I just can't get to that 60k word count so I think cutting my teeth on short stories would be a much better fit for me.

Is there anyone else doing something like this?

How much would you pay for one issue a month? The minimum is going to be 2.99 because of amazons royalty structure

What are some good ways to promote my magazine and get my name out there?

What would entice you to click BUY?

There’s a lot of stuff here, so let’s go in order:

I have a ton of ideas… but I just can't get to that 60k word count.

Ain’t it the truth?

A couple of years ago a blogger I love decided to do National Novel Writing Month, but instead of an actual novel, he wanted to do short stories. He failed pretty quickly. The next year, I decided to do the same (unrelated), trying to buff up my Stories of the Wyrd portfolio. I failed pretty quickly, having to speed out a the first 50K of a novel in two weeks.

Writing short stories seems like it would be easier than a novel, however, resetting all of the time can actually make it harder to use the momentum in your favor.

And how many times have we heard aspiring authors say, “I have a ton of ideas, if I could only write them down?”

After I started Stories of the Wyrd in 2014, I began to find it incredibly difficult to get out a story a month. For reference, the year prior I had written a 180,000 word novel in five months, the first 60,000 just that November alone. I haven’t be as prolific as I once was for various reasons, but writing a 2,500 word short story every four weeks can be surprisingly difficult. That’s not to mention quality. Today I still struggle with having the stories represent what I want Stories of the Wyrd to be. I have a reliable editor, but she can only do so much based on what I get her. Finding beta-readers can be a stressor in itself. Sure, you might find that a monthly deadline helps push you forward, but it’s pretty important to be dependable if you want to be taken seriously. You can’t be skipping deadlines due to writer’s block if you want to make a business.

Is there anyone else doing something like this?

There is always someone else doing something like this. In fact, whenever you come up with a ground breaking idea, it’s useful to ask yourself why don’t you see anyone else doing something like this: Either you aren’t informed about your competition/audience (as in, they are, you’re just naïve), or people have tried and failed. It is incredibly unlikely—I’d even say impossible—that no one has come up with something similar.

It doesn’t mean you can’t make it work, but it’s useful to understand why it hasn’t been successful yet, as well as be aware if other people are doing it and how they’re making it happen.

How much would you pay for one issue a month? The minimum is going to be 2.99 because of amazons royalty structure

Well, then I’m already priced out.

Market research, my friend. Many self-publishers ask the internet what cost their books should be and are often disappointed in the answers. I know. Your book is different than those “hacks churned out in a week!” but maybe you should just sit back and really make sure you know what your competition actually looks like. Why would I buy your self-published book for nearly twice the cost I could of a successful, vetted novel?

I can get an anthology of 20 self-published short stories for a buck. I can get an anthology of 20 award winning short stories for seven bucks. You’re offering me a 4 stories:3 dollars ratio, which becomes fifteen dollars for every twenty shorts. Depending on how long it is… maybe, but from a man who admits he can’t focus on getting 60K out there easily, I doubt the four stories would equal the nearly 300 pages of the 16 award-winning sci-fi short stories I just saw being sold for the exact same price.

Just shop around. Treat yourself as one of the masses, and be competitive. Truth is, there’s no way in hell that I would buy four electronic short stories from an unknown self-publisher for three bucks unless I somehow know it’s absolutely fantastic.

Which brings us to the problem of this whole suggestion.

While as a pet project, it could be fun and worthwhile, as a business he intends to make profitable, he’s asking the wrong questions.

What would entice you to click BUY?

An amazing pitch with an inspiring cover by a known author at a competitive price of course!

This sort of route (self-publishing) is best chosen for those who want to be creative and in control, not as a means to cut corners. An anthology of short stories is not easier to write than a novel. Hooking readers is not easier than hooking potential agents and publishing houses. If making a successful magazine could be as easy as blitzing out a few short stories every month, grabbing internet images for covers, and charging three bucks a pop, why isn’t everyone doing it?

