Casting Call–Miscellaneous Characters–the Old Man and the Young

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Martin Sheen as Nexus Wyrd’s blue-collar father, Lambert

Before I reveal my pick for the major male character of William Wyrd for my hypothetical film production of Clotho’s Loom, there remain a few minor characters that fill important supporting roles.  First is Nexus’ father, Lambert.  An uneducated but nevertheless sharp, liberal influence on the heroine, Lambert undergoes minor adventures of his own in the course of the novel, and provides it with a pure, moral voice.  Famous from his breakout role as Captain Willard in Apocalypse Now, later as the president in The West Wing, Martin Sheen has shown such a flexibility throughout his career, and lately seems to be featured as a father so often (even onscreen to real-life sons Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez,) that I think we should get in on the privilege.

I know little of Days of Our Lives‘ Dylan Patton, and even though he’s now about twenty years old, he just looks like James, Nexus’ adolescent neighbor, and helper, to me.  His line, “Because I hate the bastards,” is one of my favorite in the novel.

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Dylan Patton as James

WHO Women Want—or, Will a Real Man Please Step Forward?

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A woman and child look for America’s future

With presidential candidates Obama and Romney alternating between courting and alienating women voters, that old, quintessentially male question, “What do women want?” rears its head again this October, with no less power than a coven of Wiccans.

I wrote a novel in which I took on the dubious task of sustaining a strong female protagonist, who shared the stage with males, proving better than most of them.  Unlike her husband, she had to do it without a BFG (“big fraggin’ gun”) and a 400–horsepower car. In creating this character, I put a lot of thought into this puzzle, because, as a middle-aged man, I have no direct access to women’s inner minds—except what I’m told, and what I can observe.  And I see and hear a lot about children.  And it makes sense: What woman would choose a leader for her country whom she wouldn’t trust near her own family?

I’m sure no expert–so everything I’m about to say may seem presumptuous–but it seems to me that long-term security for their children would be foremost on many women’s shopping list for a powerful man, whether for romantic-involvement, or otherwise.  They’d like a leader who can deliver an America in which those kids can still dare to dream, and moreover, have realistic opportunities to pursue those dreams: in short, they want sensible educational reform, affordable and equal access to higher education, market regulation, and more jobs in the future.

Now, don’t try that bunk about how we can have ALL that, AND everything else too.  Most women learn, sooner or later and as a practical necessity, how to budget money.  And one of the first things they learn is that it’s hard to have both a decent set of kitchen appliances, AND a Harley in the driveway, without going way into debt.  Some, a few, are certainly comfortable with debt—-but again, you’re eating into that future, aren’t you?

Of course, they want border security and military strength, the same way a dog about the house and a deadbolt are deterrents to burglars.  But if you look at how most adult women distribute their own spending—-regardless of social class—-I’m really not sure that the percentage-equivalent of buying a medieval moat, a solid iron drawbridge, not to mention a hundred catapults and a standing army to go out and make sure none of the other barons have their own catapults, is really how they would budget.

And speaking of job creation, how many mothers, aunts, cousins, sisters, and grandmothers of a five-year old—-either boy or girl—forsee a career in the military for the little ones?

How about a man who is tough enough to need fewer guns, secure enough to love his children openly, responsible enough to show it in deed and not just word, and reliable enough to keep on truckin’, year after year?

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Sarah and John Connor of the Terminator mythology

Indie BookSpot Interviews Clotho’s Loom Author: “Once More Under the Weave, Dear Friends”

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Dr. Melfi takes counsel with Tony Soprano

 

http://indiebookspot.com/2012/10/24/interview-with-clothos-loom-author-shawn-stjean/

Ever wonder why anyone would give up–well, all this–to become a self-published writer?  Yeah, me neither.  But find out the answers anyway, as John Warner puts Shawn StJean under the hot lights.

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And while you’re over there, I highly recommend their “Opportunities” feed, if you are looking to publish and/or promote your own novel or other book.

Listen to Forthcoming Audiobook Sample, Read by Author Shawn StJean

Frank Sinatra in the Recording Studio–no resemblance or relation to Shawn StJean, unfortunately

The file is hosted on the Clotho’s Loom Tumblr blog.  Link:

Sample Audio from Clotho’s Loom Audiobook, forthcoming 2012, read by Author Shawn StJean

Also on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rYBl889-Ukw&feature=plcp

This, however, is EXACTLY what Shawn StJean looks like as he records his novel, Clotho’s Loom

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For the lead female protagonist of Clotho’s Loom, Nexus Wyrd, my preference would be for veteran actor Elisabeth Shue, most familiar in her youth from the Back to the Future franchise and Adventures in Babysitting, and nowadays CSI on television.

