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Apple Pie in the Sky?

I’m not writing about Maisie. But ya gotta look at a picture, OK?

It’s a problem, isn’t it? What can I say that hasn’t been said multiple times, or that isn’t more me-me-me?

I could talk about Maisie forever, but you may not appreciate it. I’m doing my best to come up with alternative topics. GD is keeping his end up, and Sue is doing a marvelous job with Showcase.

We have a (possibly, don’t recall the name) new presence on the site. KMOSER56 has copied my last piece to the site ‘It’s All About the Journey.’ She writes on a range of topics, and has done so for quite a while. Archived material goes back to 2010! She’s given me an idea. I don’t recall if I’ve tried this before. Maybe I have, but I’ll try again.

I’m exploring what sites might be open to posting some of the writing-related articles I’ve written, and also what sites are dedicated to fiction. (I’ve placed all of Maisie on Medium, chapter by chapter, and snagged few readers. Medium is not the place for fiction.)

I’ve googled ‘Where to publish short stories.’ I have a list of sites to explore. I also came across a list of one hundred chit-chat blogs.

In terms of short stories: Wattpad, forget it (YA audience). Commaful, possible. Inkitt? StoryWrite? Several more I’ve never heard of.

Commaful looks promising: (These are comments by someone on one of the sites I visited today. (Once again, I didn’t bother to jot a name.)

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Stories on Commaful are in a unique format that people have called the multimedia fiction movement. The term multimedia fiction refers to fictional writing that involves more than just the written word, commonly some form of visual or audio. The most popular type of multimedia fiction is the picture book.

The Commaful Format: I am used to reading prose, not a picturebook layout. After trying it out, my opinion has changed. I think the format is one of the most genius features about the site.

The Audience: The site is growing very quickly. I don’t have real analytics about what the audience is, but my personal experience is that the audience is relatively young. I suspect this will change as the website continues to grow.

Story Trailers: I’ve never seen my writing shared nicely to Instagram as a video before. With a tap of a button, I had a pretty awesome story trailer that I could share to Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.

Diversity: Not a huge library of stories yet, but I’ve come across a several LGBTQ and minority focused stories already. That’s more than I can say about many other sites. There are occasional sightings of bestselling authors. There are readers and writers from all backgrounds, age ranges, sexuality, and experience.

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I’m going to give Commaful a tumble.

Maisie is not a short story (you know that by now, right?)
but it does, with a bit of tinkering, work as a serial.
I’m going to explore that angle.

Apple Pie in the Sky? Maybe.
But I won’t know if I don’t try.

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Uncategorized

Writing is a Refuge. And, thoughts on Magical Realism.

We all have our reasons for writing. I’ve long told people that I write because I have stories to tell. But writing is also a refuge from my frequently frantic existence.

I’m googling Tennessee Williams, having been intrigued by posts on Facebook promoting Follies of God, by James Grissom, a series of interviews with Williams and people he worked closely with. Tennessee has said:

“Why did I write? Because I found life unsatisfactory.”

“I’m only really alive when I’m writing.”

“. . . living at a tilt against reality, because reality is simply too much to handle.”

Here’s the quote that first caught my eye:

“I once dreamed of escaping to magical places: Movie sets; fairy kingdoms; lovely homes with lovely people. I wanted to escape the abuses, the taunts, the grinding, onrushing tide of meanness that rolled over me all through my early years. I never got to the magic castle I insisted was deep in the woods, but I escaped through words, through images on a screen. Every day–and you need to remember this–you can sit before the pale judgment and strike words on its surface and escape and rise and find the magical places you wanted. The magical places that are within all of us broken, desperate people.”

Williams was born into a turbulent household. His father, a drinking, gambling father with little patience for his sensitive son, traumatized him and his sister Rose. He found his safe haven in writing. Poor Rose was given a prefrontal lobotomy in an effort to alleviate her increasing psychological problems.

His writing was a therapy for him. He wrestled with his demons in work full of grotesques, but also full of humor and compassion for the weirdos, the brokenhearted, the misfits, the losers, for those of us who can’t always cope.

My writing is also a therapy. Every one of my characters has a large portion of me in their makeup. I’ve slammed my upbringing through them, I’ve commented on my ongoing relationships, and I’ve softened my judgements of my own less than delightful traits by explaining them to myself through the lens of my weirdos, in whom I don’t fail to find redeeming qualities, though I admit many of them are creeps and scoundrels. Adorable creeps and scoundrels.

I’ve been telling people I write Magical Realism. But I honestly don’t know what to call it.

Magical Realism is a narrative strategy that is characterized by the matter-of-fact inclusion of fantastic or mythical elements into a seemingly realistic world. 

Matthew Strecher (Who dat? I googled him: Professor of Modern Japanese Literature and Chair of the Department of Liberal Arts at Sophia University in Tokyo) defines it as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe, that is not explained, but treated as a normal occurrence.”

I have been under the impression it includes some kind of social or political relevance. Maisie is pure escapism.

In the end, what does it matter? That I am able to pigeonhole Maisie, position her in the literary landscape, that is. I’ve pretty much given up on trying to sell her to an agent or a publisher, the folks who insist on slapping a label on everything.

Tell people you’re writing about a talking mouse, they think Disney. Tell them it’s fantasy, they think wizards and dragons. Tell them it’s magical realism, they probably think Harry Potter, at this point.

