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Friday, February 22, 2013 17 comments

Anti-Hero (#FridayFlash)

Chirp, the computer said.

“Hunh,” said Helmut Harr, better known as the supervillain Pulse. That chirp meant he’d received a DM on Twitter, which didn’t happen often. He kept a low profile online, routing his access through several hacked PCs and an anonymizing relay or three. His Twitter account followed a few random normals and the known superheroes and supervillains. Even mortal enemies had to communicate on occasion. Harr shrugged and closed his solitaire game. He gave the tweet a curious scowl:
Captain Heroic (ret.)
You have HNN on? Go check it out.
Vas ist…?” he muttered, then shrugged and ambled into the living room. HNN was often useful for tracking movements of the enemy, giving villains windows of opportunity, and that was the channel the TV came up to most days.

Harr gasped at the title on the screen: “Pulse: Supervillain or Folk Hero?” He gaped at the parade of normals being interviewed. “About time someone took Wall Street down!” “Yeah, Pulse, stick it to the Man!” “He did more for normal people in ten seconds than all the superheroes combined have done in ten years!”

They cut back to the studio, where Betty Kanaka (so easy on the eyes, Harr thought) anchored the desk. “It was an audacious caper,” she said. “Pulse managed to gain entry to the server rooms at Goldman Sachs headquarters, and the Skyscraper City branch of Bank of America, and left them a smoking ruin. Computers, routers, disk drives, security systems—all completely destroyed. Statements issued by both banks claim that no data was lost, and disaster recovery plans allowed them to function normally within a few hours.”

“Ha. No data lost.” The fact was, Pulse had hacked into Bank of America and deleted several hundred mortgages from the system (including his own), along with about ten thousand foreclosures (including one for Jaguar, a supervillain who’d had a run of bad luck lately). The EMP attacks covered his tracks, and he’d hit Goldman Sachs just because they were assholes.

“Pulse has not yet issued a statement, nor has he responded to our emailed questions.”

Harr muttered a curse in German. He only checked his email once a week, and most of it was spam anyway.

“The FBI has reiterated their standing offer of a two-million dollar reward to anyone who can positively identify Pulse, or bring him to justice. For HNN, I’m Betty Kanaka.”

Harr hit the Power button on the remote, and returned to his computer. The DM window was still up, so he typed his question to Captain Heroic: WTF?
Captain Heroic (ret.)
You thinking about switching sides?

Nein. No. Hell no.

Captain Heroic (ret.)
Hey, I’d come out of retirement if you did. Might be fun to work together.

I had personal reasons.
He opened his email, and found the questions from HNN buried in about two hundred offers for reverse mortgages, horny married women, Nigerian ancestors, timeshares, discreet pharmacies, and the like.
Captain Heroic (ret.)
So what’s next?

Spammers. I hate opening my email these days.

Captain Heroic (ret.)
So you’ve already switched sides. If you need help with that one, let me know.

Captain Heroic (ret.)
Miss Siles wants a piece of spammer. Or some spammers in pieces.

Captain Heroic (ret.)
But keep it online. She’s… distracting to work with in person.

So I’ve heard. I’ll keep that in mind.
“No time like the present,” he said, opening the HNN message. He scanned the vacuous questions, clicked Reply, and typed: Those who make a supervillain look like a hero, should take a good long look in the mirror. Yesterday, big banks. Tomorrow, spammers. Do not think of this as switching sides, rather I am eliminating the competition. He clicked Send, and smiled.

Friday, February 15, 2013 20 comments

The “Toy” Laser (#FridayFlash)

Hooray, I’m flashing again! Thanks to Eric J. Krause, once again, whose writing prompt got this one started. And of course, since it has a sci-fi nod, I had to go to the Pulp-O-Mizer and make a “cover” for it. I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the foreground graphics has a kid holding a laser gun…

Source: Pulp-O-Mizer
“It’s three-thirty, Tyler. Time to go.”

“Aww, Dad! Can’t I ride the Rocket Sled? One more time?”

“Sorry, Tyler.” Kyle turned off his phone alarm. “I promised your mom that I’d have you home by four-thirty. Besides, you’re about worn out. Keep your grades up, and we’ll come back some time.”

“She doesn’t care.” Tyler’s shoulders sagged. “I’m not tired, either.”

