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Awesome! I have dreamed of this day… (cell phone novels)

Ever since I was little, I’ve had visions of producing serial stories on hand-held devices. I saw my dad’s early Palm predecessor and was instantly, insanely jealous, even though those gadgets were only able to hold names and addresses. I saw the potential, though (you know what they say, to find the potential of any new technology, give it to a kid.)

This year, I became aware of Cellstories, but it seems to focus on short fiction, and I get the feeling that it is more literary or experimental. I’m more interested in pure entertainment, and the recent articles about “Bunny’s” amateur, romantic cell phone novels got me all excited again. It’s enough to make me want to get a new phone.

Noncommercial writing helps writers be more honest and creative, frees writers from market constraints.
There is something so cool about this. Bunny’s stories were put out with noncommercial intent in a noncommercial market. Though the books went to print and made some money, the author’s objective was solely to entertain.

This is the same ethos that fan fiction writers have, and I think it’s a very positive environment to write in. It’s freeing to not have to worry about anything else but delivering the best entertainment possible to your audience. You don’t have to think about issues such as marketability, finding an agent, genre constraints and conventions, mass appeal, etc. You can just tell the story you want to tell, straight up, delivering it directly to the people who want to read it.

If you self publish, you also have this freedom in a commercial marketplace.
I’m aware that most people think of self-published works as stuff that wasn’t good enough to get picked up by a “real publisher.” That is certainly true of a lot of self-published writers. But I’m also aware that the freedom can result in better works that are between you and your audience.

Yes, you still have to go through an editorial process, but that editor really works for you. The editor you hire helps you make the writing into what you want it to be, not into what the publisher thinks it can sell. There is nothing wrong with this, by the way — I fully support publishers and think that they are, and will continue to be, very valuable.

Direct market feedback made my work stronger.
But if I had not self published, thousands of people wouldn’t have gotten the best possible education on a niche topic. I would have been constrained into a more marketable “coffee table” type book with pretty pictures and lush prose, but little valuable information. I wouldn’t have the personal relationship with fans who eagerly buy everything my little press puts out, and I wouldn’t be able to nurture my growing list of members.

The direct communication with my audience made my book better, both because I was able to get direct feedback, but also because I knew I had no one else to answer to. I was able to do what I thought would result in the absolute best end result, not what a publisher wanted to see. Then, members of my list beta-tested the writing directly and gave me feedback; I even had an editor among my members, so it worked out.

Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a post about how every author should learn how to build and nurture a list of fans, so I’m going to stop there. My point is, these new devices are helping free artists from existing constraints. And it looks like the audience is in favor.

How can you take advantage of this freedom?
I would never argue that self publishing is for everyone. It’s a ton of work and to do it successfully takes a certain kind of person. But the ability to communicate directly with fans — and write for them alone — is something that every writer can leverage. I’d love to see even big name writers putting out their own experimental works, or stories of “unsellable” length, for their fans via cell phone.

It’s not about getting more exposure, though that will be a side effect. It’s about being able to write exactly what you want and get it delivered to fans. This has never been possible before, not this cheaply, instantly, or on such a massive scale. In the past, if artists wanted mass exposure, they were stuck relying on an existing publisher’s resources of distribution network and reproduction technology. That usually meant adapting their own ideas to the publisher’s (usually well-intentioned) guidelines.

But now, we can let the market speak for itself — we can hear people’s votes without a representative — and that is really cool. I’d love to hear your comments and ideas about this.

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Tired of the beautiful people.

This is a romance / erotica rant and will be, at best, semi-organized in presentation.

I am tired of all the beautiful people in romance and erotica. Come on. In these genres, everyone’s physically attractive. I get that it’s part of the fantasy, but when I look at real people in the real world, such as a near 60 year-old martial artist with the body of a god, romance characters are often Ken and Barbie. Indistinct and unoriginal.

Characters are supposed to feel real.

Yes, I know that characters aren’t real life, but they’re supposed to feel real. And romance people are like fairy tale princes and princesses (sometimes literally.) They are beautiful, but unreal, action figures made to depict the same story, over and over, with slight variations.

The romance story can’t change that much. Overall, you know what generally happens. So, in order for the story to be fresh, it means the characters need to be fresh. Real-feeling characters give an element of reality to the story, and readers will be more willing to bond with a character that is convincingly human.

