Friday, December 31, 2010

An Award for Have Gun Will Play - and the traditional pubishers were right, sort of

Forgot to mention this: Red Adept has started to give out Annual Indie Awards, and Have Gun, Will Play was second in the miscellaneous genre category!

I was very pleased. I also noticed something interesting as the apparent result of the award. I did not see a jump in sales for HGWP, but I did see an unexplained jump in sales for my other books, especially the short mystery collection.

I have the feeling it's an illustration of how right the traditional publishing industry can be, because this isn't the first time that has happened. I get a good review, or someone mentions how much they enjoyed the book... and my other books get a bump in sales. When I marketed HGWP to agents a little (before going indie), the response I got was that it was a great book, but readers have a high resistance to reading a western - and since it isn't actually aimed at the narrow western audience, no one would actually pick it up to find out if it's any good.

No don't get me wrong, it is my best selling novel, but it seems like people approach it slowly. Someone recommends it, or it is featured on a blog, or I run an ad, and either nothing happens, or I get sales on the short story collection instead. Then a few weeks later the sales on HGWP trickle in.

On a larger scale, this also may be how the audience is approaching indie books in general. They don't know if they can trust an indie book, and because time is more important than money, they approach with care. Checking out the sample and other shorter, cheaper works.

Which only confirms to me that it's good to have a variety of works available. I guess I'd better get cracking....

Just a Word Count Update

I wrote 1111 words on a sequel to The Man Who Did Too Much. It was a fun scene in which George rather rashly tries to help Karla out by destroying her reputation as the town spinster. She will have to admit it what he did was funny, and I expect her reaction will be:

"Now we have to pretend we're not having an affair."
"But we're not having an affair," protests George.
"Exactly!" says Karla. "If everything is pretense then you can do anything you want and nothing is real."

Haven't got to that part yet, though.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Day 26 - DONE plus my other goals for 2011

Today's Progress - 2524 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 26978 Words for a finish!

I did not get to 30k, but some of the prose is pretty thin, and I expect this will get a little longer on rewriting. I will start the rewriting on Saturday, and I hope to have it ready for publication on the 9th, but I could take as long as MLK day.

One thing I forgot to mention about my writing goals for this coming year: I will be working on a lot of little dares, with some gaps in between. I will also have a lot of prep work to do on various stories. Therefore I'm going to set a goal of 1000 words a day (or maybe a little less) every day, even the days in between the dares. (For instance; tomorrow and Friday.) I can write on anything I feel like, but I have to keep up the word count.

No on to the ridiculous part of my 2011 Goals: the Blog.

I do have to post on this blog every day. That's a part of my routine. And I want this to be interesting reading, because the more readers I have the more pressure I feel to perform.

But I also have some ambitious goals to improve my blogging. For one thing, I want to be able to contribute some guest posts around to other blogs. And for another, I have my two other related blogs - Daring Adventures and the Spoilers Blog, which I haven't really used at all. But since I hope to keep up the "#samplesunday" stories and excerpts every week, I hope that will work with the Adventures blog. (Maybe, maybe not.)

But I really want to play with the Spoilers Blog. Because I have a dream for it.

I've always been a student of film and story, and I've always liked to do analysis of film. I was gravely disappointed when I learned that isn't what you do in grad school. (Grad school work appeared to involve only the analysis of the critics who talked about film. You analyzed how they analyzed each other. You never got to talk about film itself, just about the theories of academics who never made films themselves. It really sucked.) Ahem, anyway....

When I started studying screenwriting, however, I had one teacher who gave us a sheet with seventy lines on it. It was a kind of beat sheet for breaking down a TV movie, and she found it a useful tool for looking at film of all kinds. You'd watch the film and record when each scene started, and make a code mark for when some important plot point happened. It was a great tool for seeing plot structure - and you could apply it even to plotless "art house" films, as well as action stories and MOWs.

The cool thing about it was that it was blank. Sure, my teacher used it to teach a very specific structure, but you could also use the method to find unusual structures. It was a tool, like a ruler, to help you see the rhythms and patterns in a particular work. You could also use it on a flawed (or downright bad) movie to help see how it didn't work.

I loved that assignment. And long after the class was over, I kept doing it. Except that I couldn't limit myself to just listing the scenes and times, or marking important transitions. I found myself freeze-framing and charting, and breaking down the scenes themselves, and marking the entrances and exits, and revelations.

Eventually I realized I was writing a freaking commentary track. I usually wouldn't finish them, because it's a lot of work to no purpose, but I would generally use them to study some element of film - beginnings, ends, entrances, etc. And you've seen me do it here on occasion.

What I'd really like to do with the Spoilers Blog is to publish multi-part commentary tracks analyzing story. And though some of that could be done here, I don't really like to get into full spoilers here - and what I would want to do is to go into depth from the start about how this beginning is already setting up the end, etc. I don't want to just have a spoiler someplace off in a corner. I want to use that information fully.

That has long been a dream of mine - for many many years - but because it is time consuming, I probably won't do it. Still, if I can do it this year, without hampering my ambitious main goals, then that will prove I can do it. And now the blog is set up and waiting. Maybe, just maybe, I'll get around to it.

Tomorrow I will be writing a thousand words on something. I don't know what. It may even be bits and pieces of many somethings.

See ya in the funny papers!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Day 25 - Still Coughing, No Progress

I think I did write about 500 words today, but I have to ditch them because I chose the wrong point of view. Bringing that character into the scene too early changes the dynamics too much.

So instead I did a little editing on some old stories, and thought over some of my publishing plans. I found notes for a screenplay concept that I had been stuck on-- and I realized one of the reasons I was stuck is because it was the kind of story that needed summary, and it also needed some internal monologue. It will work as fiction much better than as a screenplay.

So I did manage to do an outline for the story, and that I'll count as a kind of progress too.

Sorry to poop out on you, but I'm in need of sleep and a warm cat. More tomorrow.

Day 24 - Prime Writing Goals

Today's Progress - 1519 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 24454

24454 / 30000 words. 82% done!

I may well actually finish tomorrow, or more likely the next day. Right now, though I want to pause to rethink the choreography of the ending. Because you can't explain things in a screenplay, I probably have more "business" than I need, which displays why this character delays this or that. I need to cut that stuff, and in the meantime, I also think the fiction version is more Denver's story than the script was, so I need him to do a little more at the end.

In the meantime - more about my upcoming goals.

I'm feeling ambitious this year. This is partly due to Dean Wesley Smith, who has a way of encouraging people to do way more than they can handle, and then tells them to be happy with what they accomplished when they fail to reach that massively impossible goal.

So I have two goals for next year, but I'll talk about the second goal tomorrow. For today, here is the biggie.

The Prime Directive, Number One Goal:

To publish something every month of 2011.

And not just individual short stories, either. This shouldn't be as tough as it sounds, though. I have four kinds of material I will work on.

1. Screenplays. I wrote several, and a couple of them are fun, but not really suitable for turning into fiction. So I'm going to adapt the format to make it easier to read on a small screen device like an iPhone, and then publish. I have concepts for the covers, which should make it obvious it's a screenplay and not a novel.

One of these screenplays in particular is the story of how Mick and Casey met. It's not a mystery, and since Mick is a secondary character who is not there for a bunch of the scenes, I don't feel I should try to adapt this to fit with the Mick and Casey Mysteries series. Instead, it will be a fun thing that those who are curious can read if they like. (A number of readers have expressed curiosity about it.)

2. Novellas. I suspect that shorter novels are going to make a comback as ebooks become the norm. Novels used to be a lot shorter in the old days, and novellas were popular both in serial form in magazines, and published as stand-alones, and also collected in pairs or trilogies. It's a wonderful length for adventure fiction. You have room for subplots and interesting developments, but you can also bounce right through a fast-paced story.

Right now I'm adapting a screenplay to a novella, but I think my better works will be some of my unfinished Mick and Casey stories. I have a couple of them that are more than half done, actually. They just had no market at that length before. Plus I really think this is the perfect length for The Serial, which may be what I'll be publishing at the end of the year.

