By De

Aunt Margie

I’m a writer, so here it is:  My Aunt Margie passed away on Monday, of probably a massive stroke.  Dad called to tell me.  This is Dad:  he always starts out the phone calls, and then Mom takes over.  I think it’s because there’s only so much time he can stand to be social, and he has to work himself up to it.  I’m his daughter, but I don’t think that really makes it any easier to talk on the phone.  He has three daughters and two sons; he came from a family of nine kids.  As the youngest, he’s had some of them pass before him.  Margie is his older sister–if I’m interpreting things right, the one who mothered him, as a kid.

He told me Margie was gone.  And then.  Well, I knew I shouldn’t push for details, but I listened.  And he told me he’d talked to her on Friday, he had a good talk with her.  He’d been going to go over and cut wood for them, but it’d rained, and the wood would have been too wet.  Personally, I’m terrified of chainsaws, but I think he likes them.  He said the last time he went over there to cut wood, he didn’t tell anyone, and she chewed him out for it.  Not…chewed him out.  Said something.   Teased him about it, probably.  We’re a family of teasers and crap-givers.

He called again Monday afternoon, and we talked about the service.  Margie wanted her body donated to science, but they can wait until after the service, he said.  Then we talked about the weather.  As I get older this makes more sense.  Every time you talk about the weather, you’re talking about everyone.  This last couple of years in Colorado, I saw it:  fires that swept over your friends, taking everything from some, barely touching others.  Flooding, the same way.  When you talk about the weather you’re saying life goes on but you have to pay attention to it while it’s going on.

We do have to go on.   I do.   I thought it wasn’t hitting me as bad as other people who have passed over the last few years:  Margie led a good life, both as a good person and as a life that wasn’t lived out in shades of despair and numbness, and believe me, that’s worth celebrating rather than mourning, because I’ve seen both now.  But I’m having trouble functioning this morning, because in order to go on, I have to go on with Aunt Margie, rather than separate from her.  I can’t leave her behind.

It’s a family tradition to tease each other, and I’m sure there’s lots of stories going around about goofy things she’s done.  Or there will be those stories going around, or there should be.  There’s always some story, with them, of some dumbass thing you’ve done that tells everyone exactly who you are. In a group of people plagued with eyeroll-worthy orneriness, it’s probably vital that these things get passed around.  Plus there’s just so damned many of us.  “Who do you belong to?” was a common question I got growing up.  I ask it at family reunions now.  The stories help keep us sorted out.

I’m sure Aunt Margie had a bunch of stories that she told about herself, embarrassing stories.  That was just the way she was.  She liked to laugh.  But here’s my story for her, one part of what I want to bring with me:

We’d just moved from the farm out to Flandreau.  Because her clan lived out in Madison, I hadn’t really gotten to know her before then. I was in tenth grade and at a complete loss for pretty much everything.  Except for one thing.  And I know that this is going to be both offensive to the family and something that makes them nod because it’s true.  I was relieved to be out of the gossip.

I wasn’t the center of gossip, thank God.  No, it was just that the farm itself was the center of gossip, the geographical ground zero of the Knippling clan and all its drama.  There was always some low-level feud going on between wives.  Some argument between brothers.  Someone calling someone else a fool behind their backs.

A couple of hundred miles away, it was restful.  Peaceful.

I tried to tell this to Margie one day.  I had to tell someone, and my parents weren’t the ones to talk to.  They were going through a lot, good and bad, having left the farm.  And one day we were over at her house for some reason or another, and it just came out.  Horribly, awkwardly.

I’m prettty sure I insulted the people she loved best.  She forgave me.  She said, “You don’t get to pick your family.   You don’t have to like them.  You just have to love them.”

It’s true, and it helped.  I learned to roll eyes with the best of them.  And what she didn’t say, but what I have also taken with me, is that they just have to love me. Whenever I made a choice I knew that would have the gossips all a-flutter, I thought about her words, and went on with what I felt called to do.

