business, martial arts, projects, Wing Chun, writing

Dropping One Dream to Pursue Another

Well, folks, here we are. It was this time last week that I said I was going to take a break from posting blogs for a while. Then I realized I was on #27, and I didn’t like that, so I said, “Well, I’ll do 3 more, so I have a nice, round, even 30.”

This is #30.

Why am I putting this on hold for a while? Two reasons really.

  1. There are other things I need to get done. The good news is, these are finite tasks; it’s just that, with my attention being pulled in so many directions, it means it takes me FOREVER to get even the simplest things done. If I trim away the fat and focus on these handful of tasks, then I can finish them faster.
  2. I need to reassess the blog, where I’m going with it, and how to get there. Fortunately, there is another blogger (he may or may not realize this, but I’ve known him for quite some time now) who is offering me help with that.

Being a writer is the longest dream I’ve ever had. I don’t necessarily mean a world-famous one like Stephen King, although it would be cool to earn enough to quit my day job and do nothing but write. However, I’d even be happy with a small cult following, not unlike the fanatical fans of bands that I like, such as My Bloody Valentine or Sunny Day Real Estate.

However, as I have gotten older, there are other dreams that have arisen. One of them is to help people who struggle to get better at martial arts, and I am speaking in particular of the style known as Wing Chun Kung Fu. I want to spread the word about the training tips and ideas that I’ve created. I want to be known as an authority on the subject, and the only way to get there is focus.

It took me a while to face the truth, but after a while, I had to accept it: pursuing this dream meant I’d have to STOP pursuing another…at least for a little while. Once I am into the swing of things, it will be no challenge to juggle both. However, during the learning phase, I need to concentrate.

The question was: how? I still have 4 novels and 10 poetry collections that I want to put on Amazon! One day I sat down and figured out a plan that will allow me to get all those writings up there by the end of the year, barring some catastrophe of course. In fact, I’ve been putting this plan into action for about a week now, and so far things are going smoothly.

I have a projection that the writing will all be done by the beginning of 2020, and then I can bring in the New Year by starting work on my martial arts business. How long will it be until I return to writing? I can’t say for sure. That all depends on how quickly I pick up on what I have to do.

Also, I’ve been thinking about something the other blogger said to me: he said I want to post on a consistent schedule. I knew that part, of course, but then he followed that by saying “…even if it’s only once a week.”

Once a week? Really? That’s okay??? Well, shoot! In that case, I might not abandon the blog completely after all! I could manage to do one blog per week. I have to talk to him more about this, so I can’t say for sure yet.

However, there is one thing you can count on: you will know when I do!

