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Is This Self-Help Book Still Relevant? How To Win Friends And Influence People

If the cover says it's "the only book you need to lead you to success," that's good enough for me!

If the cover says it’s “the only book you need to lead you to success,” that’s good enough for me!

Just so you know, I didn’t decide to read How to Win Friends and Influence People  by Dale Carnegie because I needed some self-help.  Well, I might need help, but if I ever read a self-help book because I actually need help, I’m not going to admit that to anybody.

When I was a kid in the 1970s, the big self-help book was called I’m Okay-You’re Okay.  That title rubbed me the wrong way because it implied that everybody was okay and even then I knew a lot of people who weren’t okay.  I wasn’t even sure I was okay.  Maybe the author and I disagree about what “okay” means.  I’ve never read the book to find out.  Sometimes I think I’m better off if my opinion is uninformed.

When I review a book, I usually start with the title, and How To Win Friends And Influence People is a little misleading.  If I’m going to read a book about how to win something, it won’t be for friends.  To me, friends are something that you either have or don’t have; you can’t win them.  If I’m going to win something, I’d like to know how to win the lottery or maybe learn how to win at blackjack or how to win in court.  Maybe I’m being too literal, but How To Win Friends And Influence People is a very literal book.  There’s not a lot of figurative language in HTWFAIP.

Even though HTWFAIP was written in 1936, it might still have some relevant advice.  The chapter that most interested me was “An Easy Way to Become a Great Conversationalist.”  If there’s one thing I’m bad at, it’s talking to people I don’t know.  To be fair, I’m bad at a lot of things, but making small talk is one my worst.  I was looking forward to great insightful advice, and all I got was “Be a good listener.”  That kind of ticked me off.  I’m already a good listener.

I need advice to get me to the stage where people will talk to me enough so that I can demonstrate my great listening skills.  After “Hi, how are you?” I’m accustomed to long awkward silences, especially if I’m talking to somebody else who is a great listener.  Two great listeners put together alone in a room can make a bad conversation.  When I was younger, I could have used a chapter about how to get the other person to start talking so that I can be a good listener. Instead, I had to figure it out for myself.

Advice you won’t find in How To Win Friends And Influence People:

 If you know about football and reality shows, you can start a conversation with almost anyone.

Back when HTWFAIP was first published, “be a good listener” was probably new advice.  Maybe very few people thought that being a good listener was important back then.  I don’t know.  I wasn’t around.  But maybe HTWFAIP seems irrelevant because the advice that was brand-new in 1936 has become so commonplace.  Again, I don’t know.  I haven’t read any pre-1936 self-help books.  Maybe pre-1936 self-help books suggested that you talk loudly and shout over people to get them to do what you want.  I’ve never read a self-help book that says shout people down, but it has to be in a lot of self-help books because I see people do it all the time.

One problem with HTWFAIP is that a lot of the references are old.  There are a lot of traveling salesman stories and lots of references to companies that no longer exist.  When I was a kid, traveling salesman stories usually ended up involving a farmer’s daughter.  If a story was really good, it involved more than one daughter and maybe some of her friends.  None of the traveling salesman anecdotes in HTWFAIP have any farmer’s daughters (or any kind of daughter) in them.  Having at least one would have made the anecdotes more realistic to me.

I’m also concerned that most of the companies and businesses that are mentioned in HTWFAIP don’t exist anymore.  I’m not sure what that means.  Did they stop following the advice given in the book and then fail because of that?  Or did they follow the advice in the book and still fail?  Maybe the stories and testimonials given in the book were all lies.  We know people lie in their books now.  I’m pretty sure people lied in their books back then too.  Maybe all of Carnegie’s anecdotes were fake too.  I have no proof, but it makes me wonder.

Is HTWFAIP still relevant?   Probably.  It’s not the book’s fault if most of the advice is commonplace now.  Is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer irrelevant just because everybody knows the white picket fence trick?  Heck no!  HTWFAIP is still relevant because it’s the first of its kind (at least that’s what one of the many book covers says), and people still read (and argue about) it today.  As long as people willingly read it, then HTWFAIP is still relevant.  And at least it didn’t destroy a generation like I’m Okay, You’re Okay.

*****

What do you think?  Is HTWFAIP still relevant?  What self-help books have you read?  Is “be a good listener” practical advice in the new millennium?  Have you read I’m Okay, You’re Okay, and is it as bad as it sounds?  If you’re reluctant to talk about self-help books, it’s okay.  Having an opinion about a self-help book is not an admission that you really need help.

I Found An Old Letter A Famous Author Wrote To Me

If I'd received a letter from THIS famous author, I'd have had it framed!

If I’d received a letter from the famous author who wrote THIS book, I’d have had the letter framed!

I was a bit suspicious of these stories the first time I heard about them.  First, a woman last summer found an old letter written by JRR Tolkien where the famous author described how much teaching depressed him.  Then a few weeks ago, some guy found an old letter that Roald Dahl had written him decades ago, giving him some advice about describing a woman’s features.

