A Writer Defines Success As…?

Far be it from me to advise ANY writer what the definition of “success” is on any terms: personal, professional, spiritual, or anything else. Where you are in your career and what your goals are determine that? Did John Irving consider it a success to win an Oscar for adapting his own novel, “The Cider house Rules”, into a screenplay? How could John Kennedy Toole know his novel, “A Confederacy of Dunces”, would win the Pulitzer Prize over ten years after his suicide? And John O’Brien committed suicide two weeks AFTER learning that his novel, “Leaving Las Vegas”, was going to be made into a movie. The bottom line is that we can not judge.

I started with two self-published short novels, largely so I would have something to “offer” my parents who had been so supportive and encouraging throughout my life. Just to have them read those two minor works was a success to me. In a hospital shortly before being taken to hospice, my father inquired about my forthcoming novel through a traditional publisher. Regrettably he did not live to see it published. My mother got a copy and was upset when staff at the assisted care facility were negligent in returning it to her expediently. That was her prized possession. The second novel from that publisher was released after her passing.

Now, with the release of a new historical fiction through a new publisher, I have taken a step forward. Financially? No, not yet anyway. But professionally, I took a risk writing something with a greater degree of difficulty based on the necessary research. In working with a new publisher, The Wild Rose Press, I had the opportunity to work with an editor and graphic design team and a whole group of people who were sincerely intent on looking out for my interests and encouraging me to use all the resources they had available. How is it possible to NOT consider that a success?

Don’t get me wrong. There are the fantasies/dreams/hopes of the New York Times Best Sellers List and a movie deal and attending premieres. The ultimate success? Perhaps. As long as I continue to develop as a writer, tell and engaging story, and am able to connect with readers, everything ELSE that comes from that is just additional enrichment.

If you HAVE purchased “Ark City Confidential”, please leave a review either on the publisher’s site or at Amazon. This will go a long way to ensuring a measure of success.

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Be That Thing

There’s a difference between saying you are something and being that something. If you introduce yourself at a social function by saying “I’m a writer”, chances are you’ll get various responses:

“Have you written anything I’ve read?”
“Do you know Stephen King?”
“That must be fun.”

To the first, I have no idea what you read. To the second, no. To the third, you have no idea. The other comment that comes up is “What have you published?” It’s a valid question because, to most people, you are only a pretend writer if you have not been published. Even self-published. Working on your masterpiece for the past ten years will get you little sympathy or continued interest.

There is a fine line between putting something out that is crap that will forever ruin your name and waiting infinitely for the mot just like Flaubert and not publishing until your creative offspring is the epitome of brilliance and perfection. What is of most importance is that your work be out there for review and feedback. You will never improve your craft by lingering over a sentence or a chapter or realizing that your main character is too boring to be a protagonist after your thirteenth draft.

As writers, we are story-tellers. If you have told a compelling story, it is ready for others to enjoy. By virtue of the feedback you get, you will learn how to correct and modify and tighten your work so that it is more acceptable. This is not the time to contemplate your financial worth in the marketplace. This is the time to do what you’ve said all along that you would do: write. Stop hesitating. Be that thing.

A Smashwords Experiment

This past year, my primary goals have been editing viable material and expanding my networking. To that end, I have gotten involved with Twitter, Linkedin, and Klout. I have published two collections of poetry on Lulu and continued to promote my existing catalog on Smashwords.

The world of e-publishing is expanding at an amazing exponential degree and Gordon Kessler, president of the KWA, has strongly advocated a focus on it. I decided to offer two short stories on Smashwords for free as a small way of generating buzz.

The first story was “Just Like Daddy” concerning an unnamed prostitute who dresses up for her clients to help them fulfill their fantasy. It ends with a violent crime.

The second story was “How to Kill Your Boss and Get Away With It”, a tongue in cheek crime story inspired by my wife’s comment after a particularly difficult day at work.

I placed the first one under the category Fiction>Erotica>Suspense/Mystery. The second one was filed under Fiction>Literature>Transgressional. I uploaded them one day part, the first one eight days ago and the second a week ago.

As of today, “Just Like Daddy” has had 406 downloads. “How to Kill Your Boss and Get Away With It” has had 25.

Title? Category? Expectations? Don’t get me wrong; I’m grateful for the reads. But I’m beginning to understand more fully the power of successful marketing in the digital age.

