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Publishing A Book With An Indie Publisher Versus A Big Publisher

Open Book Indie Publisher

In a publishing climate where there are two options to publish (self publishing and traditional publishing), not a lot of people think about indie publishers (small presses) to prepare and release their works to the public.

In fact, many authors and publishing professionals actively discourage aspiring authors from signing with indie publishers, due to the fact that many of them think it’s, well, not worth it.

You Could Pick Traditional or Self Publishing, But….

An author with a finished book spends time polishing, re-reading and then polishing it once more before thinking about publishing. At this point, an author might be thinking about giving a traditional publisher a shot. Or they might want to head to Amazon and self publish the book and see what happens. Interestingly enough, both options lack some of the resources that an author would want for their book from the start.

Giving traditional publishing a shot starts with a query letter, which the author has to write and customize for each literary agent they’ll contact. Then they have to send the manuscript, sometimes printed out, to the agents if they request a partial or full manuscript of their book. Sometimes, this doesn’t happen at all—most people experience this step. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll move to the next step, which is getting signed by your agent and moving on to preparing the book for sale—which sometimes involves an extensive rewrite.

When you’re shooting for traditional publishing, keep this in mind: you’re writing a book to sell. It’s very rare for an agent to take on a manuscript that’s not as marketable as what you’d normally see on the bestseller lists.

Self publishing, on the other hand, skips all the aforementioned steps and allows authors to put their book on the market as soon as it’s all ready. Savvier people get works out on the Amazon marketplace in just a day. Self publishing, however, does take a lot of effort. Not only do you have to produce the work, you have to edit as you can, market and make your product look professional. And yes, you can hire other people to do the work, but that takes more money and time.

Going with a small publishing press, however, can change all of that. Indie publishing companies arguably combine some of the best elements of both traditional publishing and self publishing, producing an experience that allows authors to publish without, well, the hassles of publishing.

The Case with Indie Publishing

Small presses, also known as indie publishing companies, typically take on a smaller number of clients – in this case, authors. They’re responsible for handing the publishing of their signed author’s work, in addition to offering them in-house services like editing and marketing. Reputable small publishers don’t ask authors to pay an upfront fee for submissions or any other service they provide—and those that do immediately get called out as a scam service.

Between scams and small scale operations, another reason why some people don’t sign with an indie publishing company is copyright or, rather, the rights to their written works. Nowadays, many career authors are waiting for rights from their small press books to revert back to them, so they can self publish their books. Others outright pull their books from small presses, preferring to self publish in order to maintain control over their works.

The points that we covered are pretty much the main arguments against indie publishing. A lot of what indie publishing accomplishes, according to some, isn’t worth the effort if you’re not going through traditional big publisher. Others also argue that a small press doesn’t give authors the control that self publishing offers.

Publishing with an indie publishing company, however, can provide benefits that traditional and self publishing don’t offer. So, let’s review some of those benefits.

The Benefits of Publishing with a Small Press

So, you’re probably wondering what are the benefits of publishing with an indie press? Let’s not waste any more time:

Small presses don’t require authors to have an agent.

Indie publishing companies notably accept submissions from all eligible authors—as long as your book meets the submission requirements, you can send it in. Of course, you’ll have to wait until the small press opens their submissions for the public.

Some small presses are always open to submissions from unsolicited and agented writers. If your manuscript doesn’t get accepted, you’re likely to get a letter explaining what to do to improve your work before resubmitting again in the future.

Small presses provide editing, marketing and other author services.

Both traditional and self publishing require a significant degree of author intervention—yes, traditional publishing also requires a significant amount of author support nowadays.

If you’re working with a small press, however, you’ll likely not need to do much marketing or even editing, because your publisher will handle that work for you. Indie publishing companies typically employ professionals who handle editing, marketing and other book-related services to ensure that the books that get published each year are up to their established standards.

Small presses allow authors to publish books in a small niche to a wider audience.

Self publishing allows authors to publish books in countless small niches, but there’s a problem. Without marketing, many self published authors are unable to get eyes on their books. Small presses often accept book submissions in smaller niches, which helps put authors’ books in front of the eyes of readers.

Many indie publishing companies specialize in different niches, too. So, if you have a book that fits their niche, you probably should try and see if your submission will get accepted. It’s worth a shot!

Picture: Flickr/Alex Proimos

Blogishness, ptsd, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living

How Stoic Philosophy Can Help Make Soldiers More Mentally Tough

mentally tough soldiers

Originally an ancient Greek school of philosophy, originally founded in Athens by Zeno of Citium, stoicism teaches that virtue (the highest good) is principally supported by knowledge and that the wise consonantly live with divine Reason ruling nature. Those who follow Stoicism also remain indifferent to the fluctuations of fortune, pleasure and pain.

In the modern world, however, stoicism notably helps people cope with emotional and physical trauma, mainly through teaching them how to accept the inevitable, or what has happened, without reacting in a way ruled by their emotions.

When you break it down like that, stoicism can play a powerful role as a practical life guide. Stoicism has many applications for people who work in all sorts of industries, whether they need to become more ‘business minded’ or more motivated than they currently are. Stoicism also plays a powerful role in educating today’s soldiers about how to accept the inevitable. Not only that, stoic philosophy plays a large role in helping people become mentally tough.

To Become Mentally Tough ~ What Is Mental Toughness?

Becoming mentally tough involves more than ‘ironing out’ all of your emotions or becoming completely emotionally and nonreactive.

Mental toughness is a bevy of attributes that define how a person perseveres through various difficult circumstances, eventually emerging without breaking their character or spirit. Various professional industries essentially define mental toughness as the state of mind that ‘allows a person to attain a victory amid uncontrollable circumstances,’ which isn’t entirely wrong. In that context, however, mental toughness is defined as something to utilize in a competition and not something you can utilize on a day to day basis.

Mental toughness plays an interesting role in the U.S. Military. People, usually civilians, often associate the military with images of toughness, resilience or a type of ‘never give up’ attitude. But people also hold another common attitude toward the military: many people don’t understand how serving in the military affects the men and women there. Mental toughness isn’t something that people can ‘turn on and off.’ It’s also not a facade or a mask of sorts. It’s a mindset that people can develop over time, if they allow themselves to.

