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Thoughts on Offering My Novel for Free

I live in Penang. If you have never visited Penang, it’s like food paradise. Delicious, cheap, “hawker” food stalls everywhere – Chinese, Indian, Malay, Thai, etc… I already lament the day I have to leave, and I have no intentions of leaving anytime soon.

Penangites are rather stingy when it comes to paying for food. We want it cheap – and delicious – and the competition is STIFF. There are countless stalls and restaurants literally everywhere – it’s truly wonderful.  But it also means that MANY restaurants fail in such a dog-eat-dog environment. (No, Malaysians don’t eat dog, in case you thought that was a pun.)

I’ve always wanted to open a restaurant, and whenever one does open here, I love to analyze its marketing to see if I think it will last. To make a restaurant work, you need lots of patrons, but with such competition, you need to pull in the skeptical locals who don’t know for sure if your $7 meal is any better than the $1.50 you could pay at the road-side hawker. I always tell my wife, “If that was my new restaurant, I’d be running blow-out specials for the first month!  Tuesday’s buy-one, get-one! Friday’s 30% off! Cut/Slash! Get the people in the door, then overwhelm them with high-quality, massive portions, and great service. Have them walk away saying ‘Wow. I have got to tell my friends about this place.'”

But alas, that never happens. At least not around here. New restaurants typically underwhelm and die out when folks realize they can get better tasting food at a fraction of the cost on the street. The restaurants never get the traffic they need and the crucial word-of-mouth necessary to make a difference.

Oh, I am supposed to be writing about my novel.

Well, this is exactly how I feel about offering my novel for free. First of all, is it easy to offer my novel for free?  No. I put a lot of work into it. I reached deep inside myself and tried to offer something significant – worthy to be purchased, and I firmly believe that “Beauty Rising” is worth at least $2.99. 🙂  But that’s not the point.

The point is to get traffic. There are different ways to do this. Reviews is one way, and I’m continually looking for independent reviewers for my novel. A few have reviewed it already and many more will do so over the next few months. Reviews are a solid way to give an audience some piece of mind about purchasing a book from an unknown author.

But a review isn’t always a sure bet, and it is hard to predict how much traction will come out of one awesome review.

There is, however, no substitute for putting the book into a reader’s hand. This is in essence the purpose of offering my book for free. I believe in my work, and I believe in my future work enough to entice readers into my fictional world. If they like it, hopefully I will have them for life. They will tell their friends. They will leave reviews. They will check out my blog, looking for the next release. That’s my goal, and that’s why I’m happy to offer my novel for free.

I hope you enjoy it as much as a $1.00 plate of Malay chicken rice. For two days, it was actually cheaper than chicken rice.

Cross-Cultural Storytelling

(I just did a guest blog for http://www.ritareviews.net, called “Cross-Cultural Storytelling.”  It gives some insight into how I used the cultural contexts of Vietnam in my novel “Beauty Rising.” I’ll give you a teaser here and you can read the rest on her site.  I hope you enjoy.)

I’ve been fascinated for years with cultural differences and the differing worldviews of the many people I’ve had the privilege of getting to know in Asia.  When I first came to Asia as an inexperienced, meat and potatoes, rice-hating American (if you can believe that, how did I even survive those years?), I was thrown headlong, full force into mind-boggling circumstances I knew nothing about. What I thought I understood, I didn’t  When I thought I was doing the right thing, I wasn’t  After living in Asia for a couple of years, someone introduced me to the idea of value orientations – how different cultures have belief systems and values which orient their point of view from completely different starting points.

READ THE REST HERE!

Is it Fair to Judge a Writer?

(In my last post I picked on an old professor. That made me think of another old professor whom I’ll add to the list of blog-post inspiration. By the way, I enjoyed learning under both of them.)

One of my old professors taught me that when reading a poem, never assume that the poem’s perspective is that of the poet.

OK. Let me think about this a second. Let’s take a few lines from one of my favorite poems – “Hap” by Thomas Hardy:

IF but some vengeful god would call to me
From up the sky, and laugh: “Thou suffering thing,
Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,
That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!”

Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,
Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;
Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I
Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

So according to my professor, it’s unfair to say that Thomas Hardy is angry at God or that his life is in a turmoil, and he’s looking to make sense of it of a terrible loss he experienced in his life.