As I mentioned, I thought these stories were suspicious.  If I had ever received a letter from a famous author, especially authors of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I would have kept track of those letters.  I would’ve had them framed.  I would have shown them off to every visitor who stepped into my house/apartment.  How do you lose a letter written to you by JRR Tolkien or Roald Dahl?

After I thought about it, though, I remembered that these kind of things usually happen in threes.  I figured if anybody should be the third person who finds a letter from a famous author, it ought to be me (or I).  Maybe, just maybe, I had an old letter that I had forgotten about from a famous author.  I went through my boxes of old stuff, including letters, musty books, and outdated bills.  I found a birthday check that my grandma had given me 25 years ago (I didn’t cash it back then because she really didn’t have the money to write me checks, but grandmas do stuff like that).  After hours of digging and reminiscing, I found something that I had forgotten existed.

About 20 years ago, James Patterson wrote Along Came a Spider, and it was actually a pretty good book.  At the time, I was trying to write my own serial killer mystery where a fake psychic had to figure out who the murderer was to save his own reputation.  No, the protagonist wasn’t really psychic (I wasn’t going to cop-out on my one mystery novel), and I wrote James Patterson for some advice.  My older brother had given me some ideas that I was using in my book, so I was thinking about giving my brother co-author credit.

The problem was that there was a scene involving intimacy (I guess it’s okay to call it a sex scene now), and my brother wanted me to use the phrase “twin cones of pleasure.”  I was trying to write a high-brow mystery, and there was no way I was going to use that phrase.  I told my brother that I might use that euphemism in another book, but I wasn’t going to use it in my high-brow mystery.  My brother called me a hack, which is funny because I’d never published anything and I had a job that had nothing to do with writing.  But the argument upset me so much that I never wrote the sex scene.

At any rate, when I wrote my fan letter to James Patterson, I asked him if “twin cones of pleasure” was any good and I wanted to know if it was wise for a writer to work with somebody else on a novel.  I didn’t keep a copy of my letter.  Back then, people didn’t keep their own letters.  Instead, we just kept the letters we received (and in some cases found them decades later).  I was surprised when I read his response for the first time in (probably) 20 years:

Dear Jimmy,

Thank you for your letter.  Without fans like you, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to work with other writers on a novel.  It could cause legal issues, and some authors might try to take too much credit for books they didn’t really spend much time with.

Also, whatever you do, don’t use the phrase “twin cones of pleasure.”  It’s tacky, and tacky sex scenes can ruin an otherwise good novel.

Good luck with your writing career.

Sincerely,

James Patterson

After I found the letter, I remembered why I had forgotten it.  It had taken James Patterson a long time to write back to me.  That’s not a complaint; I’m impressed that he wrote back at all.  By the time I received it, though, I had already given up on the novel, and my older brother no longer cared about the phrase “twin cones of pleasure.”  There was no use showing my brother the letter and opening an old wound.  I’m not the type of person who will bring up an old dispute just to prove that I’d been right a long time ago.

Even so, I can’t believe I didn’t take better care of that letter.  I should have had it framed.  I appreciate a celebrity author who takes time to write a personal letter to a fan.  I mean, yeah, James Patterson wasn’t writing 20 books a year back then, but still, he took time that he didn’t have to take, and that means a lot to me.  And I shouldn’t have been so critical of those other guys who lost their letters from famous writers.

In the meantime, I’ve written JK Rowling, asking her if she would pretend to be me like she did with Robert Galbraith.  Robert Galbraith’s Corcoran Strike book sales weren’t all that high until JK Rowling said she was him (or he).  If she could pretend to be him (or he), then maybe she would consider pretending to be me (or I).  It doesn’t hurt to ask.  I’d love for my book sales to go up.

So if my ebook sales suddenly skyrocket, and JK Rowling pretends to be disappointed that her lawyers can’t keep secrets, then you’ll know what really happened.  I’m not holding my breath, though.  E-mail can move very slowly nowadays.

*****

DISCLAIMER! Despite how far-fetched everything sounds, the above story is true, except for the part about me writing a letter to James Patterson and receiving a response.

*****

What do you think?  Have you ever received a letter from a famous author (or any celebrity)?  If you did, did you forget where you put it?  What famous author would you like to get a letter from?  What advice would you ask for from a famous author?  Would you ever use the phrase “twin cones of pleasure” in a sex scene, and if you do, would you please let me know so I could tell my brother?

How to Write an Award-Winning Novel starring… The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

In some ways, it’s better to write an award-winning novel than to be a best-selling author.  You might make more money with a best-seller, but in a few years your book could be forgotten, lost in the ash heap of other replaced best-sellers.  On the other hand, if you win an award like the Pulitzer Prize, your book will be on that list forever.  Even if your Pulitzer Prize winning novel isn’t read much after a few decades, the title will still be on the list.  As long as there are literary critics, there will be a Pulitzer, and as long as there’s a Pulitzer, your book title and name will be on that list.

Reading a Pulitzer Prize winning novel isn’t always easy.  In 7th grade I was forced to read The Yearling by Marjorie Rawlings.  Yeesh!  Does anybody read The Yearling anymore?  Back then, I disliked it, and I haven’t gone back to see if I was wrong to dislike it.  In 9th grade we were forced to read To Kill a Mockingbird, but at least nobody hated it.  If kids hated it, they kept it to themselves.  Even then, students knew it was wrong to hate that book.

