Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing, and Publishing ~

Reading My Own Book . . .

Finally got here… 

Reading My Own Book

Image Courtesy of Mateusz Stachowski ~

Preparatory reading and note-taking are finished

I’m reading my last book (for the first time in four years) and appreciating what I did, while I take yet more notes (leading to a working outline)

Mind you, it had taken me quite a long time to write Notes from An Alien so it better be good :-)

When I say “write” I’m including the eleven years and three false attempts

This next book should be done next year (early?) and, near the end of this year, I’ll be looking for a few Beta-Readers for Finally, The Story Can Be Told

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m re-reading Notes to make sure Finally is “congruent” with it—they happen in the same universe and time-frame, with mostly new characters, and a different way of narrating

If Notes is a documentary novel, Finally will be full-on Speculative Fiction

Might as well mention, for anyone reading this who is just beginning their writing-journey, the work of authoring a book is totally Weird.

Just to nail down what I mean here’s weird’s etymology:

“c. 1400, ‘having power to control fate’, from wierd (n.), from Old English wyrd ‘fate, chance, fortune; destiny; the Fates,’ literally ‘that which comes’, from Proto-Germanic *wurthiz (cognates: Old Saxon wurd, Old High German wurt ‘fate’, Old Norse urðr ‘fate, one of the three Norns’), from PIE *wert- ‘to turn, to wind’, (cognates: German werden, Old English weorðan ‘to become’), from root *wer- (3) ‘to turn, bend’ (see versus). For sense development from ‘turning’ to ‘becoming’, compare phrase turn into ‘become’.

“The sense ‘uncanny, supernatural’ developed from Middle English use of weird sisters for the three fates or Norns (in Germanic mythology), the goddesses who controlled human destiny. They were portrayed as odd or frightening in appearance, as in ‘Macbeth’ (and especially in 18th and 19th century productions of it), which led to the adjectival meaning ‘odd-looking, uncanny’ (1815); ‘odd, strange, disturbingly different’ (1820). Related: Weirdly; weirdness.”

And, don’t forget, you can download a free copy of Notes from An Alien

Till next time………
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
To Leave A Comment, Use The Link At The Top-Right of The Post :-)
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Shortlists Announced for the 2015 PEN Literary Awards

I’m still hard at work—currently massaging my mind with supportive writings—soon to begin notes leading to an outline—but, I thought the PEN Awards was worth sharing… 

Image from the PEN site

Image from the PEN site


PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction ($25,000): To an author whose debut work—a first novel or collection of short stories published in 2014—represents distinguished literary achievement and suggests great promise.

JUDGES: Caroline Fraser, Katie Kitamura, Paul La Farge, and Victor LaValle


The UnAmericans
Molly Antopol
(W. W. Norton & Company)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Cynthia Bond
Amazon | Indie Bound

Phil Klay
(Penguin Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Dog
Jack Livings
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Love Me Back
Merritt Tierce
Amazon | Indie Bound


PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay ($10,000): For a book of essays published in 2014 that exemplifies the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature.

JUDGES: Diane Johnson, Dahlia Lithwick, Vijay Seshadri, and Mark Slouka


Moral Imagination
David Bromwich
(Princeton University Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Theater of Cruelty
Ian Buruma
(New York Review Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Charles D’Ambrosio
(Tin House Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Empathy Exams
Leslie Jamison
(Graywolf Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Angela Pelster
(Sarabande Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound


PEN/E.O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award ($10,000): For a book of literary nonfiction on the subject of the physical or biological sciences published in 2014.

JUDGES: Sue Halpern, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, and Carl Zimmer


War of the Whales
Joshua Horwitz
(Simon & Schuster)
Amazon | Indie Bound

How We Got to Now
Steven Johnson
(Riverhead Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Sixth Extinction
Elizabeth Kolbert
(Henry Holt and Co.)
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Age of Radiance
Craig Nelson
Amazon | Indie Bound

Adam Rogers
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Amazon | Indie Bound


PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction ($10,000): To an author of a distinguished book of general nonfiction possessing notable literary merit and critical perspective and illuminating important contemporary issues which has been published in 2013 or 2014.

JUDGES: Andrew Blechman, Paul Elie, Azadeh Moaveni, Rahna Reiko Rizzuto, and Paul Reyes


Our Declaration
Danielle Allen
Amazon | Indie Bound

League of Denial
Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru
(Crown Archetype)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Five Days at Memorial
Sheri Fink
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Big Truck That Went By
Jonathan M. Katz
(Palgrave Macmillan)
Amazon | Indie Bound

This Changes Everything
Naomi Klein
(Simon & Schuster)
Amazon | Indie Bound


PEN Open Book Award ($5,000): For an exceptional book-length work of literature by an author of color published in 2014.