3. Novels. I intend to get one more Mick and Casey full novel done this year, preferably by spring. Again, I have rough exploratory writing for about half of the story, so it shouldn't be too hard. I also have a very long YA fantasy novel that needs editing. It's finished and polished, actually, but at the time I wrote it, I wanted to learn to write an epic tome - and I expect it could use a little tightening up. And of course, I'll finish The Man Who did Too Much, but I don't intend to publish that until I have a strong draft of the second in the series.

I also have the sequels to Wife of Freedom. My original intention with this book/series was to play with the idea of an old fashioned melodrama - and maybe a touch of pulp fiction. I am still torn as to whether I should tidy them up, or just go flat out into the concept and let it be as cheesy as it wants to. This is the only thing holding me up. I am leaning toward glorying in the cheese, but I've got a lot of things ahead of it in line, so I don't know if I will feel that way when I get to it.

4. More collections of short fiction. I have some longer sf/fantasy stories that might go together in a trilogy. I have miscellaneous flash fiction, and more children's fiction. I also have some ideas for further stories.

One other thing I might do, if I'm desperate to meet the "publish something every month" goal - I might count laying out and publishing a paper copy of my existing books as a new publication. It is a lot of work, especially since I want to do some minor illustrations for The Adventure of Anna the Great. (Something like illustrated caps or a decorative header for each chapter, which depicts something from the chapter.)

However, I'd rather put any time I have left over from my ambitious Goal Number One, into the blog. I'd really like to enhance a few things I'm doing, especially with the associated blogs for spoilers and fiction.

More about that tomorrow.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Day 23 - And a Look Back at My Year In Publishing

Todays Progress - 1779 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 22935

22935 / 30000 words. 76% done!

One year ago I had just shifted gears. I'd been writing screenplays and doing script reading, but I felt the call of mystery writing again. The market for the cozy mystery seemed to have revived somewhat, even if the writers of such were still being treated like disposable napkins, and even if the cozy market seemed to lean a little bit more toward the 'churchlady' crowd than really suited me. Hey, my W.I.P. is about a small town spinster who doesn't use bad language, but Miss Marple she ain't. She worships Quentin Tarantino, and her idea of a religious experience is a Billy Wilder retrospective.

I really adore Karla, and George (the worldly but ne'er-do-well man of action who becomes her straight man and co-conspirator) but I have to admit that part of the reason I chose them to work on next was because their story seemed like something I could actually sell to a real publisher in today's climate.

And to that end, I started networking again. I started reading the blogs of agents and editors and my fellow writers - especially crime writers. Which is how I stumbled upon Joe Konrath's blog. I'd always thought that I would do some self-publishing for fun, once I'd made it in traditional publishing. But "St. Joe of the Indies" turned me on to the new concept of electronic self-publishing.

It was like Joe looked me in the eye and said "Duck, meet water."

I thought it was just a place to play around at first. I still planned to publish my serious stuff with traditional publishers... until I had paddled around the pond a few times and realized I was home.

So I spent the rest of the year moving in and making myself at home. It slowed me down considerably on my writing. But I made a lot of friends, in and out of the indie world, and everything I learned made me realize I had made the right choice.

No, I have not set the world on fire. It doesn't happen that way. Especially when you're someone who does everything bass ackwards. Unlike some writers who swing right into action in a hot category, I think it will be a year or two before I have the selection of books to really make a success of this. But it would take at least that long for a novel to make it through the system in traditional publishing.

I published 3 novels this year - none of which quite fit in a category or with each other. I also did two collections of short fiction. Overall these are selling at a couple dozen per month, mostly the shorts, but it still varies widely. I get very good reviews on my main title, Have Gun, Will Play, but it's still an uphill battle getting people to read an - eek! - western. Even if it's silly and a mystery. That book needs some support from other titles. All of my books need some support.

So that's my big goal for the next year. Fleshing out my library of titles. More about those plans, however, in upcoming posts.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Alibi - a short thriller

For those who maybe want something a little less sweet and uplifting this holiday, here's a short crime/suspense story, from my collection "Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup!"

by Camille LaGuire

Alice was a dreamer, and that made problems for Roger. Sure, it was nice that she was always off plotting those best-selling thrillers she wrote, but she had taken to spending her money lately. Lots of her money.

“It’s time to enjoy it,” she said, and she’d smiled at him, opening those plain brown eyes wide. The thing was, he had been enjoying her money all along. He didn’t want to spend time in Paris with her, he wanted to go there with Sheila instead. And the prenuptial agreement meant he couldn’t get a divorce.

But Alice didn’t seem to notice his edginess. She smiled plainly and bought tickets, and he started planning ways to get rid of her.

That weekend he set up his alibi. As far as the world was concerned, he would be out of state, at a resort. Then he came back to her beach house before dawn, and hid under a tarp in her little motor boat.

As expected, she came down to take the boat out in the morning. The boat rocked as she stepped in and then she cast off. He heard her call good morning to neighbors. That was perfect. They saw her get into the boat alone. She revved the engine and went bouncing out over the water. She whooped as she hit the larger waves, and it surprised him that this quiet little woman would show any spunk. But that was great for his plan, too. Those neighbors would remember her reckless behavior when they heard she died in a boating accident.

When they got far enough from the shore, and she slowed the engine to go puttering along at her more normal and contemplative pace, he pushed the tarp aside and got up.

“Hello, Alice,” he said.

She gasped and the boat swerved, causing it to heave as a wave hit it broadside. He grinned and grabbed onto the low rail to steady himself. She steadied herself and the boat, and looked at him and the gun in his hand. He leaned his hip against the rail, and slipped a hand into his pocket, pulling out a plastic bottle with a straw, the no-spill kind athletes carry. He wanted to make sure it wouldn’t break if she fought.

“That’s right, Alice,” he said. “It’s over. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

“You’ll be caught. You’ll be the first suspected.” She gripped the wheel as if her life depended on holding it. He shook his head slowly.

“I couldn’t possibly have done this,” he said. “I’m at La Kaz for the weekend.”

“That won’t hold up.”

“Oh, don’t worry, it will. Look, it could be painful, or it could be easy. It’s up to you.” He held out the plastic cup with straw. “This is full of whiskey. Drink it up.”


“My other plan is to shoot you now.”

She wasn’t the defiant type. She’d spent a lifetime making up stories, and thinking and plotting. As he had expected and planned, she opted for the choice that gave her time to think. She took the bottle, and sipped through the straw, slowly, her eyes darting as if she thought she could see the cavalry coming to rescue her. Roger smiled. Escape? She couldn’t even let go of the wheel.

“There’s always evidence left behind,” she said. She tossed her head, but her voice was low and harsh. He shook his head.

“Not enough. Especially if I swamp the boat. Drink up.”

He gestured toward the bottle, and she took a sip. Her eyes were narrow, as if thinking hard, but her eyes never left the gun, and he could see her knuckles were white from gripping the wheel.

“If you do that, how will you get ashore?”

Stalling. He almost smiled again. The more she stalled, the more he could get her to drink. That was good.

“I’ll swamp the boat at Skyler’s Rock,” he said. “A tricky place to navigate for somebody who’s drunk, don’t you think? But easy enough for me to climb out onto the rocks. Unfortunately you won’t make it.”

“They’ll find something if they look,” she said.

“Back to that argument?”

“The only way to get away with it is if they don’t look at all. And they will look. If they even suspect a crime, they’ll look.”

“But if they don’t suspect a crime, they won’t,” he said. “That’s why I’m going to make it look like an accident.”

“You can’t do that if I don’t cooperate.”

“If I have to shoot you?” He smiled and shook his head. “That’s all right too. Drug dealers and smugglers at Skyler’s Rock. You remember all the trouble they had there last year. And the water has a way of really messing up evidence, if both you and the boat are under water.” He paused for emphasis. “And I have proof I was never here.”

“Never here,” she repeated quietly. She looked beyond him, at the sea, already withdrawn from reality. “And you’ve already established it?”


“How did you get here?”

“By moped—hidden in the trunk of my car, which I left in a security lot. The car hasn’t left, and they won’t find any sign that I’ve taken a rental or a bus or a plane.”

“But what if somebody out there looks for you, and you aren’t there? Do you have somebody lying?”

“No. People go there for seclusion. Long walks in their woods, on the beach. Nobody will find it amiss if they can’t find me. Besides, who’s going to look for me?”

