Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Independent Publishing: Utopia or dystopia?







































(Hieronymus Bosch.)


As a science fiction writer, I have to ask the question, is the rise of independent digital publishing dystopian? Or is it Utopian to have the freedom to publish a book?

It depends who you ask, doesn’t it? There are those who see the democratization of publishing in dystopian terms. It is the end of the world, and a cloud descends over humanity. Others, including myself, see it as a vast and wonderful opportunity to transcend hierarchical structures and establish our own meritocracy of abilities.

Not everyone has the ability to write, so there is inequity here as well, although this is true for traditional as well as self-publishing.

What makes dystopia or Utopia is interest. It depends which side you are on. One man’s Utopia might be authoritarian. He would finally have the power and control to rectify the world’s wrongs, and confine or reform those who did not meet social standards. Sounds good, eh? Unless you don’t live up to expectations. His personal Utopia includes tyranny over you.

And yet the opposite, a state where there was no authority, and the needs of all (or the greatest number,) were still somehow met, might seem very dystopian to those who believe that there is nothing good which does not stem from some higher power or authority somewhere—they might be Utopian in that they seek a benevolent world government. They might have all kinds of logical justification. They would be up on a pulpit and no one would listen. That might be very frustrating.

What if all they want to do is to organize things constructively? You can’t get anything done, in an anarchic dystopia. That’s for sure.

What if they want to tell you what you can and cannot read? Surely there is some of this behind all the angst from authority figures in this industry. They're just not giong to come out and say it on record; what you can and cannot read. That would reveal them in all of their splendour, wouldn't it?

A woman’s Utopia, or dystopia, often looks far different than that of males.

So many issues of social control or progress, or reform, revolve around our bodies, from what we can eat, or what we can do on a given day of the week, fish on Friday or whatever, and of course all the reproductive and moral guidelines. Then there is the battle for our loyalties, our hearts and our minds. It’s all over the place. Surely someone has an interest there. Society has an interest—if an ‘inanimate idea’ can be said to have an interest. Society is a necessary fiction. Society is a generally agreed-upon thing. It is the thin veneer that covers barbarism.

To throw all that away could be seen as dystopian or Utopian. It depends on your point of view.

People’s arguments don’t always make sense. Yet they can be very sincere.

Here is the Utopian disconnect: one man’s Utopia involves getting rid of every law. Every law. He drives as fast as he wants on the highway, drinking beer, setting fire to the homes of people he doesn’t like and having sex with farm animals. He’s in paradise. The rest of the world is endangered or even just offended. So many social sanctions depend on public opinion. What else is there to judge by?

Another person’s Utopia is one where everyone behaves rationally and with perfect decorum. How could it be achieved, without massive social intervention, or even a eugenics program?

Another person’s Utopia would involve perfect social control through the use of legal sanctions. There would be a law for every eventuality, and laws for scenarios as yet unimaginable. They would cover all the bases. Who pays for the court system? Who wants to be taxed to support the masses of humanity serving time and paying their debt to society in a jailhouse?

One person’s Utopia might be to impose a belief on another. Not to be able to impose social control, or morality, could be considered dystopian. Perfect personal freedom might lead to dystopia. Surely efforts to band together to avoid anarchy, to provide social services, would tend to promote one group of interests ahead of others. How does that play out over the long run? Wouldn’t that lead to another elite? We admire elites. We look up to them for all kinds of reasons. Or would we all sit around doing nothing? Where none may rule, who is to say otherwise? What right do they have to enforce it?

Public opinion has never stopped evil from doing what it will or good from doing what it must.

What sounds like Utopia, a world where everyone just accepted everyone else, and then went ahead and did what they had to do, what was right for them, probably isn’t an achievable dream anytime soon. That’s because it looks too much like dystopia to the average bear in the street. And you can’t legislate or impose enlightenment on those who will not have it.

I’ve got that much figured out.

Is the new world of digital publishing Utopian or dystopian?

It is both. It represents change. One person’s disaster is another person’s opportunity. There are two schools of thought on the industry today, divided along almost partisan lines. It is that tension that prevents either Utopia or dystopia from actually happening.

***

So what qualifies me to be a writer?

Nothing, really. And everything.

I say that because after some thought, I realized that I’ve had nineteen cars in my lifetime. I’ve lived in five different places, including big cities and remote locations. I’ve had at least thirteen addresses that I can remember. This includes houses, apartments, boarding houses, and even a motel room with a kitchenette.

I’ve had easily fifty jobs, some of which were service or construction jobs, where we went to all the different plants and businesses in the tri-county area. I’ve worked in a hundred cities, towns and villages, and on farms as well.

I attended five different schools, took something on the order of forty different classes, (including bluegrass guitar,) and I’ve had five decades to sort of figure things out. I’ve been around the block once or twice.

I’ve read a lot of books, seen a lot of films, and listened to a lot of music. I’ve looked at a lot of art, listened to a lot of people and lived my life. I’ve had a few girlfriends, drank a lot of beer and had a lot of fun.

