Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Kidney

A kidney. (By some guy named Hunter.)

“Argh! Argh!” He moaned in desperation. “Oh, God! No! Damn it, please.”

Dale Bartok held on as long as he could, then in sheer panic, pulled off the highway. He groaned and gasped his way through the off-ramp, down the two-lane county road, and into the service station. Dale carefully locked the big red cube-van. After a quick and surreptitious glance around, the forty-one year-old bonded courier shuffled towards the rest-rooms. In broad daylight, with a lot of people coming and going, and fuel attendants outside at the pumps, the truck should be okay for a moment or two. He had no choice. He barely made it to the door, despite his embarrassing, butt-clenching shuffle and desperate attempts at sphincter-control. The slightly rotund parent of two barely made it in time.

The Husky station was just outside of London and he knew exactly where the place was. Dale was suffering from diarrhea, and upon opening the package of Imodium in the cupboard this morning, he had discovered that it was empty. Barb or one of the boys must have used the last couple of tablets. He was also late for work, and so he had to dash. Poor Dale had been so tempted, to just pull over by the side of the road, but it simply wasn’t done. It was very exposed, and attention from the cops was bad news. Speed limits were merely advisory numbers for a courier, but it also helped to be as invisible as one possibly could.

The real reason was that he simply didn’t have any tissues or even used paper towels left over from a fast-food lunch in the vehicle. He wasn't able to steel himself to do it. He felt a moment of near-hysteria at the thought that every stall might be occupied…thank Christ, but he spotted an open door. Of course it had to be the one right at the very far end.

Today’s shipment was especially vital. The company was new, this was a new contract, and it was only about the third time they had transported anything for this particular customer. It was a numbered Ontario company, a medical supply and consulting firm working out of the University of Western Ontario’s children’s hospital.

The fact that Dale was supposed to be picking up a certified cheque for four thousand bucks, for a simple little run out of Toronto wouldn’t hurt his boss’s feelings any, and since next Friday was payday, it wouldn’t hurt Dale’s either.

With a sense of relief Dale subsided onto the toilet, just in the nick of time, and he prayed for further good luck. He had a momentary vision of the Vienna Boy’s Choir, or a chorus of angels, singing ‘Hosanna to the highest!”

If anyone should see the vehicle sitting there without a driver, and report him, he would be out of a job in a heartbeat. The courier business was very competitive, and the drivers were horrible gossips, worse than taxi-drivers. The company was just starting up, and Dale was extremely fortunate to have gotten in on the ground floor. It was a good-paying job with a decent benefits package.

Dale had two weeks vacation coming in the fall. He was quite looking forward to it.

“Halleh-luyah,” grunted Dale in sheer, unmitigated, blissful gratitude.

There were some unique thoughts that preyed around at the back of his mind. Possibly these thoughts were guilt or insecurity-driven.

Any other courier driver who saw him out of the vehicle, would be sure to notice. This was a lucrative contract, and his employer had shown a real sharp eye, in order to outbid everybody else. This was a gravy run in every sense of the word. You drove four hundred kilometres, picked up a cheque, dropped off a cooler full of vaccines, or plasma, or maybe experimental pharmaceuticals, and you were home in time for a half-day of short runs around town. By starting his day an hour and a half earlier, he would even get in a bit of overtime on this next cheque and Dale could still be home in time for dinner with Barb and the kids.

Dale did everything in his power to spend as little time in the bathroom as possible, not that his guts needed any prodding. He was back outside in less than four minutes, still queasy, still weak, still feeling a real, live, sweat around the eyes, but at least he was thinking he could make it the rest of the way to the northwest corner of London before the next bowel-explosion.

It was already too late, as he stood there in total shock, staring at the broken glass from the passenger-side window of his van lying all over the parking lot. The stainless-steel cooler box between the seats was gone. Just gone.


“It’s a kidney!” The tall, shaven-headed, biker-mustachioed Kevin Hookstra grunted. “A fucking kidney!”

His steely grey eyes gave a withering glance at the object in the box and its new owner.

The pink and pallid thing, all wrapped-up in some protective layer of semi-transparent plastic film, lay there in a bed of crushed dry ice. Thin vapours rose from it, curious tendrils of steamy white CO2, as if questioning its own reality.

Kevin guffawed in derision, while the thief, Harry Calvin, of indeterminate age and perfectly non-descript description stared into the cooler, his wishy-washy, watery blue eyes widening in horror.

“Aw, for fuck’s sakes,” he gasped. “And now the fuckin’ box is ruined too!”

He knew a guy who would give him twenty bucks or maybe a couple of grams of pot for that box. Stocky, silent at the best of times, strongman of the neighbourhood all of the time, Mike Gibson just stood there with a big grin on his face.

“Where did you get it?” He thought methodically, patiently. “What kind of vehicle?”

“At the Husky station on the highway,” Harry advised. “Triple-A Bonded Couriers.”

“When did you do this?” Mike Gibson, calm, cool, collected, was the epitome of mellowness, with an air of cucumber-like casuality, grinning at the crimes, misfortunes and follies of man, and especially of speedos.

“I grabbed it and came right here. I figured it’s a hot day and you guys would know how to open it…”

The box had the words in big red letters; ‘Keep Refrigerated,’ the stickers were on the top and on both sides of it. Harry stared at the box and the grinder on the workbench that Hookstra had used to open the lock. Gibson just grinned and slapped him on the shoulder.

Harry was counting on a big load of industrial-grade heroin or cocaine or something.

“Tell you what. I’ll give you twenty units. No, make that thirty. It’ll keep you going until tomorrow.”

“Huh?” Kevin and Harry spoke in unison.

“What?” His compadre Kevin was puzzled.

“It’s okay,” Gibson assured Hookstra. “He’s good for it, and we all have a bad day once in a while.”

His glittering coal-black eyes were burning with the humour of the moment, the corners of the sensuous, intelligent mouth tugging insistently downwards if to deny the futility of it all.

Turning to the thief, he had a suggestion.

“Tell you what. We can always use more cell-phones. You’ll just owe me a couple or maybe a half-dozen phones, new ones, like last time. If you can do it.”

Harry nodded cautiously in agreement, unable to meet Gibson’s eyes, unwilling to ask too many questions. Unable to comprehend his luck.

Gibson looked at Hookstra.

“Can you get him a little jug, Kev?” Hookstra blinked, nodded, and then wandered off up to the house to round it up.

They stood in the garage looking at the box. Mike snapped the lid down, and nodded at Harry.

“This thing will go bad in a day or two, and then there’ll be one hell of a stink. We’ll have to dump it someplace real good. I’m sure I’ll think of something.”

Harry just nodded dumbly, astounded by his good fortune. Mike wasn’t known for cheerful fronts, and Harry still owed him forty bucks from a week or ten days ago. But Mike, uncharacteristically for him, seemed to have forgotten all about it. Harry knew better than to think he might have forgiven the debt.

“I suppose we could always feed it to the dogs or something.” The dealer muttered absently. “Really, it’s the box that’s the problem.”

Harry didn’t want to know.

Hookstra returned and handed Harry a glass vial with a generous quantity of a milky-white solution inside of it. Gibson looked on approvingly.

“Be careful,” Kevin advised. “It’s really good. I mean it.”

“Okay, thanks, guys.” Harry practically bolted out the door as Mike grinned at Kevin.

“What was all that about?” It was total mystery to Kevin.

“It’s a fucking kidney, my good friend and confidante.” Mike Gibson was in a rough good humour now.

“Hah!” He marveled. “A kidney!”

