Monday, September 30, 2013

Looking for Mr. Goodbookcover

Out with the old and in with the new.









Hopefully the reader can view these images without signing up on Canstock. You can spend hours, days even, browsing for marketing or book cover images on Canstock. Luckily, (or perhaps not) there are only fifteen pages in this category. Some categories—blonde girls for example, can have fifteen hundred or more pages, each with 75 images per page. It’s a hard job sometimes, what can I say?

What does this image say about the story? This is probably the number one question. How is it relevant? Obviously, if the reader knows nothing about the book, they really can’t help me. It’s all up to the person who publishes the book.

The title of the book is ‘On the Nature of the Gods.’ I’ve always liked the original cover, but it’s a free image from Morguefile and it’s time to upgrade. I can never really tell if the book is weird western or steam-punk, but Amazon lists it in steam-punk so there you go. I tagged it both weird western and steam-punk when I published it.

Again, what does it say about the story? As for hot babes, there are a couple in the book and Hope Ng is described as a ‘raven-haired’ beauty.

Okay, now that’s one crazy-looking dude, and while it doesn’t say western, it sure says weird, which is just exactly what the book is.

Same dude. Without complex help such as Adobe CS-6, I tend to keep the covers simple. I have one layer and some text. I have seen many nice covers with the text dead front and centre. Yet I look for images like this one because I can sort of stick my text over and above, or even around it. In a year or six months from now things might be different, and I might have CS-6. In which case, I can still use the $5.65 incl. tax marketing image. Basically, this image doesn’t grab me by the short hairs and so we’ll move on.

This image sort of works, the question is what do I do with the text? There is a fair amount of blank or black space to work with.

A strong contender so far. This one resembles the Evil Dr. Emile Schmitt-Rottluff, a character in the book. Nutty as a fruitcake, that one is as steam-punk as all heck. Bold white text might show up fairly well.

I like the girl and the gun. The trouble is that background, and whether things would show up properly. It’s best not to buy an image I can’t use.

Sometimes you just want to buy an image and either write a story around it for publication, or maybe just to have it in your personal collection. As far as book covers…I don’t know, and that probably means no.

Now, I think, I’m just loitering. (Grins.) I sure would like to write a story about that one!

Blogger is being a real pain lately, so I have to format this in HTML. Talk about dedication, eh?

Or maybe I just have a little too much time on my hands, anyhow, thanks for stopping in.

End

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Poetic Genes

Nicholausbroussard (Wiki.)








By Louis Shalako, with a little help from Edmond Rostand.




There was an inseparable gulf between him and that other world.

The young man stood outside the club, waiting. Rain shimmered in the glare of the streetlights, but he was oblivious. There was a lineup but he had no hope of getting in. Wrong clothes. He had the wrong hair, the wrong look. He could never have faked it. Even money wasn’t enough to help with that. He’d learned that the hard way.

But there was another gaggle of fans, real fans, the ones that bought the recordings and paid the bills, hoping to catch a glimpse of their idol.

He stood among them, on the far side of the street, clustered under a light-post, with giggles, coughs, shouts and voices all around. He had never felt so alone, but that was a lie, because he always felt alone. Ever since he could remember, he had been alone. It was his fate unless something happened to contradict it.

A limousine, big and black and long, pulled into the pool of light across the street. The curbside valet opened the far side door, and Zachary peered through the intervening gloom to see who it was.

The dark head of a man, a man with a neat beard and mustache, poked up above the roof first, as he turned and helped someone out. He had silvery, wire-rimmed glasses and an air of quiet assurance. The woman stood up. He saw wild blonde hair, and that was maddeningly all.

Was it her? Everyone else started shouting, yet he was still not sure.

“Lana! Lana!”

Voices cried all around him, and so he shouted too.

The sidewalk was roped off, but she had a crowd of people over there to contend with first. Finally she turned. It was her. She smiled and blew a kiss over the top of the car at the people on this side, with Zach, one of many, jumping up and down, waving his arms and shouting at the top of his lungs.

“I love you, Lana!” Was it just imagination, wishful thinking, or did their eyes lock for one brief second, with her mouth open in breathless poise, and did she not give an extra little wave and sparkling smile just for him?

Probably not, he conceded, but it could have been. It could have been.

“I love you Lana.” He turned and began threading his way out of the mob.

Late as it was, when he got home he had a cold beer and watched TV for a while. His mom could be heard puttering about up above. After a time, even that stopped. Munching stale pretzels from the bowl on the coffee table, he only thing in the guide that looked half-decent was Gerard Depardieu in Cyrano de Bergerac. He lay on the couch, ignoring the TV. He liked Gerard Depardieu, partly for whatever reason and partly because there was an uncanny resemblance between them. Zach had the same barrel type torso, the same big head and jaw, and, he carelessly admitted, the same sort of dumb look on his face, a kind of serene innocence in a cold world. He identified with him a little too much, which was why he had turned off the movie. What was hilariously funny at first soon hit home in the emotional guts, and he quickly tired of the romance, which was just what he didn’t have in his life. No one loved him, and realistically, he loved no one but Lana—and there was just no way in hell that was ever going to happen. Of course he wondered if he even really loved her, really. Puppy-love, sick crush, it still felt the same, the same sweet pain of longing and hopeless desire. He’d felt it about other women, but those women were closer to him and had responded or encouraged him…at least at first. It’s not like there weren’t some lessons there for him, far from it. The lessons were all too obvious, but he didn’t care to dwell too long on them.

There was nothing among the infomercials that he particularly thought he needed or would ever need. That was a bleak enough thought. When would he ever have to cook? Or entertain friends?

Hah.

Hah.

Finally he spent some time on Facebook. A friend in Auckland, one of the Facebook friends that he had never actually met and was probably never going to meet, just some guy he’d clicked on, posted a link to a fellow who was looking for academic approval for a bizarre nano-poetry project. His friend worked at the university there, as far as he had gathered over the two or three years he had been following his posts.

Grinning, Zachary read up on it. Apparently the guy was going to write a poem for the occasion, and then encode it onto a strand of DNA, and then inject it into a bacterium. The reason for doing this seemed pointlessly obscure, but then Zachary didn’t understand poetry or art at all. He liked certain songs on the radio. That was about it. He liked pictures of pretty girls and after that mostly landscapes. He had a cowboy painting on the wall, it was just there and he hardly even acknowledged it.

At that point he shut the machine off, and took some melatonin to help him sleep, although the morning logy effect would be pronounced after only five, or if he was lucky, six hours sleep.

Then he brushed his teeth and went to bed.

#

Friday morning dawned bright and clear. It had the look of another brilliant summer day, hot as hell later, but that was okay. The main company lot was almost empty of vehicles. Security waved him through the gate, after a quick glance at the windshield sticker.

He pulled his brand-new Focus into a vacant slot up near the doors for a change. Getting out, he locked it silently as was his way, no extroverted beep-beep for him, and headed into the research labs of Gentech International. Off to the right and behind was their sprawling Los Angeles plant, specializing in pharmaceuticals, agricultural products, and gene therapies targeting various aspects of immunodeficiency.

Zach unlocked the door and hung up his coat. He was just tending to the coffeemaker, putting in a fresh filter and six scoops of Maxwell House when Doctor Morrow came in.

Hands shaking slightly, he ignored Gus’s nasal breathing and concentrated on filling up the tank with hot water without spilling any. He put the lid down and hit the switch.

“Isn’t this Happy Friday?”

Technically, with the thirty-seven and a half-hour work week, this was true.

“Ah, yes, but.”

Gus nodded knowledgeably. As a senior researcher, he was on salary, while the lab technician Zach was on hourly.

“It’s just that—”

Gus slapped him on the back, assuming that Zach was swapping hours as next weekend was the long weekend and maybe he could get four days off in a row.

