Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Author Question

Almost daily I see someone on Facebook bring up what I call "the author question." That is, the question of what makes an author.

There are many who presume that merely being published through any venue, traditional or independent, is enough. "Just get your stories out there!" They say it's more important to have your stories in print, even "e" print, than to merely share them with friends. "Big" publishing is frowned on as bastardization of one's "talent" by comparison.

The difference is shallow: money. Traditional publishing is to some extent a form of dirty politics. Authors encounter the standard layout of commercial middlemen, none of whom would exist without someone to write the main product. Unfortunately, the creative mind behind the books we readers devour so blithely rarely sees the rewards of their priceless labors. The author will continue to lose valuable writing hours in self-promotion, mandatory for sales.

The raw truth is that publishing on your own encounters the same problems: practical survival. The lack of reliable support system is parallel.

Publishing on "free" sites only opens up e-theft and plagiarism opportunities for different "middlemen" to exploit the creative mind. There is no legal protection for the writer after the story is freely released into the public domain. It's an out-contract. A gift of a hefty chunk of a writer's own soul.

Free sites, I refuse to feed. Well-intentioned monsters, they prey on those desperate to be "authors." I've also tried my hand at being a tiny voice among the murky millions self-published through a limitless publishing system.  I had help, for which I will always be grateful; had I not done that, the courage to go on in a world plainly out of control would not have developed.

The only route I haven't tried is traditional publishing. I may not have the skill ("talent" requires a lot of hard work) to be invited to the brutal battle from among an almost unlimited pool of applicants.

To sum it up, anyone can be a writer. It takes courage, tenacity, and hard-earned skill to be rightfully called an "author." It's about endurance. Not venue.

Start somewhere. Keep going.

~ R. Lee Tipton

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cake on a plate? Foxy?

I'm taking a short social media break, all voluntary, and thought I'd drop in on my much neglected blog space to give you a peek into what's on my mind. Or rather, what's possible "on" my mind. 

Years ago, Dad asked me what I thought at the time was a silly question. "Can you see cake on a plate?" He told me to close my eyes and tell me what kind of cake it was, what the plate it was on looked like, and to tell me the flavors. I did. He said then, "Keep your eyes closed. Now change the flavors, the colors, and change the plate." 


I was shocked to find that for me, and for him, it was an easy mental exercise. For others in our family, not so. Not at all. 

Imagine you have a plate or saucer, some sort of dish in your hand. On that is a piece of cake. What flavor is the cake? 

Let's say it's lemon cake, lemon icing. Can you smell the lemons? See the bright yellow of the icing? Maybe there's a slim swirl of real vanilla, a creamy white pattern on the top. Solid orange saucer!

Don't like lemon? How about a chocolate so dark it brings to mind secrets? Let's imagine it's topped with drizzles of cherry topping, fat, bright fruit spilling over the top and down the sides, similar to a cherry cordial candy. It's nestled on a crystal plate, a silver rim around the outside. Crusty, chewy white chocolate brownie on a square red plate? Carrot cake on an antique saucer patterned with pink rosebuds, Appalachian style stack cake still in the iron skillet? 

See it, yes. Also smell it, tart lemon or slightly bitter dark chocolate, sweet carrots, or the crumbly goo of that brownie, rich and smooth with chocolate. Know what it feels like on your tongue. Touch the plate and feel the maker's design against your fingertips. 

These are the keys to imagery. It makes little difference if you're painting a picture with acrylics on canvas, using a camera to take pictures, or yes, writing a story. I've said it before, and I'll no doubt have to say it again sometime: If you make the beholder homesick and hungry, you're halfway there. 

Going from pieces of pastry on serving dishes to anything else is but a shift in gears.Want an example?

In a den under a rock overhang is a mother fox. She's hungry, and her babies need her to go hunt, so they too won't starve.The wind pushes small gusts of wind into the sheltered nook.Inside, it smells of puppy, raw earth, and fragments of dried greenery pushed in by weather or carried in on her coat. 

