Tuesday, January 23, 2018

One-year Blogiversary and Thoughts on the Author's Platform

A year has passed since I penned my first blog post. For nearly a decade prior I wrote in blissful solitude, convinced that the strength of my manuscript alone would be enough to propel my work to a sizeable, lucrative audience. It was just over a year ago, however, when I began querying my last novel manuscript, that numerous authoritative sources informed me this was a dream of fools.

Authors can no longer rely on publishers or agents or anyone else to launch a successful marketing campaign, they said. Authors are responsible for it all themselves. 

Books have been published elucidating strategies for the so-dubbed "author's platform." In fact, a fair number of writers, like Jane Friedman, have built careers largely on marketing and platform advice for aspiring authors.

Generally speaking, platform advice is mostly redundant and basically rather simple: be omnipresent and diffusely visible. Use every available  tool on social media and the internet to build an audience and promote yourself and your work.

The problem now is that this playbook is no longer a secret. Thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, of writers are all marketing using the same methods: gain heaps of Twitter followers, join writing groups on Facebook, entertain fans with pithy anecdotes on Instagram, Google Plus, Pinterest, LinkedIn, etc etc. Not only must you scribe amazing stories, you must become a world-class marketer. But with all these hordes of wannabes (like me) all shouting for attention, it feels a bit like being in a football stadium, trying for your own voice to stand out among the roaring applause of so many others.

My author platform experiment is now a year old. In honor of this occasion, I will step back and take a quick look at what I have gained and what I have learned. Here are some thoughts about blogging, author platforms, and being a modern aspiring novelist.


Twelve months of delving into the blogosphere and the universe of social media has without question taught me an assortment of valuable lessons and opened my mind to a whole underground world of likeminded scriveners not so different than myself.

The habit of writing
Regular blogging forces me to write and write often. Weekly (or sometimes more) blog posts encouraged me to plumb my creative depths and explore all sorts of topics, many of which I may never have written about otherwise.

Writing Buddies
In real life, I know a handful of writers. Joining into the conversation on Twitter has opened an international community of likeminded, amazing and friendly writers to my disposal. I have learned a great deal from these colleagues and peers by reading their work and interacting with them on a daily basis. It has been great to have a community of international friends to share the unique plights we face as writers in the 21st century.

One of the things I miss about my days in college (other than the vibrant social life) is having workshops and writing groups for gaining that all-important critical feedback from other talented writers. Through the networks of social media, I have been able to get eyes on my work that have proven invaluable for my professional growth as an author.


Overwhelming Competition
I do not think of writers as competition. As individuals I think of them more like colleagues or companions-in-arms. However, as a whole it was overwhelming at first to realize how many great writers are out there penning incredible novels, most of which likely will not achieve commercial success. How do I measure against these hordes? Truly unique ideas, you quickly come to realize, are nearly impossible.

So Many Great, Unsuccessful Writers 
Success comes by many definitions. Commercial sales, movie offers and major awards are not the only measuring sticks for one's "success." However, for a person who has basically committed to making a career out of writing, a certain threshold of sales is necessary to reach that point where I could support myself by writing alone. Though much of the self-published writing I have read or attempted to read is a clear cut below what the titans of the industry are producing, there remains a shocking number of highly skilled, innovative and talented indie/small press writers who have not seen the large-scale success I think they deserve. Why is this?

Time Singularity
Blogging and platform building slurps up time I used to spend just on writing. Perhaps that's why even with a full-time job I was once able to write a 275,000 word novel in the same amount of time it took me to write the 110,000 word project that is my current novel-in-progress. Life is complicated, and full of complexities of so many varieties. All this platform construction has become a black hole, eating precious hours that I can scarcely afford. I have reached a point where I begin to wonder if the benefits outweigh this cost.


In order to be successful, writers (or anyone in a capitalistic system) need to stay ahead of the curve. So simply following the formula written out by others is probably no longer going to cut it. My goal for the future is to collapse the mold I have been stuck in and innovate new ways to promote my work, ways that can help me draw an audience and generate interest and great content that is worthy of the world.

I have enjoyed writing about all sorts of strange topics in my blog. At times I have even been proud of it. The truth is, however, that successful blogs are focused. They take on a single topic in a new and original (or very clever) way. This will focus the appeal. Otherwise, the only appeal I have is my voice as a writer. As an unproven writer, I probably don't have the credibility even to convince people to put their eyes on my work, let alone hand on my every word and tweet. But what could this focused topic could be. Writing? Outdoors? Hiking? Climbing? All of these topics, the things into which I have poured what expertise I possess, have basically reached market saturation.


