Whether a store has my stuff on consignment or not, I usually pass out promotional material to entice sales. I have a few fliers that I keep constantly updating, hoping the change may help to move books off the shelf, but not in the way that the one bookstore dude proceeds to “make space.” I use at least one flier at book signings and it seems it is always different from the previous gig. I mentioned some of the ideas I have had in order to market books earlier. However, I have an almost endless source of ideas. Some of these I have tried and so I should make them known to you.
14. If at first you don’t succeed
If you care to be a successful writer, the correct phrase to complete the chapter title isn’t, “Don’t become a bungee jumper!” You need to come up with plenty of ideas. Don’t limit yourself to only what others suggest. The sky’s the limit. I mentioned my thoughts driving home from the writers’ conference in Valley Forge. Unfortunately, none of them worked. My web site has had hits but not much financial success. In some ways though, the site has been beneficial and I hope it will eventually lead to an increase in book sales, even if people buy from Amazon.
WWW.BOBCOOKS.COM is the main approach to getting others to see what I have done. It has a great deal of information, including recipes, book recommendations, cancer cures and reviews of my books. There’s more than that. I described the scam, which wouldn’t have occurred without my site. I also received an email one day from an individual who got wind of my books and was interested in republishing my cookbook. The best part was that he said he had a marketing staff. When I heard that, I was thrilled. I had high hopes and it has been some time since this person contacted me so it hasn’t happened yet. I haven’t completely given up but with each passing day, hope seems to be fading, as recent attempts to contact him has produced no response.
Early in the year 2005, I decided to get my hair done at a friend’s place not far from my home. Michele not only does hair – she doesn’t just cut it – she also has a great voice and is a part of the Contemporary Music Ensemble, which I mentioned earlier. A few days after my encounter with her scissors, I asked if she’d like to sell my cookbook in her salon – I don’t think it would sell in a saloon! I told her I’d give her five books and she could keep 40% of the proceeds. She agreed.
Not long after that I stopped in to the boutique for another visit. When I gave my name to the woman behind the counter, she asked me for my autograph. I actually signed two that day. This was before for seeing eye dogs only was published, so I mentioned that book and was told that she wanted it too, as did another employee. A short time later, Michele handed me cash for the sale of five books.
I then proceeded to three other hair salons in the area with the same offer I made Michele. They all took on five copies of the cookbook and in the course of a few weeks, I sold a few copies. There was interest in the book and I even provided a brochure on all my books to entice sales. In November 2005, Michele saw that book sales were stagnant so I removed them from her establishment, which I had also done from the other three hair places. In the course of two months, I sold more books in three hair salons than I did in two bookstores over more than two years. Who said you have to sell books in a bookstore?
I have had many other ideas for selling books. When I told others, they remarked that what I came up with was a great idea. For example, I considered taking advantage of the characteristics of the recipes of my cookbook. Since not only are they are delicious, but also easy and healthy, why not try to market the book to vitamin and health food stores? I surfed the net and found some possibilities and sent emails and got a few responses. I sent out two or three copies of the book and got great feedback about my writing but no takers for adding the book to their establishments. I even went to a warehouse in the area that supplies a host of health stores. That sounded like a great opportunity. I dropped off a copy of the book and was assured that the person whom I was told to contact would get it. Somehow, that didn’t happen, so I dropped off another copy. I then tried to contact this guy but had no luck after leaving messages. I did this many times but you can only try for so long.
I still had the phone number of this individual who I couldn’t quite reach, but I wondered if I should forget this possibility and work on other ideas. There really was no reason to continue my effort to reach him but I dialed the phone anyway. He wasn’t there but the gentleman answering recommended that I send him an email, so I figured it wouldn’t hurt to try. It was the right thing to do because within a few days, I dropped off twenty-four copies of The Read My Lips Cookbook.
Not long after the cookbook was published, I tried to get it into one of the grocery chains that has stores not only in Buffalo, but also in Rochester and a few other states. My creation had everything you could want in a cookbook – think healthy and delicious but don’t overlook selling power because of the humor. I sent the book out and then checked up on it, but no one knew where the book had landed. Then I was told to send it to a specific individual and I dropped it off to her. Unfortunately, I didn’t meet this person, although I tried. On calling and leaving messages for this human, I never heard back.
I didn’t give up but sent a copy of the book to an individual who writes a weekly food column for the corporation and thought she could be of some help. I wrote a letter to the company president, even sending him a copy of the book. I got nary a reply from either but finally, I got a phone call from a woman who wanted a copy of the book, so I sent one off. That was in November of 2005 and at this point, I had not given up. I finally talked to this woman and there seemed to still be a possibility of something happening. As a writer, one thing you need to do is never give up hope.
Fast forward to the end of the year 2006 and I’m doing a few exercises when the phone rings. It just so happens to be the woman I mentioned and she relates to me the fact that at this time, they won’t be selling my cookbook in their stores. I should add that this phone call came about because I sent another letter to the company president, about a month before. I was disappointed, but somehow accepted this fate. I asked her if she had read the book and her answer was in the negative. I can only ask how someone can make a decision on a book without reading it? C’est la vive.
Despite this, I didn’t give up and implored her to read the book and maybe the future might see my book in these stores. That reminds me of a time over a quarter a century ago when I was in Central Park in New York for a concert. I recall that the Brooklyn Bridge with Johnny Maestro was one of the acts but I can’t recall any of the others. Halfway through the event, the emcee came on and introduced John Lennon. He asked John if there would ever be a Beatle reunion. The singer replied, “You never know.” The emcee then questioned the celebrity as to the hope for such a future event. The former Beatle said, in the voice of a true politician, “There’s always hope!”
After my novel came out, I headed over to the casino in Niagara Falls. At that time this was the only casino in the cataract city and it was in New York. Now, Canada has the Fallsview Casino on their side of the border, among others. Actually, the book would be great for casinos since anyone reading it might stop buying lottery tickets and instead head over to these gambling places. I asked about getting the book into the gift shops but was told I had to call someone for information. I wrote the number down, went home and a few days later called. Unfortunately, they didn’t carry many books so that idea didn’t pan out.
At the same time I got in contact with a few gambling magazines in the hope of spreading the word on the novel. I emailed a woman named Monica, not Bill’s acquaintance. By the way, my mom’s middle name is also Monica but she was never an intern. This Monica was in Las Vegas working with some publishing company and I sent her a copy of the book. She said that even though they didn’t publish the book, they might try to sell it. However, that never happened. I tried to reach her again after that, but the person I talked to wasn’t interested in my book on dumb things that people say and do either. She said that Monica had left the company.
I mentioned the author at the writers’ conference who wouldn’t stop talking. He had written a cookbook or two so I listened to some of his ideas. His books were at some of the gift shops in the National Parks and he had plans for more, so I thought about that possibility. His cookbooks are theme related, i.e. historical, unlike mine but I figured I wouldn’t let that stand in my way. I secured a list of all the state parks in New York and sent out feelers for my cookbook in those locations. The response wasn’t very good although I did send out a few copies. One woman read the book and loved it but said that they wouldn’t carry it at that time. In fact, I added her kind words about it on the information page for the cookbook on my web site.
Because of the nature of the book with its eight chapters, I thought about the possibility of it becoming the New York State Cookbook. There are chapters in the book that talk about my living in various places in the state. In all there is a concluding chapter on Buffalo, two chapters on Westchester County as well as chapters on Binghamton and Syracuse. With that thought in mind, I sent a copy of the book to Governor George Pataki. He never warmed to the idea and perhaps never even opened the book. I did repeat the exercise with Governor Eliot Spitzer and he thanked me for it, but that was the last I heard. When we have a new governor, I’ll send it to that person too, and it doesn’t appear that I’ll have that long a wait.
When my 2005 book made the scene, I went to the National Park Service web site and sent an email about it. I got a very favorable response from a gentleman named David who thought that the book would do very well in the gift shops of the parks. He made this conclusion just from my description of the book and what he found on bobcooks.com and he gave me the phone number of a woman to contact who then passed on to me an email address of another woman. I emailed the latter but got no response so I got her phone number and called. It was obvious that she had not read my correspondence and had not been to my web site. She asked what the book was about and I told her but she figured that it didn’t fit in to the themes of the park. I thought people went on vacation to get away from the troubles of the world. Thus my book was perfect for every gift shop. Besides, wasn’t one of the themes of the park to make money? I didn’t relay those thoughts to her, though.
Somehow I convinced her to at least look at the book and sent her a copy. One thing David did mention was that the person whom I was to contact dealt with about 150 gift shops, which seemed promising and something that I should seriously pursue. David’s words were really encouraging but it was up to the woman, whose name escapes me. I got no response after a few weeks, so I called or emailed and her feelings hadn’t changed and needless to say I was very disappointed. I emailed David again with the tale of his fellow worker but he didn’t reply.
Before I got the bad news from this woman, David mentioned that I should contact the National Parks individually because of the way they are run and I started to do this. I sent out emails but the response was not very encouraging, so in December 2005, I sent out mailings with a query letter and two pages of book reviews that might entice gift shops in the parks to stock my books. I have not restricted consideration to a book or two as I feel that every one of my books has potential for sales in these places.
In January 2006, I began follow-up on these mailings. If you work with the National Park Gift Shops – and that may be a stretch – you must remember that the people you talk to work for the government, if I’m not mistaken. That’s the bad news. The good news for me is that I have written another book on comatose happenings – I will try to get it published in 2008 –and have gotten some material from my dealings with these people. So far, it looks as though I have wasted my time with regular mail when I should have just gone to the phone. Mail gets lost and never reaches the right person but the other option means you have to deal with “voice maze.” Email isn’t any better.
Using the telephone and getting through to the person you need to reach still has its problems, although some people might return your call. They may also say they are not interested. I talked to one woman who mentioned something I hear day after day in my endeavor with these gift shops: the books don’t relate to the theme of the park. She also mentioned limited space on the shelves for books. I thought about recommending the shelf space clearer whom I described earlier, but I thought better of it. Nonetheless, I must have said something right because I sent out two books to her that same day. Unfortunately, that was the last I heard from her.
A day after this conversation, I heard from a woman at another National Park to whom I had sent all four of my books. She said they were being reviewed and I should hear from the committee soon. I didn’t get my hopes up too high, even though she said she was reading one of the books and liked it, but I never heard from her again. Making phone calls may be the best approach, and you will get rejected by some, but you could have luck with others. You can’t succeed if you don’t try.
I had another strange adventure in the city I mentioned earlier, Savannah. To really get in the mood for this experience of mine, you should see the movie, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and I also recommend the book by John Berendt – one of the best books that I read in 2007. I did both and then saw the movie again and things were clearer to me.
