Monday, July 30, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 25

The Case of the Misplaced Hero
by Camille LaGuire

Episode 25 - The Chase

BY THE TIME Alex jumped out the window, the girl was nowhere to be seen.  She couldn't have made it over the wall or to the stable yet, could she?  Then he heard a noise from above.  He glanced up, and saw an open window, and foot disappearing through it.

She went back into the building?  That was insane.

Just then one of the guards came running out the kitchen door.  The man staggered from the booze, but he was on his feet and moving, rifle in hand.

"She went ove the wall!" said Alex, and he pointed the man to a pile of boxes.  The guard staggered that way and proceeded to fail to climb them.

By this time, the other guard was attempting to climb out the window.  His rifle kept catching the bayonet on the window frame.

Alex shoved him back and reached in to guide the gun through the window.  Then he grabbed the man's collar and guided him through.  The guard fell on his face, and lay still for a moment.  Alex was afraid he'd broken his neck, but then he shook his head and rolled to a sitting position.

Alex hauled him to his feet, and aimed him for the fence, where his partner had made it half over.  The partner's feet were kicking in the air, and Alex decided that the only thing better than two incredibly drunk guards would be two incredibly drunk guards on the other side of that fence.

So he helped the second guard up onto the boxes and just for the sake of public safety, he held their rifles for them while they climbed.  He gave them each a shove, and they fell with a thump on the other side.  They grumbled at each other in Awarshi.

Alex leaned over the wall and pointed down the alley and shouted, urgently. "Spushta! She's getting away!"

They ran.

Alex tucked the rifles in behind the boxes, and slipped back to the kitchen to peek in.  There were still too many people in the kitchen. Clearly this wasn't the time to sneak Thorny out, but the guards would not be back for a while, and maybe Niko would kick everybody out of the kitchen soon.

In the meantime, Alex had a puzzle to solve: Why had the girl gone back into the building?

Was it instinct?  Like a rabbit looking for the nearest place to hide?  The girl who swung that sword around was no rabbit, and he was sure her first instinct was not to hide. But rabbit or not, she could probably use some help getting out again.

Besides, Alex had an idea.  He had noticed that, unlike the security men, the regular Awarshi soldiers had ill-fitting uniforms -- all baggy and loose, and both the men and women wore the same uniform.

The girl might be able to blend in if she had a uniform.

Alex stopped by the linen closet and grabbed some clothes, then headed upstairs to find the rooms above the kitchen windows.

The doors were all locked along that hallway, but he had the keys that Niko gave him.

The first room was full of barrels and boxes. There was a bed, indictating that it had been a guest room at one time, but the mattress was rolled up, and the bed itself was disassembled and leaning against the wall to make room for more barrels.  And the second room was the same.

Well, that explained why the Awarshis were so reluctant to invite the wreck victims into the inn. It wasn't an inn, it was a storage depot.

Alex went on to the third room.  This one had the bed intact, but it was stacked high with bales of blankets.  There were more stacks on the floor, which the girl could be hiding behind.

Alex stepped further into the room, and the door slammed shut behind him.  He turned, and found himself facing the tip of that sword.

"Why did you try to poison that officer?" hissed the girl.

The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- now available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or support this site directly;

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sun Update - And Coming Attractions

This week was marked by a moderate but time-consuming family crisis. (All I can say is that if you can possibly schedule your emergencies, 2am on a Wednesday night is a really good time to hit the ER.)

But things turned out well, and we ended up having a nice trip to Zingerman's this Saturday.  We came up with a smart way to eat there.  It's SO hard to make up your mind about which sandwich to get.  Often we'll get two sandwiches each -- one to take home, one to eat there.  Well, that's a bit much. But when we compared our lists of possible sandwiches to order, we realized that we could order three sandwiches and ask them to cut them into quarters -- then we could each have a nice portion of three different choices... but only eat 3/4 of a sandwich there, and take the same amount home!

In the meantime, Zingerman's usual stellar service (combined with a recent interaction I had on the internet) has inspired another good blog post for this fall about knowing, and excelling at, your business.

I also played around with a text layout for the Miss Leech comic strip.  AND, I'm catching up. This is partly due to a series of easier episodes which aren't that much different from the book to the online versions.  (It did help to split that episode about questioning Pookiterin into two.

A Round of Words in 80 Days Meets The Clarion Write-a-Thon

This Segment's Progress:

Wednesday Day 24 - Ep 26 (final), Ep 27 (book version)
Thursday Day 25 - Had a family emergency. Did some outlining.
Friday Day 26 - Ep 27 (final), Ep 28 (book)
Saturday Day 27 - Ep 29 (book), Ep 28 (final)

This Week's Upcoming Posts

Monday - Episode 25 "The Chase"
Alex runs interference, but The Girl doesn't do what he expects.

Wednesday - A teaser for Miss Leech and The Yard
I'll talk about this comic strip series, and also post some "blue pencil test sketches" to see how the layout looks. (I'm not changing the blog template to suit the strip, so the strip has to adjust to suit the blog.)

Thursday - Episode 26 "Pookiterin In The Corner"
Rozinshura restrains himself from throttling Pookiterin, and learns a few things.

Sunday - The End of the Write-a-thon!
Only a week to go. I'm still two episodes behind on my goals, and the story is probably going to be a couple of episodes longer than I thought.   I am moving to the end of Act 2 now which will probably be Episode 31.  Then the final action sequences.... which I had some good ideas for.  Not sure how many episodes it will take, though.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 24

The Case of the Misplaced Hero
by Camille LaGuire

Episode 24 - Action In The Alcove

ALEX FOUND A small glass and filled it with the spiked wine.  He poured in a dose of the ipecac, swirled it and returned to the alcove.

The girl was no longer sitting like a stone. She was talking with Pookiterin, looking him firmly in the eye, as if she were interrogating him.

"What makes you think that poor drunken old man is a spy?"

"He does not interest me," said Pookiterin.  Her gaze was steady and seemed to disconcert him.

"Did he fit a description? What were your orders?"

"He was simply out of place!" he said.  He pulled back and went to the other side of the table to face her.  Then he paused and suddenly laughed.  "You are flirting with me!" he said with a grin.  "Please continue!"

Now it was the girl's turn to look disconcerted.  She stared at him for a moment, mouth open.  But then she took a deep breath and continued her interrogation, with a fake simper in her voice:

"All right.  Tell me, my precious darling colonel, did you have a report of a spy on that train?  Is that why you are here?"

"My interest is in you, my dear," answered the colonel.  He got up and unbuttoned one more button on his already loose shirt.  "Please, remove the scarf so I can see your face properly."

"I must keep it on," said the girl.  "I am bald."

