I was talking with my Grandpa a week or so ago and he started telling me about his friend that had recently loss his wife. I heard it and I felt the need to write, write about something I myself have never experienced. I guess that's what writing is all about, creating that which you've never seen face to face, empathizing with those you've never met. It's a mystery when it happens, but when it does the mystery unfolds. This I guess is an attempt at such. I only hope I did some justice to that which we all must face and that is the loss of those who we cherish most.
There is nothing romantic about dying. As much as the movies may sell it to be, it just ain’t so. That whole archetypal, Romeo and Juliet crap… well… it’s just crap. It’s not true. Not when it’s the love of your life laying there dying… my Grace dying. She tells me it’s ok and there is nothing either of us can do. That it’s best if we just muster up all the joy that we can in the time we have left. You know this is her trying to comfort you, but in all honesty it’s what you loath most about the situation, about yourself. That you’re helpless. That you can’t save her. That here she is dying and doing her best to save you and part of you hates yourself for that. But then again she had always been doing that for you. Being your savior, your divinity, your grace… Your Grace. And now she’s dying. She’s dying and you’re not.
We thought we had months left as months shortly became days. And as she lay there in that hospice bed, frail, but so damn beautiful to you… We just did our best to survive the grief of her coming departure from this life we had shared. We did our best to create a living space, a brief lasting moment where such grief could be cherished as much as it was scorned by this heart of mine. We did our best. You know that now. And as we did happy things in those last days, happy and tearfully sad, we sought everything special that could be summoned and salvaged from the coming moment of her fading on. We found laughter as much as we found woeful cries as the two intermingled from time to time.
Bitter was your joy. But you did your best not to steal from her the last chances she had to smile in this life. To make the time left not about you.
What broke your heart most of all though… was that this was your honeymoon. That honeymoon we never got around to have. That’s what she called these last days. You know she wasn’t joking too. She was the embodiment of all things sincere, she never said anything out of pure jest. That’s was why you loved her. Everything she was and did was utter sincerity. Not a word said or a movement made that wasn’t genuine. You still struggle with how much stronger she was then you, stronger than you could ever hope to be. All while I stood in the terror of letting her go, she found love. For her this time together. These last moments were the christening joy of a marriage long lasted. That for her this was the time for love and joy. You don’t know how she did it. How she sought not the presence of fear. How she carried on knowing we would soon have no more time with one another.
Don’t go. Please don’t go. This was what you beckoned to a God you never really paid much attention to over all the years. You weren’t mad though. You were to scared to be mad and she knew that. That’s why she held on as long as she did. Through the pain that this dying brought her, she held on. She wouldn’t let go until she knew you were going to be ok.
After you couldn’t bear it anymore. After you had seen too much suffering in her eyes, you slowly bent down next to her and kissed her on the cheek. You said, “It’s… I’m ok, it’s time for you to go home beautiful girl.” You heard her laugh one last time and say, “You better not be lying to me because I’m not leaving till I’m sure.” You know you were lying, but you couldn’t make her stay. Lying for the first time to her in 50 years, you said this false necessity and promised her it was so. “Will you wait for me?” You whimpered. The last thing you would, in this life, say to her. “For eternity.” She whispered. “For eternity. I promise I will.” She smiled at you. She just smiled in those last seconds, not once moving her gaze from yours. Smiling as the light flowed and then finally dimmed from her eyes.
You sat there wanting to scream, but you were so shattered… So shattered that your voice could not move. You couldn’t shout, as bad as you wanted to, because you were no longer there. For when she passed, you might as well have gone with her. Your soul left for that she was. Your soul, your essence. It all lay in her. For all that you were was gone now. Life’s death. Her death. Nothing now but perdition and it was yours. And terror… terror was its stay.
In the end… all things perish. They become frail and withered. Lost and eroded. Laughter fades as smiles too do dim in their joy. And as time passes and those who bear them become forgotten all the same as we, the remnant, are left to reckon with our own mortality that will soon and inevitably come to pass. We are the dying. Dying since we took our first gasp of life into being alive. We are dying and only our deaths will absolve of us this cross. What then does it mean to be a being of deceleration? Slowing down till we move no more. What meaning could this life have? What purpose? Thoughts such as these have danced in my mind’s eye for some time now. Questions present that I sometimes lack the courage… the fortitude to answer. They carry no more despair than joy, but only sobriety. No, the unending persistence of human frailty no longer fills my heart and mind with the anxieties as it once had. Only the sobering thought of its simple truth. Finitude. We lay amongst the finite, the short-lived, and only absolution can set us free. Set us free from the one thing we wish to cherish most in this life… life itself. Is there not more to that which we are than beings towards death, pockets of abyss in the making. Is there no hope that the light of day may once more shine again on us even after the light of this world should dim? To these I have no answer to give you and it’s probably best that I don’t. Death and the meaning it carries on one’s soul is a question each person must grapple with themselves. I have no answers I can forthright give you and any notions I have on the matter, I must hide to myself. But I do not covet these secret meanings I give myself. I so wish I could share them with you all the same… but this I cannot do. I cannot… I will not for the simple reason and that be that you may find your own. That you may beckon out into the void of our condition, our joyful human weeping and begot that which allows it to shine. That which makes it blossom where around it once was only ash. Your meanings, let them stay secret. Hidden from the rest of audible spheres. But illuminate! Illuminate! Brighten this life with your actions and not your speech so that others must but look your way to know your truth. That life is one of plentiful bounty. Unceasingly luminescent. A spring of unquenchable serenity. That there is beauty to be had and made by these broken hands of ours. That there is hope for those who wish it to be. So though I have no answers to garnish you with and make you feel at ease. No medicine of mine to which I can just prescribe and share. But I do only pray… Pray that you might strive alongside me in this… our human twilight so that the darkened shall not consume the light of our days.
