Monday, October 31, 2011

Your Author, Humbled


I believe the time has arrived to express my heartfelt thanks and deep appreciation to all of you for your generous encouragement and support of JESTERS’ DANCE.

And if you are reading this blog, then I remain even further in your debt … this time for your continued curiosity.

When I published my cathartic advertising opus, a couple of months ago, I had no idea what to expect and what putting it out there might bring.

I can tell you now it has been one of the most exciting and gratifying experiences of my personal and professional life. And in the most unexpected way.

It has often been said that for a dedicated author writing is its own reward, and that writers write because they have to – slaves to an unappeasable master.

But I wouldn’t be entirely honest if I didn’t admit, initially at least, that images of bestsellerdom and movie offers regularly danced in my head. And that fantasies of fame, fortune and unabashed adoration lit my dreams.

I mean, why else would you perform a lonely penance before the keyboard each day? Why else would you don the hair shirt that writing so often feels like?

But once the euphoria of seeing my words in print and the joy of staring at the swanky cover of JESTERS’ DANCE subsided (it really does feel pee your pants good), I realized it is you that has made this entire adventure so thoroughly enjoyable.

Seriously. The very best part of this whole e publishing odyssey has been your heartening response to my work and the thoughtful feedback you have been so generous in providing.

Oh, to be sure, there have been a couple of sidelong glances. Family is especially good at this -- brothers and sisters are the very best at inflicting self-doubt.

And I do believe I saw a woman draw her child close at the supermarket the other day. Okay, so the novel has a couple of characters that are especially dark.

I have also recently received ‘the look’ that accompanies minor celebrity. Or notoriety. Or worse. I am especially grateful, here in our small community, that I can’t read minds.

But for the most part, I couldn’t have imagined a more welcoming reception for my first published effort.  For that, I am humbled.

I have received so many kind words and compliments that my head spins. Most are of the variety that make me want to curl up in your lap like a kitten and purr for more.

I have been sought out and found by friends near and dear; and by others from long ago and far away. I have a certain former creative partner’s lovely wife in mind.

The reunions -- by email, LinkedIn and Facebook have been wonderful. Now I’m beginning to understand why these Internet tools are so popular and powerful.

I have received phone calls and messages at odd hours. You know who you are. I suspect this is really a phenomenon of middle-aged sleep habits and the difficult times in which we live.

I have been reviewed on-line … often brilliantly (the reviewers, not the book). Some of you really should be doing this for the Sunday Times … though I am just as indebted for a quick shout out and a couple of stars.

I have received corrections. Sadly, there are too many. But this kind of input is invaluable as well. Certainly, I’ve learned some important lessons for next time.

I have heard from my many special friends in Calgary, where I worked for twenty years, eager to know who is who from real life and if I named any names. It’s a novel not a roman √† clef. Though trust me, you’re all in there somewhere.

I had an ingenious former colleague post a terrific review on his Facebook wall … from Singapore. It helped me garner sales in London, Helsinki and Rome. Unbelievable.

From two special people … a very accomplished couple … she gave me the chance to guest blog to her impressive audience, while he had JESTERS’ DANCE catalogued at the library of the prestigious university where he teaches. Priceless.

The former Chairman and CEO of the greatest advertising agency in the world likened JESTERS’ DANCE to “the gin and vermouth of an adman’s martini … its wit served up dry.” How’s that for a compliment?

But perhaps the most gratifying comment is one that I have heard repeatedly, in several different forms. Collectively you’ve told me, “As I was reading it, I forgot it was you.”

I believe that qualifies me as an author or, at the very least, as a successful storyteller. And that, of course, has been my goal all along.

You have all been so very generous. Not only did you buy my book, but also you took the time to read it.

Whether in bits and bites (many of you said it was tough going for the first few chapters) … at the beach … or at bedtime, you gave me ten or fifteen hours of your precious time. That is so gratifying.

And what has all this meant to sales – the barometer against which success is conventionally measured?

I’m presently in the hundreds … very soon the thousands. It ain’t Grisham. But as an independent author, marketing and selling a book is akin to dropping a pebble into a pond.

I now occupy the second or third ring … nicely beyond family, friends and casual acquaintances. The exciting part is that I am beginning to be discovered by the world at large.

