Take a Trip to….

Have you ever watched a video, as a Travel Guide describes all the major tourist destinations of a city? Do you remember the sickeningly sweet, cheerful voice? That isn’t helpful if you’re writing a novel, it’s much better to get the feel of a city, not the packaged version. Travelling overseas, no matter which end of the globe you’re starting from, is expensive. Although it’s much better to actually be there, you can be your own Travel Agent and arrange a virtual trip using Youtube.

Begin by choosing your destination, using “Flight To” or “Flying To.” With so many people taking videos during their vacations and business trips, you can decide which airport you want to start from and which airport you want to land at. You can watch a video recorded by someone sitting in Economy, or a video from First Class that includes a segment about the airport lounge and the luxurious amenities enjoyed throughout the flight. During the arrival, you can watch the aircraft land from a passenger’s perspective or the pilot’s point-of-view.

Now that you’ve arrived at your destination, how would you like to see the country? You can take a trip by car, bus or motorcycle. If you type, “Driving in….” you can find videos recorded during daylight hours, or at night, over quiet mountain roads, or through city traffic. Cars and buses don’t interest you? Not a problem, just type “Train ride,” or “Subway routes” with the name of the city or country, and you’re on your way.

While virtual trips will never replace a real experience, it is an option that wasn’t available to previous generations of writers. Watching a video recorded by a camera mounted on a vehicle’s dashboard or mirror, is about as close as you can get to sitting in the passenger seat, without spending a fortune to get there.

If you’ve been dreaming of a story set in a distant land, I hope this post will encourage you to write that tale, so we can all enjoy it. It’s your voice, your passion. Write.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

If you want to….

If you want your voice to be heard….Write.

If you want to share your stories with the world….Write.

If you want to help others understand your point of view….Write.

If you want to introduce a unique concept….Write.

If you want to influence the culture you live in….Write.

If you want to make a difference….Write.

Draft2Digital

The first thing you need to know about self-publishing an eBook, is it’s an uphill battle. Announcing your new eBook on social media sites is no guarantee of impressive sales numbers. I’ve read countless posts by authors promoting their books and eBooks, and only remember a few. The problem is that our inboxes are saturated with announcements, with everyone vying for our attention.

The good news is that if you self-publish an eBook with Draft2Digital, the number of markets you can reach in a short period of time is impressive. Amazon, Kobo, Apple Books and Barnes & Noble, are some of the more familiar online stores, but your eBooks can also be found on online bookstores based in Italy, France, Germany, Japan and Australia. The point is your eBook can be found by potential readers in many countries, and you never know where you’ll develop a fan base.

Draft2Digital’s reach into the international library market continues to expand, as they recently added Borrow Box. eBooks published through Draft2Digital were already available to libraries through Overdrive, Cloud Library and Baker & Taylor. You can contact many libraries in Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and the United Kingdom and tell them your eBook is available to add to their collections.

Although there are many online platforms for self-publishing eBooks, but I suggest you take a look at Draft2Digital first. I’ve had two eBooks published through Draft2Digital, Jack A Lady’s Cat and Hunting Teddy Bears, and I’m very pleased with the results. I heard about Draft2Digital at a writer’s conference three years ago, and I’m glad I did.

Whether you self-publish your writing or submit your work to traditional publishers, please don’t stop. Your stories make the world a more interesting place.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Preparing For The End

A Shock to the System (1990) starring Michael Caine is an adaptation of the novel by Simon Brett, published in 1984. What makes this adaptation particularly interesting, is how the main character has to change for the two different endings to work. At the end of the novel, Graham Marshall is about to be arrested for three murders; a homeless man, his wife, and his new boss. At the end of the movie, he gets away with those three murders and the murder of a company executive. Graham Marshall’s transition is from a completely despicable character, to a likeable scoundrel.

For the first murder, Graham is approached by a homeless man. Graham has just been passed over for a promotion and he’s now answering to a younger man he hates. In the novel he acts out of pure rage, so even though he doesn’t intend to kill the man, he has no justification for his actions. In the movie the homeless man threatens him, so when he pushes him onto the subway tracks, at least he’s acting in self-defence.

