Saturday, October 30, 2010

Gut Instinct.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

‘The Paranoid Cat and other tales’ is my fourth release and it’s kind of scary just how quick it went together. Seriously, folks, this is just too easy. What is wrong with this picture? But these tales were written more recently, rather than ‘over many years.’

I could upload this thing in a heartbeat, and that has its dangers. One more run-through, right? What the hell, it's worth it. The book will be out in three or four days.

No one can tell you how to write, what to write, or what you should write. No one can tell you what it is permissible to write, or what you should not write. Recently I read an interview of a prominent fantasy writer, David Farland. Peter Orullian did the interview. According to David, people like fantasy for its moral elements.

Another interesting thing he said was, ‘I don’t want to tell someone how to kill someone.”

Bearing in mind that a lot of fantasy deals with swords, lances, bows, laser beams, doomsday spells and curses, there is plenty of ‘instruction’ in fantasy. So it is just plain bullshit. There are some things which should not be published, I agree with that. It is self-evident and we all know what it is. Especially insofar as Mr. Farland also advocates certain types of censorship although he doesn’t want to be put in charge of it. Neither do I, which is why I have to have some form of self-checking routine when making editorial and publishing judgment calls.

Someone with a lot of guns and power is always slavering at the jaws to put a crimp in the freedom of expression we all enjoy, and there is some level of intimidation by interest groups as well. But in the end, the ‘moral majority’ turns out to be fifteen crackpots writing vile and anonymous letters in a church basement somewhere. (Handy Hint: Use your spell-checker.)

Recently on the news there was a report of broken glass put at the bottom of a slide, and police are investigating. There is some ‘instruction’ there; if one is a problem individual, prone to devising new ways to hurt people. That’s mainstream TV for you, by the way.

I have always believed that I would not be too good as a fantasy writer, because I simply don’t believe in the supernatural. It would be dishonest for me to attempt to write it, and in the end I would fool nobody but myself. Right?

Wrong. Due to my policy of ‘inversion,’ the next time I attempt to write any sort of fantasy, I intend to approach this literary problem from a point of view of pure and abject cynicism. I can’t really explain why, exactly…just call it ‘gut instinct.’

Holy fuck! You know what? That would be a pretty good title for a book or a story or something.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Excerpt. Thirty Years Gone.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

God, I love my job. Here is an excerpt from, 'The Paranoid Cat.' This is from the short story, 'Thirty Years Gone.'

‘Much of the city has simply been abandoned to the wilderness, although any property with a decent sized open area is inevitably farmed. What used to be wide, open thoroughfares have become little better than footpaths through an amazing variety of trees, underbrush and small garden plots on what were once front yards. Once the tarmac cracked, people tore it up and grew crops. The bulk of all houses in the city are moldering ruins, as no one needs the housing. Soon enough the windows were broken, the roofing shingles and plywood began to rot, the doors were all kicked in by vandals and looters, and then whole areas were burned out by drunks and fools…’

Almost daily, Trevor was troubled by the thought that each and every street in this city was like that, and that each and every city in the land was like this, and the situation was the same, all over the world. That one was a hard one to take, sometimes, for Trevor.

The young people, of course, had grown up within existing conditions.

It was perfectly normal, and totally accepted by them.

But he knew what things were like before. They didn’t. In that sense their ignorance encouraged their indifference.

New Things.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

I wrote for years before I got serious. But having done that, I began to do things a little differently.

I even started to read differently. One day my mom phoned up and said she would be in town. She was wondering if I might like to read a few old Dick Francis novels.

“No. I want to read all of them,” I replied.

So my mom dug around and came up with a plastic shopping bag with about twenty-two paperbacks. My grandfather was a great Dick Francis fan, and she inherited the lot.

This by no means includes his entire output, but it was a pretty good cross-section.

What I did was to open up the books and check the date and the publisher, and then I lined them all up in chronological order. They were on the shelf right over my bed, equipped with a double four-foot fluorescent fixture. There were four different publishers represented, and maybe four or more titles per imprint. I started at the earliest one, and read them over the course of the next few weeks. (I know a fair bit about steeple-chasing now.)

In the first few books, which were not bad books or hard to read in any way, Dick Francis developed as a writer. Not only that, but he developed in print. He got paid to develop his work. And then something funny happened. The development stopped. The development stopped for all of the classic reasons.

As any self-help marketing guru will tell you, ‘Find something that works for you and then just keep doing it, over and over again.”

Dick Francis found an audience, and he learned how to serve the needs of that audience. Quite frankly, if he wanted to go off and experiment, maybe he could find a publisher for it somewhere. After all the man could write and he could meet a deadline. He had a marketable skill. Whether he was writing for a certain genre, audience or subset makes no difference.