As an adult, I read The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara because I went through a Civil War phase (without growing a long beard and dressing up in old musty uniforms).  I read The Shipping News because everybody else in my writers group had read it (but I don’t remember a thing about it).  I recently read The Road by Cormac McCarthy and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

Writing a novel that’s considered for a Pulitzer Prize isn’t easy either.  An author usually has to do more than just tell the story.  An author has to use literary devices that catch readers’ and judges’ attention.  If devices like symbolism and figurative language aren’t enough, authors then have to throw in some literary gimmicks too.  A gimmick is a device that’s easy to do but doesn’t really add anything to the story.

For example, some Pulitzer Prize winning novels (The Road and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) don’t use quotation marks for dialogue.  Maybe leaving out quotation marks makes dialogue more meaningful than dialogue with quotation marks, but I’m not sure.  I’ve always used quotation marks with dialogue.  That’s how I was taught, but I’ve never won a Pulitzer Prize.

The Road also used nameless characters like “the man” and “the boy” (I probably shouldn’t have put them in quotation marks since the book doesn’t use them at all).  Plus, there was a double space between every paragraph, even the one sentence dialogue paragraphs that didn’t have any quotation marks.  I don’t know if The Road would have won a Pulitzer if the characters had had names, or if the spaces between paragraphs were normal, or if the author had used quotation marks.  It still probably would have been a good book.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, along with no quotation marks, used several other literary gimmicks.  The novel had really long sentences with lots of Spanish and Dominican slang thrown in too.  The story was told out of order from several different characters’ points-of-view.  Plus, there were lots of nerd culture references.  Even though I’m a fan of nerd culture references, I thought there were way too many nerd culture references in this book.  Even nerd writers for The Big Bang Theory probably think there were too many nerd culture references in TBWLOOW.  I’m not saying you need to use nerd culture references to win a Pulitzer.  You need to pick a topic and drown your novel in references, like Donna Tartt did with the topic of art in The Goldfinch.

But if you want to emulate a Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction that uses a ton of literary gimmicks, try  A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

A Visit from the Goon Squad uses six literary gimmicks (that I noticed):

  1. Telling the story out of order.
  2. Switching points of view (3rdto 1st to 3rd…)
  3. Switching tenses in various segments (past to present to past…)
  4. a chapter of only power point/ flow charts (don’t use an e-reader for this book)
  5. lots of stream-of-consciousness
  6. And the worst gimmick ever… 2ndperson present tense!  I call it the worst gimmick ever because I tried using it in a college writing class, got yelled at by my writing instructor for using it, and then two months later Bright Lights, Big City became a bestseller. Now I’m biased against 2nd person present tense.

At any rate, six literary gimmicks is a lot for one book.  There were so many literary gimmicks, I expected the author to resort to the 1st person present tense narration death scene.  I was wrong.  Instead, she used the 2nd person present tense narration death scene.    I hate being wrong.

Having so many literary gimmicks in one novel makes it look (to me) like the author is trying too hard.  My writing instructor might have declared that using all these gimmicks took away from any merits A Visit from the Goon Squad had as a story.  But he probably would have shut up once he realized the novel won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

*****

What do you think?  Is using so many gimmicks good story-telling, or is it trying too hard?  What other literary gimmicks have you noticed in award-winning novels?  How many literary gimmicks should an author be limited to?  What literary gimmicks do you dislike the most?  If you were limited to one literary gimmick, which one would it be?  If you had a choice, would you rather write a bestselling selling novel or a major award winning novel?

*****

And if you want to write a best-seller instead of an award-winner, get some great advice from… How to Write a Best-Seller with… Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Life as a Romantic Comedy

Emma and Literary Girlfriend

Sometimes it takes years or decades to realize that something wasn’t normal.  Over 20 years ago, I dated a woman who wore big glasses and carried around a Jane Austen book just so people would think she was smart.  Back then, I thought it was cute, not weird.  This girlfriend did some other stuff that I knew was weird (like eating corn chips loudly at a public library), but at the time I never thought about writing about it.

Now when I think about it, I see this ex-girlfriend’s literary pretention as strange.  In a lot of ways, I’m a literary fraud too, but at least I’ve tried to read some of the books that I (used to) carry around.  It was this ex-girlfriend’s lack of trying that made it weird.  About a year ago, I finished writing “The Literary Girlfriend,”  my romantic comedy about this relationship.  Originally, the blog version was going to be about 10 episodes, and then I was going to flesh it out and turn it into an ebook.  By the time I was done a year later, the blog version was 60 episodes.  And changing it into an ebook didn’t work out (that’s a whole other issue), so now I’m stuck with a blog serial.

If I had known it was going to take me a whole year, I might never had started writing the damn thing.

I mean “damn” in a good way.

I guess anybody who has been in a weird relationship has a romantic comedy in them somewhere, and a lot of relationships are weird.  Not everybody has a war story in their experience, or an espionage story, or a murder mystery, but everybody has a romantic comedy.  All you need is either a bad or a weird relationship experience, and everybody has at least one of those.   Even now, my wife says our own relationship is weird.  It’s not a 50 Shades kind of weird, but she agrees with me that it’s weird.

