Sunday, September 30, 2012

Week In Review-Preview, and The Dare Begins

Today I begin the fourth round of A Round of Words in 80 Days for 2012.  The actual round begins tomorrow, Monday, October 1.  However, I like to start a day early, which makes the Sunday/Wednesday reporting line up better with the beginning and end of the challenge.

What is A Round of Words in 80 Days?

It's a writing dare, or challenge, that goes on almost continuously. It's divided into 80 day round -- four quarters -- with about 10 days off after every round.  Writers can jump in and out of the process at will, even in the middle of a round if they want to.

The goal of ROW80 is like the goal of this blog: to make writing a part of your daily life, instead of some extraordinary, one month a year, thing.  This is about your writing life.

Writers set their own goals, change them as necessary.  We report in twice a week, on Sundays and Wednesdays.

Summary of Goals

I posted a detailed description of my goals on Wednesday, but here is a summary:

My strategy for the year is to treat this blog like a magazine and make it the center of my writing life.  I'm posting the short episodes of an online novel on Mondays and Thursdays, as well as a comic strip once a month. I'm also posting commentary on writing on Wednesdays, and reviews/criticism/commentary on various movies and books as a "Friday Favorites" feature.

To that end, I will:

  • Post here six days a week.  (Sunday-Friday at 8am EST.)
  • Devote 20 hours a week to this "job" of writing, editing, illustrating and publishing.

Within that time and effort, I hope to also publish three books this fall.  Two of them are completed drafts. (One is the serial I posted this summer, the other is the serial I'm about to start posting.) The other is a mostly finished but stalled book that I think I'm ready to take up again.

And now for the weekly review and preview:

This Past Week's Posts

I began last week with an expanded Sunday update post -- which garnered a lot of attention:

Coming This Week

Monday: The Misplaced Hero  credit cookie - "And What About Lina?"
As a teaser for next summer's story, we follow Lina as she tries to get her book back from Rozinshura.

Tuesday: Miss Leech and The Yard #2
A cozy mystery comic strip.

Wednesday: How I Organize To Write  A Book
In reaction to a similar post by Elizabeth Spann-Craig, I'll tell you a little about my convoluted "pre-production" process.

Thursday: Misplaced Hero Wrap Up
Titles, and process, and where the story is (or may be) going.

Friday Favorites: Foyle's War
The BBC mystery series is an interesting counterpoint to Casablanca.  Also, I'm in love with Foyle.

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, September 28, 2012

My Misnamed Top Ten Movies List, Part 2

Last week I talked about the top five movies in my top ten list (which actually has about 75 movies in it).  The thing you might notice about that top five is that they're all relatively low-brow. That is, they are commercial, accessible entertainment flicks.

The more "important" pictures start showing up on my list at #6 and below. And here is the interesting thing: I change my mind about this list relatively often, and when one of those pictures in the top five drop down, I tend to replace them with something further down the list.  The "important" pictures tend to stay in the second tier -- even though I love them, and will watch them forever, and all that.


Because the top of the list is about story.  Story story story.

Those top five all put story ahead of artistry.  Or to put it another way, the artistry is in service of story.

With "great" film, artistry often likes to step out and take a bow ahead of story, and that's okay too.  It's the artistry that keeps the world on its toes.  I put the word important in quotes above -- but the artistry stuff really is important.  It makes us think and breaks us out of our ruts.  The world progresses because of artistry.

But story beats artistry every time, because it gets into our system, almost unconsciously.  It's much more potent.

But anyway, on with the list....

6. Dr.  Strangelove, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, 1964 

If you want to talk about artistry, this movie has buckets of it.  The amazing thing about it is how it uses the camera and sound.  It's all so still -- the camera sits still and the takes are long, and we see many scenes from a discrete distance.  The sound track is mostly just sound effects -- we hear what is in the scene.  Music only shows up for punctuation, as ironic commentary on what is happening.

It's showy and a little uncomfortable, because the quietness is the opposite of what you want from the "flavor" of the story.  The world is going to come to an end!  The Bomb is on its way to being dropped.  Fail Safe is being overridden.  And the style is persistently quiet and ordinary.  The result is a kind of tension that makes everything funny.  It's so frustrating you give up.

It's a perfect black comedy style.  (It's also an interesting counter point to the other cold war picture on the list - The Russians Are Coming - so maybe I'll talk about the pair of them together someday here on Friday Favorites.)

7. The Third Man, 1949

So if Strangelove has artistry in buckets,  The Third Man has it in barrels.   It's another Cold War story, but from a time before the Cold War had become terrifying and insane and ironic.  At the time The Third Man was made, it was a more personal thing. It was about how politics and bureaucracy affects people.

And so this movie is more relaxed, more a mystery and human story, but it uses some of the same techniques to raise it above the simple thriller plot that drives it along. With The Third Man, the artistry is in service of setting more than plot, but the plot is partly a matter of setting.  Vienna is shaken and destroyed and occupied by forces hostile to even each other.  But it's still Vienna.  Still the city of cafes and a kind of quiet grace.  So... every shot is gorgeous, the camera may move and track, or it may sit and wait for characters to travel long distances.

And though it's a thriller, the only music is a running track of zither music (one of the most famous tunes to get stuck in your head ever), which gives a spritely humor to even deadly chase scenes.

8. North By Northwest, 1959

In some ways, I think Rear Window should beat out North By Northwest for the Hitchcock slot in this list. It is by far the more ambitious film -- a great balance of artistry and story, so controlled, so perfect -- but NbyNW will always be my favorite.  It was the first movie I owned in Beta then VHS, then DVD.

I think North by Northwest ultimately wins with story.  It is the height of Hitchcock's mastery of suspense, but it also harks back to his more accessible, engaging and human stories.  It's the very definition of what "thriller" means (or meant until about a decade ago, when it started to mean "horror"); an ordinary man caught up in events so far over his head, he hasn't a hope... and yet he manages to survive and triumph.

9. The General, 1926

I am a huge fan of Buster Keaton.  There is just so much great material with him, mostly two reelers (as with so many silent comedians).   In my opinion, and without reservation, he is the greatest silent comedian ever.  Like Fred Astaire, he had a way of bringing objects to life - to the extent that he often played the straight man to a freaking prop! The prop itself seemed to be giving a great comedic performance.

But the biggest thing about "Old Stone Face" as he was known, is that he embodied a level of quiet determination and focus that made his characters admirable.  The General was his masterpiece.  (And I mean that in the modern sense of the word - crowning glory of his career.)  In it he's an engineer in the South at the outbreak of the Civil War, and some Yankees steal his train.  And he chases them down.  On foot.  Alone.

One of my favorite shots in movie history is in this picture, when Buster has recovered his train and has rushed to town to bring a warning.  When he gets there, trains are hard to stop -- they take a long time. Keaton used the timing to set up this shot where the he pulls the break, and the train continues to travel across the screen, while he jumps up and runs along the top of the train -- remaining in the center of the screen (and the center of this distant shot) the whole time. The the train stops and he stops with such perfect comedic timing, it's like they're dance partners.

I wish I could fit more silent movies into the top ten, but this one really does stand head and shoulders above the rest.

10. Singin' In The Rain, 1952

I like musicals, but I am generally bored by at least half of what's on the screen in most of them.  Some good numbers... but the story? Meh.  Singin' In The Rain, however, has always kept my attention for nearly the whole picture -- with the possible exception of the big "serious" Broadway Rhythm dance number.  Even that has too many parts I love to bore me long.  There's hardly a moment that isn't clip-worthy.  Just pick any moment of that movie and it's... fun.

