Career and Astrology

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Hello Readers,

A temporary break from political topics, as I’ve been working on a new blog/website and would like to ask you the following question:

What are your biggest frustrations with work?

I’m conducting research about astrology and how it can help people achieve their professional goals. I’m looking to get at least 100 responses. The survey takes less than 3 minutes to complete.

I’m happy to share the results once I’ve collected the numbers needed.

A free mini astrology reading is included as a gift :)

Click on this TypeForm link or the image below to begin the survey. Thank you!

Instagram Astrology

Fifty Shades: Russ Linton / Cliff Burns / Nick Shamhart

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My article Beyond the Hype of Fifty Shades of Grey features the expert opinions of ten professionals who comment on the cultural implications of the series, and share their recommendations for quality sexual literature.

I received some VERY lengthy and passionate responses, which I have compiled here on my blog, divided into three different posts. I could only feature excerpts in the above article, due to space constraints. Here are the full responses of the guest contributors #8-10!

P.S. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 for the full replies of the other guests.

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8. Russ Linton, speculative fiction writer and former FBI Investigative Specialist:

russ_linton

Hi Jess: Glad to have inspired you in your writing and I’m amazed that anyone ever found that comment of mine buried on Bransford’s high traffic blog. While I have much respect for any writer making it in this tough industry, I couldn’t fathom the Fifty Shades apologist responses. The book was poorly written. I won’t deny it was extremely successful, but to argue it was -not- poorly written was hard for me to understand.

I’m not sure I’m an expert on the subject. I am a writer and I read enough of Fifty Shades to know it was badly executed. I don’t regularly read erotica, however.

But, to answer your questions (may require a bit of editing):

Of course people deserve better. We deserve better books, film, television — all manner of stories which explore sexuality.

Mostly we deserve better quality in literature, especially from traditional publishing houses which continue to claim some sort of supremacy over self-published authors. If they want to maintain the illusion that they are the gatekeepers of that quality, they can’t then snatch up poorly written work and sell it solely based on the titillation factor. If they want to legitimize sexuality in writing, they should find a manuscript that isn’t an absolute train wreck and put their resources behind those authors – they do exist.

Fact remains, however, that erotica is firmly a self-publishing and indie publishing pursuit. As a society, we are much more willing to let mutilation, murder and blood letting of all kinds infiltrate our fiction than we are to allow people to explore their sexuality. Amazon has shown its contempt, along with many distributors, by tightening rules on erotica and at no point did traditional publishers come flying to the rescue. So the “better” stuff is out there if you want to look beyond the high-profile, traditional channels who have only opportunistically grabbed the spotlight of this genre.

I have to recommend the work of fellow critique partner, Jennifer August. I’d recommend any of her books as I’ve critiqued her prose and even learned from her detailed writing and plotting processes. She writes erotica, but at the same time, is concerned about the craft as much as she is the authenticity of the experiences which her characters share. Well-written, well plotted, character-driven smut of the best kind.

9. Cliff Burns, (outspoken) literary pioneer and founder of Black Dog Press:

cliff_burns

YES, men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey. Because the sexual act, regardless of your orientation, is a ballet, a perfectly breathed and measured poem. It is peerless brush technique and faultless meter and syntax. It reveals the paucity of talent in the Mona Lisa and makes a mockery of the Grand Canyon. It is NOT a tuneless, idiot orchestra, conducted by a tone deaf four year old. It deserves better than Crayola scratchings of sexual congress, stick figure intercourse. Cheap graffiti in a filthy toilet stall. Sexuality is our most fearless and pure expression as human beings. Fifty Shades reduces it to a mere bowel movement.

The hottest sex scene I can think of, at least on paper, is a torrid moment about forty or fifty pages into Terry Southern’s Blue Movie. There are also erotic poems like Yeats’ “Leda & the Swan” and verses of quiet yearning by Sappho. Long, sumptuous passages in D.H. Lawrence’ silly, pornographic “routines” scattered throughout the work of Wm. S. Burroughs. Henry Miller’s up close and personal couplings, genital lice and all. Something for all tastes.

* Cliff Burns’ thread on LibraryThing contains more suggestions for quality sexual literature.

10. Nick Shamhart, public speaker and contributing writer to Esquire and Vibe:

nick_shamhart

(1) On whether men and women deserve better than Fifty Shades of Grey:

Art is of course subjective. Personally I shudder to label a Bodice Ripper as art, but some people consider Robert Mapplethorpe to be an artist. It’s a matter of personal choice — the externalization of the internal.