Will anyone be debating whether Maisie is Magical Realism? I don’t think so. I hope folks are going to consider it absurd fun, featuring a character they care about.

I care about her. I live in her world. It’s a lovely world. I don’t want to live anywhere else. The real world is full of disappointment. Maisie never lets me down.

I write because it’s the best game in the world. I write because it’s a space I feel at home in. I write because I love the craft of writing.

Like–probably–most of you, I can’t get my family to read my work. I send them a chapter, hear nothing back, and think: I’m doing what you couldn’t do in a million years, you creeps. And you’re not smart enough to realize how good it is.

Does being dismissed deflate me? Not a bit. It strengthens my resolve. I’ve tried my hand at many a creative endeavor. I feel writing is the one area in which I’ve done outstanding work. It has improved my self-esteem tremendously.

I’m a pantzer. I start my tales without knowing where they will go. I create my characters, fall in love with them, and write to work out their destinies for my own pleasure, and to satisfy my own curiosity.

I don’t write because I hope I’m going to make money out of it. I write for the joy of it.

How about you?

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Short and Shorter

The front cover of book three of Maisie in Hollywood. I have broken a twenty-thousand-word maybe novelette/maybe novella into three parts, each part a short story with plenty of room for illustration in a forty-page picture book.

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I never wrote short stories until I landed here. And I never thought about them. I have my seat-of-the-pants theories about what works. What with the feature Showcase, I figured I’d better read up.

I just finished The Art and Craft of Fiction by Michael Kardos. His comments apply to fiction in general, but are especially meant, says he, for short stories.

His (and my) CYA strategy: “The rules are, there are no rules.”

He quotes Flannery O’Connor: “It’s always wrong to say that you can’t do that in fiction. You can do anything you can get away with, but nobody has ever gotten away with much.”

____________________________

Short stories are the name of the game around here: Showcase, Rabbit Hole, and these weekly commentaries. Yes, I think of these weekly posts as short stories also. I try to entertain.

Showcase asks that you keep to under a thousand words. That’s not room for any real story. You can write a scene, give a glimpse.

The key to any fiction, but especially to short fiction, is: relevant detail. Also: an entry point that bypasses unnecessary preparation but still affords the reader a solid footing in a shape-shifted world. “Don’t be coy,” says Kardos. Establish your framework, and the story’s stakes, in the first paragraph. Provide a reason to care about your character from the first sentence.

Fantasy is a thing unto itself. The key to fantasy is fake believability. I bolster my screwball storytelling with a wealth of plausible, and not terribly plausible (sounds good, but don’t think too hard about it) detail. There are other ways to handle it, but this is what draws me into a piece. Any other approach, for me, is hit-or-miss.

Here’s something that I have written about recently. On themes: “Stories are narratives . . . themes derive from these narratives, not the other way around.” Write with a theme in mind and you may find yourself preaching.

This book is full of good advice, most of which we already know. I’ll cut to the chase.

You can’t do a lot in a thousand words. Something has to give, but do it artfully. Trick endings are almost always a mistake. The story ought not to be an elaborate setup for a punch line.

I have established characters, that you may or may not have met. Sly (a talking cat), Maisie (a talking mouse), several others. I know my people from long association. I already care about them deeply. And I think that comes through.

On a live recording, Nina Simone led into a rendition of ‘Mississippi Goddamn’ with: “This is a show tune, but the show ain’t been written for it yet.”

I treat short stories the same way. Any shortie I’ve written is either an extension of another piece, or a try-out for a future more ambitious project. I either already have a character well developed, or I’m kicking one around, and have an idea where I want to go with it.

Kardos includes fifteen stories in his book. These are true short stories–four to seven thousand words–more room to develop plot and character than in our flash fiction (under a thousand words) on Showcase.

They were all chosen with an eye to illustrating his various points. I read the first one, ‘This Is what It Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona,’ and I was blown away, by his handling of characterization, particularly. Sherman Alexie (who knows the name? Not me) grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington. He knows his people well. He’s won all kinds of prizes, fellowships, you name it. (All these writers have.)

The two names I know in this collection are John Updike (I like ‘A&P’ very much), and Tobias Wolff. His ‘Bullet in the Brain’ – I didn’t care for it. Tobias Wolff! Am I out of my mind?

Sorry, Professor Wolff, I am not beguiled by prop people whose function is to take a bullet to the brain so that brain fragments can dance around a cranium while a long-forgotten childhood memory comes flooding back, no matter how enchanting the prose.

I did like most of these stories, just not with the intensity I felt for Phoenix, Arizona. A few of them irked me, in ways large and small.

Those of you who write a story on short notice, to a prompt, out of nothing–my hat is off to all of you. I have years of contemplating my characters, and such a range of material that I can (so far, anyway) finagle a piece to answer any challenge.

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And Now I’ll Tell You What I Really Think

I don’t know if it works or not, but buying an ad on Facebook is only the beginning. $25 for two thousand exposures? I’m ready to spend $100. For starters. I’ve thrown so much money at my books–for art materials and software, and on books for research–that I’m forced to regard them as an expensive hobby, replacing my former expensive hobby, which was doll collecting.

I’m paying attention to what makes me stop and examine a FB posting. It’s generally a set-up that piques my interest: “The Great American Road Trip Fifty Years Ago” – “Hope and Crosby were best buds on-screen. Off-screen, it was a different story.” I didn’t follow up on either teaser, but I was tempted to. I think the link should take you to a halfway spot where style and attitude are on display, not straight to Amazon.

