Interview with Jennifer Pazienza

Selling a book or a board is a cool way to have your art appreciated, but when that appreciation comes from another artist, especially one of Jennifer’s stature, then you know you’re not wasting your time with those books, those drawings, those photographs.

Thank you, Jenn…I feel both humbled and proud.

The video interview at Cafe Loka was shot by my bestie, Stephanie Durelle, under gruelling circumstances…I wouldn’t stay still.

Click here for the interview.

Click here to learn more about Jennifer’s work.

A Writer’s Real Job

Real Job

“So you want to be a writer, do you?” His eyes narrowed as he chuckled and I suddenly felt like I had two purple heads. “And what exactly are you going to do for your real job?”

Even with self-publishing making it possible for anyone on the planet to become a published writer, this attitude that writing (unless you just sold the movie rights to your bestselling novel and bought a new Ferrari) is somehow a pastime that people indulge in when they’re not spending their time accomplishing something useful like diagnosing a disease or making copious notes at Monday morning’s marketing meeting, even though the PowerPoint will be emailed to you later in the day…this attitude persists today much like it did 30 years ago.

It’s a lethal attitude. It’s killed countless creative efforts and pulled the rug out from under aspiring writers for as long as there have been aspiring writers.

It’s not always as blatant as in the example above; in fact, most of the time, it’s subtle, but always there, lurking under the surface of your interactions with the people around you.

“Can you pick Sheila up at the airport?”
“This is my writing time…remember the schedule? And I’m finally on a roll with Chapter 7. Can you pick her up?”
“I have to pick up the party favors for next weekend.”

“Pick them up tomorrow.”

“But I just want to get that out of the way. You can work on Chapter 9 tomorrow.”

Been in this situation before? You’ve scheduled your writing so that it’s not just a random thing you do whenever the creative juices bubble up. It’s something you take seriously and it’s probably more important to you than the job that helps pay for the party favors.

Part of the problem is that painfully long gap between starting a novel, finishing it and getting it published…if it ever gets published. It’s the immediate return on invested time and money. For instance, a plumber repairs your leaky sink and gets paid, all in a matter of hours. You go to the office, sit around for eight hours and collect a paycheck two weeks later. For most people, work has definite start and end dates with something accomplished (repaired sink, sore butt) for which there is a definite payment. You can schedule the start, end and reward.

Not always so in the arts world; in fact, rarely so. You might spend a few months or a few years writing a novel and, unless you’ve made a deal with a publisher, you’re not being paid while you’re writing and, if it’s your first novel, you haven’t established yourself as a professional writer. So most people will perceive your writing as a hobby…not as something to which you want to devote your life. And the longer it takes you to write your novel, the less likely they’ll take it seriously: they’ll see it as your little dream, that quirky little thing you do in the background of your life while you in your keep from the real job selling cars or insurance.

This attitude can be devastating, especially during those times when you’re having doubts and feeling the angst of doing something for ages that’s moving forward slowly but: “who’s going to read it?” “do I really have anything important to say?” “what the hell am I doing?”

That kind of stuff. It can kill you as a writer. I’ve had five novels published and tons of short stories, but I still have these feelings, these doubts that what I’m doing is even worth the effort. Fortunately, I expect the negative thoughts and I keep writing at the scheduled times (yes, I schedule my writing because, like my fulltime job, it’s work).

I’m not saying there won’t be those moments of pure joy when you read something you wrote the night before and you’re floored by the idea that you, yes you, wrote these beautiful words. Those moments are worth the fear and loathing of a thousand moments of doubt. But the novel isn’t finished. You’re halfway through and you’ve been working on it for over a year. You have another year to go, maybe longer.

I try to alleviate the uncertainty by storyboarding my novels before I start the writing, but once I’m 30 or 40 pages into it, the characters and story take off and the storyboard evaporates in the heat of the writing. But the structure and direction it initially provides carries me through. A diver is more likely to dive successfully from a solid board than a rubber one.

Not everyone is into storyboarding, and I get it…it’s work and you might not know where the story is going until you start writing. This happens to me with my short fiction. But storyboard or not, it’s a long process and it eats a lot of time and requires daily sacrifices. So much of writing is discouraging and, if you’re like most of the writers I know, you’re not going to get the kind of support you really need: acknowledgment that your writing is just as valuable as anything else you do, and maybe even more so.

It’s not just a hobby. It’s not just a distraction from the real stuff. It’s what you are and what you want to be.

It means putting things in a writer’s perspective. For instance, would you take time off the 9 to 5 job to pick Sheila up at the airport? If not, why would you take time off from your scheduled writing? You might say, “Well, I have more flexibility with my own time.”

“My own time”?

That attitude has turned many a promising word smith into dissatisfied retiree with a lot of regrets. I know some of these people. They still talk about that novel they should have written and maybe, when they have some free time in their post-retirement life, they’ll get around to it.

