The Pep Talk

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Every month in this space, author Jeff Bowles offers advice for young and struggling writers. No one ever said becoming a world-famous storyteller is easy. This is the Pep Talk.

Everyone needs a pep talk now and then. I could use one at least once a week. I know a lot of damn fine writers who’re having challenging times right now. Maybe it’s just the year 2017, a surge of new energy which has left us feeling stifled and worn down. I think drive comes in waves. Easy to manifest when you’re young and hungry, also easy when you’re working for paychecks. An unexamined life is not worth living. What makes you tick, my friends? Why do you feel the need to work hard for your dream?

For me, a famous song lyric says it all: “Time inspires me like a dog inspires a rabbit.”

There’s a certain creative disposition that fuels productivity by way of dread for the brevity of life. I am of that disposition. When I get into a writing slump, I wake up in the middle of the night feeling unfulfilled and guilty. I’ve got so much to say, so many stories to tell. Maybe it’s more important to create as if nothing can harm us, as if the whole universe is waiting for our next works of art. It can feel like that sometimes, can’t it? Thank God.

Do you have big dreams for your writing career? I certainly do. There’s kind of a junction between what we want and what reality is willing to give us. What keeps us writing even when no publishers are interested in our work and readers are few and far between?

I think the answer is more universal than people realize. If you’ve been doing this long enough, no doubt you know a few people who’ve climbed further faster than you. Now this can be a really painful experience, and I think it’s okay to admit it. Is it petty to resent those who’ve accumulated more success than us? It is, but to a large extent it’s also unavoidable.

It’d take a very balanced personality indeed to shrug off adversity 100% of the time. There’s something within us, perhaps culled from our hunter-gatherer days, that endows us with an astonishing capacity for jealousy.

“How’d he publish that book? Mine is so much better!”

“And she won an award for it? Meanwhile I’m sitting here in obscurity, twiddling my thumbs.”

Comments like these are a sure sign of a bad attitude, but tell me you’ve never thought something similar. It’s normal, right? Even if we don’t want it to be. But I’d also like to remind you it’s corrosive to the mind and spirit.

Publishing is a tricky business because we’re all vying for limited resources. Only so many pub spots, book deals, and readers worldwide. Add to it the fact readership across the globe is on the decline, and holy cow! The competition is on. Some people are fueled by competition. In a perfect world we’d all hold hands and celebrate each other’s work and tell ourselves we can be happy, healthy and sane no matter how many copies of our latest masterworks we sell (or fail to sell).

In the end, jealousy tends to destroy people who cling to it. I do believe jealousy also serves a higher function. You can watch everyone around you meet with success and learn a great deal from it. Watch the successful ones, pay attention to their habits and practices. Are they better writers than you? Doubtful. Perhaps they’re just more keyed in to what sells. I have to admit I’m not very good at this. I have to do everything the hard way. Don’t be like me. Many people will tell you success is a game of luck. I’m not so sure I believe in luck anymore.…

That which we define as luck, I think, can be greatly enhanced by focus and productivity. You can beat the odds by maintaining a steady workflow and making sure you’re constantly revising, submitting, rewriting, doing the dance. Belief is more important than luck. I think you’ve got to take charge of who you perceive yourself to be.

Quit telling yourself you’re a failure nobody wants to read. Stop it! Do your best to boost your ego. Nothing flawed or vain about it. Isn’t there enough in this world that tears us down? So build yourself up. Focus on the end goal, the dream day, a fresh contract, your pen set to the signature line. A few months later, another dream day, signing fresh copies of your latest best seller, a huge line piled up at your table, running out the bookstore (I always imagine a nice cozy Barns & Noble).

Everyone needs friends and allies, too. People who appreciate what you do. Now I’ve got to admit that if you’re just starting out or are not yet as successful as you’d like to be, finding individuals to believe in you might be a challenge. Who knows why people behave this way, but there’s something about a nascent writing dream that drives the skeptics crazy. I’ve met a million of them, and I know you have, too. Just keep working, focus on where you want to be rather than where you are in this present moment.

