Friday, May 31, 2013 14 comments

Chomp! (#FridayFlash)

I don’t know if Mason dreamed it, or just made up a story, but I thought I’d embellish it a little for this week’s #FridayFlash. Yup, I co-authored a story with a three year old. I’ve included the original at the end.



Image source: openclipart.org
“Holy crap.” Lee stopped and stared at the enormous anthill. “That thing’s as tall as me!” He hefted his little bag of fire ant poison, and looked at it and back at the anthill. “Yeah. I’m gonna need more.”

Two hours later, he returned, pulling a wheelbarrow laden with bags of Ant-I-Ant and more safety equipment than he usually needed for one of these jobs. The clearing was deathly quiet. The gnats that followed him through the woods seemed content to be left behind. Lee gave the area a nervous look, then towed his load forward.

He wasted no time, donning his jacket, gloves, and mask. Tearing open four bags, Lee threw the contents across the near side of the anthill, then scuttled back to avoid the dust. When that settled, he’d take the wheelbarrow around the other side—

The loose dirt on the anthill squirmed and shifted, and the ants burst out.

“Oh fffffffff—”

Each ant was 20cm long, easy. Lee gaped, and walked backwards, unable to tear his eyes away—

Something started up his leg. Lee screamed, jumped, and batted at the ant on his calf. It caught his wrist and clamped on. His jacket protected him from the worst of it, but it still hurt!

“Why you son of a!” Lee bellowed. Before he realized what he was doing, he brought his arm up and bit into the ant’s abdomen, crunching through the shell. His mouth filled with the sour taste of ant juice, then it blew a high-pitched warbling fart, squirting alarm pheromones, as it let go. Other ants poured out of the mound, coming to help their comrade.

Lee flung the huge ant across the clearing; the other ants veered away to follow the flying pheromones. He caught a glimpse of more ants piling onto his wheelbarrow as he ran for it.

Spitting and gagging, Lee ditched his reeking jacket and kept running. This wasn’t over. He had a job to do. But he needed some special equipment. Maybe napalm.

And a video camera. Nobody was gonna believe this shit without video. Nobody.



And here’s the original story, as told by a 3-½ year old Mason:

I saw this anthill, and it was huge! Holds hand out at head level So I dumped poison all over it, and the ants came out. One of them bit me, and I bit it back!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013 11 comments

Writing Wibbles

Hooray, I’ve finished cranking in the Water and Chaos beta comments! Of course, that means I can no longer put off writing a synopsis (aka blurb). And this story has been amazingly blurb-resistant. I’ve tried four or five times to get something down, and finally managed to do something on Sunday. I sent it to +Angela Kulig, who shredded the living **** out of it.

You know what that means, right? It means I wrote two more.

Now it’s your turn. Below are the three attempts, plus a few candidate loglines. I’d like to include a brief emailed quote from +Craig Smith, but he hasn’t told me it’s okay to use yet. ;-) So… vote for logline a, b, or c, and blurb 1, 2, or 3, based on which one makes you most interested in reading the book, or “none of the above.” Feel free to suggest modifications, or what worked (or didn’t) in each attempt. And thanks much!

Meanwhile, this article on CreateSpace might be helpful for your own blurbification: How to Write an Effective Book Description.



Loglines

a. What is home, when everything has changed?

b. One does not see. One does not trust. Two are torn apart.

c. Infiltrating a nest of rogue sorcerers can be hazardous… to your heart.



1In the service of the Conclave, Mik returns to Lacota with his mentor and fellow apprentice. A hero’s welcome soon strains his relationship with a homesick Sura. After he and Sura are torn apart by a misunderstanding, Mik volunteers for a mission in a distant land. Far from home, his only friend an exotic girl, Mik must learn where his loyalties lie… and the true meaning of home.



2A hero’s homecoming.
A tragic misunderstanding.
A dangerous mission.

In a distant land, sundered from Sura, his only friend an exotic girl, Mik Dragonrider must learn where his loyalties lie, and Sura must learn to trust.



3Mik and Sura are growing ever stronger as apprentice sorcerers, but neither foresaw the strains that living in Mik’s hometown would put on their relationship. Torn apart by misunderstanding, Mik volunteers for a hazardous mission in a distant land. Now Sura must learn to trust, and Mik must learn the true meaning of home.

Friday, May 24, 2013 15 comments

Authors Behaving Badly (#FridayFlash)

In a parallel universe, this is on one of the cable channels…



Remixed from graphics
on openclipart.org
SFX: upbeat theme music.
Animation: hand dips quill pen into black inkwell, marked with a skull and crossbones. Writes show title.

Voiceover: Look out, readers and reviewers, it’s Authors Behaving Badly!

Animation: hand scribbles across title, revealing:
Interior, library. Penny Dreadful leaning on a table strewn with books and eReaders.

