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Welcome to the blog and site of Iowa Author Buzz Malone. I always enjoy hearing from readers. Please leave comments and send me emails to let me know what you think. Your opinions matter more than you might think. Your words inspire me more than you could ever know. To find out more about my writing and books, please click above on the book titles or email me at buzzdmalone@gmail.com

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Saturday, March 16, 2013

My Hard Luck Life

Some people don't believe in luck at all. Others tend to think that you make your own luck in this old world, and they are usually, not coincidentally, the ones who have usually received the most luck. Ask any billionaire, for instance, and they will tell you that it is their hard work and intelligence that got them there, and not the fact that they inherited $100 million to get them started, or that their grandfather's farm with the rundown barns happened to be sitting on the largest oil reserve on the continent. Trust me. You're not that smarter than everyone else. You're just really lucky.

This week, the old proverbial black cat crossed my path just about every time that I took a step. It all began early Monday morning when I got a call to go back to work (yeah, I do it too sometimes). It's nice because despite the tens of dollars that my book sales rake in, and the eighteen cents a quarter that I make off of this blog, I can always use a little extra (strike the word 'extra' as it implies that there is already some, and that more would be adding to it) dough. Still, money woes or not, a writer is always torn to walk away from works in progress for the real world. It isn't easy...especially when your job is in construction and the project is at a waste water treatment plant (smells exactly like you'd imagine...shitty).

But 'work' wasn't the only four letter word screwing up my week. the ABNA second round results were in on Tuesday, and my unpublished novel, LOSING MEADOW BROOK, was on the way to the quarter finals. I was hoping to make the next round only to get a full read on my newest work by professionals. I guess I'll have to get back to the drawing board on my own instead.

It wasn't a total loss, however, because I did get two reviews out of the deal from the judges. Reviews and what people think about my writing always perplex me somewhat. It's a different strokes for different folks world, this writing business, but when you read the two reviews of the partial, you'll see what I mean...

EXPERT REVIEWER #1

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

The writing is technically not bad and it is easy to read. The author would seem to be an able storyteller were it not for the story's lack of originality.

What aspect needs the most work?

The overuse of worn-out, cliched dialogue and blanket geriatric generalizations makes the prose static and dull.  While the composition itself is for the most part grammatically sound, it simply lacks any depth or verve to really pull the reader in. It was a slog for me to get through this excerpt; nothing compelled me to want to read further. I would also urge the author to find his own voice and be aware of the difference between emulation and imitation inasmuch as this piece is a derivative rehashing of the same old themes seen time and time again in books and film.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

This excerpt lost many points with me because it is derivative and lacks originality. It is an oft-told tale of cliched cantankerous geriatric patients following a cliched narrative arc.  I think the author should seize upon a new angle for both the story and the characters while ratcheting up the pace a few notches and adding a little spark to the inert characterizations. Otherwise the narrative is stuck in the predictable same old same old.

EXPERT REVIEWER #2

What is the strongest aspect of this excerpt?

I love the humor in this excerpt. Although nursing homes are not the most upbeat, cheery places, the residents in this home made me smile and chuckle a bit to myself. Walter, despite his inappropriateness, is very funny, and therefore, very likeable.

What aspect needs the most work?

Within this excerpt, I didn't find anything that was noteworthy needing editing. I enjoyed the comedy of this story, and am curious as to where the story will go.

What is your overall opinion of this excerpt?

I liked this story a lot. I also think that as Americans age, there are many people who can relate either from their own experience or that of a family member. 

A lot of people new to the writing game would have stopped reading after the first review and thrown themselves off the top of a tall building (or into a giant vat of human waste if you were working on a construction project at a waste treatment plant and had access to one). You have to be just a little twisted to make it though, and a little cock sure of yourself. It's a little ironic though, because even if the first reviewer was room temperature in their warmth, the second one would have pulled me through. Damn you, free will and individual preferences!