I've been thinking about it, and in many ways, it's like the whole darn movie is one long, funny, joyful dance number, even where people aren't singing or dancing.

(This movie, by the way, is the only one, other than Casablanca, which is on both my list and on has been in the top ten of the AFI's 100 movies list.)

Well, that's all for now.  I may talk again about the 65 alternates for this list, but odds are I'll just talk about them individually and not bother to rank them.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 42

Episode 42 - The Mentor
by Camille LaGuire

Alex had no idea where to go, but he supposed that was all right because he couldn't actually go any place anyway.

His sprained left ankle hurt like hell, so maybe it was broken.  The cut on his right leg was still oozing blood, though, so it was more important.  He used the large hankerchief he found in the pocket of Pookiterin's uniform to tie up his leg.

He hadn't heard much of the fuss that went on up on the road above.  He just saw a lone soldier come down and cast about.  She spotted the blood trail, but didn't follow it.  She had gone away.  They'd be looking for him in the morning most likely.

And he couldn't move.  Not much anyway.  He might make it to one of the boats that were tied up by the little dock.  It was the only way he would get very far on that ankle... but he didn't know where he would be going.  Had no plan.

It seemed like it would be better to try to find Lina.  She said he'd never find her, but she said she lived in the village near the wreck... but he didn't know if she was telling the truth.

Or he could make his way back to the kitchen in the inn, and throw himself on Niko's mercy. Niko would at least feed him. Alex realized he was starving, and exhausted, and thirsty.  He didn't know if he could make it up the steps, let alone back to the inn.  And they'd probably arrest him.

He lay there in the dark under that upturned boat and considered ripping apart the jacket to make a pressure bandage for his ankle, but he was too cold.

Then he heard the sound.  It was an odd sound; familiar and yet wrong.  Footsteps on gravel and something ... crinkly.  Like plastic sheeting.

The footsteps crunched closer, and a small light played across the ground. Alex couldn't see anything but dark feet and that light that flicked back and forth; a flashlight or lamp following the blood trail.  Had the soldier come back?

Alex tensed, and tried not to make a sound as he strained to see more. The feet came to a stop beside the boat, and something dropped loudly to the ground.

It was a plastic zip-top freezer bag, wet but sealed up, with a first aid kit and a roll of duct tape inside.

"Alex?" said a voice.  It was Thorny.

Alex rolled out from under the lee of the boat and Thorny knealt down. He was dripping wet, but he had another plastic bag with more first aid supplies: hand sanitizer, a towel, scissors.

"Thank God you're alive," he said.  "How badly are you hurt?"

"Just a bad cut to my leg and a sprained ankle."

Thorny was unpacking his medical supplies.  "We'll get it bandaged, and then we'll waterproof it with the duct tape.  This river might be clean enough, but that muddy river back home... You don't want that water getting at the wound."

"Thorny, I'm not going back," said Alex.  "This is home."

Thorny looked at him firmly.  "You need urgent care.  The emergency room.  And, frankly my boy, you are not ready for this yet."

"I'm not ready?"

"Not yet," said Thorny.  "Listen to me.  I am your teacher.  Your aunt told you you'd jump in the lake when you were ready, didn't she?  Well, you didn't jump in the lake.  I did.  You did a fine job of getting me out of trouble, but you are not ready for this.  Not, at least, until your leg heals up, and we have a chance to settle our affairs. I don't know how long it will take to sell my house in this market..."

"Sell your house?  Thorny you don't belong here."

"Nonsense! Anyone with heart belongs here," declared the professor.  Then he went on in a hushed voice.  "This is the best thing that ever happened to... to anyone.  Certainly to me.  You can't shut me out of it.  You can't leave me to explain your disappearance to the police, when you were last seen in my company.  You can't do that to me."

He paused and examined Alex' wound in the light of the flashlight.

"Besides, I have a plan," he said. "I've been thinking about that paper you wrote, and what most of those heroes have in common. They're all rich. Zorro, Batman, the Scarlet Pimpernel; they all have enormous fortunes.  That's what we need, Alex.  That will allow us to do anything."

"They all inherited a fortune from their parents."

"And so did you, didn't you?"

"In American money.  I can't use that here.  There's no rate of exchange...."

"But there is!" said Thorny.  "The oldest money exchange in the world; Gold.  We both go home, settle our affairs, sell homes and cars, pretend to have become paranoid survivalists, and cash our money in for gold."

"I can see us bringing hundreds of pounds of gold in our pockets. We'll drown."

"Diamonds, then."

Alex paused.  That could work.  Maybe not for an enormous fortune, but for enough to get them set up.  And who knows, maybe they could make multiple trips....

"It's settled, then," said Thorny.  "We'll get you home, and we'll both drink enough so that we can tell the people at the emergency room that we were smashed and tried juggling knives or something.  And then while you're recouperating I'll sell my house, and you'll see if you have any of your aunt's things left. Perhaps she left some papers or something--"

"She did," said Alex.  "I thought they were notes for a novel."

"Excellent!  That will be our first priority, then.  Do our homework.  You'll have to teach me some of the lingo, too."

By the time they were done talking, Thorny had the leg bandaged tightly, and sealed it with duct tape.  They taped up the ankle too, and with Thorny's help, Alex was able to hobble to the dock and look down in the water.  He wasn't wearing the ring, and so he couldn't see any but one reflection, that of the Awarshi rocks and boats and woods.

He almost pulled back, thinking again about how he was home and how he didn't know if he would be able to get back, but Thorny locked arms with him, and tipped them in.  Alex had time to think:

"I will come back. I will--"

Then they entered the water without a splash.

That brings the story of The Misplaced Hero to an end.

For a teaser of what will happen in next summer's story...stay tuned for the credit cookie:
(Bonus episode) "And What About Lina?"

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.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Writing Dare Goals - Fall 2012

I am aligning my dare these days with A Round Of Words In 80 Days.  For those who don't know ROW80, I'll talk more about that on Sunday.

For this phase of my career I've decided to unify everything by turning my blog into my writing career. That is, the blog itself is what I'm doing: fiction, illustration, some cartoons, commentary, non-fiction.

The blog, in other words, is a magazine.  Six posts a week, all DIY, all a learning experience.

The fiction I'm writing here is a little different than the fiction I've written for publication; it's more raw, more naive.  It is, in essence, fan fiction of the stories that play in my head. There is no genre.  They are the same stories that played in my head when I was a little kid, who tied a towel around her neck and shouted "Here I come to save the day!" and ran around the house with a rolled up newspaper for a sword.  (Except the stories kind of took a left turn on reading Camus and Dostoyevski in college....)

So in some sense, this is a risky experiment.  Will these stories put people off my fiction, or attract them to that element that is different about even my more commercial work?  Or will I just have a really good time while I pile up the writing portfolio?

Long Term Goals

Here's the issue. I am not young any more.  I have decades of stories in my head that pile up faster than I can write even on my best days.

I always say a writer has to keep her eyes on the prize. The prize my eyes are on is to get all of these books out of my head and onto the page.  Marketing, money, even the ultimate form of my work; all that really has to wait until I can actually hold a substantial amount of my work in the palm of my hand (or my Kindle).

Which isn't to say that I won't continue to publish and even market my books in the meantime, but the prime directive is to get these books down.  Nothing else actually matters.

Which leads me to my short term goals

BFHAG of the Round

BFHAG stands for "Big Fat Hairy-Ass Goal" and, frankly, it's the goal you can miss.  In some ways, it doesn't work if you can't. It's there to drive you further than you would otherwise go.  In this case, though, I think I'll make it:

Get three books published (or at least in formatting to be imminently published) within the round.

