Curiosity is the Lust of the Mind

So sayeth the wise Thomas Hobbes, indeed–curiosity is the lust of the mind. And could it be curiosity, a penchant for the hostile, sardonic remarks, that draws readers to the books with the bad reviews–and even boosts sales?

I read an article entitled Bad Reviews Can Boost Sales. Heres Why by Jonah Berger, which refers to a study that found for unknown authors one star reviews can actually boost sales. I guess human beings are curious by nature. I was reminded of my failed project that received an entire blog entry (read it here) and the remarks were scathing, so much so that I found it humorous, laugh aloud funny. I guess the idea that this critic would go to such great length to disparage my work was both jarring and impressive.

So, according to the study, Blue Jackson should be selling like hotcakes. I mean, this one blog entry is equal to about ten one star reviews. Truth be told, if I sold even one I’d be thrilled. Okay, so the language is deep southern slang, and I guess I should have paid attention to my sister’s gasp when I told her I published it, realized that most people don’t want to read more than a paragraph of dat and dem. Nevertheless, I’m still committed as an artist and lover of authenticity. It had so many possibilities, so much potential; maybe it was the blog? Or, maybe it was just plain unreadable. At any rate, I’ve accepted defeat. I’m rewriting it in easier to read language, regular old Queen’s English with a sprinkling of slang. I decided it will be a thriller trilogy too. I already have part II (in my head).

Even though I’m knee-deep in an unexpected short story that’s growing possibly into a novella, and my two other novellas, left undone, I couldn’t bear to look at Blue Jackson anymore, climbing steadily upwards to the 900k range so I took her down and am making it a priority to get her fixed up with a new look and improved readability.

Updates to follow.

Interview with Karen Brown–Award Winning Author

Award winning novelist Karen Brown–recipient of the Grace Paley, O. Henry and Praire Schooner Book Prize for Little Sinners with a debut novel The Longings of Wayward Girls out July 2nd by Simon and Schuster–has agreed to an interview! She couldn’t decline. After all, I’m proud to say, she is my sister. I hope you enjoy!

Q: You have published an enormous variety of stories in literary journals and anthologies and won numerous awards and accolades for your short story collections, including your latest entitled Little Sinners which is the recipient of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. How has your gift for the short story helped you with writing your novel?

 I’m afraid that being able to write a good short story doesn’t necessarily prepare you to write a novel. For a long time I believed that a short story was just a miniature version of the novel—that you might create a place and a group of characters, provide them with some quirky conflicts, have them react and interact, and leave them in a different place than you found them—and if you stretched this out to three hundred pages, as opposed to twenty, you’d have a book. I tried this method five times—and I’ve got five bundles of printed pages filled with some interesting bits of potential material—but I don’t have five books.

I approached my current novel differently—with an eye toward the whole. I wasn’t entirely sure how it would end, but I established from the opening a reason for the reader to want to get there. I learned you can’t rely on beautifully written scenes, but that you have to focus on the reader—on why she is reading, and what might keep her reading. If you’ve dangled a lure, you can’t forget to return to it, to involve it in the story. It sounds like plot, but plot has everything to do with character. I guess if I learned anything from the short story it is that—the character is an integral part of the momentum.

Q: What advice would you give the short story writer who is considering writing his or her first novel? Who were some of your earlier influences?

It sounds like you’re asking about reading—about what writers I read as I wrote my novel, or what writers influenced me as I wrote. I’m certain that all writers are influenced to some extent by others, and for each project (novel, short story) we undertake there are a set of influences that emerge. I’ve always been a big fan of the work of Cheever, Salinger, and Updike. They wrote with a certain tone about a certain time and place that I felt I knew—the suburban world—and they inspired me to look at this setting in an entirely different way. Salinger’s “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut” brilliantly revealed how characters might feel forced to hide their true emotions—often loss and longing—dictated to behave in a certain way by the society in which they lived.

I think each short story inspires certain reading, and certain reading finds its way into each short story. I used to keep notes about what I read as I wrote, but I stopped that practice several years ago. I do sense that each story has its own tone and voice, its own style. Whether this came about because I was reading Wuthering Heights, or a short story I discovered in The New Yorker, I couldn’t say now. With the novel I read more as research—not for inspiration for style, but for ways to flesh out the setting and themes. I read articles about Connecticut lore, diaries of colonial mid-wives. I read about 1970s cars, and clothing styles. While the short story feels closer to the poem—dependent on style and mood—I feel the novel requires a wider scope of reading, a wider confluence of sources of inspiration. You can’t throw everything in of course. But you’re working on it for so long it becomes a project you live with, and you gravitate toward the reading that best informs that world, deepens it and makes it viable.

Q: Women are your theme–women in a variety of roles. Yet in each, you tap into the deepest recesses of women’s unrequited desires and ambitions. Women are always seeking some lost part of themselves. How does your work, and especially your debut novel The Longings of Wayward Girls, achieve this?