My wife has agreed to let me publish a story about us, but she says I have to charge money for it, even if it’s just a little bit, so none of my current project will be on this blog.  That could be good or bad, and we’ll see how that turns out.  Since I have to be careful while writing about my current relationship, this project is taking a while.  I have more at stake than when I was writing about my former girlfriend.  But when it’s done, my new project is going to be great.  My wife’s in it.  It had better be great.

I was surprised when my wife agreed to let me write about us.  She didn’t read much of “The Literary Girlfriend” because she didn’t like the ex-girlfriend in the story.  My wife had never met her, but I didn’t blame her for not liking her.  Wives probably should dislike every ex-girlfriend a husband has.  If it’s not already a code, it should be.

It was easy to write about this former girlfriend because I could portray her however I wanted without fear of repercussions.  Writing about a current relationship, especially a spouse, is a bit more risky.  The situation I’m writing about with my wife and me is still kind of going on (mostly resolved), and if my wife doesn’t like the way she’s portrayed, I could regret writing this ebook.  My wife has a great sense of humor, and she says she trusts me and that she doesn’t need to approve anything, but that could be just like a wife/girlfriend saying she doesn’t want a present for Valentine’s Day.  It’s not good for a man to be wrong about something like that.

The relationship with my ex-girlfriend 20 years ago stressed me out a lot, but now I think the situations that made me anxious then are kind of humorous.  Time will do that to you.  Looking back, I should have enjoyed that whole relationship more.  In fact, that’s the one thing I kick myself over is that I didn’t enjoy it more.  But I’ve learned from that experience.  Now when I start to get stressed out, I just pretend that I’m 20 years in the future looking back finding humor in my current situations.  20 years from now, I don’t want to kick myself for not enjoying the parts of my life I should be enjoying right now.  The good news is that I don’t get as anxious as I used to get.  I guess that’s an unintended benefit of writing about a stressful part of my life as a romantic comedy.

But 20 years from now, I hope I’m not kicking myself for writing a romantic comedy about my wife and me.

*****

But enough about me!  What weird relationship could you turn into a comedy?  Have you ever dated somebody weird but you didn’t notice it at the time?  Or did you notice it but didn’t care?  Is it a good idea to write a comedy about a relationship while you’re still in it?  If not, what is the right waiting period?  Should I have my wife approve my romantic comedy about us before I publish it?

*****

Here it is!  Read “The Literary Girlfriend,”  the blog serial romantic comedy that made my wife dislike my ex-girlfriend even more!

Bad Sentences in Classic Literature: The Scarlet Letter

Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne has a lot going for it as a classic novel.  It’s relatively short, and most modern readers would rather read a short classic novel than a long one.  The Scarlet Letter deals with an interesting subject matter, and the symbolism involved is stuff that a literal guy like me can understand.  But like a lot of classic literature, the sentences can be tough to get through.

Different people have different standards for bad sentences.  If a sentence would have gotten me red-marked for writing it back when I was a kid or lectured at by my writers groups as an adult, then I consider it a bad sentence.  The sentences in The Scarlet Letter aren’t as long and ponderous as those in some classic literature, but there are plenty of other issues.  For example, in Chapter I, “The Prison Door,” Hawthorne starts the book with the following opener:

“A throng of bearded men, in sad colored garments, and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.”

That’s the first sentence?  That’s the hook?  First of all, I lost track of what the sentence was even talking about.  If you cut out all of the prepositional phrases and other interrupters, you have “A throng was assembled.”   There are over 20 words between the subject and the verb.  If I had ever written a sentence with 20 words between the subject and the verb, my English teacher would have red-lined it and pinned my essay on the Wall of Shame bulletin board.

And if I had used the phrase “sad colored garments,” my writers group peers would have criticized me for telling, not showing.  “What colors are sad in the 1600s New England culture?” they would have demanded.  And then the phrase “… the door of which…” is clumsy.  Just say “… with a heavily-timbered oak door studded with spikes.”

At least that’s what my writers group peers would have suggested.  I’d never dare to edit Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Long sentences aren’t always the cause of bad sentences.  Sometimes Hawthorne can’t make up his mind what to say.  For example, in the first paragraph of Chapter X:” The Leech and his Patient” Hawthorne writes:

“He now dug into the poor clergyman’s heart, like a miner searching for gold; or, rather, like a sexton delving into a grave, possibly in quest of a jewel that had been buried on the dead man’s bosom, but likely to find nothing save mortality and corruption.”

Every once in a while an author might put two similes in the same sentence.  I respect that.  But I’m not wild about authors changing their minds about a simile in mid-sentence.  First, Old Roger Chillingworth was like a miner searching for gold, and then…No, he, old Roger Chillingworth, was NOT like a miner searching for gold after all.  He was more like a sexton delving into a grave.  Possibly this sexton was looking for a jewel buried on the dead man’s bosom.  Or possibly not.  Maybe the sexton was looking for something else on the dead man.  We just don’t know.