“It’s not like I care.” Then he winked in a conspiratorial manner. “Keep up the good work.”

Then he took the morning papers and headed for the john.

#

Normally Zach was looking for certain indicator proteins, doing the simple test on wide racks with hundreds of small glass tubes, putting in the chemicals with a multi-pronged syringe, and keeping careful and accurate records.

He understood what they were doing. The telomere was on the end of every strand of DNA, and it shrunk over the course of a person’s life. They prevented a person’s chromosomes from fusing or rearrangement, which led to cancer. This of course was the initial attraction of the research, to find a cure for cancer. Cancer was caused by immortal cells which somehow bypassed or subverted the telomere process. The whole immortality thing was an outlier of the original premise. When they got down to about twenty-five percent of the former length, the person’s immune system and glandular systems began to accelerate the aging process and break down in innumerable ways. Nature, intent on evolution and a strong gene pool, had essentially ensured a natural life span for each organism which ensured the vitality of the species.

Of course no one wanted to die. Not normal people anyway. People would pay anything not to die. His own father had been so confused, so resentful. Yet he’d had a long life, and suffered for so many years…the thing in the paper, ‘passed away peacefully,’ was pure bullshit.

No one ever went peacefully. Zach had that much figured out. He was still troubled by vague feelings of guilt and the inescapable images of his father’s last breath.

All they had to do was to either slow the rate down or stop it, and human lifespan would take a great leap forward in terms of longevity. While it was believed that human physical immortality was unlikely, even another fifty or a hundred years of life would be something—something special in terms of pharmaceuticals, with other potential applications in a hundred other fields.

Not the least of which was in cancer research.

That’s what he told himself as he went looking for the samples from Cyrano de Bergerac, whose remains had been allegedly dug up and were waiting to be compared with some other samples, all allegedly direct descendents, and all from the same region in Gascony, in the hopes of proving to a rather large cable TV audience that the body dug up was indeed him. Or something like that. He hadn’t actually watched the show, only seen a commercial for it.

Taken on its own, it was interesting and challenging work. The trouble was when his mind went off on a tangent and started thinking of Lana.

It was a crazy idea, but it was all he had.

#

Gus came back in. It smelled like he’d splashed on just a ton of aftershave.

“So, I’ve got a meeting, and then lunch, and then it’s a one-o’clock tee-off at Briarwood Oaks.”

“Ah.”

“So you’re on your own then.”

“Ah, right. Okay. Well, I’ve got plenty of work to do, so—”

Since Gus was always going to be Gus, naturally that wasn’t the end of it.

“Well, make sure you do those samples I asked you for.” By the look on his face, he had a list.

Zach indicated the trays in front of him.

“Already on it, chief.” His breezy tone was all the reassurance Gus needed.

Face brightening at the thought of all that work being done for him by Monday morning, he took off this lab coat and went looking for his jacket.

He came out of his small office again, thrusting arms awkwardly through the tight sleeves.

“Where’s Busby?”

“Off. It’s Happy Friday.”

“Oh. Right.” Gus stood there for a moment looking lost. “Oh. Yeah. Thanks for coming in.”

Without another word, he nodded decisively and headed for the door.

#

With no one around to plague him, he soon had his work all caught up insofar as Monday morning was concerned. Zach understood that the money was good and the work they did here was important. But sometimes the job could be boring as hell. Some chemists were involved with tests that were so painstaking and irritating that he would get home with a crick in his neck and a dull, throbbing headache that three aspirins just wouldn’t kill. None of them guys seemed to be around today, and that was good.

Testing takes time, and a lab technician can’t walk away. With all the A-type personalities stalking these labs, sitting around with your thumb up your ass wasn’t an option. Zach had learned to look busy, which included reading all the company memos, which arrived on a daily basis. He cudgeled his brain, trying to think exactly when he had seen it. Much of the memo traffic was proprietary information, top secret, yet relevant documents would be available across company departments…and even samples, if the supply was large enough, could be requested by other departments.

The knowledge was shared for the benefit of all.

His chair was angled away, and his feet were up on the corner of the desk, and he had one ear cocked for anyone coming down the hallway.

He thought it was last year, six or eight months ago. He started in June and worked his way through until he hit it, a memo from mid-July. He read it over three or four times, thinking.

Finally he closed the file of memos.

He sat there staring off into nowhere.

Then he swung his feet down off the desk. Grabbing a pen and a big piece of paper, be began to map out an expression system that would allow an identifiable trait—hopefully a DNA sequence for artistic expression and linguistics, to be inserted into a host organism’s own cell structure. As for whether Cyrano had left any good samples or how much degradation they might have suffered over the centuries, he just didn’t know.

He’d ask Busby, but that would have to wait for Monday morning.

#

Putting a sheaf of papers into a liitle-used soft-sided briefcase, Zach headed for home about four-thirty in the afternoon.

The usual forty-minute commute seemed longer and hotter than usual, but his frustration was held at bay by the thoughts in his head. He needed time to think it through, although the plan was simple enough. The house was an oasis of cool, clean serenity.

“Hi, mom.” It always surprised him when he saw the lines around her eyes, what sort of bothered him even more was her habit of dressing up all the time.

No stretchy pink pants with sagging knees and bottoms for Hazel, yet she hadn’t really gone out in years and if the extensive daily preparation period was in hopes of finding another love in her life, it hadn’t worked so far.

“Hi, honey.” The kitchen smelled marvelous and he was reminded that he’d only had a couple of doughnuts and a coffee for lunch. “How did your day go?”

“Uh, fine.”

“Sit down, you’re just in time.”

Zach rented the granny suite in the basement. As the story went, he was saving up for a big down payment on a nice house somewhere. Privately he acknowledged it was just a story.

His mom had a habit of cooking just a little too much for one person, and Zach always parked on the street and entered through the front door. His timing paid off in a quick helping of lasagna and some leftover salad. That finished, he took the briefcase downstairs and headed for the shower.

Unusually for the weekend, he had no major plans, no clubs, no bars, no meeting up with friends on the immediate horizon.

With no urgent need to go out or anything like that, although the grass would have to be cut sooner or later, he pulled out the sheets with the expression system and began studying it with care, mind far, far away, on a sunny desert island. His mind was somewhere in the South Pacific with the pop singer known as Lana.

#

Zach and Busby argued for three days, back and forth, back and forth, abruptly catching themselves in the middle of a heated argument when Morrow or one of the other chemists walked in.

Finally the pair just shut up about it. Busby didn’t approve, that was the one thing. Lana meant nothing to him, she was just another unnaturally talented teenager—he was shocked when he found that out, he had thought her in her early twenties—but she dressed differently from some of the other acts. Busby figured the country music scene was just different. Not like that one pop singer, he forgot her name, always wearing her underwear on the outside.

Friday rolled around again and Zach gave it one more shot.

“Come on. I need you to document this. It’s like you say, what if something goes wrong. I might be very ill, I might not be able to talk.”

“Argh. You are just fuckin’ nuts. That is the problem. You’re going to risk your own life and your health for sure. Over some chick who has no idea of your very existence, and no doubt she could care less when she finds out, which, incidentally, I must assume to mean that you have a plan for that too! Argh. It’s too nuts.” His buddy had a point, but Zach pressed on.

“Look.” He tried to inject a note of calm into his voice, even a fake resignation. “Just read the expression system. See if I’ve missed anything. Just give me an opinion.”

“Let it go.” Busby, looking forward to a long summer weekend with the wife and kids, was running out of patience.

These off the books, private projects were definitely frowned upon and probably grounds for instant dismissal. He wished Zach had never told him.

The man wanted something he just couldn’t have, and didn’t have the sense or quite frankly, the maturity, to admit it. Busby marveled at this display of narcissistic angst. He’d never seen anything like it in anything so closely resembling a grown man…Zach stood almost hugging himself with frustration, firmly convinced that this all could work. Did he know what he looked like? Obviously not.