The colonel paused, and a flicker of disgust crossed his face, but then the girl's eyes flicked upward, to the colonel's own bald pate, and he knew he was being made fun of.  Rage twisted his face and like a shot, his hand flew forward.  But he didn't strike her, he only grabbed her scarf and yanked it off.

She was not bald.  She had a thick, shiny head of wavy chestnut hair, cut into a short bob.  Alex stepped into the alcove before things could go further.

"Would you like some brandy, sir?"

"Get out!" roared Pookiterin.  Alex set the drink on the table in front of him, and backed out -- but no further than necessary.

Pookiterin went back to leering at the girl.  He put his fingers on the base of the glass... and pushed it toward her.

"Please, for you, my dear."

Oh, crap.  The last thing Alex wanted was to make her sick.

The girl looked at the glass with distaste. Alex tried to catch her eye. She glanced up, and he shook his head vigorously. Did she see? She picked up the glass and smiled at the colonel. Alex raised his hand signal more obviously.

"No thank you, you old lecher!"

She jumped to her feet and threw the wine in his face. She then dashed toward the door of the alcove. Alex stepped back to make way, and block any interference from the guards.

But she didn't even leave the alcove. Instead, her fast break was for the corner where the colonel had hung his coat... and his sword belt.

She had his sword before he could even clear his eyes of wine, and she whirled it around over her head.  It was a small space, but she managed to not hit anything but the tip of Pookiterin's mustache, which she trimmed as neatly as with a pair of scissors.  She then pressed the tip of the sword to his throat.

"Back!" she said.  "To the window with you!"

He stumbled backwards, the sword point pushing deep into the soft part of his throat, under the chin.

She backed Pookiterin to the window, and made him open it.  Then she maneuvered around and pushed him back.  With a quick, backward leap, she was up on the window sill, and then she vanished.

Alex glanced back, and saw that there were other people in the room now, including Rozinshura.

There was nothing Alex could do for Thorny just now, but he was closest to the window.  He could pretend to chase the girl, and hamper the efforts of others.

Alex went straight out the window, but the girl had already disappeared.

The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- now available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or support this site directly;

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Blurbs and Pitches - Wed Update

Blurbs are the bane of writers everywhere.  It's particularly hard if you are writing outside of genre, so you can't even piggy back your blurb on the expectations of the audience.

I'm thinking about this because Dean Wesley Smith wrote a post last week about how important blurbs are (in a nutshell: very).  I'm also using the word "blurb" because he did, but let's pause to change terminology here:

A "blurb" refers to those quotes from famous people on a book.  You know "Loved it! Agnes Writergurl is an up and coming sensation!" That's a blurb, and that's not what Dean actually meant, and not what I am thinking about right here.

What we're actually talking about is a pitch. Also called "copy" -- as in catalog copy or jacket copy.  It's the "product description" on the purchase page at Amazon and other vendors.

So anyway, I've been thinking about all the things I've learned over lo these many years, and thinking about going back to some of my more difficult (and sucky) pitches.  My goal is to come up with a method which a beginner/amateur can use to get a handle on an unusual book.

To that end, I took another look at my hardest to blurb book, The Wife of Freedom.  This week I decided to play with the short form version. I also did this with a specific concept in mind:

Don't hide your light under a barrel.

This book intentionally violates some rules, and it's really hard to talk about it without a preface to apologize/explain what I'm doing.  Which is, admittedly, something writers always want to do.

But with this book, it's not just me. I've had reviewers (professional reviewers, no less) write to me to say they loved the book and want to write a glowing review, but they are completely stuck on how to describe the book -- because they feel the need to explain it.

Last week, though, I found a review on Goodreads where I felt the reviewer nailed it.  She had the requisite "apology" up front, but she focused on something that I had been taking for granted: politics.  It's the story about the apolitical and unfaithful wife of an extreme anarchist, who ultimately embodies his philosophy.  (Hmmm, that in itself is half a logline...)

So the first attempt at rewriting a better short-form pitch, I decided to put the political aspect front and center, rather than hiding or apologizing for it.

"Part political tract, part fairytale and melodrama, The Wife of Freedom is the story of a woman whose wild heart leads her to betray those she loves. Facing up to her faithless nature, she becomes spy, and heroine and even legend to those she betrayed.  But only by returning home to face the music can she complete her soul."

Not there yet (too vague) but I am approaching more what the story is about, what makes it different... and what the people who love it love about it.

This fall I'm going to be looking further at writing blurbs for such "nonstandard" books.  I'll try different approaches, different tricks, and see if I can come up with some guidelines, or even a worksheet that can help kickstart the writing of a nonstandard blurb.

See you in the funny papers.

Progress report for "A Round of Words in 80 Days Meets The Clarion Write-a-Thon"

Sunday Day 21 - Ep 25 (long)
Monday Day 22 - Ep 26 (long) and 25 (short)
Tuesday Day 23 - Didn't actually finish any episodes, but did major work on the next three.

I meant to get some artwork done head, but didn't get around to it.  Still, I do at least have a good idea what I need to do for Tomorrow's episode. There will be action, and I can only think of one moment which will depict it without being a spoiler.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Story Notes: Misplaced Hero 23 - My Big Mistake

Just when I said I was getting into the "vision" of the serial and no longer wanted to do the book version much differently, I finally slammed face first against a scene that actually does require a longer version.

From the reader's perspective, you might say yesterday's ep was a weak episode.  It might be confusing, or it might be fine.  It might even be funny and you are eager for more.

But from a writer's perspective, it's a fail.  It's recoverable, but it's still a mistake. And the mistake didn't actually happen in that episode.   It happened several episodes earlier, when I let the imaginary readers in my head dictate the pace.

Imaginary readers are, as P. G. Wodehouse put it: " impatient race. They chafe at scenic rhapsodies and want to get on to the rough stuff."

So I put off this investigation scene, until I got to a point where I had to put it in, and then squeeze it in as small as possible: I scribbled and worked and I polished the hell out of that episode to try to make it both interesting and comprehensible in the given length requirements.  And I'm not sure I succeeded at anything more than a dancing bear.  (That is, it doesn't dance well, but we're amazed it dances at all.)

And if I were to work on it steadily for, oh, another month or so, I might even get all the stuff into it that I need.  Then it could be like poetry -- perfectly timed and distilled.

But it wouldn't be better than it would if it were simply longer.  Maybe broken into several episodes. However, now the momentum toward action in the kitchen has started and there isn't room for a long digression.

Investigation scenes do two things: They give information and they fill in character.  Both of these things are time consuming.  They need elbow room.  In a mystery novel, such a scene could take many chapters, and they would be good and interesting chapters.

And I screwed up by squeezing out the very things that made this scene important.

This is the perennial problem of "live" writing: 20-20 hindsight doesn't do you much good.  Other than as, you know, a learning experience.