You could always tell when Mike was in a good mood, he became articulate as someone once observed, causing a paroxysm of glee to go through the gathered denizens in the basement of Mike’s flop. Mike laughed harder than all the rest of them, at that little joke.

“So! What are you going to do, make steak and kidney pie?” Kevin, ‘not the brightest light in the firmament,’ as Mike once said, was at least unquestioningly loyal, and real stubborn as far as talking to cops and the like was concerned.

“Get me one of them phones fuck-head brought us yesterday,” asked Mike. “Where are them things hidden, anyway?”

“One of the fag-pink ones?”

“I don’t give a shit what colour it is. We’re going to make ourselves a few grand this afternoon.”

“How are we going to do that?”

“We’re going to sell a kidney,” said Gibson. “I guess that is kind of a first, for us, but what the hell, what the hell…welcome to the twenty-first century!”

Kevin was in a kind of shock, but then burst out laughing at his boss and mentor.

“Hah! Hah! Hah! Where in the fucking hell are you going to find some guy who wants to buy a fucking kidney?”

“Why, at the hospital, of course.” Mike grinned. “That courier company must be shitting their pants right about now. I have one or two thoughts on the subject.”

“The…the hospital?” Kevin gasped. “Oh, man, I don’t want to know!”

“Somebody must have ordered it.” Gibson was adamant. “I’m thinking they might want that thing back real bad. Real fucking bad. Now run and get me that phone. Warm up that heap of junk, that old Aerostar of Pokey’s…he won’t be back for a while anyhow. We got work to do.”

Pokey was in the bucket for the next three months, and still owed Gibson about sixteen-hundred bucks. This was about eight times what the vehicle was actually worth. Kevin understood that much.

The ownership was in the glove-box, all signed, sealed and delivered—but not legally re-registered in Mike’s name. There was still insurance on it. The sticker was good, the air conditioning worked. He had a few pre-paid phone cards that didn’t cost him too much.

Mike was a bit of a philosopher.

“How much gas is in that thing?” He was trying to think of every possible hazard.

“Three-quarters, I think.” Kevin turned and went up to the house to get a handful of hot phones.

Mike Gibson stood there in front of the garage in the warm spring sunshine. This might all work out for the best. Ask ten grand and don’t get too emotionally involved in the price. Hell, even a couple grand for a few arm-pokes of amphetamines was a good day’s work.

The key thing in this kind of operation was speed. Don’t give them time to think. Otherwise the drop was sure to be monitored, and then you were fucked. The world was full of stupid people, but that seemed fair enough to Mike Gibson. He was just grateful that he wasn’t one of them.

The old maroon and cream-coloured Ford minivan chuffed to a halt beside Mike.

“I got your laptop.” His minion, his churl, his oafish henchman awaited. His droog, his villein.

“Thank you. Take us over to Scary Mary’s place. She’s going to make a couple or three phone calls for us.” Kevin put the vehicle into gear and moved off. “For a fifty, it’s worth it.”

“She’ll give you a blow-job for twenty.”

“Huh!” Mike remembered all too clearly what she looked like.

“I’ll give her thirty bucks not to,” he decided. “And twenty for a few phone calls.”

Mike was already busy with the lap-top, searching for available information regarding Triple-A. They had the codes for every wireless network in the city, so that part was easy enough. All it took was a little patience.

It was the best place to start. For one thing, the driver might not have called the cops first—he would have been in a right fucking panic. For another thing, they wouldn’t want it getting around that they lost a kidney under their care. It would be on all the news reports. It would make all the papers, and the company would be a laughing stock. They might find it hard to get their insurance renewed. It was a place to start…and the day was still young.

The people at the hospital or wherever might not even know it was missing. If the cops didn’t know yet, that was just a bonus. But one way or another, he would work it out. He always did. That was the power of positive thinking. A man could do anything, if he applied his mind to it. Again, speed was of the essence.

“Huh. Triple-A has only been in business for eight months.” He read further, then sat back to watch the scenery go by. “All right. That’s what we’ll do then.”

Kevin fiddled with the knobs on the radio.

“What?” Kevin asked absently, as advanced theory was beyond his ken.

Mike was the one with all the people skills.

“We call up the courier company and ask if they’ve lost a kidney!”

“Really? Are you nuts?”

“Not really, but it’s a nice touch. I’ll see what I can do.” Gibson thought about it. “It might help, actually. Mary can act a little schizoid on the phone and keep asking about a reward. She’ll say she found the box. It was open, in a park, right beside some bushes…her kid found it. Her kid was scared half to death…freaking out, thought it was murder…yeah, that might do.”

Kevin’s jaw dropped and he stared at his idol for the moment.

“I wish I knew what you were on sometimes.”
“Don’t you worry, buddy. I got it all figured out. It’s the deeper side of human psychology.”

And it was true. While no plan was truly foolproof, Mike Gibson really did have it all figured out.


Exactly one hour and forty-two minutes after the kidney went missing, it was delivered to a certain very busy department at the University Hospital. A form was signed, and a certified cheque to the tune of $4,000.00 made out in the name of Triple-A Bonded Couriers was turned over to Scary Mary, who brought it to Gibson and Hookstra out in the parking lot. She climbed in and Mike handed her a fifty. They drove the Aerostar to a wooded area just outside of the city.

“Here’s the cheque.” A shaken but still grateful Dale Bartok waited in forlorn misery. “Don’t be so down-hearted, you were only an hour late. The patient is going to be fine, incidentally.”

“Thank you…and here’s the keys to the cube-van.” Bartok responded reluctantly enough, but he didn’t pretend to understand what sort of a crazy deal that his boss had struck with these characters.

“And you understand what you’re supposed to do?” Hookstra poked him in the chest. “Tell me!”

“Um, um, I drive the old van to Toronto, and drop it off, right where you said.” Bartok was momentarily mesmerized by the sight of a dark, stocky man with a laptop computer and a gym bag, and a scruffy-looking, straggly-haired woman in dirty pink stretch-pants, wearing what looked like a Tim Horton’s blouse and a funny little brown beret getting out of the Ford and climbing into his cube-van.

“I’ve got the place written down.” Hookstra stuck the paper in Dale’s shirt pocket.

“Tell him I said so. He knows what to do with it. Eat the paper. My friend is going to watch you do it.”

Dale didn’t know if he was kidding or not, at this point. He just nodded.

The passenger side door of his beloved vehicle, his customary workplace, his home away from home thudded closed in some kind of counterpoint to his thoughts, driving them home with a vengeance. He stared at the man in the right seat in dumb, sheep-like shock.

The van was this year’s model, brand-new, and so shiny and red. He loved that van.

“Then all I do is call the cops, and stick to my story?”

“Right.” Hookstra terrified Bartos with his hard grey eyes and stern looks and especially those bulging biceps, liberally covered with tattoos of a most antisocial nature. “The cube van’s leased, right? No skin off your nose, right? The insurance will take care of it, right?”

“After I drop it…then I wait a couple of hours…get a few miles away…and call the cops…”

“And you tell them you were car-jacked right there in Toronto, right there in your own little neighbourhood.” Hookstra insisted. “Right there by the service drive, right where I told you! Before you set out on your next run. You can claim a bunch of parcels got stolen, your boss can claim that on the insurance. Stick it to ’em good.”

“Yes, sir.” Dale had tears in his eyes. “I know, I know! I was blindfolded and stuff. Young black men, three or four of them. They jumped in while I was just leaving, behind the building, they-they-they had guns, we-we-we, um, drove around for a while, I know, I know!”