I’ve known a lot of people, and heard quite a bit about people I don’t really know all that well. Some of them, I don’t care to meet.

I’ve done a lot of things. I’ve been to two other countries and a couple of different states, although as far as Canada goes, I’ve never been anywhere else but Ontario. Mind you, Ontario is a pretty big place.

I’m fairly intelligent, a good worker, and exhibit some imagination. I’m logical, and reasonable, and just a joy to watch in operation. I also have the ability to write. I have plenty of free time, a good dose of patience and rarely lose my sense of proportion. I’m a pretty good guy, all things considered.

I take things day by day and I like to laugh a lot.

If we’re not having fun, then it’s just not worth doing anymore.














Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rational writing goals for 2013.




































                                                                                                             (Morguefile.)



It’s time to set some rational goals for 2013.


For 2013, I hope to write three novels, one a mystery in the Maintenon series, one science fiction, and one in another genre. The third book could be a thriller, a high fantasy or whatever—I don’t care, all I need is the gag. Otherwise, I don’t know what it’s about, which makes it difficult to write.

Assuming I live ten years, this would result in thirty books at the rate of three a year. If I live twenty years, and if I’m still capable of writing, then I would theoretically be able to write sixty more books, looking forward from this day. I could squeeze out a few short stories and maybe a few poems by then as well.

I would very much like to see some really professional marketing images, not just for new books but all the titles so far. This requires money, and one of my goals is that the money to invest in the business is generated by the business. Another goal is not to pay 30 % tax withholding to the IRS. I’ve applied for my passport, in order to properly identify myself to them and get an ITIN, which Smashwords requires, etc, etc.

I will continue to write short stories, and submit them to pro markets, and for 2013, I will be creating some new pen names. Nothing has been decided yet, but we would need pen names for mystery, science fiction, horror, fantasy, but the WW I memoir could remain as ‘Louis Shalako.’

Right? Gee, I don’t know either! But another question is whether I would open fresh accounts and publish all of them under separate accounts, or simply use Shalako Publishing as an umbrella organization.

With all the recent talk of sock puppets and fake reviews and stuff, it’s easy to see that some negative connotations might be associated with one guy writing under half a dozen names, and at the same time pretending to be ‘a small press,’ or ‘an emerging press.’

It’s all me, right? I could be anybody. You have no idea of who I am, right?

People will think I’m just in it for the money. They’ll say all sorts of nasty things about me. I get quite a bit of that now…

What has stopped me so far is that I really don’t have a procedure all mapped out in advance. At some point, someone will have to make a decision, and I ought to know, because I used to work in construction.

In order for all of this to happen, there are a few things to tidy up before the end of 2012. This includes making new marketing images for the five or six paperbacks I have out now, as well as making danged sure the new ones I create meet some kind of minimal artistic standards.

I have a couple of novels coming out, one October 1 and one November 1, so there is a bit of what I like to call ‘a time-suck’ there. I have those well in hand, but the images still need some work. Before the end of the year I’ll produce a couple or three more short stories.

November is Nano-Write month, in which millions of people all try to write a novel in about a month. Normally what I do is to write short stories exclusively for the month of November, as it suits my purposes well enough, and it represents some kind of participation. It’s also motivating to try and hit the word count, right? And why not? What have I got to lose?

Not much, in strictly objective terms. I mean, take a look at me: I’m just some guy.

Right? But the whole objective with the short stories is to have something new to submit around to professional magazines. It represents more than just a cash sale. It’s something to put in a bio or a blurb, and it helps to build a readership.

Before winter is over, I should have every full-length novel on the list published as a print on demand paperback. That’s another goal.

When I published my first couple of e-books it was exciting. My hand shook when I did it. It was fun, too, because of that sort of rebellious spirit that I exhibit occasionally. No one really knows what’s going to happen.

But.

There was no great stir of controversy over my first couple of books, and while that was disappointing, now I know better what to expect.

But a major goal for 2013 is to bring back some of the fun, some of the excitement of self-publishing.

One way to do that would be to apply for a cultural grant and use it to publish a couple of other people’s books. The problem that I see with that, is the question, ‘What is my goal?’

What purpose would it serve? If my goal is to break new authors, with all the pen-names and fake entities out there, finding someone who is not an established pro is problematical, and if the goal is simply to learn how to publish someone else’s book, then I guess it wouldn’t matter whose book it is!

Some clear and logical thinking on my part would appear to be in order, however the deadline for application is November, so either I hurry up and do it, or postpone it for another year.

As for excitement, opening up the e-mails to discover a hundred submissions might be kind of exciting, or it might just be a pain in the wazoo. Also, with all the talk of sock puppets going around, someone will inevitably suspect that I own those books, and might be fraudulently giving myself an advance from monies intended to assist an emerging press…red faces all around, in that scenario. The problem is to identify just exactly who we are dealing with when entering into any contracts with putative or prospective authors.

As for submitting novels to major publishers, the whole thing is such a crashing bore that I might do it, and I might not. But once a book is submitted, there’s nothing for it but to wait to hear back, (it’s only polite,) and some folks aren’t that good about sending rejection slips. I see it as a sense of entitlement. On their part, not mine. (I’m entitled to my friggin’ rejection slips, I’ll grant you that much.)

