By passionate reader, I mean readers who have signed up with various online organizations like Story Cartel to supply “honest reviews” for e-books in exchange for a free review copy of the book. These readers are not paid for their efforts.

There is a demand for such readers to service the growing population of authors who publish online. The key to success in the publishing business is obtaining good reviews (three stars or better), in sufficient quantity to stimulate sales. As sales and reviews increase, you, the independent author, become more visible in the publishing world and attract the attention of big time review sites, like BookBub, and agents and publishers who can open doors to your further success—maybe, depending on what rights you are willing to bargain for.

Given that, why would you fear these dedicated readers, who so obviously fill a need and “love reading books”?

Well, for one thing, they do not generally read deeply, I am sad to report. If you are a literary writer or a hybrid literary writer, as I am, you can expect that the subtleties of your prose and plot will go unnoticed. If the beginning and end of your novel are bookends, that is, they compliment one another, you might find that the passionate reader, driving through your story at speeds in excess of 90 mph, so as to get on to the next book, cannot remember the beginning of your carefully constructed narrative by the time he brakes at the end, even if he read it only 47 minutes ago.

The faster they drive, the less they see and comprehend.

I’m not saying that the only good review is long. An excellent review can be pithy. “I read your novel, I get it, and it stinks.” Well, that one was not so good.

Allow me to illustrate my thesis by using my latest novella, The Romantic, as an example.

I wanted to create a character who was way out of place in life, you know, like one of those New York cabbies with a Ph.D. in Physics from a university back home that no one in the West can pronounce, and so lacks accreditation. I wanted a more extreme example of the species.

So, I cooked up Sebastian Cloud, a poet-gladiator. Not the kind of poet who reads his chopped prose in his backyard garden, on PBS, or the mama who belts out her misery into an open mic on the Lower East Side. Sebastian is more of a proto-poet, someone who has a way with words, who is nonetheless a genuine Romantic.

By a Romantic, I mean one who shares kinship with the historical Romantics of English literature, of which John Keats was one. Keats is mentioned twice in the text. The Romantics were an edgy lot. They supported revolutions, did drugs, drank blood from skulls, and such. Sebastian is a Romantic in terms of his sensibility; the way he sees and thinks. He has some powers of prophecy. His signal attribute, which no reader could miss, is his physical prowess. He defeats his opponents in any number of ways, quickly and decisively. Sebastian has been fighting practically all his awful life by the time the story opens. So, he is no weakling, not that physically unimposing men are necessarily bad poets.

He says to his lover, and hence to the reader: “My words have been through blood and fire. They are not weak words.”

What sort of reference could you, the reader of this unusual tale, find to measure such a odd character by?

The closest we have to gladiators today is mixed martial arts cage fighters. They look plenty mean, and there might be a bard among them, I don’t know. The best boxer poet of my time was Muhammad Ali, who could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” One of the most entertaining chapters of American cultural history was his meeting with Marianne Moore, a little old lady poet of some reputation, who was thoroughly charmed by the young champion.

Then there are the soldier poets, not brutish like a gladiator once they are cleaned up, but who have seen and done horrible deeds on the battlefield. Richard Wilbur, the grand old man of American poetry, still going strong at the age of 93, was a combat veteran of World War II and wrote some of the finest verse in English to come out of that conflict. Before him, were the English poets Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen of World War I fame.

The Romantic’s closest theatrical ancestor, that I know of, is Cyrano de Bergarac, the historical figure as depicted by playwright Edmond Rostand, and most wonderfully played by Gérard Depardieu in the 1990 film by the same name.

Before that came the English Elizabethan soldier-poets, notably Sir Philip Sydney and Ben Johnson, soldier and duelist, and contemporary of Shakespeare. Before them came dour Dante Alighhieri, who rode with the Guelph cavalry into battle into 1289, and named his numerous enemies in the Inferno, and yet evolved, in his poetry, into higher states of love.

I don’t expect the average speed reader to know much of this. I don’t know what they teach in school anymore. The literary reader should have heard of some of these names.

