Stickman Readers' Submissions March 17th, 2010


Planet Waves, a Bob Dylan album considered a hit. His first after a series of lesser works. I once read Bob Dylan was considered the best songwriter / poet of all time and indeed there are university classes dedicated to his writing. Planet Waves and his hit "Forever Young" is a great example of exceptional writing, you just need to understand why to see his genius. Bob Dylan, a man often accused of questioning the question, hiding his inner feelings in circumlocution, was a genius at cutting through the bullshit and finding the few words, the right words, and the music to time them.. and with these few words of lyrics would have a greater impact than others who wrote entire books. A wise man probably said "There's way too much circumlocution going on out there..
" And he would have been right.

What defines a writer? This is certainly a minefield of a question. One false step and the explosion of hate emails heading your way would be enough to knock the internet offline for at least five minutes. I ask this question after observing the Thailand based websites focusing on short stories, personal submissions, and lets not forget the Thailand genre of published authors whose books are more often collecting dust than ringing up sales.

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I once sat across the table from one of these authors who was disappointed with this book sales. He shows me the cover of his book and expresses annoyance that his 'publisher' selected
what he considered a poor front cover image and lamented the image was the reason for the books dismal sales. I had to agree about the image, I didn't like it either. It's true that imagery and marketing are very important to the release
of movies, books sales, and most for profit media. But it's a mistake to blame only the book cover for what rightly is the fault of what's printed between the covers. The mindset of "if only my book had a cool picture on the cover it would have been a best seller" is fraught with delusion as surely as a woman blaming her lack of action on her small breasts. Obviously 'content' both in substance and in character is the reason for both disappointments.

So what makes a writer a writer? Proper punctuation and sentence structure? Don't laugh, there are some talented writers who truly believe their success or failure could possibly hinge on a hanging preposition. Infinitives and jelly donuts.. or was that Infinity and Jelly donuts.. I can't remember. We can all agree 'readability'
is a crucial factor, page long paragraphs and poor organization will cause me to move on to the next story in a heartbeat. Still, a grammatically correct and well structured piece on the life of S. Somchai is probably going to bore the hell out of me,
while a grammatically incorrect and poor story from one's experience and heart will catch my interest every time. We're back again to content. It's the story, stupid.

You see, Bob Dylan being the genius he is, has tons of thoughts he wants to express and they're flying around inside his head at light speed and the words are smacking into each other like billiard balls on a good break and if he could ever manage to put that mess to paper it would probably read like the hexadecimal code of Windows Vista. The thoughts aren't his genius, his ability to reach into his mind and pull out just the bare minimum of words necessary
to convey the message and then put them to music is. Content.

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Is content all there is? I don't believe so, there's obviously many other factors involved in putting together an interesting piece of writing. However, content, interesting germane content, is mandatory. Without it you have nothing more than a bunch of pretty well punctuated words no one wants to read. And that's only if you're a good proofreader. Content is the start. Content begins with the genesis of an idea about something other people are interested in. In our small Thailand based expat world we often limit ourselves to the all too common themes of Somchai's and bargirls. If we want people to truly hunger for our writing we must move outside these common themes and explore new uncharted territories. A writer I respect very much once told me "Thailand is good for at least one good story a day, but only if you pay attention."
This writer has often backed up his claim with words and I believe him.

Let me ask you this, when you click on a Thailand submission / story site and look for newly released material what's the first thing you look for? For me it's the author. There are certain authors I associate with a good read and I look forward to seeing any new material from them. Others I just skip over knowing what they write has no appeal for me. The new authors I've never read before catch my eye, but if they don't catch my interest in the first 4-5 paragraphs I move on. I know when I see a piece from Dana, Korski, CMK, Phet, or even the wily Foster Foskin then I know I'm probably in for a treat. I say probably because no one writes interesting pieces 100% of the time.

What I'm not looking for is the image. Does that sound strange coming from a guy who makes a living selling images? Imagery is important no doubt, but most books for adults contain a few hundred thousand words to one image. And still we know imagery sells. I just don't think it sells by itself, and it certainly won't sell twice. When new releases by my favorite authors hit the stores I don't care if the cover is a plain brown wrapper or a pretty image. I only know I like the 'content' from these writers and I'd buy their book if they covered it in banana leaves.

