Thursday, October 30, 2014

What Time Is the Tea Kettle?

So I'm not much into promotion, even self-promotion; however, when I have a new product out, I figure I ought to at least mention it. Speaking of which, my new thing is out! Actually, it's two things. Two novelettes about the same character and his cat. I posted an excerpt from it quite a while back on a different site, so I'll give you that same taste in a moment. I'd call this new story whimsical. Definitely offbeat.

Bryan Pedas, from A Beer for the Shower, put together the spectacular cover, and I think he captured the feel of the story pretty well. He called it "absurdist" rather in the same vein as Carroll's Wonderland. Did you know that there's no real category for that? Well, there's not.

Briane Pagel, who also got an early look, said it's "perfect."

And my students, who also got to hear the excerpt, can't wait to find out what happens to Jeffry and what's up with the tea kettle.

I'm just going to say it: If you've liked anything I've written, this is one you should read.

PLUS! Not only do you get "What Time Is the Tea Kettle?" but you also get "Soul Cakes"! A second novelette featuring Jeffry and his owner. That's two for the price of one! Seriously, go pick up your copy, read it, love it, and leave a review!

Just to help you on the way, here is a bit of "What Time Is the Tea Kettle?"

The red tea kettle was blocking my view of the clock. It kept doing that. I sighed as I rolled over and sat up in bed. It was new and hadn't yet learned its place, so I picked it up by the handle and carried it out of the bedroom, down the darkened hall, and into the kitchen, only once stepping on one of the cat's toys, quite an accomplishment. I flicked the little stove light on and set the kettle on the counter.
What time was it again? That was when I realized that I'd forgotten to check the time after I picked up the kettle, so I glanced at the stove clock in the dim light of the kitchen to find it blocked by the red tea kettle, handle up so that I couldn't read the time. I glanced over to the counter top where I was sure I had just set it, but, yes, it was not there. I sighed again, shook my head slightly, and picked the tea kettle back up, looking for somewhere else to set it. It needed a place, its own place, to be. Maybe, then, it would quit wandering around.
I could put it in a cupboard, but that would just be inconvenient, having to get it in and out all of the time. I wanted it to live on the stove but on the burner where it wouldn't block the clock.
Oh! The clock. I wanted to know the time. I looked over at the clock, and there was the tea kettle again. Hadn't it just been in my hand? I was sure I hadn't set it down.
I reached for it again, but, at that moment, the cat floated by, ghostlike, doing whatever it is that cats do at night. He brushed my cheek with his tail as he lightly pressed one paw onto my shoulder as he passed by. Looking for flying bugs, I supposed.
His sudden spring to the ceiling almost caught me by surprise, and I saw him going for the spider in the corner where the ceiling met both walls on that side of the dining room that adjoined the kitchen.
The cat stiffened, caught in the act, but he couldn't stop like he would have been able to if he'd been on the floor. He looked back over his shoulder at me and “mew”ed just as he collided with the ceiling and bounced to the wall, grabbing hold with his claws.
The spider scurried into the crack where the two pieces of trim met. I could see him peeking out but was too far away to hear the cursing that I was sure was happening. Spiders like very much to curse. Most of them, anyway. Tarantulas are above that sort of thing. Or so they say.
The cat arched his back and, then, marched down the wall studiously ignoring me as I scolded him, “Geoffrey, what have I told you about the spiders? We leave the spiders alone. Spiders are good.” I spoke slowly and distinctly, as if he was hard of hearing, which, honestly, at that moment, he was.
When he got close enough, he leaped from the wall to the dining table and sat like the puff of smoke he had originally been named for.
I sighed and shook my head at the cat, thinking back to the small, gray puffball he'd been when he'd shown up on my doorstep. Like a puff of smoke when you blow out a match or a candle. All except for the toes on his front paws, which were white. I had determined to call him Smoke and actually had for a number of weeks.
Until my nephew came to visit.
He's my sister's kid. We don't ever see each other, my sister and me, unless she needs something. That particular day, she had needed me to babysit, her usual reason for seeing me, so she had dropped my nephew off at an obscene hour on a Saturday morning. A time when normal people are still sleeping. My nephew came in asking, “What's for lunch?”