Unless you write in an historical category, where you and the reader are on the same page and know what to expect from one another, you get pretty much pot luck when it comes to high capacity reader-reviewers. One reviewer of The Romantic claimed to be confused and disoriented through the whole thing, and decided the book should be called Gladiator Lovers. If you’re going to choose one conceit or plot point or character to write about, as you drive through the text, why not try to understand what the author has given to you, the central conceit of the story? Unless you’re just being perverse. Which is a whole ’nother matter, as people say. The reader as enemy.

Not all the reviews are poor. One likes the action—hard not to miss as blood is spilled all through the story. The only five-star review is so over the top in its praise as to be hilarious. But, I’ll take it. The worst review, so far, is lazy, dismissive and libelous, accusing me of publishing a first draft and therefore shoddy goods, which he could in no way prove in a court of law. It comes from a reader who says he has a passion for reading.

Sadly, not one of the half-dozen reviewers thus far has touched on the language of the story, particularly that of the main character, Sebastian Cloud, for whom language is important to his very being, as if language were the same for any action character, the same sort of lock-and-load grunt talk you might expect from Chuck Norris, say. Maybe they cannot reconcile beautiful language, on the one hand, and terrible violence, on the other. Maybe they cannot accept that poets and poetry can be associated with effective behavior. Hard to say what people think, who hurry like the March Hare, in Alice, from one story to the next.

I would like to hear from the dispassionate reader, one who reads more for quality than quantity, one who tries to meet the author half way, in the belief that the author might know something; a reader willing to do a trifle of research, if that would be helpful and make for a richer reading experience, and easy enough to do on the Web. One willing to think outside the box. One willing to think, at all.

I’ll stay with that thought a few moments and allow it to warm my spirits.

By Hudson Owen. All Rights Reserved.

Vladimir Putin, President

Russian Federation

Dear President Putin,

                In light of current events in Ukraine, I am dropping y you a line to share a few thoughts with you.  I know you are s busy man, even on an ordinary day when the sun is shinning, much less today.  Even so, sometimes it is good to listen to an outside opinion.

                You have said many times that the breakup of the Soviet Union, of which you were a KGB officer, was a great tragedy; and that you want to restore Russia its former glory.  Not exactly as it was, but close to it, by gathering back the recently independent states of the former USSR, of which Ukraine is a key player, into the Russian Federation.

                That is a very ambitious goal, Mr. President.  Every time the Russian Army goes on the march, ears perk up all over Europe and around the globe.  Many of us remember when the Warsaw Pact marched into Prague in 1968, on the pretext that the West had overrun Czechoslovakia and Pact troops were being sent in to rescue them.  That was a lie, as the soldiers soon found out. 

                Much has changed in the world since those days.  The Warsaw Pact is history, so is Czechoslovakia, so is the Soviet Union.  NATO remains, and I know you are uncomfortable with that.   Some of the former members of the Pact are now members of NATO, for example, the Czech Republic.  You want to draw a line and stop that advance, while, at the same time, trading with Western Europe and the world.  What would Russia’s vast energy resources be worth if you could not sell them on the world market?

                You don’t really want to own Eastern Europe and accept full responsibility for the individual states.  You want to be more like an uncle than a father, Uncle Vladimir, keeping this expanded Russian Federation under a watchful eye.  Well, many of us would like to bring back the good old days here at home.  We liked Ike and would love to bring back the Eisenhower years.  America was simpler back then.   The country was move unified.  Not perfect, by any means.  But those were happy days for many of us despite the onset of the Cold War.

                Perchance, did you ever hide under your school desk during air raid drills back then?  When the air raid siren sounded the lesson stopped.  We got down on the floor and curled into a ball, with our backs to the windows, so that if The Bomb went off nearby, we would not get get flying glass in our faces—not that that would have mattered much, under the circumstances.

                You see, there is one word to describe the Soviet Union to us back then: Fear.  Fear of all those rockets and bombs headed our way if it came to war.  Fear of the apocalypse, of nuclear winter, the extinction of life, as we knew it, on our planet.

                Stop for a moment and consider what Nadia wants instead of what Vladimir wants.

                Nadia teaches literature in a small school outside of Moscow.  She studied English and literature in university.  She visits friends in Moscow and once went with a group of fellow students to Paris.  In the virtual world, Nadia has many friends around Europe and the world.  Right now, she is sending them a snapshot she took of her boyfriend clowning in front of a World War II Russian tank that has been sitting on a pedestal since the end of the war.

