A day like no other

I have no memory of the most profound moment of my life.

It was September 20, 1997. I had worked a full day selling cologne at the department store called Filene’s. After work, I met up with my best friend and roommate for a movie. Titanic was the number one movie at the box office, but we were there for L.A. Confidential, a more bro-friendly experience. The movie was sold out, so we went to Wal-Mart to look for Star Wars action figures instead.

Gimme a break. We were twenty-five. 

Our hunt was unsuccessful, so we drove across the street to McDonald’s for a late bite. We never made it.

A driver of an SUV ran a red light and t-boned our tiny Hyundai. He was supposedly searching for the song My Heart Will Go On (from Titanic) on the radio and didn’t see the stop signal, which is a much better excuse for a jury than “I was on the phone.”

Jump ahead almost twenty-five years. Spoiler alert—I lived. The three-ton vehicle, traveling at 40 miles an hour almost killed me. The road to recovery was a complicated and rocky one, and I have no memory of anything from that day, while my other memories are otherwise intact. Today, I’m watching Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck in Time, a documentary of my favorite author. Vonnegut was a prisoner of war in World War II and survived the complete destruction of the city of Dresden, bombed by Allied forces. In the documentary, one of Vonnegut’s daughters said that he didn’t show his feelings about being the only survivor of such a horrific attack but he had to have been deeply affected by it. Of course, he felt it. Slaughterhouse-Five was his most popular book and only came about when he delved into his thoughts and feelings of that monumental event. Reflections that he worked for years to get just right on the paper.

While our experiences are different, I have worked hard to avoid tackling my own “Dresden Book” as Vonnegut had described Slaughterhouse-Five before he wrote it. There is therapy in exploring trauma, and writing is an indirect connection to others who are suffering. 

I lost a lot that day. Friends. Family. Teeth. An eye.

But I gained something, too. Perspective.

So it goes.

Illegitimum non carborundum

OR

The struggle to stay positive.

I just published my seventh product, an erotic-comedy novella called sVck. It has dirty words and images and that makes it hard to promote because Amazon and Facebook have a policy against advertising “erotic” works. So getting the word out requires some grass-roots promotions and out-of-the-box thinking.

I found a few newsletters that promote “smut” to thirsty readers, so I’ll wait and see if the one I chose noticeably moves the needle. If so, I’ll reach out to other similar promotions. In the meantime, I tried to enlist friends and family to pre-order my new book with the intention of sparking Amazon’s algorithms into featuring my book on similar searches. Amazon is smart. First, it shows what other people have already bought. It’s their way of putting the most popular stuff by the front door. Sales begets sales.

Herein lies the bump in the road and the potential downer. Most of my Facebook friends don’t seem to care about my writing career. That said, there are any number of reasons why posting on one’s personal Facebook page might not reach every one (or even a significant percentage) of one’s social media friends. If you’re me, the endless cycle of pet pictures and political commentary have whittled your “followers” down to a devoted half-dozen. So, when I need to reach the masses, Facebook decides who is most likely to “like” what I am saying and doesn’t show it to anyone else. That’s what I hope has happened.

The alternative is that no one really cares that I’m a writer. I’m not one of those writers who knows his target audience and writes what they want to read. I write the things that will entertain me through the drafts, the re-writes, the edits, paying and supervising cover artists, and the eventual self-promotion, and I pray to god that someone wants to read what I’ve written.

It’s not the best business plan.

Maybe my friends and family don’t have the money to spend on my books. I get that. Times are tough and everything is more expensive, so shelling out 3 or 7 bucks for a book they aren’t going to read is a big ask. 

“We didn’t know you had a book out.” As I said, I don’t have a lot of followers, so it’s very likely that they didn’t even see my post begging them to buy my book. I took to DMing a dozen close friends I thought might react to a personal invitation. Some of them responded with screenshots of their orders or declarations that they had placed an order (or two). But what about the ones who didn’t respond?

