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Posts Tagged ‘Bradbury’

I’ve been reading a lot lately about why and how authors should develop their brand. Like many of you, my first thought about branding had something to do with red-hot iron and pissed off cattle. After some of my research, I’m not entirely sure it still doesn’t mean that, at least in the metaphorical sense. No, this newest version has to do with authors developing a presence or package of what they represent, of what the reader can expect when picking up one of their works. It entails marketing strategies and social media and business plans and a huge amount of savvy and energy that I don’t have.

Wait, let me dust off my cane here. See, in the old days, authors wrote books, attended book signings and writer’s conventions, and answered the occasional fan letter. Mostly though, they wrote books. And stories. And articles. And poetry. And limericks. And… and… and… The brand was developed by having stuff out there for the masses to read. It took a lot of time and effort and a little bit of luck to get that “name recognition.” But thousands of them did it without any of these modern day contrivances. Just about anybody who reads knows exactly what they’re going to get when they pick up something by Shakespeare, Poe, Tolkien, Asimov, Herbert, Bradbury, or King. And those greats all had that recognition long before today’s FaceTwitGrams were even thought of. Or their respective developers, for that matter. All that marketing stuff was for the publisher to deal with.

But with the advent of indie publishing, a new breed of author has evolved. With the youngest among us practically born with a smart phone in their hands, it’s nothing for them to jump into this whole branding idea with both thumbs. They live on social media anyway, so it’s totally natural to just continue that existence with their writing. Where they find the time to write in between all the updates, tweets, selfies, shares, cute cat videos, and drunk fails, I’m not sure. Those young’uns are moving a whole lot faster than I did at their age, in a world that puts me into sensory overload and makes me want to hide under my bed, but seems to energize them to new levels of thought. I wish them well, but I’m not entirely convinced it’s good for them. Or the rest of us.

Maybe that’s just the old fogy in me talking. Maybe I’m just jealous because I know I can’t keep up with them when it comes to 21st Century media. Maybe I’m afraid the world has passed me by and my window of opportunity to be an actual paid writer has long since closed. Or maybe, just maybe, I know something they don’t know.

You see, there are certain advantages to being in the age and treachery division of life. One of them being that there are LOADS of us out there. Why do you think Mick Jagger is still rocking across the stage as a great-grandfather (besides that deal with the Devil, but that’s a story for another time)? Being middle-aged (or better) has an entirely new meaning with this new century. For one thing, we’re healthier as a group than the same age dynamic of previous generations enjoyed. And we’re not content to simply go to work, take the kids to ballet class and watch football. We want to play and explore and learn, too. We’re young enough to take on bungee jumping, zip-lining, white-water rafting or any number of other adventures, but old enough to know we need medical and life insurance first.

We straddle the line between the analog and digital ages. We look forward to the fascinating things to come, while sitting comfortably on the tried and true of the past. And we have certain expectations. We still want a well-written book to curl up with by the fire, even if we’re reading it on a tablet.

And that’s when I realized I already had my brand. I’m a middle-aged chronic depressive science fiction writer who plays with string and pretends to be somebody else on the weekends. I can text just fine, but use proper grammar and spelling because I just can’t do it any other way. I’m on Facebook, but I use it to actually keep in touch with family and friends instead of playing games or trading political memes. I know about Reddit and Tumblr and Instagram and Pinterest, but I’m not interested in spending more time in the digital world than I already am. And there are 76 million more like me in the US right now.

Let me be your favorite brand. I speak your language. I can be irreverent, judgmental, thoughtful, hopeful, angry, determined, educational, passionate and pointed. I know what it’s like to deal with the daily office grind, and then face the fear of starting a second career because you couldn’t retire from your first. I get Star Trek as well as Steampunk, love classic muscle cars while delighted by Tesla, and was doing cosplay way before it was a thing. I can give you well-crafted characters in a strong story line that simmers along with a quiet rage that leaves you satisfied and yet wanting more at the end. Let me be the one that helps you understand and enjoy the future while giving you the security of your past.