What was he expecting to do? Lie in wait somewhere? Recite poetry as she strode past down Rodeo Drive? Send her love letters? That would creep her out for sure, and who could blame her. Was he going to write songs for her, then? Busby’s face hung slack at this mental picture of his friend.

It seemed awfully far-fetched. He regarded his sheepish young friend with mild disapproval, laced with a hint of astonishment.

“Seriously. You’re out of your mind.” There was just no way.

“Please.” Such humble eloquence was unusual for Zach. “Please?”

“You must admit that destroying every opportunity that comes your way is a little extreme!”

Busby had set Zach up more than once with a sure thing, well a pretty sure thing a time or two, but his young buddy hadn’t seen the light. One of the girls in the front office, the lovely Rebecca, had hot eyes for him so bad it was downright embarrassing. The only saving grace there was that Zach was totally oblivious.

“Yes, I admit it. I am sometimes extreme.” Zach sighed, deeply.

“Aha!”

“But to take a stand, or to defend a principle, sometimes requires one to act in extreme ways.”

That was one way to describe a crush on some millionaire rock star who graced the cover of a new magazine every other week.

“Oh, God damn it, forget your childish lust for a moment. You have too much to live for, Zach.”

“Oh, yes? But what would you have me do? Be like the wretched ivy that clings around a big tree and creeps upward not by its own strength but by trickery? No, thank you! Dedicate poems to bankers, like other poets have done? Act like a cringing fool just for the hope of seeing a condescending smile on a patron's lips? Thank you, but no! Learn to swallow insults every day? Scrape my knees raw from kneeling and bend my back till it breaks from bowing? No, thank you! Or be two-faced and sly, running with the hare while at the same time hunting with the hounds? Learn the cheap art of flattering people so that they may praise me? Step on people to make my way ahead? Navigate the sea of life with madrigals for sails, blown gently windward by old ladies’ sighs? Thank you, but no! Bribe kindly editors to print my poetry? Aspire to be elected pope of tavern councils held by drunken idiots? Work my whole life to bank my reputation on one famous sonnet instead of writing hundreds? Be terrorized by all the papers, thinking such things as, ‘Oh, if only the Mercury would give me a kind review!’ Grow pale and fearful and scheming? Prefer to make visits instead of poems? Seek introductions to the right people, sign the right petitions? No! No! And no again! But sing? And dream and laugh? Yes! Go freely, wherever I please, with eyes that look straight forward and with a fearless voice! To wear my hat just the way I choose! To decide for myself in any situation whether to fight a duel or to recite a poem! To work without one thought of fortune or fame, and to realize that journey to the moon! Never to write a line that has not sprung straight from my heart. To be modest. To be content with every flower, fruit or even leaf—but pluck them from my own garden and no one else's! And then, if glory ever does by chance come my way, I’ll pay no tribute to Caesar, because the merit will be my own. In short, I will never be like that wretched ivy. Whether I rise very high or not, I am content because I climb alone.”

Busby wandered over and dropped into a chair. He held his head in his hands.

“Oh, boy. Boy, oh, boy.” Busby was beginning to develop a real sick feeling in his guts. “Oh, you stupid son of a bitch—you’ve really gone and done it now!”

And in spite of all his best efforts, he had managed to suck Busby into it as well.

There was a long silence, but then Busby looked up. It was clear that Zach had already injected himself. This was just his way of announcing it.

“You speak so very loud and proud to the world. But can you whisper the truth into my ear—she does not love you, does she?”

END

Please take a look at my books here on iTunes, most of them are free still for a limited time.


Edmond Rostand (who wrote Cyrano de Bergerac.)


Editor’s Note: only those parts written by Monsieur Shalako are copyright 2013; all other parts are public domain. If Edmond Rostand were alive today, he’d be a very old man, and most likely pretty cranky.


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Pump Up Your Brain.

"We are going to pump up your brain, maggot."




by the Evil Dr. Emile Schmitt-Rottluff


« Before you can win; first you must live. »

« Avant que vous pouvez gagner, tout d'abord, vous devez rĂ©sider. » -- old French proverb which I just made up ‘cause I’m sneaky.

***

Yeah, ladies and gentlemen. I’ve been working on my boy Louis’s brain. He’s right out of it, ah, presently, and I’ve blocked his ability to see this post and one or two others, so bear that in mind. You must never mention this to him, by the way, or it will break the block.

***

Overcoming every obstacle does some interesting things to the physical structure of your brain.

A person accustomed to failure or even futility might begin to see things in a whole new light.

A few small victories definitely helps.

The Greeks used to heat up the tip of a sword to red hot temperatures and burn out the eyes of Cynics, a recognized belief system in its own right back then. I was just a very small boy at the time, but I did read the papers. (I gave that up when they went to the new paper format. I’ve always preferred wax tablets incised with a nice clean papyrus reed cut sharp on the proper angle.)

But anyway, this was supposed to help them see things a little more clearly, and in fact it worked very well. As you might imagine.

Rather than go off on too many historical digressions, the fact is that my brain, or your brain, can be re-wired. There are plenty of folks these days, all signing up for ‘memory-enhancement games’ online, and there were ‘speed-reading’ courses in the past, advertised on TV so you know it had to be real.

People learn new tasks all the time, but what about new attitudes, and how does that help the problem-solving process?

We all have certain expectations, and those expectations are also being re-written constantly with each new experience, for surely they rest at some cellular level. It's an electro-chemical process, inside each and every one of us carbon-based units. Our negative expectations from the past can be over-written with more useful and positive expectation-patterns from the present or the more recent past. It’s simply a matter of doing the work, and adapting some effective techniques, although this author’s approach is intuitive…even unplanned.

What’s happening is that the brain is being redesigned. It is adapting to the newer, more complex tasks set before it. With experience comes a data-base for further problem-solving. But also with experience comes a record inside the brain of new methods and procedures of experimentation. There is now an extensive history of past successes to review, which can be very motivational. And prior history is the best indicator of future behaviour, and as often as not, future outcomes. In other words, my brain or your brain now decides that it can in fact win one once in a while. In fact, it wants to win just as all such carbon-based units do in Darwinian terms as well as Freudian. It is the survival instinct. It is us, ladies and gentlemen, at some deep and fundamental psychological level.

We want to win, (for we must win or at least break even over time in order to survive) and if we are going to win, then we need to approach each task with that winning, problem-solving attitude. We know we have learned new things in the past, plus new things only recently, and so we approach the new problem with a can-do, or even a must-do self-image.

I don’t care what happens, I’m going to do this. I don’t care how long it takes, I’m going to do this. No one can stop me from doing this. I don’t give a dang if no one likes it—I’m going to learn how to do this and then fucking learn it some more. That’s what your subconscious mind (hence my reference to Freud) is thinking.

That little voice inside your head is there all the time, isn’t it? That’s the id or the ego or something according to Freud, and he should know, as he wrote the book on it.

So why not put the little bastard to work for you, and make him earn his keep. Right?

Depression.

Depression is an ailment that is often triggered by some external event, or so it seems.

I went into some big long depression back in April or May and the bloody thing lasted all summer. One day last week I realized it was over—the contrast is pretty stark, what with me driving down the road singing along with Tom Petty.

I was sublime, by the way.

But even so, I knew it was over.

How did that happen? How did I make that happen, bearing in mind it seemed like I had no control for months on end, and also, it would be nice to have some tools, right? Some way of dealing with it.

Looking back, one day I went to the beach, and I was pretty sure I could do a hundred metres along the shoreline. I got it all paced and measured and everything—it’s a hundred metres.

Like the crazy knucklehead that I am, I ended up swimming three hundred metres. Without touching bottom. I swam on my front, my back, my side…I drifted on my back, while controlling my breathing. I was totally comfortable in that water. This was a first for me.

