Meet Fred

Welcome to October! Probably my favorite month of the year. Not too cold, not too hot, and it’s the start of leaf season. We get some lovely displays here in the river gorge. I haven’t been here quite three years yet, and I’ve fallen in love with leaf season. Then again, I love the idea of having four actual seasons. In Mississippi we only had two: summer and winterish. Not really winter, but not summer either. Had to call it something.

I belong to a local writer’s group (no segue for you), and we had an Assignment: write a 500 word flash fiction piece with the trigger word “ashes.” I thought about it and decided I didn’t want to write a piece of fiction keying off “ashes.” Instead I wrote a 500 word explanation for why I did not have a story about ashes. Here it is. Remember, this is not a story. This is an explanation:

Meet Fred

Okay, time to write the flash fiction. Muse, what you got?

“Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down.”

 Seriously?

t was the first thing that came to mind, so naturally I couldn’t use it. That’s the rule: the first thing that floats up is your muse being lazy. You want to get better at this? Make the mind/subconscious/muse work a little harder. I normally picture my muse as a no-nonsense biker chick but some of my writer friends see it more as a crusty old curmudgeon named Fred in a plaid work shirt and chinos. Now sometimes so do I, and apparently Fred is on duty. The idea is that Fred will throw up just any old thing when you’re trying to write a story. Fred doesn’t like to be bothered. I’m not having it so I hand Fred’s first impulse right back to him.

 Not good enough.

The thing is you have to show Fred that you’re serious, only then maybe he’ll take his responsibilities seriously. Not always, but in general Fred wants to give you what you need. Sooner or later. Just not always sooner. So I go back to Fred.

Try again, Jackass.

Note: The “jackass” part is optional, as it can sometimes get Fred’s dander up. It’s a judgment call. Assuming Fred is still speaking to you, Fred will indeed try again.

“My Dominion is Ashes.”

Okay. Points, Fred, for seriousness. I mean, you can picture a story keying off this phrase, can’t you? It’s something dark and downbeat. Maybe an aging failed writer college professor whose most recent affair with an undergrad got him canned, and now he’s pouring out his angst in a poor me story where he’s the hero and only the names—and the epiphany he totally failed at grasping—changed. Again, not bad for one working in the wannabee Phillip Roth or John Updike mold. Not so much for someone else currently trying to write a flash piece. I just can’t get behind this one.

Try again.

“The World is Ashes.”

Okay, Fred, now you’re just messing with me. We’re maybe one degree of separation from “My Dominion is Ashes.” Only now I’m picturing a more science fictional scenario. Maybe old-school Samuel Delaney or Roger Zelazny philosophical, though just as likely something pulpy and post-apocalyptic a la William F. Nolan. In either case it’s not something I’m willing to tackle in five hundred words. That’s not even long enough to describe what went wrong.

Once more with feeling, Fred.

“Phoenix From the Ashes.”

That’s a classic, Fred. It’s also pretty darn cliché. You seriously want me to riff off a phoenix theme without sounding like every other variation of the same thing I’ve heard a thousand times? Seriously?

Fred, I’m not kidding around. I want something I can use and I want it now.

“Scattering the Ashes.”

Hmmm. Okay, that’s not so bad. Elements of loss and grief, but the implication of closing one phase of life and…damn. Out of words.

Fred!!!

 

P.S. For those wondering, I still believe it was the chipmunks who ate my ripe tomatoes. However, it was the deer who came by later and ate everything else.

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In Which I Am Stubborn

Stubborn? Say rather mule-headed. Obstinate, almost to the point of delusion. The worst part is, on some level, I always knew it, so let’s get this out in the open—I hate marketing, and therefore I suck at it. Specifically, promoting my own work. I clung to the myth which goes something like this: work hard, do your best, put your work out there, and people will find it.

This is rubbish. There is so much good (and bad) fiction out there that even a voracious reader can never get to it all. It’s a reader’s paradise but a writer’s? Not so much. Any one writer, good or bad, is one drop in a flood. Maybe the readers will find you, maybe they won’t. Some will, and I’m grateful for all the ones who have, but for the most part that’s been pure luck.

