Sunday, December 29, 2019

Annus Horribilis

2019 - in Words & Pictures

Unlike many years past, 2019 was a surprisingly shameless year, not so much because of the shocking and sometimes, inhuman things that happened. But because most of them played out in the streets and on live television and in blatant social media meltdowns. 
2019 was the year that uncanny chain of events shoved the world to the brink, from deadliest natural disasters to wars & rumors of wars, to election chaos, to senseless trade wars, to fake news, and to the Brexit madness. It was a year that one could only count the positives on the fingers of one hand. Yet, beyond the turmoil, there were triumphs, like, for example, the U.S. Women World Cup win, and the huge number of women and minorities elected to the U.S. Congress which led to a spectacular takeover of the House of Representatives by Democrats.

Nancy Pelosi at SOTU in February
And the election of Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House, the most powerful woman in Washington D.C. For some, though the positive aspect ended there, for the win set the stage for a clash over congressional oversight powers. In the course of the year, the Robert Muller investigation into Russia's meddling in the 2016 elections came to an end with no satisfactory outcome for either side. Though Trump was not indicted for Obstruction of Justice, he was not outright exonerated, and some of his close associates went to jail.
Clockwise from top left Kyrsten Sinema, Democrat
from Arizona; Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat
from New York; Cathy McMorris Rodgers, 

Republican from Washington; and Lauren Underwood, 
Democrat from Illinois
Immigration was a thorny issue. Children were separated from their parents, with some held in what many described as cages. The dire situation led to one of the most haunting pictures of the yearan image of the lifeless bodies of Óscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez, his arm limply draped over his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, locked together on the banks of Rio Grande where they drowned trying to cross from Mexico into the United States. 

In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May bungled her way out of N° 10 Downing Street in tears over her headstrong and incompetent handling of the Brexit drama. On the other hand, her counterpart in the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn didn't fare any better. With no clear position on Brexit, and anti-semitic charges dogging his step, he sleepwalked into a national election on Brexit and spectacularly lost to Boris Johnson. He wasn't the only loser in Europe. The
Megan Rapinoe with her teammates Samantha Mewis, left,
and Alex Morgan after scoring her team’s first goal in the World Cup final.
vice-chancellor of Austria, Heinz-Christian Strache got entangled in a political scandal known as the Ibiza Affair and bowed out in disgrace. In Italy, the far-right Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini shot himself in the foot in a poorly orchestrated palace coup that ended up toppling him. Next door in France, the Yellow Vest's anti-government protests shook the political establishment and put the President, Emmanuel Macron on notice. In Asia, while the unyielding humanitarian crisis raged on in Yemen, protesters poured onto the wide boulevards of Hong Kong week after week. A subway fare increase in Chile led to protests in Santiago, and the tumult of mass gatherings, from Algeria to Sudan, from Bolivia to Venezuela, produced some of the most powerful images of the year. 


Cardi B at Met Gala Metropolitan Museum of Art on May 6, 2019,
January: Women wielded power in the U.S. Congress
February: Nancy Pelosi's clap at the State of the Union went viral 
March: A terrorist attack hit New Zealand 
April: In Paris, the Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames  
May: Attorney General William Barr's congressional testimony set the stage for a confrontation  
June: President Trump made history by crossing the demilitarized zone into North Korea 
July: The U.S. Women soccer team clinched the World Cup 
Motorcyclists ride on a road as haze from
wildfires blanket the city in Palembang, Indonesia
August: A horde of U.S. Democratic presidential hopefuls staggered into the open
September: Wildfires devastate the Amazon as Hurricane Dorian hit the Bahamas 
October: ISIS kingpin, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in Syria by U.S. special forces   
November: The Chinese principle of one country, two systems tested its consistency in Hong Kong  
December: Trump became the third U.S. President to be impeached 
Brentwood, California,
In the midst of all these, fires burned, from Australia where more than 12 million acres and 1,000 homes were destroyed to California, where about $80 billion in damage and economic losses were estimated. Further, more than 80,000 forest fires ravaged the Amazon Forest, a huge carbon store considered a vital buffer for the world against climate change. The fires, accompanied by deforestation have had devastating effects on this important ecosystem. In Russia, hundreds of fires spread across Siberia, their proximity to cities like Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk marked as alarming. Air pollution put millions of people at risk in Indonesia as well, where the fires were particularly destructive. Schools were closed as smoke billowed out over Southeast Asia. 

