Friday, January 24, 2014

Marketing Images: a Study in Compromise

A strong image with room for the text. That's Layla, the alien girl in the book.

by Louis Shalako

For marketing images I have a few limitations. For one thing my old Pentium II computer won’t operate Adobe CS-6, (Photoshop) a major program for making book covers and all sorts of wild other images.

Staying within these limitations, I have two choices. I can farm the work of making an image out, or I can do it myself using the simplest of paint programs. The cheapest ebook cover I am aware of is $25.00 U.S. and she doesn’t include a POD cover. I would still have to acquire the original ‘clean’ image and make my own for the paperback, as similar as possible, using the paint program I have available. This sort of limits her in the fonts and effects she could use.

The snake sort of swallows its tail in that case.

It is ideal have the ebook and the paperback covers similar if not identical as it avoids confusion in the shopper’s mind when they are clicking around on the average bookstore website. They don’t just keep going because they thought it was a different title; get lost and give up.

The other option is to get a pro marketing image, by that I mean a stock image were there is no text. From a stock photo website, you pay by credit card and download a digital image.

Because of those limitations, I have no choice but to take the cheapest option anyway. If I am capable of making a halfway credible rendition of someone else’s design, I might as well have done it myself. However, the odds are they would be using Adoble CS-6 or something very much like it. It’s strictly either/or here. 

There’s not much point in me making one version and them another. It would still cost twenty-five or more dollars.

So my marketing images cost $5.65 plus whatever interest I end up paying on the credit.

The big difference in the resulting image is that I can’t meld two or three layers together. It affects the design, and so far I haven’t taken a straight shot and tried using the limited special effects that I do have. I buy a pro image and then put a title on it, the author name on it.

Sometimes there is a superscript. I only have limited fonts and I only have limited colours.

Typical POD cover using Createspace free template.
Even so, I seem to have learned a lot. If the book or story is targeted at men, put a girl on the cover, if it’s targeted at women, put a handsome man on the cover. I zoom out on the created image to see if I can read the name when the image is real small. I look for strong and dramatic images, that stand alone in the pictorial sense. They don’t need anything added.

The technology available affects the design.

Since I can’t meld layers together, I’m looking for entirely different, whole and substantial images. I’m not looking for elements or components that can be layered together, like a red rose on a white table with a face faded in above and behind, and sparkling galaxies whirling around in the background. I simply don’t have the technology. If I needed something like that and found a suitable marketing image on a stock site, I would of course buy it. If it was cheap enough.

Then I would stick my text on there and there’s my book cover. I would still have exactly the same limitations from the paint program.

This would obviously affect the branding of the works. It would be a challenge for all the different pen-names, all the genres and all the books and stories I have out there.

Just as an example, the third in the Maintenon mystery series, Blessed Are the Humble, is a pro image.

It would be nice to find a few more of the same type. First of all, I like that one. Secondly, I would prefer not to have to replace it anytime soon. I have no money to waste. It takes time to shop and time to make them. I would very much like to upgrade the covers of Redemption: an Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery, the first in the series, and also the cover of The Art of Murder. Then there is the original novella, the one that inspired the series.

The Handbag’s Tale has been soldiering on for a couple of years now with a cover that looked okay at the time, considering my limited experience, but it clearly needs something new—something branded, something that is clearly recognizable as a mystery novel.

When you think about it, it’s like twenty-three dollars to get four new images. What I hope to do is to write quite a few more mysteries. Each of the covers must be ‘branded’ to some degree. The real killer is the time spent on a stock photo site looking for something, anything, that will work.

It’s always going to be a compromise, no matter how good your computer and your photo-shop type program. The real compromise is in the time it takes.

I have a nice little story here, it’s about 6,500 words. The image for such a product still costs the same as a full-length book. The difference is that I might spend an hour, maybe two looking for something I can use.

I spent days looking for an image for Horse Catcher, and that one ended up being a real big...compromise.

