Friday, October 31, 2008

Reality Check On Register Two

Here's another one of my early short stories. Definitely tongue-in-cheek, it's my homage to James Thurber's "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty." I had a good time writing it, and was pleased when it ended up published by Pindeldyboz in 2004 and named to storySouth's list of Notable Stories that same year. It's not SF or fantasy (unless you count the one going on inside of the main character's head...), it's just meant to be fun. It's also only 1,200 words long; one of the shortest I've ever written.

Reality Check On Register Two

She walked through the bookstore’s door and ships set sail, angels sang, and Carl finally knew the true meaning of the phrase ‘to drink in her beauty.’

“Drink in her beauty?” he whispered to himself, “I could drown in it.”

He had heard the expression countless times, disregarding it as drivel for poets and dreamers. Appreciating her beauty was as complicated as a grain of sand on the beach getting wet under the crashing waves.

As she crossed the floor, her honey-colored hair waving to him, his next thought was, I have to meet her. I have to know her name.

He knew, however, that it was crucial that he approach her without appearing as frantic as he felt. He had never had trouble with women before, mainly because he knew to stick with the ones at his own level -– ground level. Basement even. But this Park Avenue penthouse goddess with the exquisite swan neck was too compelling to resist. He had never been able to resist a neck that was so fine. A neck that was so nibbleable.

If not for that neck, he could have been content to drool from afar...

As assistant manager of the bookstore, Carl had freedom when it came to approaching customers. Still, he would have to exercise caution; this was going to be a dangerous chess match. He had to plan each move carefully -- consider all the possibilities, her likely counter-moves, his response to her counters -- if he wanted the game to end in mate.

She appeared to be heading for the Romance section. Perfect.

...“Excuse me, miss. Can I help you find something?”

“Yes, thank you. A friend recommended
Savage Kiss. Do you know who wrote it?”

“Actually, my darling, I did,” Carl said. “Especially for you.”

Her blue eyes widened. “What is wrong with you?” she demanded, looking like she was trying to decide between slapping his face or storming out the door...

All righty then. Clearly that was not be the way to approach her. Something more subtle was required.

Besides, she strolled through the Romance section and stopped in Fantasy, picking up a special-edition volume of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Carl circled to the rear of the store. He wanted to appear to be strolling up from the back, not stalking her.

He had already gotten himself in trouble that way last month.


“Yes, miss. How can I help you?”

“I can’t find a price on this book. How much is it?”

Carl thought a moment. The price was on the inside flap in very small print; many people missed it. But simply giving her the information precluded any other conversation.

“Not off the top of my head,” he nodded slightly, “but if you’ll follow me.”

He took the book from her, careful to brush her fingers with his own before leading her to the cash register. If only he could find a way to touch that neck.

First, Carl needed to find out if there was a boyfriend. Forcing casualness, he asked, “Is this for you, or is it a gift?”

“For me. Just one of those things I’ve always meant to read, but never got around to.”

“I think you’ll enjoy it very much. I know I did.”

She smiled...

Yes, that was much better. A day-trip to Middle-Earth and an unimaginably beautiful woman; that was a fantasy he could work with.

Carl realized he wasn’t walking anymore; he had gotten so lost in his thoughts that he stopped in his tracks. If he didn’t move -- and soon -- she would ask someone else. As Carl cut through the children’s section, he saw her find the price inside the flap, shake her head, and return the volume to the shelf. No, Carl thought, no; that was going to go so well.

Suddenly Carl found himself frozen again.

She was looking at him.

Oh, God, he thought, she saw me following her. He turned as quickly as he dared and tried to bury himself in the gardening section.

...When Carl finally dared to look up again, his boss, Anne, and the woman were walking straight toward him.

“That’s the man,” she said, pointing directly at Carl’s cold-sweating brow.

Anne said through grit teeth, “Again, Carl?”

Carl’s eyes got wider and wider with each horrifying moment, stinging and burning because he couldn’t even make himself blink, much less speak. Say something, dammit, say something now, he ordered himself. Nary a word dared crawl out of his mouth.

“That’s it! You’re fired!” Anne barked loudly enough for the whole store to hear...

Carl blinked. Maybe if he went up to the checkout area. There were three cash registers open there; maybe he could get lost in the hustle and bustle.
Carl couldn’t think of anything else he could do. But he had to do something. Go somewhere. Anywhere.

Approaching one of the cashiers, he said, “Go ahead and take a break. I’ll fill in for you.”

But no sooner had he taken his place behind the counter than she appeared. Her. She clutched a thick book to her breast, the top edge of the book rubbing up against her perfect neck, and oh, how Carl wanted to be that book.

He snapped his eyes down. She was looking at him in a funny way. He liked working in this bookstore. He didn’t want to lose his job.

As she got closer to the front of the line, Carl slowed down, obviously annoying the customer he was supposed to be helping. The single line of customers only spread out to the individual registers and Carl was hoping she would end up with either of the other cashiers. And at precisely the moment she reached the front of the line, both of the other registers opened up. Perfect. He sighed, processed the credit card in his hand, and prepared to set his irritated customer free.

“Excuse me, can you tell me how much this is? I can’t find a price anywhere,” said a melodious voice as a special-edition volume of The Lord of the Rings appeared before Carl’s eyes.

He looked up. It was her.

What was she doing here? What did she want? Panic set in and Carl felt his head spin. He moved to take the book from her and she somehow managed to brush two silky fingertips over the back of his right hand.

She said, “My name is Rose.”.

Carl grabbed the walkie-talkie off his right hip.