I know some people are jealous. Not jealous like they spend all day shaking their fists and vowing revenge like some overacting soap opera character. More likely, they don’t see my efforts to be a writer as worthwhile and that writing isn’t a “real job.” I have a friend who says she wants to be a writer and envies me for the time I have to put into writing. I know because that’s what she says every time I tell her that I have a new publication. Not, “congratulations” or “I can’t wait to read it.” Just, “Must be nice…” I’ll spend another post ranting about “finding the time” to write. 

I can hear the band is playing me off, so I’ll wrap it up. I am lucky to do what I do and I know that writing isn’t a “real job.” Of course, it isn’t easy and requires no less devotion and expertise, but there is a sense of freedom being able to spend all day at home creating fantasy worlds. But it’s also scary as hell if you’re depending on those fantasy worlds to pay your mortgage.

In conclusion, appreciate the ones who support you, and cut some slack for those who haven’t yet; there are many reasons that your friends aren’t excited when you put out a new book (or record, or piece of art, or poem, or photograph, or have a baby) because maybe they’re jealous.

Or maybe they have other stuff on their mind. 

LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX

LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX

Sex can be a four-letter word.

I’m new to writing in the world of erotica and kinda new to the world of writing. I haven’t been particularly successful with my other books, meaning I haven’t made a ton of money. So I thought I’d dip my toes (and the rest of me) into the world of erotic fiction. I had a fun hook and a writing partner (my life partner who added the female perspective to the story). We wrote it, and yada, yada, yada, it’s ready for publication.

The elevator pitch is as follows: “Young Savannah is a new vampire, but she doesn’t want to drink blood. What can she do? A girl’s gotta eat.”

“Wait. What does she eat?”

“Wink.”

“Ohhhhhhh.”

You get it.

First, we have to list the novella for sale with all the vendors who sell e-books. This is a new path for me because up until now, I’ve been exclusive with Amazon to get some of that sweet Kindle Unlimited money everyone is talking about. As a publisher, you don’t have to click yes on the KU option, but if you do, you make your book “free” for KU subscribers (but unavailable anywhere else), and you get paid for every page they read. It’s about one penny for every three pages read. Thus I make about a dollar if someone reads my entire book instead of buying it for five (I would make about 3.50). It’s a great deal if you’re one of those writers with thousands of page reads a day. But if you have to spend two dollars to make one, it’s not that great.

But I digress. Category is one of the most complex parts of publishing. What category you choose determines what shelf your book is placed on in the digital bookstore. (See some of my past posts for my lamentation on the subject of categories and their subsequent abuse). I’ve heard from other experts on the topic of romance v. erotica. In short, I’ve heard that romance readers expect, nay demand, the HEA or HFN (happy ever after & happy for now). Don’t put it in “romance” if there isn’t a happy ending, i.e.; two people end up together. Not the massage “happy ending.”

But my book has a lot of descriptive sex scenes, and no two characters end up together, so it’s not romance? Right?

It might be romantic, but don’t put it in romance unless you want ‘category nazis’ to give you a bad review.

So, I guess I’ll put it in erotica.

OOOH, don’t do that! No one will find it.

Sigh.

Each platform (amazon, b&n, et al.) has different methods to list your book, including categories. I decided to risk it and put it in both romance and erotic (where the option is available), confident that the Warning on page one will turn off those who don’t want to be turned on. Since every platform has a free preview, I’m not worried that many people will make it past the warning and then demand a refund and post a negative review. Not too worried…

This is the ‘parental advisory.’ Warning, bad words ahead!

This book is intended for mature readers with a sense of humor! If you’re offended by descriptions of sex, heaving bosoms, college girls, penises, engorged genitalia, college boys, anal sex, spunk, clitorises, breasts, blood, cumming, sex, pussies, cunnilingus, boobies, blowjobs, vaginas, tits, asses, love, S & M, gay stuff, moisture, vampires, cum, jizz, wads, semen, and the C-word, please put the book down now and have a glass of wine. Do us all a favor and have a couple.

Now comes the part where we try to drum up presales before the book release. I have some experience, but not success advertising on Amazon and Facebook. Here’s the deal— Facebook and Amazon won’t let you advertise explicit stuff on their platform. What’s “explicit”? You might think it means you can’t show nudity or sexual situations, but their policy is that you can’t advertise sexually explicit material even if the ad isn’t sexually explicit.