Penny: Welcome to this week’s segment of Authors Behaving Badly. I’m your host, Penny Dreadful. I may host the show, but you make it go! If you see an author behaving badly, let us know! Send the particulars—we love video if you can get it—to abb-alert@abb.example.com! If we use your author in one of our segments, we’ll send you an official “Ink-Splattered Bystander” t-shirt!

Now, let’s go to our first misbehaving wordslinger.

Chyron: CODE YELLOW CODE YELLOW…

Penny: Gator Scott caught indie author Leonard Konrad getting a little huffy in his response to a review on Goodreads. The reply inexplicably disappeared, but Gator saved a screenshot. Mr. Konrad wanted to know, “Did you really read the book I wrote? Maybe you just skimmed it? Or do you have a pink Kindle, like in Stephen King’s UR, that downloads books from parallel universes? I suspect the latter, because your review details have a superficial resemblance to Magic Trip. But anyone reading with a little care and comprehension would have understood that Chapter 1 leaves off in mid-summer and Chapter 2 picks up at the beginning of fall. I could have included those six weeks where the lovers develop their relationship, but then you would have complained about the story being long and boring, instead of overly brief with abrupt scene changes.”

When we emailed Konrad about his outburst, he admitted to writing, then deleting, the reply. He explained, “I thought I knew better than to read reviews when I was drinking, but I went one click too far.” Well, we’ll let you off the hook this time, Leonard, but we’re keeping an eye on you! Makes the “I’m watching you” gesture.

Cut to commercials.

Black screen, giant red letters flashing CODE RED!. SFX: buzzer.

Cut to: exterior. Penny, holding microphone, standing on small-town sidewalk. Low palm trees sit in corner planters.

Penny: For our Big Blowup of the Week, we travel to Houma, Louisiana, between the swamps and the sea. Houma is known mostly as a bedroom community for oil services companies, but it’s also the home-a best-selling author Andrea Wheat! Wheat has made a lot of dough off her blockbuster horror series, Biker Ghoul of New Orleans, but the critics were unkind to the fifth book, Hurricane Nights.

Animation/overlay: cover of Hurricane Nights tumbles onto the screen, landing in the corner. Penny continues.

Penny: Many suggested the series had run out of gas, and now it was time for Andrea to put down the kickstand and start something new. But undaunted, her publisher released Book 6, Floating Crypts, last month. Even some of her long-time fans had trouble finding nice things to say about this one. “After Hurricane Nights, I really hoped that would be the end,” said one. “She’s dragged this one out too long.”

Closeup of Penny. But if the fans were dismayed, the critics were apoplectic. Reviewer Kim Flameside wrote, “It’s appropriate that Wheat writes for Random House, because this story was completely random. It seems to be nothing more than scenes from previous books, thrown into a blender, and poured onto the page. This series is two books past its prime, but the temptation to stick with a moneyspinner is hard to overcome.”

Cut to: interior, apartment building. Wheat took particular umbrage to Flameside’s review, spotlighting what she called the “nastier passages” on her blog and inviting her enormous fanbase to share their thoughts. And share them they did! Not only did they inundate Flameside’s blog with insults and outright threats, some tracked down his address and phone number.

Cut to: interior. Man on sofa, face pixelated. Title: Kim Flameside.

Flameside: When I started getting death threats on my answering machine, I got out of Dodge. I’ve changed my town, my car, my phone, and I’m thinking about changing my name. All this, over one review of a seriously flawed book!

Fade to: answering machine. Penny voiceover. This is the message that Flameside said was the last straw.

Voiceover: woman’s hysterical voice. Titling: transcript. You’re jealous, you stupid bleeep! If you had one percent of the talent that Andrea Wheat has, you’d be writing your own books instead of tearing down the hard work of great people! When I come to Memphis and find your bleeep little powder-blue Accord, I’m gonna run you off the road. And then, I’m gonna bleeep you up! You better have your will in order, is all I got to say. Click

Penny: Andrea Wheat turned down our request for an interview. Her publicist had no comment, but Wheat did have this to say in email: “I can’t be responsible for every random person who uses my name to justify their actions. I don’t condone violence, or threats of violence. But maybe reviewers shouldn’t hide behind a keyboard and take potshots at authors’ hard work, without expecting a little backlash from time to time.”

And that’s where it stands. We had dozens of people send us this sordid tale. So many, in fact, that we’re putting your names in a hat. Ten of you will receive our official “Ink-Splattered Bystander” t-shirt. As for Kim Flameside, he tells us that he stands by his review, and will review other books, but with comments turned off for now. ABB has offered him a co-host spot. And Andrea Wheat has earned her place in the not-so-coveted ABB Red List!

