Thirteen Ways to a Fiction Writer - A Review of Bruce Holland Rogers

An insurance broker, Corissa Stuckey responded, "I get the majority of my fiction from Indigo (mega-chain). I use word of mouth and browsing. Oprah doesn't affect my choice at all. I have just finished reading, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne (a book my sister in the UK lent me).  It is written in the first person from the perspective of a 9 year old boy who is the son of the SS officer than runs Auschwits. It is heartbreaking and nerve-wracking and even though I had a million things that I had to do, I couldn't stop reading." 

IT consultant, Ashish Kabir responded, "The last new fiction author I read was Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things.  I picked it up because my sister had the book for a while and said it was very good. I learnt that, for a while, the guy in charge of one of the states of India was someone called Nambodiripad.  Cool name, huh?" 

"I recently read a crime thriller called The Vanished Man by Jeffrey Deaver. I enjoyed this book because it was a very fast read, and there were more twists in it then a pretzel. My brother picked it up at the airport on his way to Aruba and read it on the plane. He recommended it to me after," from Robert Gupta, a records officer for government pensions. 

Bookstores, Oprah, maybe a journal subscription and a lot of word of mouth. These days, getting found by a new reader is either a creative or fateful process.  Even critically acclaimed author Yann Martel told the BBC News in 2004 that prior to winning the Booker Prize his first two novels didn’t get many readers despite having their own good reviews. 

"For all the effort I put into them, they didn't have much of an impact. I would write no matter what, but you do want your book to meet a reader," Martel said. 

I found Bruce Holland Rogers’ work through the Internet. Rogers’ is a writer who chooses to live and write according to what fits his needs as a writer. Lots of writers do this but few manage to make it work for them. Even fewer writers make their form of publication as original as the fiction itself.

Although, Rogers’ has produced various ways to his writing, the most unusual path is Rogers’ email subscription called shortshortshort.com. The email subscription delivers Rogers’ short-short stories into the inboxes of over 700 subscribers for $10 a year. Rogers gets props for marketing his work to more readers than some lit journals and creating an accessible way for fast people in fast times to make regular doses of fiction a common part of our media mix. Unlike lit journals, Rogers’ new and renewed subscribers are interested in receiving his work alone. There’ll be a day when his readers say things like, "I haven’t had any Bruce today."  

Writer or not, few people ever choose to actively direct their own lives – either because we don’t care to, are afraid to, don’t know how to or our current paths suit us just fine. Those who prefer a more customized life (and most creative artists do) require strong conviction and self-awareness to pursue this. Roads not taken are not paved, don’t have restaurants, washrooms, etc. Before setting off, Rogers packed himself with a heavy body of work and educated himself on the advantages and pitfalls of each road available to him. In his literary community, Rogers was discouraged from any form of self-publishing.  

"In self-publishing, the writer risks not being taken seriously. When I was starting shortshortshort.com, one creative writing professor tried very hard to talk me out of it. He felt that I would damage my reputation by looking desperate for readers. It's possible that the subscription service would not have worked at all if I hadn't already won some significant awards for my work by the time I started offering stories by e-mail."  

Though, Rogers is proud of his marketing project, he warns other writers to plot their own courses carefully. He doesn’t specialize in self-publishing; he maps his next course by whatever best suits him. What works for one writer will not work for everybody else.  Although, once a person finds a way that fits his/her needs, what happens after that is secondary.  

"I'm a writer who works best in response to deadlines. If I offered my stories by e-mail subscription, I'd have regular deadlines. I also like to give readings because I enjoy experiencing an audience’s response --- the laughter that follows a funny exchange of dialogue, for instance. Sending stories by e-mail would not be the same as reading those stories to an audience, but I would at least feel that someone was reading the stories as soon as I wrote them, and perhaps some readers would respond to the stories by e-mail."  

"Finally, as a writer, I am all over the map, writing stories for women's magazines, science fiction digests, and literary journals. I wanted to have an audience that could read my work regardless of market category. So as soon as I started thinking about the subscriptions, I could see lots of ways in which they would be a good fit with my writing and my personality."

Although, many of us aren’t capable or willing to try any form of self-marketing, most of us are catching on to the potential of the Internet. Online portfolios with a list of our accomplishments and samples of published works are becoming more common but these pages remain static and unobtrusive. They don’t invite readers and don’t lobby for speaking or reading opportunities. 