Nexus is about 40 years old, yet carries and births her first child in the course of the novel.  She also experiences many flashbacks, ranging from her college days to the recent past.  Abandoned by her husband, she is left very much on her own, and experiences major changes that we usually associate with people in their twenties.

For such a dynamic character, I needed someone who could play both naive and vulnerable, and tough enough later on to rebuild her shattered life, brick by brick, and defend her child from every peril.  A woman who could convincingly wield a 12 pound sledgehammer (no mean feat).  Also, attractive enough to draw the attentions of the main villain, Dr. M–.   The growing strength of my heroine needs to show in the athleticism of her body, but more, in the experience on her brow.

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Casting Call: Main Characters–Heroine

Audiobook Production Video for Self-Published Authors (Clotho’s Loom), Part 1

Shawn StJean in his finest, non-rustling attire, laying down the raw tracks for the forthcoming Clotho’s Loom audiobook.  Note that there are three different videos on YouTube, this one and Part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qI0lNzFCy5U&feature=g-upl (about 22 minutes together,) OR I’m uploading just a short, 4-minute version with some of the comical pitfalls of such a do-it-yourself project.

While you’re there, check out the CL teaser trailer!  Full cinematic version coming soon! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9QJfiL262Hw&feature=g-upl

Reading and Writing “Unsafe” Fiction

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These days, grown men wear bicycle helmets. No one old enough to leave the house goes without a cell phone, and “insurance” can come with every item you purchase.  When someone wants to criticize you, they most often do it through two firewalls, three levels of encryption, and under a pseudonym. And whether it’s within the walls of a school where “bully” is a more feared word than “gun,” or 9,000 miles outside our borders, where our government spends billions to protect us from threats that may or may not even exist, things in 2012 have gotten pretty safe. It’s the inevitable cultural backlash from September 11, 2001 anxiety.

For creators and consumers of fiction, at least, things may be a little too safe. There was a time, only 200 years ago, when this was not at all the case–you wouldn’t dare admit, in decent company, to reading novels. They were’t good for you, because they weren’t true. But in 2012, all true, all plausible, nothing harmful. Like organic vegetables. Watch TV tonight: if someone is murdered, don’t worry. A dozen geniuses in bulletproof labcoats will expend every last resource of technology to ensure the killer spontaneously reveals himself before that 9th commercial break. So don’t worry–go buy something, tomorrow–and meanwhile, eat something.

There’s a lot of advice, in the new era of self-publishing, about writing what’s marketable (talk about fearsome words.) In sifting through the dozens and dozens of articles, one often encounters the encouragement to “create a backlist”–the idea being that, once readers trust you, know what they’re getting, they’ll likely return to draw from the well of your other works. As if the writing of several books could–or should– be done on a production-line basis. And yet, seminars even exist about how to author and self-publish an e-book in a month, a week, even a weekend.

Obviously, the kind of work produced under such severe time- and motive-constraints will have several quantifiable features: gimmicky (at best,) formulaic, cliche-ridden, dialogue as padding rather than in support of a tenable plot or serious character development. In a word, SAFE. Like the latest adolescent horror movie: no real surprises, but enough tricks (the “boo” shot, the flip-ending) and treats (naked breasts, or gratuitous gore, whichever you like) to keep you from asking for a refund.

Sure, literary history is full of examples of legitimate authors resorting to hack writing to keep body and soul together. Louisa May Alcott is a favorite example of mine, churning out much “sensational” fiction to support a large family, because her father couldn’t or wouldn’t, and in the end working herself literally to death. So I won’t go so far as to say there’s anything fundamentally wrong with mainstream fiction, television, and movies. They make money, and we all enjoy them at the odd time.

However, for those of us seeking to consume something better–moreover, seeking to create something better–can any of us be spared to write unsafely? What do I even mean by that?