“Anne,” he frantically said into the walkie-talkie, “I need a price check on register two. Price check on register two.” He retreated two steps from the woman and her book, which lay impotently on the counter between them. His walkie-talkie remained silent. Rose smiled.

“Aaaannne...,” Carl called into his unresponsive walkie-talkie. His eyes were locked wide open.

Rose pat the book with a firm hand and said, “You know what? Forget about it; I think I made a mistake.”

And she walked out of the store empty-handed.

Imagining that the book might still be warm after lingering next to her heart, Carl picked it up and opened it...

...and found her phone number, written on the title page in lipstick...

The End

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fourth and Goal From The Forty-Eight

Interestingly (to me, anyway) I received two emails in the past few weeks about a story of mine that was originally published online four years ago on a website called Dark Energy SF. Both readers seemed to enjoy it (though one of them pointed out that under current NFL rules, the scenario I portrayed at the end of the game in the story isn't possible, and suggested I change the team from an NFL team to a college team, where it was possible).

Since the website where the story was originally published is on the verge of closing up shop forever (my best to the fine folks at Dark Energy SF, because obviously a few folks have still managed to find my story on their archive, even four years after the fact) (and since the story is pretty short (just under 2,500 words)), I thought I reprint it here for your entertainment.

(BTW, I didn't change the football team, mainly because I don't like the redskins and wanted to make them the losing team in this story. What's the point in being a writer if you can indiscriminately punish teams you don't like...?)

Fourth and Goal From the Forty Eight

The smoke smelled wrong. Not like cigarette smoke, Adam thought. Corrosive. Suffocating. Venomous.

Adam would rather have been a host of other places, but when that redhead with the devilish twinkle in her eye said to meet her at this bar, she'd been damned specific. So he waited. Tipped his bottle up and poured some more brew down. Since every vertical surface in the room was covered with mirrors, he could glance in any direction, checking the bar through the maddening maze of reflections. Of the redhead there was still no sign.

Drifting along with the smoke, Adam's attention went to the television. Engulfed in a miasma of silver and gray, the picture was nearly impossible to make out. He jumped when a phantom announcer's voice said, "A series of sacks and costly penalties have the Redskins looking at third and goal from their own forty-eight yard line with only twenty-one seconds on the clock. Kenny, have you ever seen anything like this?"

Adam had not. Intrigued, he slid as far to the right as there were open bar stools, hauling his precious leather jacket with him. He had to stop beside a man with a pipe, the obvious source of this writhing smog.

Kenny, up on the television, echoed Adam's thoughts. "Never, Jim. But that's what I love about this game; anything is possible."

The offensive smell grew, summoning Adam's attention, and the silver and gray cloud parted to reveal the man. But it was his pipe that caught Adam's attention. He peered closely at the glowing bowl. Sickly-yellow, like ancient, decaying ivory, the entire pipe was elaborately etched. On it, small figures cavorted around a bonfire, tribal warriors with spears and shields, naked but for their fearsome masks. Adam's mind swooned, pitching headlong into a nightmare world populated by beasts he suddenly realized were not warriors in masks, but creatures as horrible as---

"Smoke bother you?" said the man. "A personal blend. Some folks don't care for the smell."

Adam snapped out of his black trance, trying to blink the images away. "Uh, no, no. It's fine. I was just admiring the carvings. They're so..."

The man plucked the pipe from his lips. "Carved from bone, I'm told. You're welcome to examine it."

Adam left his hands safely on the beer bottle. "What kind of bone?"

The man caressed the stem of the pipe. "I don't believe my associate ever said."

Kenny interrupted. "Twenty-one seconds," he said. "But even if the Redskins get in range, a field goal does them no good. Down 21 – 15 to the New York Giants, the 'Skins have to have a touchdown. They've taken their final timeout; we'll be back after these messages."

"Can I tempt you with a friendly wager?" the man asked.

"Excuse me?"

The man smiled. It was a lipless, motionless, incomplete smile, revealing no teeth. "On the game. Make things interesting."

Adam slipped his hand into his pocket, fingering his last twenty-dollar bill. "What did you have in mind?"

The man conjured a hundred-dollar bill.

"I say the Redskins win this game."

Adam stared. Because he never denied himself anything, especially when it came to clothing, cash always got his attention. Ben Franklin never looked so seductive.

Then Adam remembered the twenty in his pocket and the beer in his hand. "I can't," he said. "No way the 'Skins win, but I don't have that kind of money."

"I'm not interested in your money." The man licked the corner of his mouth. "It's your soul I'm hungry for."

Adam's lips formed a small circle. 'What?' his mouth wanted to demand, but his brain refused to function.

"You heard right," the man said quietly. "I'll bet one hundred dollars against your soul that the Redskins win this game. Quite simple."

Adam tried to read the man's eyes. They were as blank as his smile. He checked the door. If only that redhead would show up, he'd have an excuse to get away. Finally Adam forced a laugh.

The man asked, "You think I'm kidding?"

Choking in the smoke, Adam's laughter died.

The man broke into a light laugh of his own. Amiably, he slapped Adam on the shoulder. "What's a soul worth anyway? Last week, a fellow tried to auction off his soul on e-Bay. Bidding was only up to forty-four dollars when e-Bay suspended the deal."

"You bid on it?"

The man shook his head. "Not my style. No sport." Then he tapped the green and white bill on the bar. "That's easy money, friend. Yours. Unless you believe the 'Skins can pull off a miracle."

