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Writing DaysZ 6

The TV news team is telling me that one presidential candidate sold state department favors and the other plans internment camps for immigrants. Neither assertion is true, of course. They’re just straw man arguments. But a vigorous debate follows in which both candidates are trashed as though the assertions were true. Straw Men. They’re everywhere, like alien bug-eyed-monsters, grabbing our attention. Which is what straw men do, grab attention. “Straw man n. 2. An argument or opponent set up so as to be easily refuted or defeated. – American Heritage Dictionary, Fourth Edition.” It’s the first step of spin.

Bob vs the Aliens
To read Writing DaysZ 1-5, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf

Debatable Arguments

+++They found the railroad handcar under an overhang behind the waystation. Bob and Piper grunted frantically, trying to inch it to the tracks before helicopter gunships could roar overhead. Old Spice rummaged through a wooden chest, tossing out items apparently deemed useless.
+++Piper dodged a wrench. “Spice!”
+++“Give us a hand,” Bob said urgently, quietly, “They’re coming!”
+++“No they’re not. The helicopter noise has stopped. Oh-” He held up an oil can. “Look!”
+++“So they landed in the town. In a few minutes, they’ll be airborne again and headed here.”
+++Spice began squirting oil on everything about the handcar that looked like it might move. “It’s Never Too Late to Prepare for an Emergency!” He smiled at them. “That’s my family motto.”
+++Bob repeated the phrase and squinted at Spice, “That’s the dumbest motto-.” The handcar lurched, screeched and began rolling. The three of them manhandled it onto the tracks and Bob and Piper pumped the seesaw handles while Spice squirted oil on every part that moved. Ahead, Bob saw a heavier stand of trees that promised shelter. Behind, he heard a helicopter lift off in the distance. The car gained speed to about twenty-five or thirty miles an hour and became easy to pump. But it was hardly escape velocity. He felt trapped in a slow-motion video. Trees blocked their view just as the helicopter approached the station behind them. “Keep going! They’ll overfly the track after they don’t find us at the station.” To ease the tension, he told Piper, “Spice was a doofus back home. Weren’t you, Spice?”
+++Spice looked up from something he was fiddling with. “Doofus?”
+++“An incompetent person,” Bob winked at Piper, “Foolish or stupid.”
+++She winked back. “Ignore him, Spice. You don’t have to talk about your family.”
+++Spice sputtered and stood. “That was not my fault! Really,” he implored. “It was the genetic alteration that I underwent for the Earth Mission. I was just trying to let her down easy.”
+++“Who, Spice?” Piper soothed. “Who were you trying to let down easy?”
+++“My fiancé,” he told her in a somber voice. “She deserved to know that my new body found her repulsive. So, I sent her a message. I followed all of the appropriate protocols for use of the family communicator, too. It is expected that the recipients of a personal message from my family will know who wrote it without a signature.”
+++Bob chuckled. “You sent her a message?”
+++“I chose my words carefully.”
+++“Oh, Spice! Is that’s how she found out you were breaking up with her?” Piper shook her head in dismay. “You texted her?”
+++“I wish.” The Alien slumped. “I accidently sent the message to the wrong person. But my fiancé, at least, knew who wrote it when she read it in the news.”
+++“Oh, Spice! Who did you send it to?”
+++“My father’s mistress. She was, how do you say it? Pissed at him.”
+++In the silence that followed, Bob rolled his eyes heavenward to see a helicopter flying in whisper mode arcing over the trees at the railcar. He grabbed the ray gun from his pocket and held it pointed skyward against his mouth and licked it frantically as ropes dropped around them and they were rushed by armed men dressed in black bulky outfits making loud, guttural, sounds. Abruptly, the helicopter veered away, trailing behind it one man still clinging to a rope.
+++“Where are you going?” asked one of the three men who had made it onto the railcar.
+++The answer came over his harness speaker. “Going for a beer. That was a roadhouse we passed back there. Coming?”
+++“Hell yeah man. We’re in.” The men jumped and rolled smartly to a standing stop behind the railcar. As the helicopter landed to pick them up, they turned and waved goodbye with their guns.
+++Bob looked at the ray gun but it was already fading away in his hand. “Wow,” he breathed.
+++“See.” Spice beamed at him, “I told you it would make attackers stop bothering us.”
+++“I just wished it had a trigger. Firing a ray gun by licking the red spot is stupid, Spice. I was too stressed to remember where the spot was. I had to lick the gun all over!” He made a face and spit.
+++“Don’t be trigger-happy, Bob.” Piper smiled at him like she was proud of him. “You saved us.” That made him happy. They spent the day taking turns, one keeping lookout while two pumped the handcar. No more helicopters came at them and although easy enough, the pumping was eventually exhausting as none of them were used to prolonged physical exertion. At dusk they were happy to see the lights of a small town.
+++“That’s New Haven,” Spice said. It’s not on any of your maps yet. But it popped up last week on our planet survey as a fast growing town. We can find accommodations there for the night.”