She wasn’t a saint, or at least she wouldn’t let anyone call her one.  But everyone who knew her knows that she is one of the pillars of everything solid and merciful in our lives, no matter how much or little she touched them.

For example, I’ve talked to other people who were so filled with despair that they say things like the world is awful and people are crap and why bother. Well, but then there’s my Aunt Margie, see?  I always knew those people were wrong.  It’s not the world itself that’s wrong, because if that were the case, then Aunt Margie would have been wrong.  And she wasn’t.  I just can’t plumb the depths of despair because of her and people like her.  I already know better.

This causes me to get extremely irritable at times; I just want to shake people for being such idiots when it’s just not necessary.  And so I know I can’t be her.  I’m just not that patient.  And I’m not that forgiving.  But I’ll try.

Because I like her.  Very much.





Horror vs. Ghost Stories

I love old ghost stories.   Mostly late 19th-century British ones.  There are some good American ones, Canadian ones…but mostly British ones.  They’re short, maybe five thousand  words at most, and are not inhabited by ghosts so much as they are by something else.  Yeah, there are ghosts, but not even half the time.  There are ghosts of servants that terrify their masters…people possessed by tiger gods…cancer embodied as crabs…vampires that go about in daylight and invite one to tea.

You could call them ghosts, as a kind of general catchall, but they’re something else.  You have to wonder if, at the time, the British were acutely aware of the Empire falling apart, of history being redefined by other people who weren’t British.  Of things being not what they seemed.

But – I’m getting ahead of myself.  I’ve always wanted to write a good, turn-of-the-centuryish ghost story, but the’ve always seemed to escape me.  I think it’s because I didn’t really understand them.

A couple of weeks ago, at a new thrift store (DAV), I found a curious book.   It’s called The Haunted Looking Glass:  Ghost Stories Chosen by Edward Gorey.  It’s just what it sounds like, twelve ghost stories with Edward Gorey illustrations.  Algernon Blackwood, Robert Louis Stevenson, Wilkie Collins, and yes, Bram Stoker.  Most of them I haven’t read before.  “The Monkey’s Paw” I think is the only one, but I haven’t finished the collection yet.

I had just about finished “The Body-Snatcher” by Stevenson last night when I went to bed, which might imply that it wasn’t that interesting a story, but I was very tired, so I stuck in the bookmark and went to bed.

I woke up about two, dreaming of redlines (editing marks) that had ripped themselves off the page and were bleeding freely.  It’s been that kind of week.  They were after me, trying to tell me to do something horrible.  Some serial killers hear gods, angels, demons–I hear redlines muttering madness to me in my sleep.  At any rate, I woke up, tossed and turned for a bit, then got up and wrote a few  pages in my journal, because I couldn’t go back to sleep for worrying.   About money, mostly, but also about feeling like I had grown pettier and meaner recently.  More likely to snarl than laugh.

I wrote.  As I wrote, not before, I realized that the dream with the redlines had been a nightmare so bad that it had woken me up, and that I had kept myself from going back to sleep because I didn’t want to chance slipping back into it.  Simultaneously, I figured out why I was feeling so negative; when I feel like I’m not contributing, I get angry at other people that I feel aren’t contributing, or that…well, someday I’ll write it in a story.  That’s what I do when I find out something so awful that I don’t want to actually confess it about myself, but I need to get it out in the open, more or less.  A story has the benefit of being fictionalized, so you can both distort the truth and let a decent amount of time pass before you have to talk about it with anyone, so you have time to heal over the wounds to your ego.  At any rate, it wasn’t pretty.

Then, feeling tired but not quite willing to go back to sleep, I read the end of the Stevenson story.

It was abrupt, so abrupt that it felt lame.  Maybe it was just…the time it was written…eh.  Whatever.

I went to bed and had a hard time falling asleep, because my head was full of good ideas.  Fortunately I did fall asleep, and I did remember the one idea that was really good.   I worked on it some more this morning already.  I keep going, “Oh, this is good.”   It was such a relief to have the weight of all that negativity off my shoulders that my mind was full of more good things than it knew what to do with.