Here are a few criteria. The unsafe fiction:

–attempts to use a vocabulary of more than 8,000 discrete words, including strong verbs and less-familiar synonyms

–employs sentence variety, and departs from the standard subject-verb-object (who did what to whom?) construction regularly, which requires more reader concentration

–does not overly rely on dialogue when narrative is called for

–invents a premise that is neither post-apocalyptic nor involves vampires (or similarly outworn devices)
–eschews the exploitation of human fears and perversity that defines 90% of American television programs (the culture of cop shows and freak shows)

–bothers to develop plausible backstories and motivations for its characters

–pays attention to relevant details while resisting the inclusion of irrelevant ones

–does not overtly or covertly support the culture’s dominant ideologies (consumer capitalism, cuthroat competition, uncritical jingoism, and adolescent individualism)–in addition to practicing casual and active sexism, which is very popular, or paying mere lip service against racism and homophobia–also very trendy right now

–occasionally experiments with its prose or concepts (to the extent that nothing is really new, what I mean here is that the author tries something unfamiliar to them, and which actually could fail)

–does not attempt to be all things to all people–that is, some readers might actually hate it. Ah, commercial volatility. Now we’re getting somewhere!

But don’t take my word for it. Come up with your own criteria.

C’mon, writers, teachers, bloggers–it’s October. What’s really scary? (If you think the answer is “wasting your time,” don’t forget what’s also looming, and that’s reading season). Try something that is not a sure thing. Knock on the old, crazy lady’s door. It’s not as if there’s a very fine line between what’s sensible and what’s utterly reckless, though our cultural parents would love us to believe that. There’s a whole, long limb on that tree outside your window. The wind may have picked up, and the clouds threaten rain. But winter is not here, yet.

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Quiz: Top Ten Incarnations of the Devil in Film and Literature

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Probably should be Top 100, because a lot of great portrayals (like the ones in my photos) didn’t make the list.

Apropos of the “Casting Calls” for Villains lately here on the Clotho’s Loom site, and in honor of this month in Autumn, culminating in the celebration of All Hallows’ Evening (Hallowe’en) on the 31st, I thought we’d pay homage to some great manifestations of evil, from creative minds in the West.  Calling it the “Top Ten” may be a little ego-maniacal of me–but let the form fit the content!

Try first to guess who uttered the famous line quoted (full credit-10 points), and if you’re stuck, take hints from my brief analysis below–but be careful: examples can be misleading–heh, heh (half-credit-5 points).  The answers are in the menu to the bottom left (of course).  Score yourself–how naughty are you?

BONUS for naming the films or characters in the photos (5 points each)!  PRIZE: Roll your hands and cackle in the self-satisfaction of knowing how much you rule over the cretins surrounding you! BWAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

Top Ten Incarnations of the Devil in Film and Literature

10. “Slugs! He created slugs. They can’t hear, they can’t speak, they can’t operate machinery. I mean, are we not in the hands of a lunatic? If I were creating a world, I wouldn’t mess about with butterflies and dafodils. I would have started with lasers, eight o’clock, day one.”

Second-guessing God is always a good sop for the feeling of helplessness that exiles live with. The flaws of creation are readily apparent, but it’s frustrating not to be included in the divine plan. Of course, that frustration has rarely been expressed so comically.

9. “That’s much too vulgar a display of power, Karras.”

Oh, the best don’t perform parlor tricks. They’re refined. You don’t run the show, they do. You don’t set the terms during bargaining. You don’t goad them into the silly spontaneous admissions of TV crime melodramas. A good trickster unrolls his hand, on his own terms. And then, it may have all the charm of projectile vomiting.

8. “It was between the brothers, Kay — I had nothing to do with it.”

Hanging on to a lost innocence that he traded away for power, lying to those who are still innocent to maintain appearances is the cold comfort this character takes.

7. “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

Beyond the obvious point that beauty is only skin deep, it’s amazing how vanity, ego, and pride make up a sizable percentage of all Western storytelling villainy. Thinking you’re better than everyone else around you–that’s a big step toward commiting heinous, ugly crimes. So ironically, beauty fades the more one values it. Also, the need for external validation–constant reassurance–of this villain, betrays a great deal of insecurity and fear.

6. “Closer, please. Closer.”

Like a coiled snake, all potential energy that can be unleashed in an instant, you’d better heed warnings not to approach him. Others have paid the price. He has about as much remorse about killing as a lethal carnivore, but his real pleasure is in the contemplation of the meal, going on behind his smiling, mesmerizing eyes.

5. “What’s the most you’ve ever lost on a coin toss?”

The scariest part of being verbally aggressed in a public place, like a bar-room, is not the physical size or menace of the antagonist (who is often not particularly imposing)–it’s knowing you’re suddenly confronted with someone who doesn’t acknowledge the rules, and therefore could do anything. After all, you’re in a public place of comradeship and celebration, not an arena.
The villain who utters these lines is a threat to all order, embracing chaos–he values human life as randomly as he destroys it–practically a force of nature, himself.

