Tag Archives: CG Blake

Tortured Artist: Fact or Myth?

A songwriter friend insists he does his best work after suffering a personal setback or a painful experience. Having endured a divorce in the past year, I cannot say the same is true for me. I wrote my first novel, Small Change, when I was married and reasonably content. Since my divorce my daily writing output has dropped precipitously (except during the annual National Novel Writing Month competition).

My personal situation got me thinking about the idea of the tortured artist. This theory holds that authentic art—whether in literature, music or painting—must spring from the well of personal pain and suffering.

The tortured artist idea is the subject of much debate. Christopher Zara, who wrote a book about it, defended the concept in a post in The Huffington Post. “It’s my belief that all great art comes from pain,” Zara wrote. “Van Gogh painted The Starry Night while in emotional torment, Lennon and McCartney forged their creative partnership following the death of their respective mothers, Milton penned Paradise Lost after losing his wife, his daughter, his eyesight.”

Zara explained the basis of his opinion. “Art is a reflection of humanity and humanity’s greatest virtue is its ability to overcome adversity.” Van Gogh, he pointed out, suffered from anxiety, absinthe addiction, and seizures, but his suffering gave him insight, and that insight, in turn, gave the world a new kind of art called Post Impressionist.”

Not everyone shares Zara’s view. Jeff Tweedy, leader of the brilliant alt-rock band Wilco, termed the idea of the tortured artist a “damaging mythology.” Tweedy said the concept impeded his battles with addiction, anxiety, and depression. “I look at it as, the part of me that was able to create, managed to create in spite of the problems I was having, almost as if that was the only healthy part of me,” Tweedy said. “That’s the part of me that I feel like, getting healthier, I’ve been able to nurture.”

What do the scientists have to say about the idea of the tortured artist? An article in Brain World magazine published in August of 2012 posed the question, Do you have to be crazy to be creative? Contessa Schexnayder interviewed scientists and psychologists who had conducted research in this area.

She cited recent study conducted by Professor Fredrik Ullén at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet’s Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, that looked to dopamine D2 receptors in the brain. The study found that many healthy and highly creative individuals had a similar dopamine system as those who suffered from schizophrenia. “Many studies have shown that high amounts of dopamine D2 receptors are responsible for divergent thoughts, which could possibly explain the link between creative people and mental illness,” she wrote. “Highly creative individuals—like many who suffer from schizophrenia—are able to think in more imaginative ways and see unusual and uncommon connections. They can create and associate ideas that most of us are unable to connect. These creative connections are often seen in those who suffer from certain mental illnesses.”

Dr. James Kauffman, a psychologist at the University of California, San Bernadino, conducted a study focused on eminent writers and creators. Dr. Kauffman found that poets, in particular female poets, were more likely to suffer from mental illness than politicians, actresses, artists, and journalists.

“A lot of writing has healthy positive effects,” says Dr. Kaufman. “It’s very good for you emotionally and even physically. But one of the things that makes this so healthy is the presence of a narrative, and the continuous writing schedules. And poetry tends not to follow the same schedule, and tends not be as narrative-driven.”

What do I think? I believe creative thought and expression is inspired by the sum total of an individual’s life experiences: the highest joys and the deepest pains and the range of emotions in between. I also believe it takes time for an individual to process pain. I believe it is critical for a writer to give it time to put intense emotional experiences into perspective, which allows a writer to gain a greater understand the source of the pain and how it impacted their behavior.

What do you think of the idea of the tortured artist?

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What Makes a Good Book Cover-Part II

Since I published my novel, Small Change, through Amazon.com I have received a lot of compliments from my writer friends on the cover design. The praise is misplaced for I had little to do with the cover design. I was fortunate to work with a friend who is a talented designer, Greg Reese of West Hartford, Connecticut, who was really the brains behind the cover.

Here was the process. Greg and I had lunch and I explained what the book was about. We reviewed some of my ideas for what I wanted the cover to convey. Since many of the dramatic scenes in the story took place at a lakeside resort, I wanted to feature the lake on the cover. There was a dock located between the cottages of the two families in the novel, the Sykowskis and the Crandales. My original concept was to have the main character, John Sykowski, sitting on the dock looking out at the lake, with his friend, Rebekka Crandale, standing behind him with her back to him. It would be dusk and the figures would be shadowy. This reflects a key moment in the story when Rebekka asks John if he loves her and John tells her that he does not.

