Monday, July 30, 2018

Grief and Writing

My brother passed away on May 15, 2018. He is my third brother to pass from illness. We were five siblings. Now we are two. I started writing a poem after Fran died. I worked on it almost every day, and couldn't get through it.

My father passed away yesterday, July 29, 2018. I finished the poem today. I never post writings that haven't been read by an editor or member of my critique group, Artemis Rising. But I am posting this because I don't know what else to do.

by Eileen Albrizio

In dark of night, unseen by living things,
she weaves a web with silken strands of grief
that spreads across the attic like the wings
of dragonflies: the workings of a thief
who targets mourners trying to persist
each hour without the ones they love. We're just
survivors of death's casualties, who missed
the touch of one who renders life to dust.

I am among them, laden in my gloom,
existing in a garret without light.
I feel the grief that hangs inside this room.
It clings to lashes, flesh. With all my might
I try to swipe away the deep despair
but still feel death is crawling through my hair.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Understanding Genre in Fiction

I put a call out for ideas for a blog article and I got a great response from Claire Donohue Roof, poet and assistant professor of creative writing at Ivy Tech Community CollegeShe  asked about the different genres of fiction. Great topic. Thank you Claire!

Genre is a category of literature that was first created by the Ancient Greeks and comes from the Greek word genos, which means kind or sort. The term was created to differentiate between prose, poetry, and performance. Today, the term defines a wide variety of literary styles, including comedy, tragedy, horror, science fiction, romance, thriller, mystery, etc. The Greeks set out to simplify the literary and theatrical arts by placing them into genres such as comedy and tragedy. However, as time went on, the genres of literature became more and more complicated, and at times, convoluted. But it is important to never underestimate their importance. Genres help readers understand the style of a book BEFORE they read it. That is one of the major things that help them pick a book to read. So, writers, when you choose to blend one genre with another, it's important to always keep the reader in mind.

Writers love to mix genres, splicing one into another, known as cross-genre or hybrid genre. Examples are historical romance, paranormal romance, science fiction Western, literary horror (my favorite), young adult fantasy, and techno-thriller. There are also hybrid genres that have become so popular, they've been rewarded their own genre name, like steampunk, which is science fiction in a 19th-century setting, incorporating the design of steam-powered machinery.

Is it okay to mix genres? Absolutely, but be careful not to cross so many lines that your story becomes confusing. I find this is the case with the fairly new category of genre called speculative fiction. This is a genre with a wide umbrella, covering horror, fantasy, science fiction, superhero fiction, dystopian, supernatural and any other fiction that is outside the realm of reality. By having this as a separate category of genre, it gives writers freedom to cross into several main genres in one novel. Not that it's bad or wrong, but it could cause some fundamental problems. One is, it could make the novel hard to place. Editors, agents,  and publishers are specific about what markets they are targeting, and if they can't target a specific market, they will likely pass on your multi-hybrid novel. Second, readers are essentially the same as editors and publishers. They love to read a specific genre and may avoid your book because it doesn't fit their niche, or they may be disappointed if they expect one thing from your novel and get something completely different. I found this with Peter Straub's Ghost Story

Don't read the next paragraph if you haven't read the book and wish to do so.

Peter Straub's book is called Ghost Story. So, just by the title, I expected a ghost story. And, for the most part, it was. It's about a group of older men who are part of a kind of secret organization called The Chowder Society. They meet occasionally to chat and share ghost stories. Then one of them dies and they all become haunted in dreams by a murdered girl from their past. It was creepy and I loved believing all the way through the book that the ghost of the murdered woman had come back to haunt these old men. But, in the end, she's not a ghost at all, but an immortal shapeshifter. UGH! I was so disappointed! So, if you're writing a ghost story, don't give me shapeshifters, or vampires, or zombies. It's just not the same thing. And, with the exception of his collaborations with Stephen King, I've never read another Peter Straub story. (Althuogh I will if someone recommends one.)

