Check Out My Profile on “Dropped Pebbles”

This is just a pointer to a profile fellow author and blogger Dyane Forde pulled together of moi. (*curtsies) I hope you take the time to check it out, as well as some of Dyane’s other stuff. The link to her feature on me is below.

http://droppedpebbles.wordpress.com/featured-artists/bill-jones-jr/

If you’d like to check out her other work, you can reach her main blog page, “Dropped Pebbles” here: http://droppedpebbles.wordpress.com, or connect with her on Twitter at @PurpleMorrow.

kori-image1

Why be an Author?

Why would anyone in their right mind be an author? I’m not referring to being a writer; that’s different. There is only a single reason to be a writer — you were born that way. Sure, it may take you a while to notice it, as it did in my case. But the writer is always there.

I remember being absent from school for a couple of days in the 3rd grade. When I got back, the teacher informed me the class had spent the previous 2 days learning to write poetry. I had exactly an hour to catch up. Now, in my many days in front of our in-home library, I’d spent hours reading and re-reading children’s poetry. I figured, “How hard could it be?” In my ignorance, I knocked off a poem about birds in fifteen minutes. I turned it in, and to my teacher’s surprise, it wasn’t bad. My mom carried that silly poem in her wallet for decades.

Still, I didn’t notice I was a writer. I had no imagination, you see. The first time I really began to see the writer within was when I turned 20. Despite being an accounting major, most of my friends were either musicians, artists, or poets. The latter group used to pen poems and recite them to African drums. Sometimes, I’d accompany them, just for kicks. But I wasn’t a drummer, or an artist, because I had no imagination. In private, however, I thought I’d try to write some poems, because, “How hard could it be?”

Most sucked, a lot. But 5 of them got selected and published in a small, New York City poetry journal. So, I decided, maybe I was a poet. By then, I understood that I was a writer, because I could no longer stop writing. I’d never thought myself an artist, unless you counted the fact that I had a camera in my hand from age 12 on.

See, I’d never put the pieces together. I’d always been an artist, just not practicing. You are born an artist or a writer. It’s an innate part of your personality, whether you give it voice or not. You can certainly ignore it, but I promise, that will be to your detriment.

Being an author, however, is completely different. Being a writer (artist) is a personality trait. Being an author (painter) is a vocation or avocation. Anything that can be done as a career is a choice. You can do it, or do something else. But if you chose to be one, do so with eyes open. As an author, let me warn you: you probably won’t get rich. Some do; most don’t.

William Faulkner is considered to be one of the most talented authors in history. In fact, in my survey of the 100 Greatest Writers in History, Faulkner came out 2nd, behind the unreadable James Joyce.

Faulkner
Faulkner, all 5 feet, 5.5 inches of him. (This photo actual size)

Even so, he couldn’t make a living as an author. In order to make ends meet, the creator of such classics as The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! worked in Hollywood for years, penning 6 credited screenplays, including “To Have and Have Not” and “The Big Sleep,” two of Bogart’s best movies. This, from the eventual winner of a Nobel Prize in literature and 2 Pulitzer Prizes. See, it’s damned hard to get noticed. Without Faulkner’s friendship with Howard Hawks, for whom he penned 5 of the 6 screenplays, he may have never gotten enough visibility to achieve the fame he did.

That’s not to say you won’t either. However, it is to say that fame and fortune isn’t the reason to pursue any career, whether its author, painter, athlete, or lawyer. The reasons to do so are simpler than that: because you find the work enjoyable and because you are willing to work hard enough to be the best at it that you can be.

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” – William Faulkner

It took me a while to answer my inner question of why I write. I used to have different answers, but they were never the reasons I gave my friends. The real reason is simple. I want to create characters that people never forget. In the not distant future, I will die, and cease to be. My daughter will have children, grow old, and die. Within the span of fifty years past the end of my life, few, if any, will remember me. Almost none will know the details of my life, because few know them now.

But maybe I can perfect my quirky, silly, brilliant, sexy and open BacallDeschanelHepburn iconic female lead. Perhaps I’ll get her right one day, and you, and your children, and their children will never forget her. Maybe I’ll stumble across a new male heroic lead, one who doesn’t shrink from a fight, but who neither is threatened by knowing the girl is smarter and maybe a bit braver.

