Flash and Other Short Fiction: Git Some Here!

Lots of creative peaks for me these days. I’m writing daily, with results I’m excited and proud to share. I’m getting into drawing – and cartooning – and some of those pieces may see daylight soon.

I love the creating and I love the sharing of it.

But. Every day I wake up less enthused about marketing and promotion. As long-time blog followers can testify, these have always been sticking points, so by now my enthusiasm is in minus territory.

Until now, I haven’t minded the formatting demands of self-publishing. The list-making, i-dotting, t-crossing parts of me have enjoyed it, sometimes.

However, given my current creative spurt, I am way way behind in making my work available as ebooks or print-on-demand volumes and I don’t expect the situation to change any time soon.

And yet. I want people to read my writing. So. I’m going to post more of it here.

The Short Fiction menu atop this page has now got several stories and I’ll be adding more each week. Ish.

DDsE used to have its own daily blog. I’ll be re-instating that as soon as I finish editing the 7th in that 9-novella series.

Nica fans – coming soon is a FRAMES short story that takes place right after Nica of the New Yorks.

While I was writing this, seventeen bizillion other pieces of writing went on-line. Still, I hope you can find the time to read some of mine. And I hope you enjoy them!

Advertisements

Read Local (A proposal)

On Nov 12, 2018, I held a meeting to start a Read Local movement in our area.  About a dozen folks attended. I’ve annotated this post, and edited the ideas at bottom, to reflect discussion at the meeting. My original post is in black text, post-meeting edits in red.

 

Dear writers of Santa Barbara County (and thereabouts),

Last year I moved to Carpinteria and discovered that my neighbors include a great variety of interesting and talented writers. Too few people know this. I’d like to change that.

Many of you feel similarly and quite a few have already organized your own groups to build community among local writers. Let’s get your efforts more widely known, then grow them by developing a Read Local movement.

Purpose: To increase the visibility and value of local writers by sharing our art and entertainment within our communities.

Important: This group does not exist to promote or sell individual writers, but instead to connect writers with their neighbors; to make people aware of, proud of all our local talent. (Indirectly, of course, this can help individuals…) Well, some of our group do want promotional events. Some don’t. I think the solution is to have each kind of activity, but keep them separate.

Mantra(s): Whatever we wind up doing, it needs to be open and friendly, supportive and fun, honest and transparent, sustainable and consistent. Also, we share the workload or we don’t do it.

Models: We wouldn’t be the first such group. For example…

Next Steps:  We’ll next be meeting in small groups to finalize group mission, purpose, priorities, and scope, then plan and launch the activities that interest the most people. Everything about this proposal is still on the table, open to change. If you missed the first meeting we can catch you up!

If you want to stay informed about our Read Local, make sure I have your email. (If you leave a comment on this blog I will automatically get your email.)

Possible Activities: There are so many ways to take Read Local. Below is a starter set of ideas with simplest at top. (If you have other ideas, we want to hear them!) As you go down the list, the ideas take more resources (people, time, money). (I’ve included my guesstimates on resources.)

To make Read Local sustainable, we need to start small then grow only when enough people commit to tackling new efforts.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Finalize name, regional scope, and purpose/mission for this group. 

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One time, revisit every couple years.

How many people to be sustainable?: I volunteer to lead the effort but welcome help, input and buy-in from as many as possible.

Set-up efforts and costs: 1-3 meetings, 90 minutes each.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Create a Read Local brand, logo, book sticker. 

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One time to create. Sticker printing will recur.

How many people to be sustainable?: 1-2. 

Set-up efforts and costs: $2k-ish.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Find out what writers’ groups and kindred efforts already exist. List them. Learn their history, experience, words of wisdom. Over time, help to network them and broadcast them.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing curation of the information.

How many people to be sustainable?: 1-3

Set-up efforts and costs: Canvas local groups, compile the results.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Maintain a Mailchimp database of emails to stay in contact with local writers and those interested in us. Write and send emails sometimes. Make sure recipients are only getting the emails they want to get (ex only send promotional emails to people who want them). Update email addresses as needed.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-3

Set-up efforts and costs: Learn Mailchimp. Input existing emails. Put emails in groups according to interests (ex, writer? reader? wants to hear about author promotions?)

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Live readings modeled after Out Loud Santa Barbara. Solicit then select submissions to feature 10 varied writers per reading, arrange venue and publicity.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Occasional. Every 2 months, opposite Out Loud schedule?

