Saturday, April 30, 2011

Wait, a Second!

Yes, Keri and I both have a handful of stories from writer's conferences, and files full of the business cards, promises, and rejections left in their wake. I'm not slamming conferences in general; I can recall many absolutely fabulous conference experiences. Rather I'm speaking more to the mindset with which some approach them. I know I did. I really thought I'd made it at my first conference when a very nice Senior Editor at St. Martin's sat by a fireplace with me and said, "Wow. You're a real writer, aren't you?" Then, although it was not her practice to do so, she asked me to send her my entire manuscript, not a synopsis and three chapters. She was very professional and I hold no ill will over the rejection: that MS was not ready for prime time. The reading sample was perfection, and many parts of that book still strike me with awe when I read them, but the middle sagged and still does. But that was my first novel, and if I ever choose to rewrite it, I will know what to do.

At another conference I met with the Senior Editor of a small press who all but got into the specific amount of the advance check. This one never even replied, never used the pre-stamped manilla envelope to return the MS. Nice. I fantasized about showing up three years later when this person blew back through the area to accost him at the Q&A with the following query of my own: "What have you done in the past three years? I've created two human beings and written another novel. Can't get your ass to the post office can you?" Of course I never did that, but thinking of it was great therapy.

So take heart: there are the times when you're naive and unready, but there are also the times when you're the together one and they are a-holes. And if you know which is which, you can probably handle self-publishing just fine.

Friday, April 29, 2011


Last night, I published my first manuscript to the Smashwords Meatgrinder, and it entered the queue at #8368. That's right #8368. It's been about 12 hours, and I'm currently at #2274. That's a heck of a lot of manuscripts.

The manuscript we chose for the maiden voyage was a 3,500-word short story called "A Certain Doorway," and the manuscript package included a cover, a title page, the story, an "about the story" feature, sneak previews for two novels, and a "find me" page, so the package included images, a linked table of contents and links to social media sites.

For those of you doing DIY, here's a time breakdown for getting the story ready to go.

2 Hours choosing art elements and designing the cover
2 Hours writing/choosing bonus material and formatting it
6 Hours formatting the package meticulously to the Smashwords Style Guide

So after roughly 10 hours of work, I had a short story/promo package ready to go. I expect the time to be less the next few go arounds, because now we've got the basics down for Photoshop and formatting and are more easily able to make sure we've got all the right file formats ready to go.

Cost? So far, zip. The short story was previously published in Black October Magazine, so there was no copy editing. The cover image was a freebie from my Deposit Photo's trial. We designed the cover ourselves using Photoshop. My significant other hammered out the formatting to the style guide while I watched.

Now we just have to wait to see if there's anything wonky in the finished product before we publish the next three story packages to Smashwords and move on to the Kindle formatting. I'll be back to tell you how it went.  I'm at #2249!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Art and The Unpublished Writer

I've read with both consternation and amusement the back and forth on blogs lately about "legacy" publishing versus self-publishing, which occasionally devolves into armed camps lobbing grenades at each other over their firewalls. There are some, like Joe Konrath, who are untiring cheerleaders for self-publishing and some on the other side who sound like grim grade school teachers warning the hapless kiddies about the dangers of crossing the street into a bad neighborhood.

I think that legacy publishing and indie publishing are going to coexist, and while the equilibrium and the models will be constantly shifting for some time to come, there's going to be a new balance, a new paradigm, that emerges. I think that one of the most likely outcomes is that authors will take advantage of both as their needs shift. We're in early days, and what lies ahead is going to be a new frontier.

One of the things that has struck me, though, is this idea that is held by a group of those firmly in the legacy camp that if you go the self-publishing route you're either a hapless noob, a talentless hack, or an unserious dabbler.

I read a post on a blog yesterday that went something like this (and it's not an exact quote, because I really am not picking on the poster): "I suppose that e-books have their place, but they're never going to be art."

WTF? For one thing, by its definition, all writing is art. If it's crappy writing, it just means it's crappy art. In art -- and by that I mean visual arts, music, literature -- what's good and bad is totally subjective. One person's masterpiece is another person's litterbox liner.

I think what the poster was getting at is that anything that's self-published can't have "merit." And again, I say WTF? Hate to break it you, sweetiekins, but merit is not what the publishing business is about in the main. It's about commerce. (Not to say that great books aren't published, and that there aren't small presses whose main concern is merit, but those often fold like cheap suits.)  You can write a masterpiece that makes the angels weep, but if a publisher thinks they can't sell it, back to the workhouse with you. Conversely, if you're the reality-show flavor of the week, you can snap your fingers and have an instant publishing contract.

True story: many years ago I was at a publishing conference and was lucky enough that my manuscript got me a sit-down for 10 minutes with a rep from Random House. (I still have his business card). He read my sample package and said, "Hey, this is a great story. If your name was Stephen King, we'd buy it." Translation: we can't market a horror novel by an unknown, so trot along now.

We can go round and round the Eisler/Hocking debate, but seriously, is what either of them publishes "art" or not depending on if it's got the imprint of a publishing company on the cover?

The funny thing is, most of the comments like that come from people who are new to what Robin Sullivan calls the query-go-round. They're working on their first novel, or are planning their first novel, or they've been querying for under 4 years. They still live in that world where an acquisitions editor is going to ride in on a white horse and slay the dragon that is the publishing committee, and they're going to live happily ever after in a little turret where all they have to do is tap away at the keys while an unseen legion of serfs takes care of the editing and proofing and artwork and marketing.

We have a phrase for that kind of thinking 'round my house: Congratulations! You've just been named ambassador to Candyland!