I’ll just go ahead and say it. I think it pays to be delusional. You’ve got to be the emperor with no clothes on. When people tell you, “Yeah but you aren’t this. I’ve known you for years. What you really are is this.” You’ve got to show them your fine purple robes, assure them they’re more than thin air, and then parade around like you aren’t naked.

Someone someday will clothe you in something more real. Better yet, you’ll manage to get hold of some nice clothes yourself. But you can’t be a victim of other people’s circumstances. You’ll feel what you’ll feel, but don’t let envy control your world. Because it will try, again and again. We’re not monks on high mountains practicing infinite patience and unbridled universal centeredness. We are at best creative people willing to bleed for our work. And what are you going to do as a result? Quit? Ha! You’re no quitter. You are everything literature and great minds have praised for eons. To write and succeed is a blessing. To endure even as we struggle, that is divine. See you next time, everyone!


Interested in Jeff’s writing? Check out his latest short story collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruceshttps://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F

Twitter: @JeffBowlesLives

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jeffryanbowles

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/JeffBowles/e/B01L7GXCU0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1479453494

YouTube’s Jeff Bowles Central: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC6uMxedp3VxxUCS4zn3ulgQ


Jeff’s God Complex

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Writer’s Block vs. The God Complex

by Jeff Bowles

Traditionally, I’ve never been a fan of taking breaks from my writing. I’ve advocated others not break from theirs either, telling myself and the entire writing world to keep pushing no matter what the circumstances. I’m having to alter that perception somewhat. You see, life can and does get in the way at times, and I don’t think there’s any use denying it. Staying driven and defiant in the face of adversity is all well and good. But what about personal tragedy, financial setbacks, lingering doubts, bouts of depression?

In my life as a writer I’ve received well over 600 rejection slips. Trust me, I’ve counted them recently. That’s never been enough to put the nail in the coffin of my work ethic, but somehow when it comes to my life in disarray, a hard fight is just about the only kind I know. Sometimes existence is smooth and sometimes it’s bumpy, and after all, that which you leave behind is paramount. So working your butt off no matter what, creating stories, filling your hard drive with new material, it’s got to be a saving grace of some sort, hasn’t it?

Only I’m not a machine, and neither are you. If you prick us, do we not bleed? Here on Writing to be Read, we hand out a lot of pro tips and offer words of wisdom for writers just starting out. I’d like to give you your concept of the morning: forgiveness. As in self-forgiveness, the only kind no one ever wants to grant. It’s so very easy to pretend your problems don’t exist. Sometimes we don’t have a choice in the matter, and when life catches up to us, there can be a letdown in creativity.

Writing is a hard business to pursue day in and day out. Rather than being purely creative, it’s startlingly cerebral, which means those lovely brains of ours need to be in tip top shape if we’re going to create brilliant prose (which is always the goal, right?). The mind gets tired sometimes. What’s more, it’s far easier to produce another story when a deadline or paycheck is in play. But how do we put up with the work load when all guarantees of future success are null and void?

The answer is passion, I suppose, and a healthy dose of resolve. Discipline will get you to the finish line with startling regularity, but everyone gets burned-out sometimes, right? I would submit that what most people refer to as burnout is more attributable to depression. You’ve got to take care of yourself. Don’t ignore what your mind and body are screaming at you to acknowledge.

How do we refresh ourselves when we’re not in the mood to write? Creatively speaking—and this is just an example from my own experience—it’s always a good idea to have some kind of hobby or art project on the side. For instance, let’s say that 120,000 novel is really starting to drag you down ‘round about the 90,000 word mark. Why not go outside with a camera and begin a fun photography project? Or maybe pick up some paints and toss them at a canvas? Reading is also good, the kinds of stories you’ve always enjoyed most. Take a breather if you have to, though if I were you I’d narrow your daily word limits rather than abandoning your manuscript completely.

To be perfectly fair, I have never been great at refreshing myself in the middle of a long-haul project. The one thing that usually seems to work is finding escape in my words. Instead of viewing my writing as a crucible, I try to envision it as a form of therapy that allows me to escape my troubles and heal that which is damaged or broken. I don’t think this is easy for everyone to do, because the longer you’re at this thing, and the more life is stressing you out, the harder it is to view your writing in a positive light.