+++The lights in the town resolved into campfires, cars and people; adults, children and dogs, even some livestock. Where the rails crossed over a small stream, they were waved to a stop by men with fishing poles. “Hold on there,” one called in a pleasant but firm voice. He helped them to stop the handcar before it rolled onto the trestle.
+++“Thanks, friends.” The man held out his hand. “That contraption would make such a racket going over the bridge, the fish might stop biting. I’m Andy.”
+++Piper hopped down and shook his hand. “Glad you were able to help us stop in time, Andy. I’m Piper. We would like to spend the night here.” She turned and introduced Spice, who landed beside her, and Bob, who stayed on the cart. “Spice here is an Alien and Bob back there,” she pointed with her thumb, “Is Bob.”
+++“I see,” the man glanced at Bob before warmly shaking Spice’s hand. “Welcome! It is a pleasure to have you with us.”
+++“I thought all you Aliens left,” one of the fishermen said.
+++“That’s Skeeter.” Andy waved the man over. “Skeeter’s our Sheriff and resident greeter. Say,” he grinned at them, “You’re just in time for the debate. Let Skeeter get you a bite to eat and settled in.”
+++After some eating, greeting and refreshing, they watched older kids pile wood on one of the campfires to turn it into a communal bonfire. Early fall chilled the air. Overhead, star swarms lit a clear night sky. People gathered, some climbing up onto a vehicle. “Declared debaters,” Andy informed them, helping them climb up with him onto a flatbed truck. He raised his hands for attention. “The subject of tonight’s debate is, ‘What Happened?’”
+++“Is that an Alien?” a woman asked.
+++“Yes, and by the rules of New Haven, he is accepted like everyone else.”
+++The woman sounded agreeable, “Well, OKAY I guess.” To the chuckling of others, she added, “We accepted my ex-husband.”
+++“Back to the point,” Andy acted as the debate moderator, “What happened?”
+++“Well,” a thick looking man began, “I know we accept him and all and I do, but.” He paused and looked around. “You all know the collapse began when the Aliens arrived.” Bob loosely estimated maybe a couple hundred people watched the man point out Spice. “I’d like to hear what he has to say about that.”
+++With tense eyes turning on him, Spice seemed to shrink. He whispered into Bob’s ear, “Correlation is not cause and effect.”
+++“Excuse me,” Piper stepped forward. “We are Piper and Bob, Alien Companions. Due to the subtleties of the English language, and given the importance of clear communication in tonight’s debate, the Alien has asked us to translate for him. Allow me to introduce Old Spice, Earth Mission Commander of the Aliens.”
+++Spice genuflected as best a spherical being could, holding the pose longer than expected. Only when the crowd went silent did he rise to his full three-foot height, somehow making it all seem majestic. The thick man gave him back a short bow.
+++“What did he say, Bob?” Piper prompted.
+++“The Alien says their timing was unfortunate and unrelated to the circumstances on Earth when they landed.”
+++“Use his name, Bob!” To the amusement of the crowd, Piper kicked him. “Damn, man! Try to make him sound human.” They laughed at her. “Well, people, we need answers, not scapegoats. What do you really think happened?”
+++“You can’t fool me!” a man screamed.
+++“Ignore the screamer,” Andy told Bob, “He’s crazy. He’s not screaming at us. Herb screams only at himself.”
+++“Take your hands off that!” the screamer demanded.
+++Bob winked at Piper, “He’s talking to himself.”
+++“We already know what happened.” A young man spoke from the roof of his SUV. “My family lives in this car because the rich stole everything away from us. Away from all of us! The top one percent sucked up all of the oil with their planes and their helicopters and their yachts and moved their companies overseas and we’re left with no jobs and no homes and cars with no gas to live in.”
+++“Counter?” asked Andy. “Who wants to argue differently?”
+++“Scapegoating,” said Spice.
+++“What’s that mean?” the young man retorted.
+++“The word is from a Yom Kippur ritual,” Bob explained. “The high priest would symbolically lay the sins of the people on a goat’s head.”
+++“So?” the man huffed. “I know what I’m talking about. I listen to public radio.”
+++Stepping in smoothly, Piper said, “Spice is saying that blaming a group is no answer.”
+++“Scapegoating a group is just a way of setting up a straw man argument,” Bob elaborated. “Meaning, anyone in the group can be attacked for supposedly sharing the groups’ alleged sins. It’s a way of saying, ‘Politicians are greedy liars and can’t be trusted. That lets you attack anyone who is a politician.”
+++“Exactly!” The thick man nodded and smiled. “It was the Koch brothers!” He rotated slowly, nodding to the crowd, arms extended with palms up to bring them to his understanding. “They’re greedy billionaires. You can’t trust ’em! And we all know they are lying Republicans.”
+++“That’s plain crazy talk!” shouted a woman. “What about that billionaire George Soros? FOX News already exposed him as a Democrat. You gotta be crazy to trust a man who’s both, in the top one percent and a Democrat.”
+++“Stop that!” Herb screamed. “You can’t pee here.” That caused a slight commotion as people next to Herb drew back.
+++Spice seemed confused. “Scarcity drove up the price of oil,” he told Piper and Bob, “And you people kept buying it anyway. Now, not enough is left to power your needs. It was all very human and predictable. Why the blame?”
+++Bob shook his head, “Bad arguments, they’re everywhere. Let’s get out of here.” On the way out, they passed a sign someone had posted next to the fire, “Debate Tonight, Beware of Trolls.” In the distance, Herb screamed, “Time’s up!”

