Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Man Who Didn't Want to be Known.

Would you like to be recognized as a writer? Or, would you rather have your books recognized and read?

Tough choice, isn't it? It's human nature to want a pat on the back for a job well done. You've put a lot of time and sweat into writing your novel. Certainly you'd like someone to appreciate what you've achieved. Some might call it egotism, and it is. Still, that's not a totally bad thing. As long as it doesn't get out of hand, ego is important in building self-confidence--something all artists need and often lack.

On the other hand, we all want our books to be read. There's joy in walking into a library or a store and seeing your books on the shelves--especially if they're being borrowed or purchased. Isn't that a primary reason we write books, produce art or do anything creative?

We're all familiar with some writers who produce great books, whose names are recognized, yet give no or few interviews and limit marketing activities to the minimum. In our time, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, William Faulkner, among others, come to mind.

How about B. Traven?

A man who said, "An author should have no other biography than his books." And, "The biography of a creative man is completely unimportant."

Traven, whose personal history raises as many questions as answers, assumed many other names in various phases of his life. There have been claims he was an American, born in Chicago, and that he was Ret Marut, German anarchist, who fled Germany for a new life in Mexico. Some speculation has Jack London and Ambrose Bierce using the Traven name as a pseudonym. There's even a rumor he was the illegitimate son of Kaiser Wilhelm II.

But none of that has to do with his success as a writer. His first writings as B. Traven appeared in 1925--a short story and a novel--published in Germany.

His best known work (though not his best) is "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which John Huston made into a film starring Humphrey Bogart. Ten of his works have been translated to the big screen, though "Treasure.." was Hollywood's lone attempt. The others were produced in Mexico and Germany.

It wasn't this book/film that made his name synonymous with good writing. That came with publication of his second novel, "The Death Ship," first published in Germany in 1926. A Spanish edition was published in 1931 and it came out a third time in English in 1934.

Since then, his books have been translated to some 40 languages, he continues to be read around the world, and new editions of his work are still being published.

Would Traven's technique of putting all attention on the book and none on himself work today?
Doubtful. Unless you're already famous or your background is so mysterious or weird as to make you a celebrity without trying.

Publishers, agents and other experts tell us we must 'brand' both ourselves and our books in order to achieve sales. There's so much good competition out there today. It's no longer a matter of do I want to market or not. Marketing is too important to ignore.

So get out there and market.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

When Words Aren't Enough

"The surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite and concrete."  (The Elements of Style  by William Strunk Jr. and E. B. White)
As writers, we all want our words to be understood. The same holds true for a person speaking to another. In a face-to-face conversation, the task of achieving clarity is made a little easier by means of facial expression and gestures we understand and which convey the speaker's meaning.
"There was speech in their dumbness, language in their very gesture. The Winter's Tale, William Shakespeare.
 Those aides are missing in a phone conversation, in texting and emailing and, often, in writing and can contribute to misunderstanding.
Despite our reliance on them, words can't always express the full measure of what we mean to say. That's because there are so many nuances attached to a particular word and what we mean it to convey. This becomes even more difficult when you consider translating from one language to another.
One way to assure clarity is to bring in those expressions and gestures I mentioned above.
Here's a brief example from the master, Elmore Leonard (Road Dogs):
He watched the bank robber shrug, watched him pick up his glass and take a drink.
"You're having a good time poking around," Foley said, "trying to find out what I'm up to, aren't you?"
"I enjoy talking to you," Tico said, "one bank robber to another, uh?" and waited for Jack Foley to see he was being funny.
He did, but smiled only a moment.
And a longer one from Stephen King (The Hotel Story from On Writing):
Olin looked pained. For a moment he glanced around the small, smart lobby, as if for help. At the concierge's stand, a man was discussing theater tickets with his wife while the concierge himself watched with a small, patient smile. At the front desk, a man with the rumpled look one only got after long hours in Business Class was discussing his reservation with a woman in a smart black suit that could itself have doubled for evening wear. It was business as usual at the Hotel Dolphin. There was help for everyone except poor Olin, who had fallen into the writer's clutches.
"Olin?" Mike repeated.
No question of what's going on in either case.
And, finally, one from my own Something So Divine:
"Why were you watching out for her? Did you think someone wanted to hurt her?"
The boy shrugged his shoulders and didn't answer. He turned his gaze away.
Behind them a chair squeaked, and Roth heard the scratching of the clerk's and the reporter's pens on their notebooks.
"Ned. Ned, look at me. Somebody did hurt Susie. Was it you, Ned?"
The boy brushed a shock of hair away from his eyes and shook his head. He peered steadily at Roth. He blinked, and tears ran down his cheeks. "She was my friend. I loved Susie."
"Do you know what happened to her up in that field?"
Ned slowly shook his head from side to side.