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LUCK – ANOTHER NAME FOR SWEAT

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I was sipping my coffee this morning, cruising my internet feeds (a sure way to sour my mood) when I ran across one that went begging for an answer. It was something akin to those ‘Ten Habits of Successful People” ideas. Only this one was more like the fifteen traits of lucky people. Something that presented a rather random list of behaviors and characteristics. The nature of it brought to mind the quote from Seneca above.

Luck applies in lotteries, card games, dice – but rarely success. As an artist and author I live by exposure and acceptance. Often, people will see where I’ve made it into a publication, exhibit, or show and exclaim, “Don’t you feel LUCKY?” Honestly, no. Satisfied would be a better descriptor. But then, they’re not privy to the work leading up to those points. Even when I’ve been in the so-called “Right place at the right time” it has been a matter of being prepared for whatever opportunity I encountered.

What goes into that kind of prep? Take this week for example. I have twenty pieces of short fiction, a novel, and eight or nine multi-piece poetry submissions out for consideration. I track these daily. I’m working with an editor at a magazine to get a short story into final shape for publication (Just because they accept it doesn’t mean your work is done.) and have written nine new poems in the last couple of days. Meantime I’m actively editing a draft for a new novel-length work and lie in bed awake at night, re-working two or three of the short stories I have out in my head. Oh, I’m also gearing-up for a binge of visual projects in studio for which I’m amassing idea files.

If something is rejected, I read it and determine what I might have done better. Quite often this results in rewriting the original. I have some pieces that are in their eighth, ninth, or tenth draft. I have paintings that exist as a long series of sketches, watercolor studies, canvas board trials, and completed works and their subsequent versions. This is actually quite productive because I have reached that point in my career where I realize that my ego is no measure of a work’s value or finish. No successful artist in history has ever been so confident as to believe they had nothing left to learn. Doubt is the great motivator. Once I have gone through this process I feel justified in sending whatever it is back out.

When dealing with editors, show curators, performance directors, I treat them as the professional I want to be seen as. Yes, they are dealing with the product of my imagination and toil – My babies, if you will – but they are also dealing with who knows how many other fragile psyches at the same time. That’s a juggling act I have been on both sides of and never envy.

I take their suggestions and give them honest consideration. Do we always agree? Well, no, of course not, but on my end I try to find the compromise that works for all involved. Is this always possible? Again, no, but the effort serves to keep the relationship cordial.

Why even worry about that? Because this person I’m dealing with is dealing with their own deadlines and pressures and, if I can develop an empathic bond, they might be more patient with me in our present endeavor – and helpful in future circumstances. In other words, as I learned in the military, everything depends on a team and the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. Oh, never forget, quite often it comes down to who you know. Friends will do more for you than enemies.

Luck, outside of gambling, is always a matter of work. Working to produce a product that you can offer without reservation to the world. Work at figuring out where to offer it and at what cost. Work in developing relationships that are beneficial in both directions. Work at dispassionately examining failure and discovering why it turned out the way it did and how to correct it.

There’s an old truism – Luck creates a lot of three-legged rabbits. How lucky is that?

LET THE CHARACTERS DO YOUR TALKING

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Having worked around Hollywood and what is called “the image industry” for a while, I have a thing for stills from vintage film. I especially am taken by the era of silent film. There was no recorded dialogue and any spoken words you got came from what was flashed on the screen as written embellishments. The producers, directors, script writers, and actors were masters at that adage, “Show me. don’t tell me.” The action and expressiveness of the players were the way the story was conveyed.

That knack, being able to let the images do the story telling and getting the writer off the stage, is something beginning writers struggle with. They think they have to spell out every detail for the reader in drawn out narrative passages. But do they? Take the photo above for example. A still from a black and white silent film. Without someone telling us, it speaks volumes without uttering a word.

First, there’s the setting. Judging by the background, the furnishings, and props what do we know? This is apparently an upscale environment. Wainscoting, chair rail, wall paper instead of paint (Not cheap back then). A marble-topped Federalist style table beneath an obviously high-end mirror and frame.

What about the inhabitants of this space? Young. Good looking. Probably affluent judging by their looks, her pearls, his pajamas. He kisses her hand, but by the apprehensive look on her face, romance is not foremost in her mind.

Even the spray of flowers in the vase behind them sends a message. These are obviously blossoms from a tree. As artificial flowers were uncommon then, this arrangement tells us it must be springtime.

It’s the same thing when you write a narrative fiction. So often I read paragraph after paragraph of exposition. Telling me in microscopy what it is I’m supposed to be seeing. Even in science fiction where world building is de rigueur, too much narrative is a bore. This can be a real drag on the story. Even when, almost as an after thought, there are a couple of lines of dialogue between characters inserted before it’s back to cataloguing time, place, scenery, weather, traffic, architecture – ad nauseam.

