Thursday, December 16, 2010

The latest bestseller - would you like fries with that?

It's worth noting that some of the greatest books ever written are no more than 100-250 pages in length - Dorian Grey, Treasure Island, The War Of The Worlds, Frankenstein, The Great Gatsby - to name just a few.

And yes, there are those 1,000 page plus epics like The Count Of Monte Cristo (a personal favourite), Les Miserables, War And Peace, where in spite of their length, every single word is worth its weight in gold and the reading pleasure immeasurable (try saying that after a few beers, or even after just one.) Ken Follet's The Pillars Of The Earth is a favoutite of mine, and of just about everyone who has ever read it.

That's all good but the point is that every piece of literature doesn't need to be a s long as The Great Wall Of China in order to be a classic tale well told. There's room, plenty of room, for much shorter, faster reads which are every bit as original, as thought provoking, as emotion inducing as the great classics - and even for short stories (remember them?)

So where are they? Why are there so many books where the plot and the character development would've been sharp and focused and satisfying in 300 pages or less, but are generally upsized to 500 plus, 600 plus, 700-800 pages (and would you like fries with that?)

It's not just some books that are guilty of this bigger-is-better supersize-me approach, there's more than a few films and tv miniseries that are also guilty as charged, stretching every scene, every action sequence, every character conflict to excruciating length as if to say, "if we've taken up this much of your time we must be important."

Long-winded - yes. Important - not. Entertaining - might have been, if there'd been a bit of editing.

As clearly stated I'm a fanatical fan of the aforementioned epics, but let's not forget that some of the world's most readable, influential, timeless works, to name a few more, have been books like To Kill a Mockingbird, The Catcher In The Rye, The Day Of The Triffids, Rosemary's Baby, The Old Man And Ther Sea, The Thirty Nine Steps...the list goes on, and I don't see why it can't be added to with upcoming and refreshing new authors.

And that day might very well be with us, due to the rise of the ebook, and the ereaders - Kindle, Kobo, Nook, plus the Ipad, the Iphone 4, and the many other gadgets galore that are putting both well known writers and indie author/publishers in the digital spotlight.

Shorter books, and novellas and short fiction, work well in this bold new reading environment, are often priced at just 99c, and are proving popular with readers.

I've more to say on this but I'm going to cut this blog around here before I become a bloatedly overwritten example of my own critique.

As always, your comments are welcome (provided they're not epics) and any tips on brilliant, shorter reads out there then let me know, post them here, I'd love to hear about them.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The One Man Publishing Band - coming soon to your town.

Yesterday my neighbour Buggeroff made an interesting point. (There's a first time for everything.) He was asking how my book project was coming along and I mentioned I was flat chat (he didn't take the hint) preparing my own art for the paperback edition, and formatting for the e-book. Buggeroff said, 'You're a regular one man band.'

I'd been thinking the same thing lately.

In centuries past the one man band was a street performer with a pedal-operated bass drum strapped to his back, a multi-instrumentalist who slid easily from cymbals and banjos to ukeleles, while a monkey in a funny hat sat on his shoulder for comic effect.

With the rapid advance of digital technology over the past few years, giving us print-on-demand books and multiple e-book formats and e-readers, a new kind of solo operator has emerged. The one man publishing band has become a reality.

The OMPB can write/self-edit/self-publish/blog/guest blog/podcast/beat their won drum/go virtual touring/make "live' in-store appearances (no monkeys required)/sell movie rights/sell all kinds of rights/everything, in fact, except the vocals (and some will even do that - karaoke has a lot to answer for.)

In the early '70's, there was a sudden wave of what the media labeled "singer/songwriters." Guys like Cat Stevens, Elton John and Billy Joel. It was a new trend for solo performers to compose their own material. And the film community has long had its indie writer/directors - launching their opuses at film festivals, then negotiating deals with distributors and studios.

A similar thing is happening now, literary-wise, with the indie author/publisher. John Lennon sang, 'Power To The People.' He might have had something else in mind, but guess what, power to the people is staking its own little claim in the book world right now.