It’s just that simple: can I make this work, because it’s a good image and it fits well enough. But how will text look on there? And who is this book written for? Women don’t get turned on by other women—they get turned on by men.

If it’s an erotic or romantic story geared to women readers, then everything about that image matters. If the story is targeted at gay males, it still matters. Don’t put a hot chick in a bikini on the cover. So much of this should be no-brainer stuff but it still took me some time to get this far.

If an aircraft is a series of compromises flying in close formation, then writing a book and putting the whole thing together is a study in the art of compromise.

The Case of the Curious Killers, (iTunes.)


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Any Asshole can Become a Writer.

There's no big mystery.

by Louis Shalako

There's no big mystery.

Any asshole can become a writer, so don't you worry.

(What he means, meaning no offence to anyone, is that he expects to get there. -- ed.)

What you got to do is to write your brains out.

If that means writing a million words of crap first, then do what you gotta do.

(I suppose it's easier to say that once you've done it and put it behind you.)

It will happen.

So, what does it really take to become a writer?

Minimal investment.

Some brains in your head.

A little imagination.

A little bit of backyard psychology.

A compelling urge not to work for a living.

The knowledge that nothing can stand before a determined man.

The ability to make shit up, not so much on the spot, as later, when you got time to think about it.

The ability to fantasize and write it all down real quick before you forget.

A lust for life.

The attitude of a pit-bull when it clamps onto your arm.

An appreciation of the more fleeting of life's sublime little vignettes.

Life experiences.

A good cover story, one that holds up under neighbourhood scrutiny.

Some time on your hands.

A lot of love for, and a certain fascination with, people.

(They are your target audience, after all.)

A certain rudeness with telemarketers.

The ability to take a hit and remain on your feet looking puzzled.

(Did that guy just hit me? What up with that, eh?)

Motivation, which technically should have been at the top of the list but I'm still working on that, oh, you know. The whole story-building process.

Here's what I got to work with:

So here's my question:

What more do you think I need?


You've got to figure out what is your greatest strength. This is what you attack with.

Figure out your greatest weakness--and make it a strength.

The story is the thing, ladies and gentlemen.

Money, fame, success, influence, celebrity, a big fine house on a hill, all of that shit should be secondary.

If it comes, that's the reward for being a good story-teller and a good business-person.

All of this is a cumulative process. It all adds up over time. Start young, and keep going.

One quality all successful writers have is persistence.

They didn't quit.

They never gave up.

They never shut up and sat down.

They never turned around and walked away.

The project that you are working on right now is the greatest thing since sliced bread.

Nothing else really matters.

Live long and prosper.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Word Count: You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do

"You gotta do what you gotta do, Baby."

by Louis Shalako

Word count is important because it shows whether you are working or not.
I like having ideas. When I get an idea, I write the story.


So how do you create a word count, big or small, for better or worse?

Allow me a bit of a brag.

So far in 2014 I have written eight stories and I have another 2,000 down on the next one. It’s only January fifteenth.

Those eight stories are at least 25,000 words and probably more. One of the stories was 4,300 words, and the shortest was still about 1,650. I’m writing science-fiction, erotic romance and even a spooky adventure snuck in there.

I’ve got two more story ideas. I create the file, name it and leave it on my desk-top. When I get a story done I submit it, (or post it on my blog) and at some point I stick it in a folder. I don’t always submit them right away. Right now I have three or four un-submitted stories, which have never appeared anywhere before. I don’t quite know what to do with them.

I’ve got four new ones under submission plus a handful of previous stories under review by pro, semi-pro or at least ‘pay’ markets.

In the past, I have sold the odd story.

I make no other claims.

Every so often I do give one away, for exposure. If nothing else, I can tweet about it, and post it on Facebook.

The story I am working on now will be worked on tomorrow. I reckon I can finish it up tomorrow. Why not? And then there are the next two stories. Got nothing better to do…

What I need more than anything is ideas.