The second victim is his wife. In both the novel and the movie it’s a matter of using his wife’s death to pay off the mortgage. What distinguishes the two, is in the novel they have two children, and he’s happy to send them to live with his sister-in-law and be rid of them. The fact he doesn’t love his own children makes the reader despise him. In the movie they have two dogs. He doesn’t keep the dogs, but it doesn’t produce the same emotional reaction.

The third victim is a younger executive that gets promoted instead of Graham. In both the novel and the movie he pretends to be interested romantically with a younger woman in office, then drugs her. His plan is that she’ll think he’s been in her apartment all night, providing him with an alibi. While she’s unconscious, he leaves the apartment and rigs the propane tank in a yacht belonging to his new boss. In both cases you’re disgusted by his behaviour, using someone who admires him in order to commit murder. Graham’s new boss isn’t described positively in the novel, but he’s portrayed as extremely arrogant and condescending on screen. It doesn’t justify Graham’s actions, but it’s easier to understand why Graham hates him enough to want to kill him.

At the end of the novel, you’re glad that Graham Marshall is going to finally face justice. At the end of the movie, when it’s clear he’s just killed an executive because he wants his corner office, you laugh. From a writer’s point of view, it’s interesting to note how subtle changes influence how the audience reacts to a character. And when it comes to portraying a likeable scoundrel, no one is better suited for the role than Michael Caine.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

If you’re curious about whether I can actually apply the advice I offer in this blog, my new eBook Hunting Teddy Bears is now available to purchase. Just visit the “Published Writing” section and click on the link.

Making History

If you’ve ever listened to motivation gurus, one of their favourite techniques is to begin by talking about regrets. They ask you to imagine what it would be like to grow old, your memories filled with nothing but remorse for all the things you didn’t do when you were younger. Unfortunately, whether they intend it or not, the message they’re sending is that unless you do amazing things all your life, you’re insignificant. It’s a lie.

It has been five years since one of my best friends died at age fifty-one. He came to Canada from Laos in his early teens, after spending two years in a refugee camp in Thailand with his family. He struggled learning English, which may have been due to a hearing impairment that was discovered later in life. He had a hard life, and never achieved the kind of success that most people would describe as “making history.”  But, he did make history, just as we all do.

You can think of time as a river, and each of us is a stone in that river. As each person is born, he or she is added to the river. When someone dies, he or she is removed from the river. My friend was in the that river, influencing how it flowed for fiftfy-one years. One of my aunts, if she survives just two more weeks, will have influenced the flow for one hundred years.

If you look at a river, the larger stones may be more visible, but where the river flows is ultimately determined by the influence of all the stones in the river combined. When we think of great battles, we often focus on the leaders, but aircraft don’t fly unless someone fills their tanks with fuel, soldiers don’t have the energy to fight unless they have been fed, and ships don’t head to sea, unless someone keeps the egines running.

Let’s not forget that just like every stone in a river has an impact on the flow of water, every one of us has an influence on the flow of history. You don’t have to be on the cover of an entertainment magazine, have a bestselling novel or an Oscar winning screenplay to be significant. If you’re reading this essay, then you’re still in the river, influencing the flow of time. Keep writing, make some history.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Masterful Storytelling

I enjoy watching disaster movies like The Day After Tomorrow (2004), 2012 (2009), San Andreas (2015), Geostorm (2017)and Greenland (2020). In an instant you’re immersed in a life and death struggle as the protagonists put their lives on the line to protect their families. Because of the amazing CGI special effects, you feel like you’re right there as skyscrapers collapse, meteors crash through the atmosphere, tsunamis flood coastlines and massive volcanoes erupt.

There’s no doubt these movies are entertaining. As a Writer, however, I wonder if I’m drawn into these stories because of great writing, or am I just overwhelmed by cinematic shock and awe. Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017), written and directed by Dan Gilroy is an example of a movie based on great writing, which does not rely on expensive special effects to overpower the senses. Denzel Washington, who portrays Roman, once again demonstrates his amazing versatility as he creates a character you can both pity and admire in the same instant.

