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Thread: Learn Writing with Uncle Jim, Volume 1

  1. #1176
    James D Macdonald

    The Horrors of the Literary Life

    In <A HREF="" target="_new">The Unstrung Harp: or, Mr. Earbrass Writes A Novel</a> by Edward Gorey (a book that contains more truth about writing than any ten consecutive issues of Writer's Digest -- what do you mean you haven't gotten a copy yet?) we see Mr. Earbrass attend a literary dinner: "The talk deals with disappointing sales, inadequate publicity, worse than inadequate royalties, idiotic or criminal reviews, others' declining talent, and the unspeakable horror of the literary life."

    What, then, are these unspeakable horrors?

    I shall speak of them.

    Elsewhere I've said that readings and signings and book tours rank slightly above oral surgery on the scale of Fun Ways To Spend Time.

    Here are a couple of links you might look at:

    <a href=",12694,1152704,00.html" target="_new">A cartoon by Posy Simmonds</a> (via the indispensable <a href="" target="_new">Making Light</a>).

    <a href=" 007&partner=USERLAND&pagewanted=print&position=" target="_new">An article in The New York Times</a> (via the equally indispensable <a href="" target="_new">Scrivener's Error</a>).

    Yes, readings and signings really are that bad. They take you away from your keyboard, which is where your major money-making takes place. The way to sell books is to a) write a book, and b) write another book. Suppose you have a really successful signing. You sell fifty books. Say these are $8.00 paperbacks, and you're making 10% royalties on them. You've just made $40, minus your agent's 15%, or $34. Which will get to you ... eventually. After the book's earned out, after reserve-against-returns has been met. In the next royalty period after that. A year? Two?

    Did that pay for your gas to get to the store? Did that pay for the time you had to take off from writing? How about food and lodging? But really, it's a great Ego thing if you sell 50 books. You want to know what you'll probably get?


    Bigger names than you or me have had no one show up to readings/signings. When John Grisham gets no one to show up (as he did in freakin' downtown Boston on one not-so-memorable occassion), where do you think we're going to fit on the food chain?

    Want to talk about ego-killers?

    So: survival tips.

    First, do a joint reading/signing with another author. That way you'll have someone to talk to.

    Second, put a bowl of Hershey Kisses on your table. That way people will come over to at least pick up some free candy. (Don't forget to subtract the price of that candy from your profits.)

    Third, do your own press releases and publicity. Don't rely on the bookstore/your publisher to do that. (Subtract the price from your profits. Are we below zero yet?)

    Next, when someone comes by and asks you about your book (or asks you for directions to another shop in the mall -- I've had that happen to me) don't tell them what your book is about. They'll say "I don't like [science fiction] [romance] [mysteries] [quirky literary masterpieces filled with wonderful insights into the human condition]." Instead, ask them what kind of books they like. Whatever the answer, find a way in which you can tell them that your book contains exactly those elements they mentioned. I'm sure you can do this ... novels have lots of different things in 'em, you're intimately familiar with your book, and you're creative. Go for it.

    Okay, two more things for you to do:

    Get and watch <a href="" target="_new">"Jose Chung's From Outer Space"</a> (X-files) and "Jose Chung's Doomsday Defense" (from Millennium Season Two -- not yet available on tape or DVD). Those, too, tell the Truthiest Truth about being an author.

  2. #1177

    book signing

    Great advice, Uncle Jim. I'm sure to remember these "when" I have my own book signing moments! :money

  3. #1178
    MacAl Stone

    Re: The Uncle Jim compilation done, up to this page. 161 pages, currently in a Word Perfect document. I can convert it to a pdf, if need be.

    What I CANNOT do is fix the EZ board links--they're all dead, with the address change, and I don't know my way around well enough to know where all those links should now lead.

    The other links are fine.

    And I'm so glad the cut-n-paste is over.


  4. #1179

    Re: The Uncle Jim compilation

    Onya, MacAl Stone. I'd love to have all of Uncle Jim's wisdom in one handy place and can't wait till it is available. Thanks for what must have been pretty tedious, but not thankless, work.

    Dear Uncle Jim- simply, thankyou. Your thread has been a fascinating read, as well as an incredible source of useful writing information. You have restored my faith in the internet.

