Tuesday, January 16, 2018




ARS GRATIA PECUNIAE

EVERYONE WANTS SOMETHING


The heading for today's entry was something I used to see in an art studio I was involved with on the Eastern seaboard of the United States. It's something that turns up from time to time among fine and graphic artists, copywriters, fiction authors, musicians. It's Latin and translates as, "Art for Money". The flip side of this is seen in the banner above the famous MGM lion. There you will find the words,
"Ars Gratia Artis", which, in English is, loosely, "Art for Art's Sake". I doubt Louis B. Mayer (The last 'M' in MGM) took that at all seriously. He probably didn't think anyone watching his films in theaters would get past the roaring lion.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of people out there who don't value the artist. I worked in and around advertising photography, film, and video for a while and am more than familiar with hardball negotiations. Everyone wants the fruits of your labor but nobody wants to pay you what that fruit is worth. Even when they are looking to use it to fatten their bottom line.

If you've been around for a while then you know what I mean. If you write then you have been offered 'contributor's copies' over and over. These are fine the first couple of times, the ego swells as we pull it down from a shelf to show a friend, relative, or other writer. After a while though, the shine wears off and it's just another dead end. Especially if you've been paid a few times for your efforts. This alone is reason enough to look at offers of 'exposure' and request being exposed to a little more hard cash.

In the image industries (graphic and fine art, film, photography, digital production, soundtracks and theme music) there's the ubiquitous 'spec' projects. Work done with the understanding that you might get paid if it gets used and the final customer REALLY likes it. I'm not going to go into the details I've heard concerning the number of people who have been screwed like that. If nothing else, if you're still just starting out and are tempted by these type of deals, ask for a copy(ies) of the final product for your book or reel. Payment in kind is okay if it can actually highlight you as a creative personality.

In the end, in a world where the labor of the individual is devalued time and again by the system or corporations, the only way you can be treated fairly is by saying, "No thanks", to deals that are less than thinly veiled con jobs. Your time is worth something. Your education is worth something. Your materials and efforts are worth something. But if you don't stand up and say enough is enough you will be viewed as an easy mark. In the long run, the market only values what it is made to pay for.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018



PERSISTENCE


IT'S ABOUT THE JOURNEY


Okay, the holidays are over. That means that my office is no longer under the dominion of guest lodging and I'm back at the keyboard. Does this mean I haven't been working at all? No, though between the 23rd of December and the 1st of January I was out of my cozy den. Like a wolverine poked out of his lair. So long as you didn't make eye contact I was unlikely to go defense and start slobbering and growling.

In anticipation of being persona non grata in my normal territory, I printed out several chapters of the novel I'm working on so I could at least carry on with the revisions they needed. (Thank technology for the invention of the i-pad. Though I'm still a throwback comfortable with yellow pads and ballpoint pens.) I also wrote a few new pieces of poetry and debuted one in a weekly venue in the next town over. In between I spent some time selecting a couple of paintings for a show at one of the more prestigious public galleries in the area. The image above is one of the two entitled, "Frequency of Persistence". It's an original acrylic on canvas and something of an homage to the Japanese wood block print masters.

What does that have to do with revising a novel or writing poetry? A long time ago, a good friend and early mentor told me, "If you do something long enough, some notable will be fool enough to call you a master based strictly on longevity." In other words, if you PERSIST, you can succeed. Conversely, if you sit around on your ass waiting for inspiration and acclaim all you're likely to do is wear out the seat of your pants. The train you're waiting for probably already left the station, so your best bet is to shoulder your pack and get walking.

I could have waited for the holidays to pass while taking a vacation from my work - But why? We've all had the experience of setting something aside for a while only to return and find that those half-a-dozen ideas we were thinking of incorporating have either fled or staled. I don't tolerate that kind of sloth in myself. Which is one of the reasons I've enjoyed the success I have. Not because I'm brilliant or gifted. I just won't allow myself to stop.