Maybe this sentence wasn’t so bad.  Maybe mid-sentence simile replacement is a widely respected literary device and I just don’t know about it.  I know I have astonishing gaps in my knowledge.  Maybe this is one of those gaps.

Hawthorne uses mid-sentence simile replacement several times in The Scarlet Letter.  For example, at the beginning of Chapter XXI “The New England Holiday,” Hawthorne writes:

“It (Hester’s face) was like a mask; or, rather, like the frozen calmness of a dead woman’s features; owing this dreary resemblance to the fact that Hester was actually dead, in respect to any claim of sympathy, and had departed out of the world with which she still seemed to mingle.”

Maybe I’m wrong, but I think Hawthorne should have combined the two similes, maybe comparing her face to a mask of a dead woman.  Also, use of the word “actually” is a misuse of the word, because in no way was she “actually” dead.   She might have been near-death in social status.  She might have been on the bottom rung of the social ladder, but she was not “actually” dead.  And I wouldn’t have cared how many words Hawthorne used to explain how Hester was metaphorically dead if he hadn’t used the word “actually.”

That’s not true.  I still would have thought he used too many words to make his point.

Maybe it’s not fair to judge classic literature by today’s standards, but I’ve struggled through a lot of classic novels, and I’m supposed to be one of the good readers.  If I have to concentrate really hard to read something like The Scarlet Letter, then I feel for a struggling reader who is forced to get through a book like this for school.  At least now we know specifically what makes a book like this tough to read for some people: 20 words between the subject and the verb, and mid-sentence simile replacements, and too many words to make a simple point.

And I don’t think these aren’t fake reasons for struggling.  In my opinion, these are “actually” good reasons to think The Scarlet Letter has some bad sentences.

*****

What do you think?  Are these sentences bad sentences?  Or are these sentences  actually good sentences but I’m too stupid to recognize them as good sentences?  Is mid-sentence simile replacement a great writing technique that I simply don’t know about?  What literary devices in classic novels do you usually notice?  Is it fair to judge classic literature by today’s writing standards?

I Need a Good Self-Promotion Publicity Stunt

I might do a book reading, but I'm not singing or playing any musical instruments. (image via wikimedia)

I might do a book reading, but I’m not singing or playing any musical instruments. (image via wikimedia)

Self-promotion is tough for me because I was raised to not call attention to myself.  I was taught to stay quiet and that if I did something well, others would notice.  Maybe that was true to some extent when I was growing up, but if those days ever existed, they’re over now.  It seems today it’s more about promotion than actually having a good product.  I’m not complaining.  I can’t complain because I don’t even have a new finished product yet, but I need to start thinking about self-promotion.

The ebook that I’m currently writing might be the best, most mainstream story I’ve ever written.  I won’t say what the title is because then it will sound like self-promotion and I’m not ready for that yet.  Anyway, I’ve never seen this particular story told before, and if I take my time, I might even write it well.  Unlike The Literary Girlfriend or The Writing Prompt, I’m not going to put any (or part) of it on Dysfunctional Literacy.  It’s not going to be free.  But I’m concerned that if I don’t put it on my blog Dysfunctional Literacy, then nobody will read it.

A lot of people know way more than I do about promotion.   I could use my blog or Twitter for self-promotion, but a lot of authors already do that, and I’m not sure it’s effective most of the time.  I think unpublished authors need something more.  I think I’d better come up with new exciting ways to self-promote my new ebook before I’m done writing it.  I already have a few ideas.

First, I’d like to get JK Rowling to say that she is me.  That would be a great attention-getter.  It worked for Robert Galbraith.  Robert Galbraith’s first book didn’t become a best-seller until JK Rowling announced that she was he.  That’s the kind of self-promotion I want.  I’d love for JK Rowling to say she was the author of Dysfunctional Literacy and all my ebooks.  My sales would skyrocket, and I wouldn’t have to do anything else.

I’ve even asked JK Rowling to claim that she is me.  Not personally or face-to-face or anything like that.  A few months ago, I wrote her and asked her to allow her lawyer or publicist to start telling people that she was me.  But she hasn’t responded.  She gets so much fan mail that maybe she hasn’t seen my message yet.

I’d go ahead and say that JK Rowling is me without her permission, but then I’d probably get sued, so I guess it’s a bad idea.

Maybe I could claim that my new book is really Harper Lee’s other lost manuscript.  Yeah, she and her estate haven’t mentioned a second lost manuscript, but of course they wouldn’t do that, at least not until they found it.  And I could claim to have just found it.  Harper Lee was brilliant, pretending not to have written another book for over 50 years and then announcing that she’s suddenly found a manuscript that she thought she had lost decades ago.  That’s publicity gold.

Her new book will be a best seller (I think it already is before it has even been released) without her having to do anything else.  I’m jealous.  Every misplaced manuscript that I’ve written sucks, and nobody cares when I find them.  Her lost manuscript might actually be good.  My manuscript that I can pretend is her second lost manuscript might not look anything like Harper Lee’s writing, but the publicity might help my book sales anyway.

Ugh, this is probably a bad idea too.