She can smell the weather about to change. Soon, it will get hard to find prey. She rises, leaving the small, precious bundles piled together, bits of loose fur drifting around as the wind forces a shift into her otherwise snug den. 

At the opening of the hole, which is several times her own length, she pauses to sit in the sun for a moment before rising to stretch and get on with business. At the foot of the hill, she catches wind of a rabbit track. The scent clings to damp weeds and brush, drifting on the breeze. She catches the scent at a distance, after circling around, a true track still holding a hint of it. Raising her nose, she filters through the heavy array of variables, the very air laden with so many things unseen.

A moment later, she quarters down across a wash and approaches a pile a brush where a tree has fallen and taken several others down with it, across some rocks. Following the scent, she comes to where the rabbit went into the tangle. She licks at a dry branch, pulling a tuft of rabbit hair into her mouth only to spit it right back out, drooling. The scent and taste of hot, fresh rabbit tears at her empty gut. 

She digs, pulling crackling branches with her teeth, burrowing in as a chill rain begins to fall. The mist curls around the trees as she works, and hours pass. At last her toenails scrape on stone. She claws around it for a while before realizing she is no closer than before, in truth. The rabbit is safe in its own rocky den, where its heart pounds a rapid tattoo at the sounds outside, and wise to be safe there. The rain is turning to sleet, tapping on leaves and stones.

Shaking off the damp, she licks at her fur, frustrated. Not far away is a blackberry thicket, where mice might be found. Digging around the edges, her eyes shut against the thorns pricking her nose, she finally startles a rodent that dashes out into a clump of dry, dead timothy and clover.

Taking the bowed stance necessary, she waits, and as the mouse peeks out to see if the going is safe again yet, she pounces. Flipping the mouse up into the air, she catches it again, and quickly consumes it whole. An hour later, with three more plump little kills inside, she trots off to her den. It's time to feed the little ones.

The babies don't mind her damp fur, though they squeak in protest at the bits of melting ice. Outside, the storm roils into a horror of ice, trees bowing low against the weight of glittering accumulations. Head on slender paws, she heaves a sigh, enjoying the sensation of infants, well fed, snuggling close, and listening to the wind making bells among ice-encrusted tree branches.

Mice aren't rabbits, but a good hunter can make do. Tomorrow is another day. 

And so the imagination may be pondered. Ideas are myriad. Pick one.

Good hunting. Let them eat cake!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Looking forward: Into the Future

When the hard drive in my Toshiba laptop locked up a few months ago, I found myself in a tight fix. All of the backups were in WinZip files, and I had to learn to use a Mac, as that was all I could manage to get. While I am deeply grateful for the friends who arranged for me to have the Mac, I'm not a spring chicken, as the saying goes, and though I had less trouble adapting to the new operating system (OS), I still could not access my archived manuscripts. To this day, I cannot access them on the portable hard drive backup.

Let this be a lesson, writers. Back up your computer at least daily, and then back up works in progress (WIPs) on their own, in a widely accepted format such as RTF. I have learned my lesson. Several manuscripts were and are misplaced. 

What does one do when going back isn't an option? Well, that's easy. Go forward! So... I did. Almost all of the several WIPs were mainstream, historical, and so on. I didn't want to stir the existing pot in the meantime, nor did I want to waste time doing nothing. In short, I went far forward. Furturistic, in fact, all the way into dystopian science fiction. New territory, clean off the beaten path. Well... my beaten path. 

I love to learn new things. Hobby or heartbeat, I write. It's a Zen process to me, leaving anxieties and depression soothed, the mind becalmed, and sleep processes filled with productive thinking instead of circling around and around looking for a way out. When I started writing, I had no idea this would happen. It's been compared to a fountain one cannot turn off, and I concur with that assessment. I find the effects to be quite real.

Turning loose my imagination, I sent the hounds down many disparate paths, seeking a trail among the darkness. I tied that off with threads of reality and past personal experience, and then I lit the fires under the kettle, seeking to set the dye. 

