Corpus Delicti - Poetry Collection, Critique by Anthony Servante

Recently, this very insightful and intelligent critique of my poetry collection, 'Corpus Delicti', was posted online by Anthony Servante. Please have a read and visit Mr Servante's wonderful blog for more interesting and thoughtful article and reviews.

Poetry Today February 2015
Featuring William Cook
Critique by Anthony Servante



Just as Andrew D. Blacet represents the poetry of stream of consciousness, William Cook reflects the work of self-awareness, what the Romantic Poets called "sublime realization". Utilizing the form of a "journal" to capture his perspective, Cook escorts us through a prosaic journey "between birth and death", not so much "life" as the waiting period of consciousness as it develops only to die. Thus the title "Corpus Delicti", an allusion to a crime without the evidence of a body, or rather, a body of work without the evidence of existence. The book of selected poetry becomes that body, that proof of life, that self-awareness of being without beginning or end, or in Cook's words: "the realization of a truth about oneself...And this new knowledge of the soul — that there is no soul, no muse, no thinking heart . . . it is the worst truth I have ever had to bear". And so he shared his burden with his readers. It is our intent here to see how he does so in poetic deed.

If we read each of the poems as if they were each a breath the poet is taking and that each breath will lead to death, we can understand how William Cook has arranged his words for us to empathize with rather than understand. This is not a puzzle with one solution. It is more a prism with a sequence of colors leading to blackness or in this case the absence of color. It is more about the order of chaos rather than a "meaning" to life. We can call this empathetic reading a "subjective correlative", a personal reading unique unto each reader rather than a unified book of poems with a universal truth that we can all identify with. That is not the experience here. But allow me to delineate a bit to discuss the "objective correlative" from which I have altered my phrase to better appreciate its relevance and history given Cook's poetic rapport with the Age of Romanticism.

T.S. Eliot, poet and literary critic, developed the "objective correlative" in his criticism of Shakespeare's Hamlet. Simply, it is the evocation of emotion by its representation in the work (poem, play, painting, etc) or the corresponding "image" in the world to the word or symbol of the image. We write "my first puppy" and its corresponding emotion should be a nostalgically pleasant memory of one's own first puppy. And this definition worked fine for the Romantic critics, but today we must not trust to its universality. Not all people have pleasant memories of their first puppy. Some of us wept in terror when we were first introduced to this four-legged beast, while others suffered an allergic reaction. We understand what the writer intends when he writes of his first puppy, we understand the consensus, but we each have our own empathetic relationship to the term, namely, "I screamed" or "I sneezed" rather than I fell in love with the little critter. It is this personal correspondent with the image, rather than the intellectual understanding of it, that we call the subjective correlative. We want to find ourselves in the work, not the artist.

Corpus Delicti is a challenge to our emotions, not our intellect. To read it as an objective correlative is to detach oneself from the experience; to read it as a subjective correlative is to share Cook's experience with our own, for each individual consciousness is itself an object in the world just as much as a puppy or chair or poem. In Circle of Ouroboros, the poet points out this relation of the work to the readers,

And so the steps one makes towards the end
to quote a cliché
are aspects of the journey
the final destination relegated
to the ethereal realms of the unknown
the infinite possibilities that exist
outside of human consciousness (p 13).

To know the "unknown" is to know ourselves outside of human awareness, just as we understand Cook's realization of this "cliché" (that is, its universality). In New dawn prophecy, Cook expands on this alienating realization, 

What lies outside the heart and soul is restriction
that leads an arterial bypass past life’s true intentions (p 14).

How does one come to know one's self? Alone, one can only know alienation and solitude, but via others (friends, poetry, art, etc), we find our humanity, our individuality among the multitude. 