Two of those books should be easy. The Misplaced Hero is the current serial being published on this blog, and it'll be done Thursday (well, Monday, since I'll certainly want to include the "credit cookie" epilogue in the book too).  All it will need is editing, and maybe some expansion on some stuff I cut short to fit the serial format.

The serial I am starting next, Test of Freedom, is also already done in rough draft form, however, I want to do more work on it in getting it ready to be a serial before I publish it as an ebook.  Still, it shouldn't take long.

The thing that's questionable is Devil in a Blue Bustle, a short Mick and Casey Mystery novel which seems to want to be written in fits and starts.  The series is mostly funny and light and puzzle/adventure oriented, but it requires some poignance, and that was missing from this story. I'm pretty sure that's what's blocking me.  I finally figured out that the victims themselves will provide that.

If I'm right, it will write itself (it's 3/4 done). If I'm wrong.... well, I'm wrong.

Day-To-Day Goal

That goal is putting out this blog as a magazine with daily deadlines. These goals are measured two ways:

*Six posts a week, published at 8am EST Sunday-Friday, with art, come rain or high water.  This includes fiction and art. Which will have the priority over all others.

*Twenty hours of work a week.  This includes not just writing and editing, but also art, blog management, specific research, brainstorming, finding and fixing bad links, organizing posts.  Everything related to the blog, except screwing around on the internet in the name of "promotion" or "research."  (Also it has to be dedicated time, not "I was stuck in traffic for a half hour so I thought about my writing" time -- that doesn't count.)

It includes writing this post.  And updating the sidebar to reflect the time worked on this post (when I remember to do that).

Now, on to tomorrow and the last post of the current blog story, The Misplaced Hero. (There will be a "credit cookie" epilogue on Monday too.) Then I'll start gearing up for the next serialized online novel, Test of Freedom, which will start October 15.

See you in the funny papers!

Between the Dares Progress Report:

Sunday: 215 minutes
Monday: 150 minutes
Tuesday: 125 minutes

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Story At Daring Aventure Stories

This week on Daring Adventure Stories, we have a tale from Top Notch  Twice-a-Month Magazine, March 1, 1913.  It's the tale of a greedy shopkeeper and his comeuppance:

* * *

I started Daring Adventure Stories to publish some of my own fiction, then I changed my mind an abandoned it (or at least put it on hold for later).  It seems to work much better to put my fiction on this blog where people can find it.

So that blog was just on hold, until this spring, when I was researching pulp fiction of the WWI era -- partly in preparation for writing "The Serial" (AKA The Misplaced Hero). I kept running across magazines on The Internet Archive which were barely readable.
The original scans were good, but the text versions either didn't exist at all, or were horrible, uncorrected, raw OCR work. It's better to skip those and just read the original scans in an image viewer like Preview or Photoshop.

I decided I wanted to make some of these stories available in a more readable format.  Just one story at a time.  So I started typing them up.

Yeah, typing.

See, even the best OCR sucks, and proofing is a painful process.  I type faster than I correct OCR.

These stories tend not to be polished classics.  They're from the earliest pulp magazines; titles like The Popular Magazine, and Top-Notch, and Detective Story.  Also Railroad Men's Magazine (which eventually became Argosy and All Story).  I also have some classier stories from The Strand, now and then.

Pulp in those days was not the hard-boiled stuff we associate with the name now. They were stories of every genre; romance, childrens' fiction, puzzler mysteries, westerns, slice-of-life.  The world was not quite as cynical as it would be just a decade later.  (Although the irony was often a little more heavy-handed.)

Some of the stories, like the previously published one "The Letter In The Mail" are prototypes of later Noir stories, just more moralistic, more innocent.

This month's story, "On The Rocks Of Success," is more of an everyday life sort of story, about a greedy grocery store owner, and his comeuppance. 

I plan to post stories on DAS on the fourth Tuesday of every month.

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 41

The Case of the Misplaced Hero 41

Episode 41 - Is It Murder?
by Camille LaGuire

By the time they circled the town and turned back toward the inn, Rozinshura had told as much as he could tell -- except for the names, which he would not tell if he didn't know what they meant.  High Commissar Vshtin was thoughtful, and only asked cautious questions.  Rozinshura wondered if he knew more than Rozinshura did.

They came over the hill which gave them a view of the town, and from there they could see the river.  The angle of the road was such that everyone, even those in the back seat, had a clear view.

Just ahead, on a small dock, a figure stood.  It was a small figure, seen in silhouette, but he looked like the old drunk, Professor Thornton.  The hair, the slight pot-belly.

Another figure lurched at him with a sword, and Thornton fell into the river.

Tralkulo slammed on the breaks and looked back, eyes wide.

"Did he kill him?"

No one was sure, and Rozinshura felt a tight knot in his gut.  He didn't even stop to think that he had the High Commissar of Awarshawa in his car.

"Go!" he said. "Hurry."

No one argued, the car careened down the hill, and came up the river road.  Several security men ran down the road, toward the spot where the steps led down to the river.

At the top of those steps stood Sochir.  He ran to greet them as the car pulled to a halt.

"Colonel Pookiterin has killed one of the Imprish diplomats," he said breathlessly, as everyone got out of the car.  By this time two of Sochir's men had joined them.

Rozinshura went to the top of the steps and looked down toward the dock.  Pookiterin was halfway up, dressed like an ordinary soldier. He carried a Cussar ceremonial sword.  An odd juxtaposition, especially with the blood on the blade.

The blood of a harmless old man.

Sochir continued his excited report to Vshtin, and his voice rose as he made the accusation:  "He murdered Winston Argoss. I saw it.  He is in disguise ... and look at that sword! I think he was trying to silence the man and frame the Cussars for the incident...."

Rozinshura could see Pookiterin's face as Sochir spoke these damning words.  Pookiterin was surprised to hear them.  Shocked, betrayed.  The look gave Rozinshura pause.

Pookiterin was a lapdog.  He only did such things for two reasons; to make himself look good, or to please his superiors.  This did not make him look good, and clearly he expected something more positive from Sochir, therefore....

Rozinshura turned to look at Sochir, who continued his accusations with a self-satisfied air, telling of how Pookiterin was known to be following Argoss, and was spotted meeting with bandits only two days ago.  A polished story, all ready for the telling.

"That was not Winston Argoss," Rozinshura said sharply.  "That was a harmless old man.  Argoss died in the train wreck this morning.  He was shot by the bandits."

Sochir stopped, mid-sentence.  He scowled at the interruption, but he could not ignore what was just said, and now everyone was looking at him.

"You must be mistaken," said Sochir after a moment.

"No," said Rozinshira.

"He must be Winston Argoss!"

Pookiterin saw his opportunity, and he strode forward, head high, his life in his teeth.

"Rozinshura is correct!" he declared.  "That was not Winston Argoss, that was the murderer of Winston Argoss!"

Sochir stammered, and everyone else looked at one another. Pookiterin warmed to his tale.

"I have been tracking them for... for weeks!  They are foreign agents attempting to assassinate their own ambassador. I nearly had them, but they waylaid me. They took my uniform in hopes of infiltrating the train ... and they had this sword.  They were planning to frame Cussar rebels for the crime.  I escaped and took this sword. I fought them.  I injured the younger one, and the old one tried to shoot me.  He missed, and I swung my sword at him, but he jumped in the river.  I tell you he jumped!"

Sochir looked quickly to Vshtin to see whether he believed the story.