I have my illustration to (hopefully) snag views. Perry has his niche. He meet-and-greets at fishing events and local flea markets. And it seems to work for him. Now, fishing-related stories are not going to have a wide appeal. You might write them off as ‘not my thing.’ I did, until I read a few of them. His book ‘Katz Creek and Other Stories’ is wonderful. This book will go on my shelf of favorites, to be read again.

Katz Creek is a mini vacation from our cares and woes. Refreshing! Relaxing! It may not be an actual memoir (he says not) but it is a knowledgable glimpse into an era gone by, of carefree summers and lazy hours. Lovely stuff, really lovely. Perry writes beautifully, and his snapshots of the fly-fishing subculture are mesmerizing.

A review on the Classic Fly Rod Forum says: “The prose has that antique feel that you find in Hemingway’s early short stories. These are stories for fishermen who like to remember the days of Heddon Fly Rods, unfished brooks, dense northern environs, and a simpler time and place.”

Perry has his thing and I have mine. Those of you who write Sci-Fi/Fantasy, you folks have it over us. You write in a hugely popular genre. But you also have a ton of competition. Maybe you don’t have it over us after all.

I have trouble with Sci-Fi. Most of the time the mechanics are the focus, rather than the personalities. It’s characterization that charms me, and keep me reading. I dropped Hugh Howey’s Wool less than halfway through. I’m trying to talk myself into finishing it. A third or so in, the magic hasn’t kicked in for me yet. Like it has for multi-thousands of readers, who have made Howey a legend of web-based success, widespread adoration and fat bank account the result.

He and Amanda Hocking both hit the big time with (seemingly) little marketing effort and, maybe, with modest expectations. I’ve read that Hocking hoped for no more than to raise the dough to attend a Star Wars convention in Chicago. That worked out for her grand, didn’t it?

DocTom recently mentioned Michael Hagan, and Bookkus Publishing.

Michael’s book Demiurge started well, the opening chapters were gripping. Demiurge is a tale of an evil entity serially reincarnated down through history, causing chaos, and Demi’s cult, lending a helping hand. A promising construct to many, I’m sure.

I plowed through it, but that sort of thing is really not for me. The paperback is listed on Amazon at just under forty dollars. That might be part of the reason for it not selling. The Kindle version goes for $9.50. That’s a lot of money for a complete unknown. That sum would have been set by the publisher. I’m afraid William had delusions of grandeur.

Ah! “WINNER OF THE PRESTIGIOUS BOOKKUS AWARD.” Well! That makes all the difference in the world! Can it be that a marketing genius hoped the “Prestigious Bookkus Award” might be confused by some with the (genuinely prestigious) Booker Prize? Just a thought.

Bookkus, now defunct, solicited manuscripts to be considered for publishing, William, the owner, paying the tab. William had a good idea – to assemble a reader/writer community to vote on submissions to be published, that would afterward talk the books up to friends and family. He attracted a good number of active participants willing to read and vote on entries (many of whom hoped to get their piece in the horse race). Before Bookkus folded, it had published, I believe, five books. Demiurge was one of them.

Those reader-judges were astonishingly enthusiastic about well-written work–they were all well-written in terms of prose style–that often contained shortcut characterization. I doubt that the word-of-mouth ever kicked in. Beyond that, luck plays a huge role in any success. We all, I believe, are very aware of that.

Except for William. He seemed to think it was going to be easy. We spoke several times via email. He told me his plan was to get the thing going, then to “sit back and wait for the money to roll in.” That may have been a joke. But I wouldn’t count on it.

All we can do is keep on keeping on. To give up after one try, as Michael (apparently) has done, I don’t get that. (If I’m wrong about Mike, feel free to set me straight.)

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About Writers, inspiration, writing technique

A Spooky Guy!

How many of us write with themes on our mind? Norman Mailer did.

The Spooky Art is a book on his writing history and process, and a commentary/diatribe on, as he puts it, “. . . one’s own foray into the nature of such matters as being and nothingness . . . the pitfalls of early success and how to cope with disastrous reviews . . .  identity and the occasional crises of identity.” And much more along these lines. And that’s only Part I.

Part II deals with genre and screenplays and journalism: “. . . some of the ways and by-ways down which writers search and/or flee from their more direct responsibility.” Part III, ‘Giants and Colleagues,’ is: “. . . a mix of thoughtful and/or shoot-from-the-hip candor about some of my contemporaries, rivals, and literary idols.” This is a book to be read in small bites, or you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Themes are important to him. He says of some of his early work: “I do not recognize the young man who wrote this book. I do not even like him very much, and yet I know he must be me because his themes are mine . . . I am not even without regard for him . . . he is close to saying the unsayable. The most terrible themes of my own life–the nearness of violence to creation and the whiff of murder just beyond the embrace of love–are his themes also.”

He recalls saying, in 1958: “I am imprisoned with a perception that will settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time.” (Whoa!)

Yes, he was a man of ideas. He admires Truman Capote’s style, and also criticizes it as a way to enliven none-too-interesting characters (in In Cold Blood). I can’t comment on that. Cold Blood is another book I read fifty years ago. Of Capote, he says: “Capote wrote the best sentences of anyone of our generation. He had a lovely ear. He did not have a good mind. I don’t know if a large idea ever bothered him. But he did have a sense of time and place.”