I know there will be plenty of writers out there who do not share my experience. After all, talent and depression don’t always go hand in hand, nor do they need to. But sometimes people go through bad months, bad years, and unless I miss my guess, during those times even the most productive writers find the work difficult. On social media the other day, a fellow author asserted writer’s block is just an excuse. I actually agree with the sentiment, though not by his same reasoning.

You see, calling a slump writer’s block allows us to focus on the results of our output rather than the cause. It’s like 17th century Salem assaulted by tragic events, blaming the whole thing on witchcraft. Writer’s block is a nothing phrase, a catch-all that doesn’t describe anything pertinent. Does it exist? Certainly, but not as an end itself. To me, writer’s block is and always will be a symptom of some form of depressed thinking.

When writers slow down, it’s important to consider life circumstances. Maybe the bills aren’t getting paid. Or perhaps there’s too much to do at the office. We humans are extraordinarily skilled at ignoring our troubles. Remember, everyone has bad days, months, years.  It does no good to pretend we don’t. In fact, it only serves to make our writing woes that much harder to overcome.

Are you a writer who’s having trouble maintaining a steady workflow? Don’t get angry and do not criticize yourself. Call it writer’s block if you have to, but realize there’s a genuine cause that you can in fact address. Do a little soul searching, reacquaint yourself with your situation and get honest about what’s causing you difficulty. You understand best how talented you are. You are irreplaceable as a voice and as an individual, so get introspective and really try to parse out this downturn.

Consider a little self-nurturing. It’s not a sin to pause your work. It’s just not. Besides which, many of us consider writing a calling and a passion, no matter how successful or productive we are. You’ve come this far. If we can purge the negativity and bad emotion, the self-destructive tendencies and malaise, writer’s block is no longer such an issue. I’d rather work in a mind space free from all that crap. Wouldn’t you?

Most of the time writing is a damn thankless job. Let’s all be honest about that. It isolates us even at the best of times, so why’s it so hard to believe we sometimes need a little mental and emotional care? Be kind to yourself and respect your ability to produce. If you’re not feeling this right now, no worries, take a breather and work on yourself a bit. Until next time, everybody!


Interested in my writing? Check out my latest collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces: Short Stories — https://www.amazon.com/Fear-Loathing-Las-Cruces-Stories-ebook/dp/B06XH2774F

Twitter: @JeffBowlesLives

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/jeffryanbowles

Tumblr: http://authorjeffbowles.tumblr.com

Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Jeff-Bowles/e/B01L7GXCU0/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=14794534940


What’s a Reviewer to Do?

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I started Writing to be Read to promote my own writing and to help other authors, through writing reflections and reviews. We’re all in the same situation. Marketing and promotion are a big part of writing these days, and authors are expected to self-promote to some extent, even if they are traditionally published. The way that books are being rated now, in many places, including Amazon, by the reviews they receive. I post partial reviews on both Amazon and Goodreads for this reason, and have even taken the time to post on Smashwords and Barnes and Nobles upon request from the author.

But, what is a reviewer to do when a book she’s reviewing falls short of all expect a film, like my review of Angel Falls Texas on Friday? Every review I publish has an end note at the bottom which reads like this:

“Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.”

I don’t believe in charging for a review because I don’t believe in paying for a review. And I don’t believe in that because I don’t think you can get an honest review when it is paid for. And I do believe a review should be honest. While I amin favor of promoting other authors with my reviews, I don’t believe in hyping up a work when it is not deserved.

Too many authors get their books on the best sellers list simply by having great reviews posted by those who love the author, but don’t honestly reflect the quality of their book. It’s sad but true. (To learn more about what that best seller label really means, check out this article by Brent Underwood.)

As I shared my post for my review of Angel Falls Texas last Friday, I reacted with a sad on each one, because I hated having to publish such a negative review. It’s certainly not going to help the author sell books, which is usually my goal. In this case, to post a review to encourage sales would have made me feel dishonest to my own readers.

