Thursday, April 2, 2015

Sorry I Sat On Your Rose-Colored Glasses

Lest anyone think the title of this entry is intended entirely in jest, let me assure you... it ain't. It is my belief (based on decades of personal experience) that all writers go through what can only be called 'the dark night of the soul,' and if those writers are truthful, it is a dark night that may last a lifetime. *ouch*  So if you're one of those card-carrying bliss ninnies who needs to believe all mosquitoes go to heaven and all writers eventually achieve the status of best-selling author... read no further, for it is my intent with this entry to disappoint you and shatter your false hope entirely.  Like I said in the opening post of this blog (Once Upon A Mad, Mad Time), a lot of the stories writers tell are horror stories - not fictions in the vein of Edgar Allan Poe, but true tales of dread and woe torn from the pages of their own personal journals.

The grumblings in this entry fall under that heading and it is intended as a personal rant - so be warned. If you want fairy tales, go to Disneyland. If you want some of the ugly truths about writing in today's world... read on and PLEASE feel free to add your own writer-tales-of-terror in the comments section. It would at least let me know I'm not talking to myself in the dark.

It was one of those mornings (yesterday, as a matter of fact) when I woke up on the wrong side of the coffin, climbed out of bed only to step in something that had once seen the inside of the cat's belly, and finally stumbled into the bathroom to discover there was not a drop of running water because a hose had been left on somewhere on the 5 acres. This meant trying to track down the culprit, which meant going outside at 6 a.m., which meant looking for shoes and clothes and the AK-47 one normally keeps on hand for just such occasions.

It occurred to me somewhere between one step and the next that this is all too common, and the words came into my head, "I'm just tired of the whole absurd syndrome!"

Of course, it had very little to do with stepping in cat barf or having a beef with the house-member who is obsessed with watering the sand. It had to do with... life. My life. And - in particular - my life as a writer. All of this came to me in a rapid flash of awareness. I was simply weary of jumping through hurdles and hoops (most of them blazing), only to end up two more steps behind at the end of the day.

Yes, I'm whining. And if you're any sort of serious writer, you can probably understand why. But for those who may not have reached this particular stage of annoyance and frustration yet, allow me to spell it out in a numbered list.

1.  Life gets in the way of writing.  Most writers have other jobs because writing seldom pays the bills unless one is extremely lucky. I won't even say "unless one is extremely talented" because - let's face it - 99.9% of the stuff in the bookstores (online and brick-and-mortar) is pure and unadulterated crap.  Talent would appear to have little to do with success, and so most of us work for a living and write in the hopes of maybe one day far in the future being able to at least supplement our day job. Point being - in The Real World I own a retail business with my significant other, wherein we operate a large merchant booth (Eye Scry Designs) at Renaissance Faires, Scottish Highland Games, Celtic Music Festivals, and the like. We're on the road intermittently for 9 months of the years, doing an average of 20-25 weekends per year.

So just as I'm sitting down at my desk, the phone rings, and it's a nice lady who says she was in our booth at a recent faire in northern California. She asks if I remember her (by her voice? on the phone?) and goes on to tell me about her mother's health, what kind of dog she owns, and finally gets around to why she is calling. She had wanted to purchase a dress from us at the show, but "evaporated" (her word - I think she meant "procrastinated"), so now she is trying to describe this particular dress to me (we have probably 30-40 different styles). By the time I finally know what she's talking about, at least 15 minutes have passed, and I am no closer to sitting down at my computer than when my foot was ankle-deep in kitty-pucky. She finally says, "So I was hoping you could send me 2 or 3 of those dresses so I can try them on."  Er...?  It didn't seem reasonable to her that she would need to pay for them. No, I should just send them to her (at my own cost), and if she liked them, she would send a check along with returning whatever ones she didn't want.  Er...?  Really? She was a good person, and "completely trustworthy" - but then, I'm pretty sure Chuck Manson would make the same claim to the guys and gals on the parole board.

But no matter. The only reason this is worthy of mention is because it is all too common - not just with me, but with just about every writer, I suspect. The world at large is a vast conspiracy to prevent a writer from writing.