I’m not sure that it is just women who feel that along the way—growing up, maybe marrying, having children, or a career—they lost some vital part of themselves they come to mourn. Maybe it is a creative side, or a potential they once believed in. Perhaps it is a talent or skill they felt they might one day explore. As children we all seem more authentically ourselves. Traditionally, women tend to believe that they must live their lives for others—children, husbands, family—that this is a nobler role than pursuing a dream. In The Longings of Wayward Girls the protagonist, Sadie, grows up being the one in charge of all of the creative neighborhood games—and particularly one that leads to tragedy. Her regret, and guilt, has followed her to adulthood, and possibly influenced her choices in life. When she loses a child, and runs into someone from her past, she is prompted to revisit that time, to re-examine these choices. The book’s setting alternates between the present and the past so that we can see Sadie as both a child, and an adult, at the same time. This structure emphasizes the power of choice, and the inability to control the choices of others.

Q: I’ve read most of your work before it was even published. Your descriptions are poignant, reminiscent of an older forgotten style of writing such as Willa Cather or Mary Shelley. It’s interesting to read a review sharing a similar observation that your characters, at times, possess a haunting presence about them. I would venture so far as to say, in these moments, the description becomes the dominant feature in the passage with the characters floating in and out of scenes or placed like props. I happen to love this style of writing. Do you feel this is a conscious habit, or is it more on an unconscious level?

 I once told a friend from a writing group that I wasn’t so much interested in having things happen in a story. My job, as I saw it, was to make the reader feel what it was like when things did. To this end, the atmosphere, the setting of a story, through the perspective of a character, has always been vital. It is basically the classic John Gardner writing exercise from The Art of Fiction: Describe a barn as seen by a man whose son has just been killed in a war. Do not mention the son, or war, or death.This may have been something I practiced and perfected, or it may have simply been something I’ve always done. I’m not sure which.

Q: We grew up together in Connecticut and share similar memories. Yet, your memory for things and particular details of a situation, is uncanny. Is that part of a writer’s innate style or can it be developed?

 In a fiction class I’m teaching this semester we’re reading Alice LaPlante’s excellent creative writing text, Method and Madness, and she talks about just this thing in her opening chapter. Cultivating the habit of noticing the world around you is something that any writer can do. I think it is necessary, and should be developed. And honestly I am always impressed with the amount of detail other writers can produce—writers like Steven Millhauser, for example, who can recreate a childhood bedroom in such brilliant detail. As for remembering more than you—no two people remember the same things, and I began the practice of “noticing” before you did.

Q: A writer requires a tough skin to stick with it. What is some great advice you have to offer an aspiring novelist?

Read widely and practice your art so that you are always improving. This means know your genre, and your readers. Try to publish some stories, and build up a list that might attract an agent when your manuscript is completed, revised, and ready. Find some like-minded readers who will take a look at your drafts. Don’t forget that you are writing for them.

I’ve already shared the existence of my first five novels—persistence is a writer’s winning hand. If you don’t enjoy what you do, and recognize that you will do it regardless of any measureable success, if you aren’t willing to set time aside, if you don’t see small things as encouragement (the rejection slip with “try us again!” handwritten on the bottom), you aren’t going to be a writer. In the meantime, as you wait for fame, be conscious of how wonderful it is to be caught in the grip of a story, to have it follow you through the day, to jot down some lines that you know will tie up all the loose ends and finally finish that piece—so you can start all over again.
Le Fin

Find out more about Karen Brown at Simon & Schuster and  here at

The Slow Death of Habeas Corpus CHP 2 EXCERPT

Ten years since Esther. The bedroom, moonlit, casting an ominous blue pall over her face. “What have we done?”  I said it. My words were like salve. She calmed.

“I love you, Jesus, I love you.”  Ellie behind me, her nakedness, warm breath, soft fingertips up and down my arm. Elise stirred, whimpered in the bassinet in the corner of the room.

“Sh. I love you, too, Eliot. We love each other. That’s all. How could that be a crime? Please, tell me. I think you want to leave me. I think you’re tired of me. I don’t know anymore. I can’t even trust anyone, not even my husband.”

“You don’t get it. You don’t get it do you? What we just did? We made love the way we were supposed to in a normal world. But, Ellie, in case you haven’t noticed, we don’t live in a normal world. They can see us right now.”

I was manic, gesturing wildly: “We can’t see them. But they’re in the corner and outside the window and on the ceiling and in the fucking walls! Believe me. They are here and they just saw us. Yes, they saw me on top of you. They saw our naked bodies!  They saw it all! So now they’re going to seize you and our baby. I don’t know where. I won’t know when.”

I was sobbing now. The truth was unimaginable for her, for me. It stuck like sharp pins in my chest. But I had to confront it. She stared at me, blankly. Her eyes were black dots like a child’s doll, round and devoid of expression, programmed. Her complexion was ghostly, ashen, her aura a flimsy veil of misty coral—morose, displaced.

“You’re lying All of this is just a ploy. You don’t want me anymore. Just say it damn you. Just tell me the truth for once. Don’t do this to me, Eliot. Don’t do this to your baby. It makes no sense, no sense at all. You’re a viper—a monster, to do this to your wife and baby.”