 

~~~Steve

Billy Corgan, criticism, misunderstanding, observation, reviews, writing

The Right to Disagree Depends on Your Fame

Recently, someone wrote a review about one of my stories. Before they got to the story itself, they said someone sent them a blog in which I gave a rebuttal to a reviewer. (I’m guessing it was “How Reviews SHOULD Be Done.”) While the reviewer did wind up proving that he understood my story and even complimenting it quite well, there was one thing he said that stuck with me: he said that this rebuttal blog was a “red flag.”

I can only assume this statement means something like: “Uh oh, here is a super sensitive writer who can’t handle criticism, and he is going to lash out at every reviewer who says his book sucks.” On the contrary, I can take criticism quite well. However, I think there is a right and wrong way to do it. If you give my horror novella Maybe the Dream Knows What is Real two stars out of five because the main character is not someone with whom you can empathize, then you missed the entire point of the story. You AREN’T supposed to empathize with him. In fact, that is written in the synopsis.

With that said, I started to think about other artists who have responded to their negative reviews. Let’s see:

  • Billy Corgan (leader of the Smashing Pumpkins called Jim DeRogatis “that fat fuck from the Chicago Sun-Times” because DeRogatis had said of the Siamese Dream track “Hummer” that the lyrics were sophomoric and stupid.
  • When Roger Ebert gave a scathing review of The Brown Bunny, the director Vincent Gallo said that he hoped Ebert got cancer.
  • When Salon book reviewer Laura Miller wrote a brutal review of Chuck Palahnuik’s Diary, the author sent her a letter which includes the following quote: “Until you can write something that captivates people, I’d invite you to just shut up.”
  • The music magazine Hit Parader was very critical of the band Quiet Riot. In one interview, the lead singer said he loved the Hit Parader because it was good to wipe his ass with!

The thing is, I hardly ever hear anyone coming down on these people for lashing out at their critics. Okay, maybe I do with Billy Corgan because everyone thinks he is an asshole anyway, but I have never heard anyone say what a scumbag Vincent Gallo is for wishing cancer upon Roger Ebert…not even after the critic really did die from cancer. Has anyone come down on Palahnuik for his letter? If so, I never heard of it.

Then I started to think: what is the difference between these artists and myself?

There is really only one thing.

Fame.

Well, there is money too, but usually money comes with the fame.

Some people might be tempted to say, “Well, they are better writers than you,” but I don’t know how that can be judged. For everyone who thinks Fight Club sucked, you might find someone who thinks Maybe the Dream Knows What is Real is a masterpiece. So let’s discard any discussion of who is better for now.

So why are things this way? Why is okay for famous people to fire back, but some unknown writer who may very well have as much talent as the famous figures? Does this mean that, if my books were picked up by a publisher and I was suddenly famous, that I would then have the “right” to post a retort?

No, I don’t think so. And do you know why? Because I think I already have that right. We all do. Even if you wrote just one short story, and someone wound up giving you a lousy review, but in that review they prove they missed the entire point of what you were saying, you would still have the right to a rebuttal.

But hey…maybe that is just me. Maybe I stand alone in this opinion. Who knows? All I know is this: yes, I did write a rebuttal to a critical review, but I don’t see how that should count as a “red flag.”

And the sad thing?

By writing this, I’ll probably have TWO red flags under my belt.

You don’t have to be writer or musician to have an opinion on this blog. If you DO in fact have one, I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

 

busy, life, writing

A Brief Intermission (Almost)

Hello to all my readers!

Recently I purchased a training course called Video Ranking Academy 2.0, which helps you learn how to optimize and rank on YouTube. Unlike a lot of similar course, I think this one is really going to do the trick.

However, here’s the catch: to make sure it DOES do the trick, I have to buckle down and focus. Therefore, I think I am going to take a break from blogging for a while. My goal is to wrap up any writing tasks that I have laid out before me, and then start hammering away at the VRA just as the New Year comes around. How’s THAT for a way to bring in the new year?

Actually, I am at 27 blogs once I publish this post. I don’t like that. Therefore, I think I will call it a night after 30. I like round numbers.

What are my writing tasks? Oh, let me count them:

  • Reformat 4 novels for Amazon
  • Reformat 10 poetry collections for Amazon
  • Make revisions to one of the Wing Chun books I wrote

