Wednesday, September 17, 2014

1,001 Rejection Slips, Old Memories Die Hard.






Louis Shalako

In one corner of my bedroom are seven boxes of model aircraft parts, tools, spares and hardware.

There are propellers and wheels, batteries, chargers, transmitters, receivers, electronic speed controls, catalogues, glue, sandpaper…you name it, and it’s probably in one of them boxes.

My dad died years ago. Flying model aircraft was something special that we shared. We flew control line planes when we were very young, He taught us how to do that, having built rubber-band models when he was a kid. He got into radio control when he was in his late fifties or early sixties. It was just something he had always wanted to do, and I guess he knew he wasn’t getting any younger.

I have no regrets about spending time with my dad. However, it’s hard to open the boxes, because it brings up a lot of sadness. My closet had a few other boxes in there, and so that’s where I began.

In three years, I have never driven a nail or hung a picture. It’s an apartment, which is not exactly the same thing as having a home. For whatever reason, maybe it’s time to lighten ship.

I threw out a couple of small shopping bags, several empty boxes, and two full, big green garbage bags. 

There was probably a hundred pounds of stuff there. This was mostly old college artwork, drawings, maps, plans for weird inventions, and photos going back to the Brownie camera my old man let me use when I was six years old…I suppose there was some sadness in those boxes as well. Fifty-something years of memories, mementos, trophies of a kind. There were faded pictures of one or two love interests in those boxes as well.

I put it in the big blue dumpster in the back parking lot.

***

My old man had a lot of model aircraft plans, many of which he designed and drafted himself. He was a very good draftsman, although he never actually worked as one. All of it is in the dumpster.
In one of them boxes I found a file folder.

Lo! And behold, ladies and gentlemen. A hundred and twenty-something rejection slips. All of them on paper. Remember? We used to put them in envelopes, on paper, and stick them in mailboxes.

Like a real hobbyist, I had saved the envelopes, probably for the colourful and exciting stamps. While I didn’t submit to every Canadian publisher, there is a good, representative selection in that file. Yep. Harper-Collins, Turnstone, Mosaic, Gaspereau, pretty much everyone you ever heard of, and some you have not. I submitted to every publisher whose guidelines did not indicate agented submissions were a requirement. I had multiple rejection slips from most or all of the agents as well.

***

I keep a document file. It’s called, oddly enough, ‘List of Subs.’ I keep track of submissions, and rejections, otherwise I’m very likely to submit the same story twice, to the same place, and you might not want to do that. It might not be very welcome. They might think you’re a dummy and that you can’t take a frickin’ hint.

When that document locked up on me—I’m still using this 13 year-old Pentium II computer; I deleted it. 

This was a mistake, because while I could not update it, I could still have checked to see what story had been submitted where, and when.

I guess that wasn’t very smart.

What I did was to publish virtually every story I had in the inventory. Then I didn’t have to worry. I published them on my blogs, I published them in collections and in stand-alone ebook novellas, short stories, etc.

Then I wrote a bunch of new stories and began submitting them around. I hope to write more short stories in November, possibly sooner if I get my next mystery novel done by the end of September, mid-October at the latest. That would be my 14th novel.

My new rejection (Oops! Sorry!) list, of course I mean my submissions list, has over a hundred and eighty items on it. The first list was up to 703 items when it locked up. And I’ve gotten a couple of dozen, maybe thirty stories published, not all for pay, and none in pro or semi-pro markets. The biggest story I ever sold was for 140 Euros, that was to Ennea, (‘9’), the Greek Saturday comic supplement to an Athens daily.

Without subscribing to Duotrope, (I’m very poor) I’m limited to the Ralan.com market list, and so that whole pro/semi-pro thing has tended to dominate my thinking. I guess that really does fall into the ‘quest for validation’ category, a thought-process that might need to be reexamined.

Either way you look at it, I am so darned close to my 1,000th rejection slip that it really isn’t all that funny, although I can guarantee that your friends will laugh if you tell them something like that.

“I told you what you gotta do, Louis!” (Roars with merriment.)

“And what’s that?” (Mystified.)

“You got to compromise your integrity.”

(That’s a good one. – ed.)

Anyway, John Creasy got 765 rejection slips before he got published, and quite frankly one or two of my books are better than one or two of his books…in my humble opinion.

Other than that, my closet is now much emptier, and sooner or later, I really have to go through all of those old model airplane boxes. If I can bring myself to throw much of it away, although some of it might be worth keeping.

Most of that stuff belongs in the big blue dumpster in the back parking lot, and one day surely I will get around to it.

It’s not wise to have too much baggage.

I don’t quite know where I’m going next.

Hopefully somewhere.


END


Thursday, August 14, 2014

God, the Soul and the Afterlife the Greatest Hoax.

The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo Buonarroti


Louis Shalako




The idea of God, the soul and an afterlife are the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated.