JUDGES: R. Erica Doyle, W. Ralph Eubanks, and Chinelo Okparanta


An Unnecessary Woman
Rabih Alameddine
(Grove Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Every Day Is for the Thief
Teju Cole
(Random House)
Amazon | Indie Bound

An Untamed State
Roxane Gay
(Black Cat)

Citizen: An American Lyric
Claudia Rankine
(Graywolf Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound

The City Son
Samrat Upadhyay
(Soho Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound


PEN/Jacqueline Bograd Weld Award for Biography ($5,000): For a distinguished biography published in 2014.

JUDGES: Emily Bernard, Nicholas Fox Weber, and Jon Meacham


Rebel Yell
S. C. Gwynne
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
Jeff Hobbs
Amazon | Indie Bound

Strange Glory
Charles Marsh
(Alfred A. Knopf)
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Queen’s Bed
Anna Whitelock
(Sarah Crichton Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Piero’s Light
Larry Witham
(Pegasus Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound


PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing ($5,000): To honor a nonfiction book on the subject of sports published in 2014.

JUDGES: Rich Cohen, George Dohrmann, and Jonathan Mahler


Boy on Ice
John Branch
(W. W. Norton & Company)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Black Noon
Art Garner
(Thomas Dunne Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound

All Fishermen are Liars
John Gierach
(Simon & Schuster)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Ping-Pong Diplomacy
Nicholas Griffin
Amazon | Indie Bound

James Nestor
(Eamon Dolan Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound


PEN Award for Poetry in Translation ($3,000): For a book-length translation of poetry into English published in 2014.

JUDGE: Ana Božičević


Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon
Translated from the Korean by Don Mee Choi
(Action Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound

I Am the Beggar of the World
Translated from the Pashto by Eliza Griswold
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz by Juana Inés de la Cruz
Translated from the Spanish by Edith Grossman
(W. W. Norton & Company)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Breathturn into Timestead by Paul Celan
Translated from the German by Pierre Joris
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Guantanamo by Frank Smith
Translated from the French by Vanessa Place
(Les Figues Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound


PEN Translation Prize ($3,000): For a book-length translation of prose into English published in 2014.

JUDGES: Heather Cleary, Lucas Klein, Tess Lewis, and Allison Markin Powell


The Gray Notebook by Josep Pla
Translated from the Catalan by Peter Bush
(New York Review Books)
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov
Translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Baboon by Naja Marie Aidt
Translated from the Danish by Denise Newman
(Two Lines Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Texas: The Great Theft by Carmen Boullosa
Translated from the Spanish by Samantha Schnee
(Deep Vellum Publishing)
Amazon | Indie Bound

Self-Portrait in Green by Marie NDiaye
Translated from the French by Jordan Stump
(Two Lines Press)
Amazon | Indie Bound
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
To Leave A Comment, Use The Link At The Top-Right of The Post :-)
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

Writing Advice — Beware!

Had to take another short break from my Sabbatical—my self-imposed absence from this blog to work on my next book… 

Aspiring Writers

Image Courtesy of Rae Grimm ~

As regular readers can tell, It’s hard for me to stay away for long :-)

But, I will finish the book and return to more regular blogging.

During the days I’m not here you can explore my 1,000+ posts—use the search box at the upper right or the Top Tags widget down a bit on the left

However, part of the short break I’m taking was checking out a book by my second-favorite fiction author (C. J. Cherryh is #1), John C. GardnerOn Writers and Writinga posthumous collection of ideas from his various essays and reviews.

I used the word “beware” in the title of this post because writing is such a fluid profession and has so many (nearly completely different) master writers—though, there are certain fundamental perspectives necessary to engage in  commendable writing—yet, each commendable writer has their own unique way of rendering those writerly perspectives

Here are a few from Mr. Gardner:

“The artist rolls the stone away—that is the narrator’s creative act—and man escapes from the Tombs.”

“…however useful relativism may be as a way of running daily life—keeping fascists out of power, keeping tea parties civilized—it has nothing to do with art. Relativism denies those finalities toward which man’s spirit has always groped.To admit that there are no finalities is to put the spirit out of business; to say that finalities are a matter of personal assertion is to make the spirit’s business insignificant.”

“…writers work out in words their intuitions— their private certainties—of how things are. Good writers have right and significant intuitions, and they present their intuitions intact by means of masterful technique. To deny the possibility of absolute intuition is either to scrap the art of fiction or to look patronizingly on the fool who works at it. Ultimately, the critic or publisher’s abnegation of the absolute turns weak but serious writers into hacks and promotes the publication of books by natural-born bus drivers.”

“Great writers deal with problems which confront a healthy, intelligent man, however grotesque the fictional representative; small writers deal with social or physiological traps.”