In the days of My Space, I had a girlfriend who didn’t use MySpace because “Facebook was cleaner.” She didn’t really explore Facebook, or maybe she missed the dirty stuff because they weren’t allowed to advertise. There are some borderline groups and people promoting their smut that is way more explicit than a few dirty words.

Maybe the romance experts are right. Maybe erotica is a death sentence.

But we wrote a good book that will appeal to some readers, but how the heck do we let people know we’re out there, ready and willing? I’m told that grassroots campaigns are the answer! Get a blog and blog every day. Hmmm. Information that would have been useful yesterday! Well, months ago, at least.

What will we do to promote our project since we can’t promote smut via Amazon, Goodreads, Bookbub, Twitter, or Facebook? Whizzbuzz books is a service that will promote any book for a year for $49, so maybe I’ll try them. I’m sure there are others. 

I hope we can get some people to follow us into the dungeon.

sVck is available for preorder on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and wherever you buy your ebook. It will be available in print, too, on April 1st.

Reading is Hard. Pity the Reader.

I’m not talking about literacy, I’m talking about finding the time to read. Sure, you might be one of those people who always has a few books going at any given time, while putting even more books in your ‘to be read’ pile, and you probably don’t even own a television. No, I’m talking about the other people who have infinite forms of entertainment competing for their attention. Putting aside the hours spent sleeping, cooking, eating, cleaning et. al. we have more ways to spend the remaining minutes of our mortal existence than ever before. I don’t know about you, but I could just watch Disney + until the sun burns out.

As a writer, you need to get eyeballs on your words and keep them there. Kurt Vonnegut said, “Give the reader as much information as soon as possible. To hell with suspense!” While I don’t completely agree with him here, I know that a confused reader is one who closes the book and does not open it again. That’s the opposite of what you want.

We also have more ways to read than ever before, but the fact that anyone reads at all is amazing. But, the increase in the number formats means there are more books competing for your attention. As a self-published writer, the hardest thing you will do is to find readers. The late Mitch Hedburg had a joke about being a stand-up comedian and being asked to write a script, something related to comedy that isn’t comedy. I paraphrase, “It’s like being a great chef and being asked, ‘Well, do you farm?'” You wrote a book, which is an incredible accomplishment, but now you have to become an expert in marketing on an ever-shifting retail landscape. The three most difficult things you will do as a writer in reverse order are as follows and I quote- 

3) Write a book  2) Write your blurb. 1) Get people to read your book

I’m sometimes excited to check my daily page reads on Amazon. Often, no one read a single page or bought any hard copies. But some days when I see someone had read 500 pages of my books (or 500 people read one page each) I am excited. Something about the book kept them turning the digital pages and that’s a great thing. It means my newest marketing plan is reaching some eyeballs. Or it’s a fluke. I hope it’s not a fluke.

Back when I used to have a job, I told a coworker about this great movie. I offered to let her borrow my dvd. Every day, I would ask if she watched it. She hadn’t. Weeks went by. She said, “Are you sure I’m going to like it?” I wanted to say, “It’s a fucking movie. It’s two hours of your life! Watch it. Don’t watch it. Just give it back. I want to watch it again.” She returned it to me unwatched.

In case you’re wondering, the movie was Garden State. Her loss.

Making the decision to read a book, and then reading that book is a monumental accomplishment. I asked a friend to proofread a “finished” book and help me with plot points. While he was a book-a-day reader, he said he couldn’t get into my book. The first chapter was confusing (and thus, boring). I assured him that it picks up after that, but he never read any more of the book. He was right. The first chapter was not an attention-getter, so I changed it, but I couldn’t even force a good friend to waste any time.

That said, I plan to spend some time talking about the frustration that comes from friends and family not reading my books. I acknowledge to the universe that reading is difficult and tip my cap to anyone who spends hours alone with my words. It’s all I ever wanted.    

