blogging, book promotion, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Camping In After Irma

+++the sublime delight in opening the front door and entering the eye of a hurricane

As the sun rose in a blue sky the day after, I lit the Coleman stove, perked a pot of coffee, fried some bacon and eggs and after breakfast, I set up the chess set. (Maybe an interested neighbor will wander by.) Then I started recording observations to pass on.

IRMA
I live in a condominium. The building’s solid construction allowed my lady and I to watch in safety as the winds struck a row of trees on the far side of the golf course behind us. The trees were lined up in a que towards the wind. The first tree was ripped out of the ground, roots up. That exposed the next tree in line to the same fate. And so on. A dozen large trees fell like dominoes. There were more fallen trees and flooding and a couple of downed power lines. The storm left us without electricity and made the roads impassable. We had no phones, Internet, social media, TV, refrigeration or air conditioning. Cut off from the larger, modern world, we did what people used to do. We went outside and met our neighbors.

NEIGHBORS
Amazing how people shareing a disaster drop all pretence. Whatever you need, if someone has extra they give it to you; whatever someone needs, if you have extra, you give it to them. It’s the only game in town.

ACTIVITIES & EVENTS
We shook off the shock and the stress. All the energy that had carried us through, the excitement of dashing outside to move our cars as the carport peeled away, the sublime delight in opening the front door and entering the eye of a hurricane, the surprising realization that it was over when it was over; all that energy, excitement and wonder drained. We were left to deal with the outcome.

We cleared away debris. And we made sure everyone was OKAY and had what they needed. Somebody set up a generator that powered three refrigerators. We plugged in a power-strip for people to use to charge their cell phones. 🙂 That inspired supplication of the cellular gods. For days, people walked haltingly about, arms outstretched to the sky, praying for a signal.

That evening, we set up a BBQ Grill and cooked everything we knew would spoil if we didn’t eat it. The grand event of the day after was a pig-out.

REPURPOSING
We drug a bathtub out onto the golf course to use as a watering trough for the cattle, oh. Wait. That’s from my novel, The Phoenix Diary. nm.

LIFE CHANGES
Want to know what your day will be like? Look at the sky. Concerned how someone close to you is doing? Walk over to them and ask. Bored? Go do something useful for someone else. Tired? Take a nap. Feeling sociable? Look for someone who’s bored.
Think camping out with other people. That’s life at our house.

BACK TO THE FUTURE
The power just came back on, Sunday evening, a full week after the hurricane.  So, I’m posting this as Monday’s blog for the Writers Co-op. As for the emergency crews who work  in sweltering heat to restore power, well, what can you say? They are incredible men and women, a cut above the rest of us and we are very lucky to have them.

INFORMATION AIN’T ENOUGH
Note: The decision to ride out a major storm isn’t made based on information alone. The decision requires independent judgement. That’s what we have to do when too many unknowns remain after the facts are considered, make a judgement call. Too bad judgement is not taught in schools. But then, that would teach kids to be independent and people would become hard to control. Can’t have that.

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book promotion, book reviews, publishing

Strategy update

front cover2

I’ve been busy. Still am, but starting to see the end of the tunnel as regards my marketing strategy. The first tunnel anyway – there are lots more to come. Here’s what I’ve done so far.

Using Draft2Digital, I’ve made One Green Bottle free on Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo. It was up there already but shifting no copies, so it’s not much of a change. Now I need to write to Amazon to ask them to match that price, i.e. have it permafree. They’re under no obligation to do that, so I don’t know how they’ll respond. But they’re well aware that many authors do this as part of their marketing.

I’ve written Making a Murder, six essays about the writing of One Green Bottle, which I’m offering free to anyone who signs up to my newsletter. The offer is at the front and back of One Green Bottle, so anyone downloading it has an incentive to sign up and I get their email address, which obviously I can’t get directly from Amazon. I don’t know if Making a Murder will appeal – it’s not fiction, and the essays are humorous, so it’s a gamble. It would probably be better to stay in the same genre, which is what I intended, but my novella, which was to serve that purpose, needs more work.

I’ve been paying a lot of attention to my mailing list. I had around 700 subscribers after doing a joint promotion and a giveaway (many more from the first than the second) and I then sent different messages according to whether they opened my first email or not. I offered Perfume Island free, prior to its release in November, and removed over 200 subscribers who didn’t open that email. Of those that did, 112 signed up to receive the book.