I do both solicited and unsolicited reviews. Those that are unsolicited are from books I purchased on my own and I use them as fill in posts when I don’t have any solicited reviews to publish. With reviews that have been solicited by the author or I have requested an ARC from the author, which don’t rate at least three quills, I usually contact the author, tell them my assessment, and offer them the chance to not have the review published. Most authors, like my author friend Chris Tucker, opt to publish the review and take their licks, but there have been a few who have requested that I hold off publication. These authors, hopefully, then go and make revisions to improve their book and then have me give it another chance. I’d rather do that than post a review that may hurt sales.

I try to be fair in my reviews. If a book is one of a genre that is not one of my favorites, I will state that in the review, being upfront about anything that may have influenced the my opinion. But honestly, as authors who are putting their work out there, we all take the chance that someone out there will not like our work, for whatever reason, and will post an unfavorable review. After all, we are only human, and we are never going to please everyone.

As a reviewer, I know I’m not going to love every book that I review. There will be times when my reviews will be less than shining, but I have to be true to myself and to you, my readers, and publish how I honestly feel. All I can do is try and be specific about what I didn’t like in the hope that the author will take it like a critique and find something useful from my feedback to help to improve their writing or the value of the product they put out.

I think the number one thing we, as writers, can do is remember what one of my Creative Writing professors, Russell Davis, said when talking about receiving critiques from our cohorts,

“Remember, it’s not about you. It’s not personal. It’s all about the writing.”

 

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“Angel Falls Texas: The Traveler”: Not a Western Great

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I like westerns. Thanks to my creative writing instructor and adviser, I discovered that I like to write westerns, and I’m fairly good at it. So, I read Louis Lamour, Zane Grey and other western authors to absorb as much from their talents as I can, applying it to my own writing. I picked up Angel Falls Texas: The Traveler #1 The Origins by J.C. Hulsey in anticipation of a good western tale. What I got instead was a poorly written story, in which the characters’ actions make little sense.

Angel Falls Texas lacks the story line and plot points to hold readers’ interests. Characters are two dimensional and lack depth, making it difficult to connect and invest themselves in the story. There are many flaws in logic which make it nearly impossible to suspend disbelief, and there is a lot of telling, rather than showing.

A teenage boy, Jed, watches as his pa is killed and kills his father’s assailant, who happens to be the sheriff’s brother. So, he sets out on the run, assuming the sheriff will come after him, not even stopping by the home place to gather supplies for the journey. He makes friends along the way, who travel with him, because they apparently have no lives of their own, and end up back where he started, in Angel Falls, where he learns the sheriff is still gunning for him. When the sheriff returns, instead of the show down one would expect, and perhaps even anticipate,  the protagonist runs away, thus avoiding confrontation. The sheriff never even sees him, so it’s not even a close call.

In fact, there is no confrontation throughout the story. There is no conflict, no obstacles to overcome. Jed and his new friends go where they please and do what they want unhindered in any way, with no apparent destination in mind. The characters are not challenged in any way and they have no clear goal to accomplish or strive toward.  They do not have to overcome other people, the elements, or the landscape. Jed spends several months helping one new friend fix up his ranch, but when a neighboring rancher shows up and claims the ranch for his own, his friend packs up and takes to the trail with our hero, giving up without a fight, or even a word of protest.

If that weren’t bad enough, the book is riddled with typos and grammar errors. This is a pet peeve of mine because poor quality books which are self-published give self-publishing as a whole a bad name, adding to the stigma that has been placed on self-published authors. This is one of those books. The cover says this book won first place in Texas Western series, but I don’t see it.

As a fan and author of the western genre, I can only give Angel Falls Texas: The Traveler #1 The Origin one quill.

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Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs at no charge. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.


Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 6): Interview with Independently Published YA Author, Jordan Elizabeth