The High Commissar was very still, his icy silver-blue eyes on Pookiterin.  Pookiterin looked like he might crack under that gaze, but he managed not to, and presently Vshtin turned to Sochir.

"You will debrief him on his activities," he said, and he turned back to the car.

"We should track these so-called agents," said Sochir. "If that's what they are!"

"Leave that to the local authorities," said Vshtin.  "They know the territory."

And since he gave no orders to Rozinshura, he took it that Vshtin did not care whether the fugitives were found or not.

Pookiterin stepped forward eagerly. Perhaps he would get away with murder, but probably not. He was unlikely to stand up to interrogation. He'd tell everything he knew of the plot and more.

And for that he got a ride in the car, with Vshtin and the bodyguards, while Rozinshura and Tralkulo were left on the road.  Sochir and his security men went trotting back on foot.

Rozinshura sent Tralkulo down to the dock to look around.  She returned and reported that there was some blood on the gravel, but none on the dock.  Also a body would be floating in the still water around the boats, but there wasn't one.

"Then perhaps they escaped," said Rozinshura.  He felt much better at that prospect.

"Should I fetch a troop to track them?"

"In the morning," said Rozinshura.  "It's too dark to track."

"They might take a boat in the night and escape."

"That would be wise of them," agreed Rozinshura.

He sighed and turned away and started to limp toward home.  Whoever was injured, he hoped it was not serious.  The old man clearly needed some watching, and Rozinshura had no desire to find them, dead or alive.

Stay Tuned for the final episode: Forty-Two: "Alex Finds a Mentor"

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.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Kris Rusch, Joe Konrath, Amazon and Me

This was supposed to be a nothing update post, but three things happened to cause my mind to start churning:

1.) Kris Rusch wrote about how Content is King, and how writers need to take charge of this incredible asset they've created... and stop just handing control over to others.

2.) Joe Konrath posted some data about his sales numbers, a part of which is a counter point to Kris: he has given over a lot of control to Amazon and has benefited from it.

These two posts are not really in diametrical opposition to each other.  They're actually both "must read" type posts, imho.  But this one point of divergence happened to hit on the third thing that happened this week:

3.) I said, off-hand, that my own sales have come to a near stand still, which would seem to support Joe's thesis.  Except...

I lied.

My sales have actually not come to a standstill. They've just come to a standstill on Amazon.

I'm doing record business at Barnes and Noble and Apple (via Smashwords).

As a matter of fact, I think I'll be earning at least as well as I ever have, and maybe better.  It's just that the percentage of my income that used to come from Amazon now comes from Smashwords partners, and the percentage of income I used to get from Apple now comes from Amazon.

I didn't really notice this because Amazon gives you information faster than anybody else, so whatever happens at Amazon feels more immediate and important.  But it isn't.  It's just that it's easier to see.

What changed?

I stopped giving a shit.

Seriously, that's it.  I stopped caring about my stats, and because I stopped caring about them, I stopped reacting to them -- doing things to pump them up.

"But Camille, that explains how your sales tanked at Amazon, but how did it help your sales elsewhere?  What is your secret?"

The secret is... THERE IS NO SECRET.

I let things go as they naturally will, and they found their own balance.  And over time, that's much easier to maintain, and generally leads to good things.  But that balance will be different for every book and every person.

It can be the only way to find out what works for you, not for Kris Rusch or for Joe Konrath or for Camille LaGuire. But one way you'll never find out what works for you is by depending on self-fulfilling prophesies.  Especially in the short term.

Self-Fulfilling Prophesies

The more you buy into the idea that your success depends on Amazon (or something else -- it's not just them), the more your marketing and business choices will be aimed at optimizing that. You'll worry more about rankings and reviews and stats and algorithms and 'also-bought' links and all that.

And this is not an unreasonable thing to do, for two reasons:

One is that Amazon has so many ways to help you promote.  They provide the Associates Program for affiliate links, and they provide the Selects program to promote your books among Prime members.  Their whole site is optimized for you, to reward you and make it easy for you to just focus on them and forget everyone else.

Nobody else does this, and some writers, like Joe Konrath, are in a position to take advantage of it to the hilt.

The other reason we go after this self-fulfilling prophesy is more visceral, more powerful, less rational and yes, more dangerous:

Amazon gives you immediate feedback.

You can see your sales jump in real time, and your rankings update hourly.  Immediate feedback is makes a connection in the most primal part of our brains.  Poke a stick, something happens, our lizard brain says "Cool!" and rewards us. (Edited to note: It does this literally -- it shoots out "happy" chemicals.)

So when you do something and your numbers change, you get a primal reward.  It doesn't matter if your conscious mind knows that those numbers are not related to what you did.  You could have definitive proof that it isn't related, but somewhere deep in your lizard brain, a little caveman is all excited that you struck to rocks together and made fire.

It's like Pavlov and his bell.  You get conditioned to respond to your stats, to need that feedback.  So by giving you that little hourly reward, Amazon conditions you to watch Amazon's stats and keep doing things to make them move.

And the more you focus on Amazon, the more you neglect the other vendors.  For instance, odds are any purchase link you provide will be aimed at Amazon.  And the result of that is that you're proven right.

Pause For a Caveat

Before I go on, I just want to make one thing clear: there is nothing wrong with this.  Everybody's different, every book is different.  Jumping through hoops at Amazon for rewards may be exactly right for you or one of your books.

Furthermore, if you are having success by focusing on Amazon, there's a very good chance that you will lose income if you start neglecting it.  Long term, that may turn out to be the best thing that ever happened to you, but... it might not.

But What Worked For Me?

What I did was wean myself from that primal addiction to stats.  And as a result, I did a few trivial things which might have made a difference at BN.  But it's really important not to see those as The Secret, because that's just replacing one Pavlov's Bell with another.

Here's the thing that I learned long ago as an investor.  I learned it from reading Andrew Tobias, and I learned it again the hard way when other stock investment gurus led me astray:

When you have a surplus of immediate data, it's easy to get caught up in it.  If you can watch the price of a stock go up and down it's easy to overreact to it.  Data gives you a false sense of security in the short term, and it makes you look at small things and lose the big picture.

You may think that if you just get the right data, you can find that exact moment when the stock is at it's peak to sell, or when it's at the bottom to buy... but nobody can do that.  Not on purpose.  The data simply can't tell you when the market will top or bottom out.  You might as well use your horoscope. (As a matter of fact, there was a stock-picking chicken who had a very successful portfolio....)

So these "smart" investors just churn the heck out of their portfolios, racking up fees, and they think they're succeeding because they don't lose money.  Except... that chicken does as well as they do, and the investors who have the biggest portfolio in the end tend to be the "buy and hold" people.

Buy and hold investors tend to do the following: you research so you can pick solid companies, you decide what proportion of your portfolio you want each company to have, and then when you have money, you don't worry about the stock price or trajectories or 30-day rolling averages.  You just say "My portfolio will have 25% this stock and 25% that one, and 25% mixed annuities and 25% bonds."  (Or whatever.)

Then, whenever you have money to invest, you buy to keep that balance the same.  So if Stock A has been booming, you don't buy that, because it has now overbalanced your portfolio (i.e. taken a higher percentage than you set for it), and if your mixed annuities haven't been doing so hot, you'll need to buy more of them to bring them up to the 25% they're supposed to be.

And you only sell when you have something else you want to do with the money, or when you want to rebalance the whole portfolio -- and in either case, you sell the thing that has overbalanced. (In this case, Stock A.)