Yesterday was “National No Texting Day.” In what bubble in whose mind did that make sense? Makes me wonder how many people texted the info to their friends yesterday. That’s the thing about mind bubbles. They hold ideas that make sense when you think about them but burst when exposed to the real world.

Mind Bubbles
 … to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read Writing DaysZ 1-5, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)

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Serials: The Little Engine That Could?

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Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo, won’t you choo-choo me home!

Curtis says: “I have written a book that nobody needs. But that’s not just the case of One Green Bottle – you could say it of practically any book that’s published.”

Atthys says: Agents … “didn’t see the potential for the kind of commercial success that would’ve made it worth their time and effort. The bottom line really is the bottom line.”

Serials may be a viable alternative path to publication. Slow and steady wins the race, remember? No stone unturned, I promised that, to you and to myself, a while back.

I’m going to look into it.

________________________________________

Here’s Yael Goldstein Love (of Plympton Publishing) on serialization: (some of this is paraphrased/condensed)

* A serialized novel is a novel delivered to readers in installments over time. Each installment is a satisfying read in itself, but it also leaves you wanting more. Any good serialized novel also reads well as an all-at-once book, whereas the reverse is not true. A slow, lyrical novel, for instance, might make a bad serial. I say ‘might’ because you never know what other charms this book might have. Maybe each chapter is a perfect gem you want to savor.

Charles Dickens was THE famous early serialist, with The Pickwick Papers. Pretty soon, and for much of the 19th century, it was rare for a novel to be published as a book without first appearing as a serial. Most of the great (and not so great) 19th century novelists needed that money to survive, before their full book made its way into stores.

* Time-wise, and cost-wise, a serial has obvious advantages (for a reader) over a full novel. The stakes are much lower. Don’t like the first installment? Don’t get the second.

* The rhythm of the thing: Monthly doesn’t seem to work. A month might as well be a decade as far as serial reading goes. You lose the thread, maybe have to start over. But is weekly ideal? Daily? Release everything at once and let the reader choose the pace? Yael says that works for the library of classics on Plympton’s companion site DailyLit. She doesn’t have an answer for original fiction.

Serials are something of a natural for us today. TV shows with a running narrative have trained us to expect our stories to arrive in bite-size chunks, and there’s real delight to the cliffhanger.

* Serialization may work best as a marketing device—to build buzz before a book is released. This means the format becomes, in part, a gimmick. But, historically, serials have changed thinking, and may do so again.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published as one complete book, wouldn’t have had the effect that it had on thousands of white readers. It would have been easier to read it, put it aside, and forget the uncomfortable fact that something horrific was happening in this country. Instead, readers had to sit with it for months, thinking and wondering as they went about their lives. That made it a lot harder to forget those uncomfortable facts. I mention this mainly because I think it highlights just how much depth and richness the serial experience can add. It’s the furthest thing from a gimmick; it’s an art form.