Three lines’ worth of tasks? Might not sound like a lot, but believe me: it is! I need to dedicate every second that I can to knocking those out. This temporary absence is necessary, so that I can come back strong and be uninterrupted.

There will be 3 more posts before I hang up a “closed” sign, but I thought I would at least put up the notification that it’s coming.

life, observation, writing

When What Was Fun Becomes a Grind

Sometimes the things we love to do can become a grind. I’m sure this happens to all of us, but I want to give an example about what I mean from my life. It is about writing. Now I’m willing to bet that not a lot of people reading this are writers, but stick with me, and I bet you can relate. Just replace “writing” with something you love, and you can probably think of a time when you were in the same spot.

For a while now, I have been following this morning routine:

  • Submit my novella Maybe the Dream Knows What is Real to 10 book review sites
  • Reformat at least 5 pages of my novel The Humanitarian Murders so it displays properly on Amazon
  • Post a new blog on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday

However, when I got up this morning, I realized I didn’t want to do any of these! Yet here I am, slogging through it, because I turned my reluctance to blog into the TOPIC of my blog. Clever, eh?

Well, it’s not clever enough. I still need to think a way out of this rut. It’s not that blogging itself is a chore or that I have already lost the fire to do it. In fact, I don’t think this lack of ambition is tied to the blogging part at all. This is related more to the formatting and submitting part.

When it comes to site submissions, I am almost done. I had a list of a whopping 630 book reviewer sites. Today, I just finished reaching out to numbers 531-540. However, the reformatting is what kills me.

Before I was working on the novel, I was reformatting my poetry collections. I have 30 of them, but I got bored working on them, so I decided to flip-flop between poetry and prose. How so? Easy:

  • Format 5 collections of poetry
  • Format a novel
  • Repeat

Sounds simple, right? I mean, the poetry collections are only about 30 pages each in MS Word, so I can tear through them. The snag came when I got to the first novel. Why? Well, because those are longer, and they have a LOT more words per page than poetry.

For now, I am going to stick to my plan, which is formatting and then releasing The Humanitarian Murders. I will also finish submitting to the remaining 90 blog sites. However, after that I don’t know what the plan is, and I need one. I’ve got  3 more novels and 12 more poetry collections to reformat, and then of course I have to go through the motions of submitting these to review sites. That is where I get one break: once I make it through the list, I can go back and remove any sites that are now defunct, or any that were duplicates, or that don’t accept my genre.

But enough about me.

I’d like to hear from YOU. Can you relate? Is there anything in your life that normally brings you boundless joy, but sometimes feels like a chore?

Leave a comment!

criticism, lesson, writing

The Worst Question to Ask a Writer?

Usually I write blogs that can relate to anyone. Today I want to be self-indulgent.

Stephen King once said that one of the questions he hated being asked was, “Where do you get your ideas?” At least I THINK he said that. I’m pretty sure it was an inquiry he didn’t enjoy. Even if he never said it, I know for a fact David J. Schow didn’t. He wrote about it at length in one of his “Raving & Drooling” articles in Fangoria.

My point is that I don’t understand why this question drew such repulsion. After all, there have been many non-fiction pieces written by many authors (King was one of them!) where they specifically say, “I was walking through the store when I saw something, and it made me think, ‘What if…'” In other words, there are many occasions where they know EXACTLY what inspired a story idea.

Maybe it’s because they think the question means, “Why are you so creative when the rest of us aren’t?” I can’t say. The only time a question related to my ideas annoyed me was when one person said to me, “All I kept thinking is, ‘Why would anyone write a story like this?'” That’s because she was a romance novelist, and I had asked for her assistance with a novel called The Size Curse.

To be honest, I kind of had it coming. I mean, Size Curse does not have your usual plot. Not a lot of people “get” it. However, I fired back at her and said, “Well, in that case you could ask why any author writes ANYTHING. I mean, I could just as easily ask you why you write the stories you do when Danielle Steel already got there decades before you, and did it better.” The reason for the snark in my reply was due to the implied snootiness in hers. If you think about it, what her question was really saying was, “I can’t imagine how anyone could be SICK ENOUGH to write a story like this.”

