Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Batman Shows That One Good Story Is All You Need

The key to being a very good writer is to come up with a story that can be appreciated by the masses, one that covers familiar territory – life and death, love and love lost, good and evil, poverty and wealth. Once you have a successful book you can simply write it over and over again and your fans will suck them up.

One good book – and many sequels. We have seen it happen a million times. Look at the movies. Is every Woody Allen movie the same as the previous one? Did we need six Rocky films to champion the underdog’s passion and will to win? Isn’t every Harry Potter or Star Wars installment essentially the same as the original?

I saw the Dark Knight Rises less than 24 hours after learning of the Aurora tragedy. I made no connection to the movie and the mass murder. One didn’t cause the other. But as enjoyable as the latest installment was (if you can get past a masked hero and masked villain mumbling their lines incoherently at times), I knew that I had seen it before. It is the superhero formula –as well as the Batman franchise pattern – good triumphs over evil, often at a great price. We see a parallel between savior and criminal, and we feel how they each reacted to childhood events that would form whom they would inevitably become. Throw in some explosions and it’s a wrap.

So why are there few original stories out there?

1.      Money: Why screw with a formula that works commercially?\

2.      Time: It is harder, as time goes by, to say something that the generations before you have not yet said.

3.      Update: As time goes by, many stories are remade or retold so they can seem relevant and applicable to today’s world – and a new generation.

4.      Twists: The core of the story remains the same from book to book or movie to movie, but enough details change and character twists are mixed into make the story seem fresh.

5.      Maybe the greatest stories cannot be told for reasons we don’t yet know of or understand. For instance, maybe we just don’t know enough to understand what really happened 3,500 years, and thus we are limited in the stories we can tell about long-term history. Or maybe the government or some other force stopped a scientist from writing about something that would fascinate us but the story’s revelation could pose a danger to national security. Or those who could tell us an amazing story are dead, incapacitated, paid off to be quiet, or lack the ability to tell and bring their story to the public forum.

With technology, we have come up with new ways to present the same stories, that have already been told. Special effects, digital augmentation. 3-D movies and other technical manipulations allow for the retelling of tried and true stories on screen.

Maybe writers are not inspired, experienced, or educated enough to open a truly original story. But I cannot imagine that there are not some really good stories to be told. And when one is discovered, be prepared to read or view a series of sequels for decades to come.

Interview With Founder of SkillBites.net Judy Weintraub

1. What is SkillBites? SkillBites is a resource center where people can learn important lifestyle and business skills in a fraction of the time that it takes to read a book, take a class or attend a seminar on the topic.

2. Why did you create it? SkillBites was created with two objectives:  to provide a platform for experts to share their expertise; and to provide quick, affordable, easy to absorb and easy to execute resources for people to learn the skills they need to succeed.

3. How did you derive that name? The name is an offshoot of Sound bite – to connote brevity.

4. What is your background as it relates to launching this site? I am an attorney who has developed many presentations and training courses over the years, and was endeavoring to find a means of repurposing those materials to reach a wider audience.  I have some entrepreneurial experience, having started my law firm and a dispute resolution practice, as well as a consulting practice with a colleague.

5. Where do you see the future of publishing? With the low cost of online publishing, online self-publishing will continue to increase while traditional publishing will continue to decrease.

6. Any advice to a struggling writer looking to sell or promote his or her work? Fortunately, there are many benefits to being a published author besides the income from sales.  SkillBites provides its authors with a host of ideas for promoting their published status, as well as several ideas for promoting their work to gain sales, including email blasts, social networking, blogging, and Facebook ads.

For more information, please see www.SkillBites.net.

Interview With Author Cherie Foster Colburn

What is your newest book about? BLOOMIN' TALES is a children's book highlighting seven wildflower legends from seven cultures. It came out of my years working as a landscape designer with schools to create habitat gardens. I found the children (and their teachers) were more inclined to remember the names of the plants in their garden if they heard a story about it: how it got its name or why it looks like it does. Once I started collecting the legends, they multiplied like zucchini. I've gathered over 600 plant stories and they hail from every continent. Some cultures use storytelling more than others, but I believe we are all built with a desire to ferret out "the rest of the story" as Paul Harvey used to say, don't you?