I told him it was too early for lunch, to which he replied, “Actually, it's late for lunch. At school, it's already nap time.”
I grumbled and went to grub around in the kitchen and look for food.
He met the cat while I was trying to find slices of leftover pizza that I could pick enough of the mushrooms off of that it would convince him to pretend they weren't really there to begin with.
“Warm or cold?” I shouted out into the room with the TV that only worked three days a week.
“Cold's fine.”
“It's going to the table, then. Why don't you bring Smoke, and you can feed him some treats while we're eating.”
That's the great thing about pizza: I was about to have it for breakfast, and my nephew was having it for lunch, and we were both perfectly satisfied that all was right with the world with that arrangement.
He plopped the kitten down on the table in much the same spot as he was currently sitting and eyeing me sullenly for the scolding.
As I dropped several cat treats into the boy's hand, he said, “Why do you call him Smoke?”
“That's his name.”
“No, it's not.” He said it very matter-of-factly, very like when he had said, “At school, it's already nap time.”
That was annoying. I wasn't even awake yet. No pizza. No coffee. And less than four hours of sleep. “Yes, it is. I named him that.”
He looked at the cat, held out the hand with the treats, and cocked his head slightly as the cat took one and sat down with it.
“He says he already has a name, and he doesn't like Smoke.”
“What's wrong with Smoke?”
The boy shrugged, “I don't know. He says he doesn't like it.”
“Why didn't he tell me, then?” I raised one eyebrow at the kid, thinking I'd won.
He glanced back at the kitten and offered him another treat. The pizza, his slice and mine, was just sitting there on our plates waiting to be eaten, making me cranky, while my nephew chastised me on behalf of the ball of fur that looked like it was about to drift away.
“He says he did tell you. He says you don't listen.”
“I do, too, listen.” I crossed my arms, thinking back, trying to figure out if I'd been listening. I wasn't sure, and that made me more cranky, because the kid might be right.
“If you listened, you'd know his name is Jeffry.”
“Jeffry?” I blinked, stared at the kid, and picked up my slice of pizza. Just to make a statement by doing it. “What kind of name is Jeffry for a cat?”
The small shoulders of the boy shrugged as he took a bite of his pizza, “I don't know. I just know that's his name.”
I waved my pizza in the air, “I like Smoke better.”
With his mouth stuffed, barely comprehensible, he replied, “He doesn't like Smoke.”
“So. He's my cat.” I obstinately took a bite of my pizza.
The cat made a cat noise, not quite a meow, that I didn't catch. I should have, but it sounded jumbled.
After a moment of chewing, the boy said, “Jeffry says he'll call you Bob.”
“But my name's not...” I ripped a big hunk of pizza off with my teeth and sent it spluttering everywhere as I said, “Fine!” After I swallowed, I added, “Geoffrey, it is.” Internally, I smiled, knowing that neither of them could spell so couldn't tell that I had given the cat a name I wanted to give him anyway.
As the cat sat on the table and stared at me, I wasn't entirely sure he hadn't known all along. Cats always look like they have secrets, even when they don't. Who knows what was going on in that cat's head.
I saw the spider creeping back out of the crack in the ceiling, and I glanced up at it, “You leave that spider alone.”
The cat stood up, turned, and lifted its tail to me as it hopped off of the table, drifting off through the house but near the floor this time.
I stood there a moment in the arbitrary division between the kitchen and dining room completely unaware of what I was doing. Why I was up. What time it even was.
Oh! The time! I turned back to the stove, and there was the red tea kettle again blocking the clock. I grabbed the tea kettle and jerked it from the stove. 1:16 glowed dimly in green on the little panel on the back of the stove where the knobs are, and I stood there staring at the readout. I didn't even remember why I'd wanted to know what time it was. Or why I was awake...
Why was I awake? Something had woken me up. That's why I had been trying to look at the time. Oh, well. I had no idea what it was, if I had ever known at all. What I did know is that I was going back to bed.

I sighed and raised the red tea kettle up to eye level, “But what do I do with you?” I yawned, shook my head, and set the tea pot back down on the stove. I'd figure it out later.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Exploring Personality: A Reiteration (and a Preface)

Because there seems to be some confusion on this point, let me go back over the basis of the Enneagram again.