Roman J. Israel Esq. incorporates many of the ingredients required to develop great characters. Roman, is flawed, vulnerable, and doesn’t have the self-confidence or physique of a military special forces operative. That’s why he’s someone the audience can relate to; when Roman hurts, you hurt.

Suddenly forced to transition from a backroom research position to the courtroom, due to the death of a legal partner, Roman struggles to find his place in the new environment. Many people can relate to his situation, as every day they are forced to go to jobs where they feel like they’re trying to pound a square peg into a round hole. And that’s where the magic happens, when someone watching the movie thinks to themselves, I know just how you feel Roman.

And then Roman makes a life-altering decision. He has lived a lonely life on the edge of poverty and when he finally sees an opportunity to break free, he gives into temptation and rolls the dice. I found my emotions were tied in knots, because I was happy that Roman was finally enjoying the life he had dreamed of, but dreaded what might happen if someone found out what he had done. The complicated, contradictory feelings that this story produces, demonstrates that this is truly masterful storytelling. If you’re reading a book or watching a movie, and you find yourself wondering what you would do in a similar situation, that means the writer has made the story personal. Special effects can keep your attention for a couple of hours, but only a great story can reach your heart.

I highly recommend that you first read the screenplay, before watching Roman J. Israel Esq., so you can truly appreciate how great the story is, before you see Denzel Washington bring Roman to life on the screen. I found the screenplay at Script Slug www.scriptslug.com.  

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

An Excellent Pairing

In this post, I would like to be your literary Sommelier and offer you a tasteful book/movie pairing. Both offerings are from 2019, an excellent year, and concern the creation and influence if the iconic media company Netflix.

My first suggestion is the memoire, That Will Never Work by Marc Randolph. What I really appreciate about Randolph’s writing, is the way he describes how success was achieved at Netflix through hard work and innovation, without it becoming a mutual admiration society. He doesn’t try to make anyone, including himself, seem like some godlike, flawless, all knowing genius. Instead, he gives credit where credit is do, and acknowledges failures as he describes how much effort was required to stay the course in the early years of the company’s development. Although it’s a memoire, it is as enjoyable and enlightening as non-fiction narrative works by Ben Mezrich, Stephan Talty and Erik Larson.

Although it isn’t an adaptation of Randolph’s book, the documentary film Neflix vs The World directed by Shawn Cauthern and written by Gina Keeting is an excellent pairing. As well as describing the company’s early years, Netflix vs The World goes on to explain the epic battle between Netflix and Blockbuster for the video rental market and how it came to a surprising conclusion. If you’re old enough to remember renting VHS tapes at a video store, this documentary will offer you a clear explanation of why the industry has changed so dramatically. The mix of interviews, news reports and television commercials over that time is both entertaining as nostalgia and informative as history.

The real significance for writers, however, is served up in the latter segments of Netflix vs. The World as it describes Netflix’s foray into producing original material and how that has influenced other streaming services to start their own productions. If you’re a screenwriter, the market for your work has just expanded. And since short stories, plays for live theatre, and novels are adapted for feature films, it has the potential to impact all writers. That Will Never Work and Netflix vs. The World remind us how fast the media landscape can change, and writers like you and I need to be paying attention and be ready take advantage of those changes.

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

Suggestions For 2021

Some of these suggestions are ones I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs, but good advice is worth repeating.

I recently finished listening to The Practice: Shipping Creative Work by Seth Godin. I highly recommend this book, it offers practical advice and reminds artists of the importance of their work, and that sharing their work with the world is an act of generosity. The chapters are very short, so it’s ideal if you ‘re busy and need to fit your reading time into brief lulls in your schedule.

If you’re a new writer and want to learn more about the writing process, there’s no better description than a talk by Canadian science fiction writer, Robert J. Sawyer. It was recorded, in three sections, at the Ontario Writers’ Conference in 2010. The three videos combined only take about twenty-five minutes to watch.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Start reading screenplays. Three online sources are the Internet Movie Script Database, Script Slug, and The Script Lab. Learning how the screenwriting format works is important, because it will prepare you for potential opportunities in the future. If you have a great story idea, why not be ready to present it as a screenplay to a local film company?