On 'Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy,' Elton sang that he and his co-writer Bernie Taupin had come "from the end of the world to your town." That is exactly what the internet has enabled authors - and not just authors - to do.

It's all very entrepreneurial. We tend to think of entrepreneurs as multi-millionaire heads of far-reaching enterprises. But entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes.

Authors who create an original work, prepare a finished manuscript and set about selling it to an agent or publisher, or self-publish direct to the public, are entrepreneurs. Just not very big ones.

Your market might be a niche one. Or you might be aiming at a broader readership. Doesn't matter. Richard Branson might not have anything to worry about, but you're an entrepreneur with a capital "E".

Self publishing has always had its own stigma, fast fading now, but I've often wondered why, given that creative industry entrepreneurs aren't new. They've always been out there.

Walt Disney never worked for a boss. From an early age he devised his own animated shorts, headed up his own team, sold rights, handled distribution and promotion, and ultimately built his own distribution firm, Buena Vista. He formed his own studio, made the first ever full-length animated cartoon film, built his own theme park (the first one of its kind) and produced and hosted his own weekly TV series to tie together all his other endeavours. Whew!

If he'd been put off by the stigma of producing his own work, there never would have been a Disneyland or a Disney empire or the legions of others who imitated his works.

Mark Twain wrote, printed and published his own books and had a team of salesmen selling his titles door-to-door. (I'm thinking he really would've appreciated the internet.)

Author/publishers like J A Konrath, James Swain, Scott Westerfeld and a host of others are out there doing it for themselves and they're not even sisters.

Bestselling writers like David Morrell and F Paul Wilson are publishing some of their backlist titles as e-books, as well as some new material.

Indie author/publishers like thriller writers Mary MacDonald, Sean Patrick Reardon and many, many more are launching their own ebook titles and marketing them on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and Smashwords and other online retailers.

I'd say the OMPB's are here to stay.

I'll be entering the fray shortly with my suspense novel, 'The Delta Chain,' (warning:shameless plug) a mystery about drowning victims whose identities cannot be traced. More about that another time.

The era of the one man publishing band is just, it seems, getting started. Like many others, I'm curious to see where this authorpreneurial wave of change is going to take us next...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Introducing the next generation (insert alphabet letter here)

After a long, cold winter we're having a mild Spring in Sydney, as good a weather as any to have, I expect, whilst I'm putting the finishing touches to publishing my novel (plus a whole lot of research on format, promotion, all those nasty bits.) In fact I came across an article recently that speculated on what kind of reading is preferred by the different generations.

My novel is mystery/suspense, aimed at fans of the genre rather than any particular age group, which is the case, I would think, for most novels. There's exceptions, of course - YA novels, obviously aimed at teens, and certainly some chick-lit that's primarily marketed to a young, sassy, urbane female readership.

This got me to thinking about the various generations and our desire for placing labels on them.

Since the 1960's the world has, for some unknown reason, been doing just that.

So after the post-Second World War Baby Boomers, we've had Generation X, then Generation Y, and then...I'm not sure if we're up to Gen Y-Not, or Z, but I do know we're about to run out of the alphabet. No-one though that one through.

So does everything deserve to have its own generation recognized and labeled?

Book fans, for example? If you're a reader who only likes to read a specific genre, be it thriller or s/f or romance, should we identify you as one of the Genre-ation?

Have you ever encountered one of those older gentlemen, perhaps himself once in the Armed Forces, or just a guy with an interest in all things military, who mainly reads wartime fiction and non-fiction? Generation W, I'd say.

And then there's Generation SAS (Short Attention Span) who love their flash fiction, their blogs, the newly emerging phone text fiction, but whose cut-off point is around 100 words or less. They've already stopped reading this and moved on.

Generation E for those who exclusively download their books for their Kindle or their Kobo or their Nook or their Ipad, Iphone or IRiver, or any of those devices that start with a K or an I or an N...

How about Generation A for those alpha males and females, always scanning for the latest tome on how to become a super-successful so-and-so in the mad-dog, cut-throat, greed-is-good corporate world, or Gen N for those nerdy, nervy, nocturnal fans of fantasy realms - those epic tales set on mystical, faraway worlds that look suspiciously like parts of Europe in the Middle Ages?