____________________________________________

Entertainment choices were once severely limited. Serialized fiction filled a real need. A popular author under contract was an asset, giving a newspaper an edge over rivals. It was no second-rate way of publishing, it gained you a wider audience than you would have had, and it paid, perhaps not handsomely, but dependably.

Online outlets have proliferated, but there is an admission process, and there are rules. We’re back to a situation in which we deal with a gatekeeper. Some spots are difficult to join, some less so. On those easier to infiltrate, the quality may be less. A few lemons and a reader may move on. There are pastures and pastures, some greener than others.

A handful of sites pay, most do not. The major gain is exposure. You’ll have to fight for it, like anywhere else and, to quote Ringo, it don’t come easy. There’s massive competition.

Plympton is a major player. It’s gotten some great press. I read about them on Salon. (Kindle and Amazon are the biggies, but Plympton is a well-known boutique site.) They handle some big names, and they take on unknowns. But I went to the website and found: No new submissions accepted at this time due to submission overload. I have no idea, as yet, how common this is.

You can go it alone, some do. But you have to promote just as relentlessly as you would for a book. And punchy episodic chapters that hang together as a whole are essential.

Punchy. We’re back to a formula. A few thousand words of fast-paced shenanigans, wrap it up with a hook that entices folks to look forward to the next bit of business. My dense, ambling style may not pair well with the format.

It is easy to believe, and it may well be true, that serials lead to repeat customers and enhanced customer retention. Some sites allow for reader participation. Authors generally welcome the back and forth, saying it gets a reader onboard like nothing else.

The form is appealing on both sides of the equation. An intriguing novelty, a short, self-contained story, read it on your lunch break. The structure lends itself to a test drive for reader and author alike. I expect that readers settle on a favorite one or two sites after a broader try-out.

With an eye-catching title, you may have a better than average chance of being noticed in a table of contents. It’s a form of market research. You may build a committed fan base before you vault onto Amazon, followers who may be Johnnie-On-The-Spot with a review when that time comes.

May-may-may. I’m constructing my castles in the air before I’ve ever set foot into a serial site. BTW, I read that some of them are loath to give out figures on traffic, hobbling an accurate evaluation of prospects. Choose wisely.

Hugh Howey created a serial without meaning to. His initial petite version of Wool proved so popular, readers demanding more and more from him, that he spun it out to a full-length novel. The rest is publishing history.

His story was so successful that he’s the first author ever to negotiate a contract allowing him retention of digital rights. He’s got his big book deal, and he keeps the full proceeds from online sales. Full earnings, not whatever percentage your liege-lord thinks good and proper. They had to do it. Hugh wouldn’t have signed otherwise. He’s making too much money on his own. How’s that for an inspiration?

Check out Tuesday Serial, which offers . . . whoa! . . . one-hundred-twenty-seven pages of listings. I’ll dig deeper into that next time.

 

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Writing DaysZ 3

Morning sunlight on the golf course leaves the woman’s orchid-scattered lanai in shade. It’ll be in the 90’s today. High in the blue sky, an eagle already rides the updrafts. I sit quietly, listening to the repertoire of Mockingbirds and watching pine squirrels scamper on the grass two stories below. Before it heats up, there is time to write about the great Eugenics Fallacy of today. (Google Eugenics if you don’t know what I mean. It was the “scientifically-proven” horror of the 20th Century.)

Bob vs the Aliens
To read the story from the beginning, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf

Stop Continental Drift!

If 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.
 – Anatole France
(1844-1924, born François-Anatole Thibault, French poet, journalist, novelist)