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-3

Set-up efforts and costs: Purchase (then store and schlep) sound system, advertise for submissions, read and select (fairly! transparently!) submissions, publicize event.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Add bells and whistles to the live readings. Record the readings then post them? Let the performers sell books for cash-only? … Eventually add credit-card sales? Involve local TV?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Occasional.

How many people to be sustainable?: 3-5 + treasurer

Set-up efforts and costs: Depends. For recording: equipment? For sales: bookkeeping, bank account, credit card reader and app.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Write and email a newsletter. Include free excerpts of local writing. (Can recycle this content for web page or columns, see below…) Solicit contributions, monitor them to uphold group purpose.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: occasional — monthly? quarterly? annually?

 How many people to be sustainable?: 2-3 with contributions from many

Set-up efforts and costs: time to do writing and maintain consistent, engaging presence

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Provide free excerpts and short pieces of our writing, as well as blurbs about our writers. On a website/blog? In a newsletter? Maybe in a column in the Coastal View News?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: regular, on-going, once a week or once a month.

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4 with contributions from many

Set-up efforts and costs: time to gather writing and distribute it.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Publish an anthology of our writing. In print and as an ebook.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One time or very occasional.

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4 with contributions from many

Set-up efforts and costs: time to gather writing, format, edit. Cost of publishing (depending on length, about $5/paperback via Amazon’s print on demand services.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Create and maintain internet presence Web page/blog? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Google Plus? This would include upcoming events, author info, free excerpts. Would likely have one set of content then link or copy to the other social media. Would have to monitor to uphold group purpose.

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4

Set-up efforts and costs: time to do writing and maintain consistent, engaging presence

 ===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Build, steward, and contribute to Little Free Library stands.  There are about 2 dozen stands in south SB County. If we want to add our books we should be good custodians of the system. Investigate coordinating with the littlefreelibrary organization? Maybe Carp Arts Center would fund and host a stand that features local authors? Maybe the books by Read Local authors could have a Read Local sticker?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing

How many people to be sustainable?: 2-4 with book donations from many authors.

Set-up efforts and costs: $… $$??

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Fun freebie events such as geocache treasure hunts with giveaway books as prizes; special themed events (ex a family reunion contest plus a showcase of local memoirs).

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One-time.

How many people to be sustainable?: Each event needs 2 people.

Set-up efforts and costs: Wildly varied. Will always need publicity and freebies and venues.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Pop-up bookstore. How might we include ebook sales?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Occasional

How many people to be sustainable?: 3-4 + treasurer. Credit card sales require bookkeeping and bank account.

Set-up efforts and costs: Venue, publicity, signage. Solicit books and materials for sale. Permits and permissions. Book and equipment schlepping, set-up, take-down.

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Annual Writers’ Fair like the spring 2017 event in Carpinteria. Add credit-card sales (which requires bookkeeping and bank account).

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Once a year but takes effort for at least half the year.

How many people to be sustainable?: 4-6 + treasurer

Set-up efforts and costs: venue, publicity (digital and hard copy), tables and chairs, sound system, planning, schlepping, credit card sales?

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Become a non-profit or not-for-profit. Set up a leadership group? Appoint a treasurer? Open a bank account? Go after grants and other funding opportunities for our events and their marketing?

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: Ongoing.

How many people to be sustainable?: 3-5?

Set-up efforts and costs: Considerable? Lengthy?

===== ACTIVITY IDEA: Have a table at local farmers’ markets. Sell books of local authors. Provide handouts that include excerpts, newsletter copies, links. Transparent bookkeeping. Establish a rule: If you want us to sell your books at a table, you need to volunteer to man the table and for every X hours that you volunteer, you get to sell your books Y days…

One time, occasional, or ongoing?: One or more days per week?!

How many people to be sustainable?: 6-8 + treasurer.

Set-up efforts and costs: Schlep and store table, books, signs, printed materials. Handle money. Requires bookkeeping and bank account.

 

FRAMES for free for 1 day

Download it for free on Amazon on Wednesday July 25.

NoLAnew4Noisetrade

When rookie private eye Nica takes on a mysterious case, she enters a world of multiple dimensions called Frames, where buildings and lawn chairs can be sentient, a stray cat has great powers, books can be killers, and clouds can be spies. At home, Nica solves missing person cases; in the larger reality of the Frames, she gets swept into an escalating battle with stakes that could not be higher.

That describes the first novel in my FRAMES quartet.

Those who’ve read it will be happy to see that the new cover features Monk and Miles…

Download it for free on Amazon for one day only, Wednesday July 25.