Most who read this will be shocked.

How arrogant. How mean and miserable of Louis Shalako! To deny his fellow humans and their afflictions the comforting notion that a sincere prayer can be efficacious, or of any real help at all.

There are no atheists in a foxhole, but there may be a few hypocrites. If you don’t believe in God, then surely a quick prayer can’t hurt anything—is that the attitude?

How much of the fabric of our society would unravel if there really was no God?

Think about it—if we can. For surely we have been very carefully trained not to think, not to inquire, but simply take it on faith—usually based on someone else’s word for it. We have been trained from birth to think in these terms, and that’s why it is seen as ‘natural.’

It is anything but natural, ladies and gentlemen. It is a legal and moral fiction.

In the beginning, it was seen as an essential part of the Big Picture, when reality is composed of lots and lots of little pictures, not all of which can be observed at once and with perfect clarity.

Without God, there is no Society, many will bellow through bullhorns from right in front of our home. The louder they shout, the more true it must be.

If there is no God, and there never was any God, then how did all of this ‘creation’ come about?

What if it wasn’t created? What if it simply is…?

Since each of us will probably only live a hundred years, most likely less, does it even matter what happened six thousand or six billion years ago?

***

Surely you must ask, if there is no God, how did constitutional government come about?

How did any sort of ethical society come about? If there is no God, there is no real justification for all of this, the human and natural rights which we all take for granted. Surely we must all now massacre each other, for without God, what meaning does our human existence actually have?

Or did society come about in a kind of recognition that all of us are entitled to something better than naked savagery?

Do you not see the inherent Nihilism, the underlying basis of all supernatural beliefs? It is a lack of confidence in ourselves, that is the root of all ‘evil.’ When the Bible tells you that all men are born unclean, and evil, and that this must be purged out of them by the fire and the sword, baptism and submission, this is a lie, ladies and gentlemen. It’s a lie that has been around for a very long time.

I am not saying all human beings are born perfect, for there is no perfection, only life, death and renewal. 

This is not a miracle, it is the result of perfectly understandable forces and processes.

I am saying the laws we live by do not come from God. They come from other men, they come from science and nature itself. They come from reason and not fanaticism.

Surely you have a question.

Even if Louis does not accept my religion, how come he doesn’t agree, like many of us do, that other people’s belief systems are somehow evidence, whether it is the elephant headed boy-god of India or the river-gods of ancient times? Because I hold a mistaken belief, and my neighbour holds a similar but different mistaken belief, does that not somehow lend credence to mistaken beliefs elsewhere?

Ten thousand philosophers have attempted to define the nature of God. They are all mistaken.

It is not a case of, “We may have it wrong, possibly mucked up some of the details, but surely somewhere in the world, someone has the genuine revelation...”

There is no revelation.

This is the revelation.

God is not a requirement to make the physical universe go around.

There is no spiritual universe, and so we do not need to account for any of its alleged phenomena.

***

What makes me laugh is when people try to relate the physical nature of our bodies with the intangible nature of our minds.

How come you can’t take it on faith? It does work, after all.

This ancient puzzle is probably what led to all initial speculations of a metaphysical nature (religion) to begin with. As a writer of speculative fiction, I really got to hand it to the ancient Greeks: some of those guys could really write.

They really had the most marvelous imaginations, and over time they really were standing on the shoulders of those who went before. Their greatest contributions to western culture were all factual. Things like geometry, and trigonometry, and science, and the freedom of inquiry. No one today takes the ancient Greek religion seriously.

***

I’ll give you a clue as to your own consciousness: it has a physical location. It’s up on the top of your body, right in behind your eyes, your nose, it’s actually a little higher than your mouth, isn’t it? It’s right in between the ears. You know right where your mind is. Where else could it be? And isn’t this what people mean when they say the soul will travel on? Surely that soul must have consciousness, or what frickin’ good is it?

Hopefully I’m not the first guy in history to explain that one…

Consciousness is a process rather than any one thing, and that, in my humble opinion, is where all the ancients went wrong. They were off in la-la land, looking for a spirit, they were looking for magic, a God that doesn’t exist, rather than inside of the physical body, looking for a biochemical outcome.

Consciousness is the biochemical result of large-scale information processing and the necessarily ensuing generalizations. This does not necessarily hold true for an electromechanical information processing system. It is uniquely animal in nature. Animals are mobile, and predatory in nature. They are opportunistic. A machine intelligence would exist in a totally different environment, which leads to the question of evolutionary psychology, which is the study of the character, beliefs, actions and make-up of rational human beings over eons of species-development.

What we think is a part of life, and living, and it would be absolutely remarkable if we could recreate intelligent life in a lab with current technology.

And yet in the not too distant future, by attaching neurons to the brain of a mouse or rat, we can take a conscious animal and give it greater intelligence. We can create a higher form of life, using the building blocks of nature.