When I run out of ideas, there are plenty of administrative things to do, but nothing is as satisfying as actually working with a story from beginning to end.

That’s what really does it for me.

I guess that’s why I’m here.


So in other words we work at it. It really is that simple.

We make the time. The actual writing is probably only good for two to four hours a day.

I have written two blog posts, (now three) one of which has been published, (now two) although the other needs a bit of work.  That one’s about Control.

I have formatted a new 5,000 word story for publication, complete with front and end matter, designed a book cover (marketing image) for it, got an ISBN number, written the blurb, etc.

In order to get the marketing image, I had to shop for it and then make ‘the cover’ using a simple paint program.

For the last little while, I’ve been uploading books to Google Play and Google Books. I do one or two a day as time permits.

One of my pen-names has a nice story coming out very soon. It will be published to Smashwords and all of their distribution channels, Kindle and OmniLit. Uploading a book can take ten or fifteen minutes. Everything takes a certain amount of time.

Other than that, I try to keep busy.

That’s how I get my word count.

I wouldn’t say it was easy,

I wouldn’t say it was hard.

You gotta do what you gotta do.


Friday, January 10, 2014

The Worst Part is the Waiting.

The worst part is the waiting.

by Louis Shalako

It was D plus Three of the invasion of Vega-Prime. The first and second waves were on the ground and holding their bridgehead.

Major J. Birney of the Fourth Division, Royal Marines, stood beside Lieutenant D. Edwards of H.M.S. Agincourt, flag of her squadron. The dark and compact Scot, with his beefy shoulders and forty some-odd years and the lanky, red haired youth, seemingly too young to be a commissioned officer, got along like a house on fire, which was a relief to Major Birney after a previous experience on another vessel. They were going over the proposed fire-plan.

The vessel was part of the Thirteenth Heavy Bombardment Flotilla, three squadrons plus one reserve squadron, firing in support of Eighth Combat Infantry Brigade, just one small component of the First Fleet. They were conducting offensive operations in the sector of space surrounding the rebel conglomerate’s home world, based on the Vega system and only twenty-five light years from Earth.

After six years of war, the Empire had established strategic and economic superiority, defeating the rebels in campaign after campaign. In the early days it had been a very close-run thing, and politically, with acknowledged war-weariness growing at home, it was time to end the war with one crushing, final victory.

Hence the high priority set on the invasion of Vega-Prime. It could well be decisive, and with a bridgehead already established, the stakes were very high. The senior officers would be fresh after a good night’s sleep for the operation, but more junior officers had a harder time of it. With Vega-Prime heavily populated and expected to be occupied for many years into the future, tactical and strategic nukes had been ruled out. It was a pretty challenge for the artillery, both ground and space-based.

“Aw…ah.” Birney yawned definitively. “Oh, God, I thought it was bad enough groundside.”

The Major rocked back and forth on his feet. The nature of combined operations made inter-service cooperation vital to the success of the mission. He was aboard Agincourt coordinating fire missions with the Support Force, who had all the really big guns until the Marines’ own heavy batteries were fully unloaded and deployed.

The monitor was a very special kind of ship. Major Birney had never been on one before. Even so, the boredom of a long night watch had been punctuated only by the intense planning of their fairly-complex fire mission. Monitors and their specialized mission were predicated on the carrying of one or two very big recoilless launchers. The ships had limited storage capacity in all things, including re-loads for the tubes. They were armed with only minimal anti-ship defense systems, light automated weapons for close-in defense. Safety lay in numbers as well as the heavier Fleet units nearby guarding the troop convoys. Lethality relied on vast numbers of replenishment ships, perhaps the Empire’s best-kept secret before the war. Edwards was a whiz and the Admiral of the Fleet trusted his judgment. Birney had been impressed at the Fleet’s communications, with all Gunnery Officers contributing in the finer details regarding their adopted units and the unique objectives set out for them. Tomorrow’s attack would secure a more effective starting line for an offensive set for the coming weeks. Troops on the ground, comprising a surprising tally of different units and detachments, Army, Marines, Air Forces, would attempt to break out of the LZ and establish themselves in the jungle-clad hills where the enemy capital lay open and resplendent in a vast emerald river basin as seen from the Agincourt’s observation cupolas.