That’s a lot of giving away of two books that have taken me five years to complete. Not so long ago I’d have thrown up my arms in horror at the very idea. Now? I’m quite relaxed – 112 reading the sequel is 3 or 4 times more than read the first. Not all will like it and of those that do, only a few will write reviews, but I’m still at a stage when I need to reach out to those few.

The worst part of all this work? Converting Making a Murder to epub and mobi formats, which I have to do if I’m sending it out myself. Converting a text is fine – Calibre handles that easily. But getting a text with pictures just right is a challenge. Or a nightmare, depending on your mood.

From time to time, I step out of my marketing bubble and see that the world continues to turn and hurricanes to blow. I’m working on a third book in the series, which I hope to bring out before the Apocalypse.

 

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About Writers, blogging, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Hurricane Irma, Muse of the Moment

Well, my lady and I survived the pre-hurricane madness, long gas lines, depleted grocery stores, near-apoplectic news readers 🙂
Now, we’re hunkering down in Naples, Florida amidst enough supplies to restart civilization, got good books for when the power goes out & we have friendly, helpful neighbors. We may be better off now than before Irma appeared.

We’ll huddle in a candle-lit interior room away from windows with the cat & inevitable litter box while Irma blows past Sunday. Later, there’ll be no power. (Been here, done it) That’s when the neighbors will come out because without A/C, why not? People sharing a disaster are not shy. We all know exactly what’s on the other’s mind. “Good to see you. Are you OK? Need anything? Wow, look at this mess.”

Now is a time to observe human nature. The place will get cleaned up, people will return to their individual lives. But for the moment, we can relate to our neighbors, family and friends on a level of shared concern. It’s a teaching moment for writers.

In your own life, what event has been a teaching moment?

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About Writers, blogging, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Eternal Themes

Especially in a world where forces pit group against group, universal themes appeal because we all share certain experiences: Birth and death, certainly; hopefully love, probably sex, maybe crime & revenge and possibly war. We also share basic needs and common feelings. These are universal for all people in all cultures and allow a story to appeal to a wider audience.

Common themes also help a writer to better understand what they’re writing about, even things lost to historical obscurity. I remember researching Enheduanna, the first named author, and learning that she was known as the Goddess of the Reeds. This made sense for a Sumerian goddess. Reeds in the Euphrates Valley had to be as culturally important as reeds in the Nile Valley and thus a god dedicated to them was understandable. But wait, no, further research revealed the lady earned her title in a most common way. It seems the reeds were a natural trysting place for young lovers in her time & yup, Enheduanna had earned that title long before Sargon The Great elevated her to chief priestess. Interestingly, a line from one of Enheduanna poems is, “How she carried beauty like the rising moonlight.” Compare that line to Byron’s, “She walked in beauty like the night.” Common themes are timeless.

Writers don’t need to be told what these truths mean for our characters – it’s our job to create that meaning. But we may differ on what themes are eternal and which are important to us.

What eternal themes occur in your writing?

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Uncategorized

Our August Challenge: Trompe L’oeil.

From Perry Palin:

The canvas was Jean’s largest. It was his best. He had studied the park bench facing away toward the walking path, the gray surface of the path, and the low grassy slope beyond the path. He studied how the trees met the sky, their branches hanging with the weight of their leaves. He painted the bench and the path, and the grass and leaves in their end of summer hues and shapes, the maples dark green, the birches just turning yellow. He painted the sunlight of a summer afternoon. He painted two birds flying, one leading, one following, that soared when seen from changing angles. On the bench he painted two figures, a young man and a young woman, sitting inches apart. His arm rests on the back of the bench, wanting to wrap around the woman. His face is turned toward her. He is leaning toward her, his lips slightly parted. The woman is looking slightly downward and toward the park. Her blond hair is pinned up on her head. She is wearing a blue flowered dress.

An artist without income and without prospects, Jean had not dared to speak to Sophie of his love. The canvas below Sophie‘s window was his first declaration of his love for her. Jean pulled the canvas quietly into place on its wheeled frame, adjusted the left strut for the proper angle, and hid the wheels with their own grassy covers. Jean waited unseen for Sophie to come to her window.

Sophie rose from her table and began to clear her dishes. The sight of two figures on the park bench made her turn. People sat so seldom on the bench. She looked out and stopped in the middle of a breath. It was Jean, on the left, his clear profile, the handsome face, unmoving, in love with the woman on the bench. He was waiting for the woman to speak. The woman, blond and slender, in a blue dress like one of hers, was relaxed and receptive to Jean’s attention. Her shoulders asked him to pull her in. Sophie could not see the woman’s face, but she could see that Jean loved this woman who was more beautiful than Sophie believed herself to be. Sophie turned away from the window and sat at her table. Then she cried.