By doing that, you automatically buy low and sell high, but it's super hard to do that when you are looking at immediate stock prices. You want to sell your losers and buy your winners... and that leads to buying high and selling low.  Not good.

To me, intellectual property is very much like investment.  It's about long term return.

What happened to me this summer was one of those things that happen with a properly balanced portfolio.  Things shift and equalize, just on their own, without my interference.  Good investments will find their own level.  So will books.

The difference, of course, is that unlike stocks, you are the one managing the company you're investing in, so what you do can make a difference.

However... a good manager keeps its eye on its business, and doesn't run around reacting to stock price or quarterly returns.

(You know, businesses like Amazon, one of the cornerstones of my investment portfolio.  Amazon doesn't react to immediate data -- they plan LONG term.)

So it happens I made some good decisions with Smashwords this summer on some free books. I'll make some less good decisions later, but by thinking more about the books, and less about the leverage and immediate return, I give all my books a better chance to succeed.

So that's enough commentary for now.  Below you'll find the Week in Review/Preview, and writing dare update numbers.

See you in the funny papers.

Last Week's Posts:

Coming This Week on the Blog:

Monday - Episode 41 "Is It Murder?"
A lot of lies get told. Which will be believed?

Wednesday - ROW80 Round 4 Goals.
ROW80 will be starting back up on the first -- though I'll start it on Sunday as usual, to make the update days and the goals line up better.

Thursday - The Final Episode 42 "Alex Finds a Mentor"
Alex could really use a hand right now....

Friday Favorites - My Personal Top Ten Movies List, Part 2
The second half of my list is a little more high-brow.

Between the Dares Progress Report:

Wed: 185 minutes
Thurs: 180 minutes
Fri: 60 minutes.
Sat: 370 minutes.

Friday, September 21, 2012

My Misnamed Top Ten Movies List, Part 1

(My brain isn't in to doing a real Friday Favorites for the next two weeks, so this is an unedited,  completely off-the-cuff post on a subject dear to my heart.  Beware of falling blather....)

I mentioned earlier that I had probably 50 or 60 movies in my "Top Ten" list.

And just to test that, I recently sat down and wrote down a list... and ended up with 75. And some really important flicks came in at the end, like Metropolis and Dr. Strangelove.  (And I don't have any D.W. Griffith on there because he was a rascist/sexist jerk, even though he made some pretty fab movies like The Wind.)  And I'm sure, if I were to write down a list of best movies in a couple of weeks, I'd come up with a different 75 titles.

That's how it is with lists of top ten movies.  And songs.  Book people tend to rebel openly at being limited to ten, and seldom fall for it when asked to rank a top ten, but movie and music people seem obsessed with top ten lists.

I think it's a "geek" thing.  It's a way of talking and analyzing and dissecting, and obsessing, about this ephemeral thing we hold in common.  It's also a way of creating that commonality: When we discuss Top Ten lists, it's a way of sharing the titles that mean a lot to us, especially the more esoteric ones.  It's also a way of sharing our thoughts and interpretations as to what makes something great.

In some ways it's about setting and exploring the criteria as much as it is picking the titles.  We talk about artistic achievement or historic value, or thematic importance.

And we usually end up creating sub-lists.  Top Ten Great Cinematic Achievements.  Top Ten Milestones in Movie History.  Top Ten Flicks In Which Things Blow Up for Absolutely No Reason Whatsoever.

When you're doing a basic Top Ten Movies list, though, all of the criteria matter.  It's like every movie gets points for all sorts of things, and those which hit the target in multiple ways. And creating an Ultimate Top Ten List is a way of looking at what is important to you.

This week and next, I'm going to take a quick look at my own personal top ten list.  Here are the first five, (with off-the-cuff notes).

1. Casablanca, 1942

I talked about Casablanca in a recent Friday Favorites post.  In Short: Casablanca beats the pants of any other movie out there.  And that's because it hits every single solitary target on the map.  Depth, artistry, sheer entertainment, historic and creative gestalt, theme, fabulous script, fabulous cast down to the tiniest parts. 

2. The Prisoner of Zenda, 1937

This flick was so beloved of the filmmakers that, when Richard Thorpe remade it in 1952, he had the 1937 version running on a Moviola on the set, so they could copy it shot-for-shot.  And that wasn't really that unusual.  This classic "cloak and sword" swashbuckler was made into movies and plays and comic books and TV shows over and over again.

But the 1937 version is the quintessential version.  Gorgeous black and white cinematography by James Wong Howe, splendid cast (except maybe for Madeleine Carroll, who I felt overplays her semi-thankless role while others get to underplay theirs). 

One of the things that makes this picture so special to me is that the story has all these interesting triangles and reflections in terms of the main characters and their motives and the archetypes they are based on, and the psychological and symbolic (almost mythic) part they play. The unworthy king and his rival, the worthy underling and his rival, and each side has a love triangle.... Interesting stuff, which I will talk about at length in a coming Friday Favorites.
3. The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming, 1966

This may seem like just another of those silly madcap comedies of the sixties with a huge cast and lots of physical comedy, but it's also directed by Norman Jewison.  The very next two flicks he want on to make were In The Heat of the Night, and The Thomas Crowne Affair.  Jewison was always good at both the commercial side and the artsy side, but right then, he was really one of htose "too hip for words" guys.

The thing that makes this picture stand out, to me, is that it is an all-out silly madcap comedy -- you could watch it without ever realizing there was any real serious intent behind it -- but also it's something more.

It was based on a book which had fun with the same premise: a Russian submarine, at the height of the Cold War, comes too close to shore of Nantucket, and gets stuck on a sandbar.  Soon the islanders and the crew of the submarine are at war, until they can break loose of each other.  The book is silly and fun, but the characters are all stereotypical, and yes, they hate each other, and the story doesn't do much more than exploit the premise.

Jewison took the idea and empathized with all of the characters.  And then decided to make it as an "issue" film -- without sacrificing any of the madcap comedy.  This comedy isn't built on hatred, but on fear.  Many many levels of fear; the fear all the characters have after decades of indoctrination (which the audience shared, and felt acutely) as well as the very realistic fear all the characters had of triggering World War Three.

Jewison went to a LOT of trouble behind the scenes to break cultural ground here.  He got Russian officials to screen it, and in the end broke political ground by not being political, just making a good-hearted movie which could appeal to everyone, regardless of where they stood.

This movie also gets extra points for having my favorite movie line of all time: "All right, I was trying to kill you, I admit that, but it wasn't anything personal."

It also gets extra points for all the Russian parts being in Russian, without subtitles!  And yet it's still clear what's going on.

I'll definitely talk about this one in a Friday Favorites sometime too.

4. A Night At The Opera, 1935

This one kind of stands in for a whole body of work. The Marx Brothers combined multiple kinds of comedy to really invent their own class of comedy.  They combined slapstick and madcap, baggy-pants and wit -- but unlike the silent comics who came before them, they were less cinematic, and stuck closer to their vaudeville roots.  The result was a greater connection with the audience, in some ways.  They wink at the camera, they break the "forth wall" and talk to the audience directly.   Though they open up the geography of the story with film -- which can follow the characters all over and do impossible things -- they still treat the camera as though it is an audience. They move across the stage like it's a stage.

In some ways, you could say that the Marx Brothers broke new ground in film by refusing to break new ground.  They had been performing on stage since they were children, and they had fine tuned their act (to the extent that they often completely add-libbed their lines) and they did what they did, and the filmmakers just had to keep up.