She didn’t get it. She never would get it until she was seized and her baby was taken away. And then it would be too late. She lived in a perpetual dream zone. A place inaccessible to me. I couldn’t reach her. Maybe they were tainting the food or water supply. Maybe we were all being poisoned.

“Ellie it is a crime. You know it. I know it. In our world, our passion is a crime.”

A siren sounded outside. Ellie froze. The air became stitled, unbreathable.

Beware of Purchased or Fake Amazon Reviews

Reviews for the indie author are essential. Yet, they are not always easy to get–the honest way, I mean to say.

In every profession, you’ll get some bad apples, those who refuse bo play by the rules. Follow this link and you will see a clear example of why Amazon needs to crack down more on fake reviews.

Too many authors are buying reviews, 5 star reviews, or finding deceitful ways to get them (check out NY Times Best Selling novelist Jodi Picoult’s FB post). The readers lose faith and it is unfair  to the many authors (like myself) who work hard at drumming up a readership for my work. 

The Forgotten World of Pad and Pencil

“You don’t need anything but a pad and a pencil,” according to Ray Bradbury. Oh, Lord… the old wise ones who easily bore the dickens out of a younger Google generation brought up on fast paced, give it to me quick, get-to-the-point kind of discussions.

Well, this one is worth a like, a tweet, a post, a listen. Bradbury has that good old fashioned wit; he is part of an old world, a vanishing world, a pre-digital era. Bradbury promotes resourcefulness, simplicity. Make no mistake, he is far from simple and encourages complexity, minus the technology. His method is cheap, simple, and readily available–it’s called the book.

In 2013 ,and for the past decade or more, we are breeding nonbook readers. The hard cover book is at risk for becoming archaic, a relic in its time. Well, maybe that’s a tad hyperbolic. But as Bradbury insists, we need to be mindful of resourcefulness. Undeniably, we are tech-dependent, and frequently glued to a screen, knee deep in technology, networking, sloshing through the mire of social media, increasing followers with a tweet, liking pages, subscribing, promoting this and that. I can have 20K followers on my twitter account, 30k, 90k … but what does it all mean? Critics will argue that  it is an isolating, impersonal connecting of sorts–the ruin of us. I don’t know if I agree, entirely. But admit that a phone conversation, or a lunch date, or a hug, or face to face conversation is always much better than a like on my FB page.

(Warning: Grossly self-indulgent, self-promotion coming up)

In my latest wip, which is a dystopian novel, I explore the repercussions of a section of the population that is stripped of all technology, forced backwards in time. They are powerless, easily controlled by DEF (Digital Enforcement Faction); in this dystopian world, freedoms are removed, and even book reading is prohibited. Needless to say, it is not a nice place to live if you happen to reside in the mid-west or eastern sections of what was once the U.S.

Maybe I’m biased. I always espoused to the notion that you are what you read. Now, I’m wiser, realize that there other ways of knowing. Still, I agree with Bradbury that books teach us everything we need to know, empower us, encourage us to consider other viewpoints, realities, and fantastical musings. It is no wonder that in a dystopian world books are removed.

I know that schools promote good old fashioned instruction, and it’s not working. I know the copier is the greatest asset in any school. It is always overused and always breaking down. The paper wasted in our schools is astronomical. Yet, most students abhor paper and pencil, worksheet packets, heavy text books. They are part of a digital age; one might say they enter the classroom digitally programmed to learn in a new way. Why make 200 copies when you can use an LCD and project the same information on the screen? Or give the students the URL and they can find it themselves and read online? For assessment of learning, have students respond in a blog.

The classroom is lagging behind. That’s the reality. So, we either get with the program and allow for more self-study, more integration of technology, or we stand to keep losing ground. Students are saavy, know they can Google what they want to know. So, why not allow it?  Ray Bradbury, a critic of current formal schooling, is on board with self-study; he suggests the library is your schooling. You can learn anything you want in a book. You can find your match. As he states “We are all looking for someone like ourselves…Jesus, God, if I were to go to a deserted island tomorrow what books would I bring?…the Bible of course and the essays of George Bernard Shaw.”

I’m going to try to get my hands on those Shaw essays. They must be something if Bradbury liked them so much. I’ll Google and more than likely come up with numerous hits. I don’t know if Bradbury would approve or not. But he said it himself “Whatever works.”

thx for the read. follow me on twitter bethbrown555.


The Government’s Boorish Bullying of Aaron Swartz

Aaron Swartz, innovator, MIT student, contributor to the creation of RSS and at the helm of SOPA, twenty-five, brilliant-minded, hounded for hacking scholarly papers from the MIT database. US Attorney Carmen Diaz decided to pursue the case, going after the lad with a venomous desire to prosecute him for unlawful hacking with 13 felonies, including prison time and a million dollar fine. A genius mind is often fragile, as was the case with Aaron. Perhaps he couldn’t stand the notion of prison time, or the continued expense of lawyer fees, and he took his life. Check out more here.