Now, sometimes that knight does ride in, but very rarely, and only during a blue moon occurring on leap day. And even when the knight scoops you up onto the back of his charger, most published writers don't make enough to live on and write full time. The scales of traditional publishing are weighted against you (although I think a day of reckoning is coming when that will change). It's not all hearts and flowers when you get that elusive contract, and often that contract goes away when you don't sell through.

Which is not to say that legacy publishing is worthless. It's not. I just think it's fair to point out that both legacy and indie have merits and drawbacks. You need to be armed with the facts, gauge your expectations and abilities and guts, and choose the path that makes sense for you. Or choose BOTH paths, which I think will become the default for good writers when this all shakes out down the road.

But for dog's sake, don't fool yourself into thinking that they only way you'll ever produce something of merit is if some bean counter in a corner office pushes the beads around on his abacus and says you're worthy. That, my friends, is definitely not art.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bonus Content: Lagniappe Marketing

Down here in New Orleans, "lagniappe" means "a little something extra." I've been following a lot of interesting conversations recently on blogs, email groups, and forums about adding bonus content to your self-published books and stories.

For me, if I have a choice between a box of cereal and a box of cereal with a premium inside, I'll always pick the premium. I'll send in boxtops to get the decoder ring. People love getting something extra, they love being engaged.

Self-publishing gives you myriad ways to engage the reader through bonus content. There are so many possibilities: previews of other books, interviews, anecdotes, background about characters or setting, links to resources. Say you're writing a historical mystery. What better way to give the reader a little something extra than linking to resources about the era or the subject matter, a Flickr stream of photos, a list of other books they might enjoy?  How about an interview with your protagonist? How about an anecdote about your first flash of inspiration for the plot or the character? A scene that you cut, not because it was bad, but because it didn't quite fit with your pacing?

If you want to get really wild, you can go interactive: an Internet scavenger hunt, a treasure map, a contest. If you're clever and involved, the sky is really the limit.

How many times have you enjoyed a book and at the end wished it wasn't over or wanted to know what happened to a character or wanted to just keep that little bit of magic going?  How many times did you want to tell somebody else about the great book you just read or leave a note to the author?  You can provide that opportunity to your readers with every book or story you put out.

Bonus content serves three purposes: it engages your reader, it gives your reader a sense of greater value, and it gives you a chance to further market your work. At the very least, every one of your books should have an "About" or "Follow Me" section, where you can list your websites, blogs, Twitter, Facebook, or other social media sites. Make it easy for the reader to engage with you, to seek you out, to find your other work.

Practical Example: What am I doing? This week I'm publishing four short stories via Smashwords and Kindle. These aren't just thrown together to get them out, they're my four best short stories. Initially I'm going to give two away for free and price two at 99 cents, just to get a feel for how free stories affects pay stories. I have three goals: I want people to be able to get a feel for my writing for free, and I want to generate a buzz for the novels that will be coming out -- four full-length (over 325-page) novels over the next three months -- and I want people to follow me on Twitter and on my blogs.

So for each short story the package will include: The short story, a little "About the Story" lagniappe, a preview package of the next two novels (a cover, blurb, first chapter of each), and a page with all my personal "Follow Me" information.

Example: "Sticks Like Bones"  will include this lagniappe:

About the Story: Sticks Like Bones

This was written on spec for an anthology that folded before publication. I mention that because it’s the only story I’ve ever written where I wrote TO a concept instead of having an idea show up at the top of the cellar stairs demanding to be let out.

I find the French Quarter a fascinating place, almost like a slice of elsewhere that fell through a rip in the fabric of here. There is such a feeling of weight to it, but it’s always shedding itself, in brick dust and loose nails, bits of crumbling slate from roofs and flakes of paint. It’s a reminder that time exacts a price, that decay keeps running through everything even as we live our lives without paying it heed.

The places described in the story are a mix of the real and imagined. The oddest thing for me is that even though the French Quarter is a cleanly laid-out rectangle, I always get lost if I’m walking alone, almost as if the layout changes around me, like some multi-dimensional funhouse. Suffice to say, I no longer walk without a companion.

Following that, I'll give the cover for Running Red and this blurb:

Jesse Stone has been running the night roads for 150 years, preying on humanity for survival, but he still feels an ache from the empty place where his soul was torn away. Other vampires – an ex-SS soldier, a fanatical tent preacher, an Aztec biker – have been gathering an army for an assault on humanity. Now Jesse must lead a rag-tag band of humans against the others, in a last-ditch attempt to find redemption…

Look for Running Red, coming soon.

I'll follow that with the first chapter of Running Red and the preview package for Darker By Degree.
Then I'll finish it up with a "Follow Me" page that lists every place I can be found.

Easy-peasy. With a hour or so of extra work, hopefully I've given the reader that little something extra, I've piqued their interest, and I've given them further reason to seek me out.

What lagniappe can you give your readers?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Rewrites and Nightlights

I refer you to my two blogs at the right--cockeyedsusan and susanbranham--because they just say it all and if I sit in this computer chair much longer my ever-heavier-growing head is going to slam into the keyboard and who knows what it'll send out. Geez!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Darker By Degree Preview Package

One of my fears is the sample chapter is too long. Maybe groundless, after all it's only 8 pages, but I guess I've got to worry about something.

Hollywood is a place where fantasy and reality sometimes collide. Struggling actress Madeline Pryce dreams of stardom, but someone else harbors darker fantasies and the murderous intent to fulfill them. With the help of a handsome but infuriating detective, can Maddie unmask a murderer before she becomes the next victim?

Look for Darker By Degree, coming soon.


I doubt I could remember the name of the first movie I ever saw, even with a loaded gun to my head.  It was probably some classic from the golden age of Hollywood, perhaps one of the half dozen my mother had been in.  The great Charlotte Corday, who had faded from the big screen and been reborn as the perfect '50s TV mother, forever smiling benignly.

