James JosephWriting can be difficult and it can be fun. Here, I can write about anything that comes to mind, modern or ancient. I hope you'll join in with your comments.

July 30, 2009

Are Publishers Really the Best Judge of Books?

The latest trends in publishing indicate that both major and small press publishers severely limit the quality and variety of newly published books coming to market. Granted, a large percentage of self-published books are of very poor quality, and often unreadable. But many best selling books are not exactly of the highest caliber.

For a new writer to break into the fiction market, they need to have different talents than authors of the past. They need to have television presence. They need to be comfortable with public speaking. And, they’re generally required to make book tours. Due to the expanding influence of television on the publishing industry, an author must be ready to interview on Oprah or one of the morning shows. The problem with this is some of the best authors are introverts.

In the past, that was completely acceptable. But now, if you’re not a highly animated extrovert, you’re unlikely to get off the “maybe list”. 

New writers are encouraged to write mini-novels, or to write what the publisher in their area of interest likes to publish. I know an author who writes romance novels in unique historic settings of 13th century Europe. She writes one every year, and has gained a following. But her royalties fetch her somewhere in the neighborhood of $3,000 – $4,000 each year. It doesn’t seem likely that she’ll make a good living as an author.

The fact is, the vast majority of authors make next to nothing. We all hear of the highly paid authors like Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham and a handful of others. I’m very glad someone in the modern era is being recognized for their literary contributions. But there aren’t many. Most people can’t even name 10 authors of fiction from this century. Most professional sports figures earn substantially more than writers. Most professional actors make more than authors.

Imagine that! People who throw a ball a certain way are much more highly valued that a writer who can spin a 50,000 word tale. People who act like other people – characters that are most often contrived by writers – are revered on the screen, and receive some of the most lucrative contracts in the world. People who drive cars around in circles racing other drivers are more highly valued than writers.

It’s not all about money, but as you can see, the modern publishing conglomerates have not done a very good job of promoting authors, creativity, and interest in the writing field. It is a labor of love, and the vast majority of aspiring writers will never get beyond the “starving artist” stage. There is hope, though. With the advent of print-on-demand, it has become affordable for authors to publish their own works. And with the internet, authors have also gained a new, more affordable marketing avenue.


May 11, 2009

The Stories Behind The Story

Filed under: Authors,Books — Tags: — Jim @ 2:30 pm

Like every other author, there are many books that defined my writing style. They helped me to decide what’s most important in a story. Shadow of the Serpent is a blend of the many books and authors I’ve enjoyed reading since I was a child.

Perhaps one of the most influential would be J.R.R. Tolkien with The Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings trilogy. As a teenager, I was spellbound by these books. The sense of adventure, allegorical fantasy and the characters were extremely compelling. I tried to include that same type of fantasy in Shadow of the Serpent.

Another profound influence was James Michener. It’s hard to pinpoint any one book that related to the style, structure or tone of Shadow of the Serpent. Alaska, Hawaii, Chesapeake, Caravans, Centennial, The Drifters and even Space were influential individually and collectively. I enjoyed Michener’s thorough research of each area. He’d often start with the geological history, move on through the first creatures and animals, the climatic changes, and finally to the first people and on up to the present. It’s important to show how people are bound to the land, and how it not only influences them, but is an integral part of their makeup. Shadow of the Serpent follows that lead, though not as faithfully as Michener. The setting is very rough, including the entire Mississippi Valley up to the ancient copper mines near the great lakes.

It takes into account the Adena and Hopewell peoples’ serpent mounds, Cahokia, and mound building to the south. Teotihuacan, near present-day Mexico City, is used as the central source of “The Snake People”, an evil and hostile group that was essentially ostracized from the metropolis after a long reign of terror, and forced northward to build their own empire in the Mississippi Basin. Purported visits by Norsemen were also included in the story, as well as many of the artifacts, technology and crafts of the time.

But most of this was to lend credibility. The more facts and reality you mix into fantasy, the more realistic it becomes. None of the tribes ever existed, though they resembled many throughout the prehistory of the midwest. The story is not actually about Native Americans or Meso-American cultures. It’s about the natural lifestyles of small tribes/villages vs. large and sophisticated civilizations.

I’ve also been influenced by many spiritual, philosophical and ideological works such as Siddhartha, 1984, Animal Farm, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee, Black Elk Speaks, Ghandi. I grew fond of the ancient American and Native American books by the Gears, Linda Lay Shuler, Ruth Beebe Hill, Patricia Rowe, Jean Auel and many others.

Shadow of the Serpent, though, is a breakaway from the genre. It’s not a strict focus on archaeological fiction, nor is it a romance in an exotic setting. It’s a blend of facts, adventure, philosophy, fantasy, spirituality and imagination. Parables are laced throughout the story, and like most books I’ve really enjoyed, each chapter moves the story along with increasing intensity.

I actually wrote a book that I would find enjoyable. The story unfolded of its own accord. I would allow characters to paint themselves into corners, or wander into hopeless situations where even I had no idea as to how to get them out or save them. And, I would have to think long and hard to find a way without some miraculous event, or contrived escape. I believe this is what makes a story compelling… no pre-planning. I hope you think so, too.



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