Large ideas, aka themes . . . does my stuff have a theme? Other than: Life is rough. Deal with it.

An English teacher in seventh grade lectured us on what a book report should consist of. Too many, called on to read out our book report, gave a summation of plot. Mr. ?????–I see his face, I cannot recall his name–wanted to hear about a theme.

He terrorized me, I can tell you. After I gave too many reports on the Nancy Drew series of–YA, we call it now–mysteries, he said to me, isn’t it time you read something worthwhile? I felt humiliated. I plunged into Dickens and never looked at Nancy Drew again.

Dickens, did he have themes? He told tales. Tales published as a serial, that hooked readers and kept them coming back month after month. Tales full of dense description and characterization, both of which I enjoy. I suppose I could call him an influence.

I read a ton of Dickens. There were boring stretches, especially in Dombey and Son, but I plowed through them. Sooner or later the story picked up again. That was my impression then. I suppose I should read it again, see what I think of it now.

Ah. Google tells me Dickens’ themes are pollution and exploitation. His aim was to denounce the problems related to industrialization and pollution. Also: Social justice.

Mark Twain, did he have themes? His theme would have to be: We’re all human, all in the same boat. Hold on. I’ll look him up.

Here we go: “His novels express the importance of perseverance, loyalty, bravery, and friendship, and display a brilliant control of vernacular speech.” He wrote for the masses as well. For both these giants, writing was their bread and butter. They had to keep it coming, to pay the bills. Both men were born into poverty and had to make their way in an inhospitable world.

Hey. Same as Sly. It was a hard-knock life in the sixteenth century, and way worse for a cat with talent and ambition. He had to take care who he communicated with. He could end up burnt at the stake. Luckily, John Dee was a flexible thinker. Anyone who believes he talks to angels will not be thrown by a talking cat. Just say “Madimi sent me” and you’re good.

Dee’s angels were a quirky bunch. And Sly, when he was comfortable with you, was a terrific bullshitter. As good, I believe, as Norman Mailer.

Norman Mailer is certainly full of himself. He certainly doesn’t shy from blowing his own horn. He has big ideas. And looks with scorn upon those who don’t. He talks philosophy a lot. This is going to take some rereading. Half the time I don’t know what he’s saying.

Sly talks philosophy too. He was a Natural Philosopher, like Margaret Cavendish, called ‘the first female scientist.’ She lived about seventy-five years after him, but her ideas were timeless in terms of wackiness. She had an impulse to present her scholarship in verse. So does Sly.

I had intended to bulk this piece out (it earlier appeared too slight to me) with a snippet of his verse on his Natural Philosophy (the precursor to true science). The first two lines are stolen from Cavendish, the rest of two pages of verse are Sly’s. You can thank your lucky stars this article is now a thousand words. You are spared another of my endless pieces of verse in which Sly discusses his philosophy and slams the ‘Gown-ed Tribe’, the university-educated intellectuals who refuse to accept him into, as the head of Harvard College put it at my brother’s graduation (Radcliffe was still a separate entity, with a separate degree), ‘the Community of Learn-ed Men’.

I’m pretty intimidated by Mailer, me with my little ideas. But I’ll get over it. I always do, eventually. I’ll leave the heavy lifting to the literary titans. And make do with my nonsense.

“I am imprisoned with a perception that will settle for nothing less than making a revolution in the consciousness of our time.” These words would fit into Sly’s mouth nicely. And a bunch of other pronouncements as well. Thank you, Norman Mailer.

Mailer can keep his big ideas. I’m content to have big fun.

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book promotion, inspiration, wise-guy animals in pants, world-building, writing technique

You settle for the book you get – James Baldwin

Sly’s path across Europe. Hardly any stretch of this journey was planned. One thing led to another. Clockwise from Virgin Mary: Pedro, a runaway duke. An abused bear in a circus. Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. Sha-Sha, Queen Elizabeth’s pet monkey. Queen Elizabeth. John Dee, her royal astrologer. A rat, in the Prussian town of Hameln. A crackpot frog who believes he’s an enchanted prince.

__________________________

From a piece on Joan Didion by David L. Ulin:

“. . .  even the most apparently intentional career is a matter of serendipity. We get ideas and they stick, or they do not. “You never get the book you wanted,” James Baldwin once observed, “you settle for the book you get.” We set out to write something and end up with something else.”

I know that’s true for me. I’m haphazard in my goals for my characters, in the way I tell their stories, in the way I present the material. I meander through my plots. My telling is full of ‘by the way’ and, ‘that reminds me’. I elaborate on points extraneous to the action, but so much fun I want to get them, in comical footnotes.

My writing style is a reflection of the way I’ve lived my life. I could call it ‘Half-assed’. Many of my relatives would agree with that. I could call it ‘Anything Goes’. That puts it in a better light. I’ll stick with Anything Goes.

Plotting a way forward is not for me. I know from experience, a few pages down the road I’m going to change my mind about something major, so why bother trying to outline? I add a new character to fill a short-term need, then fall in love with him and have to give him more to do so I can keep him around.

Gato, who I wrote about recently for Showcase, is a fine example. I needed him on my ship for a specific reason. Then I found it useful to imply he’s in the employ of Francis Walsingham, the head of Elizabeth’s spy network. He’s a career criminal, a Spaniard pulled out of an English prison to keep an eye on the Spanish captain of the Santa Clara, a merchant trader sailing a regular route from Spain to the low countries. He gathers intelligence on Spanish build-up in the south and sells it up north, and on English intentions and sells it to Madrid.