A first. You know what that means?

I done real good there. I mean that.

I’ve never even swam a hundred metres before, not in my whole life, not as I recall. Yet I had also been practicing a little bit, going maybe seventy or eighty metres, two or three times each session at the beach.

And I did three hundred metres. Sure it was hard. Sure it took effort, sure it was painful and sure I had to focus and concentrate and want it really bad…for no real good reason anyone can explain.

Maybe that’s the sort of thing that kills depression. Setting some goals, working on some new things, and accomplishing a few oddball accomplishments…it all adds up, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the whole process seems to be working.

I’ll report on it from time to time, er, when I get a minute. I’m busy trying to figure out what my next little stunt will be.



END

There’s a whole shitload of my books up for free at Diesel Books.

http://search.diesel-ebooks.com/author/Shalako,%20Louis%20Bertrand/results/1.html

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Busy as a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest.

The girl of your nightmares.


















Dang, I’m as busy as a one-legged man at an ass-kicking contest lately. Tomorrow I proof, one more time, the French translation of ‘Stud Farm,’ or ‘Le Haras.’ That one will be loaded up onto Smashwords and Kindle.

The reason is simple. I want to get more products in the stores by Christmas. And I still don’t feel like working on my novel. But it also makes a lot of sense to focus on one thing at a time.

So when I publish, why not do a bunch of them, when I do short stories, write short stories until I puke, right?

Right.

But you get the idea. And when I get back to the novel, smash out two to four thousand words a day or until I burn out or go postal, which doesn’t make much sense when you own the place.

I’ve just clicked publish for one of my pen-names on Kobo, and he’ll be up to four titles on there soon enough. That’s an experiment—I just want to see what happens.

Today I put up new marketing images for ‘Snake Girl.’ For some reason that didn’t go through on Kindle Direct Publishing. I hit the button again and we’ll see what happens. That image is up on Smashwords.

My collection ‘Ghost Planet’ is all set to go. I generally write fast, edit slow, and publish with painstaking attention to detail, insofar as I can.

I always download a copy, and check for formatting, and other errors. It’s better not to do it half an hour before bed time in case there is a glitch, but a book can always be unpublished. You’re not supposed to un-publish books, as they lose their rankings, but a brand-new book has no ranking to worry about. I’d rather get it right, and I’ve been known to fiddle endlessly and upload multiple times in order to do so.

The collection ‘Engines of Creation’ is on the launch platform, waiting for the green light, which I figure will be about December 1.

At some point I will set aside a day or two and do the Print on Demand (PODs) of ‘Core Values,’ and the two collections. Those files take a couple of hours, maybe two and a half. The real time killer there is making the marketing images conform to the Createspace template as I use the free ones. They key thing is to keep all text back one half inch from the edges. Making it look nice is another ball of wax altogether, as on an ebook there is no trim size—you can go way out to the edges of the image in the search for artistic integrity or something.

Whatever.

Research.

I like to do the research. Bearing in mind I’m just window shopping, I went to Future Shop, and looked at an all-in-one touch-screen computer, a desktop one. That one was $899.00 with one Terrabyte hard drive, and I think six Gig RAM. The machine came with a mouse, keyboard, and Karmin-Hardon speakers. Apparently they have a disc drive, a slot on one side of the screen.

I don’t think my arms are long enough to use the touch-screen. I sit a ways back from the screen. I don’t want to put on reading glasses and stick my face up to within fourteen inches of the thing.

I really don’t want to sit that close.

So then I went to Staples/Office Depot. They had a nice machine, two Terrabyte drive. That one had eight Gig of RAM, and I would need that to run Adobe CS-6, which is good for making book covers, right?

That machine was $649.00 and was basically just a base unit with no other accessories, no screen, etc.

At The Source, the machine there, a base unit, was on the counter for $374.00.

That one had six Gig of RAM and as I recall one Terrabyte. (Am I spelling that wrong?)

The other thing is programming. Staples/Office Depot has a service, $149.00, to set up the machine, this involves transferring your old files to the new machine. A new version of Windows was quoted at $225.00 or thereabouts.

So I need to define what the machine is for. Any old thing will work as a word processor.

But in order to speed up the email inbox, to be able to go on Facebook without it locking up within two minutes, and to make marketing images and to begin the CS-6 learning curve; requires much more machine than I presently own.

I have speakers, and my keyboard works fine. The mouse is a piece of crap and it’s driving me batty. My 18.5” screen is a cheapie, and a bigger one with higher resolution would be a real treat. But is it strictly necessary?

I’d give my left testicle some days, for a good, swiveling, reclining office chair.

That would be pure luxury. Especially if it was all black leather padding with shiny chrome casters. I’m using one of the kitchen chairs and that’s not too good.

With the low-budget internet service, it is unclear just how much faster the inboxes would go with more RAM. I think it would help, ah; but I am anything but an expert, which as you may have heard goes kind of like this: “Ex as in has-been, and spurt as in drip under pressure…”

You get the idea.

END

Monday, September 16, 2013

Production Goals.

Setting some goals and getting confused.












Production goals are pretty simple things.

What would I like to make and when would I like to make it?

In order for that to happen, what work, preparation or construction, administrative or research, do I need to do and when do I need to do it?

For starters, I would like to have a completed first draft of my twelfth novel by October 1, my originally stated goal. It is true I wrote 28,669 words in thirteen days beginning Sept. 1/13 and it is also true that a novel is a minimum of 60,000 words and that my deadlines are self-imposed.

I don’t know, I think I just burned out on that one for a while.

I don’t like things hanging over my head by a thread, like the semi-famous sword of Damocles. I took the last few days to do other things. So far, I’ve upgraded the marketing image for The Clone, published Repalatron Raceway and something else, I forget what! I’d have to go look.

Force Multiplication Theory.

In terms of force multiplication theory, what you want to do is to make every soldier do double duty. Your soldiers have better weapons and better training. (You are an army of one. – ed.)

I am five people, -- ed.

You get much more firepower out of them. This is important in battle, because you want to win.

In terms of a story, by publishing it in another language, for example French, you get to use the same marketing image twice, and since they cost money, that’s a consideration. You’re also producing work faster, and publishing more often, important in gaming the ‘passive discoverability’ algorithms.

These exist in two forms, machine and biological. (Biological includes other people as well as your own internal biology. You want to improve your own performance as well, right?

The basic premise here is that the more stuff you have out, the easier it is to buy a book from you!

I kid you not, especially if you’re camping out in as many genres as you can manage.

If it took two hours to write a story, a translation takes more like forty minutes. Also, they’re not so critical—you can let them simmer on the back-burner while doing other stuff. You get to keep twice as busy, and in business as in life this is a good thing most of the time. Because some days you just can’t write and we all get that from time to time. This is a good time to develop your already existing products.

So I need some production goals. In fact, I was thinking of taking a page out of Dean Wesley Smith’s book and writing a list. Seriously, I’m going so fast here I get confused sometimes. The other day I typed the wrong author’s name into the publication data on Amazon, and to compound the error that was the wrong book file, too. I did catch it in time, so it wasn’t that serious.

It might be handy to have a list, one where you can literally line things up in sequential order and then check them off in sequential order. NASA does it, and you can too. Right?

For today, I need a blog post, and voila! One magically appeared, like it was some kind of bun in the oven whose time had come.

I need a marketing image for The Stud Farm because that one’s been around so long it’s got stretch marks on its lips…I’m kidding, ladies and gentlemen.

One more face-lift, and that book’s going to have to start looking for a good razor. That’s all I’m saying, ladies and gentlemen.

I have two more translations ready to go. One needs an ISBN, and voila! Holy Schmoley, I must have remembered to order another block of ten yesterday. Need I say more? Those two files are ready to go, with images and everything, even. I can load them up when I’m comfortable doing so, like after one more read for bits and pieces of French grammar and spelling.