As a personality system, the Enneagram deals with primary motivations not behaviors. It is different from other personality profiling systems in that, because virtually every other personality system out there is based off of the Myers-Briggs to some extent, and it is a behavior based system. Yes, behaviors can change, especially over time and with maturity. That means that you may test differently on the Myers-Briggs at 40 than you did at 20. So, although the Enneagram looks at behaviors, it is not looking for behaviors, and that is a huge difference. Your primary internal motivation almost never changes. Seriously. And, no, you can't have more than one primary motivation (which is also why I hate "favorites" lists that have dozens of items on them). With the Enneagram, because it is looking past the behaviors to see what is driving them, people virtually always test the same at 40 as they did at 18. It is very rare (very) that someone's Enneagram type changes, and, if it does, it's usually because they suffered some sort of traumatic event.

Now, this does not mean that you might not get different results on an online test even from week to week, but that's because online tests are generally not very comprehensive. People want to sit down and do the thing in less than 10 minutes, so those things tend to be not very comprehensive. Added to that is the fact that people are often not very honest even with themselves or they might feel differently one day than they did the day before. A cursory 10-minute test is not going to catch those kinds of fluctuations.

However, having worked with the actual tests (the ones that take hours to complete because they have hundreds of questions) and having worked with experts who do this stuff for a living, I can speak for the veracity of the system as a whole. It's possible that personality type is fluid when you're a kid but, by the time you've made it through adolescence, your type is pretty much set. You have a primary motivation that directs the way you interact with the world. It may assert itself in different types of behaviors, mostly based upon your emotional state, but the same motivation is behind it.

And that is why this stuff works so well when developing characters for books. For making your characters believable. If you know what the motivations are for your characters, you can make them behave in believable ways. Nothing kills a book quicker than characters doing things that are, well, out of character. As I said before, "Stupidity is not the same as personality," and having a character make a stupid choice to move the plot along doesn't mean that it's a choice the character would have made. When the audience responds, "He would never have done that!" you know you've done something wrong. When they see the stupid choice coming, though, and fear it, you know you've done it right because, then, the readers are seeing the personality and the motivations of the character.

At any rate, I would suggest that you take the test, not necessarily so that you'll know what type you are, just so that you can see how it works. If you do want to know for yourself, though, be honest with your answers. I left a link to the test back in this post. If you take it, let me know what you are.

Now, on to other things! Other thing, Here's your introduction to the next triad of personality types.
Enneagram types 5, 6, and 7 make up the intellectual triad of the Enneagram. These types are data based. They are information gatherers. They tend to react to situations from a more rational viewpoint, especially when compared to the emotional triad (types 2, 3, and 4). Where other types, when asked why they did something, may say, "I don't know," the intellectuals can almost always tell you exactly why they made the decision they made and hand you the numbers to back it up. Their emotional center is fear; gathering information and making informed decisions is a way of combating that fear. The intellectuals are also attracted to ideas and ideals; relationships are less important and can sometimes be means of achieving other objectives.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Afterlife Series

With Halloween and the Day of the Dead coming up, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the dead, or specifically, customs and beliefs about the afterlife. I talked briefly about Navajo beliefs last week. However, that's only one culture. If you want to read about a variety of afterlife beliefs, I recommend Terri Bruce's Afterlife series. (These two books were originally traditionally published, but after some problems with her publisher, Bruce was able to get the rights back and republished them herself.) Currently, there are two books in the series: Hereafter and Thereafter. I think the next one will be called Whereafter, but I have no idea when it will be released.

I reviewed Hereafter and Thereafter in April's issue of Indie Writers Monthly. (That issue is no longer available on its own, but you can still get it as part of the October 2014 issue.) The two books follow Irene Dunphy as she progresses through various stages of the afterlife. The first book, Hereafter, follows Irene right after her death. She remains on Earth as a ghost, able to see the people she loves but unable to talk to them. The only living person she can talk to is Jonas (I think that's his name), a teenage boy who has researched death and is able to see dead people. Jonas acts as Irene's guide to the afterlife, explaining all the customs he's read about from different cultures. (For example, in one scene, Irene visits a place in Chinatown where offerings are left for the dead.) Deaths and burials are important, since objects buried with dead people can be used by them. Irene died in a car crash, so everything that was in her car crosses over with her, giving her an advantage. Irene and Jonas review death customs to figure out why some dead people have progressed past Earth while others remain behind.

