Why A Pseudonym When People Know Your Name?

I’ve been a playwright for over twenty years. I’ve enjoyed seeing my plays produced in several forums and by many groups. The hardest work I do is writing and composing full-length musicals, but it is worth the effort when I see families and young people working in tandem as cast and crew. My wife and I worked many shows together; Alex, my son, made a cameo–at a few months old–in James and the Giant Peach. (In which I played Aunt Sponge.)

In October 2015, I decided to publish a book of short stories, most of them fantastic in nature, the resulting anthology called Odd Men Out. I’ve just published a collection of short holiday stories, Christmas Eves, under the same name.

Why choose to publish fiction under an alias when already well-known as a playwright, actor/director, and magazine/newspaper writer? Those adult themes in the anthology did it. I don’t believe in censorship, but I think things should be properly labeled. (Things, not people.) I shudder to think of someone brought up on “wholesome” entertainment getting their hands on something of a questionable nature–thus the moniker.

Gabriel A. Cook is a playwright from Northeast Arkansas. A boring man, he delights in long naps and undisturbed rest. He reads as much as he’s able (when his failing eyesight permits), and he enjoys classic film. He has a wonderful wife and a young son determined to make a drunkard of his father. Gabriel A. suffers from melancholia and severe depression, as all proper artists should do. When he goes off his meds–as he’s done at the time of this writing–he can be found raving in the street (until his wife takes him inside). He is, in other words, as dull and mundane as one could possibly hope to be, sans DT’s.

G. Allen, however, is a bird with somewhat brighter plumage. Little is known about him, other than he writes strange, often profane tales, has been seen in every big city across the continental United States, and loves a great Vodka (when it’s cheap). Of indeterminate  age, G. Allen likes late, noisy nights, is of unknown sexual preference, and most certainly does not have a wife (though his having children is possible). Most of this is taken from his writing, both published and found in the best trashcans in America, and it is inferred that G. Allen, though he has a working relationship with God, carries no mainstream religion.

That’s all to be found on the guy.

Oh! And he would not hesitate to use the words f*** or s*** in common conversation.

You see? This was written by Gabriel A., who holds serious qualms about being in the same room with such language…at least, in written form. That’s why he publishes plays and journalistic pieces in his own name. One knows what one is getting when they read Gabriel A. Cook in the byline.

One never knows what to expect when they see G. Allen Cook carved onto the page.

As G. Allen’s voice, curator, and major domo, it is my place to sweep out the cobwebs, compose a blog, and add a new pic or two to the old place while he sleeps through the day, wakes up in a new–sometimes strange–bed every night, and writes an occasional short story (when the mood rarely hits). He has the fun; I clean the place up of a morning. One wonders what I get out of such an arrangement.

Well…I like his work. Simple as that. It is nothing to find me reading a G. Allen Cook anthology for the fifth or sixth time…but I blanch when faced with the task of reading anything by Gabriel A. Cook, the lesser talent of the two.

Considering I get some…er, darn fine fiction out of it, I consider the proposal a good deal. I recommend it to everyone, artist or bum.

(Not that there’s much difference in the two. — G. Allen)

Gabriel A. Cook

Want to write a book? Write a play first!

I am a compulsive reader. Schools on writing demand that the author must first be reader. I subscribe to that, as well. We are not brain surgeons; we do not have a proper school to attend in which we learn our craft. Only years of reading books–both good and bad–teach us the trade.

I’ve no favorite genre. I like a compelling story as much as a well-researched biography. Give me a book on how to make artisan bread…or an eBook anthology of mystery who-dunnits. The written word is my joy, and my revels run deep and loud when those words are written by a master.

Of the many aspects of fiction writing, dialogue is the wiliest, trickiest of the bunch. Description, though it can be overused, is not hard to do. If one is writing, say, a short story, they certainly have the basic skills of observing and reporting. Not the best way to go about it, perhaps, but many a book and anthology are filled with such lines of description.

Dialogue, however, cannot be mere trickery. It must land on the ear as character-building, and it must propel the characters forward. This, I believe, is where the neophyte is bound to go astray. He has not attuned his ear to the many conversations around him, therefore he misses out on the opportunity to learn the skill.

