Posted: January 1, 2020 Filed under: Commentary, Opinion, Uncategorized, Words to Live By, Writing | Tags: Commentary, Creativity, Editorial, Jeff Bowles, Opinion, Words to Live By, Writing to be Read
The first Wednesday of every month, writer Jeff Bowles muses on life, creativity, and our collective destinies as makers of cool stuff. You’re a writer, but have you ever thought about how or why? Here are some words to live by.
The Creator in the Creative
Creativity is a hard thing to nail down. I should know. I’ve tried many times. It’s universal, yet it can also be inconsistent. It’s one of the most primal urges we have, but many people stifle the creative impulse within themselves, which must suit them, but which is really a damn shame, if you ask me.
Sometimes, our creativity is like a good friend. At other times, it abandons us completely. In the face of tragedy, trauma, or just a really nasty string of bad luck, who the hell feels like writing anything? It’s hard to make cool stuff when you’re feeling low. But our creativity is never really gone for good.
In some spiritual traditions, the creative drive is an extension of the same lifeforce with which we make babies and raise families. I kind of like that sentiment, because in many ways, the projects we take on, the stories we tell, the art we make, it’s not unlike our very own precious yet finicky offspring. If there is a central intelligence in the universe, a oneness to all things, then certainly creativity is the most primary law residing therein. After all, most people’s concept of God is God, The Creator, not God, That Lazy Dude.
I’ve been creating things my whole life. I like to write songs, like to tell stories, I paint sometimes, and the fact of the matter is I never feel more at peace and connected than when I’m knee-deep in my work. It’s a buzz, really. It keeps me feeling good all day long. It’s also kind of frustrating sometimes, as I’m sure you’ll agree. To write a novel, for instance, requires intense focus and a terrible long-term memory, because if I actually thought about how often I’ve failed, I probably wouldn’t want to write at all.
If not for the unsettled nature of these things, I could live my life inside my art and never leave. Never even peek my head out to see what’s happening in the world. I also don’t have any children, which simplifies things, I suppose. My wife and I had no luck conceiving. As much as 15% of couples have fertility issues, and it makes you wonder about the connection between that essential lifeforce inside us and our ability to propagate on any level. I know that during the worst of our disappointment, I wrote more than I ever had before. Story after story after story. Mostly sad, sometimes nightmarish. It’s funny how your mental and emotional states can seep into your writing.
I had to learn to get good at creation, because for a very long time, it felt like there was nothing else for me. One can almost imagine the cosmos having one or two sloppy first drafts. There were many days I opted to spend time alone, probably because it was painful for me to see my wife in such misery. We were both hurting. We both needed to feel our pain, and then hopefully one day, to heal from it. She really wanted to be a mom, and as it slowly became clear she wouldn’t get that chance, I pursued her in ways I hoped would get through to her, despite her depression and angst. I wrote a lot about fertility. I wrote about miscarriages and frustration and having a life you’re not sure you want anymore. And I have to wonder if I had become a father, would I have worked even half as hard? I needed that energy out of me, needed to express it in some constructive way.
And I guess that’s the point, isn’t it? One little act of creation has the power to shape the world. Some people even believe we have the ability to create our own realities through sheer willpower. In New Age spirituality, they call it the Law of Attraction or the Law of Resonance. The spiritual self-help book The Secret cracked that whole thing open for mass consumption, though the basic metaphysical presumptions behind it are reportedly eons old. What is consciousness? Can you feel it? Manipulate it? Is consciousness conscious in the sense that it walks and talks and blinks and cracks a joke now and then? Or is it patient and observant within us, sleeping yet not asleep, wistful and dreaming while we strut around, the emperors of our little empires?
Many people perceive malleable seams in the fabric of reality. In practical application, sitting down to write a story is not unlike constructing a whole universe from thin air. Making gold from lead, that’s sort of the joy of being alive. At least it is for me. The fires that forge whatever I want, they burn brightly. It’s not such a stretch to imagine an unconscious connection between what I dream and how I live. And some forms of creativity are born in even hotter fires still.
Love, I’m certain, has spurred more creative endeavors than any other human experience. Unrequited love, for sure. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt the sting for someone unavailable or uninterested, but honestly, it makes for fantastic art. Hallelujah, at least it’s good for something, right? There is a kind of sacred triumvirate between the heart, the head, and the drive to create. I love my wife dearly. I love that I am afforded the joy of loving her. I write for her as much as for anything else. It’s a privilege and a wonder.
We can drive ourselves crazy stewing in our own unexpressed romantic juices. And it’s not like artists aren’t known for craziness, right? Take a van Gogh, lop off the tip of one ear for a woman, and they’ll never let you hear the end of it (pun not intended). It’s a matter of pride for some, carrying that torch. I prefer to carry nothing at all, or at least a slice of pizza or something, but that’s just me.