“You’re doing the right thing.” Hookstra stared at Dale. “If you had been really, really stupid and called the cops, we never could have saved your ass…right?

Dale just stared into those eyes with his heart palpitating in his chest and all his thoughts dried up at the source. For a moment, he was convinced that his blood ran cold—literally cold in his veins. He felt a wave of dread wash over him, and his knees were knocking so loud he thought the other man would hear it.

“By the way, the recipient is an eleven year old girl.” Hookstra told him all about it. “Her name is Janet and I think she’ll be real happy with her new body-parts.”

Dale stood there licking his lips and trying to suck enough oxygen into his lungs, but his diaphragm wasn’t working properly. The big man held his eyes locked solid for a long moment.

“My people are everywhere. They see everything, they hear everything.”

Whenever he spoke, something deep inside of Dale Bartos rattled or trembled in sympathetic vibration.

“Trust me, it really is better this way.” Hookstra abruptly turned and walked away.

He slithered up into the driver’s side door of the cube van and drove the thing away without so much as a backward glance. Neither did he seem to be in too much of a hurry.

“I know, I know!” Dale Bartos groaned, feeling another kind of spiritual desolation sweep over him as he realized that he had just shit himself. “Oh God, how I know!”

Notes: I don't have a problem publishing this short story on my blog because it was previously published on another blog of mine, which is now defunct. Most editors wouldn't be too interested, and it doesn't even qualify for a half-price reprint. This way we can still get some use out of it. One of the reasons to write new material is because there are only so many magazines out there and this was rejected several times. It's good enough not to give it away for free. (In my humble opinion. -ed.)

In this story, I have ruthlessly suppressed dialogue tags, adverbs, and yes, those pesky semi-colons which dot my early stories with depressing regularity--or perhaps I should say frequency out of respect for Mr. Bartok and his employer. Interestingly enough the Bartok character was originally gay, and his spouse's name was 'Brucie.' In a technical sense it made no difference to the story and dragged up extraneous issues in the minds of the reader. Taking the story as it is, there was no good reason to do it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More 5 x 8" paperbacks, troubleshooting.

Last night I pushed the button on the 5 x 8' paperback for 'The Case of the Curious Killers.'


For some reason the CreateSpace automatic reviewer kept finding a problem with the formatting. It came at the end of the book, where I had a bio and URL. This was the third section of the book, written and formatted in Word. The bio was too wide, and for some reason every time I saved it, it reverted back to an unacceptable form.

After three or four attempts, I simply deleted the bio and URL. One, there is a URL in the front matter, and two, my bio is on numerous author pages, social networks and on my blog. I'm happy enough reciting it to old people at bus stops and strangers sitting on park benches. So it's not absolutely vital. Over the course of formatting, I learned that a 5 x 8" paperback in the 400-page to 600-page range requires a minimum of 0.875" for a gutter. This was the problem with that section of the book, and for some reason I was unable to fix it.

'Case' came out at 434 pages and retails for $10.99. This would generate two-something on CreateSpace and $1.74 on Amazon. If I sell an e-book of the same title, for $2.99, it generates about two dollars. That's how I set the price. I want to keep it as low as possible, and yet still make a profit. If the volume goes up, I could still reduce the prices and increase revenue. At this stage of the game, it's a good idea not to sell yourself short, and make it so that it's not worth your while or offers no real hope of future success.

That's why any sort of plan, based on knowledge, is so important: otherwise you just flounder or tread water with no direction and not much hope of survival.

Remember the best-seller, 'Swim With the Sharks?'

Sometime today, I'll get an e-mail telling me one of two things, either the book is okay format-wise, or changes are required.It's no big deal. Some of the mystery has been dispelled about the process of creating the physical product known as a book. I also have a POD file ready to go for 'The Shape-Shifters,' but I think that one can wait a couple of weeks or so.

There is a process. Once I click on 'order proof,' it's going to take a week or ten days to see the product. Then I 'approve proof,' and it takes another few days, up to a week, and then the thing magically appears in the Amazon store, linked to my e-books. And, since I have been selling and giving books away on Amazon, this means that while they don't have any ranking as yet, they are presented as if they do as an alternative format, item, or article to purchase. At last report 70 % of book purchases were still in hard form, and the sales of a title are sales of a title. A buck is a buck.

Marketing Images.

My cover for 'Case' was shot with a $100.00 camera, but the image for 'Shape-Shifters' came from Morguefile, and it was clearly shot with much more professional equipment. I'm really looking forward to seeing it. The 'Case' one required further fiddling after an upload or two, as part of the title was in the danger area. The CreateSpace process won't let you go any further until it is acceptable and within tolerance.

I use Nero Photosnap and Paint.NET when creating marketing images. With eleven titles and a few changes to the marketing images over the last couple of years, the limitations become more apparent, but in e-commerce, embossed, gold-coloured fonts lose some of their grocery-store checkout display appeal anyway. It's a learning curve rather than a spending curve.

Write or Procrastinate.

In the meanwhile, what I really ought to do is to open up the file of story ideas and produce some short stories with an eye to submitting them.

Rather than engaging in outright procrastination, I wrote a blog post instead.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Showing Character.

In the book, ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,’ the James Martin character is interesting partly because of who he was, but to the writer, he was interesting because of the challenge of showing rather than telling.

Showing rather than telling: character.

I never really came out and said James Martin is young, adventurous, and brave enough but a bit of a dreamer. I never said James Martin was an orphan, raised as a Roman Catholic in a Protestant society. I never said that he had some sense of social inferiorities, and that he aspired to great things, or how that led him to join the RAF and subsequently trying to get on the Schneider Cup seaplane racing team. I have never really given a ‘biography’ of any character. What happens is the characters take certain actions, and while someone of a different background altogether might take similar actions for similar reasons, their actions are a result of who they are.

How and why they do certain things is a function of their personality, their upbringing and their circumstances. They have to contend with conditions as they exist. Since James was Catholic, he had to lie about his religion in order to advance in the RAF structure as it existed circa 1927. This led to the possibility of being exposed, both as a Catholic, and as a liar. This raised certain conflicts in James, who is a good, honest young man. He tried to resolve the conflict in an immature way—the best way he could based on who he was.

In the book, others make observations about James Martin, yet none of them really defines him. It is his actions that define him. In terms of showing rather than telling, in terms of character study, I think I did a good job.

The role of description.

The scenes advance cinematically. They must be seen, in the sense that there really is no narrator. We get a glimpse into people’s heads, and out of their eyes as we go along. There is no ‘plot narrator’ explaining, “Okay reader, this is the murder scene…” The fact there is a dead guy on the dining room table shows that something extraordinary has happened.

When a character walks on the moors, or enters a room, the description is enough that the reader can see it, feel it or smell it, without going off on an eight-page tangent about how a flower looks or what grass looks like on a hillside. Some sense of the remoteness of the place helps in achieving the feel of the story as it unfolds. It’s a dark story that happens in a beautiful place.

A balance of action and exposition, movements and dialogue.

In ‘The Handbag’s Tale,’ a short story which led to this book, the Maintenon character says, ‘I like to get the right guy.’ His actions define him, and in ‘Redemption,’ he is bothered by the James Martin character. His actions seem wrong, somehow. He just doesn’t believe James is capable of murder, and so that leads him, almost forces him, to take certain actions.

My dad read this book, and he said there was a lot of dialogue. A review of the original ‘The Handbag’s Tale,’ said there was ‘just a lot of people talking.’ That’s one reason why I wrote the novel, to address the limitations of the short story.

