Monday, April 29, 2013 6 comments

Positive (Plant) ID

Thanks to the wonderful collection of wisdom that is the Internet, I now know what a couple of our mystery plants are.

Call it “Carolina Kudzu.”
Like most of the rest of the introduced landscaping, this is an aggressively invasive piece of work. I thought it might be a wisteria, and rejected the thought of it being a honeysuckle. But thanks to my buddy Powell (and you need to blog more, Powell!), I now know it’s a Yellow Jessamine, aka Carolina Jasmine.

Powell tells me it’s the South Carolina state flower, and it’s illegal (in SC) to transplant from the wild. I don’t know why; it’s not like you can kill this thing without a thermonuclear strike. I cut the whole thing down last year, and it came right back. The wife is talking about chemical warfare (Roundup). Me, I’m thinking more along the lines of wrapping a stout rope around it and pulling it out with a tractor. Either way, it has got to go. It is busily trying to strangle every other plant within reach, and its reach gets a little longer each day. I thought butterfly bushes were obnoxious… at least they just get taller.

The wife called them “Japanese Holly.” I called them “some weird-ass holly variety I’ve never seen outside FAR Manor.” But they have a real name, and the name is… Oregon Grape. I posted a pic on Twitter, and Vandamir (an Oregon resident, which makes sense) was there with the ID.

The leaves are very holly-like, although its growth pattern is unlike any true holly—they get about three feet high, and put out an umbrella-like set of leaves at the top. And it’s classified as (are you seeing a pattern here?) a “noxious weed” outside Oregon. I only noticed it starting to spread from the four or five planted plants we had, when we first moved to FAR Manor, in the last couple years. I dug up five of them and put them in pots, and they’re all surviving quite well. Before I knew what they were, I’d planned to sell them in a yard sale, but that would be like selling a butterfly bush—laughable, but people (or nurseries, rather) do it. There might be laws about distributing invasive plants; it certainly isn’t horribly moral in any case. I wonder if the non-nutty sister in law kept the two I gave her, though…

Unlike a true holly, Oregon Grape is supposed to be edible. But “edible” doesn’t exactly mean “tasty.” They are very pretty, nice and green through the winter. They put out yellow fruits that turn purple in spring.

And I learned that the wild violets in our yard are also edible, like just about all the other weeds around here. It makes me wonder why we bother going to the grocery store.

Friday, April 26, 2013 18 comments

Up, Always (#FridayFlash)

Thanks to Helen Howell for looking this over!



Image source: openclipart.org
Up, always.

The stairs are endless. I’ve forgotten everything but the need to stay ahead of whatever it is coming up after me. Sometimes, I think my pursuer has given up the chase. But when I stop to catch my breath, I hear footfalls from below.

Up, always.

I think I’m in a fancy hotel. The center of the building is open space. I can’t see the bottom, though. And when I look up, I can’t see the top. Forever down, forever up. But…

Up, always.

The stairs are beautiful, when I pause to look. But they’re not always the same. Sometimes, they’re carpeted. Sometimes, tile. Even marble. Sometimes, the stairs are split by a wall of sorts. Occasionally, I’ll jump on it and scramble up. I don’t think I go any faster, but it’s a change of pace.

Up, always.

My pursuer is gaining. I think about just stopping. Whatever happens, let it happen. But I must have had a reason to run in the first place. If only I could remember it.

Up… or I could jump. If it’s forever down, whatever it is could never catch me.



“Whoa! Temperature just dropped big!”

“What’s the reading?”

“Just a flicker. It’s already back to normal.”

“Hey! It just passed here, too. It must be coming up the stairs. Lynn, get ready—”

“There it is! And gone.”

“You think it’s her?”

“Probably. If she’s a repeater, she’ll be back around in a few minutes. Get the cameras ready, let’s see if we can get anything on the next pass.”

Wednesday, April 24, 2013 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

This week, you could call this column “Writing and Avoiding Production Wibbles.”

The Pickups and Pestilence launch is being delayed. I’d like to call it circumstances beyond my control, but I’d be lying. The truth is, I’ve been reluctant to tackle some difficult issues… which are not all that difficult, really. That reluctance, in turn, allowed the evenings and weekends to be absorbed by the oh-so-important things that everyone else wanted taken care of. I did find a few lingering typos and formatting issues in White Pickups, a while back, and took care of those last night. It has been sent to Amazon, with a new cover and everything, so it should soon be available. So if you’ve bought it in the past, see if it’s been updated yet. And if you haven’t bought it, why not? The sequel/conclusion will be out soon. :-)

To make that (the sequel) happen, I’m taking a day off work Friday and not telling anyone (at home). I will gather up my stuff and disappear for the day. I will devote the entire day to applying beta comments to Pickups and Pestilence, and have it ready for the editor on Sunday. If the edit is as quick as the editor thinks it will be, I could have the book online in two weeks. And that will be such a relief. I started writing it four years ago, after all. There will be a future story in this world, but I’ll be able to focus on other things for a while. (That “future story” could be moved to the top of the heap very quickly, if lots of people buy the novels… hint hint, subtle as a sledgehammer.)