It begs the question, do we have to be in pain to make good art? Or perhaps in some kind of rapture? Religious art is made in the latter, pop songs and pop books the former. Peak experience is universal, though not in any form universally understood. The creative mind is often also the jealous and overly dramatic mind. Love makes you feel that way. I suppose pain does, too. All the tragedies of the world couldn’t fit into a million books, but don’t think people haven’t tried.
Essentially, creativity is a salve. It’s soothing. It boosts your brain chemistry, all those wonderful joy hormones, and it produces an effect like falling in love. Surely, if there is something of a higher nature in us, our creativity is its first mile marker. If you’re a particularly creative individual—and if you’re reading this article, I figure you must be—then wear it proudly, and don’t forget it’s one of the things that makes you who you are. I wouldn’t even know myself as Jeff Bowles if I couldn’t put the right words down on the page or strike just the right notes on a guitar.
High-mindedness is all well and good, but the truth is you’re human, you’re mortal, and at some point you will not exist in the form you enjoy now. Which makes it even more crucial for you to follow your star and use your talents and your natural spark and intelligence to turn lead into gold. Never underestimate the power of a good mystery. Perhaps it doesn’t matter where our creativity comes from, how it manifests. Maybe it’s enough that we perform the work of our kind, which is to say, the work of the universe itself.
Have you created something great recently? Something you’re really proud of? Share it in the comments section below. And meet me back here same time next month. We’ll have another chat. 😊
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Posted: December 16, 2019 Filed under: Blog Content, Writing, Writing to be Read, WtbR Team Members | Tags: Arthur Rosch, Arthur's Visual Media Reviews, Chatting with the Pros, Growing Bookworms, Jeff Bowles, Jeff's Movie Reviews, Jordan Elizabeth, Mind Fields, Robbie Cheadle, Words to Live By, Write Me Better, Writing for a YA Audience, Writing to be Read
Wow! It’s hard to believe that 2020 will be celebrating 10 years of Writing to be Read!
We have a promising line-up shaping up and I think it will be an exciting year ahead. I’ll share some of that line-up with you, but first, let’s take a brief look at how Writing to be Read has gotten to where it is today in celebration of those first nine years. (For long time followers who have been with me a while, I may have said some of this before because I reflect on the evolution of my endeavors often, but bear with me because there are some really great changes coming.)
When I started Writing to be Read, back in 2010, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with the blog, but I knew I wanted to write and I wanted somebody to read what I wrote. I was not yet a published author, and I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was determined to do it. I’d written for three years as the “Southern Colorado Literature Examiner” for Examiner.com, and I knew how to get review books and find authors willing to be interviewed, so that’s what I did.
Yet, I was still kind of bungling my way through. Kind of like how Laurel and Hardy always seem to make a mess of things, but in the end they manage to set things right. Of course I learned a lot along the way, and made adjustments to my blogging strategy, striving to come up with content that would bring readers to the site, because I wanted people to read my blog. After all, isn’t that what all we authors want in the end? For our writing to be read?
After I graduated from the M.F.A. program at Western State Colorado University in 2016, things began to pick up. While I learned to write book length works at Western, it also showed me the value of community in writing, which is often a solitary endeavor. We are all embarked upon our own personal author’s journey. Our joys and sorrows may be of a nature that only another author would be able to comprehend. With the growing number of indie authors out there, is important that we support and help one another along the way. Not only was I sitting on the perfect platform to promote my own books and writing, but Writing to be Read is a tool that can be used to grow community among my fellow authors.
The first blog series I created, was “Ask the Authors”, which I ran in two rounds in 2017, with the help of several great authors, who were willing to donate their time for twelve weeks for each segment. It was a successful series in which I interviewed participating authors on many aspects of writing, with the idea that we learn from those who have gone before us. Most of those authors’ words will be appearing in a book of the same name as the series, which I had hoped to publish this year through WordCrafter Press, but has now been pushed back into the coming year. (Before the release of Ask the Authors, the content must be removed from the web, so be aware that the series content will soon be removed from the blog.)
Over the past year, Writing to be Read is approaching 10,000, and many visitors have become WtbR followers. I think there are several contributing factors that account for this, starting with the Motivational Strips Certificate of Honor, which I received in April and which is now displayed proudly in the sidebar below the WordCrafter logo, for contributions made in the global online writing communities through social media. It is still a labor of love, with the payoff coming with views and engagement, rather than monetary profit.