The result is colorful, and it's in its first draft, complete, starting on the second draft. Beta readers' impressions verified my personal opinion that I had kept the reins too tight. The changes will be wide, but bound tight to the mainframe of the beast.

First, I asked myself, "What do we all want? Where does the biggest mystery hide in plain sight? What makes truth sing, and makes the reader homesick and hungry for more?" From these questions, more poured out. And The Wayfarer was born.

While I believe in the other works (The Glimmerings series and The Tooth, Claw, and Hoof Stories were written primarily for fun and practice, with a little hope of income trickling in along the way), The Wayfarer, originally intended as a stand alone novel, has taken on a life of its own, and led me down some mighty curious paths. It spans roughly 5,000 years, all angles taken under consideration, and introduces us to Alik and Jocelyn, a pair of resourceful people who, of course, find some hard decisions between them and the hope of basic survival. Found family, as I call such relationships.

In this story, wild, strange things happened to my imagination. I kept a lid on it until I could be sure... but I also kept detailed notes. It's a good thing I did. A good thing I love to read and do research into widely varied themes. The Wayfarer is gaining by it.

True, I may not be the greatest writer in the world, and science fiction may not fit some people's image of classic literature (I know better, having read across many genres for decades), yet it occurs to me that this item is growing beyond what I had originally envisioned. It's not merely a source of mental soothing, a containment field, if you want to call it that, for the twists of mental struggle in some bad-luck hard times we didn't ask for in the first place. It may be a result of hard times, but I feel it has grown, surprisingly, beyond them. Or perhaps because of them.

I'm learning. I delight in learning. There are not enough hours in the day, or days in the years allotted to me, to learn all I would like to learn. This, however, is the art form my physical being will allow me, and enjoy it while learning.

With luck, this book (with or without later sequels) may see a number of readers. I leave you with a few thoughts...

Work in progress, first draft complete.
Earlier books, all available on Amazon.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Among the potted plants...

I repotted some plants today; the elephant ears, from a strain Ronnie's grandmother kept. Dirt under my fingernails felt good for a change, and the repotting went smoothly, so I was happy with the results. After the job was done, I sat back and looked at my hands for a while, just thinking. It occured to me that blood and tears have fed this earth from time beyond knowing.

We leave no markers, in the ending, no remembrances that stand clear for even a hundred years. Too much is lost. Weathering, outside damage, translations of a sort, none that concern themselves over such trivial things for long.

Footprints set in stone, a memory passed down through the generations, possibly something stored in a museum. We need little. We make less worth making. We haunt our own dreams of success, and fail irreparably to gain perspective as a species.

This thought brings me a great deal of sorrow. And shame.

.... 🌱

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

All Hallows...

There is a whispering among the trees, a conversation of pale, frosty proportions. Cold stone remains silent, sleeping embedded as it is in the cradle of earthen dreams. Listen, wanderers, to the tales being told among the shadows a weary moon struggles to enlighten.

Years pass, and the spiral turns, a circle without ending. Changes encompass a world, a planet haunted most by its own esoteric creations. We are but pawns in a game so large we cannot conceive of every intricate rule, yet we seek to hear the songs of spirits greater than ourselves.

The Veil is thin, truth. And we are too humble to see through its complex dance. Those things we do not understand, we seek to mask, or to destroy in their entirety. The demons we seek to cast out were born into this world when we took our first breaths as a species. They will laugh and moan, shedding both tears and laughter, as long as this immense multi-being we term "Earth" hosts us as the blind, wriggling, greedy parasites we have become -- through our own actions.

Death shall have no dominion, for the stars beckon from beyond the great divide.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

To blog or not to blog, that's the question!

I'm replying here in response to a Facebook discussions in regard to time usage. It's a little more complicated than it sounds, in my case. Some writer friends go for this or that social media outlet to showcase their name or work. I have presences on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, G+, LinkedIn, and Goodreads, to name a few of the popular ones. However, I spend more time on Facebook in part due to daily practical need versus opportunity. Instagram is possibly the least used. In the middle zone, I have blogs.