Perhaps this is a doomed cause. With so many books, so many genres and sub-genres, so many reader interests and reading devices, we'd soon run right through the alphabet even if we started with A.

In hindsight, that can only be a good thing. The alphabet, after all, has much better things to do with its letters.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

An Interesting Bunch Of Weirdos

I once worked in an advertising agency with a copywriter who thought he was Hemingway, an art director who mistook himself for Michelangelo, an account manager who through he was Richard Branson, a studio artist who believed he was God's gift to women, and a Managing Director who, for some reason never fully explained, thought he should've been one of the Great Chefs of Europe with a string of restaurants and his own personalised line of gourmet sauces.

Watching a recent episode of TV's 'Mad Men,' I was reminded of those ad agency guys. They were a bunch of weirdos, but the fact is they were an extremely interesting bunch of weirdos.

That's one of the elements that makes great fiction - great characters.

Doesn't matter at all if some of them are complete oddballs. Adds interest. And, after all, we all have our own peculiar quirks anyway. Don't we?

One of the most popular characters on British TV (and worldwide) is the last of the Gallifreyan Time Lords, a witty, wily, nerdy, heroic, tragic, moody, brilliant, slightly unhinged alien who travels the universe (but mostly London and Cardiff) in a time/space machine that looks like a 1960's police phone box on the outside (for the uninitiated, it's bigger on the inside.)

At the time of this post, eleven different actors have portrayed this character in the tv series (he regenerates on a regular basis, Time Lords do that) and there's no doubt the longest-running s/f tv series, 'DrWho,' owes much to its weird but wonderful main character (whoever he happens to be at the time.)

Dickens' classic novels boast an unforgettable cavalcade of lovable, detestable, eccentric characters who have captured the imagination of one generation after another: sneaky, grubby scoundrel The Artful Dodger; the cunning old fox, Fagin; resentful, manipulative ice queen Miss Haversham; the upright Mr. Pickwick; the everyman David Copperfield. The list goes on and Dickens' insights, delivered through his characters, provide us with a timeless snapshot of Victorian-era English society.

Greedy, irritable Ebenezer Scrooge, who saw no good in anything, had such an impact that his name has become identified with the word, "miserly," and is recognised as such in dictionaries.

That's the ultimate aim of all of us who craft fiction - characters so strong, so believable, that they take on a life of their very own.

The world's greatest tales wouldn't have had the impact they had, without the creation of such characters as Atticus Finch, Scarlett O'Hara, Sherlock Holmes, Jay Gatsby, Huckleberry Finn, Captain Ahab, Jane Eyre, Gordon Gekko, Hercule Poirot, Norman Bates, Bill Sykes, Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter, Harry Potter, Hermione and Ron...

We all love great heroes and great villains. But when ordinary people are thrust into extraordinary circumstances, we see the makings of heroism and of evil, we witness close-hand the psychology of what makes us who we are, and it's impossible not to be drawn in and follow the story.

As for those ad agency weirdos with their petty obsessions and their delusions of grandeur, their loves and their "pet' hates, their egos and their spin...maybe they weren't so weird after all.

Maybe they're kind of "normal."

Either way, one thing's for sure, they're so vain they probably think this blog is about them...

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The walls are speaking...again

My neighbour, Buggeroff, has a habit of going to early Saturday movie sessions and then turning up on my doorstep mid-afternoon to give me one of his half-hour verbal reviews. He expects, because I'm a writer, that I'm interested. I'm not. (Buggeroff thinks that Police Academy 6 is one of the all-time movie greats.)

Last weekend Buggeroff went to see the new thriller movie, "Buried," and says it scared the pants off him. (Not a pretty sight.)  He was mightliy impressed that the entire film was set in a box buried under the ground and that, regardless of that, he was rivetted to the screen for every single second.

I'm not going to admit it to Buggeroff any time soon, but I'm also in awe of films/books/stories-of-any-kind that have confined settings and yet keep readers/audiences hooked as suspense builds.