In 2019, I ran the monthly “Chatting with the Pros” series, featuring bestselling and award winning authors, in coincidence with monthly genre themes, which has been very popular. I had some wonderful authors, who graciously agreed to be interviewed for this series. The top two interviews, with award winning Christian fiction author Angela Hunt and with bestselling romance author Maya Rodale, brought over 100 views each, with the interview with the very prolific science fiction and fantasy author Kevin J. Anderson coming in a close third. Other great interviews that this series brought were with thriller novelist John Nichol, horror authors Paul Kane and Jeffrey J. Mariotte, women’s fiction author Barbara Chapaitis, young adult fiction author Carol Riggs, crime fiction author Jenifer Ruff, mystery author Gilly Macmillon, western author Scott Harris, and nonfiction author Mark Shaw.
Also aligned with the monthly genre themes were supporting interviews with less known, but talented authors. I am pleased to find the top viewed supporting interview to be with accomplished author and scholar Shiju Pallithazheth, who has dedicated himself to the support of achievement in quality writing and is the founder of the Motivational Strips social media group. The second and third top supporting interviews were with horror author Roberta Eaton Cheadle and with nature author Susan J. Tweit.
I also reviewed many top notch books over the year’s course. Book reviews don’t tend to bring in as many views as interviews do, but the views they do bring in add up when counted. The top review for 2019, was Simplified Writing 101, making this the top review every year since I posted it, back in 2016 with over 300 total views. That’s a lot of views for a book review.
The second most viewed book review was a review from 2018, Dan Alatorre’s Night Visions horror anthology, and the third was Jordan Elizabeth’s Cogling, from 2016. That’s the nice thing about book reviews – they’re all evergreen. The top reviews actually posted in 2019 were for God’s Body, by Jeff Bowles; Selected Stories: Science Fiction Volume 2, by Kevin J. Anderson, and Through the Nethergate, by Roberta Eaton Cheadle.
Also, the addition of team members and their blog series added variety to the blog and provided more consistent publication of content on a regular basis. Writing to be Read wouldn’t be where it is today without their content. Robin Conley is a team member who is no longer with WtbR, but her evergreen “Writing Memos” make her posts receive the most views each year because they offer good, solid writing tips on the basics of writing.
The active team member with the most views in 2019 is Robbie Cheadle with her “Growing Bookworms” blog series on children’s literature and the promotion of reading. Robbie joined us at the beginning of 2019 and she’s had over 1000 views of her posts over the course of the year. Her most popular post was “Developing imagination and creativity through reading”. (For the full 2019 active contributor line-up, see my Thanksgiving post.)
The Writing to be Read following has grown with each passing year, as has the daily average for views, and 2019 has been the best year yet. Now we are at a time when we must look ahead to the coming year and find ways to make WtbR even better. I’ve been working on the 2020 blog schedule and I’d like to share anticipated changes with you here.
For 2020, we are going to continue with the monthly genre themes and the “Chatting with the Pros” blog series. Obviously you can’t cover all the genres in twelve months, so next year we’ll cover some that we missed, as well as giving some we did some more in depth coverage. The tentative theme schedule includes creative nonfiction, romance, western, fantasy, comic books and superheroes, speculative fiction, science fiction, young adult fiction, mystery/suspense thriller, horror/dark fiction/paranormal, action adventure, and children’s fiction. Let me know in the comments what genres you think I am missing, or if you know of an author of one of the genres covered who would be interested in giving me an interview. Writing to be Read wants to create content that its readers want, so I want to hear from you.
There will be a few changes with the Writing to be Read team, including four great new blog series! I am sad to say that Jordan Elizabeth will no longer be with the team, and her “Writing for a Y.A. Audience” blog series will be discontinued. However, the other team members have jumped right in to fill all holes in the scheduling as we moved series around and made changes.
For 2020, Art Rosch’s “The Many Faces of Poetry” will be discontinued, but it will be replaced the last Wednesday of each month with Art’s new series, “Mind Fields”. Art is always full of surprises and the segments for this new series may be on just about any topic, but they are guaranteed to be interesting and entertaining. Art actually posted a preview segment back in November to give us a little sample, with a journey into the realms beyond death in “Hitler’s Afterlife“. You may love it or hate it, but you’re sure to get a chuckle. “Arthur’s Visual Media Reviews” will continue to be on the last Friday of each month.
Jeff Bowles will continue his “Jeff’s Movie Reviews” the third Friday of each month, but “Jeff’s Pep Talk” will not appear in 2020. Instead, Jeff will offer a new series, “Words to Live By” on the first Wednesday of every month. Jeff will also fill the series slot on the third Wednesday of each month that was left open by Jordan’s departure with a new series, “Write Me Better”, which will offer writing challenges to rewrite the classics. I’m really excited about this new series because it offers the potential for reader interaction. I can’t wait to see what each of you comes up with when stepping up to Jeff’s challenges to rewrite the classics with your own style and flair. It should be a lot of fun. I may even have to try my hand at this one.