            Usually, she gets a warm response to her texts and photos—she has a good eye.  This time, however, a friend in Budapest adds a few words of concern about politics.  Another Web acquaintance in London cancels her planned trip to Moscow in the spring.

            Nadia loves Russian literature and language.  She can recite poems by Pushkin and Yevtushenko, and listens to certain girl bands.  At the same time, she does not wish to be bounded by Russian politics and history.  Why should she?  With the device she holds in hand, she can communicate with folks around the planet.  Nadia is not exceptional, in this way.  She is like young people everywhere.

            More than you realize, Mr. President, you also live in Nadia’s world, as do your two daughters.  You do business with the West, sell energy to the West.  Since Peter the Great, Russia has looked to the West.  It looked to the West for help in the Great Patriotic War.  And the Allies were generous in their response to Mother Russia’s needs.

            Business interests must be based on mutual respect not the threat of military force to settle negotiations.  You understand force and the costs of force.  What did force get Russia in Afghanistan?  You could give the command for Russian troops to occupy all of Ukraine and place it under martial law.  How many thousands of soldiers do you think would be required to secure the natural gas pipelines that run for hundreds of kilometers through Ukraine?    You have an aircraft carrier deal with France.  What would you do if France stopped working on your order and froze Russian assets?  The French also possess nuclear weapons, so it would not be easy to push France around.

            Whatever crimes you might have committed, you are not Hitler or Stalin.  Your hands do not drip with the blood of millions.  I do not think you wish to visit that level of brutality on the world.  Surely, you must realize that by rebuilding  the USSR as the Russian Federation, you will trigger a new Cold War. The return of fear.  You have the power; you hold the lever of history in your hands.  How do you wish to be remembered by history, Mr. Putin?  How do you wish to be regarded by Nadia?

Sincerely,

Hudson Owen

Brooklyn, NY

 

No doubt you’ve heard the news by now.  Probably, you have.  Missouri All-
American defensive lineman Michael Sam declared he was gay, on Sunday, February 9, 2014.  He’s black, and he’s gay, and he’s proud of it.

Michael’s father’s birthday was last Tuesday, which is when his son, Michael, Jr., gave him the surprise of his life.  Michael, Jr. told his father he was gay.

”I was shocked,” Michael, Sr., said. “I’m proud of him. He’s my son.”

First Lady Michelle Obama gushed at how proud she was of Michael coming out like he did before the NFL draft.  He will be the first openly homosexual player to enter the draft.  A former pro quarterback opined that whoever signed Sam might need sensitivity training in the locker room.  The President followed with his public approval several days later.

Then Sam’s father backtracked a bit by saying he had been misquoted and that he was more of a traditional man when it came to sexuality.

One would have thought that the young man had done something special, like discover a cure for pancreatic cancer or  a new species of humming bird in the Central American jungle, or come up with a safer football helmet.  But no.

Sam’s sexual identity was an open secret in the Mizzou locker room.  He knew the liberal media, in particular, would greet his brazen announcement with roaring approval.  What choice did they have, really?  Fortune favors the bold, as they say, and Mr. Sam is nothing if not bold.

Other gay athletes have come out of the closet.  Most say they are glad they did, and it turns out that society and their teammates tolerated the news fairly well. Coming out is not quite the traumatic event it was a decade or so ago.

Actress Ellen Page decided to come out, as well, complaining about the entertainment industry’s “crushing standards” of beauty and success.  Ah, yes, that’s Hollywood.

And here we might notice a core truth about society and entertainment.  It’s one thing for a gay scene to develop in a comedy like Two and A Half Men, for instance, where Charlie and Alan Harper attend a gay party in Charlie’s business interests, and one of the gay characters praises Alan’s “breadbasket;” it would be something else to see two gay characters going at it in bed the way we see straight couples, or threesomes, or foursomes, deep-tonguing and thrashing around, showing serious skin.  Although straight men might well be turned on by lesbian scenes.  Ms. Page could thank her lucky stars that she has such a good job, in the first place.

What if Rock Hudson had come out at the beginning of his career?  Would American filmography have been the better for it?  Don’t we cherish certain illusions?

The truth is, straight America really doesn’t want to know much about Mr. Sam in the bedroom.  Is he the male or the female, or something else?  Does he engage in mutual masturbation, or something else?  It’s really none of our business.

