Writing realities:  the current economy and what it means for writers this holiday season

This holiday season is definitely going to see significant changes in the world of commerce, and writers are being affected.  Many are discovering they have to completely rethink their strategy, while others are finding their publishers are changing the rules of the game and, the way the contracts are written, their hands are mostly tied.

A glut of one-off works from emerging authors has created a new reality for writers.


This year has not been a good one for small independent publishing houses.  Staff upheavals, business failures, and the over cost model of the publishing industry has created a brave and rather scary new world for writers.  Several small publishers have failed and several more have reoriented themselves away from mainstream genres to niche houses.  These changes have created issues for many writers under contract, especially with some publishing houses retaining legal counsel to retain the rights to the contracts even after business failure.  This creates problems for writers with unpublished manuscripts who want to bring new works to market with stable publishers but, through no fault of their own, are stuck in “option” clauses which preclude them from bringing those works to other publishers because said story may fall under the umbrella of the contract.

For the average writer, a novel, short story or medium sized prose is more than just a labor of love.  It is the end result of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of hours of brainstorming, editing and re-editing, sending drafts out to trusted critics, and baring their creative souls in groups which can be supportive at best, caustic and trolling at worst.  The life of a writer in the current economic climate is nothing short of exhausting, and only the strongest and most productive tend to survive. Moreover, established authors with marketing support are more suited to bring new works to market and keep readers going because their works are, for lack of a better term, consistent.  Productivity is now the keyword; the publishing world is full of “one hit wonders” who may be highly quality and entertaining, but simply couldn’t keep the juices flowing and now find themselves either in bad contracts or out of ideas.  This has had a deleterious effect on the publishing and writing world with respect to emerging authors.

The vast majority of writers never make a true living from their books or blogs.  Most of us are the equivalent of “Single A” baseball players, plying our trade out of a labor of love, singing for our supper, and working “day jobs.”  It is the rare author who becomes famous and that’s usually through a combination of hard work, the right contacts and, let’s face it, blind luck.  Still, those of us who love to write do it out of a sense of creative drive, a calling.  It’s a damned painful thing to do at times, and the current economic climate for publishing is doing us no favors.  Still, writing is what we do, and so we continue.

This holiday season, keep the writer in your life in your thoughts.  Give their work a try and leave a review, positive or negative.  You never know the sort of impact such an act may have on their lives.

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The Southern Storyteller: A Creation to be Prized

There is an old axiom – the victors write the history books.  History, of course, began as a set of written and verbal accounts, handed down from generation to generation.  Thucydides, considered the “father of history,” became a legend for accurate, factual storytelling through his own records.  The same for Roman Emperor Tiberius Claudius who, despite being portrayed as reckless fool and political shark in countless movies and series, had a passion for storytelling as well, recounting historical events to whomever would listen.  As both a storyteller and a student (but far from an expert) of history, I began to put their storytelling approaches, and the axiom of who writes the history books, to an unusual test of why the American Southern history and culture, both antebellum and modern, has been embraced with such amazing affection.  My conclusion is likely to spark some debate, but here it is.

Simply put, Southerners may just be better storytellers .

In the television series, “The Golden Girls,” Blanche Devereaux (played by the late Rue McClanahan) was a retired high society southern belle who once extolled to her female roommates the virtues of Southern culture.  In particular, she mentioned how Southerners told “tall tales.”  While the concept of “fish stories,” where the lines between reality and fantasy become greatly blurred, is used the world over, American Southerners seem to have perfected this art form.  Some of the great literature in American history can come from, or was set in, the American south.  Writers such as Margaret Mitchell (“Gone With the Wind,”) Kate Chopin (“The Awakening”), Majorie Kinnan Rawlings (“The Yearling”), James Dickie (“Deliverance”) and Lewis Grizzard (“Shoot Low Boys, They’re Riding Shetland Ponies”) captured the hearts, minds and souls of readers worldwide with their penchants for romance, drama, suspense and humor.  In cases of Gone With the Wind, The Yearling, and Deliverance, these tales even made the silver screen.  All of these writers are considered iconic, with the homes of Mitchell and Rawlings carefully preserved as historic sites.

margaret_mitchell_house_atlanta_2006

The Margaret Mitchell resident in Atlanta, Georgia, once home to the author of Gone With the Wind.