“What?” Edwards, a fresh-faced twenty-three years old, looked up from the plan, overlaid on the latest Intelligence map display, stylus hovering over some minor detail. “I’m sorry?”

The fellow was never satisfied.

The speakers broke into Birney’s thoughts in typical style, laconic and emotionless.

“Roxy Three. On it. Fire three for effect.”

The response from their sister ship was crisp and succinct.

“Roger that.”

A screen with an external link displayed the launch of three salvos from Pomfret.

The radio speakers crackled again but the handle wasn’t theirs. That’s not to say that they didn’t hear it. Technicians sat, listening through headphones, and watching their tactical screens, as bored as anybody, but the possibility of surprise attack was unsettling enough to keep them alert.

All defensive weapons were warmed up and on high alert here in CC.

Birney yawned again. He looked around at the technical people. They were a good bunch, and he was oddly enjoying the duty.

“I’m going for more coffee.” Edwards nodded, with a bleak expression and his eyes faraway.

Birney headed for the alcove at the back of the room, an oasis of sanity in an otherwise sterile and very technical environment. The Fleet could be surprisingly civilized sometimes.

They’d worked all the night to get the fire plan ready, with targets listed for each battery, each ship, and each section. It would take very little time for the plan to be sent in code to all units.

Getting divisional approval, which of course involved regimental and battalion approval down on the ground…there were bound to be additions, perhaps some wishful thinking, and maybe a few questions, but Birney was fairly confident. That would all come soon enough. He could see them down there in his mind’s eye. He’d fought alongside many of them for the last three years, although there were inevitable losses. He could almost see them waiting with bated breath for the fire-plan to be thrust into their hands. Their lives might depend on it.

The whole thing looked as good as they could make it with the available resources.

“Yeah. Can you grab me one too?” Edwards couldn’t tear himself away.

It was a thing of beauty, when done right. The attack on the ground must quickly overwhelm the dug-in enemy troops concentrated in strength, all heavily armed and well supplied according to Intelligence, and break out of the defensive perimeter. Once through the siege lines around it, open country lay ahead. Armored spearheads and motorized infantry, supported by strong air contingents would exploit any success, with initial breakthroughs expected to the north and then hopefully to the north-east.

Behind the closed doors of the control centre, the movements of large numbers of crew as they manned the guns, light batteries, the loading rooms, taking stations all over the vessel, could only be sensed, not heard. 

Separate from the bridge, where more normal tones were used by all concerned, the quiet in the CC was ensured by thick insulation and a calm demeanour on the part of those initiates most privy to her secrets. A glance at the bridge screen showed the Captain had not arrived yet. They still had time to get a bite to eat…but Birney thought better of suggesting it.

Interestingly, thought Birney, the CC had the best air on the ship, with all the computers operating under optimum climate control according to his briefing.

Edwards printed off a large-scale copy of what he had on screen. Taking up his red pencil, he moved to a wide plotting table, sitting down and then asking a crewmember to adjust the lights so he could see better. It wasn’t red-light conditions yet, that would come later. The crewmember complied and then went back to monitoring the communications more directly than her superiors, making occasional notes as she did for the log. There was a fair amount of signals traffic, as both sides raided and patrolled and probed each other’s defenses on the ground. Fire support came from other units as traffic was light.

The Agincourt had fired her weapons early in the shift, ten rounds of HE on a strongpoint in prep for tomorrow. It was just one of a long list over the last few days, but she hadn’t been called upon since.