Meanwhile, the news is full of stories of terrorist attacks, serial murder, people selling their kids for their weight in drugs, etc. Given how horrifying real-life stories are, I don’t think it’s an indication of a sick mind if you come up with a horrifying story. (And if it’s a sick mind who comes up with these stories, what does that say of those who CONSUME them? I mean, the writer gets paid to write them, but the reader has to PAY to read them. Think about that for a moment!)

At any rate, enough about the close-minded Danielle Steel clone. My point is just that I don’t think being asked where you get your ideas is a bad thing. It’s not like they’re saying what Danielle 2.0 said: “This idea is so repulsive that I can’t imagine coming up with it. How could you possibly think of such a sick idea???” THAT would be a question worth hating, yes, but not the inquiry I’m discussing.

I like when people ask where I get ideas. Sometimes it’s easy to answer. For example, with The Size Curse, I was thinking about how so many people wish they are something they’re not: taller, more handsome, in better shape, etc. I combined that with a riff on the Franz Kafka story Metamorphoses, and BOOM! Instant Size Curse.

Being asked where I get my ideas make me think about it, and sometimes it’s an interesting exploration. Oh, and sometimes it will even make me think of NEW stories. So let’s dial back the hate for this question. It’s undeserved.

And in case you’re wondering what this Size Curse is all about (after all, reading it would help you understand this post more), then you can find out about it here:

The Size Curse

criticism, intelligence, misunderstanding, reviews, writing

How Reviews SHOULD Be Done

Not too long ago I got a 2-star review about my novella Maybe the Dream Knows What is Real. It wasn’t the 2 stars that angered me; it was the reasoning behind it. Here is what the review said:

“REVIEW TITLE: You can’t blame everyone for everything…

Every so often I come across a story that I find hard to review, and this was one of them. The main character wasn’t likable, and I found it hard to empathize with his plight. He was written as an awkward kid short on friends who grows up to be cocky and opinionated. He blames everyone for how he turned out in life, taking little responsibility for himself. The story had some very graphic scenes, more than I found enjoyable, which is saying a lot since I spend most of my time reading horror stories.
The synopsis stated, ‘This is a story about the dangers of depending on others to give you a sense of self-worth, taken to the extreme.’ This is probably why the world is full of psychopaths and unbalanced people. To hinge your feelings and views on the world on the feedback of everyone you meet in your life can only lead to disappointment. To blame all past interactions as the reason for your current and future behavior is a problem and the situation the main character finds himself in. If you want a dark ride through the eyes of a crazy person this is the book for you, for me it didn’t hit the mark.”

Right off the bat, this reviewer shows he didn’t get the entire idea behind the story. He is critical of the main character for not being likable and not taking responsibility for himself.

Um…well…yeah, that was kind of the idea of the story. That is why the my synopsis says, “This is a story about the dangers of depending on others to give you a sense of self-worth.” He wasn’t meant to be likable.

In fact, I want to talk about this whole idea that main characters are always meant to be likable. It’s foolish, and it hasn’t been the case ever since the whole “anti-hero” motif came along. To base a review on whether or not you and the main character could be best buddies seems a bit odd to me.

That shouldn’t be what informs a review. What SHOULD inform are two simple questions: (1) What was the author trying to achieve? (2) Did they do that? I mean, can you imagine if every reviewer based reviews on whether or not they liked or could identify with the main character? Books like A Clockwork Orange and By Reason of Insanity would have nothing but 1- and 2-star reviews.

Look at it this way: I bet Roger Ebert was not a fan of every genre of every movie he was sent to see, and yet his reviews were not based on whether or not he liked horror movies. They weren’t based on whether or not he liked the characters. They were based on how well the filmmakers made their world believable. End of story. For example, if a movie was about a character who was insane, he didn’t give it 2 stars and say, “The main character was crazy, and I couldn’t identify with him.”

Thankfully, there are still some people understand this rule. They know how to look at the story without any personal biases. They know that depending on others for a sense of self-worth is the EXACT downfall of this main character, and they understand I’m not asking anyone to empathize or feel sorry for him.

I’m not sure if the majority of reviewers write like the quote above, or if they know how to separate those emotions. The jury is still out on that one. However, I am grateful for those who do.

 

criticism, lesson, life, music, universal, writing

Taking Criticism…When It Makes Sense

