Congratulations to Svetlana Alexievich, however.
Hello followers! Wait, that makes me sound a bit like a religious leader or a dictator, and I’m just a humble author. The thing is, “followers” is how WordPress terms the people who subscribe to updates from a blog. Maybe I’ll call them bloggowers. It’s ugly and I probably won’t use it ever again, but right here, right now, I have bloggowers!
Anyhoo, on with the post. I’ve made a decision as the publisher of Sitting at your Desk Isn’t Work to tell the editor of Sitting at your Desk Isn’t Work to harangue the writers of Sitting at your Desk Isn’t Work because they aren’t creating enough interesting content. The trouble is, the publisher, editor and writers of Sitting at your Desk Isn’t Work are all me, and I’m also an author trying to write and self-publish books. My time is therefore limited.
That’s why I’ve made an executive decision to post more frequently with content from elsewhere about writing and the publishing industry (both traditional and indie). This is win-win-win, because I don’t feel the need to create 600-word articles every week or two, my bloggowers get to read interesting content more often, and the writers of that content get links to their original articles. It’s either that or I unethically outsource my posts to child bloggers in Bangladesh.
I may also start using my professional Facebook or Twitter accounts to post snippets of news on how my books are progressing, rather than struggle to craft an entire post on this blog every time I pass a milestone.
This isn’t exactly a makeover. Sitting at your Desk Isn’t Work will now become more like a channel for news on the industry and tips on writing fiction, but will basically look the same. Maybe I’ll call it a makeunder. So that’s two words minted in the space of five minutes. Enjoy the makeunder, my bloggowers!
As everyone knows, time flies when you’re having fun. And also when you’re writing a novel (which can sometimes be fun as well). So this video from 2013 of Kevin Spacey giving a speech about the importance of good storytelling has now become an “oldie but a goodie”. It recently popped back into my mind because I finished watching the third season of House of Cards on Netflix, in which Spacey stars as Machiavellian US president Frank Underwood. That, by the way, is a fantastic name for his character. He seems frank, while Underwood is a white-bread Anglo-Saxon surname that matches Frank’s down-home public persona. But on a subconscious level, the “underwood” is a dark place where things crawl, scuttle and lurk. This is the seedy underbelly of Frank’s political trajectory – the rotten roots of a gnarled tree that he and his wife Claire have watered with murder, deceit, sex, and drugs. Come to think of it, House of Cards is basically a Shakespearean supervillain tag team featuring Richard III and Lady MacBeth.
All this to say, storytelling is the currency of great entertainment, whether it appears on the small screen(s), big screen or the pages of a book. Just as television series such as The Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards are now arguably more artistically and culturally relevant than motion pictures, multi-novel book series have also increased in readership, relevance, and publishing income over recent years. Was the trend started by Harry Potter or the Twilight series? In Young Adult fiction, series have certainly become the norm, with subject matter varying from the Hunger Games to Mara Dyer and pretty much everything in-between.
The opportunity for an author is to do what Kevin Spacey describes in his speech: weave a storytelling web over literally years that features characters who change, grow, love, and sometimes unexpectedly die, leaving fangirls and boys wringing their hands and cursing the authors (all the while secretly loving the epic level of emotion, or as the parlance has it, the “feels”).
If done badly, a series of YA books becomes nothing more than a constant re-hashing of the storyline from book one. That’s just lazy. It means the author realized he or she had a cash cow and then milked it dry. The other option is to create a fictional world then keep expanding it in every direction. That’s keeping the cow and building a farm around it. And that’s what keeps readers coming b
Vincent Van Gogh was both a tragic failure and and a talented success. Unrecognized and penniless in his own lifetime, his paintings are now among the most appreciated and valuable in the entire art world. Although he isn’t a character in my YA novel Starley’s Rust, he and his art certainly feature strongly for reasons that are too spoilerish to go into here. Of course I’m far from being the first writer to be inspired by Van Gogh. There’s Don McLean’s hauntingly beautiful Vincent, a song that I’ve loved since I was a child. British sci-fi series Doctor Who (my favourite TV show of all time) also featured Van Gogh in a 2010 episode written by the great Richard Curtis, the screenwriter of classics such as Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones, and Love Actually. The Doctor brings the real-life Vincent forward in time to a Paris museum in this tear-jerking scene with Bill Nighy (Van Gogh is superbly acted by Tony Curran).