It turns out that transparency has it limits.  It may be all right to come out of the closet, but drawing back the bedroom curtain, for those who do not watch gay porn, is a different matter.

Back in the swinging Seventies, in the era of Oh! Calcutta! and Studio 54,  pundits discussed the notion that sex might be public, after all.  Well, as it turned out, by and large, not.  When AIDS and HIV swept through town, in the Eighties, and the gay bath houses were closed in the interests of public safety, the you-watch-me, I-watch-you crowd surrendered center stage without much of a fight.  Swinging went underground, powered by the Internet.

In the politically correct world of polarities, you are either a virtuous homophile or a hateful homophobe.  There are no shades of gray.  In reality, for those of us who work in the arts, especially, our experiences with homosexuals are more nuanced.  There are shades of gray.  We admire persons for their friendship, generosity, kindness, and professionalism.  We realize that sexuality is identity not something as capricious as a lifestyle.  Identity is the kind of body you want alongside you in bed.

There is a certain brand or fanny-in-your-face showboating, in gay pride parades, for example, that rubs some of us the wrong way.  Certainly not to the extent that we want to see gay exhibitionists beaten and led off to prison.  No, not that.

Sometimes, discretion is the better part of valor.  Discretion is useful.  My private space is valuable to me.  I don’t want you to know too much about me, unless I  invite you into my private space, my life.  If you are older, I don’t want to know whether you wear adult diapers.  I give you your space, you give me mine.

Let’s face it, there is only so far that heterosexuals can go in celebrating the Other, whooping it up for gaydom, without betraying, privately at least, their own identity.

But hey, Mr. Sam, you had a helluva coming out party.  I think you’ve got something there.  So, I’m coming out, too.  Are you ready, world?  I’m expecting a call from the White House any minute now.

By Hudson Owen.  All rights reserved.

CITY OF RAIN   CITY OF RAIN   CITY OF RAIN

Catch this beautiful Brooklyn Love Story now on sale.

I subscribe to several screenwriter’s newsletters.  One of the more interesting is put out by Marvin V. Acuna.  I enjoyed reading his newsletter because he clearly knew the business, and he wrote about other subjects.  He knew something about life as well as art.

 At the conclusion of each newsletter was an invitation to join his Business of Show Institute (BOSI) and pay him $497 to read your screenplay, that’s right, the Hollywood Man Himself.  I felt that I had neglected the screenplay branch of my writing in favor of e-books for too long, so I was interested.  I looked him up on the IMDb (International Movie Data Base).  He was legit alright, with shared producer credits on a number big budget films, most recently Lovelace, the story of porn star, the late Linda Lovelace (1949 – 2002), with an all star cast.  The man was in the know.

 Feeling that I had money to spend, though not waste, I did the deal.  The deal was a half-hour phone call with Mr. Acuna.  Via email, we set up a time of mutual convenience for the Big Call.  I would have much preferred written notes; you can always reread notes to get the exact wording.  However, I could see that from his perspective, with a newsletter to produce, he might well prefer the phone.

 Mr. Acuna had already made it clear, in writing, that he was not an agent or personal manager.   BUT, if he really really liked your screenplay, he might show it to two or three of his pals in the business.  In other words, he put that hope out there along with plausible deniability.  So, he was sort of a stealth agent, you could say.

 I called the number he provided for me from home, on my cell—I had dispensed with my land line.  He joined the conversation; we had a good connection.  He congratulated me on recognizing that screenwriting was a business.  Thus far, the business was funds from my account traveling into his account.

 First off, he launched into my title: The Bullet.  It was too short, he said, it needed to be more explanatory.  This confused me because there are scads of movies with two word titles, and I had sent him my logline.  Everyone knows that the title is always read in the presence of the logline, but, apparently, not Marvin Acuna.

 The rest of the conversation went all over the map.  He asked me if anyone had said a kind word about The Bullet and I said, yes, and gave examples.  He tried to characterize The Bullet as a road film, when it’s much more of a quest drama.  I said: “If I can sell one screenplay, then I can sell two screenplays,” which impressed the Hollywood Man. 

 Toward the end of our conversation, which went well over 30 minutes, Marvin mentioned new, more expensive deals to come, and hung up.