But I also think police work is like that. It’s a lot of interviews, a lot of asking questions and listening carefully to the responses. Only so much time is spent going around with a magnifying glass looking for clues. It really is a psychological game, because in order to gather evidence, and we are dealing with mysterious circumstances here, we have to know where to look. Solving a mystery is really about the analysis of facts, putting two and two together and then wondering how it ever came to add up to five…or three, or even seven. Knowing that the answers can’t possibly be true forces us to look further.

If I need further excuses, I can simply point to Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger arguing in court, or Miss Marple patiently explaining how somebody resembled the butcher’s boy and we all know about him…it’s all about offering alternative explanations for the same actions. Here is a good excuse too.

Plot involves movement.

Plot involves the movement of characters across some kind of landscape or environment.

In terms of the plot action, the thing unfolds well enough, with plenty of description of scenes, the terrain, the houses and the rooms. Rather than physically describing someone from head to toe, I tend to use two or three lines. ‘James Martin is a twenty-four year-old Royal Air Force officer, recently commissioned. He had blonde hair and blue eyes,’ and that pretty much leaves the rest to the imagination.

When a character steps into a story, there is implied a fully-fleshed out back-story. This is best left out of the book. Small bits can be squeezed in along the way. Taking a day and a half to explain every event since birth is a good way to lose a lot of readers.


When writing a book, we have to figure out who might actually read it. This book was written with relatively well read and intelligent adults in mind. It’s not really meant for children or young adults, although I’m sure some will read it. The very fact that Inspector Gilles Maintenon is about fifty-four years old and a serious character sort of limits it in the youth market. People who like mysteries will hopefully enjoy the story. Since it’s not formulaic genre fare, others whose taste runs to the more literary fiction might enjoy it as well.


In terms of themes, I never really said, nor did a ‘theme narrator’ ever explain that the book has themes of grief, loss, remorse, regret, revenge, hate, bigotry, prejudice, and many more positive themes, all gathered together and woven into an entertaining tapestry of love, murder, and the quest for justice.

The characters are perfectly capable of saying all that for themselves. The story is both unique and yet plausible for its time and place. As for the cave scene, and the swordfight scene, stuff like that is really just the icing on the cake. On days like that, I really love my job.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Marketing Images for Books and E-Books.

It's hard to believe that this book marketing image was originally created using pencil-crayons, typing paper cut-outs and scotch tape on black bristol board. The text was added with Paint.NET.

When I shot the picture, the flash was turned on, and it resulted in a big spot of glare, and I thought the shot was ruined. However, I stuck it into Nero Photosnap and fiddled around with lightness and contrast, as well as the different colour channels. I also probably sharpened it up, although it was some time ago.

The next in the Shalako Publishing series of PODs, (print on demand) paperbacks will be, 'The Case of the Curious Killers.' It will be another 5 x 8" book. Recalling how it felt to hold the 'On the Nature of the Gods,' paperback, with its really good cover art, I am looking forward to uploading this one on CreateSpace and seeing what it looks like.

That's no reason to rush the process, and as long as I can put out one a month or so the schedule is fine. It also leaves me open to other things, not the least of which is to get out in the fresh air after a long winter. That one should be out in the first week of May, followed by 'The Shape-Shifters' in June.

Oh, I almost forgot: here's an excerpt from, 'The Case of the Curious Killers,' a kind of space-opera.


The music had a syncopated, throbbing, thumping bass-line. A ragged cheer went up from clumps of youthful aliens here and there, and they came running out to the center, forming up in couples, trios, quads and odd-numbered formations. The biggest was a v-shaped formation, which looked like a club, due to the striped colours of their knee-length silken t-shirts.

This was merely the overture. He observed in fascination, as the bodies, including more of the alien types, began moving in a curious, shambling gait. Hartle caught the rhythm, and began to groove a little himself, conscious that he danced like a white man at the best of times. Their bizarre, long-armed, bandy-legged, ape-like shuffle was intriguing; he had to admit. As the music and the people began to speed up, he became aware that Sim was trying to grab his elbow and not having much luck.

“We must get off the dance floor.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I want to see this.”

“Watch from the side of the room!” Sim was practically shouting at him now.

He agreed a little unsteadily as they tried to make their way. What had been an empty, open space, was now covered in whirling dervishes, gymnasts, acrobats…when he felt the first hard elbow graze his rib cage it took a while to sink in.

“Excuse me, neighbours.”

The trio spun away. Then he took another hard one to the ribs just above the left kidney.

“That was a punch!” Sim was plainly frightened now.

A rock-solid, chitinous body slammed into him and he went down. He heard a shrill keening sound from the creature as he kicked upwards viciously. It scuttled right over him, putting a barbed foot-pod partly in his mouth, and suddenly his rage cracked wide open.

“Get your dirty alien mating-claspers off me, you creepy thing!” He shouted, all vestiges of courtesy and deportment gone.

Rolling and tumbling, he came up in a half crouch, hoping the thing was hurt real bad.

“Have your lost your marbles?” He bellowed at Sim. “You should have told me about the dancing.”

A quad of dancers, moving quickly in his left peripheral vision, targeted him. After a flurry of mutually exchanged blows with various members of the group, just as suddenly they broke off to engage another quad approaching. Hartle was furious, and came up again like a mongoose battling to make a cobra its dinner.

He ran at the bunch who had just attacked him, only to be grabbed and spun around, and he lost sight of them in eddies and currents of the dance. Lifting a leg and straightening it out real quick, Brendan managed to kick the boy who had grabbed him right in the face. There was a hot gush of satisfaction as the splash of blood vented. The boy’s two partners dragged him away by the legs, trailing bright yellow goo across the highly polished black tiles.

He had one brief moment of relative peace while the ebb and flow continued, and always that beat. Brendan gasped for air, with Sim beckoning from fifty metres away. Rival groups were attacking each other, and always, in time to the beat. Two big crabs came at him and he leaped on the nearest one’s head. Hartle tried to twist its antennae off by grabbing one and yanking as hard as he could. He kneed it in the side between two legs as he did so. The scream was so loud it startled him and he leaped off again with no trophy. He bared his teeth and growled and they both ran away.

Only fifty metres! In this crowd, it might as well be the other side of the Goddamned Galaxy!

“Fuck you all! Fuck all of you!” He stomped back and forth spitting mad. “Come on, you gutless fuckin’ little pukes.”

He bellowed, and then he was running at the wall of deadly dancers. Surreal in its bizarre incongruity, a spotlight followed him as he ran…

Wetness, warm and sticky, clouded his left eye. He brushed at it with a sleeve, and crashed into the line. Something in someone cracked with a brittle sound, and there came another shrill cry. His head jolted into his neck, there was greyness and stars, literally a flash of light in his head. He was pounding a fist into something’s abdomen. There was madness in him.

He lifted a knee into an obvious spot but got no response. He jabbed a thumb into its eye and it thought better of continuing the encounter. Again, someone raked his belly but it was a glancing strike and the clothing snagged and protected him. He popped it one in the kisser. Spinning, he was all arms and legs. A hole opened in the crowd, and he took a running, jumping dive, sliding to a halt right at Sim’s feet.

It was an oasis of peace and a kind of relative quiet here on the edge of the dance floor. Rolling over, he laid there, hoarse breath rasping in his throat. A semi-circular gaggle of citizens, all dressed in their Easter Bonnets and finery stared down at him.

“That was very impressive, young man.” An older female something or other with green eyes and head shaved bald stared at him through huge blue plastic pince-nez.