Robbie Cheadle will continue her “Growing Bookworms” series on the second Wednesday of each month and she will also offer a new poetry series on the last Saturday of each month, “Treasuring Poetry”. I was particularly pleased with the idea for this series because it offers a way to keep poetry alive on Writing to be Read. Poetry is like painting with words to create something that is beautiful for its structure and form, beyond simple meaning, and I’ve always felt it was important to have poetry included here in some way. When I first started Writing to be Read, before it was on this site, I ended each post I made with a poem. Although I have had a few poems published, my knowledge of verse is minimal. Robbie, however is quite involved in poetry communities on social media and she has the poetic know how to carry this new blog series.
As you can see, we have some really exciting new blog series for the coming year, as well as some old favorites. My guest authors and reviews are beginning to shape up, too, with some great authors and great books. I’m still searching for more though, so if you’d like to be interviewed or have a book you’d like reviewed in the coming year, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to hear from you and include you in my 2020 line-up.
On a final note, I’ve been considering switching to a paid site to eliminate some of the advertising and open up the options of what I can do with the blog. As you all know, Writing to be Read is a labor of love and the profit I get from it is in watching my following grow and engaging with my readers. So, my question to all of you now is, if I went to a paid site, would you be willing to make a donation to help cover the cost, or are you happy with the site the way it is? Please let me know what you think in the comments.
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Posted: November 22, 2019 Filed under: Jeff's Movie Reviews, Movie Review, Movies, Opinion, Writing | Tags: Disney+, Jeff Bowles, Jeff's Movie Reviews, Streaming Services, Writing to be Read
Get Some Mouse In Your House
by Jeff Bowles
In the future, all forms of video entertainment will be called “Disneys”. I’m sure of it. Saw it in an old sci-fi movie once, and with the release of the brand-new video streaming platform Disney+, the House of Mouse is one step closer to future dystopian entertainment dominance.
Disney+ puts together an admirable and alluring package. But only if you’re a Disney fan. More or less, that’s the dividing line of the whole experience. Featuring many of the best films, shorts, and television series the company has ever produced or co-produced, the platform attempts to appeal to a wide swath of the general video-viewing population, which is to say, anyone who grew up with Disney. Which is more or less everyone living on the planet today.
Ubiquity serves the company well, of course, but it seems Disney isn’t taking anything for granted. For a startup streaming service, Disney+ offers an impressive cross-section of an almost century-long legacy of family-friendly entertainment. Boot it up for the first time, and you’ll find stuff going all the way back to 1928. Steamboat Willie, Snow White and Seven Dwarves, Old Yeller, Pete’s Dragon, Tron, The Little Mermaid, it’s all there. And if you happen to be an adult of the nerdy persuasion, the platform also leverages Disney’s recent acquisitions of Marvel, Lucasfilm, and to a lesser extent, 20th Century Fox. Right on the home screen, a set of helpful studio icons cuts out the middle man and gets you right to the saber swinging and web-slinging. They even have their own animations. Look! The Marvel icon plays that verbose movie intro we love so much! Hurrah!
Perhaps most amazingly of all, the price point is a good deal lower than other competing streaming services. For seven bucks, you get all this and more. It should give Netflix, Apple, and Amazon a run for their money, though Disney owns Hulu now, which I guess means they get to keep all their commercial-interrupted, cut-for-television Avengers movies. Hurrah?
Evidently, Disney+ is a big hit already. Not two weeks after launch and Disney has declared 10 million initial subscribers. Disney stocks have gone through the roof, and every major media outlet seems to have reported on it. It’s good news for a company that’s had plenty of ups and downs in recent decades. And it’s good for the consumer, too. Sure, the dream of non-segmented television services may be dead, but the golden age of digital entertainment surges on. Disney, in all its varied manifestations, has a lot to do with the direction Hollywood has taken in this regard.
Only thing is, some people don’t like Disney very much, and their reasons for not doing so are valid. Even in light of its impressive legacy, the entertainment giant has taken a beating now and then for cultural insensitivity, outdated gender politics, racial stereotyping, and if you’re a storyteller of any kind (like most people here on Writing to Be Read), pretty dull and repetitive cookie-cutter narratives.
There are some elements of the initial lineup—particularly a few of the older films—that stand out as uniquely offensive by modern standards. Even something seemingly innocuous like 1953’s Peter Pan contains elements that are, put simply, shockingly racist. Disney has added a short disclaimer to certain movies that suggests they understand their own culpability in this, but the disclaimer’s bare language may not go far enough for some. Unfortunately for Disney, it’s hard to embrace the beloved past without acknowledging there may be skeletons in the closet.