 I waited to see if there would be a follow-up email.  Something, a thanks-but-no-thanks note, would have been appreciated.  The introductory Hi Hudson emails continued, to what purpose, I wondered.  Did Mr. Acuna expect me to sign up all over again to have a new conversation?  Finally, I replied to one of those newsletters, reminding him of our phone conversation and the name of my screenplay.

 Tick tock, tick tock.

 Some semi-producing, semi-referral organizations that read screenplays for a fee will offer a reduced charge for a re-write.  That does not seem to be forthcoming from Mr. Acuna.  In the fullness of time, he might offer me a package to do lunch for a couple of thousand, air fare included.  I am not holding my breath, but I am holding onto my money.

 One more thing: There was a package in the phone deal.  I chose the producers’ package, which never came my way.  So, as to the question: is Mr. Acuna a scam artist—well, you decide. 

 The moral is this: If you want an agent or manager, then address your query directly to them.  They will not charge you a big fat fee at the top.  Agents who belong to the Writers Guild of America are regulated by them and charge standard fees only after they make a deal.  The truth is, you do have access to the film and television industry.  You can post scripts online with a reputable organization like Ink Tip, based in California.  They hold a large pitch festival annually in the Hollywood area, where you can meet execs in person.  There are other such pitch festivals.  You can grab a camera and make your own movie, a short short, and post it on YouTube.

 You can pitch your script online or blast it to an impressive list of studios and production companies.  You might get lucky.  Just like you might win the lottery.  I already knew this.  Once I had a West Coast agent.  Nothing came of it.  He turned out to be a crook.

 My big Hollywood dream is on hold for the moment, as I assess my marketing strategies for the New Year.  No need to re-work my Oscar acceptance speech.  Not for the time being.  I’ve already have it memorized.

 

Copyright by Hudson Owen.  All Rights Reserved.

 

UPDATE: Mr. Acuna subsequently read this article, apologized profusely for not supplying the promised producers’ package, and had one of his assistants email me the same. So, in answer to my question, no, Mr. Acuna is not a scammer.

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The 14 poems in the Living Legend of Peezis Rilly Here were written from 1973 to the mid-1980s. In 2000, I published the poems in a larger collection: The Endless Evolving Trilogy – A Poem Cycle. This year I published The Living Legend as an e-book. And now the CD.

The poems tell the story of Peezis Rilly Here and his friends, who live in a world where war is no longer possible but, still, problems remain. John Lennon said: “Give peace a chance.” So, here, in a whimsical way, is a not-quite-Utopian world. Peezis Rilly Here, Dr. Cerpeption, Dear, L. Vie & Olivence, are all original fictional characters. As such, they belong to the mythology of the Sixties. Peezis speaks in free verse with rhyme—what I call occasional or wandering rhyme–while Dr. Cerpeption speaks in rhymed couplets. A whole lot of energy was released in the 1960s. It was the release of human energy from the first generation born into the Nuclear Age, in response to the awful energies released from the atomic bomb in World War II and the threat of war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The energy shoots through the poems, twisting syntax and the normal order of language, in the way that physical force bends and transforms objects. You will find much humor in this imaginary universe. Needless to say, we live in a very different world today, a darker world not without hope, but all too often visited by bloodshed and violence. Even in the worst of times, peace is not a luxury but a necessity we each hold in our hearts and minds. Some token of peace gives us the courage to move forward through whatever trials the age throws our way. I hope The Living Legend of Peezis Rilly Here becomes part of your bag of valued words and sounds. Hudson Owen, Brooklyn, 2013

I try not to bother everyone with blog announcements here. But I just posted one that’s near and dear to my heart, and would appreciate any sharing or tweeting you can muster. It’s for a good cause, and is relevant because without the good fortune I’ve had as an author, I wouldn’t be in a position to do what I’m doing.

If you’re curious, it’s at http://russellblake.com/giving/

If you’d like to offer a tweet, here’s a possible one to send out: RT @Blakebooks – New blog on charity & saving lives. http://ow.ly/p4AmC #reading #amreading #pets #animals #dog #cat #rescue

I’d appreciate any support you can offer on this. I’m dead serious about the free book for each donation thing. Can’t think of a better way to lose money. Thanks to anyone who shares.

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