Birney came back and carefully set the cups down well away from the edges of the map.
Hopefully he had gotten the Lieutenant’s right, as the lad liked a lot of cream and sugar by his standards.

He looked over Edwards’ shoulder, and then at his watch. The ship’s chronometer and his own time-piece were in perfect agreement.

“All right. Let’s have one more look.”


Fire Plan Tango.

H-5 to H-0 engage targets at map reference points 240, 241, 242 HE two batteries each slow.
Light batteries within range will fire anti-personnel at normal rate. Third battery reserve, on call for FOOs.

H to plus 10, map reference point 247 Smoke one troop, rate very slow, adjusting on call for wind and drift in target zone.

Plus 10 to plus 20, target map references 250, 253, 256 HE one battery (D-Section) rate normal.
Light batteries rate slow, anti-personnel. Other batteries in reserve.

Plus 30 All Batteries Defensive Fire, if called on, and Harassing Fire on targets of opportunity on call from FOOs. Otherwise firing by target list as provided, firing by priority or as opportunity presents, rate of fire extra-slow except emergency calls, where fire will be directly as per FOOs’ instructions.

Plus-1 Thirteenth Heavy Bombardment group moves to Point B and replenishes. Mission calls will be handled for one hour by the Seventeenth Heavy Bombardment group who must replenish at Plus-2 hours in order to relieve the Ninth Heavy Bombardment group on schedule by Plus-3 hours.

Plus-2 hours Thirteenth Heavy Bombardment group back on Station for Phase Two.

Phase Two consists of on-call fire support, as well as concs* and stonks* on Mike and Uncle targets. Individual batteries and individual vessels will be on call with adopted units and for other units as needed as ammunition and time allows. All fire must be coordinated and observed by FOOs.

Phase Two will be in place until otherwise notified or the offensive is concluded. Ammunition stocks are presently seven days supply at Normal Combat Rate A and replenishment will be provided from Fleet level at Priority One.

The Major sipped his coffee.

“Looks good.” The file was already sent anyway.

In fifteen minutes or so they would know.

Edwards nodded. Inexorably, his eyes went down to the heavy time-piece on his left wrist and his thoughts turned to the waves of troops, those already on the ground and those now loading into the landing craft from the transports. So far, the enemy’s light attack ships had caused some losses, and they were no doubt planning more attacks. They were rumoured to still have considerable Fleet units remaining, but if they were about no one in higher command was saying.

Edwards sat up and took a deep breath. He heaved a long sigh.

The plan looked good. Most likely it would be approved.

It was still three hours until dawn in the target area.

The worst part was the waiting.


*concs—‘conks,’ firing on concentrations of enemy troops as called by FOOs.

*stonks—old mortar-men’s term, to bring the maximum fire on a small area in the shortest possible time, called in by FOOs.

*FOOs—forward observation officers; fleet officers operating with ground troops to observe targets and order fire missions.

*Mike targets are called in from regimental level.

*Uncle targets are called in from divisional level.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Practice Makes Professionals.

Nice lady. Please don't throw that at me.

by Louis Shalako

On Kindleboards someone asked, ‘Does haste affect the quality of the work?’

Comments mentioned some author friends posting big word counts on Facebook and the like, which people tend to do mostly during Nano-Month. (I’m up to ten or eleven thousand words for the year, by the way, by the time I’m done this post, and it’s only January 9.)

It’s a very good question.

The answer is yes and no, and I know how you all love that one.

What I kind of said on Kb was, ‘It depends on who’s doing it.’

Hopefully that wasn’t too snarky.

But, ah, please bear with me.

If you wrote ten stories in a year, say from two to four thousand words each, that represents from twenty to forty thousand words. In a year. In ten years, that would be anywhere from two hundred thousand to four hundred thousand words, maybe from two to four books, or a bunch of shorter works.

Forget about past experience, mine or yours, forget about quality.

