If you're starting a new business, building a brand, trying to sell almost anything, especially a book, wouldn't it help to be famous? Imagine all the free advertising you'd enjoy if the paparazzi followed you everywhere, clicking your photo and writing about your every coming and going.
You can't help but be at least a little offended that the public bestows so much attention on those who have contributed so little, can you? What did the Kardashians ever do to deserve all that attention? Do you know? Did they develop a life-saving vaccine? Did they invent the latest technological gadget that everyone must have? Do they have some great talent? (I'll let you mull that over as you read on. The answer is at the end of this article.)
Imagine what you could do with all that attention. I might actually sell some books. You might own a chain of franchise outlets all over the country and people might flock to them. Your children might bask in the glow of your fame for decades to come.
Then again, you don't have to surrender your life to adoring masses to enjoy the benefits of public adulation. You might, instead, allow one of them, a popular personality, to endorse your product or service. These people have agents who sell endorsements of famous personalities. Yes, you have to spend money to make money, and there are no guarantees that even that will work.
Or, you can struggle on like I have. I've worked long and hard to build my brand to no avail. There's something almost heroic in my ability to persevere in the face of repeated failures. Let me give you an example. I recently posted a brief synopsis of a novel that I've just completed. I included a twenty-seven-word request to read it and answer a simple question: “Would you purchase and read this story?”
I promoted this posting in my weblog in the major social media and there have been almost 400 visitors to it in the first 3 days that it appeared on the Internet. What have been the results? There have been just nine respondents: four yeses, three noes, and one maybe. Yes, that's not bad if you look at the fact that more than half said “yes”. But, the fact that only about two percent of the visitors even bothered to respond to the survey isn't very heartening, is it? Still, two percent was a reasonable response to direct mail campaigns as I remember from my days in the ad biz. Who knows, I may be becoming famous after all.
Would you like my autograph?
ANSWER: Who are the Kardashians and why are they famous? The source of their notoriety probably originates with the fact that Robert Kardashian was one of O. J. Simpson's defense attorneys in his 1995 murder trial. Daughter Kim has parleyed that spark of fame into a family business with the help of her mother and siblings.
STORYTELLERS HAVE BEEN getting themselves in and out of tight spots ever since the first tales were narrated. Chester Gould, who originated the Dick Tracy series of comics, was a master of the craft. No cartoon character was better known for getting into situations that seemed impossible to escape. Indeed, Gould once admitted that he outdid himself on one occasion. Tracy was trapped at the bottom of a deep pit and the bad guys dropped a boulder on him that fit the diameter of the pit like a cannon ball fit a muzzle. Gould used a side story of Tracy's partner, Sam Catchem, to fill the comic's panels for more than a week while he pondered how to extricate Tracy from the pit. He almost went so far as to illustrate a pencil eraser appearing to eliminate the danger. I've gotten myself into a similar predicament.
Click to enlarge
My current project, a novel entitled Behind Every Mountain, is a story that takes place during the Korean War. It's not about Korea or the war. This novel traces the coming of age of a young man who joins the Army to escape an abusive father and is thrown into a flight for his life. Yes, that's flight, not fight. As an Army Ranger, he is parachuted with a reconnaissance patrol onto the flood plain of the Yalu River separating North Korea and China. Their mission is to observe the Chinese Communist forces massing there and estimate their strength and intent. Unfortunately, they arrive just as the Chicom army is crossing the Yalu and my hero is the lone survivor. (No pun intended, but he is the lone surviving Ranger.)
Cut off from the planned extraction point, he is forced to follow the Chicom army south as it drives the UN allies ahead of it while he looks for an opportunity to sneak past the enemy and rejoin any American unit. Obviously, he encounters many dangers during this adventure, but none so daunting as when he comes abreast of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang. There he must cross the Taedong River.
Although this is a work of fiction, I attempt to remain true to the history, geology, culture, and time of the milieu in which this story occurs. I studied Korea and its history as far back as the arrival of the first Chinese outcasts who escaped there to hide in the mountains that dominate the peninsula. These same mountains provide my hero with cover and concealment as he travels parallel to the Chicom soldiers. However, crossing the Taedong River without revealing himself is another matter.
Click to enlarge
The Taedong River is more than a quarter mile wide at the point where the young Ranger must cross, as seen in this aerial photo. The dam that appears in it did not exist at the time of the Korean War. It is reasonable to assume that all bridges were heavily used by the Chicom army and well-guarded. Because the UN air force and naval aviators dominated the skies, the communists moved at night. My hero also would have moved at night when crossing dangerous areas like the river.