That said, to tear apart the Fifty Shades trilogy would be unfair. The phenomenon that the books stirred about had little to do with the quality of story telling, the prose, or the presentation. What happened was that the populace brought it upon themselves. Worldwide reading trends are quite sad. Entertainment on demand fired a bullet pointblank into the floundering corpse that was the publishing industry. The statistics for the USA are nothing shy of terrifying. 58% of Americans will not read a book after high school. One in ten thousand Americans is an avid reader, meaning they read more than one book a month.

What happened with the Fifty Shades books was a direct result of those numbers. When people don’t read they have little to use as a basis of comparison. So, instead of E.L. James’ books being swept into the growing heap of erotica, with the likes of Steele, Collins, and other ladies that have been working that trade for decades, people took notice.

Social Media, and its fickle trends helped word spread about the books.

It was the same ecumenical ripple effect that Rowling’s Potter books had. They were fine for what they were, in that case fantasy for Fifty Shades erotica, but for true avid readers that could compare the books to a much broader and larger personal library they were nothing special.

That’s why children like simple, brightly colored toys. They are stimulating, and the child has no previous experience to say whether the toy is good or bad. Most of the staunch supporters of the Fifty Shades book that I have met read very few books annually. Half a dozen at best, so if they have read less than a hundred books in their lifetime. Who is to say what they are basing their love of Fifty Shades against?

Author Interview, Kristopher Miller

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Interview #62, with unorthodox/quirky/persistent author: Kristopher Miller!

Describe yourself in 5 words:

kristopher miller

Unorthodox, quirky, persistent, morbid, and knowledgeable.

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your work (10-100 words):

mazes_amulet

From The Maze’s Amulet:

Elza shouted, “Vargas tull!”

Then the vagrant opened his eyes with a weak gasp. He turned from a tough guy to a scared urchin at the cloudy, bestial face that hissed at him with infernal green eyes. This creature was no longer the woman he and his friend planned to mug and rape. This was an animal with a phantasmagorical mane of hair and a twisted feline face belonging to a lion from hell.

The thug with the knife stumbled back and he dropped his weapon. Elza heard the knife hit the cement with a clatter ringing with the rain but she did not care as she stepped forward.

The thug shouted, “No! Get away from me!” He ran across the street, leaving his friend behind to face the shocking apparition Elza turned into. A car screeched to a stop in front of his friend as he fled the scene.

Share an excerpt of your favorite author’s work (10-100 words):

This is from Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere:

Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar were killing time. Mr. Vandemar had obtained a centipede — a reddish orange creature, almost eight inches long, with vicious, poisonous fangs — and was letting it run all over his hands, watching it as it twined over his fingers, vanishing up one sleeve, appeared a minute later after the other. Mr. Croup was playing with razor blades. He had found, in a corner, a whole box of fifty-year-old razor blades, wrapped in wax paper, and he had been trying to think of things to do with them.

Comment on the writing versus publication process, in your experience:

For me, the writing process was challenging because I originally had one idea in mind, but the length of that idea needed to be expanded. That required several drafts, several readjustments, and several revisions to get it down to the “right” design and feel. The writing process is often made “easy” by some authors being interviewed, but it is a technical process that requires a lot of steps — and teamwork from editors — to succeed. At the same time, the writing process is rewarding once you realize that an element in the story, whether it be the plot, character development, or the in-story universe’s mechanics, turn out to work the way you want it to and the way that it is conveyed easily to the audience. The writing process is very rewarding because you are able to put your vision on paper. Sometimes it turns out differently than what you expect, but sometimes it is for the better!

As for the publication process, I can say that was easier because we live in an era where people can self-publish their work without having their work being dictated to what a publisher might think would be “marketable.” Self-publishing my work without a publisher would be challenging in that I would not have a lot of promotional resources but then I would also have full control of my work. I’m also a guy who cares more about writing as an art form as opposed to a commercial medium. My stuff is not everyone’s cup of tea, but all I care about is getting my work out there and continuing to make more material that I enjoy creating and what people enjoy reading. This is because writing is a difficult, frustrating, enjoyable, and a highly rewarding activity to partake in.

I love the full control “self-publishing” offers too ;) And it’s always nice to hear about people who aren’t solely motivated by “what $ell$.” What is your definition of “good writing”?

Good writing is writing that a reader can access without having to stumble upon mechanical mistakes and some logic issues that would otherwise ruin a good story. Yes, a good plot is needed, but moreover, the plot with a decent structure, character design and concepts are needed to mesh well in that the reader can access it. But moreover, I think good writing comes from how the author lets these plot and character elements run around before editing them for polish. Good writing is experimentation and taking chances with these elements, but good writing is also making sure that the experimentation works, especially on the readers’ part.