In Starley’s Rust, the mysterious title character Starley explains that Vincent, “was always searching for a way to express visually what he could see in his mind.” Coincidentally, I recently came across a TED Ed video on YouTube that shows just how incredible Van Gogh’s vision of the world actually was. Fluid dynamics is an immensely complex field of mechanics. Its mathematical formulas attempt to describe and predict the flow of liquids and gases.
But sometimes art does a better job.
The short video The unexpected math behind Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” shows how the artist captured this most difficult of subjects. The video blurb explains:
Physicist Werner Heisenberg said, “When I meet God, I am going to ask him two questions: why relativity? And why turbulence? I really believe he will have an answer for the first.” As difficult as turbulence is to understand mathematically, we can use art to depict the way it looks. Natalya St. Clair illustrates how Van Gogh captured this deep mystery of movement, fluid and light in his work.
As the video narrator says, “…in a period of intense suffering, Van Gogh was somehow able to perceive and represent one of the most supremely difficult concepts nature has ever brought before mankind…”
I had no idea about any of this when I wrote the following passage in Starley’s Rust. Near the end of the book, our hero Kari Marriner goes on Wikipedia to research Vincent’s life and work:
I clicked back to the main page, then on the Starry Night picture. It was the view from Van Gogh’s room in a mental institution. The swirls in the sky… the thing that made the painting so beautiful… and that’s when it dawned on me. In fact, it hit me like a ton of bricks. The shimmering web of the Dark Universe that Noon had shown me from the rooftop of the Warrington. It was so similar.”
Okay, so that actually is a little bit spoilerish, but you’ll have to read Starley’s Rust to find out exactly what part Vincent Van Gogh has to play in Kari’s adventure. As for me, I’m going to watch the clouds and stars…
PS – I wrote this last night when it was dark!
According to this article in yesterday’s Guardian, being an author is literally the most desired job in Britain.
Websites, websites every where, Nor any way to link…
The ancient mariner in Coleridge’s wonderful poem that I’ve so horribly pastiched here was undone by an albatross he killed. For indie authors, that albatross is the multitude of social media options and reading-oriented websites that your books can appear on. Half of the latter variety apparently consist of writers promoting their books to other writers, which hardly seems very efficient (unless your book is actually about the writing process).
The reality is that there are so many online outlets to publicize and market books for both indie and traditional authors alike that it’s impossible to cover them all. Beyond the obvious ones like Facebook, Twitter and WordPress, there are secondary-but-still-significant ones like Instagram, Wattpad, Bloglovin, and StumbledUpon. In fact, there are so many that it’s not even realistic to list them all on your own blog. I use the right-hand side of this page to lead readers directly to the Amazon pages of my books because that’s the best way to serve someone who might be interested in buying them, but my media kits include well over a dozen other links to different online stores like Apple’s iBookstore, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, and Smashwords.
There are other incredibly important links that I’ve not even mentioned above that can fall by the wayside in the tsunami of marketing activities (hmmm… I smell an ocean theme today!) My YouTube channel, for example. And the ones I’m now going to plug right here: my author pages on Goodreads and Amazon. So to rectify the situation, here are the links to both pages:
There. Done. It’s always a bit weird to write about yourself in the third person, but readers visit these pages because they are genuinely interested in the living, breathing writer behind the books. And besides, I don’t have time to invite them all over for tea. Maybe one day I’ll rent a boat and we’ll all sail off from the north Somerset coast for a bit of fishing…
After trying on several different tee-shirts, different camera angles, and moving the plant around, I finally shot a video of myself reading an excerpt from chapter two of Starley’s Rust that I’m happy with. But really, what is happy? Ask Pharrell…
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