4. “You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.”

He’s seen the triviality of the whole grand scheme of war, and tried to rise above it on angel’s wings. Like every soldier, his attempts to do good have brought him into proximity of the worst horror. No one keeps his hands clean in Vietnam.

3. “Sayest thou so?” replied ——, smiling apart. “Let us walk on, nevertheless, reasoning as we go; and if I convince thee not thou shalt turn back. We are but a little way in the forest yet.”

The age-old rhetoric of the tempter–”we haven’t done anything wrong, yet, and you can always change your mind later” is specifically designed as a logic-trap, to ridicule the intuition and fear we have built in. He’ll obscure the boundaries until you’ve already crossed them–and then it’s too late.

2. “Don’t make me destroy you.”

Denying responsibility for one’s own actions is built even into the speech patterns of some villains. Holding a gun to a hostage’s head, and claiming the policeman will be responsible if she dies, is clear psychological projection: unable to face himself, the villain sees evil in the world around him, and wreaks havoc upon it.

1. “Evil, be thou my good.”

Not numbered among the classical seven deadly sins is the master sin of all Judeo-Christian mythology: Despair. It’s tantamount to rejecting life itself. This character renounces all conventional morality, because he can’t be best at it. Rather, he’ll embrace a whole new system of his own concocting, and without the hypocrisy of justifying it under another name. He simply gives up on goodness. And with his power, that means Hell for the rest of us.

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Casting Call: Supporting Characters, part 3. Antagonist, or Savior?

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I set out to create Dr. M– in the grand style of Byronic hero: alone, brooding, handsome, powerful, and potentially dangerous. Shades of Mr. Rochester.  Not just an attractive “bad boy” for my heroine, in sharp contrast to her husband–but a bad man.  A man that everyone had heard of, and yet few encountered in the flesh.  His name: first, an homage to the early days of fiction, in which certain characters’ names were revealed only by initial, lest they be taken for living persons and subject the publisher to lawsuits.  Just by reading about him, one is always on the verge of uttering something wrong.  Second, I chose M– because, it seemed to me that more tragically demented figures in Western fiction have names that start with “M,” than any other letter: Montraville, Manfred, Moriarty, Magneto, and Montresor, for a start.  And I made him a doctor, for. . .well, best you read the book to find that out.

His appearance is of a robust 60 years of age (a vast amount of experience, and yet, not an old man.  Absolutely no sign of physical decline–to augment this, he stands over six feet tall.)  He wears a long black coat and slouch hat, that shade his eyes more often than not in spite of his height, from a habit of looking down upon everything, with a voice persuasive and even hypnotic.

Dr. M– is long used to getting what he wants, because few have the will to deny him. And is he out merely to seduce Nexus–or save her from the abyss, and himself in the process?  I thought Daniel Day-Lewis, famous in younger days as Hawkeye in The Last of the Mohicans, and lately wrapping as Lincoln, with his looks, frame, and voice talent–strong hints of danger possible, for the summoning–would be a perfect fit.

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Disambiguation In Promoting Books of Literary Fiction; or, Publishing and Marketing Moby-Dick for the Masses

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Imagine if Herman Melville were a self-published (Indie) author today, and had to compete in the ebook marketplace with his brand new novel, Moby-Dick. Not only are the electronic bookshelves of Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and others crowded to overfull already, but he’s really relying mostly on the tactics of word-of-mouth, and of name recognition–he’s published a few well-received pieces already, though he’s no Longfellow. And let’s face it, his cover is not the greatest, anyway. So what would be your prediction?

If you guessed critical and commercial failure, I agree. And if you’ve taken more than the bare minimum of English courses in college, you probably already knew that’s exactly what happened in the 1850s. Melville’s masterpiece did not enjoy success until the 1920s–and I’m not sure how much good that did the author, as he was thirty years dead, at that point.

So. . .who here wants to write this decade’s Moby-Dick?

Dummy me, I kind of tried to.

Never mind the 1850s–think about now. What’s the problem? Melville’s novel is more than good–for those who have actually read it, you understand it’s so mind-blowingly great almost as to be in a class by itself. Right up there with John Milton’s Paradise Lost and the Odyssey of Homer.

Well, it’s just that, as a book marketer and seller, Melville made one hell of an author.