She continued to question his plan, but he had an answer to every objection. She had to see that it was hopeless. Still, she chewed her lip, stalled and thought. Maybe plotting one last attempt at escape.

“You can’t swim to shore from here,” he said at last, in exasperation. “Drink up.”

“Drowning is a terrible way to die,” she said, and she looked him straight in the eye. The look on her face was hard. It almost made him flinch. He forced a shrug.

“That’s why you should get very drunk first. You’ll go quick, that way.”

She was looking at the sea again, chin set with some stubbornness, nodding rhythmically as she watched the waves. She wasn’t looking toward shore, so he glanced over his shoulder, but there was nothing to help her in sight. Just the waves and the cold cold sea she claimed to love.

“Fine,” she said. “But swimming is better. You have to fight when you go.” She looked him in the eye again, and for a minute he thought she might fight him. “I don’t want the whiskey.”

She tossed the cup in his direction. He needed her to be drunk to make the accident look good, so he rose to catch it. He was sure he could talk her into drinking more—maybe to delay the fatal moment. But as he reached, she gunned the engine and spun the wheel, just as a wave hit them broadside.

He plunged into the sea. The cold shock nearly made him numb. He flailed and managed to break the surface. His legs were already stiff and immobile from the cold of the water. He thrashed with his arms, gulping brine, and he heard her shout.

“Your alibi works for me,” she said. “They’ll never know you were here. They’ll never look for evidence in my boat.”

And with that his sodden clothes and cold-weakened limbs drew him down, and he never heard her rev the engine and sail away.

If you want to read more of the stories in Waiter, There's A Clue In My Soup! Five Mystery Stories, you can find it at Amazon's Kindle and Kindle UK, Smashwords. Only 99 cents for the collection! Such a deal!

This collection is also available at the Apple iBookstore, Barnes and Noble's Nook store, as well as for Sony, Kobo and Diesel.

Dec Dare Day 22 - 1956 Words and Simultaneous Action

Today's Progress - 1956 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 21156

21156 / 30000 words. 71% done!

Okay, now we're getting somewhere. I hope to do at least this well tomorrow, if not a little better. The action scenes at the end get quicker and quicker. I am coming again to scenes which should have a lot of intercutting in a movie, but since they are simultaneous action and they don't interact with each other much, I think I can just do one scene and then another, and maybe sometimes have a marker that shows where the timeline intersects.

That is I hope to handle it a bit like Phillip Craig and William Tapply handle their jointly written mysteries - where the story goes back and forth, chapter-by-chapter, between their two heroes. Often at the end, we'll see one character's point of view for a whole chapter, and then the next chapter runs over the same time frame from the other character's point of view - and they only overlap at the end of each chapter.

It works as a suspense tool just as well as cutting back and forth. Sometimes better, because you sow a seed at the end of one section, and then you let the audience forget about it - except that they haven't completely forgotten, so that when they see indications of the truth later on, they have a sudden flush of anticipation.

I don't know if I can make use of that anticipation as well with this particular set of scenes, but I'm going to try. And I figure this is all going to be rough, so I'll polish it in if I have to.

Tomorrow I hope to get to the year in review. It's been quite a year. I am looking forward to an amazing year next year too.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Dec Dare Day 21 - Belatedly

Yesterday's Progress - 1439 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 19200 Words

19200 / 30000 words. 64% done!

I didn't write yesterday because on Xmas Eve, I am caught up in excessive cooking. (We have a little potluck feast we call The Culinary Indulgence Fest, which gets a little competitive. I made xian bing - which are related to pot stickers.) So today I'm doing two sessions. I hope to keep this up all week until this is done.

To that end, I'm going to just hope you all are having a happy holiday (those of you who are having a holiday) and I'll post another update late tonight, along with a SampleSunday story.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Dec Dare Day 20 - 770 Words - Still Coughing

Today's Progress - 770 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total - 17761 Words.

17761 / 30000 words. 59% done!

Still got the cold, and nobody seems to be out on the internet today, so this update will be short.

Today is what I consider the last real day of 2010. Tomorrow, Christmas Eve, begins the Liminal Zone - the eight day period on the threshhold between two years. (Actually it's nine days, because I include both xmas eve and new year's day - but I'm math impaired, and there was supposed to be an eight day new year celebration in ancient times.)

During the Liminal Zone, I usually look back and look ahead, imitating the doorkeeper god, Janus. It's a time to set goals and mark progress. Next year, I think, is going to be a doozy.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Dec Dare Day 19 - 1352 Words And Still Coughing

Today's Progress - 1352 Words on Harsh Climate.
Running Total - 16991 Words.

16991 / 30000 words. 57% done!

I just heard that there is an outbreak of whooping cough in Michigan. I'm really hoping that I haven't got that. Everybody at work would be really mad at me for coming in on Monday and coughing a highly contagious disease all over the keyboards. (Of course, work would be where I GOT it in the first place.)

I'm not whooping yet, though.

Last year at this time I was battling a lingering cough - funny thing that. I finished up the fall dare on this day last year too. This time I'm working through the break because I have a hot prospect. (And I'm a little behind on it.)

I have been working a little on my year end review and my goals for next year. I'm quite excited about it all. I'll start posting about all that on Christmas Eve, which I consider the official end to the previous year. (I celebrate the days in between as a threshhold between the years I call The Liminal Zone.)

In the meantime, I must sleep, and I hope to be well enough to go grocery shopping tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

About eBook Prices - Part 3

So the first two models of ebook pricing were inwardly focused. One group prices ebooks high partly to prevent cannibalization of their lucrative hardback market. Another group prices low partly because they don't feel that an ebook has intrinsic cost. In other words, they are choosing their price based on what a book is worth to them as a producer.

Which is perfectly valid. In some sense, that's what yesterday's post was all about - because ebooks are not a commodity, you can set the price based on your needs, and then find the right customer. And I'm not saying that these two groups aren't thinking of the consumer - of course they are. Sometimes obsessively. But it feels to me like the reasons given for these prices - high or low - are focused on defense, as if the customer is some outside thing that has to be dealt with.

And that's where I feel the reasoning behind the third and fourth groups is a little different. They are more focused on what the consumer expects. They aren't trying to affect or manipulate customer behavior with pricing. They are just looking to see what the consumer is paying in their genre, and placing themselves in that ballpark. That is, they are letting the customer be, and adjusting to suit.

There is a lot of wiggle room in this pricing model, but when I look at the two groups I'm about to talk about, I notice that their prices tend to fall right into the price range Amazon prefers: $2.99 to $9.99. That is no coincidence. Amazon did its research on price. This range also happens to be where mass market paperbacks and used books fall.

Which is how I am going to label the two remaining philosophies.

3.) eBooks are the New Mass Market Paperback, or Magazine.

Hardbacks are generally perceived as having some intrinsic value - that is, they are valuable not only for the words they contain but as a physical object. Mass market paperbacks and magazines and digests, on the other hand, are considered to be a cheap vessel that holds the precious story.

So psychologically speaking, the price of a paperback or magazine is what the story itself is worth on its own. This is what the audience expects - although, since they know that there is some cost to produce and distribute a paper book, they may expect an ebook to be a touch lower. So a $7.99 paperback might be priced at 6.99 or 5.99.

This is actually where a lot of the big publishers are at right now. And it's well accepted by the audience, it appears.

4.) eBooks are the New Used Books.

Not everybody buys new books, though. As a matter of fact, I daresay every paper copy that doesn't get land-filled probably has several readers. The used book market is huge. Same with book swapping and libraries. Many who buy books new, only buy them with the idea of trading or selling them. And this audience doesn't consider the price of a new paperback to be the price of a story. It's the price of a vessel that can be recycled.

This audience sees the price of a good read at something closer to $2-5. A little higher for prized items and rarities, and they can certainly get books for cheaper, but that requires a hunt. But they do enjoy that hunt.

There are two reasons why I think this is the model to watch.

One is because this is a HUGE audience. They are high volume readers and they do experiment with interesting titles. They don't just stick to what Walmart sticks under their noses. This audience is coming, and they do want your 99 cent magnum opus. (But they're willing to pay more for a treasure. And they're willing to hunt for a treasure.)