How much practice does it actually represent?

Speaking strictly in scientifically accurate terms, it represents 20,000 to 40,000 words of practice, no more and no less. Per year.

Ignore everything else. It’s just practice of the craft of writing—putting words down on paper, constructing sentences and paragraphs, (most of which should be almost subconscious or second nature at some point) and working with ideas.

Now think of the guy who grinds out twenty to forty thousand words a month. Some of it is crap. That might never be published. Some of it’s okay. It might end up being self-published or given away for exposure, it might go in a contest, he might publish it on a blog or website, under a girl’s name even.

What does he care? He likes the work. He’ll tackle any genre at some point just to see if he can do it, or just to have some fun with it and do something different, something no one else dared do because they were worried that somewhere out there in the world, there would be one person who didn’t much care for that author. They didn’t like a certain book or story.

Well, big deal. After a few years, we have the right to forget all that. We can move on.

Twelve months times twenty thousand words is two hundred forty thousand words…of practice, per year, if we give the guy credit for nothing else. He’s also publishing more often. He also problem-solving and trouble-shooting more often, creating more marketing images, writing more blurbs, typing in more meta-data, reading more blog posts on writing, publishing, craft…

It all adds up over time in a cumulative fashion.

Within one year he has twelve times as much experience as the guy (or girl) who writes twenty to forty thousand words a year.

That’s like twelve years of ‘experience.’

And with practice, and with experience, and no doubt, in some small way, with some confidence in the result, quality actually improves—it does not diminish with practice or experience.

It can only get better, in that sense practice is not a zero-sum game. Because so many different learning curves come together—developing a work ethic, studying other masters, listening to them talk, watching what the real pros do, and more than anything, writing story after story and book after book creates quality because it creates skill. To practice all the different aspects of self-publishing results in knowledge, skills and experience that are greater than the sum of all the individual parts.

I’ve been writing for over thirty years. Most of the progress has come in the last four or five years. But then, in the last four or five years I wrote my ass off, and it shows.

For too many years I pecked away at this and that project and dreamed of a future that sure as hell wasn’t going to be coming around and knocking on my door.

I had to go out into the world, take some risks and meet Fate halfway at least.

And now I’m knocking on your door. Because in ten years, I will probably write a minimum of five million words! It might even be more than that.

That is a veritable shit-load of books and stories, ladies and gentlemen.

I have every expectation of being pretty good at it, at some point—and let the critics fall where they may.


The Tailgater.

The balls to tailgate and not one iota more.

by Louis Shalako

It was always the way, wasn’t it?

Earl Gardiner had pulled out of the doughnut shop onto London Line, a hot medium double-double in the drink holder in the centre console, and a thin black cheroot sticking out of the pack on the seat beside him. His lighter was keeping warm in his right jacket pocket.

Earl loved driving at night, it was like a game of golf to some other guy. He couldn’t really explain it. A moonlit, winter night-drive, one with good visibility and plenty of snow on the ground was a special thing. It didn’t happen all that often.

He was just lighting up, and congratulating himself on how open the road ahead was, when he saw the headlights coming up from behind in the distance.

All he really wanted was to relax, listen to the radio and get away from his small apartment for a while. He had no place in particular to go. He just felt like a drive. He didn’t much like being hurried, not in anything. 

Not at his stage in life.

Glancing at the speedometer, he increased the throttle a bit but it was no good. He could just tell. They were coming up fairly fast, and it seemed pretty inevitable, but he was already going ten kilometres over the limit…

And here they were; after a while. Of course, the person driving, didn’t back off until the last minute. It was always the way. You literally wondered sometimes if they were going to hit you.

Earl speeded up a little, as nothing bugged him more than someone ten feet behind his bumper when they had the whole road open to them.

“We already know you can go fast…” He had all kinds of thoughts about such drivers.

Of course such folks would never pass. They had enough balls to tailgate you and not one iota more. This was their great failing as human beings. He could accept that.