Dick Francis’ audience had certain expectations. They knew what they were getting when they laid down their hard-earned cash for a Dick Francis novel. And Dick Francis liked rebuilding old buildings—that’s in there too. Who can blame him for wanting to make a living?

When I set out to write science fiction, I went to the library and started taking out books. I read them, too. While I enjoy writing science fiction, it is a little early to say if I have found, ‘something that works for me.’

I sure hope the pulp and paper industry will forgive me if I continue to try new things.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

We're holding onto novels like 'TIme-Storm,' for the time being.

My computer doesn’t know the proper spelling of certain words, but I think Microsoft’s spelling and grammar checker will eventually supersede ‘Chicago Style.’

Like flying at night, you have to learn to trust your instruments. I Google words to check spellings when the computer and I disagree.

I have three novels in reserve, two sci-fi, one fantasy. I have a collection of poetry, and probably enough material for two collections of short stories. I want to get more stories published before putting them out. I love foreign language credits. Someone spends eight or ten hours doing it, and that beats selling a story in English for $5.00 or $10.00. I plan to do a first draft of another novel this winter. Provisional title, ‘A Work In Progress.’ Lots of satirical humour in that one.

This afternoon I was re-writing a 15,000 word story, and also kind of dreaming about putting together a collection of short stories. It is a lot of fun, after all; I have the material just lying around. There is some logic in having another title out in time for Christmas. Theoretically, this is my vacation after ten months of hard work.

Right now I have 460+ friends on facebook, some of whom are guys like Mike Resnick, Robert J. Sawyer, Vicki Delany, Douglas B. Smith, and people with anywhere from one to sixty or seventy books. You learn very quickly that there are about fifty million pretty good writers in the English language. I aspire to compete with the best of them. Should I engage in a race for the bottom with the worst of them? I’m better than that. Some of them have awards coming out the wazoo. Resnick has the record in sci-fi. I’m too shy to talk to some of them guys! (So I just listen.)

E-book sales are exploding, with amazing new figures published every month. Probably one in five books sold this year will be an e-book. That trend will continue. It is a tough business, but I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now. My goal is to put out sixty books and a few hundred short stories before I die. (A man has to have a goal, right? — ed. )

Ultimately, it is not really about money. It is about the books, and getting them into the hands of the readers no matter what it takes. Interestingly enough, the e-book readers like Kindle and Kobo are wonderful for the elderly, or for people with arthritis, or Parkinson’s disease, because you don’t have to turn pages and you can magnify the text with the touch of a button. With the new ‘e-ink,’ batteries maintain their charge for a very long time according to published reports.

Hopefully, this is the year of the e-book reader for Christmas. Wouldn’t mind one of them myself.

Anyhow, I will go to my grave feeling a lot better, knowing that I did my best.

Learning to Fly.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

The first novel took seven years to complete, the second one, written mostly to prove the first one wasn’t a fluke, took almost exactly three years. The third one is hard to say, but arguably years. I ‘completed’ the first draft in the winter of 2008. You really do lose track of the re-writes. I always have lots of projects going on. I had to publish some books just to get them out of my hair! Some kind of closure.

Book Covers: The painting on the front of ‘Heaven’ is my own work. It is pretty bad, cost $40 for materials, and took about a week. ‘Core,’ that’s my own photo, something I did in school back in 1992. I got a free shot from ‘morguefile’ and used it for the third book. Basically, you must alter the photo, and cannot use it as a ‘stand-alone,’ and while you do not have to give attribution, you cannot claim authorship, ownership, or copyright the original image. Anyone can use the image on a coffee cup, a t-shirt or whatever. All they have to do is download and alter it.

ISBN numbers are easy enough once you sign up and learn to navigate the system. They’re free in Canada. Don’t pay for what you don’t have to.

Formatting for e-books has a steep learning curve, but then Windows 7 has a steep learning curve. My novels have all been through multiple crashes and file formats. What this means is that you make it a .txt file, then convert to .doc file, and then totally reformat the entire book from scratch. It is good training, but it is frustrating to upload your file and have it rejected once or twice. I plan on having all my books in Smashwords’ Premium Catalogue, and then they market them to people like Sony and the Apple Store. I haven’t gotten into Barnes & Noble, and Borders, but they want an American credit card or an American bank account. Why they wouldn’t accept a Canadian bank or Visa is unknown.


This process was a little nerve-wracking because I don’t have a cell phone, or a laptop, or a Kindle, Kobo, Galaxy Pad, or an I-Pad, and I don’t have a Blackberry or any other form of PDA. How the heck do I check my product formatting? Answer: they have previewer features on your upload page, and you can also download free Kindle for PC. I also have ‘mobipocket’ e-book creator and reader, free downloads. I’m always afraid of my machine crashing, so I burn safety discs. She’s crashed twice so far. I’ve been on the internet a year and a half, and quite frankly, I’ve learned an amazing amount of stuff.

