Interview with Brian Anderson

I’m privileged to bring my readers a conversation with one of the finest up-and-coming novelists around, my good friend Brian Anderson.

In our discussion, Brian shares his thoughts on his excellent novel Groundwork, the writing process, and many other topics of interest to aspiring writers.

Brian Anderson, author of Groundwork, on the left, Alfonso Colasuonno, founder of The Literary Game, on the right.

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Free Cash For Writers

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“Every night before I go to sleep
Find a ticket, win a lottery.
Every night before I rest my head
See those dollar bills go swirling ’round my bed.” – Patti Smith, Free Money

This is probably going to be the shortest post ever on The Literary Game. Writers, by all means, start applying for grants. If you receive one, it may not be equivalent to winning the lottery, yet I cannot imagine any writer (OK, maybe James Patterson, Stephen King, or J.K. Rowling) not needing a little extra money while chasing their literary dreams.

Take a look for yourself at these grants featured at FundsforWriters by clicking here, and apply, apply, apply!

In success,
Alfonso

p.s. Sharing this post helps other writers find out about an amazing resource to obtain grants. Just sayin’ 🙂

 

30 Books You Must Read If You Want To Become A Literary Badass

In The Literary Game, I repeatedly mention the simple three-step process necessary for success in the literary world:

  1. Get to writing.
  2. Have your work edited.
  3. Find appropriate places to publish.

However, in truth, no matter how excellent an editor or publishing consultant you choose to work with, all your efforts will probably be for naught if you are not well-read.

Reading more is one of the most critical things that you can do to become a successful writer. Without a truly voracious love for the written word, your work will likely be stale, and not publishable. There are exceptions, but they are VERY rare, and you are probably NOT the exception.

Personally, as an author, I take it as an affront when writers do not read at all. I view those individuals as carpetbaggers. While some writers read more than others, as dependent on their lifestyle and other factors, it is important that all writers actually read – to improve their own work, and to support the profession as a whole.

My own writing tends to bridge the gap between literary fiction and alternative literature. If you write in either genre, getting familiar with a few of these books is essential. Also, if you write in a different genre, but just want a good read, consider the following:

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil – This isn’t a novel, but rather a recollection of the original 70s punk scene from the figures who lived it.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers – Four outsiders in a small southern U.S. town search for acceptance and a reprieve from their alienation.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor – Like all of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories/novellas, this one is dark and saturated with religious themes.

Cathedral by Raymond Carver – In my opinion, this is the best collection of Raymond Carver’s short fiction.

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson – A young American journalist goes to Puerto Rico, makes a barebones salary, gets drunk, gets laid, and tries to avoid being killed by the natives.

Women by Charles BukowskiThe red pill of male-female interactions told only as Bukowski could.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis – “I had to stop reading this because I started seeing people as meat.” – My friend Ben. That about says it all.

NW by Zadie Smith Two best friends navigate cross-cultural issues in modern day England.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz – The best prose writer alive.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtenygart – For those sad bastard moments.

Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth – Neurosis encapsulated.

Taipei by Tao Lin – Hipster life in the 21st century.

Honeymooners: A Cautionary Tale by Chuck Kinder – The story of two hard-partying, life-wrecking buffoons who eventually make it as successful writers.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan – Perhaps the best book written in the 21st century.

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem – From outcast white kid in a slowly gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood to liberal arts college party boy to young professional. No, I cannot relate to this story in any way!

The Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight – An entire movement was borne out of this book (Islamic punk).

Demonology by Rick Moody – An incredibly sharp collection of short fiction.

Junky by William S. Burroughs – Easily William S. Burroughs’ most accessible work.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov – Satan comes to Moscow. Not going to make a Putin joke.

A Crackup at the Race Riots by Harmony Korine – This is postmodern writing done by the director of Gummo and Spring Breakers.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole – One of the funniest books I have ever read.

Skagboys by Irvine Welsh – Explore how the lads of Trainspotting became junkies.

Thank You For Smoking by Christopher Buckley – An interesting fictional look into the world of tobacco lobbying.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – A Greek-American family’s story as told through several generations, including through the life of a hermaphrodite.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon – Within 24 hours, your wife divorces you and you’re fired. What else can you do but drive across America talking to people? The finest travel writing I have ever read, and a personal inspiration to me as both a writer and free spirit.