Think first about the title: not only is it a proper name, but, unlike say Charles Brockden Brown’s Edgar Huntly or Edgar Allan Poe’s William Wilson, it doesn’t even sound like the name of a person. Well, he chose accurately, anyway. So okay, taking a cue from those others, he adds a subtitle: the Whale (published in Great Britain under that title). So that’s one hurdle overcome, sort of. But since he can’t hover around the shelves of every bookshop from Nantucket to Paternoster Row, answering questions from potential buyers and readers, another problem arises.

What in the seven seas is the book about?

Well, it looks as if it’s about Whaling, we can hear the old spinster telling her sister, prowling among the stacks for their next guilty pleasure. How dreadful. (Today’s equivalent might be about Fossil Fuels.)

Of course, it’s about much more than that–has to be. It’s so deuced long.

So, our generous ladies crack the binding long enough to see the name-drop of Nathaniel Hawthorne in the dedication. Fine. A bit impertinent. Okay, give him a paragraph or two (here I’m invoking Amazon’s “Look Inside” feature.) Call me Ishmael.

Now, depending upon the edition, there may or may not be a footnote (today’s hyperlink) explaining the allusion of that name. Or, by chance, our sisters may be Bible-saavy enough to have vaguely remarked it. But who wants to go looking things up, even before purchase? Bah.

You can see where this is going.

So many authors are intent on writing good books, that they think little about marketing them until, the publishing industry not being a charity, they find themselves having to take on the role of bookseller. This is how Louisa May Alcott had to learn to sell—literary quality be damned–she had a family to support. It happened to me. And honestly, I’m not so much interested in selling everyone my book, as I am in simply making it visible to them. It sure isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s cool. But I’d like potential readers to at least have the choice. “Never heard of it at all” is harder for me to take than “Not up my alley.” Because there should still be thousands out there whose alleys it is, er, up.

Which brings me to my own little production, Clotho’s Loom.

Start with covers, and titles. As I perambulate the aisles of my local, modern, and oversized brick-and-mortar bookseller (take a guess,) I don’t really see a section headed “Literary Fiction,” per se. There’s “Contemporary,” there’s “Fiction,” and there’s “Just Published,” and between them, if you already know an author’s name, you can find something to interest you. Otherwise, it’s choose by binding and title, an even dicier game than cover image. And what are those images? Near as I can tell, anyone with pretensions to highbrow fiction goes with a simple nature photograph. A farm, maybe, some wheat. Horses are good in the deep background. Trees and flowers. Look at all of Cormac McCarthy’s novels, for example. If you hadn’t heard of him, you’d think he was a cross between Ansel Adams and a park ranger. And how about that cover on The Road?–best thing since AC/DC’s debut album, Back in Black. So, at least the cover of Clotho’s Loom was taken outdoors–in Baltimore’s Druid’s Ridge Cemetery, in fact–though it’s of a statue, an object. Not exactly clear whom of, either. And the title names her, but. . .can I really put a footnote about Greek goddesses on the cover?

Open the book, reader, give it a shot. Okay. Well, there’s something going on here that’s trying to resonate. Decent vocabulary. Plenty of detail. A little slow. Nah–where’s that YA vampire section?

So now you know I wasn’t patting myself on the back with this comparison, because it’s not the author Melville I’m referring to, so much as the failed literary agent of Melville–like so many of us, that person happened to be, as Thoreau put it in another context, “our own scurvy selves.” Paradoxically (given the lurid subject matter,) the YA vampire books are safe—one knows, the talent bar fluctuating a bit, pretty much what one is getting. And you can spot them from 50 yards away.

What’s the solution, for the more ambitious of us? How do we find our readers?–How do they find us? Simple. But not easy. Disambiguation. Among works, yes. Also, within one work.

Moby-Dick is about whaling. But think harder. It’s also about. . .travel? Sure. Think about the characters, not just the plot and setting. Ah. . .revenge! Well done. Also, distinguish among the characters: why, there’s a philosopher, a pragmatist, an oracle–it’s a whole blessed microcosm! And look at their names. Ahab, Starbuck. Kinda go along with Ishmael. Keep going.

The 30-second elevator pitch is just not going to work for this one–or, to the extent that it does work, it only scratches the surface. But at least we have the beginnings of a list. Today, Melville could “tag” Moby with those. He could create a Listopias. They’d probably make concise tweets. And yet, will those be enough? Well, no, but they are a start.

Clotho’s Loom has two protagonists, a man and a woman: Will Wyrd and Nexus Wyrd (yeah, yeah, the names signify something.) They share equal stage time. He’s drafted to serve in the military overseas, while she, abandoned, must birth and raise their baby alone, amid the trials of a harsh environment–both home and workplace. That’s my standard line.