I’m an advocate for the nonconventional route. Having vision and dedication will get you miles along a wide variety of paths. Most people’s success came from unexpected places. But working outside the system is appealing to a lot of people, so don’t assume that you have to stop being competitive just because the gatekeepers aren’t as obvious.

Good ideas are important, but they’re not the only thing to consider. Execution, showmanship, professionalism, and marketing all play into how well a book sells. You can’t just be slapping things up online and expect them to automatically do better than those who have put their blood, sweat, and tears into it.



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Monday, October 16, 2017

The Joys of Being Difficult



In my short stint trying online dating, I met a guy with a cute dog and agreed to meet up with him. The problem with these sites is that the vast majority of men are not photogenic, almost always looking better in real-life than their photos. A man’s attractiveness has to do with how he moves, what makes him smile, his energy, the light behind his eyes when he’s thinking, none of which is conveyed in an online block of text or a two-dimensional photo of him in his bathroom.

So, I wasn’t actually too enthused to meet him in the first place, but I wouldn’t have agreed if I hadn’t had any optimism.

But then he made it hard.

He argued with my suggestions of locations without offering up any alternatives, he refused to give me concrete answers to direct questions, and when I said, “Okay, look. Just tell me where you want to meet and when, and I’ll be there,” he just said, “lol. Why don’t you give me your number and we’ll figure it out later in the week?”

Then he started texting me, asking inane questions he wasn’t interested in and giving perfunctory and dull ones to mine.

“What do you do for a living?”

“I’m an architect.”


I don't think you understand what we're doing here.

He was dismissive of my comments and attempt at jokes, and while not an awful person, it was almost as if instead of thinking how to make the conversation flow and my life easier, he was doing the exact opposite. How can I make this a thousand times harder?

My ex had done this to me. There was no solution to his problems, no compromising, no making him happy. He just would demand you’d take the lead so he could criticize your decisions. It was an act of insecurity, I know, and I don't think he meant anything malicious by it. In terms of this new Romeo, his stubbornness resulted with me engaging with the guy as little as possible, to stop putting in effort myself, and when he finally asked me if I wanted to meet up again, I diplomatically informed him that we just don’t seem to click. He took it fairly well, at least. Love lost...

While interviewing authors, most of them don’t intentionally make my life harder. When they do things like sending me back the answers without the questions, formatting it funny, or misunderstanding the intention, they obviously just didn’t think about it. I mean, these things didn’t even occur to me would be somewhat annoying to deal with until after I've dealt with them.

However, during the process, I found one woman to be an especially difficult individual. I was first alerted to it when she sent me an email reading, “I couldn’t answer to questions” [sic].

These were not personal. “What trends, styles, or subjects would you like to see become popular in modern writing?” “What would you like to see disappear?”

“I really can’t,” she said. “I really just can’t answer these questions.”

This annoyed me. I realized that the exasperated and emotional tone I read her response in was mostly me, but I thought, “This is your time to be interesting. What is so painful about saying, ‘I really wish we could write in third-person omniscient’?” Make something up, lady!

Admittedly, she lost a little credibility with me, coming off as somewhat dense. But I’m easily agitated, and I was doing it more for her than for me. I’ve seen this before, writers seize up when embarrassed, but usually it’s on the question of, “Tell us a little about your book.”

Her husband, who I had interviewed earlier, had done the same thing, where he refused to answer two questions. They weren’t that big of a deal, and I couldn’t comprehend their issue. What is so hard about redirecting it? Ad-libbing?

Whenever anyone gets emotionally constipated at a question, it defeats the purpose of the interview. A benefit to doing these interviews is that I learn and consider what’s successful from both sides, and I’ve realized that it is better to answer the question with a completely nonrelated response than to shut down.

Part of this is because you want anyone doing an article on you to be on your side. There are pretty common stories about journalists intentionally warping quotes, putting them out of context, to dramatize and boost sales. Sometimes your interviewer gets a lot out of making you look bad, and irritating them is going to encourage that.