Being mentally tough, in human terms, is more about perseverance and survival. If you develop your mental toughness, you’ll eventually become more emotionally resilient and be able to push harder, further toward the things you might want to accomplish. Mental toughness also prepares us to cope with ‘whatever life throws toward us,’ helping us recover from situations that could place us in mental turmoil.

The principles of stoicism revolve around helping people understand and accept the inevitable, which allows them to maintain a strong character while remaining harmonious with nature. Becoming mentally tough can actually help people, particularly soldiers, attain this.

Stoicism and Becoming Mentally Tough ~ Four Policies To Uphold?

A startling number of soldiers, in and out of the military, eventually develop post traumatic stress disorder. This disorder manifests in people in very different ways, but it results in the same effect: PTSD inhibits how people adopt healthy behavioral patterns, ultimately affecting how they function as people. Stoicism has the potential to help those afflicted with PTSD unlearn harmful habits and become more mentally tough.

Take the following example from a video showing how the U.S. Navy Seals help trainees learn how to fight fear:

Four specific cognitive behavioral techniques, which we’ll call policies, can help military trainees uphold a ‘stoic mindset’ and become prepared for their duties.

These policies are:

Goal Setting: This is believed to stimulate the brain’s frontal lobes, where the brain processes planning and reasoning. Concentrating on a specific goal helps the brain rein in the chaotic nature of our thoughts, while also having the effect of ‘cooling off’ the brain’s emotional center.

Mental Rehearsal: Visualization, or mental rehearsal, is the act of running an activity through your mind repeatedly. When you run through the act in ‘real life,’ it’ll come to you naturally, since you rehearsed it in your mind. By practicing something in your mind, you’re actually reducing the severity of the stress reaction you may have once you do that particular thing.

Self Talk: Most people speak to themselves, but too many people tend to relay negative thoughts and words to their minds. Self talk helps focus your thoughts, so that most of these personal thoughts and words are positive. You want to replace the thoughts that stimulate the frontal lobe with positive thoughts, potentially overriding the fear signal from the brain’s emotional core.

Arousal Control: Breathing techniques help people, especially trainees, maintain control in terse situations. Slow, controlled breathing can soothe the effects of panic, stopping its negative after effects from overtaking the body. Exhaling slowly also mimics the body’s relaxation process, helping bring more oxygen to the brain to bolster performance.

We previously mentioned that stoicism teaches that ‘whatever happens has happened by way of forces they can’t control, and so it has no real bearing on your character.’ That holds true for people who enter the military, afraid and unsure if they’ll be able to handle the mental and physical consequences. But as long as they’re able to follow the aforementioned four policies, they’ll be able to eventually become more mentally tough.

Picture: Flickr/DVIDSHUB

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Annotative Essay on the book: ‘All Quiet on the Western Front,’ by E.M. Remarque

all quiet on the western front annotative essay

all quiet on the western front book cover

When soldiers are sent to the trenches of war, amongst the necessity for their rifles, daily food rations and combat boots, there is also a necessity for them to have left their loved ones behind. No families are allowed on the front lines, for just as a man would never masturbate in front of his dear mother; neither would he commit an act of war.  Those things which happen during battle are for warriors’ eyes only.  But what E.M. Remarque does in his work of fiction, All Quiet on the Western Front, is to bring war to the eyes of those who have never seen it; and it is through his detailed depiction of the inner landscape of a soldier’s soul, that he gives vision to the families, and creates a truly unique work of literary fiction.

[pullquote]”A good book forces a man to convalesce into himself and write in the margins his deepest thoughts; spurred on by a word or phrase.”[/pullquote]We are carried through the book by E.M. Remarque’s main character, Paul, whose internal thoughts, emotions and musings, teach us more about war than every General and Politician, combined. No television personality or Pulitzer Prize winning journalist could convey what a soldier, who was there, can with a mere look of the eye, or a single spoken sentence, “The war has ruined us for everything.”  It is in this way that the author shows his hand; for within the first ten pages, I knew that the author had to be a combat veteran himself—after a Google search I discovered that I was right.  A reader can always intuitively feel when an author has ‘been there,’ and ‘done that,’ and not merely been to the library and done the appropriate research.  It’s why writers throughout the ages have continued to give the sage advice “stick with what you know.”  Anything else is unacceptable, phony.  And this is where the author’s true talents lay.

As a reader I felt more as though I were reading a man’s private journal than reading a work of fiction, for in the same way that fiction can feel more real than non-fiction, the author found a way to have his story told fully and personally. This is excellently done on E. M. Remarque’s part, because when an author writes a good book, it truly should act as a journal for the author’s character, and become a journal for the reader.  A good book forces a man to convalesce into himself and write in the margins his deepest thoughts; spurred on by a word or phrase.  A typical work of fiction or non-fiction hardly drives a reader to write in the margins, or to stop and pause as he ponders over a thought which has, seemingly, randomly popped into his head.  The author’s greatest achievement isn’t his descriptions of the actual landscape of war, nor his political descriptions and breakdowns of the madness of war, although both are well done, his real style is in his ability to bare a man’s/character’s soul and have the reader feel as though they are reading non-fiction rather than fiction.

“We have become wild beasts. We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation.  It is not against men that we fling our bombs, what do we know of men in this moment when Death is hunting us down—now, for the first time in three days we can see his face, now for the first time in three days we can oppose him; we feel a mad anger.  No longer do we lie helpless, waiting on the scaffold, we can destroy and kill, to save ourselves, to save ourselves and to be revenged.”

It is through detailed musings like this which we learn more about the author, the characters, and the story itself, then we could through the scenery of the trees, scenes of actual battles, or dialogue. As stated before, the author excels in all three aspects, but what truly makes his work unique is the inner, not the outer.  Although, in order for the author to truly make his internal musings as powerful as he does, he sets things up by first building up the scenery of the war, “The wire entanglements are torn to pieces.  Yet they offer some obstacle.  We see the storm-troops coming…” deepens it with the scenes of action, “We make for the rear, pull wire cradles into the trench and leave bombs behind us with the strings pulled…”, and only then does he delve into the inner character workings and musing. “We have become wild beasts.  We do not fight, we defend ourselves against annihilation…”

“E. M. Remarque shows us that what drives his story is the inner parts of a man.”