I allowed a little time after the turn of the new year for a break from blogging. My little corner of webspace has become quite a drain on hours in my life. I decided to devote this creative time and energy to my work-in-progress, which I am pleased to say will reach the end of its third draft sometimes in the next two weeks. Once I have reached this goal, the new plan is to step away from this manuscript and focus on other projects, which might include this blog. I have found one of the best ways to refresh and improve on a project is to step away from it and return with new eyes.

In the meantime, I appreciate all of my followers and hope to continue to entertain and interact with all of you in the future.

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. When not focused on one of my numerous novel projects, I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 

Friday, December 29, 2017

2017: A Year in Books

Another year peels off the calendar. As I age, every cycle happens faster and faster.

Seward, Alaska, the place that most epitomizes my 2017
We like to imagine New Year's as some sort of definitive delineation, a border wall keeping the years strictly separate. Every New Year's is an opportunity to redefine and re-imagine ourselves. We engage in all sorts of ludicrous, nonsensical traditions that epitomize this symbolic holiday. From grapes to countdowns. Midnight kisses to "Auld Lang Syne," that song that posits "should all acquaintances be forgot?" Whether meaningful or not, we do lip service to these traditions anyway, and name every year at exactly 12:00 am on January 1st a "fresh start." Our deeds from yesterday are wiped clean. The deeds of tomorrow practically a different life.

This year I'm going to invent a new approach to celebrating this imaginary line in the sand: a look back on what was one of the most varied and interesting years in my life through the lens of the books I read.

Every Book a Signpost Along a Circuitous Journey

Each book not only carries me away into a fictional dimension but also fixes my mind in the time and space where I read it. When I think about The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett, for example, crystalline images of sitting on the porch of a charming bed and breakfast in Medocino, California with the sun lancing down on my bare shoulders and the boom of the Pacific Ocean in the rugged hollows of nearby crags comes instantly to my mind. The sights and smells of that day flood back like a dammed river returned to its former course. I didn't read the entire book while sitting on that porch, probably only twenty or thirty pages. But it is to that setting I will forever return when reminiscing on that book.

Or with Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I recall sitting in the forward lounge of the M/V Malaspina while we lurched our way up the Inside Passage towards our new home in Alaska, the thrill of adventure and the unknown future fresh in my mind. Or mention The Circle by Dave Eggers, and I am curled up in a hotel room in the downtown core of Seattle, edgy and writhing like a fish out of water as a small-town boy in the heart of a huge city.

On and on it goes. My year comes back to me, each book a signpost on the adventure that was 2017.

I began the Homer-esque epic of 2017 in a living room on New Year's Eve, laughing nearly to tears with family and friends and we played a silly board came called Telestrations (sort of a combination of telephone and Pictionary) back in Colorado. I didn't know at the time that the tortuous path of 2017 was already laid out before my feet.

My journey in 2017. Starting in Colorado in January, heading west to California for four months, then up through Oregon, Washington, the Inside Passage to the Yukon and into Alaska. This route is about 3,800 miles and doesn't include several lengthy side trips....
Just a few days later, the blur of towns and states, the rush of miles under the wheels, the hundreds evening beach walks, thousands of vistas of snow-tipped mountains and glinting rivers was underway. Utah, Nevada, California. Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, the Yukon, Alaska.

Books carried me along.

The Tomes

What follows is every book I read in 2017. A grand total of 24. Not bad. Probably not as many as you. But considering the numerous distractions I suffered this year (writing a novel, traveling, job seeking, two major relocations, etc) I think I did all right.

Twenty-four books in 365 days is an average of 15.2 days per book. Such numbers reveal only a partial story. Some of these books, like Ender's Game and The Remains of the Day, were short and engaging, and I blasted through them in a couple of days. Others, like Outlander, were long and tedious, bogging me down and stretching on for weeks. 

Overall, I am proud of what I read in 2017. The list spans a broad spectrum from sci-fi tales like Look to Windward, Ender's Game, and Journey to the Center of the Earth to fantasy romps like American Gods, The Fifth Steason, and Uprooted. Nobel or Pulitzer Prize-winning masterpieces like All the Light We Cannot See, The Remains of the Day and The Underground Railroad to even a few indie books like City of Slaves, Aes Sidhe and Druid's Portal.

2017 was a great adventure. And the books that carried me through it were journey in their own right. 

All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
A Pulitzer Prize winning tale about a blind girl in the midst of WWII-torn France. This stunningly beautiful tale might perhaps take the prize as my favorite book of 2017. All the Light was one of those books which just reading it probably made me better writer.

American Gods (Neil Gaiman)
A modern fantasy classic. A battle between gods of the old cannon, like Odin and Loki, against the new gods (internet, television, etc). American Gods won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in 2002.

The Circle (Dave Eggers)
A near-future sci-fi in which today's over-saturation of social media is taken to its logical conclusion. Hints of 1984, but where the power to watch you comes from a Google/Facebook-like company called The Circle and all of its vehement followers.