As soon as I get Pickups and Pestilence off to the editor, I’ll be plunging headlong into beta comments for Water and Chaos, and some of those might require some medium-grade rewriting. My own idea might take the most work, though. When you’re selling eBooks, potential buyers have the option to sample the first ¼ or ⅓ of your work. Therefore, any story that starts out slow is at a disadvantage—you need to suck ‘em in right away. I need to make the beginning at least more fun, if not more exciting. In general, it’s going to be more emo than Accidental Sorcerers was. Each of the three and a third stories I’ve written has its own mood, now that I think about it. The fourth one has a mood much like the first, so far, although the young sorcerers are facing stiffer challenges.

I am so looking forward to getting things taken care of. It will be… glorious.

Sunday, April 21, 2013 2 comments

Late Spring

Long November hung on as long as it possibly could, and then some. But the march of seasons persists, and the cold and cool days have become cool and warm days. I even managed to take the laptop to the table out front and work outside.

Of course, it’s April, and that means the pollen count left “extreme” far behind and was playing in “Are you $#%@!! kidding me!?” territory:

After a few hours working outside…
Once inside, I ran a Swiffer across the laptop and cleared away the pollen, turning the Swiffer yellow. The pollen count topped out at 8024; Daughter Dearest heard it was the third highest recorded measurement ever. It starts to clog me up when it gets above 4000 or so, and I don’t have allergies.

As always, wild violets run riot in the yard. The wife thinks they’ll kill the grass; but they’ve been coming up every spring, ever since we’ve lived at FAR Manor, and the grass lives on:

Because plain green is BORING.
The cherry tree really put on a show. This week’s windy weather has turned these into what looks like a dusting of pink snow if you squint:

Pinkitude!
Last night, I finally got to take the wife out to dinner like I’ve wanted to do all… all year, actually. The January royalties from Amazon came in at the end of March, so I had enough to splash on a pretty nice outing. Jam came up to watch Mason for us, since Daughter Dearest was working closing hours at Dress Barn. The best laid plans… we got to the place I’d picked out, and hadn’t realized one of the local high schools was having prom night. I expected the place to be crowded, but not “hour and a half wait time” crowded. Fortunately, there’s a large cluster of restaurants across the highway, and we’d agreed to check those out as a backup plan. “How about that Tilted Kilt place?” she suggested. I hadn’t ever been; I knew it was an Irish pub-themed place was all, and the high school kids wouldn’t exactly be crowding it.

We got right in… and what neither of us realized, is that it’s more of an Irish-themed Hooters (wife laughed at this description). The servers, young shapely women all, wore halter tops and a tartan-patterned mini. I think they might have had a clear or flesh-toned body sock covering the expanse of belly and back between the two pieces; it would have been awfully chilly in there without one, but the lighting wasn’t enough to decide with a quick glance. I wasn’t there to check out the girlies, anyway. I may mount a solo expedition to make a final determination, especially since the food was pretty good.

More yard work is in the cards for today. I think I’ll take a day off work and not tell anyone, then disappear with my writing stuff so I can catch up.

Friday, April 19, 2013 10 comments

At the Crossroads (#FridayFlash)

I went to the crossroads…

As always, I got a round of polite applause after my first number. I try to focus on the positive. This bar beats most of the gigs I’d played. The audience was polite, and tipped well. The stage wasn’t much—just a raised platform—but I had mikes for me and my guitar, and the acoustics were great. I played too many gigs where I deafened half the patrons, and the other half couldn’t hear at all.

“Good evening, folks,” I said. “And welcome to The Crossroads. Paisley’s the name, folk and blues are my claim to fame.” Again, polite applause. “I’m gonna go up-tempo with this next number, a little ballad called On the Centerline.” The lyrics for this number were rude, and I wouldn’t sing this song back home, but here? No problem.

I called Ma after the gig. She thinks I’m in L.A., playing different bars and trying to get discovered, and I won’t try tellin’ her different. “How’s things at home, Ma?” There was a time, not too long ago, that I would have done just about anything to keep Ma from tellin’ me everything that her neighbors were up to. Now, I just let her rattle on and on to her heart’s content. “Zach will be walkin’ soon,” she told me after about ten minutes. “He stood up by himself this mornin’, right in the middle of the kitchen, and took a look around before he sat down.”