I could say that James Patterson co-wrote my new book.  Some people would believe that.  James Patterson can co-write anything.  I even know a guy named James Patterson who agreed to type a word in my manuscript just so he could say he co-wrote it.  I’d be willing to put JAMES PATTERSON in huge letters with everything else in a tiny font if I believed it would help book sales.

But the guy I know, his first name isn’t really James.  His last name is Patterson, but there isn’t a James anywhere in his name.  He doesn’t even have a James in his family.  The guy has eight brothers, three generations of fathers, uncles, grandfathers, kids, grandkids, and not one of them is named James.  A couple of them are named Pete.  What kind of family has two Peters and no James?  You could make a tongue-twister out of Peter Patterson, and they used the name anyway.  If they’d had the foresight to name a kid James, they could make themselves rich.

Instead, I’ll have to think of another idea.

*****

What do you think?  What self-promotional techniques have worked (or not worked) for you?  What would you like to try?  Do you have ideas but are reluctant to say what they are because somebody else might use them first?

“Don’t Quit Your Day Job” vs. “Follow Your Dreams”

(image via Wikimedia)

(image via Wikimedia)

“Next month, I’m quitting my job and writing for a year,” a friend of mine said at a party.

He’s not really a friend.  He’s the husband of a coworker of my wife.  I hardly know the guy, but I don’t have a lot of friends, so I just say he’s my friend.

Anyway, his wife is going to support him while he sits around and writes a novel all day every day for a year.  It’s been a dream of his all his life to be a writer, and for a year he gets to live his dream.  He says maybe he’ll be successful and get to continue living his dream.  He has a good job now, and he knows they won’t hold it for him, so after a year (if he’s not successful writing), he’ll have to start sending out resumes and get ready for interviews.

Of course, I’m jealous.  I’d love to quit my job and simply write, but there’s no way my wife would go for it.  I’d never ask her.  My wife and I have the same philosophy: you never mess with guaranteed income.

But when my wife talked to my friend, she spent almost ten minutes telling him how much she admired him for following his passion.  I kept my mouth shut.  If I tried to quit my job and write for a year, she’d kick me out and change the locks.  She expects me to work.  I don’t blame her.  I expect me to work too.

My friend doesn’t know about my blog or my ebooks.  I could have given him some advice, told him how difficult it is to get income from just writing, especially if nobody knows who you are.  But I hesitated.  I don’t know how good of a writer he is.  He’s a smart guy, so he might have out-of-this-world talent, and I don’t know.  Also, he networks and might know people in publishing.  I was tempted to ask him if he knew anybody in publishing, but then if I told him about my blog after I asked him about his contacts in publishing (if he had any), it might have looked like I was trying to leach off his connections.

Plus, he could have taken my advice the wrong way.  He could have thought to himself, who the hell is this guy, just another schmuck who claims to have a blog?  I didn’t want to come across as a know-it-all who doesn’t know that much, so I didn’t say anything.  But I nodded with great enthusiasm as others encouraged him.

This experience could end badly for the married couple, I thought.  The wife could end up resenting my friend’s year of writing if it’s unsuccessful by their standards.  On the other hand, if my friend is successful, then he may divorce his wife, just as many famous people do once they make the transition from normal to famous.  In either case, divorce is a strong possibility, and the children will be hurt the worst.  They really should think about the children.  Yeah, they don’t have any children, but still!  You should always think of the children, even if you don’t have any.

As I stood there silently, I could have said something like “It’s good to follow your dreams,” but that sounds kind of trite and insincere.  I’d rather say nothing than sound insincere.  Maybe I should have spoken honestly to my friend about his chances of becoming a successful writer in one year.  That’s what a true friend would do, I think.  But I didn’t think it would have been wise for me to tell him not to quit his day job because his mind was already made up, and when that happens, it’s best to help the friend to succeed, rather than to second-guess himself.  So instead of saying, “For God’s sake, don’t quit your day job,” I kept quiet and thought of some practical non-writing advice for him.

* Keep the house clean while his wife works.

* Do the grocery shopping.

*Avoid writing while his wife is home.

* Get up at the same time as his wife on her work days.

*Keep the porn use to 30 minutes or less a day.  (I don’t condone watching porn when he’s supposed to be writing and his wife’s at work, but he’s 30, so it’s going to happen.  And it’s better than watching it when she’s at home.)

*****

I know I preach about waiting six months to have an opinion, but I’m not being hypocritical here.  It might sound like I have an opinion, but I don’t.  This is merely my initial reaction.  An initial reaction is not the same thing as an opinion.  I’m still open-minded enough to change the course of my thoughts after an initial reaction.  It’s tough to change an opinion.  Unfortunately, I’ll have to wait a year to form an opinion about this.

*****

What do you think?  Is it a good idea to quit a well-paying job to write for a year?  Should I have implored him not to quit his job, or was I right to stay away from that issue?  Should I give him my practical advice when I see him again next week?  Would you quit your job to follow your dream if your spouse offered?  Is it okay to have an opinion about this situation without knowing ahead of time what will happen?

Does This Book Need A Sequel? To Kill A Mockingbird

In 50 years, will the sequel also get a special commemorative edition?

In 50 years, will the sequel also get a special commemorative edition?