Well, at least her dream had started.  I was giving up the idea of ever seeing the name Madeline Pryce on the marquee, and this morning's audition was the most recent in a series of brief encounters that felt as awkward as blind dates and ended just as badly.  For the past five years I'd subsisted on a diet of rejections, regional commercials, and one recurring soap opera role that hadn't lasted half as long as the casting director had promised.  The cachet of stardom attached to my family had not blossomed around me after my parents plunged off the seaside road and sometimes, mostly at night and mostly after a really lousy day, I wondered what cosmic fluke had kept me out of the car that night.

The emergence of a dark figure between two parked cars wiped out my thoughts of the audition and I slammed my foot onto the brake pedal, my '56 Chevy sliding to a stop with a sound like a woman screaming.  I glanced in the rearview mirror to see the van behind me swerve sideways just in time to avoid my rear bumper.  The Litigation Louie picked himself up from the street and skulked off in search of a mark with slower reflexes.  If I wasn't careful, the cosmic scales were going to balance after all.

I started back down West Hollywood, past weed-filled, cyclone-fenced empty lots interspersed with cheap souvenir shops and trendy pseudo-celebrity hangouts.  In places, Old Hollywood--the one tourists look for and rarely find--sparkles like a well-cut gem amid a tangle of costume jewelry.  The Orpheus is one of those almost forgotten jewels, a 1930s theater hanging onto the dividing line where Hollywood is wedged against the galleries, shops and bistros of more affluent West Hollywood.  The theater was my day job, but something more than that. I had an abiding affection for the old art deco monster.  I saw it as part time machine and part secret fort, where I can slip sideways in time to a place where there were always happy endings.

Today the theater had no hold on me.  I pulled onto the rotting pad of parking lot across the street, grateful to find a spot close enough to the lone streetlamp to assure at least a passing chance of making it back to my car alive.

Reproduction posters of tonight's triple bill studded the theater's front window, night moths trapped under glass.  Universal Monsters, who once inspired terror in the movie-going public of the '30s and '40s, now filled me with a different type of fear.  I knew tonight's crowd was bound to be packed with mercenary youth and nomadic millennials, reckless kids whose spiral-bound theme book doodles ran more toward daggers through skulls than arrows through hearts.

The alley housing the theater's side entrance held the familiar smell of wet cardboard, a scent trapped by the high brick walls that formed a cut-out where the dented dumpster sat.  I saw Irene leaning over the railing of the stoop, ensconced in layer upon layer of multicolored gauze, her white hair hidden beneath a bright scarf.

"Maddie!" she yelled.

"Aren't you hot in that get-up?”  I said.

She jingled as she executed a slow pirouette.  "Why, yes, thank you, I am."I waited through her giggles.

“Don't you get it?  I'm Maria Ouspenskaya."

Again I waited.  Maria who?  Then I remembered.  The old gypsy woman who sent Larry Talbot off to become the Wolfman.

 "Irene, you never cease to amaze me.  You don't think you're getting me into a costume, I hope."

"Oh, where's your sense of adventure?  You'd make a great Bride of Frankenstein."  Irene laughed again and descended the short stairway to offer a motherly hug.  "I'm just kidding, sweetie.  But you're too young to be such a fuddy-duddy."

Not that young, I thought.  I gave her a quick hug back, taking in the scent of buttered popcorn mingled with gardenia perfume.  Irene Shoffit had managed the Orpheus for nearly thirty years and had saved me from unemployment not that long ago. She'd become the closest thing I had to a confidant.

I opened by mouth to tell her about the morning's failed audition when she took a step back and I realized she hadn't been looking for me.

"You didn't happen to see Jason, did you?" she said.

I hated the hopeful look that flashed in her eyes.  "He's not here again?  When was the last time he showed up for work, anyway?"

Irene's son had stood outside my circle in high school.  He was one of those loners who made other kids nervous in a way that was never easy to explain, and the years between then and now had given me no further insight into him and no reason to care.  Tonight he was just pissing me off.  Four more hours added onto five I was already dreading.

Irene's hand shook as she took mine.  "Maddie, I hate to ask you to stay late again, but I don't think he's going to show up and I'll need you here for the third feature.  Jason will either straighten up or be out of a job.  I'm tired of making excuses for him and tired of being embarrassed in front of my friends."

The last thing I wanted to do was make Irene feel worse.  "Don't worry about me,” I said, flashing a smile that I hoped look genuine.  "I'll take care of it tonight.  Jason can make it up to me later."

That seemed to pacify Irene for the moment and we went inside.  She turned toward the lobby and I headed for the makeshift cafe/changing room that occupied a back corner of the building and always smelled like the inside of a latex Halloween mask.

The opaque glass of the single, narrow clerestory window threw the last rays of sunlight across the floor in an amber harlequin pattern.  Dust swirled by my shoes as I made my way to locker number twelve to peel off my street clothes and trade them for the black fez and bolero jacket that made me look like an organ grinder's monkey.  As I slid into my uniform, it felt shiny against my skin, the tile floor cool against my stocking feet.

Weak light bounced off the edges of the corner mirror where I stopped to straighten my jacket, creating phantom companions in the chairs behind me, indistinct reflections of faceless people.  I stared into my own face for a moment:  dark eyes, full lips, cheekbones the less fortunate would pay good money for.  I'd grown accustomed to the fact that my beauty did not startle me.  I was a pretty girl in a sea of pretty girls, and my looks had yet to open doors for me.  My dark hair blended with the uniform, leaving my face floating like a disembodied spirit in the warped changing-room glass. 