I used to be at home a lot, and I kept up my blogs fairly well, sharing links on the various outlets. I like blogging, always enjoyed it. This was before a whole herd of nightmares descended on us. The reason I was home a lot involved chronic physical disability. We lived mostly off grid (a phone line in, with dial-up was the exception).

I grew nontraditional, low-labor gardens to keep active. Then our source of income failed, injuries added to the underlying illness(es), and despite help from valiant friends, we lost our home and all we had struggled so hard to build. It's a common story in these times, though I was startled to find how many people were doing as we have, and living in campers. It's a whole new, nearly invisible American subculture. In search of jobs within physical ability, many middle aged and/or aging, childless (and some whole family units or individuals, too) are going nomad. Some simply want the freedom, and others are following where their special area of expertise leads. It varies.

Workers on Wheels, nomads, ramblin' souls... there's no brick and mortar anchor to hold them. Banking and other laws are discouraging putting down roots.

There's little self-pity being bandied about; it's a case of "Get on with it!" And we are, starting next spring, as soon as some medical releases allow. In the meantime, we're just holding out the best way we can, same as everyone else. It is what it is. I have zero problem with the need to work; I do have problems with chronic pain and low endurance.

Writing gives me a creative form of activity that, frankly, keeps me from going completely bonkers. With five little volumes of nonfiction animal stories (not angled for children), and three fun adult magical realism/fantasy novels in a series self-published through Amazon's CreateSpace, the past year has been busy indeed. (I couldn't have done those without a dear friend. Find her at www.moonshinewidow.com !)

At present, I'm two-thirds through a far more serious manuscript, a science fiction item with some cross-genre aspects. When it's done, I have multiple works in varying stages of progress. More of the fun fantasy series, a solid mainstream novel, and an Appalachian historical novel that may reach epic proportions, and in the planning stages, a nonfiction volume discussing death (yes, I know... but it's not what you think, haha).

So... when do I blog? Well. Hmm.

Every possible moment, I write. If I'm not typing, I'm listening to the voices in my head (plot, outline... staring out the window really is work, because I "see" a lot anyone else might not), and chances are, I'll field a dozen inquiries such as, "If you aren't busy, could you come help me...?" per hour, roughly. I've learned to be honest. "Yes, I was busy, which you already interrupted. If you really need me to help, I will. Then you can help me by trying not to interrupt my process by poking abrupt holes in my ears." I grin, get them sorted out, and more or less hang up an amiable Disturb at Your Own Risk sign. (The sign is non negotiable, after one recognized interruption, alas.)

One mid-list author told me she'd be lucky to turn out 750 words a day when she's working. NaNoWriMo authors aim for 50,000 words in a finished novel during November each year. Most authors try for 1,000 words per working day. I'm different, enough that I've been called freakish.

My first (fun) novel was in rough draft within 3 weeks: 63,000 words. The next in the series was done inside a month, and I dawdled (busy... other responsibilities) to finish the third in 6 weeks. All in that series range between 62,000 and 65,000 words (fantasy expectations vary from, say, mainstream in regards to word count). The book I'm writing now will be in the range of 85,000 to 90,000 words. The "epic" historical, I fully expect to exceed 120,000. I routinely write 2,000 to 4,000 words per day; once, I spilled out 7,500, but it crashed my occasional chronic fatigue into hyperdrive.

Some days, I spend editing. All I ask is "more than 1,000 words." The imagination does the rest, and I'm along for the ride.

Ah, blogging. With no reliable web access, sometimes no more than a cell phone as hotspot, my resources are limited. The laptop I'm using at present is a Mac, the first one I've ever used. It's a circus, sometimes. The blogs can't be kept up like a Facebook feed, sadly, and Facebook has its limits.