Here's the other thing. I have come to believe that the truest success a writer can experience is to make someone feel something. I made one of the reviewers smile, and I made the other one...well, inexplicably angry. Either way, it is a win, win. If you haven't made someone really angry yet, then you haven't written enough. Now, I gotta go do some laundry. All my clothes smell like old poop. So much for the luck o' the Irish.

Thanks for reading!

Buzz

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Respected Writer

Respect. Since the dawn of man, it has been a fundamentally sought after emotional element of every human being. As writers we have come to recognize that while certain iconic figures within our profession have risen to celebrity status, the rest of us are, generally speaking, mocked and ridiculed for our desire to write.

I had sort of come to expect, when I decided to officially call myself a writer (I thought it sounded better at cocktail parties than "unemployed"...I was mistaken), that certain members of society would frown upon my endeavors (particularly my creditors).


However, last year when an Amish gentleman came to our home to see about mending the roof, I knew that he would be far enough removed from society that he would not be aware of the usual stigmas and prejudices. I was, once again...mistaken. This really happened...

AMISH MAN: "So, what is it that you do for work?"

ME: "I am a writer."

AMISH MAN: "Oh. A rider!"  He says, nodding with respect, looking into our pasture at the assortment of grazing mules and horses. "So, you break horses then?"

ME: "No. I am a writer," I say, holding a pretend pen in my hand and ghost writing in the air between us.

AMISH MAN: "So, people pay you to write things?" His tone was less friendly then, and more suspicious.

ME: I had to think about it for a moment. "No," I finally admitted, having been thwarted by the word "pay."

ME: "I write books and things," I added, suddenly deeply concerned about the future of my social standing among the fickle Southern Iowa Amish sect.

AMISH MAN: "Oh."

At this point in the conversation he actually frowns and shakes his head almost imperceptibly, but shakes it nonetheless. We didn't talk much after that, each of us desiring to put a little distance between the other.

Damn it. Even the Amish have turned their bearded chins up at us.


Jack Nickolson line from the movie Hoffa:

"Tobin, the President, newspapers, 
every f@&ckin' body else in the world says I'm wrong, 
      I gotta be right."


Thanks for reading!
Buzz
  

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Creepy Indie Authors



Much has been said as of late about zombies and werewolves. Stores brim with shelf after shelf of vampires too, a thousand years old and yearning with fervent blood lust for platonic love with a teenage human. Literature, or what is considered the same, has been hijacked by these undead things; these not quite living, not quite dead beings, resurrected from their graves by the youthful whimsy of a generation no longer content with simple tales of love and life and death and the doldrums of a slightly more human experience. 

Cloak that same human experience beneath a thin veil of the fantastical, and the literary establishment devours it not so unlike a horde of brain slurping zombies. Leave it be, undisguised and unashamed, and it is doomed to cast its lot with the thousands of other unpublished works and unread words beneath the beds of a thousand would-be authors. The Hemingways and Steinbecks and Fitzgeralds of today remain unheard, unread obscurities, left unappreciated, themselves like the walking dead who are even now lurking among you. 

You can find them, if you’d fancy it, these living dead authors of the modern era. They lurk, or skulk rather, all around you, hiding in plain sight. At the public library, they’re mixed in with the homeless (and only slightly better dressed), seeking shelter from the weather, and the comfort a writer discovers only in the company books. They wander through the museums and beneath the golden twinkle of capitol Domes, in any public place where people assemble, but where little threat of direct interaction exists. 

At the mall, they walk and sit and wander…and watch. They are always there, among you, and yet just outside of the fray of the crowd, involved enough to watch you, but aloof enough to emanate the appearance of disinterest. You’ll feel them, staring at you and your friends. You’ll catch a glimpse of them every now again, as they quickly look away when you catch them looking. They’ll pretend not to have been gawking at you, but gawking they were. 