Are you with me, Moriarity?

The Evil Dr. Schmitt-Rottluff sends his regards, incidentally, before I forget.

So what else do I need:

A marketing image for my third short story collection. The second one’s in the bag (Engines of Creation) and in fact that one is locked and loaded, right in the launching platform, on both Amazon and SW. The two Frenchies are not uploaded yet. It takes five to six hours to assemble a collection, format it, do the admin stuff, (ISBN and image searches) and there you have it.

 I could sure use 1,000 words on my novel today.

 A new marketing image for The Case of the Curious Killers, in fact most of the old titles.

 A POD of collections #2 and #3. A POD of Core Values, which I have never gotten around to.

 I would like to focus on short stories during November.

 Sounds to me like I’m busy enough for the next six weeks. If I can get novel #12 out, on or about October 1/13, then it’s likely to be in all or most stores by Christmas week. That’s a rational goal.

 A marketing image and ISBN for the new mystery (book #12 career-wise.)

 I probably have enough material for collection #4, but that one can wait for a rainy day.

 More short stories published as stand-alone titles.

 Figure out what the hell I’m going to do for novel #13.



Writing in Public. Dean Wesley Smith.

http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?p=10184

Okay, I just published this, too:

The Healer. Louis Shalako

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00F2JZPMM

This one is more suitable for the younger readers, as is Repelatron Raceway. When I get enough of them, I’ll link them in a series, the name of which is yet to be determined.



END

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Promotion.

Giveaways: if only this was real.
















Promotion.

We have a couple of basic choices in promoting our books. We can go on Twitter and a hundred other social platforms, post, tweet and auto-tweet our product links fifty times a day, and hopefully move a few books off the shelf and into the reader’s hands.

The other choice relies on ‘passive discoverability.’ This is when people simply ‘find’ your book. On electronic platforms such as Kobo or Amazon, when they buy a book or merely look at a book from another author, they will be presented other options, all lined up in a row. It’s like a bookshelf physically arranging itself for the customer, as it ‘knows’ the customer’s previous purchase history, their age, gender, and of course the category they’re looking at. It doesn't present them with books they've already bought in that store, for example. If your book is in the same genre, there’s a mathematical probability that it will be presented, ‘sooner or later.’

All other things being equal, (and they aren’t) if there are 10,000 books in a category, then each book would ideally be presented once for every 10,000 unique visitors to that category. (There are other factors such as duration of visit and the number of browsing customers at any given moment, which limit the number of options they may be presented with, and few people look at thousands of books in a session.)

This is where the all-important rankings come into play. The highest ranked book is presented first, and so forth and so on.

However, things are never equal. Stephen King’s releases sell more initial copies than any unknown author. If someone looks at one, and it’s number one in category, they are more likely to be presented with the number two, three and four authors in that category—the electronic store has concluded, all governed by algorithmic equations, what choice is most likely to please a customer of such a ‘configuration.’ It’s another way of describing an individual in mathematical terms a simple machine can easily understand. A customer-fan of that genre, in other words.

In passive discoverability, the keys are fairly simple: a good cover, a good product description, a popular category, good reviews, and more than anything, frequent publication by the author. The quality of the book matters too, but until someone actually buys one, it means nothing in terms of ‘gaming the algorithms.’ There are more complex biological algorithms, which govern such human reactions after-sale, including word of mouth, surely the most effective form of promotion. We can even control this to some extent—by writing good books and moving some of them off the shelves, for example by promotion of free titles. This is where the tweets and posts come in.

The only way to game total ‘passive discoverability’ (i.e. no other forms of promotion being used) is by publishing something new as frequently as possible. New books pop out in a stream of new releases. They’re at the top of a list for however brief a time. The best way to game the algorithms is to first and foremost, write good, entertaining books, and to do it as often as possible. This why people who publish exclusively on Amazon use the Select Program. It’s a way of moving some books out the door.

So your book is at the top of a list when first published. For that exact moment in time, that book has as much chance as Stephen King’s new book, assuming good product presentation. It all depends on how many people are looking at the new releases, and not much else, algorithmically. Without sales, without downloads, those books sink very quickly.

Most authors will probably choose a mix of the two techniques. You want people to go and look at the books, and you want someone to buy one once in awhile. The higher you go up the rankings, the better your odds become of selling your next book. (All other things being equal, which they are not. Ever. Because the customer choice is so subjective.)

Social Media.

My personal opinion is that social media is overrated in terms of booting up bestselling books. Yet it is not entirely useless in marketing books. It must be understood, exploited, but not abused endlessly. Without social media I would not be selling a single book. With it, I sell a few. That is the real revolution in independent publishing. I’m selling a few books. This is a requirement for further success, and it must be exploited systematically and rationally in order to be most effective over the long haul.

Writing a series.

If readers like a book, a story, or the characters in it, they want more. This is why TV has spin-offs and why Agatha Christie wrote Hercule Poirot books, Miss Marple books, and characters like Mack Bolan and Matt Helm had such a long career. People recognized a good read by the character names on the cover.

Rather than writing a whole bunch of standalone novels, using the same characters allows for more development, more world-building, and it provides much more material for the reader to ‘discover.’ As the author goes along, they know so much more about the world they create that it does get easier to write them after some time.

Linking a series.

Smashwords now has a ‘Series Manager’ where authors can link and number their books if they are part of a series. Kindle Direct Publishing has a field for that in the publishing page.

This is a good tool. I was conflicted by the need, or even just the method of indicating that some of my books were in a series. It felt clunky to write it into the product description, and I really didn’t want to put a big red #1 on the cover of my first one—how the hell would I know if I could do another? I only have a novella and two books in the series, and yes, I am writing the third. But it felt presumptuous and so I didn’t do it. Now there’s an easy way. For promotions, the first book in the series should be free. You can tweet with a good conscience, because you’re giving away free product. It’s a legitimate promotional tool

Free giveaways.

Some people scoff at free giveaways.

“Don’t such authors value their own work?” I read that in a blog somewhere, it was quite hurtful at the time.

(You’re danged right I do.)

“Would you like to supersize that meal?” How about 24 ounces of Coca-Cola to go with that burger and fries?

It’s only twenty-nine cents more.

I find it hard to believe that after all these years Coca-Cola Corporation (whatever) doesn’t value their product, and yet they still keep giving it away…

You want new readers. You want people to download free books. The algorithms are predicated on information technology and information theory. You can game those algorithms, by getting people to buy, take, borrow, lend, or review, or even just look at your book.

The more people look at your book, the more people will buy it. Store traffic is one thing, that’s different across platforms, but you want them to stop and look at your book if you can possibly get them to do it.

Spam.

Spam is shit in my inbox, where I have to click on it to look at it, and I have to search for an unsubscribe link, and yet I’ve never been to your website. I’ve never done business with you.

Spam is wasting my time and slowing down my inbox.

Now, if you want to post pictures of cupcakes on Facebook, well, that doesn’t bother me at all.

If you don’t like all the spam on Twitter, I have no idea what the hell you’re doing wrong. Maybe you should switch it off, and watch a football game, as no one, (or hardly anyone) has ever complained about all the commercials there, even though they say they don’t like commercials and yes, they can be kind of annoying. Right?

Twitter is like an old party-line phone, only instead of half a dozen other households listening in, anyone in the world can sign up and eavesdrop on your ‘private’ conversations. It is a form of communication, I will grant you that. Like any form of communication, it can be exploited, effectively or otherwise.