So let's take a closer look at what I learned.  (If you haven't been following the story, this will probably be clear enough.  Or you could just look at Episode 23 -- it would probably be no more confusing than it is for those following the story.)

What's Missing?

...From the scene itself? Subtext and motivation, mainly.

For instance, why does Rozinshura trust Lady Featherdale?  Is it even clear that he does trust her and doesn't trust relevant others? Or does it just seem like one of those conveniences of fast-paced fiction that he decides to let her have a look at Thorny, when he's hiding the guy from everybody else?

I think I did manage at least the subtext for that; she is a fellow pragmatist.  She thinks like he does.  And so he is confident that if she betrays him -- if she turns out to be the master spy of all -- she will at least do it for a reason he can respect.

To really lay the groundwork, though, I would need more time for interaction with her and with others.  The bit where he calls her on substituting cheap brandy for the good stuff could have been fleshed out a bit more -- a little more banter, a little more sparking of connections.

The place I failed completely was setting up the other reason he trusts her: he has to trust somebody.  He has come to a dead end in terms of figuring out who Thorny is. I suppose an attentive reader might come to the same conclusion, just via intuition, but I did not set it up.

The reason I didn't set it up is because the scenes in which we see him come to a dead end don't go anywhere in and of themselves.  As he observes at the beginning of the episode: Those who know the least say the most.

In a book, I could use those "nothing" scenes to introduce the main scene -- because in a book the reader is not stuck waiting at the end of those scenes.  They get to move on to the climax of the sequence.  The scenes could still be fun, and reveal character and context, but they don't have to have their own point.  Unlike chapters, episodes in a serial must have a point.

But what's really missing is time for Rozinshura to think.  With investigations, you have to have space for thinking -- thinking is trajectory.  It's where things are going within the scene.  You can replace internal thought with banter -- which can be a fun way to reveal what's going on under the surface of the characters -- but that takes even more space than thoughts do.

When you're squeezed for space, you end up doing what the Hollywood folk call "On the nose" dialog and prose.  Characters can't make natural, and informative, digressions -- they have to give up the information at once.  There is no room for characters to feel each other out.  They have to read each other's minds.  And not in a fun way. (I could have had more fun with how Lady Featherdale sees through Rozinshura's questions, but there wasn't room to do more than a hint.)

And even though Rozinshura might ask a particular question for reasons of his own, it comes off sounding like he's just asking the questions the story needs him to ask. I had to leave out his agenda.

I think this episode would have been better broken into two.

The first episode would have more banter, and the characters getting comfortable together, and telling the colorul story of their escape and saving the ambassador, and the heroic Miss Vilthrop. And all the while Rozinshura gains their trust.  That episode would end with him zeroing in on what he really wants to know about: Winslow Argoss.

Then next episode could concentrate on the ins and outs of why Argoss could be Thorny, and we could see where Rozinshura is headed with this, and the stakes. And I could make something of the ironic little moment when Alex delivers the blootchkes while Rozinshura is pondering whether this Emmett could be the mysterious invisible Alex.

Because I have a good pay off for that later.  The pay off still works without it, but it would work better with it.

This is one of the reasons some writers are afraid of writing a serial.  They're afraid of making a mistake that will keep them from writing the story it's supposed to be.

But it's not an unrecoverable error.  It's a weak episode, but that's the nature of pulp.

Recoverable Errors

I have another scene coming up -- when Rozinshura finally feels ready to question Pookiterin -- which I'll think long and hard before editing it too tightly.  I will consider splitting it into two episodes, or just writing longer than the set limit.

I'll also consider pulling out some aspects of the scene to develop into their own scenes. This is what I was talking about in the "Joys of Imperfection" post -- turning a mistake into an opportunity, either in a new story, or within the existing one.  For instance, there is an excellent opportunity coming up for Rozinshura to pause and think, and maybe even conspire with Lady Featherdale and/or Evans.

(I may not include Evans with the conspiring, though -- Niko really needs more help in the kitchen, and Evans is the obvious choice there.)

But as I learned here, a mistake can cause you to betray the story as well as provide you with more opportunities to go deeper.

Which brings us to the other thing that's missing:

The Voice of the Story

I can fix the voice in the book version:  The whole sequence inside the inn could easily become something more elaborate, like a French Comedy of Errors ... because there are so many different characters with so many different needs and problems here.  And I don't need to change the story to do that.  I just have to let some pruned stems blossom.

But that Comedy of Errors aspect is partly why I wanted to do this as a serial in the first place.  I don't want to leave it for the book version. I want to get it into the serial itself.  When I tried to rush the straight-line plot through, I cut off some options to spend more time on the trivia that make this story worth writing, and I'm sorry about that.

I know it's counter-intuitive, but I think it is a mistake in a serial to sacrifice the "now" for the "later."  We're so focused on cliff-hangers that I think we forget:

The biggest cliffhanger of all is for the reader to have such a good time that they want to do it again.

That's the concept of a comic strip.  That's the concept of a blog.  It's the concept of every other serialized form out there. It's fine for a book to tease the reader through to the ending, because that ending is right there for the reader to get to.

A serial needs to be about the journey.  About the "now."

And that's a different skill, which I am learning.  I may not be able to do everything I want yet, but I do promise not to sacrifice character opportunities purely to move the story along in future.

(But for those who are waiting for the swashing of bucklers, you'll get a little of that on Thursday....)

I have another post half-written about what "voice" is in a story, and how I'm developing it here. I was saving it for fall, when I get back to regular blogging.   However, given that the issue has pushed itself to the forefront, I may talk about it sooner.

In the meantime, I'll be talking about rewriting an old book blurb tomorrow -- something I hope to turn into a series, as I look at specific problems with specific oddball books.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 23

The Case of the Misplaced Hero
by Camille LaGuire

Episode 23 - Lady Featherdale Gives Evidence

"PEOPLE WHO KNOW nothing always say the most," said Rozinshura.  He leaned on the bar and looked over his notes, then looked up at Lady Featherdale, and the valet, whose name was Evans.  "You two have said nothing, so you must know everything."

"We've been busy," protested Lady Featherdale.

"Pouring bad brandy into the good bottles," said Rozinshura.

"No one noticed the difference," she replied, exchanging a guilty look with Evans.  "And I'm sure you have a better use for such good brandy!"

"I think you are Awarshi," said Rozinshura.  "I should call you kinchin."

"Thank you.  Might I ask, what does kinchin mean, exactly?"

"It means cousin.  Everything is family in Awarshawa.  Is why we fight so much."

Rozinshura smiled and made his way around the bar to speak with them more privately.  He settled on a stool and got down to business:

"I am told that you two rescued the ambassador."

"We can hardly take credit for that, sir," said Evans.  "We simply dragged him along when we escaped."

"Do you think the bandits were there to kidnap him?"