What inspired you to write it? Sort of answered this above, huh? But the way it came to be a book is a little different....
When my editor heard me talking about the wildflower legends I'd gathered over the last 20 years, she went nuts. She's a huge fan of artist Cicely Mary Barker's Flower Fairies from the early 20th century and had an artist she'd worked with on some previous books that she felt would be perfect to illustrate my book.....and she WAS! Joy Hein is a Master Naturalist besides being a gifted painter. Joy showed me some work she'd done in various ethnic styles and I asked if she could do the same with the wildflower stories, using each specific culture's art style to influence the illustrations. She did an incredible job on BLOOMIN' TALES. One of my favorites is done as Mexican folk art. The colors are fantastic.  Joy's art really brought another dimension to all the stories.

What are the rewards/challenges to the writing process? One of my main challenges is being alone so much of the time. Many of my author friends enjoy a more solitary life, but I'm a people person. I do break up my day by going out and working in my own garden. Or checking emails or FaceBook, but that quickly turns into a black hole!  Writing for children - as opposed to working on my gardening books or articles for magazines - can be especially difficult. I turn each word over and over to be sure it is truly the one that's best for what I'm trying to say. The difference between the two audiences is a bit like planting a single plant and babying it versus broadcasting seeds and hoping they germinate. And while I also write poetry and am particular about cadence and rhythm with everything l write, I am even more conscientious when I know children will hear the words. I want them to fall in love with language and the music it makes.

One of my greatest joys is the opportunity to be a visiting author to schools. I still remember meeting my first REAL, LIVE author as a child and the impact it made on me to hear her speak about the mysterious muse that delivers the message and her responsibility to recite the message back as clearly as she could. I also enjoy talking to garden clubs and Master Gardener groups and writers' groups, but the questions in the Q&A afterwards are not nearly as entertaining as what the kids throw at me. I should be keeping a list!

Any advice for a struggling writer? Depends on WHY you are struggling. Is it because you want to be published, or because writing itself is a struggle? 

I came into book publishing as a garden writer for magazines. I sent a children's story I'd written about a grandfather and child building a night garden to a contest and it won. I began getting offers for publication. However, the story had come to me in a dream and I knew what the illustrations should be because I had experienced that garden: childlike and whimsical. And as an educator, it was also important to me that the book be more than just a good story so I asked for educational sidebars in it. When none of the publishers who contacted me were interested in the direction I wanted to go, I declined their contracts. Instead, I gave the story to the children's hospital at MD Anderson Cancer Center. The Children's Art Project director read it and wanted to make it into a book, my gardening sidebars included, with the children's artwork as centerpiece. The publisher contacted to produce OUR SHADOW GARDEN called me and asked what else I had.  I pitched several other book ideas. That's how I became an author. It's an atypical road, I know, and not something I could have planned. The fact I'd been published already in magazines and newspapers and had a gardening blog gave me a huge leg-up, I believe. The publisher knew I understood deadlines and had a following already. I also had those other book ideas lying in wait.  My advice? Be ready when opportunity passes close and grab it by the hair because it might not walk that way again.  OUR SHADOW GARDEN went on to win an award from the American Horticultural Society and Jr. Master Gardeners and has raised thousands of dollars for the hospital. 

Where do you see book publishing heading? At this very moment, I'm in Colorado as a student in the Denver Publishing Institute. It's been interesting to get perspectives from some giants in publishing. Without exception, each has spoken about the challenges and tremendous change facing the industry right now. I choose to see this as opportunity never before experienced in our lifetime. There are more outlets for writers to explore than ever. The trick is finding a niche that allows you to fill a void in the tapestry that no one else can fill. That means you must know what value your work brings and to whom. Becoming a talented writer is not accidental. It is the melding of the art, the craft, and experience. But even a gifted writer can have a hard time being recognized as such with all of the words bombarding us everyday from every direction. Set yourself apart by developing your writing and then getting the work in front of the right eyes, whether blog readers, editors, or your mother-in-law. Also, you need to decide who you are writing for and write for them, not yourself. If you write only for yourself, don't be surprised if you are the only person who reads your stuff. 