A Girl, a boy, a feral cat, pursuit by unhuman things.

ddse-series-cover-smashwordsI’ve got a new series of books called DDsE and you can start reading for free; download an e-version* from Smashwords**.

DDsE is a teen/YA (young adult) paranormal horror romance that will ultimately be 9 short volumes. Books 1 and 2 are now on-line. Books 3-5 will be available within weeks; the remaining 4 are coming within the next year.***

What’s DDsE about? Here’s a blurb:

Being sixteen is Tupac Eminem. Ella has no one to talk to except her new diary, which she has to hide from Ma and Pa Warden, the foster parents she’s stuck with since her family got flattened in a car accident. Now that she lives with the wardens, she has to switch to a new school, where people act like her tragedy is contagious. Her new suburb is just as boring as the last, and offers no hope of secret passageways or magic. But life is not all bad. There’s an interesting boy at the new school – although his family turns out to be impossibly dangerous. And there’s a feral cat, living in the suburb’s only open space, a pitiful excuse for woods. Sometimes the cat invades Ella’s mind. She tells her diary, ‘I’ve gone a special kind of crazy, a split personality. And my other personality is a cat, not a person.’

* Eventually, I’ll compile the short volumes and make them available as paperbacks, too.

** Soon, DDsE will also be downloadable at the Apple iStore, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Noisetrade. Eventually, it will come to Amazon, too.

*** Some of you may say, “Wait, I thought you were sending DDsE to publishers, is that effort kaput?” Still in progress. Three have declined. The first two liked the story but didn’t like the narrator. The third one loved the narrator but didn’t like the story. (I forgot how maddening this process can be.) Other verdicts are still out but apparently I don’t have enough patience (nor, perhaps, enough decades) to grind through the submission process.

DDsE: Easier Except for Being Harder

Back in 2008 or so, when serialized fiction returned to vogue, I decided it wasn’t for me as a reader or a writer. I mean, I don’t even like Dickens, probably the most famous serial writer of all time.

The latest wave of serial authors seemed to publish with little or no editing. No, thanks! I want to read your best – not your first – writing.

Many writers will tell you that editing is the most important part of writing. I’ve always been in that camp. I edit my own novels heavily. This painful tedious work yields little of the satisfaction of writing but almost always improves my drafts.

And yet.

There’s no denying the power of spontaneous ideas, nor the impacts of intuition. All my best ideas materialize, simply and suddenly. Perhaps I tap the unconscious and they rise up. Perhaps they drop from the wild blue. I include countless spontaneous ideas in my novels but I’ve never let them steer a project – until now.

A few months ago, I was miserable about my writing or lack thereof. I’d been editing the second book in the FRAMES series for what felt like forever. Weird about that. Even in rough draft, I knew Book 2, Nica of the New Yorks, was stronger than Book 1 – and I’m quite proud of Book 1, Nica of Los Angeles. Yet Book 2’s editing was interminable. No wonder, when so many pages went like this:

editing

Edits to a page of Nica of the New Yorks (Frames Book 2)

No matter how many words you change, though, editing doesn’t feel like writing; and as the editing went on, the way I missed writing became as physical as a toothache. But I couldn’t risk starting a new project that might derail or distract me. For the foreseeable future, finishing FRAMES is my main event.

Meanwhile, I became a fan of an amazing improv comedy group, The Improvised Shakespeare Company, which invents 2-hour plays on the fly. Watching those plays inspired me to write more improvisationally. I began writing short bits (about 300 words) daily. For the first time, I wrote without planning or conscious knowledge of the story, characters, themes, format, or genre. Just let it go and see where it takes you.

The writing was joyful and easy at first. But as the installments added up, I realized I liked them. A lot. Then a varied group of beta readers responded with enthusiasm — and the stakes changed. Suddenly the outcome became important. I wanted to stop and plan, I caught myself pausing to ponder. I wasn’t stuck, mind you, but I had begun to fear mis-steps. My conscious mind was trying to regain control, to follow the usual procedures, make a map to a destination.

But I’m not ready to end the experimental wandering. So I’m forcing renewed focus on the journey, not the endpoint. My experiment has become DDsE, a young adult paranormal horror romance. Each installment is a diary entry by Ella, a 16-year-old who despises her life until two mysterious allies enter it: a strange boy with a dangerous family and a feral cat that seems to get inside Ella’s head.

And now I’d better get back to writing DDsE. I’m very concerned about where I left Ella yesterday…

Oh, To Be Wrong As Dazzlingly As Chandler!