When I woke up again, I reread the end of the Stevenson story.  Yes, still curiously lame.

But then I flipped back to the beginning.

There was the end of the story.  You had to read the story like this:  Beginning–>End–>Beginning.  If you didn’t read the beginning again, well,  you might have been able to hold the entire story in your head and mentally reread the beginning.  At any rate, the beginning, after I read the end, had changed.

Aside from everything else, this got me thinking about ghost stories.  Not horror.  But ghost stories.

Horror is about pain, and whether you give in to pain, resist it, recover from it…pain.  When you look at Edgar Allen Poe, you’re looking at horror.   You don’t go back to the beginning of an Edgar Allen Poe story and find that it has changed under you.  Sure, “The Purloined Letter” was there all along, but in Poe’s version of ghost stories, it’s all about madness and torture and shock, not about redefinition.

The primary element of a ghost story is haunting.  And what we are haunted by is not ghosts, not things that go bump in the dark, but by our assumptions about  ourselves, which are so much stronger than the facts that we observe about the world…but the world will insist on its not being entirely erased by our notions.

If we could see ourselves clearly, we would not be haunted.

Free Fiction Wednesday: The Secret of the Cellar

Not much has changed here – the layout and fonts are all.  Okay, that sounds like a lot.  But really it wasn’t.

Under the basement…down in the dark…

Elly always gets stuck with entertaining her relatives while their parents talk to her mom.  Blah, blah, blah.  It goes on for hours.  But this time, she worked and worked to make a special surprise for her visiting cousins…a haunted house in the basement!  With a super-duper, extra-gross surprise in the spooky cellar.

It should be the most fun that they’ve had in forever…until things start to go mysteriously wrong…

“The Secret of the Cellar” will be free here for one week only, but you can also buy a copy at B&NAmazonSmashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more.

The Secret of the Cellar

When the cousins came over to Elly’s tiny yellow house in Michigan, which was shoved in between two other houses so they almost touched and had barely any yard in the front or the back and no parks to go to, her mom would say, “Elly! Take your cousins downstairs and entertain them while we talk,” and she would. Sometimes they would play “stay off the lava” by jumping between the old, stinky, ripped up couches, and sometimes they would play “planet destroyer” by using the white pool ball to knock all the other balls off the pool table, which usually ended up with someone having pinched fingers and them all getting in trouble for making too much noise, and sometimes they would play “hide and seek.” One time Elly followed her cousin Jackson to the downstairs closet under the stairs and locked the door so he couldn’t get out. Then she found all the other cousins and they went upstairs and played tea with snickerdoodles and dolls until it was time for them to go. Jackson was so proud of not being found that he never noticed that he got locked in, because she unlocked the door before she yelled for him to go home.

This time it wasn’t Jackson but the M cousins from Iowa. There were four girl cousins, and their names all started with M: Missy, Mandy, Mary, and Maureen, which Elly thought must be kind of embarrassing at school.

“Just let us know if you need anything, girls!” said Aunt Jane.

“Okay!” Elly said. She led them away from the living room with all the adults to the door to the basement. She had her lucky purple dinosaur shirt on, and her lucky red sneakers, and her jeans with butterflies on the back pocket, for good luck.

“Can we play pretend?” asked Mandy. “I want to be Esmeralda the Elf Queen again.”

“No,” said Elly. They were always wanting to play the same game over and over again, and she wasn’t going to let them. “Today we are going into the basement.”

“We always go into the basement,” said Maureen. She was the smallest. And the whiniest.

Elly had a very small red metal flashlight in her pants pocket, attached to a keychain holder. Now she turned it on by turning the cap in a circle and held it under her face. “Yeah, but then we are going into the cellar.” Read More

Indie Publishing: Check your page count!

I think I’m going to just have to add walking (most) clients through their royalty calculators to my interior print layout services.

Because what happens is I ask them, “How many pages do you want the interior to be, approximately?” and they say, “Oh, whatever looks good.”

This is a bad, bad idea.