Back from the commercial, Kenny and Jim were talking again. Adam ground his teeth together, watching the quarterback begin the snap count. Abruptly he shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Don't think you want my bet?" asked the man. "Or don't think they can do it? Quickly now, the offer ends the instant they snap that ball."

Adam forgot how to speak, how to breathe.

"...the ball is snapped. Serling drops back into the pocket. And... oh, my God, the Giant's defender tripped." Kenny was shouting now. "Serling's got a receiver wide open -- down the sideline. He heaves..."

Adam leaned toward the television.

"...and overthrows his man. Oh, what a wasted opportunity. His receiver was wide open. That was a one-in-a-million chance, and he blew it."

The man shook his head. "Truer words were never spoken."

Adam closed his eyes, shoulders drooped, head slumped.

Kenny said, "Fourth and goal from the forty-eight yard line. In the storied history of this game, I don't believe this has ever happened before."

Instead of picking his money up, the man placed another hundred on top of it. And another. Two more. All told, five one-hundred-dollar bills leered up at Adam from the stained surface of the bar.

"What say we make this really interesting?" The man's voice was a smoky whisper, the rhythm of his words spoken to the beat of tribal drums.

Heart pounding, throat tight, Adam scrutinized the man, an entirely unremarkable individual. Brown eyes, maybe a little darker than average, but not out of the ordinary. Hair neat, but still just hair. Cheeks showed no hint of stubble. Black turtleneck and black pants, obviously tailor cut to the man's trim body. But this only verified that the man had enough money to throw away $500 on an insane bar bet. To mess with his head.

There is nothing wrong with this guy, Adam insisted. Nothing. He wrapped his fingers around the stack of hundreds.

"You're on, sucker," he said. "Ain't no way the 'Skins go all the way in one shot."

The man smiled his lipless Count Dracula smile. It was all in the eyes. Adam instantly regretted his decision. He started to put the money back on the bar.

The center snapped the ball. But he snapped it too hard; it sailed over the quarterback's outstretched arms. Adam laughed, celebrating, pointing at the television as the loose ball danced among the players like a living thing. Then, from the rugby-like scrum, the quarterback emerged with the ball. His eyes locked onto the only figure not scrambling amongst the pack, a figure that wore the same blood-red jersey as the quarterback.

"Noooooo!" screamed Adam, reaching out in slow motion, leaning across the bar, trying to swat the ball from the air. "Noooooo!" Hundred dollar bills slipped through his fingers.

The throw went twenty yards, precisely the distance that separated the receiver from every other player on the field. He scampered into the endzone untouched. Teammates went wild. Jim and Kenny stood in the booth, shouting with them. Adam went numb. Gape-mouthed, he turned to find the man, eyes blazing, reaching for his throat. The rest of the room was black.

From the depths of Adam's terrified soul, a soul that might be his for only a few seconds longer, words crawled forth. "It's 21 – 21. Washington still has to kick the extra point for a win."

The man paused, considering Adam's point. As he settled back, the darkness slithered into the maze of mirrors, seething.

"True," the man said. He sipped from the clear liquid in his glass. "I can wait."

Adam's eyes snapped to the television. But in his mind he was preparing to fling himself from his stool and make a break for the exit, sprinting through that door and headlong down the street, never to look back. If only he could pry his fingers from the death grip they had on the bar. But he couldn't. He couldn't move. All he could do was stare at the TV as the Redskins prepared to seal his doom. The ball was snapped. The hold was good.

The kick was blocked. It was recovered by a Giant's defender, who took off running.

"Goooooo!" Adam suddenly found himself free, bounding and screaming, cheering for the player who had scooped up his life in the form of an oblong piece of pigskin. Blocks were thrown. Gargantuan men collided. The Giant with the ball stopped abruptly, spinning out of the arms of one defender and slashing off in new direction, right into the arms of another. On the verge of being tackled he paused, moving as if to lateral the ball. The defender went for the fake, committing prematurely to the wrong man, and the player raced past, reaching the endzone just as the clock expired.

New York Giants 27 – Washington 21.

"Yes!" Adam threw his arms into the air; Kenny yelled "Touchdown!"

And Adam did his first jig. Requiring no music, he performed the dance to the tune of pure joy. Then he noticed the money, still on the floor, and fell to his knees, greedily snatching it up note by note. Jumping up again, he was still shouting, still ecstatic, still out of his mind with the thrill of victory.

"I beat you." He waved the money in the man's face, shouting to all six of his reflections, "I beat the devil!"

Silence. Thunderous, crashing, numbing silence.

Adam surveyed the bar. Everyone was frozen. Staring at him. The man stood and turned to the silent mass, arms spread wide. And they all began to laugh.

The man laughed. The bartender laughed. Everyone laughed. The room was buried under an avalanche of laughter. It rippled and tittered; it flowed around the room. Convulsing, the man smacked the bar, repeatedly striking it with such force that Adam feared it might crack in two, howling so relentlessly that Adam could see deep into his throat. With each laughing second, Adam felt more and more like a fool.

When the man finally paused for a breath, he looked up and asked, "What ever gave you the idea that I was the devil?"

Adam looked around. The room was still in hysterics. "But you said---"

"All I said was let's make this interesting. And you have to admit, it was interesting."

Adam glanced at the five one-hundred-dollar bills in his fist. His. Suddenly that was the least important thing in the world. Jabbing a finger two inches from the man's nose he shouted, "You tricked me!"

Bursting into another fit of laughter, the man spurted out, "Isn't that what the devil does?" The rest of the room hadn't stopped roaring.

Adam couldn't take anymore; he ran from the bar. Once outside, on the street, once in the sharp, smokeless air, it seemed so ridiculous. The devil? What had he been thinking? He took a deep breath.