Already, the book proceeds along two very different plotlines, at intervals–though I tried to thematicaly parallel and even unify them. It also has action and suspense, male and female bonding, and a few philosophical conversations. Like a stew, as Huck Finn says: the juices swap around, and everything tastes better than the sum of separate ingredients. At least, that’s what the cook was going for. But it’s hardly disambiguated. Is it a military novel? A Jason Bourne clone? Or women’s cozy fiction? Both? REALLY?

I always tell my students: when a problem is too complex, you must analyze (break it down into smaller parts). This can be done in mathematics (as with factoring in algebra,) chemistry (using a tool like a centrifuge,) as well as in logic and rhetoric. It can always be done. What we need here is to know the ingredients–we need a recipe!

In recipe books and blogs, there’s usually a photo of the succulent end-product. But the real recipe always starts with components the cook has to buy and gather—not the tasting! Or, if you prefer another metaphor, we can “reverse engineer” our own books for simplification—very similar to the way Cliff’s Notes and SparkNotes work.

Dramatis Personae:

Will Wyrd, a 39-year old man, a former Marine sniper, now a college professor

Thalia, Will’s teacher and soldier for a Middle-East nation at war

Amad, Thalia’s brother

Colonel Mingo, U. S. officer in charge of reacquiring Will and other veterans

Jim Poland, an FBI agent

Nexus Wyrd, a 40-year old woman, a lawyer and, for undisclosed reasons, never before a mother

Dr. M–, her suitor, and successful capitalist

Thomas Wright, founder of the law firm employing Nexus

Mr.Domino, Wright’s partner

Sage, Nexus’ friend and guide

Dramatic Situation:

Will is “reactivated” (drafted) 20 years after his enlistment ends. But instead of complying, he flees the country and embarks on a mission to end the war his own way.

Meanwhile, Nexus discovers that she’s pregnant and must birth and raise the child amid much danger, both at home ,and in the workplace of her law firm.

Complication: the two, while compatible as mates, were not equipped for a successful marriage when they wed. How can the enforced separation prepare them better to reunite? (Here, no doubt about it, as I put it this way I see that I lifted the complication straight from the Odyssey.)

Elements: irony, foreshadowing, symbolism, allegory. As this is a blog post and not an actual handbook, I’ll stop here.

I think that’s plenty for any potential reader to go on.

CONCLUSION: 1) Authors of plain old fiction and genre fiction have two initial tiers of audience:

The primary audience tier: family, extended family, friends and colleagues.

The secondary audience tier: Potential readers who would love your book, but need to discover it as a better example of its kind.

2) Authors of literary fiction, unlike genre authors, have an additional tier:

The tertiary audience tier: those readers who would love your book, if only they knew how really profound it is, but more importantly, just what it was about.

For everyone without an established reputation, the primary audience will have acquired the book within a few months, leading to a sales slump, unless the author can “promote through” to the second tier. And I think all the blog posts, tweets, book tours, celebrity endorsement blurbs, trailers, and paid advertisements in the world will not be effective until the specific audiences for that story can be identified and targeted.

For authors of literary fiction, there’s no point in crying out how really great a writer you are. If you can gain discoverability, the issue of quality will take care of itself, as you accrue reviews and word gets around.

The remaining question: what is the book about? For real? As Ahab says, “STRIKE THROUGH the mask.” NOT—how great is it, what are its ephemeral trappings, what are its gimmicks, which famous person pretends to love it, where does one buy it and at what bargain price?

Moby-Dick is really the story about a ship’s captain who, having been crippled by his prey in the course of whaling, kidnaps an entire crew and enlists them in quest of a single beast, who he imagines to be the incarnation of all the world’s evil. He will sacrifice anything: men, money, and material to this egomaniacal pursuit of cosmic justice. Further, using the sea as a conceit, and by presenting the alternative reactions of members of the crew, Melville investigates a long list of philosophical questions regarding humankind’s relationship to the natural universe.

Clotho’s Loom is really the story of a man and woman who met and married before they were ready. They are torn apart just at the moment when they should most be together, her mid-life pregnancy. The next year is devoted to adventures that mature them, while they seek reunion. While all events, like Will’s military reactivation, appear to conspire against them, StJean questions whether the forces of chance and so-called Fate, as well as ignorant human will, are not actually working together for ultimate good.

Well, I never wrote it up like that before. Quite a shifting of priorities. And no longer ambiguous. The description also makes clearer who the best audiences are.

More on that, later.

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