Okay.  Let’s take this as an example.  You have a 120,000-word book.   (Here’s where the experienced people flinch, because they already know there are some painful choices to be made.)  You decide you want a 12-point font, because it’s important that your text be readable.  You tell your designer, “It’s important that my text be readable.”

Your designer, quite correctly, goes for a 12-point font (or something reasonable, which will depend on the font itself), multiplies that number by, oh, 1.5, and comes up with a good amound of space for the leading, that is, the space between the lines of text.  Single space is 1x the text size (so your text is 12-point text and your leading is 12-point spacing between lines).  Double space is 2x the text size (12-point text, 24-point leading).  Leading at 1.5 is a good starting place for this kind of thing–but the designer should be willing to change this, based on client input.  Designers, until they do all the interior formatting fiddly bits (and you should be approving the design before they start on those), are not married to a strict 1.5x font leading.

By following those guidelines, your designer could hand you off a book that’s over 450 pages in length, at a 6×9″ layout.

As a rule of thumb, you want to make about $2 each on lowest tier of royalties from your distributor.  Because we’re talking indie POD stuff here, your basic options are CreateSpace, Lightning Source International (LSI), and Lulu.  If I have time I’ll double back and look up the info for LSI and Lulu, but here’s the CreateSpace royalty calculator, which is what most of you are going to start out with.

Go take a look at it and plug in the numbers:  b/w interior, trim size 6×9″, number of pages 450.  You have to enter a cover price.  Let’s enter, oh, $9.99.

Those of you who know where I’m going with this, yes, you can snigger.

Enter the price and hit Calculate.

What you will see is that the Amazon royalty is -$.26, the eStore royalty is $1.74, and the expanded distribution (all other places other than Amazon or directly through CreateSpace) is -$2.26.  The number is also a negative in the pounds and euros fields.

Your good intentions plus the designer’s good intentions equals YOU WILL LOSE MONEY ON THIS BOOK.

Generally, you want to shoot for a profit of about $2 per book.  This means a) you make some money, and b) the BOOK SELLERS MAKE ENOUGH MONEY TO MAKE IT WORTH CARRYING YOUR BOOK.  The book sellers make a percentage of your cover price–usually around 40-50%.  If the book is priced too low, they won’t stock it.  Pfft.  They’re not selling books to be noble.  So don’t undercut your royalty by more than like 50 cents, or the booksellers won’t want it, either.

In order for this 450-page book to make $2, you have to price it between $19.99 and $20.99, which makes it a tough sell to readers, even in trade paperback size (6×9″).


Okay.  Let’s say you looked at those numbers and went back to your interior designer (before you finalized the design, mind you, because if you approved the design and let your designer do all the fiddly bits, you deserve to pay for the additional hours of formatting work over and above your original agreement) and said, “Look, 450 pages is too many.  Can you get me down to…350?”

As you can see if you go to the royalty calculator, if you can get the book down to 350 pages, then you can charge $16.99 for the book, which is slightly more reasonable (for a trade paperback).

Your designer should be able to do this.  They should be able to give you options for cutting over 20% of your page lengths, if they’re starting from a reasonably ideal text layout.  Now, if they start out by saying, “I know this is a long book and you’re going to want to save some pages, so I’ve condensed the layout a little,” then they may not be able to make another big cut to the pages.   I’m just saying that in most cases, there’s a lot of wiggle room.  They may have a hard time hitting an exact page count, but if you give them a range of 25 pages or so, they should be able to hit it.

However, this 120,000-word book will never be anything but a 120,000-word book, and when the text comes back, it will be much closer to single-spaced than it will be to a 1.5 leading, as I discussed above.  The margins may be smaller; blank pages may be removed; you may end up with less open space on your chapter pages.  In extreme cases, you may end up with just a chapter marker, with no separate chapter page at all.   You will still end up with a book that you have to charge more money for.  Because it’s a 120,000-word book.

As the publisher (dear indie publisher), it’s your responsibility to think about these things.   Don’t just say, “I trust you,” even if you have a good designer.  They may do a great job with the layout.  You could have the prettiest interior ever.  But if the page count might kill your sales, then ask your designer for help–ASAP.