“He’s growin’ fast, ain’t he, Ma?” I asked. Some dumb chick I met at one party or another, Amber or Opal or something, dropped Zack off at Ma’s place one day. Said he was mine, and took off as quick as she could. He sure looks like me, so he’s probably mine.

“He’ll be needin’ his father soon, Pay-pay,” she said. “When you comin’ home?”

“Soon as I can, Ma,” I lied. “You got the two hundred I wired, right? I think I’ll be able to send two-fifty this weekend.”


To make a deal with the devil…

Me and school were never close friends. I made my first money playing a gig at someone’s party, back when I was thirteen. I got straight As in music class, passed math, but I couldn’t bother with the rest. It was drop out or flunk out, and I got my pride. That and my guitar.

I hitched along the Gulf coast, playing gigs where I could get one, putting a hat on a street corner where I couldn’t. It was enough. Usually. Then that big mess with the oil rig, a few years back, gave me the opportunity for what Ma called “a real job with an honest paycheck.” So I worked for a while. I didn’t see the attraction. Sure, I could afford better booze, but I don’t have fancy tastes. Give me food, guitar strings, and a six-pack, and I’m good.

I was out on the road when Ma told me about Zack. I came home to see him, tried to remember the girl, and got back on the road. I had more than myself to support now, and I needed more gigs to cover the expense.

So, I figured trading off my soul for a better paycheck wasn’t a bad deal. Not like St. Peter would let the likes of me in, anyway, you know?


But someone else showed up.

I got everything I asked for, and then some. Ma might complain about my lifestyle, but she don’t complain about the money they conjure out of a computer and send to the Walmart across town for her. All my wants are taken care of—what I think is kinky, they think rather quaint. I can have pretty much everything I want, except for one thing. And you know, going home is something I never would have thought I wanted.

It’s time for me to go onstage again. I thank God for the bright lights shining down on me, so I don’t have to look at what’s out there watching me. Ma and Zack are provided for, so I guess it don’t matter that I’m traveling ever farther away from home, at half the speed of light.

It ain’t the devil I struck the bargain with. Maybe I got a better deal. Maybe.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 4 comments

Writing Wibbles

The last couple weeks, I’ve been doing just about everything but writing. Taxes, yard work, driving long distances, working… you name it. That changed a little in the last few days; I got a little new material down in Into the Icebound. But I’m starting to panic a little; I’m nowhere near done with adding beta feedback for Pickups and Pestilence. The only saving grace there is that my editor wanted to beta it, and opined there shouldn’t be much more to clean up. Whew. But that’s not what I wanted to talk about this week…

Set the Wayback Machine for 1989. At the time, I worked for a company, now long-defunct, called DCA. The management decided to give themselves a free vacation, and sent themselves to Hilton Head for a “strategic planning conference.” Uh-huh. They were out of the office for two or three weeks… and things ran more smoothly during that time than at anytime they were around. Imagine what would have happened if they’d just sent all the administrative assistants off for a couple weeks, let alone all the other employees: the place would have ground to a halt by Day Two.

Now, just a couple days ago, a link to The Passive Voice turned up in my Google+ feed. There’s a lot of gems in this post, like “At this stage in the disruption of the traditional publishing business, publishers need authors more than authors need publishers. Smart authors already realize this…”

Yes, indeed. Just like any company bigger than a mom-and-pop needs its employees far far more than it needs managers. After all, without authors, what would publishers have to publish? But the crowning glory comes at the end of the post, with a suggested “submissions” policy:
Publishers wishing to submit proposals for publishing any of author’s books should send them to queries@author.example.com. Proposals should be no more than 250 words and include the amount of the proposed advance, royalty rates for hard copy and ebook editions, the number of years of publishing rights requested and the amount of the guaranteed promotion budget for each book. Proposals that ask for rights for a period of longer than ten years or include ebook royalties of less than 50% of net revenue will not be considered. Regretfully, Author does not have time to respond to proposals that do not meet these requirements.
You can quibble about the details, but this is pretty good. Me, I’d give them more than 250 words to describe what they’re going to do for me. Other commenters said they’d reject proposals that weren’t strictly for print rights (ala Hugh Howey). Seriously, though, publishers are already cherry-picking the blockbuster indies—when they, like they did for Howey, make an attractive enough offer. But there’s a very finite number of indies who have that blockbuster pre-packaged for publishers to poach, and some of them aren’t interested in going traditional at any price. So the bravest and most forward-thinking publishers may soon start looking down-market, hoping to discover authors who haven’t “broken out” yet. They’ll find a hungrier crowd down there, authors that might be willing to jump at a mediocre or worse contract, and many works that require a minimum of preparation (i.e. already edited).

