Why I Started Reading Less Books

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“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” – Stephen King

Oh Mr. King, I still believe you, but so much has changed since 1999.

Enter…The eReader

Reading for pleasure is one of my favorite hobbies. I’ve always loved books, and in our hyper-paced, media-obsessed culture, I look to them for quiet solace and entertainment even more than I used to. They are also a source of inspiration to study of the craft or writing, particularly in my chosen genre.

So imagine how my reading life changed when I got a Kindle as a gift way back in 2012.

The thing was a revelation. So many books all at my fingertips, and so much easier to bring on vacation! Plus, that Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, and the untapped gold mine of authors giving away their books for FREE! What could be better?

Fast forward to 2017, and I’m totally burnt out on reading. My gusto to read has waned across all genres, but especially horror, and when I do pick up the Kindle, everything on it feels “same-y”. Yes, I am a writer and have mastered powerful descriptive techniques.

…And Then What Happened

After spending a few months with my Playstation in lieu of books, I got the hankering to read something new. Rather than immediately charge up the Kindle, I perused Reddit looking for book recommendations. I stumbled upon The Fisherman by John Langan, which ultimately became my 2017 Book of The Year (read it!)

It charted me on a new path with a huge revelation in the rear-view mirror. Moving forward, I would be extremely picky about which books I actually read, and consider each one as a valuable time investment.

Careful Curation

Reading less books is the last thing Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads want you to do. Right? They pummel you with nearly unlimited choices in an effort to get you just the right book to suit your fancy.

The fact is, they want your money. Quality (outside the measures of their algorithms) is fairly inconsequential to them. In fact, once you’ve bought the book, they don’t care if you read it or not.

I burned myself out reading too many crappy cheap and free books that were set up as “marketing funnels” (gross) or just tossed into the Amazon ebook digital sludge heap, and forgot what good stories were.

Aside: Yeah, I know there is this “anti-criticism” mentality in a lot of internet writing communities that masquerades as “only giving constructive criticism and support”. But lets get real, there are some BAD self-published and small-press books on Amazon. Ones with little thought or care put in before they got slapped up in the marketplace. I reserve my right to levy harsh criticism against anyone who is obviously just phoning it in. They hurt the rest of us who are legitimately trying.

I’m still refining my own system, but here are the key points I now read by:

  • I pay for books. Even if it’s a dollar. Print or ebook. Paying for the book creates a tangible relationship of value in my mind, and drives me to read what I purchase, no matter what I ultimately think about the book when I finish it.
  • I research before I buy. I’ve cut down on impulse purchases. They are almost exclusively limited to great sales on my various “Wish Lists”. Less books means a lower signal-to-noise ratio. Less choice equals greater happiness. I heard that in a TED Talk or something…
  •  I won’t finish what I don’t like. I am a horrible completionist. I used to keep reading books I didn’t like just to give myself closure, or under the pretense of “giving it a chance to get good”. No longer. Even my carefully chosen books must keep me interested, lest they be banished to the Forbidden Zone (a bottom bookshelf where my DNF pile goes to await library donation).
  • I study and contemplate what I read. I read much slower, and try to fully consume (mentally) what I read. Prose, theme, subtext. I give myself a few days in between books to really absorb and contemplate what I read. This is where I’m “reading like a writer” and gaining the takeaways to use in my own stories.

Not only have I re-discovered the pleasure of reading by reducing the number of books I pick up, but I’m also retaining far more of what I DO read, than when I was marathon’ing a bunch of stuff that just congealed into a Goodreads Annual Goal bar.

It came down to treating my reading time, and the books I choose, as a valuable commodities. Quality trumps quantity, always. There are now enough books on Earth to fill multiple human lifetimes, with more published every day. You should definitely be picky about the ones you choose to read in your own.

So here is Stephen’s quote again, updated for 2018.

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot of carefully selected, high quality books, and write a lot.” – Stephen King & B.L. Daniels

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Writing in Your Books is Good Fun

image of Herzog book

image credit: LitReactor.com

If his soul could cast a reflection so brilliant, and so intensely sweet, he might beg God to make such use of him. But that would be too simple. But that would be too childish. The actual sphere is not clear like this, but turbulent, angry. A vast human action is going on. Death watches. So if you have some happiness, conceal it. And when your heart is full, keep your mouth shut also.

It’s Friday, and I’m ripping this incredibly controversial topic straight from the headlines.

It’s a dispute that can destroy relationships, families, and book clubs.

The question at hand?

IS IT OK TO WRITE IN YOUR BOOKS?????

My answer?

YES.

I actually like to look back over highlighted passages that spoke to me, as well as jot little notes in the margins of stories to capture my in-the-moment thoughts on them. I use the “highlight passage” feature on my Kindle regularly.

Plus, when I purchase a used paperback, I actually like finding highlights and notes from the previous owner. In a way it makes me feel like that particular copy is more special and has a bit more to tell than it’s mass-pressed brothers and sisters.

David Cranmer over on LitReactor agrees with me.

Change our minds.

How To Quit Facebook (As A Writer)

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I get a lot of questions from fellow writers, and some readers, about Facebook. Mostly around my complete lack of having a Facebook account. Some are shocked to learn I got rid of it over 6 years ago (before the scandals) and my reason wasn’t personal privacy, but rather a loaf of bread. Yup. You read that right. Bread.