This photo also reveals that the river above the damn is covered in ice, while below the dam it is not. I have not yet been able to ascertain whether it was ice-covered during the winter of 1950 or if the ice was thick enough to bear the weight of a man walking across. I may have to make an assumption about that for the purposes of my story. Fortunately, I have my training as an infantry officer to fall back on when making assumptions about the conduct of war.
Click to enlarge
However, I know that with absolute certainty that the moon was full at the time of his attempted crossing, December 27, 1950, thus adding another layer of difficulty. It is reasonable to assume that the communists would have positioned observers along the river's edge, probably on both sides. They must have known that remnants of the American army were attempting to straggle back south after the Chicom army surprised and routed them in November of that year. I used the Moon Phase Calendar
when writing Rebels on the Mountain
to determine how difficult it must have been for Fidel Castro to sneak past Mexican authorities as he set out from the Tuxpam River on his fateful trip to Cuba to launch his revolution.
Obviously, my fictional Ranger ultimately will cross the Taedong River safely. But, how? That is the question. You'll just have to wait for the novel later this year to find out.
I WROTE THIS blog posting more that a year ago and it still attracts interest. A couple readers have gone so far as to offer additional material and I want to share it with you (and with their permission).
SHAKESPEARE WROTE THAT we are all actors on a stage. I can't disagree. However, I believe that he might have agreed that not all of us are equally good actors. I'm not referring to our goodness or badness in a moral or ethical sense. Rather, I am commenting on our ability to play a role that anyone else would pay to see. This lesson was driven home to me this week as I attempted to record myself reading a passage from my novel,Rebels on the Mountain, to produce a book trailer.
During a previous life, when I was in the advertising and PR business, I had the opportunity to direct many commercials. This gave me the privilege of working with some fine talent. One of the best was a voice actor named Brad Crandall.
Brad's farewell address on WNBC New York Radio
Brad moved to Fort Collins, Colorado, where I was apprenticing at an ad agency, after wheedling out of his contract with NBC in New York. Brad had been a host on NBC's hugely successful Monitor that aired for 40 continuous hours every weekend. It was the forerunner of talk radio that dominates AM programming these days. It took me several years to sift through the various excuses that Brad gave for walking away from his lucrative contract. The truth is, I don't think that he felt that he deserved the success.
Brad had been born into poverty. His father was a railroad conductor and the family lived in poverty near the tracks that stretched across Kansas. He outgrew their resources and quit school to join the Marines just as World War II was ending. Stationed in China, he was assigned to the Armed Forces Radio network and became an on air news reader. While there, Brad studied the voice of William Conrad who was then appearing as Marshall Matt Dillon on the radio production of Gunsmoke. Brad practiced emulating Conrad's magnificent baritone until it became his own voice.
Upon completion of his tour of duty, Brad became a gypsy radio host. He hopped from one station to another across the country, pausing only to enlist for a brief tour of duty in the Army and serving in Korea. When the war there ended, Brad landed in a station in Montreal, Canada. He told me that he lived on peanut butter sandwiches and milk that he kept on the window ledge outside the radio station's studio. I never did find out where he slept. He worked there until producers at NBC heard him and invited him to New York.
The poor boy from Kansas now found himself hobnobbing with famous personalities in the New York theater district. Their favorite eatery was Sardi's (I'm guessing that his caricature still hangs there among those of still famous personalities). He spoke of the antics of his Monitor co-hosts, Art Buchwald, Henry Morgan, Skitch Henderson, and others. One of my favorite tales is when the staff at Sardi's took revenge on one of their company. The man would always jokingly order a peanut butter sandwich in a voice that could be heard throughout the restaurant, and then quietly place his “real” order with the waiter after the “gang” had their laugh. One day, the waiter took off with the order before he could change it. Soon, an entourage emerged from the kitchen: two busboys pushing a cart with a huge carved-ice bear cradling fresh berries in its cupped paws; two others pushed another cart bearing a heated chafing dish; and a third contained a silver tray covered by a large silver dome. Four chefs followed the procession.
Upon arrival at their table, one chef created preserves from the berries. Another took roasted peanuts from the heated chaffing dish and hand ground them using a mortar and pestle. The third sliced the bread. And, the fourth assembled his peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The waiter happily presented him with his very sizable bill.