In the film, "Panic Room," the action is largely set in and around an actual -yep, you guessed it - "panic room," where Jodie Foster's character, and her daughter, are trapped by the bad guys. In Alfred Hitchcock's "Rear Window," the mystery is played out almost entiely at -yep - the rear window of an apartment occupied by a man in a wheelchair. A narrow view of facing apartments, and his own confinement, are sufficient to provide a harrowing plot.

Arthur Hailey's novel, "Airport," and the subsequent movie, take place within a major airport and plane over a 24 hour period. Tension builds as multiple characters are drawn into corporate crap (is there any other kind?) love affairs, family dramas, and a terrorist bomb threat aboard an airliner. Hailey explores similar themes in a confined scenario, with "Hotel."

There's much for readers to enjoy, and for writers to learn, from finely crafted stories that build momentum within limited spaces, where the setting itself becomes as much a part of the tale as do the characters and the plot.

There's an old saying, "If these walls could talk, imagine the tales they could tell," and it's something many authors have chosen to do - to imagine what those walls could tell them.

Thriller supremo David Morrell echoes this in his novel, "Creepers," set inside a condemned building, where the history of the building is ever-present alongside the isolation, darkness and decay.

In Ken Follett's "Whiteout," the action takes place on a country estate where family, friends and business associates have been stranded by a massive snowstorm. Drawn in by the narrative, you begin to feel the chill as you're reading.

Arguably, no-one has mastered the closed-room mystery, with death and detection inside a country manor, or a cross-country train trip, like the Queen Of Crime, Agatha Christie.

When it comes to going one better, and making a closed space even tighter, trust Stephen King to rub his hands in glee.

In the climactic sequence to "Cujo," a mother and child are trapped inside a broken-down car on an isolated farm, terrorised by a rabid St. Bernard that's viciously determined to break into the vehicle.

Confined spaces don't get much more confined than that, or the fear and suspense more palpable.

Great fiction can be set absolutely anywhere - or in just one single and confined space.

For writers, it's not a bad idea-starter.

Go somewhere. Anywhere. Look at the walls.

And listen.

Some people may think you're crazy.

But the walls won't mind, they've got plenty to tell you, and sometimes a writer has to be both a little bit crazy...and a good listener.

Friday, October 8, 2010

How I learned to love the rewrite.

Okay, maybe "love" is too strong a word, but for much of the past year, as I've readied my novel 'The Delta Chain' for publication, I've been rewriting and self-editing. Sometimes there's crossover between the two, but for the most part they're two very different tasks requiring two very different hats - or alternatively a writer/editor Jekyll/Hyde personality split (not recommended.)

The end result of rewriting is that it gives an author the potential to turn an unwieldy manuscript into a leaner, meaner reading machine. And you've got to love that.

A few years back I read an interview with Jeffrey Archer in which he revealed he wrote 17 drafts of his novels. I remember thinking at the time that the first draft must have been clinically dead. However, if I've learned anything in the years since, it's that three of the most important techniques in the crafting of fiction are rewriting, rewriting and rewriting.

In between those manic - or laid-back (whatever gets you through the night) rewriting sessions, learning the craft is also about reading and studying techniques by those who have been successful.

I don't need to mention Strunk and White's 'The Elements Of Style,' just about everyone else has and there's no argument here. It should be compulsory reading in all schools as far as I'm concerned. Perhaps what I can stress to newbies is that this one needs to be re-read at least once or twice a year because it pays to keep it constantly fresh in your mind.

Two other, very different books that work for me are - firstly, Stephen King's 'On Writing.' Always entertaining and witty about the 'biz, King's pearls of wisdom on the craft of fiction, the writing life, the publishing industry, his own experiences and his no-holds-barred opinions, make learning fun.

Also, for me, 'Self Editing For Fiction Writers: Second Edition: How To Edit Yourself Into Print,' by Renni Browne and Dave King. It's clear and concise and has practical exercises that will get your motor running. Like the other two books mentioned, it won't teach you how to create stories, but it will guide you on how to write better, how to get increased value with each new draft, how to don an editor's hat and self-edit your work.