“If she didn’t care, she wouldn’t have given us a deadline.” Kyle figured Amanda really didn’t care, except that she could use his being late as an excuse to berate him about all the things she’d undoubtedly saved up for such an opportunity. Tyler was the only leverage she had since the divorce, and she used it every chance she got. “But since you behaved yourself today… you still want that laser gun at the souvenir stand?”

“Yeah!” Tyler’s fatigue fell to excitement, and his animated chatter about school and his online friends and skating carried them all the way to the souvenir stand.

The guy behind the counter looked preoccupied, staring at something under the counter, when Kyle and Tyler approached. “Oh, hey,” he said, popping up when Kyle cleared his throat. “Choose your weapons.” He grinned and gestured at the array of t-shirts, hats, toys, and water bottles.

“One of those!” Tyler pointed at the rack of lasers, in all different colors, the Spaceport Alpha logo emblazoned on the side with their tagline, “the most fun in the solar system!”

“Um, sure,” said the vendor. He reached under the table and brought out a bright yellow one, with blue trim. “Um, those up there came in with a bad batch of batteries, and I haven’t gotten around to taking them down yet. I checked this one, it’s good. You can have it for a buck off, since it’s not in the package. Okay?”

“Sure,” Tyler agreed, and Kyle wasn’t about to argue. Everything at theme parks was overpriced, and a discount was always welcome.

“Thanks, man,” said Kyle, as the vendor gave him the change.

“No prob.” The vendor glanced up at the sky, then smiled at Tyler. “Have a nice day, kid. Blast yourself a few aliens, okay?”

Tyler laughed and followed his dad out of the park. Kyle was preoccupied, checking messages on his phone, and Tyler looked through the sights and began shooting. “Yeah, got one!” he laughed, his laser making a pew-pew-pew noise as he held the trigger. “Got another!” He could only see them through the sights. “This is cooler than a video game!” he said under his breath.

“What’s that?” Kyle asked, pocketing his phone and unlocking the car.

“Just playin’, Dad.” In the sky, contrails streaked and dissolved. On the way home, he took out three more alien ships through the open car window.

Tyler slept well that night, knowing the world would be there when he awoke.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013 6 comments

Indie Life/Writing Wibbles

I actually have something useful this week…

When Lightning Strikes (or gets really close)

I haven’t been struck by lightning, but came pretty close once. I was riding home from work, on the motorcycle, and ran into a thunderstorm. A bolt of lightning came down behind the supermarket, where I was sitting in traffic, and I felt a spark jump from my hand to the handlebars. Needless to say, I bolted for a bank overhang and waited it out.

As an indie writer, getting into the best-seller list on Amazon might be like being struck by lightning. But lightning could just get really close, too, and your book might end up in the upper 1,000 overall rankings and chart on one or more genre Top 100 lists. It happened to me, it might happen to you. Then you might ask yourself:

Now what?

First, celebrate! Do a happy dance around your desk, pour yourself a generous helping of your favorite beverage, take the family out for a nice dinner. Take screen shots of your book page. And don’t forget to thank your higher power, whatever you recognize as such, for cutting you a break!

Next, stay focused. Constantly checking your book's rank or sales numbers isn’t going to push it any higher, and takes away from time you could be writing the next book. In fact, this is the time you really need to get that next book ready. You've got an incentive, and impending royalty checks have a way of making family take your writing more seriously.

Finally, analyze. If you have other books on offer, and they never caught on like this one, why not? What did you do right, this time? Is there anything you can do with your current books to give them a boost? Can you do the same things for your next book, or even improve on them, to do even better next time?

Think of it as the “stop, drop, roll” of modest success in your writing endeavors. Oh, and here’s a little soundtrack for the happy dance:

Being Indie doesn’t have to mean going it alone. Check out some of the other Indie Life blogs this week:

Wednesday, February 06, 2013 14 comments

Writing Wibbles

An interesting coincidence: Chuck Wendig has proclaimed this Don't pirate my book day. His post lists points and counterpoints that present the anti-, pro-, and who-cares positions. In keeping with the confusion surrounding the whole piracy argument, he wisely does not put the points in any discernable order.

