Saturday, July 31, 2010

I have three new stories up, posted under "Words in Print:"
-- "Picture Window" @ Birdville
-- "Up High in the Trees" @ Troubadour 21
-- "After the Rainy Season" @ Literary Laundry.
The last story is a long one, adapted from some real life experiences I had on a gut-wrenching trip to Cambodia.

...I haven't written any stories or poetry for ten days. Feels like ten months. I'm not good at toggling between short pieces and the novel, so I'm keeping my head mostly down, slogging away with book edits. However, at a certain point it is getting really difficult to know if the novel is even any good. Perhaps in a couple of weeks I'll post some excerpts and you can tell me your thoughts.

...In the next few posts I'm going to try to distill more of the PNWA Writer's Conference. I'll try to group the thoughts thematically.

For today, here are some of the gruesome stats about the current state of publishing, writing (writers), agents, editors, etc.:

--new writers have a 90% failure rate
--only 5% of the population reads
--78% of all readers are women
--only 8.8% of all fiction sold is considered literary
--the average book sells fewer than 250 copies a year
--of the 1.2 million titles published each year, 950,000 sell fewer than 99 copies; only 25,000 ever sell more than 5,000
--books are getting smaller, not bigger; in the 70-90,000 word range
--editors "can only buy books that fit in a box," a niche. "it's the most important thing, almost as much as the quality of the writing itself."
--most agents only request one percent of the work they're queried about. most manuscripts are rejected because of the sagging middle
--you have to market your own work. all of the marketing dollars now go to the best-selling writers because publishing houses are covering their investment
--"book stores are consignment stores"
--book signings are a dying thing
--if your pitch or query isn't any good, your book will never leave your computer (we'll look at queries and pitching in the upcoming week.)

Well, hey, that's about enough good news to make a writer want to kill themselves, right? On the other hand, if your glass is brimming half full, you could read those facts and think to yourself that most people would be scared off, will feel defeated and won't have the moxie to persevere, so if i keep plugging along, i'll be the only one agents and editors will have to choose from... at least that's what I'm telling myself. Something like that.

...Writing is lonely. It's hard. You have to get used to rejection. That doesn't mean you learn to like it, or anticipate it, or even accept it--you just have to realize that rejection is part of the writing game. If you want to be a fireman but can't handle smoke inhalation, don't be a fireman. If you want to be a pro football player but don't want to get injured, don't play football. If getting rejected constantly shatters your self confidence and will, then for God's sake, don't be a writer.

...Be strong fellow writer. We can do this. We can, because we love it. Right?

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

I just returned from a family outing in Seaside, OR., but before that, I attended "The Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference" here in Seattle. Well-organized, with articulate and inspiring speakers--Andre Dubus III, Lisa Gardner, Robert Dugoni and so many more--the event was a robust and full of knowledge, as well a reminder that conferences may seem outwardly clunky and full of postering, but ultimately, the ones that are well done make themselves invaluable.

Random Bits...
I personally could have been more outgoing, more assertive about meeting people, but sometimes my shy-side takes over.
I did, however, essentially, jump an agent on a lunch break. Stunned or impressed with my gall, she told me to, "Send the whole book."
I learned how to "pitch" my story in one sentence or two sentences or an elevator's ride worth or maybe three pages worth. I learned that I pitch good, but that publishers today prefer happy stories, or things that let them escape i.e., topics about vampires, zombies, lesbian presidents, young adult books about magical realism or urban fantasy, whatever that is...
I learned that there are a lot of dreams out there and that it essentially comes down to who wants to make their dream happen, not who relegates their dreams to hope and happenstance, luck and magic.
And finally (not finally, but for our purposes in this section) I learned that you definitely DO need luck to prosper in publishing, but without talent and self-promotion, luck is no better than an expired lottery ticket.

...Later--in a day or so--I will share business statistics about the current state of the publishing industry. For now, I'd like to to offer something positive and, maybe even a tad inspiring....

Andre Dubus III was the opening keynote speaker. You might know that he wrote "The House of Sand and Fog," which was made into a film that in turn got nominated for an Oscar.