Fade to: logo animation. That’s all for this week. Remember to support your local authors… unless they’re behaving badly!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013 6 comments

Writing Wibbles

The Pickups and Pestilence launch party is over, the prizes have been handed out… and White Pickups is still 99¢. I think I’ll wait for the holiday weekend to finish before resetting the price. If you’ve been sitting on the fence, you still have a few more days to get it at a discount!

I’ve finally begun the post-beta phase for Water and Chaos. The final third of the title describes the situation pretty well… maybe that’s a little exaggerated, but there’s a fair amount of work to be done. One of the beta readers went in deep, and found a lot of things that the editor would have caught… but the tighter everything is before edit time, the quicker that should get turned around!


Formatting eBooks has suddenly become a hot topic in the last week or so—it’s shown up both in a Goodreads forum I frequent, and in my Twitter feed. Strange, how all this is coming together all at once… I’m working on a “Best Practices” document for work, right after diving in and producing optimized files for Pickups and Pestilence. I thought I’d share the beginnings of some general principles for setting up eBooks here. Be warned: I do get somewhat dogmatic about this stuff. Most of you who read this blog are younger than I am, and you guys are supposed to be the generation that “gets” computers. ;-) Just sprinkle IMO, IMHO, or IMNSHO as needed.

So… what I call the First Principle of formatting eBooks, is widely known in programming circles as the Principle of Least Surprise, or the Principle of Least Astonishment. When producing eBooks, this simply means Respect the defaults. All of them. People expect to be able to set their font, type size, spacing, and so on, in their eBook readers. You need a very good reason to override that expectation—children’s books and comic books are two good examples. Fortunately, this makes your job easier, too—your CSS (styles) is shorter and easier to maintain.

This leads to the second principle: KISS (Keep It Simple, Silly!). A work of fiction isn’t a complex technical document, and I’ve formatted many of those in my day job. You have paragraphs of body text, section breaks, chapter titles. Plus a few special things you’ll do in the title page, and various highlighting in the body text. Each of these gets a “class” name. You should have a dozen or less, all told, including the classes used only on the title page. The other part of KISS is to eliminate anything that isn’t absolutely required to format your book.


More to come later. Lots of eyeball-melting details.

Monday, May 20, 2013 5 comments

Winning!

I appreciate all who came by to offer well-wishes, or even just to enter the raffle!

So who won?!

You really want to know? OK…

Kindle 4: Bessamy S.
$20 Amazon gift card: Chuck Allen
All my eBooks: EJ Hobbs
Pickups and Pestilence: Erin Albert

Congrats, everyone! I’ve emailed the winners using the addresses they left in the rafflecopter… so if you don’t get your email, check your spam filter or contact me here. I’ll get the prizes out as soon as I get confirmations.

Friday, May 17, 2013 16 comments

End. Begin. (#FridayFlash)

Just a reminder, the Pickups and Pestilence release party goes on through the weekend. Links to free books, 99-cent books, and a chance to win a Kindle 4, a $20 Amazon gift card, and books....

Image source: clker.com
The bartender waved from his post as Nick entered. One or two curious patrons turned to look him over, then went back to their own pursuits.

“You must be new,” the bartender greeted him. “What’cha having?”

“I need to make a phone call,” said Nick. “I totaled my car about a mile back, and I don’t know what happened to my cellphone. It must still be in the car, somewhere.”

“Bad one, I guess.” The barkeep began filling a huge mug from a keg behind him.

“Yeah. I don’t know how I walked away from it. I don’t even remember getting out. Musta been a helluva jolt. I need to let my wife know I’m okay, and get a wrecker out there. I’m sure the cops will want to know, they won’t pass up the chance to write me a ticket.”

“Yup. First one’s on the house.”

Nick looked at the mug in front of him. “First and last, for me. I’ll be working on that all night!”

“New guy?” A woman took the stool next to Nick. “Buy a girl a drink?”

The newcomer looked to be about Nick’s age, not bad looking, especially for forty. Still… “Um, sorry, miss,” he said. “I’m married.”

“Gina, give the poor guy a minute,” the bartender admonished. “He’s got a lot to deal with.”

“Oh, that’s alright,” said Gina. “Don’t worry about your marriage. ‘Till death do you part,’ right?” She chuckled, then waved at the bartender. “Gimme what he’s having.”

The bartender gave Gina the requested mug, and a wireless phone to Nick. “Good luck,” he said.

Nick wondered what that meant, but nothing happened when he pushed Talk. “No dialtone,” he said. “Do you hit nine to get out?”

“Phones don’t work here most of the time.” The bartender shrugged and laid the phone on the shelf.

“So what happened?” Gina asked Nick, taking a generous drink.

“It was stupid,” Nick sighed. “I was playing music off my phone. Dark Side of the Moon finished up, so I started pulling up another album. I took my eyes off the road, next thing I know I’m looking at the wreckage.”