In Epiphanous vision, the poetry echoes the fallibility ("bullshit") of finding universal truths, whereas individual truths coalesce with others' truths,

nothing is as plain as it seems
when you put words to it
when you apply words to the world ...

perhaps of some consequence
to the greater scheme of things
(whatever that may be!)
‘truth’ that elusive quagmire
of common census
inferring evidence
that many, can make one reality
and that it is without variance
indisputable . . .
bullshit!!! (p 17).

"Without variance", there can be no universal truth. We vary as individuals and it is with variance that we find ourselves rather than a "greater scheme" (an objective correlative to reality or the world). 

Once William Cook has established this intent for the reader to experience, he delves into the workings of individual minds. In Terror is not my thing, Cook joins his experience with his readers, "It’s fear for all and all for fear" (p 22). In Dead Love, he is more specific in his emotive description, "My warm loving cadaver we are one, forever". The cadaver can be read as his lover or his own dead body, the vessel that his life occupies. This dualism (other and self) represents individuality as single being and collective beings, just as the reader and the poet become one through the "corpus delicti".

In Truth, Cook gives us a straightforward accounting of the universality of emotions: 

Truth is: hunger
pain/death
violence/dissolution
apathy/hope . . .
Anything
you want it to be.
I believe . . . (p 33).

The italicized "I believe" describes the poet's thoughts on "truth" after sharing with us those universal emotions that we all identify with in our own way (subjective correlative) while this belief also asserts Cook's own identity as its own subjective correlative. Very clever. Very forceful. Then in ironic reflection, Cook restates this truth in I who am no one:

I is nothing and
I speak for all of us when
I say that (p 34)

Ego is everything and nothing. All egos are also everything and nothing. But our collective empathy with this "truth" is the only truth we can realize. Much as the individual can be alone in a crowd, so too can he be the crowd. Cook teases us with this irony. Think of the illusion where the drawing can be seen as an old woman or a young woman. Which is it? Neither. And both.

The totality of the poetry of Corpus Delicti echoes that last sentiment, for the book is neither the work of William Cook nor our own reflections, but both. In this dark journal of self-realization, self-deprecation, and selfish irony, William Cook has given us the abyss that we stare into just as it stares into us. 


Get your copy here.

Anthony Servante, Review, Corpus Delicti, Poetry, Critical Analysis, Literary Criticism, critique,

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Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors #4 - Michaelbrent Collings



Today we have another special interview in the popular series - Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors. Today's guest is author Michaelbrent Collings, an internationally bestselling novelist, a #1 bestseller in the U.S., and has been one of Amazon's top selling horror writers for years. He is one of the most successful indie horror writers in the United States, as well as a produced screenwriter and member of the WGA, HWA, and several other writing groups with cool-sounding letters. He's also a martial artist, and cooks awesome waffles ('cause he's macho like that). He published his first "paying" work - a short story for a local paper - at the age of 15. He won numerous awards and scholarships for creative writing while at college, and subsequently became the person who had more screenplays advance to quarterfinals and semifinals in the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship screenwriting competition in a single year than anyone else in the history of the competition. His first produced script, Barricade, was made into a movie starring Eric McCormack of TV's Will & Grace and Perception, and was released in 2012. Michaelbrent also wrote the screenplay for Darkroom (2013), starring Kaylee DeFer (Gossip Girl, Red State) and Elisabeth Rohm (American Hustle, Law & Order, Heroes). As a novelist, Michaelbrent has written enough bestsellers that listing them seems weird, especially since they're already listed elsewhere on the website. In addition, he has also written dozens of non-fiction articles which have appeared in periodicals on several continents.

Here he is, Mr Michaelbrent Collings:



Who are you and where do you come from? Do you think that your life experience has gone someway towards making you a successful author in your chosen genre?

      I come from a background that is mildly schizophrenic: a sickly, small kid who devoured every martial art he could growing up; was a missionary for two years in an exceptionally poor part of South America; graduated from college majoring in TV production; went to a top 20 law school where I juggled work as a law clerk, work on the law review, and an unpaid church job that took up close to thirty hours a week; became a partner at a respected Los Angeles law firm; and having failed at my fallback job moved into work as a full-time writer. Sheesh.