This all started back on the Friday after Thanksgiving in 2005. I visited that same city on a business trip / vacation – I included the former description to get deductions for my taxes – and thought about visiting gift shops to place my books. I stopped in to three of them and asked if they carried authors other than local ones there. In each case I was told, yes, and given a business card since the person I should talk to wasn’t there. There seemed to be some hope and I enjoyed a delicious meal of blackened mahi-mahi over angel hair pasta at the Shrimp Factory on River Street. I had the shrimp at Bubba Gump in Daytona Beach the next night. I recommend both establishments.
Eventually I contacted the three gift shops by mail, but nothing came of it, but one day I got a phone call from Mohini Bhowani, owner of Gift World. She wanted to buy copies of the cookbook and book on missing intelligence capers. I shipped them and received her check shortly thereafter. I sent a letter a few months later asking if she needed any more books and if she wanted me to come and do a book signing. I didn’t hear anything but in early 2007, I decided to escape the cold of Buffalo and head south. One destination that I thought about was Savannah, possibly doing a signing on March 1.
I called the store ahead of time and when I told her who I was, the woman answering said I needed to talk to Mike, but he wasn’t in. She told me to call back, which I did and I had a conversation with him. He thought that would be a good time for a signing, as it would be warming up a bit. I sent him a flier and thought he’d email me, but I heard nothing. I called back again, but too late because the person I conversed with said Mike wouldn’t be in until Friday. However, I hoped to be in Mississippi by that time, away from the snow. She nevertheless encouraged me to come by anyway on my trip.
On March 1, 2007 just before noon I stopped in to Gift World and asked the woman handling t-shirts if the man I was looking for was in. She said, “Not until four o’clock,” but she said I should come back at 12:30 in the afternoon. I left and returned shortly as she directed, but was told that he wasn’t in and I had to come back at four. When I did so late in the afternoon, I met Haresh, the son of the owner and we talked and concluded that the signing would be more successful in a few months. I dreaded the heat of the summer but he said that the middle of May should be fine. I then mentioned that I had sent a flier and talked to Mike, but he replied that no one named Mike worked there. We agreed on May 15th or thereabouts, so I promised to send a flier and he in turn gave me his email address. I had a fine meal there that night at another restaurant, but not Paula Deens’.
I sent the stuff and emailed him shortly thereafter, but I didn’t call. Maybe I should have since he never contacted me. I didn’t return that spring to Gift World and I’m not sure what to do about the whole thing. Should I go back? Perhaps, the owner truly wanted to sell books, whereas her son wanted quicker and larger profits, such as from t-shirts. From the book by John Berendt I just described above, the citizens of the area want your tourist money but not for you to set up a business there. Toss into the mix the weird stuff that happens in Savannah and I think I figured it out – almost.
You can see from what I have been through that people don’t usually gives authors a break or any help. I have put ads in magazines, such as New York and either Woman’s Day or perhaps The Ladies Home Journal. I forget which; it was quite a while ago. The latter ad resulted in fifty hits a day to my web site but unfortunately, very few sales. Had I waited until I had a bit more experience selling and some good reviews on the cookbook, the outcome may have been different. I will probably get a few more ads placed in magazines that can produce results without a huge investment. An ad in Oprah Magazine will reach millions, but you’ll spend thousands of dollars.
The key here is not to spend a great deal of money to do this. Any free advertising is well worth it. I thought about advertising my web site, with a special emphasis on the recipes and my 2005 book, in the parish bulletins of churches in Western New York. My plan was to do it for a year but cover a few churches, say four churches for three months each. When I got material on the procedure, that idea seemed doable. However, the woman in charge mentioned that I could only have my ad in one church bulletin and I would have to do it for an entire year, with no splits.
I tried to explain that my approach would still give their organization the same amount of cash, with a bit more work but there would be an advantage, insofar as the blank spaces on the back page of the bulletins would be minimized. This would actually be beneficial to them. Logical as my argument was, she didn’t buy it. I decided to try it anyway and in December 2005, I had my ad, which would be the same week after week in a parish about five miles from my home for one whole year. That turned out to be money I could have used to buy beer.
I also got involved with Val-Pak, which is a means of spreading advertising for various companies in the area through mass mailings. Basically each business has a coupon that tells of their product and offers some kind of discount in order to get a sale. It wasn’t cheap and I was required to do it for multiple months. After the coupons were created, I received some of these extra ones so I figured, why waste them? I put the surplus around the mailboxes of some of my neighbors, but not in them because that’s illegal. I did get a few sales from the Val-Pak attempt but it really wasn’t that successful an endeavor, as I didn’t get back my investment.
This came about when I lived in East Aurora and for daily exercise, I used to walk down the roads near my house. I was a bit leery during hunting season when the air was filled with gunshots. I’ve heard of cows being shot accidentally and am allergic to bullets in my body. I didn’t really want any more surgery. I had enough already. However, one day while I strolled down West Blood Road, one of the neighbors doing some yard work, asked if I was Bob Swiatek, and I replied that indeed I was. It doesn’t take long for word to get out. We talked for a while but he didn’t buy any books.
Somehow, my effort was introducing me to the public. I was getting experience, costly as it might have been. I didn’t really see the big picture of what was going on. And yet that happens to each of us. A few things that occurred years ago would not really have meaning in my life until the new millennium. There are two slightly different words for this occurrence of events in our lives: serendipity and synchronicity. Some events almost didn’t occur, as the next chapter will explain.
15. Plant the potatoes now
An old man lived alone in the country. He wanted to dig his potato garden but it was very hard work as the ground was hard. His only son Fred, who used to help him, was in prison. The old man wrote a letter to his son and described his predicament.
I am feeling pretty bad because it looks like I won't be able to plant my potato garden this year. I'm just getting too old to be digging up a garden plot. If you were here, all my troubles would be over. I know you would dig the plot for me.Love Dad
A few days later he received a letter from his son. Dear Dad,
For heaven's sake, don't dig up that garden! That's where I buried the BODIES.
At 4 am the next morning, FBI agents and local police arrived and dug up the entire area without finding any bodies. They apologized to the old man and left. That same day the old man received another letter from his son.Dear Dad,
Go ahead and plant the potatoes now. That's the best I could do under the circumstances.
I hope you enjoyed this heartwarming story and got a good laugh. You may have wondered where it was leading and that is precisely why I included it. Over the course of our lives, events occur that we really wonder about. There I go again ending a sentence with a preposition! These happenings may make no sense for many years. Some of them may be painful, physical as well as mental but eventually, we see the light.
In an earlier chapter, I mentioned Antwone Quenton Fisher’s book, Finding Fish. One of the quotes you will read in this book by a young man facing difficult odds growing up is, “Everything that happened did so for a reason, at exactly the right time, in exactly the right way.” I’m sure many people agree with his assessment and I am no exception. I already mentioned what led me to write my first book, but a few other events occurred and certain individuals came into my life over the years that played a huge part in my becoming a writer.
Had I not ventured off to Binghamton in the fall of 1970, I may never have gotten my four books published. I may never have even started any of them. That should be quite clear. There were people and events that brought this move about. I recall one day in 1968 that I received two pieces of mail. The first was a notification that I had been granted a teaching assistantship at Seton Hall University. The second wasn’t anywhere near as welcome – my draft status had been changed to 1-A by the United States government. This meant I could be drafted into the U.S. Army, see the world – at least Vietnam – courtesy of Uncle Sam. I thank God that I never had a chance to be any part of the military service. I like to travel, but not to ‘Nam in the late 60s! Besides being allergic to el toro crappo, I had more than my share when I spent two long, never-ending years in ROTC at Canisius College, all because the school had no physical education classes. This mail had a great deal to do with my leaving Buffalo that fall.
Yet, there were other events and people that affected what I am doing today. I have mentioned some of them but not all. There are days that we experience and people who sneak into our lives and then leave just as mysteriously that become part of the big picture and we don’t realize it. What would have happened if I had not written down the name of the book by Dan Poynter? I may never have had my books published. On the other hand, perhaps a royalty company may have gotten my career as a writer started. From my experience throughout the early part of 2007, I don’t believe that would have occurred.
An event happened just after my 2005 book was published that I should relate. I have an email list of addresses. I don’t spam people but every so often may send out a mass mailing, for some good reason. If I send jokes and the like, they have to be gutbusters, not to be confused with ghostbusters. I don’t recommend this type of communication. Instead, if you can, take advantage of your service provider to accomplish the same feat by individually emailing one person after another the same material. It will take longer, but it should be beneficial, and if you get into a rhythm, you can do a lot of copying and make it appear to be personal when every gets the same email.
One of the people whose address I had was Sue LoTempio of the Buffalo News, whom I mentioned earlier. She has a great deal to do with writers and the literary community in Western New York, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I don’t recall how I initially got in contact with her but I had sent her emails about some of my book signings, especially a fundraiser for tsunami relief. I didn’t hear from her and I was about to delete her email address from my list of people, but somehow, I didn’t.
When my book came out in June 2005, I emailed her about it. About three weeks later, she sent me information about Gusto at the Gallery on Friday, November 4, 2005, a free event at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery that would showcase local authors. Sue asked me if I wanted to get involved as well as provide the names of other Western New York writers who would like to be a part of that evening. I responded by saying I would be interested and gave her the name of Diane Newton – who I mentioned before – an author of award winning suspense from Lockport, a town northeast of Buffalo, as well as founder of the Authors Guild that I mentioned earlier.
Diane helped immensely by providing the names of people who should be invited and the Authors Guild became a main part of the evening. There were a host of local authors that night and in addition a group of work sessions were set up, each being an hour. There was a panel discussion in addition to stints on writing children’s books, how to publish, a non-fiction workshop and mystery writing. I got roped into a session on writing humor. If you’ve gotten this far in the book, you can probably figure out why I was assigned that hour slot. There was a great deal of interest in these sessions and overall the night was a huge success. I may not have been a part of the evening had I dropped Sue LoTempio from my email address list. You never know – I’m not talking here about LOTTO tickets!
The story doesn’t end there. At first I was reluctant to do the gig, at least the work session, but then I figured I can do it. I started writing about the role humor plays in books and I had quite a few ideas, which developed into a number of pages on the subject. In fact, I got so gung-ho that I put a page on my web site about writing humor. You can’t miss it if you go to my home page. Before the big night, I decided on a different approach. Instead of giving a boring lecture, followed by a time for questions, I decided on starting with the latter. Since this was supposed to be a “work session,” I figured it was for the people, so I would get them involved right away. After an hour had passed, I would probably have talked about most of what I had initially written anyway. In fact that was the case.
Those of you who use your heads for more than keeping your ears apart and never became a part of for seeing eye dogs only or any of its coming sequels – there seems to be no absence of material – have probably realized that this book evolved from that work session. One thing you don’t know is that I met some great people in the session, even had my groupies there and that night, sold a few books besides. Had I not done the hour, I probably would never have heard of Non Campus Mentis, which I described earlier. Moreover, the gentleman who talked about that book and was kind enough to email me its title, since I probably wouldn’t have remembered it, has the same last name as mine. His first name is Ken, the same first and last name as my younger brother.
