Building Utopia?: Fiction on Perfection (#MondayBlogs)


“This world of ours … must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect.” – Dwight D Eisenhower

One of the stories in my queue of “maybe-novels” is my exploration of a utopian ideal put forth by a particular philosopher, infused with radical modern sensibilities taken to their logical ends. As someone who largely reads more dystopian texts, however, I always have to ask: “Utopia how and for whom?”

Even without devolving a utopic world into the elite vs dregs situation of many dystopian texts (e.g. Harrison Bergeron, Hunger Games), is it possible to imagine a utopia that seems logical and sustainable, that takes human imperfections and understandable conflict into account? As writers, can we strip humanity down to the bare essentials of assent and dissent, personal independence and societal order, and still have enough to make a story move forward?

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Writer on the Ledge: Identifying with “Risky” Writing



I’ve been inside for a long time and I have no wings and no safety harness, but life’s presented me with a window, just big enough for me to fit through, and I’ve decided to step out. Even if there is nothing to hold me up but the ledge, I know that I’ll see and experience things that playing it safe will never give me. I’d like to say it’s not the first time, but if I’m honest, it really is. I’ve poked my head out, here and there, to look around the place and I’ve stuck my hands out, once or twice, to feel new things, even while still bunkered inside my walled up home base. Yet, I have never taken any real – public – risks, never gone beyond the cozy and largely safe spaces of my own heart and mind, a tribe of close friends and colleagues, and the pseudo-anonymity of niche communities where no one asks you to exit your bunker. Hence, I have never really tried to be a writer.

No, that’s not exactly true by traditional definitions. I’ve written countless things, shared many of them, published some, and dealt with both praise and criticism, though I’d certainly like to do more and better with all of these things. In that sense, I’ve more than tried to be a writer, I am one. For me, though, that’s all about process, not identity. I write, therefore I am? Maybe. What I haven’t tried is being a writer, walking in the world as a writer, saying the word out loud to someone else as a way of referencing who I am and what I do – being, as it were, “out” as a writer. As someone who has never been “straight,” it’s a situation I know entirely too well and don’t like for many good reasons, but unlike the dance I did for years over what to say or not and to whom when the question of relationships came up, I didn’t realize that I was so closeted about my writing until two weeks ago.

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Writing Journey: What Inspired Me

Writing Journey: What Inspired Me

May 8th Prompt from WritersWrite1: “Write about the first book you read that made you want to become a writer.”

It is, perhaps, strange that there is no distinct turning point in my memory, but there isn’t one. I have always enjoyed writing, though I’ve been more and less serious about it or more or less drawn to different forms or genres of it at different times in my life. I don’t honestly recall ever thinking of myself as something other than a writer. Sure, I didn’t think – or wasn’t certain – that I was going to do it professionally, necessarily, but I wasn’t ruling it out. I loved reading and I loved words.

If I can address the question a bit more broadly, to discuss the books that stick in my mind as especially inspiring with respect to my path as a writer, there are, however, a few.

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The Business of Writing: On Envy, Competition, and Value

The Business of Writing: On Envy, Competition, and Value

Recommendations in this post:

One of the things I appreciate about this article, “Jealousy Among Writers” by Anne Emerick, is that it is honest without being accusatory and encourages us all to focus on learning, rather than whining, wallowing, or sniping. I’m naturally a very chill person – hence, the handle – but it’s always good to be reminded about the “how” and “why” of channeling problematic emotions into more productive activities. I remember reading somewhere (and I unfortunately don’t recall exactly where) that feelings are not facts, so feeling something doesn’t inherently make it true. When I feel rubbed the wrong way or frustrated, overlooked or just plain covetous, I remind myself that feelings are not facts and whatever’s going on probably has nothing to do with me and will ultimately affect my path very little or not at all.

Writing, as with much of life, isn’t a zero-sum game. Many of us can win, even if we win different things, at different times, or in different ways. I feel like no one will believe me if I say that professional writers (and artists and other striving-to-be-self-employed folks) should pick up Understanding Michael Porter, a business essentials book by Joan Magretta, as well as The Go-Giver, a business-oriented teaching tale by Bob Burg & John David Mann. I will recommend them here anyway, though. The Go-Giver is an easy, quick read, so I will understand if that’s the only one you pick up. If you can concede that writing is a business for you (or you would like it to be), however, then the way Magretta sums up and synthesizes core business concepts in Understanding Michael Porter will be deeply relevant to you too – even if you have to think outside your creative (un)box!

The point of any business is not to “do better than the Other Guy” (whatever that might mean) or to “crush the competition.” The point is to provide value to customers or clients, consistently and at a price that they are able and willing to pay. Regardless of the way you publish or distribute your writing, it has to be something in which readers find value, something that fulfills a need or want and does so well – by their standards, not yours! Whenever possible, you want to make your work the best mix of “unique” and “familiar” that you can manage so that readers want to turn to you again and again to meet that need/want, to be “topped up” with the value you provide. I go to certain writers when I want smirk-worthy wit and wordsmithing, others when I want lush worlds to get lost in for days, and still others when I want to contemplate humanity in its darkest as well as its most beautiful moments. That’s value, for me. No competition necessary.