And realized he'd left his jacket on the stool.

No way was he going back again – not even for his favorite leather jacket. Not after that humiliation. He would rather buy a new one.

Great, he thought, now I've lost my best jacket. Probably cost me every dollar I just won to replace it. Adam trudged down the street, money clenched in his fist, cursing the absent redhead.

# # #

Back inside, the bartender turned to the man and said, "By the diabolical hordes of Niflhel and Acheron, what pride you have -- what an ego."

The man glowered at him, daring the bartender to continue.

"I mean, really. God help the poor soul who loses one of your bets. Then the brimstone oozes out of your ears and your eyes turn into little orbs of fire. Don't get me wrong, it's a thing of beauty to watch their faces when you tell them it's impossible to remove a soul from a living body.

"But if you lose, you play the innocent, making your victim feel like an imbecile when you're the one who lost. It's pathetic. In a million years, I've never seen an ego like---"

The man tossed his drink into the demon bartender's face, his expression unchanging as the clear liquid sizzled through the other's flesh, melting him to the floor in sublime agony.

As the hissing vestiges of bartender disappeared through the cracks in the floor, the man said, "Of course I have pride, idiot. If it weren't for pride, I'd be sitting at the Right Hand of God, instead of hanging around this dump. If it weren't for pride, I'd be singing with angels, instead of laughing at losers who slink out of here without their leather jackets." He spit on the spot where the bartender had melted away and a small fire sprang up.

"If it weren't for pride, I'd be the number two man up there," he said, "instead of number one down here."

The End

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Dreaming Creek available on Amazon

My novel, Dreaming Creek, is now available on Gift wrapping is available, so get one for a friend... ;-)


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Dreaming Creek - A Novel

Now available at the publisher's website for pre-orders, shipping in approximately two weeks.

High school teacher Danny Wakeman has spent sixteen years believing that his childhood friend, Marcus Gaines, saved his life after an accident. But Danny's perspective on the world gets turned inside-out when he and the woman he wants to marry, Sara McBride, drink from the mystical waters of Dreaming Creek, trade bodies, and get stuck that way...

Trapped in each others' bodies, struggling to fit in to each others' lives, Danny and Sara will have to pull together to overcome a perplexing lawsuit, a plot to defraud Danny out of his recently deceased parent's farm, and an attempted rape—all of which ultimately prove to bear Marcus's sinister fingerprints. And before it's over, Danny will discover that this pattern of treachery and violence goes all the way back to his supposed accident, which Marcus designed to cover up an even blacker secret...

CapClave 2008 -

I'm off to CapClave tomorrow (Hilton Washington DC/Rockville, Executive Meeting Center,
1750 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852).

From their website:

"Capclave, the Washington, D.C. area science fiction literary convention, offers a relaxed atmosphere in which notable authors, editors, critics, artists, and fans explore the creation and enjoyment of fantasy and science fiction. Capclave focuses on short stories, but also gives lots of attention to novels, movies, and TV. Because we're small, we're friendly and fun, not frantic."

My schedule is:

Saturday 12:00pm

Is the Face of Short Fiction Changing?

As the traditional digest magazines shrink in both size and audience, what are some of the new vehicles for short stories? What new roles are being played by the small press, web magazines, and corporate supported sites? Anthologies? What can be done to save short fiction?

Kathryn Cramer (m), Neil Clarke, Edmund Schubert, Sean Wallace, Hildy Silverman

Saturday 2:00pm

Workshop – Writing

Allen Wold with Edmund Schubert, Davey Beauchamp, and Jeri Smith-Ready. Bring paper and a writing implement. All else will be explained at the beginning of the session.

Allen Wold, Davey Beauchamp, Edmund Schubert, Jeri Smith-Ready

Saturday 3:00pm

Workshop - Writing (cont)

Saturday 7:00pm

What Editors Want

Editors discuss what they are looking for in a manuscript and what authors can do to increase their chances of selling a story or book. What is within the author's control? How does the editor make the decision, how quickly, and on what basis?

Edmund Schubert (m), Neil Clarke, Moshe Feder, George Scithers, Christopher Cevasco

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

On A Lighter Note...

It's a terrible picture, but hey, it's not every day a magazine names me as Woman of the Year...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Submissions Basics

Some things seem so simple that I don't think I have to say them. Operative word here being 'seem'...

For starters, put your contact information on your story, people. That means your name, your mailing address, your phone number, and your email address. Even if I don't buy your story, I might just call you to talk with you about it. It has happened.

You might also think that because you're dealing with an online magazine that accepts electronic submissions, you don't need to include your email address. Why would you need to include it? You just emailed your story to us, right?

True, but here's the catch. The managing editor of IGMS and I both live in Greensboro, North Carolina, but we work out of separate offices on opposite sides of town. And the assistant editor lives in California. Stories are emailed from place to place, and back again, and back and forth again, etc. Your original email might or might not go along with it. I can't tell you how many attachments I have opened to find a story, but no way of getting in touch with the author. I've opened some files that don't even have the author's name on it.


On the one hand, my first thought often is, 'Great, here's one I don't even have to read.' Why would I read it? Even if I love it, I have no way of buying it because I have no way of contacting the author. Not that the odds of my loving the story are great, because people who know how to write a great story also generally have sense enough to put their name on it.

So I have little reason to think the story will be a good one, and little reason to try because I can't do much with it even if it is. So what do I have? I have this nagging feeling that in two or three or four or five or six months, somewhere along the line, I'm going to get a query from somebody saying, 'Where is my story? What happened to it? I submitted it six months ago and never heard from you! Waaaaaa!'