Greg and I discussed typography and art work. One basic question Greg asked was whether I envisioned a drawing or a photograph or some other type of image. After discussing it, we agreed a photograph would work best. Greg asked me to send him three book covers that were similar in concept to what we had in mind. I did a quick Google search and sent Greg three images.

Based on our discussion, Greg came up with nine basic designs. We narrowed it down to two, but we needed a specific photograph to make them work. I called my son-in-law, Brian Marzi, a budding artist who enjoys photography. Brian took more than 200 photographs at a lake in Ohio, Twin Lakes, located in the Twin Lakes section of Kent, Ohio. He brought one of his friends who looked close to the age John would have been to pose for pictures on the dock.

As soon as we saw the photograph of the young man sitting on the dock with his back to the camera, looking out at the lake, we knew we had the shot we wanted. It spoke to so many elements in the story: the water representing surface truths but hiding secrets, the dock as both a unifying and dividing line, the young man who is gazing out at his future, the trees and the clouds representing the horizon of his life.

Our only remaining issue was the typography. One design had the title in white with a black border. It was stark and basic, reflecting the tone of the work, but the other design, with the title in red, drew the reader in. We ultimately decided on the red lettering with my name in black on the next line.

The image displays well on the Amazon page, which is a must for e-book covers.

So here are some key lessons learned:

  • Use a professional graphic designer.
  • Meet with your designer and explain the concept and your vision.
  • Make sure you and your designer are on the same page in terms of the basic cover concept.
  • Be frank with your designer. If a design doesn’t work for you, speak up. Your designer will appreciate the feedback.
  • Ask for several options working within the basic design. For me, there was a cover design I didn’t choose that I really liked, but everyone else thought the design we selected was superior (and they were right).
  • Just as you cannot hurry the creative writing process, don’t rush the design process. Design professionals know what they are doing. Don’t put undue pressure on them.
  • As is the case with editing, ultimately you are the boss—not that this was ever an issue for me since we were totally in synch.

An attractive book cover is essential for a self-published author. Be sure to put in the effort to ensure your book cover attracts readers.

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Pricing Your E-Book: What’s the Sweet Spot?

Authors who self-publish their work must weigh a number of considerations when determining a price for their book. Among these are:

  • Perception of quality
  • Consumer appeal
  • Author royalties
  • Marketing
  • Time spent

Let’s examine these considerations:

  • Perception of quality. Does the 99-cent novel consign our work to that wasteland of low-quality, error-riddled novels? Are you banking on savvy consumers to somehow pick out your high-quality novel among the scores of amateur efforts? I decided to price my first novel, Small Change, at $2.99, which is the lowest price on Amazon for which the 70 percent author royalty applies. Why? Frankly, I thought it was worth at least that, but as a new author, I didn’t feel confident pricing it above that level. My thought on perception is this: if you believe your novel is of a high quality (don’t we all?) and you have put a lot of time and resources into your work, I see no reason not to price it at $2.99 or higher. That’s less than the cost of a latte at your favorite coffee shop.
  • Consumer appeal. The 99-cent novel has great appeal. It is low risk (no risk, really)/high reward for the consumer. If the consumer doesn’t like the book after finishing the first page or chapter, what has he lost? The consumer has paid less than he would for a pack of gum. The price point matters to consumers. Just ask Amanda Hocking or John Locke. I haven’t ruled out dropping my price to 99 cents, but I would like to have a second book out there before I do that.
  • Author royalties. If you are confident your book will sell and are willing to put in the time and effort to market it, you are leaving a lot of money on the table by opting for the 99 cent price. Amazon offers authors a royalty rate of 70 percent for books priced at $2.99 or above through its Kindle Direct Publishing program and 30 percent for books priced below $2.99. The example often cited is John Locke, who sold one million e-books at 99 cents, but would have made a lot more money by setting his price at $2.99. Of course 99 cents is part of a deliberate marketing strategy, which brings me to my next point.
  • Marketing. 99 cents is seductive. An author doesn’t need any descriptors like “only” or “such a bargain.” The price speaks for itself. Put on your marketing hat and ask yourself: is it possible to underprice a book in these times? I don’t think so, especially when authors are offering “free” promotions to get their work in the hands of readers. However, it is possible to over-price your book. If you are a first-time author and you are charging $4.99 for your book (just to pick a number out of the air), why would a consumer want to take a chance on you when he could buy the hot new 99 cent novel? Besides, if you charge 99 cents and sell a ton of books, a publisher will take notice, as was the case with Amanda Hocking, who was signed by St. Martin’s Press.
  • Time spent.  Here’s where things get dicey. You have no problem charging 99 cents, but then you think about all the time you spent on your manuscript. Let’s say you spent 1,000 hours on the first draft. Figure another 1,000 hours on revisions, editing, proofreading, and polishing your work. These are conservative estimates. Throw in 50 hours for marketing and coordinating your cover design. That’s 2,050 hours. I’ve made close to $60 on my book so far. If you calculated an hourly rate for the time spent, I’m making pennies on the hour. And that’s fine with me. This is a passion, not a job. It all comes down to your goals and how to achieve them.