I suspect that will be a future version of the original Hydra/Alibi-type of publishing contract, tempting indies who are willing to trade control of their destiny for an up-front advance or that ephemeral “validation.” Perhaps, like Random House modifying those “e-publishing house” contracts after all the negative publicity they got, there will be a period of adjustment as both traditional and indie authors (and agents) have the opportunity to vet them. Agents will still be relevant, for vetting contracts and keeping everyone honest, but the whole “querying” process might get tossed out the window—if publishers are already expressing interest in an MSS, after all, that would eliminate the need to decide whether they could sell it to that publisher.

These are interesting times. And, as others have said, no better time to be an author.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013 3 comments

Sideloading EPUBs into iBooks

Sideloading: the process of transferring data between two local devices, in particular between a computer and a mobile device [such as an eReader].
— Wikipedia

While a backlit LCD isn’t the best kind of screen for reading eBooks, Apple does make the experience as pleasant as possible with its iBooks app. On an iPhone, it hyphenates long words, to avoid making the margins too horrible. While Stanza is growing ever more outdated, there’s still a need to load EPUBs into a reader, just to make sure they’re right if nothing else. And sometimes, you might buy an eBook from Smashwords that you still want to read on your iOS device.

Fortunately, the process is straightforward.

1. Find your eBook.
When you download an eBook, whether on MacOS or that Microsoft thing, it usually ends up in your Downloads folder. Leave the folder window open on your desktop.



2. Open iTunes.
If you’re like me, you already have iTunes open in the “mini player” view. You need to open the expanded view. If you’re using the latest version, display the sidebar and look for “Books.” Select it to see the books in your library.



3. Drag and drop.
Arrange your Downloads window, and the iTunes window, so you can see them both. Drag your book file into a blank area of the iBooks window. It may take a few seconds for the new book to show up in your library, be patient.



4. Sync and go.
Plug your device in and let it sync. It will automatically copy your new eBooks over.

You can actually do the first three steps in less time than it takes to read this blog post… although the sync process will take a while longer.

Friday, April 12, 2013 14 comments

Joab Dower in the Great Cedar Swamp #4 END (#FridayFlash)

And now we come to the part you’ve all been waiting for… the end…

Part 1Part 2Part 3



Photo Credit: Keith Survell,  Flickr (Creative Commons)
“Thou art no friend of mine,” Dower intoned, “nor of any man who calls himself a servant of the Lord.”

A darkness flowed over and above the altar. “Must it come to this?” the voice whined. “Once I was worshipped as a god, and then I had a place under the glorious stars. And now? Now I languish in this swamp. Thy God has forsaken those whom I hunt on the darkest of nights, old friend. He has not sent any to replace Reverend Martin. Who, I might add, was most tasty.” It paused. “Ahhh. Is this thy consort, or have thou brought me a morsel to feed upon?”

“Get thee behind me, Satan,” Sally snarled.

“A saucy one!” the voice held a hint of amusement. “Joab, I’m surprised. All this time, I thought you preferred boys.”

Dower held up his sword. It glowed in the firelight—or perhaps of its own internal light. “Twice have I defeated thee, Tolet. And the Lord has allowed me to curse thee thus: for thy pride, thy name shalt be ever used for that which receives the unclean things that come out of a man. This third time I confront thee, and thou shalt be banished from this world forever!”

The darkness seemed to recoil, but regathered and grew. Even the fire seemed to dim in this great shadow. “Joab Gideon Dower, I entreat thee a final time,” it said. “Take this woman unto thee. Satisfy thy desire in her flesh, and I will withdraw to a far place where thy kind shall not come, unto the third generation.”

“Never!”

“Then give her to me. Look at her, Joab. See how she grubs in the dirt, like a pig rooting in the midden? She is not worthy of thy attention. Perhaps she might be worthy of mine.”

In a showy maneuver, Dower flicked the sword upward, and shifted his grip to the hilt. He brought it around in the same motion. “Thou hast twice tasted the sword of God’s wrath, Tolet. Now, thou shalt taste it for a final time!”

The whining tone returned. “Men such as thee never see reason.” The darkness coalesced into a shape like unto a man’s, and a sword took flame in its hand. “Then have at thee, Joab. But thou will not find the battle so easy this time!”

The demon Tolet sprang at Dower, who brought up his sword to meet the assault. Light and darkness met, clashed, recoiled.

Sally, casting about in the fickle firelight for what she’d seen in the twilight, spared a glance for the nearby battle. The demon pressed Dower hard, but the preacher seemed to be holding his own. Lord God, she prayed, let me find what I thought I saw here. Let it do what my grandmother said.

