Friday, June 29, 2012

The Law of Rapidly Diminishing Returns: Social Media

(Morguefile photo.)




In social media, at some point the Law of Rapidly Diminishing Returns comes into play.

You make a bunch of friends and get a bunch of followers. You post a few links. No one knows who you are, and they’re curious about what you have. Some will click on the link and have a look. Maybe you sell a few books or widgets, or whatever.

So you click on a few more people, and get a few more friends and followers, and you keep on posting, keep on tweeting, and maybe a few more books or grapple-grommets go out the door.

Now you are convinced this is a good thing, and so you keep on doing it. We must be aware that these are not really personal relationships. That’s not to say that we can’t make some new relationships with people. But it just isn’t that easy, and in fact, plenty of other people are doing the same thing for the same reasons. A spammer will always follow you back, incidentally.

Does it work?

If you post and tweet like crazy, at some point people tune you out. They ignore you. And so you try to build up your list of followers, which takes time.

When you are following a couple of thousand people on Twitter, just try to read all the posts. Try to read a posted link, perhaps some blindingly brilliant article on social media, and then when you go to re-tweet it, you’ve forgotten where it came from. The post has disappeared at the bottom of the page or column. You can’t remember their name.

Now imagine you are someone with a few thousand followers of their own, and they might be trying to read and or re-tweet your posts.

What did I learn today?

I learned today that Twitter hash-tags mean nothing on LinkedIn, where the majority of users do not use Twitter. If you tweet something and cross-post to LinkedIn, people there can re-tweet, but they can’t share it or comment on it in LinkedIn. They hang out on LinkedIn for a very special reason: they don’t like Facebook and Twitter so much…too much spam.

The solution there is to post directly to LinkedIn, right? Unfortunately this easy answer might not work for you. I got a notification that I would no longer be able to cross-post from Twitter to LinkedIn. I wondered if this was a new policy, but the more likely scenario is that someone reported me for spamming, and I have been cut off.

I have a guy who used LinkedIn to send me a message every day for months to my e-mail account inbox. I let it go on for months. Then I went into LinkedIn, and made sure it would not happen again. Maybe he believes that e-mail campaigns work, and some say that they do.

Those who make it work are not in the inbox every stinking day, talking about the same stinking book, every single stinking time.

I’ve always been leery of e-mail campaigns, as I’m not convinced that the small number of sales that you might get will outweigh the badwill (the opposite of goodwill) that you are far more likely to get. Just to clarify, I don’t hate the guy. But my inbox is full enough at the best of times, and at the worst of times I have spent three hours out of a busy day just going through my e-mails. All those Twitter follower notifications, and all those LinkedIn group conversation notifications…I’m spending far too much time checking and deleting crap that I don’t have time for.

On Facebook, you can be friends with someone, and yet how do you know whether or not they have blocked your posts? They haven’t un-friended you. You can comment on one of their posts.

“Oh, yeah,” they say. “I remember that guy.” Then they click like on your comment and you are none the wiser—you just had an ‘interaction’ with them so you don’t know any different.

As an experiment, I am strongly tempted not to post a product link for a solid month, just to see what happens.

Now, a person I was reading earlier says that the less they post, the more they sell. I’m not sure that will be true in my case. They may have books much higher up the rankings than mine are.

They might be figuring prominently in Amazon’s ‘also bought’ and ‘also viewed’ customer presentations. As long as they are selling a lot of books, they will continue to be presented.

Another worthwhile experiment might be to only post my own blog, and to only re-tweet interesting posts, or to actually engage in actual conversations, which is theoretically what Twitter is for. I don’t see too many people who do that, with a few exceptions. The ‘chats’ on Twitter are interactive. I’m a little shy about jumping in there when I don’t know anybody, when I haven’t read the book, et cetera, but it’s better than being blocked or ignored.

It took me a very short time to realize that people re-tweet you because they want you to re-tweet them. This is not possible if you can’t remember the exact configuration of their handle, and if you simply can’t find them again—that’s why the notifications in your inbox are so ‘useful.’

The Law of Rapidly Diminishing Returns applies elsewhere.

The law of rapidly diminishing returns also applies as a site grows. This seems to be true of Smashwords. When I signed up and published my first two e-books, there were only 12,000 authors on there. And I did see a limited number of daily page views for my books. Now there are probably over 44,000 authors on there. And I don’t seem to be getting any page views at all for some books, which maybe haven’t sold a copy in a while, and the sheer number of other books has drowned them out.

My gut instinct tells me that this law of rapidly diminishing returns works in some form or another in any social situation, whether it’s online or for real. People ignore Coke commercials. They ignore any commercial that isn’t relevant to their exact needs at that exact time. In fact, people buy devices that drop commercials when they record something to watch later.

Subliminally, maybe such advertising has an effect, but it’s costly and takes a very long time to have any effect. Even that is subject to, ‘The Law of Rapidly Diminishing Returns.’

Anything else is just a con-job. To a certain extent, we are conning ourselves, and when we’re doing all the talking, it’s easy to convince ourselves. Even that is only going to work for so long.

I’ve been thinking about this for some time, and this article sort of helped as well.

Hints and Tips
 
Now, if you want the re-tweet, the ‘RT’ as we say, make your posts a little shorter. That’s because I want to put it like this:

RT @JoeSomebody999 and then your post, and it all has to fit in 140 characters. That way Joe knows I RTed him and maybe he will reciprocate.

Do good covers sell bad books?

Do good covers sell bad books? I don’t know, but the book with what I consider to be the best cover seems to sell the fewest books. My best seller has a good cover, but another best seller has a ‘bad’ one. What this should tell us is that the product description, the subject matter, and above all, the genre has a lot to do with it.

Maybe a reader's preference cannot be 'gamed.'

People have loved mystery since its inception about 150 years ago. The Red Baron is a popular character, from WW I history buffs to people who liked Snoopy. What the heck is a weird western? This might be a very tight little sub-genre, with a good number of very loyal readers, but first I have to crack the door open, and there is no guarantee that it is a good book by the standards of those who actually read the genre.

Comments are always welcome.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Writer's Rules of Engagement.




































(Morguefile) The author is a big fan of Luc Besson, and films like 'The Professional,' (hence the milk,) and 'The Fifth Element.'