       Yes, this totally helped with my writing and my success. I learned to talk to people as a missionary, I learned to work with graphics and layouts (talents that port over to book covers and book trailers!) in college for studio work, I learned lots about people in general through all of it. And my writing was a thread throughout, learned from the very beginning at my parents' knees: my father, a tremendously talented writer and English professor at a major university; and my mother, who is Made of Awesome.



You are a #1 best-selling author on Amazon  – if you could pinpoint one thing in particular that has grabbed readers of your work, what would you say it is?

       Most people who write me say it's my honesty and my outlook. By which I think they mean that I write a lot of scary stories, but those scary stories are, at their core, stories about hope – about the light beyond the darkness. Or at least about a sense that there is more to life than just loss. And a lot of my books are populated not by nubile teens whose prime motivation is "To bang or not to bang?" but by families with real world problems – paying the rent, taking care of wayward kids, loving each other.



You are also a successful script-writer and a public speaker – how important are the things that you do outside of writing novels and fiction, to your success as an author? I.e. how important is it to self-published authors to be other things (than just an author) and to spread their work across other genres and creative outlets?

      I think it's tremendously important that authors today be willing to do things that take them out of their "writing caves." I blog, I tweet, I Facebook, I speak at schools and comic cons and symposia. All this feeds into people who (hopefully) look at my books. The books have to be awesome to keep them as readers – and, more important, as people who will recommend the books to their friends – but it's all a great net for catching more audience.



I notice that you and other best-selling self-published authors also write non-fiction titles. How important is it for successful self-published authors to establish themselves as ‘experts in their field’ via non-fictional works?

     Non-fiction titles aren't tremendously important for me. I've written some law and some martial arts instruction books, but those are so outside my bivouac that most people looking for those aren't looking for my fiction titles, and vice-versa. Or maybe they are, because they're as crazed in their interests as I am. <grin>



What kind of marketing did you do to establish your author brand and what do you think is the most successful marketing for self-published authors? Is there any one thing that you have determined has helped you sell more books – i.e. could you outline your path to establishing your brand and your most successful sales method/s as?

      My most successful practices for marketing and brand promotion are simply this:

1)   Write great books.

2)   Tell others about the great books.

A lot of people don't care to learn how to write. Or if they do, then they don't write volume – one or two is enough for them. Mistake. Forbes recently did a study of the top selling authors of all time, and the ONLY things they had in common were a huge body of work cranked out over time. 
And then, once you've learned how to write awesome books (which will take an average of ten years of hard study), and you have actually written them… you gotta tell folks about them. No one will search in your underwear drawer for your manuscript, you have to take it into the world yourself.
       Well, I might poke around in your underwear drawer, but that's a whole other ball of wax.


Do you design your own covers? How important do you think cover design is to a potential reader and how big a part do you think it has played in your success to date? 

       Cover design is critical. I do design my own covers, but again – thank you crazy background – I had a bit more schooling on the subject than a lot of authors. Don't do something that looks amateur – people won't buy it. They just won't. If you haven't the skill to put together a professional cover or the commitment to shell out some bucks to have someone else do it, people will infer that you're work sucks. And they'll likely be correct. Stinky but true.



In your opinion, is traditional publishing on the way out? Do you think that traditional publishing can continue to keep up with the rise of self-publishing?

      I think they both have an important place in our reading landscape. Self-pub is here to stay, but trad-pub has great strengths, too. I'm not a "hater" of either. The more the merrier . . .



For more of this fascinating interview, please visit Self-Publishing Successfully for full transcript.