And that is where you can truly help me. If you have read and enjoyed JESTERS’ DANCE, would you please post a review on the site where you purchased the book?

This is the social marketing equivalent of you telling two friends, and them telling two friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. Your reviews are invaluable to my ability to break through.

Honestly, those little stars make a huge difference in my search position, my potential audience and, ultimately, my sales ranking -- in other words, the Promised Land of e publishing.

Either that, or simply recommend JESTERS’ DANCE to a fellow reader. I remain hopeful a ripple may yet become a wave.

In the meantime, I am deeply immersed in a new effort. It is a very topical story entitled THE LAST CANARY and it exploits my intimate understanding of the energy business. As you may recall, I’m married to it.

I’m also busily trying to formulate a strategy for the release of my previously completed novel, HANGING LIES. Its fate will be determined soon, to be sure.

Until then, I will continue to be sustained by your kind words and encouragement. Please know that I am eternally grateful.

As always, I would love to hear from you.

Bruce


R. Bruce Walker is the author of the recently released novel, JESTERS’ DANCE. Visit with him at www.rbrucewalker.com, or via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.









Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Beaujolais Nouveau?


I’ve got a serious wine question. It’s probably one that everyone who seeks his fortune in letters should probably learn the answer to. Here goes:

Does a leftover bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau actually get better with the passage of time?

I mean if, say, you discovered one deep in your wine cupboard five years later, will it have matured into something better than the tart little tooth tinter that it was at the party?

Can something that young and fresh and vibrant have any chance of mellowing into a bottle akin to a rich, round burgundy?

The reason for this contemplation, beyond, of course, my recent unearthing of just such a bottle, is to consider this in relation to some of my dormant fiction.

You know what I mean, the long ignored trunk novel that has gathered dust along with the fevered dreams of my youth of a runaway bestseller. Can’t miss, I was certain, as I poured my heart into every page.

Sadly, having talked to one of my oenophile friends, it turns out the more likely fate of that aged bottle of tart green wine, is a toothsome brown vinegar. Or worse.

I wonder if that is true of fiction as well?

Is the trunk novel just the burble of the naive young writer -- a snapshot of the unsophisticated novice author? Or is it dormant genius -- a long forgotten early masterpiece that portends future greatness?

Alas, my sad conclusion is that it is much more likely the former.

While the exuberant writing of youth is often aflame with unfamiliar passions, unfortunately, the prose is seldom as inspired. At least that has been my own disappointing experience.

To wit, I’ve come to smile nostalgically at the moleskins of my youth … the treasured little notebooks that I was certain at the time were capturing the truths of the universe.

Of course, I was a beer hall author versus the coffee shop variety. My muse would typically find me a few drinks  into an evening and many of my most inspired passages are smeared with the perspiration of a frosty draft.

The other thing I’ve quietly noted about my ancient treasures is that time, too, has a way of marching on. What was once the topical genius of the nascent writer has now been tempered by the inexorable march of time.

I noticed this quite prominently in the anachronisms that occur with regularity in my previously unpublished works. Usually as verbs and adjectives.

Cell phones were opened and snapped shut. My heroes consult maps. Tweets and texts were nowhere to be found. 

Just as disappointingly, the essence of love isn’t captured in the epic licks and riffs of the pop legend … Journey.

What was ubiquitous in the eighties and nineties is now the stuff of nostalgic longing. Probably the same could be said of my writing from that time.

There are no easy answers. You never can go home again. I believe the challenge for every author is to write in the moment -- to seize the energy and zeitgeist of the times in which he is writing.

I believe everyone who is embarking on a voyage of e-publishing owes it to himself and his readers to be sure that the content is just as fresh as the day on which it was conceived. That we're not rushing stale goods to market.

While Captain Morgan’s ship may have recently been discovered in its watery grave, me thinks that everything that is brought to the surface will most likely be barnacled and decayed.

Oh, there will no doubt be some precious artifacts and treasure. But mostly there will just be reminders. 

I suspect the same is true of my ancient writings … a few good turns of phrase penned by someone long forgotten.

And that bottle of Beaujolais? I believe I’ve answered my own question. I’ll pop the cork, give it a sniff, a swirl and a swish. Then more than likely I will consign it to the drain.