I reject other writers’ notions that the writer is the audience (Cough, Stephenie Meyer, Cough, Mary Sue…) because if it is only for the writer’s entertainment, then it is not really for the reader and this process of writing for the writer’s sake really hinders enjoyment on the reader’s part. I for one have read works in which authors have written for themselves that people have enjoyed but all I wanted to do was bash my head against a wall. One of the most rewarding things about the writing process is creating something that people enjoy and really getting a kick out of their reactions from the manuscript you spent many hours on.

It still takes time to do something worthwhile. In the greater scheme of things, I suppose it also depends on the writer’s motivations (and the type of audience they wish to target). Please share your #1 tip for writers:

Read, read, and read some more. Read stuff that you aren’t familiar with. Read stuff you don’t even agree with. Then write, write, and write some more. Write several drafts of that idea down. Overall: read and write. Rinse and repeat. You will understand how the writing mechanics work when you look at other people’s work.

Yes, it’s important not to stagnate (one of the deadly sins is “sloth,” after all…). Your websites/blogs/etc:

Kristopher Miller’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/catacombsbookshelf

The Catacomb’s Bookshelf, Kristopher Miller’s Official Writing Blog: http://catacombsbookshelf.blogspot.com/

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Much thanks to Kristopher for stopping by — do visit his website for more info about him, his views on writing/publishing, and his books.

Be sure to also check out his guest post for tips on Standing Out as a Self-Published Author!

Poet Interview, Amber Decker

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Interview #58, with the funny, blunt and nerdy: Amber Decker!

Describe yourself in 5 words:

Nerdy
Industrious
Romantic
Funny
Blunt

Share a short excerpt and blurb of your work (10-100 words):

amberdecker_lostgirlsbookcover

True Beauty (excerpted from Lost Girls)

Her dead father once told her
that dead things are beautiful
because they have given of themselves
and in their death show the living
the truest form of beauty.

Once, she fell in love deeply enough
to let a boy stretch himself through
the wilderness of her body.

When he surfaced as if from under oceans,
he licked her nectar from the flowers of his fingertips
and told her she was beautiful.

And when she opened her mouth to reply,
only dead things fell out.

That’s deep — well-done! Share an excerpt of your favorite poet’s work (10-100 words):

Bluebird (by Charles Bukowski)

there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
you.

Did reading a poem first spark the desire to write poetry, or was it an experience?:

Honestly, I’m not sure. I’ve been writing since I can remember, but I think I really started to take poetry seriously in high school. Someone gave me a copy of Verses that Hurt: Pleasure and Pain from the POEMFONE Poets, which was the first poetry anthology I’d ever owned up to that point. Before that, I hadn’t experienced much poetry outside of an English class — mainly Whitman, Poe, Frost and Dickinson.

Verses showed me what poetry could accomplish and how it could be used to take snapshots of places, people and experiences. It taught me about abstract images and how to open up worlds with fresh new language. After that, I was reading anything poetry-related I could get my hands on, and suddenly I was writing my own poetry. Now I can’t seem to stop.

Oh yes, Poe and Dickinson ;) Good thing the Verses anthology somehow founds its way to you. What goal do you seek through your poetry?

My main goal is to take my readers into a moment, to create images that stick in their minds even after the poem is finished. I also try to be as relatable as possible. I don’t want to be one of those elitist, academic poets with no clue how to talk to or write for people who are not also academics. I believe that poetry is like good fiction; it’s meant to be enjoyed — not decoded.

Yes, the best type of art is perhaps memorable as well as accessible. Please share your #1 tip for poets/writers:

If you want to write poetry (and do it well), you need to READ poetry. There are many fledgling poets out there who just don’t do this…and I’m afraid it’s pretty obvious when a poet hasn’t done their homework. Also, while I think that the classic “master poets” were (and still are) quite fabulous and should certainly be added to a list of poetic “must-reads”, remember that a lot has changed since these poets were alive and writing. POETRY has changed..a lot. Read contemporary journals. There are tons of them out there, and the range of the poets published in those journals is amazing. Try different forms, experiment, and find your own unique voice.

ITA — language is something that evolves along with the human species (for better or worse). Your websites/blogs/etc:

http://roughverse.wordpress.com

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amber decker

[Sweet Relish, by Amber Decker]

Much thanks to Amber Decker for stopping by! Be sure to check out Rough Verse, where she talks about life and poetry :)

Author Interview, George Straatman

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Author Interview #22, with fantasy author, George Straatman!