And for the record, it's not just IGMS that has this problem. Other editors at other magazines tell me it happens to them, too. More than just a little bit.

It's not only IGMS that passes stories around electronically, and it's not only IGMS that has staff flung all over the country. In addition to editing IGMS, I'm also the managing editor of a specialty women's business magazine called Diversity Woman. The publisher and I are here in Greensboro, but the assistant editor is is Reidsville, NC, one of the proofer readers is in Asheville, NC, the executive editor is in Berkley, California, the graphic designer is in San Francisco, our main copy editor and main proofer are also somewhere in California (I don't even know where, exactly). The industry is full of freelancers who are scattered all over the country, and if you think sending something to any one by email automatically means you are providing them with your contact information, you are tragically, pathetically mistaken.

It is in your own best interests to make things as simple as possible for us (editors in general). There are too many people who want to write, and are capable of doing it well, for editors to chase anyone around. It's not going to happen. Period.

Have I made this point abundantly clear?

I think so. I'm tired of ranting, so I'm going to stop now. After this you're on your own.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Thoughts on Self-promotion and a Free Download

First, the freebie: the above link will take you to a page on Donald Mass' website where you can get a free pdf download of his book, The Career Novelist. The book is over ten years old now, but it's still full of good advice. Full refund if you're not completely satisfied. If you're not familiar with Donald Mass, he's one of the biggest literary agents in New York, and he's written three books (that I've read) on the subject of writing (the one above, plus Writing the Breakout Novel and the companion Writing The Breakout Novel Workbook).

As for thoughts, I generally try not to think too much, because it usually gets me it trouble, but I was discussing The Career Novelist with some other writer friends, particularly one passage where Mass says this on the subject of self-promotion:

The rewards can be great, but the truth is that few authors—and even fewer novelists—succeed at the self-promotion game. Perhaps you are one of the few who have the right combination of skills, savvy, and enthusiasm. Perhaps not. Whatever your path, though, be sure that your first priority remains writing irresistible stories. Promotion is worthless if you have nothing to sell.

Mass's quote generated quite a bit of discussion, some pro, some con. My thoughts are this: I talked about self-promotion with Kevin Anderson the other night and he said that if he didn't spend so much time on the road, he could probably write another book a year (like four or five per year isn't enough). On the other hand, he also said that promotional tours, while they were very, very difficult to tie directly to book sales, were necessary in order to keep the fan base excited. Of course, he has a base of fans to keep excited; he has four billion books published. And he's got a publisher willing to pay for him to go on a 19 city book tour. The rest of us probably have neither, so while I am willing to do some self-promotional things (I've got five book stores lined up for signings in the first few months my book is out, on top of the 8 or 10 sf conventions I go to every year)), I'm not willing to go into debt just to make sure that fourteen more people read my novel. Its a balancing act, to be sure.

P.T. Deutermann, who recently moved into the Greensboro area and writes Tom Clancy-type thrillers and mystery novels for St. Martins, once told me that the thing he does that he considers to be the most effective is simply keeping a case of his books in his car, and every time he drives by a bookstore, he stops in. If they have his books in stock he takes the time to talk with the staff and autograph the copies they have. If they don't have his books, he gives them copies of one or two of his novels (for free) so they can become familiar with his work.

This ties in nicely with advice I got from a friend of mine who worked for many years as a sales rep for Baker & Taylor, the second largest book wholesaler in America (after Ingram). She said that what a new author wanted to do was develop relationships with the people who run (or at least work at) as many independent bookstores as possible. She said that while the Barnes & Nobles and Walden Books and Borders of the world are run by a bunch of shelf-stockers and cashiers, the independent stores are still full of people who love books and have relationships with their customers. She said that even if you only have a mediocre book, if the independents like YOU, they will recommend your book.

Obviously it's not practical to go to every independent bookstore in America, but even mailing copies and a nice note to a select group of them will have a lasting impact. And even if it costs you $10 a pop, and you send/give copies to 50 stores, that's only $500, less than it would cost to take out an ad in a lot of magazines (that might or might not be noticed in the one month it runs).

There are a lot of ways to go about promoting your work, with no guarantees as to what will be effective. I'm just taking a serious look at the advice of people who have been where I want to go and achieved what I want to achieve.


So, what are your thoughts on the value of self-promotion by authors? What do you think works, and what do you think is a waste of time and money?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Re-writing Process

A friend on an online forum recently asked me about my rewriting process, and I ended up going on on the subject more extensively that I anticipated. It occurred to me that there might be a few other folks who would be interested in learning more about one writer's rewriting process (I say "one writer's process" because as I mention below, there are a lot of ways to go about it). So anyway, here are my thoughts on the subject, in raw, off the top of my head, un-edited form:

I know a few folks who advocate staring from scratch when you do rewrites instead of tinkering with what you've already got, but I have never been able to work that way. Sometimes I do end up dumping whole sections, but for the most part if I'm rewriting, it's to fix/repair/retool/build on what I've already got.

For me the overall process of writing a novel is like building a body from scratch. I'm not smart enough to see the big picture until I get down the road a ways, so I have to go ahead, see what I can see, and then go back and fill in the gaps.

To switch metaphors, basically what I do is I start with a skeleton and make sure it has the general shape I'm looking for. Then I start adding muscle and flesh and whatever else I feel that the thing needs to be it's best. Inevitably I end up with some fat, too, and I try to find and trim that, but generally speaking, once I have my 'skeleton,' I'm adding ten new words for every one I delete. These are just my un-scientific observations; your actual mileage may vary.