If there was a reality TV series for novelists then the judges might very well say, "Write to win."

Writing to win means mastering the art of rewriting. That means getting into the rhythm of the seemingly endless drafts. Once that kicks in, all of a sudden awkward words and phrases that should never have been there stick out like dog's ears. All of a sudden, stilted dialogue cries out to you for a makeover. That's what I found. You'll slash and burn. Hopefully you'll become ruthless and mean but maintain just the right level of balance. You'll create new scenes that fit the mood and pace much better than the ones they're replacing.

Granted, it's not always that much fun but there will be good days.

Another good thing about the books I mentioned above is that they gave me a thirst for seeking out other books on the writing craft, so if there's texts of this kind that helped you along the way, then I'd love to hear about them.

A well known scribe once said he didn't enjoy writing but he enjoyed "having written." This past year there's been times when I felt exactly the same way about the rewrites...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Prophecies about the ebook and the self publisher- where's Nostradamus when you need him?

We've all heard the growing debate about the rise of the ebook, and the question of self publishing vs. traditional publishing.

As is often the case, both sides have valid points and not-so-valid points.

Some say badly written, non-edited writing will flood the market with drivel and that the overall quality of literature will slowly but eventually erode. (I didn't know we needed self-published writers for that...oops.)

Others believe the free market has a way of sorting it all out, and ultimately the best will find an audience while the rest fades into obscurity.

Unless you have a time travelling DeLorean that can hit 88mph, predicting the future is a mug's game at the best of times, but let's give it a nudge, eh?

For many years musos unable to score a record deal have released their music on their own indie labels, marketing their work via YouTube, Facebook, My Space, you know the culprits...

A select few have had success. They've become "name" artists, either continuing to self-release, or by signing on with one of the big companies.

The rest are simply swept away by the net's own, quick but cruel version of time and tide. And sadly, some of those sucked in to the world wide web's big black digital hole are actually very good.

In reality, that's the way it's always been out there in the wider showbiz world.

It seemed that writing wouldn't go in that same direction - but that was before the rapid advent of the ebook via Kindle, then the Kobo and the Nook and the Iriver and the Ipad and other ereaders, and of POD (Print On Demand) publishing.

There have already been examples of self-pubbed authors breaking through to both a wider audience and critical acceptance.

Scott Sigler self published his earlier works as ebooks and podcasts, achieving strong sales and then signing with Hodder and Stoughton.

Jack Henderson followed a similar route with his first thriller, "Maximum Impact," now published by Sphere. Booklist called it "accomplished." Not drivel, then.

J. A. Konrath, on the other hand, is the traditionally published author who began self-pubbing his own ebooks to great success. Some commentators believe he is an exception to the rule. J.A. has plenty to say about this on his blog, "A Newbie's Guide To Publishing." If you're not already a fan, check it out.

Almost as if to annoy the naysayers, publishing giant Hachette announced in July 2010 that James Patterson had surpassed the one million mark with ebooks sales of his novels. Well okay but he is James Patterson.

Later the same month Amazon announced ebook sales on its site had surpassed those of hardcover titles for the first time.

Confused?Join the club. Perhaps everyone is a little bit right and a little bit wrong. Maybe no-one really has a clue what's going to happen next. DeLorean, anyone?

As I'm writing this blog changes are happening, seemingly daily. Bestselling author David Morrell has now published his new novel directly to ebook. He's not the only one putting out their own backlist or new titles: F Paul Wilson. Lee Goldberg and Scott Nicholson are just a few of the many doing similar things.

And thousands of new authors are self publishing and promoting their own works and selling thousands of ebooks in the process.

What is clear is that the game is changing - the extent may be unknowable, but it just might be seismic.

For myself, I don't believe traditionally published books are headed for the great big library in the sky. Not at all. Just as radio survived TV, just as cinema held its own when videoes, then DVD's and YouTube came along, so I believe the traditional book can happily co-exist alongside the ebook, podcast, and the self publishing brigade, and that they all have their own little gems to offer.

There, I've said it.

Do I have a history of being right about these things, or about things in general? (, not according to my wife. But let's not go there...)