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Hello and welcome to Writing to be Read, where I am interviewing authors from the three models of publishing: traditional, independent and self-publishing, to explore the pros and cons of each. To date, we’ve heard from self-published authors Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Arthur Rosch, and with traditionally published authors, Stacia Deutsch and Mark Shaw.
This week , in part 5, we’ll hear from independently published YA author, Jordan Elizabeth, who publishes her steampunk novels, ghost stories and historical novels as well as several short stories, with Curiosity Quills Press. Jordan’s publishing credits, many of which I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing, include Escape from Witchwood Hollow, CoglingTreasure Darkly, Born of Treasure, The Goat Children, Victorian, Runners and Riders, and three short story anthologies, including Gears of Brass, Chronology, and Under a Brass Moon.
Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Jordan: My fondest childhood memories involve making up stories into a tape recorder and having my maternal grandmother write them down. Authors have always been my role models. While others fawned over movie stars, I fawned over the authors of my favorite books. One of my favorite childhood authors was Bruce Coville, and a few years ago, I actually got to meet him!
Kaye: Would you share the story of how you ended up with Curiosity Quills Press?
Jordan: My critique partners have always meant a lot to me. I decided to compile an anthology – GEARS OF BRASS – with them in hopes of getting it published. One of my critique partners, Eliza Tilton, shared it with her publisher, Curiosity Quills Press. They accepted it and asked if I had any full length novels I could show them.
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?
Jordan: The biggest con is the stigma. Many times I’ve had people tell me that going with an independent publisher is no better than self-publishing, (as if there is something wrong with that, too). At book signings, I’ve been asked who published my work. When I tell them, they’ll ask if it’s indie or traditional. These people will usually put my book down as if it is tainted.
The biggest pro is having a great, close-knit network. I know authors who have traditionally published and they’ve told me about long delays in questions being answered and feeling distant from the work force behind the book.
Kaye: You mentioned the stigma surrounding independent and self-publishing. What do you see as being the main cause of that stigma?
Jordan: I think the stigma comes from there being a lot of bad, self-published books.  I hate to say that, but I’ve seen them myself and people have told me this at signings.  There are some great self-published books out there…and then there are the books where the author published the first draft with no editing.  Here is my real world example – I met an amazing girl at a book event.  She wrote vampire erotica and I bought a copy of Book 1.  I asked her what she thought of the event and she told me her mom was making her do it.  She was mad that her books weren’t instant best sellers (I think we can all understand wanting our books to be loved by millions).  I asked her what her favorite writing websites were, and she told me doesn’t use things like that.  She doesn’t believe in editing because that just ruins the book.  After I read her story, it sorely needed some editing.  There were many typos, characters changed names and features, and there was no plot.  I could definitely see potential in it and you could tell that she loved the world she had created.  We kept in touch, and I offered to help her with Book 4.  She cut me out of her life then, but did get in touch a few years later to let me know she was quitting writing because of how many negative reviews she had received.  I still feel bad about that.  I hate to see anyone give up on a dream.
 
Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing?
Jordan: I haven’t worked with a traditional publisher yet, so this is hard for me to answer from a personal standpoint. I will say that I’ve heard from author friends, traditional publishers push the big authors and tend to let the smaller, new authors flounder.
As a pro, bookstores are more apt to carry a traditionally published book. Magazines and newspapers are more apt to run a feature on the book. More people know your name.
Kaye: How much non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations, book covers, etc…) do you do yourself, for your books?
Jordan: The publisher handles the book covers and editing, however the marketing and promotion falls to me. Curiosity Quills does do a little. I am in charge of my own cover reveals and blog tours. I seek out bloggers asking for read-and-reviews (my street team is a great resource and helps me out a lot with that). I try to spend at least an hour every night on marketing.
Kaye: You mentioned your street team, which is in fact, how I ended up reviewing Escape from Witchwood Hollow back in Februaryand meeting you via internet. I’ve been reviewing your books and other authors you’ve sent me ever since. Could you talk a little about your street team to let my readers know who and what they are?
 Jordan: I have a street team of 3 women who got in touch with me after reading my first book.  They said they loved the story and were excited that it takes place in a local setting (although names are changed to protect the innocent – and of course there is no cursed hollow), so they asked what they could do to help with promotions  Currently they are helping me to find new readers.  I don’t mind giving out review copies – I just want to share the story with the world, no matter how cheesy that sounds.  They also let me know if they find any coll websites to advertise on and I love getting book recommendations from them.
Kaye: Would you recommend independent publishing as a good path to publication for emerging writers?
Jordan: I would. I feel like going with an independent publisher has helped me to understand the publishing world. I know what makes my website pop, I know what online magazines to advertise in, and I’ve made amazing connections. In the future, I hope to be traditionally published, but I’ll never forget where I got my start.
I want to thank Jordan for sharing with us here on Writing to be Read. You can learn more about Jordan and her published works at www.jordanelizabethmierek.com. Be sure and catch next week’s interview with an author who has published work under all three models, middle grade author, Nancy Oswald. It should prove to be very interesting.
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Movie Review: The Neon Demon

