Arrestingly Beautiful

ali-yahya-488146-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Ali Yahya on Unsplash

I don’t use the highlight feature on my Kindle very often, and when I do it’s usually for something funny or interesting I want to remember. Sometimes, it’s for a sentence or paragraph I find particularly literary and beautiful and poetic, though that is rare when reading contemporary works. Last night, after a shitty day to end all shitty days, I opened my Kindle to continue reading Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer and stumbled upon the most arrestingly beautiful line I think I’ve ever read.

And here it is:

I wonder, as I look up at this softly enameled sky, so faintly tinted, which does not bulge today with heavy rain clouds but smiles like a piece of old china,

I don’t know if appreciation of language is affected by mood and temperament, but somehow this line was more alive than the others around it. I think it’s the word enameled that does it. It immediately evoked an image in my mind that I could not only see clearly, but that I could also taste.

No, I wasn’t drinking. I just have no other way to describe it.

And then to follow it up with so faintly tinted… I don’t know. It stopped me dead and made me incredibly sad. To understand that sadness requires a confession.

A Confession

My most recent books, including the one I’m currently working on, are written in a style I can only describe as manufactured. The style comes partly from repetition of learned habits gleaned from books like On Writing and How Not To Write a Novel. As I write Science Fiction, I tend to read a lot of Science Fiction, which while awesome and exciting, teaches a style that is more action-based, more bombastic than what I would call literary fiction. (God only knows if I’m using that term correctly.)

Reader feedback also dictates changes to my style. They don’t like it wordy. They don’t like my awkward sex scenes. They don’t like all the “relationship shit.”

What this produces is a style that is manufactured to be the most appealing to the widest audience. And why wouldn’t you want to do that? More readers means more money and more money means more Whataburger.

But, as I suspect is the case with a lot of writers, I also have a style that I only use in private, on rare days when I’m not working on the book, when I’m writing just for myself. Those days, the language stretches like dissipating contrails “in an enameled sky,” and the words flow in a way that would make most readers reach for something easier to understand, perhaps Carl Jung’s Modern Man in Search of a Soul. (Seriously, have you tried to read that?)

And I tell you what: I miss writing like that. I miss verbosity and poetry and stringing together metaphors and similes in an ever-increasingly clever sequence that ends with a halting breath and shaky hands.

Even with a manufactured style, I still try to focus on the communication of emotion, which I’ve always felt is the most important aspect of writing (and art in general). But perhaps I’m too focused on it… at the expense of a secondary notion that the writing itself can be beautiful, that prose can be poetry. You don’t have to choose one or the other.

A Sadness

So yes, the line made me sad. And it’s the sadness of lost opportunities to write honestly. When you’re done with your marketing and your social media and your brand awareness, all you’ve really got is an arrangement of words on a page.

Sometimes, in our quest to realize our dreams of grandeur, we forget we’re supposed to be producing art. And we forget to question whether that art is honest. Whether we’re proud of it.

I know… that sounds haughty as hell. Perhaps I shouldn’t speak for other writers.

I, Daniel Verastiqui, forget to question.

 

Related: Recommended Reading: The Introduction to Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer

The Vinestead Anthology

chris-lawton-236416
Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

Today, I’m trying to understand what psychology of the series tag. You know, that whole template every budding indie writer seems to be following these days: The Novel Title (The Series Name, Book X). I understand why people who write series would want to tag their books so readers get them in the right order, but what if you write interconnected books that don’t go in any order? Can you still use the series tag? Does it add value, or will it ultimately hurt more than it helps?

Consider the change I made yesterday to the listing of Por Vida on Amazon:

daniel_books

Say you’re a new reader to my books (fat chance, I know you’ve got ’em all on your Kindle), if you saw the above on Amazon, would you:

  • See the word anthology and think unordered series of books taking place in the same universe?
  • Feel like you should seek out Book 1 and start there? (assuming the other books were properly labeled)
  • Not want to get invested because the series is already four books long (I felt this with the Dark Tower series)
  • Close the tab and go browse Reddit for a while

I’m torn between wanting to let people know these books are all connected (based on how excited I get when Stephen King mentions Derry in one of his books) and not wanting them to think its a true series that never finds an ending or that it needs to be read in a certain order.

So I ask you, fellow authors: If you were trying to market standalone novels that shared the same universe, would you use the series tag? Why / why not?

I’d ask my agent, but she lives in Canada. You wouldn’t know her.