City of Slaves (Abby Goldsmith)
An excellent indie tale (published only on Wattpad for now) about a civilization of mind-reading humanoids who enslaves all other inter-galactic races. Intriguing implications of mob rule, the internet, and other social phenomenon throughout.  

The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)
An uncomfortable literary dystopic novel in which a hyper-conservative, patriarchal society subjugates women for their own benefit.

The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi)
A Nebula and Hugo Award winning dystopic sci-fi about a future empire in Thailand where food is scarce and tightly-controlled by Monsanto-like gene corporations, and people can be mulched for the fuel contained in their decomposing bodies.

The Fifth Season (N.K. Jemisin)
The first book in the Broken Earth Trilogy and winner of the 2016 Hugo Award. A massive earthquake has sent the world into a "fifth season," a state of near-apocalypse. Orogenes, humans with the power to influence tectonic activity, are deplored, exploited and persecuted by society. 

The Obelisk Gate (N.K. Jemisin)
Second book of the Broken Earth Trilogy and also the 2017 Hugo Award winner. The broken society settles into its new state as the continued apocalypse wages all around.

The Stone Sky (N.K. Jemisin)
The conclusion to the Broken Earth trilogy and my guess for the winner of the 2018 Hugo Award. The ancient battle between the "Evil Earth" and humans finds its dramatic end.

Look to Windward (Iain M. Banks)
Part of Banks's "Culture" series, Look to Windward posits intriguing and prescient notions about artificial intelligence and future society.

Player of Games (Iain M. Banks)
As a futuristic society of human/AI symbiosis known as the "Culture" expands their holdings into the galaxy, they discover a race who plays a most interesting and complex game with the highest stakes. The Culture sends in their best player of games into to conquer it.

Druid's Portal (Cindy Tomamichel)
A small-press novel, Druid's Portal unfolds the story of an archaeologist who mistakenly travels through time into Ancient Rome in pursuit of a thief. The tale includes, adventure, mystery and romance.

The Color of Magic (Terry Pratchett)
This whimsical faux-fantasy is the introduction into Terry Pratchett's cultural phenomenon known as Discworld, a flatearth land of nonsense, side-splitting humor, intriguing characters, and even a sentient, finger-eating treasure chest full of gold.

Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
A 1991 classic that helped launched the "time-traveling romance" genre into the mainstream. A WWII nurse inadvertently travels back to 18th century Scotland. 

Wool (Hugh Howey)
Another dystopic sci-fi. The world's air has become poisoned so thoroughly humans are forced to live in massive, underground structures known as "silos." A web of conspiracy, lies and murder is uncovered and the distinct hierarchy of the silo is upended.

Court of Twilight (Mareth Griffith)
A urban fantasy novel that uncovers the world of trows in Ireland.

The Underground Railroad (Colson Whitehead)
Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award (a feat only accomplished by seven or eight books in history), The Underground Railroad is not exactly a joy to read, but it is important. America was built on slavery, genocide and subjugation. This tale humanizes that terrible time in our history with brilliant understatement.

Aes Sidhe (Fergal Nally)
An indie novel written by writer friend and colleague, Fergal Nally, Aes Sidhe is a fast-paced thrilling fantasy ride that draws its power from folklore and legendary traditions such as King Arthur and, of course, the Aes Sidhe.

Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow)
A massive yet engaging epic biography that covers the life of one of the most intriguing and fascinating of all America's founding fathers. This massive tome was also the inspiration to the smash Broadway hit, Hamilton, which became a cultural phenomenon and perhaps the greatest play thus far of the 21st century.

Uprooted (Naomi Novcik)
A finalist for the Nebula Award, Uprooted is a page-turning fantasy tale of a village girl named Agnieszka who lives on the border of a malicious forest known as "the Wood." Agnieszka is taken by a mysterious wizard to his castle to function as his servant and disciple in his efforts to counter the Wood's horrible power.

This House of Sky (Ivan Doig)
Perhaps the most brilliantly written prose I read in 2017. Having grown up the son of a struggling rancher in rural Montana, Doig baffles me how he learned to write so brilliantly. This House of Sky is Doig's memoir. It unfolds his life in Montana and the unique drama that encapsulated his family.

The Remains of the Day (Kazuo Ishiguro)
When Ishiguro won the 2017 Nobel Prize for literature I admit I didn't know who he was. I decided I better find out. For most of The Remains of the Day I couldn't decide what was so great about it. It is very slow paced and rambles on for pages and page about things like what makes a great butler. In the last few pages, however, the book turned on its head, making me reconsider what I thought about everything else. 