I’m not someone who is particularly a fan of movies that are more about being artistically beautiful than having a solid plot, but after seeing The Neon Demon claimed to be horror, and several friends recommending it to me, I knew I had to see it. A great movie to me is one you can get lost in, either because of the plot, or the characters, or the setting/world, or even because it’s so visually stunning that you just want to stare and don’t care what’s happening. I wasn’t sure about The Neon Demon from the few trailers I saw beforehand, but it looked like it had potential so I decided to check it out despite it not being my typical choice of movie.

***SPOILERS BELOW***

The Neon Demon is a movie that has so much about it that is so brilliantly, beautifully, and boldly done that it’s impressive. I could go on for a long while about some of the amazing craftsmanship that went into this movie (and I will below), but I felt like the movie also had one amazingly large fault—its plot. As I said above, a great movie for me is one I can get lost in, and while I can appreciate a lot of the talent, craftsmanship, and just pure artistic awesomeness of this movie, I couldn’t get lost in it for several reasons. I know I am not the target audience for this style of movie so I don’t fault it in the least, but I do want to discuss the things that I loved individually, as well as the things that kept me from loving the movie as a whole.

Cinematography and Sound

I am pretty sure that at least 90% of the shots in this film could be captured into a still frame picture and hung on a wall somewhere as art without question. It’s beautiful, and scene by scene. It’s captivating in that you want to look at it. The balance of colors and costumes, makeup and posing, works so well throughout that it really is enticing to look at even amidst the gore and violence. The opening shot of Elle Fanning as Jessie laying “dead” on the couch immediately has you intrigued because of the surprising prettiness of it all. You don’t know whether it’s real or a photo shoot and you can’t look away. The trend of that alluring beauty carries throughout the film, and it fits well given The Neon Demon’s themes of narcissism and vanity.

Right along with the cinematography was the sound throughout the film. The music used worked incredibly well to create these intense moments during scenes, but what I loved just as much was the use of silence. There are these intense moments where the silence is distinct, and it makes you focus even more on what you’re seeing. Many films or shows don’t use silence in a noticeable way and there’s always some kind of sound going on, but The Neon Demon embraced it at times to heighten moments such as the scene where Elle Fanning is at her first “real” photo shoot. I also appreciated the silences between characters in dialogue because, while they were long at times, I felt like they were used at appropriate moments for emphasis on specific elements or events.

Acting

The other major thing I have to say I enjoyed in this film is that I felt like every actor was captivating in their own way. The characters themselves may have had some flaws in their development (or lack of), but the actors who played them were amazing. Elle Fanning managed to walk that mysterious line of whether her character was predator or prey perfectly, and Jena Malone as Ruby was simultaneously disturbing yet sympathetic. Surprisingly, though, was the fact that Keanu Reeves almost stole the show. It’s not surprising because of who he is—he’s had plenty of great performances—but it’s surprising because of his minimal amount of screen time. Maybe it was just me, but every time he was on screen I felt like he stole the show. Some of it could be that his character was the most physically expressive of them all, and the most distinct personality-wise of all the characters, but I think a huge portion of it just has to be Keanu Reeves as an actor and his abilities.

The Flow

As shown above, so much about this movie was great and worked incredibly well. I think the first area things really faltered for me was the flow. As I said before, if I’m going to get lost in a movie I have to have something to get lost in. For The Neon Demon, the most likely element for that would have been the pure beauty of it all, but the flow kept that from happening for me. While almost every shot was stunning and perfectly crafted, the flow between shots wasn’t always coherent of consistent. Just as I was being lured in by the imagery and about to stop caring about the plot, the tone or the story thread would abruptly shift and throw me out, leaving me wondering what the heck was going on. A great example of this is when Keanu Reeves’ character breaks into Elle’s room during the dream/vision sequence. At that point, the film’s tone and pacing shifted abruptly changing everything. We are in this vain and edgy world of modeling for 2/3rds of the movie and then suddenly we have potential rapes, necrophilia, murder, and cannibalism.