2. I stole this book from you, but could you read it to me? As I hung up the phone, there were those words again. "I'm just tired of the whole absurd syndrome!" Out of the blue, I recalled an incident that occurred a few months back. I moderate a couple of large forums and groups, so it's not uncommon to get questions about my books once in awhile. One morning, I received a private message from a young woman who said, "I was wondering if you could clarify a few things from one of your books that I just got from _________. (She named a well-known and much-hated pirate site). I read the book in one sitting - it was really life-changing for me, but I don't understand what you said on page 32 about blah blah blah, and if you could write me back and explain it better, I'd really appreciate it."

Some days it ain't worth gnawing through the straps - because if I did, I would probably only end up in jail for strangling some imbecile who thinks it's okay to literally steal a book from a pirate site, and then have the big silver xmas balls to PM the writer and ask for a private dialog!

One has to ask - why are these pirate sites even allowed to exist? I know, I know, most of them are in foreign countries, but then the question must become, why does ANY country allow the outright theft of intellectual property? I've heard the age-old (and bullshit-based) argument which states that "All information should be free!" but as anyone with 2 brains cells to rub together knows, that's just the mantra of the Age of Entitlement Generation. They use the same argument with movies, music, and all manner of creative endeavor, seeming to believe that everyone owes it to them. One begins to wonder where their parents were during their formative years. Nobody owes you anything - least of all entertainment. Entertainment (including books, movies, music, etc) is a privilege, not a right. If you want it, at least have the common decency to pay the artist for their work.

And if you don't have the decency, you may want to consider the consequences - such as a $675,000 fine recently imposed by a judge in Massachusetts. Personally, I hope this sets a precedent - because until this issue of internet piracy of intellectual property is resolved, it seems like all artists are only fools, laboring to produce something of value only to lay it at the feet of thieves. What's the point? If you think about it, it will drive you to drink. And if you don't, aren't you just sweeping it under the rug?

I could go on at great length about how some (most) of these pirate sites even have the audacity to charge their customers some sort of "usage fee" - $89/year, for example, and you can download anything you want from their site. So, technically, these flagrant assholes are charging you for my books, so if you're going to pay for it anyway, why not go to Amazon and order it legitimately? It's not just my pockets you're picking when you download from pirate sites, it's also a matter of your own safety. Literally 75% or more of these illegal downloads are loaded (intentionally) with viruses and malware of all sorts. I once enlisted the services of a good friend of mine who is also an expert hacker, to examine one of my books that had been illegally downloaded from such a site. What he found was terrifying! I'm not a computer expert, so I don't know all the exact lingo, but basically he said that the text had been embedded with data-mining software that would slowly but surely destroy the computer's registry and invade (and destroy) every other program and app installed on the computer.  So - the cost of repairs or replacement of an entire computer seems like a hefty price to pay for what would otherwise have cost the reader $2.99 on Kindle. Do the math. It ain't hard.

And if you are dumb enough to download one of my books from a pirate site, don't ask me to explain it to you.

3. Use your head - just once. I'm tired of "reviewers" reviewing books that 1) they never read; or 2) posting a review based on some quality of the book that was beyond the writer's control. For example, I once read a review that said, "The package was ripped open when I got it, and even though the book wasn't damaged, I'm giving it a 1-star because it should have been packed better."  The book in question had been sent by Amazon, and probably torn open by the Klingon Letter Stomper at the girl's local post office. Neither Amazon nor the author had anything to do with it, but instead of figuring that out for herself, the girl left a scathing review and ended up hurting the writer's standings.

Sorry if this is an unpopular opinion, but I personally liked "the good old days" (she said with a doddering grin) when reviewers had at least some sort of credentials. Like... oh... maybe they were above the age of 11 and had a rudimentary grasp of the language. In my opinion, one of the biggest mistakes Amazon makes is allowing customer reviews by readers who are obviously reading at the level of "See Spot Run" or who base their reviews on their own personal prejudices. I got a review on one of my books which reads..."The story also contained unnecessary profanity but not excessive."

Er... the book in question is a male/male romance with all the appropriate warnings right up front. And to be perfectly honest, the profanity in that particular book is minimal, and so the question becomes... If you are offended by words, why are you reading anything at all? Okay, maybe that's not a fair question (but I think it is).