And if any of you young’uns want to come along for the ride, hop on board. There’s plenty we can teach each other.

 

© 2014   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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Writing is as much craft as it is art. Some people tend to use those two terms interchangeably, but I believe them to be different animals. Craft deals with the rules of your field, in this case punctuation and grammar and spelling, and the construction of words and sentences and paragraphs into something that makes sense to most of us. Art is what happens beyond craft; that unexplained extra something that makes us mere mortals just sit there with our mouths open.

Craft and art are neither mutually inclusive nor exclusive. There are plenty of excellent craftspeople that just don’t have that extra oomph, and plenty of stunning artists whose basic craft skills suck rocks. You can be very successful under either banner, without the other one. Most of us are, in fact, quite happily bounding through life just fine as just one or the other. It takes someone truly extraordinary to put the two together, and that’s why da Vinci and Bradbury and Spielberg have their places in history.

I’d like to think I’m a reasonably good craftsperson when it comes to writing, but a couple weeks ago I let loose a short story for critique (“Fiction Break”), and learned just how good I’m not. I received a variety of comments, both publically and privately, that gave me lots of good feedback. But the overwhelming majority didn’t get the point of the story as I had intended it. That’s where I failed as a craftsperson. What was in my head didn’t make it to the page in a manner that could be understood by the average reader.

Now, I could sit here and grouse about how I’m really no good at short stories because they’re really not my thing and just leave it at that, but that’s a cop out. Each writing format has its own unique requirements, and part of being a good craftsperson is to learn those requirements. It’s like learning your scales in music, or your basic figures in skating – you need that solid, automatic foundation under you before you can push the boundaries.

So I have to take those comments and process them and see what I can do to change my story to make the point I want, while still giving a good read. Right now I have the luxury of being able to explain to my readers exactly what I meant, but that doesn’t happen in the real world of publishing. I have to just send my stuff out there and know that my words will hold their own.

This is why critiquing is such an important part of the writing (singing, dancing, painting, etc.) process. Most of us in the creative fields are loathe to accept suggestions for improvement – we’ve just put our hearts and souls into this project, don’t you understand??? – and I am probably the worst of all when it comes to such things. I haven’t been part of a writing group since my days at the American Film Institute, mainly because I just couldn’t find the caliber of writers that I was blessed to experience there. But that doesn’t mean I don’t need critiquing.

There are those that argue the creative fields shouldn’t (can’t?) be critiqued, the question being how can you be objective about a subjective form? That’s why you get such varied reviews on the same creative piece.  In 1913 a riot broke out at the Paris debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The maestro’s ballet broke virtually all the accepted balletic conventions, and pissed off an elite audience that quickly made their opinions known. The cops had to be called in and Stravinsky fled the scene before the ballet was completed, probably in fear of his life. A hundred years later and the same ballet is highly regarded, widely performed and considered a turning point in the development of ballet and music.

The difference comes from more than the passage of time. That night in Paris was an EMOTIONAL outburst of epic proportions, with just as many supporters as detractors flinging fists about. Some didn’t like it because it didn’t meet their expected norm, and some liked it for the very same reason. Emotion is the subjective part of the creative fields, the part every creative person aspires to elicit in his or her targeted audience. I don’t want you as the reader to just be satisfied with my excellent craftsmanship, I want you to be surprised, angered, saddened, or otherwise emotionally moved. The craft itself needs to disappear into the background, letting the art run free.

The objective part of things comes when we try to figure out why something moved us. Time allowed us to take a look back at Stravinsky’s work and dissect what he did, what conventions he broke and how. We can analyze form, function, structure, and begin to understand on an intellectual level why his ballet caused the reactions it did. These same examinations can be done with any creative form and that objectivity is part of what I’m looking for when I send things out for critique.

To really make progress I need both. I need the subjective emotional, visceral response, and I need the objective reasoning of why that response happened. Much as I love having people sing the praises of my writing, if that’s all I’m getting, I’m not improving. That’s just leaving me as a craftsperson, and not challenging the artisan.

And that’s the difference between being somebody who writes, and somebody who’s a writer.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

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