The Plot

This is the real area that is the main flaw of the film. There isn’t much of a plot built up other than the idea of a young, new girl in town getting into the modeling industry and being preyed upon by others in LA who want something from her. I could handle that as a plot if that’s all it was, but there are so many elements in it that seem to lead somewhere only to be dropped away and forgotten, never explained, or not fully utilized. Because there are all these little threads and elements that are thrown in for either artistic pizzazz or random impulse, and because the main plot is so sparse, things get muddled.

An example of the random plot elements are things like the mountain lion appearing in Elle Fanning’s room. It is really used as an excuse to give Keanu Reeves’ character more screen time and to give her “boyfriend” and excuse to go pay off her debt and be her lapdog. In general, though, the whole set-up of the mountain lion randomly getting into her bedroom just seems weird, and like it’s going to be some kind of plot line later that is explained but never is. I did get the sense that it was supposed to sort of be symbolic that there are predators everywhere she looks lurking in the shadows for her, but that was obvious from the moment Jena Malone’s character laid eyes on Elle Fanning in the first scene and the film didn’t need an actual mountain lion to nail the point home. If the film just had the straight simple plot without the random side unexplained elements, like the mountain lion scene or the scene where Jena Malone’s character seemingly gives birth after eating Elle (which was also never really explained or returned to), then I think it would have been much better off.

Final Notes

Overall, while there was so much brilliance to The Neon Demon and some truly amazing craftsmanship that made me want to love it, it was hard to do so when I was kept from being immersed in it. I could go on for a long while about different aspects of this film, but instead, I’ll end with a final thought I had when thinking about what to write here. The Neon Demon is primarily about beauty, vanity, and narcissism, and the film itself manages to be narcissistic. The film is so focused on being beautiful in every moment that it forgot to add real depth. Some could argue that the metaphor and symbolism of the film could be considered depth in place of a plot, but I’m not so sure because so much of that symbolism was not subtle.

Ultimately, whatever I think about the plot or flow, the film is definitely worth watching for anyone who appreciates cinematography, unusual art, or the just plain odd. I can almost guarantee you’ll be asking yourself “What the **** is going on?” at least once during the film, but I can also almost guarantee you’ll find yourself entranced by the beauty of some of the camera shots and scenes. Just keep in mind it does get pretty dark, and as mentioned above there are scenes of murder, necrophilia, and cannibalism, so it’s definitely not for everyone.

 

Robin Conley offers great writing advice most Wednesdays and shares an occasional guest review on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next week to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.


Pros and Cons of Traditional vs. Independent vs. Self-Publishing (Part 5): Interview with Traditionally Published Author, Mark Shaw

 

mark-shaw-books

Those who remember traditional publishing prior to the digital age, recall an industry which was not easy to break into, but with persistence, it could pay off with large advances, and a contract from one of the “Big Five” publishing houses. Your publisher took care of the rest: editing and proofreading, cover and/or illustrations, publicity and marketing. In many ways, it is the same today, but one thing self-publishing and independent publishing have changed, is that they showed traditional publishers that authors were capable of doing their own promotion and marketing. Today’s authors, it seems, are now expected to carry the weight for these tasks no matter which model is chosen.

The rise of digital and self-publishing also brought about a rise in publishing scams, designed to take advantage of aspiring authors and empty their pocketbooks. In the 1990s, when I began writing, they called them vanity presses.An author would send in their work and receive a very favorable response, praising their work and offering to publish it for a fee. As the author moves through the publishing process, the fees keep adding up. Today they are called subsidy publishers. As with traditional publishers, subsidy publishers hold the rights to the book, although the author is paying them to publish it.