“Well, at least you just have you to worry about.” Gina looked miffed. “Some stupid drunk kid plastered me.”

“Ow, that—”

“It’s all right,” she said. “It wasn’t you. Besides, it didn’t hurt for long.” She gave him a significant look.

“Pink Floyd’s a good one to go out on, though,” said the bartender. “I could think of worse.”

Highway to Hell,” Gina laughed. “Definitely not a good omen.”

Nick looked back and forth between the two. “If that’s a joke, it ain’t funny,” he said at last.

“No joke.” The bartender locked eyes with Nick, and Nick shuddered at what he saw in those depths. “You’re here with us. Your body… well, it’s back there in what’s left of your car.”

Nick took a big drink, emptying a third of his mug at once. “Um, aren’t you supposed to wear a hood and carry a sickle?”

“Scythe. That was a scythe. I’m like everyone—almost everyone else. I change with the times. I did the Grim Reaper thing back in the plague days. I’ll wear different guises for different people, different cultures. The important thing is, I took you out of that mess you made and set your feet in this direction. You ready for another?”

Nick nodded and pushed the mug across the bar. “If I—well, what do I do now? Isn’t there some kind of judgement or something?”

“Not right away. You screwed up, and it killed you, but you weren’t hurtful or selfish in life. So you get to hang out a while. It’s like being reborn, in a way. None of your ties in life come with you.”

“The band will be starting up soon,” said Gina, putting a hand on Nick’s arm. “Grimm usually gets someone decent. Not Elvis or Jimi Hendrix, but still good. We can dance forever.” She grinned.

“I—I’ve never been a guy who hangs out in bars,” said Nick.

“Don’t worry about that,” said Death. “Everything changed for you when you hit that tree. The two of you will learn who you really are, together, and then it’ll be time for the next step.”

“Which is?” Nick and Gina asked together.

“That is not for me to know,” Death sighed. “But you might go to your final reward. Or you might be reborn. All I know is, when you’re judged, you will judge yourselves.”

“That’s scary,” said Gina, and Nick nodded.

Death poured a third. “A toast,” he said. “To endings. To beginnings. They are one and the same, after all.”



Casting about for an idea, it was +Helen Howell who gave it to me in a guest post about the Tarot. “All things go on even in death, it’s just that they may not go on in the same way as before.”

Thursday, May 09, 2013 22 comments

Stonebelly the Dragon (#FridayFlash)

To celebrate the release of my new book, Pickups and Pestilence, I’m running a giveaway for my anthology Oddities through Saturday (May 11). If everyone who reads this #FridayFlash downloads a copy, I’ll be a happy writer!

Oh, and check out the Release Day post—there’s other goodies, links to interviews and reviews, and a Kindle 4 up for grabs!



The Unlikely Tale of Stonebelly the Dragon

Image source: openclipart.org
Once upon a time, in the Strange Lands north of Aht-Lann-Tah, in a cave dug into the side of a mountain, lived Stonebelly the Dragon. Stonebelly mostly dwelt in peace, having roasted and eaten all the brave (but stupid) knights that thought to spit him on their lances. Mostly.

One summer morning, Stonebelly awoke to the scent of a human, walking up the steep path to his cave. He raised his head and peered over the edge. He saw: one old man, wearing a uniform but no armor, leading a cow by a halter. The cow wore a bell, and the clunking noise preceded them up the mountainside. Being an old dragon, Stonebelly was patient. He laid down to wait.

“Good dragon?” he heard at last. He lifted his head to see the old man, standing at the edge of the cave mouth. The cow looked resigned. Stonebelly understood the languages of most animals, and this one told him, Just eat me. Better that than walking back down the mountain.

The dragon snatched up the cow and swallowed it in two gulps. It didn’t suffer much. The old man, however, looked ill. “Please don’t eat me, too,” he begged.

“I had to quit,” Stonebelly assured him. “You’d give me indigestion these days. I presume that you want something from me? Humans don’t exactly bring free gifts.”

“Aye,” said the old man. “Crown Prince Chowming is held captive by the Rival Kingdom. We need him returned, by any means necessary.” He wrung his hands. “Just bring him home safely. Does that sound alright?”

The dragon put a huge claw to his flinty face, and scratched himself behind the ears. Humans still didn’t realize that was a secondary erogenous zone. “Needs more cowbell,” said Stonebelly, lowering his claw. He jiggled his head; the cowbell, dangling from a lower tooth, clunked again. He gave the human a significant look.

“Oh, aye, there’s plenty more where that came from!” the old man beamed.


