Timeliness in Writing

In the field of debate and rhetoric, Kairos (a Greek word referring to timeliness) is one of the approaches used by the Older Sophists, those masters of rhetoric in ancient Greece and Rome, to the canon of Invention. This was the first of five canons, the next four being in turn arrangement, style, memory and delivery. (Naturally rhetoric is about argument, which was/is important in politics, but the devices of rhetoric have relevance to the entire world of writing.)

Since each rhetorical situation has its own unique set of challenges, it is often hard to know how to approach any one of them. (This concept is easily applied to telling a story—from which direction or point of view of person and time/place does one approach?)  Kairos offers one way. It makes the rhetor/writer think in terms of space and time. The ancients used the term kairos to suggest an opportunity or advantageous time. Kairos is not about duration but a certain kind of time, the time recognized by both comedians and politicians, and one which writers have to recognize as essential.

Today, writers use the concept of kairos both in their subject matter and in the development of a story.  For instance, the surge of interest in vampires has brought about a great number of published books on that subject, generally fictitious, one of the most ridiculous recent titles being on Abraham Lincoln’s role as a vampire. There is now an entire aisle titled “Vampire” at Borders’ bookstore.

Kairos is a more important concept when writers use it to discuss situations as they arise in a novel, that being the easiest for readers to follow, and arguably of most interest to them. (Few things are more irritating than to have a fascinating subject suddenly drop off in a novel or memoir.) If a writer discusses an issue that has lost immediacy, he or she must make a case for the issue’s relevance to the story.

One of the most important aspects of kairos is that the arguments surrounding an issue are ever-changing, never stagnant. Since themes, topics, attitudes and motifs also change with time and in various societies, some stories fall out of favor—either never to return or to resurface decades later.  The timeliness of a story or book depends a lot on the development of themes relative to the most basic concerns of man and society, no matter how the trappings change.

The e-book experiment: tentative results

As I mentioned in my post last week, the Grassroots’ Writers Guild is nearing its one year anniversary. As such, we feel it’s important to update readers on the concepts we initially put forth on this blog. Today’s topic is marketing via e-books. Does it work? The early answer is, yes and no. While Julia and I have sold some books that way, both via downloads and CDs, the numbers (for me, anyway) haven’t been high enough to grade it a success. On the other hand, it hasn’t been a failure either, so the fair thing to say is that the jury remains out. Our guess is once we get out into the writing community, doing some talks at bookstores and writers’ events around town, sales will pick up. But as with all experiments, we won’t know until we try. Meanwhile, we have opted to add some old-fashioned actual printed books to our repertoire prior to scheduling those appearances. That will be the best way to gauge peoples’ reaction. If they are willing to pay $12 to $20 for a printed book (price determined by length) versus $5 for a CD (book length inconsequental), that will give us a definitive answer. (A review of the printer we chose will appear on this blog in the near future.)

The point is, marketing remains the key to success as a writer. If readers don’t know who we are, they aren’t likely to buy our book(s). Given the number of books currently available via electronic format, that makes sense from a reader’s point of view. Readers can go onto Kindle, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple, and probably a dozen other sites, and browse through literally hundreds of thousands of titles, be they self-published or electronic versions of current best sellers. What are their criteria for picking a certain book? Do they search via subject, key words, author name, previously published works? Probably all of those and many others I haven’t thought about. Basically, it’s a crap shoot. About the only foolproof method to make a sale would be for a reader to go onto the site with an author’s name and book title already in hand. How do we make that happen? By getting our names out there, any and every way we can think of. Creativity must be the name of our game.

I will be updating my personal page and my Elvis section this week, so please stop by again and check it out. As always, we welcome your comments. Have a good and productive week!

Victor Hugo makes a sweet monster. . . .

Writers see threads of stories in people and events that surround them, often on a minute-by- minute basis.  More often than not, these threads are gossamer and dissolve in the heavy thud and din of subsequent events and circumstances.  (For such reasons, some writers try to take notes as they move through their day).

The chances of dreaming up an unimagined person are slim.  A story’s character must be made up of elements from one or two, if not a dozen, of one’s acquaintances, be they friends or foes.  It is far easier to develop an arresting character out of the kernel of a real person who has crossed a writer’s path than to imagine someone from scratch.

This week’s news brought us a strong clue to the archetype of Quasimodo: Not some horribly deformed monster whom French author Victor Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) spied skulking about the streets of Paris at the darkest hours before dawn, terrorizing les boulangers for fresh baguettes or bagels, but rather a perfectly normal carver, by the name of Trajan, who was working at Notre Dame in the 1820s to restore the damage made by revolutionaries in the 1790s.

If the hump on his back made Trajan shy about mixing with the other carvers, what would have been odd about that? Reuters news service tells us there was a 19th century British sculptor named Henry Sibson who wrote an autobiography and mentioned therein that he knew a French carver whose nickname was “le bossu,” or hunchback.

According to Adrian Glew, a British archivist who works on the Tate collection’s archives in London, Trajan was the real-life inspiration for Quasimodo, the deformed bell ringer of Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.