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Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors #3 - Matt Drabble


Today, I'm proud to bring you another interview in what is proving to be quite a popular series - Secrets of Best-Selling Self-Published Authors. In the hot seat is Best-selling U.K. author, Matt Drabble. His Amazon Author's page bio describes him as thus: 

"Born in Bath, England in 1974, a self-professed "funny onion", equal parts sport loving jock and comic book geek. I am a lover of horror and character driven stories. I am also an A.S sufferer who took to writing full time two years ago after being forced to give up the day job. I have a career high position of 5th on Amazon's Horror Author Rank of which I am immensely proud. "GATED" is a UK & US Horror Chart Top Ten Best Seller & winner of the Full Moon Awards 2014 Horror Book of the Year. "ASYLUM - 13 TALES OF TERROR" is a US Horror Chart #5 It was also voted #5 on The Horror Novel Review's Top 10 Books of 2013 & is a Readers Favorite 2014 Gold Medal Winner.
"ABRA-CADAVER" won an Indie Book of the Day award."


Without further ado, let's get in to it. Remember to make sure you check out Matt's excellent books and the other interviews in this series here on my website. 


Who are you and where do you come from? Do you think that your life experience has gone someway towards making you a successful author in your chosen genre?

My name is Matt Drabble and I am originally from a city called Bath in the South West of England. A few years ago I suffered a nasty back injury and as a result I was unable to keep on working a full time job. I have always liked writing and had many a notepad full of ideas and the beginnings of books. One day I stumbled across an article on Amazon’s self-publishing platform. With time on my hands I figured why not turn one of my half finished stories into a full book, mainly just to see if I could, so I did.


Where do you get your inspiration from for your writing and for the way you brand yourself as an author?

For me King is King and long live the King. I am increasingly working in the short story format and have produced three anthologies so for and am currently working on my fourth. Inspiration for a short story with a twist really comes from the world around me. It could be a news article that makes me think “what if?” What if the outcome was different, what if something else happened that changed the whole complexion? Normally I start at the end with a twist and work backwards from there.


If you could pinpoint one thing in particular that has grabbed readers of your work, what would you say it is? I.e. What do you think it is about your work that makes readers buy your books?

I always try and write stories with some depth to them. There is a market for the gross out horror fan, especially amongst younger readers, but my audience seem to be older readers. I’d like to think that I write with a decent pace, interesting and exciting situations, but all with three dimensional characters that you’ve come to care about.


You have enjoyed best-selling status – is there a particular moment in your career as an author that you realized that you had done something right to get where you are now? Can you pinpoint what it was that spiked your success to date?

When I first started self-publishing about two and a half years ago, the market was less saturated and you could do a free giveaway and I’d average maybe 3000 downloads a day without any marketing. Now without any advertising you’d be lucky to see 100 [downloads]. I set myself a deadline of three books to see some improvement in sales figures to give me any encouragement to keep going. Luckily, after the first two sank without trace, the third offering was a horror thriller called “Gated” which was a more deliberate attempt to produce something with more of a commercial appeal. The going was slow but with a lot of patience and determination sales started to pick up, reviews were good and I had a big free giveaway weekend which netted me around 31,000 downloads. My next book was a horror anthology called “Asylum – 13 Tales of Terror” which sold about 1600 books in the first month with no marketing. I am a firm believer that as long as your work is decent, once people see it they will buy it. The obvious problem with Amazon now is getting your book high enough up the charts for readers to see it.


Did you try to get publishing contracts for your books early on with traditional book publishers? If so, did you have any success there or if not what was it that made you decide to self-publish the majority of your work?

Yes. I sent out my stuff to every agent and publisher that accepted submissions. I did finally sign a deal with a publisher based in San Francisco who then unfortunately went out of business about four days before my launch.


Why self-publish?

The great thing about self-publishing is that anyone can do it; unfortunately, the bad thing is also that anyone can do it. I believe that a lot of readers have had their fingers burnt by poor work and can be more sceptical and less willing to give a new author a chance. Self-publishing also gives an author time to grow and breathe, time to develop and time to forge a very thick skin. The only way to get better is to write and write a lot.

For more of this fascinating interview, please visit Self-Publishing Successfully for full transcript.

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