4.  Banished to the Island of Obscurity.  I'm tired of writing books no one is ever going to read - a dilemma faced by most writers nowadays, whether pro-published or self-published, print or e-books. Let's get real and look the tiger in the eye. Reading is rapidly becoming a lost art - and for many of the reasons cited above.  The attention span of most readers could be defined by what will fit in a post on Twitter. In a world where things like Game of Thrones and World of Warcraft and every lunatic on Facebook are all competing for our attention, most people just don't have the time to sit down with a good book And even if they do, what can a writer really do to have even a small chance that the one book they do read that year will be yours?  Personally, that's where I'm stumped.  I've done it all - from Facebook ads to Amazon ads to Google ads... and near as I can tell, I'd have a better chance of turning a profit at the local casino (and we all know what kind of odds that entails).

I've tried running free promotions on Amazon. I've even posted entire books for free on Smashwords... and though I get tons of people downloading them, I don't see that these "gimmicks" have increased sales more than 1% of 1 percentage point overall.  Sometimes I'd like to tell myself, "Self, just face it. You're a lousy writer and you'd do well to forget about this crazy idea of writing and just sit in front of the idiot box all day." But two things stop me. 1) Every time I threaten to do it, I have people telling me how much they love my books, how they will help me by reviewing my books, how they would be devastated if I quit... and yet... while I very much appreciate the flattery (seriously, I do!), even when I give away free review copies, seldom if ever do the books actually get reviewed; and 2) I have these stories in my head that I very much want to write, but after awhile, it becomes disheartening to think I am writing them only for myself.  If that is the case, then I ask myself if I really need to write them at all. After all, I know the story - how it begins, how it ends, and all the adventure and angst in between - so if I'm just writing for myself, I can do that in my head, right? Why waste so much time and energy channeling my characters and their worlds onto some idea of virtual 'paper'?  Save a digital tree.

5. Where have all the readers gone? (sung in the key of E-minor) I've heard authors talk about cultivating an audience, often using the words "one fan at a time," but that's about as realistic as building a stairway to heaven out of twigs and Oreos. Back in the days when I was a fan fiction writer, I had a rather large following. I've posted a lot of my old Star Trek fan fic to AO3, and with each story I include a mention of my works on Amazon, much of which is in the exact same vein (male/male romance), and near as I can tell, there is incredible interest in the old fan fic, but virtually no cross-over interest into my professional works. Is it only because the fan fic is free?

When I was at the height of my reading and writing phase, I would devour anything by an author whose work I enjoyed. I probably read everything Ray Bradbury ever wrote - whether it was science fiction, contemporary fantasy or even non-fiction.  I didn't limit myself to only the characters of Will Holloway and Jim Nightshade. I read the author - and I generally found that if I liked one of his genres, I liked most if not all of the others. So I'm still rather perplexed as to why there seems to be almost no cross-over from readers of fan fic to readers of pro fic.

It is a strange world in which we live. That's the only thing I really know anymore.


If you're expecting me to now retract everything I've said above and offer some sort of magical solution... I can only say that I wish that were possible, but that genie climbed out of her bottle and escaped long ago.

Perhaps the only encouraging thing I can say today (tomorrow may be different) is something I learned from my mentor. Loosely paraphrased, it is simply this:

Looking at the world through rose-colored glasses doesn't change the world, it only skews your own perception. It's only when you have the courage to see things as they are that you may have the power to change them. 

Of course, the "problem" (is it a problem?) is that when we see writing in today's world for what it is, it can be so overwhelming that it begins to seem that the only winning move is not to play. Or, simply, "Why bother?"

That's the view from the wrong side of the coffin for today. Hopefully tomorrow will bring new insight, or at least renewed hope. (That's my attempt at being an optimist... take it or leave it.)


So... why did I bother to write this?

Mainly to let you know... you're not alone in the dark.  There are hundreds and thousands of other writers right here in that cave next to you. I only only hope we all had a shower and a breath mint, 'cuz it's gettin' crowded.  

Stay sane... if you can.

My latest work of fiction, written under my
long-standing brand - "Alexis Fegan Black."
Available on Amazon or
Eye Scry Publications

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