Perhaps you’ll read my female lead, pursued in romance by her best friend, a woman as different from her as the stars are from the sea, and maybe you’ll root for them to vanquish their foes and fall deliriously in love. Maybe it’s Roxx or Trint. Or maybe you’ll meet a stranger to this planet, in physical form for the first time, discovering what it means to be a woman. Maybe Luce will be the one you don’t forget.

To be honest, I know I haven’t written that character yet. My writing is still improving enough weekly for me not to think it’s good enough. But that’s why I’m an author … because I’m determined to reach good. At the end of my life, I may have never written a character I’d love to have seen Bogie play, and maybe “Baby” was always too cool for any of my female leads, but dammit, I’m going to die trying.

Humphrey Bogart - in Casablanca, playing chess with Peter Lorre
Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, playing chess with Peter Lorre

Because I’m a writer; I may as well use it for something.

Writer’s Site of the Day

Good writing is all about having the proper tools. An important part of your writer’s toolkit is having access to good writing, grammar, style, editing, and usage tips from experienced writers. I will be featuring a few good sites I’ve come across periodically. The first such site is Daily Writing Tips.

Rather than give you a long diatribe on what’s there, I’ve copied below the links from their main web page. I would advise stopping by and browsing. I’ve found helpful info, and sometimes just amusing posts, including my favorite, “50 Incorrect Pronunciations You Should Avoid.” (Did you just say, “pro noun ci a tions” in your head? If so, you really should read the article. It’s “pro nun ci a tions.”)

Daily Writing Tips

Categories

 

21st Century Support

Support is relative

As an artist/writer, I have been thinking quite a lot about support lately. I’m not talking about the kind where  you depend upon the kindess of strangers friends to meet your daily needs. I’m not even talking about the emotional support (attaboys, etc.) that all who endeavor to share their creations need. I am talking about tangible support from family and friends as we put our secret selves out for public display.

Can I preach for a moment? That’s a rhetorical question; if you know me, you have already learned that I will irrespective of whether anyone is listening. So, yeah, I’mma preach for a spell.

Art is fucking hard. If you’ve ever done any, you already know what I mean. Bad art is easy, I will agree. But see, we artists have a name for bad art. We call it a first draft. And first drafts are just what they sound like – a beginning. Art takes time, revision, hair-pulling, self-doubt, critique, and a spectacularly thick skin.

At its best, it involves sitting in a quiet space, adding whatever devices the artist has learned will free his/her imagination, and then closing the door, and letting all the demons out. Sometimes, they paint the canvas brilliantly, and we sit back  and thank whomever substitutes for the creator for the gift. More often than not, however, we stop, disgusted, and wonder how such a perfect idea could have turned into such shit when it hit the page.

But we are driven, we artists, or obsessed, if we are successful ones, and so we chip away at the damaged block we chiseled out of our hearts, and attempt to make it sing. And yes, I do realize I just mixed 3 metaphors, but I’ve done so on purpose. That’s what art is like. You start on one path, a simple one, trying to sketch what you see. But then it takes a turn; the work decides it needs more dimensions than your simple piece, and suddenly, it’s a sculpture, for which you didn’t bring the right tools. And, after months of crying blood and sweating laughter, you finish. But it isn’t right, because your sculpture is a song, and you forgot the words.

It never works; it’s always wrong.

And then one day, it isn’t. You finished, not because you’re done, but because you can no longer make it better; you can only make it different.

And these, my friends, have all been the fun parts. The work, you see, is no more than becoming that whom we were born to be. The rest – the magical, horrible unveiling, that is the hard part. So, we do – we finish, and, gods help us, we share. And you know what we get from friends and family?

Nothing of importance.

You see, I’ve learned that support in the 21st century is no longer a tangible thing. Instead, it has become commercial support, or a reality TV almost-real thing. They buy your books, and they want “hard cover” but first, you must “sign it.” Know why? Because they have no intention of reading your book. They aren’t going to frame your sketch and put it in the office to enjoy. No, instead, they are giving themselves a gift on your behalf. They are enabling themselves to feel they know an artist, or believe they are helping support you, without doing the single thing the artist wants them to do:

Care about the fucking art.