Dower held up a crucifix. Wielding it as a shield in his right hand, he slashed and thrust with the sword in his left. Where the demon’s flaming sword struck the crucifix, the flames guttered and flickered, but soon regained their strength away from the symbol of the Devil’s ultimate defeat. Slowly, slowly, Tolet gave ground, backing toward the pagan altar that had housed it for a time. Placing a hand on the stone where so much blood had been shed over so many years, it fed again on the power the altar contained.

“For thy pride!” Tolet shouted, and struck Dower’s sword a mighty blow. Dower was thrown, landing on his back near the fire, his sword falling out of reach. He yet clutched his crucifix, and thrust it at his adversary.

“Ah, Joab.” The demon stood over him. “Where is thy God now?” It brought the sword down, but not where the crucifix could stop it—instead, it laid the flames along Dower’s left hip. Dower gritted his teeth against the searing pain, but did not cry out.

“Oh, Joab, thou will scream,” said Tolet. “I will have that satisfaction. First, when I deal thee a mortal wound, one that will not kill thee right away. When I have done that, I will have my way with thee, and thou will scream again and again. Thou will beg thy God for release. But first, I will tell thee a secret, dear Joab. Thy God has forsaken the world of Man. He is disgusted with those who do my Master’s work in God’s name, and has abandoned thee—indeed, all men—to their own devices. So when I have sated myself in thy dying body, Joab, I shall tear thy soul from its moorings, and carry it to my Master. We have prepared a place for thee, where thou may forever preach to the other damned. And they will laugh in thy face, as the living now laugh behind thy back—”

Tolet’s blasphemous taunt ceased, with the flat report of a pistol shot. A great wad of—something—struck it in the face. It screeched and clawed at the wad, and screamed more as it drove the stuff into its smoky flesh. Dower wasted little time, rolling heedless of the pain in his hip, grasping his sword and slashing through Tolet’s legs, bringing it shrieking to the ground.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost,” Dower snarled, “I consign thee to the depths of Hell, for all eternity!” He took the sword in both hands and drove it into the demon’s chest. Tolet’s final scream rang inside his skull, but the shadow faded and was gone.

“You—you got it?” Sally’s voice was shaky.

“By the hand of Providence,” Dower panted. He lowered himself to the ground, favoring his hip. “What saved me just now?”

Sally sat next to him. “My grandmother said this certain concoction of herbs would repel all evils,” she said. “I thought I saw what I needed to complete it, before it got dark, but then your demon came out. You kept it occupied long enough for me to find it again and make what was needed. It wasn’t enough to send that thing off, but it gave you enough time to get back on your feet. Now let me see to that burn.”

“Nay, woman, do not—”

“Oh, hush.” Sally reached through the remains of Dower’s trousers and laid a hand along his seared flesh. She lowered her head and whispered something, too low for the preacher to catch, but the pain faded.

“What witchcraft was that?” he gasped.

Sally laughed. “You think the devil would heal his mortal enemy? This is a gift that’s been in my family for generations. We can talk the fire out of a burn. It’s a certain Bible verse, that I can only pass on to a descendant. No witchcraft, only a gift from God. You won’t even have a scar.”

“If it is of God, why have I not heard of such a thing?”

“Are you so prideful, that you think you know all of God’s gifts to all His people?”

Dower lowered his head. “I accept your rebuke,” he said. “Now let us pull down this altar, that we may ever rebuke those evil spirits that would make it their home.”


With the altar laying in rubble around them, no stone left standing on another, Dower looked up. “Lo,” he said, “the clouds recede. The darkness upon this land is no more.”

“Amen to that!” Sally grinned.

“I am in your debt, Sally Harper,” the preacher said. “And frankly, I am at a loss as to how to repay it.”

“Well, let’s get back to town, first,” she said. “I don’t want tongues wagging at our spending the night alone in the swamp.”

“And how shall we do that?”

Sally pointed at the sky. “Follow the Irishman.”

“Irishman?”

“O’Ryan!” She laughed. “My mother was Irish, and she loved that jest. In June, his belt points the way out of the swamp.”

“Then we shall be on our way. But returning you home does not fulfill my debt.”

“Good. Because in the morning, I’m going with you.”

“You—what—I say thee nay—” Dower sputtered.

“Oh, hush,” Sally said again. “There’s nothin’ for me, here. And it looks like you could use a little help from time to time. You can teach me the trade, and I know more than what I showed you tonight.”

Dower followed her down the hill, and they struck out across the swamp. “I must pray about this,” he said. “And I suggest you do the same.”

“Oh, I will. But I’ll be up at dawn and ready to go. Now watch your step, the swamp is tricky at night.”