But it can’t be all bad, right? The good outweighs the bad? Right? Right? Ah, for Goofy’s sake, what about all the Marvel and Star Wars! And all the Lion King and the Aladdin and the Pirates of the Caribbean and the Fantasia and the… and the…
See how quickly that escalates?
Interestingly enough, Disney has really thrown themselves a little consumer party here. Some of the heaviest hitters in Disney+’s lineup are in full 4K HDR resolution, which is kind of mind-blowing considering Netflix charges more than twice as much for the same feature. To go back to Star Wars and Marvel for a moment, every single film in both catalogues is in ultra high definition. If you were to buy 4K blu-rays of the same movies, they’d run you thirty bucks a pop. Here’s another little secret. The original Star Wars trilogy has been covertly remastered and released on Disney+ before fans are even able to purchase it on disc. That’s a huge deal if you love the series… and if you can afford a 4K TV.
This serves to illustrate the odd dichotomy that defines Disney+. At the same time cheap and built for people with at least a little money, simultaneously as warmhearted and as calculated as anything else they’ve ever made. The basic user interface is fine, colorful and user-friendly, with additional improvements forthcoming. Designed by the same people who built the Netflix interface, it bears many commonalities to the much older platform, including the constant inability to find what you need at the exact moment you need it.
Would it kill you to stop recommending me The Mandalorian? I’m already watching it for cripes sake! He’s a more enthusiastic version of Boba Fett with a Force-using green infant as a sidekick. #BabyYoda – you’ll know what I mean when you see him.
If you’re a fan of Disney and all the many properties they own or co-produce, I do believe you won’t be disappointed in the service. It houses, after all, a pretty large assortment of movies and shows that are easy to digest and generally satisfying. And to tell you the truth, it’s way too cheap for what it offers. Look for them to jack up the price at some point, I’m sure, but for now it’s kind of a no-brainer. If you’re into this sort of thing.
Jeff’s Movie reviews gives Disney+ an 8 out of 10. Now where are my Mickey ears? Who’s got two thumbs and hasn’t seen Fantasia 2000 in exactly nineteen years? This guy!
Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!
You can keep up on what Jeff’s been watching and catch all of his great movie reviews the third Friday of each month on Writing to be Read. Subscribe to email or follow on WordPress today.
Posted: October 18, 2019 Filed under: Comic Hero, Jeff's Movie Reviews, Movie Review, Movies, Super Hero | Tags: Batman, DC Comics, Jeff Bowles, Jeff's Movie Reviews, Joker, Writing to be Read
Who’s Laughing now? Anyone? Anyone?
by Jeff Bowles
At one point in time, the Joker was the super villain you loved to hate. Introduced in the very first issue of Batman, published in 1940, the Clown Prince of Crime has spent decades as an icon of the kind of humor that kills. He’s crazy, occasionally buffoonish, almost always invested in some overly complex hair-brained scheme, and what else can be said? The guy loves to laugh.
Except the Joker has evolved in the last ten years or so, predicated by Heath Ledger’s legendary turn in 2008’s The Dark Knight. His Joker was different, more menacing, quicker to kill with a gun or a knife, as opposed to laughing gas or a rubber chicken set to explode. This was not the Joker that generations of fans had grown up with, but Ledger’s performance was outstanding, and the fact that he died before the movie came out only increased his popularity. Warner Brothers and DC Comics seemed to have decided something at that point. The Joker people really wanted to see was less Cesar Romero and Jack Nicholson and more Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer. Enter Jared Leto’s performance in 2016’s Suicide Squad, which, while certainly enthusiastic, was more or less utterly ridiculous and clearly manufactured to up the ante on Ledger’s Joker on every front.
And now we finally have a Joker standalone film, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the title role. It’s R-rated, morose as a funeral, and seems to have misplaced the classic jolly clown that keeps hyenas as pets and shacks up with a blonde in a jester costume. Notably, even DC Comics has altered the Joker in their own source books, because, I suppose, they don’t understand what too much of a good thing is. This character has in recent years been a literal monster, a frightening urban legend, a crazed sadist, who in one famous 2009 story line, removed his own face and pinned it to a wall (though he still had time for a joke or two).
2019’s Joker film has done something with Batman’s arch nemesis that has never been attempted before. It’s taken the fun out of him. Phoenix’s portrayal is both woeful and terrifying, sympathetic and pityingly childlike. Batman isn’t in this movie, but if he were, you’d kind of hate the guy for beating the crap out of poor Arthur Fleck. In basic truth, we never love to hate this Joker. First we feel bad for him, then we want to run the hell away. He’s an unfortunate guy in a series of tremendously unfortunate events who learns the value of self-confidence once and only once he’s blown away three miscreants on the subway. The movie is more or a less a monotone depiction of a modern mass killer. It’s only got one speed: decay.