Are you entitled to first crack at anything that I write?

That depends on your world-view and your philosophical outlook. I kind of doubt it, although I would be interested in your reasoning.

I’m just saying. If you would prefer not to discuss it, that’s fine too.


Note: I don't have a donate button on this site. The best thing you could do to help an independent author is to buy one of their books.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Dooley wakes up.



Chapter one




Dooley wakes up…







One by one the crew was awakened from stasis, head-space, as their duties were required aboard ship. In some cases, decades had been spent in cold storage, with only their dreams for company. As the starship got closer and closer to the home world, the video, radio and laser-casts became ever more recent in date of origin, and ever more current.

Presumably, the data was ever more relevant to the actual situation as it existed on Earth. Down there, the present day was circa 14,059 anno domini. Their faster-than-light journey lasted three generations. Twelve thousand years of history had passed. Avid study of the signal spectrum was crucial to the survival of the passengers and crew of Ark One. They had the dubious honour of sitting in review, objective observers in accelerated time, as the future unfolded in reverse out of the past.

At the time of departure, radio had been in existence for a century and a half. The outer edge of Earth’s bubble of electromagnetic radiation dated back to a time when signals were faint, sparse, and sporadic. Under deceleration there was plenty of time to listen in and catch up on the news. Analysts were fascinated by the evolution of the languages over the centuries. The officers in charge of the ship determined that society had crashed shortly after departure, from chaotic environmental degradation and a worldwide economic collapse. This led to revolution, war, famine, disease, with a sudden consequent die-off of humanity and many higher animals. The closer to home they got, the more worrying and darker in tone the news feeds became. And then they slowly began to wink out and fade from the airwaves, and one day there just wasn’t anyone out there anymore. The world had re-entered a darker age of human experience. Or perhaps human life had gone extinct.

***

“Jesus Christ, I’m only twelve thousand years old. Why do I feel so tired all the time?” Dooley Peeters had a kind of never-ending internal monologue.

His top-priority briefing ended. Nothing he hadn’t already guessed. Now it was all out in the open. The corridor was as cold as a witch’s tit as soon as he opened up the door of the compartment. He scuttled along on wooden-stiff legs, shivering and cursing aloud. The room wouldn’t let you out until you were briefed. You never got used to it. Thankfully his quarters were only fifty metres along. As soon as he got in, the room lit up and the heaters kicked on. Feeling the quivery belly tension that comes from near-hypothermia, he bolted for the shower stall, grateful to strip out of the rubber suit, with its itchy and sometimes painful plug-ins, inserted into veins in wrists, ankles, groin and neck. You wanted to be careful not to accidentally yank one of the little stoppers out, and leak to death. It was quite difficult, and his patience was tried by the urgent need to get warm, but he had to be careful pulling the tubes out of the suit’s reinforced circular openings.

The rush of negative emotions was pretty intense, and some training in bio-feedback and mood control was essential. You had to become objective about yourself, and learn to control your passions. Everybody felt the same way when they came out of the suit.

“The one common element in all of human experience is suffering.” The briefings always ended the same way.

We suffer for the common good.

Complete with feet and mitts and a hood, like a baby’s sleeper, the suit protected against ice-up. His skin was pink, wrinkled and moist as he clambered out of it and disposed of it in the chute. The first lukewarm drops of the shower spray stung like a sandblaster on a sunburn. He gritted his teeth and thought about what came next. An unwelcome glimpse in the steam-fogged mirror revealed the deep-set lines from where the face-rig clipped on with elastic straps. The sphincter-like ring in the hood left a solid blue line, crinkled around his forehead, under the chin, and along both cheeks. He looked like death warmed over, but then they all did after wake-up. There was never any provision made for psychological or physical recovery. You were expected to be on the job a half hour later. Why the machine couldn’t wake you up the day before had always remained a mystery to him. The drain on life support wasn’t all that great. In a ship of this size, there had to be so much air in the system just to fill the vessel up to the proper pressure. Whether or not anyone was there to breathe it was quite secondary.

He wanted a shave and a hot meal. Men complained about the way they felt, oddly enough, when talking about the experience later. Women complained about the way they looked. Or was that just bullshit, from the secret little book that women passed around, amongst themselves, and never letting a mere man get a look at it? He wondered what the operating manual for a woman’s mind looked like.

Based on past experience, it would be two or three days before he could take a dump.

He needed some clean pants, a shirt, a cup of coffee and a smoke. Dooley Peeters had his priorities in the proper perspective. The damned plug-ins still itched, especially with the sting of hot water and soap on the red-rimmed Fluid Entry Points. The fluid was based on the paw-pad antifreeze of the Siberian husky breed of dogs, distilled from tissues grown in an industrial-scale in-vitro process. This was mixed with a blood-plasma replacement rich in oxygen, due to the low temperatures and therefore the slow pace of chemical reactions under hibernation.