Free Fiction Monday: The Whispering Tree

Strong language and adult situations, for those of you who find such thing appealing.  I was thinking…I particularly like those stylized black and white covers.  Here’s a version that fits my short story template.

A writer torn between two genres, two worlds…and Horror always cheats.

If only the best writer of his generation, Richard O’Shea, had come down clearly on one side or the other between the horror and fantasy genres, none of this would have happened. But he didn’t, and now both worlds play dirty to get his soul.  The fairy lands send their queen:  a lusty, foul-mouthed punk with glitter and sex in her eyes.  Hell sends something darker.

The two worlds won’t share him.  They’re getting old, and need fresh meat, as it were, to revitalize their realms.  Richard wants to believe that the punk charms of Fairy have won him over…but Hell doesn’t need Richard to like it in order to win.

Now the only thing between Richard and Hell’s dark charms is Victoria, his editor.  An editor who carries both pens and swords…and has very sharp teeth…

“The Whispering Tree” will be free here for one week only, but you can also buy a copy at B&N, AmazonSmashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s and more.

The Whispering Tree

The love of my life had just told me that the reason she’d been holding herself back was that she wasn’t human, but a Fairy. A real one. And that, if I had went to Fairy with her, according to the rules of fantasy, we would be setting inevitable machines of tragedy in motion that would work to keep us apart forever after.

I’d just told her that I intended to find a way around the rules. It was what I did, after all. Not break rules so much as just…weasel around them.

“But the rules—”

“When you have the rules figured out, it’s time to change the rules,” I said, more bravely than I felt.

She put her hands on the small, round table…and headbutted me. Oh, I don’t think it was intentional; in her next movement, she grabbed both sides of my head and kissed me. “Then run away with me,” she said. “To Fairy. And we will change everything.”

I saw stars and the inside of my skull felt as though it had a nosebleed. “Didn’t you just tell me that if I loved you we’d have to live here forever—”

This story is no longer available for free.  Please see the links above or your favorite ebook seller to purchase a copy.


The Garlic Ice Cream Incident

Last weekend was the Pikes Peak Urban Gardens’ garlic festival.  It wasn’t big, and there wasn’t as much garlic as you might have expected.  I mean, a garlic festival, you expect things to reek of garlic.  You expect a six-foot dancing garlic bulb and a raw garlic eating contest.  Roast meat slathered in garlic–perhaps even on a spit.

Maybe someday.  Now it’s small enough to fit in a garden center that doesn’t take up even a small block.

There was a guy playing guitar.  A guitar-shaped guitar without a lei of garlic around its neck.   He played non-garlicky songs.   There were food trucks outside the festival.  We got an iced coffee–one of the trucks was run by a guy that does food stuff up by where my husband works.   We passed by someone selling juice out of the back of a smart car.  There was supposed to be garlic popcorn, but it hadn’t got running yet.  There was a video of how to grow garlic:  it ran for ten minutes and started on the half hour.  It was like one of those movies that you see in an art museum, on a loop.  It’s not something you couldn’t find elsewhere; it’s just there to give context.

We stopped by all the tables.  I ate a salad from Seeds Community Cafe, which was a good thing.  I’d heard of them but hadn’t bothered to go because I thought they were a bunch of do-gooders with more ideals than sense, and who couldn’t cook.   But the salad was good, and now I think I’ll go check them out sometime soon.  I ate all of the salsas from the salsa contest; there was a Japanese salsa (which turned out to be a green salsa with tamari sauce) and a beet-garlic salsa (which sadly tasted nothing of garlic).  I had a veggie taco that was mostly potatoes.  Good, but it reminded me of why being a vegetarian is hard:  all that freaking starch.

It was a small festival, okay?  We didn’t say for the cookoff or whatever else there was.  We stayed for maybe an hour.  It was good, a good place to be.

But what I really want to tell you about was the garlic ice cream.

What did you think of, when you first read that phrase?  Garlic ice cream.

I think it’s important.