The other reason is because I think market forces do have some effect. Not a full impact, but I do think that the cost of the old system - printing and distribution - did push up prices beyond their natural level. With ebooks, the upward pressure will be gone (or less) and so the prices will settle a bit. How much? I have no idea, but some.

Now, regarding the 99 cent short story:

I started this series partly because Dean Wesley Smith commented that he didn't understand my resistance to the 99 cent short story. To understand that, you had to know how I feel about all the rest.

I understand that there is an established audience among early Kindle adopters who like short fiction and are used to paying up to $1.99 for a story. I know very well that neither Amazon nor Smashwords allows a price lower than .99, so you can't price a story at a more reasonable .29 or .49, as Fictionwise has.

I understand that a good short story writer can make pretty good money off the niche audience for the 99 cent short story market. Just as Penguin can make money off a 14.99 e-novel.

But to me, and I think the majority audience out there, a buck is a heck of a lot to pay for something you normally get 20 for 6.99 in a paperback or a magazine.

Now, here's the thing: Dean pointed out that people don't like to be forced to buy a whole album when they could buy individual song tracks. But, IMHO, 99 cents might be fine for a one track out of 15 on a $12 CD. But it's too much for a single story out of an anthology.

As long as the vendors insist on 99 cents, we need to compensate by bundling a couple of stories together. Not a lot of stories. Figure the base price for a 60k novel, depending on which philosophy of pricing you go by, and divide it up from there. To me 99 cents needs at least 10,000 words, maybe less if it's an author I already know and like.

That's just imho, but I'm in the "eBooks Are The New Used Books" group.

In the meantime, my cough has let up to the point where I might be able to get some writing done. I may be posting a progress report later tonight. Certainly tomorrow.

* * * * * Public Service Announcement * * * * *

Check out your agents and markets at Preditors and Editors before submission - you'll be glad you did!

About eBook Prices - Part 2

I see from the little IP tracks in the snow that I've had a visit from The Penguin Group on Part 1 of this series. (Perhaps they have a Google Alert set up to "Penguin" "ebook prices" "these people are insane"?)

I suppose I should pause to point out that the big publishers are only crazy like a fox. Yeah, it's easy to bash what looks like an hysterical reaction to the surge in ebook popularity. The fact is, they can price ebooks however they want, and I'm not saying this because I believe in freedom, or because I think they are too big and powerful to deny.

I'm saying this because books are not a commodity.

One thing I hear a lot on the forums and writer boards is fear: the "efficiency of the market" is naturally going to force all prices down to pennies above cost. After all that's the way commodities work. And of course, the people most worried about this think that the cost of an ebook is virtually nothing, and so books will be free and nobody will make a living!

Except that the cost is NOT nothing - as I mentioned yesterday - and more importantly books are not like pork bellies or bushels of barley or a barrels of oil. The Saudis can't decide to flood the market to bring down prices or withhold product to keep the price up. If that were true, then the Gutenberg Project would have cornered the market on ebooks a long time ago, by giving great classics away for free.

They've been giving away free books for nearly 40 years. That's four decades. They've been giving them away in unlimited quantities, without DRM, in the most open formats they can find. And golly the price of ebooks has not dropped to zero yet. Penguin can still sell ebooks at $14.99.

There is room in this market for the $30 hardback novella and the 99 cent saga by an indie, and the free classic. And while competition may cause some downward pressure on prices in general, there will always be a broad spectrum in price.


Because it isn't really money that makes a reader hesitate to buy your book.

What the reader really wants to know is whether your book is worth their time.

Time, or more importantly, attention, is worth more than money these days. It's very scarce. Back in June I mentioned that we're all a part of one big slush pile now - indie writers, major New York publishers and yes, YouTube videos of cats riding roombas - all competing for attention.

The audience cares a lot less about their money than about their limited attention. They don't just want ta book. They want a good book that fits their mood, or at least a bad book with lots of cool stuff in it. (Mittens and His Roving Vacuum is very entertaining, and he doesn't make many demands.) So....

There will never be a set market price because no two books are equal in regards to whether they suit that particular reader at that moment. Which is why Penguin can charge $14.99 for now. They'll sell to all the people who really feel their books are worth that price. Then they'll drop the price later to sell to the next tier of the audience.

Variable pricing, of course, is a good strategy in a market like this, but right now I'm talking about how to fix on a price, not how to play with it. Next time I will FINALLY get to the more moderate pricing models, and the issue of the 99 cent short story.

(I may do that tonight. I don't know. It depends on how bad this cold remains. Cough, cough, cough...)

* * * * * Advertisement * * * * *

Dead to Writes, a mystery for Kindle, by Cathy Wiley
"Is Baltimore's newest author also Baltimore's newest murderer?"

Monday, December 20, 2010

About eBook Prices - Part 1

I have been coughing non-stop since noon today. I couldn't get much of anything done at all. Therefore I pulled together some maunderings about ebook pricing into post that turned out to be so long, I have to split it in two.

There seem to be four schools of thought in the pricing of ebooks these days. (And I'm talking about fiction here. Non-fiction has it's own issues in terms of costs and updating and research.)

1.) Sky's The Limit - Or No School Like and Old School.

The Big Six publishers are so horrified by Amazon's "low" pricing of books at 9.99 that they revolted and took back control. The pricing philosophy of this group, especially Penguin, seems to be set prices as high as they can. $14.99 is common. They seem to be intent on slowing the advance of ebooks, to please their brick and mortar partners, or to give themselves a chance to adjust their business model for Le Deluge (i.e. the end of the world, revolution, blood shed, collapse of reason, and the supremacy of ebooks).

IMHO, these people are insane, but if they can get customers at their high prices, okay, more power to 'em. But they are irrelevant to me. They can get away with these prices for a while because of the popularity of their authors - but if they don't start paying those authors a higher percentage, they'll lose them. And I sure won't pay those prices. I'll read their books at the library or get them used, thank you very much.

2.) How Low Can You Go? - Or I Don't Get No Respect.

This group largely started through the efforts of Joe Konrath, who has since changed his mind on the extreme low pricing. (Although, imho, he still hangs around on the upper edges of this group.) There are a lot of different reasons for adhering to ultra low prices, and it's a varied group, so don't think they all believe the same thing. This is just a summary overall:

This group believes in using the lowest practical price, given Amazon's policies. That means you have a goal that once you are established you might price a full novel at 2.99 (the minimum price which will get you a 70 percent royalty), but that you should set your price to 99 cents (the lowest list price Amazon will allow at all) while you establish yourself. And once established, you still might use 99 cents as the price for the first book in a series.

There are two ideas of why you should do this, both based on the idea that a cheaper price will get more readers. One group is all about the math. Amazon's policies mean that a $2.99 book gets six times the roylaties of a 99 cent book - so a cheaper book has to sell six times the number of copies to make the same amount as the higher priced book. The math whizzes feel that if you can increase your audience by more than six times, you're better off with the lower price. The problem is that very few actually make that magic 6x sales point. And of those that do seem to sell that much better, it's hard to tell if it's really because of the price.

I can't find more than anecdotal evidence for any side of this debate, but generally in the forums, when writers report on the results of a price change, it seems as though some do better, some do worse - and about the same percentage do each no matter if they are raising or lowering their prices.

The other group doesn't care how much money they make. They just want more readers. They feel they are beginners and have to win people over, and the best way to do that is a 99 cent price point. SOME of these people are depressed and desperate and just want to do anything to move books. Others are looking at the long term.

I agree with many of the reasons and feelings behind this cheaper model. I think, though, that the majority of this group has overshot their target.

A little bit of business knowledge is a dangerous thing. Most writers believe that you can sell a million ebooks or just one at the same cost to the writer/publisher. And they would be right, except that they don't seem to realize that cost is not "zero." There may be no cost of materials, but it takes time to write a book. It takes time and/or money to edit and create a cover and do layout. There is a fixed overhead cost that must be met.

In any business, beginners always think: "Oh, but I enjoy doing this, so I won't charge myself for my time. I'll donate it to get my career started..." That is a deadly trap. Because that time isn't free. You can't multiply it, or expand it. It's sunk time that you'll never get back.

Furthermore, those millions of unlimited sales over time? They aren't really unlimited. You only have so many customers. Those customers have to cover your overhead, or you're out of business.