Stonebelly flew among the clouds, contemplating the habits of humans. Not for nothing are these the Strange Lands, he thought, not for the first time. But he thought he might enjoy this little task—the Rival Kingdom had shortchanged him a (human) generation ago, when he had done a little service for them. They’d likely forgotten, but a dragon’s memory is long. Wreak a little havoc, rescue the prince, wreak a little more havoc, take the prince home, gorge himself on cattle. Not a bad plan, he thought.

Reaching Rival Castle, he loosed a resounding, roaring belch of flame. I need to slow down when I eat, he thought, but the effect was most entertaining. Guards on the castle wall ran for their lives, or fainted on the spot. He swept over the wall…

Oh, no. In the great courtyard, he saw Prince Chowming, bound hand and foot, propped up next to a stern young woman in a flowing white gown. Humans get so irrational when you interrupt their mating rituals, he thought. The guests—and the bishop—scattered to the winds. Prince Chowming stood his ground, only because he couldn’t move, and the bride-to-be-bereft slipped behind him.

“Begone, foul dragon!” the woman snarled.

“Glad to,” said Stonebelly. “But the prince comes with me.” The prince raised one eyebrow, and Stonebelly winked. Chowming gave a sigh of relief.

“Never! He’s mine! I stole him fair and square!”

“Look,” said the dragon, growing annoyed. “I’m taking him home. If you don’t give me any grief about it, I’ll forget the little matter of your mother cheating me, back in the day.”

The young woman’s eyes grew wide. “You remember—” She stretched out her hand, and a swarm of wasps leaped for Stonebelly’s eyes.

The dragon recoiled, and loosed a tiny puff of fire—just enough to turn the swarm into a constellation of sparks, fluttering to the ground. He stomped, making the ground shake. “Enough, puny human!” he roared, and the woman fled, letting Chowming fall over.

“Climb on,” he told the prince, offering a claw. Chowming hopped to him, and Stonebelly sliced through the ropes with a talon.

“I’m so glad to be out of that!” the prince sighed. “She was going to make me…” he shuddered. “Princess Hatchet is not subtle. Or kind.”

“Aye,” said the dragon. “I have the urge to wreak a little havoc. Payback, you know. Would you rather I leave you somewhere safe while I attend to it?”


After gorging himself on the cattle of the royals and rich families, Stonebelly flew Chowming home before returning to his cave. There, he curled up and slept for four months. Princess Hatchet tricked a traveling merchant into marrying her, and Prince Chowming played golf and drank beer whenever he pleased. And they all (except the merchant) lived happily ever after.

Release Day!

Launch Cannon: Fire!
Come back often over the next several days, there will be updates. The raffle is now in place!

I’m both happy and relieved to send Pickups and Pestilence on the greatest road trip of all: into your Kindles, Nooks, tablets, and computers! So, it’s time to celebrate!

First off, White Pickups is on sale for 99¢ all week. If you haven’t grabbed the book that Michael Tate said “should be heralded as the poster child for how self-publishing should be done,” grab it while it’s 66% off! If you’ve already bought it, download a fresh copy to get an edition with a new cover and a handful of typos squashed. (Updated edition may not be everywhere at this moment, but it’s coming.)

If you haven’t grabbed my anthology Oddities yet, it’s FREE on Amazon through Saturday. I think I’ve gone crazy… I’d like to see at least 100 downloads a day. So tell everyone about what book blogger Eric “Frodo” Townsend called “one entertaining story after another.” Help them download it. Whatever it takes. Hey, it’s free, right? This giveaway’s over. Thanks to all who downloaded! But it’s still only 99¢ for now. If you still want some free reading, my fantasy novella The Crossover is ready to take you far from home (and bring you back).


OK, now for the blurbage and linkage:
“Humanity decides its own fate and the means by which it comes.”

War, locusts, vermin. The world continues adjusting to the Truckalypse, and to the sudden disappearance of billions of people, seeking a new balance. People in Laurel Hills and elsewhere survive and try to rebuild what they can.

When a vision reveals the nature of the trucks, it is young Cody Sifko who must become humanity’s champion. His friends—and the enigmatic Delphinia—will stand with him, but he must face his inner demons alone.

Pickups and Pestilence takes you on a ride from suburban Atlanta, to the heights of Heaven and the depths of Hell. Buckle up and hang on!

A couple places around the net where you can hear from both author and characters (and others):
And now, the part you’ve all scrolled down past the other stuff for: the prizes! ;-) Click the arrows to see what's up for grabs.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, May 08, 2013 5 comments

Interview with Helen Howell (Writing Wibbles)


I'm dedicating today's Writing Wibbles to a regular visitor to TFM, Helen Howell. Helen's book, I Know You Know, deserves more of a spotlight than I can shine on it, but I'll do what I can. :-) After the interview, check out the links!


WHO ARE YOU?
The darkest cards in the tarot deck reveal the darkest side of the man sitting opposite Janice—Mr. Edgar Kipp.