There’s a lot of stuff out there demanding our attention. Pity the reader and be thankful for them.

Typos- The ugly little mistakes and how to live with them

I make mistakes. Typos especially. I hate them. I feel like readers judge me on a misused or misspelled word or misplaced comma, and they do. Well, some do. But that’s okay. I just hope that when someone finds one, they don’t stop reading

I’ve found them in edited works. I hear them on the news. I see a misspelled word and I laugh, but I’m guilty too. I haven’t published a product without a typo. I had an editor for my first comic book, but somehow a misspelled word ended up in the finished product. Maybe the editor missed it. Maybe the letterer did. But it’s most likely my fault. I do so many last-minute changes to a script and I don’t sit with it long enough before I put it out into the world. I’m so anxious, and quite frankly sick of reading and rereading my words that I’m ready to be done. I click SEND and it’s off into the ether. Typos and all.

I had a job interview and I brought the first issue of my comic with me. I don’t know why. Bragging rights? Pride? It had nothing to do with the job for which I was interviewing. The boss skimmed it and said, “You spelled a word wrong.” Sure enough, I had misspelled “Losers” as “Loosers.” But I got the job despite my perceived lack of attention to detail. Maybe the boss saw the amount of work and skill that went into the production of a new work of art, but more than likely they were desperate.

I just released an audiobook and my voice actor found a couple. I was so embarrassed. I hate them because I feel like it makes me look dumb, but I still want to know so I can fix them before anyone else sees them and judges me. I’m worried they won’t read my story and be engaged by the characters and the plot, they’ll just be thinking, “Typo. Typo. Typo.”

One of my favorite words is sprezzatura- basically defined as controlled chaos as a fashion accessory. Bedhead. Untied laces. A necktie not tightened are all examples. It’s the imperfection that makes something perfect. However, sprezzatura isn’t by accident, it just looks that way.

What’s my point? I’ll try harder to avoid typos in the future, but I won’t loose my mind when I miss one.

Confessions: Good Meows/Bad Meows

Confessions: Good Meows/Bad Meows

11/2/2021

After a month of work, Jake Hunsbusher and I (mostly him) finished recording the audiobook. What an experience! You would think it’s as simple as reading the words and recording, but for an emotional project with different characters of varying ages, accents, and sexes it felt like a little movie with me as the director.  I would have him rerecord a few sections with the inflections and emotions that I imagined while writing. The audio read by a true voice actor adds a layer to the story for the reader/listener, just like an artist for a comic book adds dimension the writer could never have imagined.  

That’s the good news. The negative news is that I had some difficulty with a promotional aspect of modern-day publishing. Many indie writers swear by a service called Pubby which promises to get your book reviewed for a monthly fee. The monthly fee (a year’s worth all at once is not a monthly fee, btw) is charged at the end of the ten-day trial. I put a note in my calendar to assess and cancel if needed, and off I went!

The way Pubby works (in a nutshell) is you get stars for reading and reviewing books. You can use those stars, as well as your introductory stars and stars you purchase, to get your book reviewed. As you look for ways to get stars you are offered a limited selection of books to read. I chose a few that might be of interest and went to work. I had a hard time because the books were not interesting enough to complete so I stopped until I could find books that I could read and like. Here’s comes the problem. A day or two into my trial, I had one review for each of my books I had made available. They were positive in a generic sort of way that indicated the person may or may not have read the book all the way through. They read like, “If you like science fiction with lots of action, this is the book for you.”

That’s just it. The people on this service are writers looking for reviews. They want to get their stars and move on. If you don’t read the book, at least you can should a positive review like you hope other readers will do. I went at it all wrong; I wanted to READ the books!

It reminded me of Meow Meow Beans on the show Community. If you haven’t seen it, one episode features a social media ap that allows you to rate your fellow students for arbitrary reasons and the people with the highest rankings are worth the most Beans and thus rise to become the ones with the highest social values. 

I don’t want to get reviewed that way. I want people to love or hate my work on its own merits, but I at least want them to read it. Just like I don’t like when someone gives a bad review based on the first two chapters, I don’t want a positive review if all they read was the blurb on the back of the book.