THE END




If you liked this story, you’ll love my anthology Oddities, now available in the Kindle Store and (for Prime members) the Kindle Lending Library. More than a collection of #FridayFlash, Oddities brings you, as book blogger Eric Townsend said, “one entertaining story after another.” Some flash fiction, some short stories, some stories which have never seen the light of blog. Helen Howell said, “what could be better than a nice cup of coffee and a good short story to read” — and at 99 cents, you can still afford that cup of coffee!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013 6 comments

Indie Life/Writing Wibbles

Welcome to the Indie Life edition of Writing Wibbles. Don’t forget to hit the linky at the end, and see what other indies have to say about their travails, triumphs, and tips this month.

Once again, this is a continuation of my previous Writing Wibbles post. Last week, I ranted about someone who did a (deliberately?) bad job of releasing his novel and using that as an excuse to write off the whole indie experience. Of course, I wasn’t the only blogger—especially not the highest-profile blogger—to feed the troll. Chuck Wendig also responded.

Then Salon, perhaps to balance the scales, ran an article by Hugh Howey that said self-publishing is always the better option. I might have commented strictly on that article, had it not been Indie Life week, but Wendig did already, and got rebuttals ranging from polite to “typical Internet rude.” Not the kind of guy to slink into a corner, Wendig came back with a very good point: there is no One True Way.

I have to agree.

There are, contrary to what the simple-minded insist, very few absolutes in life. There are some absolutes, to be sure, but the route to sharing your stories isn't one of them. Self-publishing was what worked best for me, which is not to say it will be best for everyone. I have a couple friends querying their books now, and I cheer them on. In my own case, I found myself with an epic-sized, post-apocalyptic, paranormal non-romance that defies attempts to pigeonhole it into a particular genre. I followed that up with two fantasy novellas, Accidental Sorcerers and The Crossover. Novellas are probably the closest thing, right now, to an absolute “indie is the best way” choice. They’re too long for magazines, and too short for book publishers; but they’re just right for people using eReaders, tablets, or phones. So my course is pretty well set… for now.

Once I digest my way through the first half of the year, I hope to turn my writing efforts to a YA contemporary fantasy trilogy that has been patiently waiting its turn. Once I finish the first book, I may try querying it (but with strict limits on query cycles or time). A handful of sales, after all, is worth far more than an endless stack of “it’s good, but not for us” rejections.

Feel free to share what brought you into the Indie Life in the comments. Thanks for reading, and check out some of the other Indie Life writers this week!





My latest release is Oddities: an Anthology. This is an eclectic collection of flash fiction and short stories. Some are fantasy, some science fiction, and some could go either way (but had to be pigeonholed in one section or another). Book blogger Eric Townsend described it as “one entertaining story after another.” Enjoy a quick story on that bus ride or with your morning coffee—for 99¢, you’ll still be able to afford both the fare and the coffee!

Monday, April 08, 2013 3 comments

Mason, behind the Camera

I’m a little under the weather right now—Mason had a stomach virus that had him barfing all night last week, then the wife got it. Now it’s my turn, but at least I haven’t been barfing. But that won’t stop me from blogging, dangit!

Mason’s photography technique is “point and spray” at the moment. When he gets older, I’ll try to teach him how to do it right, but he still gets some interesting shots. He found the “switch to front camera” button, so now I find some fun little selfies…

Razzzzz…


What does this button do?


Thirsty, Granddad?

Friday, April 05, 2013 13 comments

Joab Dower in the Great Cedar Swamp #3 (#FridayFlash)

The wife said she liked this story! That’s a pretty big deal around here, I usually don’t write stories that she likes to read.

Now, the hero everyone loves to hate prepares to do battle…

Part 1Part 2



Photo credit: Keith Survell, Flickr (Creative Commons)
They ate on the march, jerked beef and hardtack, and reached the hills well before dark. As Dower knelt to pray, thanking the Lord for returning his feet to solid ground, Sally wandered off to forage. She soon returned, her hat brim-full of early-season blueberries. The wholesome fruit reinvigorated their weary bodies, and they soon set forth. Winding their way around or over hills as Sally saw fit, they at last reached a hill thick with trees.

“Do my eyes deceive me,” the preacher asked, “or are those trees growing in circles around yonder hill?”

“That’s the place.” Sally’s voice was almost a whisper. “It’s like that, so you don’t walk up it unawares.”

Dower pressed his lips together. “Well, we are aware. Let us go.” But he made no move forward. “It would be best if you stay well clear of the field of battle, Sally Harper. Remember, the devil is the Father of Lies, and this is one of his unclean children. If it speaks to you, answer it not, for in deceitful words it will seek to trap you. And in the mouth of a demon, even the truth can be a mighty lie. If I fall, run. Run with the Lord’s Prayer on your lips, and your hand on a crucifix. That may be enough to keep it away from you—but better you drown yourself in the foul waters of the swamp, than to find yourself in its clutches. Understand you?”