So far in the series we’ve heard from self-published authors, Jeff Bowles, Tim Baker and Art Rosch, and we’ve heard from traditionally published author Stacia Deutsch. Join me today to get more of the traditionally published POV in my interview with author Mark Shaw. Among his 25 published works are books I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing as The Southern Colorado Literature Examiner: The Mask of Holiness, a biography of Thomas Merton, and Stations Along the Way, a biography of former Hitler youth leader, Ursela Martens. In addition  to being a traditionally published author, Mark is a literary consultant and entertainment attorney, so he knows of what he speaks.

Kaye: When did you know you wanted to be an author?

Mark: I’m a former criminal defense lawyer and I never considered being an author until I covered the Mike Tyson rape trial for CNN, ESPN, and USA Today. I believed Tyson was denied justice and so I wrote my first book, Down For the Count.

Kaye: Would you share your own publishing story with us?

Mark: I was able to find a literary agent to represent the Tyson book and he found a traditional publisher. I had enjoyed the writing process and the book sold well so I looked for new subjects to write about and within a few years I had published several traditionally published books. Looking for a theme to weave through new books, I landed on “justice denied” and the last four or five I have written including my latest “The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death of What’s My Line TV Star and Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen,” are symbolic of the type of books I write. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that this book will be my 25th since I never had any formal training as a writer but I’m blessed that people have enjoyed the “stop and think” aspect of the books and continue to praise my body of work.

Kaye: What do you see as pros and cons of self-publishing?

Mark: As noted in my book about the publishing process, “How to Become a Published Author: Idea to Publication,” as long as it’s what we call “traditional self-publishing (no subsidy publisher) then okay, but the career of any writer who uses a subsidy publisher where they pay to have the book published (Dorrance, iUniverse, Trafford, AuthorHouse, XLibris, etc.) is doomed with many who have come to me for consulting telling horror stories of losing their life savings, their homes, etc. Subsidy Publishing is the absolute kiss of death and so many writers fall prey to subsidy publishers that promise the moon and end up with boxes of books in the basement they can never sell since libraries and most bookstores won’t touch them. This is unfortunate since aspiring authors can use a combination of Create Space and Ingram Spark to publish a book with very minimal cost and this traditional self-publishing method is a badge of honor and libraries and bookstores will be interested in purchasing and stocking the book.

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of independent publishing?

Mark: There seems to be confusion as to what this term means but as long as it doesn’t include subsidy publishing, I’m all for it.

Kaye: What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional publishing?

Mark: I encourage writers to try the traditional publishing route by using query letters and book proposals and a good strategy for landing a literary agent or publisher and if that doesn’t work, then use traditional self-publishing. The advantages of traditional publishing include the publisher paying for all aspects of the publishing process, editing, layout, cover, etc. without the writer putting up a cent but most importantly traditional publishing includes distribution (my new book has Simon&Schuster distribution) which traditional self-publishing lacks since the author must do the distribution. One disadvantage these days for a first time author is that unlike ten years ago, many traditional publishers will not do much toward promotion and thus the author is expected to do the major part of the work.

Kaye: How much does the non-writing work, (marketing & promotion, illustrations & book covers, etc…), that you must do yourself vary between the different models?

Mark: You are talking about completely different subjects here. With marketing and promotion, regardless of the method of publishing, an author has to understand that he or she must be the guiding force behind book publicity. With illustrations and book covers, etc. traditional publishers will handle this task while the author of any traditional self-published book is responsible for handling these matters and there are several outstanding consultants who can help with this tasks. Again, writers should stay away from subsidy publishers many of whom produce inferior books that cause problems right away with the authors’ reputation.

Kaye: Do you recommend traditional publishing for today’s aspiring authors, and why or why not?

Mark: Absolutely but writers must proceed with a well-developed strategy such as the “10-Step Method” outlined in “How to Become a Published Author.” There are no shortcuts possible here and most writers don’t want to put in the hard work necessary to secure a literary agent so their chances of securing a publisher are optimized.

 

I want to thank Mark for sharing his thoughts with us.  Also, I’m excited to be reviewing his latest book. Be sure and catch my review of The Reporter Who Knew Too Much on November 25, right here on Writing to be Read. To learn more about Mark Shaw or his books visit his website.

Don’t miss next Monday’s post and my interview with independently published YA author, Jordan Elizabeth, and get her thoughts on today’s publishing industry on Writing to be Read.

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