    A fan in New Zealand

  5. #1180
    Chris Goja

    Truths from NZ

    Hear, hear. Not that we don't want more pearls of wisdom from you Jim, but it will be a great reference document, if/when MacAl Stone decides to publish it. And the hyperlinks, well, they could always be compiled separately. Jim's already done this once, I know, but I can't remember exactly which page he did it on. A task for someone to find out, perhaps?

    Before fighting someone, try walking a mile in their shoes. Then, if they still want to fight, at least they're a mile away, and you've got their shoes. - T. Pratchett

  6. #1181

    Introducing myself

    Hello, Jim and everybody.

    Yes, you can say I'm joining late... but I've just returned from a trip abroad and discovered that Jim started this topic exactly on the day I left... otherwise I'd have been stuck here like a fly in honey chatting my head away all these months.

    This is just to say hello because I've only made it to page 22 (I don't have much time to spend with my computer) so naturally, I've got lots of questions but I'm sure I'll find most answers before I catch up. I'm amazed how much time and patience you, Jim, put into this topic. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience with us!

    I'm just a part-time non-fiction writer striving to get some fiction accepted... although almost every bit of non-fiction I write gets quite enthusiastically published, fiction seems to be a totally different ball game. So I do get up at 4.50 am to put in about an hour and a half of fiction writing (I do my articles in the afternoon) -- I don't seem to be able to keep my attention on the story for a longer period although I do hope it'll come with practice. So I write in sections/scenes: each about 1000-1500 words which takes me about an hour and a half and after I've finished a scene, I'm done, exhausted--can't concentrate any longer. The fact that English is a totally foreign language for me doesn't help, either: I'm Russian and only started speaking English regularly about 5 years ago.

    Well, that's already a long post, but I absolutely had so say hello to you all, even although I haven't finished reading yet. I'll be around. Great to meet you, people, and you, Jim -- thanks again for the marvellous topic.


  7. #1182

    Re: The Uncle Jim compilation

    Mac - it looks like the only difference in the links that refer to this board is the prefix p197, which used to be pub43. If you had a way of doing a global find and replace on links in a WP doc, that might work.

  8. #1183
    James D Macdonald

    Re: The Uncle Jim compilation

    I've got to go through this thread and correct all my links to other Water Cooler threads.

    And ... I'd appreciate a chance to read over and edit the compiled Wit and Wisdom document.

    What do y'all think of creating a book over at CafePress, just as an experiment?

    (I don't much like PDF, because it's hard to search, and limiting in its presentation. I can convert Word to HTML pretty easily, and have a lot of room on my own web page, if it comes to that.)

  9. #1184

    Re: THE BOOK

    I'm up for whatever format you are willing to present it in, Uncle Jim.

  10. #1185
    Chris Goja

    Wit and Wisdom

    Well, Jim,

    I don't think anyone will deny you the right to do whatever you want with what is, after all, YOUR wit and wisdom. I just hope it will be edited really quickly, is all.

    Oh, and what is CafePress?


    P.S. I'll be asking for Beta readers for the Assignment (tm) soon. Any volonteers?

  11. #1186
    James D Macdonald

    Re: Wit and Wisdom

    This is <a href=",yog_1,yog_2" target="_new">CafePress</a>.

    They offer a <a href="" target="_new">Print-on-Demand</a> publishing option.

    Let's say that the Uncle Jim book was 100 pages.

    It would cost out at $9.50 for Wire-O binding, $8.50 for Saddle-stitch, or $10 for Perfectbound. Add in a tiny bit of profit for your humble narrator, and it's $9.15 retail.

    Whether this would be Worth It to anyone, I don't know.

  12. #1187
    Chris Goja

    Re: The Uncle Jim compilation

    Sounds good, Jim,

    and I'm equally certain that just about everyone in here would buy a copy, earning you at least a very nice dinner for all your trouble. I'm just a little worried that the publication would mark the end of this particular thread...
    Surely you're not saying that this is it, that your W&W is now dispersed, dried up and that you have nothing else to add on the subject? (I'd make bambi eyes here if I thought it would help, but I can't afford the time for yet another Assignment (tm), so I won't. ) I for one would love to hear your thoughts on any number of topics yet un-covered (as it were), and I'm sure the rest would agree with me.