Also, Oliver's point about setting it aside is very good advice. I certainly would never have thought so at the time, but having my original publisher go bankrupt before they could publish my book was the best thing that could have happened. I was able to totally ignore the thing for nearly a year, and I only came back to it when it had been picked up again and I was in the last minutes of my deadline to get it in to them. Coming at it completely fresh, with an entire extra year under my belt, made the final product ten times better than it would have been if it had been published in 2007. I'm not suggesting that you put a book away for an entire year like that -- it's really not practical on so many levels -- but putting away for as long as possible will only help you in the long run.

Another trick I stumbled across in my rewriting efforts that helped me to see the book with fresh eyes without having to set t aside was to change the names of some of the characters. At some point while I was working on the MS, it occurred to me that all of my characters had really white-bread names, so I went in and changed many of them, including small changes to the names of some of the major characters. I hadn't anticipated this, but as a side benefit, when I went back and started working on the book again, it was like looking at a whole new book. I think that when I start my next book, I'm going to seriously consider starting writing it with the characters all named 'Joe' and 'Sally,' and then not decide on their final names until I'm well into the process.

And lastly, I'll also echo Oliver's idea about keeping a notebook handy so that you can jot down ideas as you go. I even kept a notebook with me while I was working on the second half of my novel. I'd be in the middle of writing a scene and it would occur to me that scene X would work even better if I had foreshadowed it in the middle of the book it in scene G, or that based on what was happening in scene Y, the interaction between the characters would need to be rewritten in scene B. Then, when I was done with my first draft, I just used the notebook as my blue print to start building that flesh and muscle I was talking about earlier.

Frankly, though, the most important thing isn't HOW you go about writing your novel -- there are as many ways to write a novel as there are novelists -- but rather that you keep plowing forward. You'll find what works for you as you go along; the most important thing is just that you keep going.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Basic Definitions for Writers

I'm teaching a workshop tonight for UNC here in Greensboro, NC, about the basics of the business of writing. It's not a 'how-to' class about writing, it's about what to expect from the publishing industry and how to go about approaching editors and publishers. One of the things I put together is a handout of basic definitions, and it occurred to me that this might be helpful info for more than just the 25 people who signed up to take the class. So here is some of the basic terminology that you will encounter in the publishing world and what it means. If anyone has any questions, can think of any important terms I may have left out, or anything else, please post a comment and let me know. (It's a pretty long list, broken up into sections covering the following areas: General, Non-Fiction, and Contracts.)

Definitions Every Writer Should Know


BYLINE – Indicates who the author is. May sometimes include promotional material on the author. Example: Edmund R. Schubert is a freelance writer and editor. Information about his novel, Dreaming Creek, can be found at his website:

COOL DOWN – Setting aside your writing for anywhere from a few hours to a few months (for book projects) to allow you to return to it with a fresh eye for polishing and revision.

COVER LETTER – A cover letter is a brief letter of introduction that accompanies any submitted work. In many cases these are optional; in all cases they should be brief.

CRITIQUE GROUP – A group to read, edit, and offer advice and evaluation of your work. VERY IMPORTANT for writers to have people they can trust to offer honest feedback on their work. Can be an organized group that meets at a regular, set time, or a loose group of friends who read each others’ works as needed.

ESSAY: An essay represents the personal view/opinion of the writer.

FREELANCE WRITER / EDITOR – A freelancer works on various projects by contract, and is not the employee of any single magazine or publisher. However, freelancers often do maintain long-term relationships with editors and/or publishers.

IDEA FILE – A folder where you collect articles, columns, essays, phrases, words, reports, or anything else that catches your eye. When you’re searching for ideas on what to write about, go to your Idea Folder for inspiration. A must have for writers!

GENRE – The category a story, article, or script falls into. Examples: thriller, horror, science-fiction, romance. Non-fiction genres for magazine articles include self-help, how-to, opinion pieces, essays, inspirational, question and answer, interview, fillers, etc.

HOOK – The opening of your article or story is usually referred to as your “hook;” it is how you grab a reader’s attention. In a short story it is usually your first paragraph or two; in a magazine article it can be a little as your first sentence or even your title. In a novel it can be as much as you entire first chapter.

MARKET GUIDE – Includes submittal information on how to query magazines, editors, and publishers. Writer’s Market by Writer’s Digest books is probably the best known market guide.

MULTIPLE SUBMISSIONS – Sending more than one piece of work at a time, i.e., mailing an editor 3 different query ideas all at once. NOT A GOOD IDEA.

NICHE – Defining a specialty area to write for. For example, parenting, cooking, technology, etc.

OUTLINE / SYNOPSIS – A detailed description of a book (fiction or non-fiction) that you have written/are proposing to write. These can vary in length from one page to fifty pages, depending on the requirements of the publisher.

PIECE – Casual/industry term used almost interchangeably with “article.” Refers to a “piece” of work you’re submitting. (See “Work” under CONTRACTS.)

QUERY / QUERY LETTER – In fiction, a query letter can either be a letter checking on the status of a previously submitted piece, or an inquiry as to a publisher’s interest in seeing a particular piece. In the case of the latter (gauging interest), this is done almost exclusively with novels, not with short fiction.

RESPONSE TIME – Term usually found in writer’s guideline indicating how long an author should expect to wait before hearing a response from the editor/publisher who is assessing their work. Do not query editor/publisher until after this time is has elapsed.

SASE – Self Addressed Stamped Envelope (your new best friend).