Last night I was relaxing and watching a movie. Well, I thought I was relaxing. In the beginning of the film something tripped the synapses and made a connection to something I'd seen and heard the night before. This all chained into a thought that would make a great subplot in the next long work of fiction I've begun outlining. (Yes, outlining one while revising the other). This all bubbled to the surface through many years study in Zen Buddhism.

Confusing enough yet? In Zen we are taught that the path most people envision is the straightest route to the top of the mountain. (When you get there take a good look around. The wise old holy man you were expecting? Uh-uh.) Life has a habit of throwing insurmountable obstacles up right where we least expect them. The route we take is really determined by the forks we find in our road. We may even find that we never reach the summit. Who cares? If you're paying close attention to the trip, you'll find everything you ever sought. That's why we say in Buddhism that there are 84,000 gates (or doors) on the path to enlightenment. If the path you're trudging doesn't work, change course. Open a new gate and walk through.  Realize though that everything is interconnected to a degree as unfathomable as the neurological paths of the human brain.

The glory of the brain and the creativity it harbors is that they are both boundless. However, if you don't stoke the furnace, if you don't run the machine on a regular basis, like any other device, it will rust and freeze up. Is every destination on the journey worthwhile? No. In fact, a lot of them are dead ends. But that doesn't mean that all you encounter on that particular branch is worthless. Like any pioneer on foreign soil, it's up to you to select things of possible meaning or utility and pack them away for when they're needed. This requires sorting and classifying and, sometimes, discarding or squirreling away some of your horde when it has no immediate obvious use. Notebooks, photos, audio recordings, video, your library and the libraries and museums of the world are the cache's of human fruition and knowledge.

But for any of it to work you have to PERSIST. Otherwise no one will ever know you were here or call you a master. Deserved or not. 


Saturday, January 6, 2018

It's All About You!


If You Don't Believe In Yourself, Who Will?


The images at the top of the page are the front and back of my business cards. Simple, clear, and a statement of one thing - My belief in myself and what I'm doing. They are an introduction to people who don't know me and a statement of what I do. More than that, they are a reinforcement of my own self-image. I never leave the house without my card holder and at any opportunity I take it out of my pocket and present one of my cards to someone who has been kind enough to allow me a moment of their time.

Why? Is it about ego? Is it about putting on airs? Is it about striking a pose? Not at all! It's about letting the world know that I take what I do seriously enough to want to present a professional appearance at all times. It's letting that person on the other side of the conversation know that I'm willing to invest more in my craft and artistry than vague desire.

It also is a chance to deepen the conversation. What type of art do I produce? I'm a painter and print maker. What medium? Mostly acrylic on canvas. What do I write? Poetry and short fiction and I'm currently working on the advanced stages of a novel. Where have I shown or published? I've been in several venues in the Santa Barbara County/Ventura County region of Southern California and have placed work in a number of private collections in the US. I've been published in a number of smaller literary journals and am always working on expanding my recognition.

It's mostly about that catch phrase you hear everywhere today. Self-talk. Those words that originate in your thoughts and enter into conversation that validate who you believe you are. When people ask me who I am or what I do I have no hesitation - I'm an Author and Artist. Why capitalized? Because these are worthy occupations and something I have invested a lot of time in. 

But does anyone else think that way about me? Well, this past year I've received several awards for my art, had photographs published online, and there's a shelf of books in my office that all have my written works of one form or another in them. Has any of that made me rich or famous? Hardly - At least not yet. But I have garnered recognition, I've been invited to present my work and opinions, and I've been asked to share my process and thoughts with other artists and writers.

Gee, if I'm not making bundles of cash - Why keep at it? Because it beats the hell out of television and video games. It takes time and research that gets me out of my own dome. It exposes me to other people's thoughts, ideas, and emotions and makes the world a much more interesting place. It teaches me that there are giants to be followed and emulated and some of them you've never heard of either. The belief that you have something to say is the spark. Someone else's belief in what you've said is the fire. But if you don't fan the flame who will ever know it was there?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

 


Writing


An Art or A Job?