"I've no idea," said Lady Featherdale. "But they were looking for specific people.  They had a list."

"I heard them ask for the baroness," added Evans.

"That's right," said the lady.  "That's when poor Miss Vilthrop stood up.  She answered them as if she were the baroness, and that distracted them.  We would not have escaped if it hadn't been for her."

Rozinshura flipped some pages on his notes.  "Miss Vilthrop is the paid companion of Lady Blinkersley?"

"Yes, and normally she's such a quiet, sheltered little mouse," said Lady Featherdale.  "Who knew what fortitude she had inside?"

"The she a diplomat too? Perhaps she carries secrets?"

"Hardly! She's just a wild young twit with scads of money," said Lady Featherdale.  "She wasn't even supposed to be on the train.  She'd run off with some dance instructor. Her cousins tracked her down, and Lord Blinkersley volunteered to bring them back. I expect that the bandits wanted her for the ransom."

"But she wasn't supposed to be there.  How did the bandits know?"

"Gossip, I suppose."

Gossip, or spies, thought Rozinshura.  Was there a difference?  Opportunists trade in such information.

At this point the blootchkes arrived, and Evans stepped out to snag a plate from the roving waiter.  Rozinshura looked at his notes for a moment.

This story seemed to account for Miss Vilthrop and the baroness: they were taken by the bandits. But there were still two men unaccounted for.  Winslow Argoss and Charles Emmett -- both diplomatic undersecretaries. One old, one young.  A professor and a student?  A drunk and a spy?

"Did you see if Mr. Argoss and Mr. Emmett were taken by the bandits as well?"

"I didn't see it, but they were at the other end of the car with the baroness."  Lady Featherdale looked at Evans, who nodded in agreement.

"Do you know Winslow Argoss?"

"Not as well as Lord Blinkersley does," said Lady Featherdale.

"I spoke to him..."

"And he wouldn't talk?"

"I think my questions were too indiscrete," said Rozinshura.

"Goodness, what were they?"

"Did Argoss carry secret documents, would he be drunk, and would he give a false name?"

"And his lordship said 'None of your beeswax!'" said Lady Featherdale.  "Well, I wouldn't know about the secrets or false names, but Winston Argoss would never be drunk.  He's teetotal."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, I am sure.  Why are you asking?"

Rozinshura took a deep breath

"We ... have a drunken man who has no papers.  We should arrest him, but I think he is from the wreck, and he fits the description of Mr. Argoss."

"I see," said Lady Featherdale with growing concern.  "He's an old man.  Are you sure he's not just in shock?"

"If he is in shock, he is assuredly also drunk."

"That doesn't sound like Argoss."

"There is nobody else it could be," said Rozinshura.  "Lady Featherdale, would you to look at him and say if you know him?"

"Gladly," she said, so he pulled himself to his feet and led the way to the kitchen....

The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- now available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or support this site directly;

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sun Update - and Coming Attractions

A Round of Words in 80 Days Meets The Clarion Write-a-Thon

I managed to mostly not get further behind on my goals, in spite of two other things competing for my attention.  Well three.

Concept sketch for Wed Writing posts
One is Day Job: Summer semester moves along at double time, but it seems slow and lazy, so... this is the time of semester where everybody suddenly wakes up and says "Oh shit! The semester's almost over and I've got all this STUFF to do!"

Second is Other Fiction: I got a poke from Karla that book three of the Man Who series would be a good place to bring in George's ex-wife.  (George has an ex-wife?  Of course! The guy is wealthy, he does housework and has a neurotic compulsion to take care of things, but no sense of proportion, and he's a sucker for a damsel in distress.  Can you imagine that this man doesn't have a trail of ex-wives?  He swears only one was acquired while sober and of age, however.)  But first I have to write the second book....

Third is Gearing Up for Fall: As with the day job, the time is coming nigh to start putting my plans for fall in order.  Getting organized. Setting up to do various projects. Thinking about the Next Thing down the line.

As you see to the right, I even started working on a logo for my Wednesday writing posts.  I'll probably end up doing the figure in illustrator.  I may add an army of marching cats to the image as well. I may do a variation with the motto "Minding My Business" -- as doing good work and minding one's business is more or less the theme of the writing posts around here.

Also I finally found all my notes and sketches for the Miss Leech and The Yard comic strip. There WILL be cartoons on the blog this fall.  It's a comic strip I did in college, which was a take on a Miss Marple-esque detective from the point of view of the poor put upon inspector she is always besting.

In spite of these distractions, I did manage to keep up with my goals:

Wednesday Day 17 - published the ep and did the art
Thursday Day 18 - Ep 24 (book version)
Friday Day 19 - Ep 23 (book version)
Saturday Day 20 - Finished the blog version of both 23 and 24 -- to be posted this week.

This Week's Upcoming Posts

Monday: Episode 23 - "Lady Featherdale Gives Evidence"
Yes, I'm sorry to say that you are going to have to wait until Thursday to find out what Alex plans to do about the sexual harassment going on in the kitchen alcove.  On Monday you, and Rozinshura, will learn a little more about the mystery surrounding that bit of paper, and how the train wreck might tie into it.

Wednesday: Blurbs and Pitches
Dean Wesley Smith wrote a post last week about how important blurbs are (in a nutshell: very). This has inspired me to blog about issues in rewriting some of my own blurbs for my most difficult books.  This week I'll talk about one approach to redoing the short pitch for The Wife of Freedom.

Thursday: Episode 24 - "Action in the Alcove"
Alex attempts to help The Girl, but things don't go quite like he planned.

On Sunday, of course, we'll have another major update post, and previews to next week.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 22

The Case of the Misplaced Hero
by Camille LaGuire

Episode 22 - Alex Plots a Counter Coup

THE GUARDS WERE armed not only with rifles and bayonets -- which they had leaning against the wall near their table -- but also pistols.  Pookiterin had a pistol and a sword too.  And Niko had a kitchen full of knives.  None of them were on alert, but Alex did not see himself getting the drop on one of them, and holding the rest at bay while he woke up Thorny, and got him out of there.

Sneaking would be better.  Get the door unlocked, distract people, find some excuse to get Niko out of the room.  In the end it was Niko who actually gave form to the plan when he sent Alex to the cellar to get some wine for the guards.

"Rozinshura says to keep them happy," he said of the guards.

So when Alex found a box of medical supplies next to the wine, he got the idea to make the guards very happy.

But there were no sleeping pills or pain killers, just things for stomach ailments and laxatives.  The laxatives might be an amusing way to get the guards out of the room, but it said they took overnight to take effect.

There was a little bottle of ipecac syrup -- which would induce vomiting in case of poisoning and undoubtedly worked fast.  But if everybody started throwing up, it would be obvious they'd been poisoned.  Heck, even a sleep drug might make them suspicious enough to call an alarm.