  13. #1188

    Book Signing

    You mentioned some great points about book signings (on p.59). One thing, though, that happened to me:I was excited and nervous because it was my first book signing. I brought along a small bowl of Hershey miniatures. In my excitement, I forgot that the store owner was going to have me sit outdoors on that gorgeous summer day. The Hershey miniatures stayed in the air-conditioned store. :smack

  14. #1189

    Uncle Jim Compilation

    I have no problem forking out a few quatloo for a cheaply-bound copy. But the big question is...

    How do we know when it is finished?

    Or should we just say we do (for example) one per quarter?

  15. #1190

    Re: Another BNA on "The Truth"

    Here is a link to Stephen King's acceptance speech for the National Book Award. It's a great speech, given on a great occasion, and gives great insight into King's own view of the truth behind the lies:

    "To ignore the truth inside the lie is to sin against the craft, in general, and one's own work in particular."

    Like him or not, he knows his business.

  16. #1191

    The full copy.

    I've cut and pasted my own copy of your excellent advice and ideas, Jim but a print on demand copy for my students would be a great idea. I can have them download a copy before a course began.

    Thank you for the url to Stephen King's speech. I found his book on writing a good read even though I can't read much of his fiction as horror gives me nightmares!
    Whilst this site was down I spent my allowance of website time on the UK writers site. One writer questioned if she would damage her ability to write literary stories if she also wrote fiction for women's mags to earn money. Go look at the pretentious answers about writing potboilers and how it would seriously damage your ability to write literary stories. It would be wonderful if you all could come up with a polite (this is the British broadcasting corporation and they have very strict rules about anything vaguely impolite) rebuff and post it there if you could spare a moment. It's about time some of those hoary old chestnuts were popped!
    Happy Writing!

  17. #1192

    Stephen King

    He spoke so eloquently about "jealousy." I think most of us could relate to that, one time or another. Somehow you've just got to let go of that useless, harmful emotion and turn that into motivation.

    His take on "truth" is also spot on, IMHO.

  18. #1193
    James D Macdonald


    I'm not in favor of going over as a group, or of organizing at one website to go visit a community at another website, to argue with them. Now if someone wanted to issue a polite invitation to come over here?

    What's the exact URL?

    Now I haven't seen the discussion there -- but in general, you write the way you practice writing, and it's possible for someone to get bad habits, for some definition of "bad," writing in a particular genre or style.

    I emphasize care in your writing, in choosing your words and images carefully so that they all lead in one direction and support one theme. But that's just me.


    Speaking of jealousy, here are some more Writers' Deadly Sins.
    Last edited by James D. Macdonald; 03-18-2012 at 01:29 AM.

  19. #1194

    Life-Saving Quote!

    Time for me to say my first HUGE thank-you to Uncle Jim! Looks like with your advice, I might finally get over my writing problems.

    Consider this:

    "The mid-book will still be horror compounded to get across, but, day by day, you'll get through it, ***until one morning your hero will make a bold stroke, everything that your subconscious put in place will aid him, and you'll realize that you're in the Climax.*** Hurrah!

    This is incredible, because making the hero act in the climax and bring all hell upon himself has always been my biggest pain in the neck. Every minor character would act striving to bring the story to the end, but not the protagonist. I'm working on a novella at the moment (not a novel, but too long for my mental powers, anyway) and I was just clueless how to make my fella act and actually feel something about the story.

    But I followed all Uncle Jim's advice on structure hoping it might get me to the climax somehow. And today, a miracle happened. I wrote my two hours' worth of total drivel (right, the midpart was a chore to write), and suddenly in the finishing lines my guy stirred, looked around himself and decided to take action! The subconscious had kicked in, I guess :snoopy I knew what he was feeling and why he made this decision. I knew why he was so passionate about doing what he's going to do in the climax. I just can't believe it! I've got a story!

    Thank you, uncle Jim! And big thanks to everyone for all your insightful posts -- I'm learning from everyone here.


  20. #1195

    subconscious kicking in....

    Way to go, Fresie. I love that kind of moment.

  21. #1196

    Re: subconscious kicking in....

    Thanks, Chunky. In my excitement, I forgot to mention something probably even more important: when I discovered my hero's feelings and motivations, it took me some time to realise that his newfound motivations actually matched the story theme 100%. Talking about everything coming together.

    I'm just stunned.

  22. #1197
    James D Macdonald

    For Our Toolbag

    Today in the Author's Toolbag, let's look at Dramatic Irony.