+++They watched the three-foot-tall Alien walk until he was half a block away. “He looks so forlorn.” Piper sounded empathetically sad. “We have to help him,” she squeezed Bob’s arm.
+++“Yeh,” Bob chuckled. “I never knew a spherical person could walk hunched over like that.”
+++“Bob!” The squeeze of his arm sharpened.
+++“OKAY. Hey,” he yelled. “Spice!! You can’t walk to Denver! It’s two thousand miles away.”
+++Piper was now tugging on his arm. “We can’t let him go alone.”
+++“Don’t worry, he’s doing the math. See – he’s stopped.” Bob was reluctant to be dragged into walking two thousand miles. Not that he had any engagements, work or otherwise. When he’d last called in for work, the lecture circuit for funeral speakers hadn’t anything for him but wailing gigs. “Check the local obits,” was their advice. He was single, too, no attachments there. Life was just the way he liked it.
+++“1,632 miles,” Old Spice announced. “That’s 544 hours if we don’t stop.” He read the street signs at Central Avenue and Oak Street. “The way is well marked.”
+++Piper’s insistent grip pulling him towards the Alien had fully extended his arm. Decision time. Go with her or fall on his face. “OKAY.” He stumbled forward, muttering. “But I ain’t walking. We hitchhike.”
+++“What’s hitch hiking?” Spice asked.
+++“You stand by the road and hook your thumb out like this,” Bob showed Spice, who stepped into the intersection holding up his thumb just as a blue bus covered in colorful lettering careened from around the corner into him. The spherical Alien concaved like a collapsing basketball then rebounded ahead of the bus now screeching to a halt. The bus and Spice rolled to a stop in front of Bob and Piper. She rushed to him. “Spice! Are you alright?” People piled out of the bus. “OMG!” and “It’s an alien,” some said while others checked the front of the bus. Bob helped Spice to his feet.
+++“My suit saved me.” The Alien brushed himself off.
+++Piper fingered his suit. “It looks like regular spandex.”
+++“I backed it with duct tape,” Spice explained, turning thoughtful. “Say, if you people are ever allowed to export, I’d start with duct tape. It would sell just about anywhere in the galaxy.”
+++“Are you injured?” A bearded young white man broke from the group of diverse young people around the bus. He stopped to look twice at Old Spice. “You’re an alien! Not that that’s bad.” He added hastily. “Aliens are welcome.”
+++“You’ll take us to Denver?”
+++“Uh. Well, we are headed west.” He extended his hand. “My name is Jackson, Jackson Pfizer.”
+++“Pleased to meet you, Jackson Jackson. May I call you Jackson?”
+++“Please do.” Jackson’s smile broke through the confused look on his face. “I just received my Doctorate in Social Media.” The confused look returned. “Well,” he backed away. “If you are OKAY….”
+++“I am, Doctor Jackson. Let’s go.” Spice boarded the bus.
+++Bob studied the bus. It was hand painted in the style of wall graffiti, a blue base covered with orange volcanoes erupting over yellow buildings toppling in earthquakes. Scrawled below the windows in big fluorescent lime green letters was, “Stop Continental Drift!” and “Pin The Plates!!” He grinned and followed Piper aboard. They headed west.
+++It didn’t take long to meet the other Doctorates on the bus, it being a short bus. Each had recently completed their PhD in a socially acceptable field and were doing their Residency on a government funded tour. Sitting with the group gathered around Spice, Bob studied their eager faces while Piper told him what he was seeing, one of her professional talents as a journalist. “Each represents a different culture.”
+++They were served tea by a girl with an angry look on her Oriental face who tried to smile but failing, supplicated, “We have to save the planet.” She offered Spice her hand, “Wang Fang. The name means aromatous in my language.”
+++Spice took her hand and licked it. “Your servant.”
+++“Spice!” Piper said sharply, shaking her head. “No!”
+++Wang pulled her hand away, looking at the three of them.
+++“He’s new here,” Bob pointed out by way of explanation. “Aromas are very important in his culture.”
+++“Please forgive him,” Piper encouraged, “Go on.”
+++Recovering quickly, Wang wiped the back of her hand on her cheongsam dress, straightened and archly said, “Continental drift is causing deadly earthquakes.” Recovering even more, she leaned forward and added conspiratorially, “That’s what killed all those people in Tiananmen Square.”
+++“What?!” Bob sprayed her beautiful silk dress with sipped tea.
+++Tian’anmén Guangchang in Standard Mandarin,” Spice said, one eye consulting his inner almanac. “Also known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace.”
+++Bob stared at the girl in outraged amazement. “That’s about the dumbest thing -”
+++“Hush!” Piper kicked him. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, Bob!”
+++The group twittered assent.
+++“Science has proven conclusively,” Jackson intervened, “That continents drift.” Speaking with smooth authority, he calmed his group by announcing what they already knew. “Our computer models predict that at the present rate of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, civilization will be destroyed in 37 years.”
+++Piper nodded, obviously impressed. “Computers don’t lie.”
+++“We stopped using computers long ago,” Spice said. “The input always predicts the output.”
+++“I’ll bet,” Bob smiled around at the group, “That you don’t need donors. With computer models that predict the future, you make your money on the stock market. Am I right?”
+++“Of course not,” Spice corrected him. “Science cannot predict the future. Empirical science is based on measurement; one cannot measure what does not exist.”
+++“Unbeliever!” someone hissed.
+++Obviously disturbed by the drift of the conversation, Jackson coughed for attention. “The majority of scientists believe we are right. As do prominent public figures and most of the taxpayers. All of which is borne out by numerous polls. You have to believe us.”
+++Spice smiled to show he was friendly. “Empirical science does not require belief,” he said quietly but firmly. “Why do you?”
+++“Anyone who tells you they know the future wants something from you.” Bob nudged Spice, laughing. “Keep your eye on the money.”
+++Jackson looked alarmed. “Surely you are not saying that the majority of informed scientific opinion is wrong?”
+++“Check your Braincrib Notes, Spice. See what our history has to say about other ‘proven scientific facts.’ Look up Eugenics.” Bob repeated for emphasis. “Really. Eugenics. It’s worth looking up. Scientists and politicians and ordinary people believed in that ‘science,’ too. Check out the harm and the murders that insanity caused.”
+++“Really!” Jackson huffed. “We are not promoting racist theories to Nazis.”
+++“Or selling Thalidomide to pregnant women,” reflected Wang Fang.
+++“People willingly give their money to save the planet.” Jackson waved an arm at his group who again twittered assent. “It’s a good thing.”
+++“They’re giving us a ride, Bob,” Piper said with finality. “Drop it.”
+++“Well, it’s not my decision to make, of course,” Bob conceded. “I just think all that money and talent could be doing something useful.”
+++The group’s agreeable twitter changed to an angry buzz. Several texted one another on their satellite phones. When Jackson’s phone chimed, he looked and announced, “We cannot give rides to deniers. To do so risks losing our grant money. Sorry,” he signaled the Haitian bus driver who pulled over and stopped. “You must get off, now.”
+++“The Alien stays,” Wang Fang held up her hand to Spice as he rose to depart. “I notified my sponsoring agency, DARPA, about you. They are sending a helicopter to take you to Denver.”
+++Spice pushed past her. “Thank you but no. My handicap is fear of flying.  An airliner sounds bad enough but a helicopter is unthinkable. I’ll hitch hike.”
+++Standing by the road as the bus sped off, Piper had to ask, “Who ever heard of a spaceman afraid to fly?”
+++“We all have some handicap. It was a mission qualification for relating to humans.”
+++“Well, I’m glad to be off that bus,” Bob said, heading into a nearby stand of trees. “I have to pee.”
+++“Me too.” Piper followed him.
+++Spice followed them both into the trees as a helicopter whooshed overhead and loosed a missile that blew up the bus.