I could go on, so I will, since you can’t stop me. I liked the book by Anders Henriksson so much that I went to the web site on the back cover of the book and ordered two copies of it from a bookstore in Brockport, New York, about fifty miles from here. I also sent out two emails in the hope that I might be able to peddle some of my latest book, since it too is about missing intelligence. So far, I got one response and before long I dropped off copies of all my books at the Lift Bridge Book Shop in Brockport. Perhaps I can sell a few books there, and remember, most stores won’t sell your books if they aren’t on the premises. I have included a sample of Non Campus Mentis in the last chapter.
Little things can make a difference and you can’t despair despite all the el toro crappo thrown at you. Just make sure you wear a raincoat, or the clothes you plan to wear to the Gallagher concert. As bad as it seems, it might get worse, but don’t lose hope. More likely, your perseverance will eventually reap dividends.
Don’t give up even if you think something isn’t working. In my cookbook, I describe what to do if a recipe fails. Despite the humor in the book, these suggestions are serious. You have a few options. You can say sayonara and never make that dish again or you can try to make it work, by incorporating some changes. This applies even to recipes that aren’t Japanese. You can use this same advice when failure rears its ugly head in your endeavors. If you are a writer, you have to try and try again. From this chapter, you should be convinced that as something is happening, you may not see the significance for some time, maybe even years. It could even pay dividends. Even if something may not appear to work at the time, it just could have an influence on book sales somewhere in the future. The next chapter relates one thing I didn’t try but another that I did. 16. When do you two get involved in this?
The significance of this title will be clear in chapter 20. It’s really only part of a quote but what it emphasizes is the fact that we can’t do it alone. We need to talk to others and I hate the word but will use it: network. There are resources out there, so take advantage of all you can.
Other than my classes in English in high school and in college, I have had no formal training in writing. I described my journalistic jaunts for the high school paper and later, the writing of required boring papers, but that was the extent of it. Of course, in my involvement in the business world with computers, I did do some documentation of systems so I needed some writing skills. Somehow I feel that writing classes can be helpful but there are many successful authors who never enrolled in these sessions. Simultaneously, there are people who took writing courses but are struggling in their careers as writers.
To be successful, there’s no magic formula, whether you are a writer, actor, sculptor, painter or musician. Not long ago someone recommended the movie, The Basket. I saw it at the library in January 2006, so I withdrew it and viewed the DVD at home. It was made at the end of the twentieth century so it’s not that new and I don’t know who told me about the flick, but they were right. I really enjoyed it.
I liked it even more when I viewed the special features, which I usually do for any movie I see on DVD. The discussion by the people who brought their idea to the screen indicated that they had no movie experience before they did the film. Nevertheless, I thought they did an outstanding job and it just validates what I said about classes and experience when it comes to the arts.
Once my books were published, I joined a writers’ group, the Northside Writers. At the time I was living in East Aurora, a suburb south and east of Buffalo while the meetings were held at the Barnes & Noble in a suburb north of the city, As a result, I had about a half hour commute to get to the meetings, which were held twice a month on alternate Thursday evenings. My involvement with these people led to my membership in another writers’ group, The Authors Guild of Western New York. There’s a link on my web site with information about it. This connection has been very important to me.
In certain months with three Thursdays, the Northside Writers Group will meet for a third time at a restaurant over dinner. I made one of those rare nights where we ate and talked a bit about writing. In general, I did not care for the bi-monthly get-togethers because of the nature of the meeting. I will get into my reasons shortly. First, let me say that once I moved to a condo, which is less than five miles from the Barnes & Noble Store, I have yet to attend one of the sessions of this group.
The reasons I stopped going, when I could have attended because of the proximity of where I lived, had to do with the format. Anyone could bring in some of his or her writing, read it to the group and then the attendees would critique the writing. This would cover the entire two or three hours of the meeting. On a few occasions, the writer would pass out what he or she wrote and then the group would read silently. There were ground rules, such as the number of pages of writing being limited to about five pages; I am not sure what the exact count was. On one occasion, an author brought in a poem of two lines while other writers would pass out over ten pages of material, which I know was against the rules. In general, I didn’t care for these neverending pieces.
Had this procedure been limited to half the time and the rest for marketing ideas, I may have kept on attending. Another reason for being a no-show had to do with the idea of critiquing a chapter of a book. Without the entire manuscript, it might be a challenge to give an objective review of the work. If the offering was a short essay, it could still be vexing since reviewers in general are subjective. I don’t care for certain types of writing so I could never say anything positive about it. I may be able to offer comments about punctuation, spelling or grammar, but that really wasn’t the purpose of these evenings. And yet, we seemed to be doing just that on too many occasions.
This is what these get-togethers came down to: was the writing good, that is, would people read and enjoy it? Some I truly liked, mostly the short humorous essays by published authors in the group, my friends. Other stuff was too long and I couldn’t get interested in it or the material was offensive to me. In either case, I couldn’t make an objective statement about what had been read.
I never brought in any of what I had written for criticism. However, the group did publish a collection of the members’ stuff, once a year, so I submitted an essay on “passwords,” as in the unlimited number that each of us needs to remember to use the Internet, for email and bank access, to name only three. That’s only the tip of the iceberg, the place where all passwords should be sent. The short piece was actually a part of a chapter in one of my published books, Tick Tock, Don’t Stop, which had already been scrutinized by an editor. Well, the person who looked at it really had a few things to say about it, none of it favorable. I simply ignored him and never bothered to correct it the way he wanted and decided I didn’t have to be a part of this coffee table publication. I don’t drink that much coffee. Maybe they should have put Kramer in charge.
I had a brainstorm and almost submitted a few pages of a book. It wouldn’t have been something I wrote but rather some semi-obscure work by a great author. I was just curious to see what this group would have said about this work of classic literature. I’m sure it would have been very interesting and I would never have to worry about ever going to one of those meetings again. Of course, maybe they would not have known that I didn’t write it and they would have torn the author apart, even though he was dead. I didn’t mention that this was group of cannibals.
Actually, I am somewhat of a critic insofar as I did add those web pages of books that I have read and recommend. It goes back about five or six years, but I don’t include just any book I get through. One requirement is I have to have read most of the book, like what I read and felt others might enjoy it. Those criteria are rather subjective but people who read a great deal recommend their favorite authors and the books that these critics talk about have appeal. I will discuss why people like a book and tell others about it shortly.
I have read an author and loved what he or she wrote and sometime later started to read a book by the same person and never got past the third page. However, if I enjoy one or two of a person’s books, I probably will read more. I tried to read a local author who is quite famous nationwide, and got to about page 75 and stopped reading there. The book seemed to me too much like a soap opera. I even started one of the classics and never finished it. I’m not crazy about Shakespeare and feel his books should have sub-titles! Still, what I point out just emphasizes the fact that best sellers are only that and not the “best” books that you will find to read. The only way to nudge these latter works to become better sellers is to spread the word about them to others.
17. But that would leave you with one
The significance of the title above has to do with show business and will be clear in chapter 20. Sometime before my first treatise on work came into print, I thought about using the lyrics from a song in the introduction. The first words you heard on the vocal were, “Tick tock, don’t stop,” they fit perfectly and were from Back Where We Started, a selection on the album Simply Said by Kenny Garrett. My CD collection is quite extensive and this particular song is by the fine jazz saxophonist, with whose music you may be familiar. However, before I could use it, I needed to get permission.
At first I thought that wouldn’t be hard as the CD had a web site listed, a good starting point. Maybe if I could have been in direct contact with Mr. Garrett, I would have had less difficulty. As it turned out, I had to deal with his agent / manager. I did talk to him and even sent part of the manuscript to show what my intentions were. I did what I had to do and waited. I called, left messages and waited, and eventually, I decided that I wanted the book published before the end of 2003. I concluded I had two options: either use the lyrics without getting approval or don’t use the words of the song. I chose the latter option.
That’s why you won’t find either Kenny Garrett’s name or the words of Back Where We Started anywhere in the book. This was my first encounter with a star in the entertainment business. Eventually, I did send the saxophonist a copy of the book. At the time, I didn’t realize that this attempt at contacting a famous person would not be my last.
You’d think that people would learn from experience, but sometimes we try with the hope that something might happen. In early 2005, when I was getting my work on temporary brain tumors ready for publication, I had an idea. Why not contact some famous comedians and political satirists and ask if they would like to review my book before it was published. If so, and if the words were favorable, I could include them on the back cover. You can’t say enough good things about a book.
Some comics have web sites and you can contact them, or at least try. I also found a web site that had the addresses of the stars. So, I sent a few sample pages of the book as a query along with a complementary copy of my cookbook, so they could get an idea of my writing. I got a few responses, but not many. However, no one chose to review the manuscript, mostly because of contractual obligations. It appeared that most of the correspondence I received was written by an assistant of the celebrity. One reply resulted in everything being returned to me, but there was a line saying that the manuscript was being forwarded to the appropriate person. I couldn’t figure out how these pages could have been sent to someone else since I didn’t send a manuscript and what I sent was returned.
When the book came out in June, I managed to send each of the same people a copy. I could only hope that some secretary to a celebrity would open the book and read it, die laughing and eventually someone would figure out the cause. I wouldn’t get sued and would have some exposure. So far, I have not heard from anyone indicating that they have read the book. I did receive a nice note from Bob Newhart, thanking me for what I had sent.
Newhart originally was an accountant who later found his niche as a great comedian. He was not flamboyant like other comics but very observant and his style of comedy was innovative and hysterical. His albums, one of which is The Button-down Mind of Bob Newhart, feature skits where the listener only hears half of a telephone conversation. That is more than enough to generate laughs galore. One of his pieces involved a conversation with a boss and his subordinate, who found a “shell” on the beach. All you heard was the conversation of the former person, who said, “Oh, it’s not that kind of shell – it’s ticking. Well, as long as it keeps doing so, you’ll be all right.”
Bob Newhart was special and separate from many of the people in the business and I highly recommend another book with a great title, I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!: And Other Things that Strike Me as Funny, which he wrote not long ago. Getting back to the stars, I realize that these people have busy schedules and probably get so much mail and books sent to them that they need to hire someone to keep up with all of it. I also respect their privacy, something that the press doesn’t do in many cases. There is always the possibility that one of these stars will actually open the book, read it and tell others about it.
I should add that as much as possible, I do keep up with what the different comics and satirists are doing. In 2007 I observed that some of these individuals may have read my book on missing intelligence. One took a bit and tweaked it for his comedy act – which I caught on one of the late shows – and another used at least two pieces from the book in a movie he did. In the latter case, this turned out to be the individual who returned the material I sent initially, including my cookbook, but not for seeing eye dogs only. I thought that was unusual, but of course, some of this material that I used in my book had been circulating on the WEB, so maybe I’m rushing to judgment. I had to pass this along, anyway.