__________________________________________

Atthys Gage:

Tromp L’oeil

Darius Pomerantz. Dash to his friends. Official title:  the Dream Master.  A weak handshake and an avuncular smile. A thin man. Turn sidewise and he’d disappear. No, not really. Just relax awhile, Mr. Billings. This is the easy part.

He fusses, while you lie back on the cool, squeaky leather chair, fully reclined. You’ll fall asleep. It’s expected. With all the wires—temples, clavicles, pineal gland—you don’t think so, but peace becomes involuntary. Dash hums a soft tune. Schubert, maybe. The tune dances maddeningly on the precipice of memory, but won’t drop.

Any allergies?

No, no. It’s all there on the med form. Sleep is coming, with a shudder, with a gasp. Just over there, behind that shadow, a scrim fills with soft light. Memory, melody, member me. All your dreams and then some, like the blurb said. Dreams Incarnate. Incorporated.

Just let go.

Mr. Billings? Roger? Time to wake up.

His voice is a sweet, descending singsong. Your eyes blink open, and he’s smiling that same smile. Mr. Big. The Dream Master. Everything under control.

How long?

About four hours. Right on the tippy top of the bell curve. And…he gestures broadly at nothing…everything went swimmingly.

He holds up a disk, about silver dollar size. Transparent? No, but incredibly thin. When the light catches, it’s a solid thing. Otherwise, it winks in and out of existence, as if Darius Pomerantz is doing sleights and passes like a dinner theater magician.

He holds it still. This is you. Opaque. Non-reflective. A miracle of modern technology. All your dreams and then some.

He laughs. Hardly miraculous, of course but the ad men like to call it that. Really, all we’ve done is accessed your own dream world, your own fantasies, and restructured them into interactive algorithms, a Mendez Agenda we call it in the biz. You can read all the technical details if you want to.

I…while I…I don’t really remember…

Your dreams? Don’t worry. Dream recall for most people is spotty at best. But with this—again he flashes the disk—you will. And…you’ll be able to interract with them in a whole new way. The experience…well, seeing is better than telling, right? Do you want to try it out?

Lights dim. The chair reclines. All the wires are gone from your skin, but something new has been added. A small incision, already sutured. Beneath a delicate touch, a tiny nodule.

The servo. Soon, you won’t even notice it.

You don’t sleep. Or maybe you do. Breath swells the wrinkled membrane, a quivering skinful, in, out. Press your face against the translucence and suddenly, you’re inside. Reality.

Mr. Billings? Roger?

Is it…over?

As soon becomes apparent, you can live a lifetime in one billiable hour. Or, it can vanish like a half-remembered thought. So you go again. As soon as possible. You pay a little more, they let you stay a little longer.  Damn! The first time I was plugged in, I was gone! I never wanted to come out. Food, water—hell, breathing! Nothing mattered but the dream. Once a day, twice a day. Can I stay overnight?

I’m sorry, sir. We close at six.

Well just plug me in and let it run. I don’t care.

But it didn’t work that way. They had the disk. They had control. The technology was theirs. For a while, they toyed with selling a home version, but where was the long term profit in that? Imagine all those plugged-in dream junkies, wasting away, dead to the world. At least until the power gets turned off. Then what? Better to control the source. Keep the revenue flowing.

This is the real world now, Roger. The whole round world.

There is the real and there is the true. Unfortunately, you can no longer tell the difference.

All your dreams. All your dreams. All your dreams.

And then?

__________________________________________

Carl E. Reed:

Road Runner screeched to a vibrating halt in front of the train tunnel’s mouth, then neatly stepped aside.

Hard on the bird’s heels and going about a hundred mph, Wile E. Coyote slammed into the side of the mountain.

“Beep-beep!” quoth Road Runner.

Wile E. Coyote slid down the rock face to the ground, furry body now thin as a pancake.

The gaping black hole of the tunnel’s mouth was an illusion: Tromp l’oeil.

But who painted it there?! No time to think or reflect; new hijinks were scheduled in five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . .

Beep-beep!”

Road Runner raced off.

__________________________________________

Mimi Speike:

“Home sweet home,” said Dee as the coach pulled up to the entrance of a low, sprawling structure.

“Impressive!” pronounced his traveling companion. “The cunning juxtaposition of diverse architectural styles, artistry itself.”

“You are kind. Most say ramshackle.”