Of course, I don’t get anything out of that. I mostly print the interview verbatim, with a few copyedits for grammar and spelling and the like. Basic proofreading. But when it came to the questions in which she refused to answer, instead of doing what I would normally had I not been agitated—cut the questions all together as if they never existed—I marked them as “redacted by author’s request.” I drew attention to the fact that she refused to answer them, and made the mystery of what those questions were a bigger deal. What personal thing did she absolutely refuse to answer?

Petty, I’m sure.

But it wasn’t just the abject horror of having an opinion that caused me problems. When she sent it back to me, she said that it was in big font because she had trouble seeing these days.

Well, understandable, but you couldn’t resize it before returning it? Her strange formatting with extra spaces and other odd alterations surprisingly took a good twenty minutes to fix.

Her photograph was grainy and pixelated. Her bio was not in third-person as I had requested. To top it all off, at one point in the interview, she began to normalize scams, suggesting that agents selling packages for ebook formatting and editing was just a sign of the time.

Keep in mind, buying an “editing and formatting package” from a literary agent is like hiring a car salesman as a mechanic. Agents do help authors with editing, they can often be former editors, but editing is not actually why you’re hiring them. They are negotiators and networkers, legal representatives for contracts, sales people in a way. They are not publishers, they sell to publishers. They sell First English Language rights to publishers. Having an editing and formatting department for self-publishing can be promoting against their best interest, and would require an entire new staff to have time (and skills) to do it. Agents are ridiculously busy and they make their money off of selling books to publishers. If they’re not doing well enough that they have to supplement with a new gimmick that has little to do with their original job, then at best you have to question their abilities. But more commonly, that’s a sign that they’re one of those companies that make money off of scamming dreamers, not doing getting books published.

There was a point in which I considered sending her an email saying, “I’ve decided against posting this.”

One of the reasons I recommend to any writer to become a judge of a writing contest, start a literary journal, or even yes, interview authors is how much you learn about being in the other person’s shoes. You get a good idea of what not to do, why they want things done a certain way, and even why rejection really isn’t personal.

In the past few weeks, I’ve begun to realize just how important it is to not be unreasonably difficult, to make things easier for people and never let insecurity stop communication. When working with someone, it’s important to stand up for things that you don’t agree with, point out real problems, and not just cater to their every whim, but on the little things, always think about the success of the project first and foremost. When you want something to happen, don’t fight the small stuff.



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Friday, October 13, 2017

Ten Things I Often Would Like to Say to Other Authors (But Don’t)



1. I don’t care how old you are.

If I’m overly interested in your age, it’s probably because I'm going to find a way to confirm my already existing bias.

2. No, you’re not too old.

Unless you’re planning on dying within the next year, you have enough time to write your book.

3. But I don’t like your writing.

I admire the confidence it took for you to give me your work directly after telling me I’m not writing the “correct” way, however, if you’re going to challenge me about our credentials, I’m taking you down.  I don’t know why you didn’t see that coming. Because I’m a mature professional? Ha.

4. No, I don’t know if you’re going to be a successful writer.

How fast are you likely to get discouraged? Do I think you can get published? Even traditionally published? Yes. If you stick at it. I mean, let’s face it, some pretty terrible stuff has been produced, so it’s not just about what I think of your writing.

And personally, I believe you can become talented even if you’re not yet. If you stick with it.

Keep in mind I don’t know what your definitions of success is. Will you be a bestseller? Statistically unlikely. Should that stop you? I don’t know. If you find yourself in 20 years with a whole slew of books published, a decent fan base, and yet still not making enough for it to be your day job, will you regret writing those books?

I’m not going to tell you whether or not you’re going to be a best seller because I don’t know, and it’s not really my business. It’s up to you to decide how much work you’re willing to put in and how much you’ll regret. I will say that, yeah, it’s unlikely you’ll be the next J.K. Rowling, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

5. Your idea is boring and not that original. (But write it anyway.)

Oh, thank you. I’ve always been lacking in ideas! I was just waiting for someone to ask me to ghost write their brilliant vision while I wasted my time imagining my own stories.