There were notable deaths in 2019, among them, Doris-Day, the legendary actress and singer who died at age 97 on May 13 after “contracting a serious case of pneumonia.” The fashion designer and mother of CNN anchorman, Anderson Cooper, Gloria-Vanderbilt, died at age 95 on June 17. Representative, Elijah E. Cummings who died on 17 October left a legacy as one of the most powerful Democrats in the U.S. Congress. Earlier, on July 9, the billionaire former presidential candidate, Henry Ross Perot died in his home in Dallas at age 89. Seven days later, on July 16, the retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens who served on the court from 1975 to 2010 died at age 99. 

Less than a month later, the celebrated Nobel Prize winner, Toni Morrison died at age 88 on August 5. Soon afterward, Peter Fonda, the Easy Rider star died at his Los Angeles home at 79
on August 16, followed, 14 days later by
Valerie Harper, the Mary Tyler Moore star who died at age 80 on August 30. In the last month of the year, the first French Bond girl, Claudine Augur, who starred alongside Sean Connery in Thunderball died at age 78 in Paris. Then on December 12, after a brief illness, another well-known name, Danny Aiello who starred in movies including The Godfather Part ll, Moonstruck, and Do the Right Thing died at age 86.  

Sunday, November 3, 2019

The Art of Storytelling

Mastering The Art Of Storytelling In Ten Steps

The principle of true art is not to portray, but to evoke.

                                                                                              ~ Jerzy Kosinski

We all have a story to tell is a maxim everyone agrees with. Interestingly, we also all love stories. A good story can convey a life-changing message, entertain us in unimaginable ways, and even ignite a fire within us. As the author, Vera Nazarian puts it, “The world is shaped by two things—stories told and the memories they leave behind.”
However, for a story to have the impact described above, it must be told properly. In nearly every society, storytelling is associated with the social or cultural pastime of sharing anecdotes, myths, and folktales. It is used invariably as a means of cultural preservation, education, entertainment or even instilling moral values, and it is not uncommon for it to be accompanied by embellishments, theatrics, and sometimes improvisation.
In modern society, the art of storytelling can be complex and frustrating for many aspiring writers. These tips might help:

(1)   Know Your Audience

If a school commissions you to teach a class, the students you have in front of you would determine your lesson, wouldn’t they? Are they kindergarten kids or young adults or grownups? You would undoubtedly tailor your lesson towards the specific demographic the school commissioned you to teach. It’s the same with storytelling, that’s why knowing your audience is the first step towards the process. That knowledge determines not just the length and content of the story but the expression used. It is therefore crucial that before beginning a story, an aspiring writer spends some time considering who he/she is targeting. One way to do that is to pinpoint something special in the story to narrow it down to a specific group - is it a love story? Is this love story about a specific demographic? Is it a fit for a certain age or interest group? So, being able to isolate types or groups of people that the story would appeal to is fundamental. It is also important to check out published books comparable to your story and find out who the book’s audience is.

(2)   Make The Reader Care

Why should a reader be interested in your story? How is it relevant to him/her? This is one of the important aspects of storytelling that an aspiring writer should consider. It is fundamental that the writer makes that clear in his/her mind because if it’s not clear to you, it certainly won’t be clear to the reader. Keep in mind that caring doesn’t come by design, you must cultivate it. Just like a filmmaker, the writer must create something that draws attention, like the background music in a film, the romantic element in a tale, or the fear factor in a narrative. He/she should create what some call an itch which could be a particular trait in the protagonist that becomes a defining characteristic, like daddy issues, low or high self-esteem, being a workaholic or a control freak. That way, the writer invokes a common emotional element or a dilemma that the target audience can somehow identify with. A good story should, therefore, have a certain element of reality that makes it possible for readers to relate to even if they haven’t had that particular experience. So, emotionally or intellectually or even aesthetically, the aspiring writer, in crafting his/her story, must make it interesting enough for the reader to care.