For some reason, this morning I woke up thinking about criticism and how I have gotten better at taking it. (Higher self-esteem can give you this ability.) However, the more I thought about this, the more I realized something: I have never really been BAD at taking it, but it has to mean something or else I can’t take it seriously.

This can make it seem like I can’t handle criticism. I remember telling a young woman I knew about a criticism a friend had of one of my stories, and she said, “Have you ever thought about taking people’s remarks as ways to make your story better instead of just being like, ‘Haha they’re so ignorant?'” To which I said, “Yes, I can…if it’s logical criticism.”

Let me explain the story in question, and you will see what I mean.

In this instance, I had asked a friend to read a script I’d written for a martial arts movie. (For the record, I called it Shaolin Secrets.) The story was about a half-American, half-Chinese martial arts star named Raymond Liu who gets drawn into some mysterious plot. I’m not going to explain the whole movie here; I gave you the very basics so that I could get to the part that drew criticism from my friend.

Raymond’s mother died when he was very young, which left him to be raised alone by his father. (His name: Jian.) Now some of you reading this might not know the history, but there was something that happened in Chinese history called the Sino-Japanese War. During this conflict, the Japanese committed many horrific war crimes; some people even refer to it as the “Asian Holocaust.” Jian lived through that and, as a result, developed a racist attitude toward the Japanese, which he passed on to Raymond.

You see, in most stories, the main character experiences some kind of growth by the end of the story. In this case, my intention was that Raymond would shed his racist attitude, and I had a way to do it that didn’t seem preachy/heavy-handed.

Then my friend got back to me with what he thought of the story. He liked the action sequences, liked the plot, liked the dialogue, liked the characters, but there was one thing he didn’t like.

What was that?

You guessed it.

The fact that Raymond was racist.

I asked why not, and he expressed a view about martial artists that has to be one of the most common myths out there. He said, “Well, it’s because he’s a serious martial artist, and most martial artists are enlightened, and they can rise above petty things like that.”

I said, “Really? So what about those martial artists that confronted Bruce Lee about teaching kung fu to whites and blacks? Or what about the Chinese guy who runs a school in Albany, who I’ve heard say disparaging things about the Japanese because he grew up through the Sino-Japanese War, just like Ray’s father?” (SIDE NOTE: I based Raymond’s racism on this real-life example.)

So when I passed my friend’s remark on to this other person, that is when she said I couldn’t take criticism. Incidentally, this same young lady was the source of another critique that I never took seriously because, again, it didn’t make sense.

At the time, I was in a band. This young lady and her boyfriend came to see one of my shows. When I saw her at work, I asked what they thought of our performance. She said the songs, lyrics, and my guitar playing were all good, but the singing fell short because I sang monotone. I asked what she meant by that, but she never explained it.

This is why I couldn’t take it seriously: I doubt she knew what the word meant. That sounds like I am mocking her, but think about it. If you went and saw a band where the lead vocalist sang “monotone,” then it would sound something like this:

I know for a fact I don’t sing like that. Near as I can tell, what she REALLY meant was that I didn’t sing with enough guts/passion, that I didn’t sound like I “meant” it, which is a criticism I’ve had of myself over the years. Still, that wasn’t the way it was communicated to me, so therefore the “criticism” was brushed aside.

In summary, I have no problem with criticism, but I don’t believe it should be taken blindly. Sometimes you might have knowledge of the subject being critiqued that the source of the remark doesn’t have that renders it meaningless. That doesn’t mean you can’t TAKE it; it just means it doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.

Maybe most people reading this post are not writers or musicians. That’s fine because this idea of analyzing criticism can be applied to any part of life. Think about it: let’s say you buy some shoes that you think are the most stylish shoes ever made. You ask a friend what they think, and all they say is, “They’re ugly because they’re gray.”

Okay, well..maybe YOU like gray, so that is why, to you, they were awesome shoes. In my opinion, that would be a form of criticism that could be dismissed because it doesn’t hold up to close examination.

I always write my blogs with the intention of making what I say applicable to everyone, not just writers, musicians, and other artists. I bet you thought I was going to leave you folks out this time, huh? No, I’m going to always do my best to NEVER do that.

Until next time,

~~~Steve