At the end of book two, Gato, as a result of an incident on a beach outside La Rochelle, heads back to England. What I’m going to do with him up there, I haven’t a clue. I don’t have to deal with that for a good while. I have time for ideas to fester in my brain. I’m going to pull some yuks out of him one way or another.

I smile to think a reader, having finished The Rogue Decamps, well along in book two, having a feel for the way I operate, learning there are seven books in the series, will share my glee: How many loopy malcontents does she have in store for me?

I’ve made bunches of disastrous decisions in my life. You can bet Gato’s going to do the same. Everybody in my story makes poor decisions. Entertainingly poor, that’s my one and only goal.

Nobody in my tale is satisfied with what they have. They all want something else.

Gato wants to be seen as a gentleman. His aristocratic captain wants to have the lifestyle of his affluent cousins in Madrid; he’s the poor relation. My runaway ten-year-old duke wants to join a circus, where he feels safe for the first time in his life. My archbishop, slated for the church from an early age (he’s the late king’s illegitimate son), wants to be a playwright in Paris. So it goes.

I would have preferred to have lived life without the crisis after crisis I’ve been through. I wasn’t capable of it, due to some mental instability I freely admit to. Calm and collected I’ve never been. I’ve lurched through life as I lurch through my plots: sad circumstances strung together that I eventually manage to sculpt into a semi-presentable narrative.

Plots are overrated. I want atmosphere. I want style. I want to sink into the world I’m reading about, make myself at home in it. I want to care about the characters. Bring them to life for me or you’ve lost me.

Plot is way down on my list. I’m glad to find folks on Youtube who agree with me. Chris Via, this guy Sherd, of Sherds Tube, and, I’m sure, many others. I’m going to track them down, pick their brains, be amused, and be inspired. Better Than Food, this guy is fabulous also.

There’s a community on Youtube I knew nothing about until Rick Harsch posted his piece on social media. Thank you, Rick. I’m watching your channel as well.

I love the this-and-that of life. That’s what interests me. Hell, that’s what fascinates me.

Maybe it’s a coping strategy, a way to live with the horrible choices I’ve made. Some of that was the result of being a loner and an introvert. Until I met my husband twenty years ago, I’d lived life without a safety net. It’s warped me.

I’m a warped human being. I’ve long been aware of it. I’ve finally made it work for me, with Sly. And Maisie. And Miss Spider. And a host of other lovely loony-tunes.

Screw normal. Me and my kooks and creeps are fine without it.

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book promotion, book sales, marketing, Uncategorized

Promotion Commotion

I’m creating the backmatter for Maisie in Hollywood. Above is the final page in my book, a promo for Sly! The Rogue Decamps.

I’ll have to have Decamps able to be found on Amazon when book one of Maisie is printed and ready to sell. Like Perry, I plan to sell at book and art fairs and to try to get it into local bookstores.

I’m researching promotional strategies on the web. Most of what I see might work for previously published authors with a following – and an email list:

  • Post a cover reveal – Run giveaways of ARCs – Send ARCs to major publications (For sure, in my dreams!)
  • Create bonus content. (For your hordes of dedicated followers, natch.)
  • Announce a title reveal. Have your book available for preorder in time for its cover reveal.
  • Build an author street team of volunteers to incite word-of-mouth buzz. (Again, in my dreams)
  • Create an inventory of book promotion images to promote the preorder and book launch. (This I can handle.)
  • Post fun photos of the book on social media. Publish posts on sites like BuzzFeed & Medium.
  • Your mailing list! Mailing list! Mailing list!

Screw it.

Carl has his path: Get your name known by submitting to anthologies. It seems to be working for him, and good luck to him. GD and Victor have also had success with anthologies and small publishers.

I’m searching for anthologies of humor. I see nothing that fits my stuff. One looked promising until I got to: maximum 700 words.

700 words are not enough to develop any appreciable characterization. I should try it, I guess, to see what I can do with 700 words. Maybe I’m wrong. But I don’t think so. I don’t want to write graphic-novel-style without the graphics.

Cover reveals on social media, do they work? I skim right past them. Does anybody pay attention to them?

Does anyone here have a substantial mailing list? How did you acquire it?

I’m counting on my eye-catching covers to drive sales. At an art fair, this may work.

I’d like to get a peek at that catalogue that book stores order from. I’m guessing a snappy title is your best bet there. Do you get to include a subtitle? How about a short description? *Sigh* Maybe the crucial piece of information is your name. Are you a known quantity?

Ah! It’s called ‘Books in Print’. I think I can get a look at it.

Speaking of titles, I’m googling titles of articles I’ve posted here and on Medium. A number of them turn up in a google search. The ones that don’t, maybe the wording is not individual enough, there are too many pieces called ‘And Away We Go’, etc.

I’ve just changed the title of this piece from blah to something more interesting.

I’ve known a lot of screwball characters in my time. I could work this or that name into a headline and have the individual folded into my story in a reasonable manner so it’s not an outright bait and switch. I might snag folks who’ve wondered, for instance, whatever became of that bad boy Richard Rheem?

Richard, a former lover of Andy Warhol, was my housemate for two years in Boston. Could I claim he inspired one of my slippery characters? He was sure he deserved more out of life than life was handing him. Yeah, he’d fit right in with my lovely bunch of malcontents.