But story dialogue is nothing like everyday conversation. It must not be. We’re all susceptible to the “um’s” and “uh’s” and verbal tics–“like“, “you know“, etc. Unless vital to the character, such sibilants and tics must be discarded. Better yet, avoid them in the first place.

Dialogue, I feel, is my special forte. Some disagree, calling my dialogue unnatural or too laden with words woefully out of fashion. All I can do is shrug my shoulders and go on with my work, sound in that what I do is the best I can do.

Something that aided my dialogue and vocabulary skills was 23 years spent writing plays and musicals. Dialogue for the stage is almost always the primary tool the playwright has to tell the story. Too much stage direction confuses cast and director; too much silence leads the audience to think someone’s dropped a line. Not to say that silence isn’t useful in the theatre–but, too often, untrained writers rely on stage direction to further plot. What, I ask, does that give the actor? He or she must have a reason to take a role.

The great thing about theatre productions: They are constantly revised according to audience feedback. One of my musicals, Night of the Living Dead: The Rock Opera, played six seasons, and, last year, I finally “froze” the script. It took a decade to get every word/lyric just right. I believe it to be as tight as it will ever get.

I urge young writers–beginning writers, I should say–to write in different genres, especially the theatre. It will strengthen your ear to pick up stilted dialogue, to throw out that which truly does sound unnatural, and you get free criticism from the audience! No paying an editor to tighten your work.

Criticism, I think, should always come free.

G.

Marquee

Madness, Writing, And The Lunacy Of It All!

(With appreciation to Audrey Winn)

A Facebook friend recently tagged me in a meme in which creativity was equated with madness. I agree with the comparison, and readily admit that my talent–whatever its size–is born out of innate depression and melancholia.

I know several authors, amateur and pro, who display tendencies toward insanity, especially when writing. A few are mundane and boring, without abnormality of any kind about them, their output humdrum and hardly worth the read.

Creativity stems from the ability to see things most folks can’t see. What sane person beholds a hunk of marble and sees The Kiss? Can sanity face the blank page and–within months or years–fill ream after ream with The Brothers Karamazov? I’ll not get into music, the most enigmatic of the arts. Even though I’ve composed over 1000 songs, pulling tunes from the air still seems miraculous.

When alone, I’m in foul fettle, my tone harsh and my manner despondent. Writing worsens it. Put me in a group–especially if we’ve gone to eat–I become the center of attention, bordering on flamboyance. My wife can’t stand this, but it’s the way melancholic people behave in a crowd. Make em laugh in public; curse em in private. I wish I could deny it, but it’s the truth, and–as said before–writers seek truth in all they do.

It comes down to the so-called Jekyll and Hyde complex. When writing or composing, I am Mr. Hyde…quick to temper and liable to yell in response to innocent questions. During full stop, I’m Dr. Jekyll–a quiet introvert sitting in the corner. I’m often called snob or antisocial. So be it.

I’m sorry to say that artists, especially writers, exhibit bipolar behavior, even-tempered one moment, screaming and cursing the next. My family knows to knock on the office door when I’m working, lest they become victims of tantrums of Biblical proportion.

I wish it wasn’t so. My wife enjoys when I’m not working, as my mood lightens. When she sees me collecting notes and dictionaries and other tools about me, she prepares for battle.

Are artists crazy? Undoubtedly. Why else pursue so difficult a career? Far better to dig a ditch or thread pipe. At least you get a steady paycheck and some form of routine.

You get none of that when writing. It takes a strange person to like doing this. Without writers, however, there would be a dearth of stories, and I can think of nothing worse. The world would suffer…and my mood would not improve.

Write, you loony fools. Ignore the criticisms, discard the feelings of ineptitude, and–most importantly–create the best literature you can pull from your soul (poor, black thing it may be). Embrace lunacy. The crazier the author, the better the story. I’d rather be looked at askance than give up my writing time in the office.

Madness? Of course! I wouldn’t exchange it for sanity and a Fortune 500 job.

Now, I must go walk the fish and strap myself (and my loved ones) into bed. Tomorrow I return to my writing.

G.

Crazy? I'm not crazy. Just ask Chester, my invisible squirrel!
Crazy? I’m not crazy. Just ask Chester, my invisible squirrel!

Don’t Close The Store!

Some months ago I launched a longish short story, “Wakefield“, and it was phenomenally successful, selling instantly and acquiring reviews within hours. I remember thinking: Wow! If this is Amazon publishing, then it’s for me!