That’s why all religion, however useful it may have been in the past, as a form of community, as a form of social self-regulation, aristocratic high-jacking notwithstanding; is obsolete. Our religion is as obsolete for modern conditions as the religion of ancient Greece was to the very next generation, i.e. the Romans. They came, they saw, they laughed, and they conquered. They took much of it over and made religion serve the needs of the state, ladies and gentlemen.

To perpetuate that original error, from which all subsequent errors are derived, for millennia to come, is only to compound our problems and their ultimate solution. It is to ignore the evidence of our own senses, our own minds, and surely this is the true hallmark of madness.

Should you get rid of all your religion?

No, I think you should keep it. I think you should bear it in mind in the daily actions of your life, for surely no man can escape his upbringing. And your mother and father meant well for you, I say that in all sincerity. 

They were doing their best and they simply didn’t know any better way.

But now we do, ladies and gentlemen. Now we do.

***

It seems to me that if a person can believe in God and exhibit nothing in the way of Christian values, then the opposite must also hold true.

It is possible to have what are essentially Christian, or universal* values, without actually believing in God.

You could simply apply those values in practical terms, without requiring supernatural validation of your own thoughts and actions. You might even thank your parents for that.

It’s a question of taking responsibility and not pointing the finger at somebody else, and passing the buck somewhere else.

It is a personal challenge, but one well worth accepting. And if you should try and fail, you could always ask your fellow human beings for forgiveness.

They talk enough about it, don’t they?

Let them show, not tell. They say that a lot too, don’t they.

***

Anyhow, I thank you all for listening, ladies and gentlemen.


END


*To hear them tell it.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Writing a Series A Challenging Art

"Paris the the whore, perpetually young and yet still captivating."







Louis Shalako




If a book is a work of art, then a series is also a work of art.

It is challenging from the artistic point of view. Assuming you want to write more, that is--you could always break off and abandon it.

It is a work of greater length and complexity. This offers certain opportunities.

In The Maintenon Mystery Series, I have one novella, The Handbag’s Tale, and then the three novels, Redemption: an Inspector GillesMaintenon mystery, The Art of Murder and Blessed Are the Humble.

Since Maintenon is described as low fifties in Redemption, and since Handbag takes place in 1927, he’s a grown man and a complex character. He was in the police in 1914 when WW I broke out and would have had to ask permission to resign and join the French army. He was at Verdun and said so in Redemption (I think.)

His wife is sick in ‘Maintenon4,’ my working title. I have a great title, but I’ll finalize and announce that later.

In the three novels already written, the reader has never met Ann Maintenon. The themes in this book can be pretty dark, for I’ve got something like thirteen victims, all women and girls, and a man awaiting the guillotine when Maintenon is asked to take another look at the case.

In this story, Maintenon isn’t even an Inspector—he’s written the exam, but competition is fierce and not all qualified candidates are taken up in rank. There’s a yearly quota, much like the ‘list’ in Royal Army terms. 

They’re only going to make so many Inspectors in any given year. He’s Detective-Sergeant Maintenon, but he’s solved a couple of high-profile cases and the President himself is asking for him. There is the pressure of internal politics, and there is the pressure of time.

Sergeant Andre Levain, who plays a prominent role in the ‘later’ stories, (which I wrote first) is the new guy and he and Gilles have only worked together on a limited basis, all under the supervision of superior officers. As a writer, and as a work of art, this offers the chance to explore the earlier days of this relationship. We have the chance to explore Gilles’s relationship with his wife and his work, at a different age and level of proficiency. Good cops are made over a long time—they don’t spring, fully formed from the genie’s bottle. But I can slot new stories in almost any year, and one case might span a year and a half—theoretically, he’s off solving new cases, cases made into books, even as that one in particular is still ongoing. It is a fact that homicides have been solved after thirty or more years and cops never forget, essentially.

Then there is the whole challenge of historicity. In 1924, at the time when the story actually takes place, Paris is all wrought up in the summer Olympics. As of June 13 they have a new government, and a President who is perhaps a little more radical than modern voters might be comfortable with, no matter which side of the political spectrum they might be on.

It is a time of worker ferment, bureaucratic corruption, and great art, great music, great culture—and Paris is a great city in the peak of its form in spite of all faults.

Paris is the whore that is perpetually-young, and still captivating in spite of all the warts and blemishes that do peek through.

(That line might even make it into the book. – ed.)

In a series, your work of art acquires greater depth and precision. The more books in the series, the greater the clarity, where incidents in one book support the events in another. Anything is possible because there is no set length. Other characters come and go, but Maintenon remains.

It is inevitable that I must end up studying the world I write about. The really strange thing is that I chose it at random, mostly to avoid modern forensics and the CSI fixation on biochemistry and zooming down through the bores of scanning electron microscopes. I wanted a certain feel, I wanted something French.