My Digital Progress — A Follow-Up

Per Dictionary.com, the definition of PLATFORM (item #7) was

a body of principles on which a person or group takes a stand in appealing to the public

So, we as writers and artists are intent upon building our platform for the sole purpose of appealing to the public, identifying ourselves, our character and personality as well as our work. We hope you will purchase said work because, if we weren’t interested in selling it, we wouldn’t be building our platform.

I’ve been doing this blog for four years, have been on Facebook, have signed up for LinkedIn and Twitter, hand out business cards, talk as much to non-writers (you know, The Public) as much as I discuss writing with those that suffer the same affliction as myself. I’ve uploaded works for sale in both printed and electronic formats on Lulu, Amazon’s Kindle Page, Smashwords, and others. Until now, the only thing I lacked was a website.

Until now.

I am pleased to announce the unveiling of hbberlow.com and hope that there will be visitors as well as purchases of books.

I am indebted to my brother-in-law Greg for getting the thing started. We’ve both been talking for years about each of us needing our own websites for different reasons. Every time I would agree and it would just stop there. Until he just went out and secured my name as a domain (thank goodness) and set up the initial skeleton and instructed me as to how to build up the rest of the body.

Thanks should also go to Gordon Kessler, the founder and current president of the Kansas Writers Association who, for this past year has been strongly advocating the membership to embrace the Digital world and heavily research and explore e-publishing.

Special mention should be made to Samantha Lafantasie, a woman who balances being a wife and mother and writer and adds a great passion to the KWA meetings. She has established a critique group and she is passionate about the craft. It is people like her (who are so utterly different from me) that motivate me in stepping into these new fields.

After all, I’m just an old analog dude living in a digital world.

Please visit my website and come along for the ride.

What’s in your mind?

I read somewhere that Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula” due to his unhappy marriage. He was attempting to create a powerful romantic hero (or anti-hero) that was the opposite of his personality. Psychiatrists refer to this as “sublimation.”

For better or worse, writers sublimate aspects of their personality into their writing. Fantasies or delusions that would never see the light of day in the real world. Hopes and aspirations that seem unattainable. We can read all the books on craft, go to all the seminars and conferences that we can attend and we still wind up being intricate human and emotional creatures.

For the past six years or so, I have been writing more crime fiction and have dabbled extensively into Transgressive Fiction. And I know why. I have been in the customer service field for about thirty years, the last fourteen in a call center. These are perfect venues for the consumer to have a feeling of anonymous control over a representative or an entire company. This is a delusion. For all the venom that they exude, the company still maintains control and the representative has the power (but not the legal ability) to completely jack with their account.

Now, see, you got me started. You found out what’s in my mind. It got no better when I was terminated from my previous position after thirteen years over ONE customer service complaint. The sense of loss was profound; the sense of anger ran deeper. I set about writing a set of three Transgressive novellas, the likes of which were far darker than any other piece of crime fiction I had written or contemplated.

But, by doing so, I was able to release an awful lot of negative feeling and re-focus on what needed to happen in Real Life in order to survive. My wife, who is also my editor, recognized this but understood.

The pieces were published as collection on Lulu as Unemployed and Dangerous: A Trilogy of Transgressive Novellas. Recently, I made each of the individual works available as ebooks on Smashwords. They include:

Malfeasance
Day-Trippin’
The Ballad of Justin Thieme

There will always be the craft, the desire to revise and correct and perfect the Word. The plot and theme will come through because of attention to detail in the construction of the story. But beneath all of that, for better or for worse, there is me.

So, what’s in your mind?

{As an additional side note: I have been taking notes for the last ten months for a non-fiction piece about my termination and my dealings with the state regarding unemployment compensation (a success) and the union who would not escalate my case for arbitration. Thoughtful deliberation has guided me toward a non-fiction piece as it might be more publishable and would have a more striking effect than the Transgressive ramblings of a so-called “disgruntled employee.” As I progress, I will update.}

KWA Scene Seminar

This Saturday, March 26, was the KWA Scene Seminar with Kirt Hickman, author and speaker, providing detailed discussion from his book, Revising Fiction: Making Sense of the Madness.

Kirt was one of the speakers at last year’s conference but had only two one hour sessions. This year, nearly six hours were devoted to the ideas behind creation of first draft and revision. For all that you know (or think you know) about writing, it is ALWAYS beneficial to hear a different perspective and gain a new comprehension.