People take different roads in life. Some lead them around the world to exotic, exciting places, other roads taken do less, sometimes a lot less. Some roads are one-way, an escape route, down which the traveler never returns. Then again, some roads are used to return home, for good reasons, maybe a short visit, burial of a family member or friend, a wedding, maybe your own. Young William Stiller returned home, not of his own volition. He was killed serving his country and was returning permanently to be buried in a public cemetery, a small one with gravestones dating back to the American Revolutionary War. There are other gravestones from all of America’s following wars. This cemetery is a burial place for patriots, and other folks too. Sergeant Stiller never planned to return home, but he has and times are sad.
FORT BENNING, GEORGIA
Someone has laid a magazine on my bunk, it has a picture on the front. Not sure who took that picture on the front page of Popular Magazine, but it’s me hitching a ride, my backside, age 17, running away from home. Probably the driver that offered me a ride took it, a writer for a magazine, a wonderer lost in the backwoods, with a camera, so he’d said. He’s given me a ride into town about ten miles up the road. That road you see in the picture is Sawmill Road, leading from the holler that I left for good. We’re Kentuckians, my family lives there. We farm, hunt for food, dig coal, run a sawmill and make moonshine. All the men run off and joined the military, most do anyway. So far, no male has ever returned to the holler and I have no such plans.
My sisters all married off young, the oldest was 18, the youngest was 16 and lied about her age to a Justice of the Peace just over the Tennessee state line. All four sisters ran away and married in Tennessee to local boys, coalminers not much older than them. As a family, that’s what we do, girls marry young and the men run off and join the military. For most, it’s the shortest road away from a hardscrabble life.
As I recall, the writer’s car was late model, a 1960 Dodge, blue colored with a strip of chrome leading to big fish tail lights in the rear. His clothing was decent, not in bib coveralls like me. His tie was loose, shirt unbuttoned, the colors drab brown. He had no hat to cover a mop of unruly, straight black hair in bad need of a comb. He’d looked straight ahead, careful to watch the road and said, “I’m Ed Cullum, I write human interest stories for Popular Magazine.” Smiling, he added, “You look human.” Broadening his smile exposed straight teeth, except for one on the right side that was chipped. I remember thinking it added character to his face. He’d asked, “Mind if I ask where you’re going and why?”
I’d said, “Reckon I’m human, alright. I’m joining the military, whichever one is in his office this morning, that’s the one I’ll pick.” He’d looked over, his tone serious and said, “That’s a big decision, maybe you want to think about it. It’s a dangerous profession. What’s your name?” He’d ask. I motioned for him to pull over, “Not more dangerous than coalmining. There’s the recruiters office. Stop here. And thanks for the ride.” He’d ask again, “Your name? I want to write a short piece about how and why people move on from their roots. I need a name to make it authentic.” “Stiller,” I said, “William, my friends call me Bill.” “And why are you leaving?” “My options are coal mining, moonshining, or military. Don’t take no genius to make the right choice.”
The loud speaker at Fort Benning blared the starting ceremony to life. “Stiller, William H., front and center!” Captain Martin gave the commands. He was head of the sniper school at Fort Benning. He’d first approached me in Basic Training on the firing range at Lenard Wood, Missouri and handed me orders that led me to sharpen my shooting skills. Now he was presenting me with an award, a plaque that read TOP SNIPER, Corporal William H. Stiller, Third Army.
Southeastern Appalachia is split by Route 25, a concrete road running north to south into Tennessee. Each side is the same. The low lying foothills of Appalachia make it that way, unchanged for a thousand years. Even the coalmines, stills and sawmills hardly make a dent. The portion of side road we’re on is macadam coated but soon turns into winding gravel and dirt roads leading off to low lying foothills. That’s where you find the hollers. I’m Ed Cullum. I’ve been here before and I know the Stiller family, too well, I’m afraid. I know the deceased whose casket rides in a black limousine following the state police car leading a short funeral procession. I’m bringing up the rear.
Somewhere off to the right, I hear a radio blaring a song from the mouth of a holler, not the one we will soon enter. As we pass the entrance, the sound grows louder and I recognize the voice of a well-known country singer, Wagner, I think, and the lyrics ‘we got company coming, we got company coming…’ The music trails off as the trees and undergrowth bring silence. Even a gunshot wouldn’t travel a hundred yards around here and I glad, for I’m thinking this is not the type of company the Stiller family had in mind.
A SOLDIERS BURIAL
Lights flashing, the grey Ford Crown Victoria leads an entourage of Stiller family members and friends of the deceased to a small cemetery located a half mile from here. On approach, I see there’s a military color guard waiting, along with a minister preparing to give last rites. A Major is there holding a tri-folded American flag he will present to the family. His name tag says MARTIN. The funeral is sad, the women and men wailing, unable to hold emotions checked. I move off to the right and take a few pictures, making sure to include everyone.