“Good writers do deal with trivial problems and trivial people. When they do, however, they recognize the triviality of their material and force the reader— perhaps for the first time—to recognize it…

“…entertainment requires cleverness, art richness.”

“…comic effect arises out the tendency of surface and symbolic levels to infect one another…”

“…high-falutin’ sentences designed to intensify everyday situations….By high-falutin’ I mean: ‘But it didn’t turn out that way. The vision that burned under the carbide lamps of the Carolina farmers as John Murdoch stood in their kitchens and talked of his church, his Mission, burned in the lamp of Destiny with a different blaze struck by another match.’”

The great artist, the ‘genius’, to use an old-fashioned word, is the man who sees more connections between things than an ordinary man can see and has, moreover, a peculiar and absolutely unerring feeling for his medium. ‘Style’ is as inadequate to describe this feeling for the writer’s medium as ‘church’ would be to describe a cathedral.”

The money a publisher makes on fashionable bad writers makes possible the publication of serious writers who eventually prove great. What is trouble-some is not so much the trash as the imitation serious fiction which obscures the real thing, the sickly stuff editors bloat to life-size in their helpful letters to reviewers, who frequently echo (perhaps in good faith) the grandiose phrases of the hint-sheets. I assume it’s not really a capitalist plot. Even to a city man I wouldn’t sell a dead hog and pretend it was only asleep for a minute, but perhaps editors don’t read the novels they print.”

What true fiction does is celebrate, not preach. Which is why it tells the truth. For example, it takes two sensible ideas—the idea that a man should be responsible and the idea that a man should be himself, free, not, as we say, uptight—and it embodies these awkwardly conflicting ideas in, say, two people whom it fully respects (or else finds equally absurd, like us) and it puts these two people in a place and watches them act. Not for the purpose of proving one of the people a fool or a devil out of hell but because it is the nature and moreover the joy of the novelist simply to watch important, familiar things from inside. Art clears the head of small opinions, not because everything is relative, in view of art, but because some things are beautiful and need to be affirmed.”

“What the greatest writers have understood, and not just fitfully, is that people are understandably what they are, better or worse, imperfect when measured against the ideal and therefore comic or tragic or both. They leave the righteous moralizing to critics. To put this another way, what the best fiction does is make powerful affirmations of familiar truths”.

The trivial fiction which time filters out is that which either makes wrong affirmations or else makes affirmations in a squeaky little voice. Powerful affirmation comes from strong intellect and strong emotion supported by adequate technique. Affirmation and righteousness are as far apart as love and hate or art and criticism.”

“Of the three great university doctrines at work in modern fiction, the least offensive is that a book is good or bad insofar as it is ‘well made'; the next in order is that fiction ought properly to teach right behavior, chastising sin; and the most offensive is that human beings are all mere clowns and tramps.”

“What makes most modern fiction a howling bore is the vast heart-warming goodness discovered in vipers and toads, and the mechanical whine of self-pity.”

“Sensation, especially genitourinary sensation, has replaced God, and with God dead the universe becomes absurd, so that holy lovers end up murdered in their already bloody bed.”

Really good fiction has a staying power that comes from its ability to jar, turn on, move the whole intellectual and emotional history of the reader. If the reader is a house, the really good book is a jubilant party that spreads through every room of it, or else a fire, not just a routine visit from the mailman. This is not simply a matter of controlled complexity, and it is certainly not solely a product of perfected craft.”

“…a book must be as wise as the reader is in his best moments, stripped of pettiness, prejudice, and obsession; it must urgently support the highest affirmations the reader is capable of making, penetrating—at least by implication—every nook and cranny of his moral experience; and finally it must have the weight of a reality which the reader, at least while he is reading, does not notice to be any less substantial than the world of fire engines, tables, and yellow house cats where he lives.”

The most powerful fiction is that which finds a way of expressing openly and without distortion or limpness of mind the highest human affirmations.”

The reason art exists at all is that some things cannot be demonstrated, can only be felt and celebrated.”

No amount of factual information, or technical ability, or skill at introducing people and places, or ear for rhetoric, or eye for the absurd, or head for wide philosophy can substitute for a truly good man’s sane and profound affirmation. But the affirmation gains immeasurably when all the rest is present.”

“The recent cult of style has the splendid effect of making novels more enjoyable, less sludgy; but the assertion that style is life’s only value—that style redeems life—is false both to life and to the novel.”

Whether you write about dragons or businessmen, it’s in the careful scrutiny of cleanly apprehended characters, their conflicts and ultimate escape from immaturity, that the novel makes up its solid truths, finds courage to defend the good and attack the simpleminded.”

The good reader never knows in advance what he wants from literature.”