But if you are drinking you expect to get tipsy.  And people who are drunk never seem to realize exactly how drunk they are.

Alex stuck the little bottle of ipecac in his pocket as a back up, and went and hunted down a bottle of clear hard liquor.

When he got back to the kitchen, he spiked the wine with a little of the liquor.  The security men did not complain, so he spiked it with more, and they got happier and happier.

Pookiterin glared at him any time he approached, even when he held up the wine bottle.  Still, the colonel wasn't paying attention to the kitchen, so Alex might sneak Thorny out behind his back.  How could he get Niko out?  That was the question.

He pondered that as he helped roll up the blootchkes -- which turned out to be little burrito-shaped crepes, filled with a variety of sweet and savory fillings. It was getting dark by the time they were done. Alex stretched and rubbed his back like it was sore, and put on a pained expression.

"Say, Niko, would you mind delivering this bunch? I'm wearing out."

"Take these up front and rest there," said Niko, without even looking up to see Alex's performance as an invalid. But then he leaned closer and added. "I can't go, I must watch them."

Well, the guards weren't quite drunk enough anyway.  Alex refilled their glasses, and went to deliver the blootchkes. He ducked Rozinshura without much trouble, and that gave him an idea: When he got back he'd see if the guards were drunk enough, and if so, he'd tell Niko that the captain wanted him.  Then he'd take the guards' guns, hold Pookiterin hostage, and get the girl to help get Thorny out of the larder.

When he got back to the kitchen, the lamps had been turned down, and the guards were dozing ... but there was tension.  Niko was in the corner, muttering darkly and shooting angry glances at the alcove.

In the alcove, the colonel had removed his sword belt and jacket, and unbuttoned his shirt a little.  He hovered over the girl, much closer than before.  He reached over and touched her face.  She sat like a stone.

Alex set down his tray and fingered the ipecac in his pocket.

"Do you think the colonel wants some wine?" he said.

The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- now available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or support this site directly;

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Juggling Multiple Visions -- Wed Update

(ROW80 and Clarion Writeathon update at bottom of post.)

Struggling with multiple visions of the story is a common writer's problem. You've got all these ideas. Some are mutually exclusive.  Every choice you make, you cut off an option.

I really honestly thought doing the tight serial version of the story and then relaxing into a more leisurely book version would be a writer's dream come true.  I'm not stuck with just one choice! I can do two!

It's not turning out that way, unfortunately.

What I'm finding is that, even though the blog version is deadline driven (and therefore far from perfect or polished), my writer brain is adapting to the format, and I'm getting the stuff that I want into these tighter and smaller packages.  And as a result, the posted version is, more and more often, coming out better than the book version.

And I don't often see places I want to expand. I want to do some work on the prose, make things clearer, improve the timing, but other than a few outtakes I want to restore, not make it longer. Not give it more atmosphere.

I think this is happening partly because of the deadlines.  The thing about deadlines is that they produce pressure to Get It Right Now.

Self-imposed deadlines do not do this.  For instance, the fact that I have rewriting the episodes for the book version as a part of this dare doesn't help even the tiniest bit: You folks aren't going to see that version tomorrow, so the fact that one part is a little too fuzzy, or I haven't found the "direction" of the scene, doesn't matter.  My brain is tired, the piece is whole and makes sense, I'm done.

But when you have a publication deadline, somebody's going to read that story the next day. It can't be just a waste of the reader's time.  The core meaning of the scene, the dynamics involved, all that matters, and you've got to get it right now, before the book is done.

However, I do find that writing the "book version" first is helping me with the posted version -- it's a looser rough draft.  I'll need to do that book in a third draft - and maybe then (especially if I do it on a break between serials) I'll be able to get into a more leisurely voice and expand it more.

But even if not, I think it will be an improved version.  For all that they make me focus, the deadlines really do force me to make some compromises.  It's just that some become a springboard for something new.

See you in the funny papers.

Progress tally for "A Round of Words in 80 Days Meets The Clarion Write-a-Thon"

Sunday Day 14 - art and editing
Monday Day 15 - Book version of Ep 22.
Tuesday Day 16 - Ep 22 (to be posted Thursday)

While I get more and more behind (now 6 days behind for the Aug 4 Clarion deadline) I am also getting more and more ahead.   I've been doing a lot of partial drafts for upcoming episodes.  Also, a few other stories are cropping up.

My main disappointment, though is the art.  Definitely getting in a rut, but this may due to the fact that I am doing most of the art at the last second just now.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 21

The Case of the Misplaced Hero
by Camille LaGuire

Episode 21 - The Coup in the Kitchen

NO NEED TO panic yet.  Niko knew Alex's name, but he didn't know anyone was looking for him, and he was too busy to care, right?

Niko went across the kitchen and unlocked a door to one of the larders.  It was an L-shaped room, but Alex could see, against the far wall, a bench with a bundle on it. He leaned to get a better look.  He caught a glimpse of wild, damp gray hair.

It was Thorny.  He was asleep on a bench with a blanket over him

Niko touched a finger to his lips to indicate they should not disturb his sleep, and then picked up large basket of eggs, and handed it to Alex.

"Who is that?" asked Alex.

"He is drunk," whispered the cook.  He paused to tuck a bottle under his arm and pick up a large crock of something.  "He is sleeping it away."

Niko herded Alex out of the room, and set down the crock to lock the door back up.

"But why is he locked up?"

"Rozinshura does not want him to talk to Pookiterin."

"Who's Pookiterin?"

Before he could answer, there was the sound of boots in the hall.  Then in walked security officer from the parlor.  He was a tall, balding man in a fancy gray uniform with medals and braid, and shiny boots. He had a pointy waxed mustache which poked out from his face like a pair of darts.

Niko stood suddenly at attention, and nodded with little jerk that looked formal, like a salute.  Since Alex was hoping to be taken as a soldier, he did the same.

The officer barely acknowledged them.  He surveyed the kitchen from the doorway, and then declared:

"Yes.  This will do."

He stepped across the room and behind him came two soldiers in long gray coats, and the girl. The one from the parlor.  The soldiers gave her a shove.  She sidestepped the shove and managed to keep her dignity as they hurried her across the room.

"I am commandeering your kitchen," said the officer.

"But Kinchin Colonel, we have orders to feed these people," protested Niko.

"You may work on that side, and you may have that table, but we will take the rest.  These tables, the alcove, the pantries," said the colonel, and he turned to Niko with a casual, almost sly look.  "Where are your keys?"

Niko paused, and then put on a look of confusion.  He patted his pockets.

"Oh, Rozinshura took the keys.  He was worried about thieves with so many people here.  But it's all right, everything in here is unlocked except the larder."