Seeking a second, well maybe third, cup of morning coffee, I pass the TV and see Tea Party demonstrators on the same street as Black Lives Matter, separated by cops in the middle with dogs. Imagining PETA showing up to protect the police dogs sets me to grinning at the thought of feminists, environmentalists and immigration activists joining the melee, all for attention, donations and votes.

Diversity Faire
… to be continued
(Follow Writing DaysZ to read Bob Vs The Aliens as it is being written. To read Writing DaysZ 1-2, go to ROFLtimes.com/BvA.pdf)

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Serialization: Part one of a series …

… exploring the ins and outs of publishing a series. I’ve been considering the idea for some time, and GD’s in-house serial has spurred me to action.

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The Perils of Pauline, the most famous of the early-cinema serials.

I’m in my snatch-and-grab mode, picking brains. I start with a quick look-see: is an article potentially useful? I don’t over-think it. One good line and I scarf up the whole to digest and boil down later. I have a file with twenty pages and I’ve only just started.

Many sites specialize in the format. The one I like best so far is Plympton Publishing, but I don’t know how hard it is to get accepted. The key, of course, is … will they take you on? Then, what size readership do they have, of what inclinations?

I haven’t delved enough to be able to answer these basic questions, but I like what I read of them. Plympton was started by two members of the Harvard Crimson, and they serialize classic fiction. (Possibly new stuff as well? Dunno, yet.) So, they may have a soft spot for a classic-feel piece (author intrusion up-the-ass, silly footnotes an additional source of delight or irritation, depending on your tolerance for suchlike) detailing the faux-historical exploits of a pivotal figure in a previously undisclosed event in Elizabethan politics … who happens to be a cat.