Did you decide it was going to be disgusting?  Did you decide that it was interesting, and you’d have to try it?  Would it help if I told you that it was made by the cooks over at Blue Star?

We tried it.  We stood in line and got a two-ounce cup of it with a little spoon.  Lee took a bite first and decided it was godawful.

I took a bite.  At first, it was awful.  But I’ve tasted weird food before, and I love finding out how the mind works.  I know this stuff is made by people who would otherwise only make delicious things.  This horrific flavor sensation, of vanilla ice cream with raw garlic mixed in, isn’t all there is.

Then I think, “cold garlic cheese spread.”

There’s a snap in my mouth, and the ice cream tastes different.  Now it’s not vanilla ice cream with garlic on top.  Now it’s chilled garlic cheese spread, thinned out with milk and cream, and the garlic’s not raw, it’s roasted.

Two completely different flavors; each of them was more or less all in my mind.  An optical illusion of the taste buds.

It wasn’t just me, either.  I told Lee, and the same thing happened to him.

We both finished the entire thing, sitting at a table under an awning, listening to Mr. Guitar Player pick along.  Soon after that, we left and went over to Ivywild.  They gave us beer coupons at the garlic festival, so we went over there, got a sausage plate, and drank our beers.  The sausage plate, by the way, had sweet pickles on it, which were apparently good if you like that kind of thing, which I don’t.  Guh.  I tried one, but no–there was no snapping into place of the flavors, no sudden reinterpretation.

I’ve been thinking about this for days.

About how our minds affect our taste buds.  About how our opinions affect our perceptions.   About how optimist, pessimist, and realist don’t really cover this.  (The pessimist is guaranteed to hate garlic ice cream; the optimist is guaranteed to at least try the garlic ice cream but will probably taste the same thing the pessimist does; the realist is guaranteed to eat garlic ice cream.  What is it, what outlook on life is it, that can go, “this isn’t garlic ice cream–this is cold garlic cheese spread”?  A sales mentality?)

I keep running into things that make me go, “You’re not seeing what’s in front of you.   You’re seeing garlic ice cream, not cold garlic cheese spread.”

Because I’m a writer, I think about how this affects my books.  Is a book better because people say it is?  Once Twilight became Twilight, was it all but impossible for some people to like it?

I’m still pondering.  How much of what I see is completely warped by my opinion?  Not just a little better or a little worse than I would otherwise think it?  But completely different? How much of what I wrote above is even true?

I don’t know.  But I do know that I have Exo protein bars (made with cricket flour) coming to the house.  I hope they get here soon.


Free Fiction M–WEDNESDAY: The Society of Secret Cats

This one is late this week because…erm…I found more typos than I could live with.  So–this will be up until next Wednesday, if you please.

Also!  A preview of the forthcoming “King of Cats” follows the story.  Sooo happy with that one.

What if cats were really there to guard your dreams?

Lost in the Forest of Dreams, the dashing, handsome cat Ferntail must rescue his human girl from her horrible nightmares, nightmares that come from outside her mind. Will a mysterious and beautiful cat from The Society of Secret Cats help lead them out of the forest…or further astray?  Now (or soon) available at AmazonB&NSmashwords, Apple, Kobo, Powell’s, and more.

The Society of Secret Cats


Mice are delicious.  But even more delicious are monsters, ghosts, and things that go bump in the night.  Your mother or father might tell you that they are all in your head and that you’re just imagining things.  In a way, they’re right. Monsters are all in your head.

But you’re not just imagining things.

This story is no longer available for free.  Please see the links above or your favorite ebook seller to purchase a copy.


What comes before story?

When you are reading or writing a story, what comes before the story?

Well, if you’re a plotter, you might answer “an outline,” which is a rather literal interpretation of that question.  Or “character development” or “theme” or what have you.  But no, that’s not where I’m headed.

When you are reading or writing a story, what should take precedence before the story?

What, when you are reading or writing a story, is more important than the story?

  • Appropriateness of plot.
  • Appropriateness of language.
  • Appropriateness of characters.
  • Appropriateness of morals.
  • Appropriateness of choices of the characters.
  • Appropriateness of tone.
  • Appropriateness of ending.