What is absent from the author’s story is any plot or typical character development. There is no arch.  No one, or nothing, is keeping Paul from his true love or his goal; nor is Paul fighting for any altruistic reason, he neither seems to be fighting against any real enemy or even himself, and he fights for no reason.  Paul is merely a man struggling to exist as a soldier in a war.  The author fills in the blanks and the storyline with, instead of a typical hero/love plot, reflections from a young soldier as he struggles through war and ultimately ends up with nothing and no one.  There is no growth.  No middle.  No climax.  No end.  No conclusion.  But the story misses nothing, and through the author’s technique of internal character exploration, the story is carried on even though we have no definitive storyline to carry us through.  War calls for no further subtext than a soldier trying to stay alive, and keep his sanity.  There is no different war story to be told.  This is what the author gives us.

A book made of such mental vivisection that if it were any more real, readers would have to be treated for PTSD.

“And this I know: all these things that now, while we are still in the war, sink down in us like a stone, after the war shall waken again, and then shall begin the disentanglement of life and death.”

“The days, the weeks, the years out here shall come back again, and our dead comrades shall then stand up again and march with us, our heads shall be clear, we shall have a purpose, and so we shall march, our dead comrades beside us, the years at the front behind us: –against whom, against whom?”

What I’ve learned from this book is that character and internal landscape is king, and combined with good scenery, good action, and good dialogue, a classic can be born. E. M. Remarque shows us that what drives his story is the inner parts of a man, but in order for that to work the scenery must be setup, then the scene itself, and then the inner musings.

For more annotative essays and other book related stuff click here.

Picture: Flickr/ Gwydion M. Williams

Best Of, Blogishness, ptsd, Self Improvement / Healthy Living

Why The U.S. Army Should Teach Stoic Philosophy In Basic Training

US Army Basic Training Soldiers Should Be Taught Stoic Philosophy

A lot of soldiers today underestimate the importance of adequate mental preparation for the ordeal ahead of them. In order to successfully mentally prepare people who will undergo Basic Training and graduate into the military, some suggest that the U.S. Army should start teaching the principles of stoicism during Basic Training.

Why should the nation’s military change already established standards to teach recruits a relatively unconventional belief system? Stoicism has the potential to be powerful to a group of soldiers. It can teach them how to cope with what happens around them when they’re on duty.

Stoicism also helps them hold onto their true character, while facing harrowing situations, when away from what’s familiar to them. Not only that, stoicism is essentially for helping those enlisted to keep flourishing as a human being in light of traumatic experiences.

What is Stoicism?

Stoicism, in the modern world, can essentially help people cope with emotional and physical trauma without responding to such situations in a highly reactive way. It helps people accept the inevitable, or what has happened, without reacting in a way that’s ruled by their emotions. The idea is that ‘whatever happens has happened by means of forces they can’t control, and it has no real bearing on their character.’

In this way, stoicism acts as a ‘practical guide for life.’ While it helps teach people how to approach situations deftly, it also encourages people to become more mentally tough. The lessons people can learn from stoic philosophy makes it a natural philosophy for the currently enlisted to utilize for coping with traumatic experiences.

Stoicism and How To Cope

The principles of stoic philosophy can help the enlisted learn how to cope with both physical and mental trauma, especially since some may develop conditions like post traumatic stress disorder as a result of entreating such trauma.

Learning how to flourish as a human being is the main reason why stoicism may work within the context of the U.S. Army’s Basic Training. As previously mentioned, Stoicism maintains that the main goal of life is to flourish.

To flourish as a human being is to:

  • To live in continued excellence.
  • To live happily.
  • To live with a peace of mind.
  • To live as a strong character.
  • To live with enthusiasm for life.

Establishing such a mindset in soldiers from the start can help them avoid developing negative behavioral patterns that may directly contribute to the develop of post traumatic stress disorder and other mental disorders. How soldiers can maintain their true character, as they remain Stoic, also plays a role in helping them flourish.

Stoicism and Maintaining True Character

Stoicism states that people can become harmonious once again with nature, as long as they can return to their true character. Character is our ability to distinguish good from evil, while also acting upon our interpretation of nature.

How people weave themselves through nature determines their character, provided they act internally based on how they perceive situations. As a character, it’s essentially our duty to react objectively—what happens around us ultimately doesn’t influence our true character. Naturally, Stoicism teaches that external elements don’t help people flourish; people can, however, use those elements to build character if they choose.

In other words, soldiers can use stoicism to teach them that what happens around them doesn’t bear down on their character. Whatever happens around them – whether in Basic Training or out on the field – has only occurred by the means of forces they can’t control. Therefore, such forces have no real bearing on their character.

By accepting that such forces don’t bear down on their character, soldiers can essentially learn how to cope with potentially traumatic experiences. This helps keep their character harmonious with nature, allowing them to live a more fulfilled life, even after their time enlisted in the Army.

Stoicism and Being Human

Many famous sayings ultimately boil down to ‘war changes people.’ Soldiers, especially those headed off to a war field, often don’t know how to cope with being sent in such a harrowing situation. They respond to their situation by harboring feelings of fear, resentment and all sorts of negative feelings.

A soldier who accepts their duty in light of what’s around them has learned to accept the inevitable. By accepting the inevitable, a soldier can maintain a peace of mind and their character while responding to their duties of war. Teaching stoicism early into a soldier’s training can help them accept the inevitability of being human: being unable to influence what happens around us, but able to accept the inevitability of it all. As humans, we hold little influence over external forces. That’s why, as humans, we can’t get too caught up in trying to change what happened, because we can’t. We can, however, learn to accept what happened.

While the U.S. Army likely isn’t going to change their training regime any time soon, the soon-to-be enlisted should learn more about Stoicism. Undertaking enlistment in the Army can be daunting to the psyche and the body, but if we can learn to accept what happens, that’s what keeps us harmonious as humans.