I’ve been published in English, Dutch, Estonian, Greek, and Spanish so far. I’ve never been published in Canada, but then I'm not counting college newspapers, a brief stint in journalism, or the fifty-odd stories, letters and poems that have appeared in the last twenty-something years.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Spreading His Wings.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

Local author Louis Bertrand Shalako is spreading his wings and learning to fly in the face-paced and exciting world of digital publishing.

So, in nine or ten months, I edited and re-wrote three books. ‘Heaven’ is 180,000 words, ‘Core Values’ is about 97,000 and the latest, ‘Case,’ is about 104,500. The first was re-written 12-13 times, the second about ten or eleven, and ‘Case’ seven times this year. I’m releasing them as e-books because I can. It doesn’t cost much, just an internet hook-up. To produce locally printed paperbacks is easily $8-$10 each, in small numbers, say 100 at a time.

My second and third novels have both been under contract, but no one ever showed any interest in the first one. Back then, my submissions were pretty amateur.

Heaven Is Too Far Away’ is a parody of a standard WW I Royal Flying Corps memoir, written in the personal memoir narrative style. The basic idea was to take a comic-book premise, ‘Snoopy vs The Red Baron,’ and turn it into a believable, realistic comedy.

But the reason, was that WW I propaganda is still being used today, and for all the same reasons, to justify things. I guess you could say I don’t agree with those things, and the propaganda wasn’t even valid in the context of 1917. It is even less so today. The grandchildren and great-grandchildren of veterans will probably excoriate me for writing this book, but in my opinion, the actual veterans would probably thank me for writing it. A surprise was how dark it actually got. It turned into a psychological study, of how a nice young man, essentially became a professional killer, and how he dealt with the hate, self-loathing, and cynicism. What begins as realism becomes surrealism by the end of the book, another nice touch.

‘Core Values’ is a parody of a 1950’s drive-in movie science fiction thriller, much like the movies about big ants in the desert, or giant spiders, or piranhas, frogs, or any giant ugly creature. What sets this book apart is the study of a lonely, isolated character, of basically good heart, but again filled with anger and a kind of hatred, much of which might be based on lack of self-esteem. Brubaker looks at the world around him through a pair of shit-coloured glasses, and it blinds him in so many ways. In a nutshell, his hatred causes him to have flawed perceptions. Whether or not the hatred is ‘justified,’ or if in fact he or anyone else could have done anything differently, and would this have changed any outcomes, is hardly the point. This book is a collection of short stories and vignettes, linked by a common narrative thread.

‘The Case of the Curious Killers’ is a comic space-opera, and like much of my work it is both a parody and a gut reaction to something that bugged me at the time. It seemed to me that ‘space-opera’ was meant for a PG-13 television audience, which meant it really didn’t have too much intellectual meat on it; and secondly, it ignored so many of the most basic aspects of science. I understand that no one really cares what makes the engines go on the ‘Enterprise,’ but when you lose all power in the ship, you really ought to lose all of your artificial gravity. When you turn tightly, you really should feel a few gees. It is only when we actually think about publishing a book, when we run up against the edges of our comfort zone, in terms of controversial material. While it was mostly written back in 1993, when I was younger, and in happier times, there is some slightly edgy material in the book. It relates to human sexuality without being obscene. Hopefully it does have some erotic qualities. It is a kind of romance, I suppose, at some level. This book has the genuine ‘happy ending,’ so craved by readers.

All that having been said, all the books have violence, language, and with the exception of ‘Core Values,’ some adult content of a sexual nature. The funny thing is, that one might surprise us all. It has its edgy qualities, and is a kind of social horror as well.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Living the Dream.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

The best thing I could do for myself now is to publish my third novel and just quit for a while. But these books now give me a product, and I can learn how to market them and promote myself.

I can hold onto 'Time-storm,' and 'Shape-shifters,' and 'Horse-catcher' for a while and maybe market conditions will improve. Honestly, to scrape up five or ten bucks to make a submission of the first three chapters is not beyond my abiliities. As for publishing houses that demand agented submissions, or full-manuscript subs, I wasn't subbing to them before. So nothing has changed.

The thing to do is to take a week off, and that still leaves me a week to go through 'The Case of the Curious Killers' a couple more times. As for the cover, maybe I could make the text slightly larger, and use a blue just a little lighter in shade.

I am looking forward to getting back to writing short stories. After editing three books, for a total of about 380,000 words, re-writing numerous times, to polish a short story of five or six thousand words should not be a problem. When submitting, I will be sure to put a URL to my site in there and talk up the books a little.