Ender's Game (Orson Scott Card)
Ender's Game is a modern sci-fi classic. Though there are some who object to Card based on his occasionally inflammatory social commentary, and the apparent misogynistic nature of his tales, Ender's Game nonetheless is a page-turning romp that contains elements of Star Wars-esque space opera as well as the placing-children-in-the-fatal-heart-of-conflict nature of Hunger Games.

Journey to the Center of the Earth (Jules Verne)
I picked this up at a thrift store for a couple of quarters because I occasionally like to read the classics. Jules Verne is without question one of the grandmasters and original minds of science fiction. However, by modern storytelling standards this tale probably would never have gotten off the ground. This is an unfair comparison, however, as it was written a century and a half ago and is one of the foundation blocks of the genre. It still reads fairly well and contains an interesting tale of adventure and science.

There it is, a journey through space and time and the strangest corners of my imagination and the imaginations of the authors who guided me there. 2018 is sure to bring wonders of all sorts. New people, places and yes, of course, books. I hope to see you there!

EPILOGUE: My 2017 Book Awards

My personal awards for 2017. The "best of" list from the 24 books I read this year.

Best Fantasy 
The Fifth Season (N.K. Jemisin)
This is a tricky one for me because The Fifth Season is one of those genre-bending books that occasionally tips into science fiction. However, of the three books in this series (all of which I read in 2017) it is the most fantasy-like, and was an engaging, page-turner.

Best Sci-Fi
The Player of Games (Iain M. Banks)
This was a bit of a toss-up between this book and Wool by Hugh Howey. However, I found that the ideas in The Player of Games, like many Banks novels, are the type that make you wonder "how did he come up with that? His writing always seems startlingly prescient and predictive of a believable trajectory in our technological future. Additionally, this book was a page turner and kept me on my toes right up to the blistering conclusion.

Best Literary
All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
Fresh out of college, I was a bit of a book snob and read "literary" novels exclusively. Now, I like to dabble in books of almost every ilk. Literary Fiction may be hard to define, nevertheless I feel confident that at least four of the books I read this year would land on those shelves in most bookstores. Each of them was amazing and I felt like a better writer after reading them. However, I just loved the way Doerr tackled an over-used topic like WWII in a fresh and intriguing way. The prose was painfully brilliant, and the complex characters and thematic development are what tip me into giving this book the nod over the others.

Best Non-Fiction
Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow)
It is a bit embarrassing to admit I only read two non-fiction books this year, this one and Ivan Doig's memoir, This House of Sky. Both were brilliant in their own ways and very hard to compare. One is a biography of a colonial-era founding father, the other an autobiography that details life in the American West of the mid-20th century. I'm going with Hamilton because, despite its brick-like appearance and massive attention to detail, it was an engaging and enlightneing page turner. I found myself wishing for someone, HBO or Netflix or Showtime, to adapt it into a drama series. If I didn't have so many projects already perhaps I would start scribbling up a screenplay....

Grand Prize: Best Book
All the Light We Cannot See (Anthony Doerr)
There it is, my grand prize winner. I just can't say enough about it. Brilliant, complex, critically beloved (Pulitzer Prize winner) and commercially successful. This is my kind of book. It tickles the literature major and the writer in me and remains a powerful glimpse into one of the most fascinating time periods in world history, yet does so in an interesting and original way.


If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. When not reading as many books as I can get my hands on, I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 

Monday, December 18, 2017

In Defense of Epic Fantasy

Heroic. Majestic. Impressively great. So reads one definition of the word “epic.” Simple and concise, these three modifiers together provide a useful frame upon which we can define one of the great traditions of literature: epic fantasy. 

Fantasy can be anything you want. Even something illogical
like a gravity-defying castle in the sky
The roots of fantasy stretch as far back as storytelling itself. Who could argue, after all, that the Odyssey or Beowulf, with their majestic heroes, supernatural entities, and sweeping settings, are anything other than early seeds that germinated into today's fantasy epics. Reaching back even further, fantasy-like tales of great beasts, gods, and noble protagonists have populated fireside mythologies and oral histories since the inception of language.

What is it about these stories that grips the human psyche? Is it that the archetypal heroes common to epic fantasy represent an ideal to which we all can aspire? Is it that epic fantasy is, in many ways, the superlative expression of human imagination in storytelling?

Perhaps the answer is even simpler. Perhaps fantasy is merely the most thorough example of pure escapism: a complete turn away from the "real" world to a place where anything that can be dreamt is possible.

No discussion of modern fantasy, especially epic fantasy, is complete without a nod to J.R.R. Tolkien and his pioneering work, The Lord of the Rings. It is to this keystone example which all modern enthusiasts owe their allegiance. The Lord of the Rings established much of the literary etiquette that still defines the genre: comprehensive settings, exhaustive worldbuilding, thematic majesty, stakes with universal implication, massive battle campaigns, and larger-than-life heroes. At a time when Modernists like Ernest Hemmingway were reaching their apogee, Tolkien dared to conceive something entirely different: a tale so fresh and inventive the trajectory of fiction was forever changed.