I have been in contact with other authors through email but none as famous as Anne Rice or John Updike. If I read a book and it impresses me, I may send out a note, provided there is a way to contact that writer. On a few occasions, there has been a response. These people may be good writers, but celebrity status has yet to hit them.
I did have the pleasure of meeting Mark Twain in the fall of 2005. And you thought he was dead. Actually, the person I met after the show is a local weatherman who has been impersonating Samuel Clemens for many years. He does a great job. I will get into more detail later in the book about his show. I did send him a copy of for seeing eye dogs only and he really liked it. In fact, you can find his four cents about the book on my web site. Think inflation and the fact that weathermen don’t get paid much.
I didn’t mention that not too long ago I began to do underwriting for WBFO-FM, the NPR station of the University at Buffalo. Everyone who has heard of Terry Gross knows the station as well as the school. Mike McKay, the person whom I got to know in this endeavor, also read the book, took it on a family camping trip and he and his family had a few laughs. His comments are on my web site as well.
When the book was released in June 2005, Mike suggested I drop off a copy with a local comedian who also hosts a morning show on one of the local radio stations. I delivered it personally after talking to him on the phone but he seemed to be in a class with all the other Hollywood Hermits, even though I know he lives neither on the West Coast nor in a cave. I have yet to hear from him. I’m not holding my breath.
The remainder of this book is the basis for my presentation on “writing humor” on the evening of November 4, 2005 at Gusto at the Gallery, which I didn’t exactly give. Much of it can also be found by clicking on “writing humor” once you go to the home page of my web site. Of course, you may find a few mistakes there.
18. Laughter is the best medicine
The title above is the beginning of my quote, which can be found on the dedication page of my 2005 book. The complete quote is Laughter is the best medicine and it’s available even if you don’t have health insurance.
I won’t tell you what else is on that page but the book title is intentionally not capitalized. I didn’t come up with the idea; the gentleman who designed my cover did. I like the lower case letters! If you haven’t read the book, it’s a humorous look at missing intelligence, just what we all need to get away from this crazy world with all its problems. Please don’t read it after surgery. Wait until the stitches are removed. I don’t want to be liable.
Laughing is really important for good health, and it can be a lifesaver. The more you laugh, the less stress you will have. It can also prevent heart attacks, stomach disorders and help lower your blood pressure. It can even help you heal better after surgery. It costs nothing but can be the cure that you need.
You can improve your life and your sense of humor in numerous ways. I was driving home from a conference in 2005, when I thought about a couple, Dan and Norie Freedman, with whom I had the pleasure of studying while at the State University of New York at Binghamton. We enjoyed quite a few dinners together but many laughs as well. There were times when we were laughing so hard we were crying. That’s the kind of time we should all engage in, as it really will prolong our lives.
I sent Dan a copy of my 2005 book and he enjoyed it immensely. He’s the kind of guy with whom you should associate. You’ll live longer in the company of people with a sense of humor, and Dan just so happens to be in that class. His wife died in the late 1980s of a brain tumor, but I’m sure she approves of all my books, as do Patty and Abbie, to whom I dedicated that book.
Hanging out with people who have a sense of humor can only benefit you and embellish your sense of humor. Even if your friends are not blessed with this comedic gift, you can have an effect on them and spread the laughter around. As it makes its way to them, they will in turn make you chuckle as well. There’s not a thing wrong with that.
Besides good health, humor plays another role. As a writer, your mission is keep readers turning the pages. That’s how you get to sell books. You have two interrelated goals as a writer. The first is to have readers pick up your book and the second is to entice them to not put it down until they have finished it – of course, I’d prefer that they paid for the book, but not necessarily the list price. If they start at 11 pm, finish it, miss work the next day and are subsequently fired from their job, that’s not your problem. You have succeeded as a writer.
You can certainly have readers in your grip if you write suspense or intrigue. That may not be easy if you write non-fiction, unless you are writing exposes. Most of the books I read are non-fiction and in many instances I keep reading. Suspense and humor may have something to do with it. One piece of non-fiction I read not too long ago was Lab 257 by Michael Christopher Carroll, the disturbing story of the government’s secret Plum Island laboratory. And you thought that Nelson DeMille’s Plum Island was all fiction!
Even more recently, I read The Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah, a journalist’s extraordinary journey to find her home in Afghanistan. You’ll find it difficult to put either book down, once you begin them, and they are both non-fiction. My web site mentions a few other books that fit into this same category, so check them out.
A few other topics sell books, such as trashiness, eroticism, conflict – which includes war – food, politics, suffering, music and hope. If you are a writer, you may not want to lower yourself to some of these categories, just to make a sale. I know, I won’t. I have certain standards. Unfortunately, these are some of the books that people buy.
Humor added to any book can achieve the same result. It may even give you an added advantage in your novel. As you read one book after another, you will notice that without exception, the good writing is such because of the humor present. Besides this edge, laughter can accomplish something else that is very important.
While studying for my degree in Computer Science at the School of Advanced Technology at Binghamton University, I had a professor who was unforgettable. His name escapes me but he lived in the City of New York and commuted to Binghamton each week, arriving on Monday or Tuesday and returning home at the end of each week. Usually he flew, but occasionally he drove. Besides his involvement in the computer science program, he was also the director of the symphony orchestra at the university. I went to a few of those performances and he was as good a conductor as he was an instructor.
He taught us logic, and on the day we met him, he announced that his class would not have a final exam, mid term, tests of any kind or papers. There would be rare homework assignments, which would be mostly reading. This sounded like a class for me!
He said we could smoke in class, cigarettes or otherwise. I believe snuff was allowed too. He didn’t say anything about beer or moonshine in the classroom, though. I don’t think the Attorney General heard about this class. Nevertheless, as you can tell from my short narrative, he was so interesting a person that I didn’t want to miss any of his classes. I’m sure a few other students felt the same. He was entertaining but we learned as well and weren’t burdened by testing. I really do remember his name but I didn’t include it because I want to protect his identity – I’m sure you’ve heard of the Patriot Act.
Education is best achieved by making it enjoyable. Adding humor not only helps, it is more effective. Just consider two books dealing with gambling. The first is a cut and dry self-help book about that topic. The same book done with a comedic tone will probably attract more attention. Even if both books are equally read, the latter will be a better teacher because the reader will remember what he read because of the tone of the book. Even a month or two later, one reader will probably forget most if not all he read while the other, who was showered with a few laughs, will have the lesson in his mind for a long time afterwards.
My cookbook mentions my first attempt at baking bread. I saw the recipe in The James Beard Cookbook. All good cookbooks start with the word, “The.” This was the first cookbook I had and though it’s showing its age, I recommend it very highly. Anyway, I decided to make Cuban bread. It didn’t come out the way I had planned. Well, it was a success if you are into creating paperweights. The problem was that I burned the yeast, and that means the dough won’t rise.
When you “proof” the yeast, or dissolve it in water or milk, make sure the liquid is not too warm. It can’t be hot and should be a bit cooler than tepid. If the liquid is barely warm or cool for that matter, the yeast will do its job. I failed in this respect, created the blob and learned a good lesson. Whatever, you do, don’t burn the yeast! Also, yeast from the 19th century probably won’t work.
In my book, I could have merely mentioned this warning, but it may not have really registered with the reader. Had they attempted to bake bread, they may have encountered the same difficulty. The experience I related not only generated a chuckle on the part of the reader, it almost assured that a paperweight wouldn’t be created if this person decided to make a loaf or two of bread. This reinforcement of knowledge has to do with the power of association.
Humor can be a powerful tool no matter what the subject matter. You can even apply this principle to a subject like nucular physics. I spelled it that way on purpose to get a laugh and see if you were paying attention. But seriously, you and I probably would read neither book on this subject – one with humor and one without – as we probably wouldn’t understand the jokes in the one book. They’d really be “out there.”
19. My English ain’t the best
Spellchecker won’t be very happy with the title of this chapter. I could care less! I had the pleasure of working with Harry McLaughlin at Mahwah Jr.-Sr. High School in New Jersey in the late 1960s. He was a down to earth person who cared about the students and I’m sure was an exemplary teacher. I never observed his classes so I really don’t know, but you can tell from knowing a person. I am grateful to him for having me over for a delicious dinner that I believe his wife cooked. The title of the chapter is one of his quotes.
Math teachers don’t need to be able to speak perfect English. Thus I was off the hook while I taught and while I consulted. Matters changed when I got involved in writing. From that point on, I had to proofread carefully to see if I any words out. I learned that prepositions are not words to end sentences with. And don’t start a sentence with a conjunction. Also, always avoid annoying alliteration.
No matter who you are, you need a sense of humor. It just differs from one person to the next. I hope I have convinced you that humor is a part of everyone, but one very important characteristic is also needed. I will get into that shortly. There are various types of humor, as Chris may have a warped sense while Pat is a political satirist when it comes to comedy. Rene may throw out lines that are gross and disgusting but they still might be funny despite the shallowness. None of us was born with a sense of humor. A baby entering this world may have a smile on his face but he won’t laugh at Uncle Bubba’s jokes since he won’t understand them. Time will change that though.
If you are a writer or wish to be one, you will soon discover that what you write reflects who you are. If you write a novel about the CIA, you probably won’t do too good a job unless you have spent some time with the bureau or did a great deal of reading. Basically, you write what you are.
You really produce what you know or at least what you research. Thus if each of us has a sense of humor and our writing reflects our own lives, there’s bound to be some laughs in what we put into our books. There’s just no escaping that.
Hence, much of what is required to be successful applies to anything that we write. It can be humorous or not but remember, without a few laughs, your book will be ordinary and humdrum. People may not want to read it. You get an edge by using your ability to entertain when you can.
Earlier I mentioned another characteristic was needed, and that happens to be brainpower. There’s a definite correlation between intelligence and being able to see the humor in a situation. Recall the newborn baby already discussed and you should be convinced. I hope you caught that spelling mistake in the last chapter. Hint: the word should be nuclear. Spellchecker would probably have picked it up. That may not be true in a few years, as it will be an acceptable word. Oh, the power of politicians! Speaking of which, there are a few programs on the Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) network that you may have seen: Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes. Each covers news and political matters of the world, with special emphasis on Canada. If you have no knowledge of the politics of that country, you certainly won’t laugh that much at either program. Fortunately, the United States is not spared so you’ll get a few chuckles. Nevertheless, the more you know, the more you’ll laugh. I will describe how to advance your sense of humor in the next chapter.
One thing you will need is to keep up the good work in your writing. It won’t be easy but eventually you will be rewarded for your efforts. I dealt with an agent for some time until I got my first book published. Even when she had six of my manuscripts and there was interest by publishers, she was very positive that my persistence would soon lead to success. Her recommendation was something I will pass on to you.
Actually, it’s more of a demand. If you want to be a writer, you need to spend fifteen minutes each day writing. This does not include thinking about what you will write or marketing your books, although each is something that has to be done. It really isn’t much to ask – it’s not as easy as it sounds, even if you are retired – and I will have some suggestions later to make sure you are diligent in this task.