So, I cancelled. Here comes issue 2. They gave me a partial refund. I asked and they said that was all the charges they saw. I checked with my bank and they said I had been charged the whole year. I went back and forth with Pubby and they couldn’t find my charge because I had spelled my email wrong the first time I signed up. The customer service person was super snarky, saying things like, “Again, did you sign up under a different email address?” And “Does this email ring a bell…? I had spelled my email wrong on the initial signup but I was still getting correspondence and further charges, so they could have easily looked it up another way. After a frustrating experience and terrible customer service, I give Pubby ZERO Meow Meow Beans.

Side Note: While talking with my credit card company representative, I felt the need to explain that Pubby is not a porn site. She laughed and told me she doesn’t judge. Which makes me think that she thought it was indeed a porn site, Pubby. Yeah. 

Confessions…9/22

A continuation of my previous Confession- my reviewer gave the final book in my series, Avatars of the Maelstrom 4/5 stars! I’ve been checking every day like a I was waiting for a grade from my professor.

“Great story, keeping you guessing every page I read. Unexpected ending…I’m sure you all will enjoy reading.”

Here’s hoping all my reviews are that positive.

I haven’t written anything in a few days; I’m working on new formats for my previous publications. Large Print and Hardcovers require redoing the original covers, a task for my freelance artists. I changed computers last year and lost the writing of Twenty-One Octobers, so I had to salvage my original Word by downloading the book on Amazon and splitting it up into chapters and recreating the book using Vellum. But after a couple of day’s work, I have my digital manuscript back.

I’m also waiting on the cover for the Trilogy edition of Tragic Heroes as well as the prototype cover for sVck, the first from friend and long-time artistic go-to-guy, Michael Kelleher, the second is coming from art house 100 Covers.

Okay, back to work. Blessings on all your houses.  

Confessions of a Failed Writer-6

9/21/2021

I had a minor success yesterday. I try not to check too often, but any writer is going to look at his or her reviews. The trilogy I released a month ago is fairly long, so even if someone bought them, they might not have finished. Anyway, I noticed my first two books in the series had one five-star review each. I was cautiously optimistic.

My previous release, Twenty-One Octobers has almost ten reviews. The people who have reviewed are friends or friends of friends, and while I think they genuinely enjoyed the books, the true critic is someone who doesn’t care about your feelings. The internet can be an unforgiving hellscape and god have mercy on your should if someone paid money for something and did not enjoy it. 

“I got this book with zero expectations but good reviews. I began reading and I couldn’t put the darn book down until I finished reading cover to cover. Yes that how good it was. Looking forward to book 2.”

That feels good. For someone to have spent their money and enjoyed something I worked for years to complete, well that’s the dream. And to write a review…-sniff-

“With ups and downs like in every story is a rollercoaster of actions and twist of emotions not foreseen by far. Again is book you cannot put down. Different from the first in a good way.”

-If you’re a friend and you wrote the above review, let me know only if it was honest. Otherwise, keep the secret to yourself.

And thank you. Whoever you are.

Confessions of a Failed Writer part 3

September 17, 11:02 A.M.

I’m putting off listening to the auditions for my audiobook. I have a dozen or so and it’s a short scene the professionals have read. Why am I procrastinating? Self-doubt. Wondering if I’ll make the wrong decision on who will read my deeply personal work. I could do it myself, but I don’t have a great voice. I know all the inflections and how I want it read, but I’d prefer to leave that to the professionals with the experience and equipment to create a high quality finished product.

The second question is do I come up with the money to pay a voice actor or do I do a profit split? I’ve read the author’s laments who regret doing the split. But the upfront costs of paying a good producer can be a grand or more. Do I bet on myself for future earnings? Or do I take the safe route and save the upfront costs? I’ve only sold 9 copies of my book, so how many audio copies will I sell?