I consider myself blessed. One of my greatest joys living in Thailand is in actually meeting the people who have read my submissions or viewed my images. Not long ago I was in the elevator (lift)
of my condominium complex and the door opens and a middle aged man gets in and we continue our decent. Suddenly in an excited voice he says "you're BKKSW, I really enjoyed your story about…" I never did catch the story, I was totally taken aback and perhaps even dazed that someone would recognize me. This has been happening about once every few months for a few years now. Once it happened three times in a week!

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What I've noticed is that it's rare someone mentions my personal favorites. What surprised me was they had 'their' personal favorites. A certain image, a favorite story,
and once someone let me know in no uncertain terms what a jerk I was for writing something I had forgotten about. What lesson is there in this?

The lesson is that many of the stories or images I considered just 'so-so' others really liked. What I really liked they didn't necessarily like. Why is this important? "Thailand is good for at least one good story a day.." You see, everyone experiences Thailand in a different way and if you're going to write about Thailand then you should be aware others often live your stories right there alongside you. Others have driven down the Expressway and experienced
a devastating car wreck, others stood atop Asoke Towers at night and appreciated the great scene below, others had a relationship with that "different" girl.. Others have lived and walked
right beside you and shared your experiences. This is why we all click on this site almost daily, we have these things in common.

Content both in substance and in character.. keeping in mind "There is way too much circumlocution going on out there.. " A writer is one who writes. He writes as often as he can,
but never so often that he doesn't take the time to reduce what he writes to just enough words to tell the story. (at least 600 of them..:) In today's world time is a commodity. We share
what time we have with family, work, the internet, exercise, our commutes, and when someone honors me by clicking on my name I want to make sure I did my very best to provide content both in substance and character, and not a word more.

Writes often? Yes. A prisoner in a Chinese fortune cookie factory can be a great writer if he writes enough fortunes rich in content and puts them in the cookies for others to read. Here's the point I was trying to make earlier: 100% of the cookie eaters won't like 100% of his fortunes. Maybe it's only 1% who will like them. If he can write a fortune 1% of the cookie eaters can relate to, and he writes enough of them, then he'll be a fortune cookie writing phenomenon and maybe someone will come and rescue him.

J.D. Salinger. Perhaps the most famous American short story writer of our time. After writing 'The Catcher in the Rye' and many short stories in
the New Yorker and other works he became so famous that he started getting a lot of attention. He didn't take well to the attention and became a recluse. He never wrote again. Or did he? After his death this last January we've heard
rumors of a safe full of unpublished works. In this case there is no doubt J.D. Salinger was a writer, but we could argue he stopped being a writer in the publics eye when he stopped sharing his writings with the world. Sure, he still wrote, but
without readers who could relate to his stories he ceased to be current as a writer. He remained relevant only because of his past works. I look forward to the proper management in the release of any unpublished
works he left behind.

What defines a writer? If you've made it this far you now know how I define a writer. A writer is someone who shares their life, or perhaps even their imagination, with a readership as often as he can. He respects the readership by focusing on what readers really want, content. Content rich is substance and character. It's the story stupid. He writes about more than Somchia's and bargirls. He writes about topics we all can relate to. And he always remembers what that unnamed wise man said "There's way too much circumlocution going on out there.."
and he would never, never under any circumstances, underestimate his readership enough to think that a nice image or a properly placed comma is in any way a substitute for content, rich in substance and character.. You see, I believe the readership is
intelligent and if you're lacking in substance and character they'll sniff you out in the first 4-5 paragraphs. "Thailand is good for at least one good story a day, if you're paying attention.."

Until next time..

Stickman's thoughts:

What I find interesting is that there are so many Westerners living in Thailand or visiting Thailand who are willing to share what their thoughts, experiences and open their imagination up to others. Thailand has a significant expat population and I think many of us try to unlock some of the mystery of this country through our writing.

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