It is a creepy gawking. It is not the more lighthearted gawking of a sexual predator who only undresses you with his eyes. Nay, it is the stare of an author, imagining in a few moments time, your conversation from across a crowded mall, and what your entire life has been like, and recreating everything about you within their mind’s eye, until they’ve envisioned you undressed down to your very soul itself! 

Unwittingly, you have been violated. Like a thief in the darkness of night, this living dead thing, this student of persons and strangers and imaginary lives, has taken you in and drank through your lips and tasted the world around you, and all of it in a minute, and when you notice their stare, they walk briskly away, leaving you unaware of what all they have just taken from you.        

Consider it, the next time you fear some contemporary imagined ghoul, that you have yourself, encountered far more ghastly creatures and never even known it. Aspiring novelists are all around you. A trip to a bar with friends one night could just as easily end with thoughts of you as an uncomplimentary main character, as waking in some stranger’s bed, and dare think to venture which will leave you the worse for wear.  

No staked hearts or silver bullets can stop this scourge of interloping skulks. They can only be thwarted by reading. Read the works of a hundred dead authors, and read then the works of a hundred living. Do not take lightly your choice and drink whatever flavor of the month is served up to you on the top shelf of the local superstore. Seek out and search and learn about the authors and writers all around you. 

Read the magz and rags and zines and blogs, and the skulkers will relent into their dark abodes to write once more, leaving the unsuspecting innocent masses all the less molested, and your story safely untold and unimagined, and yours. 

Don’t be undressed by an author. Read. Support independent authors.

Thank you for reading!

Buzz

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The Rejection Avalanche

Rejection. It's a lot like snow for a writer. In the beginning, it's almost fun, like watching it snow outside while the cast of the movie White Christmas sings, "snow, snow, snow, snow."

As the full extent of winter takes hold however, and you have shoveled the driveway for the eightieth time only to watch the plow pass by and pile it up again, and the wind howls and drifts it all back over, you begin to feel mildly less enthusiastic about the entire process.

"The forecast is calling for more frigging snow, eh?"
It's difficult not feel a little, well, jaded. Except as writers, we don't have a weatherman to curse. We have only the litany of literary agents and editors. People, who themselves seem somewhat jaded to the naked eye.

It's tempting to get angry and lash out by writing blogs about literary agents hating kittens and the like (even though anyone who actually would write such a blog would be doing it in good humored fun). 

But, for a seasoned writer, or anyone who desires to become a seasoned writer (notice I didn't say "successful"), then you need to understand that ridicule and rejection are necessary evils to weed out those souls who are less than fully dedicated to the craft.

As soon as writing emerged, there were authors. As soon as there were authors, there were critics and editors passing judgements. Imagine how it would have felt to have a typo pointed out right after you finished work on ten months of pecking out tiny letters into a stone tablet. Or to have written another book for the old testament, only to have religious scholars cram your scrolls into a jar and leave them in the back of a cave somewhere.

I would even argue that it is only after having survived a myriad of mistakes, ridicule from friends and neighbors, and an avalanche of rejection, that you finally begin to grow as a writer, and write solely for the purpose of writing and better learning the craft. Because it is then that you are writing, not for the imagined masses, or the agents, or anyone...except for yourself and the love of the thing.

"YES! I write in these clothes!"
It is through this that you become leaner and meaner (figuratively speaking of course, because you're a writer and spend most of your time eating cheesy poofs and sitting at a computer), and you become immune to rejection of any kind. Well, almost any kind. There are still two kinds that piss me off to no end (and as luck would have it, I've received new examples of both in recent days)...


I've talked about spammed out form rejection from literary agents, who see no fault in requesting queries in certain fonts and formats and meeting all of their specifications, only to reply by hitting the big red "dear author" button. We've established that those agents probably hate kittens too. But, there is something even more heinous lurking in the darkness...