We don’t want you to buy the damn book. We want you to want to read it. I don’t give two shits how long you’ve known your artist friend/lover/spouse, if you’ve never read their work, you don’t know shit about them. That’s because the work is where they live – the inside part, that secret part they want you to see, but can only explain through their work. When you tell them you bought their book, but don’t, they know. They know, because as soon as you tell them, they check their sales numbers so they can always remember which one was you. But it doesn’t click over, because you never bought it. And when you do buy it, but never bother to read it, they know that too.

And do your artist friend a favor, if you see their art, but didn’t like it, consider being honest enough with them to tell them it wasn’t for you. Then, continue to wish them well. They didn’t make the art for you, so they only hope you like it – but they are well aware perhaps you won’t. They won’t die from your honesty. I can’t say the same about your lack of interest, however. Those little cuts don’t heal very well.

So, yeah, I’m preaching tonight. I’m preaching because I’ve written 5 books, and none of the people in my life – the ones really in my life – gives a shit. I’ll be truthful, of all the friends and family, exactly 4 have ever read a single book. Now, understand, my family calls me or emails, crying as they read blog posts or poems I’ve had published. But no one reads the books. Is it because they suck? I don’t think so; I’ve only ever gotten 1 bad review, by a clown who confessed he didn’t read the second half of the book.

No, they don’t read because that would require actual time. And time, my friends, is thicker than blood, which is only marginally thicker than water.

Thank God the interwebs are thicker than time, so I do get support. However, being an artist has redefined whom I consider friends. Those who tell me they will buy my book (and don’t) or are waiting for signed (free) copies, wait on. I care about you and your 21st century support even less than you care about who I really am. For clarity, if you’ve never read my work, or share 50% of my genetic code, we ain’t really friends. We’re still cool, but friends support each other.

At least, that’s what my ex-wife, who suffers from daily migraines but still read my 1st book, and is the cover model for my latest one tells me. Support is a real thing. Gestures are for middle fingers.

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As a P.S., here are some rejected covers for the latest book, The Juice. Just so you can see that revision, revision, revision is the only way to achieve art.

Initial Take (and name)

My Life, Part 1

I was never much of a child.

I wasn’t a bad kid; quite the contrary. Adults always seemed to love me. They thought me well-mannered, soft-spoken, articulate, intelligent. You see, I was one of them. It was the other kids who did not like me. My mother always used to joke that I was born 40 years old. I suppose that is true, in a way. I have been stuck at 40 my entire life. Now that is a good thing.

Not so much as a kid. My earliest memories are from living in northwest Washington, D.C., at three years old. I know the timing, as I remember being in a walk-up apartment with my parents, my sister, and at least one cat. My parents broke up not long after the death of my second sister (she died of SIDS) and by age four, the sperm donor was effectively gone from my life. But here, at three, he was still around. I remember the kid-sized table and two firm chairs that just fit my sister and me. My father took one of the rare photographs of me as a kid, sitting with my one-year-older sister, in our chairs. I recall the photo, and his taking it, though he is not in the memory. He was like our cat – he came, and went, didn’t poop on the carpet, but I can’t picture his face.

I remember a conversation my mother had with her friends when I was three. She was teasing me about the birthmark on my left leg. It is high on my thigh now, but in those days, it hovered around my knee. She asked me, to her friends’ delight, how I got the mark. I told her it was because a truck ran over me.

Unsurprisingly, her friends all laughed, led by mama. I was annoyed, and a tad embarrassed. I knew there was no maliciousness; mama adored me. Teasing was simply part of her humor. My annoyance was caused because I felt deceived. At age almost four, I remembered it was my mother who told me how I got the birthmark when I asked at age two. She told me my toy truck ran over my leg, causing the “injury.” I had taken her word as bond. Though I no longer remember the two-year-old’s conversation, I certainly remember being pissed that she and her friends were laughing at me for believing some stupid tale she had rigged.

Even worse, they all thought I really believed a truck ran me over. How stupid did they think I was? Despite my protestations, I was abandoned to the “isn’t that cute” ranks of childishness. I stood, gathered what was left of my three-year-old dignity, took my Tonka truck, and went to play somewhere else.