So what’s the bottom line? Authors should experiment with price. Err on the low side. Don’t get caught up thinking your book is the best one ever written and the reader will gladly pay eight or nine dollars. It’s not going to happen, unless you are Jonathan Franzen or Stephen King.

How much would you pay for an e-book by a first-time author? How much would you pay for an e-book by a renowned author?

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It’s Here! My First Novel: Small Change

Small Change. A Novel. By CG Blake

I launched my first novel, Small Change, over the weekend, culminating a five-year journey. I don’t even know where to begin in sharing with my fellow writers what I learned on this journey. Instead of one of those obnoxious “buy my book, buy my book” posts, I am going to highlight some of the major lessons learned:

The book you start out to write may not be the book you end up writing. Small Change began as a short story I wanted to bring into my local critique group. The premise was the wonder a small child feels when he experiences his first family vacation. I was going for a Jean Shepherd-type story. Jean Shepherd was a writer, radio talk show host and raconteur whose book, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash, was the inspiration for the TBS classic, A Christmas Story. My main character was John Sykowski and his family was from the Chicago suburbs. As I began developing the characters and the boy’s family, I realized I needed another family for them to meet on their summer vacation at a lake resort in Wisconsin. This family would be the opposite of the main character’s family. That family became the Crandales, from rural Iowa, headed by a second-generation minister. As I began writing, I realized the story of these two families had more potential than I imagined.

Do outline, but don’t be afraid to make mid-course adjustments. After I abandoned the short story in favor of a full-blown novel, I prepared a bare-bones outline of about a dozen milestone scenes. I’m more of a pantser than a plotter when it comes to outlining. The first draft served as my outline. I made one major change during the first draft. The character Rebekka, the daughter of the minister, was originally envisioned as the classic “wild child” of a clergyman, who drank and got high and had promiscuous sex. The problem with that was that I already had such a character, her younger brother, Ben. I completely redrew Rebekka as a painfully shy child and I explored the possibility of a romantic relationship with the main character, John.

Your first draft is only the beginning. I completed about eighty percent of the first draft during a period of feverish inspiration and activity in the fall of 2007. By the summer of 2008, the first draft was done. I put it aside for four weeks and then began the revision process. I realized how far I was from a finished product. I began sharing selected sections with members of my critique group. In the spring of 2009, I sent the first 50 pages to two agents I had met at a writer’s conference. They were extremely helpful, but passed on the project. One agent told me I sounded like an adult trying to sound like a 10-year-old child. John was 10 when the original story began. After numerous attempts to fix that problem, I decided the story started in the wrong place. I wrote a new chapter that started the story when John was 14, an easier voice for me to write.

Don’t be concerned if the theme is not immediately apparent. I worried constantly during the writing of my first draft about the theme. The story didn’t seem to have a theme. It wasn’t until a comment made by John’s mother on her deathbed that the theme hit me in the face. The mother, Marge Sykowski, tells John that every family must have its secrets. It’s what keeps families together. It was an “ah-ha!” moment for me. Once I knew the theme I embellished it during the revision process.

Build in plenty of time for the editing and critique process, but set a schedule. This was where the project got way off track. I sent the manuscript out for review and then I just waited. I didn’t feel comfortable setting deadlines for my reviewers since they were graciously volunteering their time. I lost more than a year while I waited. In the meantime, I started and finished the first draft of another novel. I lost my focus on Small Change and it was difficult to get back into it.

Weigh your publishing options carefully. I really wanted to go the traditional publishing route. I believed strongly in this work and I was confident I could secure a publisher. However, all of my queries were met with polite rejections. In researching the publishing industry, it became apparent that first-time authors faced long odds in the current environment. In deciding to go the self-publishing route, I was heavily influenced by a guest blog post by Victorine Lieske on JA Konrath’s blog. A self-published author, Lieske said she initially queried a handful of agents for her novel, Not What She Seems, and was relieved when they rejected her work. She said she knew it could take five years for her to get published and she didn’t feel she had the time to wait. She also didn’t want to sacrifice her other responsibilities in the pursuit of traditional publishing. I felt the same way. As an author in my mid-50s I don’t have five years to wait. I want to get published and write more books. So I decided to publish through the Kindle Direct Publishing program.