A single element applied to the “what if?” spectrum can swell to disturbing and memorable proportions.  While Victor Hugo may be applauded for the imagination and skill he applied to that element, the applause no doubt stopped short at Trajan’s door. When writers take inspiration, those who inspire may not be glad of their contribution.

The Grassroots Writers’ Guild: one year later

As hard as it is to believe, the one year anniversary of the Grassroots Writers’ Guild is almost here. While we didn’t actually go public until December 2009, Julia and I spent literally hundreds of hours getting the blog ready prior to publishing it, so September is our anniversary. Given how neither of us knew much about blogging (as Star Trek’s Doctor McCoy might have said, “Damn it, Jim, I’m a writer not a webmaster!”), we felt pretty good once we got the site up and running. And we feel even better now, knowing that we are getting regular readers and attracting new ones every week. That was our original goal in forming GWG, so it’s nice to say Mission Accomplished.

On the other hand, we still have much to do. It’s amazing how much work it is to keep a blog current. Writing new posts every week—meaning posts people might actually want to read—is a lot more work than we thought it would be. Not so much the writing itself as coming up with fresh ideas.  In addition, we must update our personal pages from time to time, sort through comments and decide which are appropriate for publication, answer reader inquiries via email, check our photo and PDF links to make sure they still work, and find and download photos to go with our posts. (Readers tell us they are more apt to read a post with an accompanying photo than one without, so far be it from us to disappoint.)

All of that said, we have no regrets. Maintaining this blog is well worth the effort. Within the next couple of weeks, we will be taking an in-depth look at our marketing strategy as we move into year number two, so please stay turned.

Free Elvis novel download for Elvis Week

Hello my fellow Elvis fans! In honor of Elvis Week, I am offering the dowloadable version of my Elvis novel, Face the Music, absolutely free through August 22. Please pass the word along to all your Elvis friends. There’s no catch, it’s my gift to you in honor of Elvis’s memory. I haven’t had a chance to get to Memphis since the 10th Anniversary, which seems ages ago. Hopefully I will make it back there someday before I am too old and feeble to make the journey.

To get your free download, which is available in PDF format only, email me at cak007@msn.com and put “Face the Music” in your email header. I will get your copy (via PDF attachment) out as soon as possible. If you enjoy the read, please leave a comment on the Face the Music or Elvis page. Happy reading!

P.S. If you are unsure of how to read an e-book, take a look at our “Reading downloaded books is easy” page via the link to the right.

Why writers need writing friends

Being a writer is a lonely business. We spend our days at the computer, typing on a keyboard and watching words appear on screen. If we’re writing fiction, we may talk to our characters or imagine them talking to each other. If we’re writing non-fiction, we spend even more time on the computer doing research. Most of us are lucky to make a thousand dollars from a book once it’s published–never mind how many years have gone into the writing. Last week I wrote of the incredibly low pay involved in being a writing judge, a salary that works out to about five bucks an hour. Well, that’s a fortune compared to a thousand dollars for a book that took two or three years to write.

If we have survived the initial shock that comes with the ludicrous pay for published authors and are still writing, we are all bound to question our decision from time to time. And it’s on those occasions we really need our writing friends. I had what I’ll call a “mini doubt session” the other day. As Julia mentioned on her updated homepage, we are both in the process of having some of our books printed the old fashioned way. We intend to use these books mainly for promotional purposes, but that does nothing to change the fact that it’s going to cost money. Smack me if I’m wrong, but don’t most professionals make money with their chosen careers?

Alas, as Julia pointed out to me in another of her brilliantly worded e-mails, writing is, for the most part, its own reward. With her permission, I have opted to share her thoughtful letter here on our blog. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me. And I also hope it helps you understand why Julia and I have opted to band together as writers and friends. The only people who understand what writers go through are other writers.  I sincerely hope each and every one of you reading this has found your own Julia.

Here is her letter:

Why are we writers? We are writers because we love writing. We love books, reading, literature, information, culture, people; our curiosity for life and the world, for history and psychology, sports and music, nature and animals is insatiable. Plus, we are suckers for a good story. We are nice people who wanted to fill our days with interests and to help fill the days of others with interest.

We succeeded. And we keep on at it. The Bernie Madoffs of the world either end up in jail or trying to impress people with all that they truly haven’t got. We know we will move past any bitterness because we see, every day, that we are living for what we always wanted to live for, even if we end up giving books away.

Nor are we alone. Van Gogh gave his paintings away, one of my favorite Orientalist painters, Jean Leon Gerome, gave his works away. Mozart, despite admiration from the aristocracy and widespread fame, was poor, without enough money to buy fuel to warm his house in dead of winter.

Let writers like the gal who wrote Eat, Pray and Love call herself a genius, for maybe she was for a few months–but she reached too high, because now she is trying to find something she has already lost by calling herself a genius. When we write to stroke our egos, we have already lost.

True creative spirits do not call themselves geniuses. They keep up the creativity and flow with it, taking care of their homes, their spouses, their kids and their animals while they do so, making ends meet.

You and I will sell some books, enough to keep going. Enough to keep writing.  And in the end, isn’t that all we want? Making money sometimes does nothing but afford one the opportunity of demonstrating how very fast a hole can be burned through one’s pocket.