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Review: The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by P. Bowerman

Review: The Well-Fed Self-Publisher by P. Bowerman

The unfortunate reality with many otherwise great “get yourself published” or “do-it-yourself publishing” books is that they rapidly become outdated if they’re not repeatedly and regularly revised. Talking about e-reader technology as “electronic gizmos” that haven’t really “caught on in a big way” and how to market to now defunct booksellers will do that to you. I state that upfront for folks who might be looking for a book wherein the definition of “self-publisher” is probably going to *mostly* be about ebooks and POD. This is not that book.

What this book DOES offer, however, is a profoundly comprehensive (sometimes maybe a little *too* comprehensive) look at how every step in the self-publishing process – from the idea to write a book in the first place to collecting checks over a lifetime – actually WORKS. Now, I know you’re thinking … “How can it do that if it’s out of date?” To that, I would say, “Think of this book less as a place to find THE singular answers to your questions about publishing and more as a place to find A) the right kinds of questions to ask, because there are far more you need to ask than you probably think, and B) effective ways to think through, research, and strategize toward the answers you need.” The author has opinions, of course, and discusses a variety of his own experiences and those of his clients and friends, but ultimately it is very much a book focused on helping the reader develop a detail-oriented frame of mind when it comes to this process.

My major takeaways from this book:

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Book Review Challenge!

Book Review Challenge!

I’ve recently realized that I hardly ever leave reviews for books. It seems, on the surface, to be a rather thankless and time-consuming enterprise, BUT I also realize that a significant portion of my initial thinking about whether or not to buy/try a book involves the existing reviews of said book. How do I pick books? I look for a topic or genre I’m interested in, sort the list by average rating (number of stars), sift by the apparent relevance of the title, read the blurb to see if it’s interesting, and then check out the actual reviews (more or less in that order). I tend to ignore low-quality reviews easily enough (you know, the comments about shipping speeds, the ones written partly in “txt spk,” and the ones oozing with remarkably disproportionate hate over something irrelevant to the main content of the book), but I do try to read both the high rating reviews and some of the low rating reviews to get a range of perspectives.

Primarily, when I read book reviews I’m looking to see if the book fulfills whatever promise intrigued me from the blurb and whether or not there is a hidden bias or other trend in the book that will be offensive or otherwise distasteful for me. I don’t tend to care who wrote the review (with the exception of obvious author-under-a-pseudonym type situations) and even actively avoid reading many “professional” or “industry” reviews because … well … I always feel like A) I never agree with the so-called professionals, B) the so-called professionals are out of sync with popular culture, and/or C) the quotes of so-called professionals are there to sell me something, not to give me the real scoop. Typically, by the time I’m reading reviews, I’m already leaning heavily toward buying the book, but reviews can help get me excited about reading the book ASAP, let me feel like it’s mediocre enough to just put on my wishlist for an eventual “later” that may never come, or make my face scrunch in disapproval and scrap the whole plan to buy/read the book at all.

So … I’ve decided that since I know personally how beneficial a book review can be for readers and, as someone who writes and has writer friends, I know what a review can *feel* like for writers, I will work to write at least one book review per month this year. I won’t promise to catch up from the months I’ve already missed, but I’m going to try! It’s important to note that one book review a month is actually pretty paltry considering how many books I read in a month, but I have to start somewhere, right? If I promise two a month, I think I’ll just stress myself out. So, I’m promising one a month and if I get into the habit of doing more, then awesome!

Anyone else jumping on the book review bandwagon? If you already write book reviews regularly, what’s your process? Do you start while you’re still reading the book? Do you sit down as soon as you read “The End” or let it simmer for a little while? Does reviewing regularly change how you read or buy books?

I’d love to know!

Promise?: A Creative Aftershock

Reading Octavia Butler again reminds me of all the stories I said I wanted to write and the sort of person, creator, I’d hoped to be. I can’t figure out if I lost it or what? I mean, it feels like I’ve redirected some things and been too busy to even do that with others, but essentially? It feels like I genuinely forgot it, or maybe put it on pause, but for what? I know I’m investing in my future with this degree and I’m just stubborn enough to finish it, but then what?

I feel like I’m just waking up from a long sleep, with droopy eyelids and yawns filling my mouth. Part of me is comfortable and just wants to snuggle into the familiar – it would be easy, wouldn’t it? Yet another part of me is fighting the drowsiness, forcing me upright, dragging me into alertness, like a child on the morning of some promised day of fun: “You said! You promised! You promised!” I don’t know, don’t remember, what I said or promised to my 9 or 12, 16 or 19 year-old self. I barely remember what I promised myself last year, but there’s something startling in that little voice, something shrill and pleading and on the verge of tears, of utter broken disappointment. So all I can think now is, “Don’t cry. I’ll be right there. Just give me a minute, just a minute to wake up. I’m coming. I’m coming! I promise!”

The truth is, though, I’m scared. Even half-awake as I am, I don’t know if I remember how to peel away the covers, how to stand, to walk, to run, to keep up with that overeager, utterly optimistic part of me that’s just so sure that now is the time I promised to get up and go, that I’m ready and able to do everything I said I would. It would be easier to go back to sleep, wouldn’t it? Easier than collapsing after my first step and disappointing the voice that had been waiting for me? I don’t know if I can now, though, if I can fall back asleep and not just lay here awake but unmoving. Don’t I owe it to myself to try?

I promised, didn’t I?