Brad's humble beginnings revealed themselves in his reactions to his fans. Jonathon Bush, a visitor to this website, shared the following postcard that his mother received from Brad.
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Here are scans of both sides of the postcard Brad sent to my mom in 1968. As I think about this, my mom probably sent away for a picture/autograph at my urging. We listened pretty religiously, and I was a big fan--probably because I was able to stay up until the end of the show, which I think was midnight.
Brad's message was brief, but telling. It seemed that he was a bit surprised to get the request, but happy to comply. I'm not a student of signatures, but his signature points decidedly up. I'm told that is a sign of an optimistic nature.
I remember hearing his voice in films after his radio years, and he was always immediately recognizable. Perhaps the fact that I am looking into getting into voice-over work may have made the postcard "pop up" out of the blue. Funny how the universe works.
I am really glad to have this little memory, and happy to share it with you.
Another reader, D. T. Nelson provided a link to a website where we can hear recordings of Brad's show from WNBC...
You can hear your friend Brad Crandall (and many other broadcasting greats) here at the "Sounds of Monitor" page on the Monitor Beacon web site:
I know that Brad enjoyed his riches – to a point. Unfortunately, he never reconciled himself to such success without laboring for it. Much like Clark Gable, whose father never approved of “play-acting” as respectable work, Brad looked for other ways to make his life seem purposeful. Thus, I believe I became one of his many “projects.”
He salvaged me from a disastrous marriage and sheltered me while I recovered. He then went so far as to arrange a meeting with the woman who became my wife (now married almost 36 years). Unfortunately, once I began achieving my own success, he went in search of other projects and we lost track of each other.
Several years after his death, I heard that Howard Stern had honored Brad. Howard was asked who had influenced him as a role model in broadcasting and he mentioned Brad.
Over the years that we were active friends, I employed Brad for many of my projects. “One-Take” Brad we called him. I only ever heard him flub a line once in many hours in the recording studio. I wish I could say the same.
I suppose that I wouldn't be as critical had I not worked with a great talent like Brad. I needed nineteen takes to get an acceptable recording of myself reading a passage from my novel, Rebels on the Mountain
. Even then, I cringe when I listen to it. I'm no Brad Crandall.
Still, I feel that I have a better chance of connecting to my readers if I present myself, warts and all, reading my own work. Click here
to hear me.
OMG, I've lost sixty pounds since I recorded this trailer. I better redo it. There are also some vocal flubs I need to clean up. As I said, I'm no Brad Crandall...
BURIED DEEP INSIDE this presentation by John Cleese on creativity are the answers to all of your questions. Are you creative? Do you have talent? When should you write? Where should you write? Should you be writing at all? How should you handle writer's block?
Unfortunately, the only question Cleese doesn't answer is the one most undiscovered authors are asking: Will your book ever sell?
BEST SELLING AUTHOR and screenwriter Andrew Klavan
and film producer Bill Whittle
discussed this question on a recent program on PJTV
. (I'd love to embed a video of it here but it's only available to PJTV
subscribers. So, click here to view it and invest five dollars (US). That will get you your first month's viewing. It's a good investment.
Klavan and Whittle concluded that heroes aren't as interesting because, most often, story-tellers lie about them. Klavan observed that heroes are even boring because they're always “square-jawed. Courageous. They don't feel fear. They don't feel lust. Of course they're boring. Nobody's like that.”
I had reached this same conclusion while very young. My birthday coincides with George Washington's and my birthday cakes were invariably decorated with cherries to commemorate his virtue, he could not tell a lie. Yeah, Sure. It didn't take long to dispel that notion as I began to study the real Father of our Nation. Funny, I discovered that he was far more interesting than the demigod to whom I had been introduced in school.
It was a short hop from George Washington to the truth about all the other Founding Fathers (excuse me, “Founders”). I came away with a new appreciation for them and a challenge. As demigods, their accomplishments were beyond the reach of mere mortals such as I. However, as flesh and blood men, their courage and dedication became accessible to me. Why couldn't I serve a good cause as well as they?