He wasnted to remove the Fluid Entry Points as soon as humanly possible. He had lived for that day, when he was feeling a little down. For a moment he reveled in being grumpy, as he began lathering up his hair.

The scary part was when you had to put the mask on, knowing full well that a few seconds later a sickly-sweet, pungent smell would come through, and you would be knocked out. Certain thoughts never left, they even showed up in semi-conscious dreams. Dooley noted his heart begin to race at the thought, and carefully cleared his mind of animal fear. Good posture and long, slow breaths were the key.

It took real guts to suit up, after a while. The first few times were all right. But that was before he had all that time to think, and to calculate on the odds.

Statistically-speaking, sooner or later you wouldn’t wake up.

You could only tempt the odds so many times, and he accepted that part. What scared him was the possibility that your number would come up on the very first roll of the dice. It might not be an entirely rational fear, but it was his, and his alone, and he just had to live with it. It felt very reassuring to button up a clean white cotton shirt, and feel the rug under the soles of his bare feet. With luck, he would never have to put the mask on again.

The key thing was to make no mistakes. All he could do was to pray for luck, and prepare for the worst. Dooley liked living, and the notion that the universe could just as well do without him was a distinctly unwelcome one. At last he could have a smoke and a half-decent cup of coffee.

Dooley feared that random hit of bad luck.

END   This is the first part of 'Horse Catcher,' coming on October 1/2012 or thereabouts.   Comments are always welcome. Photo credit: NASA, artist impression, public domain.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Become a better writer. Learn how to edit.





Presently I’m editing two books at a time. This involves my new mystery, ‘The Art of Murder,’ which is the second in a series, and ‘Horse Catcher,’ a science fiction novel originally written in the spring of 2008.

It’s good to be able to go back and forth between two different projects. I just finished the mystery, and I can only look at it so many times before the page starts to swim in front of my eyes. After leaving it for two or three weeks, I opened it up and started work, and within the first thirty pages I made numerous minor changes to the text. Because I didn’t know it off by heart any more, I was forced to read it with fresh eyes rather than just skim through with my attention wandering.

When I published my first two e-books in 2010, I spent ten months editing them side by side. I started writing sometime before September 1983, when I went back to school at about age 25. For most of those years I just puttered around, but I submitted my first few books about a hundred and twenty-five times. A couple of vanity publishers were interested, and a couple of the books got some interest from a respectable Canadian publisher. I guess I just wasn’t ready for it.

I had plenty of insecurity about the work. By this time, I had surrounded myself with all kinds of writers on Facebook, some of them pretty famous, and I suppose some diffidence is understandable.

The fact is, the books needed a lot of work. Now I can edit a book in about a month, but at some point the attention begins to wander, and so I go off and do other things. In terms of man-hours, at least a hundred or a hundred and fifty hours of editing go into one of my books. It doesn’t all have to be in the same month.

There are times when I read an opinion, and the person is talking about all the ‘unedited’ independently-published works out there, and while most of the time I can take it in proper spirit, there are times when it really does bug me.

If you want a well-edited book, you either pay someone else to do it, or you do it yourself. If you can’t afford to pay, or if you simply don’t have the skill or the aptitude, then you really are up a creek. Your only choice then is to either learn how or live with the results. Incidentally, paying money for professional editing is no guarantee of big sales. You can write badly, pay a ton of cash for editing, do the work, and someone will read your books and tell you that you’re ‘a great writer.’ Maybe that’s true. It’s also true that you might succeed. It might go ballistic.

In my case, I wanted to learn anyway. I don’t hang up a shingle as an editor, because I really don’t have a long list of qualifications or publishing credits to establish my credentials. There are plenty of editors out there. It’s very competitive, and I would still have to charge $35.00 an hour. $70.00 an hour would be better, and the fact is I don’t want to do it anyway. Think of what I would be letting myself in for. I would edit someone’s book, and then maybe they get a few bad reviews, and I’m not interested in all the angst that might go along with all of that.

We learn by listening. We learn by reading, and we learn by doing. We learn by any number of means. However, I am far better off to be able to edit my own work, even though I really don’t claim to be an editor.

What happens, is that I am becoming a better writer—a much better writer. That’s all I really want out of the editing skills.

It is a way to become a better writer.

And if you want to learn how to write, then by all means, write. If you want to learn how to edit, you either go to school, get a job as a junior editor, or edit your own stuff. If you want to learn how to write well, set very high standards for yourself.

If you want to learn how to edit, grab a manuscript, any manuscript, and start editing. The first thing that you will find is that you don’t automatically know the answer to every question that an observant person can come up with. And so you look it up, ask a question, Google a few key words and phrases. Then you go back and look at that danged book again.

You submit a few short stories around, enter a few contests, and take every bit of criticism and rejection as a positive thing. It can really hurt sometimes. It is the path to learning.

Anything can be criticized. And anything can be improved. While some may quibble that I could have done a little more of this, and taken out some of that, I am pleased with the results in terms of subsequent writings. My ninth novel was better-written than my first two, right out of the box, and this was before I ever started ‘editing.’