I spoke in a low voice, solemnly asking, “Major Martin, I’m Edward Cullum, reporter for Popular Magazine. Do you have anything you would like to add to the obit I’m writing for the deceased?” “Did you know Bill?” “Yes. In fact, I gave him a lift two years ago to the Army Recruiter in Williamsburg, Kentucky near his home.” Cullum flinched at the 21 gun salute. Major Martin stood fast, a tear in his eye, and with deep pride and emotion in his voice, said loudly, “Mr. Cullum, you can report the Sgt. William Hedrick Stiller out-shot and out-soldiered 99 percent of the men in the United States Army! We are proud of Stiller and saddened by his loss in combat.” There was loud wailing.
Major Martin strode with majestic military fashion and approached Ben’s mother where he reverently presented her the folded flag. Both his tears and hers blessed the emblem of freedom her son died for. From a distance, I took more pictures. I’ll get their permission before printing my byline and obituary, especially her comments that Bill was the first of her sons to return to the holler, the first and only one buried here. A couple of brothers and all four sisters were present for the funeral, a sad commentary to a young life lost too soon.
I plan to write my story with a theme about an unintended war hero and his long road home.
Writing a book is a precarious and mysterious thing. Yes, mystery, fucking mysterious is exactly what it is. Where the words come from, where they go, and where they end up. Just a mystery. You sit there staring at blank screen or piece of paper and then next thing you know all this shit just starts spilling out from the tips of your fingers. It’s like something battling between the demonic and the angelic has possessed you. You’re sweeting. You’re intoxicated. You’re scared as shit. You’re smiling with insanity. You’re doing everything in your power to fight off the urge to piss or shit because you know how easily this moment can fade and oh yes it will fade. One moment you’ll be pumping out prose that would make your mother cry or your dirty ole uncle chuckle and then the next thing you know it’s gone. Like I said, writing is mysterious. It ebbs and flows to tides unknown. All you know is that you want to be somewhere with a fucking pen or near a goddamn computer when it hits. All you know is that you wish it was always this way. Inspiration is a fickle bitch. When you have it you feel all warm and fuzzy. You feel in love, but the second it’s gone you’ve never felt a loneliness like that ever before in your whole damn life. Writing is mystery and with all mystery there is a longing, a pain that only the creative soul beholds. You almost want to curse the almighty when that river of ink runs dry. Runs dry just as quick as it began to spring and rush forth. Where the fuck did it go? Why couldn’t it last one more hour, fuck five more minutes and I just would have had. I don’t know. I guess I’m just complaining at the moment because I was on one hell of a roll with this one piece I’m going to share with you and then it just stopped. Just fucking stopped. Mystery. Mystery I tell you. I don’t know, but here’s what I was working on. No it wasn’t for the book I’m supposed to have finished by the end of the month after next, but like I said you can’t control this shit. It just fucking appears and you got to snab it while you can less it be but to fade into the black of memories long gone. Mystery, fucking mystery I tell you…
IM NOT AN ADDICT
First off, despite anything you fuckers may think or come to believe, I’m not an addict. You need to know this from the outset. IM NOT AN ADDICT. Addicts aren’t people, despite everything you’ve been taught or read. Addicts aren’t people, they’re figments of a bland societal imagination. Bland and fucking blind to my suffering, to those whose suffer. Don’t get me wrong… I take an egregious amount of drugs. Maybe much more than one should. Maybe not. But that’s not the point right now. Again I’ll say it. I’m not an addict. See I’ve said it three times now. Dispel this bullshit notion or put this book down and put it down NOW. I don’t have a problem with substances, just a problem with being here. Don’t get me wrong… I numb myself in more ways than one. Speed, weed, boos, etc. but we’ll extrapolate that list later on. I seek the numbing and that I won’t deny for a fucking second. There is an emptiness of purpose I face at every waking moment. An internal vacancy that has pushed me to externalities to fill the void. I’m not chasing after some high, I’m not after setting my nervous system a flame to delights. Don’t get me wrong though, the highs, as few and far between as they have come to be, weren’t ever a downer, but they were never the point of my endeavor either. My yearning is existential at its core. Some serious weeping Nietzsche, Kierkegaardian ironic laughter type shit. Ya that’s it. The drugs they’re just a means to subsistence. A vehicle that lets me cruise along with the rest of you fucks and friends. They help me get along in all the love and nihilism this world slings at one’s face. And I don’t know which of those two things freaks me out the most… But if you still doubt my convictions on the matter. I guess I understand and I’m glad for you. Your life has meaning and I don’t really mean to take that from you. I don’t want you to feel like you should be me. Think my thoughts. Mimic the Ken Sen Mantra as if it was the true. No I just want you to know… I guess I just want you to not hate me, hate me for something I didn’t ask for because I promise I didn’t ask for this particular take on life. It was cast on me like herpes in the night. Participating in an act most do, but caught something foul in the process. The act… living. The herpes… my despair. Ya I guess I could uh, would uh, should uh been wearing one of life’s many ideological condoms. Maybe I was just being reckless. Exploring to much with the wrong people and their infectious thoughts. Maybe… Maybe. But my despair like the herp da derp… It’s for life. I have it now and it burns on the soul’s crotch like a son of a bitch. Again, I’m not an addict… I’m just alive.