A man rushed forth to collect baggage dropped from the roof rack of the carriage with a thud.

“More books, Dr. Dee?” asked Seth Sutcliffe, Dee’s butler, grounds-keeper, and general handyman. He was one half of a caretaker couple, Seth’s wife being cook and maid of all work.

“I can’t wait to see your library!” whispered Sly.

“In good time, dear boy, in good time. First, some refreshment. Seth,” he called over his shoulder, “does Beth have something tasty for us?”

The retainer and the coachman, a few steps behind, were lugging four heavy grips down the walk.

“As always, sir, as always.”

“We’ll settle ourselves in the Green Room. Put the books in the hall. I’ll unpack them presently.”

“What treasures have you snatched up this trip, sir?”

“Some real finds, I assure you.”

Sly tugged at Dee’s pants leg and hissed, “your library! I must poke my nose in, just a brief snoop. Please, don’t make me wait. Here I be, within steps of the largest private library in England, and you want me to eat? This is torture.”

“Seth! What’s Beth got for us?”

“A lovely plate of cold mutton, sir.”

The cat made a face. “I ate mutton for ten years, till it came out my ears. You got nothing else?”

“How about eggs? You eat eggs, don’t you?”

“In a pinch,” sighed Sly.

“Seth, ask Beth to rustle up a platter of her special Eggs Savannah.”*

“The library,” pleaded the cat.

Dee bent down. “Patience, son, patience. First, I’ll explain a few things. Your admiration of me is misguided. I am not the man you believe me to be.

“When I won the post of Royal Astrologer, I sold off inherited land and spent with abandon. I thought the celebrity would result in the world beating a path to my door. I went all out, on furnishings, expansions. The crowds never came. I have a trickle of trade. I claw just enough out of them to make do.

“Séances are my bread and butter. You will be an asset to me in the endeavor, listening in on hushed conversations, then passing me prompts, in the form of notes. My undeniable clairvoyance will finally lure the high and well-heeled to my doorstep.

“I have not funds to maintain this property. I exploit the shabbiness as part of my marketing effort. I excuse my threadbare rugs by bragging on my library. New carpet? Faugh! Every cent I lay my hands on goes for rare books.”

“Absolutely! I share the impulse, believe me. I must see them. Now! Please!”

“I am hanging on by my fingernails. I have my Spirit Room, I call it, in the east wing. I shoo my guests past the cracked door of my library, they get to snatch the merest peek. Seth stands the door, no one is let in. Just inside, I have tables piled high with volumes, along with cunning busts and vases. The fools ooh and aah over the staged magnificence and beg a closer look. Now, now, I chide them. You are here for a consultation, are you not? I will open my reading room another time.”

“What are you trying to tell me?” asked Sly.

“See for yourself,” sighed Dee. He led the way to his legendary librarium. Near the threshold were conventionally disposed shelves. The far wall, floor to ceiling, was fitted with shallow ledges, sufficient depth to display trinkets for added realism, behind which displayed a mural of books, thousands of books painstakingly depicted, highly decorative, but a cruel ruse to break a book-lover’s heart.

/////////////////////

Sly has discovered the truth. He’s crestfallen. He’s struggling to wrap his wits around the situation. If he could cry he’d be bawling his head off.

“What is this?” he shrieks. “You buy books right and left. It’s known all over Europe. The satchels we lately transported, full of books, so you announced to everyone from Grayson Manor to here.”

Dee snorts. “Wrack and Ruin, those malicious devils, are forever stalking me. I do what I may to keep the bastards at bay.” He unlocks one of the secured satchels sitting just outside the door and opens it wide. It is packed, not with books, but with rocks. “Part of my myth-making, I’m afraid. I am desperate to maintain a façade. I am the book-obsessed genius pronosticator oblivious to run-down surroundings; my priorities lie elsewhere.”

“When,” asked the cat, “when did you have time to paint this massive artwork? I observe astounding attention to detail, mottled spines, precise lettering. It was a Herculean task.”

“The mural,” replied Dee, “is, in fact, a bas relief, slabs of wood adhered to paneling. I tote brushes, pens, and paint with me on my frequent business trips. I travel extensively, as you know. When I encounter a book shop, I explore, take notes, and make sketches of my objects of desire, and create my facsimiles as a pleasant – and inexpensive – evening’s entertainment. And it keeps me out of the taprooms, a boon to my health.”

“You are,” squealed Sly, “as much an oddment as I am. We have a true rapport, I see it already. May it prove advantageous for the both of us.”