Four football-sized breasts heaved under her thin white blouse.

“You’re the best dancer we’ve seen tonight, at least so far.” Very upper class, you could tell by the diction, the terse elocution.

Maybe it had something to do with the long yellow bill, like a spoonbill or an egret. He got up stiffly.

“May I ask a personal question?”

She nodded, beckoning for something in a champagne-style glass. She only had four fingers, perhaps evolved from something like the tip feathers on a condor? Wow.

“What’s that thing sticking out of your ass?”

“It’s my tail, young man. We’re from Gallienus. We’re descended from avians.” She explained with a gracious nod.

“You’re very beautiful.” She simpered back at him and pecked at her stemware, filled with little multi-faceted pellets about three millimetres in diameter.

They were red and black. He had his breath back. She really was beautiful, in her own way. Her obviously male companion whispered in her ear and the pair of them giggled, nuzzling and cooing over some private joke, like mourning doves nestling together on a branch in winter.


Sunday, April 15, 2012

Utopia 101: When all books were created equally well.

What if we lived in Utopia? What if every book in the marketplace was a great book? What if, the editorial gate-keeping process ensured that every book regardless of genre, whether it was fiction or non-fiction, self-help or sheer escapism, met all the critical criteria of ‘a great book?’ What if no one who bought one felt ripped off, or disappointed, or let down in any way? What if nice, safe profit margins were just assigned to publishers, and so they could even take a few risks, and publish books they loved but thought maybe wouldn’t sell too well?

Is it even possible? What makes a great book on diamond cutting might not be too interesting to some readers. Reading Tolkien might not be very suitable for an apprentice diamond cutter who just wants to learn his trade. It would be useless. Surely, we would have the wit to choose our own book purchases from a long list of titles in every category imaginable.

It seems evident that in a world where all books were somehow created equally well, none could really stand out above the crowd, yet genre-preferences would enable some to enjoy greater financial success than other, equally good books. There are far fewer readers who actually want to read a book on diamond cutting. Lots of people want to read fiction, including fantasies like ‘The Hobbit.’ Would it be necessary to review books, or couldn’t we just stick our hand in a bin labeled ‘fantasy,’ and pull out something equally good, every time, on the very first try? How would all equally good books be priced? Shouldn’t all hard cover titles cost the same, and wouldn’t all trade books in a certain size be the same price? It’s only fair, right? They’re all ‘equally-good,’ right? Ebooks, where there are no material costs, would be equally priced—and cut right to the bone…right?

(Would this impair or promote ‘competition?’ Amongst whom, the publishers, or the writers?) *

If every aspiring writer had to compete in the big leagues, going up against Jonathan Swift or ‘Doctor Zhivago,’ or ‘War and Peace’ their first time up to the plate, or if any brand-new non-fiction writer had to go up against ‘The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich,’ or maybe Winston Churchill, how would they do? You would be up against people who had first-hand knowledge and had lived the story.

They’d probably strike out, three times in a row, and they’d never get another ‘at-bat’ until hell froze over. That’s because there is a ‘glut’ of aspiring writers. The majority have little or no training, just a desire. In some cases, there is the desire to learn, in some perhaps not. We also have no experience. None. Not until we’ve done it a few times. It’s not enough to serve in the trenches to pay our dues. We have to go ‘over the top’ once or twice, taking the battle into the enemy’s camp. Only then do we know what it’s all about.

The good news is that all the rules of the game changed recently due to the rise of a newer technology, and new methods of publishing our work. We don’t have to take on Tolstoy or Voltaire our first time up to the plate. We don’t have to pursue agents and publishers for fifteen years or more until we get noticed. While some would argue that Amazon is itself a kind of vanity publishing, we can avoid the traditional vanity predators that still dot the landscape. Hey! We don’t even have to spend money on postage, ink and envelopes. This will not make things any easier. It’s just different from the way it was before. The playing field has been leveled and it is a sea of anonymous, hungry, and unwashed faces. The towers that dot the landscape are now isolated, cut of from water and sources of supply, and heavily outnumbered. They cannot withstand long years of siege.

There has always been independent publishing. Take a pdf on a CD and go to a local printer. Get an estimate. Get some books printed. There has always been vanity publishing. Take a CD and go to a vanity publisher. Hand them the file and a cheque. If this was the extent of the business plan, it generally failed. The difference is that now it is easy, and it is also free. The game is open to anyone who fancies themselves as a writer. Now, my plan involves slow but steady growth over the long term. It’s not glamorous, and it’s not going to make any headlines, but to rely on an instant bestseller is infantile.

The world of business, mean and arbitrary, Darwinian as it is, evolves constantly. We either evolve with it, or we will be consumed by it. Over the short term, I just need to learn my new environment, to discover and adapt its resources to my needs.

For those with the right attitude, this represents the opportunity of a lifetime. For others, it represents a big survival challenge. If competition improves the breed, then we must assume the survivors, better yet, those who thrive, to be the fittest, the smartest and the fastest when it comes to meeting those challenges. They will be those with adaptable skills and staying power. They will endure. One of their challenges is the writing of a good book. It goes with the territory.

It looks like those authors who learned their trade by the old model might still have some advantages. This is only true in the short term. They have a following, an audience. But they also have to learn a few new tricks, or they simply won’t survive. They might have to forgo the safety net that a major publisher has always provided. This was something that aspiring writers always prayed for. An agent. An editor. A proofreader and a typesetter, and a cover designer, a few good marketing and promotions people. Some of this old infrastructure will have to adapt, or perish.

We will have to learn the basics of promotion, in a new, online environment. Independents will have to look, for the most part, to the readers for their validation. In an industry which is in some small part fueled by vanity—hence all the vanity predators—there must also be some massive insecurities. This sometimes manifests itself in a sense of moral outrage. To think that some anonymous, hungry and unwashed person would engage in that most anti-social of all activities, the writing of a book, and try to compete with the big boys…well, it’s just wrong. And all the wrong sort of people want to do it. The book is the most revolutionary tool I can think of in terms of human evolution. Hell, even business evolution. I guess you could say they just don’t like it. They don’t want to be our colleagues, and maybe they don’t have to.

It is a free country, after all, or about the closest we have ever come to Utopia.

Please feel free to contribute a comment or observation to this piece.

*Does war impair, or promote, commerce? If you can answer this question, you are a hell of a lot smarter than I am. Anyway, you probably just got it out of some classic and well-regarded old book, written by some brash young feller who was considered a ‘radical’ for his time and place.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Book is a Tool

'On the Nature of the Gods,' a 5 x 8" paperback.

A book is a tool for getting inside of someone's head. Unlike the scalpel, it is not invasive, and the seeds planted only grow over time--assuming they don't fall on barren ground. Taking into account the neuroplasticity of the brain, this only makes sense. That's why books are so important in school and in the learning process.

When I got my proof copy of 'On the Nature of the Gods,' I took it home and opened up the cardboard package. The 5 x 8" is a more desirable product than the 6 x 9" of 'Redemption,' that I produced last month. It's thicker, at about three-quarters of a inch, and it's much more my idea of what a paperback should be.

One of the nice things about working with a good cover image, is that it makes an amateur look good, and I'm pretty lucky to have found the image on Morguefile. Major publishers would overlook this source, as it's not an exclusive license. Any other person could use that image. What it is, is free, which is vital at this stage of the game.

At $10.99 cover plus an estimated $7.00 for shipping, we're looking at an $18.00 product, if a reader buys one online and is willing to wait for a week or ten days for the book. So far, I haven't really put a lot of thought into buying cases of print on demand books at a major discount, and flogging them at hobby festivals or at a flea market, but you never know! Crazy enough, it just might work...