At 7:30, Bela Lugosi was telling his dinner guests that he didn't drink wine, and I was giving up any hope that Jason would show tonight.  I gripped the over-sized chrome flashlight until my fingernails dug into my thumb and glanced to the right entrance where Pete leaned against the wall.  His deeply grained face held a broad smile that trapped the black and white movie flickers for a second before letting them go.  Every few moments I would see the detail in his cap, the red cording, the gold insignia centered over his forehead.  Pete Torrence, world's oldest usher.

The crowd that spilled out after the first feature hadn't lived up to my expectations. Scrubbed college students, young professionals, blue collar workers who hovered just above minimum wage, punctuated here and there by the blood red lips of a passing goth.  Half the crowd had bought all-night tickets, and they moved toward the smooth deco curve of the concession stand, streaming and flashing like a school of fish.  The others passed the red velvet ropes, their feet whispering across scarlet and gold carpet laid in 1982 as part of the Orpheus' long period of restoration, a graceful nod away from the oranges and browns of the '70s.  Their voices echoed into the ornate barreled ceiling as they opened the doors onto the night.

I could see Irene looking like a gypsy fortune teller in a penny arcade, trapped by the round glass of the ticket booth, surrounded by black-laced teens in Doc Martens.  Glittery studs and gold hoops sprouted from odd places -- noses, cheeks, eyebrows -- and the pack passed through the lobby in a cloud of clove cigarettes and patchouli.  I hoped they were only trying to look dangerous.

The crowd was getting darker by degree, and larger too.  I knew by the time midnight rolled around we'd be looking at a full house.  Good for business, bad for me.  I started mentally counting the minutes, like I was stuck in high school algebra waiting for the bell.  I paced for the last thirty minutes of Frankenstein, as if I was the one waiting for the villagers to storm the castle.

In the break before the final feature, I headed for the alley entrance with my cargo of candy boxes and greasy popcorn tubs, the night air cool against my skin after the stifling press of bodies inside the theater.  I tossed the bags into the open dumpster and walked to the mouth of the alley, drawn by the citrusy scent of oleander bushes that grew along the grassy front courtyard of the Orpheus.  The ornamental gaslight at the corner of the building cast a protective circle around me as I glanced toward the parking lot to make sure my car was intact.

A red Cabriolet heading east on Hollywood made a careless turn into the lot, stopping just beyond the reach of the streetlamp.  The headlights died.  Nobody got out of the car.  I waited for the car to pull out or the driver to show himself, then caught movement and turned to see a running figure split the headlights of three oncoming cars.  I recognized it.  Jason.

He crouched by the driver's door and I caught the glint of the window sliding down.  Jason punctuated the conversation with furtive glances, and then turned his shaggy head and looked straight at me.  He stared for a beat, then sprinted around the front of the car and yanked open the passenger door, cutting me another look before disappearing behind the tinted windows.  The car shot backwards and took off down the boulevard, and I watched until it disappeared around a corner, unsure of what I'd just witnessed and what, if anything, I would tell Irene when I got back inside.

The midnight crowd looked like trouble.  Posers had given way to gang girls with  hair sprayed into shapes as threatening as Stephen King's topiary animals and boys pretending to be men strutted around, big pants slung low on their hips, hiding switchblades and crack pipes.  I said a silent prayer and stood in the darkness long enough to make sure they were seated and not scaling the velvet drapes before heading back to the lobby to find Irene.

She was sitting behind the oaken desk in the small office off the main floor of the lobby looking wilted, her cheer from earlier in the evening nowhere in evidence.  I positioned myself in the doorway so I could keep one eye on the closed doors to theater.

"Irene, I just saw Jason take off in a red Cabriolet, but I couldn’t see who was driving. Sound familiar?”

Irene shook her head and slumped back into the chair.  "I don't know his...friends."

 I glanced back at the theater doors and imagined the chaos that could be occurring on the other side.
"I'd better get back.  I just wanted you to know that Jason was around."  I hesitated, unsure of what else to say. "Do you want to get together for an early lunch tomorrow?  We could get spring rolls at Wong's."

Irene's shoulders lifted slightly at the suggestion.  "That would be wonderful, Maddie.  You go on.  I'm leaving this for now.  I need a good night's sleep."  She waved me out.  "Go on, you don't want them tearing the place up."

I knew she was right, but that didn't make leaving her any easier.  I glanced back once before pulling the door shut.  She looked small behind the massive wooden desk, like a child lost in the world of grownups.

On screen, Larry Talbot was undergoing his first transformation, man to wolf, innocent to killer.  The same metamorphosis did not appear to be affecting the audience and I breathed a sigh of relief.

It must have been my lucky night.  The movie ended without incident and the crowd shuffled out to wreak their havoc elsewhere. Pete and the counter girl followed them out and I was alone with the Orpheus now except for Gene, a twenty-something film nerd, who was tending his roost in the projection booth.

After forty-five minutes, everything was shut down and bagged up and Gene was downstairs leaning against one of the decorative columns smoking a joint.

I walked over and punched him in the arm.  "Don't you have any respect for a landmark?  You could burn the place down, you know?"

"At least then it'd look like the rest of the landscape.  Besides, you don't want to be mean to me.  I'm only hanging around to walk you out to your car."

"Well, don't think I don't appreciate it,” I said.  "Just give me five minutes and I'll gladly allow you the privilege of escorting me to my carriage.  And don't drop any ashes on the carpet."

"You got it, babe,” he said with a wink.

I changed as quickly as I could, glad to shed the black polyester skin, then grabbed my purse and pulled out my keys.  Back in the lobby, I noticed the white bags on the carpet.