Picture: Flickr/West Point – The U.S. Military Academy

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Annotative Essay on the book: ‘In Cold Blood,’ by Truman Capote

Truman Capote In Cold Blood Annotative Essay

in cold blood annotative essay book cover

First published in 1966, In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote was a new type of book.  A hybrid of literature invented by Capote known as a non-fiction novel; the book is based on a series of crimes and, told in an omniscient third person point of view.  It was one of the first of its kind, if not, debatably, the first, and it cemented Capote’s mark on the world of literature.  Many things can be said of this book, and many things, too, can be taken away.

Truman Capote’s writing style is excellent and he has a tremendous knack for scenery, as can be seen at the very beginning of the book:

“Capote researched, investigated, and studied, hundreds of articles, police reports, books, and people; a task that took him the better half of a decade.”

“The Village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call “out there.”  Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the country side, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West.  The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes.  The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.”

Capote’s character descriptions are short, yet powerful and memorable:

“Dick stripped to his briefs was not quite the same as Dick fully clothed. In the latter state, he seemed a flimsy dingy-blond youth of medium height, fleshless and perhaps sunken-chested; disrobing revealed that he was nothing of the sort, but, rather, an athlete constructed on a welterweight scale.”

And he also has a tremendous grasp of plots and what makes a story flow—the book itself took near a few days to read, and kept me captivated throughout, even though I was already aware of the arc and end of the story. All three of these aspects of writing, scenery, character, and plot, Capote proved he was adept at and had a strong understanding of; and it was interesting to see him tackle a new literary technique; however, although a lot could be learned from his skills as a writers, and his new literary technique—something which I recently experimented with it—what really struck me about this book was the staggering amount of research that went into its undertaking.  Capote researched, investigated, and studied, hundreds of articles, police reports, books, and people; a task that took him the better half of a decade.

“Most writers don’t have the single-minded-ness, or often the opportunity, to give such devotion to a single cause.”

Not detail was too little for Capote and he did whatever it would take to gather all the information on the subject that he could.  In example: Capote knew that he had an abrasive manner that could turn people off, and he knew that he would need access to a lot of people to write this book; in response to this, he convinced his good friend, and fellow author, Harper Lee to accompany him on his research.  Harper Lee was reported to have a much, more kind, gentler, attitude and since she was more well-known, and liked, than Capote, people were more receptive to her.  Harper Lee helped Capote get access to all the people in the town, police officers, and even the two convicts themselves, Dick and Perry.  Had Harper not accompanied him Capote would—admittedly—probably not have been able to get acquainted with all these people; so to accomplish this, Capote had to put his own ego aside and ask a friend for help, and then together they set out on a meticulous journey of gathering information and writing the story.

When undertaking a writing task, the typical fiction writing requires a scant amount of research—though, often a lot can be necessary, in regards to the whole of the book, research isn’t the main aspect; in fiction it’s typically creativity and the actual writing which consume the most time—and the typical non-fiction writing requires copious amounts of research—depending on the type of non-fiction, of course; historical non-fiction requires a bit more than memoir non-fiction—but Capote’s undertaking required both, because he sought not just to tell the factual information of the murders that took place in Kansas, but he sought to do it in a fictitious creative way that combined both approaches, hence the new genre of the non-fiction novel. This I believe is one of the reasons why the process took so long; and for a writer, it can seem rather daunting to know that to create a masterpiece it can take so long for a single piece.  Like Michelangelo who created the Sistine Chapel over several years, doing only that.  Most writers don’t have the single-minded-ness, or often the opportunity, to give such devotion to a single cause. But Capote was already a famous author at the time—though nothing near the heights he would reach after In cold Blood—and he had the opportunity and means to be able to spend all his time on one single task.  This single-minded-ness is what I believe made the difference between In Cold Blood being just another remaindered book versus a book that would still be read decades later.  This is where I learned from Capote.

“Capote didn’t know that the book was going to take as long to research and write as it did, but he was willing to give the book and the process as long as it would take to create the work which he sought.”

In my current writing, when I had decided to give third person non-fiction omniscience a try, I had decided to interview my girlfriend, Emily, and several others who were involved. And although during first and second drafts I had interviewed them, for the switch to third person, I decided to take it deeper.  I asked, as I hadn’t done before, not just for their memories of the actual events, but also of their emotions and thoughts leading up to, during, and after.  These in-depth interviews allowed me to take my own writing deeper and although non-fiction I was able to give it that omniscient third person point of view approach.  Now, granted, my interviews were of only a few, and my research paled in comparison to Capote’s, it did take quite a bit of time, did add another layer to my work, and did take longer to write.  And although, I am remiss to even consider the possibility of putting as much work, and as many years, into my current project as Capote had, just the thought of knowing that it’s necessary to go that extra mile, works as an inspiration to make sure that I, too, have every I dotted and t crossed.  And going the extra mile doesn’t just meat doing more research than typical; often it means actually, physically, GOING the extra mile.  When Capote set out to write In cold Blood, he wasn’t content with mere library research.  Calling people on the phone for interviews wasn’t enough for him.  He couldn’t simply research Holcomb, Kansas, in a book.  No, he went down there.  He lived there.  He didn’t just call up someone to interview them; he went down there, shook their hand and looked them in the eye.  He didn’t settle for a lackluster description of the prairies and farms of Kansas, he went down to the farms, petted the cows, and walked the plains.  Going the extra mile makes all the difference in writing.  Knowing this, and how much great writing craves attention to detail, should stop a lot of would-be-writers.  But that’s not always the case.

Many people believe that writing is easy. That it should come naturally.  That it should flow.  However, no great writer, from Truman Capote to V.S. Naipaul will ever make the statement that writing is easy.  Writing is a great undertaking. And although I hope no single book ever takes my so long, consistently, single-mindedly, to write as In Cold Blood did Capote—even though my current one has been in the work for several years now—I believe that having the willingness to take on such an endeavor, and having the strength of will to see something through, is what makes all the difference in great writing.  Capote didn’t know that the book was going to take as long to research and write as it did, but he was willing to give the book and the process as long as it would take to create the work which he sought.  And that is what made all the difference.