Your idea has been done before. No, I don’t want to write it for you. Execution is more important than ideas in most circumstances, and you’re asking me to do all the work. Of course I think my ideas are better. Why would I be a writer if I didn't think I had something of merit to say?

On that same note, you’re probably not going to find an idea that hasn’t been done before, and because execution is important, you can craft an idea into something unique by contributing different elements.

Don’t bank on the originality of your idea; think about the level of inspiration it gives you.

6. Shut up about bad reviews.

Most of the complaints I hear are good things. That vague negative review that only said, “There were swear words!” deters the people who will care, and not anyone who doesn’t. That review that called you fat? Now readers are going to be on your side. No one likes that kind of hostility. Spoilers? Sorry, but your tiny synopsis that tried so hard to hide what actually happens in the book didn’t appeal to me. Those spoilers actually told me something interesting. They didn’t finish your book? How can they accurately judge it? Yeah, well, as a reader, I don’t want to pick up a novel that’s going to bore me to tears halfway through—even if it does have an epic ending. It may not help your sales, but it helps the readers, and that’s who the reviews are supposed to be for.

Remember, negativity sells.

7. I’m not going to tell you if you’re a good author.

I can tell you why your book does or does not work for me. I can tell you why I get the vibe you do or don’t know what you’re doing. I can tell you why I think your book isn’t going to have a satisfying ending, or the way I think other people will react to it.

I can give you my personal experience and perception, but I can’t predict everything. I can’t tell you if you’re a good author, or how much potential you have in being a good author. Don’t put that responsibility on me.

8. I don’t believe you actually like Hemingway.

Look, I’m willing to acknowledge that I might be wrong, but let’s examine the facts: You put down your favorite authors as Joyce, Fitzgerald, and Hemingway. What do these authors have in common…? Not writing style. Not even subject matter really. Pretty much the time period and their reputations. When I talk to you, you don’t really seem all that interested into camping trips or grasshoppers or the sea. And you then you told me you liked him because his prose wasn’t distracting. I’m not sure you’ve read him at all.

If you do like him, that’s your own choice and you shouldn’t give two shits about my opinion. But you should know why I’m just smiling and nodding.

9. You spelled “writter” wrong.

In a recent descent against self-publishing, a woman went on a rampage against these indie authors saying, without irony, anyone thinks they can be a “writter” now. Another man vented against self-publishers claiming that if their books were good enough, they would be picked up by a traditional publisher like him. A traditional publisher, I came to find, who doesn’t design book covers, market, or check for typos on the back cover.

My Grammar Nazism is hard to curb on a good day, but my tongue is the most bloodied when people start casting stones.

10. How the hell did you do that?

Shockingly, sometimes other people impress me. There have been occasions where I see the amount of response they receive, have a successful submission, or just do something genuinely stunning and I think, “How on Earth…” Typically I try to support them in a subtle way, buying their book, putting into their Kickstarter. If I know them well, I’ll ask them about their experience, but if you’re just someone I watch from afar, I’ll just sit back and wonder.




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Monday, October 9, 2017

Damn Those Hot Studly Romance Writers



Some time back, a man posted a strange opinion piece that had the indie romance community up in arms. He suggested that using a profile pic of a hot man and a pen name was catfishing, that he couldn’t understand a reason to use a pen name outside of catfishing, and tricking women into buying books from a “hot author” was wrong.

His conclusions were very different than my own experience; being a woman who buys romance novels and makes a point to support self-publishers, I have never looked at a profile picture of abs and thought anything more than “Stock Photo.”

I have, as of yet, to see an “hot male author” selling himself to hock romance stories, and even if I just missed something, it also begged the question of why did it matter? Was there a woman who was stupid enough to believe a photo of abs and the name Horace Nightingale was a real person she was romantically connecting with? I mean, even if the writer was a beautiful sculpture of the male physique and it did lead to most of his sales, what woman was being “emotionally” toyed with in doing so?

Are there indie authors tricking people into thinking they’re some hot, wonderful man? I’m sure someone has tried, but it doesn’t seem to be successful.