    In Dramatic Irony, the reader knows something that the characters in the story don't know.

    Let us turn, briefly, to the historical novel <A HREF="" target="_new">The Killer Angels</a> by Michael Shaara.

    The scene is in the Confederate camp at General James "Old Pete" Longstreet's headquarters, on the night of 30 June/ 01 July, 1863. General George Pickett has come up to Longsteet with something on his mind....

    In this quoted section, General Pickett speaks first:



    "Well, sir, now I don't mean this as a reflection upon you, sir. But well, you know, sir, my Division, my Virginia boys, we weren't at Chancellorsville."


    "Well, you know we were assigned away on some piddling affair, and we weren't at Fredericksburg either; we were off again doing some other piddling thing, and now they've taken off two of my brigades, Corse and Jenkins, and sent them off to guard Richmond--Richmond, for the love of God-- and now, General, do you know where I'm placed in the line of march? Last, sir, that's where. Exactly last. I bring up the damned rear. Beg pardon."

    Longstreet sighed.

    Pickett said, "Well, I tell you, sir, frankly, my boys are beginning to wonder at the attitude of the high command toward my Division. My boys --"

    "George," Longstreet said.

    "Sir, I must--" Pickett noted Longstreet's face. "Now, I don't mean to imply this command. Not you, sir. I was just hoping you would talk to somebody."

    "George," Longstreet paused, then he said patiently, "Would you like us to move the whole army out of the way and let you go first?"

    Pickett brightened. That seemed a good idea. Another look at Longstreet's face.

    "I only meant, sir, that we haven't--"

    "I know, George. Listen, there's no plot. It's just the way things fell out. I have three divisions, right? There's you, and there's Hood and McLaws. And where I go you go. Right? And my HQ is near the Old Man, and the Old Man chooses to be here, and that's the way it is. We sent your two brigades to Richmond because we figured they were Virginia boys and that was proper. But look at it this way: if the army has to turn and fight its way out of here, you'll be exactly first in line."

    Pickett thought on that.

    "That's possible?"


    "Well," Pickett mused. At that moment Lew Armistead came up. Pickett said wistfully, "Well, I had to speak on it, sir. You understand. No offense?"


    "Well, then. But I mean, the whole war could be damn well over soon, beg pardon, and my boys would have missed it. And these are Virginians, sir, and have a certain pride." It occurred to him Longstreet not being a Virginian, he might have given another insult.



    We see lots of technique here -- notice the planting of information right, left, and sideways. This might be a deadly expository lump, or an As-You-Know-Bob, but it is saved by the use of dialog, and the chacterization that is being done for both Pickett and Longstreet.

    We are in third-person limited in this scene -- we see Pickett's thoughts, not Longstreet's. Pickett is being portrayed as upset, and as not terribly bright. It is quite clear what Longstreet's opinion of Pickett is.

    Lots of good stuff in that scene -- yet what I wanted to point up here was the use of irony. We see Pickett thinking that the war might be over without his men seeing action. But the readers of this book will certainly know that within three days most of Pickett's men will be dead, killed in the doomed hopelessness of Pickett's Charge. That is what adds the poignancy to this particular scene, what might otherwise have been a recitation of facts necessary for the reader to know, but which all of the characters would already be perfectly familiar with. Surely Pickett knows how many divisions Longstreet commands, and surely Longstreet knows where in the column Pickett's men are marching.

    Without that use of irony, this scene would be out of place.

    Pray notice how every word reveals character, advances the plot, or supports the theme.

  23. #1198

    Re: Life-Saving Quote!

    I love dramatic irony. In addition to what Uncle Jim said, it can also add suspense. To see how the story unfolds and how the characters get to learn and react to what we've already known can be a thrill.

  24. #1199

    Re: subconscious kicking in....

    I'm not a big fan of the Civil War, but The Killer Angels was a powerful, moving book. Amazing read.

    I also loved THE USUAL SUSPECTS. Especially the twist at the end.

  25. #1200

    BBC url

    The url is:
    Go into the Round Table section and click on Arts and Craft
    It's very difficult to post on the BBC board, Jim, you have to go through a whole rigmarole to become a member first. But I did think that many of those who have been following this thread of yours would get something out of reading it especially Alex Keegan's comments.

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