"Damn, I forgot the trash.  Give me a sec, okay?"

I didn't wait for a reply, just grabbed the bags and ran for the side entrance.  I fumbled with the lock and finally got it open, then kicked the wooden wedge under the door so I wouldn't lock myself out.  I traversed a litter of empty popcorn boxes spoiled by yesterday's rain shower, and heaved one bag after another into the waiting mouth of the dumpster.  Something gauzy and turquoise curved under a corner of the receptacle like a small river, glittering in the sodium lights, too unsullied to have been there long.  In spite of myself, I walked over and reached down for it.

I could see around the edge of the dumpster now, into the brick corner of the alley alcove.  I lost my balance and sat down hard on the cracked asphalt.  It didn't matter; I didn't feel it.

Irene was crammed into the small space, her gypsy finery spotted with blood gone maroon in the shadows, her glassy eyes staring into the stars above Hollywood.

Playing with Covers

At the risk of oversaturating the whole cover angle, here's an enhanced cover for Running Red

and the original. We started a PhotoShop tutorial last night and are learning the tricks. The new cover has a little more pop.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Running Red Preview Package

Got the first preview package done. It consists of a blurb, cover, and sample chapter. I'm planning on adding this at the end of each short story to go up next week. If you're out there, tell me what you think!

Jesse Stone has been running the night roads for 150 years, preying on humanity for survival, but he still feels an ache from the empty place where his soul was torn away. Other vampires – an ex-SS soldier, a fanatical tent preacher, an Aztec biker – have been gathering an army for an assault on humanity. Now Jesse must lead a rag-tag band of humans against the others, in a last-ditch attempt to find redemption…

Look for Running Red, coming soon.


   Lately he lived the last few moments of his life over and over again; his death never surprised him.  
   He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the cracked red vinyl seat. For a moment there was nothing, only blessed emptiness.  Then he smelled the smoke, saw the blood  mixing with the mud, heard the screams of the dying.  His eyes snapped open and he jerked, rattling the empty cup on the table in front of him.
   No one else heard the whisper.  Not the junkies shaking over their coffee, trying to throw off the chill that settled in bones too close to the skin.  Not the waitress, busy with her silver pot.
   He watched as she walked toward him, the heels of her sensible shoes just a whisper across the thin linoleum.  Her eyes were the faded color of cornflowers about to die, and there was a small scar at the left corner of her mouth.  She might have been pretty in another life, somewhere away from the dust of West Texas and midnights spent avoiding the stares of hobos and addicts.
   "You need...."  Whatever she saw in his eyes drew the color from her face.
   He looked at the silver nameplate above the yellowed lace arc that curved over her left breast.  Tami with an i.  She had probably dotted it with a heart back before life passed her by.
   "Thanks.  But I'll be going now."  He pressed two dollars into her limp hand.  She stared without looking at him as he slid out of the booth, picked up his saddle bags and walked through the double glass doors and out into the night.
   There was no reprieve.  Not when the moon sailed bone white through the skin of darkness, holding court out there over the big empty.
    He walked as far as the edge of the parking lot, worn boot heels clocking hollowly on the pavement. The Harley Electra-Glide was parked in the last space, chrome winking, sleek black enamel reflecting arcs of light from the street lamps.  He'd had the bike for ten years, had gotten it from a biker named Eddie Blackhand riding with the California Death's Head.  Eddie hadn't needed it anymore.
    The Harley roared to life and he could feel the thrum of the engine cutting through his skin and flesh, setting his bones humming.  Speed built and he left the diner, the thin blade of the headlight slicing through the blackness, the yellow centerline a blur.
   He slowed as neat storefronts gave way to ramshackle buildings and dark alleys, the lonely streets where the flotsam and jetsam of this particular backwater washed up. Occasionally a shambling figure would stumble down the cracked and broken sidewalk, but it was late, and most of the denizens of this particular underworld were already lost into the alcohol-soaked dreamscapes of their own making.  As he moved deeper into the maze of burned and abandoned buildings, he felt need welling up in him, a dark bubble heading for the surface.  He pulled the bike into the cloak of an alley, shut it down and stood.
   He walked out of the alley, the pale light of the grinning moon washing down, giving the landscape the appearance of some ancient battleground rimed with frost.  He could see well enough, even with the minimal light. One of the perks of the job.  He paused to step over a bundle of rags and caught the scent of blood. He removed the dirty hat from the slumped figure and the head flopped to one side like that of a broken doll.  A second mouth, red and drooling, smiled at the old bum's throat.  He wasn’t alone in the night after all.
    Another block down he heard the snick of a match, a blossom of light flaring in the shadows. He could smell the sulfur. The animal inside him uncurled as he crossed the street, soundless and secure in his invisibility.   The breathing up ahead was ragged and phlegmy, punctuated by the sniffle of a long time user, a small rusty cough following each drag from the cigarette.  He turned the corner.
     The bum stared at him, mouth slightly open, the cigarette doing a little jittery dance at the end of filthy, trembling fingers.  He saw brief terror in the man's red-rimmed eyes, quickly veiled as the man squinted at him in the darkness.
     "Whachoo want, man," the junkie spat, and took a stumbling step backward.  "I ain't got nothin'."
     The hunter stepped forward and the junkie dropped his cigarette, pulling his other hand from the pocket of his dirty jacket.  That hand held a knife, not long but sharp, the edge still stained with the wino's blood.
    "Keep away from me, motherfucker, I'll cut you," he hissed, brandishing the knife clumsily.
   It was always the same, playing the short game, dancing the dance, not recognizing fate till it ran them down. The junkie jabbed with the knife and the hunter's hand shot forward, faster than a whip crack, grabbing the wrist and squeezing until bones snapped and fingers became useless. The pitiful little knife fell to the ground with a sharp clatter.
   The junkie fell to his knees, struggling to catch his hitching breath.   "Please, mister...."
   The hunter didn't bother to talk.  That magic wheel spun around and around and sometimes there was no carnival prize, no cheap gimcrack to take home for the mantle shelf.  Waste of breath.
   The hunter dropped the ruined wrist and grabbed the junkie, jerking his head up and exposing his throat.  It was over in a moment, and all that was left was the spray pumped out across the expanse of brick that formed the alley wall, so much red graffiti.  The hunter closed his eyes as he felt the electricity shooting up into the center of his brain where it exploded like a grand fireworks display, dying out to leave the afterimage of brightly arcing reds, blues, and greens tracing through the darkness.  As the blood slowed to a trickle, the hunter released his hold on the junkie, just another bundle of rags.
   The inside of his brain was cool and dark now. He stepped from the black mouth of the alley and turned toward the street. He didn't look back.
    On the bike again, picking up speed, the engine sang to him, serenity filling up the empty spaces inside.  The animal had gone back to sleep, curled up and dreamless.  He pulled the bike into a slot at the back of the motel, shut it down for the last time that night and fished the keys from his pocket.  Inside, he locked the door, slid the chain and drew the curtains closed. The sun on the rise would bring no comfort, no warmth.  It would hurt his eyes.  He didn't bother with the lights, just sat down on the edge of the bed and pulled off his jacket and worn boots.   He lay back to let sleep overtake him.  Like the animal curled inside, he would not dream. 