I wonder if all this hasn't happened before, in different eras with different technologies...It's a little known fact, and I sometimes have to keep reminding myself, that classic authors such as Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain and Zane Grey all self published and went on to stellar careers.

In the 1940's Penguin launched the first pocket paperbacks. The snobs frowned, but as we all know the paperback has dominated bookstores for over half a century.

That's it for me, predicting what lies ahead is exhausting stuff. Nostradamus did it better even if he did speak in riddles. I need to relax, perhaps with a good movie. In fact, I know just the thing. A couple of hours in the company of Marty McFly and good 'ol Doc Brown and his DeLorean.

Yep, I'm going back to the future.

Maybe we all are.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Thrillers With A Scientific Edge

I've been reading Michael Crichton for twenty five years, give or take. Crichton is the author of modern s/f classics such as 'Jurassic Park,' and 'The Andromeda Strain.' The creator of TV's ER series, his work includes medical thrillers, historical pieces and non-fiction.

He also wrote contemporary thrillers with a strong undercurrent of evolving science and/or technology, evident in 'Disclosure,' and 'The Terminal Man.'

I'm an avid thriller reader, and I run the full gamut from police procedurals, detective, noir, romantic suspense and espionage.

I'm also a fan of science fiction.

So when a mystery/suspense novel has a science theme that drives the plot, I'm intrigued and I'm lining up at the door.

There doesn't appear to be a "name' for this sub-genre, perhaps because its popularity has rocketed during the same era that gadgetry, the internet and medical breakthroughs have exploded in the real world. The scientific thriller has quickly and subtly integrated itself and become part of mainstream pop culture, with authors such as Michael Cordy, John Case, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Childs, James Rollins and F. Paul Wilson making regular visits to the bestseller charts.

In Michael Crichton's 'State Of Fear,' the environmental lobby and the pros and cons of climate change debate, are probed. In 'Next,' Crichton explores the impact of genetic research on both the individual, and the wider community.

In British writer Michael Cordy's 'The Messiah Code,' (a.k.a. 'The Miracle Strain,') a genetics researcher seeks an artifact with Jesus' DNA in order to find a way to heal his dying daughter.

There are websites and magazines aplenty out there for fans of mystery, crime and detective fiction, and for s/f and for romance. So I was pleasantly surprised to discover a website, simple title Science Thrillers, at devoted to reviews and synopses of this evolving genre, but not excluding thrillers of other kinds either.

Dr. Amy Rogers, from Northern California, herself a writer and reader of the genre, saw the need for a site with such a focus and it currently features Amy's first on-site interview with C J Lyons, author of 'Lifelines.'

Good luck with the site, Amy. Thriller fans everywhere will be hoping the good ship Science Thrillers has a long and fruitful voyage.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Sci-Fi - Why?

Ever wondered why science fiction is referred to as "sci-fi", but mystery fiction isn't called "mi-fi," thriller fiction isn't "thri-fi," romantic fiction isn't labelled "ro-fi," historical fiction isn't "hi-fi" - okay, so that one's already 'owned' by the music industry, but why not "his-fic" (too much like hissy fit?) or...there's nowhere else to go with that one, but I gather you get my drift.

If you haven't wondered about the above, then I guess you are now.

I'm wondering what I might have stumbled on to here? Is this a literary form of bias against one of our greatest fiction genres? If there's racism in our world (and sadly, there is), if there's sexism in our world (tick that one as well), if there's ageism in our society (been on the receiving end of that little nasty), then is there in fact yet another, hidden evil that lurks among them...fictionalism?

What about women's fiction that's referred to as "chick-lit", you ask? Okay, but that one's deserved (no bias here.)

I admit labels can be fun -  and for those poor, impoverished souls who visit bookstores and libraries and ask the staff what would be a good read, or can they recommend so and so - then possibly labeling could be very useful.

So what works?

Here's a few random suggestions:

For teenage romantic vampire fiction - how about "te-va-ro-fi"?

For fictional showbiz biography-type sagas - "sho-bi-fi."

For spy fiction - "spi-fi" (with my little eye.)