He was so witty and humble and so damn "Rockford Files" handsome--all cowboy, square-jawed and dark-haired--plus he was a great teacher and inspiration. Clearly, he loves our craft. Here are some of my favorite bits from his talk:

...“Gustave Flaubert was known to writhe on the floor in search of the perfect word to complete whatever it was he was writing. When’s the last time you writhed on the floor, other than during sex?”

“I believe when you write a story you are pregnant with that story the way a woman can be pregnant with a child. Similarly, she can eat right and not drink, and she can exercise and make all the correct choices but still miscarry.”

“There’s a certain stupidity writers can hardly do without--it’s called waiting. Not waiting for inspiration to write--because only amateurs do that-- but writing it as best you can and then waiting, waiting and sending out again, waiting, waiting and sending out again for the hundredth, second-hundredth time to see if someone likes it.”

“If you think you’re thinking when you’re writing, think again. Dreaming is closer to writing than thinking is to writing.”

“Imagine it, don’t make it up. There’s a huge difference.”

“This thing we do is mysterious because writers are the kind of people who want to enter the mystery of things.”

“You want to get yourself in the frame of mind where you accept any idea that comes your way.”

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I have a new story, "Two and a Half" up at The Legendary, and also here under "Words in Print."

I live on a lake in the boondocks. It's quite nice, very different from the yuppie suburb living I was used to, however, the internet connection here is so slow that often it very well could be easier to communicate via smoke signal.

I really want to read the new Brett Easton Ellis (why three names?) sequel to "Less Than Zero." I remember being repulsed by that book, actually feeling a bit ashamed reading it, but it still throttled me in the way that all strong fiction should attempt to do.

Tomorrow I will be at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference here in Seattle. I'm nervous as I have three ten minute appointments with different editors and agents. All three are from houses that represent some big hitters (can you say John Grisham?). Evidentially the key is "pitching" your story right. Seems sort of like prostitution to me, but still I've been all over trying to get tips on it, writing my script out, practicing, generally doing my homework. I wish I had a person who was good at that sort of thing and could do it for me. I just want the agent to read the first twenty pages of the novel so that they can see I actually know how to write. Whether they enjoy the novel's story, well that's different. Just curious, but would a title like "House of Rats" repulse or intrigue you?

I was never a huge Marilyn Monroe fan like so many are, but I think she might have been a lot wiser than I thought. I like this:
"I used to think as I looked out at the Hollywood night--there must be thousands of girls like me, sitting alone dreaming of becoming a movie star. But I'm not going to worry about them. I'm dreaming the hardest." -- M. M.

Monday, July 19, 2010

I have a new story posted here at "Words in Print" published at LITnIMAGE called "Waterfall."

..."What a terrible mistaked to let go of something wonderful for something real." -- Miranda July

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I have two new poems--"Birthday Card For My Father" and "Hand Me Down"--up at Orion Headless and posted here under "Words in Print."

Today's thoughts...

"Procrastination isn't the problem, it's the solution. So procrastinate right now, don't put it off." -- Ellen DeGeneres

"I myself am made entirely of flaws, stitched together with good intentions." -- August Burroughs

"'Junk' is an honest word." -- "Parenthood"

"It has bothered me all these years that I don't paint like everyone else." -- Henri Mattise

Friday, July 16, 2010

Writing a novel is hard work. Editing one is, well, can anyone say torture??? I'm about a quarter of the way through and doubt I'll have it polished by next week's Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference, which was the goal.

...I started writing full time in May of 2009. Since then I've written almost 400 stories and/or poems. The first story I wrote in May of 2009 just got accepted today at Literary Laundry. It's a long piece, 5000 words, about some real life events(and manufactured ones) that happened on a life-altering trip to Cambodia. It was called, "Hope on a Narrow Road," but has been changed, at the editor's request, to "After the Rainy Season." Anyway, there's a lesson about persistence there: it's my 141st acceptance, but my first written story.

...I have to have music and movies and books in my life. They're three of the eight things you can never have enough of. I am quite literally surrounded by books, even at this very moment. Many are writer's books, books about the craft. When I'm stumped technically or emotionally void, I'll often pull one out to see if I can't spark some inspiration or learning.