- Thane Hounchell
Hello there! First off, let me introduce myself politely. My name is Alvaro Bayona, and I am an Independent author. Now sit back, grab some food or dynamite, and let me spike up a tale of my experience as writer so far.
I believe the first time I ever started to write stories on my own was when I was 17. I would go to my room after school and get out a journal and write away. Day by day I would come up with ideas that sparked my enthusiasm to keep going. However, like all journeys, struggle always snakes its presence in the most destructive sights ever.
Once I graduated High School, I right away figured out what I wanted to be: an author. I had it in my mind that I was going to make fictional stories way beyond the human mind. Worlds and characters like never before, and with imagination that has never been tested. So I set myself on the quest to my career, and nothing was going to stop me, no matter what!
During that first summer break before college, I tried to figure out how to make a book, but that was rough. A lot of people I asked for help really didn’t understand how, so I kind of was left alone. I had to think of a way to get myself a publisher.
Once I got into College, my main focus was to find at least a group or two to help me out. I went through my English professors, and I was given the same response. They as well didn’t know!
As time went by, I knew that I needed to be author, but where would I turn to? Where did I have the sanctuary to run to?
Now this might sound rude, and I apologize for this, but while at College, I was wondering why I wasn’t getting ahead of being an author. Day by day I would sit in my classes thinking about making my book already. I just thought, “So when am I taught to write the book?”
To be honest, I knew what I wanted to do, and I wanted to get to the point of it. No messing around, because my mind was set. I was pretty much stuck in classes that I disliked because they weren’t anything I wanted to do. No, I don’t want to be a doctor; I want to be an author!
In fact, I was told to stop and only focus on school, but what’s there to focus on if they’re just going to put me down. No one even helped me make a book, until one day.
I have a friend, an amazing author, and I asked her how she got her book published. She told me she went through this magnificent website called: CreateSpace, and I knew that I had another step to go. So I went to that website one day and I got straight to the point. I found my sanctuary, but I was not done yet.
Finally at around March of 2015, I sat my ass down and started to type away my book. That was the first time that something was finally getting published. Everything in my mind was finally coming together, and what wave of excitement it was. However, school took a hold of me, a lot.
Most of the time I would go back to do homework, but I took a few minutes to write. Then, after a while, I decided to put my career as priority as I discovered something….something that really made me think. School was holding me back. School wasn’t helping at all. I always felt so alone there, but never when it came to writing.
Now I’m not a normal fiction writer, I’m a weird one. My influences were far from normal. My influences were pretty much from comic books. I’ve always loved reading comics and it left a big impact on me.
I was influenced a lot by Batman, Spawn, Sin City, , and a lot more. However, I later on passed over the American comics in favor of the Japanese side. When I was around 13 or 14, I got into a lot of what’s called “anime” which are Japanese comics that turn into animation. Such examples like Dragon Ball Z, Hellsing, or Sailor Moon. A lot of scenes in my book were really influenced by that stuff, especially the fighting and scenes.
However, if there was one thing that influenced me more than anything else…then it was music. Not just any music, but my favorite one of all…Rock ‘N’ Roll. I love Rock ‘N’ Roll, especially Heavy Metal, and I’ve always wanted to welcome it in my writing. Bands that really influenced me were the likes of Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Bathory and so on. So one day I thought: I have an idea. Why not combine all of it together? I’m going to combine all those influences into one single object.” That object is my book.
Oh, now that was driving force that kept me going. I know for sure that there’s a bunch of fans of each of those different things that like more than one, so why not give it to them with a surprise? Have the fighting and power scenes from anime, with the kind of courage and justice from Superheroes, and the design and attitude that Rock ‘N’ Roll had. I knew that it would be the perfect collaboration.
Therefore, each one was divided up equally. My characters fight with these cool godly powers while trying to save the world, and still looking good with that tight leather on.
In fact, here’s a trivia. My main character, Stacy, was influenced and based on an amazing musician. Stacy was influenced the Heavy Metal female guitarist, Kelly Johnson from the all Female Heavy Metal band Girlschool. It was before I started writing that I got really into that band. I still like them to this day, and they’re freaking awesome. Originally, Stacy was going to be a boy that resembled Lemmy from Motörhead. Of course I could go on, but I rather go back to my experience as an author and keep the story of book for another post.
Day by day I would spend my entire break inside the computer lab at school, trying to finish the book. Later on I realized that it kind of got in my studies and my grades went a bit down, but still good enough to pass. It didn’t bother me because this was something I’ve wanted to do since forever.
At around the summer of 2015, that’s when hell broke out to me! One day while I was writing at home, my computer randomly shut down at the moment. The screen went black like the darkness that surrounded me and died. I screamed freaking loud that day with rage growing inside.
“No! NO!! Don’t you dare do this!! How dare you die before me?” I screamed high tot the sky with rage I never knew that dwelled in me. That was it. It was over. For a moment there, I kind of panicked since I didn’t save my story onto the hard drive I was using. I thought my journey was over. I thought I lost it all. Even at that state of disappointment and failure, I stood back up and knew it wasn’t over. I figured a plan.