Everything we write is an experiment. Only if the experiment fails do we call the work experimental.”

Fiction grounded on verisimilitude argues the reader into believing what he’s told by loading him down with facts he can’t get out of.”

“…good fiction, traditional or experimental, is fiction the experienced, intellectually and emotionally mature reader recognizes, immediately or eventually, as intelligent and tasteful. It does not bully the reader…”

“Good fiction, traditional or experimental, is emotionally honest.”

“A work of moral fiction is always vital, ‘open’, in that it probes and examines rather than conforms and proves. The distinction is, precisely, between stylized, even lovely, propaganda and aesthetic integrity, and the difference lies in method.”

“The ‘creative’ aspect, then, is not merely the province of the writer during the act of fictionalization, ‘closed’ when the text is completed to the author’s satisfaction, but, in a broader and real way, a participatory right of the reader in the act of discovery.”

“Any writer who’s worked in various forms can tell you from experience that it all feels like writing. Some people may feel that they’re ‘really’ writing when they work on their novels and just fooling around when they write bedtime stories for their children; but that can mean only one of two things, I think: either that the writer has a talent for writing novels and not much talent for writing children’s stories, or else that the writer is a self-important donzel who writes both miserable novels and miserable children’s stories.”

The true writer’s mind is not a jungle but a noble democracy, in which all parties have their say, even the crazy ones, even the most violently passionate, because otherwise justice, balance, sanity are impossible.”

If one looks at the first drafts of even the greatest writers, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, one sees that literary art does not come flying like Athena, fully formed, from Zeus’s head. Indeed, the first-draft stupidity of great writers is a shocking and comforting thing to see. What one learns from studying successive drafts is that the writer did not know what he meant to say until he said it. A typo of ‘murder’ for ‘mirror’ can change the whole plot of a novel.”

“As everyone knows, the origins of words don’t prove much; but it seems true that we still use fiction in the original sense, not to describe some noble old lie which can be told, with no great loss, in a variety of ways, but to describe a specific kind of made-up story, a story we think valuable precisely because of the way it’s shaped.”

“What writers do, if they haven’t been misled by false canons of taste or some character defect, is try to make up an interesting story and tell it in an authentically interesting way—that is, some way that, however often we may read it, does not turn out to be boring.”

The odds against a writer’s achieving a real work of art are astronomical.”

“Every good writer is many things—a symbolist, a careful student of character, a person of strong opinions, a lover of pure tale or adventure.”

“A true work of fiction is a wonderfully simple thing—so simple that most so-called serious writers avoid trying it, feeling they ought to do something more important and ingenious, never guessing how incredibly difficult it is. A true work of fiction does all of the following things, and does them elegantly, efficiently: it creates a vivid and continuous dream in the reader’s mind; it is implicitly philosophical; it fulfills or at least deals with all of the expectations it sets up; and it strikes us, in the end, not simply as a thing done but as a shining performance.”
Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
To Leave A Comment, Use The Link At The Top-Right of The Post :-)
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

The “Mechanics” of Writing My Next Book…

For those just tuning in to this blog, I’m currently not publishing new posts 5 days a week, like I did for four years.

I’ll be returning to more intensive blogging; but, not until my next book is finished.

However, while I’m working on the book, I’ll be in here to give updates—like today :-)


I’ve just finished organizing all my preparatory notes—reduced about 25,000 words down to somewhere around 9,000.

Next step is re-reading my last novel, Notes from An Alien <— grab a free copy

The book I’m working on is an expansion on that book—a deeper-telling—different characters—but, it must fit into the time-line of the last novel

So, as I read, I’ll be taking yet more notes—notes that will turn into an “outline”

Then, I can throw all the notes into the blender of my mind and heart; then, get on with the actual writing………

Again, if you’re new here, do, please, while I’m not posting as often, take advantage of the over 1,000 posts already here—either pop some words in the Search Box at the upper right or explore the Top Tags widget further down on the left.

Enjoy! :-)


By the way, my last novel was published by FastPencil.

The next one will be published through Smashwords (with a possible paperback through FastPencil…).
To Leave A Comment, Use The Link At The Top-Right of The Post :-)
For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

I’m Still Here . . .

Breaking my sabbatical a bit—long enough to let you know I’m deep into a family crisis that will, more than likely, end up clearing the emotional decks for unclouded sailing… 

Doing a little “side-research” before I get back to the next book—though, any research I do ends up being about the book

Friendly Reminder: There are over a thousand posts on this blog—accessible through a search at the upper right or a visit to the Top Tags widget, down a bit on the left

Also, the tabs at the very top are full of rich resources

If you’re a reader, Happy Reading!

If you’re a writer, write!

If you’re a publisher, become more aware of the needs of your writers and readers


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