Your own time is when you write…when you’re who and what you are.

When people don’t take your writing seriously, feel free to take those people and whatever they do with a grain of salt. Better yet, avoid them. Unless you have no choice but to interact with them, just stay clear of them. Treat them as toxic chemicals. If you’re stuck with them, don’t talk about your writing. They don’t deserve to hear about it.

Resolve that you will be spending much of your time alone, even when you’re in a crowded area like I am when I write in coffee shops. While others are gliding through their mundane lives, you’re creating new worlds, birthing personalities that grow and evolve, focusing on those little things that everyone misses until they read about them in your novel and think, “Oh yeah…that.”

That’s your real job.

 

(BTW…don’t miss the first episode of the world’s first free daily serialized coffee break novel, The Weekly Man, coming September 8.)

Back When I Was An Ebook Germ

 

HeavyLoad

Many long grueling years ago, I was invited to give a presentation on ebooks at the University of New Brunswick’s prestigious Maritime Writers Workshop. The presentation was held in a large theater with tall stained glass windows before an audience of students, instructors, professors and anyone interested in literature. The room was packed.

I stood before the audience and talked about how ebooks were the coming wave in publishing…how they cut distribution and production costs, put more control in the hands of authors, lowered the cost of books….you know, the things we take for granted today. Pretty much the entire audience seemed enthralled by this concept, especially the aspiring writers.

I seem to recall one of the professors showing some interest, but the others stared at me like I was a stalagmite of bacteria sprouting out of the floor. One of them seemed offended that I was talking this sacrilegious nonsense on the last day of the venerable workshop, poisoning the minds of promising writers and despoiling the honorable repetition of Canada’s longest running literary workshop.

To be fair, the early days of ebooks were a chaotic scramble. Try to imagine a bumper car ride filled with drunken drivers on meth. This was before Kindle, Kobo and Nook. The standard methods of delivery were the PDF file, the floppy disk and the CD-ROM. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that Stephen King serialized a novel delivered on the Glass reader, a piece of software that, thank God, drowned in the advances made by other ereaders. The Rocket Ebook and Softbook suffered the same fate.

Writers who’d been turned down by every publisher on the planet because they couldn’t write a complete paragraph without insulting the rules of grammar and showed their dismal lack of storytelling ability were paying hundreds of dollars to have their books published electronically by scam companies proliferating across the literary horizon. Fortunately, few of these writers knew anything about marketing and most of the scammers offered marketing services that the writers couldn’t afford.

On the other hand, there were those who embraced the new technology with enthusiasm and the belief that epublishing was just as important as the advent of the printing press.

But…back to the workshop. I received a generous round of applause from most of the audience, but lukewarm from that area where the profs looked at me like I was something awful and hopefully not contagious.

After the presentation, I did some mingling, answered a few questions and was just about to leave when one of the profs approached me and said, “So you really believe that these things are actually books?”

Before I could answer, he went on to say that ebooks were a passing fad and that serious writers and publishers would never accept them, as though any book in ebook format was automatically not good writing. So I asked him if The Sun Also Rises (which I’d just read for the second time) were to be published in as an ebook, would it still be a great novel? He gave me that bacteria look, scowled and just walked away.

I’m not sure how he feels about ebooks today, but I do know that The Sun Also Rises is available in ebook format and it’s still a great book. In fact, I might just read it again on my Kindle.

I think the discrepancy in thinking here is confusion between content and format. Granted, the early days of ebooks were iffy on some fronts, but what we’re really talking about is the writing itself. Good writing is good writing whether in print or digitized. Bad writing is bad writing whether in print or digitized.

Our attitudes have come a long way since then, given that we’ve become more of a “content-based” society willing to accept alternate presentation methods as long as the content is good, but I still come across people who look at me like I’m a germ when I pull out my Kindle in a waiting room or plane. I’m tempted to look across the room or aisle and say, “It’s The Sun Also Rises. Have you read it?”

WARNING: I read both ebooks and print books…ebooks early in the day and print books before bed. The reason? Screens emit blue light, which inhibits the production of sleep-inducing melatonin and puts your brain on alert status. So treat your ereader like coffee in the evening.

(Shown above is the cover for my first novel…cover artists Brock Parks and Paul McNeil. It was first published by a law firm in California in PDF format and then by Jacobyte Books in Australia in print-on-demand and CD-ROM formats.)

The Weekly Man: Angst and the Daily Deadline

and now

A few years ago, I did something I swore I’d never EVER do again. It seemed like a good idea at the time…”at the time” being the days leading up to it and a few days into it. After a week or so, I was beginning to wonder what the hell I was doing and why I was doing this to myself.