Here are the rules of engagement for writers.

Money flows towards the author, not away from them. Otherwise, it's just vanity publishing. While the industry is in a state of flux, and the situation is such that major publishers have fewer and fewer production slots for new and unproven writers, to blow big chunks of cash in the hope of beating the odds is a kind of vanity publishing. And in my opinion, Amazon is the king of vanity publishing.

How many times have I heard it?

“Get yourself a good editor.” A good editor might cost you $2.00 a page, or it might cost you $35.00 an hour. Either way, it adds up pretty quick and this cost will have to be recouped by sales of your book. The more books you write, the more your costs go up. People are writing 40,000-word young adult books in three days, and then they spend a lot of money trying to make this work.

Amazon and other service providers want you to do this of course, because they have no gate-keeping system in place to ensure quality. Much has been written about ‘spam’ books put together by copyright-free, license-free content skimmers. What I would suggest here is ‘buyer beware.’ I would also say, ‘author beware,’ because people who figure out that they got ripped off will remember your name.

“Pay for a proofreader.” If you use spell-check and grammar check, they will not catch all errors. However, they will catch 99 % of them, which is close to industry standard, and you can pick off the rest by carefully reading and re-reading your manuscript four or five times. Learn to write clean copy the first time around, and you will save yourself a lot of money. Also, the average self-published author sells less than $500.00 worth of books. Don’t load up your book with a lot of overhead before you even start.

“Pay for formatting.” Use the Smashwords Style Guide, read the Amazon formatting FAQs, or grab a free copy of a book by a professional author during a promotion and learn this simple and valuable skill on your own and for yourself. At some point, you will be good enough that you can begin offering a service to other authors, and this might be a valuable revenue stream. If nothing else, you will save a lot of money over the course of time. Right now, I have ten or eleven books in the Smashwords Premium Catalogue, and I formatted them all myself. If each one cost $50.00, I saved $550.00. This cost does not have to be bought and paid for out of book sales. It makes it easier to make a profit. I also have four PODs on CreateSpace, and these files are also used to upload books to Lulu.com. There may be other free service providers out there, and most likely there will be more coming along very soon. So I saved another few hundred there, and with more PODs in the works, more savings will ensue. Any good businessman will tell you that a dollar saved is a dollar earned in profit. Ben Franklin said it too.

“Pay for a professional marketing image.” This is a tough one to argue against, but here goes anyway. You can download copyright-free, license-free images from websites like Morguefile. You can learn to use Photoshop, or Paint.NET, or Nero Photosnap, and come up with marketing images that rival professional images. Work on it for an hour a day for a few days. Don’t settle for the first one you come up with. I often go through ten or twelve images before publishing. If I come up with a better one, I upgrade my image. My first covers were admittedly crap. Now look at them, for example this one for 'On the Nature of the Gods.' Not only that, they can have the stamp of individuality that is lacking in many of these images. Without getting too heavy here, your individuality is your brand, and quite frankly, there are a lot of clone covers out there. Until July 27/12, you can use coupon code WM65R and get 25 % off the cover price on all e-book formats from Smashwords for 'On the Nature of the Gods.'

My only costs to date are internet service, and I have the cheapest service I can get. I pay about $30.00 a month, and with a little Hollywood accounting, it goes under my personal expenses as entertainment. That’s because I don’t have a TV set, and I spend a lot of time on the internet. It is my only real form of entertainment, and since I love my job, that’s okay.

Another cost is in ordering proofs from Createspace. I only order one proof. If I need changes, I use the digital proofer, but I have the book in my hand to prove to my own satisfaction that there is nothing else in the book that needs changing. As an example, I read ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery,’ and there were exactly three small changes, none of which were formatting. They were typos. This meets or exceeds industry standards, and it also meets or exceeds the standards met by all those other authors who paid a lot of money for services the experts are telling you are essential. Case closed.

Do not pay for promotion, or blog hops, or whatever. Swap blog posts with friends for free if you must. No one has proven to my satisfaction that they actually work, or justify their cost in any way, shape or form. Do not pay for Twitter followers. Walk away from anyone charging fees to use their service platform. There are a lot of them, and lots of people will tell you they work. But if someone is actually selling a few books, they may be erroneously convinced that a certain technique or strategy worked when really it didn’t. Figuring out exactly what sold a book is almost impossible. See this article for more.

Do anti-aging creams actually work? Women spend billions annually on cosmetics. What an anti-aging cream actually does is to temporarily moisturize the skin. The wrinkles look smaller. You are exactly the same age as you were before you put it on. This is vanity, and the same holds true for all of the vanity publishing enterprises out there. I’ll say it again. “Buyer beware.”

My total cost to produce all of my titles, except for the internet, is about $50.00. My business is profitable, and sales are slowly creeping up. This is the only true test. If, like so many authors, you are holding down a day job and have $100,000 a year in household income, you are not a professional writer. You are easy meat for the vanity sellers because you think that throwing money at it is the best way to save time and solve problems. It is the easy road to success in the minds of the uninformed.

At one time, persistence was the key to some small success in this field. That’s not good enough anymore. Now you’re going to need some endurance, and an ability to look ahead and think clearly. You need to learn how to play the long game. You’ll need a thick skin and be able to let the bullshit roll off you like water from a duck’s back.

Just as a Dodge Ram 1500 is one of the world’s safest and most effective penis-enlargers, for some, writing books is all about ego, and vanity. They cannot accept that it takes a very long time to train a good writer. It’s learn on the job. You have to take a lot of pain. Most people really aren’t suited to it, and that’s tough love, but it is the truth, ladies and gentlemen.

It takes many years to become an overnight success. It requires patience, ability, and a lot of hard work.

You heard it here first.

Comments are always welcome.



Friday, June 22, 2012

Altered Perceptions.

(Morguefile.)



When I got my new glasses, they were mostly for driving at night, in the rain, when it’s overcast, misty or foggy. When there are no amber lines, on a paved outlying road, where the streetlights are only at intersections and might be miles apart, the average reader will agree that it’s sometimes kind of hard to see.

I also wanted the right type of glasses for riding a bicycle. They keep bugs and rain and dust and gravel out of your eyes when cycling. They are useful for cycling at night, when all of the conditions in the first paragraph still apply.