To put it in perspective, the 4 x 7" of 'The Case of the Curious Killers' on goes for $13.99 and by the time it gets to the reader's house it's well over $20.00. That one came out at 435 pages, and 'On the Nature of the Gods' is 296, 'Redemption,' 216. When you think of how books are made, there are more machine operations and probably more waste in the smaller product.

Since books are produced from boxes of paper rather than rolls of newsprint, the logic of size and waste after trimming means that the 5 x 8 costs two dollars more than the 6 x 9. But to me, it's a much nicer product, and every decision we make, whether as writers or in daily life, involves some trade-offs and some compromise.

The plan is to publish either 'The Shape-Shifters,' or 'The Case of the Curious Killers' on the first of May, and then the other one on the first of June. At some point I'll make POD paperbacks of 'Heaven Is Too Far Away,' and other titles as the impulse drives me, or as seems logical. I only have so many left to do, which limits the choices. However, I would like to find a better image for 'The Paranoid Cat and other tales,' and if I had an absolute killer image for 'Heaven Is Too Far Away,' I might be a little more eager to do the PODs.

Also, I've been upgrading the cover images for the e-books as I go along, and now I design the image with a paperback's requirements in mind--I'm staying a half-inch back with the titles, etc. The process once learned, can be streamlined and improved, and new refinements become possible with knowledge and experience.

To make a long story short, I am 'changing my brain,' to use Dr. Daniel Amen's term, and at the same time, learning a valuable new skill. This is a very positive thing, and one I can thoroughly recommend. I've never actually read his book, but he was all over PBS and I used to watch the fund-raising telethons, where he was a favourite guest.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

101 Ways (NOT) to Kill Stephen King.

(My evil twin wrote this. I'm tied up in a chair and watching him destroy my online life.)

Number 101: drop a watermelon on his head as he walks down Rodeo Drive.

Number 100: substitute Ex-lax for his Viagra.

Number 99: publish that picture of Stephen sitting on the toilet eating an apple.

Number 98: mention that if it wasn’t for him, Jack Nicholson would be nowhere.

Number 97: tell him Steve Buscemi is going to play him in the movie of his life.

Number 96: close the Coney Island eatery around the corner.

Number 95: put him in a room with James Frey.

Number 94: put him in a room with Oprah and James Frey

Number 93: put him in a room alone with his thoughts.

Number 92: put him out in a big open field, with bright sunshine, and fresh air, and lots of open space, where deer and antelope play.

Number 91: tell him Charles Manson is his biggest fan.

Number 90: make him move to Sarnia, Ontario and write a book on Canada’s Oil Heritage District.

Number 89: tell him police psychological crime experts are using his work as college texts.

Number 88: put him in a room with no door.

Number 87: tell him he needs to redecorate.

Number 86: mention that he should have been a country western singer.

Number 85: cautiously inform him that he doesn’t even have a stalker.

Number 84: take away his morning latte.

Number 83: rip holes in his underwear when he is sleeping.

Number 82: hide his shoes—all of them.

Number 81: if he speaks to you, reply in French.

Number 80: tell him that people watch him.

Number 79: tell him that no one is watching.

Number 78: ask him for a photo for the tabloids.

Number 77: ask him to smile for the camera.

Number 76: ask him what expensive and stinky kind of cheese he likes.

Number 75: ask him if there is a vein of dark humour running through his works.

Number 74: if he says yes, ask for an example.

Number 73: tell him you have never seen one of his movies.

Number 72: tell him you are big fan of Dean R. Koontz.

Number 71: admit that you have not read the book you are interviewing him about.

Number 70: put a rattlesnake in his pocket and ask him for a light

Number 69: put an electric blanket in the tub for him

Number 68: ask him to upload photos of his dinner to facebook

Number 67: ask him to tweet something evil to his followers

Number 66: ask him for a critique!

Number 65: ask him if Google helped him write that

Number 64: ask him, ‘Conan or Tarzan?”

Number 63; talk French to him while sharpening a post-hole auger

Number 62: tell him he has poop stuck to his leg

Number 61: mention that certain classic books would be unpublishable by modern standards. (Fuck, that one even makes me edgy.)

Number 60: tell him he should self-publish an e-book

Number 59: ask him if he is in Wiki

Number 58: remove the rotating blade from his shaver and substitute 900 lbs per square inch of vacuum power.

Number 57: (my sentimental favourite,) the spike from the phone handset a la Dr. Phybes.

Number 56: tell him you once had a threesome with Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi

Number 55: tell him, “You can write a romance novel in about two weeks and some people are making quite a good living at that.”

Number 54: tell him your own mother won’t read your work, so you reckon he should.

Number 53: say you are his biggest fan and plan on being buried in a piano crate. (He might bust a gut laughing.)

Number 52: ask him if he was ever on CB radio

Number 51: tell him you picked up a pair of size six roller skates at a flea market and they had his name inside.

Number 50: mention that he hates flattery and sees right through it.

Number 49: note that he ‘fits a certain kind of profile,’ and then move on.

Number 48: always say, ‘I love what you did with that character, that what’s his name guy.”

Number 47: invite him to the Kabuki theater.

Number 46: mention that his characters smoke too much.

Number 45: ask if he’s ever done hard time.

Number 44: tell him he should go camping a little more often.

Number 43: put itching powder in his housecoat.

Number 42: remove the drawstring from his pajamas and then pull the fire alarm.

Number 41: offer him a big contract for a Regency novel but say he can’t use a pen-name.

Number 40: ask if he’s planning another teen vampire novel.

Number 39: put electric eels in this swimming pool

Number 38: bad brake job

Number 37: tell him he has big, hairy, hobbit feet

Number 36: ask him where you’ve met before

Number 35: stick him in a phone booth with fifty heavy people

Number 34: abandon him in the Serengeti, all covered in barbecue sauce

Number 33: poison ivy up the wazoo

Number 32: ask if he’s going to go it alone

Number 31: tell him his cello playing sucks

Number 30: show him this list before it’s done

Number 29: withhold his Letters to Santa privileges

Number 28: don’t let him pray to Satan before he goes to bed at night

Number 27: How are we doing here? Are we okay for time?

Number 26: note the resemblance to Letterman

Number 25: tell him you want to be his bitch

Number 24: provide him with an endless supply of peanut butter and jam sandwiches, free of charge as a promotion

Number 23: ask him what he’s doing for world peace

Number 22: tell him you prefer airport novels

Number 21: ask him what’s his favourite humour magazine

Number 20: tell him there are three Playboy Bunnies with Uzis and rocket-launching tits in the next room

Number 19: hide his Mennen Speed Stick

Number 18: offer to shave his scrotum with a rusty saber

Number 17: unscrew the light in the fridge, and then install a guillotine inside of it

Number 18: see above, only a big hammer instead of a blade

Number 17: ask if the Three Stooges was a kind of horror parody

Number 16: douse his driveway with Crazy Glue

Number 15: ask if that’s a hair transplant

Number 14: substitute plastic explosive for the tofu

Number 13: you know what, I’m thinking #14 should be higher up the list

Number 12: Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Ad infinitum

Number 11: there is no number 11, you’ll have to wait

Number 10; and so on and so forth, et cetera

Number 9: put a big mousetrap out with some cheese in it, but this will only work if he doesn’t have his glasses, hence the low position in the list

Number 8: ask him to ‘try this insulated vest on’ and then step back quickly, thereby giving him a heart attack

Number 7: a banana peel at the top of the stairs

Number 6: a banana peel at the bottom of the stairs

Number 5: spray-paint his socks fluorescent orange, I agree: not very effective

Number 4: switch all of his gotchies for ones slightly smaller, and do this once a week for however long it takes

Number 3: loosen up the nut that holds the seat on his mountain bike

Number 2: hide his Preparation H (didn’t we do that one before?)