While these writers are giants in their own ways, the fact they are “Southern Storytellers” is indicative of a common theme.  Most southerners I’ve met are quite skilled at telling colorful stories.  Indeed, it is not uncommon that most of the more romantic notions of the American south come from residents themselves.  These notions appear to come from the practice of puffery, or making a story seem larger than life, for the purposes of entertainment.  I have yet to meet a Southerner who is unable to spin a yarn, be it verbal or written, about something of interest to them which doesn’t capture the imagination of those listening or reading.  While attending college in southwest Georgia, I met and befriended scores of native Southerners who had a natural ability with both the written and spoken word.  Some have written fan fiction on websites, others have written dark stories and poetry, and many more I worked with as newspaper writers and managed to craft engaging stories about otherwise dry topics.  I have even had the privilege of working with those who now use the spoken word to inspire others to action for a cause.  The underlying theme to all these individuals was a penchant for telling a story, and it was because of these individuals I was inspired to take up writing.

More to the point, it is also the reason I have learned to love the American South as my own home.  As an Atlanta resident, I have been blessed with meeting some amazing storytellers who, in my opinion, truly epitomize the Southern Storyteller.  As an author, many of the most amazing independent authors I have met in the last few years are native Southerners, and they have demonstrated the uncanny ability to capture the imagination with the written word.  This is just one reason that it’s hard to see a people through such a dark lens, as many activists wish to, when they can tell some amazing stories of love, sacrifice and redemption.

Even if some of these stories are highly romanticized views of historical events, or are complete works of fiction, the Southern Storyteller is an asset to be prized the world over, and one which we should hope never becomes extinct.

A little “betcha didn’t know” about me

As most of you know, I consider myself a professional writer.  Yes, I am compensated for my work and I do offer this blog as a freebie for people to get an idea of my style and thoughts.  Today I’m going to have a little bit of fun and share with you some little-known things about me from a writing standpoint.  You may be rather surprised, or not at all.

I actually hated writing as a boy.

This can be directly attributed to the fact I preferred drawing, as well my teachers using writing as a punishment rather than a tool for creativity.  The “gulag” mentality within the Hazleton Area School District was rather strong in the 1980s.  Thank goodness the current generation of teachers eschew the “old ways” of writing 100 sentences as punishment.   True story:  I once was so quietly defiant about not finishing my homework, I had to write “I will not forget to do my homework” almost 700 times!  Yes, I still “forgot” afterwards.  I got into creative writing in high school because of a junior-year creative writing assignment in my English class which whet my appetite.  Of course, that would be the week we studied Thoreau, who seemed obsessed with death.  Go figure.

Pinky and The Brain were like a Masters’ program in subtle, comedic storytelling.


Cartoons and comics were more than just entertainment for me.

Like any child, I watched my share of cartoons and read my share of comics.  I loved a good episode Superman or Bugs Bunny, and fell in love with Transformers and other science fiction cartoons and comics.  I was always the first one geabbing the New York Daily News, which had one of Americas biggest Sunday funnies sections, and made sure to buy The Atlanta Constitution on Sunday while in college, without fail.  However, I rarely laughed at the comics and cartoons I took in, and the question on my mind was “why.”  That’s when it hit me; I wasn’t reading and watching for entertainment value, I was studying the work.  The storylines, the artwork, the flow, the voice acting, the errors and glitches were things I picked up on.  They became a quasi-fellowship in art as entertainment for me.  Where other kids laughed at the Flintstones and went “wow” at Voltron slicing an enemy in half, I marveled at the imagination, took in the stories of the origins of Superman, Batman and Spider-Man, and sat in amazement at the animation quality of GI Joe and Ducktales.  I was astonished at the fluidity of the Jetsons and raw, unpolished appeal of Yogi Bear.  What was entertainment for others was a classroom for me.