I know we all want to be unique writers and we don't want to shove ourselves into established norms. But as new writers, it's important to understand and be practiced in those norms before you can start breaking the rules. Therefore, I advise that you know the genre in which you want to write, have read and thoroughly enjoyed the genre in which you want to write, and commit yourself to that genre. If you've never read the genre in which you are choosing to write, you will likely not enjoy the process and ultimately give up. Or if you've finished it, but don't love the genre, then you can't expect your reader to love your book.

Perfect example. Sometime around 2003, my mother Connie read Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code.

It was getting massive press for it's fast-paced action, but more so for it's controversy regarding radical speculations about the history of the Catholic Church. Now, if you look up Catholic in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of the Pope and then a picture of my mother. She had never read a suspense novel, but read this one solely for the controversy. When she was done, she was hyper critical about the content, but also enamored with the books mad crazy success. So, she decided she was going to write a suspense novel. I told her, "You don't read suspense novels. How will you write one?" She said, "You'll teach me." I said, "I'm not versed in suspense novels. I like horror." She said, "You'll learn how, then you'll teach me how." She's my mother and she's Catholic. I couldn't say no. It would have been a sin. So, I went to conferences, workshops, took how-to books out of the library, read numerous suspense novels, including all of Dan Brown's at the time (which I loved), and set out to write a suspense novel for the sole purpose of teaching my mother how to do it. It took me a whole year. When I was done, the novel was horrible, but I went to my mother to at least teach her what I'd learned. She said to me, "Oh, I'm on to different things now." I love her despite this.

Final words: Write in the genre in which you love to read. Pick a genre, devour as many books in that genre as you can, learn the pacing, the level of characterization, the tropes, the plot construction. Then write.

Good luck! I'd love to hear what you're writing!


Thursday, July 26, 2018

Advice for New Writers

As an author, I get interviewed often about the writing process. I think one of the most frequently  asked questions is "what advice would you give to new writers?" So, I thought I'd share my answer with you.

The best advice is to write every day, even if it's garbage. Easy to say, but not so easy to do. I think the biggest obstacle that keeps writers from writing is fear. Stephen King put it well when he said, "I'm convinced fear is at the root of most bad writing." We are afraid that what we are writing isn't good, no one will want to read it, the story will be hurtful to family, or it's a waste of time. But remember, when you're scribbling out that first draft, no one will read it but you. So, really, you have nothing to fear by writing it and everything to gain. For some great insight on writing, I strongly suggest reading Stephen King's memoir appropriately titled On Writing.

My advice is to just write and don't worry about it. But you will worry about. I know you. You're a writer, just like me. So, when you throw something down on paper and it feels like you've just vomited up last night's salmon all over your writing desk, consider what Ernest Hemingway said, "The first draft of everything is s**t." And look what he did! You will never get to the good stuff until you write the crap first. I wrote two whole novels--that will (hopefully) never get into the hands of a reader--before I wrote my now published novel The Windsome Tree: a ghost story. I never would have been able to accomplish that without barfing up some salmon first.

As hard as you try, though, you will inevitably run into writer's block. There are a rare few who can avoid it. One thing I do is take a break and read. When I give that advice in my classes, students sometimes bring up the fear that what they're reading will influence their writing and they could unintentionally plagiarize. The likelihood of that is slim at best. Reading someone else's work will help clear your mind from your own for a short time. It will allow you to see that each word on the page isn't a masterpiece on its own. The story forms only when the words are put together in sentences and then paragraphs. You may see that often the prose is simple, not overly flowery or complex. When you return to your story, you will not try so hard to be perfect, knowing that simpler is often better. 

Having said that, you should be reading all the time. You should be a voracious reader. The more you read, the better you write. Again, to quote Stephen King: "If you don't have the time to read, you don't have the time to write." Plus, reading is fun. So, there you go.

