Sunday, July 29, 2012

Guest Blog: Read Before You Write

By Cristopher Loke, Executive Editor for Jolly Fish Press and author of "The Housekeeper's Son."


As authors we often blog and talk about writing and the publishing industry, and as we busy ourselves in pursuing the dream of being published and read, we sometimes forget the importance of reading. As busy as we all are, there should always be time for reading. Because, after all, we are in the business of books.

So, let’s talk a little about reading and why it is important. First, as authors, we are storymakers. And as such—as eery as this may sound—we feed on stories to churn out stories. It’s like The Lion King’s circle of life. In order for us to write well, we must also read well. Here are a few reasons why authors should be reading every day:

That’s right. How are we to create awesome worlds and universes for our readers to explore when we have not yet explored any ourselves? While there are some mighty authors out there who can invent something spectacular out of nowhere, most of us aren’t blessed with that degree of godsend. So, we have to discover things for ourselves. JK Rowling based the Harry Potter series on Greek mythology, while Gregory Maguires’s Wicked is derived from the popular Wizard of Oz. Good books always come from somewhere, whether it is a seed planted by another book or article, or an experience faced by the author. Most of the time—I’m willing to bet—they come from something that the author has read.

Ah, this is perhaps one thing that I love most—the gift of discernment. And yes, I got it from reading. Being an avid reader, I am not only able to explore new things and discover foreign worlds and characters, I am also able to learn what makes a good book and vice versa. When I read a book I love, I instantly recognize the qualities in the book that I relate to and love. With such impressions in mind, the next book I read will have to at least be of equal quality, or better. By reading a diverse selection of books, I have learned what works for readers and what doesn’t, which, in turn, helps me in the crafting of my own book. Suddenly, I find myself editing out everything I hate about a book, only leaving in all the elements that work. And this all comes from the perpetual habit of reading.

How many times have we recognized our desire and passion to write, yet we are faced with the dilemma of not knowing what to write about? We want to write so much that we have forgotten to look inside and ask ourselves the ultimate question: What genre do I write best? Which genre do I belong?

True, some authors may argue that a good author can write anything. But in the publishing industry, it is very important to write within the genre that you love most. No point writing about airplanes—even if you’ve done great research—when your love lies in vampires and goblins. As authors we must first identify ourselves before our readers can. And in the book-selling business, we all know how powerful loyal fans can be; they can rake up your sales because they love you and your work. By reading, we are not just exploring new worlds, we are actually “shopping” for the best world to belong to. In other words, we are finding the genre that we, as authors, can feel most at home.

While I can continue on with a myriad of other reasons why every author should make time to pick up a book and read, the three that I listed are perhaps the ones I think are most important. And of course, reading should not only be important for authors, it should be a habitual practice for everyone. Because books don’t do well sitting on shelves. Because literature is an integral part of our civilization—both in its rising and falling. And to be able to contribute to the world of books and knowledge . . . what better honor can there be?

Christopher Loke, executive editor for Jolly Fish Press, has made a splash in the writing world with his powerful and touching novel, The Housekeeper’s Son. This novel explores how far a mother can go for love. The answer? Murder. The Housekeeper’s Son is available as a hardcover and ebook through all major online retailers and a local bookstore near you. Visit for more information.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Proving my worth

The kanji for worth (with thanks to
I forget things.

Sometimes, this is where on earth I just put the cordless phone I was holding five seconds ago. Other times, it’s the fact that, when I was in jr. high, I was so terrified about getting a good grade in a class I already had an A+ in that I seriously tried to steal my mother’s books to get extra credit. It’s survived now as a funny story, but at the time I was so desperate to get an A that the fact I already *had* an A didn’t console me in the slightest.

Looking back from the peaceful vantage point of relative well-adjustment, I can see that I was so desperate to be the smartest because I was absolutely desperate to prove my worth to the people around me. I couldn’t fit in with the other kids, and felt that the fact I didn’t even really want to – I was lonely, but they were stupid – was another flaw in me somehow. But I was smart. I was smarter than any of them. And if I could keep stacking up those As, I could show the world just how wrong they were to dismiss me.