There will be plenty of pitfalls and at times you will be disappointed and dejected. Throw them aside and continue writing. Don’t get too upset and disgruntled when people don’t answer your emails or phone calls. It’s going to happen. You may recall the rejection letters I received as well as the lack of responses when I queried about my cookbook. On many occasions, you will get disgusted and not know what to do next. The hardest part may be deciding when to give up on an idea and try another. You will have to decide when to keep trying to reach someone without annoying them, losing all chances of success with them.
I was faced with just this dilemma not too long ago. I mentioned the email address of Sue LoTempio of the Buffalo News that I almost deleted and my later involvement with Gusto at the Gallery. I didn’t mention that I sent my blurb on Writing Humor to a few magazines for publication. If they published them, they never let me know.
I have already pointed out the value of being able to laugh. As an author, you will need this no matter what you write, fiction or non-fiction. However, because of what I pointed out earlier about perseverance, it will be a requisite for your sanity and good health. Your dealings with publishers, book stores, distributors, reviewers and even other writers will demand it. You will get along better if you can laugh at some of the absurdities and lunacies in the business. Since you have a full time job, you probably will agree that humor in that situation will be beneficial as well.
No matter what you write, you need to read as many books as possible, and don’t limit yourself to non-fiction even if you only write self-help books. You can read the newspaper but you won’t find as much truth there as in most books. You need not go to Borders or Barnes and Noble and actually purchase books to take home. I’m not suggesting that you use a five-finger discount, since I don’t want to bail you out of the slammer. However, if you haven’t read Five Finger Discount by Helene Stapinski, I recommend it for a few laughs. It’s an entertaining and at times, hysterical biography of the maturing of a journalist from New Jersey. I try to view any movie or read any book that comes out by or about writers.
To find some of the books I mentioned, head off to the library for your reading pleasure. Grab as many as you can and if you can only carry three or four, bring a bag to put them in. Not long ago I gathered six books, a DVD and three CDs from the library and realized I should have brought something to carry it in. By picking up seven books, you won’t have to worry if you begin reading one and don’t like it. Start another. If you had bought the books, you would have spent a great deal of money and gotten a book that you would never finish. Also, you won’t have to buy more bookshelves if you only borrow reading material.
The more books you read, the more you will know. Think back to that intelligence / sense of humor correlation. Reading will provide what you need as an author. Read books by Rita Rudner, Steve Martin, Mark Twain and Jim Hightower, a sample of whose writing I have included in the last chapter of the book. I suggest picking up any book that looks interesting. You may be attracted by the title, so turn the book over and read the back cover. That will give you a good indication if you might like it. This process works for me so I use it to find books, usually going to the new nonfiction section at the library, in addition to my list of book titles and authors that I keep updated.
You can’t read too many books, as you’ll gain a lot of knowledge even if you aren’t doing research for what you are writing. The more you read the more your writing will improve. Accuracy and creating a top-notch product is one of your goals as a writer. Along the way, you’ll learn more and be entertained as well. You will know when you have read enough books on a topic because you will be sick of the subject.
I’ll again emphasize that you can read newspapers and magazines, but there’s more truth in books. I only buy a newspaper once a week on Sunday and even then I don’t read every word, but I do get material for books. From coverage of recent events as well as from the distant past at such renowned papers as the New York Times and The Washington Post, you can see why I feel that way in this regard. And they’re supposed to be the best!
To be successful as a writer, you must be able to accept rejection. There have been numerous writers who were turned down by many publishers but they still wound up selling thousands of copies of their book. Don’t despair but have a positive attitude with a great deal of hope. Remember that artists always have difficult times with their craft, whether they are musicians, painters or writers.
A good example of this is the first book of mine that was published. My agent pedaled the manuscript to various publishers and there were even a few that expressed some interest. However, it didn’t get into print until I took the initiative to have it self-published. If you don’t think that book has been a success even though it hasn’t sold many copies, check out the critics’ reviews as well as the words of the people who have read it on my web site. One reader, whom I have yet to meet, said, “I got a kick out of it – couldn’t put it down until I finished it.” This remark may be expected about a suspense novel, but she was talking about a cookbook! From her remarks and other reviews, you may even want to buy it. Her name is Monica so you know she can be trusted.
Don’t forget that the number of copies of a book sold doesn’t necessary translate into success. If your book sells a million copies, you may be rich, but that doesn’t mean you’ll be happy. From the way the publishing business is going today, you’ll probably have to compromise what you write to sell thousands of books. If you do, the book will no longer be what you intended. If you are an artist, I don’t think you should sell your soul to make it big.
Along with perseverance and dedication, you need to be aware of the fact that you won’t be successful overnight. It will take time and effort. You won’t be able to write just one book. If by chance you do only put out a single book and it sells a million copies, you will have to write more because your fans and publisher will demand it. But you need not worry about that scenario since it won’t happen. Fortunately, with each book you produce, you will become a better writer.
I finished my first effort, a book about computer math in the spring of 1973. The first book of mine that was published in November 2002 was the cookbook, so it took a few years before I got published. It was the third book I wrote. Of course, I was working as a teacher, programmer analyst and software consultant during the time I wrote these books. Needless to say, I was patient and full of hope. As I mentioned, my agent wanted me to write about ten books over the course of ten years and I was definitely on target. She said if I was dedicated and continued what I was doing, I would be successful. Of course, she was right, although I’m sure she would have been happier if I had gotten published through her efforts, as she wasn’t my agent when my books came out.
If you are serious about your writing endeavors, I shouldn’t have to remind you of my suggestions about the television set. Learning how to program the VCR will give you more free time. TV management will be of a great benefit to you and to your family. Today, people buy wide screen televisions, flat screens and high definition models and the picture is perfectly clear. Unfortunately, what they are watching is still junk, except the images are more vivid.
Speaking of crap, limit yourself to one “reality” show if you must watch that garbage. Also limit your viewing of other programs such as the news and the weather. Watching the Weather Channel three times a day won’t prevent showers if they are on the way. It won’t give you much more information than if you had the set off all day. If you want to know what the weather is at the moment, look out you window.
I promised some suggestions about getting time to spend 15 minutes writing each day. Keeping the television off will give you more than enough time. Of course, you can still watch some programs. You need not stay tuned to Fox News or CNN. After all, you want the truth. All you will get there as well as from watching the network news and the “news shows” will be spin and a great deal of repetition. If you want the news, I suggest the News Hour on PBS as well as the program NOW with David Brancaccio, which I mentioned earlier. The former is on five days a week for one hour each day while NOW is only a half hour once a week. That time you can afford and you will be better informed.
If you haven’t seen Everybody Hates Chris, check it out. It’s the sitcom that appeared in late 2005 that Chris Rock developed and I find it hilarious and worthwhile. I mentioned Royal Canadian Air Farce and This Hour Has 22 Minutes earlier but you’ll have to learn a bit about politics across the border to our north to laugh at all the jokes. However, that knowledge won’t hurt you. You’ll also need to be able to get it on your cable station or live in Canada or close by.
I tried on a few occasions to watch Saturday Night Live recently but didn’t survive past forty minutes. You might find it entertaining, though. Back in the mid 70s when the show first came out, it was a lot funnier. It was comedy at its best and it wasn’t taped. I lived about forty miles north of New York City and tried to get tickets but they just weren’t available. Fortunately, I got passes to the dress rehearsal in the afternoon. That was better since we got home at a reasonable hour even after having dinner in New York. Also, we saw two hours worth of skits. The guest host was Steve Martin with Randy Newman and The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band as musical performers. All the original cast were on stage except for Chevy Chase, who had already departed the show. We saw Gilda Radnor, Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Garrett Morris, Larraine Newman and Jane Curtin. I don’t believe Bill Murray was part of the cast at that time.
I don’t recall many of the skits but I’m sure we saw Weekend Update. I can’t tell you what the news headlines covered. There was a piece with the two wild and crazy guys, naturally, and one with Aykroyd doing President Jimmy Carter. The skit began, and after a few minutes we heard a voice over the sound system saying, “Please stand by.” There was a hush and after about a minute, Aykroyd in his perfect imitation of the president said, “What the blank is going on?” Only he filled in the blank! That bit was on the show later but not the ad-lib that we saw in rehearsal.
Another performer who I used to watch on PBS is Mark Russell and his Comedy Special. Unfortunately it hasn’t been on for some time, unless he said something to annoy the Buffalo station and has been banned in his hometown. I’m sure Mark must have some great material, considering all that has been happening recently in Washington, D.C. as well as in the rest of the world. I also must recommend The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central.
I mentioned that I began serious writing while still working as a consultant. That illustrates another suggestion to not quit your day job. Unless you’re rich or retired, you will need bread on the table and a place to sleep. However, as I said earlier, if you want to be an author, you will need to be dedicated and do the fifteen minute thing. Do that every day, even on Sunday and don’t make excuses for not doing it, such as being tired. You’ll have to be dedicated and setting up a scheduled time during the day to do it may keep you on track.
By not altering your employment status, not only will you have food and shelter and be able to make the mortgage payments as well as car payments, you may also get more ideas for your next project. Heaven knows, I did from many years as a consultant. Managers and the business world give you an unlimited amount of material for your books. It comes with plenty of laughs so you should be able to actually sell what you write. Banks and the post office can provide material and laughs as well. Just be leery of lawsuits!
The next suggestion is for you and others that you hold dear. Don’t divorce your wife. If you’re not married, you won’t have this worry but you still have a family and friends. It’s a good idea not to lose any of these, as you need a support system. Beside, you can’t spend all your hours writing nor do you have to. Keep a balance between work, play, family and writing. It will have to be a part time thing but you can still succeed at it. This could be the reason why it took me almost thirty years to get published. However, once the initial book comes out, the others will be easier. 20. Voodoo acupuncture
By reading as much as you can, you can develop a great sense of humor. First, you will have more knowledge and intelligence. As I mentioned, without brainpower, you won’t laugh at the jokes because you just won’t get them. Second, your reading will fill you with ideas and laughs from various writers. You can do other stuff as well.
Getting out to see stand-up comics could be a good diversion and give you a few laughs. Unfortunately, you might have to put up with some true amateurs and it could be boring. I have been to a few of these venues and had the pleasure of seeing Pat Paulsen at one of these clubs a few years ago. He was worth the price of admission and he was just as funny as he was when he appeared on the Smothers Comedy Brothers Hour. For those not familiar with that program, the juxtaposition in the title is not an error.
You may remember Paulsen’s skit with the oil well. If not, or as a refresher, he pointed to it as the resourcefulness of this country. The oil symbolized the huge profits that the corporations made and the people, well they got the shaft. I still think he would have made a better president than we have now, even though he died years ago.