Are any of these things actually more important than the story?  They should be in service to the story, yes, but are they more important than the story?

No.  If you find that a story calls for a certain type of plot, language, character, morality, character choices, tone, or ending, and you don’t provide exactly that, then you’ve made the story lose integrity.

Should Harry Potter have used magic?

Some people don’t think so.

Should A Clockwork Orange have used the language, characters, or character choices (i.e., extremely violent ones)?

Some people don’t think so, either.  But A Clockwork Orange, whether you like it or not, has integrity.

Should people be forced to write about things they don’t want to write about?

No…but neither should they be standing up and saying that nobody else should, either.

Don’t betray your stories…but don’t ask other authors to betray theirs, either.

Write your own stuff and stop editing other people’s (unless you’re an editor, obviously).

More than likely, if it’s good, it sells (either traditionally or indie).  And if it doesn’t, then perhaps it’s not because someone is oppressing you.  There’s a touchpoint that I use to determine whether someone’s being an ass:  If they end with “and therefore, our main concern should be making sure that everyone is treated fairly,” then their hearts are in the right place.  But if they end with “and therefore, we’ll do whatever it takes to get what we deserve,” then I know that the preceding opinions are just a bunch of hooey.  When people talk about shutting down other people’s opinions (rather than just disagreeing with them), then I know they’ve lost their ability to empathize with real people and are just writing cardboard cutouts in a cardboard cutout story–no matter where they are, politically or spiritually.

Their stuff isn’t worth reading.

If you can’t be bothered to write someone who is fundamentally different than you are with empathy–then go home, because you’re not a writer.  You’re Darth Helmet playing with his little figurines.




What’s happening to the reader now? How about now?

I’ve been studying books this summer.  Books, short stories, even movies.  Let me tell you, the more I work on this the more I think that it’s the way to go.   So stop reading this stupid blog and go study a book!

How should I study it, you ask, because you’re smart and you ask the questions that I want you to ask.  (Every writer wants that audience.)

You know, I can tell you how I started, but really, it’s a bootstrappy, state-dependent kind of process, so it’s going to be different for you.  You can start where I started, although I can assure you that you’ll head elsewhere soon after.

What you do is read books.  Doesn’t matter what kind of books.  Just keep reading until you hit one where you’re like DAMN I AM SO JEALOUS.  Not one that you like, but one that makes you irrational.  One that you recommend to other people, one that makes you despair of ever being A Real Writer.  Or, scratch that, you could start with any book.  You could start with a horrible book.  It doesn’t actually matter; personally, I find it more enjoyable to work on books turn me green, because as I work, I slowly find out how to do it.  Ah, the power.

What you do is you go back to the beginning and start typing parts of the book in, OR outlining.  Or both.  Or some other technique that you’ve made up that makes you slow down and pay more attention to the book, to analyze it (and to absorb it on a less critical level while your brain is distracted by Shiny New Ideas).  Right now I’m outlining, except when I hit something that makes me go hm…, and then I type.  Sometimes I just type for the hell of it.  “Ah, I already know what’s going on in this scene, but I don’t feel like being too terribly analytical today, so I’ll just type.”  It doesn’t matter.  Just throw yourself in.  You’ll know you’re headed in the right direction if a) your brain hurts, or b) you’re bouncing on your seat going “LOOKITLOOKIT.”

I’m working on The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch.  I have worked on many, many stories this summer.  I studied romances, I studied crime capers, I studied a James Patterson thriller.  I studied a buttload of short stories across genres.  There wasn’t a single story that was a waste of my time, even when I found out things like “this author is really weak at plotting” or “you can write a short story with only two real characters in it, and nobody will know the difference if you populate the character’s thoughts and dialogue with references to other people.”  I learned to see things the authors didn’t want me to see.

By the time  I got to Locke, I could handle typing things in without my brain hurting, and I could outline without breaking a sweat.  I worked on him for a while, found out some cool structure stuff (like how to write more than one time stream per chapter, and maybe how and when to write omniscient)…and then started seeing something different.