Determination and perseverance. Such things are not typically talked about when discussing the strengths of a good writer and of good writing.  But they should be, it would scare away more of the would-be-writers.  Some things simply take time and a level of determination that most aren’t willing to give.  Had Capote not been as determined to write such a detailed, informed story, then the writing and story itself, probably, wouldn’t have come across as strong or as powerfully memorable.  Good writing takes time, it takes determination, and it takes a lot of hard work.  This is what Capote shows in his magnum opus In Cold Blood.  The testament to literature isn’t just the fine writing itself it’s the level of researching and diligence that went into the non-fiction novel.  A great writer can never be determined and lazy the two are not synonymous with great writing.  Capote proves that great writing, and being a great writer, takes an uncommon level of determination.

 For more annotative essays and other book related stuff click here.

Picture: Flickr/ Thomas Hawk

Best Of, ptsd, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Uncategorized

How Comedy is Helping Veterans with PTSD…

comedian performing to U.S. Troops in Iraq

As the Robin William’s movie Patch Adams showed us, comedy can be the best medicine. When it comes to those of us with psychological trauma it can also ring true as well. It helps us by taking way the fear, anger, and guilt we experience and replace it with laughter. We eventually learn to accept the past as just that and start moving forward.

 Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

One of the key factors tied to PTSD is the negative emotions and feelings tied to a specific moment or series of traumatic moments. It is these memories that continue to affect the lives of those who suffer. By addressing these memories in a humorous or funny way it takes the power away from these memories. With the control taken away from these moments it placed back into our ands we no longer have to suffer. Once you pull back the curtain and see the wizard for what it really is, it loses the hold it once had over our lives.

 Make’em laugh

By sharing these memories and stories with others though comedy you’re reach out to complete strangers and connecting with them. As the saying goes “No man is an island” and what better way to connect with people than though comedy. By opening up and connecting with an audience you not only allow them into your life but also connect with theirs. While many of these strangers could never begin to understand fully the experience that these moments in time have had on us; they can none the less, start to relate though laughter. It is this connection that allows us to work though the complicated emotions and feelings associated with these memories while helping others see it as entertainment. This isn’t to diminish, or take away from the experience as a whole but only to help us come to terms with it.

 The world’s a stage

One of the other major advantages with comedy when it comes to PTSD is that it gives us a safe, friendly environment to tell our tale. While sharing stories in a group or with a counselor is helpful, it doesn’t quite have the same effect as telling it as part of a comedy bit. The combination of the atmosphere, the lights, and the crowd can seem overwhelming but once you get the hang of it, you eventually feel right at home. This helps us to open up, and share things with the audience; some funny, some not so funny. The goal of any comedy routine is to connect with the audience. Once you’ve done that, it’s a feeling like nothing else.

 Laughing the pain away

As it has unfortunately come to light with the passing of Robin Williams, comedians are some of the most trouble people out there. For some, making others laugh allows them to forget their own pain. By sharing it with a crowd, it allows them to deal with things they can’t on their own. This is also very true for those who suffer from PTSD, especially in the case of combat veterans. While working though their traumatic experience, they can do so through the lens of humor allowing them to address it in a different way than they normally would. Over time the humor will replace the negative emotions attached to the experience making it far less anxiety inducing.

 Practice makes perfect

While comedy is a great route to deal with personal issues especially in the case of those that suffer from PTSD, it’s not something than can be done spontaneously or all at once. Like many things, it takes practice and patience. Especially in regards to adding humor to what is a traumatic experience. It’s not easy to find the humor in some things and especially so with something that powerful sticking with you. But by working with it, molding it, and transforming it, you not only work though the trauma but make it yours. This is just the first step towards returning to the person you were before it happened.

 Conclusion

PTSD is, in itself, not a laughing matter. However, by filtering it through the lens of comedy it helps the victims both move past their experience as well as allows them to share it with the world. By sharing our stories and memories with others it both helps take away the negative emotions attached to the moment as well as helps us connect with those around us. By forming these connections it allows us to begin to gain back parts of ourselves that we have lost as a result of the condition. No one should suffer in silence especially in regards to PTSD. But by bringing humor into the equations it is a step towards moving past it and moving forward instead of being stuck going in circles carrying the burden alone.

Now, for an example of ‘how it’s done,’ check out this YouTube video by famed soldier-comedian Bobby Henline:

Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir

In this dark humored War Memoir, Iraq veteran Michael Anthony discusses his return from war and how he defeated his PTSD. Civilianized is a must read for any veteran, or anyone who knows a veteran, who has returned from war and suffered through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

dark humored military memoir“An intense memoir.” -Kirkus

“I wont soon forget this book.” -Mary Roach

“A must read.” -Colby Buzzell

“[S]mart and mordantly funny.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Anthony delivers a dose of reality that can awaken the mind…” Bookreporter

Order your copy of Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir .

Picture: Flickr/The U.S. Army

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Annotative Essay on the book: ‘A House for Mr. Biswas,’ by V.S. Naipaul

A house for mr biswas vs naipaul

v.s. naipual annotative essay book cover

            Life can pass by without every really hitting someone; moments flow into moments, and without awareness things can go unnoticed. What V.S. Naipaul has done with his novel, A House for Mr. Biswas, is show the reader the moments of a character’s life and the awareness, or lack of, which encapsulated the entirety of the character. His story is not one of romance, love, crime, drama, mystery, war, or anything else. It is simply the story of a man and the moments of his life and the accumulation of those moments. What this accomplishes, though, is that it gives the reader a deep connection, not to the story, but to the character of the story. And it is the characters that really make a story come alive. Without characters there are no stories, merely events. This is a useful, and powerful technique, and one which not many writers can accomplish.

“Nothing in real life is as linear as it often appears in fiction, especially story driven fiction, rather than character driven fiction.”

The general storyline of A House for Mr. Biswas is not very impressive. As the title alludes to, it truly is a book about a man named Mr. Biswas who merely wants a house. There is, of course, a lot more to the story, but not in the typical sense. There is not great mystery waiting to be solved. There is no discourse on love or politics. There is no single action that moves the book forward. Mr. Biswas is all there is, and that’s enough. Because Mr. Biswas is a character that V.S. Naipaul has brought to life; he feels real, he looks real, he sounds real, and his thoughts seem real. This realness is what truly connects the reader to the characters. Even though Mr. Biswas is not a likeable character, the realness of him is what makes him unique, and is what helps drive the reader forward. For instance, in a scenario where Mr. Biswas attempted to ask his aunt Tara for money; V.S. Naipaul tells us the story of Mr. Biswas wanting to ask his aunt for money, but this one scene goes on for pages and pages, and intertwined within the scene, we have Mr. Biswas’ changing thoughts and emotions about whether or not to ask his aunt for money.