You can also get a few laughs by watching some good movies. You may want to stay away from the Terminator and Lethal Weapon movies despite the fact that there is some humor in them. Personally I don’t think putting up with the violence and explosions is worth waiting for the laughs, which are few and far between. There are many movies that should make you laugh and which are more entertaining. Some of my favorites are The Milagro Beanfield War, Local Hero, National Lampoon’s Vacation and Funny Farm. I’m sure you have your favorites as well.
If you haven’t seen the 1983 movie, Never Cry Wolf, I’m sure you will like it and tell others. It’s a great adventure movie with a few laughs. After you watch it, pick up the book of the same name by Farley Mowat. I also suggest anything else he wrote, especially Born Naked, the story of his youth.
Some flicks may not be all that humorous but there may be one line that you can never forget. In the 1995 movie, Forget Paris, I roared when Mickey, played by Billy Crystal, is arguing with his wife Ellen, played by Debra Winger, in front of two silent marriage counselors. In disgust he utters, “When do you two get involved in this, when there’s gunplay?”
Another classic moment comes in the 1981 movie Arthur when the inebriated Dudley Moore character is in a restaurant with his fiancé, played by Jill Eikenberry. She asks him to take her hand and he replies, “But that would leave you with one!” The punch lines to the titles of chapters 16 and 17 have now been revealed.
In April 2005, I had the pleasure of seeing the Smothers Brothers in concert at the Fallsview Casino in Niagara Falls, Ontario. Their show was a bundle of laughs and my only complaint was that the show was too short. Of course, they are getting up in age, but aren’t we all? They needed their beauty rest. I had seen them back in the late 1960s at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo.
This recent performance reminded me of the CBS show they did in the 1960s, to which I alluded earlier. I watched it religiously. It was on Sunday, wasn’t it? The only thing that disappointed me was that the show flew by. You would be sitting in front of the TV enjoying it when either Dick or Tom would say, “Well, that’s our show for this week.” I couldn’t believe an hour had already passed. Of course, that illustrated that it was a topnotch event.
They were bounced from the station because of their political commentary. They were censored and you can watch the DVD about their adventures, Smothered, an appropriate title. I do remember one incident when they needed to say BS, and this doesn’t refer to a bachelor of science degree. But they couldn’t utter it because of censorship. Instead they used the more hilarious phrase, el toro crappo, which I have used before in this book. I’m not sure if there are two ‘p’s in that last word! I don’t think this use of those three words happened on one of the shows in the 1960s but rather on a special many years later.
This replacement of words by the Smothers Guys was pure genius. First, they got their point across; it got on the air, past the censors. Over and above that, I thought their choice was worth a great deal more laughs than the alternative. Chris Rock got into George Carlin’s seven words you can’t say on television on Everybody Hates Chris without uttering them. You can do the same as a writer, whenever humor is intended. Rather than spouting obscenities, of which I don’t approve, since they show immaturity, do what these comics did. It shows a great deal of class and sophistication.
For example, to your book you could add a classic limerick about a guy who lived in Nantucket. It might be funny, but it’s off-color. On the other hand by just mentioning the idea as I have done here, you probably will get many more laughs. Your mother won’t get upset either, although she may ask you what you meant. I can’t help you there so make up a PG limerick!
Be creative. You can mention a famous clean punch line, without telling the entire raunchy joke and get tons of laughs. Of course, people need to know the joke. There are plenty of opportunities for humor, so use your brain and you will succeed.
More recently I had the pleasure of seeing Mike Randall, the meteorologist of Channel 7 WKBW-TV in Buffalo in his presentation of Mark Twain Tonight, which I mentioned earlier. He does an excellent job and all those present had some great laughs. I find reading Mark Twain rather difficult, but that evening was worthwhile, as Mike did the translating and I recommend it very highly. Even though he repeats pieces of shows from one performance to the next, I probably will see him on stage again.
I mentioned seeing Gallagher at Melody Fair earlier in Buffalo with his “Sledge-o-matic.” If you like people who smash watermelons with sledgehammers, you’ll like his show. Just don’t wear your Sunday best. It was a worthwhile evening but weird and I only got a bit of Ragu sauce on me. Nonetheless, I really prefer his intellectual, humor. He gets into some great insights and funny observations about the world around us. Fortunately, his show had some of those bits thrown in along with the splattering of food products.
The performance was filled with suspense and you may have been wondering about the significance of the title of chapter 6, so many pages ago. It’s not quite complete and comes from the comic mind of this same comedian. It was on a favorite cassette that I no longer possess, and it goes, “How can I be overdrawn? I still have checks.” He didn’t bring this line up on that particular show.
About a year or two after that, I was in the audience at the Erie County Fair in Hamburg for Carrot Top. He is another prop comedian with an ingenious sense of humor. My sister, niece and I were thoroughly entertained that night. If you get a chance to see him in action, don’t hesitate. You can wear good clothes. He won’t slime you.
You don’t have to pay for a ticket as you can see comedians on television as well. The Comedy Channel has movies and almost endless comedy but don’t forget your wife and kids. You’ll become a zombie if you spend all day viewing that station. However, if you get it in your home, you can tune in every so often.
The CBC has an hour of standup comedy weekly and you may get to see some funny people. At times though, the comics resort to bathroom humor and you may not want to put up with that for an hour. One of my favorites that you may catch from time to time on different comedy specials is Russell Peters. He is Canadian and his parents hail from India. Consequently, he can sound like an American or an Indian. Because of this, he can be quite funny. His great insight only adds to the hilarity.
You can also listen to comedians on CD or view them on DVD. Besides the already mentioned people of humor, some of my favorites include Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Wright, David Letterman, Henny Youngman, Rodney Dangerfield and Eddie Murphy. I don’t collect comedy CDs in general, but I do have some instances of humor in song by various artists in my collection of music. I had a collection of great humor on that cassette I mentioned earlier, but made the mistake of not copying it before letting someone else listen to it. I never did get it back.
The comedy on that medium included some great lines of Carlin, including his news headlines. One was
Terrorists blow up South America…leave a note.
Probably my favorite was
Off-duty cop shot by on-duty criminal.
Another of his headlines went something like this:
In Chicago, police arrested a one-armed man in the park today for bothering others by continually rowing in a circle.
I know, that’s sick but it’s funny. There were a few more humorous, memorable lines of his. One you’ll find in my cookbook. Besides his outrageous humor, the tape had a ton of hilarious stuff from the brilliant mind of Steven Wright. One of his offerings that was on that cassette goes something like this:
A friend of mine does voodoo acupuncture. You don’t have to go. You’ll be walking down the street and then realize that it feels so much better.
Somehow I feel Steven Wright would be proud of me for the last chapter of for seeing eye dogs only, which is modeled on his creations. I have included a sample from that book in the last chapter here, and there’ll be more insane, dumb questions in the sequels. You’ll have to catch his act in person or on television.
The cassette also had material from Letterman’s Top Ten List and some other humor as well. I found a book at the library on that renowned list. One had to do with the top ten things you heard at the Panamanian elections. The words that follow weren’t number one but they were high on my list:
With 150% of the vote in, the government is ready to declare a winner.
A puppet government…the kids will love that.
The never to be recovered cassette had some miscellaneous thoughts by other comics, while the major part was monopolized by the Smothers Brothers, simultaneously featuring their wonderful voices. That is the part that I miss most and just recently I bought one of their CDs, which has most of what was found on that cassette.
Besides some of the comics I already mentioned, I also saw Johnny Carson in Las Vegas. He had me laughing. You may recall my friend who suggested we head over to Nestle Foods. A few months before that, we had the pleasure of stopping at Rodney Dangerfield’s Night Club in New York City one evening. We saw the master at his craft and he didn’t disappoint the crowd. I don’t remember any of his act, but I do have a few favorites. I include them here for your amusement.
I get no respect. I wanted to go ice-skating. My father said, “Why don’t you wait until it gets warmer.”
My wife’s cooking is so bad the flies chipped in to fix the holes in the screen in the kitchen.
The comedian Steven Wright completed the above title with the words, “I can’t read music so I don’t know what it is.” I wish I had written that line, and one thing I don’t write is music, but here goes anyway.
Woke up this morning,
My idea is dead,
Technology came down
And stomped on my head.
By the way, the Wright comment above was on that
cassette that I described in the previous chapter. Also on the tape were a few funny observations by Darryl Sivad, a comedian I saw on the Tonight Show and video-taped many years ago. He eventually went on to a short-lived sitcom on television and had small parts in a few movies, including the updated remake of the classic tale, A Cinderella Story.
In his act he was mentioning that there are very few blues Christmas songs, so he decided to write one. It was similar to the four lines above except that he used woman instead of idea, Santa’s reindeer instead of technology and her instead of the last my, thus composing a Christmas blues number.
Elvis sang Blue Christmas, which I think is a perfect title to describe what writers go through on too many days. Christmas is a happy, joyful and peaceful time but blue reflects sadness. An author may get some good news about one of his books but before long discovers that the opportunity for him has slipped by the wayside. In the course of a few hours, two contradictory emotions are felt. That is exactly what the content of this chapter will be. As you may guess, modern advances in technology will be part of the consideration.
You have already seen a few examples of just this scenario in the pages before this discussion. Unfortunately, there are many others. I’m not the first author to face this situation. You are at a party and talk comes up about your books. There’s great feedback and one or two individuals express interest in one of your babies, with a semi-promise of an email. However, as the weeks pass, you hear not a thing from any of these people, even though you passed out your business card, which had your web site listed.
I mentioned the book signing that resulted in the sale of a single copy. I didn’t tell of the people who dropped by to chat. They too said they would browse my site and were interested in purchasing one of my books. I mentioned that they could save the cost of postage by buying the book right at that moment. I never heard from them after that. On the brighter side, I was at a book signing and someone wanted to buy my cookbook but didn’t have cash. I gave the woman the book and told her to send me a check. She departed but before long she returned with enough money so she didn’t have to mail a check.
Just after Thanksgiving in 2007, I was at the Broadway Market Food Fair for a book signing and I talked to a young man who was interested in my books. He didn’t buy any that day, but took my card. Two weeks later he called and ordered the latest two books. I sent him the books and since the United States Post Office got involved, there will be more about this adventure in a future book of mine about temporary brain deficiencies. Sometimes people are sincere, as was this person but I have heard the same story before, without any sales.
I was at a party during the summer of 2005 and one gentleman asked where he could get a copy of my latest book. I mentioned that I could send him a copy or he could get one at Amazon as well as at a host of stores in the area. What I should have done was gone to my car and brought him a copy. I always carry books in my vehicle. I wonder what he would have done then. Better yet, I should have brought the entire bag with my books and set up a stand. I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have enough change.
Before my cookbook was published, I bought a copy of another writer’s novel and mentioned my forthcoming venture. He said that my book could make a great holiday gift and he would remember that. I did send him some reminders about the cookbook when it came out, but if he got copies, he certainly didn’t get them from me. Too often, all we seem to get is lip service. Granted, that part of the face is in the title of my book, but I would rather make a sale than be patronized.