Here's some things I took from today's selection:

"I kept reminding myself I wanted to be a writer and that a writer writes."
"Write something every day, even if it means getting just a few sentences on the screen."
"Make writing a responsibility. Think of it like a job and show up on time."
"When people ask you what you do, tell them you're a writer. Put yourself on the line. Make a commitment."
-- Janet Evanovich, "How I Write"
(That last one scares me. Don't you have to get paid to be considered a writer, a real writer? Nevertheless, I'm getting a business card made next week that says: Len Kuntz, Writer.) Pray for me. Or publish me. Or both would be swell.

...Last thing, Madison and I had a Mad/Dad day and saw "Cyrus" yesterday. It was one of the oddest movies ever, but wonderfully acted (Marisa Tomei, Jonah Hill, Catherine Keener) with unexpected twists. You should go see it. Support Indie films so they stop making that "Ironman" crap.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Hey Hi,

I have a few new things up, posted under "Words in Print:"
"Snake Eyes" @ The New Flesh;
"Paper Jewelry" and five other poems at Etcetera from the UK:
"Dime Toss" @ Twisted Tongue, a UK print magazine.

Here are some excerpts from an old, invaluable classic, "Writing Novels That Sell," by Jack Bickham:
--"The first job of any writer is the production of pages."
--"Writers begin with rejection, they live with rejection, they die with rejection."
and...--"Good novels aren't written, they're rewritten." I've certainly heard this said often enough, so I hope it's true as I am now in the throes of editing my novel, "House of Rats."

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

This is the coolest thing I've seen in a long time.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

I have a new story, "Thoroughfare" up at Troubadour 21. It's a mostly true account about a friend getting married and us waking up the next morning when Mt. St. Helens had just blown.

Here's a quote I read today: "Literature oten is more than its aim." I hope that's true.

On vacation I managed to read ten books. Three were the funniest things I've read in a decade. You should get them:
"I Just Want My Pants Back," David Rosen
"Home Land," Sam Lypsite
"The Driftess Area," Tom Drury.

Additionally "Layover" by Lisa zZeidner is freaky good, in a Glenn Close fatal attraction sort of way.

And Cormac McCarthy's "Old Country For Old Men" is even better than the Oscar-winning film. Of course it is. His dialouge is superb and a real lesson.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Other than posting stories here, which I do as soon as they are published, I haven't in any way used this site as one would a typical blog. Far from it, mostly it's been a haven, a receptacle more or less, for my writing.
I've shied away from writing on this regularly for a couple of reasons. First, I've worried about having anything interesting to say. I mean I think I'm an interesting guy, but maybe I'm not. Maybe I'm dull, a dolt, a rube. Second, it seems a bit arrogant to think people want to know what you have to say about whatever it is you're prone to expound about. (I don't get Twitter either, why it's important to know if someone just ate a hotdog and now has indigestion from it, going color blind.)
But in general, the more I thought about it, I realized I can be interesting if I try. If not, I can at least find meaningful things that other people have remarked on and steal those. Also, I realized how hypocritical I was to assume people would want to read your story or poem but now hear more of your thoughts. At concerts I always like when the singers tell a little story.
So, going forward, I'll be updating the posts every few days.
I was on a trip to Mexico last week. Saw a lot of poverty and visited the people who work the garbage dumps. I've got about ten different story bits I need to buff up about my experience and see if someone will have them.
While I was gone I had quite a few things accepted and posted. I've added them already:
The Surveyor
The Optometrist
Up High on a Shelf, the Living and the Dead
It Wasn't Me
Real Beauty

Later tonight I plan to post "American Diner" for a 4th of July feature, and "A Thorougly Modern Family," which is creepy and bizarre but good, I think/hope.

Sometimes writing is not only lonely, but it's scary trying to write openly and honestly without fear of what others will think: "If he writes about that, does he do it? Does he want to?" "I wonder if that's autobiographical?" "I wish he wasn't so wimpy." "I have no idea what that chucklehead was trying to say with that poem."

But you just write and try to make it as true as possible, even though the complete story may be invented. I think you have to worry some about your audience. To not worry would be idiotic because writing is meant to be read.