What I Did This Week - April 23

Well, this week started off with a visit from the flu fairy. After the small child got sick, I got sick (and I mean deathly sick, like curled up in bed under 4 blankets, drifting in and out of consciousness while disaster-porn played on the SyFy channel) which tanked the weekend, thereby tanking the rewrite on the first 7 chapters of Darker By Degree. Sound familiar, all you writers with little germ-laden kiddies? And so it's been catch-up since then.

Tried to keep up with the blogs. Added a bunch to my list to explore further. Did not post much of anything.

Finished the short story covers, as you can see in the post previous to this one. That was actually pretty fun. So they're ready to go when formatting is ready on the stories.

I am now on the Twitter. Yes, I've been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern era. So now you can follow me on Twitter (yay!) and I can wax poetic in 140 characters, which to anyone who has ever spoken to me or read anything I've ever committed to print knows is going to be a real challenge. As a bonus, I learned how to shorten URLs using Bitly which is so simple that I managed not to screw it up on first blush.

Set up an author's website that will serve as a somewhat static site or landing page once the books start to go live. For now, I used a generic template on Blogger. Easy-peasy and can be changed at a moment's notice with no knowledge of any HTML or really any technical skills.  You can find it here at

I am today hard at work on short blurbs for Running Red and Darker by Degree, along with spiffing up the opening chapters of both those books for inclusion as sneak previews in the short stories. Blurbing is hard. Like writing-a-synopsis hard. I keep dithering on the length. When I get the blurbing completed, I'll post them up.

For now it is back to the grindstone/salt mines/torture chamber. Looking on having the short stories live (with sneak previews of the novels) by the end of the week.

Friday, April 15, 2011

What I Did This Week - April 15

As usual, hit the blogs.

Found out that Photoshop is hard, yo. There is a learning curve. But luckily my daughter Cadia is both brilliant and well-schooled, so she is giving me a crash course in what I need to know.

Susan and I finished the final edit on the second Maddie Pryce novel, Director's Cut, so it moves onto proofreading. We are so happy with Director's Cut that we realize the previous novel, Darker By Degree, needs to be spruced up to be just as good. This realization if followed by brainstorming, which washes away some of our previous conventions and necessitates the need for a new character, the dropping of a whole wishy-washy chapter, and lots of new action. Great, but time-consuming. Which brings us to the editorial part of the post.

Writers always have to grapple with a time crunch. So many ideas, so little time. When you add the burdens of learning self-publishing, it sometimes feels like a cinderblock or three has been carelessly balanced on your head. Between home life, work life, writing life, now you've got more? Take blogging, for instance, it's not just the transfer of ideas or the sharing of information, it's self-marketing and research. Reading other people's blogs and commenting, writing one of your own, it's an important step is increasing the public's awareness that you exist. It a channel for showcasing your books when they're published. Blogging is not going to make or break you in itself, but when nobody knows who you are or what you write, you need to take every opportunity to put yourself out there. And to make blogging count, you've got to cross-promote it just as hard as you're cross-promoting your writing.

My goal is to post on both my blogs daily (or at least every weekday), but it's hard. Not only do I have to find the time to write a post, but I have to come up with something cool or interesting or worthwhile to say. Aye, there's the rub. I feel like I've been channeling all my cool/interesting/worthwhile into the new outline for the rewrite, and there's precious little left over. But next week is another week and I'll keep plugging away. This weekend the peeps go camping, and in the relative quite I'm going to finish the the 7-chapter-arc rewrite that I spent 12 hours yesterday ironing out. If anything else cool or interesting or worthwhile comes to my attention in the meantime, you'll be the first to know.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Let Me Tell You a Story

I met Susan when she signed up for a creative writing class I was teaching. She tells me that first class I literally bonked her on the head and asked why she wasn't turning out novels left and right. I vaguely remember smacking her with her writing sample, but mostly I remember what an astonishingly good writer she was.

Fast forward -- eventually we became BFFs because us crazy writer types have to stick together. On kind of a whim, we came up with a mystery series (a halfway meeting point, as I was horror and she was mainstream). The first book was good, good enough to get us an agent -- a New York agent, to boot. I used to love saying "New York agent," because it made me feel "special." Our agent encouraged to get to work on the next in the series and we did.