When it came time to write my first novel, I never considered for a moment that my protagonist should be a hero, not in the classical sense. Interestingly, “heroes” in ancient Greek legends were all demigods. No, I gave Nick Andrews a very human assortment of character flaws when I wrote Rebels on the Mountain
. Now, as I'm writing a prequel to his story, I'm providing a basis for those flaws. Although I only hint that he was an abused child in Rebels on the Mountain
, the prequel will literally describe that abuse. It will also describe the source of the guilt he carries in Rebels
from his early experiences killing and maiming enemies on the battlefields of Korea.
Nick also knows fear. After all, courage is not the lack of fear, but rather the willingness and ability to do what is necessary despite fear. Think back over the heroes you have read in books or seen in popular films. How calm they seem even when awash in bloodshed. I can't help but laugh when I remember that the only character in Star Wars
who exhibited fear was a robot, C3PO.
The lack of fear in the human characters is even more unbelievable to me than the fanciful tale of science fiction.
Digressing to Klavan and Whittle, they were challenged by a PJTV subscriber to discuss, “As story-tellers, how do you break the banality of decency in a culture that celebrates the antihero?” In examining this question, Klavan observed that the real problem is not so much “the banality of decency”, but rather that we tend to lie about decency. Real human beings have urges and what makes them decent is the restraint they exhibit in not succumbing to them, whereas villains do. (As I said, this program is well worth the price, especially for writers.)
Klavan went on to discuss one of America's favorite story lines, wherein the villain evolves into a hero. (Well, a sort of low-grade, nickel-plated hero.) I could not help but agree with Bill Whittle who cited the example of Al Swearengen from the TV series Deadwood. Here is a saloon owner, a murderer, a pimp of the vilest sort, who begins to display signs of humanity as the series progresses. One scene stands out in my memory, wherein Swearengen assists the suicide of a preacher who is suffering greatly. He cradles the man, almost as a father comforting his child, as he smothers him and whispers, “Go now, brother”.
These are the moments in stories that make them great.
Swearengen's foil, the protagonist, Marshall Seth Bullock also frequently succumbs to his baser urges. Although Bullock is more often motivated by righteous indignation, he is little more decent than Swearengen.
No boring characters in Deadwood
, that's for certain. Likewise, I have attempted to preclude any boring characters from Rebels on the Mountain.
PEOPLE HAVE BEEN ASKING about the actors I mentioned in an interview that has been appearing around the blogosphere. Why did I choose them to portray the characters from my novel, Rebels on the Mountain? It's a good question.
Click to purchase on Amazon
Although there isn't any movie deal for Rebels on the Mountain in the works (someday hopefully), I liked the question because I think it helps potential readers get a feel for the characters they will meet when they read the story.
I don't waste words in the novel describing the characters. Indeed, as a reader, I have been annoyed when authors try to describe theirs overmuch. I have a story to tell and would prefer that readers collaborate by supplying their own images. It is such a partnership between storytellers and their audiences that led Orson Welles to remark that, of all the productions he had participated in – stage, film, and radio drama – radio drama was his favorite.
However, with so many book choices facing readers, maybe using the images of known actors will help them anticipate reading Rebels on the Mountain. Thus, I decided to go even further in this blog posting and explain my choices.
A U.S. Army Ranger and Korean War Veteran who has made a career of reconnaissance patrols behind the Iron Curtain – possibly portrayed by Stephen Amell
Stephen Amell as Nick Andrews? (Click to enlarge)
I became familiar with Stephen Amell in his role as Oliver Queen on the CW TV production of Arrow
. Like Oliver Queen, Nick Andrews is an exceptionally skilled warrior who must mask his capacity for mayhem while navigating the camps of his enemies. Amell has mastered this role magnificently in just the first few episodes of the series. Also, like Queen, Andrews is bedeviled by his past. My hero is the child of an abusive father and he is forever courting approval from the men in his life, his surrogate fathers, seeking their approval even if he must voluntarily submit to extraordinary risks if he thinks they expect it of him.Lucia Comas:
An American-educated, island-born mulata, daughter of the second wife of don Carlos Comas, a Cuban sugar plantation owner, and love interest of Nick Andrews – possibly portrayed by Christina Milian
Christina Milian as Lucia Comas? (Click to enlarge)
No doubt about it. I was primarily driven by the obvious in selecting Christina Milian for the role of Lucia Comas. She is Cuban and she certainly looks the part. Any good singer has to be able to act to perform a song. She proved this in several films in which she has appeared. Although none of them is a serious action/adventure/romance like Rebels on the Mountain, I think she has the talent to play Lucia Comas if she is properly directed. Also, inasmuch as she appeared in one with Michael Douglas and Matthew McConaughy, she has proven that she can keep up with experienced actors.Emma Regan:
An American socialite whose husband, a retired pediatrician operates a free clinic on the sugar plantation she inherited from her grandfather. Sigourney Weaver
is a logical choice.