This past Saturday, October 10, I launched my short story anthology, “Odd Men Out“, and–needless to say–it did not repeat the success of “Wakefield“. Within hours I was despondent, lying in bed, wondering what I’d done wrong. Sure, it was a collection of stories from my youth, lacking the tight prose I apply to current work…but the stories were still interesting, to say nothing of varied, so I couldn’t understand the silence from my readers.

Odd Men Out” was a gamble, as I used themes never before explored in my fiction, and one story, “The Bathroom to Hell“, had a graphic male on male sex scene. Un-consensual, to boot! Did “Bathroom” scare off all my regulars? My use of graphic language might have also been a turn-off (even though, during revisions of that story, I asked readers, through social media, if such things would prevent them from supporting my work, and the word was a resounding NO!). But still: No response, and few sales.

The Sunday after my launch, while dopey on meds for chronic pain, I fell to bitching about the lousy sales, the lack of communication from my regulars, and other cose molto cattive. Boy, did I get a slap in the face and a Get over it! from a couple of my friends/readers! And it was exactly what I needed. The initial success of “Wakefield” spoiled me for future book launches. My promotion and marketing need a better business plan, and I hope to get advice from a fellow who has published submission anthologies and his own stories/novels. Till then, I’ll remain calm concerning my lackluster sales for “Odd Men Out“. I’ve a feeling this is how it goes for most launches–“Wakefield” was a fluke, a lucky strike.

I learned a valuable lesson by way of being (gently) reprimanded for being impatient for reader response. Friends assured me they had bought the new book, but they had others to read before getting to mine. The first of something is typically successful due to the “newness” of it–after that, one becomes just another writer, and his works are not revered simply because he’s known by several people. It’s been a rough lesson, but I think I’ve learned it.

I appreciate what I have…some Kindle authors release their books to absolutely no response at all. At least I have folks whom I can count on to buy the book–even if they’re too busy to drop everything and read it. I would hate to be an author who works their guts out, launches a book, and it languish in obscurity, never to be read.

I can’t imagine such a thing. Why write if someone’s not there to read it? I liken my stories to running a store: when the lights are on–and the open sign is up–folks come in. They may only browse, but at least they check things out before leaving. Hopefully, they’ll remember me in the future.

Like any artist bereft and betrayed, I took to my bed yesterday, closing the store. Forever. But Kathy picked me up, slapped me around a bit, dusted me off, and demanded I get the “store” operating again.

I’m please to announce it’s Grand Re-Opening. So what if “Odd Men Out” languishes? There are other stories to be told, and I mean to tell them. Come back to the store, from time to time, and see what’s new on the shelf.

You might just find something you like.

G.

cover

How I Learned To Hate Twitter DM Within A Matter Of Days

My wife dragged me to Twitter–kicking and screaming–little under a year ago. Much like Facebook and Myspace, she created my account, taught me enough to get started, and left me to learn as I go. While it was not as difficult as, say, traversing the Appalachian Mountains without a compass or canteen, I did feel–at times–as if vultures stared hungrily over my shoulder. I feel their breath on my neck even now.

Twitter, especially, was hardest to navigate, mostly due to protocols concerning courtesy and how to respond to folk who initiate contact. Problem is, one never knows when said people are real or malicious “bots” trying to unload malware onto your account. Malware. Sounds like something Mr. Blackwell would call an out-of-season dress.

But sometimes real folk can be just as irritating. After a few days of Tweeting, I decided that everyone who did something nice for me–favorited a post, retweeted me, or aimed positive words in my general direction–would receive a brief, but sincere, DM thanking them for their communication. In the real world, this is known as common courtesy.

For the most part, however, a large percentage of people responded with a DM full of spam. “Buy my book!” they replied, adding a link for my “convenience”. The first few times this happened it bothered me. Now that it happens all but a handful of times, it makes me hesitant to contact even those few nice people. I love a retweet, but my blood boils when someone responds to my words of thanks with a sales pitch.