(3)   Set The Scene

The context in which words appear and scenes develop generally affects a story, and that’s because people experience the world through their senses. Therefore, for a story to captivate an audience, the writer must set the scene and provide them with a context for the account. Where, for example, did the story take place? When did it begin? What was the atmosphere like? What triggered it? Who are the key players? These are a few of the questions which answers can help set the scene, engaging the senses of readers by offering them a more immersive experience. It is called ‘painting the picture.’ One thing that can help a writer start the process is to identify the purpose of the story and the high moment in the tale. It is equally important to determine what is at stake for the protagonist and other characters in the story and to emphasize conflict, both internal and external. Another key point is to highlight character change, making sure not to lose the reader as you illustrate how the events change the players. As the scene unfolds, the reader should be able to determine who has the most to lose/gain in the story. Whose emotional reaction will be the strongest? Which character will change the most and how will that change or reaction impact the plot?

(4)   Use Chronology

A story should have a beginning, a middle, and an ending. Once you understand this basic tenet of storytelling, you may choose to abandon the conventions of normal chronology and opt for a creative one, like hurling the reader straight into the midst of the action, or to the end of the story to catch their attention. Done creatively, this can arouse the curiosity of the reader, generate unexpected suspense, or create a searing tension that keeps the reader glued to the pages. Once a reader identifies who to root for, he/she will become invested in the story and a desire to know what might happen next will be one of the easiest ways to keep them reading, if nothing else, to find out how the writer intends to bring together the missing pieces of the puzzle. So, while keeping faith with the basic tenet of a story having a beginning, a middle, and ending, the writer can choose, with ample creative liberty, how to present the sequence of events in order of timing in a way that the reader can follow.

(5)   Create a Punch line

In a comedy set, a punch line is the climactic conclusion of a joke that makes an audience laugh; usually, it is a short line that delivers a humorous reveal, mainly because it is the opposite of what the audience expects. In storytelling, punch lines should follow the same pattern. As explained earlier, a story generally has a beginning, a middle, and an ending; therefore, as in comedy, a punch line in storytelling should follow the introductory framing of the tale, the development of the scenes, and the narrative that sets it up. But unlike comedy, it doesn’t necessarily have to aim at eliciting laughter from the audience unless it’s a humor book, rather it should aim at delivering a dramatic reveal or what is known as a twist in the tale. A punch line can also be poetic, inspirational, or a romantic reveal. While the appeal of some stories may not depend on punch lines, the writer should never lose sight of the purpose of telling the story and must employ all the tools in his/her creative arsenal to make the story interesting and relevant.   

(6)   Don’t Tell, Show 

There is an invisible border between your story and the reader; it is in engaging the reader that that boundary is erased. The best way to engage the reader is to invoke as many of the five senses as possible—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting—in the story. The reader automatically becomes a participant in the adventure if the story engages his/her emotions, if he/she can identify with the characters, fears for the life of the characters, or loves or hates a particular character enough to desire a certain outcome for them. A writer won’t achieve that by telling the reader what is happening. He/she would achieve it by showing the reader what is happening. As the famous Russian playwright, Anton Chekhov puts it, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”
Indeed, when you show the reader what is happening rather than tell him, you engage him, and by engaging him you make him a participant in the adventure. So, rather than having everything imparted to him, the reader can see the events in his mind and then comes to the conclusions you want. 

(7)   Deploy Tension

Tension is the principal reason we describe some books as page-turners. If you’ve ever read a story so intense that you forget about time and feel compelled to continue reading until you finished, then you understand the value of introducing tension into your writing. One way to do that is by getting your readers attached, not only to the plot but also to your main characters. By heightening the stakes and creating character conflict, you get your readers invested in the story. It is therefore not an exaggeration to say that clever use of tension in storytelling is one of the most effective ways of rendering a story irresistible and a book ‘unputdownable.’ By introducing exponential tension into your writing and timing the tension effectively, you engage the reader, and by engaging him/her, you erase that invisible boundary between your story and its audience. Another method of incorporating tension into your writing and getting the reader flipping the pages is using cliffhangers that leave the audience in suspense, making them yearn to know what will happen next. While it is okay for suspense to permeate the pages, cliffhangers, however, should be abrupt and should come at the end of the plot. Cliffhangers are particularly effective in books that have a sequel, but it can also be a great strategy for stand-alone books.    