When I was in the button business, I did pretty well as science fiction conventions. Buttons tended to sell for 1.50 each, 4 for $5 or 10 for $10, or 22 for $20. Would people buy 22 buttons? Heck yeah! SF fans love clever sayings. If you had enough inventory, you might have a customer who bought 50 or a hundred buttons. Most went for at least 10.

And I had this bright idea one time. The cost of making buttons kept the prices pretty much where they were. Plus, buttons took a lot of table space, which had to be rented, and it was a lot of work lugging them around. So I thought, you know, people weren't buying the buttons, they were buying the sayings. What if I made bookmarks that had the same sayings on them? They cost almost nothing to make, and were easier to lug around. People could buy more of them. And I could sell them for a quarter each and have, like, a one thousand percent markup! Lots more margin/profit.

I did great business at that con, and those bookmarks sold really well. The thing I didn't take into consideration was that you don't really change a customer's buying habits much, even with a lower price. And there was not an unlimited number of customers. So I sold bookmarks instead of buttons. And while the buttons had a lower percentage of profit, they actually did give me a higher return per item.

Upshot, I made less money. And strange but true: my competitors did NOT make less money. The fact that I had cheapies only influenced what people bought at my table and left them with more money to spend elsewhere. I thought I would out-compete them (which I normally did on the strength of my catalog) but this time, I only out-competed myself. Whoops. I ended up not making my expenses for that con. And I certainly didn't pay for my time designing those bookmarks.

If I had been a beginner, who couldn't read the crowds and tell how well I should be doing, I would have thought I'd done pretty well. I might even have convinced myself that, since the bookmarks did so well, I should get rid of the buttons altogether. Heck I could put just as many of them on one table instead of three, and save money on the dealer fees! Which would have been a disaster, because the thing that sells buttons (and bookmarks) is the amount of time people spend browsing at your table. If you don't have room for much browsing, you don't sell anything.

I do believe in keeping prices low - near the cost of production, even - but that the cost of production is a lot higher than people think it is! You put yourself out of business if you go below that. If you over-estimate the "unlimited possibilities" then you'll be disappointed at best. Don't do that.

Further more, you must value your time, or you won't be able to sustain the level of work you need to succeed. Which I'll talk about more in eBook Prices Part 2, when I get to the other two schools of thought on pricing ebooks. These are both moderate but with a big difference in the pricing of short stories.

* * * * * Advertisement * * * * *

Dec Dare Day 16 - 602 Words and the Value of Old Stories

Today's Progress - 602 Words on Harsh Climate, and a short story submission.
Running Total - 15639

15639 / 30000 words. 52% done!

My cold is now flirting with bronchitis, but so far it's still mainly a bad cough.

I said I was going to talk about productivity. Well, I realized that the first rule of productivity is to leverage any work you've already done.

Today some of the discussions we were having on Dean Wesley Smith's blog (in the comments on the post about goals) sent me to look one more time at my portfolio of old short fiction. So far I've mainly been looking at previously published fiction, and a few other stories that fit really closely with those.

But today I looked into my "on hold" folder; the stories I had completed but hadn't got around to marketing yet. Now way back in the eighties and nineties, I had a problem. I was a mystery writer who was trained by sf writers. So I wrote a bunch of odd fantasy stories, but my taste in such stories is what you might call "fun but unsophisticated." Unfortunately for me, sophistication was in at that time. So I wrote children's stories mostly (or disguised my fantasy as children's stories).

But I had a bunch of stories that I had abandoned for no good reason. I found several today and realized that these were not any less sophisticated than I read in the top magazines today. I think I left them behind because I had finally moved on to writing mysteries and screenplays. I just forgot them.

What's really funny is that one of the folk tales in The Enchanted Tree is about some stories which were abandoned and they went bad (like "evil overlord" bad). My real stories, however, just waited patiently. They did not rot or grew putrid, and it does not appear that they've been plotting against me. One of them was actually very close to ready to be submitted to a market.

So I polished and submitted it to a pro market that is known to respond quickly. Yes, I'd like to publish it myself, but you only get one shot at first rights, and publishing in a real magazine is great promotion for your other work. So I can always reprint it into an ebook later. (Plus it has a good tie in to one of the novels I haven't published yet.)

Sometimes old stories don't go bad. Sometimes they are like fine wine or cheese, and they mellow, or ripen, and wait for just the right moment to propel you right along. Knowing how or when to take advantage of these caches - whether they be fully formed stories, or just interesting ideas - is one of the basic secrets to productivity.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

A Cat-mas Carol - We Three Cats

Today's progress - 2087 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 15037 Words.

Made it past the halfway point! In spite of a fierce cold!

15037 / 30000 words. 50% done!

Now, forTwitter's Sample Sunday, I decided to post a Christmas... er Cat-mas Carol.

Long ago I wrote songs for my cats' website. I haven't done it in quite a while, but this is one of the more popular tunes. At the time I had three Siamese cats (you know "cats of Orient"?) whom I nicknamed "The Good, The Bad and The Fluffy." They had a three-way pecking order going, but they all knew how to cooperate at Christmas....

We Three Cats
(sung to the tune of "We Three Kings")

We three cats of Orient do
help our mom wrap presents for you.
Paper crinkles oh so beautifully.
Give us some stuff to chew.

Sit on paper, sit on bows.
Get the tape stuck on your toes.
Wrap your tail all up in ribbons.
Don't let scissors cut your nose.

We three cats just love to explore
right where mommy's doing her chores.
Lay right there and shred the paper.
Knock presents on the floor.

Sit on paper, sit on bows.
Get the tape stuck on your toes.
Wrap your tail all up in ribbons.
Don't let scissors cut your nose.

We three cats shut out of the room,
howling like we're meeting our doom.
Mommy scorns our help, what's wrong with her?
Guess we'll just sit and fume.

Sit on paper, sit on bows.
Get the tape stuck on your toes.
Wrap your tail all up in ribbons.
Don't let scissors cut your nose.

(Oh, shoot, and I JUST spilled tea all over myself without any assistance from felines whatsoever. I guess it's time to Say Goodnight Gracie...)

Tomorrow I'll start blogging about productivity. I have ambitious goals for next year. How do I get there?

* * * * * Public Service Announcement * * * * *

You can find wonderful organizations like Mid-Michigan Cat Rescue at PetFinders on the web. Don't forget to help the needy pets in this cold holiday season!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dec Dare Day 14 - What To do With An Addlepated Brain

Day 14 - 830 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 12950 Words.

My schedule was not bad today but my cold was really bad. While so far it's staying out of my lungs, breathing is still not fun because 1) it hurts and 2) I'm not getting any air through my nose anyway. And the coughing is starting to give me a headache.

So I think 830 is plenty close enough.

But I'm also being productive in one other way. I'm using my addlepated imagination to do some free association, and I'm getting some interesting plot development and idea generation going.

This is one way to turn off your internal editor. Wait until it's asleep. Serious writing will often wake up your weary brain and you'll just struggle, knowing what you're writing is not right, but too tired to resolve minor problems like whether the mouse should "race" or "scurry" along the baseboard.

But if you let that part of your brain sleep, and you sit down and do some brainless word association, or play with random ideas, (or watch old Boris Karloff b-movies on Hulu) you can just have fun. If you happen to scribble the thoughts down, you have the start of some great new ideas, or great new directions for a story to take.

Today I thought about many things, from what the pearl really is in The Serial, to the fact that George (the title character in The Man Who Did Too Much) has such excessive energy, what if Karla turned him on to parkour? And given that the setting is a place where rich people vacation.... what if George then hires himself out as a "fox" for Clean Boot fox hunts? Wouldn't that be a great situation for a puzzle mystery? I also had a couple of short mystery ideas and some spy story ideas (that would probably still go into The Serial).

You can do more than just word counts.

But tomorrow, let's see if we can finally get past that halfway point in Harsh Climate. I don't have to go anywhere tomorrow, so I should get all the sleep my nose will let me have.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Dec Dare Day 12 2443 Words and More On Cinematic Quality

Day 13 - 2443 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 12120 Words.

12120 / 30000 words. 40% done!

I hope to be halfway done tomorrow.