Will everybody love ‘The Art of Murder?’ Probably not, and I can still think of one or two valid criticisms myself. It’s fairly short at around 62,000 words, and any book could be made longer and more complex. By the standards of the genre, it holds up well enough when compared to famous and long-dead writers of genre fiction.

There will be valid criticisms of ‘Horse Catcher.’ It goes with the territory.

When I write a book, it is a unique artistic achievement. No one else could have written that book.

There are no acknowledgements in the front of my books.

Here is an example of 'Dense Prose.'

http://shalakopublishing.blogspot.ca/2012/02/have-you-ever-heard-someone-absolutely.html

Here is a before and after edit of one scene from 'Horse Catcher.' < (Note: Louis re-read this later and added the final apostrophe. -ed.)

http://shalakopublishing.blogspot.ca/2012/09/excerpt-horse-catcher.html

Comments are always welcome. I don't have a donate button on this site. The best thing anyone could do to help an independent author is to buy one of their books.

Incidentally, if you need help with editing, or have a question, the best people to ask are the ones making all the blanket statements and disparaging reviews on Amazon and other sites. They know what they're talking about, assuming you can penetrate their identity or locate them or whatever. I'm sure they'd be glad to help.



Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Excerpt: Horse Catcher

(Preliminary marketing image for 'Horse Catcher,' coming October 1.)

Kjarl and Akim and the others were lined up for inspection. With two men left to help his parents look after the farm, Kjarl had managed to recruit twenty-two men for what the Sheriff had promised would be ‘a week or ten days’ of soldiering. Every year in the late spring or early summer, after the crops were safely planted and coming up strong, the numerous local units of the Kirtele national militia of the county Sulatawia went on maneuvers.

These exercises took place under the watchful and critical eyes of men representing the Eyrie. Unfortunately, this year it seemed they were to be blessed by the presence of The Right Honourable Yphonius Cornelis himself, titular Eagle’s Head of the County, reporting back to the National Council. This year, with all the rumours of war going around, the usual air of levity that attended these martial gatherings was in abeyance. The Honourable Yphonius was reported a deadly serious person, with his piggy little eyes staring coldly into your own, even at the best of times.

Yphonius was a corpulent, sweating man, stiff in his ceremonial robes of office, which apparently he never took off, not even to bathe. A surly and argumentative man, his fat, glowering visage was quick to reflect displeasure at less-than-perfect performance or presentation. Kjarl and some of the others had already felt the bite of his tongue and a rather barbed wit. Kjarl’s stomach grumbled loudly, and he hoped the men next to him wouldn’t giggle. To draw the man’s attention was to draw his ire, they had quickly discovered.

It was a foretaste of the social graces he would no doubt exhibit at the first opportunity, for example lunch. This seemed to be seriously delayed by the lengthy proceedings. The gentle slapping of a cold rain did nothing to raise their spirits or to even drive down the flies who were also in attendance at this review of troops, squadron after squadron and man by man. All with the most horrid noises coming from what he assumed would be a band someday, if only they could learn to play their instruments. Combined with the rawness and inexperience of many of the troops, his own brave-looking little contingent included, it was a morning that could only be described as a comedy of errors, with some of their precision evolutions going horribly wrong. Sheriff Knolos had a lot riding on this inspection, for the concession was up for renewal in the autumn sessions of the National Council.

The stranger on his right was cursing softly, barely audibly, and Kjarl was cold, wet and hungry. An aide-de-camp brought out a dark, flat leather pouch and proffered it up to Yphonius, mounted upon a creamy white charger that Kjarl frankly envied. Taking out a scroll from inside it, the man’s voice called out loud and clear, so that all the men could hear and understand his words.

“By an act of the National Council of the Kirtele Nation, we hereby appoint Yphonius Cornelis District Commander for the County of Sulatawia, and do hereby and forthwith authorize him to raise troops, impress horses and wagons, and to purchase fodder, grain and other foodstuffs at fixed rates as set out in documents attached hereunder.”

As the fat man paused for breath a funny little sigh went through the assembled squadrons of troops. There was a single snort from a horse, perhaps more sensitive than most to the qualms and sudden mood swings of men.

“We hereby authorize The Honourable aforesaid Yphonius to appoint officers, to disburse monies, make payments to contractors, and dispense Military Justice….”

Another deep soughing murmur went through the troops, most of whom were full-time soldiers with the Sheriff’s troop, and who perhaps better understood the significance of the words being spoken.

“These articles of war are sworn this day at this Assembly, and shall be deemed to be in effect for the duration of any subsequent hostilities, which shall arise from definitions and instructions attached hereunder.” On and on it went, with Kjarl, for one, totally mystified.

But then, he’d never been on maneuvers before. With all the others sitting there impassively resigned to whatever happened next, he had no idea what to think.

“Well, that’s fewkin’ torn it.” A trooper behind him spat in disgust.

A long drum roll and a flourish of horns rang out as Yphonius’ personal bodyguard raised their lances in salute, all lined up on the other side of the square. The fat man raised a hand in acknowledgement, as he spurred his horse and trotted smartly out the gate.