(8)   Paint A Picture

The hardest part of writing is the presentation, and a good presentation requires clever use of words. It is not enough for writers to construct the whole story in their heads, they must be able to present it in a way that makes sense, not only to them but to the reader too. In view of that, it might seem as if the easiest part of the process is the story’s conception. For those with a fertile imagination, it certainly is, after all, that’s what distinguishes a creative mind from a non-creative one. But storytelling, for a writer, must show elements of craftsmanship and finesse. A picture, according to an English adage, is worth a thousand words, which is a notion that just a single picture can convey some complex ideas. So, unless a writer is presenting a picture book, he/she must paint the picture with words to make the reader see and hear and smell and touch and taste whatever he/she puts out. It is the writer’s descriptive power that takes the reader on a journey that gets him/her invested in the story and makes him/her feel what the characters are feeling, forcing him/her to partake in whatever dilemma the characters are facing. As a writer, you have no other weapon but words, so don’t limit yourself in deploying them.  

(9)   End With A Bang

As in films and theatrical performances, a grand finale in storytelling keeps readers thinking or even talking about the book long after they’ve finished reading it. Whatever the plot development, whatever tension or suspense that builds up in the story, the resolution should not be slow in coming. If for reasons of a possible sequel, the writer does not want to end with a cliffhanger, he/she should ensure that there’s closure in the story by resolving the plot and leaving no questions hanging in the air. For stand-alone novels that end with a cliffhanger, the writer should add some creative magic to the story in a way that leaves the reader with a sense of awe, like the feeling one gets when leaving the cinema after watching a great motion picture or the theater after watching a great production. The writer can achieve this by leaving his/her readers with a ‘big puzzle’ to solve in their minds or with a profound take on life, on humanity or the theme of the story.

(10)   Have Fun With It

Often in interviews, writers are asked, why do you write? The answer may differ from one person to another, but the cardinal point in writing is to ‘get something off your chest.’ Writers, like most people, are often plagued by convoluted thoughts, mental burdens, and ideas that they find difficult to shake off. Writing provides them the ultimate release. So, while you are at it, why not have fun with it? First, though, to enjoy the process, you must have something to say. Not everything that goes through the mind ought to end up as a book because a written work should have a keen aesthetic sense. It should be distinguished as a literary culture of value. If you have something to say, if you have a unique story to tell and have the words with which to tell it, if you create a wonderful world for others to enjoy, you might as well relish the experience. Cultivate a sense of purpose, develop a creative mindset, view challenges as opportunities. Read, read, read, it’ll give you the tools you need. And, above all, enjoy the process.    

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Creative Writing - Challenges & Drawbacks

✍️ “Writing is so difficult I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment thereafter.”
~ Jessamyn West

       The Downside of Studying Creative Writing

I studied Creative Writing for my undergraduate degree and continued studying it into my postgraduate degree.  I am proud of my degrees and I enjoyed studying the process of writing, but as with everything, there are downsides to studying Creative Writing.
Studying Creative Writing isn’t as simple as writing a story and getting a grade for it. Pieces are marked on their originality, their use, and control of language, and your ability to explain your writing process.  You must approach your writing from an academic perspective whilst maintaining the creativity that you need to carve a piece out of a blank piece of paper (or screen).  Studying Creative Writing is not a walk in the park, nor is it for people who class Fifty Shades of Grey as the greatest book ever written.

It Can Take the Pleasure Out of Reading

Once you know the technical rules of writing, it becomes hard to sit and enjoy a book — particular a mainstream one that was written/bought for the sake of profit, not because of its quality.  The rules that you’ve learned studying Creative Writing will make it difficult for you to switch off your editor mode, meaning that unless a book is incredibly well written, you won’t be able to help but dissect it.
Some courses also contain Literature modules — you can also study Creative Writing with Literature — and those modules are often compulsory.  It is impossible to study writing and not change the way that you approach reading particularly once you have begun to workshop.