What’s the matter with letting the characters tell us something? Like this;

Stepping inside, Joe blinked against the light.

“Where have you been?” Vera asked.

“Don’t worry about it.” He dug a rag covered object from his pocket and dropped it on the stained and splintered table. It made a thud of something heavy. A blue-gray gun barrel poked from it.

Looking up at him, Vera whispered, “What have you done, Joe?”

“Let’s just say Detective Corrigan won’t be snooping around anymore.”

“But what’s going to happen when he doesn’t report in at the end of his shift?”

“We’ll be long gone by then.”

Vera made the sign of the cross. “Merciful Mary, Joseph. They know he was checking up on you.”

Joe shook a cigarette from the pack on the table and struck a match on the rough surface. “There was nothing else for it I’m telling you. Now get packed.”

Melodramatic? Maybe. But it sets a tone as well as a time. Joe blinks against the light after stepping inside. It must be dark out! Night time. Vera’s first words express concern. Joe’s blunt reply and revelation of the pistol tells us bad things are afoot. Bad gets worse. Joe seems to have killed a policeman. Vera’s tension mounts but Joe doesn’t plan on them staying around. Vera reveals her religious nature and that they may be in worse trouble than we thought. Joe gets even more abrupt. He feels cornered. Now’s the time to get going.

Did I tell you this? No, the characters in my little schauspiel did. Without mentioning time or mood or specifically why things seem to be going wrong for these two – In so many words – All that was conveyed in dialogue.

Get to know your characters. Keep journals or notecards on them and build up who they are and why they do what they do. Their background and present circumstances. Their hopes and aspirations.

Then trust in them to tell their stories without you having to constantly butt in with your fly on the wall narrative. The reader came here to meet your characters – Not you.

 

REALITY IS—PERIOD

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I was at a writer’s group recently (Something I don’t partake in that much). The conversation turned to the trials and tribulations of getting things into print. The experience level in the room was a little lopsided with the vast majority of attendees trying to get their first publication credit. Having a bit more success I thought I’d contribute my practical view and experiences. Some of this was met with groans and some of it with outright cries of, “Please, don’t tell me that.”

I’ve been in the public eye in one form or another since the 1970’s. Early on it was poetry in small journals that paid in a contributor’s copy or two. I was busy with a million other things and this was actually a pretty satisfying experience. By the 1980’s I had moved into short fiction. Still mostly for contributor’s copies, but this was augmented with the occasional ‘honorarium’. Again, not terribly much, but enough to validate beginning to call myself an author not just a writer.

I was asked to be a featured reader on a number of occasions and, once in a while, was compensated for my time and travel. Well now, that felt very good. The real deal. Another something I could bandy about at parties and get together’s. Like so many people in this art, I was raising a family and holding down a job, going to classes, driving my daughter to this event or that. In other words – living – That thing that gets in the way of all our hopes and dreams at times.

These days I’m a full-time author. Does that mean I’m raking in the cash and seeing my name on contracts, billboards, and the New York Times Best-Seller List? Please refer to the first word in this post’s title. Because the reality is that, at the moment I have one piece accepted that is waiting on a response from an editor so we can make suggested corrections and finalize a publication date. I had another publication reach out to me in response to a pitch I made to them. They asked I send the full text of the story I’d submitted and made my heart race just a little when they commented that the editors were ‘excited’ by the concept.

I track all my submissions on spreadsheets. What went where and when. How long their ‘normal’ response time is. When and whether I should query for a status. I have far more entries in the ‘Rejected’ column than the ‘In Print’  slots. Some of my work has been at one particular venue or another for well over a year and I keep being assured that it’s all still ‘In Progress”. I cheer myself up with the old belief that the longer they have the work, the more people might be reading it. Prime example being the piece that just got accepted for publication. It was at its new home for just over a year when I got the good news.

At this time I’ve got over twenty-five poems, twenty-one short stories and flash fiction submissions, and an 83,000 word novel out for consideration. I write every day. I just finished a draft for a short story, am currently working on a second, have two novels in various stages of research and drafting, and sometimes turn out three to five poems in a day.

My minimum goal on any one day is 1,000 words. Are they all gems? Nope – And I’ve become realistic enough to admit that to myself. I have a growing file of the not quite, almost, and what the hell was I thinking. But nothing dies. Even if it may live like a vampire without ever seeing the full light of day.

Writing is a marathon and not a 100 meter dash! So long as you are still moving ahead you’re in the race. You’ll pass any number of competitors sitting in the weeds at the side of the course who, after having heard how far they still had to go, gave up. That’s all right. It means there’s one less body ahead to be overtaken.