Kjarl sat stone-faced in contemplation, with the hot eyes of his men on his neck, looking across to where Sheriff Knolos Ryngger sat watching the Eyrie’s men file past on their way out of the parade-square.

As the last of them rode by, the gathering of men and horses and local dignitaries let out their breath with a collective gasp, and the mutterings of three hundred and fifty men gathered into an ominous-sounding dull roar. Everyone was cursing and complaining at once. Kjarl spurred his horse, off to see Knolos and find out what in the names of the seven hells had just happened. There were a few minutes of waiting for the hubbub to subside, then he sat in the Sheriff’s large back room beside the plotting table, complete with a map of the county painted on the surface of the centre of it.

There were a dozen other sergeants and junior officers seated around the table, listening intently to the Sheriff.

“We must be prepared to move out at a half-hour’s notice.” Knolos’ orders seemed terribly optimistic to Kjarl, even with his limited experience. “We’ll leave a security force of experienced troopers here to maintain law and order. When I know more, I’ll tell you.”

He nodded and the others all rose with alacrity to attend to their duties and preparations.

“Stay for a minute, Kjarl.” The Sheriff held up a raised palm as the others shuffled out of the room without so much as a backward glance of curiousity.

“Sheriff.” The other man stepped in quickly with his explanation.

“I’m sorry, Kjarl, I really am. I swear by my mother’s grave that I had no idea. Luckily we don’t have anything on paper. I mean, you could take your boys and just ride off if you wanted to. But I sure hope you don’t.”

“No. I suppose I couldn’t do that.” Kjarl ground his teeth in dismay.

He was strongly tempted, though.

“Look, Kjarl, the whole thing has to do with the Tzclinacoque. They’re coming up the River, and there’s a huge army. Thousands of boats, animals, elephants—”

“So what’s an elephant?” Sherrif Ryngger sighed on hearing that.

His patience was being sorely tested today.

“They’re really big, they put little castles on their backs.” Kjarl just shook his head in disbelief.

“Look, Kjarl. There’s some possibility that we may go to war, if they come this way. But the likelihood is that it will all blow over in a few weeks.” Knolos scratched his belly. “You have to admit, the money’s good.”

“If we get called out, can my men take over patrolling the county?”

“I’m afraid not.” The Sheriff sounded regretful. “It’s a matter of procedures, writs, protocols have to be observed so as not to violate the natural rights of a citizen…”

Kjarl nodded that he understood that his men didn’t have that kind of training, or any training at all, for that matter. But the idea of taking them to war was patently ludicrous. If he walked away and war came, he’d look like a coward and feel like a skunk, and drag his men’s names in the mud. If he stayed, and war came, some of the boys might get killed. The others, feeling as tricked into this situation as he did, would blame him and everyone would treat him like a skunk. He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. They’d hate his guts either way.

“All right.” He looked Knolos squarely in the eye. “But one, you can’t split up my men. Two, we’d better find them some place better than the stable to sleep, and I have a few more items after that.”

The Sheriff nodded with a sense of relief. It would have been bad for the morale of the rest of his troops if a large party were allowed to go home at the first sign of trouble or even mere hardship, which he knew it to be. It seemed they were back to horse-trading again.

“I’ll tell you what, Kjarl. There’s three gold pieces for every man who signs these articles, and an extra one for you as well.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess some of them will sign, but for how long?”

“We always try to give the men time off for the harvest.”

‘Sure you do,’ thought Kjarl.

He kept that thought to himself, along with some others.

END

After reading this, it struck me that it could be improved. Can you spot the changes?

Kjarl and Akim and the others were lined up for inspection. With two men left to help his parents look after the farm, Kjarl had managed to recruit twenty-two men for what the Sheriff had promised would be ‘a week or ten days’ of soldiering. Every year in the late spring or early summer, after the crops were safely planted and coming up strong, the numerous local units of the Kirtele national militia of the County of Sulatawia went on maneuvers.

These exercises took place under the watchful and critical eyes of men representing the Eyrie. Unfortunately, this year it seemed they were to be blessed by the presence of The Right Honourable Yphonius Cornelis himself, titular Eagle’s Head of the County, reporting back to the National Council. This year, with all the rumours of war going around, the usual air of levity that attended these martial gatherings was in abeyance. The Honourable Yphonius was a deadly serious person, with his piggy little eyes staring coldly into your own, even at the best of times.

Yphonius was a corpulent, sweating man, stiff in his ceremonial robes of office, which apparently he never took off, not even to bathe. A surly and argumentative man, his glowering visage was quick to reflect displeasure at less-than-perfect performance or presentation. Kjarl and some of the others had already felt the bite of his tongue and a rather barbed wit. Kjarl’s stomach grumbled loudly, and he hoped the men next to him wouldn’t giggle. To draw the man’s attention was to draw his ire, they had quickly discovered.