In the ensuing years after Tolkien’s 1958 seminal work, other grandmasters have maintained and built upon the epic fantasy tradition. Each with his or her unique influence, these greats stood on the shoulders of titans and pushed the genre in fresh and exciting directions. Writers such as Robert Jordan with The Wheel of Time, and Terry Brooks with The Sword of Shannara are pillars propping the roof of the epic fantasy castle. Others like Brad Sanderson, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Tad Williams (among others) have played their part, setting the bar for what is possible and enjoyable in the genre.

Today, the proud tradition of epic fantasy remains as strong and vibrant as ever. The staggering success of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice proves its continued relevancy for the modern audience. Other contemporary classics, like Patrick Rothfuss’s The Kingkiller Chronicle or Stephen King’s The Dark Tower, blend epic fantasy with other modes of speculative fiction, continuing the ongoing evolution as we move into the literary future.

As a reader and eventual writer toeing my way into these vast waters, I have occasionally been swept away by the breadth of some of these monoliths of imagination. While some readers flinch at the sheer length of epic fantasy stories, others, like me, find that the more visceral and comprehensive these fictional worlds become, the more thoroughly we are able to suspend our disbelief and achieve full immersion.

Fantasy literature encourages me to recall the imagination I possessed as a child: belief in things like magic and monsters, witches and wizards. We reach a certain age when society demands us to accept such things as worthless platitudes. But fantasy arms us to fight against this grain and escape back into the neglected creative depths of our minds.

The power of fantasy, however, resides not just in the facilitation of this escape. Fantasy allows us to engage themes alive in the real world also. Employing the veil of fiction and the power of entertainment, these stories compel the reader to tackle real-life issues with far greater ease. In much the same way that indigenous peoples used mythical oral histories to transmit moral codes from one generation to the next, today we can use fiction and fantasy to promote mores that will improve society and the world.

In his classic work "Ars Poetica," the Roman poet Horace articulated that, “The aim of the poet is to inform or delight, or to combine...both pleasure and applicability to life.” Perhaps no greater argument for the joy and necessity of fantasy has ever been written.

In the end for many of us, it doesn't matter if we justify epic fantasy as culturally relevant or not. We simply don't want to lose touch with the power of our imaginations.

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. When not over-analyzing genres of speculative fiction, I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Being Alaskan Means...

A bench overlooking Resurrection Bay in my hometown of
Seward, Alaska. Rugged peaks and rugged ocean define
life on the North Gulf Coast of the Last Frontier
Alaska is America's biggest state. Sorry Texas, we gotcha more than doubled. But Alaska is more than sweeping landscapes, fanged grizzlies and icy glaciers.

Alaska is its people.

What makes Alaskans different? Or are they different? After stomping through Alaskan rivers, fishing for Alaskan salmon, and writing about Alaskan life for a local newspaper for the last seven months, can I even call myself "Alaskan"? Currently, though subject to change, my answers to those three questions would be: nothing and everything. Yes but no. And probably not.

My hometown of Seward is a highly touristed node on the Alaska highway system, a network which, despite the immensity, includes only five state-funded roadways. During June, July and August, parka-swaddled gawkers from all over the world pile in to our narrow hamlet by the sea. For those three months we are a regular bustling metropolis, resplendent with live music, festivals, crowded walkways, and hopping taverns whose jukeboxes spill pulsing bass lines into the main thoroughfare. When fall and winter comes, however, those flocks of sunbirds loose their stomach for five-hour days, gnawing ocean winds, and chilly temps. Half of the town boards up their shops, latches their doors and drapes "closed for season" signs from their front windows. 

Witnessing this annual migration, I have come to realize a few things about Alaskans, and the world's impression of Alaskans.

To start, in several crucial ways Alaskans are no different than anyone else. They watch the same television, read many of the same books, stress over jobs and interpersonal relationships. They worry about their future and the future of their children.

In short, Alaskans are people. 

There is a particular demographic of tourist, most of which have spent too much of their life gridlocked in the tangles of some urban concrete jungle, that seems to view Alaskan people much the same as Alaska's wildlife.

For these confused folks, Alaskans are an exhibit, a blend between mammals confined to a zoo paddock and animatronic Disneyland caricatures. They gawk, faces pressed to plexiglass, at Alaskan strangeness. They question their tour guides and cruise ship captains about the habits and rituals of Alaskans: what do they eat? Are they intelligent? Do they migrate for the winter? Can my child ride on one's back? They would try to poke us to confirm the texture of our hides were it not for the "Do Not Pet the Locals!" signs hanging in every window. When they steer their RV's down Alaskan streets they are prone to screeching to a halt without warning, hopping out and snapping blurry, badly framed photographs of Alaskan habitat. An instant later they have tagged themselves on half a dozen social media platforms, captioning "Blending in with the landscape" under a photo of themselves wearing a brand new Alaska flag hoody with a tag still protruding from the hem. 