Speaking of food, when you think of it, these instances might be considered “small potatoes.” It’s discouraging when an apparent sale doesn’t happen, but there are worse things that can happen. You hear that a company is interested in your book and they have a hundred stores, but then no one ever contacts you again, even though you try to reach them. I related not one but two such disappointments with the republishing possibility of my cookbook and the National Park gift shops deal. Such is life!
Another writer, with whose work I am quite familiar, hit highs and lows when he was asked to ghost write a book. He spent quite a bit of time meeting the individual, transcribing notes from a cassette onto a word document to give a sample of what he could do for the project. I found out that his initial meeting seemed to go quite well and the ghost writee – that will be a word soon – appeared pleased with the get together and the idea seemed like a worthwhile one, even from a financial point of view
The writer informed me that the work seemed to be intended as a memoir for family members. His sample writing included some of his humorous style to help sell the book. Unfortunately, when the character being written about read the manuscript, which was just a beginning, the project came to an abrupt end. The writer was notified that the writing was incomplete – of course, it was, since it was nothing more than a start – and filled with errors. It couldn’t have had too many mistakes if it was basically a transcription of notes, based on the individual’s words.
The writer was disappointed but somewhat relieved. He didn’t feel like working with a partnering nazi – I use that term in a Seinfeld sense. The author felt that in this adventure a ghostwriter wasn’t what was needed but rather a ghost stenographer. Of course, you’d never know when this person left the room. He also thought that getting out at that time was like a woman leaving a relationship before the marriage, figuring that there would be some pain at first. However, it would be a great deal better than departing after the knot was tied.
There was something else that came up for discussion with this episode. Writing a biography may not be the best kind of book to write. I qualify that: you can write this type of book, but only about a deceased person or about yourself. Note that those two choices are mutually exclusive. If the person has living relatives, it won’t be as difficult in some respects, but it could have other headaches for that same reason.
Ghost writing and having to rely on the approval of others may not be difficult. They could be quite cooperative, but on the other hand, you might have to leave out the best parts of the book. This could be what really sells the book. Dealing with others could mean you’ll have to compromise your writing. There are some other ideas to remedy this dilemma that could work but they involve hit men and I’m not crazy about going to jail just to get a book in print. On occasion something sounds like it has great promise but turns out quite the opposite.
These ups and downs remind me of my days as a consultant. The last few years I was involved had me driving between 70 and 80 miles to Rochester for contracts. In the winter it can be quite a challenge but even in the other seasons, it will wear you down. I alleviated the problem by working a four-day week. I also stayed overnight either at a motel or at a friend’s apartment. That made a difference.
I worked from Monday to Thursday and as the end of the week approached, my disposition improved. By Thursday afternoon, I was in heaven. However, on Sunday evening, I couldn’t have been more down, thinking about the upcoming week. It was really bad because I had to rise on Monday morning at an ungodly hour. If I got up at 7, I wouldn’t be at my desk until 9 and this made for a really long day since I had to work ten hours. I put in forty-hour weeks, so do the math. Going to bed at ten on Sunday night is a drag but it allows you to rise at 5 the next morning – also a drag.
With writing and all the joys of working with publishers, book store and marketers, the emotions are exactly the opposite. You begin the week on a high with all your new ideas, hopes and dreams. Usually, it gets worse with each passing day. By Friday you say the hell with the rest of the week. Check and see what a new week brings. I do try to accomplish something on Friday and I even do stuff on Saturday, mostly writing, but there are some ends to the week when I just close down sooner then I should and figure the beginning of a new week is just around the corner.
I didn’t mention another pain in the Adam’s apple: technology. There used to be a saying, “If you really want to foul things up, buy a computer.” The Internet helps cause confusion and only makes things infinitely worse. I’m probably more critical because I have a degree in computer science. For those of you who design computers and software, I shouldn’t have to mention that it’s a science, not an art, even though the latter has its place.
Nonetheless, if you are a writer, it’s almost impossible to exist in the environment without using a computer, even if you didn’t design your own web site. You still need that word processor and, my favorite, email. I think it should be called, “ugh mail,” or maybe “eeee mail.” If you are an author, using a pen or pencil – or the word processor I had before someone pilfered it – probably won’t do. The world of technology has got us and I don’t have to mention where.
The “joke” about technology that you can find in a previous book and which I left out of this book, unfortunately is not funny, but right on the money. Who said I wasn’t a poet? The monopoly of technology by two monopolizing lightweights doesn’t help. What we all would relish – which would sell and undermine what we have today – is a user friendly computer that doesn’t crash and does what most people want without concerning itself with potentialities that no one will ever use. It would also help if some reasonable rules were set up and followed. For example, if an error just happened to occur, a meaningful message would result. Also, the machine you buy as well as the software should not have to be upgraded every few minutes. All right, I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get my point. Also, it shouldn’t have bugs when it is installed and when users report them to the manufacturer, they shouldn’t get charged for service to repair.
In the summer of 2005, my computer crashed. It was nothing major – the startup file was either missing or corrupt. Both choices sound like our government. In late December 2005, I finally got my PC back to where it had been before the disaster. I won’t bore you with all the details. Rather, you can find the full story in Press One for Pig Latin, a book I hope to have it published in 2008. The book is – what did you expect – my humorous treatise on the failure of one aspect of our lives, describing my adventures as well as relating what’s wrong with technology and what can be done to remedy the problem. There may not be enough intelligence in the industry to correct the problems they themselves create.
22. She criticized my brownstone
The correct response to the words above is, “So I knocked her flat.” That’s old but you’ll note that I updated it somewhat. One thing you shouldn’t do is try too hard to be funny in your writing. Don’t force the humor. As you write, you should have a good idea of what will fit in with the subject matter. For example, in my cookbook, I added some laughs without disrupting the cookbook. Each chapter ended with a joke, but it had something to do with food. Thus, it fit. In addition, I injected anecdotes that were entertaining but they were all culinary related. The comments all came from my experiences in the kitchen and each was meant to instruct so that the cook wouldn’t have to face what I went through in my trials over a hot stove.
If you wonder if I was successful in this endeavor, check out what the people say who bought the book. You also can find comments on my web site from those who read it but didn’t pay for it. Unfortunately, you have to spend money to make some and the writing business is no exception to that rule. Thomas Fortenberry of Midwest Book Review describes it as “a very highly recommended addition to any kitchen cookbook collection.” Lois Marie Gibbs of Love Canal fame and author of Love Canal: The Story Continues described it as “a great, funny cookbook.” I met her a few summers ago and recommend her book.
If you want to “write humor,” you must remember that as an author you need a subject to write about. The humor will come later, once you make that first decision about a topic. My 2005 work may be a humorous look at missing intelligence but it is first and foremost about the dumb things that people say and do. Fortunately, as you can see from some of the excerpts that I have included at the end of this book, they just happen to be funny.
That will be true no matter what you write. The second book I wrote but didn’t completely finish was also intended to be funny but it was about language, specifically English and all its expressions, clichés and sayings. In fact some of that book was incorporated into my 2005 book since it fit quite well and some more of it can be found in the sequel, Wake Up – It’s Time for Your Sleeping Pill, which I hope to have out in 2008. Nonetheless, anything that you write can be funny and entertaining but it needs to have a topic. You can’t laugh if you haven’t got something substantial to chuckle at. I know I shouldn’t end a sentence that way but what the heck!
One of the guys whom I sang with told me I should do stand-up humor. I think he was kidding but I have no intention to enter that venue. My apprehension about the work session on writing humor for Gusto at the Gallery should have convinced you that I’m not crazy about the stage. Thus I don’t make a habit of telling jokes and you shouldn’t sprout one-liners in your writing, either. They probably won’t work. Of course you may be able to squeeze in some laughter at an appropriate moment, provided it fits. To convey humor, you don’t need a punch line. Recall what I said about putting who you are into your book and you can see that conveying hilarity may actually come quite easily for you.
As great as humor is, sadly it can lead to the end of marriages. It really shouldn’t. If two people are relatively compatible but there is a wide discrepancy in their laughing habits and pun proliferation, these disparities could spell trouble. My only suggestion is that the humorist does all he or she can to not drive the spouse away. Above all, communicate and put yourself in your partner’s shoes.
One habit that I changed recently was asking for feedback. In some ways, you need it and some people won’t provide it unless they are poked and prodded. I no longer ask people what they think of my books. It really isn’t necessary and probably not a good idea for a couple reasons. First, people will tell you anyway without solicitation, so save your energy. You’ll need it for writing. This spontaneous response will have more value because it will be honest and forthright. It’s really what you want to hear anyway. High praise may be great but criticism will make you a better writer.
Second, if you ask someone for his thoughts, he may patronize you, not want to hurt your feelings and not really tell you what he thinks. Also, she may not even have read the book. In either case, the feedback won’t benefit you at all.
Even if someone is a professional reviewer, be patient and don’t ask if they are through with your book. They’ll let you know in good time. You won’t like to hear this but it takes quite a while to get back comments for your books, even if they are only 120 pages. I found that out with my first few books. However, getting a book or two reviewed means you have a connection to the critics.
If you ask people for comments because of marketing purposes, this poses a huge problem. If you send someone the book because you want it promoted, the recipient won’t be able to make any kind of decision unless she at least opens it. Of course, she can’t just stop there either. But that poses a dilemma. As I said, it’s a tough business.
23. “Are you experienced?”
Over the Christmas season of 2005, my friend Mark gave me a DVD of the greatest guitar player that ever lived. You’re obviously not into music if I have to tell you who that is, but the title of the chapter should give you a good clue. I’m talking about Jimi Hendrix, of course. After watching the DVD, I got a copy of the book, Hendrix: Setting The Record Straight by John McDermott and Eddie Kramer, no relation to the dude on Seinfeld.
The book was very informative but I found it a bit long. Considering the fact that Hendrix kept to himself, there was no need for the book to be that many pages. Though I recommend it, you have been forewarned. However, the title of the chapter reflects the question about what you need to become a writer. Do you have the credentials? From what I have written so far, you can see that there’s nothing mysterious about writing fiction or non-fiction. There’s no secret formula to success. There are some basic qualities that you will need, which I have already described.
Despite that abomination called s pellchecker, you still should know how to spell words and what they mean. For another thing, you need to put words together to form sentences. Even if you can do that, you have to successfully group them into paragraphs and the latter into the final product, a book. Of course, it has to be readable. You can write it, get it published and get good reviews but that still doesn’t mean people will buy it. If you’ve have gotten that far, you’re definitely a writer in my book, no pun intended.
Experience is the key. As I mentioned earlier, you won’t be able to succeed by writing only one book. As you write more and more, what you are doing will become easier, better and you will enjoy the process more. That’s true even if you don’t sell many books. Since there are so many books for sale, you will have endless competition. Don’t let that discourage you, though.