IMHO A Night At the Opera is the greatest of the Marx Brothers flicks.  Duck Soup is close, but I give Opera the edge because the story isn't just an excuse for a bunch of comedy bits.  It works as a whole, too.  Those comedy bits are mostly classics.  The musical numbers work (even the ones for Alan Jones and Kitty Carlisle).  And it's got the Stateroom Scene.

5. Star Wars, 1977

I'm talking here about the version from the original release, not the Ego Redo which Lucas serves us.  The reason it's on this list at all is because it was like a great exploitation film: the story is pure archetype.  It's mythic, and not because Lucas had some great conscious plan. It works because of the unconscious part.

And it's hard, now, to see what it did for audiences back then.  Several of our great optimistic genres were on the ropes.  Science fiction and westerns in particular, and even heroic fantasy, had been sunk in cynicism.  Science fiction in particular, had gone through the New Wave, and was much more intellectual and artsy.  Anything heroic had taken on a satirical edge.

And Star Wars was like this release of energy.  Like an explosion.  It brought that heroic ideal back to the popular culture.  And it worked because it was very plain, very clean.  Just the raw archetypes (cliches, if you will) simply stirred up with other genres.  And it brought back one other thing: during the cynical sixties and early seventies, we saw old time hero stories as like children's stories -- bowlderized, innocent.  The expectation was that good guys didn't die (or kill) and never shot first.

But this is a misunderstanding of those old "innocent" stories.  They were often very cynical too.  They depicted a world that wasn't the good clean place it ought to be.  It was a place full of injustice and suffering, and yes, even some cynicism on the part of a hero.

(So I'm sorry Mr. Lucas, but Han shot first.)

Next week I'll talk about five more flicks on my top ten: as a preview, here is what I think they are:

6. Dr.  Strangelove, 1964
7. The Third Man, 1949
8. North By Northwest, 1959
9. The General, 1926
10. Singin' In The Rain, 1952

But you know, that could change between now and then....

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 40

Episode 40 - The Skin of His Teeth
by Camille LaGuire 

Frankly, Alex would be perfectly happy to run away right now.  Pookiterin was clearly the more deadly fencer.

But he couldn't run until Thorny was safe, and it seemed that Alex was just good enough to keep Pookiterin occupied, mainly thanks to Aunt Flavia teaching him to break rules.  It also helped that the colonel wasn't used to the weight and shape of his sword.  He kept misjudging his reach and swinging too hard.

But, man, those hard swings were enough to take a limb off, if any were to connect.

Alex jumped back and stumbled over the lid of the barrel, which was lying in the street.  He went down on one knee and saw that the lid had a handle.  He grabbed it with his left hand as Pookiterin swung once more.  He smashed the lid up into the swing like a buckler, deflecting the blade to his left, and laying the colonel open to a thrust of his own.

He snagged his shirt, but he didn't think he landed more than a graze.  Pookiterin swung away... and then dashed off.

He was after Thorny again. He ran for that opening in the wall that led down to the river. Thorny wasn't in sight.  He'd had plenty of time to make it to the river. If he was gone, this was Alex's cue to run himself.

Alex raced to the wall and looked down.

Thorny was right there by the river, standing on a little floating dock or raft.  He stood there, anxious, but he didn't jump in.

"Thorny, JUMP!  NOW!" called Alex.

Thorny gestured for him to come.  He was waiting for Alex. Crap!

Pookiterin had made it to the opening in the wall and hurled himself around the corner to run down the steps. The hillside was steep, and the steps zig-zagged down.

Alex hurled the barrel top at Pookiterin's head to slow him down, and them jumped the railing to drop to the bottom of the stairs before the colonel could get there.

He landed hard on the edge of a step and he felt his left ankle go out, just as Pookiterin lunged at him. Alex gripped the rail with his left hand and parried just in time to save his head, but the colonel had momentum, and he forced Alex's blade aside in a sliding disengage that cut down into Alex's thigh.

Alex let out a yell, and swiped his sword back at Pookiterin's head.  The colonel fell back and took up the barrel top, and blocked the cut, then smashed wooden lid back at Alex, who fell back on his bad ankle.

Then the colonel drew back and then jumped the railing himself, down to the beach and rickety boardwalk that led out to the little floating dock.

With one twisted ankle and a pierced thigh, there was no way Alex would catch up with him.  He screamed for Thorny to jump, again, and then pulled himself up and dropped over the railing too.

He fell with a thud and lost his sword and almost his consciousness as he hit. The sprained ankle was much worse than the cut.

Pookiterin had taken the time to run around a jagged bunch of rocks which broke up the beach, and separated them from Thorny.   Alex was now actually closer to Thorny, but with no hope of reaching him across those rocks.

Thorny gestured for Alex to come.  He was at least at the very edge, but he didn't jump in. Pookiterin was already charging up the dock. Alex picked up the barrel top and hurled it, frisbee-style, at the old man.

It hit Thorny right in the mid-section and down he went.  Pookiterin was right there, and his sword sang past the old man's head.

Alex honestly wasn't sure if if the sword might have cut him as he went down, might even have killed him.  But he didn't think so, and as Thorny hit the water, there was no spash.  The ring's magic must have done its work.

Pookitern nearly fell in after, but he caught himself.  He looked at the water, this way and that, waiting for Thorny to come up.

Alex's right leg burned with that cut, and didn't want to work right. The sprain in the other leg hurt like hell.  He couldn't run.  His sword had fallen among the jagged rocks, though, not far.  If he couldn't escape, at least he could fight.

Pookiterin continued to pace and squint at the water, as though expecting Thorny to appear from under the dock at any moment.

Alex reached for his sword, and then...


A bullet struck the rock near his hand.

It came from the top of the stairs.  Alex flinched back and rolled into the lee of the steps.  Another bullet struck the gravel near his feet and a third bit into the steps themselves.

Alex was, by now, out of the sight of the person at the the top of the stairs and he scrambled and rolled along the shelter of the step-wall, until he came to an area where small boats had been drawn up on the beach, mostly hull side up, as if for repair.

Alex dropped between them and risked a look back at the top fo the steps.

There was another security officer up there, looking out at Pookiterin.

"Have you done it?" he called.

"I have killed him!" called Pookiterin, and he brandished the sword, which you could see had blood on it when the light glinted off it.  Alex hoped it was his blood and not Thorny's.  "I have killed him as you asked!"

If Pookiterin was hoping for a gold star, it didn't look like he was going to get one.  The other officer raised his gun and pointed at Pookiterin.

But then the raspy horn of a car sounded, and the officer quick turned around, and put the gun away.

Alex took advantage of the moment to roll under a boat which was upturned on some logs on the beach.  There, he very nearly passed out, and hoped that he hadn't left too obvious a blood trail.

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.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

ROW80 - Early Wrap Up

Tomorrow is the end of A Round of Words in 80 Days, however, since we report on Sundays and Wednesdays, I simply shift my whole 80 Day effort a day earlier; start on Day 0, which is a Sunday, and end on Day 79, which is a Tuesday -- to be reported on Wednesday.

Which is today.

This has been one crazy writing dare. This summer, I piled two efforts on top of this one: The Clarion Write-A-Thon, and my Blog Story Experiment.  That led to one of the more productive summers I've had in a while, but it also meant that I have been going continuously -- with overlapping efforts and dares -- for a very long time.

So I don't even care what the ultimate count is, of minutes or words or chapters or whatever the heck I was counting for this dare. (I changed methods several times.)  For those of you who are counting, here are the counts for the last three days.  Tuesday night's numbers are guestimated. I forgot to set timers and given that everyone in my life seems to be having crises right now, I was thoroughly distracted.