Next day I went to my library and decided to finish working in there. As I walked in confident as ever, all the damn computers were taken. Each one of them was overruled by another being. Panic rushed through my mind as I tried to calm down. I couldn’t believe that I had nowhere to work, until a light bulb shined above my head.
I raced to school, and well, history does repeat itself. Pretty much every day, both places were filled with people taking over all the computers. Whether it is the library or school, I had no spot available. It was as if I felt a huge force of disappointment ram me though, leaving me in a pit of failure. The voices would speak to me gently: I failed. There was nothing I could do. Just give up, it’s better that way.
Finally after a month, there was a spot at the Library for me. I raced to it and plugged my device in, but that really ticked me off. I remember it like yesterday when the computer told me my file was lost. It was gone…forever. I struggled for day to find it, but there was nothing to receive.
One day came and I gave it one final try. Thank god for that day. I opened the computer at the library…and it was there. I found my story at last. I opened it right away and worked like no tomorrow. Never had I felt joy racing through me like that before. Now I was getting somewhere, but it was still taking forever.
One day at the library, the file was lost, again. I banged my head to the desk in frustration. Weird was that I was able to get it back, and then I discovered something. Maybe there could an alternative to my files, but where?
It hit me like a brick when I found it. Google Docs! I moved all my information there at the last moment before my hard drive decided to finally die. It broke at that very day, right after I move everything. Phew.Now I was back up stronger than ever. I knew nothing else could stop me, except for the school computer lab still being packed.
Fall came down like a meteor shower and I knew the only way to finish this was to take any computer that was open, no matter how long. I would at least spend three hours writing. It was going so well, but I still needed to beat my deadline. I wanted to unleash the book to the world by 2015, and I was eager to do so.
During that time, I decided I still needed a good cover, but I couldn’t decide who to get to draw it. I’m no artist, but I needed a good cover. I searched and I could barely find any artists, and when I did, they charged so much. Even my wallet felt that one. I knew I couldn’t spend money, so I did it on my own. I drew the entire book and logo.
Day by day, I tried to learn how to draw, but that was going to take too long, so I did a small DIY technique. To this day, the drawing could have been way better, but I’m glad I did it. I took the challenge, and I took it all the way.
Finally I was at my final days or writing, and it was time to find an editor. Of course just like before, my wallet jumped right back in my pocket. I was in no position to pay an editor to edit my book. Damn.
Yes, I edited my own book. I will admit that it wasn’t a smart move, but I wasn’t going to pay. Besides, I wanted to do it.
Around December of 2015, I was officially done. The artwork, the story, the editing; all of it was finally completed. Now it was time to show it to the world. At December 27, 2015, my book was finally born. The title is: And Now Ladies And Gentlemen...Stacy!
Then came the moment that really put me down and I still am going through. Bookstores. As desperate as I was at the time, I didn’t realize CreateSpeace doesn’t store books into bookstores. That really slapped me in the face. So I decided to do this whole book selling myself. I won’t lie; most of the bookstores have turned me down. It felt as though I wasn’t wanted.
In addition, Barnes And Nobles actually turned me down a few days ago. Kind of sucks, but that ain’t stopping me at all. Sure it’s tough, but I know I’ll get there.
Furthermore, I’m also the one in charge with all my promotion, and it really gets to you.
I made a facebook page about a month ago and I have a good number of likes. After all, I’m just starting and I wasn’t expecting a lot. Still, I’m confident that I can still make it. After all, I’m only 19 years old and I still have a long way to go.
My journey still is in its infancy, and I welcome any new challenges that I’ll face head on! For the rest of the Independent Authors out there, I welcome and hope good wished to them all!
My advice to new authors is to always be your best and write day by day your heart out. However, if there are errors, feel free to get family and friends to give feedback on it. It really helps. Never give up and keep striving for good! That’s my experience and advice for you all so far. Keep up with me, thank you for letting me talk, and good luck to all the Independent Authors out there. Trust me, you’ll do better than me.
Cards on the table, I’m an English teacher. 11th and 12th grade to be precise. Thane, due to this (amongst other things, such as our friendship), asked me to give some insight into the world of writing, which terrified me. To be fair, it’s summer break and procrastination is my modus operandi at this time, but just the thought of giving advice to whoever chooses to read something like this is enough to make me stammer just a bit.
So here we go, my advice on writing. By the end of this piece, you’re going to get the most important rule for writing. This is the best rule for anyone wanting to write, whether academically or for their soul or to publish. This will be the best advice I can give.
In the third grade, I began to learn cursive. In Ohio, students dread this. Cursive is weird, it’s unfamiliar, letters are connected and sometimes changed, and we’d only just mastered printing three months prior, so why change it? We didn’t have a choice, though, because we were third-graders, and that’s what we learned.
To put it bluntly, my cursive sucked. To be fair to my cursive, my printing sucked worse. Or maybe they sucked equally. I’m not really sure, because I got dreaded check-minuses on my grade cards. My parents took it stoically, maybe hoping that this meant I was to become a doctor and allow them to live in the lap of luxury during their golden-years while I was performing brain surgery on famous people and driving a Porsche. Imagine their surprise when 13 years later I became an English teacher and drove a Mitsubishi. Sorry mom and Dad.