I google him from time to time. I see a gelatin print of Richard, by Warhol, is selling on artsy.net. Asking price: $18,000! And photos from his days with Andy. I can’t find anything current. Is he still around? When I knew him he already had a couple suicide attempts under his belt.

Hey it’s just a thought.

My larger point is: we have to think outside the box, worm our way into widespread notice by any route available to us.

I’ll wrap this up: What else can I do to improve my chances of being discovered? I know, I know. Finish the damn thing.

This massive project overwhelms me. This is the way it goes with me. I start small, and my thing grows and grows. Sly, an eight-book series, started as a short story in 1985. I had drawn an image of a cat playing a fiddle for an illustration class. I decided it needed a story to go with it. Sly (his name at the time: Puss) was born.

That piece is long lost. I altered a well-known verse and explained the solid history behind it. (Many a childish rhyme was based on a real event.) I recall the verse. The story? Not so much.

Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle.
The cow jumped over Muldoon.
(A cow and a pig joined Puss’s attempt to obstruct an assassination plot. Muldoon was one of my villains.)

The little dog laughed to see such sport.
(Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, was known as Elizabeth’s ‘lap dog’)

Cavendish ran away with the spoon.

A spoon was coated with a clear glaze of poison that would dissolve when dipped in a scalding-hot mug of a treat only recently imported from the Americas–chocolate. This was the method by which Cavendish intended to commit regicide. A Catholic cleric, dressed as a member of his household, wearing his livery, was to serve the beverage and take the fall.

Book four, A Dainty Dish, was eighty-percent written. It will be substantially reworked. Why? Because I discovered John Dee, Elizabeth’s royal astrologer. My conception of the assassination plot has changed radically.

It’s just as well. The cow jumped over Muldoon . . . maybe that gem is best forgotten.

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My Life of (C)rhyme

Above: The cover of one of the genuine ‘Miss Spider’ books. This is the (surely) beloved Miss Spider. David Kirk has a dozen-plus books out. The rhyme is charming, and the art blows me away. The images are gorgeously composed.

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Any sort of writing is a challenge, but to write verse is double the struggle.

I want my verse to rhyme exactly, not almost. My prose storytelling is written in a conversational voice. My verse is as well. I want my language to be natural, though flavorful, and my story progression to make total sense, while hitting my rhyme-sounds without undue manipulation of sentence structure. (Except for breaking lines apart to cue pauses.)

The snippet I show below was trying. The rest of the six-hundred words came fairly easily. I’ve worked on these few lines for the better part of two days. I’ve had many versions of the ‘Bettie Page’ area, tried to convince myself they were good enough, and failed.

Miss Spider has been on a dinner date with Woodie. They’ve seen Peggy Flea’s show at the Cobweb Club. He’s looking forward to a night of romance. So is she, but she plans fun of a nastier character.

This piece is close to finished, in two days. I have other things I’ve worked on for two decades. When I can’t solve a problem, I put it aside, and hope to come back to it with a new approach to the area in question. I generally throw out the problematic lines so I can’t refer back to them and have my thoughts heading down the same dead-end path. I still have rhymes that I wince over in many of my pieces. I regard them as place-holders, until a better combo pops into my head.

I write narrative verse, telling a true story, with a plot. I want my rhymes to be perfect sound repetitions, and I want them to be surprising, not low-hanging fruit. To achieve this goal, I do resort to structural gymnastics. Some of my rhymes land on the one word of a two-part phrase. In the direst circumstances (not here) I have my crucial syllable skulking in the midst of a multi-syllable word, requiring the line to be treated as prose, the match making itself known in the reading.

Where necessary, I pad my meter with interjections: Ha. Whoa. Hey. Lord, Lord. As I do in my fiction, I inject myself into the proceedings. This gives me additional ways to lay my hands on a solution, and adds a bit more fun.

Sometimes I can’t find the words to say exactly what I’d like (or need, even worse) to say, and I resort to make-do second-best. That never works. I can’t kid myself. In the end I rip down the structure I’ve labored over and start anew.  

My idea here is to mimic the look and feel of the popular ‘Miss Spider’ series for children: smiley-face cartoon bugs (I’d have a hard time identifying Miss Spider as a spider, expect for all the legs), a landscape format, high-gloss cardboard stock with rounded corners. The art is rendered in bright primary colors. As far as mimicking the look perfectly goes, I’ve already shot myself in the foot. (I love the idea of Miss Spider ending up in Bettie-Page-style peek-a-boo underwear, catching unsuspecting parents by surprise. The series is aimed at very young children, who would need to be read to.)

The original has no footnotes. No sidebars. And certainly no Miss Spider in corselette, garter belt, and mesh stockings. Nor does the genuine Miss Spider have a brass bed furnished with hand cuffs, awaiting her fling of the night. (Spider females eat the male after mating. This is her strategy for seeing to it that the process goes smoothly.)

Scene: Miss Spider and her date, having enjoyed Miss Peggy Flea’s show, are returned to her apartment. This is the text for a two-page spread (of a projected twenty-four page book).

This is my most difficult section for intricacy of phrasing. I think I’ve solved my problems with flow. If I haven’t, I would appreciate it if you would let me know, and I’ll continue to fiddle with it.

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They’re ensconced on her couch.
She croons, “Cuddlebug, you into games, babe?
Sit tight. I’ll be back in a few.