  • Sunday Day 77 - 290 minutes.
  • Monday Day 78 - 60 minutes.
  • Tuesday Day 79 - 80 minutes.

The Misplaced Hero is still on track for being complete on September 27, with a "credit cookie" on October 1.  I don't yet know when the ebook version will be available.   Since I've been doing some editing as I go, and most of it has had "Drawer Time" I should be able to get a good editing pass on most of it even before the story is done posting.

Really Tired

The thing that has been most exhausting about this is that writing a story live, for the blog, with deadlines, both energizes and demands: I want to work and I have to work.  Both.

And that takes you to a whole different level of work. (It also didn't help, I think, that my day job schedule changed, and all my work is clustered at the beginning of the week, when I have deadlines....)

What this hasn't been is remunerative.  My book sales have dropped off to nothing.  But I don't care because it's better to be poor and energized.

Even so... up to now, I have been writing a story here on the blog that doesn't have much relation to my other books.  In particular, I don't have any other book in this series available for sale, and my other books are in other genres.

However, I hope very soon to have The Misplaced Hero available as an ebook, for those who didn't want to read it online as a serial.  And the next story will be the sequel to a book I've already published.  We'll see if that makes a difference this fall.

However, my bigger goal will be to slowly develop the audience for the blog.

That is, while I get a lot of writing done, but not marketing or anything else.  Everything I write here will be available later when I am ready to bother with other things.  I have always been a great believer in building the momentum first.

I'll talk next Sunday about my upcoming goals for fall, and the next ROW80 round will start on the following Sunday. (Or, technically, on Monday the first, but I start early.)

See you in the funny papers.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 39

Episode 39 - Rozinshura vs. The Plot
by Camille LaGuire

Rozinshura hardly paid attention as High Commissar Vshtin greeted him effusively.

"Kosha!  My kinchura!" the commissar cried, and he took Rozinshura by the shoulders and gave him a kiss on each cheek.

They were not kinchura -- that is, not close -- though they had been kinchin, back in the First Revolution.  Rozinshura had been an awe-struck boy, fetching water and carrying messages for the band of men who led the revolution.  Vshtin had not been so much older, a young professor who out-shone the old men with his cold but clear ideas about how to use bureaucracy to make anarchism work.

But now it seemed the cold intellectual had learned to be a politician, smiling and flattering local officials... or perhaps he was just nervous of those around him, and seeking an ally.

Rozinshura might have been flattered in other circumstances, but just now, he could only think of one thing:

There were three dozen security men on the platform, crowding around, and listening to everything they said to each other.  Who knew if they could be trusted?  Perhaps some of them, but if there were a coup planned, perhaps none.

Vshtin had his own bodyguards, wary men dressed just like him in cloth caps and canvas coats. They could probably be trusted, but there were only four of them.

Rozinshura needed to change the odds.  He needed an escape, a fortified room, a bunker, something to separate them from the others.

Rozinshura needed a car.

A car had only so much room; with Rozinshura, Vshtin, a bodyguard, and Tralkulo driving, there would be hardly any room for enemies.  The odds would be even enough for a short time so Rozinshura could speak.

And a car could flee, if that turned out to be best.

So Rozinshura smiled and dissembled like a flattered official and then said quickly:

"You will want to see the Ambassador, of course. He is injured, you know, but doing well."  Then he shouted for Tralkulo to get the car and turned back apologetically to Vshtin.   "My leg.  I am very slow on foot."

"Perhaps you should stay behind, then," said one of the security officers with a sneer.

"No, no, Colonel Sochir," said the High Commissar.  "This man stopped a runaway caisson with that leg. Have respect."

Rozinshura looked closely at Sochir. His name was one of those on the list, set aside a little by itself, as though it were important.  The man studied Rozinshura just as shrewdly, and then gave a little nod of respect, and began to gather his men to provide security for the short trip to the inn.  And Rozinshura heard him tell one man to drive.  He planned to take control of the car when it arrived.

It took longer than expected for Tralkulo to get the car.  Rozinshura filled the time by starting his report to Vshtin. He listened for the rattle of the old engine, in hopes of beating Sochir to the car.  But then just as he heard it, he also happened to see something else.

Down the road, two figures stepped out of the shadows and made their way along the road.  It looked like Pookiterin and the old drunk.  Or almost like them.  Rozinshura squinted closer, and in a moment everyone was looking at the two figures who quickly disappeared down a side road toward the river.

"Was that Pookiterin?" said Sochir, suddenly distracted from his plans.

"I think so," said Rozinshura.  But then another figure appeared, in a drab brown uniform.  But he walked with excessive price -- upright, strutting -- and there was no mistaking him.  "No, I think that's Pookiterin."

Sochir jumped down the steps to get a closer look.  Rozinshura took advantage of the distraction to launch himself down the stairs and greet Tralkulo as she jumped out of the car to greet them.  He tried to hurry her back to the driver's seat, but she paused to stammer out an apology.

"I am sorry I took so long, Kinchin Captain," she said.  "There were two security men who tried to take the car from me.  But they were drunk so I was able to push them aside."

"Security men?" said Sochir, who had now returned. He looked at his own men, who shook their heads and looked surprised.  "Who were they?"

"They were Pookiterin's men," said Tralkulo.

Sochir took a sharp breath and glanced at his own lieutenants and then at Vshtin.

"This is not...," he stammered.  "This is not... right, Commissar."  But then he pulled himself together.  "Pookiterin has behaved strangely lately."  He glanced uneasily at Rozinshura as if unwilling to say much in front of him.

"That is true," said Rozinshura. "He has been behaving strangely. Perhaps you should investigate."

Vshtin said, simply: "Go."

Sochir nodded his respect and took some men with him.  Vshtin sent the rest ahead to the inn to meet them.  Then he and Rozinshura and two of the bodyguards got into the car.

"Now," said the High Commissar, "what is it you wanted to tell me in private?"

"Someone wants to kill you," said Rozinshura.  "Tomorrow, with a bomb, in Marvu."

"Then it is good that I am not in Marvu.," said Vshtin slowly.  He thought a moment and then nodded to Tralkulo.  "Let us take the long way, so you can tell me more."

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.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Sunday Update - and Coming Attractions

It was a mistake to shift this blog back into gear before I was done with Misplaced Hero, and while the day job was shifting into high gear, too.  It isn't beyond what I can handle, but too many tasks are piling up on the sides.

So for the next two weeks I am suspending the Tuesday post, turning Wednesday back into a ROW80 update post, and giving you a much more shallow Friday post. (I will do the Daring Adventure Stories "4th Tuesday" post, and announce it here.)

A Round of Words in 80 Days Update

This Segment's Progress:

Wednesday Day 73 - 204 minutes.
Thursday Day 74 -120 minutes.
Friday Day 75 -155 minutes.
Saturday Day 76 - 170 minutes.

So... while I've been doing too much blogging, what have I been neglecting?

First, I need to prep The Misplaced Hero ebook.  I also wanted to experiment with audio, and maybe record one episode. It could even be a kind of "book trailer." (I've been thinking of doing Episode 5, when Thorny jumps into the river.)

I also need to get ready for the next story, Test of Freedom.  I started Misplaced Hero off the cuff, as a fun experiment.  But this fall it's no longer an experiment, so I need to do more in the way of prepping the art style -- which means doing a bunch of drawings.

I also need to take advantage of the fact that Test of Freedom is a sequel to The Wife of Freedom: the first book I self-published two years ago.  A book which desperately needs to be revisited and updated.