It was a foretaste of the social graces he would no doubt exhibit at the first opportunity, for example lunch. This seemed to be seriously delayed by the lengthy proceedings. The gentle slapping of a cold rain did nothing to raise their spirits or to even drive down the flies, who were also in attendance at this review of troops, squadron after squadron and man by man. All with the most horrid noises coming from what he assumed would be a band someday, if only they could learn to play their instruments. Combined with the rawness and inexperience of many of the troops, his own brave-looking little contingent included, it was a morning that could only be described as a comedy of errors, with some of their precision evolutions going horribly wrong. Sheriff Knolos had a lot riding on this inspection, for the concession was up for renewal in the autumn sessions of the National Council.

The stranger on his right was cursing softly, barely audibly, and Kjarl was cold, wet and hungry. An aide-de-camp brought out a dark, flat leather pouch and proffered it up to Yphonius, mounted upon a creamy white charger that Kjarl frankly envied. Taking out a scroll from inside it, the man’s voice was loud and clear, so that all the men could hear and understand his words.

“By an act of the National Council of the Kirtele Nation, we hereby appoint Yphonius Cornelis District Commander for the County of Sulatawia, and do hereby and forthwith authorize him to raise troops, impress horses and wagons, and to purchase fodder, grain and other foodstuffs at fixed rates as set out in documents attached hereunder.”

As the gentleman paused for breath a long sigh went through the assembled squadrons of troops. There was a single snort from a horse, perhaps more sensitive than most to the qualms and sudden mood swings of men.

“We hereby authorize The Honourable aforesaid Yphonius to appoint officers, to disburse monies, make payments to contractors, and dispense Military Justice….”

Another deep soughing murmur went through the troops, most of whom were full-time soldiers with the Sheriff’s troop, and who perhaps better understood the significance of the words being spoken.

“These articles of war are sworn this day at this Assembly, and shall be deemed to be in effect for the duration of any subsequent hostilities, which shall arise from definitions and instructions attached hereunder.” On and on it went, with Kjarl, for one, totally mystified.

He’d never been on maneuvers before. With all the others sitting there impassively resigned to whatever happened next, he had no idea of what to think.

“Well, that’s fewkin’ torn it.” A trooper behind him spat in disgust.

A long drum roll and a flourish of horns rang out as Yphonius’ personal bodyguard raised their lances in salute, all lined up on the other side of the square. Yphonius raised a hand in acknowledgement, as he spurred his horse and trotted smartly out the gate.

Kjarl sat stone-faced in contemplation, with the hot eyes of his men on his neck, looking across to where Sheriff Knolos Ryngger sat watching the Eyrie’s men file past on their way out of the parade-square.

As the last of them rode by, the gathering of men and horses and local dignitaries let out their breath with a collective gasp, and the mutterings of three hundred and fifty men gathered into an ominous-sounding dull roar. Everyone was cursing and complaining at once. Kjarl spurred his horse, off to see Knolos and find out what in the names of the seven hells had just happened. There were a few minutes of waiting for the hubbub to subside, then he sat in the Sheriff’s large back room beside the plotting table, complete with a map of the county painted on the surface of the centre of it.

There were a dozen other sergeants and junior officers seated around the table, listening intently to the Sheriff.

“We must be prepared to move out at a half-hour’s notice.” Knolos’ orders seemed terribly optimistic to Kjarl, even with his limited experience. “We’ll leave a security force of experienced troopers here to maintain law and order. When I know more, I’ll tell you.”

He nodded and the others rose with alacrity to attend to their duties and preparations.

“Stay for a minute, Kjarl.” The Sheriff held up a raised palm as the others shuffled out of the room without so much as a backward glance of curiousity.

“Sheriff.” The other man stepped in quickly with his explanation.

“I’m sorry, Kjarl, I really am. I swear by my mother’s grave that I had no idea. Luckily we don’t have anything on paper. I mean, you could take your boys and just ride off if you wanted to. But I sure hope you don’t.”

“No. I suppose I couldn’t do that.” Kjarl ground his teeth in dismay.

He was strongly tempted, though.

“Look, Kjarl, the whole thing has to do with the Tzclinacoque. They’re coming up the River, and there’s a huge army. Thousands of boats, animals, elephants—”

“So what’s an elephant?” Sherrif Ryngger sighed on hearing that.

His patience was being sorely tested.

“They’re really big, they put little castles on their backs.” Kjarl just shook his head in disbelief.

“Look, Kjarl. There’s some possibility that we may go to war, if they come this way. But the likelihood is that it will all blow over in a few weeks.” Knolos scratched his chin. “You have to admit, the money’s good.”

“If we get called out, can my men take over patrolling the county?”

“I’m afraid not.” The Sheriff sounded regretful. “It’s a matter of procedures, writs, protocols have to be observed so as not to violate the natural rights of a citizen…”

Kjarl nodded. His men didn’t have that kind of training, or any training at all, for that matter. But the idea of taking them to war was patently ludicrous. If he walked away and war came, he’d look like a coward and feel like a skunk, and drag his men’s names in the mud. If he stayed, and war came, some of the boys might get killed. The others, feeling as tricked into this situation as he did, would blame him and everyone would treat him like a skunk. He was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t. They’d hate his guts either way.