This one showed no signs of passing. There was a good possibility they had been drinking. They were following his tail-lights, like blind mice or something. Maybe they lived just up ahead, and yet there was still no call for it. Driving so close just put all parties in danger.

Earl speeded up, starting to get a little hot under the collar now as the danged vehicle behind him stayed right where it was, dropping back to no more than fifteen or twenty feet. That’s what it seemed like to him, in fact this guy was unusually tenacious.

Surely not the most relaxing way to get home after a night of pounding back the boilermakers and pinching pudgy, middle-aged waitress’ bottoms.

Earl muttered a few things unprintable.

He looked at the speedometer.

A hundred and four kilometres an hour in an eighty kilometre per hour zone. Predictably, they didn’t turn off at the exit for the four lane divided highway, neither did they make a right and go south. No, of course not.

It was like a fucking conspiracy or something.


They stayed right on him.

Earl slowed right down to eighty for a while. His skin crawled, but he put his head down, adjusted the mirror and hung in there. The road ahead was clear and he thought they would pass. Never happened, they just stayed there. The guy couldn’t be more than eight feet from his rear bumper.

After a while he just couldn’t take it, and straightened up again.

Earl put some more gas to it. He gently eased it up, one or two kilometres at a time until the other guy looked to be about forty feet back there…Earl kept up the pressure, as the speedometer slowly wound its way up the scale.

…a hundred and five kilometres an hour…a hundred and eleven kilometres an hour…still hanging in there.

Earl had tried this once before. These creeps would tailgate you at a hundred and eighty. It was a personality type. He wondered how they were to walk on the same street with, would they be stepping on your heels? 

Probably, he decided.

It was almost too much to watch the road properly, the bugger was still right on him. The funny thing was, they might be totally unconscious of how irritating it was.

They might be so innocent—I didn’t know, mister. Sorry.

He could imagine the look on their face if he pulled them over and beat them to death by the side of the road.

They would be so shocked—so mystified by it.

Didn’t mean nothing by it. I never realized.

Earl took it up to one-thirty, the front wheels shaking a bit and the pull to the left of the old car becoming much more pronounced. He had to clamp on, using both fists, his biceps taut to hold it steady through the turns, of which there were one or two along here…dark as sin out there, with the yellow lines faded from wear and no lights, no houses nearby.

He had it at one-thirty-five, and the vehicle was still back there, its headlights bathing everything inside his own car in white glare and dark shadows that shook and darted about with every bump.


Earl pushed it straight to the floor and tried to keep an eye on the road ahead.

Sure enough, if a cop saw this he’d probably nail Earl for speeding, let the other car go free as a bird and claim not to have noticed anything funny about how close that guy was following…he knew exactly what they would say.

“If someone is following too close, then pull over.”

But you couldn’t do that every time, could you? It was always like this. Always.

Earl had it up to a hundred and forty-five kilometres an hour and it was all he could do just to hold the thing on the road, but the bastard was still back there.

“Son of a bitch!”


“Let me know when you want me to hit the lights.” Constable Sharon Owens looked over at the sergeant with a sardonic grin.

“Naw. That’s okay. I’m just fucking with his head.”

Sergeant Hal Winchester looked at the speed good old Earl was going and shook his head in amazement.

“Still got it, old boy! Whoo-whee, and good for you, too.” He slapped the dashboard with his open right hand, in sheer cussed good humour and at last backed off on the throttle.

The wind noise fell away and the speed slid down the scale. The radar readout showed the old piece of junk was now going a hundred and fifty-three kilometres per hour and accelerating steadily.

He looked over at Sharon as if suddenly recalling her presence.


She nodded, watching Earl’s tail-lights disappearing up the road at a formidable rate of speed.

“Sure. I could eat.” Her words were carefully neutral.

Something weird had just happened there and she wasn’t quite sure what.