When opportunities permit, I may resume blogging again. For now, the voices in my head have exceeded their monthly allowance and are grounded for the present. That's what the budget allows: health, money, time. Plodding onward, telling stories that free my mind. It's a new hobby, but until it pays the bills, that's what it will remain.

Blog or no blog, there's no stopping the creative fountain once it starts flowing. So what if mine is a virtual Niagra Falls? It's the breath of life to me now.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Feedback, please.

I'd like some feedback from those who read this.


1) What's your favorite book genre? Your least favorite?

2) Why are you reading this blog?

3) Are you a reader, a writer, or both?

4) Do you regularly read blogs? How about book review sites?

5)  Do you prefer paper or electronic media?

Friday, October 7, 2016

"Don't Stop Now!"

The publishing industry is a highly variable field. Publishing books is, despite certain IRS standards, business. That means it's dependent on the seller's ability to get the word out: advertising. Independent authors invariably hit a snag in using various "free" on-demand print and/or ebook production sources, all of it hanging precariously (at best) on their ability to advertise.

I have 8 books out there. Lacking formal education or institutional type support, lacking funds to mount an efficient if not enormous advertising campaign, and physically unable due to health concerns to hold the proverbial day job, I must depend on free/low-cost, on-demand, or volunteer/co-support resources. Not only am I attempting to produce highly complex creative projects that often require research and other sidecar work, but I am also the sole provider of email, advertising, special shipping and delvery requirements, billing and tax records... the lot. I am the entire business/artist.

Having also been involved in the visual arts community for a lot longer than I've been writing, I can tell you that every form of creative arts faces the same challenges. Getting the product out into a selling market and still maintaining time to create is far from easy.

For various reasons, I don't have academic connections. Those can help. However, one must also juggle the cost of college against the benefits - which can vary, given a writer's possible genre branches and any loyalty to those. It's a conundrum, one not familiar to me.

I am a bumbler in the arts world, no doubt in my mind. I'm no longer young. I don't have genre limits in mind, and I have no agent or counselor to guide me, nor do I have resources to use for any media support. Web presence is also lacking: I have blogs, but no website. Social media use is at best a stop-gap. To make it worse, all I can do to avoid being branded by the early nonfiction collection is to use two separate nom de plumes, each drawn from variations of my own name. Ergo the fiction is sold by "R. Lee Tipton" and "R. L. Mackintosh" is used for the nonfiction. Yes... confusing!

After a few months of hiatus caused by economic, personal, and technical (laptop death) difficulties, I am back at work. I work when I can, and I don't mourn about what cannot be done. Simply moving forward has become my focus. It's not too surprising that there's a survivalist angle to the stand-alone dystopian science fiction novel I'm working on. The manuscript has exceeded 28,000 words, aimed at a loose total of around 85,000 - material far more serious in flavor than the Glimmerings series novels, and planned as being twenty-five percent larger than those. At present, the rough draft's estimated completion date is Hallowe'en. The title is The Wayfarer. Publication is iffy... I'm not going to bother with the whole immediate gratification thing any further.

I write to challenge myself, to reach a little further outside the comfort zone, to learn, and yes, to keep from being mentally idle even when my body cannot maintain the physical pace. If I don't like the characters or their story, there's no use in pursuing it.

Following The Wayfarer, I have an unfinished Glimmerings novel (# 4) that might take a couple weeks to complete to first draft status. Another Glimmerings exists in notes - that one will follow, if all goes well, a mainstream stand-alone novel called The Bones of These Hills (Appalachian based). The "big one" - Song of the Rain Crow: Psalms From the Book of Memories (deeply lyric prose, heavy on Appalachian history) - is taking its sweet time, just as it should.

Again, any further publication is iffy on these. Funds do not exist to promote any of them. Sometimes art is only created for the heart of the artist, and nothing else matters. One does the best work possible, and moves on.

Life doesn't stop because of stress, it goes on in spite of it. Try to choose your ground well. Good hunting. T

That's the story. :-) Peace.


Saturday, August 20, 2016