$_35Don’t ask me what book I would have if I could only have one book. I hate that. Choose one book-record-movie-food. Perhaps I approach the game with an excess of realism. I imagine being stuck on the obligatory desert island, reading the same book while eating blueberries, over and over and. No matter how long or wonderful the piece, at some point my adoration must sour and someday I’ll come down with hives.

I can say that Raymond Chandler is my favorite author. I’ve re-read his seven novels multiple times and each time my appreciation grows. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to reading The Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler by Frank MacShane, which I have owned for many years. Maybe I’ve been afraid to learn too much about Chandler the man. I like having heroes and that typically requires blinders to the person behind the artist.

Alternatively, I could evolve to the point where I don’t need to pretend my heroes are perfect. But that’s another post – and maybe another person – entirely.

Another hardboiled noir masterpiece that is among my favorite books is Double Indemnity, by James M. Cain, for very different reasons. I usually need characters to root for, and there are none in Double Indemnity. But the writing is remarkably evocative, in part because it is so spare. Every word is the right one, and every word is required. I’ve encountered very few novels like that – so these qualities are not essential to greatness, but are impressive.

A predecessor of Chandler and Cain’s was Dashiell Hammett, who many people revere as a founder of the hardboiled detective genre. Hammett always leaves me flat, although I keep coming back to his books, in part because Chandler so admired him.

Turns out that Chandler didn’t think much of Cain. In fact, here is what he wrote in a letter to his publisher, Knopf, in 1942, at a time when he was unhappy about the quality of his recently-completed third novel. That novel, The High Window, is one of my favorites! Chandler was a messy and reassuring mix of self-confidence and self-doubt.

I do hope the next one will be better and that one of these days I shall turn one out that will have that fresh and sudden touch that will click. Most of all perhaps, in my rather sensitive mind, I hope the day will come when I won’t have to ride around on Hammett and James Cain, like an organ-grinder’s monkey. Hammett is all right. I give him everything. There were a lot of things he could not do, but what he did he did superbly. But James Cain – faugh! Everything he touches smells like a billygoat. He is every kind of writer I detest, a faux naif, a Proust in greasy overalls, a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and a board fence and nobody looking. Such people are the offal of literature, not because they write about dirty things, but because they do it in a dirty way. Nothing hard and clean and cold and ventilated. A brothel with a smell of cheap scent in the front parlor and a bucket of slops at the back door. Do I, for God’s sake, sound like that? Hemingway with his eternal sleeping bag got to be pretty damn tiresome, but at least Hemingway sees it all, not just the flies on the garbage can.

Heigho. I think I’ll write an English detective story, one about Superintendent Jones and the two elderly sisters in the thatched cottage, something with Latin in it and music and period furniture and a gentleman’s gentleman: above all one of those books where everybody goes for nice long walks.

Yours most sincerely,

Raymond Chandler

Oh yeah. He didn’t like Agatha Christie much, either.

All of which reminds me that my favorite speech in the movie of Double Indemnity was a Chandler addition. He adapted the novel to the screen for director Billy Wilder. Now that is one of my favorite movies, although it would not be on a loop in my screening room on the desert island. I didn’t know that Fred MacMurray was a great actor until I saw Double Indemnity. But that is a digression within a digression. (Nested digressions!) Anyhow, the added dialog was in the opening confession: “Yes, I killed him. I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.”

 

A Shot to the Foot — Or the Head? (Cautionary Lists for the Self-Published)

Cover art by Lars Huston.

Cover art by Lars Huston.

This is a sad story about self-inflicted damage to my recently published e-book, WAS IT A RAT I SAW, a psychological thriller involving split brain research, animal rights, and a love quadrangle.

I’ve always been a decent copy-editor, but things went terribly wrong with RAT. I thought it would be my easiest e-publishing experience. After all, I have the hardcover version, published by Bantam-Doubleday-Dell after mind-bogglingly extensive editing by their professional crew. All I had to do was retype it; and typing is easy for me.

Yeah. Well. My first e-version had hundreds of typos that I failed to notice. Not an exaggeration and not a … typo. Hundreds. I thought I had reviewed it carefully: professional-quality self-delusion! Below I itemize what I think went wrong, in case it helps another self-published writer avoid a similar nightmare.

It turns out that there are readers who ignore typos, and readers who are personally offended by them. My first several reviews were from the former group – so warm and enthusiastic! Five stars and raves from strangers – awesome! I started to get a steady trickle of sales. Then the latter group of readers posted reviews. All those typos opened the door for some nasty attacks. My trickle of sales stopped on the day the bad reviews appeared.