Look, I’m as guilty as others when it comes to using Twitter to sell my work. With a short story anthology about to launch, my online presence has increased, and–as is usually the case–my follow numbers dropped by two or three people. A heavy sales pitch on a daily basis puts me off, too, so I don’t blame people when they unfollow me for being a common sinner. But I cannot handle a sincere DM turning into a launching pad for spam. I grew up in an era when a “Thank you” warranted a simple “You’re welcome”. And I do get that, on occasion, but not nearly as often as I should.

I’ve heard this particular complaint voiced by dozens of other Twitter users, so it seems to be a growing problem. I think it rude; others think it an excuse to grab pitchforks and torches and march on the offender’s house, calling for blood. I’m not to that point. Yet.

Twitter is not all bad. I’ve made connections there…I’ve been invited to submit my work to a noteworthy anthology based on a conversation I had with its editor. We shot the breeze one day (instead of writing!) and he made mention of my abnormal outlook on life–and then asked me to submit a story to the fourth iteration of his series. It is in this way that Twitter is wonderful.

That (rare) pleasant exchange aside, the rudeness that accompanies sincerity is a bit much to take, even for someone with my ornery streak. But for now, I’ll remain a Twitter fan, as it’s proving to be an excellent way to make friends that turn into connections.

But I prefer they be friends first, connections second. Maybe I won’t get very far with that attitude, but at least I can live with myself in the meanwhile.

G.

This is called writing, believe it or not...
This is called writing, believe it or not…

Cover To “Odd Men Out”

A week from today (Saturday) my anthology, “Odd Men Out”, will launch. It is dark fantasy/horror, and some of it is my first overtly adult writing. I’m anxious to see how it is received.

Till then, this is the cover of the Kindle edition, as created by photographer and graphic designer, Joy Robinson. There are several details from the various stories hidden in this cover–some of which I didn’t notice till she pointed them out.

I hope you’ll all find something in “Odd Men Out” to tickle your fancy. The great thing about anthologies: If you don’t like the story you’re on…skip to the next one, and perhaps you’ll love it.

For now–the eReader cover!

cover

The Death of Publishing As We Know It!

I actually read a Twitter post that made that very case. Traditional publishing is imploding; self-publishing is a train wreck. There are too many books (by too many untalented authors, one assumes) to be noticed in either field, this blogger claimed, and only the Stephen Kings and J. K. Rowlings get exposure.

Well…yeah! I mean, they worked hard for it. Love em or hate em, the multi-million selling authors achieve such sales through talent, representation, and–most importantly–lots of luck. Their manuscripts landed on an editor’s desk just when a literary boom was about to happen. A boom that included the contents of their manuscripts.

Then low and behold! Amazon charged in, told the average schmuck with word processing software that he could make millions by self-publishing, and–yep–another boom, this one so loud it could be heard the world over. The unwashed masses crowded in, making it…and every other publishing website…obsolete for want of air. Dadnabbit, the Kings and Rowlings showed up, as well, and guess who started getting pride of place?

Where is one to turn?

Well, there are hundreds of online calls for submissions: anthologies, Internet magazines, flash fiction websites, you name it. Leave us not forget (or maybe we should!) where the dreaded 50 Shades started out–languishing on the bottom rung of the literary totem pole: fan-fic. The very name of that genre is unpleasant on the tongue.

There are the playwrights, the screenwriters, the procurers of non-fiction. Any town of moderate size boasts a newspaper, and with that comes journalists. Towns of larger scope might even have a homegrown magazine or two, offering those (he repeated himself) average schmucks with word processing software a chance to write personal columns about their kids and their cats.

I should know.

Look, is publishing dead? I dunno. For the past few years, I’ve gone around saying that traditional publishing has roughly two decades left before it dies. I still believe it. Those lucky enough to be languishing in it at present–and you can bet that same cat that King and Rowling aren’t among them–will, at best, earn enough to pay off the house before the death knell, and, at worst, fade away into schmuck-dom where they started. Self-publishing will grow larger and larger, and–much like a red dwarf–explode under its own weight.

Depressing.

I’m not here to dance on the grave of literature. (I did that back in the 90’s. God, the 90’s.) I’m just telling ya that it ain’t all beer and Skittles. But you probably know that…because you have twenty self-published books, and, at present, I have a single (longish) short story (with an anthology on the way). It seems absurd, however, to think that it’s all going down the toilet. Something’s gotta survive, even if it’s the cockroach of the literary empire.

Knowing my luck, it’ll be fan-fic.

G.