In the second book, Irene progresses to another level of the afterlife but finds herself, along with countless others from many historical areas, stuck and unable to move farther. I don't want to give details away, but the obstacle is a well-known one from myth. Fortunately, she is still able to communicate with Jonas, and his knowledge of burial customs becomes key to resolving the plot.

If there is interest, next week I can talk about two other indie books I read this year that have different takes on dying and the afterlife.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Six -- "I'm special!"

"You are all individuals!"
"I'm not."
--If you don't know, you don't deserve to know

Preface: Enneagram types 2, 3, and 4 make up the emotional triad of the enneagram chart. These three types both act on and react to the world based on how they feel. Decisions are emotion-based and relationships are of primary importance. These three types also tend to be preoccupied with success and status or success as in how it relates to status. These are the romantic, love-is-all-you-need people.

The Individualist

The temptation when dealing with type Four is to think of that weird kid in high school who was striving to completely different from everyone else. Maybe it was the goth girl artist chick who glared at everyone and went on about how she was just "misunderstood" or, maybe, it was the kind of creepy guy who was always taking pictures of everyone for the school newspaper or the yearbook. In the workplace, it could be that guy who refuses to follow procedures and must do everything his own way because that's just who he is. That would be a limited way of viewing the Individualist, because it could also be your friend who is always going on about how one day her one, true love, the one who sees her for who she really is, will come and everything will be right in the world. You know, this person:

See, Fours are also known as the Romantics, but it's not because they're "romantic;" it's because they have this idealized view of a possible world. Sometimes, that idealized view of a possible world requires an idealized, perfect love, the person who will see through them to their real selfs and make the world right so that they are no longer tortured outsiders.

To say that Fours are complicated or that they make things complicated may well be an understatement. Fours both isolate themselves in their individuality and want to be rescued from it. They cling to their emotions, often especially the negative ones, while feeling like they  have something missing in them so become searchers. They sense that emotions are fluid and want to move along with them but have often locked themselves into one particular identity that they can't let go of. They can be aloof while lamenting that their different-ness keeps them separated from people. Because "people" will never be able to understand them.

Fours are the epitome of the tortured artist. And, just as an example (though this is something I will not normally do but am making an exception due to the writing nature of all of this), here are some notable Fours:
Edgar Allan Poe
Virginia Woolf
Tennessee Williams
J. D. Salinger
Anne Rice
Hank Williams
Judy Garland
Bob Dylan
Paul Simon
Angelina Jolie
Johnny Depp

Fours frequently focus on what they see in themselves as deficiencies or, basically, the things that separate them from others. This starts at a young age and they will hold onto these things and keep them secret, building up a "secret self" that no one else can understand or accept. What they want and long for, though, is for someone to come along who will accept and even appreciate this hidden self. As time passes and this fails to happen, the Four becomes  fiercely independent and individualistic, refusing help because the Four must do it all on his own. Even if it is detrimental to the Four which only increases the isolationism.

The biggest obstacle to growth for Fours can often be their resistance to letting go of past, painful experiences that they have incorporated into their "identity," things that strengthen their view of themselves as "unique" and "special" and "set apart." However, when they find that relationship or community that makes them feel accepted, they can become more objective with their feelings, processing them and moving past them more readily. This can open them up to creative freedom where they are willing to share very personal, even painful experiences, with the world.

When put into stressful situations or stuck in relationships where they feel they have to hide their "true" selves, Fours can abandon their individuality and become clingy, emotional sponges, unable to function on their own. They become ingratiating, trying to be noticed and liked, hoping that someone will see them for how special they are while in a place where any creative spark is buried as they push people away by chasing after favor.

One other thing of note: Fours often develop, secret, idealized fantasy selves that they believe is who they really are, if only that persona could get out. Think "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty."