More than this, it feeds into the stereotype that people with severe mental illness are dangerous and scary. I hate to break the movie reviewer fourth wall here, but as someone who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, it’s a little demoralizing. As I write this, the guns vs. mental illness debate rages here in America. Phoenix’s portrayal of an alienated, unstable, abused, and traumatized individual who one day decides to take his pain out on the world hits a bit too close to home. We live that reality. Do we also want to watch it on the big screen?
The rest of the cast includes Brett Cullen as Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas, Robert DeNiro as a late night talk show host (completing DeNiro’s King of Comedy destiny), Francis Conroy as Arthur Fleck’s frail mother, and Zazie Beetz, a kind of romantic interest who turns into a Fight-Club-like twist that goes nowhere. A talented cast, not improperly used, but still, to quote the clown himself, why so serious?
And the truly insane thing about it is we’re talking about the Joker! Beloved cultural icon since 1940. Yes, it’s a more realistic version of the character, and yes, the guy has been shown in so many different ways, there’s almost certainly a financially viable infinite multiverse of Jokers who could range from saccharine sweet to, well, Joaquin Phoenix depressing. But for crying out loud, I laughed once and snickered once during the entire running length, and in both those instances, not a single exploding chicken!
I kid of course. Someone ought to.
Ultimately, the real sin of this movie is a cinematic one. It’s a bit of a slog. It’s the equivalent of painting a jolly portrait using only grey. There are no highs, no true delirium, nothing of the brilliance it yearns to express. Joker isn’t exactly a bad movie. It’s probably ill-timed, and it’s debatably irresponsible, but for true Batman fans, it’s gratifying to see a favorite character shown so much respect. Or is that disrespect? Mileage may vary.
If only they’d remembered to invite Batman to the party. Does it say something about 2019 that we’d rather watch a movie about the villain than the hero? Joker is a downward plunge that never comes back up. It never relents, never provides us a single ray of light or shred of hope. That would normally be, you know, Batman’s job to provide. Speaking of which, if the guy dressing up like a giant bat is saner than you are, it’s entirely possible you’re not as funny as you think you are. Which explains… everything, really.
Jeff’s Movie Reviews gives Joker a 6 out of 10.
Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!
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Posted: March 6, 2019 Filed under: Fiction, Humor, Inspirational, Nonfiction, Pep Talk, Writing | Tags: Criticism, Jeff Bowles, Jeff's Pep Talk, Writing, Writing to be Read
The Big C(riticism)
By Jeff Bowles
The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
I don’t think there’s a soul on earth who likes criticism. There’s just something about it that can cut to the bone. Human beings have such fragile egos anyway, those pesky little conscious seats of individuality that get bruised and battered when others make us feel small, less talented, less competent, perhaps even less valid as people. Some more than others, right? I’ve had writers tell me they never feel offended, angry, upset, or in any way discouraged after a round criticism. I don’t think I believe them. I mean, not at all? Even just a little? Really?
And of course, if you’re checking out this blog, odds are you’ve seen your share of creative criticism. It’s essential to the process, right? Every writer can benefit from it, from the newest of newbs to the most seasoned authors. And a change in attitude often occurs once a writer actually gets neck deep in a viable career. At that point, criticism has become just another part of the job, kind of less of a hassle than, say, making deadlines you have no hope of making or enduring long, drawn-out revision cycles.
But there’s another dimension to writers that’s so common it’s a cliché. Many of us suffer from mental illness. I know I do, and lots of my associates and acquaintances are in the same boat. Most of the time their personal stories boil down to a bit of depression here and there, but look, there’s something about a creative profession that requires long periods of solitude that seems to attract folks who are maybe a bit less emotionally equipped than the rest of humanity. Plus, you know, the ubiquitous link between genius and madness. Some of the greatest writers in history should have been in the nut house. Some of them were.
Now there’s a big difference between getting your feelings hurt over some bad comments from a crit group and losing your mind completely. We subject ourselves to the honest (and often brutal) opinions of our colleagues because we understand in the end criticism will make us better. Especially when we’re just starting out. If we can find a few people who really get what we’re all about and who consistently offer good feedback, we’re wise to consider them valuable resources. The fact remains, writers pour ourselves into our work. In many ways, stories and novels, articles and memoirs, they’re like our children. Sometimes it’s hard not to take criticism personally. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admitting it.
So as a writer who’s had one or two creative outbursts himself (sorry about that black eye, prof), here’s a few tips to soothe the wounded beast. Number one, and going back to the crit group thing, it really does help to know a few people who are on the same page as you creatively. It’s old advice, but it is enormously beneficial. Also, try not to work with writers who aren’t quite as skilled as you are. Likewise, learn to recognize when you’ve gotten in with folks who have a lot more ability and experience. Writers who punch in above your pay grade aren’t going to be able to help as much as you might expect, and you may even struggle trying to understand and disseminate their feedback.