She feigns an inability to read for him, but will he believe her? His parting words indicate that he knows she knows he's a serial killer. And he plans to return.

The voice of her dead grandmother urges her to be careful, warning Janice she might be seeing her own future in those foreboding cards.

But Janice doesn't want to listen. Gran's dead.

How can she possibly help her?



TFM: How do you make time to write—do you schedule it, or grab open moments? Is there a particular place where it's easiest to write?

Helen Howell: I'm retired from the work force, so I can really choose when I want to write. I'm very undisciplined and write all over the place. The biggest trick is not allowing social media to distract me too much; it's very easy to lose a couple of hours on Twitter or FB just catching up on what everyone is doing.

I'm very lucky; since my son moved out, I have turned his old bedroom into my writing room. So I totally have my own space, which I have found is a great benefit. I just shut the door when I don't want to be disturbed, but I do allow my husband to come in and bring me those endless cups of tea. I really need to get back into a schedule if I want to realise some of the projects I have in mind. Since completing both Jumping At Shadows and I Know You Know I have allowed the schedule to slip away, resulting in my undisciplined writing habits. But I do plan to get back to them, as I have another idea of a novel that will need lots of work. I also want to put together a couple of collections, ghost stories and my noir, and some of these stories will need expanding.

TFM: Do you prefer keyboarding, or pen(cil) and ink, for first drafts?

HH: Oh I'm so used to my keyboard now that normal writing does feel strange. I tend to do everything on the computer even though I carry a note book around with me, I always come back to the keyboard to put those ideas into some order.

TFM: You self-published your first book, Jumping at Shadows, and went through Crooked Cat Press for I Know You Know. What do you think are the important differences between self-publishing and small-press (SP vs SP)? What are the similarities?

HH: Interesting question. ^_^ I think I'll cover self publishing first. As you know, one does all the formatting, and arranges the cover design themselves, (or you can employ someone to do it for you), along with promotion, etc. Editing, you have a couple of choices as a self-publisher. You can hire an editor or use beta readers which are excellent, in order to discover if your story has plot holes, transitional problems, grammatical errors etc. before making the final edits and publishing. Most formats are e-books and again it depends on your financial situation whether you decide to do a printed edition as well.

With a small press, the formatting is taken care of. They will research a cover design for you, and offer you alternatives until you reach an agreement. You get assigned an editor and work one on one with them. I found this to be a very smooth experience. Working with one person whose job is to help you make your story the best it can possibly be, with no plot holes, etc. was less confusing than having to deal with three or more people's different perspectives on your work. Although you do have to do as much promotion for your book as you would when you self publish, a small press sometimes has a bigger reach than you can have by yourself. The other advantage of course is that the small press will have a readership following that your book gets exposed to. With the small press I went with, they also offer my novella not just as an e-book but also as a paperback.

I guess the big difference between self publishing and small press is that the small press does all the hard work for you and leaves you just to think about writing and promotion.

TFM: The settings in both of your books have an English feel to them, even though you live in Australia. Why, as an American, would I get that impression?

HH: Ah that's because I was born in England and lived there until I was 31. Even though I have now lived in Australia for 30 years, those early impressions as I grew up are what stay with me. I went to school there. Experienced the wonderful sixties there, married and had my son in England. I guess my English upbringing is deep seated and although Australia is a wonderful country, those early impressions are what colour my writing.

TFM: The main character in I Know You Know is a fortune-teller, who learned the trade from her grandmother. You yourself are skilled with the Tarot, and belonged to a professional association. If you don't have a grandmother in the trade, how do you get training? What qualifies a person to become a professional?

HH: What makes one a professional? That's also an interesting question. Within the Tarot world, there is a lot of discussion about whether there is any need for a professional certificate or not. I can only speak from my own experience. I've owned tarot decks since the 1970's, and I spent a lot of time studying the cards. During my learning period (I was self-taught), I spent up to 2-3 hours a day studying and doing reading exercises. I learnt not just traditional meanings, but also the numerology associated with the cards, colour symbolism etc. I don't hold with the idea you don't need to learn the traditional meanings, and just look at the cards and say what comes into your head. You might as well be reading a cornflake packet. Tarot has a history, and a good grounding in their basic traditional meanings will always help you do a good reading. If you only rely on intuition, what happens when it fails you? Whereas if you have a grounding in their meanings and your intuition leaves you, you can still do a decent reading, but when your intuition kicks in, that reading turns into something really special. Tarot cards in themselves are not the magic, the reader's ability to interpret them is what is the magic.

To become a Professional Member of the Tarot Guild of Australia as I did, (although I have retired from that Guild now), I sat an exam paper and answered various questions and scenarios that involved how the cards could be interpreted. I logged X amount of readings for others that was required and I did live readings for the panel of judges.