Maybe this isn’t what you wanted to hear. Maybe you’re only interested in having your head patted and told what a star you are. Or maybe, you see a column like this and you say, I don’t care what you say, I’m still in this thing. If you’re in that last category you will probably finish. You may not be first, but in marathons all the finishers get something. Quitters get forgotten.

SAVE US FROM THE CONVINCED

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I am doubtful of any talent, so whatever I choose to be, will be accomplished only by long study and hard work.

                                                                                                                                                                                         Jackson Pollock

 

These are the words of a true American original. A man whose art broke away from the trends and stylings predominating the milieu he inhabited. An artist driven to find his own voice and a mode of expression that, though copied, was never bettered.

He was a flawed individual who suffered from crippling bi-polar tendencies aggravated by alcohol. But, when the fires were stoked, he was a force of nature. A hurricane of creative energy and far-ranging vision. Some credit him with being the birth of the first truly American movement in the art world.

I am a writer and sometime painter and Pollock is one of the giants in my admiration. As are the likes of Whitman, Pynchon, Ferlinghetti, Calder, Van Gogh, and Lucian Freud. Are the people I look up to all Americans? No, but they are the haunted, afflicted souls who work in solitude and make strides quite often unrecognized in their time.

They are the paint smeared, red-eyed, ink fingered mad men and women who look at mass communications with the jaundiced eye the bulk of it deserves. The creators who ingest everything and give back to the world their unique interpretation of what they encounter. The Virginia Woolfs, Jack Kerouacs, Sir Richard Francis Burton’s and Haruki Murakami’s who dare go where they are told never to venture.

There are few of these around. If you don’t believe me, go to your local brick and mortar or on-line purveyor of the written word and look at the number of knock-offs and imitations. Sad to think that the profession of letters, something once seen as the refuge of seekers and visionaries, has become the harbor for so many tiny hearts that will never leave the safety of the herd, the similarity of the flock.

To those of you who are poring over the maps of emotion and the dangerous ground of exposure I say HOORAY! For the rest – My heart-felt sympathies.

 

WRONG BETTOR

 

I’ve spent it all

In pursuit of the real deal

Those words that spread across your day

With the soft invitation of pearl white thighs

And the price tags of high-end whores.

 

The ones

Standing at the business end of life’s crap table

On a night in misery’s casino

When all I seemed capable of rolling

Was boxcars and snake eyes.

 

Is it any wonder

I’ve left so many great openings

In the lavatory stalls

Of international airports

All night diners

And sleazy strip joints.

 

All because I was in a rush

To be someplace

Or someone else.

 

 

Dane F. Baylis, 2018

 

WHEN NOT A WRITER – WHAT?

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I am multi-media. Early in life I was singled out for artistic ability. Every class has one, the kid pulled out of the mundane class work to create that drawing on the board at the front of the class for a particular holiday. The one who spends long afternoons working on a mural somewhere. The guy or girl whose notebooks are filled with sketches and renderings.

Next came writing. Poetry and short fiction. Art had taught me to see things in my mind, writing taught me how to get others to see them in theirs. Then there was photography and film and music and all of it mixed together. Eclectic is the best way to describe it.

Let’s consider my summer reading list. So far I’ve consumed Daniel J. Boorstin’s, “The Discoverers” and re-read his “The Creators”. Add to this Leonard Cohen’s, “Stranger Music” as a digestive and interlude. Before any of these was Haruki Murakami’s, “After Dark” and for good measure I am working through his, “1Q84” trilogy now.

What’s on my side table? A new verse translation of Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Selected Canterbury Tales” by Sheila Fisher, Charles Bukowski’s, “Run With The Hunted” and Kenzaburo Oe’s, “The Silent Cry”. While we’re here let’s not leave out Boorstin’s, “The Seekers”, a return to Jean Paul Sartre’s, “Being and Nothingness” and some juicy, vintage pornography. All of this will be basted and seasoned with a miscellany of any number of things I’ll pick up along the way.

The point of this is simple and not. If your intent is to be a producer of formulaic novels then you’re not likely to want to wander so far afield, preferring instead to pour over an endless stream of words rolled out en masse so you can mimic and copy styles, subjects and plot lines. The same kind of work that sits on your chain outlets shelves stuffed full of vampires, zombies and post apocalyptic tales of awakening, coming of age and futile young love. The ones that will be stuffed into boxes and returned to the distributor so they can be ground into pulp, turned into fresh paper and sent to printers for the next run of indistinguishable endeavors.

Or…Well, you don’t discover the never before seen if you don’t get off the Super Highways, do you?