Number 1: submit this story to his shadow website, ‘’

And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen, a hundred and one ways (NOT) to kill Stephen King. And I am a dead man, but it's okay, I have lived long enough for nature and for glory. Goodbye, cruel world.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

Experimenting with Literary Styles.

This is an excerpt from ‘The Shape-Shifters,’ a paranormal fantasy. Never say ‘abnormal’ fantasy. The book is available in a number of fine bookstores, and has a couple of very nice reviews.

Editing an excerpt in a new style.

Janet managed to get her dad and the kids in the truck, all properly bundled up against the cold, with the kids clutching a few small presents for Grandma and Grandpa Herbert.

She eased down the snow-covered street, greasy from being churned up and half-melted by traffic. There were literally dozens of cars parked along the curb as everyone was attending to the roles of guest and visitors, hosts and hostesses. Many of the neighbouring homes were lit up, and people could be seen coming and going in a self-conscious manner, mostly strangers but for this once-yearly ritual.

“How’s the truck running?” asked her dad, predictably enough.

You could almost set your watch by it.

“Um, it’s hard to start sometimes,” she said. “I think it needs a new battery.”

“Why don’t you get it fixed, and I’ll pay for it,” suggested her father.

Janet gulped in thanks and said she’d try to get it done after Christmas, but before New Year’s.

Experimenting with style.

A rational goal for 2012 is to bring up our game a notch and elevate the prose style to international, professional standards. This is the sort of level where acquisitions editors don’t just chuck the manuscript after three lines without actually reading the story. Readers browsing the online bookstore don't click 'close' and move on. The best place to experiment with style is in the short story market, because we can re-write old stories that were rejected and try them somewhere else.

This is a valid test, because over the last six months, I’ve had a uniform 100 % rejection rate, and that can’t be entirely blamed on the economy and increased competition, or an influx of submissions from people who wouldn’t normally submit, but are presently unemployed. Also, some of them stories have been rejected multiple times. We have some data, in other worsd. If I don't experiment and change the style, the only real difference is that I have been submitting entirely to professional markets, which are a hard sell at the best of times. The idea is, if I start to place stories again, stories for money, then maybe it was the style they were written in that stopped them from being picked up before.

So let’s edit the piece above in the light of new knowledge, and some soul-searching, which I would prefer not to do. It goes with the territory, though.

Janet managed to get her dad and the kids in the truck, all properly bundled up against the cold. The kids clutched a few small presents for Grandma and Grandpa Herbert.

She eased down the snow-covered street, greasy from being churned up and half-melted by traffic. There were dozens of cars parked along the curb as everyone was attending to the roles of guest and visitors, hosts and hostesses. The neighbouring homes were all lit up, and people were coming and going in a self-conscious manner, mostly strangers but for this once-yearly ritual.

“How’s the truck running?”

Her dad’s question was predictable enough. You could almost set your watch by it.

“Um, it’s hard to start sometimes. I think it needs a new battery.”

“Why don’t you get it fixed, and I’ll pay for it?”

Janet gulped in thanks. “I’ll try to get it done after Christmas, but before New Year’s.”

Notes: we’ve removed the word ‘literally,’ which some editors hate, and done a few things with the dialogue. We’ve changed a few words and taken some out. In this piece we’ve gone for the ruthless suppression of dialogue tags and adverbs, which is arguably the most prevalent modern style among professional writers and editors. Nothing has been added to the piece, only rearranged or taken away.

Study the competition in your market.

The nice thing about having an Amazon account is that you can download all sorts of free e-books and see where other people are at in their writing. Some of them will impress as very competent. Those are the ones to compete with. If we work hard, learn the craft, and set out to compete with the best, instead of just being content to be ‘better than some other guy,’ we will make out just fine.

The trouble with Facebook is that while you can develop a stream of sources and information, by looking for and clicking on all writers or all editors and publishers, you indicate a ‘preference’ for certain types of people. Facebook’s algorithms will then present you with an ever-increasing ratio of the exact same kind of person. Somehow the readers get lost in all of this.

Reading is a relationship.

Reading is an intimate form of relationship. Relationships require honest effort. It is by establishing a relationship with readers that a writer can be more successful in expanding the circle of people who read their books. When I read posts by people who are also interested in writing, it makes me ask questions about my own work. It has definitely been a phase in my own development.


Who is the reader? The reader is a person who really doesn’t know a darned thing about writing, who doesn’t much care if the story follows some arbitrary or academic rules of composition. They may never try to write a story, or a book. They don’t care. They are looking for a good read, not a blog post on grammar and punctuation. We’re not out to impress the reader with our knowledge or our ability to study and improve. All we want to do is to improve our skills, and tell a better story. We must tell it as well as we can. The more we understand our tools, the better will be our story-construction. Ultimately, the writer and all their tools should just evaporate and disappear from the page. This leaves only the characters and their challenges, surrounded by their environment, speaking their minds clearly and engaging in actions that are easily followed by the average reader.

Listening to other writers all the time will drive you crazy. Listening to the readers, figuring out exactly what they need, is far more important.

As for adverbs, dialogue tags, statement attributions, there are schools of thought and each has its advantages and limitations. They must, because they are tools.

Everything else is just style. To arrive at a style is the result of accident or choice. As for getting more readers, it just takes time, and some well-written books and stories. Going for the most modern, up-to-date literary style for the magazine market, where space is at a premium and where they are perhaps more avant-garde stylistically, is an experiment that is certainly worth trying. I always check and sometimes re-write short stories before submitting them anyways, so this is just one more little thing to look out for. And now it's in the tool-box.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Rational Goal-Setting: 2012

Having completed my eighth novel, (of which two remain unpublished,) and having more or less mastered the Lulu and Createspace print-on-demand process, it's a good time to set some rational goals for 2012.

One light, one not so light.

1.) I definitely need another book-length fiction project. In keeping with my one light/next one real serious habit, this one should be a much more serious project than 'On the Nature of the Gods.' According to respectable sources, a series should have new books come out at regular intervals. So this might be the next Maintenon book, and yet there are considerations.

For one thing, I want to do some kind of high fantasy, swords and sorcerers, inspired by none other than 'Conan the Barbarian,' written by Robert E. Howard. In order to avoid the opprobrium of fanfic, this one had better be deadly serious indeed. Some form of originality is also, ah, definitely called for.

I also want to do an 'Alistair Maclean-type book,' of the sort of international suspense-thriller-intrigue with plenty of action, perhaps something like 'The Way to Dusty Death,' or 'Caravan to Vaccares.' Those were some pretty cool books, and of course none other than Clint Eastwood played in 'Where Eagles Dare.'

A more serious story would probably take me six or seven months again, like the 'Redemption' book.

Write more short stories.

2.) Write more short stories. This is important, as a sale is a sale, it brings in money and it gets the name out there even if it's a giveaway. Since I'm not actually working on a book now, which tends to absorb my focus, there is no time like the present. Nice thing about short stories, they are quicker to re-write, add to, or flesh out than a book. They can really grow into something--a 1,400-word story, 'The Four Horsemen' grew into 'On the Nature of the Gods,' which came in at about 67,000 words as a novel.