The officer glanced at the larder door and then said sharply to Niko, "A cook without keys to the larder?"

"I have everything I need for now. I'm making blootchkes. You like apple?"

The officer, apparently, did not like apple. His eyes narrowed, and he turned to one of his minions.

"Search him."

"That is not necessary," said Niko. "We'll open it!" He put a hand on Alex's shoulder.  With his other hand, out of sight, he slipped something heavy into the pocket of Alex's jacket -- the keys. "Get Rozinshura.  He will bring the keys."

Alex started for the door.

"Never mind!" said the officer, like he was just testing Niko's truthfulness. He retreated to the alcove with the girl. His guards settled at a table in the middle of the kitchen, right in front of the larder.  Niko let out a long, slow breath.

"That is Colonel Pookiterin," he said, and he took up his tub of sour cream and headed for his side of the kitchen.

Alex stood still a moment. The captain was hiding Thorny from the colonel, and the way the colonel backed off... it was like he was avoiding the captain.

Thorny had somehow got himself into the center of a power struggle, it seemed.

But Alex now knew where he was, and where the girl was. He even had the keys.... and two armed, if unwitting, guards and an officer in his way.  Not to mention Niko, who probably wouldn't help. This was going to be interesting.

The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- now available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or support this site directly;

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Day After Bastille Day

A Round of Words in 80 Days Meets The Clarion Write-a-Thon

Wednesday Day 10 - None - got the art and episode posted
Thursday Day 11 - Some new outlining
Friday Day 12 - Jumped ahead to book version of Ep 26
Saturday Day 13 (Bastille Day) -Book version of Ep 23

I think I just have to consider Wednesdays to be a wash in terms of new writing.  Meeting the deadline on the episode post for Thursday is about all I can handle on a work day. Unfortunately, I'm finding that's a problem for Sundays as well, even though I should be able to do better.

I actually did a lot of fragments of other episodes this section too -- I think I'll have a whole batch of episodes ready in a row one of these days.

(See all the ROW80 folks who checked-in today.)

Reader Poll

I'm doing a Reader Poll until the end of July.  It asks just the basic question: are you a new reader (since I started posting the serial in May), and are you following the story, or just the writing posts, or both. Please stop by and gimme some answers!

Thoughts on the Day After Bastille Day

On this day in 1985, I started my writer journal.  It felt like a momentus occasion: I had been accepted into grad school.  I had gone to Clarion in 1982 -- which was the beginning of my writing revolution.  Clarion was, to me, the storming of the Bastille.  It got me started, but it hadn't yet accomplished much.  (As I understand it, the Bastille only had one prisoner in it at the time it was stormed -- and he didn't want to leave.)

That's kind of how it is with your creative life; you have these great exciting, motivating bursts of energy that change everything, and you feel like you've accomplished something. And then you realize that all you've done is strike the spark. And it didn't even catch, and you've still got to build the fire.  You know, the slow, old fashioned way.

More than that, though.  Even when you do accomplish something, there's always more to it, another hill to climb, more ideas than you can possibly handle.

There's a great line in the tacky action movie Under Siege. Tommy Lee Jones, pretending to be a firebrand revolutionary fanatic, says "A revolution gets its name by always coming back around in your face."

It doesn't stop.  Every July 15, I like to pause and look at things, and see how the revolution is never over. It's only just starting. Always.

The day after Bastille Day is the day the real revolution starts.

See you in the funny papers.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Quick Reader Poll

On the Web Fiction Guide forum, someone suggested that ask my readers about various things I'm thinking about doing.

I realized that I don't know enough about you guys to interpret the answers to any poll I make... so I decided to start with a very simple poll to study some of my assumptions and also to set up a baseline:

How many of you are new readers, and are you here for the blog story or for the writing posts or both?

"The story" here refers to the ongoing serial The Case of the Misplaced Hero, which I've been posting Mondays and Thursdays for a couple of months.  "Writing posts" can be interpreted loosely as any of my regular (non-fiction) blog content.  An "old" reader is someone who started reading before May, when I started the serial.


I realize that the results of this post will be skewed -- I'm not posting a lot of other content over summer, and the serial is too new to have built up a real following.  If nothing else, though, it will be a snapshot of what is happening now.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 20

The Case of the Misplaced Hero
by Camille LaGuire

Episode 20 - Not There To Save

THE TRAY WAS piled high with plates, and it would be hard to explore while carrying it, so Alex headed straight for the parlor first.  Deliver the sandwiches, see about the girl.

But there he found Captain Rozinshura blocking the parlor door as he talked to one of the security men.

"I have no place for you, Kinchin Colonel," Rozinshura was saying.  "We are up to our hair in foreigners.  You would be better off in the town."

Crap, thought Alex, if the security guys left, they'd take the girl with them. He had to talk to her now.

Alex tried to push past them, but Rozinshura turned and scowled at him.  Was it the uniform?

"Niko gave me these clothes," he said, quickly.  "I hope it's okay."  He lifted the tray of sandwiches.  "I told him I'd give some sandwiches to the security guys.  Are they still in there?"

"I'll take them," said the Captain, and he picked up a couple plates and returned to his conversation, still blocking the way.

"I need to go in there anyway," said Alex.  "Niko didn't know how many blootchkes to make, so I said I'd count the people."

"Fifty-seven," said the captain.

"In the parlor?"

"In the building.  Go on."  The captain gestured toward the tavern.  "You are not a servant.  You are a guest.  Go sit.  Eat."

"He also wanted to know what kind of blootchkes," said Alex, stalling.  "Apple?  Potato and sour cream, maybe?"

"All of them. Start with what is fastest. He knows this."

Alex had to back off before he made the man too suspicious.

The people in the tavern met him with a chorus of approval.  They grabbed up the sandwiches quickly, and asked for more.  He promised blootchkes, whatever they were. When people asked, he faked an Awarshi accent and said;  "You like! Everybody like blootchkes! You like apple?"

The plates were quickly emptied and he realized that was the perfect excuse: he could go back to the parlor to gather the plates!  He hurried across the hall.

There was no one standing in the doorway now. Alex slipped in.  Rozinshura was there, sitting on a stool with his back to the door, talking to some bedraggled ladies.

But as Alex looked around, he saw no sign of the security men, or the girl.

She was gone.

To some place unknown, just like Thorny.

How had he managed to completely lose them both?  He heard Flavia's voice again.  Not there to save, she said.  So it's not your job.

The hell it isn't! thought Alex.  Besides, Aunt Flavia really had been gone, off to another universe.  This girl... this woman... she was here somewhere.

And so was Thorny.  That was his first responsiblity, wasn't it? And at least he had some idea how to find Thorny.  He could ask Niko.  If he could get guy to talk about something other than food.

Alex was distracted with his thoughts, and almost didn't hear the conversation going on between the ladies and Rozinshura.