Trying to walk in my new glasses was very strange. That was because it felt like the ground was up around about my belly button, and my legs are or at least were designed to reach the ground from about ass-level.

The glasses brought everything a lot closer to me. It took a while, but I walk and wear glasses at the same time just fine now. I had to learn a new skill: filtering. Or skewing, or ‘optimizing’ or whatever.

What had really changed was the perception. My visual perceptions were being filtered by clear lenses made of plastic. And it changed my whole physical world, for all perceptions are interpreted, and certain conclusions are drawn from them by the central processing unit, i.e. my brain.

What is interesting is how easily fooled we are as to what might be termed ‘spatial awareness.’ This was brought home the other day when I was riding my bike down the street and I took my glasses off while riding with no hands. I used a corner of my shirt to rub some dirt off the glasses.

Holy, crap. It was like I was nine feet tall on that bike. It’s quite a frightening moment. I couldn’t believe how effing tall that bike was, ladies and gentlemen. I don’t think I could ride without my glasses now, but I was doing it before just fine.

Incidentally, I took the garbage out the other day, and wasn’t wearing my glasses. Holy, crap. Was that ground ever a long ways away! You wouldn’t want to fall from this height. What was normal a couple of months ago seems very strange now. It seems to me that when we alter our perceptions, the brain works very quickly and efficiently to detect and identify these changes in our environment, and to filter them out, and make everything look ‘all right’ again.

Otherwise it would be very difficult to cope with an ever-changing world. To read a description or report on such a process is one thing, but to experience it is another. Over time, the effect of perceptual distortion is pretty seamless, and of course now I wonder if we’re fooling ourselves on a whole lot of other issues as well!

This is an uncomfortable idea, and possibly even a very dangerous one. I say that because if I rejected the new reality presented by my new glasses, and attempted to consciously contradict and compensate for what is presented in terms of the environment around me, I wouldn’t be able to walk, or drive, or cycle at all.

That’s because things happen too fast, and there is a glut of information that must be processed very rapidly by subconscious means.

In a sense, we take a lot for granted—that our feet will work when asked, and that the ground is indeed located in such and such a place.

When you look at the world around you, and see the number of people trying to skew the flow of information using various means, by adding to it, attempting to shut it down, attempting to discount or augment some message, we really should wonder what sort of effect that it has on our consciousness over an extended period of time.

The other day I was on a website, and reading a couple of posts in some discussion. It was tempting to comment myself, and then I thought: I don’t know anything about this subject, nor have I read ‘Harry Potter,’ and I don’t really care if Tolkien invented elves, trolls and dwarves.

It was such a pettifogging dispute, and how the hell did I come so close to getting sucked in?

If J.K. Rowling ripped off Tolkien’s invention of elves, trolls and dwarves, ah, then good for her. Take your billion dollars and enjoy the hell out of it.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. At that point, I shut down the computer. I got on my bike and went for a ride.

Now this is real.

***

For more on perception, read this Wikipedia article.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cycling for health and wellness.

(Morguefile)


When I bought my first new bike a few years ago, it was because I wanted to get back in touch with something I lost long ago. I wanted to get in touch with my youth. It must have been a reaction to being forty-something, but youth, the energy of youth, the optimism, the adventurousness of youth, that is a very precious thing.

We lived on our bikes. From a very early age, my buddy and I used to ride out to the airport. We would check the schedule and wait for the twin-engine planes to land, disembark their passengers, and with a roar and a puff of blue smoke, fire up the old Pratt & Whitneys for another take-off. There’s not too many piston-engined airliners around these days.

The first bike I bought as an adult was a Supercycle Inferno, a mountain bike with a nice big frame. The geometry was far different from the highly-stable ten speed racing bike that I grew up on, or the cast-off six-speed commuter bike that I had been riding until a couple of cables broke and the cost of repair got too high. I started off riding around in a tennis court. It took a long time before I was able to ride with no hands.

It had been that long since I rode, but the three compression-fractures at L-3, L-4 and L-6 might have had something to do with being totally out of shape. My lungs were bad, my legs were bad, and everything hurt. I kept at it, and worked my way up a few kilometres at a time. The summer I turned forty-eight, I rode sixty kilometres round trip in about three and three-quarter hours. I hurt for a week afterwards, but I did it.

I wore that bike out in about two and a half years. At that point, I bought a Matterhorn, an all-steel frame Raleigh mountain bike. The machine was stiff, I’ll give you that much, but the frame seemed to be very short-coupled after riding the Supercycle. It was also heavy and too small for me.

By that time, I was much stronger, and so I wore that bike out, a machine which cost about $125.00 Cdn, in a year and a half. At some point the repair shop guy tells you, “Nine bucks for a gear cluster, twenty-five bucks for a chain, eight bucks each for two cables, twenty-three bucks for a tire, forty bucks for a rim…” and the conclusion quickly drawn is that a new cheap bike is actually cheaper and ultimately more satisfying than fixing up an old cheap bike, bearing in mind that it will never be really right again. That’s because old cheap bikes become loose all over, need bearings re-packed, new cables, new brakes, new tires, new seat…et cetera.

So then I bought a Trek 3700. Mine has a two and a half inch oversized frame. At first, it was like I was swimming on that bike. Seriously, after the too-small Raleigh, and even the Supercycle, which was a relaxed-stability revelation at the time, this bike is the first one in my entire life that actually fits me. The bike cost just under $400.00. It took five or six months to pay off my credit card. It was worth it.

This is my fourth summer riding it. It was pretty warm around here in late winter, and while riding in six or eight degree Celsius temperatures can be a character-building experience, it also gave me a chance to train up a little bit for summer. So far today, I have visited my dad in the old age home, (north end,) dropped off some mail, (downtown,) and stopped in at my brother’s place, (south end.) Then I rode home, and at this point I’m up to sixteen or seventeen kilometres for the day.

The only reason I came home was to make a couple of hamburgers, otherwise I would have gone to the beach—which from here might be another fourteen k’s or so. The bike has its limitations. Sometimes, coming home with forty pounds of groceries slung on the handlebars into a stiff breeze is hard work and a tough ride. Heavy rain is a bit of a downer. It’s cheap to operate, and since I never run anywhere, it will have to do. (I don’t run for nothing and nobody.)