"I definitely encourage writers to try their own thing but not to the exclusion of more traditional publishing," Rogers advised. "Writers can work both sides of the street simultaneously. The traditional publishing industry can give writers access to a much larger audience than any of us is likely to reach through self-publishing. The problem is that someone else decides whether or not the writing is suitable for that audience. Self-publishing gives some power to the writer." 

Other stimuli in Roger’s writing career has him physically reaching out to other writers and artists. He is a motivational speaker in creativity and practical problem solving and has taught creative writing in various institutions such as University of Colorado and the University of Illinois.  In 2005, he joined the faculty of the Whidbey Writers Workshop MFA program.  

"Helping other writers just feels good. If I can see a hazard in someone else's path --- a deep hole that I know about because I fell into it --- it feels good to tell the next writer coming along, "Look out! Deep hole!"
 
"Helping writers is also an antidote to the isolating nature of our craft. Writing is all about communicating something with other people, but most of us compose in isolation. It can be lonely. Helping other writers makes the pursuit of literature seem less lonely."

"Finally, I think that helping other writers keeps me from developing poisonous attitudes about the success of other writers. Another writer's success doesn't diminish me, but it's true that all of us can feel under-appreciated when someone else is getting the big advances and starred reviews. Helping one another enables us to think of writing as a project that we're all involved in together." 

All career-analyzing aside, let’s get back to what really matters when discussing any writer: how’s the writing?  

Rogers provides a diverse sampling of shorts in his own website. Since he is also widely published by other online journals, typing his name on any major search engine will draw you to more of his stories. Another novelty to writers -- being described as Google-able. 

On Rogers' short-short form, one can read a story in the amount of time that it takes to download new software or a music file. They begin and end clean and sharp. Though short – for a short -- they still manage to firmly place singular and sensual images and ideas that can be carried and massaged in the back of the mind after the file has been downloaded. Examples of such images or ideas are: a couple agreeing to fall to their deaths together, a checkered clay pot without a neck, two bodiless voices discussing the difference between good and evil, etc. The sharp endings can leave the reader feeling prematurely cut-off but effectively creating a curiosity for more. The length also means that the characters don’t have a lot of opportunity to develop as in a novel or longer short story. I found I compensated by putting more of myself into the characters.  I had to be these people during the story to get a better sense of them.  This exercise can be refreshing in between the monotony of a multifarious day. Rogers’ characters, sometimes being a little disturbing, can make this an exceptional experience. 

"Some readers think that I am a pretty dark writer," Rogers said in another interview with Carl O Roach for Infinity Plus.  "Even my humorous stories have a dark edge to them. I guess I can't write without that constant awareness of mortality. However, I think that knowing ourselves to be mortal allows us to delight all the more in our existence, and to be grateful for it. I hope that delight is salient in my writing, along with the unease. They are two sides of the same coin." 

As some of his credentials, Rogers has won a Pushcart Prize, two Nebula Awards, a Bram Stoker Award, and nomination for the Edgar. Despite his accomplishments, Rogers is wary of being concerned about ‘success’.

"It's okay to fret some about success. It's fine to crave success and to do reasonable things to pursue success. But success --- whether you think you have it or not --- can be a dangerous distraction that saps your writing time and energy. What are the average writer's chances? Those aspiring writers who need reassurance on this count should probably stick to writing as an avocation."

As an example, he asked, "If you write a book that ten thousand readers thought was wonderful, but you can't make a living on the proceeds from that book, are you a failure?" 

In his interview with Carl O Roach, Rogers said, "Fiction is never irrefutably validated.  For the single reader who says, "That story didn't speak to me," the story fails."

He continued in our interview, "What matters is not the destination, but the journey. That's not because it doesn't matter where the story or novel is published or how it is received. Of course it matters. But once I arrive at such a destination, whether I like where I've arrived or not, it turns out that every supposed destination is a temporary way station. The journey continues. There's the next thing to write. And the next. Goals, whether I reach them or not, are just scenery. Putting one foot after the other is what matters." 

Currently, Rogers is producing up to 36 stories a year for his email subscribers. Rogers still provides readings and motivational speeches and is working on a novel called Steam. Like his shorts, he has tapped into the resources and support available to him through peers, friends and subscribers on the journey to his next destination.


August 2006  
© lyw