Nevertheless, I do think this gentleman got an excess amount of flak for something he didn’t say. People twisted his words and misinterpreted his point. He buckled down, however, announcing he was right, everyone else was wrong, and he’ll never speak his opinion again on the internet.

I followed him for a while on his blog, but his negativity worsened over time until finally I dropped him. The day he lost all credibility with me was the day he posted a piece on cults, discussing how he did a massive amount of research on them, but ended with the question:

“What makes a cult a cult? I believe all religions are cults.”

Massive amounts of research? You ended with the first question everyone asks. There are answers, actually, official answers, ones that don’t involve a faith even. Many cults are not religiously based at all. What makes a cult is how it isolates you from anyone outside of it, cuts you off from friends and family, and has a “misplaced admiration for a person or thing” that cultivates malicious and/or self-harming practices.

Sure, the echo chamber of many religious groups is strong—many religious groups put pressure on their young to hang out and marry with believers—and what is malicious or self-harming is extremely up for debate. But that’s the point; he added no personal insight into this hard, commonly debated question, meaning that he was too unaware to know just how unaware he was.

He didn’t know what he was talking about.

As an overthinker, I advocate a certain self-trust in your common sense and gut instinct. There is too much information in this world to try and “know” anything before you talk about it. You always have something of value to say, and questioning that will hold you back.

But not doing your research, or assuming you’re an expert on a subject is also a huge problem.

They say the more you know about something, the more you realize you don’t know. So how do you know if your confidence is founded in a genuine sense of self and where it’s just your naivety talking?

I criticize the belief you can’t edit your own work or trust your own opinion on it. Certainly, you should seek out the reactions of people other than yourself and always question your biases—because you will, in fact, be biased both positively and negatively—but if you try to spend your writing career handing your book to someone else to “evaluate” it, you’re going to have an influx of contradicting information.

This is why I rarely give a first draft for editing. For one thing, your partners will only tell you things you could see for yourself—it’s difficult to dig deeper until you’ve cleaned up the top layer a little. But, more importantly, the writer needs to understand what he’s actually created a little better, know what he wants to have done. Book serve multitudes of purposes, everyone has different tastes, and even when you do decide to make a change, you need to be sure you understand why you did it a certain way in the first place and the overall effect that change will have.

I myself had taken a seemingly fantastic criticism, started to implement it only to be halfway through when I realized why it didn’t actually make sense in practice.

It’s important to know your opinion on something and to trust that opinion before you start incorporating others’. But how can you trust your feelings? How can you know if you’re being biased? Stubborn? Prideful? How do you know when it’s your gut talking or your naivety?

If you’re new to this business, you have something valuable to say. Don’t keep your opinion to yourself just because it might be naïve or inaccurate or cliché. You’ll never be sure how everyone else sees your thoughts until you put them out there, even when you are more experienced.

The trick is, however, to learn how to sound sure of yourself while not sounding like an arrogant idiot. When dealing with subjective issues like writing, sounding unassured will magically turn completely valid choices into mistakes. Confidence—faking it until you make it—is key. Yet, you don’t want to staunchly assert something to only have people laughing at your ignorance.

Knowing what you don’t know is complicated. The best thing I’ve learned is that my opinions have merit in some vein, but sometimes that correctness is a little more common than others. It’s not that your ideas are wrong, but they are likely to be cliché and simplified.

Step outside yourself and recognize the way other people see you. If you are a man discussing how women buy books and women are disagreeing, examine why you think women buy books that way. Have you seen it first hand? Anecdotal evidence means a lot in writing, and it’s far more interesting to use specifics in your discussions. Does it fit into some appealing ideology of why your books aren’t selling? Maybe you’re hobbling yourself due to misinformation.

Assume that your initial reactions are typical. The questions, the conclusions, the belief system is going to evolve over time and your knee-jerk stance is going to follow suit with people who have the same information as you. The best thing you can do for yourself is be personal, don’t generalize, and don’t attack when expressing your opinion. Learn how to be open, inclusive, and really listen to those speaking around you. But most importantly, remember that listening means active listening: Talk. Engage. Question.