SELF-PUBLISHED – This means exactly what it sounds like: you published it yourself. On the one hand, it means that you incurred all the costs and risks associated with publishing a work (usually a book). On the other hand it also means that you did all the work and are entitled to 100% of the profits. Opinions vary on the pros and cons of self-publishing.

SIMULTANEOUS SUBMISSION – Piece (query letter, article, short story, or novel) sent to more than one market at a time. VERY GOOD IDEA to simultaneously submit if allowed; VERY BAD IDEA if not. Check writer’s guidelines (usually posted on the publisher’s website) to see if allowed.

SMALL-PRESS PUBLISHER – This term generally applies to any of the smaller publishers working outside of New York City. They can vary considerably in their size and their ability to distribute/promote your work.

SUBMISSIONS GUIDELINES – A set of guidelines or rules the publisher wants all writers to follow concerning, when, where, and how to submit work for publication. It covers everything from subject matter to font size and margins. Guidelines are readily available on the publisher’s website and should be strictly adhered to.

WRITER’S BLOCK – Times when you feel uninspired or unable to write. Some writers believe writer’s block to be a real obstacle while others consider it little more than an excuse to be lazy.

VANITY PRESS – Term used to describe any of the companies that you can pay to publish your book. Similar to self-publishing, but usually of a lower quality. This is generally considered to be the bottom-rung of the publishing food chain.

VOICE - The distinctive manner in which you choose and arrange words, phrases, ideas, and sentences on the page. Your writer’s “voice” reflects your personal take on a subject. Well-developed writer’s voices are often immediately recognizable on the page.

WRITER’S GUIDELINES – Specific details set out by a magazine on what type articles they’re seeking, length of articles, how to submit, who to contact, etc.


ARTICLE – A piece of non-fiction writing published in a periodical (as opposed to a non-fiction book).

CLIP / CLIPPING – A sample of a writer’s work, preferably a published article. It is cut from a newspaper or magazine, photocopied (high quality, but doesn’t have to be color) and sent to a magazine editor. A clip should represent your best work and/or work that is in a similar vein to work you are proposing to write for an editor.

Example: If a pet writer queried Dog World about an article on the best way to train puppies, they would send clips where they’ve written breed profiles to show they have experience writing about dogs. Editors would be less impressed with clips on career strategies, no mater how well-written.

EDITORIAL CALENDAR – Often found on a magazine’s website (usually in the advertisers section), it outlines themes for upcoming issues. This can help you know exactly what kind of article to pitch.

QUERY / QUERY LETTER – A letter written to a magazine editor or non-fiction book publisher where the author outlines their idea for an article or book. The majority of magazine articles and non-fiction books are written AFTER the idea has been approved by an editor.

SIDE BAR – Short side-article or list that enhances the main article. Editors love these!

SPECULATION (ON SPEC) – An editor may want to see your work before agreeing to accept it so they’ll ask you to write the article and submit it “on spec.” The editor is under no obligation to pay for or accept the piece. However, offering to submit a piece “on spec” may help beginning writers who don’t have clips to offer.

**Think of it less as “selling” your work and more as “licensing” your work.

ADVANCE / ADVANCE AGAINST ROYALTIES – This is money paid to you by the publisher for a book (fiction or non-fiction) before the book is published. You will not be paid any more money until the book sells enough copies to earn this amount back for the publisher. Some publishers (usually smaller ones) do not pay an advance; they simply start paying royalties right away.

AGENT / LITERARY AGENT – This is a essentially a professional negotiator who will represent your book when it is time to get/sign a contract. A good agent will protect the interests of you, their client, and only get paid when you get a contract from a publisher. If anyone claiming to be a literary agent offers you representation but asks you for money up front (anything from a signing fee to ‘administrative fees’), they are probably a scam artist.

ALL RIGHTS – Avoid this clause. This means you are selling every right you have to your work and so, in effect, it is no longer yours. You forfeit the right to ever use the work again and you are not entitled to additional payment if the magazine goes on to use your article again in any way.

ELECTRONIC RIGHTS – Becoming more common. Some print magazines will offer an extra fee to publish your work on their website (as they should!), though most will state in their contract that they’re buying unlimited electronic rights. You usually have to fight on this one if you don’t want to give it away.

FIRST RIGHTS- Rights that the writer offers a magazine/web site to publish an article for the FIRST time, i.e., the work cannot have appeared anywhere else (including blogs) before appearing in the magazine you’ve offered first rights to.

FIRST NORTH AMERICAN SERIAL RIGHTS (FNASR) – The magazine/publisher has the right to be the first one in North America to publish the piece. FNASR and All Rights are the two most-commonly found rights asked for in contracts. (Sometimes also called FNSR.)

KILL FEE – Usually 20-30% of the agreed upon fee, this is the amount you’ll be paid if the magazine accepts your piece but then decides not to use it. Not all magazines offer kill fees.

NON-EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS – You retain the right to resell the piece.

ONE-TIME RIGHTS – Gives the magazine the right to publish the piece once, but not necessarily first.

PAYS ON ACCEPTANCE / PAYS ON PUBLICATION – This clause of a contract determines when the writer will be paid for their work, and is primarily used for short stories and magazine articles, not for books. Payment on Acceptance means the writer will be paid when the magazine accepts the story for publication. Payment on Publication means the writer will be paid when the story is published (ranging anywhere from six weeks to nine month or more after acceptance). It should come as no surprise that Payment on Publication is the much more commonly used clause.