The Idea was simple: Every day for the entire month of October (2014) I would take a picture and post the picture on my blog along with a story about the image or a piece of writing inspired by the image.  (Day 1)

It seemed like a great idea. I’m a photographer and a writer. This would be a marriage between my two favorite endeavors. It would be fun and it would hone my camera and writing skills. I could hardly wait for October 1.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve never regretted that month. I learned a lot and, at times, I actually did have fun. But when you have to do it every single day for 31 you crash into this thing called LIFE. It’s that big package into which you have to squeeze all the stuff you want to do, forcing you to make choices and sacrifices. I should mention that I worked a full time job, taught writing workshops (and was working on a novel) and had a few other things eating up my “blog project” time.

The idea was to post before midnight each day and towards the end, there were days when I clicked the Publish button at exactly midnight, after taking the picture (which might have meant driving for miles out of town after work), processing the picture, writing the story and putting it all into my blog along with formatting and any links that might be needed.

It was a lot of work. And it was for an entire month…a 31 day month. There were nights I lay awake in bed after a crazy effort to make the midnight deadline, wondering if I’d be able to keep up the pace. You get a serious sense of the shortness and implacable nature of time when you get into a race with it. It’s unforgiving, merciless and its smiles are cruel. After making each deadline I swore I’d never do anything like this again.

That was five years ago.

On September 8 of this year, I’m going to torture myself again…this time for 76 days. And as September draws closer, some of that angst I felt five years ago is beginning to eat away at my stomach lining and sink maliciously into my brain. Butterflies are copulating and populating my chest. The future looks busy.

Enter The Weekly Man, a novel I started years ago. I tried shopping it around to agents but no one would touch it because they thought it was a little too far out there to have any kind of mainstream readership or even a large enough audience within the confines of those who would read anything as long as it involved words arranged in sentences. Even my publishing background of five novels and reams of short stories couldn’t pry this one out of the mud.

I’m shopping another novel now and I’m about 50 pages into my next one. But what about The Weekly Man? I can’t just let it sit on my computer forever. I spent over a year researching it, and there was all the time writing and re-writing. It was a lot of work, a lot of time. And honestly, of all the things I’ve written, it’s my favorite.

It’s going to be published.

The idea came to me when I was reading about how novels used to be sold chapter-by-chapter in the days of Dickens: the serialized novel. I was on my coffee break at the time and that crystalized the concept into a single idea: the serialized coffee break novel…just enough reading each day to fit into the standard coffee break. I completely ignored the pain and suffering from five years earlier and started full swing into breaking the novel into coffee break-sized portions. I mean, it seemed pretty much straight forward…just publish each portion each day on a blog. No probelmo.

Overlooked one important tidbit of life information I obviously hadn’t learned: Nothing is ever easy. Nothing.

I went for a fee-based blog to eliminate ads distracting from the story. Setting it up was no problem. I thought, Wow. This, unlike life, is easy.

Until I published it and saw it on my iPhone and realized that my blog wasn’t phone friendly. But I’d already paid for the blog and put a fair amount of effort into it, so I set up a page for it on my personal website for people who read on their phones.

Blog (for those who read on computers)
Website (for those who read on phones)

Two versions. But what the hell, I’ll just publish the same thing twice each day. I can handle that. But then I started experimenting and realized that it was going to be a little more handling than I thought. Things like bring stuck with one font for one version and not being able to indent for the other. But that’s as much as I’ll mention the painful process of dealing with technology.

Promotion turned out to be more than I thought. I’ll summarize: blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, dedicated Facebook page, Reddit, Goodreads, Pinterest, MySpace, et al. Plus, promotional things like PDF giveaways and media releases. Like life, marketing is never easy.

But I can handle all that. I’ve done it before. It takes time and patience, neither of which I have much of, but I’m stubborn. However, the memories are coming back: making that midnight deadline in good health or bad, leaving the party early because I have a deadline to make, aware every day that there’s something important I have to do at the end of the day and nothing in the world can make that deadline go away.

I’ll keep both of you (my two esteemed readers) posted on the pain, the misery, the joy and the insanity as it unfolds for 76 days starting September 8 and…holy shit…that’s less than 40 days away.

What am I getting into?

Again.

 

Down to the Last Five

Boards Studio

It’s been several years since I started the first of these boards. So far, I have 32 but six of them don’t fit the format of the rest. So I have five more to go, with my target being 30. It’s been an addictive pleasure to work on them, but it’s also been physically and emotionally demanding.

They almost always have traces of chemicals or sap that ink just bounces off. These areas have to be rubbed down without ruining the grain and pattern of the wood. I tried various materials, but the only thing that works is facial tissue. It takes forever, and I could use up to a whole box of Kleenex on one board, but it seems to smooth the board down while removing any kind of moisture from chemicals or sap.