Here’s the real value of any social network: you can go on Facebook and click away, (judiciously, or you end up in Facebook jail) and build up an audience or readership of 5,000 friends. You can go on Twitter and build up an audience, even buy one, of 100,000 or a million followers. Let’s completely ignore what it is that you’re posting. This is the real revolution in social media—an obscure guy, an isolated person, perhaps some lonely old fart on a microscopic pension, can go in, learn the system and build up a following, over time of course, that might not rival Tumblr’s recent 38 million unique visitors in a month, but something that does the job.

How many books a month would you have to sell to make it worth your while? I would love to sell 200 books a month. This would go a long way. I could buy a car or pay insurance or something with that kind of money.* It is by no means a bestseller, as it might be sales of a dozen different titles. It’s not the sort of money that attracts big investment, but then it doesn’t require a large expenditure up front for infrastructure. In a recent blog post Hugh Howey, ‘Wool,’ etc, suggested that almost anyone should be willing and even able to invest $2,000 in order to launch almost any successful business. (I think that’s what he said.) I’ve done better than that. My first three years involved a cost of about $30.00 a month initially, although the bill has gone up for the internet. Only recently have I been buying marketing images from Canstock, for a total cost per book cover of about $5.65, which includes tax. Now, over the years, I have probably spent my two grand. Never at any time did I have two grand to invest in a business; I just did it anyway, using all available and alternate means.

That stems back to my training, (all too brief) as a journalist. Get your story out by any means necessary. Period.

***

Comments on this blog are always welcome.

*I’d love to sell 2,000 books a month and throw this lousy pension back in their faces…

END

Here are some of my titles on iTunes.

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/artist/louis-bertrand-shalako/id412091968?mt=11

Hugh Howey's Advice for Aspiring Authors.

http://www.hughhowey.com/my-advice-to-aspiring-authors/



Ulysses on Deck.

Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.











“Ulysses on deck!” Sturdy Xenophanes bellowed, white foam breaking over the red prow of the vessel.

“A fine morning.” Ulysses spoke, the words denying the lowering cloud and stiff gusts coming in off the port bow of the ship. “How are the men?”

“In a fine fettle, with the smell of home on the breeze. They’re chomping at the bit, sir.”

“Three knots and our course is fine.” Talaimenes was the helmsman, reporting at a glance from his chieftain. “The fog is now much thinner.”

Sucking in a deep breath of fresh, cool air, Ulysses marveled once again at how the vessel rode the hard chop just as competently as the day she was launched. A brazen shaft of sunlight broke through the clouds and made the sea sparkle and shimmer like tiny golden dancers in torchlight. Pulling his cloak in tighter, he nodded in satisfaction.

“So many years gone.” He was philosophical. “We have earned a rest—and our keep for the days of our lives.”

“Tell them.” The eyes of Xenophanes shone with some inner joy, a kind of sweet pain that no one could share in mere words these days, not after all they had seen and done. Ulysses regarded the familiar figure of his friend with a slight frown and then his visage cleared.

“Of course. Why didn’t I think of that?” He strode to the front of the poop deck and put his hand on the shoulder of the time-keeper. “I want to talk to them. Hold her steady, give them a moment to rest.”

“Halt! Raise oars! Steady! One…two…three…” Chromis was a steady soldier and a masterful sailor.

Looking back at the helmsman, Chromis gave a nod.

“All stop, sir.”

“Thank you.” He took a moment, to clear his mind and purge his lungs of old air.

Ulusses faced the rowers from the poop deck. Expectant faces looked up in anticipation and respect. Men once young and innocent were somehow different now, a little wiser and a little sadder. A little older now. A moment of grief passed over him, for there were too many missing faces.

Flinching from the cold spray, the wind strong on his neck, Ulysses stood there and tried to memorize the look of every single one of them. He would never forget this moment for as long as he lived.

“Men. I cannot tell you what an honour it has been. I am proud to call you my friends. It also humbles me. We have seen our brothers throw their lives down for us, and we have done it for them. No commander could ever ask more of his men than I have asked from you. And you have given your all. No soldier can give more for his country than you have done. I am grateful for my life, and your service. I thank you for coming and am deeply relieved that so many of you will be going home.”

Tears rolled down Xenophanes’ cheeks and some of the others as well.

Equally at home in the palace and the camp, loved by his people and feared by his enemies, his words were magic. Ulysses was master of every stratagem. But that didn’t explain the love. He was a fierce and cunning soldier. Ulysses had led them to victory, and every one of them waited breathlessly.

The silence was profound, even over the waves and the wind. He studied their faces, each of them, one by one.

“Sarpedon, the bold! Let no man ever say that a Greek was a coward, or a traitor, or lacked honour. Tlepelemos! Let no man say that Greeks do not do justice to their fellow man. Enyo! Let no man say that a Greek does not have gratitude, or give thanks and credit where it is due. Briseis! Let no man say that a Greek cannot be trusted or will not keep his word. Petrus, the noble Petrus! Let no man say that Greeks are not loving husbands, good fathers and honest men. Xenophanes, whose eloquence has graced this voyage with wit and wisdom. And you, Pollux, whose love knows no boundaries…and you, Antenor, let no man say that Greeks do not stand by each other’s side when the time has come. Gentlemen, I wish I could tell you what a privilege it has been to serve with you. Mere words fail me in this time of need. I honour you all, and I thank you for your friendship.”

For a long moment, there was silence. Then all the rowers stood up and shouted the name of Ulysses, as the ship began to drift, and then there was only one more thing left unsaid.

Holding up a hand and waiting for quiet again, Ulysses spoke with finality.

“Back to your oars, my friends. It is time to go home.”

The shouting and the thumping of oar handles went on for some time. He was inclined to overlook it, just this once.

Smiling the length of the ship, he nodded at Xenophanes. Then he turned and watched for the green hills of home, as the wine-dark sea broke time and again over the prow, and the waves smashed against the sparkling wet bow.

***

“So what do you think, Xenophanes?” The sardonic Frigattenkapitan Gerhard von Bluecher was the neutral observer from the Imperial German Navy.

According to his own account, he was just there from the future to get a little experience before going on to some obscure diplomatic post.

“He’ll head straight to the bar, just you watch.” Xenophanes was his usual morose self, but then it was his job to pay off the crew and Ulysses was holding back thirty percent for provisions, repairs, breakage, sales from the slops chest, and withholdings from future advances.

This was a kind of usurious interest against loans in advance, taken from the men’s own pay.

“Hmn. That’s why he pays you the big money, eh, my friend?” Von Bluecher was joking.

“Yes. I’ll skewer him under a pseudonym, of course.”

Xenophanes kidded himself that he was a playwright and a poet.

“Of course.”

That was the trouble with the ancient Greeks. While their pens were indeed mightier than their swords, their biggest problem was that the bastards simply couldn’t be trusted to keep a contract. That mutual distrust would be crucial in the times that lay ahead for folk of whatever era, now that all of humankind past and present was threatened by the time-travelling Eridanae.

It would come back to haunt them, or he wasn’t a shrewd judge of character, both individual and national. These people couldn’t hold a candle to a true German.

A German would rather die than break his word or become a hypocrite.



***



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Process of Writing a Novel.

(Niels Noordhoek, Wiki.)

“Bang-bang, three shots rang out, a woman screamed and her guts fell out, and there on the floor, with his asshole tore, lay terrible Dan McGrew…” – my old man.

Writing a novel is a process. It doesn’t all happen at once, like you just add water and stir.

My twelfth novel is up to 26,000 words out of a projected 60,000+.

So what do we have so far?

We have a murder, a woman screaming, we have an initial crime scene investigation, we have interviews with those closest to the victim. In other words, we have Inspector Gilles Maintenon of the Surete, and the trusty, broad-shouldered Detective-Sergeant Andre Levain, along with some new people, doing their jobs. They’re gathering evidence and investigating the murder of Muriel Ducharme, a rich old lady with four sons of disparate characters, tempers, and prior histories. Also, her beautiful niece Sophie was staying with her at the time. She had a cook and a couple of servants and according to all accounts not an enemy in the world, in fact you’d have a hard time finding anyone with a bad thing to say about her.