Have a great year, I hope that you’ll find writing success in 2021!

Copyright © 2021 by J. Paul Cooper

P.S. I would really appreciate it, if you would suggest my eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat to your local library.

How Far is Your Reach?

If you’ve never tried this before, here are a couple of methods for finding out how far your writing efforts have travelled across the globe.

Do a search on Google (www.google.com) using your name in quotation marks. The quotation marks are essential; if your name is George Anderson and you don’t use quotation marks, you’ll get all the results for George, all the results for Anderson and all the results for George Anderson. Next, do the same thing for the titles of your published books, anthologies you’ve been published in, and the titles of short stories, articles and essays that have been published.

It’s especially important to search for your ebooks regularly, so you’ll know if your ebook has been pirated and offered as a free download. I would suggest that you don’t click the link for the download, because it might be a hacker using a “free ebook” as an opportunity to plant a virus or tracking software on your computer. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t recommend what you should do, if a website claims to offer a free download of your ebook.

During a recent Google search I learned that one of my published short stories has been referenced in a government document about culture. Another time I discovered a quote from one of my short stories on a science fiction website. I also found that an article I wrote for a magazine, was on the front page of a website. Since your published work represents your personal brand, you need to know where it’s being seen and commented on.

Another great resource is Worldcat (www.worldcat.org). This site allows you to find out which libraries around the world are holding copies of your books (or anthologies you’ve contributed to) in their collections. I did a search earlier today and was shocked to find out that one the anthologies I was published in, is available through Harvard, Princeton and Yale university libraries. If you don’t get a result with a title, try doing the search with the book’s ISBN.

With so many inter-connected distributors, it’s amazing how fast your book or ebook can move across the globe. My latest ebook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat was published three weeks ago, and it’s already available through online bookstores in Canada, the United States, Japan, France, Italy, Brazil, Germany and Australia. There’s no guarantee it will become popular in those countries, but since it’s available, it’s possible.

Take some time during the holidays and find out where your writing can be found, you might be surprised by how far it has travelled.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper

The Procrastination Deception

One of the reasons you may be having difficulty with procrastination, is because you’re not aware that you’re procrastinating. Here are some ways that writers procrastinate. I know, since I have mastered several procrastination techniques.

PERFECTIONISM This trap has the potential to prevent you from ever getting your writing published, including self-published work. The only solution is to accept that what you write will never be flawless. No matter how many times you read through a manuscript, or how many beta readers you use, there’s always the possibility that you won’t notice a grammatical error, or a misspelled word. So what? I’ve noticed spelling and grammar errors in books that have been reviewed by professional editors before publication. I still enjoyed the books, and I’d read other book by the same authors.

NEVER ENDING PREPARATION By this I’m referring to all the things you can do that are related to writing, without actually writing. You can attend (in-person or online) writing groups, watch interviews with your favourite authors, read blogs about writing, read or listen to books about writing, go to conferences, and listen to seminars, but never make a serious effort to write. That’s a waste. What’s the point of accumulating all that knowledge, if you never apply it?

FEAR A hard, cold reality of being author, is that some people will not like what you’ve written. I recently noticed that someone had given my eBook, What If? A Collection of Short Fiction by J. Paul Cooper one star, out of a possible five stars. I also had someone who hated one of my short stories that was published by an online literary journal. Was the criticism justified? I don’t know, but it won’t stop me from writing.

Procrastination robs you of your most precious resource: time. If you’re serious about being a writer, you have to focus on doing the work. I recently had one of my short stories, “Just A Toonie” (A Toonie is a two dollar Canadian coin.) published on The Prairie Journal of Canadian Literature website. The only reason that happened was because I wrote the story, and keep on submitting it, until I found an editor willing to publish it. Last weekend I self-published a young reader’s eBook, Jack: A Lady’s Cat through Draft2Digital. Will it be popular? I have no idea. Will readers find glaring errors? Possibly. What I do know is that I love writing, and it’s worth the risk.

Copyright © 2020 by J. Paul Cooper