By four, we were living with my great-grandmother, whom we called Nanny, and her second husband, whom I remember as Mr. Cheek. As a kid, I had a profound habit of never calling people by their names. So, I don’t remember what I called him. I have no memories of ever uttering the word “daddy” for instance. I do remember, verbatim, the conversation when he announced he was leaving my mom, and her imploring me to beg him to stay. I did, but my heart wasn’t in it. I only did so as I was still very protective of my mother at the age of four. She had lost a baby, and I was the only one who seemed to notice how decimated it left her.

My sister and I ceased being close at this point. Perhaps it was because I could no longer fit into her lap for protection from my mother’s scolding. It think it was because I was a shepherd, and she was not. People would come and go, see the two little kids, and of course, invite us to go wherever they were going. My sister, ever the extrovert, always said yes. I, on the other hand, decided to be an introvert. Decided, yes. I would answer, often dressed in my little suit, “No. I want to stay with mama.”

The people would shrug and leave, denigrating  me as a shy mama’s boy. I was neither. I was her shepherd, and shepherds don’t leave. They don’t. fucking. leave.

So, around the house I would stay, with mama, and Nanny, and Mr. Cheek. In the mornings, Nanny would walk us downstairs, in her sideways, I’m-really-too-fat-to-go-down-the-stairs way, and make breakfast. We were the light of their lives, especially Mr. Cheek. He would sneak us sips of coffee, which I found delightful, because, as you know, I was grown. After breakfast, Mama would command us to get dressed. (She is a former Army brat, and knows how to command quite well, thank you very much.)

I would immediately put on my suit.

Mama would try not to laugh, and she understood that I was 40 (not 4) so she would gently implore me not to wear my good clothes to sit on the front stoop on 5th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., as it might get dirty. I would be disappointed, but I would change. I was a good boy. Invariably, changing meant putting on my cowboy outfit, complete with hat. That, Mama was fine with.

I suppose this story came to mind as I’ve been thinking today about my tendency to shepherd, wondering whence it came. Then, this bit of history came after reading a story about a little girl, her grandfather, a gun, and rabbits. The two, together, have given me my answer. I learned to be a shepherd by shepherding my caretaker. See, of my mother’s three remaining children, I was the favorite (as least in their opinions). In fact, she and my sister were estranged for a long time, caused by Mama’s memory of always being left by my sister, and my always there by her side, as she sat in the corner, looking despondent. She was only 24 at the time, and had lost her third child – the smart one. No, the smart one was not me.

After Lynn Marie’s passing, we both changed, Mama and me. I did not learn to talk until I was two, and then it was in complete (grammatically correct) sentences from the start. After my sister’s death, I only talked to Mama. Shepherds don’t talk, lest they lose sight of their flock. I learned to lead from the rear. I learned that caretaking and control are not at all the same thing; in fact, they aren’t really closely related. I learned that I loved the flock enough to keep them safe, but I had no desire to manage what each was doing.

I was learning, at age four, to be the man I would one day become.

They say you grow up to be the man your father is. My mother remarried, when I was 10. She married another shepherd, just like I had been at age 4. So I suppose the old adage works in reverse too. Life, and an unhappy childhood killed the caretaker in me for a long time. However, as soon as I reached adulthood, the same 40-year-old man I had been returned. I have been him ever since.

I wonder, if like me, we are born who we are meant to be. Perhaps we are taught to be something else, and spend the entirety of our lives fighting to get back to being that person. Maybe the quiet observer, the chronicler of histories, the gatherer of truths – that small shepherd in a brown suit, is who I have always been.

I am him again, finally, just without the suit. I do, however, still dress like a cowboy.

I Wonder

This is one of the days where I awaken, and I wonder if any of this means anything at all.I’m not referring to the big picture – God, life, the universe (or multiverses), the NBA playoffs … no, I’m talking about writing. It is lonely, most of the time, being an artist.

I can sense some of you, the very few of you who will actually read this, nodding your heads. Even so, I wonder if anyone gets what I feel. I mean, truly. I’m past the obvious bits – the stereotypical artist typing away in their lonely pit, scraping the words from the soles of their shoe. No, I’m referring to the loneliness that comes when you want to share the most important piece of yourself, but either they don’t care or they don’t understand.