I will put that off until tonight. I’ll have my partner Anya listen with me for a second opinion. For today, I have daily goal of 2000 words. That’s an easy goal, maybe the word “achievable” is better than easy. Especially since I’m dividing the daily goal among three novels: Legacy of the Maelstrom, Mind the Shadows and sVck. I figure the three books should total about 225,000 words, so if I achieve my daily goal, I’ll be done the first draft of three books in four months. The trick is to write. Some writers do what is called “sprinting” where they close the doors and type until the allotted time is up. Usually an hour. Others write to be perfect. Each word is carefully chosen to not require much polishing in a second draft. My process is somewhere in the middle. I’m mostly writing dialogue with a few descriptors. Here’s an example of what I wrote last night.

                                                           sVck

“How was your dinner date?”

Savanah hung her head. Humphrey eyed her with a snarky smile. “I checked your window at 12:30 and you still weren’t home. And your 9:00 o’clock came out of your hall looking unsatisfied. What happened?”

“Things got out of hand, Humph. We fucked.”

Humphrey spit out his coffee. “You what?! You fucked a vampire!?”

“Would you keep it down, for christ’s sake?!”

“What do you mean, you fucked?”

“We did it. It was awesome. I’ve never been with a woman before. She did stuff to me. I came so fucking hard.”

“That’s awesome, Savvy. You needed to nut. Seriously. You’ve been doing a lot of blowing with no payback. What else happened?”

“I asked her about vampire life. I told her about my alternative food source. She showed me her thralls. Four guys. They ate raw meat and she fed on one while I watched. I, uh, showed her my method.”

“You blew one of her guys?”

“While she watched.”

“Hot.”

“He keeled over. Dead.”

“What?”

“I don’t understand what happened. Maybe he was so weak that…”

“…you sucked him to death?”

“Yeah.”

“Dammnnnnnn.”

In my next draft I’ll go through and add descriptions. Spice it up. Sometimes I leave the dialogue when I feel the reader knows who is who without the need to write “he said” and “she said.” It creates a better back and forth. 

What’s your process?

Time Travel is 2020

 

Part One

“ABC news is predicting, with 38% of the polls reporting, that Ronald D. Crampton of the Control Alt Delete party is the winner of the 2020 election.”

That was the last thing that Jim remembered. He had been in a coma since that fateful evening. He didn’t remember drinking all night in the campus’s media room with a hundred other Boonie supporters, hoping against hope that, like the 2000 elections, the news had called the results too early.

Stan Boonie was as close as a messiah to him and the majority of students attending the Vermont liberal arts college—emphasis on the liberal—that Stan Boonie had attended. He had promised to tax the rich, make healthcare and college education free for everyone who made less than six figures. He even promised to refund money previously spent on healthcare and college. Companies would have to provide six weeks paid vacation for starting employees, a twenty-five-hour work week, thirty paid sick days, and six months paid maternity and paternity, and grand paternity leave. The man was scandal free: he had been married to his wife for sixty-two years and he no longer had sex with his own wife, let alone anyone else’s. Creating a democratic-socialist utopia was the eighty-year-old career politician’s only desire.

Jim wouldn’t remember drunkenly staggering back to his dorm, climbing to the roof and jumping four stories to the paved part of the quad below. Sixteen other Boonieites would also commit suicide that night rather than live in a Crampton-led nation.

Jim was the only one who survived.

Years later, he stirred in his hospital bed, letting out a little moan. The nurse at the foot of his bed, checking off items on her clipboard did not look up. She was accustomed to his little mewlings and movements.

“What year is it?”

The nurse dropped the clipboard. Jim was sitting up in his bed, monitors and food intake tubes attached to his arm and stomach respectively. She struggled with the desire to shout for a doctor or to run from the room to summon an expert, but there she stood. He repeated the question.

She said, “It is November 7, 2036.” He fell back on the bed. The nurse looked to the door but made no movement for fear of breaking the moment like a soap bubble. “Who is President?” he asked staring at the ceiling.

She swallowed hard. She rubbed her itchy eye and took a deep breath.

“Who is the President?”

She exhaled. “President Crampton.” She watched his pale face turn whiter. “He is about to be elected for his sixth consecutive term. Pollsters expect he will be re-elected with 99% of the vote.”