In the past ten years, there has been an explosion of Alaska-themed reality television, prompted partially by the runaway popularity of Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch. Nowadays you can find Bering Sea Gold, Alaska: The Last Frontier, Alaskan Bush People, Coast Guard Alaska, and countless others populating any television programming lineup.

So why this fascination with Alaska and Alaskans?

Fall low-angle light on the mountains outside Seward
Alaska's state motto is "The Last Frontier." Perhaps this strikes at the heart of this burgeoning obsession with this state. Alaska represents what has, just about everywhere else, been lost. It is a place with a visceral grasp on our romanticized notions of the Wild West. 

It could be said that the death throes of Manifest Destiny will be coughed out in this final frontier. The rest of America, clinging desperately to a vision that is otherwise extinct, lives vicariously through the 700,000 inhabitants of Alaska. Perhaps that relatively infinitesimal grouping of hardy souls are the last true Americans. The fading spirits maintaining a toe in a world that vanished for everyone else a hundred years ago.

My own fascination with Alaska differs, however, though is related in some interesting ways. It is not some romanticized notion of the Old West that clutched my mind and drew me to the Great North but rather the last vestige of the once-worldwide wilderness. Yes, it was an echo of the old world, but not the world of people. The world before people. And here that memory is more alive than practically anywhere else.

But on both accounts, the remnants of old civilization and old wilderness are fading. Globalization has swallowed many things about Alaskan culture that once made it unique. Today, you can find some Alaskans just as obsessed with the doings of the Kardashians, or of all the national and global political discussions, as anywhere else. Sure, there remains a tendency for Alaskans to be self-sufficient in ways other places just can't emulate. They can fix a car, build an extension on their house, wire electricity, dig a well, butcher chickens, and gas up their skiff to captain out for a bout at the ole fishing hole all in the same day. Sure the land is rugged, the light strange and the air cold. The glaciers, though melting rapidly in many cases, continue their slow, scouring trjectory.

Alaska is not for everyone.

But ultimately, despite their distinct foibles, unique talents and alluring mysteries, Alaskans are just shades of the same bipedal creature as you and me.

The Harding Icefield. At 300 square miles, the Icefield is more a mother of glaciers than a glacier itself. At least 40 major glaciers spur off the Harding Icefield. I have never visited a place where I could see anything like it

If you enjoyed this post, consider signing up for my mailing list. When not busy trying to decipher the meaning of life in Alaska, I blog about all sorts of crazy, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

The Necessity of Critical Feedback

Every writer and every project inevitably finds that cursed plateau. The writer's tunnel-minded approach ceases to enhance the words, the sentences. The story. Hammering through this invisible barrier requires a different perspective.

Critical feedback is a necessary evil in the editing process
What non-writers may not know is that a novel isn't written in one pass, printed, and vaulted onto bookshelves. No, it passes through layer after layer of drafts, re-writes, and edits. The actual writing is a miniature component of a huge process that takes months and months, probably years. It can be quite hard for a writer to maintain the spark of creativity for such a long haul.

For me, the trick to each new draft is to fool myself into looking at the same piece of writing differently. Simple tricks, like writing in a different room, changing the MS Word format to make it look like a book, printing a literal book, or putting the manuscript aside for an extended period of time, can help shift perspective just enough to wring fresh insight from my creative consciousness. This new perspective helps me recognize a story's flaws and concoct a plan to fix them. 

Eventually, however, the only way to understand fully how a multitude of personalities and opinions is going to react to your work is to thrust it into the universe.

Enter the Beta Reader

Beta readers are an invaluable tool. Beta readers are not average readers, picking up a book for leisure or pleasure, but readers whose main function is to provide the writer with critical feedback that can help the story improve.

Many writers fear beta readers, even shun them. They are afraid of the potential of negative feedback on a piece of work they have poured so much time, heart and soul into, or reject what they see as "writing by committee." Negative criticism, however, is inevitable. Better to face it when the book is at draft stages and still fixable than when it's already published and frozen in final form.

Wattpad: One Medium for Critical Feedback

Recently, I found myself at the crossroad of critical feedback. Needing it, not sure the best way to get it. Family and friends can be useful, but only to a point. Simply put, they are too nice, bias, and afraid to hurt your feelings to provide the type of feedback a writer really needs.

In my search to find beta readers, I stumbled over Wattpad.

Wattpad is a social media platform whose sole function is link together readers and writers, or writers with other writers. 