I soldiered on through primary and secondary school until 11th grade when one day we had a substitute teacher in English class. She was in her late eighties, with a tiny, grandmotherly voice and a sense of love that emanated from her as she paced the rows to make sure we were doing our work. Although I don’t remember the lesson, I do recall that we were writing extended responses; in cursive. She came up over my left shoulder and looked at my work and said one of those teacher-esque lines that I’ll never forget, “Oh, Michael, your handwriting is beautiful.”
It can be assumed that I stared at her with incredulous wonder, looked back at my chicken-scratch cursive, then back to her. I faintly remember snorting out something like, “really?” and thinking to myself that her eyesight must be going now, she was pretty old. She smiled and reaffirmed her statement before reminding me that all of my letters should touch each line on the paper, lest the r’s get jealous of the e’s and whatnot. Now, I’m not sure if that’s true, since I’m vaguely aware that mechanical pencils don’t imbue their scratchings with life, but her small compliment and kind criticism stays with me to this day, some 13 years later.
I went to college two years later, and unlike my peers, I still used a notebook and pen to take notes. Laptops were too distracting to use, but a notebook was fine, even when the margins were filled with doodles and little lines of poem. I printed my notes, though, forsaking the beauty of my cursive for the swiftness of printing and quasi-shorthand.
This method of writing continued into my early teaching years, too. But, as I graded assignments from young men who reminded me of myself at that time, I saw the ugliness of their handwriting and compared it to mine. What was I doing? Was I willing to set the example that lazy handwriting was okay? Is that who I was going to choose to be? All over simple convenience?
One day, during a creative writing class as I set my students to working, I started writing in cursive in my journal. I wrote, over and over, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.” My cursive was poor, unpracticed, not remotely polished. But, I stuck with it and began integrating such writing into my personal and professional work. Over time, it grew stronger.
I knew I was doing well when, while writing a check to my mechanic, he said, “Man, your handwriting is good.”
Damn right, I thought proudly as I signed my signature with a self-assured flourish. I’m an English teacher with good writing. Look at me now, Mom and Dad! No more check-minuses in my future.
I noticed though, something odd happening as I wrote. I’d slowed down. My cursive writing forced me to pause a bit as I wrote and consider each word. And due to that, I noticed that transcribing my work to electronic formats, it was much easier to revise because I’d taken such care in initially writing it. In some ways, this is backward. Cursive writing is supposed to speed you up, and I can say that I’m slowly getting quicker, but the speed at which I write in cursive is nothing compared to my printing, when I have to subject myself to such plebian levels of scrivening.
This brings me to what I want to teach you, now. To paraphrase Stephen King in his book 11/22/63, every English teacher has a book hidden in their desk that they’re waiting to finish and publish. And I’d expand that to many more professions, to be honest, because we all have a story to tell, we’re just unwilling to do so. But now, when I put pen to paper and write for me, I take my time and write whatever comes to me. Most of the time it’s terrible, barely fit to line a hamster cage with, but with some work, some revision, and some grit, it can become something passable.
I haven’t written a book yet, but I’m working on it. I’m listening to all of the advice from greats such as Mark Twain (“write what you know”) and Hemingway (“Writing is easy, you just sit at a typewriter and bleed.”). But I’ve found that the advice I give to creative writing students, born of necessity because I had to give this advice to myself once upon a time as I was relearning cursive, is the most important.
That’s it! That’s all of the advice you need. Write and write and write and write! And when you’re stuck, restart and write some more! Because it’s not important to get it right on your first try, that’s what revision and friends and editors are for. Getting it one paper is the first step. So, quit making excuses, quit beating around the bush, quit saying to others that “I’ve got a novel in the works, I just don’t know where I’m going with it right now.”
-Michael Eyler (English Teacher, King of Plundering)
I have been reading and supporting self-published authors, especially local authors, for a long time, and as a librarian, often struggle to get self-published materials added to our collection. I am not alone; there is still controversy over quality concerns, financial aspects, and bias when looking at self-published work as part of library collections.
I emailed our own collection development manager this week to get her perspective on why it is so difficult for us to get self-pub titles. She explained that she believes it is a lack of exposure. We receive so many catalogs and promotional materials from publishers that we have to wade through that to dig around and find self-published work is impossible within our time constraints. This is understandable, I can assure you, as someone working in the field. Most of our self-published acquisitions are from patron requests, so as an author, your best bet is to have friends or relatives request a purchase. You can also donate a copy, but there is no guarantee that it will be added to the collection. If you are an author approaching your local library, odds are that they are interested in you as a local author and may add your work to their local author/local history collection. You have a better shot at gaining their interest if you are willing to speak at an event, do a booktalk/question and answer session, or better yet, offer to teach a writing workshop for adults or children or perhaps another program or course that you feel qualified to teach – for free. Establish your connection to and interest in the community that your library serves and they will be more willing to work with you in acquiring and featuring your books.
As with traditionally published work, we look at reviews for quality, so if you have good reviews posted anywhere, especially Amazon, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal – and no, it is not always easy to get into those publications, but definitely worth it – call attention to them. If you can afford to use Netgalley or Edelweiss, I assure you that we use both to search for quality material. Both are easy to use and free for us (librarians), and our reviews and ratings are used in all sorts of publicity materials.