It Can Take the Pleasure Out of Writing

Before studying writing, Meg Cabot was warned that it would take the fun out of it for her.  You have to really love writing to study it.  Not only that, but you have to make sure to study the right kind of writing for you — if you’re a poet and you don’t feel comfortable
"There are really only two reasons to write: desperation or revenge." 
~ Elizabeth Hardwick
writing short stories, make sure to go somewhere that you can focus on poetry and won’t be forced to write things that you’re uncomfortable with.  It’s good to experiment, but if you already know which area(s) you enjoy writing the most, don’t study the areas you enjoy less — you’ll go from less fun to no fun.
The more we’re forced to do something, the harder it is for us to enjoy it: our appetite for it can become saturated to the point where it’s no longer fun.  If you’re worried about this happening to you, think about how you approach writing.  Do you do it for fun?  Is it a hobby for you, or is it your life?  If you approach everything in life and think about what angle you could approach it from were it a piece of fiction or a poem, or you carry a notebook around for ideas, studying Creative Writing may well be for you.


Speak to anyone that’s studied or is studying Creative Writing, and most — if not all — will go off on a five-minute rant about how annoying commentaries are.
Commentaries go hand-in-hand with studying Creative Writing and often amount to 50% — possibly even more — of a grade.  They are just as important as your creative work, sometimes even more.  In commentaries, you have to justify why you’ve made certain creative decisions, referencing theories that back up your choices.
Commentaries are an entirely different skill to creative work.  They’re much closer to essay writing than short stories, scripts or poetry.  If you’re planning on doing any form of degree in Creative Writing, writing commentaries will be mandatory and will go with most pieces of creative work that you submit.  If you’re not comfortable writing essays, I would seriously think before deciding to study Creative Writing.


Workshopping is one of those things that you either enjoy or you don’t.  Many people — particularly if they’re new to writing — dread them.  They’re intimidating environments,
particularly if some or all of the people you’re workshopping with have more experience in writing than you do.
Writing is seen as a solitary craft, and the initial process is, but if you wish to improve, it is necessary to workshop, and workshop as much as you possibly can.  The more people you workshop your work with, the more perspectives you’ll get.  The more perspectives you get, the more likely you are to find things to change or to find out how people interpret your work (and it may not be how you intended).
If you don’t enjoy group work, workshops can be difficult.  Likewise, it might be the way that the workshop is led that you’re uncomfortable with.  There are many ways to lead a workshop, and many ways to give and receive feedback.  How it’s done will depend on where you study, who your teachers are, and what your peers are like.

Some Teaching Methods

The place that you choose to study Creative Writing will have a huge impact on you.  Some of it will be conscious, some of it won’t be.  Some places are much more involved in the local — and wider — literary community, and those places are where you want to go because it will help you long-term as well as short-term.
Like with everything we study, how something is taught to us can and will affect our opinion and approach.  Do your research on where you want to study before you decide, because some places have a focus on certain areas such as fiction, whereas others will be more diverse.


Studying Creative Writing isn’t for everyone.  Just because you love writing, that doesn’t mean you’ll enjoy studying it.  That’s ok — studying Creative Writing is much more academic than many people think.  It’s also much more difficult.
It may seem like I’m against people studying Creative Writing, but this isn’t the case.  I enjoyed and am proud of my degrees, and wouldn’t have chosen to do a postgraduate degree in Creative Writing if I didn’t enjoy it.  However, I have seen many people fail or drop out because they choose the course as an easy option, or they pick it because they had an idea for a story.  Having an idea for a story is not enough to study Creative Writing — there is much more to creative writing than just one story.  To study it, you must have a never-ending supply of ideas that you can dip in and out of at any time.  If you struggle to come up with new ideas every week, you may be better working on your sources of inspiration before you look into honing your craft.
If you’d like to pursue creative writing but I’ve put you off above, why not consider joining a writing group instead?  Writing groups are much more laid back, and there’s less pressure because there’s no assessment involved.  You can still meet like-minded people, but with the pressure off it gives you more time to hone your skills and less time working on essay writing.
Did you study Creative Writing?  Did it take the fun out of writing for you, or did it make you love it more?
The Alliance of Independent Authors - Author Member
Kristina Adams is an author of fiction and nonfiction, writing and productivity blogger, and occasional poet. She has a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Derby and an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University. She can be found under a pile of books with a vanilla latte.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Indie Debate

Indie Authors 

Free Books 

Has the strategy become a boomerang?