REPRINT RIGHTS / NON-EXCLUSIVE REPRINT RIGHTS – Reprint rights tell the publication the piece has been published prior. Usually reprint rights are approximately 35% of the agreed upon fee for First Rights. Non-exclusive reprint rights mean you retain the right to re-sell the work yet again, maybe even simultaneously.

RIGHTS – Publishers are contracting for the “right” to use/publish your work and they should pay you to do so. (Some smaller magazines only have the resources to pay you in copies of the magazine in which your work appears, but hey, you’ve got to start somewhere…) There are a lot of different kinds of rights; the more the publisher asks for, the more they ought to pay you. In the absence of a formal contract, it’s usually assumed that the magazine gets FNASR.

ROYALTIES – This is the percentage of the profits that will be paid to you for sales of your book. If you’ve received an advance, you do not receive any royalties until the book “earns out” it’s advance. Royalties are commonly between 10% and 15% of the book’s profits (though some publishers pay a percentage of the book’s net profits, and some pay a percentage of the gross profits). This only applies to books; magazines do not pay royalties.

ROYALTY PERIOD – This is how often your publisher will pay you royalties. It is usually twice per year, but some contracts call for either annual or quarterly royalty periods.

WORK – Formal industry term used in contracts, interchangeable with “piece” or “article.” Refers to the “piece” of “work” you are signing the contract for.

WORK FOR HIRE – Pretty much the same as giving away all rights for a set fee. All work you do becomes the property of the employer to use as they like.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Speaking of Signings - Kevin J. Anderson

Speaking of book signings, I just got this email from Kevin J. Anderson about some signings he's doing in North Carolina. I know it's short notice, but if you're in the area...

Hi Edmund,

I know I talked briefly with you at DragonCon, but I don't know if I ever gave you specifics about my NC signings. I've got one in Durham tomorrow and another in Chapel Hill on Monday:

3:00pm The Regulator Bookshop
Speaking/Signing 720 Ninth Street
Durham, NC 27705

3:30pm Bull's Head Bookshop
University of North Carolina ­ Chapel Hill
CB# 1530, Daniels Bldg
Chapel Hill, NC 27599

I don't know if that's at all in your area, but let me know.


Friday, October 03, 2008

Group Author Signing - Orson Scott Card, Edmund R. Schubert & James Maxey

Get out your calendars; I just got final word on a group signing I'll be doing with Uncle Orson and James Maxey (and possibly Scott Roberts (we're still waiting with bated breath (or is it 'baited' breath; I was never sure)) to see if he can make it). James will have his three novels, I'll have my new, fresh-off-the-presses first novel (Dreaming Creek), and OSC will have his extensive collection of novels (though this signing is primarily to promote his new one, Ender In Exile). And, of course, all of us will be signing copies of the IGMS antho, which is what set this whole group thing in motion in the first place.

The event will be on Friday, December 5th, at 7pm, at the Barnes & Noble in Greensboro, NC. Anyone in the area (or not in the area, if you don't mind traveling) is invited and encouraged to come join us.

Review and Interview

A nice review and interview on

IGMS Antho review:

Ed and OSC interview:

Thursday, October 02, 2008

To: good and trusted friend, Brandon_son-rae

From: L'lie Konstantin
To: good and trusted friend, Brandon_son-rae
Date: Sat., 03 May, 2214

Dear Brandon_son-rae,

I know you're surprised to receive this intergalactic transmission since you don't know me, but I got your contact information through the Jovian Chamber of Commerce. I am L'lie Konstantin, son of M'wa Konstantin, one of the hydrogen crystal farmers in the Crab Nebula who was recently murdered in the on-going genetic dispute.

The problems began when Planetary Alliance President, General Veelo Vronsky, introduced a Species Reform Act unfairly benefiting the genetically-engineered farmers. This caused a rampage among the unenhanced farmers, many of whom are veterans of the Ion Wars. General Vronksy treated the event as a military uprising and reacted ruthlessly to put down this 'revolt.' As a result, many people were killed, including my father.

That's when my family fled the Crab Nebula for fear of being sent to one of Vronsky's organ-harvesting slave camps. Vronsky's surgeons have a reputation that is renowned in star systems many light years away, so you will understand why we decided to seek political asylum in the Jovian Embassy.

However, before my father's death, he deposited $18.6 trillion dollars in a bank on Earth. According to his last wishes, the money was meant for the purchase of new machines and chemicals for the unenhanced farmers in the Crab Nebula. My father, God rest his soul, was a great philanthropist.

Our problem right now is that Jovian law prohibits anyone who is seeking political asylum from being involved in any financial transactions outside the gravitational pull of their planet. As a result, my family has been forced to find a partner to help us. The Jovian authorities aren't aware that we have these funds and we intend t keep the information top-secret. If the Jovians knew we had access to so much money, the six-legged thieves would surely require many bribes.

My family is prepared to give you 25% of the funds, while the remaining 75% will be invested by you on our behalf, preferably with one of the start-up time-travel companies. The idea is to use the time-travel companies to subsequently invest in companies such as Ironhorse Propulsion Systems before IPS invented faster-than-light travel.

We have never met, but I want to trust you; please do not take advantage of us once you have our money. I know that a pure-bred Earther such as yourself would never do that to a fellow unenhanced being.

This transaction will be risk-free to you as I am in possession of all necessary items, i.e. certificate of deposit, DNA identification code, recent clone of my father's thumb for current fingerprints. If you decide to assist us, please reply to this transmission for more details. Also, please treat this message as highly confidential; it has been shielded from e-telepaths, so if anyone learns about it, I'll now the information could only have come from you.

Thanks in advance for you help.

L'lie Konstantin