So I need to read it over and reformat it to new standards, and write new "end of book" notes (directing people to the online sequel).

And as long as I'm working on reformatting and uploading, I might as well work on updating a template and general workflow I use to format ebooks, so I can update my other older boks.  Also update their end-of-book notes.  And, of course, redo the covers at a higher rez so that Apple will be happy.  That's going to be a long process, but it's best to take the time to set up the workflow and templates now, to make it all easier later on.

Finally, one of the other things I've been neglecting are the little touches. My mind is often too preoccupied to do things like come up with a decent title to a post or episode. (See note for Episode 40 below.)  I also think my blog posts themselves are suffering from a lack of focus.

And that makes me wonder if I should talk about the Writer version of Dave Ramsey's "Debt Snowball" when I come back to full blogging in October.  You can learn a lot about managing your time by applying the principles of managing money.

This Past Week's Posts:

Coming This Week on the Blog:

Monday - Episode 39 "Rozinshura vs. The Plot"
A man with a limp - and a secret - needs a car.

Wednesday - ROW80 Round 3 final wrap up post.
Technically, yeah, it's a day early, but I generally start a day early too, and the rest of the darned dare is committed to Sun/Wed updates.

Thursday - Episode 40 "Currently Untitled Ep Finishing up Alex's Fight with Pookiterin"
The name says it all.

Friday Favorites - The Ever-Evolving Top-Ten Movies List

See you in the funny papers.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Friday Favorites - Agatha Christie's Five Little Pigs

One of the great things about Agatha Christie is that liked to use plot formats as a challenge to keep things interesting for herself.  She wrote novels almost the way great short story writers would write short stories, each an experiment in concept or story-telling.  She did this not only with standalone books like Ten Little Indians, but also in her series work.

Some of these little experiments are real gems, though many are forgotten. I only recently stumbled across the Poirot tale, The Five Little Pigs.  I think this story deserves to be better known, but I suppose the charm of the story is more intellectual than most.

It's the story of a cold case.  Sixteen years earlier, a woman was convicted of murdering her husband.  She herself died in prison soon after the conviction.  Now her daughter, who had been a tiny child at the time of the murder, comes to Poirot and asks him to look into the case.

The subsequent story is almost like a dossier.  Poirot interviews all the investigators and lawyers, then the five principle witnesses of the case (the "five little pigs"), and then has each of those five principles write a first person account of the murder.  Then he visits them each again with a follow up question.

The interesting thing about this story is that what we get is the same story told over and over again 15 times, by 10 different people.  And each time, we see deeper into the story, and the lives of the characters.  And each of the witnesses, separately, give us a view of the others; how they were then, how they are now.

So it starts as a plain puzzle story, intriguing intellectually but cold emotionally, but by the end, you drawn into the lives of these characters, caring at last for them all, wishing that this would be like Groundhog Day and that the end of the story could change if only the characters could learn from the revelation.

Perhaps that description makes the story sound better than it is, though.  Certainly this isn't high literature.  And the characters, as with most Christie, are stylized.  But I think her sharp psychological insight into motivation and evil is at its prime here, and she has a lot of fun using them as red herrings too. I certainly came to care about even the most disagreeable of the characters, which is, imho, a feat.

See you in the funny papers.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Misplaced Hero - Episode 38

Episode 38 - Sword to Sword
by Camille LaGuire

Alex stepped out of the alley and made his way along the road.  The shadows were long and he stuck to their darkness until he was as far as possible from the alley, then he stepped forward and drew the sword.

It made a sharp metallic ring as he drew it, and Pookiterin turned immediately, his own sword raised and at the ready.  It was a wicked-looking thing -- ornate and heavy, and slightly shorter than the sabre Alex carried, but with both a sharp point and an edge.  He didn't know where Pookiterin got it.

"Who are you?" called Pookiterin. Alex stepped more fully out into the light.  Who was he?  Zorro? The Avenger? The Scarlet Pimpernel?  Alex had no idea. He had no real identity.  Then a line of poetry hit him -- probably Thorny's influence.

"I'm Nobody," he announced and tilted his head. "Who are you? Are you nobody too?"

Pookiterin looked him over, and recognized his own uniform.  And then he sneered, and glanced up and down the road as if looking for others, or maybe traffic.  Seeing none, he turned his back on Alex and stalked across the road, to the opening in the fence which led down to the river.

"That's no way to treat an armed opponent!" called Alex.

"You're nobody," said Pookiterin, without looking at him.  His eyes were studying the shadows where Thorny was lurking.  Alex had to distract him before he spotted the professor.

"Well, I did take your uniform," Alex said.  Alex circled around as he spoke, hoping to force the colonel to look away from where Thorny was creeping along in the shadows.

"And I've got your sword," he continued, taunting on while Pookiterin said nothing. "Well, the girl actually took it from you, but I've got it now.... And you don't care?  Is there something wrong with this sword?"

Pookiterin clearly wasn't into swashbuckling banter, nor did he see Alex as a threat.  Maybe Alex was too far away.  He circled back into Pookiterin's line of sight, and then lunged at him, picking up speed as he went.

But just then, as Alex thought he was going to have to run the man through to get his attention, Pookiterin saw Thorny.

The colonel lurched forward, his attention like a laser on the old man in the shadows. The moved took Alex by surprise, but he managed a backhand slap at the colonel's rear end.

The man wheeled around, his sword swinging down and around in a move which Alex merely dodged rather than engage.

And it was then that Alex registered that Pookiterin had been running with the sword raised high, like he was going to bring it down on Thorny's head. Not like he was going to capture him or take him hostage.

"You're trying to kill him?" said Alex.

Pookiterin answered with another thrust, this time coming up from below as if to gut Alex.  Alex beat the blade aside and then, his blade being low itself, he jabbed at the man's knee.

Pookiterin lept back and parried in one fluid motion that said the man had experience with a sword.
But then he turned and raced again toward Thorny, who ducked behind a rain barrel.  Pookiterin's blade chopped into the barrel like an ax, and stuck there just long enough for Thorny to roll away out of reach.

Thorny was unarmed, harmless. And this guy was trying to kill him.

Alex would have run him through, if the man hadn't also thrown himself to the ground, rolling and pulling his sword free in one motion that pulled the empty barrel over and rolled it into Alex.

Alex shoved the barrel back at Pookiterin.  The colonel was now cornered in the opening of the alley.  Alex called to Thorny.

"Run.  Hit the river now!"

Thorny scrambled off.

Pookiterin kicked the barrel back at Alex, and Alex shoved it back again.

"Forget it," said Alex.  "I won't let you have him."

"I will kill him," said Pookiterin, his voice suddenly flat and quiet with determination.  "I will cut him to ribbons."

"Why?" asked Alex as they continued to shove the barrel back and forth.  Pookiterin made it to his feet.

"Others have let my superiors down," said Pookiterin.  "But I will not.  I will do what no one else can do, and I will be commended for it."

"You're doing this for a gold star?"

"Yes, for a general's star."

And then, suddenly, Pookiterin attacked.

He slashed at Alex's face, and only missed taking out both eyes because he misjudged the length of the shorter, heavier blade.

Alex rocked back and couldn't even get back en garde before Pookiterin leaped up to the top of the barrel and used his momentum to roll himself forward.

As he leaped nimbly to the ground, Alex revised his opinion of the man's competence.  He might not be the sharpest knife in the drawer... but he knew how to use the sharpest knife.

And just now, as Alex barely parried a flurry of slashing strokes, he wasn't at all sure if challenging the man to a duel had been such a hot idea.

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.