Monday, August 30, 2010

Stacey Cochran guest post

For those who might not know, author Stacey Cochran is taking the Kindle publishing world by storm. How big a storm? Just a sprinkle, or a big monsoon? Well, that's for Stacey to decide, but his books are drawing plenty of attention, in large part because he is a master promoter and a darn fine story teller. Today, Stacey takes over my blog temporarily while promoting his latest novel CLAWS 2.

CLAWS 2Thanks so much, Ty, for hosting me in the midst of my CLAWS 2 Blog Tour. We chatted via email about my writing this post on the topic “Things I know now I wish I’d known back when I started.” It’s a great topic. I’m happy to write about it.

Probably the single biggest thing I know now I wish I’d known back when I started this life of being a writer some twenty years ago is simply the fundamentals of how to tell a great story. Character, Plot, Setting, Style, and Theme. I’ve done somewhere in neighborhood of 400-500 bookstore, library, television appearances, online interviews, and guest blog post appearances with other authors over the years on all range of topics: how to get a literary agent; how to publish a novel; how to research a non-fiction book; how to write a memoir; how to write thrillers, mysteries, literary fiction, romance, sci-fi, fantasy; how to work with your editor, your publisher; how to choose a writers’ conference; how to self-publish; how to eBook publish.

I have approached the topic of being a writer from every conceivable angle, have interviewed numerous #1 New York Times bestsellers and local self-published writers. Literary agents and major publishing editors, publicists, marketing directors, book reviewers.

This is what I’ve spent my life doing, and the realization that I’ve come down to is that success in this business boils down to who can create the best story. Success in this business comes down to who can create for their audience the best character, plot, setting, style, and theme.

There is no secret handshake. There is no “in” club you’ve got to figure out how to get into. There is no particular way to kiss ass or flatter your way to stardom.

There is simply at the end of the day five fundamentals you have to master: character, plot, setting, style, and theme.

It’s remarkable how many aspiring writers I’ve met who harbor the notion of writing a book as a “get rich quick” scheme. They come to events on publishing at bookstores and want to know how to make their book (or sometimes just an idea) a bestseller so they can retire to fame and fortune and watch the royalty checks pour in like some endless spring of money.

I’ve learned to recognize these folks over the years. They send me messages through my websites, ranging from talented, courteous and hopeful to abrasive, demanding and wholly incoherent. But underneath it all, there’s a writer who has a book or idea that he/she believes is important and that he/she believes readers everywhere will want to read.

The reality is that unless this person has mastered the five fundamentals, it will never happen.

Mastering character alone can take thirty years. For the vast majority of writers (literally 9,999/10,000), they will never master the nuances of what makes for a character that connects to hundreds of thousands of readers. Add to this plot and setting, and the odds of mastery rise into the neighborhood of sweepstakes winners. Then consider that only three writers in American literary history have wholly re-invented style (Poe, Hemingway, and King), and you begin to understand what you’re up against if you truly want that kind of success.

I used to study chess. I was fascinated by the grandmasters and the prodigies who seemed to possess “genius” level analytical, creative, and tactical skill. I came to wonder if for someone like Bobby Fischer or Gary Kasparov the game was actually quite simple. While tens of thousands of people studied their moves and their great games trying to understand the artistry of their play, to the players themselves chess was simply a matter of picking up the right piece and moving it to the best square on the board.

For writers, our board consists of five fundamentals: character, plot, setting, style, and theme.

They’re there in front of you like life itself.

Bio: Stacey Cochran was born in the Carolinas, where his family traces its roots to the mid 1800s. In 1998 he was selected as a finalist in the Dell Magazines undergraduate fiction competition, and he made his first professional short story sale to CutBank in 2001. In 2004, he was selected as a finalist in the St. Martin's Press/PWA Best First Private Eye Novel Contest. He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina with his wife Dr. Susan K. Miller-Cochran and their son Sam, and he teaches writing at North Carolina State University.


Charles Gramlich said...

I liked the commentary about chess. A good lesson in storytelling for sure.

Stacey Cochran said...

Thanks, Charles.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with you, Stacey. In fact, I think the moment an artist arrives at complete and utter mastery of their craft, it becomes a chore and most creative types would want to leave it entirely. While challenge may seem daunting (and usually is), human beings crave it, because challenge is what makes us stronger, or makes us grow.

But aside from those essentials of what a good story needs, it does help to know how to grab someone's attention with an early hook. The elevator pitch, I guess. Yes, if the story is great, it helps us do this, but I think those who possess a good deal of charm and salesmanship will find advantages in at least capturing attention of readers. You've done a great job in demonstrating this with a blog tour.

Enjoyed the post, Stacey, and Ty. Can't wait to read Claws 2!