Fast forward further -- a publishing house shows interest in the series. The editorial board has the manuscript! We fill out their author paperwork, they're coming up with a marketing plan, and then....  No dice. Wasn't quite thematically right for them. But, hey, maybe we'd be willing to retool the second book in the series to make it a first book in the series? Sure, we say, anything you need. We cannibalize Darker by Degree to move all the wonderful prose we can to Director's Cut. We invent a new backstory. A whirlwind of activity follows. After all is said and done? Crickets.We begin work on book three, but our hearts aren't in it.

Fast forward to the now. Since we've decided to go the self-publishing route, we've resurrected the series in its original format. We always loved Maddie Pryce (and she received high praise from publishers), so we're going to let her be who's she supposed to be. Today, we finished restoring Director's Cut to its original glory -- and it's a great book: funny, fast-paced, suspenseful, just really fun. Wow, we are stoked.

But in returning to Darker by Degree, while it's a good book, we realize it's not on the level of Director's Cut. The plot is still great, Maddie is still great,  but it needs retooling in the character development and motivation department. (I also suggest zombies, because zombies are cool, but really not necessary for our purposes. Damn.)

In other words, self-publishing is no excuse to not give your best. We could quickly publish Darker by Degree -- as I said, it's a good book, good enough to be a hair's breadth away from being published by a major mystery publisher -- but it's not as good as we want it. We want to leave readers with a, "Wow!"  And then we want them to promptly buy Director's Cut because they can't wait to see what happens next. So we are hard at work on the revision of Darker by Degree -- and it's going to be great.

Moral of the story: never go with "good enough." Whatever you write, polish that thing until it glows. ( Kind of like a radioactive meteorite, the kind that causes the dead to rise..... Oh, never mind.)

Monday, April 11, 2011


Just a quick look at what I did with obscenely inexpensive cover images and 5 minutes in Photoshop. (The eventual covers will be refined, but this is the basic idea.)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Ereader Typesettting And The Single Novelist

And now the red-headed stepchild of this freakshow family steps in. Having utterly no business sense whatsoever and a long history of frustration with the traditional publishing industry, I am following Keri into this madcap experiment and praying we all see tomorrow. What I bring to the table is a motley array of every non-business skill imaginable, so today we will discuss typesetting and ereader formatting.

I was terrified by the exotic demands for file formatting I was SURE were right around the corner, but I have a lot of experience with word processors of all kinds and decided to strap on my Larnin' Boots and figure it out. What I discovered floored me.

It really just isn't that hard.

The unifying theme is that for ereader publishing you need to strip almost but not quite all formatting out of a document. The ereader's going to change page lengths, font sizes and types, all that stuff. If you're publishing general fiction without illustrations, this suits your needs just fine. Smashwords is kind enough to provide very, very detailed instructions at this page of how to do it. Extremely detailed instructions. The huge size may seem intimidating, but don't be scared. If you fall into our 'general fiction' category only tiny bits of that document apply to you.

To sum up what I did, I selected the entire book and set it all to be single-spaced 12 point in a generic font. I used search and replace to remove all indents that rely on tabs. Instead Smashwords showed me how to set (in Word 2007's bewildering command structure, no less) all of my paragraphs to be generically indented at the beginning. I was allowed to keep my page breaks, but told not to trust they'll still exist in all formats. I padded with a couple of blank lines between chapters, and made sure that I never had 4 blank lines together (that's bad, apparently).

And that's it. Their guide will walk you through all of that. They even have a bit telling you what they'd like to see for a title page and how to make a table of contents that links to your chapters and links your chapters back to it. I went crazy and did that and it seemed pretty simple. One thing to know there - a regular table of contents WILL NOT work, because page numbers won't be the same on an ereader and you'll be taking page numbers out of your manuscript anyway.

Now we get to what I thought was the scary part. Kindle Direct Publishing DUN DUN DUNNNN! Their submission guidelines seem quite terrifying, because they're not that well explained and they demand exotic file types. I dug down into the nitty gritty and discovered that they're just a less publisher friendly description of the same formatting Smashwords wants. I used Word 2007 to save my Smashwords formatted manuscript as an .htm file. Didn't change it in any other way. Downloaded 'Kindlegen', their freaky little command prompt program and ran said manuscript through it. This gave me a .mobi file. I opened that .mobi file in my Windows Kindle Reader and... behold! It works perfectly! Even the table of contents links!

Summary: Ereader publishing formatting sounds scary scary. It's almost entirely 'remove all the formatting'. Smashwords has a tremendously friendly guide. Kindle uses the same standards, but you have to make it an .htm file and run it through their Kindlegen program.

You may now resume your regularly scheduled word processing already in progress.

Friday, April 8, 2011

What I Did This Week - April 8

This weeks was devoted to research and playing around.

I came across some worthwhile blogs which you should check out:

Write To Publish by Robin Sullivan

The Writings and Opinions of Dean Wesley Smith

I found a nifty royalty-free stock photography and illustration site with pricing about a third of what Veer and iStockphoto charge. Deposit Photos has a free trial with downloads, very reasonable pricing, and a decent selection. The search function seems comparable with other sites.

I mocked up dozens of covers in Paint in preparation to do the real thing using PhotoShop and Illustrator, and found that I was better at it than I thought. Once I've done the real thing, I'll post a gallery and you can see what someone who is relatively talentless can do in a short time.

Today I"m installing the new software: Adobe InDesign, PhotoShop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Acrobat Pro. I'll report back as I start learning the basics.