I’ve decided to be all artsy-fartsy about it and detail here the steps I took, why I took them, and what happened. All in short story format.

Notes:

  • The focus is on writers, but this guide could be for anyone looking to regain control of their time
  • If I sound preachy, I’m really not trying to be. If Facebook works for you and makes you successful, I’m glad it’s a useful tool for you
  • I’m so totally 100% aware you’re looking at that Instagram feed over there on the right side of this page (Facebook owns them) and going “OH THE IRONY!” The thing is, I play with Instagram once every couple of weeks, and I strictly curate it to focus on my love of art, books, and gory b-grade horror movies
  • I quit Facebook years ago, but I tried to make the story relevant to someone using it in 2018
  • This post is going to be long, and I’m writing it in the 2nd person, just to be asinine on a Monday.

 

Chapter 1 : Choosing to Quit Facebook (A Crack in The Mirror)

You decided to quit Facebook. Because you wanted more time to write. Maybe you sat down to write the next chapter in your novel, and ended up wasting forty five of the precious ninety minutes you had, looking at endless streams of encouraging GIF’s stating “Writer’s write!” Maybe you were in your local grocery store and saw a Facebook logo on a loaf of bread, and you said–

“Why has everyone accepted the dominance of this corporate force into their lives, to the point where food packaging is branded with a tiny F? Why do food companies want me to “connect” with them? Shouldn’t I spend my limited time on this mortal coil exercising my freedom of creative human expression, instead of connecting with Pop-Tarts on social media?”

Then you shouted, “I reject this, Mark. I reject all of this! I want more time to write!” And freaked out the elderly woman standing next to you in aisle nine.

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The 5 Stages of Rejection Letter Grief

Another post from over on K.M. Allan’s blog this week. This one is some kind of chicken soup for the mortally wounded writing soul. Can you relate to these 5 stages of grief when the rejection letters arrive in your inbox? Or mailbox if you’re submitting to the REALLY fancy places…

K.M. Allan

A few weeks ago I received a rejection letter from a publisher. This wasn’t the first rejection letter I’d received (far from it), nor was it different from any of the other rejection letters I’ve been sent or seen posted by other writers.

There was the usual, it’s not you, it’s me, and the non-committal we can’t tell you anything specific, which I’ve learned to skim and not take to heart, but this one got to me.

Maybe it was the fact I waited 1 year, 3 months and 23 days for it. Or maybe it was that the letter was such an impersonal form rejection that had no name at the bottom, even though I’d had two email conversations with the same specific editor at the publishing company during that 15-month wait. Or maybe it was that it had been a long time between rejections and I…

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Book Review: “C.H.U.D. Lives! (A Tribute Anthology)”

image of a CHUD

Let’s talk about C.H.U.D.

C.annibalistic H.umanoid U.nderground D.wellers to some, C.ontamination H.azard U.rban D.isposal to others (who are buying into the government cover up!)

C.H.U.D. Lives! is a scifi-horror anthology that Crystal Lake Publishing released back in April of this year that expands on the universe of the original 1980’s cult classic film C.H.U.D., but thankfully not on its sequel C.H.U.D. II: Bud The Chud which was horrifying for all the wrong reasons.

The stories range from yarns that build upon key scenes from the movie (whatever happened to that little girl and her grandpa in the phone booth?) to more speculative tales that take us into the future and other locales outside of New York City. The common thread is always C.H.U.D.’s. People that have been exposed to toxic ooze and transform into violent, flesh-eating mutants with glowing yellow eyes.

Like most anthologies, the quality of story varies. I’m happy to report that almost all entries are well written and strong. My favorites were “The City Will Eat You Alive” by Ryan C. Thomas, and “Lost and Found” by Greg Mitchell, with a special mention of “That’s Entertainment!” by Mort Castle due to its timely humor and social satire. Most of these focused on people dealing with C.H.U.D.’s in different horrifying scenarios that called back to the film. The stories that didn’t hit home for me were the more action-oriented offerings. While I’m sure some readers would love them, I’m not really into the whole “military procedural” style of action fiction. If someone uses a sub-machine gun, I don’t care what model it is or how it sounds, specifically.

cover of CHUD Lives anthology book

Crystal Lake Publishing has been knocking it out of the park with the horror anthologies lately. I have been a massive fan of C.H.U.D. since I first saw the movie over two decades ago. In that time, the Internet has shown it’s love as well, but there has been very little in the way of new content for fans. This book fills a much needed gap, and I can definitely recommend it to anyone who enjoyed the film.

If you’ve never seen C.H.U.D. and have even the slightest interest in horror movies, fix that! Grab some popcorn and treat yourself to one of the most beloved cult-schlock gems of the 1980’s. It’s gory, funny, and totally over-the-top. Plus it stars John Heard, and a young Daniel Stern.

Two horribly mutated, glowing, thumbs up!

WHAT I LIKED:

  • C.H.U.D.’s
  • World building that expanded upon key scenes from the film
  • Gross-out violence along with tongue-in-cheek humor

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:

  • It was over a little too soon, could have used a few more stories
  • A few entries bordered on “gun p*rn” which I’m not a fan of
  • A couple stories contained ‘howlers’ that the editor should’ve caught before it went to press