As any good cop will tell you, prior history is the best indicator of future behaviour.

(In other words, Louis seems pretty likely to finish this story? – ed.)

Something like that, — ed.

(My number one heckler, ladies and gentlemen.)

While the first chapter seems pretty long on description, at this point in the process, (there’s that word again,) I’m laying in sufficient groundwork to support a desired ending. That means that there is a fair degree of going back and forth in a manuscript of about 65 pages so far, with no chapter titles for reference, just trying to find some person and throwing in a necessary bit of ‘groundwork.’

This can included clues, something they said, saw, or noticed, something about their previous experiences—I just discovered one of my characters studied economics in London, U.K. for example, and at some point you will lose track. Even more interesting, in a series, information in one book can support some plot point in another book. For example, Maintenon was a widower in a previous book. In this book, he’s still a widower, or I would have to account for why he isn’t. Simple, really. Also, guys in a previous book can’t refer to events in a subsequent book—it’s a paradox because it hasn’t happened in their world yet.

(“Fuck, he’ll work in Schrodinger’s Cat before he’s done.” –ed.)

(Hey, — ed., Shrodinger’s Cat walks into a bar. And doesn’t.)

(And don’t be giving away plot points, either, ya son of a bitch.)

Approximately 30,000 words would be halfway to a complete first draft. Now is a very good time to go right back to page one and just start reading the story, keeping a good pen and some blank paper beside the keyboard.

Bear in mind, ladies and gentlemen, I already know who committed the crime, how it was done, why it was done, why it was done in such and such a way. I know these people intimately, because I created them and breathed life into them and then they started to act like real people…perfectly normal, rational, everyday people with hopes and dreams and desires of their own. Right?

***

If I end up cutting a book, it’s like I wasted time in the writing of that material. Why not write just exactly what I need in order to get from Point A to Point B, and nothing more? Why not skip what some lady’s dress looked like, or what the wallpaper in the parlor looks like. I can add that in during the re-reading and re-writing process. The structure is only important right up to the point when the book is finished. After that no one cares, least of all I, because it is invisible to the reader.

They just got sucked into the story and can’t wait to see how it all turns out.

At that point it is no longer structure. It becomes full, complete, and a coherent whole. Each stated fact or event in the book contributes to the ‘truthiness’ of the outcomes in the book.

If it rings true to life, if people can see it happening inside their heads, then it has become a work of art, whether an author chooses or not, (and it could be a girl, too,) to express it in those terms is their own decision. (Or hers.)

Prior history is the best indicator of future behavior. Anyway, the books are all free for a little while longer.

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/louis-bertrand-shalako

If you're still with me, thanks for reading my story.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Crime Scene: an excerpt from a Work In Progress.

A crime scene.












Dawn was breaking over the eastern horizon as the city came to life. Paris buzzed with the morning traffic. There were shouts, and horns, and bells, and the roar of bus exhausts.

One window, the one farthest from her bed, was open. Cheerful yellow chintz curtains bellied and luffed like sails on a ship at sea. Birds chirped and sang as they only do at a certain special time of the year, when they are just back from Africa or Spain and are in a rush to claim a home and begin another brood.

Muriel Ducharme steadied herself before attempting to dress. The room was chill after removing her night-dress, as she splashed water on her face from the bowl and ewer on the dresser top.

The clock on the wall read six-thirty-two a.m. It meant nothing to her, only that another day had begun. The habits of a lifetime were impossible to break. The doctor had once suggested she could take it easy and sleep in, if only on a Saturday. Trying it more than once, she had found it impossible and had spoken almost sharply to the doctor about such nonsensical ideas.

When she got really tired or had one of her dizzy spells, she would sit in a chair and doze lightly for a few minutes, or perhaps half an hour at most. Their snickers and indulgent remarks meant nothing to her. They treated her like a little old lady, and perhaps that was just. That much she could accept. She could still hear people speaking in the background. The maids and the cook had gotten used to it. They didn’t make a fuss or take much notice, although they might be a little careful of what they said. This was a good thing, for the help could be a mite too talkative at times. It wasn’t that she didn’t care for them all on some human level, but they must know their places or they would soon get out of hand. It wasn’t like she could ever really be intimate friends with them, although the environment a real house created was and should be intimate and friendly for all concerned.

She dried herself thoroughly, used to the chill of dawn after all these years of a morning routine that hardly varied. Changing into clean underwear, sturdy if plain, choosing which housedress to wear this fine Monday, noting the cheerful sounds outside of the set of three windows which admitted light and air to her boudoir, her mind was ahead on the tasks of the day.

They’d gone without coal much of the time in the War, and no one died or froze to death. They just put on another blanket or two and wore sweaters and coats if necessary. A smile crossed her face at some of the memories. It was in the nature of seventy-seven year-old ladies that their minds jumped about a bit, but she didn’t mind that at all. It made life interesting. That was important at her age. She had done without a lot of things, as had they all, which made her present fortune all the more bearable. As someone had once said, the only thing worse than getting old was not getting old. The best revenge lay in living a good life.

They were certainly lucky to have such a good house to live in and food to eat and beds to sleep in. They would never lack for anything, and yet people could be so selfish, so stupid.

She must phone someone somewhere and lay in the fish for Friday, for last week it had been atrocious. That fish came from Monsieur Normand’s. Normally she sent Eloise out for it on Wednesdays, however they would have to find another place. Not after the way Monsieur Normand’s assistant spoke to her. He was altogether too flippant for her liking. She buttoned her dress firmly all the way to the top and also habitually, found a loop of clean elastic ribbon to hold her grey hair in the severe bun she had affected since her husband’s passing almost thirty-four years ago. The dress, a faded royal blue one today, hung almost to the floor, leaving only the fronts of her feet exposed. It was almost a reflex to take up her rosary and put it around her neck.

She stood in front of the mirror, over which was a crucifix. Bowing her head, she said the first prayer of the day. It would not be the last. The world was very wicked, or perhaps it was just some of the people in it, and one couldn’t be too careful when it came to one’s soul. It was a sign of humility to pray, and to pray barefoot had always seemed the best way. It was different in church of course, all those feet with all those warts and funguses—sometime the floor was quite filthy, even her old eyes couldn’t help but notice, but this was her home and no one kept a cleaner one as far as she knew. It made her feel good about the day ahead.

She sat on the Louis Quatorze chair, the left one of a pair beside a small writing desk she never used, and found her stockings as laid out the night before by Sophie, her dearly beloved grand-niece. She was such a beautiful child and grateful to help out around the house, which made up in part her free room and board. Not that Muriel begrudged the girl, she was just at an age and what girl wouldn’t want to see Paris? And perhaps make a suitable match, if one could be found. At sixteen and a half, her raven-headed charge was a bit young for such thoughts but that was the way it was these days, all these newspapers and radio shows, and the posters in the metro all full of sex and glamour.

How would it all end? No one could really say, and so she prayed for everything to work out…

Black, knee-high silk stockings, as she could afford it, came next, and then the plain, brown flat-heeled, sensible shoes. Although this pair had seen better days she wasn’t going out so they would do. It was just her, Sophie, the cook and the housemaids today.

Her heart brightened at the thought of beginning spring cleaning, although it mustn’t interfere with the normal cleaning routine. She would speak to the girls about it and let them decide.

If Olivier dropped around near lunchtime as was his wont, if he was in the neighbourhood, her youngest son would hardly notice her shoes. That was one thing for certain.

Muriel stuffed her handkerchief up into her left sleeve and pulled the curtains back to ensure the windows were fully open. The middle one had always been stiff in the guides and she must be careful not to put a crick in her back or her neck, in spite of that she leaned into it and gave it a good heave. Up it went with a groan. It was early summer now and the rooms up on this floor could get quite stuffy as the house faced south onto the street. Big front windows admitted glaring sunlight, and in fact it was better in high summer, when the sun was more directly overhead.