No doubt many, perhaps most, of the stories found on Wattpad are in such rough shape they are virtually un-readable. But the beauty of the platform is that writing can be syndicated to the world, eliciting feedback from readers and other writers all over the globe.

The current cover for my novel-in-progress
The Razed Ruins, a North American epic
fantasy with a Middle Ages feel
The format of Wattpad allows readers to comment on each paragraph as they read, noting the good and bad bits of writing. Occasionally the feedback is worthless. Like any internet forum there are trolls, negative Nancys, or people that just don't know what they are talking about but talk a lot anyway. But Wattpad also has the other type, skilled writers who provide just what I need to hear to push my piece to the next echelon.

The Necessity of Critical Feedback, Revisited

A favorite adage says that writers are "too close to their work." There is a lot truth in this. Being the omniscient author means you know the full backstory. Bits that are obvious to you might not be to a reader. Sentences that seemed creative and cutting edge might come across as unclear. Gaps in logic, even typos, are filled in by your mind, knowing what you think it says. We writers spend so many countless hours oscillating between love and hate for our work we can no longer tell the difference. 

We need you, helpful beta readers....

I have two novels-in-progress that I've begun to serialize on Wattpad in the double hope that I might elicit some such useful feedback and possibly earn some interested readers. If the story is good enough, perhaps they will take interest in my blog, my website and follow through enough to buy my books when they are (hopefully) published.

Wattpad is perhaps best used as a mobile app. Loaded onto your phone you can take my stories with you everywhere: on the bus, on the couch, to work, to the bathtub.... I believe the mobile app requires you to sign up. Everyone hates that. But if you do, you can read, vote on, and provide feedback for my work and the work of others. And if you have a bit of a writer itch yourself, you too can post your work and participate. 

Wattpad can also be used on a laptop or desktop. From there you can read without signing up but you will not be able to comment or provide those much-needed votes.

Wattpad is not the only way I am currently seeking critical readers. Should you be interested in checking out a few chapters you can email/respond here and we can connect! You can also read the prologue and first section of The Razed Ruins here on this blog.

My Wattpad works:

Bio. Credentials. A list of influences. Hub for all my Wattpad works-in-progress

A North American, post apocalyptic epic fantasy... 

It is 1,692 years after the "Great Death" nearly wiped humanity from the face of the Earth and a new civilization has risen from the ashes. A tenuous union of four semi-autonomous kingdoms has reached its Tercentennial, and the realm's nobles are gathering to elect a new Supreme Chancellor. When a surprise victor emerges, the immediate consensus is of a choreographed scandal. The Union threatens to rupture into civil war...

"Find the kidnapped Prince or you'll never see your wife again..."

Molan Apraxas was once considered the greatest pupil of sorcery in the Mayan empire. Now he is but a farmer, living in contented exile. But when one of the most powerful kings kidnaps his wife he is drawn unwillingly back into his former world. 

Pursued by demigods, monsters, vengeful road agents, and a mysterious sorceress of infamous power, Molan and his 13-year-old daughter are set onto a quest to solve the mystery of the missing prince. Their failure could mean more than just the death of Molan's wife.

If you are interested in reading more of my work, consider signing up for my mailing list. I blog about all sorts of bizarre, educational, entertaining, and occasionally funny topics from what makes an effective first paragraph to giant redwoodsmedieval sailboats, the ancient Mayans and more. If you do sign up, you will get a once-a-week update on my posts and NOTHING ELSE! No spam, no selling your email to third parties. Okay, if I ever get around to publishing one of these works in progress that are constantly haunting me, I might send out an email letting you know. In the meantime thanks for reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Work in Progress Live on Wattpad

You can now read a serialized portion of one of my novels-in-progress on Wattpad. Wattpad users can also vote and comment. The more views and votes I receive, the more exposure and the more I'm able to build a reader base.


1,692 years after "The Great Death" nearly forced humanity into extinction, culture and society has returned to North America. A tenuous union of four semi-autonomous kingdoms is celebrating its 300th anniversary but a surprise victory by the least likely (and least desired) candidate for supreme chancellor threatens to break the realm apart into war.

Fans of Game of Thrones or The First Law series will enjoy many familiar elements in this broad, multiple point-of-view epic, but don't expect a copy cat. The distinctly North American setting coupled with several other unique features makes The Razed Ruins a fresh and original twist on a familiar genre.

Click here or on the image below to start reading!

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The 50th Blog Post

Me with two of my favorite things: a book and
a latte
Blog. No blog. Almost any how-to for author platform-building touts the necessity of the almighty blog. It's a chance to build an audience and prove to the world your voice is worth hearing. Some agents and publishers won't even consider you without one.