I set up a Google (Ego) Alert thing—you know, it searches your name in hopes it will (won’t?) turn up links to pirated copies of your books. So far, no pirate links. The thing I've seen with Accidental Sorcerers, rather than outright piracy, is the occasional return. It started out with 1 out of 31 copies being returned (like clockwork for the first 124 sales, in fact), and is currently 1 out of 60-odd. I find it amusing rather than rage-inducing… I mean, the book is 99¢ (US), I can’t bring myself to imagine someone cheap enough to do that for a freebie. My guess is that people hit the purchase button (that 1-click thing can get’cha) instead of the “download excerpt,” or maybe they send it to the wrong device, return it, and send it to the right one (not realizing they can send copies to all their devices). Meanwhile, over a dozen people have bought The Crossover on Amazon, and I’m giving it away for free on Smashwords. And nobody has returned it, which I would expect if they found it was available for free elsewhere. Go figure.

J.A. Konrath and Neil Gaiman (not to mention Cory Doctorow, who provides free downloads for his books anyway) maintain that piracy actually boosts sales, a point that Chuck makes in item #10. Me, I’ll worry about it when I get popular enough to get pirated. Seriously, there are so many free eBooks now, you could spend the rest of your life reading without spending a dime or pirating a single book. As I pointed out a couple weeks ago, I even got one in my email. (I read it, and it turned out to be not bad.)

Meanwhile, Accidental Sorcerers continues to hold its own. It has bounced in and out of the Fantasy top 100 on Amazon since Thursday, and reached its highest ranking so far as I started typing:

An interesting thing happened soon after Mik and Sura made the big-time: the book got one “meh” review and a negative review. And the positive reviews started getting marked “not helpful.” That put the lower-rated reviews first, and sales began to sag. Then I got another positive review, and it got enough “helpful” ratings to push it to the first slot. And sales rebounded.

So there’s at least anecdotal evidence that reviews—or at least what kind of review gets listed first—can affect book sales. I’m trying to not worry about it; after all, it’s just a numbers game in the end. Obsessing about this stuff can distract from writing the next book, but I thought this was interesting data and worth sharing.

One really good thing about those not-so-wonderful reviews: I got some good solid beta feedback for Pickups and Pestilence this week, and it didn’t faze me a bit. I have 10 whole weeks to the scheduled launch date—which, when you start looking at it, really isn’t that far off. Better get to work…

Sunday, February 03, 2013 3 comments

Winter #1

Whoever coined the phrase, “Here today, gone tomorrow” must have been talking about winter on Planet Georgia. Or what passes for winter here.

Yesterday afternoon, I was enjoying a little quiet time—splitting enough wood to fill the rack. The sky looked dark, threatening rain, but I was ready to knock off from swinging the maul and get some writing done. As I pulled up the driveway, I saw a bunch of white stuff coming down. “What is that?” I thought, wondering if a nearby tree was dropping some debris—then, the penny dropped.

Flaky weather we're having…
Snow? It was like 40°F outside. But I got out of the truck, and it was definitely snow. I’ve never accused weather (and rarely anything else) on Planet Georgia of making sense.

The girlies were out shopping, so I let them know what was happening at the manor. I assumed it was more a novelty than anything. Daughter Dearest asked me, “Is it sticking?”

“Not on the yard or the driveway,” I assured her. “But it’s still coming down.”

“Well, let us know if it starts to stick.”

Light up the night!
After a half an hour of snow, it actually began to stick. I called to let them know, and they started wrapping up their shopping. The snow continued through the afternoon, and into the night, although it didn’t accumulate all that much.

There was still snow on the ground come morning, but it began retreating under the full frontal assault of Sunday sunlight. The wife wanted Mason to have a chance to go play, so she got him some boots and a jacket, and I put on my coat, and let him run around outside. He gravitated to the patio, where he poured sand over one of his trucks. “It’s covered in snow! Kind of,” he said. (It’s hilarious, what three year old kids will come up with sometimes.)

Sand looks like snow if you over-expose…
About half an hour after we got outside, the snow on the yard was pretty much gone. There was still an icy patch on the driveway, and Mason kept wanting to walk across it on his orbits around the house. I finally told him he was risking falling and hurting himself, and to go around it.

So what does he do? Runs full-bore and falls in the wet muddy grass.

We now return you to Long November. I leave you with a final picture, a snowscape that didn’t really exist but isn’t a Photoshop. Feel free to speculate in the comments, and I’ll give a gold star to the first correct guess.


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