I may not really be able to recapture my youth, but this is one good way to make my golden years a little less miserable. Nobody likes getting old, so a little procrastination can be a good thing sometimes.

Sometimes my knees hurt, and my lower back is a little stiff and sore the last couple of days, but some folks just wouldn’t be happy unless they had something to complain about, you know?

Here’s a previous post entitled, ‘Cycling is Therapeutic.’

For more information on the benefits of cycling as therapy, check this out.










(Morguefile)


Friday, June 15, 2012

Excerpt: 'Time-Storm,' by Louis Shalako





Chapter Nine

A six-legged, round-backed beast with a small head was padding along the marshy verge of the forest below. She watched it carefully as Mickey eased his way down to the water’s edge.

“Is it still going away?” He waved at her to come down.

“Yes.” She quietly joined him on the sloping gravelly beach.

She stared at the fording-place without much joy. Half an hour ago, the two of them had sat and watched a small herd of beasts, with slightly curved backs like horses and cows. They had large, long heads with antlers or horns visible. They were unable to determine the number of legs in the far distance. They had studied quite a few sets of tracks and other signs on the way.

“It only looks about fifty metres across.” He studied the layout. “I can see stones and stuff in the bottom, at least I hope they’re stones.”

“Damn.” It was clear she had certain misgivings.

“Okay, well. I’ll coach you through it.” He gave her a serious look. “I took a course a long time ago.”

“Really?”

“Yep. It was a correspondence course, but I got all A’s.” She groaned. “How cold do you think it is, right now?”

“Six degrees.” She said it with no hesitation.

After a moment’s thought, a shudder went through her. Mick bent down and shoved a hand half under the surface.

“Okay, well the water’s not much warmer.” The smile became a wince. “It looks shallow, but it could be two or three metres deep out in the middle.”

“I don’t know if I can do this, Mickey.” Her arms were crossed across her body, and she was sort of shoulder-bent, not standing up straight at all.

“I’m just as shy as you are.” She wondered what he meant by that.

She was about to find out. Mickey opened up his bags and found a pair of the biggest plastic garbage bags they had. Shaking them open, he instructed her to put all her stuff in one of them.

“Now the bad news. You’re going to strip down, to bra, panties and you can keep your socks. We’ll put our clothes in on top of the load. You can probably guess the rest.”

“Oh, God, do we have to?” She groaned in dismay.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Deloussian.” Mickey was all formality now, but she saw no lasciviousness, no lewdness or lechery on his boyish face, it was just all pinched up around the eyes with genuine concern for her safety.

It was a look of sympathy.

“Keep your towel on top, too. I’m real sorry about this.” They’d cut up the tablecloth in pieces.

“No, it’s okay, Mickey.” He turned his back.

Mickey hustled out of his clothes, very quick and deft in his movements, a certain businesslike quality about him just now which she found to be somewhat reassuring.

She wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and taking off the heavy hooded jacket, she began to fold it carefully and stuff it in her bag. Mickey’s back and shoulders were not unpleasantly skinny, she noted. A few ribs showed that he wasn’t inclined to fat. His long, skinny neck flushed with something that might have been a kind of embarrassment. She giggled at the pun, as Mickey jammed his jeans and sweater down into the bag, and stuffed his shoes in next. Mick shot her a quick glance and kept jamming stuff in the sacks.

“I’ve got a big zip-lock bag, if you have house keys, or a pocket full of money, or something.” She shook her head, intent on what she was doing.

On impulse she looked up just then, and saw Mickey’s eyes intent upon her face. He studiously avoided looking down.

“Your gun is tied in your shoe, they’ve under the towel.” She nodded brightly.

Wordlessly, Mickey took her jeans and shirt, and stuck them in her bag. He tied a double knot, strong fingers working quickly as she got used to the light but cool breeze stroking at her skin. She kept her arms around her, in close to her torso.

“Brrr.” It was all she said.

Mickey tied the two sacks together.

“There.” He looked very calm.

“You grab the rope, and kick like crazy. I’ll be right here with you. I’ll tow you across if you can’t make it. We’d better go now, Melissa.”

Melissa was cold enough already. Thank God she was wearing sensible cotton panties, and not a thong or anything like that. That would have been too much. She simply couldn’t have done it. She just nodded. Taking hold of the rope up tight, a hand close to each of the two bags, she began to shuffle forward with Mick into the cold water, with him helping to support the load. Through her sock feet, she could feel gravel and sand. The water was biting on her ankles. The water was shockingly cold, and they both gasped at the same time, but not unpredictably Mickey was gasping with laughter.

She marched into the water, groaning mightily as it rose up her abdomen, Mickey wincing like crazy as it rose up to his kidneys. She felt strangely child-like and trusting all of a sudden. He was huge, before her, breaking a bow-wave for them. He towed her in deeper. Sooner or later, you had to trust someone.

“Aw, hell, you only live once.” He blurted it through gasps and shivers. “C’mon, Mrs. D, let’s go for it.”

She watched in awe as Mickey plunged face forwards into the water. She could still touch bottom so she kept plodding forwards. Mick turned around, splashing cold droplets everywhere, and she gasped. She gasped over and over again, realizing that this alone was a threat. He laughed at the serious, intent, determined look on her face.

“Okay, okay, I’ll go easy on you.”

“Damn you!” Her feet hit a deep pocket in the silt and her head plunged under the surface.

Thin, slimy weeds plucked at her cringing skin as Mickey roared and splashed like a madman, his voice distant and muffled by the water in her ears. She came up spitting, but now she began to kick out in earnest as Mick slanted around towards her side in a very slick-looking crawl, although he kept his head up out of the frigid water.

“Forty metres to go. You’re doing fine. How’s the water?” The conversational tone of this last remark infuriated her for some reason.

“Argh!” She gasped and spit. “That’s easy for you to say.”

“You’re a good swimmer, Melissa. It’s just that this way you get to do all the work.” She growled, still kicking up a storm, though.

“How far?” She had her breath again.

“Twenty-five metres. If you want to strike out for shore, I can bring the bags in.” He sidled in close to her left side, and put a hand in the middle of her upper back.

“Uh, uh, argh!” She groaned in frustration at their slow pace.

The cold would quickly kill them, she knew that much.