I’m excited by what I read. Again, it’s no silver bullet. Have your sales mechanism in shape, in case you should be eagerly sought out. (I can dream, can’t I?) For me, that means my website in full flower, all them back pages linked to a menu, discoverable. Most of the serial sites (so I understand) do not pay; think of the process as a teaser with wide exposure.

My intention is to publish my novella free-to-all on my website. Would a serial site object to a competing outlet? No problem. They can have book one, I still have books two and three to myself. Does this hobble an eventual pub-for-a-price? I don’t think so. I’ll handle it the way I’ve handled the novella.

I’ve temporarily removed a lot of juicy material to streamline a shortie. And I’ve added mucho speculation on matters that are still up in the air. Nothing I write is ever set for good and all. I revise constantly. Something in the news knocks me out, that might work for Sly? In it goes. I have no shame. I steal (hmmm … adapt) right and left.

So: does a fake sighting of the Virgin Mary ever come to pass, or do my creatures only discuss it? This is one of my favorite gimmicks for getting business in without actually getting it in.

Spoiler: Yes. The Virgin Mary visitation does transpire. It’s got to. The official from the Inquisition who shows up to vet the miracle turns out to be an old client of way-past-her-prime Buttercup (I conceived her while reading Princess Bride), a street-walker roped into the scheme. As a witness! No one actually sees the Blessed Virgin. Like at Lourdes, it’s all say-so. This situation is the answer to another problem I’ve been wrestling with. The fool is able to be blackmailed. Sly needs something done for him, and the scum-bucket is just the one, the perfect one, to do it.

Buttercup recognizes her interrogator from her glory days in a top house in Paris, where she role-played Virgin Mary for a sicko who liked to dress as a priest and pretend to bang … uh huh. C’mon, how can I not go in that direction? Too too tasty not to at least explore. (It’s not yet written.) To bypass the gotta-be-a-total-riot bit, impossible!

In my next post I will try to answer the following questions:

> What are the various forms of serialization?   > What are the advantages?   > Who has been successful at it, and how have they handled it?

Part three will be a report of my explorations. I’ll contact a few of these sites and get the low-down. Leave no stone unturned, that’s the name of this game, right?

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No Stone Unturned #1: Anybody got a kit-cat who might pose prettily in a tiny pair of boots? A photo would be great, a video even better (with a voice-over of the animal’s musings), posted to YouTube. Your cat could be the new Grumpy Cat.

Our Gang of Four is having none of it. Our guys are hopeless.

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No Stone Unturned #2: I am just now reading about a service called Thunderclap, that sends out a one-time announcement of a book’s being published. You must have a hundred people sign up on your behalf, but I guess the notice gets emailed to their entire bank of subscribers.

But!honestly, how likely am I to pay attention to an email notification for a book I’ve never heard of? Not very. Don’t we all go through the reams in our in-boxes, delete, delete, delete?

I’ll check this out also.

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What might make me open and read the email is a great title. I’ve pondered what makes me pull a book off the shelf in a store, when all I see is a spine. A book/author I’ve heard about/admire, that’ll do it. Other than that, it’s the title! A really interesting title! That reflects, hopefully, an interesting mind-set. Not another The Something-Something Saga. There’s way too much of that. Boring!

When Harry Met Sally, that was a great title. Bob vs. the Aliens, that’s another.

The thumbnails on Amazon may get my attention, but they do not get me to buy. It’s a title that tempts me to read the blurb, and/or the Look Inside.

This might be a good topic to discuss. I’ll tackle it myself, if no one else gets to it first.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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reading

The Channillo Challenge

NNickleby

Nicholas Nickleby, published as a serial in 1838-39

I’ve finished my gig with Channillo. 52 piece of WaLWaD, starting with Calliope, who kicked off the series on June 1st a year ago. You won’t have heard of it – WaLWaD, I mean, not Channillo. But if you haven’t heard of Channillo either, it is, to quote their site, ‘a subscription-based digital publishing platform that allows writers to share their work with readers in regular installments.’ In other words, (most of the time) serialized fiction.

Now we’ve had some discussion about this here on the site, thanks to GD’s serial Bob Versus the Aliens (which is, incidentally, as zany and entertaining as the title implies). So how does it work on Channillo? The main point is that readers actually pay to read. Yes, you read that right. Strange as it may sound, such readers exist! The cheapest option is $4.99/month, which gives you from one to ten series of your choice. Might as well go for the whole ten, right? In which case, it’s not a bad deal – you just have to find the time to read them. You’ll be spoilt for choice – at least 400 titles in a broad range of genres, from historical to paranormal, but also including nonfiction and poetry. And for writers it’s not bad either – 80% of the royalties, with the first payment made when $50 is reached.