THE CONFUSING SPAM REJECTION (4 months later):
"Thank you for querying me about your manuscript. I've read your sample pages and I'm sorry to say that the project just isn't a perfect fit with my current needs. This has less to do with your strengths as a writer and more to do with my goals as an agent and the trends of the current literary marketplace. I wish you the best of luck in your search for the right agent and publisher. Keep writing!"

HUH?
Is this agent saying that I have strengths as a writer? Is she implying that my work isn't consistent with the trends of the current literary market place? Oh my God. Which trends is she referring to? The ones about publishing crap like the Fifty Shades porn books? Or is she saying that I should write a trilogy? Or maybe something about vampires? Holy shit! OMG!

Oh, wait. If you google the entire thing, you'll discover that it is just another spammed out form rejection.

As someone who has read literally hundreds of blogs by literary agents about querying and the color of their favorite socks, etc., let me say something openly to them. IF you are an agent who replied to queries with a form rejection (as almost all of them do), just say it is a 'NO' in your spam form. DO NOT try to make me feel better by including crap about "trends" or my "strengths as a writer." It makes me believe that you are human, have a soul, and might have actually read my query and are replying with something personal that includes clues or hidden messages. 

MY FAVORITE REJECTION EVER
There is a clear winner though, and you'll be surprised to learn that it didn't even come from a literary agent. They, after all, tend to maintain certain levels of professionalism. The best rejection that gave me the biggest WTF?! moment arrived in my inbox recently from a literary magazine.

About a month ago, I received a request from the publishers of a local start-up literary magazine, pleading with me to submit them a piece for their launch issue. They asked for basically anything that I had laying around of a certain length to include in the magazine as they wanted to tap into my local "following" (apparently desperate to get my mom as a subscriber or something). The email was both long and personal.

Not being one to disappoint (and disregarding the fact that they were offering no financial compensation), I wrote a piece special for them. A few weeks later I received a "dear writer" form rejection.

I still can't even think about it without laughing hysterically. In writing there are parts of the rejection process that will make you stronger and more resilient. There are other parts that will push to brink of madness.

Oh yeah. Did I mention it snowed again last night and is snowing again right now? Sometimes, all you can do is put your head down, laugh, and keep shoveling. The alternative is madness.

Keep. Writing. Spring is just around the corner. 

Thanks for Reading.

Buzz 

Monday, March 4, 2013

A Writer's Spring Always Nears




  Prelude from my novel, Silence of Centerville.  

     My sons do not like that I still live alone in this old house. They worry about me. They worry that the roof leaks. They worry that I still heat the place with wood. They worry that it is cold, and drafty. But mostly, most of all, they worry that I am alone. They worry that something will happen to me or that I will get lonely between their visits.

     It’s funny to me that they should worry about such a thing. They know nothing about being lonely, not like I do. I know what it means to be genuinely lonely. A man does not find that kind of lonely living in an old house by himself. To be lonely, really lonely, you have to be among other people. I know a little bit about being that kind of lonely. It is the worst thing in the world, I think; that kind of lonely. 

     That’s the way it was for me when I was younger. That’s the worst time for that sort of thing, too. It is the time in your life when a man should have hopes and dreams. Not to say that I didn’t have hopes and dreams; I had them. I also knew that my hopes and dreams would never come true. That was the hardest part of it all. 

     I knew that my life would never have a fairy tale ending or that I would never live happily ever after or any of those things. I knew for a fact from an early age that no matter what I did, that the world would pass me by like a fast horse, taking any chance I had for love or laughter or joy right along with it. It wasn’t always that way for me, but for so many years of my life I lived just knowing that there was much I would never have; so many things that I would never experience. And those were the loneliest years of my life. 

     I lived in a world where I knew all of those things every morning when I got out of bed. It was a terrible time for me. It was as if God had singled me out to suffer. Blackness set over my soul like the wall cloud of a mighty summer thunderstorm and there was no escaping the darkness of its shadow. 