Next tip: always keep a few pots on the fire. Okay, this new story didn’t work out for me, but at least I have that other one that shows way more potential. Dive into this process head first, if you can. Conceive, draft, and revise in cycles. Nothing blunts criticism like a sense of forward momentum. Keep an idea notebook handy. Never miss an opportunity to dream up something new and play with it a little. We’re still growing here. Got lots and lots of stories to tell in the future. Stagnation sucks. It crushes the life out of creativity. Avoid it if at all possible.
Tip number three: make sure to honor your private life. I mean that. Some people throw themselves into their work at such high velocity their relationships and daily routines suffer. You’ve got friends, right? Hang out with them, have some fun. While we’re at it, don’t neglect your romantic life, either. Seems like kind of a toss-off to some people, but look, you’re human. Biology is a factor, and it’s just a basic fact that people tend to be happier when they consistently engage this part of their personality. Family, hobbies, even other, more practical career goals, these can all serve as a refuge when your creative mind is battered and tired. Conversely, writing itself can act as a pretty powerful refuge from things like, oh, family, hobbies, career goals, romantic life, friends…
Fourth tip: don’t worry about developing a thick skin. Focus more on developing a keen critical mind. Say someone tears your latest to shreds. You can either A) get emotional about it, B) decide this loser doesn’t know what the hell he or she is talking about, or C) penetrate the matter a little more deeply, choose which criticisms are valid, discard everything else, move on to the next thing. Your lizard brain is your lizard brain. It’s a given. But your analytical mind, that you’ve got to hone. So get clinical if you can. Easier said than done? For some it really is. You’re not a robot. At least I don’t think you are. I mean, you haven’t blinked in several minutes. I’m watching you…
Do the best you can to stay neutral during and after a round of feedback. Or if not neutral, at least receptive and pragmatic. This is a process. Repeat it to yourself if it helps. This is a process. This is a process. And don’t forget to ask plenty of questions. Stay engaged. Again, criticism affects people differently. I imagine some will read this blog post and think, “I don’t see what the big deal is. This Jeff Bowles guy must be a total train wreck.”
To which I might reply, “Stop staring at my mangled caboose!”
…Ahem, yes. Anyhoo, there’s no accounting for temperament. Look, it’s always seemed to me writers just aren’t honest when it comes to these things. And why should we be? Nobody likes a hot head. No one’s particularly desperate to work with a soppy, spongy mess. But there’s always the case to be made for blowing off steam when necessary. Never let it jeopardize your work, your reputation, or your sense of professionalism, but don’t bottle it up, either. If you find the situation becomes chronic, do a little soul searching. What’s really bothering you here? Why does criticism seem to affect you so much? Self-analysis, some say, is the path to divinity. Not that divinity has anything to do with the life of a writer.
Speaking of which, and if all else fails, there’s still good old-fashioned counseling and therapy. It might sound dopey and overwrought to even remind you of it, but sometimes in life, it helps to get serious about ourselves and consider our own triggers and shortcomings. No shame in it, and never let people tell you there is. Mental health is extremely important, much more important than the modern world ever seems to recognize. And even simple depression can become dangerous if left unchecked.
And now to spoil the mood completely, some depressed writer jokes!
“Well doc, I guess it all started when they said my steampunk riff on The Notebook was even lousier than my 50 Shades of Grey fan fic written from the whip’s perspective.”
“Really? And how did that make you feel?”
“Like we should have used a safe word.”
Why did the anxiety-riddled writer cross the road? Are you crazy? I’m not going outside. That road is clearly a death trap.
[end of joke digression]
Ready to tackle another round of critiques? Well, in a perfect world, I guess you would be. Do what you need to do to combat discouragement and self-defeatism. One of the healthiest attitudes we can adopt as professional writers is the macro, career-long perspective and an abysmal memory. If the fates allow, you’re in this for the long haul, so just remember this or that little hiccup will mean nothing in the end. It’s a basic fact that we learn more from failure than success. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and fail as hard as you can!
Pep talk concluded. Feel better now, don’t you?
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Posted: February 22, 2019 Filed under: Blog Content, Book Review, Chatting with the Pros, Fiction, Film Review, Interview, Nonfiction, Paranormal, WordCrafter Press, Writing, Writing Contest | Tags: Book Reviews, Chatting with the Pros, Film Review, Jeff Bowles, WordCrafter, WordCrafter Press, Writing to be Read
The entries are rolling in for the paranormal fiction contest and each one must be read. Stories good enough to recieve invitations to the anthology will also need to be edited. In order to accomodate a time budget for all this contest judging and anthology compilation activities in addition to my other life responsibilities, you can expect to see a few changes in the Friday Reviews.