But by God that lovely bottle has inspired me to finish, this, my morning writing exercise. Not bad for a five dollar bottle of plonk.

And with that, it is probably best that I begin to write something of consequence.

TTFN.


R. Bruce Walker is author of the recently released advertising novel, JESTERS’ DANCE. He is hunkering down on a new work set against the back drop of the energy industry entitled, THE LAST CANARY. His blog is a worthy distraction.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

In The Beginning ...



I’m pretty excited about this e publishing thing. 

Maybe its because I’ve still got stars in my eyes. Or maybe it’s because, overnight, I have gone from being a frustrated writer to a published author (a title I heretofore denied myself because I’d reserved it for someone who had actually sold a book).

But an author I am. Or an indie author, as I now prefer to consider myself.

Oh, I know that many of you are rightly and justifiably skeptical. You’ll see, you’re thinking. Once the bloom of finally seeing your words set in a very flattering cut of Palatino fades, you’ll meet the same fate as every other aspiring author who has chosen the self-publishing route.

The path to publishing fame and fortune couldn’t possibly run straight through the heart of easily accessible, user-friendly Internet technologies and new fangled digital reading devices, you’ve no doubt decided.

Or could it?

All I know is that after banging my head against the walls of conventional publishing for the better part of a decade, I will soon be in the enviable position of having two professionally designed and formatted novels in the market. And with them, hopefully, a royalty stream that reaches beyond the charity of my family and friends.

Sure you can depict this as little more than a new form of vanity publishing -- as do those whose interest is served by the preservation of the status quo. Or you can look to the uneven quality of self-produced fiction and find glaring examples of shoddy work that barely deserves its ninety-nine cent price tag.

But to do so is to miss the point entirely. And perhaps that’s why I feel compelled to share my rather esoteric argument that the single most important outcome of the current e publishing revolution is that it will inevitably allow authors to reclaim their craft and to finally ... take back the book.

What do I mean by this? Simply, that for as long as there have been individuals compelled to attempt to capture their life experiences as literature or entertain us with their storytelling skills, there has been a shadow hand that has accompanied their efforts.

Literary agents and editors. Publishers and booksellers. Angels and demons. They’ve been with us every step of the way. They are the keepers of the keys to the publishing kingdom and, by default, they have been the arbiters of our literary taste.

By managing the apparatuses of production and distribution, they have controlled the destiny of everyone who has ever sat down to write a book. Bless the clever agents and brilliant editors. Curse the query skimmers that man the gates.

However, with the advent of electronic publishing, the future of the entire industry is now suddenly and violently in play. A glance at any recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly will confirm this.

Which is why I am willing to predict that from this tumultuous period will come an opportunity for greater artistic freedom and creative expression than at any time in the history of the printed word.

There will be an unprecedented demand for new writers, new voices and greater experimentation in the realms of both commercial and literary fiction. In short, a revolution that is long overdue.

I’d like to be clear. Mine is not an angry manifesto. I am simply stating that for much of the last half century, most of what has been written and published and passed off as literature has been significantly warped by market-driven forces.
  
I’m just wondering aloud whether so much formula fiction would exist without a self-validating feedback loop that rewarded familiar, easy reading over more potentially interesting work.

Similarly, I refuse to believe that there would be such steady, pounding demand for hyper violent thrillers and paranormal fantasy tales if giant booksellers, eager to maximize profits, didn’t presume and subsume our literary choices with mass-produced and distributed novels.

It would be shame if this outcome were the ultimate fate of e publishing, too -- that its promise is short-changed by cheap e-titles that exploit the aggregating power of the Internet to generate sales of substandard work. Or worse, that such work came to be viewed as the e publishing benchmark.

Trust me. I’m no literary snob. Sample my work and you can judge its merits for yourself. I just believe, emphatically, that the precious art form that is the novel can be so much more than it has recently been allowed to be.

By challenging my fellow indie authors to take back the book, I am simply inviting all stakeholders -- writers and readers alike -- to seize this opportunity to expect and demand more. To write originally, experiment more and explore the heretofore unexamined.

Personally, I intend to aim a little higher -- to try and seize the moment. Hopefully, by doing so, I will find and deserve an audience. That will be the final proof of my e publishing venture and the ultimate measure of my worth as an artist.