I have a real life. I have a career, not just a job. I have family, of a sorts. I have friends. Of these, I know of 3 people who care even remotely about my writing. Two are my parents. The third is questionable. I have plenty of writer acquaintances, all met online. Realistically, none of these people really has time to give two damns about my work – they are too busy with their own. And rightly so. Which brings me to my point – the only thing at this stage of my life that I produce that really MEANS something to me, is my writing.

I have come to the conclusion that many artists are reclusive just so they can focus on getting the work done, and ignore the fact that they are being ignored. That doesn’t really work for me. I’m neither a recluse nor a natural introvert. Yeah, I probably spend more time alone that you do, and I’m likely better at it. Doesn’t mean I like it.

But alone puts me in company of the only other artist I know who gives a shit about what I write.

I hated literature in school. I despised it enough that all the way through 12th grade, I considered English to be my worst, and least favorite subject. Then an interesting thing happened: I received an award for Excellence in English. It still sits on the wall in my parents’ house. It’s there as a reminder – just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean you should avoid it.

See, I was constantly in arguments with English teachers, from grade 1 on. They “interpreted” poetry. They looked for hidden meanings and themes in prose. I told them, respectfully, they were full of crap. When a writer says, “He sat on the park bench, looking at his red Chuck Taylors,” he isn’t projecting his internal rage at the world onto his protagonist.  The bench is not a metaphor for the isolation of the modern man, his head bowed, downtrodden, facing his impotence and the ire it causes. No, the writer is saying, “I like red Chuck Taylors, and he’s on a bench because I’m sick of describing the stuff he sees.”

Artists aren’t deep. Bad artists are deep.

That doesn’t mean we don’t have levels – God knows, we have more than most. What it means is that the entire point of sharing art is to get others to understand what is inside. To see it, hopefully, to like it, and to share it with others. Without that, art is just so much mental masturbation.

As a writer, I am very simple, and my needs are simpler. I want this to be your favorite spot, curled up in your little piece of sun, like a cat, with my book. That’s it. Read it because you love it. The end.

Home

And that brings me to my second issue. I started blogging in 2005, and quickly got up to over 100 people per day reading and interacting with me. However, I quickly came to realize that the main reason people read my blog was so that I would continue to read theirs. See, here’s the thing: if you don’t like my writing, if I don’t say anything that inspires you, I don’t want you to click “like.” Don’t read it.

I’m not looking for someone to help me jerk off. I am trying to connect. And, increasingly, I’m wondering if that is even possible. I’m starting to wonder if literature is dead, and no one bothered to inform us.

I’ve been told that “modern literary theory” (aka, pile of bullshit) says that the interpretation of a work – the TRUTH of a story – lies not with the writer, but with the reader. Know why they say that? Because if they don’t, there’s no bloody reason for their teaching, is there? Instead of teaching intelligent people how the fuck to understand something they just read and understood, how about teaching them how to LOVE books. Why not make literature not about the meaning, but about loving the story, enjoying the alliteration, liking the use of metaphor, and, most importantly, how it made you feel, or what it made you think?

How about getting out of the damned story what the artist put into it?

No, I actually meant love.

I’m beginning to understand why so much written is crap. We have overanalyzed and killed dead writers’ works so much, living writers just want to put out a story and get paid. It’s the you-read-my-blog-and-I’ll-read-yours school of thought, adapted for commerical use:

“You write a basic story, with no lyricism, no heart, no life, and I’ll help you make it just like the other books I know people liked. If we all like and write the same stuff, no one will ever need to feel odd, or left out again.”

The alternate is to read only non-fiction, where the literary types have fled. We’ll sit around, sip tea, and feel so very educated.

Nah. I guess, all things being equal, I’d rather feel left out.

I know this is a rambling rant. I have ADHD; this is what I do. I’m tired, I’m frustrated, and I really wonder if fiction is as big a circle jerk as poetry. No one reads poetry but other poets. I’ve been in the middle of those circles, and trust me, it ain’t pretty. I wonder if anyone is willing to be different, to try and save the medium before it crashes into crass commercialism, and dies. I wonder if it’s too late to gain an audience for those of us who don’t know how to be like everyone else.

I wonder if I started writing twenty years too late. Maybe I shouldn’t have slept through every English class I ever took. I wonder.

And now, pretty flowers, because I really do believe in happy endings. There’s always photography, I guess. By the way, all the real photos I use on my blog are mine. Don’t steal ’em. The end.