  • “He hurried to the back verandah, hoping to see Tara first and to catch her alone.”
  • “She greeted him so warmly that he at once felt ashamed of his mission.”
  • “His resolve to speak directly came to nothing, for when he asked how she was she replied at length and, instead of asking for money, he had to give sympathy.”
  • “Mr. Biswas felt more and more reluctant to tell Tara what he had come for.”
  • “And Mr Biswas realized that the time to ask had gone for good.”
  • “But he was glad he hadn’t asked her for money.”
  • “…Mr. Biswas no longer thought of the afternoon’s mission, but of the night ahead.”

At the beginning we see that Mr. Biswas is already ashamed of having to ask his aunt for money, hence wanting to catch her alone. Then we see his thoughts as he realized he can’t ask for money from someone who’s not doing well. And things progress from there until he realizes that the time to ask for money has passed, and then eventually he becomes glad that he hadn’t asked for money. As people, real people, and not characters, what V.S. Naipaul presents here seems to be an actual realistic changing of thoughts and feelings that hits real people. Nothing in real life is as linear as it often appears in fiction, especially story driven fiction, rather than character driven fiction. Instead of being concerned with entertainment or carrying the story forward, it seems as though V.S. Naipaul’s only concern is with conveying a realistic character/story. This aspect of conveying realistic characters is his real power and where the most is to be learned.

“The way a character flicks their cigarettes, or sucks on their teeth, or is afraid of water, or even the simple way that they smile; it all becomes important in a character driven novel and it’s what truly connects the reader with the character and makes them interested in reading more.”

The above example of the changing thoughts of the main character Mr. Biswas is not unique to that one section and situation. The entire novel is filled with the changing thoughts and feelings and emotions of Mr. Biswas and they are weaved in throughout longer stories, in little parts, so that they add in an extra effect that gets a reader thinking. For myself, as a reader, I know that my thoughts would have been very similar to Mr. Biswas’ in the same situation. If I were about to ask someone for money but the person had just finished telling me how bad things were for them, then in that moment I wouldn’t have asked for money, most real people wouldn’t have either. But if a different writer were writing the story, they might have asked themselves “what would make this scene better? More entertaining? Etc.?” and they might have changed the situation to something else; not because it was realistic, but because it would have moved the story in a certain direction or made it more entertaining. It seems as though V.S. Naipaul chose realistic expressions, thoughts and actions, rather than ones which may have been more entertaining or sensationalistic. He could’ve had Mr. Biswas killing people, or stealing, or a million other things that could’ve made the story more interesting, but instead he took a character, Mr. Biswas, wrote this character up, and took him for a realistic walk through the pages. This is what made his novel memorable. He didn’t introduce us to a character he introduced us to a real person.

In writing, authors often struggle to let their characters come alive. Often, the idea of an entertaining story takes precedent over any realistic character element, and although that can often be a good thing; it can also be a good thing, every now and again, to come across a novel with the mere intent of presenting a good, well-rounded, realistic character. Many writers say that they write dozens of pages about a character’s background before they even place them into their novel—and even then often only a few sentences or pages from the character descriptions actually make it into the novel. What is important to them though, and ultimately the story, is that the characters are thought about and properly birthed. The writer takes them through their years as an infant, child, teenager, young adult, adult, elderly adult, etc. And even though the story may only be based on the character’s adult life, everything becomes important in the writing. The way a character flicks their cigarettes, or sucks on their teeth, or is afraid of water, or even the simple way that they smile; it all becomes important in a character driven novel and it’s what truly connects the reader with the character and makes them interested in reading more. In a Stephen King novel, readers don’t care about the characters as much as they do about the plot and the story and what’s happening, or is going to happen. But in novels like A House for Mr. Biswas, what happens to Mr. Biswas isn’t as important as Mr. Biswas himself. And in character driven novels this, ultimately, becomes their strength. A reader isn’t concerned with what is actually happen, but more concerned with what is happening to whom.

What writers can learn from a work such as A House for Mr. Biswas, is how to connect readers with a character. The character may not have to be likeable, but as long as they are realistic in the sense that their actions and thoughts match with who they appear as on the page, then a reader will become connected with this realistic character and will continue reading forward to find out what happens to them and how they will react in different situations, even if those situations aren’t life or death or sensationalistic.

For more annotative essays and other book related stuff click here.

Picture: Flickr/Nicholas Laughlin

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Creative Writing (Various MFA Notes)

creative writing notesCreative Writing: Combination Notes

In these notes, the final in our series of MFA Notes, I’m going to combine any leftover notes that are too short to require completely new blog posts.

Sections covered:

  • The Sentimental Trap.
  • Subtlety of Transitions.
  • Giving Effective Feedback.
  • Character Arc: 1st POV.
  • Pain for Laughs: Making Characters Comedic and More Complex.

 The Sentimental Trap

Sentimental writing tells us what we already know, while writing that is full of sentiment, surprises, shakes us up, and moves us through originality, complexity, and the renewal of perception. It means to be scared, beyond sweaty palms and a racing heart. To be in love, beyond butterflies in the stomach.

Clichés are superficial – the woman biting her nails = she’s nervous. Biting nails is a cliché for conveying nervousness. Go deeper. Beyond, behind, the nail biting.

“Figure out what you really saw and really felt, not what you’re suppose to see or feel.” – Hemmingway

Be precise and specific. Dig deep and avoid clichés.

Main Point:

Sentimentality = Bad.

Sentiment – Good.

Subtlety of Transitions

You can prepare the reader for transitions.

Take risks as a writer. Sometimes A + B does not equal C.

All punctuation is a type of transition.

There are natural transitions in conversation/dialogue. Use those.