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Hi George! Please share a short excerpt and
blurb of your work (10-100 words):

Blurb:

The Converging: Closures in Blood is the concluding volume of George Straatman’s epic Converging horror trilogy. Populated by a cast of dark and richly detailed characters, Closures in Blood is a frenetic rollercoaster ride into the darkest depths of the Converging universe.

Excerpt:

The room was stifling and steeped in expectant tension. Beyond the open doorway, torrential rain pounded down on the teeming jungle, while howling wind bowed the massive trees as though they were little more than saplings. To the room’s two occupants, the monsoon was a distant event…something from a lesser reality of which they were not a part. Teacher and eager pupil, the two were naked, kneeling face to face at the centre of the small enclosure; attention riveted squarely upon each other.
The Converging: Closures in Blood, Chapter 1 (Dark Birth)

Is there one common theme that ties the three segments of the trilogy together?

This is first and foremost, a horror trilogy and its roots are fixed deep in the dark soil of the supernatural thriller genre, but the story transcends the genre to become more of an intense drama about one woman’s thirty-five year search for a degree of normalcy after the foundations of her life have been eradicated by cataclysm events. Elizabeth’s painful and often tragic journey is really a metaphor for perseverance and a sustained belief in the compelling power of hope. The horror elements merely serve as a vehicle through which this story is told.

How long did it take to complete the full Converging cycle?

The full cycle took twenty-five years to write from the first moment I took up a pen and began the first page of the original novel until the moment I decided that I was happy with the end product of Closures in Blood. The characters of the story become constant companions of sorts…who I’ve come to care about and develop an emotional attachment to.

Was there a single facet of this story that would stand out as the most difficult to write?

The segment of the story that dealt with the teenage runaway, Cassandra Jasic, was perhaps one of the most difficult that I’ve ever written. The scene in which she reveals the story of the abuse she suffered as a child was difficult to write…and equally difficult to read. Ultimately, horror is an emotional response and Cassandra Jasic’s hellish ordeal goes a long way toward justifying the depth of psychosis she demonstrates in the story. The tone of segments such as this one is critical — an author has to be attuned to the need for presenting this type of material in a way that does not make it gratuitous, or even worse, appears to condone the actions being depicted.

Are there any specific moral concepts contained within this final novel?

It would be difficult to write a two thousand page story without inculcating some personal philosophy into the fabric of the story. The story is violent and bloody, but beneath this, there resonates a subtle judgment on the nature of this violence. The story also holds an implied statement on the nature of seduction, and the way that an individual’s personal prejudices can ensnare them into accepting things that both dangerous and illogical.

Your websites/blogs/etc:

Website: http://www.georgestraatman.com
GoodReads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/3046802.George_Straatman

Much thanks to Mr. Straatman for being a guest today!

PubIt! Missing Keywords, Sample Button

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My eBooks are on B&N via PubIt! I recently noticed that:

1) my keywords are all missing (within the individual product pages, in my account)

2) some of my books had been randomly listed as “public domain” books (no, none of them are, lol!)

3) the “sample” button is randomly missing on some of my product pages.

I wrote to the customer service/PubIt! team, who replied after four days:

Thanks for your question, and sorry it has taken us so long to get back to you. We are aware of this issue and are working to fix it ASAP. So sorry for the inconvenience.

I thanked them for the reply (appreciated the response). I’ve also updated the front page of jessINK with the following note:

* 11 Feb 2011: Some of Jess’s books on B&N are randomly missing the “download”/sample button [the customer service team is “trying to get the issue fixed ASAP” (as stated in their email reply)]. If there are any formatting issues with your download/purchase via B&N, please contact Jess so that she can send you a nicely formatted ePUB (the document appears differently on her computer, Nook preview, AND Nook library…).

I was initially checking a couple of my books’ download samples. One of the samples was really quite, quite atrocious, and to my knowledge, I think that one’s been fixed (The Other Side of Life). For some reason, the ePUB document loads different on my computer, Nook Preview, and Nook Library…but if all goes well, I think the new files should load properly (which I’m unable to check at the moment, with some books, due to the missing “download” button).

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I recently started work on a short story (Jack in the Box). I’ll get back to the remaining bdsm-themed stories, once JitB is done.

My first proof from LSI arrived recently (EyeLeash: A Blog Novel). I approved the proof — not sure when it’ll start being available for sale on the various distributors’ websites (will keep a lookout!). I submitted the PDF files for the other two print titles also. I thought I messed up with one of the interior text files, but was happy to see the word “BOOKBLK ACCEPTED” in my LSI account.

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Hardworking and ambitious people can be very motivated by negativity, at times.

I like intensity. I like the challenge of owning my own life. It is something I will fight for everyday, if I need to.