Too many people starting off to become writers take on a very unrealistic view of themselves as artists (spelled with a capital 'A'). They wander around their cities or towns, a notebook under their arm, pen in their pocket, waiting for the elusive inspiration to fall from the sky. Inspiration to them is a divine thing sent down as a whole cloth with nothing lacking but their own precious name under the title.

Maybe this works a time or two, but eventually the muse will abandon them. They tear at their hair, they blame the quality of their pen, or the mundane nature of the world they live in, or the company they keep. Truth be told, the muse packed it in because he/she/it realized that they were doing all the heavy lifting. They didn't abandon John Q. Smith, Genius. They went looking for a partner in the endeavor. Someone who was willing to put in the W-O-R-K!

That's what 99% of art is - Work. Standing before an easel, picking up a maul and chisel, or sitting in front of a keyboard. It's the repetitious doing of those tasks that leads to the success your looking for. Doodling, noodling, and composing really bad sentences for hours on end. The inspiration lies in the experimentation, the one-in-ten attempts that yield a thought or project worth pursuing.

Here we are in the holiday season and I am sitting in front of my terminal five to seven hours a day, six days a week working on rewrites and outlines, sending out submissions, keeping track of what got sent where and how long it's been there. When I'm not actively working on poetry, prose, or painting, I'm researching possibilities for a piece. I'm in libraries or museums. I'm on the road or flying somewhere and absorbing the places I where arrive and the people I encounter. I relax with music, recorded, live, and what little I can create on my instruments, and I read-read-read!

I'm one of those people you encounter at open mic's. Like a good blues or jazz musician, it's not above me to - Uh - borrow a line, or a character, or a theme. But mostly I sit here, like I am at this moment, banging at keys. Has any of it made me famous? No, well maybe in some small ways, but I have the satisfaction of knowing I've reached audiences in any number of venues and, with the grace of that muse, and a lot of my own time and effort, have found the words to reach into their hearts and minds and deliver something that either lightened their load or let them know they weren't alone. All because I put in the TIME!

Thursday, December 7, 2017






REWRITES SHOULD REQUIRE TOURNIQUETS

RED, RED, EVERYTHING IS RED



Sitting here in Southern California these last couple of days watching wildfires boiling through the hills around the town I live in I was struck by something I saw on Twitter that directly referenced the writing life. It went something like this:

                         The house is on fire, my car was stolen, and the cat exploded. 1500 easy
                         words today, things are good.

While the disaster spread through the surrounding area I continued on like a runaway locomotive with the task of rewriting the novel I've written. One chapter at a time, red pen in hand, being as ruthless and unforgiving as I can bring myself to be. Not one page has avoided this cyclone of correction and mark-up aimed at reducing verbal diarrhea and clarifying my thoughts. All the while I try to keep in mind that arcane bit of editorial advice I picked up along the way, "In writing you must kill all your darlings."

This homily has been credited to any number of authors through history - Oscar Wilde, Chekov, Stephen King. Never one to let sleeping dogs get in a nap if I can poke at them with a stick, I went looking for reliable attribution for this. Turns out it comes from a lecture given in 1914 by Arthur Quiller-Couch entitled, "On Style", in which he railed against 'extraneous ornament';

        "If you require a practical rule of me, I will present you with this.: 'Whenever you feel an
         an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it - whole-heartedly - 
         and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings."

What Quiller-Couch is telling us is to be as flamboyant as you want in the draft. Get the deadly sin of purple prose out of your system while you are still inventing plot, characters, and timeline, then be just as unforgiving with the eradication of the beast. What we feel to be the most precious turn of phrase, the most incredibly creative use of language, has no place in the reader's understanding of the story. All the flowers in the world will not cover the stench of self-indulgence.

Every phrase should serve only one purpose - advancing the tale you are telling. Do I need to understand why it took so long to potty train the main character? Probably not. Was the exact temperature centigrade necessary for me to understand it was a raw, damp day in East London? Doubt it. Is the character's name required in every line he or she appears in? Uh-uh.