Overdrive, which many libraries use as their e-book platform, has an agreement with Smashwords to provide access to self-published materials, but only top sellers:
On a positive note, Overdrive recently reported that library patron use of self-published and indie books are on the rise:
American Libraries magazine reported not too long ago that libraries are, for the most part, interested in the self-publishing phenomenon and recognize that quality work is out there for their patrons to read from self-published authors:
And finally, a piece from the Independent Book Publishers Association on the difficulties of purchasing self-published materials from the librarian end:
Obviously we have a lot of work to do as self-published authors, from writing to marketing to accounting, but taking the time to establish a personal connection to your local library just might pay off in interest from librarians and patrons. We have patrons tell us all the time that they make purchasing decisions after reading a book they checked out from the library and decided that they had to own. The library isn’t just for those readers who can’t afford to buy the material they would like to read, but also a way for those who can make purchases to try before they buy. Time spent at the library, speaking, teaching, connecting – is time well spent towards a potentially exponential payback in purchases, reviews, and future goodwill. As a librarian new to the world self-publishing, I am able to see both sides, and hopefully can help other self-published authors navigate this resource.
-Cecily Wolfe (Author, Librarian)
There is a perception that a Literary Agent (Agent), is the door to an author’s big break. An agent is expected to market a manuscript/book and possibly bring the author some measure of success – maybe even stardom.
I must make it clear at the outset that there is a need for an Agent once they represent the author well and will deliver as an agent is expected to. However I have observed a certain arrogance and rudeness from agents that in my view seem to make them believe that they are an indispensable species, maybe even a god.
The plethora of self publishers attests to the fact that the self publishing industry is a lucrative and growing one. From my reading these self publishing companies have very attractive packages for prospects and often provide substantial after-publication services to self published authors. The self publishing firm seems to have taken the place of the traditional literary agent, to a certain extent. Their functions seem to have some elements of a literary agent.
These Agents often seem to focus heavily on a query letter as well as if the prospect is already a published author with a “name”. The way these agents focus on a query letter is almost as if this letter is more important than the plot in the manuscript. I find it an interesting read when I browse the profiles of agents and the submission guidelines on their websites. Generally, for fiction the guideline states that query letters should be a page and that a brief bio is to be attached.
On June 21, 2015, I took this from Andy Ross Literary Agency’s website which states;
“Queries should be less than half page. Please put the word “query” in the title header of the email. State in the first sentence the category of the project. Give a short description of the book and your qualifications for writing.”
An email from Jill Marsal of Marsal Lyon Literary Agency stated;
“ … start with a description of the book, a few paragraphs … query letter description and bio should be no more than 1 page if it were printed out.”
If a query letter is so important, then how much information can be provided to sufficiently pique the interest of an agent? How can an author seriously be impactful in representing himself based on the requirements of Andy Ross and Jill Marsal. It’s a gamble and a joke!
A lot of agents in addition to the brief query and bio as well, also require the first 10 pages of the manuscript. This I think is reasonable. I understand that the primary reason for their preferences for short query letters is because of the vast number of letters that each agent receives each month. That is not a proper excuse in my view as short changing an author is the end result of compromising a properly written query letter of about two pages by using volume as an excuse.
The fact of the matter is that for an agent to be effective and thorough in their job requires that they painstakingly go through maybe a query letter of about two pages and the first 10 pages of the manuscript.
This is not a case of sour grapes but agents seem more interested in a query letter than the actual story in the manuscript. As what exists now is that an author has to pass the query letter stage and also pass the bio stage before any portion of the writing style of the author is examined and before the plot is reviewed. I am sure there are instances where the query was so well polished only for the agent to later discover that the story lacks a good plot and/or is poorly written. The reverse I believe is also possible. After all, it’s the book that is published and bought by readers, not the query letter. So why is such a monumental focus on the query letter? Why is it that there are so many articles and books on “How to Write a Query Letter” to be found all over the internet and in bookstores?
I saw one which said something like; “How to write a killer query letter.” It is laughable, as it seems that the query letter is more important in the long run rather than the actual manuscript. A two or three page synopsis/summary in my view would be more realistic and practical. Agents do their profession a bad rap when they make these guidelines so impractical. How can they represent their jobs effectively if they demand so much in a one or two page query letter to include; bio, outline and pitch.
Another laughable article I come across is; “How I Landed My First Agent.” I can understand why it calls for a celebration and more ridiculous to write an article on it. Authors see that as a major achievement to pass the acid test; of passing the query letter test.
Articles and books have been written on “How to approach an agent”. The operative word “approach”. This can be likened to a bomb agent in which that agent needs to know how to approach a “suspicious bag” at an airport wondering if it has a bomb that soon will be detonated. Agents are revered, they are demigods that are expected to take an author to stardom so one needs to “approach” them carefully. Are they human beings?
There are lists of “dos” and “don'ts” all over the internet and in book shops. It seems that speaking with a literary agent is not like the typical business or professional conversation.
The profile of some of these agents display such arrogance and rudeness that I think that’s the genesis of those articles.
The replies that these agents send out; e.g. despite the body of the reply being generic, some agents don’t even have the courtesy to address their email responses with your name on it.
This one was received from Eric W. Ruben;
“Thank you for sending me your work. Unfortunately, it’s not right for this office. I wish you the best.”
Mr. Ruben didn’t even think he could properly address his rejection letter.
I got this from Paul S. Levine,
“Not for me – thanks anyway.”