Sigourney Weaver as Emma Regan? (Click to enlarge)
Emma Regan, who acts as the surrogate mother of Nick Andrews, is a strong woman. She manipulates the men in her life with guile and intelligence. The highest ranking politicians and corporate executives accept her calls, and she can demand any favor. Her only visible flaw is that she is a high functioning alcoholic, which makes her fit company for Ernest Hemingway whose acquaintance she made by virtue of the fact that his first wife was her classmate at Bryn Mawr.
There is no doubt that Sigourney Weaver can portray a strong, well-educated woman. I believe that she would actually enjoy playing the scene wherein she dresses down the American Ambassador to Cuba.
The charismatic leader of the revolution that overthrew the Cuban dictator, Fulgencio Batista – possibly portrayed by Jsu Garcia
Jsu Garcia as Fidel Castro? (Click to enlarge)
Fidel Castro the young, fiery revolutionary, is vastly different than the belligerent dictator. Unfortunately, his contemporary persona and image are so well known, that it may get in the way of readers accepting the character as I portray him in Rebels on the Mountain
. Indeed, the man I observed on television and in the newspapers in the 1950s transformed almost Jekyll and Hyde-like when he chased Fulgencio Batista from Cuba's Presidential Palace. Most people are not aware that Castro installed another as President and only came to the office through public acclamation after Batista's successor failed to address their grievances. The story of Rebels on the Mountains ends before the transformation takes place. I'll probably return one day to tell that story, too.
If Jsu Garcia were to play Castro in my story, he wouldn't have to deliver tirades lasting many hours as Castro does. Film audiences wouldn't tolerate it. No, although I extracted most of Castro's dialog from actual quotes, I selected short ones that advanced the story.Che Guevara:
The Argentinian doctor who became one of Castro's most notorious lieutenants and his executioner following Fidel's rise to power – possibly portrayed by Guillermo Diaz
Guillermo Diaz as Che Guevara? (Click to enlarge)
Readers of Rebels on the Mountain
who know Che only through his carefully crafted public image are in for a shock. He was a murderous henchman who had no tolerance for people who thought or acted differently. This makes the famous Apple billboard – Think Different – wonderfully ironic. Furthermore, those who idolize Che are in for a rude awakening. Che hated most the very kinds of people who sing his praises the loudest: the rich and famous and homosexuals. Young people probably will be surprised the most. He distrusted the youth, and frequently complained that they were lazy and lacking direction. Guillermo Diaz will need courage to portray him as I envision Che in Rebels on the Mountain.
A lot of people are going to be upset.
Guillermo's portrayal of murderer, Bobby Sabo, on an episode of Law & Order particularly caught my attention. Anyone who attempts to play Che must be able to portray an almost superhuman amount of intensity. I think Guillermo can pull this off.Ernest Hemingway:
Nobel Prize winning author and Havana resident who mingled freely in the halls of power in Havana and purportedly supported Castro's revolution – possibly portrayed by Kevin Spacey
Kevin Spacey as Ernest Hemingway? (Click to enlarge)
I had mentioned William Hurt for this role in my interview. However, after watching Kevin Spacey perform in the Netflix series, House of Cards, there is no question that he is the man for the job. Hemingway had a peculiar lust for life that belied an underlying tragedy in the making, one that culminated in his suicide. Such a complex personality is difficult to adopt. Although Hurt is up for the job, Kevin Spacey already has it mastered.
Play casting director and let me know if you have any better ideas.
The first installment of Star Wars to be released, Episode IV, was hugely popular. Arguably, it is one of the best science fiction films ever made, and better than the other five episodes. Fortunately for George Lucas, word of mouth drove audiences to theaters. I don't think that the trailer they released in advance of the film helped very much. Audiences laughed at it.
I think that the problem with it was that it didn't tell a story. Obviously, a film trailer can't tell the same story as the film it promotes, but it has to at least tell a story about the story. Book trailers should do the same.
Have you ever seen a book trailer? Probably not, unless you're one of the many authors and publishers who are trying to figure out how to sell books in this market. We spend a lot of time looking at each other's work.