Giving Effective Feedback for Creative Writing

Look at the work through different lenses. Both as a reader and a writer.

Sometimes people aren’t ready for certain feedback. Ask yourself what feedback would benefit someone the most?

Make sure you’re aware if you’re looking at a tenth draft or a first draft. If it’s a first draft you’ll know not to bother with certain punctuation and grammer issues, since those shouldn’t have to be worried about until the final draft (it’s pointless to worry about commas and dangling modifiers when the sentences in which they appear will probably differ from draft to draft). And if it’s a final draft that’s when you’ll know to give it a closer line reading and make sure every comma is in its place.

Detail: Positive construction and negative construction they’re only useful if they’re in detail. Can’t just say “I like this,” “I don’t like that.” Detail helps (make as specific as possible).

Writing Prompt:

“He jumped from a cliff into the ocean. His head cracked wide, his blood swept out with the tide. “Rinse a cut with salt water,” his mother always said. But it was too late he floated dead.”

Detach from outcome. Give all you can and then just let go.

Character Arc – 1st POV

Character arc = Transformation.

What happens to a character vs. what goes on inside them.

Feel the character. Their emotional arc. *There should always be a plot arc, but we also need the emotional arc.*

Push the characters to the brink, where they have no choice left but to change.

The moment of truth. The moment of change. THE PUSH.

Pain for Laughs: Making characters comedic and more complex

Dark comedy – flawed people in pain. For a flawed character, sometimes the more pain, the more the obsession, the funnier it becomes

[For a good example watch the movie Dr. Strangelove.]

Uncomfortable → Tension → Release

What is their ruling obsession? Routine can be an obsession. Obsession can be out of character too.

Dark Comedy: Make sure it’s a combination. Don’t let it get too funny, too light, too goofy, you still want to keep that layer of darkness. Conversely, don’t let it get too dark, you need some comedy to lighten the darkness.

 *These notes were from a combination of student taught classes at Lesley’s MFA program.*

Click here to see more MFA Notes

Recommended book for this section: Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing, by Roger Rosenblatt.

Picture: Flickr/Hannah Conti

 About these MFA Notes: Revising your creative writing

Recently, I graduated from Lesley University with an MFA in creative writing, and I decided that I wanted to share what I learned in a series of blog posts.

I decided to share for two reasons:

1) My notes, although not too detailed, could possibly  help other writers.

2) Rewriting my notes forces me to re-read and re-think everything I learned, so it’s a win-win.

But before we dive in, please keep two things in mind:

1) These notes are neither complete nor perfect. The classes at Lesley were not typical lecture/note classes; the classes were filled with writing and thinking exercises and often this left no time for notes (in a good way). However, even with that, these sparse notes, I do believe, could still offer value.

2) I may, from time to time, include actual writing prompts from the classes, please bare with me, they’re first drafts and were done in the moment.

I hope you enjoy this series of notes and if you have any questions about the notes, Lesley University, or MFA’s, please feel free to contact me.

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Annotative Essay on the book: ‘Cures for Hunger,’ by Deni Bechard

deni bechard cures for hungerLiterary Pacing

deni buchard annotative essay cures for hungerAn Annotative Essay on: Cures for Hunger, by Deni Bechard

Pacing is when athletes spread out their strength and power over a period of time rather than in short bursts; longer distance runners use the technique, as well as swimmers and bicyclists. Pacing helps an athlete save themselves for the entirety of a competition/sport rather than just the beginning or end. Through pacing they’re able to spend hours giving the amorous 110% rather than just minutes or seconds—like in sprinting, etc. (Usain Bolt has no need to pace himself since he’s only running for nine seconds at a time.) But what about writers?  Writers too need to pace themselves when telling a story; and the memoir Cures for Hunger by Deni Y. Bechard is a great example of literary pacing.

“We watch and read because we’re interested in the outcome, and it’s the pacing that keeps us going as we follow along the journey…”

Just as a runner can burst ahead at the beginning of a race, foreshadowing a future win, so too can a writer burst ahead at the beginning of a novel/memoir and foreshadow what’s to come. Bechard started his memoir with a prologue in which we learn that his father has died alone and in a cabin, that his father has had trouble with the law, and that the two were estranged. Then Bechard took a jump backward and began talking about his childhood, and so started the pacing; Bechard started off ahead, letting us know what the outcome was going to be, and then it was time to just sit back and watch the other 26.2 miles of the marathon.

Through the memoir, we are shown a chronological order of events that have taken place in Bechard’s life, and that of his father, Edwin. Bechard doesn’t give us too much at once, just a consistent stride throughout. Foot after foot until the race is over. That’s how it is for running, swimming and bicycling; and that’s how it is for writing, too. A writer needs to set the tone/pace that they’re going to use through their book, essay, and memoir, and it needs to be a pace that they’re comfortable with, that they can maintain, and that will ultimately, in a sense, lead them to victory! This is what interests us as readers and spectators. We become curious whether or not the person who takes the lead is actually going to win: What if an underdog comes from behind? What if the person trips? What if they win in a way that wasn’t expected? What if no one took the lead and we’re only watching to find out who eventually wins? We watch and read because we’re interested in the outcome, and it’s the pacing that keeps us going as we follow along the journey, cheering, hooting, and hollering, crying in victory and defeat, along with the winners and losers, and the characters and narrators.

“When someone’s running a long-distance marathon, the last thing in the world he wants to do is start sprinting right out of the gate at a speed that is unmaintainable.”

Bechard tells the story on his terms, letting us know right from the beginning that he’s going to be taking us through his childhood year by year. When he introduces characters he neither introduces them obtrusively nor too circumspectly. His choice of what/when to describe certain scenery/emotions is dependable in the sense that he gives us the cues so we know what to expect—the way a runner might, for instance, always tilt his head down when running up hill. He never changes his pace and gives us too much or too little at a time, it is the same consistency through the book, little by little we find more and more and step closer and closer to the end. It is a good technique; however, not all authors use this technique. Sometimes for better or worse. Some authors will jump around with their prose. One minute they’re ten years old and then next they’re thirty. One minute we’re introduced to a dozen family members and the next we’re engrossed in ten pages of internal dialogue. In the military this is called 30, 60, 90; it’s an exercise to increase your endurance. It’s where you start walking for thirty seconds, jog for sixty seconds and then sprint for ninety seconds; and then you repeat this again, and again, and again. It’s an exercise, but this, too, can be parlayed into literary terms. Bechard takes on a very clear and steady pace throughout his story. He doesn’t have any huge time jumps—I.E. he doesn’t go from ages thirteen to thirty in a matter of pages—and we are with him every step of the way. Other authors take a more 30, 60, 90 approach, where they will start off slow, work their way up, start sprinting ahead with the story and introduce a handful of new characters, slow down again and focus on just one character or plotline, and then work their way back up. They are simply different techniques that work well in different situations and with different people.