But does that make you a professional? What it does show, is that you have a good knowledge of the cards and are able to read for others. I think what makes you a professional is your ethics. Here we touch on other subjects where some agree and others disagree. For instance do you do predictive readings or pro-active?

When you predict for someone, you are telling them what will happen. When you do pro-active readings, you allow the questioner to take responsibility for their own decisions and you help them, with the aid of the insights from the cards, to make the best choice for themselves. Having said that, there is always a certain amount of predictiveness within a reading, but it becomes pro-active when you show the questioner the alternatives and choices they can make to change outcomes. No future is set in stone.

I think for me, being professional was about aiming to always empower my clients and to remain aware that as a reader one has a responsibility for what they say and how they say it. The certificate alone doesn't make you a professional, it's the way you take responsibility for what you say and how that influences another's life that really counts. You don't need a certificate to say you can read the cards, but in my own humble opinion, it is the way you conduct those readings that does or does not make you a professional.

TFM: Which would you rather have: universally glowing reviews and forty sales; or mixed reviews and a thousand+ sales?

Ah well, we authors do like to hear nice things about our writing. But mixed reviews I think are part and parcel of the deal and hey, if you've sold a thousand+ books, you've gotta be doing something right haven't you? So I'd be going for the latter. I think we as authors do have to accept that not everyone will enjoy what we write, just as we don't enjoy everything that others write. So give me a thousand sales any day, because I think that is a greater reward to know many are reading your books rather than just a few.

TFM: Having experienced both, I have to agree with you. So, is there going to be a sequel to Jumping at Shadows?

I did think I would write a sequel, and I do have an idea that keeps popping up every now and again, just to remind me it's there. Will I write it though? That's something I can't answer truthfully right now.

TFM: Are you working on anything new? What can you tell us about it?

HH: At the moment all I'm working on is Wizard, which I'm showing as a serial on my website. I do think that I will probably publish this when it's done. Wizard is another fantasy, and would appeal to YA and adults who like fantasy. It's a more complicated plot than Jumping At Shadows was, as there are sub-plots going on around the main plot. Writing it as a serial is helping me sort it out at a slower pace than if I was just writing it as a novel. There's a dark Wizard and an evil Witch, there's an apprentice Wizard and a girl who knows more than she should. ^_^

TFM: Picture yourself sitting in your favorite public venue, working on your next book. Someone sees what you're doing, and asks how they can get started writing. What do you tell that person?

HH: I think I would tell them to do what I did in the very beginning, just write about anything. The first thing I ever wrote about was what I saw and experienced on my afternoon walk. I think it doesn't matter what you write about, it's the act of writing that's important. I would also suggest that they join a writing group, whether it be in real life or on line. There is nothing like the encouragement from other writers to help you get started and keep going. I would tell them that writing is a skill that has to be learnt and you can only learn it by doing it. I would also suggest reading as much as you can on writing. The internet has a vast array of writing sites, all offering guidance of how to write better. But the most important thing I would say is just do it.



Helen is a fiction writer, who writes in several genres which include fantasy, noir, horror and humour. She has written several short stories, flash fictions and poems. Her work has appeared in both e-zines, anthologies and print publications. In July 2012 her debut Novella, Jumping At Shadows, a fantasy fiction for 9 years-adults, was published as an e-book. February 2013 her Novella I Know You Know, a psychic thriller for adults, was published by Crooked Cat Publishing.

She is a member of Friday Flash Dot Org. and is a regular participant in writing Friday Flash.

You can find Helen's flash fiction, short stories, drabbles, poems and serials at her website: helen-scribbles.com

I Know You Know is published by Crooked Cat and available from:

Amazon, as both an e-book and paperback: Amazon.com   Amazon.co.uk

Crooked Cat Books as an e-book.

Smashwords as an e-book.

Jumping at Shadows:
When Belle discovers the secret of a family heirloom, she and her friend Rosy are propelled into a world of the shadows—the same shadows that have been haunting Belle all her life. Soon Belle realises that the future rests in her hands, and only she can keep the magic of her ancestors from falling into the clutches of a dangerous mad man.

Jumping At Shadows is available from Smashwords.

Thursday, May 02, 2013 13 comments

Excerpt: Pickups and Pestilence (#FridayFlash)

What a long trip it’s been: three and a half years. But Pickups and Pestilence is back from the editor, and it’s rolling out on Thursday, May 9! To celebrate, here’s a little excerpt…



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There came a break in the monotonous truck traffic, and Cody stood on his pedals. “Let’s get this dam ride started!” He led them into the road.

“Good to be out and about again!” Stefan laughed.

“You’ve been out,” said Palmer, drafting behind him.

“Yeah, but not for a real trip!”