“You’ve had enough.” Mickey decided right then. “Stop for a minute, whoa, stop! Climb up on my back, okay?”

When she had complied, he grabbed the rope and half a minute later his big thumping flutter kick had them going again. She arched her back and pointed her toes to keep her feet out of his way, but found herself physically drained. The racking shivers continued. Her heart hadn’t stopped yet, but the body had a weird kind of magical logic of its own.

“Oh, Jesus.” She spoke loudly beside his ear. “Oh, fuck!”

“I know, I know.” He cheerfully agreed. “Well, if I had told you how bad it was going to be…”

“Oh, God!” She cried out in misery and pain.

She was shuddering up against Mick’s back, and he could feel the convulsive spasms in his own body core.

This was just the early stages of hypothermia.

“Ten metres.” His words cut through the agony and renewed her hope of relief. “Here you go, up you go.”

He gave her a shove as they tumbled up out of the last metre or so of cold, tinkling water. A few more splashes and she was on dry land. Mickey pointed up the bank and she obediently turned and began to climb, too cold and miserable to speak. Melissa shivered uncontrollably, looking forlorn and bedraggled, totally demoralized by the experience.

“Thank you, Mister Greenwood. That will be sufficient.” Mick pulled his hand off her hip.

She could make it on her own.

“I’ll have the bags up in a minute.” He stole a quick glance at her pale, retreating figure, resplendent in soaking wet panties and soggy socks, the wet brassiere barely holding its own against the forces of gravity and inertia.

Mickey looked away right smartly, and focused on bringing their luggage up from the beach. The words ‘Oh, my God,’ rattled around in his head and wouldn’t go away, or perhaps it was due to the rattling of his teeth and bones. It was the kind of vision a man might never forget. He shook like a leaf.

“I’ll have a dry towel and your clothes out in a second.” She waved her left hand without looking back and kept climbing. “Okey-dokey, then.”

He started into the climb.


Author's Note: this is the first scene of chapter nine, and the first twenty percent of the book can be viewed at Smashwords.

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/168305

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Influences, good and bad.

(I don't have that shirt any more.)


I’ve had some good influences and some bad influences. Ignoring my personal life, let’s focus on the literary. While a person might be perfectly content to write genre fiction, and might even make a living at it, deep in every writer’s heart is that hankering—that yearning. There is an irrational idea that we might actually be a great writer, in the greater context, or even historically important. We might have greatness within us, and you don’t just throw that remark around lightly at a cocktail party. Everyone who reads this has some ideas on the sort of names that might make that list.


Somehow ours never makes it on there!

(This whole question arose when I (or we, -ed.) asked myself whether Liebnitz, or Grotius, or Pascal could be said to have written fiction or non-fiction.)

To list even a few of my good and bad influences would be unwieldy and boring. What is important is that they go together. They are part of the whole.

Without both kinds of influences I wouldn’t be the person I am today, neither would I be the writer I am today. Sometimes we arrive at a place in life, or even just in our heads, without even realizing that a journey has taken place.

It’s also important to realize that we might have a bad influence but resist its temptations or allure, and we might have good influences and resist them too. It is that inner conflict that we write about. While we don’t necessarily want to sit down with a priest, psychiatrist or a police officer and confess to every temptation we ever had in our lives, it’s pretty good grist for the writing mill. Now we have something to talk about.

Yet neither do we want to brag about how all the wonderful influences mean so much to us, or ‘how it worked so well,’ the fact is we all have inner conflicts that we balance somehow in our everyday lives, which aren’t always smooth sailing or easy to manage. We have our strengths and weaknesses.

In some ways I envy the twenty-somethings, who already have a book or two out there, and they still have their whole lives ahead of them. They could get a lot done. If they play their cards right, sooner or later they will be able to make a living at it. It takes persistence, and time above all else.

I never completed my first manuscript, what a loaded word, until I was about forty-four years old. I wrote a lot of crap before that, and had started a novel at least three or four times, and I recall a couple of attempts at non-fiction. Last July when I moved, I took all of that stuff out behind the garage and burned it. I’ve written a fair amount of crap since, too.

It says something about my influences that I have certain artistic goals for the work. It’s not a plan, or an ambition. It’s a desire, or hope, or a dream. This dream would be to write something lasting, something imeless. We all could write a quick list of those sort of books. These are books that say virtually nothing about their own time and place. They are the sort of books that someone could open up in twenty-five years, or fifty years, or a hundred years, and they could still get the book. They would be able to read it comfortably, and understand it fully, and the plot, the theme, the characters, and the message, would still be coherent to them. They would enjoy reading it, and still get something out of it.

Nothing worthwhile was ever gained without suffereing. Sacrifices must be made. You have to give up soemthing in order to get something. You get out of it what you put into it. It's just that simple.
My entire life has changed, and that alone is its own reward. And we will write what we shall write.
It doesn’t have to be Gulliver’s Travels, or Treasure Island, to stand the test of time. It merely has to be enjoyed by some reader far off in the future. It would be cherished, the sort of book that a person keeps around, and might read again, and even look forward to reading it again, assuming you get cold winters and long dark nights where you are.

Most of us never achieve this goal, but those influences are strong, and there’s no harm in giving it a shot. Because you never know until you try. Rather than take ourselves just a little too seriously, it is best to point out that all I ever really wanted was to write pulp fiction, and to be a writer.

It would appear that we are doing exactly what we said we would do, all those long years ago.







Saturday, June 9, 2012

A magnetic personality.





































(Morguefile.)


“What the?” The heavy butter knife clung to Gabe Rossi's hand.

Gabe was making toast and peanut butter, and it was quite annoying how little Reggie, his eight year old son, always left a mess. Yet when he finally got the knife to drop onto the counter with a resounding clatter of steel on the finest Phrygian marble, he was surprised to see the knife was clean. He saw no peanut butter on the knife. He smelled his hand in a tentative fashion, but there was no real peanut butter smell. Without time to inquire further, he put it aside as just one more thing there was no time to deal with or even reflect upon.

Late enough for work as it was, Gabe didn’t have time to think about it. He was not a big fan of peanut butter. The problem was that there was no food in the house, as Francine was going through one of her week-long monthlies, and hadn’t been doing the shopping. The trouble with peanut butter was that you really couldn’t eat it quickly. You had to chew, swallow, and wash it down with something. There wasn’t much milk in the house either, he noted un-resentfully, as there was nothing he could do about it now.