Because who is the “I” that he is referring to? Himself? A friend? A relative? A completely made-up person? No one at all? Perhaps these are just the words that came to him randomly? We obviously don’t know (unless he decides to tell us).

It would be foolish to judge Thomas Hardy’s personal life based on the perspective of his poem.

Likewise, it would be rash to judge an author solely by what he/she wrote in a novel. It’s so easy to assume that the perspective, tone, or themes of a particular book permeate directly from the soul of the writer. That may be the case, but it also may be the furthest thing from the truth.

Which writer would like to be judged by the content of his/her writing? No one I know, but I fear that is a common occurrence, and naturally so. Writers certainly pull a lot of truth from their own life, twist it around, spice it up, coat it with several layers of implausibility, and slap it on the page as a new creation. The real truth of any given phrase may be very difficult to assess.

For example, in my novel “Beauty Rising”, depending on what passage one looks at, I could be accused of being a hater of Vietnamese people, a lover of Vietnamese people, a critic of the Vietnamese government, a critic of small town America, a cynic of family, a believer in faith, a denier of faith, a hopeless romantic, a lover of tragedy, etc… you get the picture. Whether these are true or not, to me, isn’t important because I just wanted to write a good story.

I suppose Thomas Hardy just wanted to write a poignant poem.

So I would say this. If you want to judge someone, judge them for what they say and how they live, but not what they write.

I was a writer afraid to write

I still remember one of my professors in college saying the following:

“I could never be a writer. I don’t have a big enough vocabulary.”

I pondered that and said to myself, Well, if he doesn’t have a big enough vocabulary to be a writer then I certainly don’t. His vocabulary is way bigger than mine.

This professor meant nothing by what he said. He wasn’t trying to discourage anyone to write. He wasn’t making a pronouncement of the minimum vocabulary threshold needed to qualify oneself as a writer. It was an off-the-cuff remark that to him was seemingly insignificant.

But I have never forgotten it, and for some reason it has haunted me for years.

I’m not good enough to be a writer. Who would ever want to read what I write? 

Is there anything quite so fragile as a writer’s ego?

I spent twenty years trapped in a writer’s body afraid to write until one day I realized that I shouldn’t write for anyone but myself. I will do it because I enjoy it.

So about six years ago I started a writing journey by sitting down with five young aspiring writers and we collaborated on a play. We didn’t know what we were doing but we muddled through it and put together a cohesive work that was a lot of fun.

The next year we did it again with smashing results. And since that time, I’ve decided that I love to write – regardless if anyone else likes to read it.

I’ve written and produced material for 9 full-length dramatic productions. I’ve completed two novels – published one of them – and currently working on a third.

I finally came to this simple realization: like it or not, I’m a writer.

Perhaps I don’t have a big enough vocabulary to be a writer, but if you won’t tell anyone, I won’t either.

Don’t Judge a Character

Recently, I started teaching my new Intro to Theater Arts class. One important facet of acting which has been reinforced with me lately is the idea that an actor should not  judge a character.

Think about it. When we see someone doing something bad, we tend to label him or her a “bad person.” Instant judgment. It makes total sense. A murderer has committed a crime against the moral standards that society has deemed to be acceptable. That fact in itself makes that person “bad”.

But as an actor, what happens immediately after you judge the character you are planning on playing? You have taken away the character’s main objective for doing what he or she has to do. Bad people don’t look at themselves as being bad. Far from it! They are merely doing what they think is necessary for their given circumstances.

I can see this in writing as well. In my novel “Beauty Rising”, Martin’s mother could certainly be looked on as a “bad person” for being so overbearing and abusive towards Martin and especially for what she does later in the novel. (no spoiler here)  But in her mind, everything she does is grandly justified. The situation compels her to act the way she does which, unfortunately, leaves a wake of destruction in its path. The consequences of her actions are not important to her, or at least she is willing to live with them because  her objectives, however misguided they may be, are the most important things for her. In other words, the stakes are high.

An actor chosen to play Martin’s mother would have to put aside all judgments and delve deep into her psyche to find the justification for her actions. Judging her up-front would only put up an unnecessary barrier making her true-being much less revealed in the final performance.

In this way, writing is similar to acting. A writer has to build in the necessary tension and obstacles, the necessary back-story and conflict in order for the character to be believable – this often means going to uncomfortable places, but I believe it is crucial in building a character that speaks authentically from the pages.

Readers can judge away!  Actors and writers don’t have that luxury.