“Yes, you and I will get along well, I have no doubt of it. I only hope you get along with Hugin and Mugin.”

Who are Hugin and Mugin?”

“No, the question should rather be, will Hugin and Mugin get along with you?”

“Dr. Dee! Who are Hugin and Mugin?”

TO BE CONTINUED.

////////////////////

* The joke behind Eggs Savannah will be explained in the comments. This runs too long already.

__________________________________________

Curtis Basse:

A few minutes later, another woman came in and sat down. Janet nodded hello and went back to her notes. What was it now she’d just thought of? Something about –

‘Haven’t I seen you somewhere before?’

Janet studied her. ‘I don’t think so.’

‘Do you live in Cheltenham by any chance?’

‘Why, yes. You too?’ Janet still couldn’t place her. ‘What part?’

‘Lynworth.’ The woman smiled. ‘The school run, perhaps. Your daughter goes to Oakwood?’

Janet thought she knew all the parents, at least by sight. A vague unease began to trouble her. Who was this woman? Was it pure coincidence that they’d met here? Or something more sinister?

No, not coincidence. She’d never seen the woman before, so how could it be?

‘I’m sorry, I just… I’m usually quite good with faces but I… You’re saying you’ve seen me with my daughter at Oakwood?’

‘You and Amelia, yes. She’s in Year 4’

The woman sat with perfect poise, her presence filling the room, while Janet, muddled and upset, shrank into her chair. She made an attempt to reassert herself. ‘I’m sorry, what’s your name?’

Just at that moment, the door opened and a secretary announced, ‘Mrs. Bowman? The arbitrator will see you now.’

Janet hurriedly put her pen and notebook into her bag and stood up.

‘I’m sorry,’ said the secretary ‘Mrs. Bowman’s appointment was first.’

Janet opened her mouth to speak, but no sound came.

‘It was nice to get a chance to speak. I do hope we meet again.’ And addressing Janet a cursory nod, the woman strode through the door.

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About Writers, blogging, Research, Uncategorized, Writers Co-op

Here A.I. Comes, The Artificial Part, Anyway

Enjoying science fiction sometimes allows you to watch the future arrive. Artificial intelligence will soon happen. Robots have begun to replace human workers and they will assume roles as autonomous decision makers. Legal rights and protections between us and them will have to be worked out. We are about to decide who “us” is.

Yesterday, Mika Koverola posted on the Facebook group, SciFi Fandom,
“I’m conducting research into the connection between ‘science fiction hobbyism’ and people’s attitudes towards robots as a part of my PhD at Helsinki University. …. Please take my Science Fiction and Robots survey (https://tinyurl.com/SciFiRobots) and help science by spending approximately 45 minutes telling about your views on science fiction, robotics and ethical choices.”

A survey on how I feel about A.I. robots? Help science? How could I say no?
Mika’s questions explored my feelings towards A.I robots. How much do I trust companies that make them? Who do I think is responsible if they harm humans? Will it distress me if they make medical decisions contrary to the wishes of the patient? What are my reactions to people having sex with robots? The usual.

It struck me that if we give robots the right to tell us what to do, we surrender control to whoever controls the robots. Of course, the only way we would give rights to robots is if we assume A.I. is like us. When people talk about “true” A.I., the underlying assumption is that artificial intelligence confers personhood. Put another way, intelligence, even if artificial, is assumed to equal humanity.

Really? Is intelligence really our criteria for who we are? Or is it an awareness of something and we are that something?

What do you think we are?

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About Writers, Research, Uncategorized, writing technique

Challenging Moments

We all have those challenging moments when life changes in that moment. One might think writers relish writing about their own intense moments. It is, after all, when life shows us our limits and opportunities. Many great fictional characters are forged in the fire of  intense personal experience. But writing honestly is difficult when it’s personal.
So, let’s do something difficult. Use the comments section to describe a moment when your life did or could have drastically changed. I’ll start:

 +++When World War II ended, Mom married a soldier. Like most men who spent years killing people, he had PTSD. We called it a bad temper. The soldier taught me honesty, pride in independence, the value of hard work and he occasionally beat Mom unconscious. I vividly remember standing with my own head scarcely above the man’s knee, looking down at my mother lying on the floor. I feared him until I was a teen and pointed a shotgun at him. “If you ever hit my mother again, I will kill you. I’m sixteen. They will put me in a home for juvenile delinquents. But I will get out when I’m eighteen and you will be dead.” The shotgun was loaded, the safety was off and my finger felt the trigger. If he had risen from the kitchen table, I would have shot him.

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