Live Forever

Live Forever Offer

I do a lot of silly things to encourage people to write reviews of my books, but this whole get your name in the next book tactic seems to work the best. You know, aside from cold hard cash, which, by the way, should not be delivered as an Amazon Gift Card unless you want to get 20-30 reviews deleted in a single afternoon. I don’t know why it’s such a struggle to get reviews (even bad ones), especially when the book is selling and plenty of people seem to be reading it. I used to think I could impress upon people the importance of leaving reviews, but no. Bribery is pretty much the only thing that works.

Last time’s winner was Curtis, and since it’ll be a while, here’s a preview of where he ended up in the zero draft:

“Identify yourself,” said Jake.

The man stepped back and looked up.

“Ho there,” he called. “Don’t see many people up this way. What brings you to Challis?”

“Identify yourself!” Jake stepped to the railing and pointed the rifle over it.

The man’s hands went up. “Easy, stranger. My name is Curtis.”

“Curtis what?” asked Jake. “What’s your revision?”

“My revision? What do you take me for, some kind of Lassiter drone?”

“You’re not organic,” said Jake.

“Now that is true. I am not an organic human. But I am a person, just like you.”

“I am a sixth generation Vinestead synthetic,” said Jake. “You’re nothing like me.”

“They’re up to Six now? Interesting.” Curtis stepped back several feet so he wouldn’t have to crane his neck. “Well, Mr. Six. Seeing how you’re hunting organics and I’m not an organic, I don’t see that we have any quarrel.”

Jake considered the offer, shook his head. There weren’t supposed to be any other synthetics. If there were, who did they follow? What was their purpose?

“What are you doing here?” asked Jake.

“We have some monitoring equipment up there,” Curtis replied, gesturing with an outstretched arm. “Helps us keep tabs on who comes and goes in the valley. We picked up a whole mess of activity in Arco day before last, so I came down to make sure everything’s in good working order here.”

“You’re tracking our movements?” His finger trembled on the trigger.

“Yours. Humans. Animals. Anything that moves. Gotta know who’s walking in your backyard, am I right?”

“This isn’t your backyard,” said Jake. “This is Lassiter’s domain.”

That made Curtis chuckle. “Lassiter doesn’t exist in this world, pal. He may reach out to you from VNet, but he can’t walk here. Funny how that works, huh?” He adjusted his jacket. “Look, I’m on a schedule here, so if you’re not gonna come down, I’ll just come back another day. Safe travels, Mr. Six.”

He turned to leave. Jake raised the gun.

“I’m not done with you,” he warned. “This gun will tear you in half.”

Curtis shrugged, didn’t look back. “You’d be doing me a favor. I was never a fan of this sleeve anyhow.”

If you’d like to join Curtis in Hybrid Mechanics, you can buy / review my most recent book, Por Vida, here.

See you in the Vinestead ‘Verse!

A Review of Veneer

When it comes to reading reviews, I only ever check my author page at Amazon. How many times a day I check that page for new reviews isn’t relevant. It’s the only place I really want reviews–good and bad–because that’s where people are making the decision to buy, and for some reason, the reviews tend to be… better (?)… than the ones at Goodreads. Maybe there’s something about Goodreads that brings out the vitriol more easily than at Amazon. There are a lot of good reasons to avoid the site altogether, but we don’t have the time today.

Still, every once in a while, I’ll head over there and see if there has been any movement. Typically, there hasn’t, but today I noticed a couple of new reviews for Veneer that I hadn’t seen before. Here is my favorite:

Deborah Fruchey Review of Veneer by Daniel Verastiqui

This might be the first time someone has described one of my books as a “novel of ideas,” which I like to think is true for all of them. It’s easy to get over-excited about technology, to want to describe a future so advanced and awesome that you forget to include characters and actual conflict.

I’m not sure if I accomplished what I set out to do with Veneer, but I enjoy the book for its themes, specifically the idea that we don’t need augmented reality to hide our true motives and true selves. Take away the tech and the story could have just as easily happened in our time.

Lastly, for most of the writers I know, writing is a passion that exists outside the scope of sales, reviews, and acclaim. Not that they’re better than that, but the passion is going to be there whether the book is #10 or #100000 on Amazon’s best seller list. So when you get a favorable review on Goodreads or Amazon, take a moment to enjoy the abstract emotional connection you made with another human and then move on, the same way you’d do with a negative review.

But don’t forget to say thanks.

Thanks, Deborah.