“Yeah, preacher, I understand. But I’m done runnin’ and hidin’ from this thing out here. That’s my town back there, and so it’s my fight, too.”

“We face worse than death this night.” Dower gave her a stern look.

“You think I don’t know that?” Sally put her arms on her hips and looked up, staring Dower in the face. “I know worse than death. Worse than death is hidin’ in your house like a frightened rabbit on new moon nights. Worse than death is livin’ among men so afraid of their own shadows, none of them dare to court me, because I ain’t a mouse like them. Worse than death is starin’ at your life ahead, seein’ no family in it, no children.” She swallowed. “No purpose. Tonight, I got a purpose, and I ain’t gonna stand and watch it go by.”

Dower returned her glare with his own, but finally nodded. “Then kneel, Sally Harper, and be consecrated unto this task.” Bent over almost double, he dipped a finger in a vial of holy water and drew a cross on her forehead. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I consecrate thee, Sally Harper, and charge thee to be true to the Word. Now arise.”

“You’re the leader now,” she said, standing. “Tell me what I need to know.”

“First, we gather firewood.”


Standing just inside the inmost ring of trees, the two stared at the altar. Its builders had chipped off the tops and bottoms of each stone, so they lay flat upon each other. Three sides were steep slants; the fourth was straight. Its top was a slab of solid stone.

“An altar of sacrifice, I warrant,” Dower whispered, as they laid out the firewood they carried. “Such a dark purpose would, even after centuries, be a fertile garden to nourish the evil spirit.”

“There were rumors,” Sally replied. “This one band would sacrifice their enemies here. Even the other Indians don’t like to tell of it, they say it shames them that their own would do such a thing. But after the white man came, they’d snatch any of us they could, and carry ‘em out here, too. So the whites and the other tribes made an alliance, and killed every last one of ‘em they could find. That was like a hundred years ago. Then, a-course, we run the rest of ‘em off, too.”

“Aye. That is good to know. But speak no further of such things, in this place. This is a night of cleansing.” Dower knelt, took out his tinderbox, and put spark to the dry tinder at the bottom of the pile. As the sun went to slumber, unseen behind the clouds that had hidden it all day, the fire grew. “Prepare thyself for the battle to come, Sally Harper. Put on the gospel armor, as described in the Word, that ye may withstand the onslaught that is to come.”

Sally nodded, and took a flintlock pistol out of her bundle. “Maybe you should consecrate this, too,” she said, loading and preparing it with expert hands. “And if it don’t do for this thing here, maybe it’ll do for me.”

Dower nodded, and said a quick prayer over the weapon. “And I myself did not come unarmed,” he said, drawing a sword from under his cloak.

“Nice pig-sticker,” said Sally, looking over the shining blade and wide cross-guard. “Where did you get that?”

“It came to pass, that in my travels, I was led to preach the Word in a seaside tavern. A drunken Spaniard bade me hush, but I obeyed only the Lord. He drew this sword, and ordered me to smite him, that he might strike off my head in turn. But when I struck him, the Lord Himself smote him as well, and he fell dead at my feet. His companions were sore when I took up his weapon, but none dared press the matter. I carried the blade to one whom I trust, one who preaches the True Word, and he consecrated it to the use of the Lord.” He held it up. “It makes a fine crucifix as well. I had a blacksmith blunt the blade, just below the cross-guard, that I might use it as such. I have found it often as effective in this manner, as for its intended use.”

The dusky gloom deepened. “Ready yourself,” said Dower. “The battle is soon joined.”

“Joab Dower. My old friend.” The voice was oily and a little repulsive.

continued…



If you’re enjoying this story, you’ll love my anthology Oddities, now available in the Kindle Store and (for Prime Members) the Kindle Lending Library. More than a collection of #FridayFlash, Oddities brings you both flash fiction and short stories, some of which have never seen the light of blog. Helen Howell said, “what could be better than a nice cup of coffee and a good short story to read” — and at 99 cents, you can still afford that cup of coffee!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013 10 comments

Writing Wibbles

Feeding the Troll (or, the Winters of Our Discontent)

In today’s column, I’m going to break a long-standing rule of mine and feed a troll. Just this once.

The troll’s name is John Winters, and his bait is called I’m a self-publishing failure (capitalized, or not, exactly as shown). In a nutshell, a journalist who writes for Salon self-publishes a novel, doesn’t do too well with it, and thus gets to write off the entire phenomenon as “the literary world’s version of masturbation.” The condescending tone comes through loud and clear, even when he pretends to be self-deprecating.