And after I said I got through the tough sequence with the switching points of views? I forgot that the sequence I started today has seven characters acting independently of one another. Very complicated, highly choreographed, and lots of fun on screen, but really hard in print. And so far, I'm just dealing with four characters, the other three are about to raise this scene to a "mid-movie climax" sequence.

I think the issue is that the scene accelerates. In a movie, that means quicker cutting. In a book, I think you can get the same effect by bringing in more detail. It's ironic but true - when a character's alertness is triggered, he or she notices more detail, and spends less time thinking. More reacting.

And maybe that's like a movie in other ways. In a movie, a sequence like this gets very visual. The words on the page take up less space, but the details on the screen take up more. So slowing it down a little might actually make it all work like a movie. Less confusing, more feeling of "being there."

But because of that it will need a little more rewrite time. One of the reasons I want to get this done soon, so it can sit a few days before I tear through the final draft.

* * * * * Advertisement * * * * *

The Miracle Inspector, a mystery for Kindle, by Helen Smith
"Smith is, at the very least, a minor phenomenon." - The Times

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dec Dare Day 12 - 2129 Words and Thoughts On Novellas

Day 12 - 2129 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 9677 Words.

Today was a very very long day, and my cold has been hanging on. And yet I feel invigorated by my plan to do more with novellas and screenplays and other shorter works.

I realize I love stories in the 90-120 page range. That's about the amount of story that's in a good movie. It's also the length of a lot of great Nero Wolfe stories that I enjoyed very much. Dean Wesley Smith mentioned this on his blog the other day. Books used to be a lot shorter, before the cost of production and distribution made longer books more economical. The novella length I like is a little short - often used in pulp "doubles" (two books in one) or serialized in magazines. Sometimes published as a whole in a magazine - advertised as a whole book, but taking up the entire magazine.

And a lot of ebook readers really do like short works. They're easier to read on the go. Plus as I mentioned, movies have made us accustomed to that length of story.

At the same time, a novella in series is a great opportunity to develop a larger and more complicated story arc. That's what I want to do with The Serial. It also may be how I end up handling the sequels to Wife of Freedom. Shorter, more focused, rather than trying to spread them out into something more hefty.

I'll be posting my goals closer to the end of the year, but I can say right now I am considering a goal of publishing a new novella, screenplay or collection every month next year.

To that end, I think I'm going to try to get 2000 words a day done on Harsh Climate. Sure, the first action sequence was difficult, but now that I've got that sorted out, I think the rest will go better. And it isn't like I don't have the equivalent of a detailed outline to work from.

* * * * * Advertisement * * * * *

Dead to Writes, a mystery for Kindle, by Cathy Wiley
"Is Baltimore's newest author also Baltimore's newest murderer?"

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Dec Dar Day 11 - 1045 Words and Sneezing

Day 11 - 1045 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 7548 Words.

7548 / 50000 words. 15% done!

Not bad for having a really bad cold that has left me to be most of the seven dwarves (sleepy, sneezy, achy, grumpy, dopey, but not yet quite in need of a Doc.)

I'm finding that the first action sequence is working out okay without switching points of view. I was looking forward to coming up with something that felt like a movie, but this works better. Especially now that I'm getting into Vicki's voice a little better. It still needs some work though.

In the meantime a bunch of us writers were schmoozing and one of the others said she'd just got a $25 gift certificate and wanted to spend it on 99 cent books. She said, "Anybody wants to buy mine, I'll buy yours," and pretty soon a bunch of us were swapping all over the place. A buck is a nice price for a light read, after all. She posted a list of the twenty 99 cent books she bought. There's quite a variety - from children's stories to full-blown grown up sf adventure to mainstream lit.

Tomorrow is going to be a very long day at the Day Job, but if I am sicker than I am right now, I'll probably do a couple of really critical things, and then come home. I'd rather not, though, because the semester is almost over and the students are desperate. Then I only have to be there Friday for Portfolio Day, and a few days next week - possibly only one if things go brilliantly well. (More likely two.)

But after that I can really get into just writing for a while.

* * * * * Advertisement * * * * *

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dec Dare Days 9 and 10 - Uncounted Progress

I have a cold. It's been going around and it finally hit me, on my longest work day, of course. So I lack functioning braincells at the moment. However....

Yesterday I rewrote a couple of scenes in Harsh Climate rather than move forward. I was having trouble with the male lead - who is kind of a "still waters run deep" kid. In a script, it works just letting him be quietly overlooked by the other characters until he starts showing his stuff.

However, in prose, I could not make it work. And I finally figured out that I was acting like the other characters: I was looking at his surface. It just wasn't working for me when he'd take a minor insult or when I'd try to explain why he is not wearing socks. He came off as a loser, and I knew that wasn't right. He's not the underdog nebbish who makes good (a la Woody Allen) he's more Zorro-esque, really. Well, not, perhaps, the greatest swordsman in the world, but he's a perfectly capable young hero who just hasn't been called to action yet.

So I sat, and I thought about what he does and says later, and suddenly, finally, he started to talk to me. He looked me in the eye and said "Listen, if you take offense at things, you miss out on the coolest parts of life."

So on Sunday I rewrote a few scenes in his point of view. They work much better now. And I think Vicki's scenes will play better if we have an inkling of why he puts up with her attitude. (I may, however, switch one of the scenes from his point of view to hers, for that reason. The only one I haven't rewritten....)

Today, I was too sick and weary to really write, so I worked on reformatting some screenplays.

In the meantime, yesterday's free story posting seems to have gone really well. Not many comments, but a LOT of traffic. I may make samples and stories a feature of Sunday. And songs. I have a great Christmas carol I wrote for my cats' website many years ago. ("We three cats of orient do, help our mom wrap presents for you. Paper crinkles oh so beautifully... give us some stuff to chew!")

See you tomorrow, though, with some real progress.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Enchanted Tree - a Free Story for the Holiday

Instead of an excerpt, I decided to post a whole story - it's short - which is my favorite of the stories I've written. It's the lead story in my new collection The Enchanted Tree and Other Stories. This story was first published in Cricket Magazine, although it was almost published in Pulphouse, the small literary sf magazine. (Unfortunately, like so many such magazines, Pulphouse folded, and the story never got printed - however, I reached a much greater audience with Cricket. Plus, kids send you fan mail. Sophisticated grownups don't.)

* * * *
The Enchanted Tree
by Camille LaGuire

They cut down the enchanted tree the other day. Sad, but it was old. Most of the branches were dead and we all admitted it was becoming a hazard.

We stood on the sidewalk across the street from it and sang songs about Coral Simmons, and about other people touched by that tree. We didn’t sing a song about me, but then nobody knows how the tree touched me.

Some people say that Coral Simmons was a runaway slave who’d almost made it to Canada when the slave catchers caught up with her. Some say she was just some white farm girl being chased by drunken loggers (or soldiers or trappers). Some even say her name wasn’t Simmons at all, and that she was a Chippewa girl running away from the French or the English or warriors from another tribe. Whatever she was, she was running for her life when she came upon a leafy young tree. She hid among the leaves and spread her arms among the branches, and wished herself hidden. The bark spread over her arms and body, and the tree absorbed her.

So when you have troubles, you go and tell Coral, because she knows troubles.

I went to the tree one Christmas when I was thirteen. There was a terrible snowstorm that year. I was in foster care, and I waited for my mother to come visit for the holiday. I kept telling myself that the storm had delayed her. Then the day after Christmas the present came. If she’d have been coming, she’d have brought it herself. She wouldn’t have mailed it.

It was wrapped in a grocery sack, postmarked from Las Vegas. She did not live in Las Vegas, so she must have gone there for Christmas rather than visit me. Still, maybe she got a job, you know? So I opened it.

It was a little kid’s makeup kit, the kind with glitter eye shadow, smelly perfume, and red lipstick—all bubble packed to a piece of cardboard. I hated makeup, and she knew it. She even made fun of me because of it. She really liked make up, though, so I might have forgiven her if it had been good make up. I held in my disappointment and started to open it. But then I saw the price tag on the back. “$2.95” crossed out with a big red marker. It had been marked down to fifty cents. She had got it out of a remainder bin.