“All right.” He looked Knolos squarely in the eye. “But one, you can’t split up my men. Two, we’d better find them some place better than the stable to sleep, and I have a few more items after that.”

The Sheriff nodded with a sense of relief. It would have been bad for the morale of the rest of his troops if a large party were allowed to go home at the first sign of trouble or even mere hardship, which he knew it to be. They were back to horse-trading again.

“I’ll tell you what, Kjarl. There’s three gold pieces for every man who signs these articles, and an extra one for you as well.”

“Oh, I don’t know. I guess some of them will sign, but for how long?”

“We always try to give the men time off for the harvest.”

‘Sure you do,’ thought Kjarl.

He kept that thought to himself, along with some others.

END

Note: After reading the second version again, I made more changes.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Confidence is Everything.

(Morguefile.)



Confidence is everything.


It’s true, isn’t it? Confidence is everything. For without confidence, at least some positive belief that we might succeed, we would never really try, would we? There’s no incentive without at least the possibility of success.

It’s a lot of work, after all.

The notion that we might try and subsequently fail is enough to put some of us off. What would our friends think? Why do we care? Their needs are different, and each must act according to their needs. That’s why we figure a family of five should live in a house, and a single male can get along fine in a one-bedroom apartment. We try new things, and maybe someone else carps about it. Let them. It helps them in some way, which is to the common good of all. Right?

But when we aren’t really trying anything new, we have little chance of failure. We don’t learn much from success. We learn a great deal from failure, not the least of which is that we can go on. Our lives are not over.

“We have just begun to start,” to badly misquote a famous American naval hero.

It is in fact failure that instills confidence. Because we did what we had to do, and we took it on the chin, and paid our dues. We put in our time in the trenches. At last, we have earned the right to succeed, or even just to be here.

As things stand, I am confident that I can finish any writing project that I choose to start. I am confident that I can edit it. I am confident that I can format it, and publish it, and market it, et cetera. This is a lot better than where I was three or four years ago, when I was scared shitless about self-publishing my first two e-books.

Yes, I am confident that I can create paperbacks, and one would suppose hard-covers if it comes right down to it. I didn’t know any of this stuff before I tried and failed…to hear them tell it.

You know I’ve made every mistake in the book. We’re only up to about Chapter Three on that one by the way, but the mistakes showed where the problem areas were. I didn’t know before that. I had to put it to the test and find out where the weaknesses in the plan, the skills, and the knowledge were.

We still have weaknesses. Should I write another novel and submit it around to major publishers again? Should I try to get an agent? But how long would that take? And what if it never happens? I should have more confidence, but of course I’ve been reading all the wrong stuff about this industry. I think I will check out a few other sources. Anyhow, I can’t rule it out. I have full confidence in making a proper submission, and full confidence in writing a book that could be published. As for whether it ever really would be published, the word is that it’s very hard to justify taking on new authors right now, at least for the publishers that I’m actually interested in. It would have to knock their socks off, not just be a good, clean, workmanlike novel. And I don’t have nearly so much confidence in that regard. It would have to have a brilliant premise, wouldn't it?

So there is this question of attitude. One of the things that strikes me is that pretty much every blogger or online columnist has an interest and a premise. When I re-post someone’s opinion, it very often mirrors my own opinion, which is natural, but doesn’t it also support my own premise? Don’t I post it to support my brand, and aren’t I posting it for the benefit of my readers, whether on a blog, or somewhere like Kindle Boards?

I throw in the odd link of an opposing viewpoint, but it’s hardly balanced fifty-fifty. Nowhere near it, in fact.

Do I actually have an opinion on where this industry is headed, and if so, how did I arrive at that viewpoint? Seriously, why would I have an opinion? It’s just a bunch of stuff that I read. I am what I read, and lately I seem to read a whole lot of opinions. I read some non-fiction, and I read very little fiction these days.

But I would carefully label some writer’s work as opinions, and not ‘non-fiction.’ Even though it’s not presented as fiction, I think it really is in some cases. Some things I read lately clearly aren’t geared to my needs, and I suppose that should be taken into account. The writer was writing for a very specific group, and I wasn’t actually in that group. I should bear that in mind. They were clearly expressing opinions, and fairly strong ones.

It’s meant to persuade, and that means someone has an interest, if only a very basic one like getting as many hits as possible on their blog or website, or who knows, it might be genuine altruism.

I’m always on the lookout for good blog posts and websites relating to books, stories, writing, editing and publishing. If they seem relevant to others, like my tweeps and feebs and fellow collaborators in this great conspiracy of life, I will re-post them when I see them.

Other than that, I try to be objective, but there are times when I wonder if I really am.

It’s easy enough to persuade ourselves, especially when we’re the ones doing all the talking.

Attitude is everything, and I have to admit, I’m not exactly brimming over with enthusiasm lately. It’s probably just a little phase I’m going through, and it will all clear up in about a week.

Comments are always welcome.