Interview With Author Erin Flynn

1.      What type of books do you write? My first book Mastering the Mommy Track: Juggling Career and Kids In Uncertain Times (Business Books, 2012) is non-fiction. I have written non-fiction articles for publications including careerbuilder.com, MSN Careers, Brandweek, Costco Connection, Opportunity World, Sales and Marketing Excellence, The New York Enterprise Report and Wealth Manager. In 2010, I wrote extensively about timely professional coaching topics for www.coachingcommons.org.

2.      What is your latest book about? Many working mothers today face great tension between their families and careers. They are more likely than men to feel pressed for time and conflicted about being away from young children while working. They are also more likely to seek out help or guidance.
Mastering the Mommy Track tells the stories of everyday working mothers, the challenges they have faced and lessons learned. It also offers solutions from experts on how mothers can overcome current issues in order to lead happy, healthy lives at home and work.
I hope career moms across the US and UK will read Mastering the Mommy Track and take away insight that will help them improve all aspects of their lives–both personal and work related. It is a juggling act to balance home and work duties, and for a lot of women in 2012, it’s a walk on a tightrope--a fear their families will never experience the rewards (vacation, travel, time off) they so rightfully deserve.
3.      What inspired you to write it? When I started writing this book, my daughters were ages three and one–challenging ages to say the least. I set out to talk to other moms who were struggling with the work-life balance as well as national experts who could offer solutions.
Mastering the Mommy Track is not a memoir, and I don’t share overly personal information about my family. I was fortunate to have no shortage of working moms who were willing to share their challenges during this down economy. My working mom contributors honestly shared their struggles and concerns. My expert contributors offered unique advice and knowledge. They helped me make this book a reality.
Research indicated no competitive books in this area, so I delved into it. I asked myself, “What are the 12 trigger areas that cause working mothers anxiety today?” These became my chapters. This was based on my personal experience, research, and feedback from friends and acquaintances.
I slotted the chapters into four core sections: (1) Home issues. (2) Health issues. (3) Parenting issues. And finally, (4) Work-Life issues. Then I arranged them so that the most fundamental issues came first: Mental health, communication, finances, and romance. These apply both to moms in committed relationships and those who are single.

4.      What did you do before you became an author? Since 2001, I have been promoting authors of new books and small businesses in all industries. I have expertise in successfully obtaining print, online and broadcast media placements for experts and authors. I have established ongoing partnerships with other public relations agencies and team with them on projects when my PR and writing skills are needed. From 2002 to 2005, I worked as an in-house consultant for Planned TV Arts in New York City, where I booked city tours, radio tours and speaking engagements for authors in addition to placing them in newspapers, magazines and online outlets.

5.      How does it feel to be a published author? It feels great, but now my to-do list has gotten quite long. Since I have a book PR background, I am promoting the book myself in addition to managing my PR business. In addition to review copy requests, outlets have asked for excerpts and Q&As. It’s very rewarding that there is media interest in this timely topic. When the book promotion is done, I will need a vacation or sabbatical.

6.      Any advice for struggling writers? Give yourself a schedule and stick with it like you would other deadlines. I wrote my book over the course of seven months on the weekends, early mornings and evenings. My business was my first priority, so I viewed this book as a hobby. My literary agent edited the chapters, and cheered me along throughout the whole process. An editor or cheerleader is important for you to stay focused and on course. 

7.      Where do you see book publishing heading? Unfortunately, as more consumers purchase books online, the list of independent bookstores is decreasing with many going out of business. It is hard for many independents to compete with Amazon and other online retailers. It was a sad day when Borders closed their doors. That was my neighborhood bookstore.  With the rise in e-books, there seems to be less of a demand for books in print. E-books will never completely replace the hardback or paperback, however.     

Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer, the nation’s largest book promoter. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person.

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