I just knew she left that price tag on purpose. She wanted me to see how cheap it was, because I wasn’t the kind of daughter she wanted. I knew it because she’d actually said it to me before. I felt a raging chill boil up inside me. I ripped up that paper and that Las Vegas postmark and I threw it across the room. Then I threw the present after it. Mrs. Price yelled at me, so I grabbed my coat and mittens and I ran out of the house.

It was already dark, but the night was clear and the snow was bright as a lamp. I plowed through it up to my knees. The tiny crystals flew up like sand and turned my tears into slush. I kept plowing for three whole blocks, all the way to the tree.

It stood there, naked and spidery, the stars showing through its dark branches. It looked so cold, I burst out crying. I threw my arms around the trunk and felt the rough bark and smooth ice against my cheek.

Oh, Coral, I said, oh Coral Coral. Nobody loves me and nobody ought to. I’m ugly and stupid and clumsy. I can’t do anything right. I can’t even get my own mother to give me something I like. She sent me make up, Coral. And the Home just gave me mittens knitted by the ladies’ auxiliary because I’m too old for toys. Can’t I just come into the tree and be like you and be nice to people and just not have anything happen?

I probably said a whole lot more, but all I remember is after a while I heard something buzzing and cracking overhead. I pushed away from the tree and wiped the tears and ice and bark dust off my cheek. Just above my head, a little branch, a twig really, was shaking, and it was shaking real funny. Like a person shakes down a thermometer. Like it was trying to shake something out of itself.

After a minute, I could see a little bud at the tip. A little green bud. Green in the middle of winter, and it kept shaking and getting bigger. I crouched back against the trunk, my hands behind me, and I watched it. It stopped shaking, and then it started to open. It was white, and then pink, and at first it looked like a lily. Then it seemed fancier than a lily, more like an iris. The color started going red and blue and purple, and the blossom got more and more exotic. Maybe that’s what an orchid looks like. I wouldn’t know, but it grew to the size of my hand, and the colors were just wonderful. Just then the smell came out, and it was like a cross between roses and raspberry pie. I stood up straight to get a better look, a better whiff.

Then the fruit started growing out of the middle, but the petals didn’t wither and die. They just got smaller and seemed to grow back into the fruit. By the time it was the size of a walnut, I could tell it was a peach. It got bigger, and golden and fuzzy with a bright red blush. It smelled so good, I reached up and cupped it in my hand.

It was warm. Warm as an August day. It fell off into my hand so I bit into it. It was soft and sweet and juicy, and the syrup dribbled down my chin and made me all sticky. I ate it down to the pit, and as I sucked the last bit of juice from it, I realized that the pit felt funny. It was cold. I took it out of my mouth and looked at it. It was made of brass, or something like that. And it had a loop on the top like.... It was a locket!

It was shaped exactly like a peach pit, except that it had that loop, and a hinge and a hasp. I opened it and the inside was polished so smooth, I could read the inscription by the light of the snow.

Believe in yourself.

I leaned back against the tree and sank into the snow, holding the locket to my heart and not thinking, just feeling. Feeling that I was worth a miracle for Christmas.

So, when the tree was too old to survive the cement and pollution, and it posed a hazard to traffic and power lines, the city took it down. A bunch of old friends decided to go and sing, so I went along.
The thing that surprised me was the number of people who came up silently and looked on. Town leaders, teachers, the janitor over at the department store. Some of them took their hats off, some just looked. Then they went away.

It was the mayor who suggested that we do something more. He stood and watched them drop another branch and shook his head.

“Maybe we should make a monument out of the wood,” he said.

“No,” I said. “We should bury her. Or maybe cremate her.”

“Yes. More respectful.”

They rolled the logs into the park and held a bonfire. Everybody in town came. We sang the song about Coral Simmons again, as a kind of service, and then we all stood and watched the smoke rise.
And for a moment the haze seemed to form the shape of a woman. She was both dark and light, short and tall. Her streaming hair both curly and straight, her fluttering skirt was of calico and lace and buckskin all at once. For a moment, as she flickered up, she even looked like me.

“Goodbye, Coral,” I whispered before she disappeared. At least a hundred voices whispered with me, and I knew she’d touched them all. Her shape rose and spread, and she raised a hand to wave. Then she grew, fainter and larger, until she seemed to fill the whole sky. Until she seemed to have her arms around the world.

But by then she had faded, and we watched the fire burn down to embers, and in the morning we buried the ashes.

* * *

If you want to read more of the stories in The Enchanted Tree, you can buy the collection (seven stories in all) for 99 cents, at Amazon Kindle, Amazon Kindle UK, or or Smashwords. (Smashwords carries formats readable by nearly any ereader.) Also read some of my comments about the collection on the book page here on The Daring Novelist.


Dec Dare Day 8 - And Secondary Motives

Day 8 - 1088 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 6503 Words.

Learning to hear the internal voices of these characters more, though still not sure of when to switch points of view. I am about to start the trickiest part of this sequence, though.

In the meantime, a little thought about another mystery technique. I was watching one of the old Boris Karloff "Mr. Wong" mysteries, and aside from being relieved that Karloff was not trying to do some tacky Pidgin English, I was struck by how these old quick and cheap movie mysteries display their techniques. They were written and filmed quickly with a strong reliance on cliches and hidden info. I find that when I watch them, I lose track of the story (what story there is) and think about the techniques, and also have flights of fantasy about where it might go.

And often I learn something.

If you write a real puzzle whodunnit - a classic - you have a particular problem. You must play fair, and you must let the suspicion fall on everyone. People feel cheated if it turns out that the butler did it - at least if the butler has not been fairly revealed as a character, with suspicious behavior and motivations and everything.

A more artfully done mystery -- say an Agatha Christie -- might do a better job of covering up the techniques used to fool the reader in spite of all the information given. However, a clunky b-movie allows you to see it in simplified form, like a picture book.

And tonight I was reminded of what a wonderful technique the Secondary Motive is. (They didn't really use it effecitively in the film, but I was reminded of it anyway.)

When you introduce a killer, you have to acknowledge certain fundamental things about his or her nature. It might be ego, or passion, but you have to reveal the essense of their motive so that the ending is satisfying. But you dont have to reveal ALL of it.

A gold-digger is desperate to marry the son of a millionaire. You can tell she doesn't love him, even though she has affection for him. But the kid is disinherited, and she knew it, and she still stands by him. It would seem that she no longer has a motive to kill the young man's father. She can't lay her hands on the money no matter what. Except, of course, that she has some other reason for wanting to marry the kid. Maybe the kid won the lottery, or marrying him can get her out of a legal fix. So she killed the father not because of his millions, but because he stood in the way of the marriage itself.

You have to lay the groundwork on these things, of course, but a secondary motive that is closely related to the first one can be one of the more satisfying ways to twist a story.

Tomorrow (Sunday) I'll probably post an excerpt from something for a new Twitter fad - Sample Sunday. On Sundays now writers will post samples of work on a blog or website somewhere, and then tweet a link. Watch for the hashtag #samplesunday.

(Of course, if you only want to read MY sample, it will be right here, and you won't have to go through Twitter at all.)

* * * * * Public Service Announcement * * * * *

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Got Carried Away and Published Something

Okay so the whole "sand into boulders" effort is not going as well as I hoped. Sometime early this afternoon I realized that I was just a few tweaks away from having my collection of short fantasy and folktales ready to upload for publication.

And since one of the stories is a really nice Christmas story, I thought, "Gee, why not do it now? You could have this published by Sunday."

So I actually just went ahead and published it an hour ago. It'll be up at Smashwords in a few hours. Amazon takes a little longer, but it could be up by late morning - although they won't put a book description on it for a while after that. (It will take much longer to get it into the Apple store and Barnes and Noble, and such.)

I wanted to have something new out this month and by golly I guess I did.

Here's the short description I wrote for Smashwords: Seven short fantasy and folktales, for children and adults. Including the title story - a bittersweet Christmas tale of a tree that touched a town. These stories were previously published in Cricket, Marion Zimmer Bradley's Fantasy Magazine, and Brady Magazine, plus two written for this collection.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Making Sand Into Boulders and Boulders Into Sand

Day 6 - 1019 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 5415 Words.

5415 / 30000 words. 18% done!