Writing a novel is a team effort. You cannot do it alone. So many people helped me along this journey, from my local critique group, a friend who is a graphic designer, my family, my book editor, our state authors and publishers group, and many friends who offered encouragement along the way.

I will be sharing other lessons in future blog posts. If you do want to buy the book:

Buy Small Change

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An Interview with A.D. Bloom

One of the benefits of belonging to a writer’s group is the opportunity to meet talented writers. Aaron Bloom is a fellow member of the West Hartford (CT) Fiction Writers Group. He is an inventive and imaginative writer. Here is my interview with him as he has published a new science fiction fantasy, The Bone Blade Girl.

An Interview with A.D. Bloom, author of The Bone Blade Girl

This month readers get their first look at A.D. Bloom’s new, 111 page, science fantasy novella, The Bone Blade Girl (Stitch: Book One). I took the opportunity to ask this Indie author about his main character – an ultra-violent eleven-year-old. – CB

CG Blake: So before I ask you about Molly, tell us briefly about The Bone Blade Girl and the world it’s set in.

AD Bloom: The Bone Blade Girl is set five hundred years after the end of the world, in a dark age where noble families are kept in power by Stitchlife gene-witches who rewrite them to post-human perfection. Molly is a young peasant girl from a walled town in the wilds who is rewritten for fantastic speed by a renegade Stitchlife and becomes the people’s champion in the struggle for power.

CG Blake: Okay, so why did you make your protagonist a cold-blooded, little girl with a knife?

AD Bloom: I chose to make Molly a little girl because I wanted a character who would make violence harder for the reader to accept as normal behavior. As readers (and movie and TV viewers), we’re pretty used to the idea of adult heroes killing people (especially for a cause), but when a little girl like Molly kills, I think it makes the horrific nature of the act more apparent.

CG Blake: Right from the first page, Molly seems quite easily capable of killing. Did you write her to be some kind of a sociopath?

AD Bloom: Although Molly does possess a cold calm that enables her to kill without what you and I would consider normal empathy or mercy, she isn’t a sociopath in the strict sense if only because she cares so much about the well-being of the people around her. It’s actually a sense of social responsibility that drives Molly to action. That’s the same reason why a lot of people throughout history have committed heinous acts – to make the world better, or at least what they thought was better. It’s a recurring theme throughout all three books in the Stitch Series.

CG Blake: Are all three books about Molly?

AD Bloom: Molly is the main character of all three books, but the story isn’t only about her. It’s about Power. It’s about situational ethics, too, and there are lots of other characters. The Stitchlife Witches, the Populist guerrilla general, the nobles, and my favorite: the bear. After I finished Book Three I realized they’re all dark-hearted heroes – each and every one of them is capable of doing terrible things for a good cause, and none of them have unstained hands.

CG Blake: It seems like you always write your characters to be a little dark? Why?

AD Bloom: I think I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t at least partly in response to the last decade when I think a lot of us (here in America) became shockingly comfortable with the idea of doing something we know is wrong (torture, for example) to achieve an outcome we think is beneficial (saving lives with information we gained). That the ends should justify the means is in no way a new thought, but the level of comfort we have with it now is pretty appalling. Many of us (like Molly) have been seduced into believing that it is honorable to sacrifice oneself for a cause by doing things we know are wrong in order to achieve a noble end. I can see now how it crept into my characters – not just Molly, but others. I’m thinking of Father Doogan from Morituri, Bonnie Levi Mei from Bring Me the Head of the Buddha, and Harry Cozen from Cozen’s Call.

A.D. Bloom’s The Bone Blade Girl (Book One), The Fall of the Haunted City (Book Two), and The Stitchlife Rebellion (Book Three) are available on Kindle for $1.50 each.

http://www.amazon.com/Bone-Blade-Girl-Stitch-ebook/dp/B0077CZK7M

http://www.amazon.com/Fall-Haunted-City-Stitch-ebook/dp/B0077D75LU

http://www.amazon.com/The-Stitchlife-Rebellion-ebook/dp/B0077D75ZG

They can also be purchased bundled together for a 33% discount ($2.99) as Stitch: All Three Novellas in the Stitch Series.

http://www.amazon.com/STITCH-Three-Books-Stitch-ebook/dp/B0077D9D06

 

 

 

 

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