I made a List for publishing projects that numbers 25, with another 25 ideas on a second page. For the first year, I plan to publish 2 full-length horror/thriller novels (Running Red and Dead of Winter), Susan and my first two Maddie Pryce mystery series novels (Darker by Degree and Director's Cut), and then I plan to have three more books up within the year, (the third Maddie Pryce novel, Curtain Call; the first installment in a lighter paranormal mystery series that's been on my back burner for years and is yet unnamed; and a collection of 9 short stories). Whew! I may not make all of that happen, but I know that by the end of the year I'll have at least five books up and running.

I learned how to use Google Docs, which allows real-time collaborative writing or editing. Great if you're writing with a partner or going over proofing or editing with someone else.

Lastly, I have the first step of my plan finalized. I'm going to publish four short stories via Kindle. (Lots of people who know best strongly suggest you put up a short story or two to learn the formatting and uploading procedures.) I'm going to give two short stories away free and put the other two up for 99 cents a piece, just as an experiment. And at the end of each of the short stories, I'm going to include the cover for Running Red, a brief blurb and the first chapter and tell readers to watch for it coming in July of 2011. Later on I'm going to take the short stories down for inclusion in a compendium, but for now I'm just using them for advertising purposes and to learn the ropes.  So I'm working on covers and descriptions and formatting and hope to have something to show for it before the end of the month.

Wheeeeeee! As they say down here in New Orleans, where you at?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The List

Been busy, busy, combing blogs and websites, arming myself with information, immersing myself in ideas, and playing around with concepts. Dean Wesley Smith, on his excellent blog, has a very informative section called Think Like A Publisher, in which he provides numerous sections about the various aspects of publishing yourself. It's a great starting place to give you an idea about what you need to think about, especially if you're more of the DIY mindset.

Under Production &Scheduling, he suggest making a List, just like big publishers make a List, outlining your now and future "inventory." He says, "This total number of your inventory may surprise you, disappoint you, or scare you to death (as it did with me and Kris). But at least you have a list of inventory now."

I dutifully opened all my electronic folders, improv notes, notebooks, bundles of amassed scrap paper, and after digging myself out from under it, tried to be honest with myself about what I had.

I would say surprise is maybe not as descriptive as "shock." If I'm being honest (counting the four books that are for all intents and purposes close to publication) I have 25 book-length projects that are totally viable. (And by that I mean the concepts are complete, some have multiple chapters already written, they're ready to work on without much further thought.) Beyond that, there's a maybe another 15 good ideas, and at least as many short stories. Like some zombie squirrel, apparently I've been stashing these things away for years and years and forgetting where I put them. The sub-cellar in my head must be very, very full.

Even when I can quite the day job and write full time, I've got enough to keep me busy for the next 15 years. This is both gratifying and utterly terrifying, because what was always at a safe distance is suddenly on the doorstep, possibly like something wished upon a monkey's paw. Now every one of those stories is knocking on the door and demanding to be let in.

You see, for years and years I did the minimum to keep this going. I queried, I got an agent, I went back and forth with publishers, but there was always a safe space, a buffer. I went back and forth for an entire freaking year with a publishing house (which shall remain nameless) over rewrites that they requested only to have the book dropped at the 11th hour.

So over time, while I never stopped writing, it became the act of just jotting down something I fancied on the back of an envelope, whipping out three chapters and then letting a book lie fallow, creating a world full of characters and then consigning them to a closet that I forgot to open again. I stopped producing, because something inside my head told me I could better spend my time doing something that had immediate results, that paid me enough to feed the kids, that got the damned floors swept and the dogs walked.

Sadly, because I let it, my talent and time became expendable. It became something that was not as valued as other people's time. If the kids needed something, that always came first. If the significant other needed something, that always came first. Hell, if the dogs needed something, that came first too. And over the years that default has just grown, because I've got to make a living right now, not next year, and nobody else is doing the laundry or the shopping or the cooking, or most of all the planning and double-checking and coaching that makes everybody else's lives run smoothly enough that they forget what it's like without the woman behind the curtain.

So now I have worlds upon worlds waiting to be set spinning. And I've got to answer the door, because something there is knocking.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Pet Peeves

I'm a wee bit intolerant of bad grammar. I detest imprecision and am endlessly annoyed by sub-optimal punctuation. (I know some of it is writer's choice, but most often there IS a simple right and wrong.) In spending the last few days combing through blogs I've found some great ones, but I've also followed links to blogs where the writers had something less than an acceptable acquaintance with proper English. 

Maybe I've been sheltered, but I always assumed writers made it a point to be, well, good writers. And I'm not talking about newbies who are just starting out, I'm talking about people who have published books and made a few sales. Often they're wondering why they're not doing better They have nice covers, maybe a nifty plot, but then I read the posts on the blog and I stop cold. Their grammar and punctuation is atrocious. And I don't mean just a misplaced comma here or there, but really nonsensical sentences that seem to have been typed out by monkeys and then randomly punctuated by drunken monkeys. Maybe drunken monkeys that had been dropped on their little heads. Really, the rules for semi-colons are NOT THAT HARD.

Suffice it say, I'm not going to pick up their books. Hopefully the books were edited by someone else, but I have a writing sample in front of me, and it's yelling at me not to waste my time.

So for dog's sake, read Strunk and White's Elements of Style. It's small. Then pick up Eats, Shoots & Leaves. It's fun. But trust me, if part of your self-promotion is blogging, make sure you're writing isn't chasing away your readers before they even open your cover.

(FULL DISCLAIMER: I am queen of the typos, because my mind has often skipped on to the next thing before I've finished typing, and sometimes when I read back over a post, I'll stop and wonder how that stray comma got there, but I do go back and change it. This is also why I always have someone else proofread my professional work).