One good change is we’ll be seeing more of Jeff Bowles. Last week he stepped in with a movie review of Glass that was brutally honest, but captivating. That review was so well recieved that he’s agreed to share a movie review with us on the third Monday of every month. His review of Glass was knowledgeable of the genre and written well enough to be mistakeing for one of the top critiques. If book reviews are hugs for authors, then Writing to be Read wants to hug the film industry, too. If you want to keep up on many of the latest movies, be sure to catch Jeff’s Movie Review (working title) each month.
I also plan to make two reviews each month instead of four, for books in the genre to go along with the monthly theme set by the genre the “Chatting with the Pros” guest author for the month. In February my guest author was nonfiction author Mark Shaw, so the February theme was nonfiction. My supporting author interview was with nature writer Susan J. Tweit and my supporting post was about my own nonfiction endeavor with the first post in my new bi-monthly series, “The Making of a Memoir“. My reviews were both of nonfiction books of different sub-genres: Mark Shaw’s How to Become a Published Author and a compilation of poetry artwork and writings about mental illness, the Letters of May anthology.
March’s theme will be science fiction and fantasy, and the “Chatting with the Pros” guest author will be national and international best selling author Kevin J. Anderson. He’s written more best sellers than there is room to list here and I’m thrilled to have him on Writing to be Read. My supporting post will be about my science fantasy series, Playground for the Gods. I’m still searching for a author for my supporting interview, but my reviews will be for Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories and Jordan Elizabeth’s Rogue Crystal. If you want to be sure not to miss any of these great science fiction and fantasy segments, be sure to sign up to email or follow on WordPress to get notification of new content.
Before I wrap this up, let me just remind you all that there is still time to submit your short story to the WordCrafter paranormal fiction contest. The deadline is April 1, so don’t drag your feet on this one. The entry fee is $5 and the winner will recive a $25 Amazon gift card and a guaranteed place in the WordCrafter Press paranormal short fiction. Email your submissions to kayebooth (at) yahoo (dot) com and I’ll send you confirmation instructions for submitting your entry fee.
Your submission can be any genre, but your story does have to include a paranormal element, so get those stories in. Other entries may be included in the anthology by special invitation, and all anthology authors will recieve a small royalty share if the book makes any money. You can get the full submission guidelines here: https://kayelynnebooth.wordpress.com/2019/01/28/short-fiction-contest-paranormal-stories-sought/
I do hope you’ll all join me in the exciting changes ahead. I’m always interested in reader feedback, so leave a comment and let me know what you’d like to see on Writing to be Read.
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Posted: July 20, 2018 Filed under: Book Review, Books, Science Fiction, Screenwriting, Stories | Tags: Book Review, Brave New Multiverse, Jeff Bowles, Science Fiction, Short Fiction, Short Stories, Short Story Collection
Brave New Multiverse is a collection of unusual and unique short stories by Jeff Bowles, in which there is never a dull moment. You may be amazed, amused, confused, or even a little disgusted, but you will not be bored with any of the stories in this collection.
Bowles combines the craft of short story with screenwriting to create an experimental writing style that somehow works. His descriptive power is phenomenal, if a bit graphic. The worlds he has created may be strange and difficult to define, but they are also different from worlds encountered by any other author. In Itsies, ids are called itsies and you don’t got to love them, even if they wear a teddy bear suit. In The Many Deaths of Lazarus Lad, comic book heroes never ever die. In Detective Robot and the Murderous Spacetime Schism, robots and gorillas are detectives solving the case of the deceased dropping from the sky. In Donald Carmichael’s Brave New Multiverse: A trip to five very odd ‘verses’, where nothing is as it appears, or is it? And in Snip, Snip: where they take bigotry to new levels and have hang ups about testicles.
His characters are as diverse and unique as the worlds he’s created, and he pairs them into unanticipated couplings: Gorilla Todd and Detective Robot, an investigative team that can solve the crime, even in the face of the dead falling randomly from the sky; Donald Carmichael and Max, who don’t know love until it reaches out and bites them in the ass; Lazarus Lad and his egocentric dad, who know no other life; Nelson and Jay, who just wanted to help their injured pooch; Tug and Petunia, rude and obnoxious itsies, who may even be dangerous, belonging to Tom and Pamela, who don’t know the meaning of tough love.
Want to explore strange new worlds which you’ve never encountered before? Take a trip into any one of Jeff Bowles’ stories from this collection. I give Brave New Multiverse five quills.
Kaye Lynne Booth does honest book reviews on Writing to be Read in exchange for ARCs. Have a book you’d like reviewed? Contact Kaye at kayebooth(at)yahoo(dot)com.