“Close your eyes, hon,” she calls from the next room,
“until I give out with the cue.” There’s a pause.
Then a shrill, gleeful, drawn-out “taa-daaaaaa!

Woodie’s stunned.
(So am I.)

Mae’s a sight to behold, in . . .
let’s see now . . . in thigh-high boots . . .
French corselette . . . crotchless panties.

Lord, Lord.

The boy’s dumbfounded, people, wigged out.
He is floored.

Bettie Page,* eat your heart out.
Miss Spider, petite as she is, gotta say it.
This chick has you beat.

She’s got eight shapely legs.
Long-long legs.
In mesh hose hooked to a garter belt.
Hey! I wore one of those.

No shit.

Curious, ain’t cha?
You’re dying to know more on that, I should think.

Here ya go. See below.**

*  Bettie Page was an American model who gained notoriety in the 1950s for being photographed in naughty underwear.  

** Pantyhose wasn’t always a thing. Dancer Ann Miller invented it in the nineteen-fifties to facilitate quick changes. In fifties Florida, we wore garter belt and stockings to church, and on any fancy occasion. A garter belt was uncomfortable at any time, twice as bad in the Florida heat. The pre-pantyhose years were also the pre-AC years, at least for folks of modest income.

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I have a scene in The Rogue Decamps in which my archbishop (who writes verse) tells the King of Haute-Navarre: “if you see me with my head bowed, I’m generally running rhymes through my head, looking for a match that works for me.” This is what I do. I know that behavior well.

I cannibalize my life. There’s a bunch of me in every one of my characters.

I have Celestine, I have Gaudy Night, I have five or six short picture books in progress, giving glimpses of Sly’s childhood. All these are verse, and they all have plenty of those ‘placeholder’ words that nag at me, that still need work. I’m frequently running possibilities through my cranium, looking for that Aha! solution.

I live with my cast of whackos 24/7. I’ve lived with them for decades. And they still fascinate me. Bear that in mind when give you another post on my critters. It’s a compulsion.

That’s my best, and only, defense.

I will be submitting Miss Spider’s Dinner Date to Rabbit Hole V. The theme of the next issue is Just Plain Weird. I figure this qualifies. Whether or not Rabbit agrees with me, I’ve got the start of another series.

And another paper doll.

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Do Your Research to Make Your Story Really Come to Life

A page from my fully illustrated Maisie in Hollywood. Mulot danced briefly with the celebrated Denishawn Dancers. It was Ted Shawn who gave her the name Marcelline Mulot. He refused to have a Maisie Snodgrass in his troupe.

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We have a magical resource at our fingertips. How many of us make optimal use of it?

It is an essential tool for me, writing fiction set in the sixteenth century and the nineteen-twenties, but I would make equal use of it if I were writing a piece set in the here and now, or on a world in the distant future. In order to build an intriguing world, I need information. Gobs of it.

I need the layout of London in 1583, sure. But, more than that, I want obscure, screwball details. I’m always on the lookout for fun facts. Always!

I am constantly googling biographies, description, any oddball thing that occurs to me. Last week I found an article on the history of mirrors, and the use John Dee made of them in his occult work. When I get to book four of Sly . . . when I get down in the mud, wrestling a story out of Dee . . . I could make it up, sure. And it would be fun. But it will be so much more fun if it’s (sorta) based on historical reality.

What is flon flon? The term was attached to a headpiece designed by Paul Poiret a century ago. I plugged flon flon into Google and got this: “An improvisation in wire, strips of silk, and feathers and is little more than a headband. As with many of the hats and headdresses intended for pairing with evening ensembles, the ‘Flon flon’ is theatrical in spirit.” You know those lists of words everyone overuses? I overuse frou frou. Flon flon is an interesting alternative.

Google has not obliged me in my search for info on Bea Wanger, one of my two main characters in Maisie in Hollywood. This is all I’ve found on her:

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American interpretative dancer. Name variations: Beatrice Wanger. Born Beatrice Wanger, c. 1900, in San Francisco, CA; died Mar 15, 1945, in New York, NY.

Stage name: Nadja (c. 1900–1945) Trained at school of Florence Flemming Noyes in New York City; taught classes at schools in NY and London; moved to Paris where she made performance debut at Théatabletre Mogador in Cora Laparcie’s Lysistrata (1924); created and performed recitals (often set to poems by Dante Gabriel Rosetti and G. Constant Lounsberry) at Théâtre Esotérique and other popular venues; returned to US (1937) and taught at studio of Albertina Rasch in NY.

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She was the sister of the legendary producer Walter Wanger, that I’ve ascertained. With so little to go on, I felt I had permission to write her as I pleased.

Hedda Hopper, I have reams of material on her. W.C. Fields, ditto. Dalton Trumbo, I’m good with him also. Yes, he’s in Maisie as well. Erich von Stroheim’s methods of eliciting riveting performances from his actors. Wallace Beery . . . he was Gloria Swanson’s first husband. Did you know that? He was already a big star when she was just starting out.

I have a file on the history of shoulder pads. Square-shouldered bodices were designed by Adrian for Joan Crawford, to camouflage her broad shoulders. They became the style, on film and in the culture at large. Maisie, with no shoulders to speak of, longed to be in fashion. I have Travis Banton at Paramount giving her leg-o-mutton sleeves, the illusion of shoulders, which thrill her no end.