The micropublishing business model originally visualized small numbers of paperbacks, printed locally. Yet with 'createspace,' I can use POD (print on demand,)for about $300 US (per title.) This way if someone really wants one, they can have it in a paper and ink edition. Before I do that, I want to see some traffic and some sales, otherwise at $11.99 I would have to sell about twenty-five books just to make the fee back. The customer would also have shipping charges and stuff like that on their bill.

In the meantime, I'm having a hell of a lot of fun.

It really is a unique kind of wish-fulfillment. The key thing is not to be too easily satisfied, and to continue to improve the skills and the product.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Fair Warning: This One's A Little Edgy.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

It’s hard to believe how hard I’ve worked for the last nine or ten months, but there is a price to pay.

The stress adds up, even when goals and deadlines are self-imposed. I am, after all; a man of my word—and I say this book is going out.

This morning I managed to scroll-through once, (third novel, ‘Case,’) but essentially I achieved little. I removed a couple of typos and centred up a pair of chapter headings, mysteriously overlooked last night.

I drove my dad to the music shop and he picked up a new harmonica. I drove my brother out to my mother’s place, a 46-k round trip. I just put $20.00 bucks gas in, by the way—not anymore!

When I looked down and saw his cell-phone there, lying on the floor where he tossed it, I had a meltdown. Yeah, I was only a hundred metres up the road, and yeah, he could live without it for a few hours. It was only last week when I dropped him off somewhere and he left his keys lying beside the seat…right where he tossed them…at some point I can’t help but draw certain rather negative conclusions.

I guess you could say that I worry that I might succeed in life someday…and I don’t want a basement, a garage, a garden shed or even more than one bedroom. I guess you could say that. I won't even have a couch...I promise you that.

I can’t believe how bad I snapped. There must be spittle all over the inside of my windshield. I was raving, pissing mad.

It’s the little things that kill. Anyhow, I was alone in the vehicle, the windows were rolled up and no harm was done.

But there are times when this really doesn’t seem worth it, and maybe the best thing to do is cut the lawn, clean the bathroom, vacuum the living room rug, mop the kitchen floor, make supper for my elderly dad, a senile diabetic who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, and I dunno.

Maybe I should just sit back, wait for my next disability cheque, sit around the mall and drink cold, rancid coffee, nursing that cup through a long afternoon of irrelevance here in Sarnia, Ontario. I could gossip about people I am secretly jealous of, and in certain remarks, pander to the dream that the Leafs might win a playoff berth this year.

Or maybe I have better things to do.

Anyhow, ‘The Case of the Curious Killers’ is my third novel. This book will be available from various outlets in all e-book formats as of Nov. 1/2010 if not sooner.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dumb as a stick.

by Louis Bertrand Shalako


All Rights Reserved

Some days it seems like I'm just hacking away and I can't get a hit.

Specifically, I downloaded Kindle for PC. In the process, I clicked on 'continue without registering' and then of course the thing downloaded beautifully. I still can't read a free sample of my book. My device is not 'registered.' So I basically uninstalled it. I'll try again some other time!

Everything seems to take an inordinate amount of time and there are other priorities. Shave, shower, cook once in a while. Life goes on.

But if I seem to be going slowly, I guess 'festina lente' is the motto of the day.

(Make haste slowly.)

I tried to get into B & N, and Borders. No American credit card, no American bank account. I'm sure I could get one. It's just a matter of putting in the time.

In an earlier note, I called my two books 'sacrificial goats.' In some weird sense you have to give something up in order to get something else.

Without a couple of pawns--sacrificial goats, I would be unable to interogate the system. I'm a pretty good little interviewer, and I reckon I'll learn quite a bit over the long term.

In spite of learning all this new stuff, there are times when I'm still as dumb as a stick. Like when I posted a link; and when I checked on it to make sure it worked, I was looking at my 'dashboard.'

So any Tom, Dick or Harry could go in there and edit my stuff, especially if I was as dumb as two sticks and stayed logged in rather than sign out. I shake my head sometimes, I really do. (Checking the link was actually a good idea. -ed.)

The basic premise is to finish re-writing and editing my third book, while some of these things sink in. Every new thing has its own learning curve, that's for sure. At some point, when I submit a short story, I will be able to put in links to my books. That's just simple common sense.

As far as publicity campaigns, and promotion, I really haven't put that into practice yet. If my cover art fails to make the grade for 'smashwords,' I'll have to download (for free) 'paint' which is noted in the style guide.

The problem is the red text has mucky edges, although white, yellow and orange work better in the editing portion of Microsoft's basic photo viewer.

Lost in the challenges of the day, we often tend to forget just how far we have come.