"Alex?" said one of the women, in a shrill voice.  "I don't know anyone named Alex."

Alex straightened. Nobody was looking at him.  Rozinshura leaned toward the lady.

"Pehraps I have the name wrong," he said.  "We have a discrepancy in our list. Perhaps someone with a name that sounds like Alex?  He is young.  A student?"

The ladies shook their heads and swore they knew no one on the train whose name was Alex or anything like it.

Alex slipped out into the hall, just out of sight.  He listened, but he couldn't hear much from there.  He headed back for the kitchen.

Thorny must have mentioned his name, and now they were looking for him.  He couldn't remember for sure if he had told Niko his name.  If not, he'd give him an alias.

But when he got to the kitchen, Niko greeted him.  By name.

"Alex!" he said. "Now we make blootchkes.  Come help!"

The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- now available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or support this site directly;

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wednesday Update - Tigers, Part Deux

This segment's progress:

Sunday Day 7 - I... don't remember what I did.  Whoops.  I think I did some art, and untangled some upcoming plot mess.
Monday Day 8 - Ep 20 - book version.
Tuesday Day 9 -Ep 21 - book version

I'm doing a sucky job of the rewrite.  Well, not so much that, as I'm not doing what I expected to do.  I expected to "let out the corset" on this, but now that I am into the compressed style of it, I don't feel the need to expand on what I've got. I just edit.  Maybe add a joke or other bit I cut, but mostly not.

Which may be okay, but...I feel like I'm missing an opportunity.

Well, on Monday night, I think I hit on what is wrong.  I need to write the longer, ebook version first.  Then compress for the blog.  Sure, when I compress, I find out great things about what is important in the scene -- but if that happens, it can become a guide to rewriting the long draft. 

Anyway, I'm going to try doing it that way for a while, and only go back to those early chapters after I'm done with these last ones.

Popcorn Tigers, Part Deux, or...

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog

When I came up with the new plan to throw over everything and concentrate on this serial for a while, I didn't think about the subtext.

All of a sudden, my blog is no longer a distraction from my writing!

All you writers out there, I want you to stop and think about that.

I'm no longer taking time away from my writing to deal with my blog.  My blog now is my writing -- the center piece of it.  No guilt. No feeling of being split in a thousand different directions.  Yes, it's work.  There are also no excuses. Writing is like a job now. I gotta show up every day.

As a result... I will be going back to blogging six days a week in the fall.  (Not sure of exact date: I'll probably trickle material back in over summer.)

Here's what I'm thinking of as a blogging schedule:

  • Monday: Story Episode
  • Tuesday: Cartoon (possibly alternating with other art, jokes, flash fiction or "Story Notes" posts)
  • Wednesday: Thinky Writery Stuff (with quick ROW80 Update at bottom).
  • Thursday: Story Episode
  • Friday: Friday Favorites -- essays about favorite books, movies and such
  • Saturday: (off)
  • Sunday: "What's Up on the Blog This Week?" (i.e. coming attractions -- what I used to call "review/preview" -- and the main ROW80 update.)

This is probably insane of me, to even think of blogging six days a week, with illustrations and fiction no less!  And at a time when the workload at school is likely to get tough. We had some faculty retirements in a sister-program, and one of my coworkers will probably be called on to pick up the slack there, and so I will probably need to take up some slack for him.

However, I have blogged every single day before, and done my writing challenges too.  It was a major struggle, but it was two separate tasks. With the merging of two tasks into one, it should be doable.  Maybe more doable than before.

In the meantime....

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 19

The Case of the Misplaced Hero
by Camille LaGuire

Episode 19 - The Importance of Sandwiches

THE KITCHEN WASN'T hard to find.  Alex just had to follow the sound of clattering pans and swearing in Awarshi.

The cook was the only one in the room, and he was having a melt down. He ran this way and that, banging pans, organizing things.  The only sign that Thorny might be around was some wet clothes drying behind the stove.

"Uh, hey," said Alex.

"Go to the front!" called the cook.  "I have no time, I have a hundred people to serve, and they all are magesties!"

"Can I help?" said Alex.  Those were the magic words.  The cook stopped, looked at him, and then suddenly smiled a welcoming smile.

"You can cook?"

"I can work."

Niko, the cook, sent him back to the linen closet to get clean clothes.  By the time he got back, the man had calmed down. He was carefully cutting paper-thin slices of some kind of melon.  He also had a stack of very thin slices of bread.

"In Imperia, noble people like sandwiches, yes?" he said, hopefully.  "Little tiny sandwiches with only butter and a little taste of something.  Yes?"

He waited and Alex realized he was asking his opinion.  "Um, sure," said Alex.

"I make ham, too," said Niko.  "That will keep them until I can make raggoul.  Or blootchkes.  Everybody likes blootchkes!"

He sent Alex to get a stack of plates and a tray, and then together they assembled the sandwiches and cut the crusts off.  Then they cut them into little triangles and diamond shapes.  Alex convinced Niko to add a little mustard to the ham sandwiches.  They piled the sandwiches as artfully as possible on the plates, and piled the plates on a big tray.

As they worked, Alex tried to ease into a conversation, maybe learn what happened to Thorny.  The cook was happy to talk.  As a matter of fact, he talked the whole time -- arguing with himself about what dishes to make.

"Blootchkes with apples, I think.  No no no!  With potatoes and sour cream.  Is that too ordinary?  Maybe not... simple is elegant.  But potatoes are food for workers.  Sour cream with smoked fish!  Do I have any smoked fish...?"

Alex couldn't get a word in edgewise. He figured Niko would calm down once he got his menu in order, though.  In the meantime the sandwiches smelled good.

Suddenly Alex was starving. He hadn't eaten since lunch at the.... at the dorm cafeteria in a completely other world.  A hundred years ago, or maybe a hundred years ahead.  Or maybe just hours ago, with miles of running and swimming and worrying in between.

He stepped back and collapsed on to a bench.  Niko took a fat handful of discarded ham and slapped it between two thick crusts from the bread --  not a dainty little sandwich at all -- and handed it to him.  Alex wolfed it down, and it tasted better than anything he'd ever had in his life.  Way better than the wimpy layers of dissolving bread and processed meat product he'd had at the dorm.  They'd put it in a little press and grilled it. It hadn't made it any better.

Muted reality, that's how Aunt Flavia had described the real world.  Or what he thought was the real world.  Was Awarshawa not real?  This sandwich was real all right.  That dorm sandwich was not real.

And Flavia said he'd find his place when he'd had enough of that world and its muted reality. Alex laughed. He never realized it was time to go, never saw he could go. Thorny was the one who saw it. Thorny, like a good teacher, had led him here, where the sandwiches were good and things mattered.