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn – Carnies are people too.

Plainsong by Kent Haruf – If you like sparse prose, Haruf was the master.

Black Hole by Charles Burns – In this graphic novel, a weird sexually transmitted disease is spread in suburban Seattle in the 1970s.

Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney – Writing in the 2nd person that is actually good!

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes – A quote from the character Enid Coleslaw: “These stupid girls think they’re so hip, but they’re just a bunch of trendy stuck-up prep-school bitches who think they’re “cutting edge” because they know who “Sonic Youth” is!”

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Publisher, The Literary Game

 

My Journey to Publication

“Don’t make a career out of this.”

I still remember, twelve years later, the words that a creative writing professor at Beloit College penned on one of my admittedly horrible short stories. Those words hit a nerve, and even today, they remain one of my biggest motivators.

For better or worse, I personally respond quite well to negative motivation. I love to prove people wrong and show them up. While my stories in that professor’s class were indeed horrible, his remark was erroneous, as he did not know my own path and character.

I chose to be a Creative Writing major at Beloit because it seemed fun. Upon entering college, I did not have much of a plan as to what to get out of it, aside from gaining real-world experience and leaving a sheltered boyhood behind. While I am sure that many of my peers in the program had written for years, and knew exactly how to improve, for me, the program at Beloit, a very free-form one, was difficult to navigate. The open-ended nature of our program would certainly be ideal for a motivated writer with some experience, but I found it frustrating. The basics were never taught, and being sheltered, I did not have many interesting life experiences under my belt to write from. As a result, my writing was both juvenile and poorly crafted.

I have recounted on this blog several times now about how a friend of mine’s belief in the potential in my writing, even as rough as it was back then, got me to actually love writing for the first time in my life. The confidence that he instilled in me, coupled with my desire to show up the professor who wrote those motivating words on that abysmal short story, were the impetus that led me to start submitting my poetry to literary journals.

Of course, I failed. And failed. And failed. I had, if I remember correctly, my first 24 submissions rejected. Believing that success was assured, I was both blindsided and devastated by the actual results.

I knew that the poems that I was submitting to these literary magazines were objectively good. People that I trusted to not humor me regarding my writing informed me that they were, and many were shocked at the sea change in quality from my juvenilia. This time, I had carefully edited the poems, scrutinizing every line. However, they were not being accepted for publication. The reason for this was that I was sending these poems to literary journals that were simply not a fit for the alternative sensibilities inherent to my creative writing. Traditional literary journals did not cater to the type of writing I was producing, and, of course, they rejected it.

My friend Russell, the man who inspired me to write in the first place, taught me the basics of publication by introducing me to Duotrope.com, but naturally, I didn’t use it effectively. I used it to find journals that were esteemed, did not read any of their content, and submitted my poems with only a cursory regard for the submissions guidelines. My whole approach was lazy and disrespectful, not just to myself, but to the publishers of these magazines, and the entire literary profession.

Personally, I believe that there are no obstacles in life that cannot be overcome. I knew that if I worked harder, I could get my poetry accepted in literary magazines. I began to read many literary journals, and the ones that I enjoyed reading, ones that featured poets and short story writers with, for lack of a better description, punk rock sensibilities, caught my interest. I discovered amazing writers that I had never heard of, ones whose works appealed to my love of Charles Bukowski and Hunter S. Thompson, larger than life writers who both lived and wrote on the edge. When I would read the works of these writers like Doug Draime, Misti Rainwater-Lites, Holly Day, Michele McDannold, Catfish McDaris, Sarah E. Alderman, and Lynne Savitt, among many others, I knew that I had found many skilled people doing exciting things in the alternative presses.

I decided to submit my poem Like A Library in the Suburbs to one of these alternative presses, Michele McDannold’s Citizens for Decent Literature, then one of the top places to publish for alternative poets, and had my poem accepted. I felt vindicated to know that a poet who I respected thought that I had talent enough to publish me, and that if I just targeted effectively, sending my writing to journals that I enjoyed reading and that featured writers with roughly similar sensibilities, I would have a good chance of getting my work accepted. Since then, I have about a 33% acceptance rate for my poetry and short fiction, which would be closer to 60% if not for being overly ambitious, and reaching out to some of my favorite magazines that are not perfect fits for my writing.