Theater goers are used to seeing trailers on the screen before the feature they've paid to see. Film trailers also get plenty of air time on television and the Internet. There are websites devoted to them, such as Trailer Addict
. Unfortunately, there is no practical way of attaching book trailers to books and publishers don't have advertising budgets to pay for them on television.
You would think that someone at Amazon might think of attaching links to them on their website. Maybe they have. I haven't seen them. Surely someone could create a website for book trailers as Trailer Addict did for movie trailers. Then again, why doesn't Trailer Addict include a category for them. (I'm just thinking out loud here.)
I started to make a trailer for Rebels on the Mountain
, but got distracted. I decided instead to recreate the experience that readers enjoy when authors visit bookstores and read from their own novels. Don't get excited if you're an author. My idea didn't sell my book any better than your trailer sold yours.
I'm not sure if a book trailer would have worked better than a book reading. The reason is that I didn't do any better than other authors and publishers at cracking the real problem. Distribution. Sure, I embedded it in my website and it's available on YouTube, but those media don't attract nearly enough viewers to have an impact.
You can search for “book trailers
” on YouTube. Their website will return more than a half-million results! Not very helpful, is it? They're divided into categories which may help readers, but it doesn't help authors and publishers sell a specific product.
That leaves us with the ultimate question. Assuming that book trailers or videos of book readings will help sell novels, how can authors and publishers put theirs in front of the right audiences?
ARE SUCCESS STORIES an anomaly among self-publishers? Probably. Then again, commercial success in traditional publishing was an anomaly. Think about it. How many unpublished authors do you suppose there were in the decades and centuries predating electronic publishing? Of course, the segment devoted to the new age of publishing, recently aired on CBS Sunday Morning and available here, didn't touch on the undiscovered. We aren't news. The producers of this show focused their attention on a successful author who began through self-publishing.
Some go undiscovered because of dame fortune, others because they are unworthy of commercial success. Many continue to strive because of stories such as the one presented on CBS Sunday Morning. Maybe, just maybe, we can “move on up” when we're discovered.
How many manuscripts do you suppose are tucked away in trunks in attics, moldering away? How many are stored in electronic files waiting to be deleted? How many were simply discarded by frustrated authors? We'll never know. Today, of course, every manuscript can be published without cost or risk. Hundreds of thousands of them are published and offered for sale, but no one buys them, not even for a dollar or two.
Self-published authors are generally regarded with scorn by traditionally published authors. Their contempt is aggravated when they imagine that the profusion of self-published books are getting in the way of their own sales. Things were pretty much the same in days of yore when a published author might meet someone who had been published on a vanity press. The professional regarded such people as dilettantes, unworthy of consideration.
The publisher who appeared in the CBS Sunday Morning presentation assured viewers that they carefully edit manuscripts. Interesting. Everyone I've read or listened to claims that editors now focus on selecting manuscripts for publication. The truth is that my respect for traditionally published books has been seriously compromised of late. I find in them the same lack of quality that I find in many self-published ebooks. Typos. Malaprops. Errant homonyms. Sentence fragments. Dangling participles. All abound.
One thing is certain. Patience remains writers' greatest asset. Whether they were writing in the last century or the current one, they must practice their craft in solitude with little prospect of commercial success. The only thing that is certain is that those who quit will never succeed.
Note: I'm sorry that this posting in off my normal schedule but it is time sensitive to a certain portion of my audience. I'll be back on track tomorrow.
I CONSIDERED USING a pen name when I first began writing fiction, but dismissed the idea as pretentious. Who did I think I was, Mark Twain? Did I think that my storytelling was his equal? Of course, not.
Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain (Click to enlarge)
Did you ever stop to wonder why Mark Twain used one? Most of us of a literary persuasion have heard the story of why he chose Mark Twain. It's a riverman's term for safe waters; that is, where there is sufficient depth in the river to provide safe passage. But, why did he use it? There are several tales connected to this question. I prefer the one mentioned at About.com
, wherein Twain felt that he needed a “nom de guerre” to create the illusion that the author was knowledgeable and that his words could be trusted to be true. Basically, this version is the one most consistent with Twain's character. He was, at heart, a newspaper man, an ad man, an author who loaded a case of his own books onto a mule and peddled them door to door. It is entirely reasonable to presume that he would do anything, including the use of a pen name, for a marketing advantage.