A surprisingly overlooked bit of advice is to get yourself out of your room and into the world. Writing can be a solitary and lonely business. Break down the walls of solitude and go to conferences, public readings by other authors, anyplace where writers and readers connect. I met my agent at a writer's conference. I pitched my novel The Windsome Tree (then called Without Mercy) to her and she rejected it. I went home and revised it and the next year pitched it to her again and she eventually signed me. Join writer's organizations. The annual fees are usually small and the benefits, great. I belong to a wonderful organization called The Connecticut Author's and Publishers' Association. They have monthly meetings in all four corners of Connecticut with great speakers. There, I have a chance to connect and socialize with people of like minds. Additionally, they offer workshops and other events throughout the year. Join a writer's group. Libraries often have them, but they are open to the public, and sometimes the input is more damaging than helpful. Find a closed group that suits your needs and ask to be invited. Or form your own. I belong to a group called Artemis Rising and we meet at my house once a month. We've been together for twenty years!

That's my advice for today. If you think of anything that helps you to be a better writer, I would love to know!
~ Eileen

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

The Cumbersome Climb of the Indie Author

Hello Friends!

Now that I've published my debut novel, The Windsome Tree: a ghost story, I am quickly discovering how hard it is to get people to take me seriously. Because I'm under the umbrella of "indie," big-box booksellers and small-town booksellers alike refuse to put my book on their shelves in favor of more established authors with celebrity or a large following. When an independent bookstore says they support indie and local authors, but reject me because I'm a debut novelist published under a small imprint, that's not really supporting independent authors. 

Many independent authors have or have had agents guiding them through the quagmire of traditional publishing houses, only to find that smaller, independent presses are their "starter home." That's what happened with me. Independent can mean published through the help of an agent but at an independent press, or it could mean self-published. And there's nothing wrong with that. There are some brilliant self-published authors out there who deserve all the recognition they can get. John Grisham was a lawyer when he wrote his first novel A Time to Kill. The book was rejected 28 times before he went to a small, independent press and published 5,000 copies on his own.  In 1931, Irma Rombauer wrote Joy of Cooking with her daughter. It's said she used half of her life savings to pay a local printing company to print three thousand copies. The company had printed labels for St. Louis shoe companies and for Listerine, but never a book. Five years later, Bobbs-Merrill Company acquired the rights. Over the years the book has sold over 18 million copies. There are countless accounts like this.

So, Barnes & Noble may say they don't have the shelf space for every independent author out there. But the local bookstore down the street should certainly carry the book of an author who lives around the corner. That author will do a public reading at the store and potentially bring new customers in. It's a win-win.

For the past 29 years, I've owned with my husband a comic book store in Rocky Hill, CT called Heroes & Hitters. Whenever a local author comes in with a self-published comic, we happily accept it on consignment. We've dedicated a whole corner to indie comic book writers and artists. We place them right under the super popular Walking Dead trade paperbacks to give them focus. It costs us nothing and helps a local talent showcase his or her work. 

My additional concern is that some "independent" bookstores charge authors to do readings at their store. I won't mention their name, but a well-known Connecticut indie bookstore charges authors $50 to read at their store, and that's only if they approve the author, which they won't if said author is unknown.

An acquaintance informed me that he knows an author who turned to doing "library" tours, because he couldn't get into the local bookstores. He was quite successful and went on to publish over 20 books.

My goal now is to find alternate ways to get my novel out to the public. I've contacted my local newspaper, and they are publishing a small article on my "success story" as an author.  I will be going to the Big-E in September--one of the top-ten fairgrounds and trade show venues in the country--where I'll be selling The Windsome Tree alongside other authors at the Connecticut Authors' and Publishers' Associations' bookstore in the Connecticut Building. And I will be teaching an eight-week novel-writing class beginning in September as part of my local Wethersfield, CT adult education program. So, that's a start.

The Big E at the Eastern States Exposition Grounds in Agawam, MA
If you have ideas for how independent authors can promote their books outside of the bookstore environment, I would love for you to share that with us. Let's work together to lift up the independent author and the independent presses out there!

Thanks for reading.