For example…

I often run into real people who spark my sexual imagination, such as T, the 19 year old Radio Shack employee who helped me with my video game setup. I noticed him when I walked into the store and was delighted to find him a true gaming soul-brother. As he enthusiastically recommended games, I noticed his black-lashed and slightly tilted eyes, and the sharp intelligence of his look.

Of course, I idly wondered what it would be like to have sex with him. The thing is, I could have crushed him. He was so thin, so small. Compared to my stocky farmgirl frame, he was probably at least 20 pounds lighter than me, and considerably younger. I wondered what his sexual philosophy was… if he was a good lover… if he had a small penis to match his build.

Then, there’s a waitress in a restaurant I always go to. She has long, brassy-brown, straight hair done in kind of a warrior princess or elf style. Most of it’s hanging down, but a little of it’s pulled back away from her face in braids. She’s in between pretty and cute — small, soft, and healthy-looking — but she has a slight hawk’s nose, giving her a rather fierce appearance.

I keep wondering how she isn’t cold; she wears barely-there black pleated skirts in all kinds of Chicagoland weather. Does she come in jeans and change for her shift?

Are your characters interesting outside of the genre?

Characters like these make me interested in their stories, both sexually and nonsexually. (And remember, you’re writing a story first, not a “romance story.”) If the reader is interested in your character first, your story will be more powerful for it, no matter if you’re writing mystery, erotica, romance, or high fantasy.

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Are you writing disposable fiction?

I used to hang out with a lot of musicians — really good ones of various flavors.  One of them was in one of those PBS-sponsored youth classical contests (can’t remember if he won, though.)  A couple of them were in the Hollywood movie-scoring scene already.  Some did work in games soundtracks.  A couple semi-famous singer/songwriters.  And some were electronic musicians who wrote dance songs.

The electronic musicians had a problem.  Like any artist, they wanted to make something enduring, but they knew that their work was destined to be, at most, a seasonal hit in the clubs.  Whatever they wrote would be replaced with the next tune that satisfied people’s dance music cravings.

Electronic music is inherently consumable and disposable.

Electronic dance music is functional — it’s designed to make people want to dance for a long time and strengthen people’s ties to certain lifestyles. These things don’t happen by accident; a good dance music writer knows why people listen to it and leverages his knowledge. To non-expert listeners (people not in the scene), all the songs in a style — like house, hip-hop, trance, d&b, 2step, etc — sound basically the same, since they have to operate within the guidelines of this function.

You’d think that this would make dance music producers take their art less seriously, knowing that their audience is going to consume and discard their work.  But no, the best of the electronic musicians still thought of themselves as “real musicians,” regardless of their genre’s critics or their work’s fate.

These composers proved to be as dedicated to their craft as the Hollywood orchestral soundtrack writers.

But it makes sense.  If they’re serious about making good music, they have to think of themselves as 1st class musicians, not just “dance producers.”

If they think of themselves as 2nd class musicians — “I just write electronic stuff” — they damn themselves to settling for a lower grade before they sequence a single beat.  They won’t think it’s possible to write a great piece within the genre, and their music will never be great, just satisfactory.

Even worse, they will limit themselves to tools within the style only, taking the conventions, cliches, and standards as their starting point.  This creates me-too music and basically precludes creativity — the same kind of creativity that Massive Attack had when creating their signature sound and broke out of existing genre rules.

Are you a writer, or a “popular fiction writer?”

So, what does this mean for you, a writer?  Let’s pretend you’re a romance writer.  How do you think of yourself and your stories? Are you a writer, or a “romance writer?”  Have you lowered standards for your own stories just because you write fiction that people tend to read & recycle?  In your heart of hearts, do you feel like a 2nd class citizen just because of your genre?

Do you believe that it’s possible to write a masterpiece in your chosen genre?

If you truly want to write something that endures… that’s not automatically destined for the read & recycle fate… that won’t get replaced in the reader’s memory by the next satisfactory thing… then start thinking of yourself as a 1st class writer, not a “romance writer.”  Think of your stories as stories, not “romance stories.”  Believe that even though you write in a popular genre, you can achieve masterpiece level with your stories.

Only then will you stop being limited by your own thinking, and only then will you be able to write at maximum capacity.