Monday, November 19, 2012

A few things I learned during the apocalypse

By Matt Sinclair

I know a lot of Americans are starting to feel the Thanksgiving crunch—that sense of pressure brought on by the beginning of the holiday season. We face the questions of where the meal will be held, who’s showing up where, who’s cooking what, and how do we keep so-and-so from hearing about you-know-what ...

Most years, I feel it also. This year, however, I’m concentrating on being thankful. I’m thinking about the many people and things to be thankful for because it’s more personal to me this year. As a result of Hurricane Sandy, my family and I were without power for eleven days. So I am thankful that heat and full power have been restored to us and to most of those living in my area of New Jersey. I’m eternally grateful to the neighbor who hooked me into his generator so I could heat my house, even when a second storm dropped six inches of snow into the survival equation and threatened the power to both our homes. I’m also torn about feeling grateful that we had no physical damage to our home and guilty that so many people lost everything. In a strange way, I’m also glad to have gained a personal understanding of how frustrating and altogether exhausting such an experience is. I feel like I’ve gained a partial understanding of the apocalypse.

Oh, did I forget to mention that the storm delayed publication of the new anthology from Elephant’s Bookshelf Press, The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse? Yeah, the irony was not lost on me or any of our team.

Indeed, I’m quite thankful for them, too, and the help they provided while I was left literally in the dark. Once I was able to get back online for small snippets of time to file for the copyright and publish the book, they helped spread the word. We’re still spreading that word, of course, because promotion is not a one-day event.

As writers, most of us are painfully aware that promotion is hard work, especially for people like us who tend to focus on the creation rather than the business. I’m sure most of you have heard ad infinitum that writers need to be their own best advocates these days. It’s true. Frankly, I think that’s always been the case, but when the big publishers have cut back or virtually eliminated their support for mid-list writers and small presses are hard-pressed to be noticed in the flooded marketplace, it’s even more imperative for writers to speak up for themselves.

All that said, I also relearned a few obvious things in ways I didn’t expect. These may or may not have direct bearing on writing. Add metaphor where you see fit.

  • Old habits die hard: I couldn’t tell you how many dozens of times I looked toward the digital clock on the stove to see what time it was. It’s worth your time to stop looking at the clock in your writing. Do what you need to do. Also, do your own self-assessment of your writing habits. Do your habits matter? Are they helping you or are they just quirks that might actually be getting in your way?

  • Disaster brings out the worst in people: Want to put your characters in a tense situation? Knock out their power for more than a week. Add a couple relatives or ex-lovers. Stir. In some recipes, include copious amounts of alcohol. Most recipes do not need an outside ignition source.

  • Disaster brings out the best in people: We all need hope in our lives. When writing apocalyptic tales, include at least one person who exudes hope. Kill him if need be. Metaphors and symbols are both powerful and fun.

  • Stupid is as stupid does: It’s great that some people have the means to get a generator and restore some of their amenities, but they should understand how to use the tools. I couldn’t tell you how many new generator owners in my area had to go to the hospital because they ran them in their basement or garage, where the exhaust fumes made them sick. In a similar vein, some writers don’t know what to do with the tools they possess.

  • Buy doughnuts: When a large group of people are stressed beyond reason, comfort food and carbs offer an opportunity to help them regain a sense of normalcy. Caveat: don’t tell everyone you’re bringing doughnuts unless you’re absolutely certain the shop has regained power….

  • Go to a playground: I know this only because I have small children, but a minute or two on a swing or pushing a child on a swing can do wonders for your morale in the face of difficulty.

  • Never let a crisis go to waste: I think Jean Oram, who served capably as the copy editor on The Fall, did this best. That irony thing. Nailed it!

I’m sure there’s more I could add, but the battery is running down on my laptop and I’m about to lose my connection to the modern world. What would you add? What are you most thankful for this year? What can you cut back on to help improve your writing?

Matt Sinclair, a New York City-based journalist and fiction writer, is also president and chief elephant officer of Elephant's Bookshelf Press, which recently published its latest anthology, The Fall: Tales from the Apocalypse, which is available via Amazon. Earlier this year, EBP published its initial anthology, Spring Fevers, which is still available through Smashwords, Amazon, and in print via CreateSpace. Both anthologies include stories by fellow FTWA writers, including Cat Woods, J. Lea Lopez, Mindy McGinnis, and R.S. Mellette; R.C. Lewis and Jean Oram also have stories in The Fall. Matt blogs at the Elephant's Bookshelf and is on Twitter @elephantguy68


JeffO said...

Glad you're doing okay down there. Good luck with the anthology, but mostly with getting back to normal.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Jeff. Still working on normal. In more ways than ever.

Jean Oram said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Matt. The irony was too good to pass up. Plus, I had a local angle on a current event--us authors can and should make use of those whenever we can! The support has been amazing and a lot of people have been wondering how you are doing, Matt.

Glad you have power again.


Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Jean. And I'm most pleased that my little girls came out of it without any problems. Small children in a cold house.... I don't wish that on anyone.

Richard said...

One of many things I'm grateful for is that Northeast Florida hasn't had a real hurricane in about 50 years. If we're getting hit, though, I'm out of here.

Jemi Fraser said...

So glad you and your family got through it all.

I loved Jean's post too :)

I've got my copy on my Kindle!

Matt Sinclair said...

I hope you didn't just jinx yourself and northeast Florida, Richard!

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks, Jemi, for your comment and your tweet.