Now I’ll be the first to admit: even with five books available, one of which has been fairly successful, I’m still trying to figure out a lot of this—especially the promotion stuff. Still, the methodology that Winters describes in his column just plain reeks of UR DOIN IT RONG. As a journalist and (according to his bio) someone who teaches writing classes at a local college, I’m guessing he knows better. In fact, I’m guessing he deliberately sandbagged the whole process, playing at being the newbiest of newbies, so he could write about the outcome he’d planned all along.

First off, he tells us “Turning my [book] to a title on Amazon took relatively no time at all.” No comment about formatting or editing it, nothing about getting cover art, no agonizing over the synopsis (although, to be fair, he could have done the latter when he was querying). Are we to believe that a journalist/columnist/writing instructor is ignorant of the importance of production values? I’d bet a box of donuts that Winters has editors and artists in his personal address book. It’s not beyond the pale that he could have had both done for sweetheart prices. And (he doesn’t mention this part in the article) he sets a retail price of $9.99. Um… yeah. No wonder he’s not getting any sales. Spending 10 minutes cruising the best-seller list would have shown a lot of titles at $2.99 or less. (Although it’s free as I write this, and doing well enough in the rankings. Maybe his Salon article touched off some interest.)

Next off, Winters goes on to talk about the variety of advertising he did. According to his article, he spent $100 on Google ads, and (reading between the lines) $50 on Facebook to promote a giveaway. Nothing spent at Goodreads, Indie Author News, or any other bookish site, where he might have had at least some return. (I’ll be doing a little advertising later this year, but even now I know that Google and Facebook aren’t the places to advertise books.)

What strains belief most of all (and this article is dated April 1): someone who has the kind of exposure you get writing for Salon, doesn’t think to use it. Well, maybe he did—if Winters has sold 20 copies of a $10 eBook, that’s not bad. But he doesn’t know any book reviewers who would let him jump in line? A positive review on a major site can really kick your sales, after all. Coupled with a reasonable price, there’s no reason that a good book written by an author with connections can’t do quite well.

Winters speaks of two groups of indie writers: the half who make less than $500, and the blockbusters. But what about the (almost) half of us in-between, the hundreds of authors making a decent living, or the thousands with a nice supplementary income? Not a peep. Why not talk about those people if you’re not writing with a pre-determined conclusion in mind?


OK, I’m done feeding the troll. In other news, I received an email from Amazon about a “Kindle Quality Notice” for Accidental Sorcerers. The email calls out a typo and something they call “forced alignment,” which I assume refers to the block-quoted sections. So whoever you are, thanks for the typo catch, and for caring enough to report it. I’ve emailed back to ask for clarification on the “forced alignment” issue, and I’ll update as soon as I know what to fix there.



If you haven’t grabbed my new anthology, Oddities, you’re missing out. Reviews have been pretty positive so far. If you want something to read on your commute, or during a coffee break, you’ll be treated to what Eric Townsend called “one entertaining story after another.”

And you’ll spend a lot more than 99 cents on that cup of coffee! If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you can borrow it, too.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013 4 comments

It Grows On (or all over) You

My God… it's full of pines!
As I’ve mentioned before, the landscaping around FAR Manor is largely invasive, and aggressively so. But it’s not limited to the plants that were planted by former occupants; the native flora is pretty enthusiastic as well.

So, native or exotic, the plants start springing up in places where they’re not wanted. Left alone long enough, they’ll take over completely. Since Saturday was the first really nice weekend day in a long time, I spent the morning cutting firewood from a big deadfall. Then, I spent a pleasant afternoon outside, laying waste to holly and pine trees that were growing where they didn’t need to grow. Those about as big around as my thumb (or smaller), I yanked out of the ground. Up to quarter-size or so, the loppers did for them. Beyond that, it was up to the handsaw. (The chainsaw I reserved for trees roughly 3 inches across or more. A handsaw is actually more convenient for smaller stuff.)

The photo shows a partially-cleared stand near the back corner of the house. I laid waste to all the little pines here, then moved along the side of the house and cleared the path from the driveway to the propane tank. There was also much activity on the opposite corner, where trees were growing right up next to the detached garage, and there are several very tall trees (two cypresses and a holly) that needed lower branches trimmed back. And pines. Pines everywhere. After a timber company cleared them out about six years ago, they tried to spring right back up. Actually, they have, everywhere we haven’t kept them cleared out.

I can hope that next weekend will be equally pleasant. I’m actually taking today off, but only because Daughter Dearest is going in for gall bladder removal. Someone has to watch Mason.

Speaking of Mason, I need to post more of his ad hoc photography soon.

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