With the end of the year coming up, Gabe had been staying late at the shop, working on the inventory, and then spending long hours over the weekends, going through the receipts. He had a momentary twinge of guilt at the thought of Reggie, whom he didn’t seem to see much of anymore.

Sometimes his son slept in late on Saturdays, so Gabe just stuck his head in the door for a moment and took a look at his son, and then gently pulled the door closed again, grinning slightly. Even at this hour, Reggie was already engrossed in cartoons, hyper-violent as they were, but at least the boy had enough sense to keep the volume down. Francine was in the en-suite bathroom adjoining their bedroom, so he used the other bathroom, and then he went to the garage.

Opening the door, he flipped on the light, stepped down the two steps and was distinctly annoyed to hear something thumping and banging and sliding across the floor.

“Sugar!” A set of electric hedge clippers slid across the floor and hit his foot.

He must have caught the short electrical cord under the heel of his hard shoe or something.

Gabe cursed again silently, resolving to clear up some of the mess in the garage. For several years now, he had been meaning to build some shelves, or purchase some sort of modular storage system, but of course he had never actually gotten around to doing it.

As he stood there in silent mental review, shaking his head slightly, he acknowledged that he would probably never get around to building those shelves. Then he got in the car and hit the button on the remote control device clipped to the sun visor, which opened the garage door, and Gabe started up the engine.

His shop was less than two miles away, and he was always thankful that he didn’t have to do the two-hour commute like many of his neighbors. While some of them made more money than he did, the impact that commuting had on their lives was obvious, at least to him.

For some reason people couldn’t do the math. They couldn’t see that twenty bucks an hour here in this little town was more than equal to twenty-five or thirty bucks an hour in the big city, when you took into account the price of fuel, and the wasted four hours a day of driving. They thought money was all-important, when time was the most precious element of all. Sure you had to support your family, but it was nice to see them once in a while as well. They all told him how lucky he was, when it was hard work and risk-taking that had given him a kind of independence.

Something caught his eye.

Gabe was bemused to see a nut, a simple, rusted little nut, perhaps a three-sixteenths hex nut, stuck to the side of his shoe. It hadn’t been there when he put the shoes on. He was pretty sure.

But since he had to focus on the driving, all he could do was try to brush it off quickly with his other foot. After a couple of forlorn attempts to brush it off with the edge of his left foot, he gave up to concentrate on driving.

It was a short time later when he pulled into the spot beside the building where he habitually parked. There hadn’t been much snow lately, or he would have sanded the sidewalks, assuming that the city had cleared them. But today he could open up without dragging snow and crud into the lobby.

Gabe sold plumbing supplies to farmers, contractors and professionals, otherwise he would have needed more retail space. But the warehouse was impressive, a real source of pride, and a testament to his orderly personality, with its rows of shelves, literally groaning from the weight of product after product. There were colorful little stacks of boxes, rows of little bins, each with their own code and stock number. He always took a certain pride, in that he had built this business from the ground up. This allowed scope for a kind of relentless organizational ability to shine. This was his own personal space.

He flipped on the switch to light up the lobby and the front service counter, and then made his way to the back to hit the breakers for the main lights in the warehouse. The big-box home improvement retailers had used real inspiration to put the old-fashioned lumber yard under one roof, so that women, who controlled the bulk of discretionary household spending, could now buy a spruce two-by-four, or the flapper valve for a toilet. This town was too small for the big stores to locate in. It was good to know that he would always have enough traffic through the store to earn a living. It was also clear he would never be rich, or even essential. If he failed, some other dreamer would step forward to take his place, he thought with a rueful smile.

As the thermostat clicked under his thick, strong, hairy fingers, he reflected that while money wasn’t everything, it sure made things a little easier sometimes. The furnace in the utility room thumped and whooshed as the fan kicked on and the gas hit the flame.

But lately Gabe had been doing some thinking. We all have to face reality, in the modern world you need money to live. And there was no doubt that he had initially started the store to make money, and at the time, the fact that he loved hardware, loved construction, loved the men and women who did that kind of work, was all fine and dandy. Lately something was missing.

Bearing in mind his responsibility for his wife, his kid and his home, and of course to all his faithful customers, there was something missing. He even knew what it was. It was that sense of adventure, that sense of possibilities, the sense that anything could happen and that his fate and the fate of his family was in his hands alone. He suddenly realized that it was possible to have a little too much control over one’s life, and that if nothing could go wrong, not much in the way of new, good things could happen either. Gabe had no announcements to make, but lately; he had been wondering what else he could do, or might have done, with his life.

A remark he had read somewhere, a book about the fur trade, was stuck in his mind, and it revolved through his thoughts once more: “He had virtually unlimited opportunities for self-growth, and had seized none of them.”

On the other hand he was not Governor George Simpson, and this was not the fur trade of a previous century, but…but. That remark bothered him for some reason. It held a haunting, annoying kind of meaning for him, and that was some kind of signal.

The place began to warm up reassuringly, as he put the water in the urn and spooned in enough coffee to brew up a batch. While it was just him until nine, when his sole employee Roger Wilkinson came in, Gabe could drink coffee by the gallon.

Gabriel had even cured himself of cussing and swearing after a friend had come in and jokingly told Gabe that his mother had found him, “Fascinating,” and explained that Gabe had been telling her, “This little son of a bitch here is the best one on the market…”

Even now, Gabe blushed to think on how stupid he had been. She was nice enough to buy the thing anyway, yet the incident caused Gabe to wonder just how many sales he had lost over the years due to sheer thoughtlessness. This was somebody’s mother after all. He had been so young.

They both had been, he and Francine and the tiny coddling that was growing into what would soon become a young man. Reginald was already eight years old! In the wink of an eye.

As he walked down the row beside the wall, to take up his post in the glass-fronted office where he could work on the books until opening time, Gabe heard a funny little rustling sound as he went along. It was time to put out the mouse traps again. This time of the year, the buggers were just looking for a warm nest, as there was rarely any food in here. Maybe the bag and wrappers from a fast-food lunch in the garbage can, but he was at a loss as to how the tiny creatures could scale the smooth metal sides of it anyway.