Boards Studio-2

I do this in the washroom where I have four lights up high and I can see any trace of spots that need to be done. Some people might ask, “So…you spend your evenings rubbing your wood?” To which I reply, “And boy, is it tough on the wrists and back.” And that’s before I even start to put ink to the wood.

Sometimes I start as soon as I get home from work and don’t come out of it until around 10 or 11 when I hear my stomach grumbling because I haven’t had supper. I’ve started eating larger lunches, but I’ve still lost over 20 pounds from lack of everything that I can’t coat with ink and wine.

Sometimes I’m quietly impressed by the way the wood grain suddenly bubbles to the surface when I stain the boards with red wine, but this weekend at the studio I was amazed at the grains and patterns that emerged when I put the urethane coating on them.

Boards Studio 2

Next step is to paint the edges black and then they’ll be ready for their photo session. I was thinking about taking them around the city and doing portraits of them sitting on park benches, in chairs at coffee shops, on the beach, in the passenger seat of my Soul. I’d like to put together a free photo book in Spark along with info on where they can be purchased (probably Saatchi).

board-3

Just five more and I can get back whatever life I had before this project began. Let me see now…oh right…watch an entire movie from start till finish instead of in 15 minute segments. And maybe a glass of wine will be left over from the boards.

 

When Gravity Catches Us: Thoughts on Thinking

Plastic

We live in two worlds; one’s outside, one’s inside.

The outside world is the world of earth, air, water and fire. It makes its own rules and we obey them. Walk off the edge of a cliff and this world gives you gravity. Build wax wings and fly toward the sun and it will suffocate you before you reach 30,000 feet. These are the rules of the world that existed long before we arrived. We’re the eggs; outside is the chicken. 

The inside world is in our heads and under our skin. It’s where we think and where we feel. It’s us…the eggs…and we also make our own rules but the outside world doesn’t necessarily follow them. We have to adapt our rules to conform to the rules of that other world. Walking off a cliff? Wear a parachute. Flying into the sun? Surround yourself with a space ship. 

This hierarchy of rules has worked well for about a million years, or since whatever date you deem human thinking to have begun back at the beginnings of the bicameral mind or maybe when we learned how to build a campfire without becoming the logs. If we come to a river where we think there should be a path, we build a bridge. If we need water for power, we build a dam.

This is not changing the rules; this is modifying them, and that’s OK: beavers build dams. 

The problems start when we ignore the rules or deliberately disregard them, like when we build thirty dams on the same river. Or when we remove masses of material from the earth and transform them into materials that never have and never should exist and then we coat the earth with them, like buttering the planet with poison. 

And you might ask: Why the hell would we do that? And I might answer: Because we convince ourselves that we’re not doing it…even while we’re doing it. For example, you buy the health wise, low calorie pasta bowl that cooks in just four and a half minutes in the microwave. When you finish the meal, you have a sense of doing something right, giving your body healthy sustenance. And you throw all that plastic packaging and the plastic bowl into the plastic garbage bag without thinking that what you’re doing is being simultaneously done by millions of other people. 

All that plastic.

When it comes to satisfying our needs and wants, we look at the good and ignore the bad. It’s called rationalizing and rationalizing is one of the highest levels of intellectual activity and very likely the key ingredient in the extinction of the human race. 

Some people talk about how logical the rational mind is, but there’s nothing innately logical about it. Logic says, “I’ll buy the smaller more fuel efficient car and be part of the solution.” Rational says: “I’ll buy the gas guzzling SUV because everybody else is buying the smaller cars, so it doesn’t really matter what I buy.”

It’s adaptive thinking. At which point you say, “Adaptation is good. It’s a survival mechanism that allows us evolve as the conditions around us change.” But there’s a big difference between adaptive thinking and adaptive evolution. 

Adaptive thinking wraps itself around the needs of the moment and justifies itself by meeting the needs of the moment, but we’re not going to physically adapt to a world with un-breathable air. We can live underground or in controlled climate housing or maybe even under the ocean, but we’re not going to walk in a park, canoe down a river or harvest a crop without some form of portable life support system, at least (depending on future technologies) not for several hundred or several thousand years. 

If we’re still around that long. 

Back to that thing called rationalizing. 

It creates a situation in which we create another world (the one we think we live in) and the real world (the one we live in). The problem here is that we’re so good at rationalizing that the world we think we live in becomes the world we live in. We convince ourselves that tossing that plastic water bottle into the garbage isn’t going to be harmful to the outside world because it isn’t harmful in our internal world. It’s just one bottle. Who’s going to notice? Sure as hell not the tens of millions of other humans throwing out plastic bottles every day.

Tens of millions. Every day.

That’s a lot of bottles. But we don’t see them. We see just our one bottle. We know the others are out there but we choose not to see them. It’s a conscious choice. 

This is scary. We need to come out of the cocoons of our inside worlds and live more in the outside world before gravity catches us without a parachute.

For more on Biff.