I see a file named ‘The Original Red Mirage’. I don’t recall what’s in it but I’m sure it’s something valuable.

I have three files for Victoria Cross. She wrote schlock romance in the nineteen-tens-twenties, really terrific, terrible stuff. I use a line of hers in chapter nine of Maisie: “Cuckoo! screamed the bird in the tree, taking to the purple-bruised sky with a joyful flapping of last-light-licked wings.”

I stole this line (and made changes to gunk it up even more) off guttenberg.org, for my character Bea Wanger, who writes romance also. This bit (and others) were too good not to grab.

The folder I’m looking through at the moment contains my notes for Maisie. I have another folder of notes for Sly, with triple the material. I’ve been doing my research on him for thirty years, first in typewritten pages, now pulled off the web and saved, with a tenth of the effort.

Magical! The web is magical! How did we get along without it?

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No Elvis Cadillac for you, Mom.

  • by Mimi Speike

Okay, I saw this yesterday. It sparked an idea for a post, so I jumped on it. Now I see it’s all over the web. You’ve read this already. No problem. I never intended to talk about Tarentino. I’m going to talk about me, and you, and our less-than-supportive families. Who ought to give us some respect, but mostly don’t.

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Maybe none of you obsess about your family the way I do about mine. Maybe you all had (relatively) normal families. (I know Carl is the exception.) I think about writing a piece, for Medium probably: Lies my father told me. He lied often, I only realized it after I was grown and my siblings and I compared notes. He bent reality to be what he wanted it to be. He told me when I was at Syracuse that my cousin had failed the physical to be drafted into the army. He was required to have an operation on his knee to make him acceptable. I understand now that he made that up to shame my brother, who was trying to escape the draft any way he could, and that bugged the hell out of Dad. Another of his fibs: he invented an abandoned wife and child for the creep boyfriend of my sister, to disparage him. (Joe didn’t need disparaging, believe me. His treatment of my Sis spoke for itself.)

The lies, the manipulation, that’s another issue, to deal with elsewhere. I grew up in my little bubble of misery. My brother seemed to be oblivious to what was going on and I resent him for it to this day.

My brother and sister do not read my work willingly. Nor do my nieces. I don’t twist arms. I send a chapter or two, with the instruction: don’t feel you have to comment, just tell me where you stopped. If that’s in the third paragraph, fine. That’s all you need to tell me.

The only meaty (dumb, but meaty) comment I’ve ever gotten was from my sister, who told me, I can’t understand this Shakespearian English. I change our modern word order a tad and throw in a few archaic terms and she calls it Shakespearian. Christ Almighty!

Oh, my brother told me: “I’m not a reader.” He told me this about fifteen years ago. I was stunned. Not a reader! He graduated from Harvard. All these years I had no clue. We were not close, despite being twins.

His wife, or ex-wife, they still live together, she claims to be a huge reader. Has she looked at my stuff? Not that I know of.

I’ve been on Sly and Celestine, Maisie too (in an earlier version), for forty years. I never informed any of them that I write until twenty years ago, anticipating the reaction: “Guess what my crackpot sister is up to now.”

My husband is solidly behind me, thank god. He’s a heavy reader, of nonfiction. He’s also the only person I ever met who owns more books than I do. He loves what I’ve written, though I know he doesn’t appreciate my finesse with words. He speaks English well, but it is is not his first language. He loves Sly for the history I build in. He’s all for history. Educate while you entertain. References to the Arabic origin of math and physics, super! More, he wants more of that. It’s never enough for him. He’s always ready to jump on a problem and research it for me.

My brother’s major complaint about me is that I’ve drifted through life, not making plans, kind of like the way I write, come to think of it. I believe this annoys him more than all the bad choices I’ve made with my life. He probably views my writing as my latest whim. A forty-year whim. Yeah, right. If he respects what I’m doing, he doesn’t show it.

If it makes me money, if I leave an estate of any worth, I’ve made up my mind. My nieces aren’t getting anything from it. I sent one of them a snippet a while back, with my usual instruction. She emailed me back: I’ve passed this on to my father. She’s a creative. She makes art. She’s studied acting, seriously, at a top acting school in NYC. I would have thought she’d at least be curious about what I’ve written. Apparently not.

Families don’t owe us a read, but it would be nice to be taken seriously. Does your family see you as a joke: Still wasting your time on that pipe dream of yours? Oh god, another story! This one’s about a mouse!

They don’t even visit my Facebook page, to look at the art. That’s easy enough to do. A friend of my niece, a cartoonist, visits and comments regularly. Not my one and only next-generation close relation.

She’s maybe gonna regret that one of these days. My money’s going to the folks who supported me, who encouraged me. I’m with Quentin Tarentino on that. I’ll leave money to my sister, with the understanding that none of it is passed on to Meda.

I’ll leave it to her friend the cartoonist, creating wonderful, fun LGBTQ-themed small publications, and doing community outreach, leading graphic novel-creation workshops in San Francisco at senior centers for the hanging-out retired, and in after-school programs, for kids. Any amount I’m able to bequeath, I may give it to Alex. He’ll put it to good use, I’m sure. Alex Leslie Combs, find him on Facebook. I admire his spirit, and his talent.

It’s not that I long for my relations’ praise. Anything they say, I would discount it. I have serious doubts about their literary judgment. I merely hope that, after a lifetime of missteps great and small, I am finally doing something admirable with my talent, that I was never able to exploit to my satisfaction.

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