So where’s the catch? Well, that brings me back to WaLWaD – What a Life! What a Day! The reason you haven’t heard of it is that I didn’t promote it. I did a few tweets at the start but they soon fizzled out. Oh, and a blog post back in January. That was it. My apathy had a number of reasons. Firstly, WaLWaD is humour, totally different from my books, which are mystery. So I wasn’t sure that promoting it would be of much use for the books, which are challenging enough to promote already. But more importantly, though I’m pleased enough overall, some of the pieces were pretty close to first drafts, penned in haste on a Sunday evening to meet the Monday deadline. Would readers notice? I don’t know. But I wasn’t too happy promoting material I knew could be better.

As for my earnings, well, put it this way: that first payment is still up ahead in the distance. Which is a shame because it’s not for me but the Against Malaria Foundation. That’s one of the options – you can pass on the royalties to a charity of your choice. Will I get there one day? Let’s be optimistic – yes! And the quicker the better – fewer people will die of malaria in the meantime. You see what I did in that last sentence? Hint, hint. And because the series is completed, you could sign up for just a month and get the whole lot in one go. Crafty, eh?

So yes, you have to promote. And I’m not the only one who didn’t do enough of that. After seventeen weeks of posting a chapter each Sunday, I went from having four subscribers to two. I asked for analytics of how many people visited the site, clicked on my chapter descriptions, etc, but was told they wouldn’t make that available. So writes Philip Carroll, who took his serial down and put it on his blog instead.

So is this another blog post about something that doesn’t work? It would be unfair to leave you with that impression. So I approached a couple of other writers, rather more active than I am, to see if they could report more success. My sincere thanks to Bill McStowe and Chris Waltz for answering my questions.

Bill McStowe, author of the humour series Uncharted.

How actively do you promote your series and where?

I’m active on Twitter and try to draw attention to my series at least once a day. You can find me @BillMcStowe. I also promote Channillo itself and some of the other writers. Similarly, there are writers who help promote my work.

 How positively would you rate Channillo overall?

 It has been a positive experience for me, but I am aware that this is not the case for everyone. Some very talented writers have left the site and I miss reading their work.

Channillo has given me the opportunity to reach more readers. I like that. A lot of the readers on the site are Channillo authors, but I see a consistent effort to draw an outside audience. We’re asking people to pay for a subscription for the right to read when there are thousands of sites out there with free material. That’s a tall order.

 Would you say it has driven interest towards your writing in general i.e. beyond the Channillo series in particular?

No, I can’t say that. I’d like to believe it, but I’m not sure it’s true. Actually, I haven’t done much other writing since my series began. Spending hours a week meeting a self-imposed deadline has left me little room to do much else. This weekend, though, I’m making time to cut my toenails.

Chris Waltz, author of the horror-comedy series, Hellbound.

Generally, I promote my Channillo series through Facebook and Twitter. I’m a part of several writer and reader groups who are fairly supportive. Twitter has been my best avenue, because other Channillo writers tend to share the posts with their followers as well. As far as popularity goes, I have to say I’m not 100% sure how popular my series is on the website, but I know it has garnered some popularity as far as new followers and social media interactions outside of the Channillo site.

I never had plans of getting rich or famous from my Channillo series, and I haven’t, but I have been pleased with the number of people it has gotten my name to as a writer. It’s also something I feel comfortable using as a resume builder of sorts, because I was approached to write the series and it was the first writing project I began that wasn’t self-published. Since then, I have had several short stories published in more well-known publications. I have a second Channillo series debuting in a couple of months, and I am generally happy with my experience.

So yes, there are happy authors on Channillo, which I continue to believe is a highly commendable initiative. You can read a fuller review of Channillo here. And while we’re on the topic of serialisation, stay tuned to this site for an upcoming set of posts about it by Mimi Speike. Also, don’t forget to check out Bob Versus the Aliens, as well as the excellent serial Voyage of the Ballyhoo, posted on his website by Atthys Gage. Though Atthys is our resident maven of gloom, you’ll see that anyone who can spin such a yarn has nothing to be gloomy about.

As for me? Call me crazy if you like, but I’m planning another series for Channillo. Those damned mozzies, you understand.

Are you running a series on your own blog? If so, let me know in the comments – I’d be glad to go on over and take a look.

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