I will never forget those words that professor wrote, but now, with many publications under my belt, three excellent screenplays composed and currently shopped, becoming lead writer for an amazing startup, being interviewed by literary magazines, and developing publishing projects of my own, I realize that those words were nothing more than a judgment rendered without sufficient evidence. I love writing, and I know that I am good, and that I will only continue to improve.

I hope that my story gives you the confidence you need to fully embark on your career as a successful writer.

In success,
Alfonso

p.s. I strive to present all the tools necessary for writers to dramatically improve their craft and chances of publishing through my blog posts, free Q&A service, and free fiction writing 101 course. However, if you require more personal attention, please consider my editing and/or publishing consultancy services.

Writers Need To Capitalize On Opportunities

One of the foremost problems that new writers who are intent on breaking into the literary world face is the quick realization that there is tremendous competition. Sadly, many aspiring writers who are not cognizant of the nature of their profession end up quickly demoralized, as they see that their writing is not reaching an audience, not being published, and being heavily critiqued by those who do read it.

I started my career as a writer primarily as a poet. My friend Russell Jaffe offered me the opportunity to open at his poetry reading if I were to write a few poems, and I took him up on the offer. I realized, free from the constraints of an organized creative writing program, that I had some talent. From there, I started writing many poems, and later on, getting many of them published once I realized how to find and effective target literary magazines.

After finding success as a poet, I was desirous of publishing short fiction. I was working four different positions at an academic institution, spread out over six days. I didn’t have much time or energy left to write when I was off from work. My opportunity came when a friend of mine who believed in my writing offered me free housing in rural Pennsylvania and promised to edit my writing. I took her up on that offer, and produced an assortment of short stories that met my standards, and were published.

At present, I am a communications partner for a new startup. My duties entail that I be responsible for producing any accompanying books related to the startup once it goes public, in addition to more mundane duties related to day-to-day correspondence and copywriting. As anyone who has previous experience with entrepreneurship knows, sometimes it can take a bit of time for a venture to go public. Being that I lead a pretty Spartan lifestyle, one that is supported through freelancing my services as an editor and publishing consultant, and that the startup needs some time before it can reach fruition, I have a significant amount of off time. During this time, I have been writing screenplays.

The reason that I’ve chosen to write screenplays, again, boils down to opportunity. My cousin Andrew Friedman works at FOX. He regales me with fabulous stories of parties with Method Man and Seth Rogen. His mother worked for 25 years in sales at Paramount Pictures. Furthermore, my girlfriend Lauren Rubin, as a graduate of Vassar College, has an assortment of high-powered contacts in the film industry. Her mother, Joanne Larson, through her business dealings, also has access to a multitude of producers and other film professionals. This access, and the potential for serious rewards from success as a screenwriter, has led me to conclude that this is the perfect opportunity for me now.

So, in short, to quickly ascend as a writer, leverage any existing opportunities immediately. 

If you are unsure of the nature of the opportunities around you, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Who do I know who has offered to help me?
  2. Who do I know who has a foothold in any way in the writing community? Would they be willing to help me if I asked them?
  3. Are there any opportunities local to your area or current life related to a particular type of writing?

I wish you success in capitalizing on your opportunities.

p.s. I strive to present all the tools necessary for writers to dramatically improve their craft and chances of publishing through my blog posts, free Q&A service, and free fiction writing 101 course. However, if you require more personal attention, please consider my editing and/or publishing consultancy services.

 

I Want To Be A Writer – What Do I Do Now?

I have had the pleasure of speaking with many individuals who are impressed by the fact that I am a published author. Quite often, the topic of conversation quickly switches to their desire to become a writer. Few of these people ever end up actually writing anything, and of those who do, many quickly become discouraged, as they have no direction as to what to do next.

For a new creative writer, one of the first questions you should ask yourself is this: What is going to be my path?

To become a writer, one who is paid, one who is recognized, one who is celebrated, you have to have more than just a vague intention. You need to develop a plan. 

When you’re starting out as a writer, unless you have achieved some degree of acclaim from some other facet of your life, you are at zero. No one knows who you are, and no one has any reason to pay attention to your writing, aside from friends and family. This is the reality. This is a discouraging starting point, but it is where at least 90% of writers start. The question then, again, is where do I start?