The whole place could use a good airing as it had been damp lately and the towels for one thing were taking forever to dry. A person should be able to use a towel more than once, without it starting to smell, she thought.

She never could stand closed curtains, especially on such a lovely street as hers. The constant throng of traffic brought life and entertainment of a kind, right into her sitting room, where she could knit and listen to the radio or the gramophone, keeping a sharp eye over her world.

Snapping off the light, for electricity was very dear or so it seemed to one who had grown up without it, she left her bedroom door all the way open and headed for the salle de bain to complete her morning toilette.

Muriel had her morning tinkle, flushed the toilet and washed her face and hands with hot water and soap. The pipes gurgled faintly behind the walls as she snapped off the light and carefully closed the door.

They rarely had visitors up here, but proprieties would be observed, besides, it kept any suggestion of a rank smell out of the hallway and the rest of the upstairs.

As was her custom, she turned right for the servant’s stairs instead of left for the more formal main stairs. Her first stop was always the kitchen. She would stoke up the boiler, as she always said, and put the kettle on for when Therese arrived.

Pausing at the head of the stairs, she studied herself in the oval hanging mirror placed there on the wall for just such a purpose. Thoughtful, pale blue eyes with a hint of warmth and humor had always surprised her when she saw them. Her spectacles were smudged, she could see it in the mirror in the glow of the small wall-sconce. It was the most frustrating thing, but they were almost impossible to keep clean with crabbed fingers and the small tremors in the hands. The girls really couldn’t be trusted with such a job.

Is that really me? She had always wondered, but the eyes were the windows into the soul, or so the poets always said.

She had looked better, but it would have to do.

Gripping the handrail firmly, with her head carefully tipped down and her glasses firmly on, with the light in the stairwell snapped on, the grand old lady began making her way down the dark and narrow boards of the staircase.

***

Wheezing slightly, her temperature feeling slightly elevated as was her heart-beat, she came to the bottom step where she paused. The hall light was just inside the doorjamb as light spilled out into the front of the kitchen. Finding it, she turned it off as she stepped out into the room. The switch for this room was to the right, on the wall. She fumbled in the dark for it as the kitchen was at the back of the house and the dim light of pre-dawn wasn’t making much of an impression.

The silence of the morning was special somehow, also the fact that it would be a sunny day. They said it might go up to thirty degrees later in the afternoon.

An unseen hand hit the switch on the far end of the room and she gasped, hand clutching at her rosary beads. She stopped where she was and awkwardly turned, peering to see who it was. It was much too early for the cook.

“Oh!” Her eyes bulged in shock and belatedly, real fear.

“No!”

The first shot hit her high in the chest, going through her hand with its pathetic beads, and she spun to the left as she fell.

“Oh! Oh, mon Dieu.” She lay on the bottom of the stairs as footsteps approached, sounding cold and distant, echoing in her head which made whoosh-whooshing noises. “Hail Mary, full of grace…”

Her lips were moving as the second shot hit her in the back, with the angle and the convulsive shock, for this was a strong old lady, still with plenty of light left in her, and it flung her half onto her back again. She stared up in dumb shock, unable to comprehend, let alone believe what was happening to her. The pain came then, and with it, the reality of what was happening to her.

“Why? Why?”

There was no answer given.

“The Lord is with thee…”

The sound came of a pistol cocking.

“Why?” She gaped, blood pouring out of her open mouth, eyes glazed with the pain.

There was no answer. One final shot to the head made all such questions superfluous. The impact smashed her head back onto the stairs to stare sightlessly up at the kitchen light fixture, albeit the lights were quickly turned off again, and the footsteps rapidly faded on the stairs of the rear exit.

A long and narrow alleyway, home to old carts, broken glass, dustbins, and the occasional outcropping of tree or brush, led all the way the length of the block.

Half an hour or so later, the cook arrived, finding the door unlocked and with broken glass from a single small pane set up high scattered both inside and outside of the threshold. At the sight that greeted her eyes, she gave a single great gasping sob. Throwing aside her packages, she put her hands over her mouth, staring with eyes bugging out, and then she ran out into the alley.

She screamed, once, twice, and then again. Crying and sobbing and with her lungs heaving, she ran down the two flights of steps and out of the small back courtyard and around to the next house. She pounded on the rear door, repeating over and over again that she needed to use the telephone.



End of excerpt.

The usual disclaimer.

This is a first draft. The story may be subject to minor changes and possibly some cutting. But this is basically how I work. And the copy as it is seems pretty clean. My spelling is good and the grammar seems all right.

Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery, the first in the series, is presently free on Kobo as well as other fine online retailers.

http://www.kobobooks.com/ebook/Redemption-Inspector-Gilles-Maintenon-mystery/book-kS23AvtcCESx-DhwNBJg9A/page1.html

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Simenon's House.

(Flamenc. Wiki.)















The house pictured is where Georges Simenon, the great Belgian writer of detective fiction was born. It’s 34 Leopold St. It’s in some shit little town in Belgium. The housing is fairly typical of big cities all over Europe, and you can find similarities with buildings even in North America and in the former European empires in Southeast Asia. A murder has to happen somewhere, right? One place is as good as another.


While it is by no means necessary to have a floor plan, which some mysteries do, it’s interesting just to learn by looking. It’s what a proper detective would do.

How do the residents get into the private apartments above? These homes were all built separately, yet the norm appears to be an unobtrusive door at sidewalk level on the left side of the building. The business entrance is much more prominent. In my hometown of Sarnia, Ontario, in Canada, there are similar buildings uptown, admittedly only three or four stories tall. There are definitely stylistic differences, but in art form follows function.

But what they do have in common is a business on the ground, and private apartments up above, with separate doors for each.

Any reader of mystery novels can see that the layout, how people came and went from a murder scene, whether it was the victim, or the killer, witnesses, it all has a bearing on the outcome of the event, the case, and the book. How many people live there and who else has access?

Looking at this picture, it’s impossible to say if there is an alley behind it or not. For the purposes of fiction, let’s say there is. Where did it lead to? Can patrons of the shops on the first floor use the alley? One would think not. Delivery men, possibly…the reader sees where I am going. We can learn much by the layout of the place and yet all we really know is that someone was murdered there. As a writer, we have to start someplace, and in a murder mystery, to begin at the beginning is to present the reader with a nice, luscious, tasty victim, i.e. a corpse.

What prevents people from wandering in off the street? How do people get to the second level, which also appears to be a place of business?

Presumably the private apartments, which start on the third floor in this building, have some kind of locked door on a landing at the top of the third flight of stairs. There is the need for some kind of research, if only to visualize the simple movements, and to learn what is possible and what is not. Just as an afterthought, the houses may have had fire escapes, over the roofs. I haven’t decided yet. I’ll throw it in if I need it!

I don’t know for sure, but it is possible, or possibly there might be an external staircase on the back of the building.

Watching House Hunters International a few years ago, they did a show where they looked at apartments in Paris. It was the dream of a lifetime for the people involved. Imagine: to live in Paris.

It was amazing to learn that a half a million U.S. dollars inside the city limits of Paris, would buy four or five very small and oddly-shaped rooms, stacked up vertically inside a narrow building on a street with no parking for miles and cobbles right up to the doorsills. The bathroom was little bigger than a broom closet, and the stairs were more like the kind you would find on a schooner from the 1840s. They were narrow and steep. The stove was eleven inches wide…you get the idea.

This puts the houses in this picture into their proper perspective. Assuming one private owner, there is some prosperity in the picture. My present novel takes place in 1929, the year of the Great Depression, which affected France a bit later than some other countries.

Other than that, I don’t want to give too much away.