And now Thorny was lost.  Not there to save.   Flavia's words echoed in his head, but he shook them off. He just had to find where Thorny was.  Probably behind that locked door in the hall.  But not necessarily.... And then there was the girl.  Was she still in the parlor?

Alex jumped up.

"Let me take those to the front," he said, as Niko finished arranging the plates on a tray.

"Are you all right now?"

"I've never been better in my life," said Alex, and he set out with the tray to scout the halls, and find the girl.  Maybe, under the guise of a waiter, he'd get a chance to talk to her, to assure her help was coming....

Because once Alex got Thorny home, he'd come back.  Not just for the girl, but for himself.  Alex had found his place, and even if it turned out to be the worst mistake of his life, it was where he belonged, he was sure.

The Case of the Misplaced Hero -- now available as an ebook at major online retailers, including:

In most ebook formats at Smashwords, plus Amazon's Kindle Store, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Diesel, Apple iBookstore(Coming soon to Sony.)

Now also at Amazon's international stores: UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan.

Or support this site directly;

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Sunday Update - and Popcorn Tigers

A Round of Words in 80 Days Meets The Clarion Write-a-Thon

Wednesday Day 3 - artwork and some notes for the future
Thursday Day 4 - Ep 21
Friday Day 5 - rewrite Ep 4 for ebook
Saturday Day 6 - rewrite Eps 5-6 for ebook

Managed to do four episodes in four days, which was the goal.  I didn't do the artwork I wanted to do.

I also note that I don't feel the need to rewrite as much as I thought for the ebook version. There are a few places (so far) where I have "outtakes" I want to restore. And a few places where the prose is too tight.  Most of my energy is being spent on sorting out the best way to handle the upcoming complications.

The Blog Story Experiment - Changing My Life

I've tried to write this post twenty times.  So far it has turned into The Rambling Incoherent Post That Ate Toledo every time.  (Well, not completely incoherent - I probably have a few very nice individual posts mixed in.)

I seem to have gone from Popcorn Kittens to Popcorn Tigers.  Or something.

See, popcorn kittens is what happens when new opportunities crop up -- ideas and such go zinging around your head like, well, popcorn kittens.  But the thing about opportunities is that they change everythign.  They tear your world apart.  (You know, the song from Les Miz -- "the tigers come at night, with their voices soft as thunder"?  Like that, only positive.  Because they're Popcorn Tigers, not the Tigers of Oppression.)

I wrote that discovering indie publishing two years ago was like Joe Konrath took me by the arm and said "Duck, meet water."  It was like coming home.  Well, I was wrong. That was just a puddle.  That was the first shoe to drop.  The second shoe (the big pond, if we want to keep both metaphors going) finally dropped this summer with this web serial.

This has caused me to change my plans completely.

THIS is what I want to do with my life.  This is it.  It's the unified field of my life: publishing, web geekery, writing and dreaming -- putting an episode to bed, with  illustration and proper links and all that, twice a week.

You know how writers dream about holding the printed version of their book in their hand? Or looking in the TOC of a magazine and seeing their byline and title?  Well, I get that feeling of satisfaction twice a week now.

Seriously, last night I was looking at my bookshelves, and thinking about clearing out that last shelf of old magazines, and I realized that they were the copies of my own works.  And I thought "oh, uh, okay, I guess I should keep those."

I realized that those didn't actually mean that much to me any more.  I was more concerned about my old original editions of Mother Earth News than my ego-copies of my work.  And that was a weird feeling.

The Smile On The Face of the Tiger

"There once was a lady from Niger
Who smiled as she rode on a tiger
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside
and the smile on the face of the tiger"

The problem is that this is changing my life plan -- or at least my three-year writing plan.

I have a very good three-year plan.  I was going to concentrate on writing my two mystery series and getting a solid base for each series.  I've got people waiting for the next Mick and Casey.  (Not lots of people, but enough that I hear from them.)

That plan has a reasonable shot at making some income from writing.  It's an established business model.  It's sensible -- and it's not like it isn't fun too.

When I started this serial it was something fun to do over summer.  I was planning to go back to regular writing in the fall. Sure, I planned to continue posting a serial, but I would use this other story. One I've already written, and it wouldn't disrupt my sensible, well-thought-out plans.

That might be enough for me, and I still might do that.

But right now that tiger is whispering to me, and I'm thinking that this experiment -- with this story -- won't be done at the end of the summer.  I think I need to go a whole year on it.  Or at least through the end of this year.

What's wrong with this?  Why is the tiger smiling?

Well, first, this new plan is a whole flock of birds in the bush.  No, just the sound of birds in the bush. I don't even know if the birds are really there.  It could just be one of those noisy cat toys.

Since I started this serial, I have seen a record increase in blog traffic -- just raw numbers of views on my blog.  But I haven't seen an increase in subscriptions, and reader response has dropped -- fewer comments, fewer retweets.  Book sales have dropped to zero.

I have a theory -- only a theory, mind you -- that this serial is having more effect than it seems.

This is the time of year when internet traffic of all kinds drops.  Sales slump, comments stop - just as I've been experiencing.  And yet my blog traffic is increasing -- due to people clicking through multiple episodes, mainly.  The lack of comments is partly because writers (my regular audience) tend to comment to support each other, but readers read in private.  They don't want a dialog.

So maybe my writer audience is drifting off for the summer as usual, but they're being replaced by regular readers.  Which would be cool, but I can't tell until this has gone on for a little longer. Is it just another of those weird blips in network data?

I have another, larger theory, which is what I have been basing my strategy on for a while:

Readers can take a long time to get hooked on a story/characters -- especially with certain genres, or with totally off-genre work like I write.  It takes even longer for them to get hooked on an author sufficiently to try her other works.  This is why I wanted to write those foundation books for my mystery series -- so that if someone liked one book, they'd find a couple more books with the same characters.

But those books are slow to write.  Neither series likes to be rushed. I've learned that.  It will take years to gain any traction with them.

On the other hand, this serial does seem to be gaining a tiny bit of traction already.  (It makes sense that it would because the episodes each have a new chance to hook the reader -- there is time and volume involved.)  However, I won't know, can't know, if this actually is gaining traction until I let it go through a full cycle.  Let it run in fall and winter, when blog traffic is high.  See if people will buy the first book while the second story runs.

To stop at the end of this story would mean to lose momentum and never know what that momentum could bring.  (I do know, from experience from my other books, what it means to lose momentum.  It ain't pretty.)

So I'm going to continue with this serial, at least through the second story (The Case of the Misplaced Bomb, I think) this fall.  I'll see how that goes. Maybe I'll do a third in the series after that, maybe I'll take a break and start that other series for a while.

I won't stop working on my other books.  There should be time. It'll just be slower and lower priority.

So what else is new?

See you in the funny papers.