Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Short on words, but a good day regardless

Thank you, Mr. King.

No, I haven't given in to referring to myself in a weird third-persony kind of way.  I'm sending out thanks to the other Stephen King, the guy who wrote the book On Writing, literally.  In that magnificent tome of information on the craft, he said, "If you want to be a writer," (and I do) "you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot....  Reading is the creative center of a writer's life."  I've been reading a lot over the years, of course, but nearly all of that has been texts and business or education related non-fiction work that really doesn't stand much chance of being any type of creative center of anything.  It was important, sure, and all of it has served and continues to serve me well...well, nearly all, anyway.  There were admittedly a couple of books, like Building a Scholarship of Assessment and Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership that I spent hours on and really do wish I could have those hours back. 

In my previous two-week-long go at an illustrious writing career, I took Stephen King's words to heart a little differently.  Specifically, I went out and procured several books and found several web sites on the process of writing.  He specifically mentions the Elements of Style, which I found quite useful as well, but I also got other books on the craft.  In doing so, and in the further laborious exercise of reading these works of "art," I found truth once again to Stephen King's words, "...most books about writing are filled with bullshit."  It turns out, as Stephen King told me directly in his book and I have now proved, that some of the best lessons about writing aren't to be obtained from texts on the topic. 

This time, I set out to do it differently.  My schedule still isn't any better, with 12+ hour days at my day job and writing at night, but there are times to read.  For one thing, I sat in the doctor's office for a few minutes today.  Luckily I had installed a book reader on my phone, so I got to read a little.  I've also gotten an interesting work of short stories for the restroom.  But my big score is that I now have a half hour drive to work, and the corresponding half hour drive back.  The new to me, anyway...I bought last November unfortunately doesn't have a tape player (what new cars do, really?) so I can't use the massive tape library I built up when I was commuting back and forth between Wasilly and Anchorage.  Consequently, I took a page from my spouse's playbook...and went shopping.

Shopping, to me, meant spending a little bit of time online.  If you haven't shopped online for books before, you should try it.  It's really a treat.  Just don't tell the good folks at Borders I said that, please.  But do a few browser windows, and direct one to eBay, one to, and one to Barnes & Noble (  I also opened one to Wikipedia, which kinda helped me with the main purpose. 

What was the main purpose?  Well, there are thousands of audiobooks on CD available.  I can't afford them all, so I had to pick a few.  What was I looking for, then?  Cheap, actually, was my #2 criterion, after format.  Yes, they had to be CD...tapes can't fit well into a disk drive.  They also had to be unabridged, a distinction I learned after listening to several books on tape.  The abridged audiobooks are fun, and they're inexpensive, but they're not THE author's work.  For example, one of the first audiobooks I bought was an abridged version of The Da Vinci Code.  It was still an interesting story, but the movie actually had more of the original storyline.  When you're building a fiction library simply for entertainment, abridged works are OK.  When you're doing it to create a fiction laboratory as well, stay away from them. 

So then, after filtering for CD and unabridged (both are available filters on eBay) I, of course, went after cheap.  By cheap, I mean less than $5 not including shipping.  Yes, that's cheap...cheaper, in fact, than the paperback version of most of those works cost.  But there is inventory available in that price range, and I figured an audiobook I got for $3.99 would teach me as much as one I got for two or three times that, as long as it was by the right person.

That, actually--the author--was my other criterion, which is where Wikipedia came in.  Lookit, I'm not spending the hours needed to write this book just so I can have a bunch of bits on my computer to point to later.  I want to sell some books.  Everything I've read about the business of the craft says it's the author's job to sell the books.  The publisher makes them, of course, and pushes them through the distribution channel.  But all that fancy marketing whizbang stuff I learned in my marketing whizbang class back in business whizbang school (have you ever really thought about what fun it is to say whizbang?) is largely the author's to do, or not.  And the first part of it is writing a book--telling a story--that doesn't suck. 

So, all that being said, if I'm setting up a laboratory to work on how to create fiction that doesn't suck, why would I buy fiction that...well, that sucks?  I mean, I suppose you could make an argument that by virtue of it being published, it's already cleared its way out of suckage.  That's not what my virtual mentor, the other Stephen King, implied, though, when he said Stephenie Meyer (the author of the Twilight Saga) "can't write worth a darn....  She's not very good." (incidentally, I figure one way I can measure my success is that I've "made it big" if and when Stephen King takes time to critique my work) 

So who doesn't suck?  Well, kind of by definition, authors who've sold lots of books, right?  No matter what I think of the genre, if they've sold a bunch of books, I need to look at what they've done.  Later on in life, once I've retired to a secluded desert isle, I can take time for full-on literary studies, but for now I grabbed books that were a) unabridged audio CD, b) $5 or less, and c) written by authors who sold a lot. 

So what did I end up with?  The one that came yesterday, that I got to listen to today, was L. Ron Hubbard's Kingslayer: Seven Steps to the Arbiter.  Arguably not his best work ever, but it's been fun to listen to so far.  Also coming are works by Clive Cussler, Danielle Steel, Patricia Cornwell, and others.  Water for Elephants is an interesting exception...she's sold lots of books, but she's a newcomer (who's actually completed NaNoWriMo, but who am I to complain?).  I look forward to getting to listen to her narrative style. 

Word count: 38,214
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  1. "Everything I've read about the business of the craft says it's the author's job to sell the books. The publisher makes them, of course, and pushes them through the distribution channel."

  2. Thanks for the comment. I hadn't considered the nontraditional route, mostly because I don't like to read ebooks myself, but it's definitely worth looking into.