One reason I stopped going to sf/f conventions back when I lived in Mississippi was that I realized, as business goes, and considering how far away most of the better ones were, it was a considerable waste of time and money. As much as I enjoyed meeting online friends, I simply couldn’t justify the expense, because I really suck at networking and self-promotion, and pretty much all the other business-related reasons for attending. I’ve watched friends who have the gift working a dealer’s room and I can only stare in awe, as I usually do when admiring someone who can easily do something I can’t do at all. It is actively painful for me to even attempt it.

I have to finally admit to myself there are things I can’t do. So, surely there are things I can? Maybe. I’ve realized that most of my online book descriptions are not, shall we say, first rate, regardless of the merits of the book. I’m speaking purely of the ones I’m in charge of, which I either handled myself or took over after the rights reverted. So I’m learning how to write ad copy (a different skill altogether) and do the kind of promotion I’m able to do. Old dog, new tricks, that sort of thing. Maybe it’ll work out, maybe not. Baby steps.

After all, the first step in solving a problem is admitting there is one.

Power’s Shadow, Physical Edition

Now the paperback edition of Power’s Shadow is live. It came together a little quicker than I was expecting, despite the fact that I had to reformat the entire manuscript and cover. Not that I’m complaining. In the process I found a few embarrassing errors that never should have been there to start with and one whopper of a continuity oops. Which goes to prove the old adage, “You haven’t edited your story until you’ve edited it stone cold.” I apologize for any past mistakes, but I do believe they’ve been fixed, in both the digital and paperback editions.

Now I’m thinking of doing the same to The Long Look, first in the series. Otherwise the physical edition is only available from third party sellers, since it’s long out of print. That way when I finally finish the fourth—and final—book in the series I’ll have everything available in both formats. Something to consider, anyway, though I do not want to get bogged down in my backlist when there are more books to write.

On an entirely separate note, I almost had fresh tomatoes this year. I picked up some heritage plants at the Cooperstown Farmer’s Museum and even got them planted in good time. First the deer damaged one plant, which lived but never bloomed. The second was doing great and had tomatoes almost ready, but then they disappeared. Poof. Gone. I don’t think it was deer this time, but I am noticing some very well-fed squirrels loitering about. Oh, well. Try again next year.

Power’s Shadow

A slight pause for a bit of dusting.

Okay, I’m back. I think. I liked doing Story Time, but after a while I realized I was spending too much of my limited time on my back catalog, so to speak, and not enough working out what comes next. Yet despite that, there are a few more issues of old business I need to address. One of which is that the third book in The Laws of Power series, Power’s Shadow, did not yet have a print edition. So for the readers (both of you) asking for that very thing, it’s finally on its way.

Right now I’m in the stage of taking the original manuscript and formatting it for print. This will take a little time yet, because it’s simple enough to do but it’s not quick. I’ve been re-reading each chapter as I work, trying to catch any spelling or grammatical errors that crept into the ebook edition and stop the critters from making their way into this one. And, being a writer, I’m having a hard time leaving the text completely alone. A word choice here. An arrangement of sentences there. A word that I tended to overuse but have now learned better. That kind of thing. We’re talking a few tweaks, not a major rewrite, because, imho, it doesn’t need one. Minor stuff and probably best left alone, only I can’t help myself.

I’m about a quarter of the way through, and then there’s reformatting the cover for the print edition, running it through production, getting proof copies, checking those…you get the idea. Probably why it’s taken me so long to get this done in the first place.  I hope no more than a couple of weeks more. Regardless, I’ll post when the print book is available.

Story Time: The Last Waltz

Today’s Story Time is “The Last Waltz,” which was the very first story I published in the late, great Realms of Fantasy magazine way back in the February, 1995 issue, and only my fifth professional (as in getting paid for) sale. I went on to sell stories to Shawna  McCarthy at Realms twenty-six more times by my count before the magazine ended, but TLW, a little dated as it may be, was a sentimental favorite of mine, even though it’s never been collected. Maybe next time.

At this point I’m also going to end Story Time as a regular weekly feature. Putting each story into display-shape for online takes time I should be spending on new material, and right now time is the one thing I don’t have much of. I’ll still do them now and again, but otherwise I hope to return to a more regular blogging schedule.