“I’m kind of surprised Elly didn’t give me a lot more grief about making this run,” Cleve told Tina. “She likes to keep me close, like I’m gonna disappear if her back’s turned.”

“You’re probably the best thing that ever happened to her, Cleve,” Tina replied. “She doesn’t want to lose that, I’m sure. She’s had a hard life.” Elly, a former nursing student, had become homeless after assaulting a doctor who had sexually harassed her.

Behind Cleve, Delphinia pedaled along, her cloak and long blonde hair waving, her Braves cap dangling on the handlebars. She hummed quietly, and an occasional note reached Max behind her. Tim brought up the rear, pulling the other trailer and marveling at how well things had started. Behind them, the white pickups bunched up, biding their time, passing when it was clear. After a couple of miles, they—and the trucks—had to dodge the occasional limb or tree in the road, leftovers from January’s ice storm that they hadn’t started clearing. They took a brief break at Peachtree Industrial, waiting for a chance to cross, but everyone was comfortable with the pace.

Just past the halfway point, a little north of Highway 20, a huge tree blocked both lanes. They had to portage the bikes and trailers over it. The upside was that they had the road to themselves for nearly a mile afterward.

As they passed a church, Tim called over the handheld radio: “Cody, stop!”

Cody braked and thumbed the mike. “What’s up?”

“Delphinia swerved off at that church. She’s taking down the letters on their sign.”

“Do we need to turn around?”

“Not for now. Just pull everyone off. If she’s gonna be a while, I’ll let you know.”

Cody make a rude noise and stopped, waving down the others.

In the church parking lot, Tim and Max watched her work. The sign in question read, on both sides:

JESUS
PICKUP
YOUR
PEOPLE

Tim tried to remember Delphinia looking angry about anything before this, and couldn’t, but now she looked furious. Even her hair seemed to billow and toss as she snatched letters off the sign, in alphabetical order, stacking them in her hand. She muttered as she stormed to the other side and took down those letters.

With the sign clear, she closed her eyes and laid her head and free hand against it for a moment, then stomped up the steps and tried the front door. Finding it open, she stepped inside then returned after a few seconds. Her emotional storm had passed; she looked cheerful as ever as she remounted her bicycle. “I am finished here,” she said, “please forgive the delay.” She pedaled away, Max close behind. Tim radioed Cody, pushed hard to catch up, and they resumed the ride.

• • •

The group stopped again when they reached Buford Dam Road, taking a short water and snack break in the parking lot of an empty restaurant. “About a mile to go,” said Tim, looking at the map.

“There’s people around,” said Cody, stepping out the door of the restaurant. “They cleaned the kitchen out totally. I think they even took some of the pots.” He rejoined the others.

“How’s the leg doing, Stef?” Palmer asked his partner.

“Pretty good, actually,” Stefan smiled and flexed it. “A little stiff, but I need to finish getting it built back up. Good thing we set an easy pace, though. Can’t wait to get back in shape!”

“You’ll get there.” Palmer gave Stefan a brief hug, a rare public display of affection.

“We ready?” asked Cody, jumping on his bike. “Let’s roll.”

“A kind word turns away wrath,” Delphinia told him, gazing at him with those deep blue eyes before mounting her ride, her own wrath forgotten. Cody shrugged, waited for a break in the truck traffic, and led them out. After a mile, the road reached the lake and Cody stopped again to look at the water. Nobody objected.

“Looks okay,” said Tim, looking out over the lake. Judging from the erosion above the water, the lake looked two feet short of full. “Maybe there’s some automated systems still working.” The water itself lapped at the shore, blue-green and sparkling in the mid-morning sunshine. “Let’s go find out,” he said. “We’ll have a look at the control room, maybe, then we can set up camp at one of the parks and do a little fishing.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Cleve. “Where’s the park?”

“There’s several. Three or four up the road, two more on either side of the river below the dam.”

“Let’s try the first park, then.”

“Yeah, my thoughts exactly.”

The first park was promising—there was a management office, but it was empty. They found nothing else at the first and second parks, on the right side of the road, but then Cody saw a sign that said POWERHOUSE, on the left. He pointed to the sign and made the turn, banking into the entrance. “Shit!” he yelled. He locked his brakes and swerved; the bike and trailer skidded to a halt. “Barricade!” Palmer and Stefan split and went around either side of Cody, braking hard. The others, alerted to trouble, slowed and stopped without incident. They bunched together around the barricade.

“Everyone okay?” Cody asked. “Sorry. I shoulda been paying attention better.”

“Me, too,” said Cleve, looking past Cody. “Everybody, off the bikes. No sudden moves.”

Cody turned to look. Not far from the barricade, partly obscured by dappled shade, stood a man in camo. Cody thought and Cleve knew, he carried an automatic weapon.

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