Go like hell getting the story down and ignore all the surgical blood letting to come. But when the time arrives for fine tuning, your pages should come away looking like the runner-up in a knife fight - Bloodied from head to toe. Then, when you hit print the next time, the tawny beauty you envisioned will be on its way to completion. Do this enough times and eventually you can press the send button with a little less self-doubt - maybe.



Tuesday, November 28, 2017


WHAT TO DO WHILE WAITING ON THE MUSE


OR

ANYBODY SEEN MY DATE?


Like so many other writers, I'm in the middle of something. Right now it's rewriting the novel I'm working on. The process is only different in the amount of freedom it entails. Writing the thing was a seat of the pants dream. Sit down and give full reign to the work itself. Just follow it where it wants to go and don't ask a lot of questions.

I set off with easy goals of a couple of pages a day, but before I knew it I was banging away a chapter per session. Ninety-one thousand words later - Voila, a first draft. Of course, a first draft is just that, a draft, a very detailed (In some places over-detailed) outline of an actual book. You know, that finely polished bit of literary art that someone besides your mother is willing to part with the requisite cost of a copy to own.

The fun's over. The work begins - all the way back at those fateful first words: CHAPTER ONE. This is where so many people end up flummoxed. After all, the stories done, the spark of creation is gone. Metaphorically, the child has been born. Just like child birth, it takes a lot of work after that point to take this squalling, red faced, wrinkled kind of almost being and raise it to admirable adulthood.

But where to start when the magic's over? Take small bites when eating an elephant!. Begin at the beginning by finding all those adjectives and adverbs. Are they necessary? Stephen King suggests you go after words ending in 'ly' with ruthlessness. Can you find other ways to begin a sentence than with the ubiquitous 'The'? Does every sentence involving a particular character need to start with the character's name or the gender correct pronoun?

'THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE', 'THE ELEMENTS OF GRAMMAR', and 'THE ELEMENTS OF EDITING, plus an unabridged dictionary and thesaurus should be within arms reach. I'd also suggest 'REVISION AND SELF-EDITING FOR PUBLICATION'. Yes, I know that's what you think an editor is for but a good one will cost you. Why not get as much of the work done before you have to start dragging out your wallet? Not to mention, if you're pursuing the traditional route of trying to entice an agent into taking you on, the more polished the product you deliver to them, the higher your credibility and the easier their job is when it comes to interesting publishers in your work.

Too often, neophytes get it into their heads that it's someone else's responsibility to tame the savage they've brought into the world. Your baby is yours. If you're not willing to help mold and shape it, then it's liable to end up an orphan.


Saturday, November 25, 2017






Back Cover Copy for the novel I'm working on under the working title, "EYES LIKE WALLS".

This is being released as a beta version. Feel free to offer comments or suggestions.


"Vernon Dawson is slipping into that kind of Hollywood obscurity reserved for those who are no longer glamorous (or never were in the first place) and is settling nicely into his oblivion, thank-you very much indeed. That is, until he takes a gig photographing a private party for Valeria. What she leaves behind at his place following their intimate after-party encounter sets off a series of events that sucks Vernon into the world of the 'Deep State', staged and actual alien abductions, and a covert network of genetically engineered androgyny controlled by Valeria's superiors, 'The Handlers'.

Former National Football League superstar, and now full-time woman, Melanie (Melvin) Thorenson, Rides to Vern's rescue. She enlists the aid of the ne'er-do-well heir to Middle Eastern billions, Prince Sheik Mukhtar al Zaffir. But it's not until they encounter the cyborg "Five" and his bosses, "The Others", that the plot really deepens. Vernon Dawson isn't just an unwitting dupe, he's also the bearer of a specific bit of DNA that is key to the goals of one organization's quest for interstellar conquest and their opponent's hopes for thwarting them.

Vernon just wishes he'd never opened that damned valise he found in the back of his car. As it is, he may be humanity's last reluctant hope for salvation. Or at least a good night's sleep."




Presently I'm in rewrites of this work. It tips the scales at a bit over 93,000 words. I'd love to hear your thoughts so get back to me on the form below.