It’s no secret that when indie publishing started no one took it seriously. Even trade publishers who, at first failed to recognize it as a veritable threat to their hitherto uncontested monopoly, dismissed it as a fad anyway. But a fad it was not. The digital revolution had come to stay. All of a sudden, newly empowered indie authors found themselves competing as equals with well-established traditionally published authors, many of whom were bestsellers. But it was not an easy ride at all. Indie authors lacked the necessary exposure, the distribution outlet, and the budget to compete effectively with the big names, so they decided to pick their battles wisely - ignoring paperbacks and concentrating instead on ebooks which were easier to distribute online.

In order to level the playing field, indie authors who transformed themselves into marketing gurus overnight came up with an idea that seemed brilliant at the time - a free ebook giveaway to stimulate demand and gain market share. It worked well at the beginning as such initiatives are wont to, however as many indies entered the fray, the situation changed. As a result, not only were indie authors competing with their traditionally published counterparts but now they were competing with other indie authors as well who, like them, were giving their books away for free, for the same reason.

Fast-forward to today where Amazon and other online book retailers are so filled with free books that many readers don’t see a reason why they should spend money on books. In fact, even the rationale that giving out free books guarantee reviews does not hold true anymore. The bitter truth is that many readers now have their Kindle and other reading devices so stacked up with these freebies that they don't, in fact, feel compelled to leave a  review in exchange for a free book. They now expect free books with no conditions attached. Interestingly, that’s what the book promotion sites that now proliferate the web promise them. As one author noted, “Why should they buy the milk when the cow is free?”

The writing community has debated the issue time and time again with no clear solution. One multi-genre author holds the view that book promotion sites have been brainwashed to think that it does not cost authors anything to give away copies of their ebooks. “It demonstrates the mentality of the public, and I’m sad to say that Indies are responsible for this misguided mentality,” she says. These promotion sites don’t care if you give books away for free. They want you to give books away for free and purchase their promo to do it.”

Regarding the argument that the strategy isn’t new because even traditional publishers often give out hundreds of ARCs, she asserts that they, in fact, give out ARCs to reputable reviewers, not to the general public. Even in cases where the public has access to the ARCs, for example, through NetGalley et al, she believes these publishers have a huge promotional budget as well as the tools to manage the outcome, but indie authors are generally disadvantaged when their books get pirated. As if to buttress her argument, a recent report revealed that members of a well-known review site were caught sharing ARCs—the hard work of many authors—with their friends and families, works that were sent in for review but ended up pirated.
So, has the FREE book marketing strategy turned out to be a boomerang against indie authors? Some think so. “People read books they pay for,” another author said, rubbishing the notion that free books help authors get reviews. She revealed a little experiment she did which seemed to confirm her idea. In it, she offered the first of her four-book series for free. It generated nearly 8000 downloads (and less than 20 sales of the other books in the series) but no reviews. For her, the reason was simple - the downloaded books were not read. “People aren’t shy about posting bad reviews, especially for free books,” she explained. “Readers are greedy and will scoop up free books, but never read them.”

To verify that claim, she put a $0.99 price tag on the book she previously offered for free—the first book in the series—and got nearly 180 downloads (and more than 30 sales of the other books in the series). A few of the readers left reviews and the result astounded her. “Readers don’t read free books unless they are from a big-name author,” she said. “I find that readers will buy $0.99 books and actually read them. If indies stop offering free books, they might be surprised to see that people will actually cough out the ‘couch change’ and then really read their books. And leave reviews. Maybe it’s time for indie authors to stop shooting themselves in the foot.”