Now, I’m not nearly so desperate anymore. I’ve found people who can see my worth without me having to prove it to them – not many, true, but as many as I need. More importantly, I can see my own worth clearly enough that I don’t doubt it anymore. And I wish more than anything that I could reach back in time and convince my teenage self of that very thing. Maybe even hug her.

She’d deserve it.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Desperately seeking Self-Googlers Anonymous

Don’t Google yourself – it’s embarrassing. Of course, I’m saying this as a long-time self-Googler, a shameful secret that I’d like all of you to forget the moment you finish reading this post. Even if you do pop your name into Google now and then, you aren’t supposed to actually admit it to anyone – the hobby suggests some awful combination of desperation and narcissism that normally make people back away from you at parties. Do you really care what complete strangers think about you? (I don’t think I care, exactly, but for some reason I have to KNOW.) Do you even know how the Google rankings work? (I think I do, sort of, in that vague yet unspecified way that leaves me content but completely unwilling to explain it out loud in case I end up sounding stupid.)

Of course, as a writer with several articles posted online I have a variety of legitimate reasons for my name to come up in a search (also, an oddly spelled name is extremely useful for weeding out potential Google-clones). But I’ve also run into a desperately unfortunate picture from college, when I was quoted for a newspaper article and ended up with a photographer who apparently found the worst conceivable angle to shoot me from. I had been successfully repressing any and all memory of this picture, at least until Google dug it out of some dark corner of the Internet and helpfully reminded me of its existence just recently.

I suppose it could be worse – anyone on Facebook who might have embarrassing photos of me seems to take my just-short-of-death threats quite seriously – but every time I see the picture I swear I’m never going to put my name into Google again. This vow usually lasts about a week, maybe longer if I’m feeling particularly self-restrained for some reason.

Anyone know if there’s a Self-Googlers Anonymous out there? 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

No more “If only”

Do it now. Whatever small but terribly important thing you’ve been promising yourself you’ll do the minute you get a few spare minutes – call someone you haven’t spoken to in far too long, tell someone you love them, have that crazy adventure you’ve always dreamed of – go do it right this very second.

I know how busy we all are, scrambling to keep afloat in an economy that seems more determined than ever to pull us under, and that even the most well-meaning heart sometimes can’t do anything but put off the things that matter most. We’ll get to it, we think. As soon as I find a moment I can breathe.

And then something terrible happens, and that moment never comes. You’re the one who gets a call, telling you the last news you wanted to hear, and that item on your to-do list spins forever out of your reach. Someone’s died, or you’ve lost your job, or a fire has eaten up everything you ever owned. You lose your chance, and that item on your to-do list will haunt you no matter how small it was. If only you hadn’t put it off for so long. If only you’d known.

So go do it. If you won’t listen to me, listen to your own mythical future self, who wishes more than anything that you’d done it when you had the chance.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Losing my mind in the summer heat

The kanji character for heat
I'm not designed for heat waves. I feel like I'm being constantly baked in an enormous oven, with whatever intelligence I normally possess being cooked out of me like the water in a cake. Of course, it’s entirely possible I just bungled the culinary metaphor I was trying for – since higher-level brain functions are being baked out of me, I end up unable to focus on anything but how incredibly, all-consumingly hot it is. So I'm not only less smart, I also become a boring conversationalist. It’s terribly embarrassing, or at least it is when I get into some proper air conditioning and can actually think again.
This year, I even feel guilty about how much I hate the heat. With so many people losing their homes to fire, or sitting in the sweltering dark because they haven’t had power for almost a week, I admit I’m in the back of the complaint line. But I still dream about climbing into the bottom shelf of the freezer section for a refreshing nap (if there are any kids reading, don’t do that), and longingly look forward to the moment when the first cool breeze touches my face again. I’ll get my brain back. In a way, I’ll get myself back.
Which will be good, because I’ll have to start driving in snow again. Still, I’ll at least be able to have an intelligent conversation with the tow truck guy.