This is how it was for me. I sat glued to the steps, understood his concept, and was entirely willing to take a new approach to my writing. I had stated in a previous entry that I was devoting myself this year to editing and revision primarily and not begin any new projects. This seminar was perfect for my intentions and goals this year.

But far beyond that was the gathering. The people, the real human beings, remind you what it means to be a writer. Blogging and social networks do allow a connectivity that is otherwise unavailable in a busy modern world. But actually being with people is a concept that can not ever be replaced.

Since becoming a member of KWA in 2007, I have done more in terms of writing, editing, revision, self-publishing, and networking than I had ever done before in my life. It is due largely to the encouragement that comes from being part of such an organization. If only my work schedule afforded me more of an opportunity…

I will not go there. I am lucky to be able to know some truly unique individuals who also happen to be writers. Many of these people are interesting beyond their literary aspirations. That they are writers just makes them even that much more interesting.

Poetry Collections now available

I finalized the proof copies of my two poetry collections and slightly re-did the cover of one.

Ornithology, and other Jazz Poems is a poetic rendering on the life and music of Charlie “Bird” Parker. It is an attempt to assimilate the musical stylings of be-bop into a literary form. I received some encouraging feedback from Peg Nichols of the KAC (Kansas Authors Club). She suggested I try to get a reading done at the American Museum of Jazz up in Kansas City. The suggestion alone gives both myself and the piece a renewed sense of life.

{Peg’s blog, Kansas Plains People focuses on the writing life of Kansans. It touches closer to home for me.}

In The Art of Legerdemain, the life of a Magician is compared in counterpoint to the life of a Poet. Both create illusions out of seemingly nothing; both attempt to awe and dazzle their audience; and both wonder whether their works will have any lasting influence. It is, in essence, a literary autobiography of a period in my life from the late 80’s to the mid 90’s when there were both personal and artistic changes and transformations.

It is amazing to me to consider that the only possibility to put these collections out 20 years ago was via a printed chapbook. Perhaps this is the contemporary digital version of that. I am more proud of my efforts in getting these published in this particular forum. It shows that you CAN teach an old dog some new tricks.

Poetry Collections

I just got my proof copies of the two poetry collections I put together on Lulu. They are currently in PRIVATE status. I’ve learned (after many mistakes) to not make them available until they are satisfactory.

My wife (my editor) was reviewing them last night and was impressed. She says she is not much of a poetry reader but I think that makes her a better judge of the work. Too often, people who “know” poetry might have pre-conceived notions of what it is supposed to be.

In the meantime I am showing the covers which I am quite happy with.

Ornithology is a poetic interpretation on the life of Charlie “Bird” Parker and his influence on jazz music. It was attempt to incorporate the rhythms of be-bop into a verse form. There are other Jazz Poems that are included, written in the early 1990’s when classic jazz music was a major influence in my artistic life. (Now, of course, I am the Tikiman and focus on Lounge Music and Martinis.)

The Art of Legerdemain is a collection of poems using the concept of the Poet as Magician. Both create illusions seemingly out of nothing. Both dig deep into the Spiritus Mundi. Both have doubt whether anything they do will have any lasting influence. These were written during the mid-1990’s and I have my dear friend, Joe Gallo, to thank for the many discussions we had regarding poetry and life. (Can anyone guess where the cover design came from?)

When the final editing is down and the pieces are ready for public consumption, I will advise accordingly.

Everything comes in Threes: A Third Ebook

I placed my third Ebook, The Ballad of Justin Thieme on Smashwords.

It is the sad account of a young man with a funny name who endures as much social abuse as he can and maintain his dignity. When he is fired from his job because it is perceived that he was the one who was not accommodating, he finds himself free to exact a bloody vengeance.

From the collection published on Lulu, Unemployed and Dangerous: A Trilogy of Transgressive Novellas, this final entry marks my complete transgressive fiction work.

So far.

It has been an exciting and interesting experience to convert to digital forms and offer my work in that fashion.

As always, I look forward to any commentary and feedback. I would be interested in knowing who else has used Smashwords or any other such media and how they feel about offering their works as Ebooks.

Naturally, I wish all my readers continued success.

An Ebook now available

My Transgressive fiction novella, Malfeasance, is now available on Smashwords.com

I have two more that I am working on formatting and creating cover art/photos. This is exciting for me because of the nature of it. Smashwords offers a profoundly clear formatting guide that makes it easier for an old analog dude like me to figure out.

Any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated.

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