(Don’t get me wrong – I hate typos and don’t blame readers for hating them also. Probably because I support indie writers, I would never write an attack review because of typos, though … especially when I got the book for free. But if I didn’t absolutely love a typo-riddled book, I would avoid other works by that author.)

RAT’s problems may yet worsen. More than 2000 patrons of Amazon and Smashwords downloaded the typo-riddled version (mostly during free promotions). My initial elation about all those potential readers has mutated to fear of typo-phobic reviews, and misery that I created a situation where I may have attracted then repelled so many readers.

I’ve now spent the last couple weeks doing nothing but proof-reading and contacting reader-reviewers who were about to read the typo-riddled version and exchanging emails with Amazon and Smashwords to find out whether they can notify their patrons that a new, cleaner version is now available. (With Amazon, the answer is maybedepending on whether Amazon thinks the changes matter; with Smashwords the answer is no.)

I see sentences from RAT when I close my eyes. I induce insomnia imagining that the newly uploaded version is still full of typos that I somehow still missed. I yearn to return to editing FRAMES, my fantasy detective series. The FRAMES manuscript is dusty now, and covered with paw prints because this fellow has taken to sleeping on it:

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site.

A nice soft stack of papers makes an excellent nap site when you don’t care about typos.

I can only hope that I will be able to restore trust and momentum with the newly uploaded, corrected version of RAT. Tune in later to find out whether I have shot RAT in the foot, or the head.

Many things seem to have gone wrong during the creation of  that first e-version of RAT:

  • Software conversion glitches? I used the Apple word-processing software Pages initially, then converted to Word. At some point, one of these stripped away certain “end paragraph” markers and adjoining dialog quotation marks.
  • Rogue auto-correct? Auto-correct is a headache-inducer so I always keep that “feature” turned off, yet some of the substituted words in RAT were so bizarre! Makes me wonder if an auto-correct got engaged, clandestinely, for a time.
  • New glasses prescription needed? Many of the typos were invisible to me until I magnified the text above 300%: for example, single quotes where double quotes should be; sign instead of sigh, i where l should be.
  • Past my bedtime? In some chapters there are clusters of typos in sections that I recognize as places where I pushed myself to do just one more page before I stopped for the night.

Here is what I will do differently from now on:

  • Stick with Word. It pains me to type that. I so hate Word. However, a Word doc is a required step to prep a file for Smashwords and Amazon, so that format cannot be avoided. And with every format change, problems can multiply. If I only use Word, I limit the number of format changes.
  • Remember, humans are the real spellcheckers. The spell- and grammar-checking functions of word processors only catch easy, obvious problems. Most of my typos were subtle punctuation errors, or mistakes that produced words that were real, but wrong.
  • Save the most careful read-through for the end. I did my most careful read-through early on. I’m still uncertain how many problems I missed and how many I introduced later.
  • Blow it up. To do a serious typo hunt, I need to magnify the text to 400% zoom, then resize my window so I can only see a couple lines at a time. This minimizes the chances that my eyes will bounce, jump, or slide past overly-familiar text.
  • Learn patience. Damn, I thought I would sneak through this life without it. When I finish a book I am so eager for people to read it! But if I can get myself to set the book aside for several months, I will regain perspective and a fresh set of eyes.
  • Print it on expensive paper? At the office this works like gangbusters: nothing like printing a “final” document to spot mistakes in it. This technique may only work when racing to meet a deadline, however.
  • Read it aloud? Other writers suggest this and it sounds like a great idea — maybe to evaluate the flow of sentences rather than copy edit? Anyway, the technique didn’t help me. When I read the words aloud I missed punctuation and syntax errors.
  • Read it backwards? This is another great-sounding idea that I couldn’t get to work for me. I found fewer mistakes when I severed the words from their context by reading backwards. Maybe I failed to select the right length of prose to read backwards.
  • Hire somebody? In principle this sounds good. Of course, one must check the checker (Horror stories abound regarding hired-gun mis-fires.) Anyhow, for the foreseeable future, I do not have the $800+ that a copy editor charges for a full-length novel.
  • Offer readers a free ebook if they report typos back to me? I have made this offer to a group of LibraryThing reviewers. Maybe they will like the offer, maybe it will piss them off and guarantee more bad reviews. Sign. (<- joke typo)

Indie authors and indie readers, I would love to get your input about any or all of this!