Made the weekly goal, with one day to work on the novel tomorrow. Ha ha! In the meantime:

I'm sure you've heard the old Zen Koan about the teacher who fills a bucket with boulders and asks his students if it is full, and they say it is, because you can't fit more boulders into it. Then he pours pebbles in and shakes the bucket and the pebbles filter down between the boulders and fit in the bucket too. "Now is it full?" he says. The students agree that it is, and so he pours sand to filter down among the pebbles, and finally tells them, okay now it's full.

Then the old master dumps the bucket out and fills it with sand, and low and behold, it's full - but no boulders or pebbles can fit.

The point, supposedly, is to illustrate how you should fit the important things into your life first -- like boulders -- and then let the unimportant ones trickle in to the spaces in between.

Except this doesn't work. Here's why:

Sand is a force to be reckoned with. Agitate it and it will not only fill in the empty spaces, but it will actually float a large object out of itself given the right conditions. Ancient engineers used to to lift huge rocks sometimes.

Basically, if you can just get a heavy object to shift a little back and forth - say, with a lever - sand can filter in under it with every movement so it can't settle back down. With enough movement, sand will push the heavy object right out of a pit.

You know how it works: the same way email and messages and checking your stats and tweeting and such can suck up all your time and eject anything important out of your life altogether. And some of those things are important enough to keep in your life, but you can't let them take over like that. And if you're an indie publisher, you can add all those other tasks which are never done - promotion, and cover design and layouts and final editing and planning and all that.

I suppose other writers may be different, but when it comes to getting real writing work done, I don't have a problem getting motivated to write so I don't have to worry about it filtering into the empty spaces. If only the important thing could be the sand and not the boulder!

Today, I went through the list of projects I have to work on, and I was getting depressed as I tried to figure out how much time I would need to finish them, and how long it would take to get to the projects further down the list. And the thing that was giving me the most trouble was intangible - how much time I would need to noodle with the plot, or do layouts, or format or edit -- and I realized that I was making a mistake.

The layouts and covers and formatting tasks, even editing; those things are the boulders. I can't get rid of them, and I can't let them ramble around loose, or they fill every available space. So I need got make boulders out of them - define their shape. I should set aside time for them in my day-to-day activities - just like bathing and eating lunch. I realize I would be WAY ahead of the game if I just set aside a half hour every morning for those kinds of tasks. Do a second session later at times when the load is heavier.

But keep it to one half-hour at a time.

Then I can let the writing be the sand. I know from experience that I do better if I live the writing - let it trickle in all day. There's always room for sand, and sometimes it can eject the stones altogether.

Starting tomorrow, I am going to try to limit my morning session of internet, and insert at least one half hour of formatting and editing of finished works.

* * * * * Advertisement * * * * *

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Exhausted, but... Free Books!

This is my other late day, and I just came home and nearly fell asleep. However, I am only 600 words or so from the week's goal, (plus work on Chapter 12) and I have until bedtime on Friday to achieve it.... so I'm going to call in sick on the dare and get some sleep.

But all is not lost. I decided to give away some free ebooks while I sleep.

For a short time, HAVE GUN, WILL PLAY will be free at Smashwords. Use the coupon code below when you check out and the book will be free. Smashwords provides ebooks in formats which are good for nearly every reader out there - including .mobi for Kindle, epub, pdf, rtf, lrf, pdb, plain text. You can also read online.

Coupon Code: VA63M
Expires: December 9, 2010

I believe the expiration date is good until the END of the day on the ninth, but if it isn't, leave a message for me here, and I'll schedule a short repeat of the sale.

Here's the book description:

Two gunslingers, one little girl, a big bag of toys...and murder.

Mick and Casey McKee aren't exactly your average gunslingers. He's young and inexperienced, and has much too sunny a disposition for a gunman. She's younger, meaner, less experienced, but a much better shot.

When they get a job protecting the daughter of a stagecoach king--and her grand collection of toys--it seems like an opportunity to go someplace new. But after the wrong kidnapping, a murder, another wrong kidnapping, a couple of jewel heists and a few knocks to the head, Mick and Casey are left holding the bag of toys. Mick, however, is not as dumb as he seems, and as for Casey...nobody steals her gun and gets away with it.

Get HAVE GUN, WILL PLAY free at Smashwords. Use coupon code VA63M on check out, through December 9, 2010.

Dare Day 4 - Can Fiction Have Cinematic Quality?

Day 4 - 1157 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 4396 Words.

And today I began to adapt the first truly tricky scene. It's the climax of act one -- which is one of those long action climax scenes, where the story has a lot of simultaneous action. It's the sort of scene where you have the bad guy stalking, then you cut away to the hero lying in wait, and then you cut away to the other bad guy who finds a clue that he hero is there, and meanwhile the comic relief characters who are clueless about all of it are having a funny conversation, and the time bomb is ticking.

In a movie, a situation like this can be intertwined into a seamless scene. As a matter of fact I wrote this sequence specifically to be very intertwined. There's a lot of quick set up and pay off which depends on what you see, from which point of view, and when.

Example: at the end of the movie of The Fugitive, Richard Kimball, the bad guy, and the U.S. Marshals are all stalking each other through a hotel laundry. None of them can see the other, but we the audience see them all. This is a part of Hitchcock's suspense thing -- we are kept in suspense by knowing what the characters don't. However, the audience also misses things. We may see a character find something or get an idea, but then we cut away to the others, and we're left in suspense about what that character will do. But the stuff happening with the other characters is exciting and suspenseful too, and we may even forget about that first character.... So the marshals are closing in on Kimball, but then the bad guy pops out and knocks the marshal out! Oh, no! Oh, yes! I don't know what to think. And then later the bad guy almost takes out the other marshal... and Richard Kimball shows up out of nowhere and whaps him good!

And in such a long and complicated scene, there are many surprises, and each works best if in exactly the right point of view -- you may need to be with the character who is most surprised, or the character who can reveal the irony of the situation to us.

In the upcoming sequence, I have five points of view, and five lines of action. The characters, what they know, and their motivations all intersect in all sorts of interesting ways. I had FUN writing that sequence as a screenplay. How am I going to do that in regular prose fiction?

Classically, you first pick the point of view that can encompass the most other points of view. If Vicki is hiding from the kidnappers while trying to untie the kid, she can overhear what the kidnappers say in the next room. But later, if she's hiding under the bed, she will not be able to see the expression on the scary guy's face, or smell his breath when he's terrifying the kid. She won't be privy to the conversation one bad guy has on the phone to the boss bad guy.

So the next variation is breaking it up into small scene-lets. This point of view, extra line space, that point of view. It might work.

There will be some scenes -- in this section or later one -- where things might have to move too fast for that. Then what? Head hopping? Or go screenplay style -- maybe still using the extra line space, but literally have mini-scenes that are only a line or two long?

Or do you just plain rewrite? Cut the whole sequence and find a whole different approach for fiction?

I think, in this modern age, most readers are visually sophisticated, and are used to screen storytelling. I think that the story will benefit if I can give the audience the full experience they would have on screen -- or as close as I can. It may mean bending some rules and regular practices.

For this first run, I'm going to try to do this by instinct. I'll try what seems to be the best approach for the scene in front of me, and when I find something that works, I'll try it for the next.

* * * * * Advertisement * * * * *

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Dec Dare Day 3 - Short but Sweet

Day 3 - 453 Words on Harsh Climate
Running Total: 3239 Words.

3239 / 30000 words. 11% done!

Long day at work. Very tired. (They "realigned" the college today. Our division disappeared, but the whole thing seems to be designed to fix what the earlier leadership did to break things. We hope.)

I still wanted to get some writing done tonight, so I did a little bit. Still very jazzed about this novella. I'm curious about how the chaptering equates with screenplay format. I haven't gone far enough with it, though, to have formed an opinion so I'll have to talk about it later.

In the meantime, I was watching some early Fred Astaire, and I suddenly have great ideas for the cover concepts for the novellas that will make up The Serial. Yes, the thirties were a little late for the period, but they had an old-fashioned longing for the money of the twenties, and a grand Art Deco style. Plus in the art design and in the choreography, there was a LOT of old fashioned drama of the exact right sort. Besides, Guy-fashions are more timeless than Chick-fashions.

* * * * * Public Service Announcement * * * * *

Check out your agents and markets at Preditors and Editors before submission - you'll be glad you did!