Scott Lynch dicks with the reader.


I’ll give you an example.

In short, the book’s about a con artist, Locke Lamora, in a fantasy world.  The city he lives is run by two groups, the official government (the Duke), and the unofficial criminal government (the Capa).  Someone’s been murdering the Capa’s men in particularly brutal ways; Locke goes to the Capa to pay him the weekly cut of his little gang’s takings, and sees the Capa torturing some of his other men, who should have been able to stop the latest killing but are claiming they have no memory of it.

This is a brutal torture scene.  Broken glass and a heavy canvas sack are involved.  There are two guys out of eight left.  The floor’s splattered with blood and everything reeks.  The Capa has the torterer work on the next-to-last guy while he questions the last guy.  The last guy doesn’t change his story:  none of them remember what happened that night.

The Capa goes down a list of things that might have caused them all to forget:  drinking, drugs both natural and magical, sorcery, and divine intervention.  The victim denies drinking or drugs, and the Capa says, “Oh, forgive me.  You weren’t enchanted by the gods themselves, were you?  They’re hard to miss.”

And then they move on, and the last guy gets thrown to something nasty under the boat where they are, and the rest of the scene is underscored by the thumps and scrapes against the wood.

See what I mean?  Dicking with the reader.  This happens in almost every chapter, if not every other scene.  Lynch tells you a) how things are going to fall out, b) why, and c) with what method.  He hasn’t, as far as I can tell, yet told us who was going to do it, although I can see the necessary pieces and parts laid down.  Of course everything must fall out the way it does, because of the groundwork that has been laid.

So I’ve begun reading to determine what’s happening to the reader at any given point.  Here the reader is being encouraged to ask certain questions–then having the questions answered misleadinginly.  Here the reader is being distracted by a torture scene in which Locke is worried that he’s next (because of course he’s been lying to the Capa about the take), and can’t see when the author throws in the method that the bad guy is using to get to his victims.  Here the author is letting the reader see that nothing has changed about Locke since the last time he had a major screwup.  Here everything goes smoothly for the character…all too smoothly, until there’s a gratuitous fight scene to distract the reader from the fact that it’s all too easy.  Here Locke patiently explains how he’s deceiving his victims…while behind the shadows, someone else is doing the same thing to him.

When I first read the book, I had no idea how it would come out–I just felt like the ending was surprising and inevitable, which is the way you want a book to come out.  Now that I’m studying the book, I can see that there was nothing really surprising about it–it was just that my main focus wasn’t on the details that would have told me how the book ended.  The details were there for my subconscious to absorb–but my consciousness was always distracted from those details, time after time, so that I wouldn’t give the ending away to myself too soon.

I don’t know that I’ve mastered the idea yet.  I’ll tell you when my brain stops hurting.  But something I do know is that you’ll never pick up on this kind of thing on a good writer unless you do something that breaks the spell of being purely a reader.  People say that if you want to be a writer, you have to read a lot of books.  Well, you can read as many books as you want, but you’ll never see this stuff on your own–because the writer is deliberately distracting you from it.

Pretty cool, eh?

New Kids’ Fiction: Exotics #3: The Subterranean Sanctuary

Mr. Hightower snorted.  “At any rate, it’s only you, dear Rachael, that we need, not these others. They can go.”

Returning home again after the terrible events at Xanadu House, Rachael Baptiste has learned not to trust humans…because they might be part of the Lighthouse Parents, a hostile group out to arrest and destroy the Exotics.

Her parents do nothing about argue.  Her Exotic friends pretend to be normal.  Her human friends hint that it might be better if the Exotics just disappeared.  And now the horrible Mr. Hightower wants her to spy for him…on her mom.

Rachael doesn’t know what she should do…but she knows that if she doesn’t keep an eye on Mr. Hightower and his group of Exotics, she won’t be able to stop them…

The third ebook in the Exotics series is available at Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple, Powell’s, and more.  The POD will follow shortly.  You can read free chapters here.