To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the few extremely successful books that doesn’t get complained about too much.  I’ve never heard anybody say he/she hated To Kill a Mockingbird.  I’ve never heard anyone call it “a f***ing piece of sh**” or say they wasted precious hours of their lives reading it.  The worst complaint I’ve heard is that it’s overrated.  It probably is.  No book can have as much acclaim as To Kill a Mockingbird does without being overrated, but I think that almost every bestseller or award-winning book is overrated.  Once anything reaches a certain acclaimed status, it’s automatically overrated.  But I’ve never heard anybody say that To Kill a Mockingbird sucks.

I’m pretty sure somebody’s going to hate the upcoming sequel.  Just like book lovers are already ordering Harper Lee’s new novel ahead of time, there are others who already hate the idea of a sequel for To Kill a Mockingbird.  Some even hate the title Go Set a Watchman.  I believe in judging a book by its title, and I have no idea what Go Set a Watchman means, but I also had no idea what To Kill a Mockingbird meant either until I read it.  To be honest, I might not have known what To Kill a Mockingbird meant until Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch explained it to Scout (and me).  So it’s probably not fair to judge the title of the sequel yet.

I’ve found that when controversial things happen, it’s best to wait about six months to have an opinion.  In six months, there’s usually been enough time to gather information about a given topic to have a well-informed opinion.  In a little over six months, Go Set a Watchman will be released, and that will be the best time to think about having an opinion.  A bunch of critics will have instant opinions about the sequel as soon as it gets released.  Again, I will wait six months to have an opinion.  I might even wait six months before I read the sequel.  After I read the sequel, I might wait six months to have an opinion about it.

Sometimes, it’s best to have time to see what real effect a book or movie has on you.  That’s why some critically panned books become classics and praised books are often forgotten after a few years.  Yeah, it’s tough to wait six months to have an opinion.  Lots of loud people form their opinions right away and start spouting off their opinions in really strong authoritative voices so that by the time six months is up, those of us who have taken our time in forming our opinions learn that our opinions don’t matter anymore.

One warning sign about Go Set a Watchman is that Harper Lee says she’s “happy as hell” that her sequel is finally being published.  I’m happy that Harper is happy as hell, but a part of me wonders if “happy as hell” is code for “Please don’t let them publish this.”  I don’t think I use “hell” to describe positive feelings.  I “run like hell.”  I get “mad as hell.”  But I don’t think I’ve ever been “happy as hell.”  When I think of happiness, hell is one of the last words I use as part of my simile.  Maybe Harper Lee had just reread A Catcher in the Rye and was channeling her inner Holden Caulfield.  Maybe “happy as hell” is code for somebody to write a sequel to A Catcher in the Rye.

Nobody really knows right now if Go Set a Watchman is any good.  There’s a high probability it’ll be disappointing (I have nothing statistical or analytical to back up my claim), but even if the sequel is disappointing, it shouldn’t take anything away from To Kill a Mockingbird.  All of those mediocre Corleone books didn’t diminish my love for The Godfather.  That Scarlett sequel didn’t diminish Gone with the Wind at all.  Dr. Sleep didn’t ruin The Shining for me.  To me, the sequel is a no-lose situation.  If it’s great, it’s another future classic to be enjoyed for generations.  If it’s disappointing, in a few months we can pretend like it never happened.  But for now, I have a good six months before I need to think about forming an opinion.

*****

What do you think?  Are you looking forward to Go Set a Watchman, or are you dreading it?  What other books should have a sequel written?  What sequels shouldn’t have been written?  Does “happy as hell” mean “really happy,” or is something sinister happening before our eyes?  Is six months too long to form an opinion, or is it better to just instantly pick a side and defend it to the death?

Why Should I Read This? War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

A simple title and cover for such a complicated book.

A simple title and cover for such a complicated book.

Sometimes I want to read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, but every time I start reading it, I decide I don’t want to read it anymore.  I think I should like it.  It’s about war (unless the title is misleading), and I read war books.  But if it’s about war, it seems to take a long time to get to the war.  A novel titled War and Peace should start with the war and then get to the peace later.  And that’s just my first complaint.  When it comes to War and Peace, there are numerous reasons for a guy like me to not read it.

For one thing, War and Peace is really long.  I don’t have the attention span for long books anymore.  Also, those big, long books are heavy, and they hurt my neck, and when I download long books on my e-reader, it’s difficult for me to go back and flip pages to refresh my memory.  I can do it, but it’s not as enjoyable as it is with a shorter, easier book.

To make matters worse, War and Peace is written in Russian.  I don’t have anything against Russian.  I just don’t understand the language, which means that I have to read a translated version of War and Peace.  I don’t trust translations.  A lot of an author’s voice and flowery prose (when I’m in the mood to appreciate it) can get messed up in a translation.

Plus, Russian names give me a headache.  Again, I have nothing against Russian names, but some of them in War and Peace are long, and there are a lot of characters with long, similar names.  Maybe it’s just a psychological thing with me.  Maybe I’m just easily confused.  At any rate, I have a tough time with the characters’ names in War and Peace.