The blog in particular was interesting and opinionated, different than what other people are saying. The problem wasn't the belief itself, but that he never questioned if maybe, just maybe, he was operating in a blind spot.



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Friday, October 6, 2017

So Why Choose That Book? The Controversial First Edition of J-Lo’s Film



I did have myself a shocking giggle when I watched the scene from The Boy Next Door. I like Jennifer Lopez and her movies, and didn’t expect much when someone posted the video saying, “No one caught this ridiculously glaring mistake.” Usually my reaction is, “Oh, get over it.”

When the young man comes in and hands Lopez a “first edition of the Iliad” I was dumbstruck. How could he be so naïve? I wondered. Everyone knows Homer’s epic poem to be an ancient Greek tale, right? Obviously that’s not a first edition because it was originally an oral telling, and even when it was finally put in print that was still much older than the copy looked. (Year 1616 is the earliest English translation I’ve found so far.)

I assumed one of two things: The script had only written “a first edition,” and the prop master, possibly going off of a list alone—though that seems foolish for a major motion picture—just made an old looking classic book. Or they were looking for Ulysses, a story about the odyssey of one soldier returning home from the Trojan war, written by James Joyce in 1918. But really did no one say anything? Possible, if the director was a colossal dick-head. You get a bunch of people who don’t care about the project dealing with someone who tears them a new-one for idiotic reasons, you’re probably not going to be the one to say, “Wait a minute…” especially considering the possibility that you might be the one poorly informed.

Including me.

I typed in “first edition of” and before I even got to “Iliad,” it had popped up. Apparently this was a pretty popular question. In fact, the first thing to come up was about people’s search for first editions copies incited by the film.

As it turns out, the director had made a comment.  

While the original screenwriter claims no responsibility over the scene, it having been added long after she lost any control, the director claims that this choice was intentional and he’s not an idiot, but in fact a collector of first editions and knew exactly what he was talking about. He explained that a “first edition” is not necessarily the first ever printing of a book, but the first version of printing by a company, or rather, the first “setting of a type.” If the company decides to do a second (or more) printing without making any changes, the book is still considered a first edition, but first printings of first editions are what’s collectable.

So, he argues, it was a first edition of the Iliad.

The argument makes sense. Pretty well informed, in fact. Yet while it is accurate, something still doesn’t seem right. There is something about that seen that still comes across as fake.

I once wrote a somewhat controversial (in which everyone had staunch opinions) post about what to do when the truth is vastly different than what common assumption is. I discussed examples like how the preview audience of Cloverfield was certain the head of the Statue of Liberty was 100 times the size it actually was, or what to do when the technical name of something is different than what locals use. In it, I discussed the common problem of when your audience is more naïve than you are, and yet you’re the one who looks wrong. What do you do?

He should have been aware of what the common populace’s belief of what is meant when someone says “first edition.” Considering he wrote that specific scene and helped decide on the actual prop, he definitely pulled that specific title out of somewhere.

According to the prop master, the copy seen in the film is an 1884 translation by Alexander Pope. The first printing of his work was in 1715. One copy of this version was going for 2,500 pounds, which, according to the last time I went to Britain, is close to 5,000 American dollars.

So my first thought was that they were just looking for any book that fit the aesthetics and a first edition of Pope’s translation of the Iliad would be considered valuable; they picked that title because it fit.

But Annie Brandt’s exact words were, “"While searching for copies of the Iliad that would be used for the film, the style and look of this book was chosen by myself and Rob Cohen.” (The actual prop in the film was printed by a company who wanted to make beautiful versions of classic novels, as many publishers do today.)

If her wording is correct, it means that the Iliad was chosen before the copy was found. The director picked it deliberately.

Again, why?

We have the overall issue of most people thinking “first edition” means the true first edition. This, as a collector, as a writer, as a director, and as someone with a room filled with people making the scene, he should have known. Maybe he did and just chose to ignore it. But for what purpose?