My perspective is very much influenced by the following quote:

“I criticize by creation, not by finding fault.” ~ [Marcus Tullius Cicero (Ancient Roman Lawyer, Writer, Scholar, Orator and Statesman, 106 BC-43 BC)]

Perverse as it sounds, I enjoy channeling negativity (from both myself and others) straight into my work. It keeps me focused, on task, and motivated.

And I’m thankful for anything that makes me more productive [quite a Virgo thing to say, if I may say so ;)].

I wasn’t really this way, during my (less sophisticated and semi-wayward) teenage years. I was frequently down in the dumps and/or somehow “unstable.” Drawing/writing/music were the only things that offered any kind of sense and repose, at many times. Nine and a half years on from my fifteen-year-old self, I’m quite glad to see myself finally beginning to make some kind of progress, in a very individualistic way which suits my drive and temperament.

I’d like to “build” on whatever I’ve got at the moment (on jessINK)…but a sense of inner “restlessness” still seems to pop up, from time to time. Traveling is something that continues to lure me. I’ve always liked to travel lean and light, try out as much of the local cuisine as possible (good food = good life!), and just wander around in pure aimlessness. One always “finds things” when they’re not specifically looking for it.

I’ll probably see to that, once I check more things off my to-do list (hopefully, by/during 2011).

Whatever’s Best For Customers

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The one day in the month that I force myself to actually not work (as in, not write/edit anything), is the day I have to reach out for my bottle of Midol (*hint*).

This is just a short but comprehensive update. I might jump around with my thoughts (points to Midol).

1. I’ll be starting work on jessINK today. Maybe just a rough template so that at least I will finally have a store where readers/customers can purchase from me directly. I’ve mentioned it enough times and had better set it up as soon as I can. I might take 2 days, 2 weeks, or 2 months to set it up (but definitely not 2 years — the average time it takes for a traditional publisher to get a book out).

2. 4:Play was a pretty big/complex project (that took maybe 6 months to complete). It crosses many genres for an erotic short story collection. I enjoyed getting the hard part done first (the full anthology), then chopping it up later (so the full anthology is priced @ $4.99, while the individual short stories or novellas are at a lower price, for people to pick and choose and try out whatever they’d like ^^). I think I’m going to continue this modus operandi for future projects, so I don’t annoy both myself and customers. I like to do my best to provide value for money, and will continue to ensure that something I price at $2.99 (or whatever price — ideally not more than $4.99, for fiction, from now) will be worth it.

I am not totally senseless when it comes to business, but the creative aspect in my personality is very strong — I tend to work with “whatever I feel like” at the moment (not “where the money is” / in terms of genre, etc). IN THE END, I think it will all be pretty much the same (in terms of income), so in order not to confuse people and potentially get them to make repeat purchases on similar items, I will try to complete full anthologies first, then split it up (like how I did with 4:Play). This clashes with my previous plan of “working as fast as possible / getting more material out asap,” but in the long term, I think this is something customers will appreciate, which I will, in turn, be appreciative of.

3. As stated in a previous blog post, I had three basic financial goals with regards to writing fiction. I am on my way to making a living from writing fiction, so I’m a bit “ugh” at being slowed down by jessINK + LSIBUT these are necessary things in the long run. And since I’m a very DIY type of person that enjoys doing a lot of things [writing, editing, design, web design — as is said in Hokkien, bao ka liao (“do everything”)]…it is natural for me to see to these additional things myself :)

4. I will update on Twitter and/or on this blog, when I have something to mention (–> points to “email updates” on right sidebar, or “subscribe RSS” button right at the bottom). I’m not even sure how I’m going to see to all the things I have “to do” — set things up on LSI, set up new website, get to new projects…but they’ll be done, sooner or later. I’ll probably have a “new” section (for just-published material), and have updates on the front page of jessINK later. Whatever is easiest for readers/customers, lol. Will follow the basic template of dragonsinn.net.

P.S. I am likely to have a “banned” or “mature audience” section on the new website — but I don’t really intend to split the genres up (as in, have a website only for “erotica” material / material that deals with sex/uality). I feel I’d be splitting customers up that way (from emails/etc, I’ve some customers who do check out both the erotic and non-erotic material). I never wanted to go with a separate pen name for erotic material. I don’t know why. I guess to me, it’s just another genre (which, DUE to the sexual content, tends to pique people’s interest/curiosity and/or push their buttons)…I stand by the whole range (mature audience or no), and the website will reflect this ^^. I will have warning signs though…(“do not read/click” = more eye-catching = more people checking it out).

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Currently listening to: The Warning (live), Nine Inch Nails.