In my opinion, nothing teaches you more about the art of storytelling than the short story. The quicker you write them, the more you can submit. Sooner or later someone will criticize them, but of course constant rejection forces us to look deeper into the story, the characters, and how we wrote them--and how they might be improved. That's important, because these criticisms are few and far between. If you understand how busy you can be as a writer, imagine juggling a few hundred submissions, a thousand e-mails, etc, a month. So the guy that tells you something about your story is precious indeed.

If nothing else, it teaches persistence and its rewards, and we learn to deal with rejection.

Learn to chat.

3.) Learn to chat. Get some interviews. Get some more reviews. All of this takes, time, patience and effort, but it's not like I have anything better to do. I'v commented on a couple of Kindle threads, and tried to start a discussion, but it's early days there yet. Honestly, I should try to comment on someone's blog once or twice a week, if that's the best I can do, so be it...

Create more products.

4.) Go back through the list and make all e-books available as print-on-demand paperbacks. So far, the interior file for 'The Shape-Shifters' is ready, but the cover needs to be re-done as the text is vertical, on the left side, too close to the trim edge, and the artwork isn't suitable for header-type text. That won't take long to solve. In terms of putting cash into the project, it's like one a month and that's it. But all of those will be out by the end of the year. Many readers still prefer paper and ink, or haven't converted to e-readers. If I do go to a convention, or talk to a group of any sort, it's something to hold in the hand. I can pass it around for people to have a look at, even if it's just one proof copy. Basically it's another product, one which only takes a few hours to produce if you have any sort of a backlist. I could also re-size those titles and put them out on any free platform as PODs, which widens the distribution network.

Other than that, we shall proceed according to the plan and the exigencies of the moment.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Formatting a 5 x 8" POD paperback on Createspace.

Today I formatted a basic 5 x 8” print-on-demand paperback to be published via Createspace and Amazon. This one is of my newest book, ‘On the Nature of the Gods.’ That's available from Smashwords, Amazon, and within a couple of weeks it will be in Kobo, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony, etc.

Apparently ‘novel’ is like an adjective or something, and that’s why I call it a ‘book,’ which is a noun. (A novel concept.)

In previous blog posts, I talked about making a 6 x 9” trade paperback through Createspace. That process took a week or two, although I had previously done a 4 x 7” book on Lulu. By the time you go through it and learn the process, enter all the information, and design the cover, it can take up to a month with Createspace’s internal review, (mostly the format,) processing, and then postal delivery. (Previously, I also wrote about the 4 x 7” POD of ‘The Case of the Curious Killers.’)

This is extremely simple formatting which can be done in about two hours, once you know what you actually want. In stark contrast, when doing 'The Case of the Curious Killers,' I struggled with OpenOffice, with the mirrored page numbers, and different headers left and right, and in fact my 4 x 7" 'Core Values' POD never went to press due to an unfixable glitch.

Why a 5 x 8” print-on-demand?

The book, ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,’ seems a bit big and a bit thin as a 6 x 9” product. It’s only 216 pages in that size. It’s less than half an inch thick. Since I’m the one who has to do the work, and I’m the one searing my brand on it, there’s no sense in doing a product that I’m not keen on.

The basic process is exactly the same. Now, assuming the correct number of blank pages front and back, so that the title page hits on a right-hander, just as the first page of the text should, and the author bio at the back does the same, this thing is ready to go. It has a simple header, identical on every page in the text-section, and simple page numbers, the ‘tilde’ type from Microsoft Word. These are centred, not the most esthetically-pleasing, but quick and simple to do. Instead of going down eleven 12-point spaces for each new chapter like I did last time, this one has six 12-point spaces. Nice, clean, saves paper…and it’s quick.

My page numbers are ten-point, and headers are eight or nine. I’m using Cambria, a shapely font with nice, sexy serifs. The actual text is Times New Roman, 12-point. A technical note, when editing headers in Word, you can adjust them for height. My header is 0.3” from the top, and my footer is 0.2” from the bottom…whatever that actually means; and my margins are set at 0.8 top, inside 0.75, gutter at 0”, bottom at 0.3 and outside 0.4. My camera download cable is capooched, but I’ll borrow one and update this post with photos at some point. But it looks fine on screen. The gutter at 0” sounds odd, but I checked this against the file for ‘Redemption,’ and that one was also set at 0”. Your inside margin must be wide enough not to have the edge of the text stuck in the glue of the binding, capiche? It has to look nice. That’s all that matters. Honestly, take a steel scientific ruler and measure somebody’s paperback in the appropriate size. And if I do mess up, it’s only ten or twelve bucks for a proof copy, right?

Investment of Time in a Simple Paperback.

At two or three hours for each file, this puts things into a little better perspective doesn’t it? It sure beats ‘a week or two,’ which was a hit to the old motivation. No one wants to spend two weeks messing with a file—that’s why I sort of put it off until now, a rainy day, and with my most recent book all finished.

Also, the fact that I nailed the ‘Redemption’ POD on the first upload, with the proof copy in my hands, is encouraging.

The basic premise is simple, ‘pay attention or pay through the nose.’ Why? Because to pay for a proof copy, and then when you finally get it, to see that it’s mucked up, and then fix the file, re-upload it, wait for processing, order another proof, wait ten days or so for it to show up in the mailbox again, and only then find another little error is bad policy. It could have been avoided.

It’s costly, time-consuming, frustrating, and unprofessional. So, am I going to upload my file and smash together a cover and go nuts like that? It’s only ten or twelve bucks, right?

Nope. I’m going to nail this little bleeper on the first pass too. That means waiting and taking another look at it tomorrow, and if I was really smart, I’d wait at least two or three days, taking my time and checking every little thing about ten times.

As for the cover, I plan on re-reading the Createspace directions, so that the image is the right size before I really get into it. I will be using the ‘Spruce’ template again, as it looks fine and I liked the result on ‘Redemption.’

Making the Cover.

What I do there is take the original image, re-crop it, and then put new text on it, making danged sure to keep the edges of all text back at least ½” from the edges. That’s it. Drag and drop from that point.

Another brief note; in (or on,) the ‘Redemption’ back cover, I went dead simple with nothing but a text blurb. The next one might have an author pic and a bio, but if it looks too crowded then I’ll just ditch it.

In keeping with the theme of the Shalako Publishing imprint, we’ll most likely use black as the background colour, and that will be fine, considering the marketing image we’ll be using, which is the same as the e-book version. This book has a new ISBN number, as you can’t use the same one for different formats, etc.

Publication Date.

The book will be out by the end of April, in my opinion. As for pricing, I will set it for $2.00 clear profit per copy and we’ll see what that does, as we can always fiddle with it. ‘Redemption’ only brings $1.95 per sale, but that and the 6 x 9” size is how we got it down to $8.99 retail plus S & H in the first place. When using Collections Canada's CISS, (ISBN system,) there's a place where you set the publication date. When I know for sure the number of pages, and when it comes live on the sales platform, I will go back there and make sure all the data is accurate and then set that from 'forthcoming' to 'live,' and we're all done.

Incidentally, the files from Createspace can be used to create the exact same product on Lulu. More platforms means more sales opportunities, and of course you could take your files to a local printer as Pdf's and Jpeg's and print up a million copies if that's what you want to do.

Addendum: a quick check on Lulu reveals they don't have a 5 x 8 option. What this means is that you could select one of a number of sizes, then simply re-size your pages, (all sections,) keeping the margins, headers and footers where they are. 'Save as,' under a new file name. This preserves the original 5 x 8" file.