There are many good other reasons for publishing under a pseudonym or nom de plume
. An excellent article produced by the legal firm of Morse Barnes-Brown Pendleton
proposes several good reasons for an author to select, use, and protect a pseudonym.
Ultimately, I considered using a pen name to avoid celebrity should my writings become popular. I don't think that it's pretentious to hope for success. I simply wanted, like any good Boy Scout, to be prepared for the unwanted side effects of success.
There are some who seek celebrity. They thrive on it. Yes, they may complain about the paparazzi
but they would complain even louder if they stayed away. Personally, I don't understand it. Girls swooning at the feet of crooners. Consumers rushing to purchase whatever product a sports hero is hawking. Citizens idolizing politicians, even corrupt ones. I suppose that I am flawed. I have never felt the urge. I sure as hell don't want anyone ever treating me in this way.
More importantly, I would never want to subject my family to such treatment. One need only look to the travails of the children of the famous: drug addiction, aimlessness, etc.
Ultimately, I decided that a pen name wasn't necessary. I started authoring fiction late in life. I'll be lucky to survive long enough to become any good at it let alone develop any commercial success. My family will be the beneficiaries of any commercial success that may attach to my writings. If such comes to pass, they hopefully will enjoy the income without the notoriety. Well, at least that's the plan.
“THESE DAYS, it seems, the minute people are alone, at a stop sign, at the checkout line at the supermarket, they panic, they reach for a phone,” MIT Psychologist, Sherry Turkle expounds on CBS Sunday Morning, October 1st, 2012.
It's true. You've seen it happen. Families gathered around a table in a restaurant, all texting. People walking, bicycling, driving, sitting, jogging, all plugged in. People text at home, work, school, theaters, and even funerals. Ninety percent of Americans have cell phones. I'm not even sure that ninety percent of all homes have flush toilets. They didn't when I was growing up. Do you think that Americans have the endurance to remain unplugged and have the attention span to read a book?
Click to watch the program
Louis L'Amour wrote often the reading habits of pioneer Americans. He reported that most frontier homes had at least two books: The Bible and at least one well-read classic such as Plutarch's Selected Lives
. They had time to read. They even re-read their books, frequently. There was little else to distract them when the work was done, the cows were milked, and the firewood chopped. They read and they discussed what they read. At least, that's the way L'Amour tells the story and I tend to believe him.
L'Amour lived in a time when the American frontier was almost tamed, but there were still vestiges of it at the edges of civilization. He sat on claims (occupied them for their owners to maintain the legal title to them). There was little else for him to do but read and he read a lot. His autobiography, The Education of a Wandering Man
, includes his suggested reading list full of titles that he read. He sat with a book so long as there was light in the sky and nothing else to do, reading. Can you imagine the average American doing that today?
Dr. Turkles book, Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology And Less From Each Other,
should also include “And Less From Ourselves”. How many people today are comfortable being alone with their own thoughts. I know that I am. However, I also know that I am an odd duck. I've always been happy being alone. There's a storyteller in my head. I don't write the novels and short stories. I simply transcribe them as they're told to me.
Potentially even more frightening to those of us who wish to sell our stories to people who have the capacity to read them, the CBS report included the results of a study from the University of Maryland in which we learn that people are frightened of losing their electronic crutches. Seventy percent of test subjects who volunteered to go without their iPads, iPhones, and BlackBerries failed to last even 24 hours. Imagine that. Could you?
The CBS report continues with comments by Nicholas Carr, author of What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains
. He believes that our obsession with remaining connected to the Internet and each other grows out of a primitive instinct to gather as much information as possible. He contends that it is a natural survival skill, possible taken to an extreme.
You may be depressed by all this if you're a writer. But wait, it gets worse. The CBS report concludes with an interview with UCLA neuro-scientist, Gary Small. He provides proof that surfing the Internet is better for our brains than reading a book.
Granted, this episode of CBS Sunday Morning was not devoted to the contest between books and iPhones but, rather, between iPhones and person-to-person conversation. However, I believe the information transfers well. Ultimately, it gives credence to my publisher's advice that I focus more on writing short stories or serialized fiction. The truth is that I can see myself in that role. I have been writing Flash Fiction this year as part of The Writers Collection, a group of authors contributing weekly in response to prompts consisting of words and short phrases. I've enjoyed the experience and will soon release a collection of my own.
However, I probably will write a novel or two more. Call me a masochist.