Let’s start in-world. Why did the character choose that book?

According to the director, he lied about getting it from a garage sale so as not to embarrass her. That’s what I assumed when I heard him say those lines; it just sounded like a lie. If we pretend that the lie is true, which is far less ridiculous than a person who doesn’t know how valuable a book like that would be happen to have it lying around, the character made the point of finding it and buying it.

Some years ago I ended up buying a signed anthology of short stories for my boyfriend’s birthday. It cost an arm and a leg, but featured over 200 signatures (huge book), including Stephen King and Dean Koontz. It was horror, which I knew he liked, and obviously contained some known names, but the book itself was not something which most people would recognize the title of, and though he likes King, he’s not his favorite writer. I bought it because it was the coolest option of what was available to me. First editions, signed copies, and even good looking books are hard to find, especially if you want something specific.

A first edition of Alexander Pope’s version would require a lot of effort and money to find. And if we were to say it isn’t Alexander Pope’s version, but another first edition, if it was something that anyone cared about, it would still not be sitting around in some bookstore. I’d wager it’d be in a private collection, available for sale strictly through them. If it wasn’t one of these coveted versions then I’d have to ask who cares? In fact, even if it was Pope’s edition I’d still have to question the character’s reasoning. While a book is a great gift to get into a bookworm’s pants, I’d have to say that the Iliad would be low on my list. Sure, if I got offered it, great! But I much rather have a personal gift—like any old version of the guy’s favorite book—or, if we were going to go for grandiose gestures, I’d want a book I loved, one I cared deeply about, was interested in, inspired by. Personally, I rather have the complete compilation of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Out of the classics, the Iliad is a wondrous but dense and tedious read, one that I have no intention of completing again. If I was going to spend a lot of money on a booklover, I would first and foremost try and find something that is more than just, “You like books and first editions are expensive, here you go!”

And that’s where we get to the nitty-gritty. The book was not chosen due to its availability. He had to seek it out. If we were to stay with in-world criticism, only two things can be assumed: the young male is ignorant to most literature and, like many pretending to be wise in the field, stuck with what he knew to be considered great, or it was genuinely personal, as in the Iliad was her favorite classic novel or maybe it was a translation she believed to be important, a preference that many teachers have. But considering her reaction, I’m going to go with no. Later the director claimed it was because that’s what she was teaching and what they bonded over.

Especially knowing her first statement was about money, lacking any sort of surprise or genuine joy, the whole scene seemed incredibly superficial. It looked to me that the director chose the Iliad because it was a classic. It made her look smart. He picked that prop because it was attractive whereas most first editions are fairly cheaply made (as they are meant to be read), ugly from the damage and fading over the years. He wanted something expensive because as we all know, women only care about money.

Even if we were to say that it was the audience’s naivety that caused the backlash, even if we were to say that it’s their own damn problem, that moment could have been much improved by a different book. Instead of having another generic literary lover who likes all of the academically approved things, she could have been defined better by a more specific choice. He could have been defined by the book he gave her. I’m not saying him handing over a first edition of Lolita wouldn’t have turned heads, but even something like Lady Chatterley’s Lover would have simultaneous linked back to the movie’s concept, hinted at him already pushing his boundaries, and been less likely to get people to roll their eyes at the grandiose gesture being that, while a classic, it is a newer classic and one that you wouldn’t expect every college student claiming as their favorite. If he had picked something less generically “good literature,” it would have suggested the director’s love of fiction and not as much his desire to look like he loved fiction. I’m not expecting a J-Lo flick to be intellectually stimulating and wouldn’t ask them to make it something it doesn’t want to be. I like them for their lack of social risk taking. However, when you have a writer writing about a character who loves literature, I do expect more insight, less airs, less snobbery, more honesty.

The willing incredulousness of an Iliad first edition came down to the false feeling of the moment. Perhaps if, as a book collector, the director had really considered what books he would actually want, what books were actually obtainable, and what books really meant something to these characters, people wouldn’t be so quick to write him off as an idiot.



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