My first novel, A 38 Day Education, almost DIDN’T happen.

After writing a “memoir” of my days running my college newspaper, I shared it with some friends.  One strongly advised me to rework it to avoid any appearance of attacking anyone I knew.  My father, however, was the most instrumental person in getting this project off the ground, but rather indirectly.  It was my first foray into storytelling on a professional level which launched me down this path.  I had been mulling an “unauthorized story” of my career in circulation at the Tampa Bay Times following my departure from there when he had recommended I write an allegory instead of an actual account.  So I reworked it and loved it.  I loved creating the world of the Sun-Courier, molding the character of James Allister, making publisher Alan Phelps into the nasty uber-CEO type so reviled today.  After Paper Losses was finished and I received some genuine feedback from two close friends, that emboldened me to create universe of The Scope.

I write in a rather unusual fashion.

Every writer has their “quirk,” whether it is writing while doing the wash, dictating notes and listening to them over and over, or writing something out of left field to get the juices flowing, we each have our “thing.”  For me, I “talk” out the scenes and lay out each novel like a season of a television series.  I also write scenes as they come to me, rather than go strictly from an outline, and “stitch” the scenes together with transitional passages like a patchwork quilt.  It makes the process more fun and relaxing, and the end result are stories which tend to be very dialogue driven, fast paced, and meticulous in their details.

There are THREE more manuscripts ready after these two.


I have three more unpublished Scope manuscripts in the pipeline, but purchases of Change Rising dictate their future for now.

Change Rising, the second book of the Scope series, is contracted to Sarah Book Publishing.  They also hold the option for the next three novels afterwards.  This means that the survival of the Scope series in the near term is mostly dependent on sales of Change Rising.  Of course right now the book world is hypercompetitive and there are scores of “celebrity” novels which get far better marketing backing than “indie” authors such as myself.  This requires small authors to be more innovative and nimble.  The upshot, however, is immense creative control.  Long story short, I call the shots on my stories, and that’s how I like it.

While I fully support anyone’s dream to write, I also recognize many aspiring writers just don’t have the novel chops.

I will never tell someone to give up on a dream, but I encourage them to be realistic.  Novel writing is a passion, but many novelists are unsuccessful at translating that to a full-time career.  There are a ton of popular writers whose work is mediocre at best in terms of language and plot quality, but are still entertaining stories nonetheless and, thus, sell quite well.  There are many more authors whose books are phenomenal stories but, for whatever reason, languish in obscurity.  Hard work is only a small part of it, though an important part.  The single biggest factor in terms of being a successful novelist is one many aspiring writers just can’t face:  blind luck.  I encourage a budding young writer to chase their dream, but I also implore them to find an interest which can serve as a “backup plan” in case that dream can only be lived as a hobby.

Which leads me to my last little known fact about me.

I was once called a “lazy writer” by a college professor.

In fairness, that professor was, at that time, quite right.  I gave up on a story too easily.  Rather than follow through, I found the easiest, laziest plot device to get myself out of a jam.  When he wrote that comment on an assignment I thought was actually really good, I was quite irritated and decided that I would, one day, show him I was not lazy.  While I consider myself far from lazy today, there are moments I want to break out some tried-and-true lazy plot devices, such as depressed girls huddled up eating ice cream from a carton, or an angry young boy smashing mailboxes.  This is mainly when I can’t solve a plot problem and I avoid it like the plague.

So there you are, with a little more knowledge about me as a writer.  Please take the time to check out the rest of this site and try not to throw any foam bricks at me when you see me.  Real bricks are far more effective messengers.