I wanted, like Lovejoy, a period piece, no matter how new it actually was.

In terms of building that world, Paris and France from about 1920 until the 1930s, I check my facts, without going nuts on the politics of the day. I have to nail it down in time and place;  and then I try to weave as seamless a tale as I can. Inevitably, it will have its limitations, and there you go. That’s the way it is.

I can always write another one. A really interesting period to write about might be on the eve of WW II, in which we might be looking through the eyes of a very old, very tired, and very jaded man.

That depends on a number of factors, including the question of whether I live long enough.

Right?


END


Monday, August 4, 2014

Kindle Select Results, Caveat Auctore.


















Louis Shalako




To keep doing the same thing over and over again and expecting to get different results is a form of insanity.

I forget who said that, but it’s true enough.

I wanted a better fate for my new novel, The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue. 

Previous science-fiction novels such as Third World were essentially published and died. The same day.

I would be hard pressed to claim even ten copies of that book sold.

And yet I have always resisted the Kindle Select Program. Part of that was pure dogma. It is my opinion that authors and readers alike are served best by a healthy ecosystem, where no one party is dominant. But Amazon is dominant. At some point I just had to admit that and take appropriate steps. One reason for being slow to do that, is that I really wasn’t selling all that many books on Amazon to begin with. The same could be said of Smashwords, Kobo, iTunes, Google Books…the list goes on. Barnes & Noble is my best platform—a platform that Joe Konrath says will die very soon now. If that happens, then I guess my sales are dead as well.

You can read all kinds of blog posts about how Amazon  will destroy literature and take over the world.

Some of that comes from  traditional publishing, and some of it comes from places like the Smashwords blog.

I owed it to myself to find out what would happen. Normally, I publish a book on Smashwords, Amazon, Google Books, OmniLit, etc.

Okay. So on my first free day, I gave away a grand total of 35 books through Kindle Select, in the U.S. I gave away four in the U.K., one in Germany, etc . I had one sale, through Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s new subscription service.

Using another pen name, I published another title. This one is a short story of 12,000 words, literary fiction, and it’s not the most exciting thing in the world. I would say that a book on friendship is not as enticing as a book about vampires, werewolves, thrillers, or the like to the modern reader. Romance books will beat that one every time.

Another challenge is how to promote any book these days. People rapidly tire of link after link on your Facebook feed, and there are so many voices on Twitter, your tweet quickly disappears, drowned out by fresh links.

I’m not real good about seeking reviews, providing advance reader copies, or anything, really.

When I’m done writing a book, I publish it and move on. If passive discoverability works, then it really ought to work here! The only positive news here is that Heaven Is Too Far Away, my WW I memoir/historical parody, sold four books in June through Createspace’s Expanded Distribution. Since I have no real way of promoting that book, it must be passive discoverability.

For what it’s worth.

As far as promotion on Kindle Boards, for whatever reason, I had never bookmarked my KB-Amazon Book Pages. I got rid of Internet Explorer, and then Google Chrome. It’s hard to even find them again. I don’t know how to upgrade my marketing images, the ones in the signature and on the book page itself. 

When I raised my prices last year, the novels were no longer $2.99, but $4.99 and up. You can only post free, or books up to $2.99 on Kindle Boards. Basically, I just stopped going there. That’s one less promotional tool to work with; and some say it is an essential tool.

So it is my own mistakes and my own lack of knowledge that really kills any attempt to promote any book. 

Low sales, low incentive to learn, I guess. And yet learn we must, or die.

So here’s what I learned from Kindle Select.

If your book is not in a particularly popular genre, your results will reflect that. If your cover is not that good, if your blurb is not that good, Kindle Select cannot save it. The date you choose has an effect. For whatever reason, I chose a holiday weekend in summer. I have three more promotional days for The Mysterious Case of Betty Blue, and another two and a half months of exclusivity before I can publish it elsewhere. This is the price of knowledge, one might say.

What’s really interesting is that when Amazon price-matches your book on another platform, (Kindle Select Titles are exclusive and I’m talking about other titles) your monthly result in terms of giveaways can be far superior to the Kindle Select exclusive promotion.

I know that for a fact, because I’ve given away 173 copies of The Shape-Shifters in the first four days of August. That book is not exclusive to Amazon. You can get it for free on any number of sales platforms.

Whether it’s caveat scriptor, or caveat auctore, (writer beware) all I can say is that unrealistic expectations and a distinct lack of skill in the promotion can kill a book pretty darned quick.

That’s why I try to write and submit short stories as much as possible. A sale is a sale, and it’s a ray of hope as well. As to whether I will write another novel and begin submitting to traditional publishers again, I don’t know.

For that you need the motivation, but more than anything you need patience—and some shred of hope that it will be picked up.

Who knows, it might even change my life.

END