     It’s horrible to go through the world that way; knowing the limitations of the life you are living. It is as if you are stranded upon a desert isle in an ocean where you know that no ships will ever sail, and no planes will ever fly. It is that sort of hopelessness and that kind of loneliness that I lived with every day. What’s worse, I knew that it would never get any better.

     The funny thing is though; everything that I thought I knew then...was wrong. 

If I were a more famous author, or even a famous one, literature professors would study those words and try to find clues to the symbolism and hidden meanings in them, even if none were meant to exist. However, it is a rather straight forward piece that says what it means and means what it says.

And what it says is that even though there is a foot of snow outside my door right now, that another spring is just around the corner. It means that life, despite all obstacles, can be beautiful if given the opportunity, and the only thing that we must do to see it is to keep living, keep breathing, and keep trudging through the snow covered parts, toward the spring that awaits us round future's coming bend.

Henry Herbert Knibbs
I use this metaphor often in my writing and my thinking. During long, cold winters and difficult times, and long bouts as a writer where it seems as if rejection letters are your only link to the world outside of your writing room. I remember that I need only keep putting one foot in front of the other a while longer, and something good will come of it all, and the warm spring sun will melt the snow, just as sure as the sun will rise in the morrow. 

"...But I'm jogging along, jogging ahead, perhaps I'll find it mate." 

Those are words from Henry Herbert Knibbs' poem, The Sheep and the Goats. This also happens to be my favorite poem as long time readers will have undoubtedly seen it before...

    I don't mind working to earn my bread,
         And I'd just as soon keep straight;
    I've listened to what the preacher said
         About rams and sheep at the gate;
    I like to sleep in an easy bed,
         But I tell you this, old mate:

    A man like me, what you call a Bo,
         Can blister and sweat and save
    All his life, and earn just enough of dough
         To prove that he is a slave,
    And have, when it comes his time to go,
         Well, enough to line his grave.

    Say, mate, have you ever seen the mills
         Where the kids at the looms spit blood?
    Have you been in the mines when the fire-damp blew?
         Have you shipped as a hand with a freighter's crew
    Or worked in a levee flood?

   Have you rotted wet in a grading-camp,
         Or scorched on a desert line?
    Or done your night stunt with your lamp,
         Watching the timbers drip with damp
    And hearing the oil-rig whine?

    Have you seen the grinders fade and die,
         As the steel-dust cut them down?
    Have you heard the tunnel-driller's cry
         When the shale caved in? Have you stood by
    When his wife came up from town?

  Have you had your pay held back for tools
         That you never saw or could use?
    Have you gone like a fool with the other fools
         To the boss's saloon, where the strong-arm rules,
    And cashed your time for booze?

   Well, those are the games—I've played 'em all—
         That a man like me can play.
    And this lovely world is a hard old ball;
         And so at the last I took a fall
    To the right and proper way;

   And that is to see all the sights you can
         Without the admission price.
    That's why I've changed to a traveling man,
         With a quilt and a rope and a kind of plan
    Of hitting no one place twice.

   I do no kicking at God or Fate;
         I keep my shoes for the road.
    A long gray road-and I love it, mate;
         Hay-foot, straw-foot, that's my gait!
    And I carry no other man's load.

    For I'm free! Oh, the lowlands by the sea
         To the mountains clear across
    On the other side, they belong to me;
         A man owns nothing unless he's free,
    And I am my own good boss.

   I don't mind working to earn my bread,
         And I'd just as soon keep straight,
    But according to what the preacher said,
         I'm a ram—and I've missed the gate;
    But I'm jogging along, and jogging ahead,
         And perhaps I'll find it, mate.

            Henry Herbert Knibbs


Remember, that as writers we are both students and professors of life. We must learn before we can tell and teach. Every ounce of hardship and bad luck, and every rejection we receive, all only serves to make us stronger voices, and better writers in the end. A hundred years from now, no one will know what your troubles were or how many times you were rejected or what your credit score was. They will only be left with the words... 

Thanks for Reading,

Buzz