Gabe never cursed or hated the mice. He hated killing them, actually. It was just that he couldn’t have them in the store. A hungry mouse would chew on anything, even wiring, and he had a business to run. Customers probably weren’t that happy about mouse droppings in the packaging, either. Suddenly remembering, Gabe was bemused to see the rusty little nut still stuck to his foot. Reaching down, he pried it off of his shoe, and was surprised that while it required some force to remove it, it wasn’t sticky or goopy or anything, and so without further ado he tossed it incuriously into the wastepaper basket by his desk. It was such a small incident, and he had bigger things to think about. Turning on his desktop computer, Gabe opened up the files and went straight to where he left off yesterday.

***

Gabe and Francine sat side by side in the doctor’s office, as they awaited the verdict. They were just turning to speak at the same time, eyes meeting in search of some mutual reassurance, when the door snapped open decisively and Doctor Xianlin Chung entered the room.

Bustling with energy as usual, he seemed in a hurry, and then he had to take a moment to put some papers away in an unrelated file folder. Then he sat half-sideways, perched on the edge of a chair beside a tiny desk, while he quickly opened and glanced at another file, presumably Gabe’s. A quirky grin crossed his youthful mien as he regarded the patients, for in his role as healer; one paid attention to subtle cues from other family members. The wife was probably more worried than the patient.

“I have good news and bad news.,” He regarded the couple. “My people have a long history of medicine, both of the mind and the body, as well as the spirit. The good news is that there are case studies going back thousands of years; of just the sort of phenomena as you are presently experiencing, Mister Rossi. I can assure you, sir, that I take this problem very seriously.”

“And—and what’s the bad news?” Gabe's husky voice showed his courage was real enough, but the calmness enforced by will alone. “Is this going to get worse?”

“That is very hard to say.” Doctor Chung had a reassuring tone, as if to belittle the chances, not making a big issue of it. “But I am afraid I am going to have to prescribe something.”

Gabriel Rossi relaxed, settled into his seat. He was deeply grateful that finally, after weeks of searching, consulting with four different physicians, that he had finally found someone to take his affliction seriously. His relief that there was some treatment for this oddball malady, was palpably visible to Doctor Chung.

“Have you been spending enough time together?” Doctor Chung got no response, as both adults seemed to be waiting for the other to respond. “This is one of the first questions that I always ask when healing.”

Technically, that silence usually meant, ‘no.’ As for Mister Rossi, the man had worked himself into quite a state.

All these little metallic objects sticking to him—this, ‘magnetic personality,’ as Francine had so jokingly put it originally—was driving the poor fellow just plain nuts, no pun intended. But it was really nothing to worry about, all the pins and clips, and screws and other metallic items stuck to Mister Rossi.

“I’ll do whatever you want.” Gabe was committed. “Hopefully these pills will de-magnetize me? Or whatever? What do you call this disease, anyway, Doctor?”

“Oh, it is completely unpronounceable in English.” Doctor Chung smiled. “But we may call it a magnetic personality. That is a good name you and your wife have come up with.”

“We have a good drug plan, Gabe bought into it a few years ago,” Francine told the Doctor.

“Yes, will the pills be covered?” Gabe was ever-practical where money was oncerned, and ever-interested.

“I’m afraid not, but they are, ah; very cheap, and I shall send you to get them at a little place I know. It is just around the corner,” the Doctor assured Mrs. Rossi as he reached for his prescription pad and made some scratches in Asian script.

“Oh!” Francine's eyes lit up. “That fascinating little place! I’ve always wanted to go in there.”

“So what do I do? Take one a day, or how many? I suppose I have to eat with them, and stuff like that? Take them with milk? Don’t operate heavy machinery?”

Gabe was familiar enough with plenty of other people’s long and interminable health stories to extrapolate from the patterns he saw around him.

“Oh, they’re not for you, Mister Rossi.” The doctor would not be hurried. “They are for your wife.”

“What?” Gabe and Francine both spoke at once, an absurd awe evident in their voices and startled looks.

“I want you to start taking iron supplements, Missus Rossi. You seem a little anemic,” and the beaming face of Doctor Chung gazed back at them in empathy and a charming humour. “This will, ah, ah, have the added benefit of increasing the spiritual bond between you, for great changes lie ahead.”

“What?” Francine gasped. “Changes? What changes?”

“Huh?” Gabe had no idea of what he was saying..

The doctor indulged himself in this little joke, seeing that neither one of them got it.

The pair of them looked uncertainly at one another. Changes?

Doctor Chung was perusing the file. For ten seconds or so the silence hung on the air like the smell of butter outside a busy theatre.

“You have a son, and he is about nine and a half years old?”

“Yes,” they both said it at once, eyebrows climbing up both of their foreheads.

Was Reggie nine already, Gabe wondered wildly? Nine and a half? When did that happen?

“I have a son also. My Fujiyama is about ten. No, ten and a little bit. He has a book. It is a very funny little book, you know?” The doctor’s raised eyebrows carried portentous foreshadowing that some mystery was about to be revealed, and Gabe for one was about ready to scream at this infuriatingly inscrutable little man.

“So, so what? What about it?” He glared at Francine, and shook his head in sheer frustration.

Just when he thought he was finally getting somewhere.

“So!” The doctor began anew after a deep breath.

“It is a book called, ‘A Thousand and One Magical Tricks.” The doctor went on. “My son has this book. There is a glue. It is a dry powder, it leaves no trace, but it works, okay, you know? A famous man, I told you we have case studies? A famous man, a doctor, and a teacher, has noted that in the case of a, how you say, ‘a poltergeist,’ he says, ‘there is very often a very mischievous little boy of a certain age behind it all.’ You know?”

“No! I don’t know.” Francine was genuinely shocked. “Are you saying my Reginald is doing this to his father? But why? He loves his father!”

“Many scholars interpret the passage, such as to say that the poltergeist was a little boy ghost, a prankster, but not truly evil. But what if we take the story literally?” The doctor’s eyes gleamed, as he folded his hands across his lap, nodding at them in what to him was certain knowledge. “This was a very wise man, once upon a time, and we should not forget his wisdom was very practical,” added the doctor.

“Reggie! But why?”
“Why would he do this to his father?” Francine sounded a bit lost.