Even though length and language are two decent reasons not to read a great novel, they might not be enough.  If you think about it, War and Peace isn’t that long.  When you compare War and Peace to a book series today like Game of Thrones, then War and Peace would be much shorter.  And it’s been completed already.  The reader doesn’t have to worry about the author dying before finishing the story.  War and Peace is done.  I’d rather read a long completed novel than an ongoing series that might not ever get finished.

Maybe the Russian names aren’t that bad either.  Most people can figure out the names in Game of Thrones, and there are a lot of crazy names in that series.  When I binge-watched Game of Thrones, I took the time to learn most of the names.  If I can learn all (or most) of the names in Game of Thrones without reading the books, then I should be able to learn the names in War and Peace.

Plus, I’m pretty sure War and Peace is pretty good.  It’s been translated into just about every language that literature can be translated into.  That doesn’t happen arbitrarily.  Sometimes classics are only classics because the academic types say they’re classics.  I’m guessing that in the case of War and Peace, it’s a classic even without the help of literature professors.  Maybe, just maybe, it’s worth the effort to read it.

Since War and Peace is public domain, anybody can rewrite it and Americanize all the Russian names.  Maybe it would be a bastardization, but it might sell books.  You could even call it a bastardization in the title.  Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace: The Bastardized American Version.  I’d read a bastardized American version of War and Peace.  I’d even write a bastardized version of War and Peace, except then I’d have to read then real version of it first.

War and Peace; The Bastardized American Version could be simple to write.  Pierre Bezhukov could be renamed Peter Ryan.  Prince Andrei Nikolayevich Bolkonsky would be renamed Prince Andy Brewer.  The characters are still Russian, but the names would be much easier keep up with for guys like me.  Every weapon from the early 19th century could be described with intricate detail.  A bunch of ironically dismissive comments about the growing United States could be made by both French and Russian characters.  It could be great.

If the modern author could keep the bastardized version to under 500 pages, I might be able to read it.  But I wouldn’t be able to brag about it later.  If I ever read War and Peace, I want to feel good about bragging about it later.

*****

What do you think?  Is War and Peace worth reading?  Can I brag about it if I finish reading it?  What other classic novels would you like to read but probably won’t?  Which translation of War and Peace is the best one?  Does the translation even matter?  Would you read the brand new Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace: The Bastardized American Version?

When Super Bowl Commercials Ruin A Game…

(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

As much as I love football, the worst part is the commercials.  Nothing destroys the flow of the game like a series of commercials after kickoffs, turnovers, and short series punts, not to mention time-outs.  And the worst game of all for commercials is the Super Bowl.

If the hype of the game itself has gotten out of control, the hype for Super Bowl commercials is even worse, with talk about how much time-slots cost, what stars are going to be in the ads, what new products are being introduced, etc..

Yeah, some of the commercials are funny, but the Super Bowl isn’t the time for funny.  The Super Bowl is a serious game, and a funny creative commercial is still just a commercial that gets in the way of the game.  And now I’ve just heard a news report (on a NEWS show) about a company promoting its Super Bowl commercials a week before the game.  I won’t mention the product because they’ve already gotten enough free advertising (unless they want to pay me).

Since the hype for upcoming Super Bowl commercials has already begun, it’s the perfect time to present…

Let’s Talk Football: A Super Bowl Joke!!!

The Super Bowl to a hardcore football fan is like New Year’s Eve to a drunk: it’s annoying because that’s when the amateurs come out.

So when a hardcore football fan was invited to a Super Bowl party, he was actually dreading it because it would be packed with a bunch of amateurs (women and guys who didn’t really care about the football game) and all they’d do is talk about the commercials.  Still, the hardcore football fan didn’t want to watch the big game by himself, so he decided to go.

And the party was worse than he thought it would be.

The amateurs cackled and guffawed at the commercials and talked really loudly about them during the game so that the hardcore football fan couldn’t hear the game commentary (If John Gruden’s not calling the game, the commentary doesn’t really matter, but still…).

During the halftime show, the hardcore football fan wanted to discuss the game, but everybody else was still ranking the commercials and talking about the teeny-bopper chick performing at the show.

When the third quarter resumed, the hardcore football fan tried to talk about the game some more, but the partiers were still discussing the teeny-bopper chick half-time performer and were still re-ranking the commercials after each new ad. The hardcore football fan had had enough (Using the phrase “had had enough” is grammatically correct in this situation).

The hardcore football fan couldn’t hear the game, and he was about to complain when the host approached him.

“I’m really sorry about this,” the host said, “but I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“What?” the hardcore football fan replied, exasperated even though he felt out of place.  “But why?”

“Because people are complaining about you,” the host said.  “Whenever you talk about the game, nobody else can hear the commercials.”

*****

This isn’t quite a true story, but I was told during a Super Bowl party a few years ago to shut up because other people couldn’t hear the commercials.  This particularly offended me because these same people usually complained that I was too quiet (and I have a monotone voice).

Because of this, I’ll always be a little bitter towards Super Bowl commercials.

But enough about me!  How do you watch the game?  Do you like commercials better than the game? Ugh!  What seemingly trivial event in your life has made you irrationally bitter?

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