Below are a few separate paths you might want to explore, once you unequivocally decide that you are serious about becoming a creative writer:

  1. Begin publishing short fiction and/or poetry in reputable magazines. This has been my approach, once I became serious about becoming an author. I found journals that published writing that was similar in style and content to my own work, targeted them, and began getting published in order to start the process of making my name.
  2. Start writing your novel. Without any prior publishing credits, and with no platform, you are going to have a difficult time landing a publisher for your manuscript. Undoubtedly, your only choices will be independent publishers, or self-publishing. If you choose to try to get published with an independent publisher, ensure that your work is tightly edited and you should probably hire a publishing consultant, as well. If you go the self-publishing route, be clever and persistent in your marketing approach to ensure that your work is not ignored amongst the sea of self-published novels.
  3. Connect with local writers. Find writer’s workshops or seminars in your local area, and begin striking up friendships with other writers. You can have other, more experienced, writers take you under the wings, and show you the ropes.
  4. Obtain proper training. I highly recommend the incredibly practical, affordable and effective Gotham Writer’s Workshop if you want a quick run-through of the principles of creative writing in an interactive environment. If you are looking to obtain your Bachelor’s Degree, enroll in a Creative Writing program. If you are looking to obtain a Master’s, consider applying to MFA programs.
  5. Land a writing job. One of the best ways to become an effective writer is to write daily. If you want to write creatively, perhaps landing a job in communications, where your writing acumen will be utilized and sharpened every day, would be an excellent first step before embarking on the world of creative writing.

Whichever path you choose, I wish you success in your journey as a writer. I am here for you if you have any questions, or if you need an editor or publishing consultant to get you to the next level.

In success,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Publisher, The Literary Game

 

 

One Key Reason Why You Might Want To Use A Pseudonym

George Orwell critiqued totalitarianism in government. Hunter S. Thompson explored…and lived the drug culture. Flannery O’Connor, a devout Catholic, was perhaps one of the darkest American authors ever published.

Good writing, almost as a rule, challenges its readers. There will be individuals who do not understand, or do not want to understand, what you are attempting to do with your writing, and they will judge you. It is unconscionable how many readers will assume that authors have the same traits as, or are advocating the traits of, some of the most despicable characters in their fiction. It is unconscionable, but that will not change anytime soon. People’s judgment of your work can cause wedges with family members, friends, publishers, and most notably – with employers or potential employers.

Writing, at its heart, is all about conflict. By and large, most of the professional world requires the presentation of a clean-cut image. If you are writing about sex, violence, racism, or any other subject that is impolite in conversation (and cast a wide net with this), you might want to consider writing under a pseudonym, so as to protect yourself from any harm in the public sphere. Employers can and do Google search potential employees. If your name is John Rogers, you might not have much to worry about, but if your name is a bit less common (like mine!) than you might want to consider if writing under a pseudonym is appropriate.

Some might say that is a cowardly approach. I wouldn’t say so, as many writers can and do make a living from their work, but that requires diligence, consistent writing, networking, editing, and publishing assistance; still, the vast majority have to rely on other means than their fictive works. My own writing tends to be extremely subversive. However, I am a freelancer and entrepreneur, aside from being a writer, so I don’t feel any discomfort if someone were to look up my name and see it attached to works of a transgressive nature. Even while I was in the workforce in a traditional job in academia, I knew who to mention my writing to, and who to avoid speaking about it with, or to talk about with, but only in the most general terms. This is pretty easy to gauge, and I’m sure you’ll be able to discern appropriately.

Of course, whether you choose to use a pseudonym or not is up to you. If you are unsure, ask yourself the following six questions, and then decide:

  1. How edgy is my writing? 
  2. Is there a significant likelihood of damage coming to my finances, family, or person if I were to publish under my own name?
  3. Do I want the privacy that a pseudonym provides, or do I prefer the spotlight?
  4. How memorable is my given name? 
  5. How literary does my given name feel?
  6. Do I write in multiple genres, and thus want to keep my audiences separate?

Regardless of whether you choose to use a pseudonym or not, I wish you the very best in your literary endeavors.

Sincerely,
Alfonso Colasuonno
Publisher, The Literary Game