Self Promotion, Part 4

Sub Titled: Sell You

Me:   Are you exotic? Do you live in an exotic place? Do you speak an exotic dialect?

You: Well, no, CM. I’m just a plain and ordinary person.

Me: Wrong! Although you may think of yourself and your surroundings as mundane, if you go a thousand miles in any direction, you will find that strangers think you are quite unusual.

Take Mark Twain for instance or Charles Dickens, where they not masters at bringing an exotic place to you? Did you read Fargo? Did you find enlightenment about the Mid West? Ya-ya. You bet ja. Have you read Stephen King? What would his stories be without that New England background? Where does he get it? He opens his eyes and look around. I live in the US, but the land northeast of me sounds completely different.

I’ve chattered and read the works of writers from all over the world, and this is a mistake that I see them make over and over again—not including a background. I use to communicate with a writer from China and another from Australian. I kept telling them, I want to hear about your country, your people. I want to see the trees, hear the dialect. Well, the Chinese guy wouldn’t listen. He kept trying to write like an American, and it just didn’t wash. The Australians guy did listen, and I thoroughly enjoyed his work.

How important is background? Plenty. It’s the pepper in the stew.

And more than just the background, what kind of people are your protagonist dealing with? What kind of society?

I’ll take this one step further. Did you read ‘In the Glomming?’ Did it add a layer of sympathy for the characters that you didn’t have before? Did you watch the movie ‘The Bird Cage?’ Did you laugh, and in the laughter did you find understanding?

Try reading ‘The Wreck’ under the True Stories categories to the right. Can you guess where I’m from?

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8 thoughts on “Self Promotion, Part 4

  1. Self-promotion??? If you have lots of friends, fake your death…then you’ll be able to judge how good your friends are by how many by your book after they “think” you’ve gone the way of Elvis and Michael Jackaon. Exotic talk? Remember the huge lexicographical project called The Dictionary of American Regional English?

    The Birdcage…another messed up American re-make of a French film, “La Cage aux Folles” The original was much funnier. It’s like the German film, “Wings of Desire” was MUCH mmore beautiful than the stupid att4empt at a re-make starring Nicholas Cage and Meg Ryan.

  2. I bet you thought that I was going to disapprove this comment. Well, no. My record remains clear. Controversy is exciting.

    Putting all the movie talk aside, you have—in a way—proven my point. All these years of communicating with other writers has proven naught in the effort to sell our work. While two writers of different genre may help each other technically in editing and publishing that doesn’t get us any closer to the public, to the READER.

    One might even say that writers are cloistered group. We must ‘graduate’ from talking to each other; we must leave ‘school’ and go out into the world. We must take a hard look at our genre and target that group that wants it.

  3. OK… here’s the chance to burn me Marcum. I generally do not write about my region, which is generally because I have created as fictional city named Babylon and have several other fictional cities that I primarily delve into. But I would I be a fool if I thought my own geographic background didn’t bleed through the pages. I’m sure it does. You can take a stab at my background based on my writings, if you want, though it would become very clear if you read some of my novel “7 Transgressions of Marley”, because that one is set in my region.

    But I don’t disagree with you by any means…

    I think one of the most insightful, helpful pieces of advice about writing I’ve ever heard came from the film “Little Women”. Katherine Hepburn’s character had been writing murder mysteries for a paper or something, and the doctor who owns the apartment she lives in (or something to that effect) reads her stories and tells her to “write about what you know” (more or less). I would be a moron if I tried to write about Africa, or Australia, because I’ve never been to these places and have very little knowledge about them.

    Which brings me to the thing that I love most… THEME. I tend to believe that no matter how absurd your story is, if you can write about a theme you really know and understand, and in a way that is so real, you’ll hit your mark. Because you are writing about something you know, and those who know ‘it’ as well will be right there with you nodding their heads.

    Example. I’ve read a lot of comments where people trash on Stieg Larsson’s first book “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” because it was “soooo slow” with the investigative/journalistic plot-line. But for me it was absurdly intriguing, because I’ve done some journalistic stuff and have done some investigative stuff, and I could really feel the realism in it. Reminded me a lot of earlier days when I drove to a small police station and asked for some police reports, then they told me to go to the courthouse to get them, then the courthouse told me to go to the county Sheriff’s office; then sitting in some cafe in the middle of nowhere, reading through reports; and having to drive across the state to talk with those involved. And all the while trying to sort it all out. Sure it was tedious, but that’s how it’s done.

    • Yes, even if you’re writing a science fiction story YOU are in it. For instance, I have a sf story called Galaxy Real Estate. It takes place on another planet, the main character is totally alien, but he is base on a very human salesman of obese and flamboyant nature that I knew quite well–an uncle, in fact.

      Ah theme, that’s a subject all in itself, but let’s put it this way: before 1960 no one gave two flips about whales or dolphins. Was it not writers who changed public opinion? Before China Syndrome, didn’t everyone think nuclear power was better than buttered biscuits?

      Theme is your message to the world, but instead of standing on the street corner and preaching, writers wrap their words in a story and readers heed the message without even realizing it.

  4. Read this post and it reminded me of a piece by Kurt Vonnegut,’How to write with style’ which in relevant part says:

    “The writing style which is most natural for you is bound to echo the speech you heard when a child. English was Conrad’s third language, and much that seems piquant in his use of English was no doubt colored by his first language, which was Polish. And lucky indeed is the writer who has grown up in Ireland, for the English spoken there is so amusing and musical. I myself grew up in Indianapolis, where common speech sounds like a band saw cutting galvanized tin, and employs a vocabulary as unornamental as a monkey wrench.

    “All these varieties of speech are beautiful, just as the varieties of butterflies are beautiful.

    “I myself find that I trust my own writing most, and others seem to trust it most, too, when I sound most like a person from Indianapolis, which is what I am.”

    As to ‘where you’re from’ – my own speech identifies me fairly clearly in terms of birthplace, but my writing probably doesn’t and the locations in it are often relatively anonymous – I may have a very clear idea of a geographical location in my head (and I’ve travelled a fair bit) but I doubt the details in any one story add up to enough for anyone else to know precisely where that location is. The details are important and yet often I want people to use their imagination to think it could be somewhere close to them, wherever that might be. Not all the time, obviously, but a lot of the time.

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