When I dream about taking back the book, I imagine the works of authors far more talented than I will ever be liberated to express themselves freely and without the necessity of having to hit one out of the park commercially – every time at the plate.

That, I believe, is one of the unanticipated, but glorious opportunities of this brave new world. Or, perhaps, it's the point entirely.

Comments?


Bruce Walker is the author of the recently released novel, Jesters’ Dance. Visit him at www.rbucewalker.com

Friday, July 8, 2011

Mad Men & Me


It’s Episode One, Season One, of Matt Weiner’s brilliant AMC hit, Mad Men.  In a tense initial meeting with the folks who manufacture Lucky Strikes, dapper Creative Director Don Draper takes a contemplative drag on a cigarette and pronounces, “Advertising is based on one thing – happiness.”

It’s a startling revelation. With his epiphany he nails the campaign, captures the imagination of the prospective client, and wins the day for his agency. He also succeeds in perpetuating many of the popular myths about the ad game – that it's a business of manipulation, deception and greed.

As someone who has spent much of the last three decades in the business I take exception to these broad characterizations – and one in particular. Wherever I've worked, Don Draper would never have been allowed to smoke in the boardroom. The rest … well … ah… so much of it is still laughably, deliciously true.

My name is Bruce Walker. For nearly twenty-five years I was a Copywriter, Creative Director and Senior Executive with several leading national and international ad agencies. Recently, I’ve chosen to offer up my own peculiar insider’s view of the business in a newly published novel entitled, JESTERS’ DANCE.

To be sure the world of Sterling, Cooper, Draper & Pryce is over the top in its campy retro-60’s way. And Jerry Della Femina once famously declared that creating advertising in the ‘70s and ‘80s was the most fun you could have with your clothes on. But what is the current state of the business? Are we still having any fun?

In JESTERS’ DANCE, I offer a perspective from all four corners of the floor as three agencies pitch for a miraculous new weight control product that will yield hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue to a client who is literally teetering on the edge of sanity. Along the way I take a few swipes at the pharmaceutical and weight loss industries, too.

The point of this exposé is not to diss the industry that has been so good to me. Nor is it to insult the many fine clients with whom I have had the pleasure of working over the years.

Neither was it my intention to blow the whistle on all the fun and games that I have enjoyed in the company of the wildly eccentric personalities and extraordinary talents that inhabit the business.

Instead, I suspect on most levels, JESTERS’ DANCE is an act of catharsis – an attempt to lay to rest a career that has shaped my character and consumed so much of my adult life.

The novel is dark. But then so is the noose and gallows that hangs so precariously over the lives of the people who create the funny little ads you see on TV or write the clever headlines that you finger past in magazines.

Advertising has always been equal parts voodoo and science. Does it really work? Or is just entertainment? In JESTERS’ DANCE, I’ll let you be the judge.

We all have horror stories from our adventures in the great world of commerce. Whatever your profession, you’ve likely had a moment where you wanted to burrow a hole into the carpet of the boardroom floor ... from failure, embarrassment, or just the magnitude and majesty of your own stupidity.  I called mine JESTERS’ DANCE.

That’s what I was trying to capture. Hopefully, it’s what I’ve achieved. The world of business is an endlessly fascinating place inhabited by endlessly fascinating people. And the dogged daily pursuit of fame, fortune and success inevitably yields outrageous outcomes.

From the claustrophobic cubicles of Dilbert’s world to Ryan Bingham’s artful assassinations in Up In The Air, the art of earning a living these days yields some pretty funny shit. And that is my quiet thesis.

Despite a deep-seated envy for Mr. Weiner's four seasons of success, I believe that I, too, have succeeded in cobbling together an advertising tale that is worthy of your time and consideration… whether you’ve ever given thought to the agency business or not.

And, although I’ve never enjoyed Don Draper’s luck with the ladies, I think there are enough sexy bits and other stuff that'll curl your toes  as you devour JESTERS’ DANCE on the beach this summer.

Let me know what you think. But please be gentle – it’s a debut novel.  While I may have acquired the hide of an elephant during my years in the business, and I probably have interrupted your television viewing pleasure a thousand times with my untimely interruptions, this is different. This is personal.

Bruce Walker is the author of the recently released novel, Jesters’ Dance. Visit him at www.rbrucewalker.com