Thus, it was with some reluctance that I toed my way into the blogosphere last January. I needed to knock a few boards into the foundation of my virtually non-existent author platform. At the same time, however, I was daunted by the commitment blogging entailed. Time is a commodity and blogging siphons away precious hours that might be spent polishing drafts or hammering out queries. 

Ten months and 50 blog posts later, I still have mixed feelings about the whole endeavor. Nevertheless, my blog and I have come along way since the inceptive post all those months ago. Productive or not for marketability, blogging has without question steered my brain down all sorts of interesting pathways, forgotten thoroughfares and, yes, even a few rancid quagmires. 

If nothing else, this creative space has proved a useful tool. A variation of Tyrion Lannister's famous quote, "A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone," could say something similar about writers and writing projects. One cannot hope to improve without practice. The more words I stitch together the more vibrant the cloth. And shoving my writing in front of crowd has proven invaluable for the insight gained on creating engaging, solid work that can capture an audience and draw them through to the final words.

I look back on the many words I've hammered onto these virtual pages and feel a sense of modest pride. While not always 100% polished, if nothing else this blog has been an interesting journey. So in honor of this post and its forty-nine predecessors, I've decided to look back at some of the highlights from this long, strange trip. 

Popularity Contest

A blog post's popularity sometimes baffles me. Posts I thought were sure to be a hit fell on their faces while others that felt rather hurried or half-cocked have gone viral (viral is, of course, relative). Regardless of what it means, here are my five most popular blog posts:

This post has stolen the show for most pageviews by a good margin. An examination of the components of the age-old narrative structure known as the Hero's Journey and an interrogation of its relevance to storytelling today.

In 2016 I visited a sacrificial cave of the ancient Maya near the Belize/Guatemala border. Seeing the busted bones of infants, children and adults that'd been lying in place for a thousand years was a powerful and moving experience. Apparently a few of my readers found it interesting as well.

A photographic look at ten of the most beautiful places I've ever visited. A post more visual than wordy, it is the most recent post on this list and I suspect a day might come when it scales its way to the top.

No matter how aged or weighed down you are by your ailments, you will always feel young if you visit this Fountain of Youth....

A writer is shaped by his influences. Not that I want to emulate any of them exactly, but standing on the shoulders of the titans of sci-fi and fantasy is what allows me to see, well, anything at all.

Laugh Award

Every now and then, I take it upon myself to brave the dangerous waters of comedy. It's for you, dear reader, to determine if I'm worthy of even a modest chuckle. Of these occasional posts that represent my attempts at humor, here are two I personally enjoyed writing.

In the last two years my wife, dog and I have made a science of moving. Uprooting your world just to plant it somewhere else is mostly just a royal stitch in the back, but occasional sources of humor (like fifteen-year-old heartbreak letters, my first novel and a moldy whatever that is) can be found at the bottom of those mess-heaped closets.

My dog, Otis, is happier than any human I've ever met. Perhaps we all need to wiggle on our backs in the grass, plunge into icy glacial rivers, and tear into our food with sloppy abandon.


Every writer is full of advice, especially about writing. So if you want a bit of possibly pedantic and certainly dubious writing advice, I have been known to dish a few sentences on the subject. A couple favorite "how to" posts:

My first blog post, so of course it had to land on this "highlight reel" somewhere. A few scribbles on one of my favorite components of the novel writing process: forging the idea.

A motivational piece, and a bit of self-justification, but captures an important notion every writer has to believe, true or not: we are important!

Honorable Mention

I'm trying to keep my blog posts shorter these days. Not only is it less work, but in these days of massive entertainment saturation, readers are more likely to pull through to the end if I practice brevity. So instead of listing all 50 of my blog posts and yacking on and on about each of them, here is one final mention, a random post that didn't seem to fit in any of the above categories:

This fun piece was an early post and popular at the time. I liked it, so here it is.

Well, there it is, a trip down blogger memory lane. Represented here are ten of the 50 posts I have scribbled out since the inception of my blog. I can't tell you how much I appreciate you readers, especially the ones that for some odd reason let me borrow your ear on a regular basis. Your time is important and I hope you never feel you've wasted it with me. 

For those still interested in seeing more of work, I have an archive page that lists almost all of my blog posts by category. This journey isn't over. I'm sure more book reviews, awkward attempts at humor, bits of pedantic writing advice, and other nonsense is bound to spill from my brain. I encourage any who want to hop on this ship for its bumpy, sometimes terrifying journey through the strange land that is my mind to sign up for my mailing list. You will get once-a-week email updates on new posts as well as announcements such as release dates for upcoming books (eventually) and nothing else. Until then....

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All writing is the original work of Brian Wright and may not be copied, distributed, re-printed or used any form without express written consent of the author. Find out here how to CONTACT me with publishing and/or use questions