“As a reader, I knew from the strong start, how it was going to end…”

Pacing, though, I believe, is important for any writer, and by discovering this idea of literary-stride, through reading Cures for Hunger, I realized that I needed to look at my own work and see what type of pacing that I was using; or whether I was evening using pacing in the first place? Was I just blindly running down the road taking stops whenever tired, or was I pacing myself with something that’s comfortable, something the reader could follow along with and would be interested in, something I could maintain and enjoy? When someone’s running a long-distance marathon, the last thing in the world he wants to do is start sprinting right out of the gate at a speed that is unmaintainable. He’ll become tired, winded, and unable to complete the race. In writing, one of the worst things a piece can do is start off strong and then let the reader down the more it drags on, getting slower and slower until finally the book is put down, unfinished. But, then again, there is a need to start off strong. Not too many runners, if any, can go from a last place start to a first place win. In writing we need to start off our pieces strong, but not too strong if unable to deliver that intensity throughout. The start needs to set the pace for the rest of the book: how it will be told, what it will be about, and how things will unfold. We need to see strength right from the beginning, but it cannot be overused or unmaintainable.

Now, granted, the literary pacing/athletic pacing analogy might be a little far-stretched but, in a general sense, it works. As I read Cures for Hunger, the strong start of the prologue is what initially hooked my interest. The foreshadowing of things to come interested me in seeing how things were going to unfold and come about. Then, as the story carried on further and he took us through the years, slowly giving us pieces of the puzzle, we learned more and more, until finally the end of the book. As a reader, I knew from the strong start, how it was going to end, but the pacing of the story, and having things unfold, is what kept me interested, even though I already knew the ending. There are different ways of doing this, and I’m tepid in the idea of using it in my own current work, but it was interesting to have in mind while reading Bechard’s work. Without the prologue, I don’t believe I would have been as interested, initially, in the book. If I didn’t know what the story was going to be about, and I just started reading about someone’s childhood, then I wouldn’t have been interested. But the prologue let me know that it wasn’t just a normal childhood I’d be reading about, it was a childhood of abandonment, of adventure, of estrangement, and that ended with the death of Bechard’s father. Prologue foreshadowing is only one technique, and even though I’m not sure whether I’ll be using it on my current work, the idea of it, and of pacing, in general, I will surely keep with me throughout all future work.

For more annotative essays and other book related stuff click here.

Picture: Flickr/Doran

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Notes: Serving the Memory in Memoir

serving the memory in memoir

Serving the Memory

Why do we chose to write memoir instead of fiction?

Fiction: When you think you know it.

Memoir: When you want to figure it out.

Memoir: when did the real story being with me? The incident, the wedge moment, when things came together and began.

Example: If something inspires you to write about your childhood, then write about your childhood, but star with the incident which inspired you to write about your childhood–the incident can tell us and set the tone about why we’re reading about your childhood. (Think of the narrator for the TV show “How I Met Your Mother.”)

Memoir is about roots/routes: where we come from and where we go. This is why we write memoir, to explore. Memoir isn’t just remembering something, it’s also about coming-t0-terms with something.

Readers of memoir are like the audience at a magic show, they’re not merely there for the wonder of it all, they’re also looking for the “holes,” and how it’s done. The audience at the magic show: “Look it’s in his hands.” The audience reading a memoir: “Look, he couldn’t have remembered all that.”

*Credibility* The trust just isn’t the facts, it’s the spirit of the work.

Don’t be afraid of not saying something in dialogue. Sometimes what isn’t said says a lot. Capture the spirit of the conversation more than just the actual verbatim words.

Combining and using description: Michael Ondaataje, Running the Family, he describes his sick aunt and how invalid she is and combines it with the description of the overgrown grass, vine growing up the house, etc. (The house is dying and growing old/over grown, his aunt is dying and her mind is old and withered; but the house and the aunt have their own stories of how they came to be and lived). This is a great way to combine story/memory/and description. If you can’t remember all the details of a sign, then look if you can correlate it to anything else that would fit within the story and yet still carry it forward.

Think of Memoir as Dirt: The loam–soil–from which we come and grow. It can help us grow or smother us. It can lack nutrients or the nutrients can be plentiful. Soils change–drought, fire, etc–sometimes for better or worse.

Opinions must be in memoir writing: Opinions–know why you’re writing. Own your opinions. A memoirist must know if their characters are good or bad, so they must have their opinions.

*These notes were from one of my favorite professor and mentors at Lesley University: Rachel Manley.*

Click here to see more MFA Notes

Recommended book for this section: Running in the Family, by Michael Ondaatje.

Picture: Flickr/Prathima

 

About these MFA Notes: Serving the memory in memoir

Recently, I graduated from Lesley University with an MFA in creative writing, and I decided that I wanted to share what I learned in a series of blog posts.

I decided to share for two reasons:

1) My notes, although not too detailed, could possibly  help other writers.

2) Rewriting my notes forces me to re-read and re-think everything I learned, so it’s a win-win.

But before we dive in, please keep two things in mind:

1) These notes are neither complete nor perfect. The classes at Lesley were not typical lecture/note classes; the classes were filled with writing and thinking exercises and often this left no time for notes (in a good way). However, even with that, these sparse notes, I do believe, could still offer value.

2) I may, from time to time, include actual writing prompts from the classes, please bare with me, they’re first drafts and were done in the moment.

I hope you enjoy this series of notes and if you have any questions about the notes, Lesley University, or MFA’s, please feel free to contact me.