“Why, for fun, of course,” explained Doctor Chung, with an uncontrollable little quiver of the belly muscles of his own, making him shake upon his precarious seat. “Let me write up the special instructions for this prescription for you, Missus Rossi, and then you can go.”

“Reggie!” Gabe muttered as the pair rose to take their leave, and Doctor Chung got up to bid goodbye.

“That is my opinion.” The doctor nodded. “I think we can pronounce you officially cured. And plese promise me you won’t be too hard on the boy. It is behavior that will fade, I believe. It is perhaps better not to even mention it, ah, you must promise.”

“Yes, yes.” Gabe was lost in thought. “It’s just a little phase he’s going through. And I know I really should spend more time with the boy...”

“Thank you doctor.” Francine ushered Gabe out the door. “And thanks for the pills. I promise to take them every day, and, and, that was a really nice thing you said.”

She turned to go, but Doctor Chung patted her on the arm, and reminded her, one last time.

“Mind, and body, and spirit also.” He held her gaze for a moment. “Never forget that, Missus Rossi. Good job, incidentally.”

Busted!

She stood there like a deer in the headlights for a moment, and then cocked her head to one side. Turning his head, he watched as Mister Rossi blundered off down the hall in search of his coat and galoshes, leaving the wife to wrap up the social loose ends. Francine gave a funny little smirk, and nodded goodbye to the doctor. Her plan had worked brilliantly indeed, and the doctor was a trustworthy sort of fellow who could keep a secret. For surely this amazing man had it all figured out.





Sunday, June 3, 2012

Not your usual rant.


(A page from Time-Storm. Nothing here to fix.)



This is not your usual rant.

No, this is a far more lucid and sophisticated sort of a rant.

Troubleshooting Messed-Up Table of Contents.


The other day I uploaded my latest novel, ‘Time-Storm,’ to Smashwords. According to my practice, as soon at it was converted, I downloaded Kindle and Epub versions of the book. I flip through them page by page.

Chapter Sixteen was listed twice in the table of contents, and Chapter Twenty-Two was not listed at all. This has happened before, and it’s no big thing. I went back to Smashwords, clicked on ‘un-publish’ for this title, and then went through my file. I fixed the chapter numbering. I also noticed indents in the front matter, as I had decided to try left justification. I could have just taken it out. For whatever reason, I use a 0.25 indent, although it seems to make no difference on certain platforms and certain operating systems. I centred that up the way I usually do it. Then I re-uploaded the file. Same thing—I checked the Kindle version first, and the chapter numbers were screwed up.

What the heck was going on? I only have one version on the desktop—it’s not the wrong file. Short story long, first I had to delete the very first download from Kindle for PC, that’s a free reading app. It was in my Kindle Library. But the Smashwords download appears on the desktop as a blue-coloured, book-shaped icon. When I clicked on that, it opened up the Kindle app and Kindle presented me with the first file. It took two and a half hours to upload a book, and an image, to write and post the blurb, etc.

File Permission Revoked.


It gets better. When I went to check my blurb, maybe make it a little longer, it wouldn’t open. Apparently I don’t have ‘permission’ to open the file! Honestly, it looks like a computer glitch, possibly due to the age and decrepitude of the machine. I lost three images and a couple of files there—one of them the latest and most up to date version of my newly-published novel, ‘Time-Storm.’ That is the file, modified slightly, that I would have used to make an .html file for upload to Amazon. I lost the marketing image. I lost images for another two books as well.

A file dragged and dropped into the same folder became un-openable. I just grabbed some old thing from anther file. Hopefully it wasn’t too important. It’s gone. The good news is that I managed to get everything still in good condition out of that folder and into others. When I try to delete that folder, it won’t even go into the recycle bin. It sits there on the desktop, defying my best efforts. Without that image, putting an ad at the top of this page is problematical. I’ll probably just make a new one.

Back Everything Up.


So, the thing to do is to back everything up as soon as we write it. Put it on a disc, print it out, or e-mail a copy to yourself. Do the same with important photos.

I really only have one unpublished novel left, and it is safe enough. All of my short stories, (hopefully,) are backed up in various ways. That’s not to say that losing a file permanently would not be an inconvenience, because it is. I spent six weeks or a month re-writing and editing ‘Time-Storm.’ I do have an older version somewhere.

But, luckily for me, I got a fresh file from my Smashwords account, and I’m getting pretty handy with the tools.

***

Active blogging.


Now, in terms of active blogging, one thing I see from my stats page, is that if you stop producing original content, and stop posting, the page hits drop off pretty dramatically. The odds of creating a viral piece of literature would appear to be slim. It takes persistence and constant attention. It also takes thoughtful targeting as to audience.

However, there is an exception in terms of content-type. My short little piece, ‘Kobo Not Recognized by PC,’ keeps showing up in the analytics. There’s a simple reason for that. People buy new Kobos every day. They take them home, plug them into the PC, and try to get it going. If that story generates five or ten hits a week for an extended time, it stays on the first page of the relevant links longer, and ultimately more and more people will hit on it. Another one, ‘Formatting a 5 x 8” POD on Createspace’ is a good example of fairly short, specific, how-to articles that are helpful to a specific audience, that are not just all positive attitude and having little or no substance.

These are all white-hat techniques for SEO.

The discoveries are sort of accidental, but we know better now and we will put some thought into discovering a tight little audience somewhere, and then writing something that serves their needs. Let’s face it: on the right hand side of my blog are product images and links to my books and stories…right?

Photos are important to a blog or website. Pinterest looks for photos, and we see a fair bit of traffic from there. In the above photo, spell-check and grammar-check are turned on. This is a good feeling for a writer, to see that nothing there needs fixing. This blog post was written in Word, and copied and pasted into the Blogger interface. This is all part of active blogging.

And, I promise not to drag and drop it into that contaminated folder, and neither do I plan on sticking the contaminated folder in any other folder...

Next Novel in Mystery Series.


‘Cause that would just be stupid. Since Friday, I’ve written about 2,000 words on the second of the Inspector Maintenon mystery series. I will be following SOP, Standard Operating Procedure until that is published. The character was originally created in the short story, ‘The Handbag’s Tale,’ and the first book in the series is ‘Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery.’ They’re available from Amazon and other fine online booksellers.