Being able to construct flowery passages may not be good enough. I have been told that you need to do that in writing a breakthrough novel. I’m not convinced of that. I recommend James Michener’s The Novel, which is gripping and confirmation that writing appears to have few, if any rules. Proof further was shown to me when another writer who read my novel added that I needed more sex in the book, it didn’t matter which kind. I think you can figure out what he meant. I listened to him and thanked him for his advice but I didn’t agree, although I didn’t relate that thought to him.
You can certainly have character development without an abundance of adjectives. Speaking of plenty of character, I met a gentleman at the writers’ conference who described his author adventures. He mentioned that all these characters were sneaking into his book and it became so long that he decided on a trilogy, splitting it up into three novels, each 500 pages. I don’t read many books over 500 pages and I can’t picture myself reading a novel of 1500 pages, or close to that length. From his description of the book, it sounded like a soap opera – excuse me, three soap operas. I thought his comment about “sneaking” was interesting as he was doing the writing. He should have locked his doors.
You need not have blood, guts, violence and mayhem in your book for it to be a success. Alfred Hitchcock was a master of the cinema and his movies usually had at least one murder – Mr. & Mrs. Smith didn’t – but he spared the audience the disgusting details. All right, there was one shower scene but even then he did the movie in black and white. He used tact and people flocked to his movies. You can do the same in your writing without trash and grossness. People will still buy and actually finish reading what you write.
One book I almost didn’t finish was Bushworld: Enter At Your Own Risk by Maureen Dowd. Unfortunately, we have no choice – that refers to the subtitle. The book is rather lengthy but because of the humor, I stuck with it and managed. It should upset you, inform you and make you laugh. As far as long novels go, I already mentioned Nelson DeMille’s Plum Island, but I also liked Word of Honor and Up Country. One of his more recent books, Night Fall – my favorite so far – is described as a page and a half turner, probably because of the laughs. It’s all about flight 800 that blew up in the summer of 1996 over the eastern shore of Long Island – or was it shot down? This Vietnam veteran is noted for long books, but they will keep you reading.
I’ll talk about a few other favorites of mine shortly who are top-notch. But how can you make the grade if there are no rules? Well, you need an edge or something that stands out above the rest. I bring up Gallagher once more, one of the few people with one name, because of what that giant wooden mallet did to his career, despite his brilliance as a comedian. Without it, he may never have achieved all the success he enjoyed. He had a gimmick and you certainly need one to be successful as a writer. You’ll have to come up with something other than “Sledge-o-matic” – it’s been reserved.
I mentioned reading as much as you can and once more I emphasize its importance. Besides bestowing intelligence on you and some sense of humor in many cases, you will see what works. If a reader puts your book down after ten pages, something is missing. On the other hand, if she is intrigued, gets to the last page without effort and wants to read another one of your books, you have found the answer. My web site lists a myriad of authors whom I have enjoyed reading. I read mostly non-fiction but I don’t limit myself and you shouldn’t either.
David McCullough has written some outstanding books about boring historical figures, such as Truman and John Adams, both very long. However, I finished each of these and you will too because his writing has something special. More recently I finished reading another of his fine works, 1776. Another historian that I believe you will enjoy is a friend of mine. John Marszalek is a distinguished professor at Mississippi State University, now retired but still writing. One of his latest efforts, Sherman’s March to the Sea, is a short treatise on the famous general and his point of view about how to end the Civil War. His early work, Assault At West Point was made into a Showtime movie and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the Petticoat Affair, a true story of a woman way ahead of her time. John grew up less than two miles from where I spent my childhood and we both graduated from Canisius College, although not the same class. Who said Pollacks can’t become authors?
The key point about writing is that you shouldn’t read a John Grisham or Stephen King novel and then copy what they wrote. Rather, see what they did that works and go from there. Be yourself. You are unique, you have a story to tell and you have a great deal of knowledge about many things. Use that to your advantage. Taking courses might help you become a writer, but it might not. Not everyone wants to or can become a writer. Even the strong desire and dedication to be one won’t guarantee that you will make it. As I have stressed, there is no magic formula for success. The various styles and works of writers prove that. However, once you get in the groove, you’ll have your niche and should be on your way.
24. Smile…people will wonder what you’re up to
I changed the last title somewhat. Originally it was going to be, “Smile…it increases your face value.” That would have been very appropriate, considering what it is about, but I think Jim Hightower, whose few words end the chapter, would have concurred with me on my choice. It has more of an agitator ring to it, which is what he encouraged me to do. I urge you to do the same when things aren’t right and could be better. However, I will leave those sentiments for another one of my upcoming books – into which I’ll inject some humor, so you’ll buy it.
Smile is the name of a song composed by one of the greatest comics of our time, Charlie Chaplin. It was written for the movie, Modern Times, which came out in 1936, in which he stars but doesn’t talk. It’s an outrageous comedy in black and white that was way ahead of its time. It illustrates the fact that you don’t need color and special effects to make a great movie. Heck, you don’t even have to hear the actors speak! A smile is the beginning of a laugh, which can lead to better health.
I thought I would close the book with a bit of humor. The last piece on “intelligent design” is by Jim Hightower and I have included his web site. Jim is a former politician turned advocate of the people. I recommend his books for a few reasons. First, he mentions the state of the economy and what the Bush administration has done in a few years to destroy all hope in the United States. Second, he offers optimism, and last but not least, in the process, you should get some really goods laughs, something we need because of what is happening in the world today.
I begin with a few excerpts from Non Campus Mentis, as promised, which as far as I can figure translates roughly into “No brains on campus!” My comments are in italics.************************************************* Hitler’s instrumentality of terror was the gespacho. I didn’t think he was Spanish or a gourmet! The Parthenonon was Pericles’ greatest erection. Cleopatra never complained. Rasputin was a pheasant by birth. His mother had a tough time in the delivery room. Marie Curie won the Noel Prize for inventing the radiator. It came in handy around the Christmas season!
The Civil Rights Movement turned around the corner with Martin Luther Junior’s famous, “If I Had a Hammer” speech. That’s how Peter, Paul and Mary got involved.St. Theresa of Avila was a caramelized nun. She should never have taken that job at Hershey’s. One of Rome’s early victories came against the Samsonites. The victims were prepared for travel.
The Prussian army would surprise young men by grabbing them in unfair places.
This was way before Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.
Margo Polo visited Kukla Kahn, who rained in China at the time.
Fran and Ollie were on vacation.
The three gods were “Good,” “Bad,” and “Indifferent.” These beliefs later resurfaced among the Manatees. They may have been from Atlantis.
The Book of Exodus describes amazing things that happened, including the Ten Commandments, various special effects, and the building of the Suez Canal. This was even before Cecil B. DeMille.
Arranged marriages required women to accept a kind of mate accompli.
Once chess was invented, it became checkmate accompli.
Augustus did have to leave the Roman Catholic Empire due to his death.
The Church was always very strict.
Castles became more elaborate with thick walls, moats and towers topped by a row of crustaceans.
There was a Red Lobster nearby.
During the Dark Ages, it was mostly dark. Bud Lite wasn’t around either.
During the Middle Ages everyone was middle aged.
If you disagreed with the church you were accused of hear say and treated to excommunication. An important example of this was the catheter movement in southern France. That’s the last movement I want to hear about.Dick Cavett was the first European to visit Newfoundland. I thought it was Shirley MacLaine. The Thirty Years War began with the Defecation of Prague. And you thought it was bad when the pigeons were overhead.
When not working in the church, Bach composed pieces on a spinster in his home.
The pastor had rules.
The airplane was invented and first flown by the Marx brothers.
They didn’t like taking the bus to their gigs.
Florence Nightingale was a singer who became involved with the American flag.
I wonder if she knew Carol King.
Ataturk required his people to catch up with modern times and therefore stop wearing turbines.
And he wondered why so many of them had headaches.
When things didn’t go as planned, Stalin used the peasants as escape goats.
I didn’t think he liked mutton.
The Allies landed near Italy’s toe and gradually advanced up her leg, where they hoped to find Musalini.
The following is a taste of my book, for seeing eye dogs only, which people have described as “very funny.” I hope what follows convinces you that those who raved about the book are justified in their comments. As far as the book goes, I should add that I changed the names of those involved as victims for a few reasons. You can read about three of my considerations for doing this in the introduction. One reason was I thought the names I created would make give you more laughs. Also, my comments follow in italics.*************************************************
Congress allocated $19 million to examine the amount of methane gas emitted from cow flatulence.
I don’t think the problem should be blamed on the cows.
The instruction “Do not use while sleeping,” can be found on a Sears’ hairdryer.
I was wondering why my hair looked so disgusting in the morning. All this time I thought my wife had something to do with it.
“Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands.”
For those of you single women, you can rummage for a mate.
Question in court: What gear were you in at the moment of impact?
Answer: Gucci sweats and Reeboks.
“I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.” – President Pas dePotatoes
And he wonders why his grocery bills are so high.
After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 mental patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Beltway had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the mental hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies. The deception wasn’t discovered for three days.
It would have taken longer than three days if the staff at the hospital were the passengers.
I live in a semi-rural area. We recently had a new neighbor call the local township administrative office to request the removal of the deer crossing sign on our road. The reason: too many deer were being hit by cars and he didn’t want them to cross there anymore.
It’s good to see that someone is concerned about wildlife!
Not long ago, some Boeing employees on the airfield decided to steal a life raft from one of the 747s. They were successful in getting it out of the plane and home. Shortly after they took it for a float on the river, they noticed a Coast Guard helicopter coming towards them. It turned out that the chopper was homing in on the emergency locator beacon that activated when the raft was inflated. These individuals are no longer employed at Boeing.
“Politics” is the phrase we use in this country to describe the process so well. In Latin, “poli” means “many” and “tics” is another name for bloodsucking creatures.
That word fits perfectly.
Moses led the Hebrews to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread without any ingredients. He went up Mount Cyanide to get the Ten Amendments. He died before he ever reached the UK. Then Joshua led the Hebrews in the Battle of Geritol.
The above is from the mouth of a child and not a congressman.
According to the Washington Post of June 6, 1996, Harry Numnutz, 19, and an alleged accomplice, were arrested in West Lafayette, Indiana the previous month on theft and fraud charges. Numnutz allegedly cashed checks that he had written with disappearing ink, apparently believing the checks would be blank by the time they were presented to the bank for collection. However, traces of ink remained and police said Numnutz would have had a better chance of getting away with his plan if he had not used pre-printed checks with his name and account number on them. He should have used stolen checks.
You’ve heard the expression, “He comes from a broken home.” I guess that’s what you get for living in San Francisco. One of the features of that house is a sunken living room, although yesterday it wasn’t. Talking about homes brings to mind real estate and the house on the lake with 3 bedrooms and 2 1/2 baths. Who are the people that need that 1/2 bath? Maybe it’s good if you get a visit from your half brother. Then again it may just be the result of a broken home.
I conclude with questions found in the final chapter.