I got a very respectful response from Diana Finch Literary Agency;
“Dear Garfield Whyte,
Thanks you for the query. I’m sorry to report that I don’t think that I’m the right agent for the novel. I do appreciate having been offered the chance to consider your work.”
That’s a respectful agent who despite rejection still shows some respect and class.
There are websites which state that agents will only reply to work that they are interested in. What does it take to send out an email with a one or two line courtesy rejection reply? An author sends in a query that has a potential if accepted, it can be a mutually beneficially relationship. Yet the agent doesn’t even display the basic courtesy of replying.
Some of these agents require a superb letter from authors yet they cannot even address a one sentence response to authors showing a little dignity and respect.
An agent cannot survive without authors but authors can operate without agents. In today’s technologically advanced world, many authors are now going the route of self publishing and either using a marketing consultant to market their books or put their own marketing machinery in motion.
An agent obliged when I asked her if she could be kind enough to tell me what’s wrong with my query letter. She replied and said I should not include that I did a survey seeking to find out which would be the preferred topic for my book. I had included in my query letter a sentence that I had done a survey with about 30 persons. I had provided a list of titles asking which title would be their preference. The reason for that was to get a feel of which titles resonated with those persons. In my view it was one way of doing my research. The agent said I should not have included that in my query. Clearly, she used that as an excuse to pass on mine. She clearly hasn’t gotten a clue about marketing. That information in my view is not detrimental to a manuscript, the plot and the writing style for the novel, as the query letter is not for the public but simply between the agent and an author.
If these agents demand the perfect pitch, the perfect synopsis, the perfect first five or ten pages, then why aren’t they writing the next best novel … the next best movie script? If they can’t, then should we trust them with our careers as an author?
My feeling is that getting an acceptance on a query letter is a game of chance. There is no magic spell, no special word, no guarantee of success whenever a query is sent out. An author being successful with their query letter has to be a game of chance since the situation is a subjective one, as going through a pile of query letters many times is dependent on what is going on within the agent’s world at that time. The agent maybe having a bad day, personal issues, maybe distracted by chatting on the telephone while reading a letter. Very subjective. In some ways like the lottery.
There is a perception that self published authors are the rejects of the literary industry because they opt not to succumb to the epidemic that some agents are demigods and are indispensable. Generally, inherent in most success stories are two factors; dedication and hard work. As long as an author can rise above rejection, with work hard and remaining focused, dedicated and innovative/creative then success will come even without an agent.
Technology is now making literary agents fast become a dying specie. The vastly growing options for making one’s book available through online stores, a host of websites (even one belonging to the author), ebooks, book fairs, media marketing, direct marketing.
There will eventually be agents searching for jobs very soon, that’s if some are not already doing so.
Self-publishing companies are making agents irrelevant. Some agents will soon be unemployed and unemployable. Technology has changed the face or every industry, so why should the literary industry be immune? It’s just a matter of time.
-Garfield Whyte (Indie Author)
Thane has generously given me the honor of writing the first blog post for his website. Based on his prompt, I am supposed to write about my experience as an editor, how I first got involved with Thanes writing, and my experience in the projects we have been working on so far and soon to come. Honestly, this is a tough post because there really is not much to say. I admittedly have no formal editorial training outside of my schooling and education. This makes my experiences as an editor very limited. Actually, the only person I have edited a book for is the man himself, Thane Hounchell.
I first got involved in Thanes writing when he was working on “As Skies Became Crimson” last year. It was around November that he got ahold of me and asked if I would be willing to read over a book that he was working on. Little did I know what I was getting myself in to. After reading the first chapter I was very intrigued by the characters and imagery of the book. The book was darkly comical and reminded me of similar writing styles by Chuck Palahniuk or Hunter S. Thompson. However, as intrigued as I was by the direction and potential of the overall theme and point-of-view, I was equally appalled by Thanes blatant grammatical errors…trust me he has gotten a lot better since. Luckily enough, I had just finished my finals for the semester and had plenty of time to rip Thane a new one for all the errors in his book. It took about two weeks of back and forth between the two of us until we were able to turn Thanes intriguing potential into a well thought and rounded book. This lead into the symbiotic writing relationship that we have today, with the potential for many great books to come.
After finishing “As Skies Became Crimson,” Thane decided to start another book, the soon to come “Anxious Hearts.” After reading the first chapter I came to two conclusions. First, Thanes grammar was getting a lot better (thankfully). Second, Thane had a real knack for diving into his characters personalities and overall development. It was during this time that I had an idea for a book of my own. An idea which I shared with Thane and asked if he would write it with me. We are currently doing some research for this book, but should be starting to lay the groundwork very soon. Looking back, I am very glad that Thane contacted me about his first book, and I think that our writing relationship will continue to blossom over the years to come.
So there is my response to Thanes prompt. I do not have much more to add but there is one point that I would like to discuss. This website was created to not only share our up and coming works, but to encourage active discussion and participation from readers, other authors, and friends. The topic does not have to be about books, it could be about life, thoughts, philosophy, comedy, etc. But I encourage people to use this site to share ideas and spur discussion. I look forward to posting more in the future, and reading some of our visitors posts as well.
Wishing you the very best,
The site's first Blog post will be done by Eric Cooke (see the about tab) on his experience as an editor, how he first got involved in my writing, and his experience in the projects we have been working on so far and soon to come!