For supernatural drama - 'su-dra."

The more I write about this idea, the less I like it, and the less sense it makes.

Maybe the real reason science fiction is known as "sci-fi" and/or "s/f", is because it's a mark of reverence for a genre that stood apart, and alone, for many decades until it was embraced and interwoven with other genres and with the mainstream. It's blazed its own trail, a homage to its pioneers - Verne, Wells, Rice Burroughs and others - and to its leading lights - Asimov, Clarke, Wyndham et al - pushing boundaries, and illuminating the infinite possibilities not just of the universe around us but of the ingenuity within us.

And that seems like a good enough reason to me.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Rejected? Dejected? Why not try this cheap and easy cure?

I admit to being one of those poor unfortunates, always throwing their hands up in despair and giving up. Later on, optimism kicks in and I'll go all out to give it another go. After all, I remind myself, if Don Quixote could go around tilting at windmills, then why can't I...I'm starting to look like 'ol Don might've looked anyway...

In today's world you can't look left or right without being exposed to yet another self-motivational sales pitch, speech or article, but you know what? I don't mind, I need the encouragement, and I suspect I'm not the only one.

There's always room for just one more "inspirational, rags-to-riches, beat the odds, don't let the bastards get you down" pep talk.

Okay, so it's best to avoid them if they're from those self-serving, self-deluded, manic "send me your money and I'll reveal the secret of how it makes me rich" con artists. Permission granted to ignore those guys, in fact permission granted to let 'em rot in their dead-of-night tv ad zones or their locked room, hyperactive $500 per head, once-in-a-lifetime seminars...

It's the genuine, proven, humble and sometimes spiritually enlightening true stories that I'm really referring to, and which serve us best when we need a lift without feeling that we're being conned and conning ourselves in the process.

The good news is that the genuine underdog-makes-good stories are out there, we just have to wade through some crap in order to find them.

Most writers, and readers, have heard the story of how John Grisham's first agent spruiked his early novel 'The Firm' to every publisher in the U.S. and got knocked back by all of them (or something like that.) This indefatigable guy then started doing the rounds again and second time around he "struck pay dirt." Certainly qualifies as not-taking-no-for-an-answer, doesn't it? And that's something that every writer, and this one especially, needs as a constant reminder.

When Walt Disney lost the rights to his first successful cartoon character, Mortimer, he got back up, dusted himself off, and created a new character (a little fella by the name of Mickey Mouse.)

If you haven't heard those stories before, then you have now (this blog is also educational.)

At the other end of the spectrum there's someone like Nelson Mandela, imprisoned for twenty-six years for opposing the apartheid regime in South Africa. During that time the story of his struggle and his incarceration became a beacon to the groundswell of anti-apartheid sentiment around the world.

Mandela was released to an international hero's welcome in 1990. A patient, intelligent, articulate, inspirational man, he harboured no bitterness, spoke for peace, and went on to lead his nation through great change.

In between those three extreme examples, there are millions of tales of people from all walks of life who've fallen over, got up, dusted themselves off, and carried on.

Years ago, in a small way, I experienced this when I submitted my short suspense fiction to magazines. Each story was sent out two, three, four...sometimes a dozen times...and on a semi-regular basis one of them would find a home. It rarely happened on a first submission.

On a few occasions a story sold to a magazine, which had previously rejected it under a different editor. (Idiot!) Being rejected didn't matter. Being knocked down didn't matter. Giving it the 'ol Don Quixote was what really mattered. You don't have to a Mandela or a Disney or a Grisham to be inspired by their true stories.

And think about it. You've experienced something like this, perhaps in a small way, perhaps in a very big way, at some time. We all have. And yet, despite that, it seems the dogs of doubt are always on our tails.

That's why I never mind hearing another persistence-pays-off story. I need the reminder.

If you have a story of your own or know of a good one, feel free to share. (But keep it brief, I'm the only one allowed to ramble on this blog.)

Remember, David beat Goliath, the tortoise beat the hare...

Oh, and welcome to 'Take It As Read,' a new blog on the block about writing, publishing and the whole damn thing.