Fours tend to be introverts. Although they may desire acclaim, they are emotionally reclusive, looking for that one (or just a few) special relationship. Basically, they spend all of their time within themselves. They may be empathetic when at their best, but they rarely reach out to the masses.

I'm going to leave you with this song, which strikes me as rather a Four theme song. It's a song I really like by one of my favorite bands. Enjoy.

A last note: I am not a Four. Just to be clear.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Story Research--Death in Navajo Culture

The next story in the Catalyst Chronicles series will feature Julia Kee, a minor character from Twinned Universes. (In case you're wondering when I'll return to this series, it'll be after I finish revising Scattered Seasons, sequel to the just-released Seasons' Beginnings.) Julia Kee is half-Navajo and spent a lot of her childhood as a member of the Navajo Nation. Part of the reason it's taking me so long to write her story is that I needed to learn more about Navajo culture. With Halloween and All Saints' Day fast approaching, I thought it would be interesting to share a few tidbits I learned about how death is regarded in Navajo culture. Many of these I picked up by reading Tony Hillerman's Leaphorn and Chee mystery series. He was considered a friend of the Navajo people, and in my opinion, he does a good job of portraying Navajo attitudes.

  • The Navajo view death as a necessary part of life, as a way of making sure there weren't too many people.
  • However, Navajos consider corpses unclean and avoid touching or going into a residence where someone has died. If they must touch a body, they will have a medicine man conduct a sing for them to restore themselves to harmony.
  • Navajos will avoid speaking the name of a dead person because they do not want to attract the attention of the dead.
  • The Navajo believe that the evil parts of a person live on as an evil spirit called a chindi. If a person dies in a building, they believe the chindi is trapped inside. Therefore, they break a hole in the north wall of the hogan (north is the direction of evil) and do not use that hogan again.
  • The formal mourning process lasts for four days. Four is a sacred number to the Navajo, and they believe this is how long it takes the deceased spirit to travel to the underworld.
You can find some additional information at this link.

 If I had time, I would have made this into a month-long series about death in different cultures. Unfortunately, I've been too busy to research this. Fortunately, I know another indie author who has researched many death customs and included them in her books. I'll discuss them next week. If we're lucky, she might answer a few questions for me too.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Publishing Perspective From Raymond Chandler

I've been reading an omnibus of Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe books lately.  The Long Goodbye is Chandler's penultimate Marlowe book, published in 1953.  In one scene, a guy who works for a publisher in New York asks to meet Marlowe in LA to discuss a writer who's having trouble finishing a book that could mean a lot of money for the company.  The publisher guy says he's carrying three manuscripts in his briefcase that he'll probably reject.

Marlowe asks, "How do you know you are going to reject them?"
"If they were any good, they wouldn't be dropped at my hotel by the writers in person.  Some New York agent would have them."
"Then why take them at all?"
"Partly not to hurt feelings.  Partly the thousand-to-one chance all publishers live for.  But mostly you're at a cocktail party and get introduced to all sorts of people, and some of them have novels written and you are just liquored up enough to be benevolent and full of love for the human race, so you say you'd love to see the script.  It is then dropped at your hotel with such sickening speed that you are forced to go through the motions of reading it."

This was back in 1953.  It's an even tougher business today.  But yeah this is the kind of stuff that happens with publishers.  It's good advice then not to get too excited about getting a full or partial reading.  The agent or editor might just be liquored up enough to think your sample pages look good.

Keep Calm And Read This Book About A Stupid Pineapple and An Interstellar War.

While waiting for my scifi novel to come out (probably next spring and now called Codes instead of Find Out Who You Are ), I've finally published the long-awaited sequel to my best-selling book Santa, Godzilla & Jesus Walk Into A Bar...:  This one's called "This Stupid Pineapple Is..." It's free on Amazon from Monday, 10/20 through Friday, 10/24.  

As an added bonus, there are short stories from Andrew Leon, Nigel Mitchell, and Phillip Leon, so it's like getting FOUR books for the price of one and the price of that ONE is FREE.  Also, its not actually like four books, as the three additions are short stories. But they could be VERY SHORT books. Anyway, its free.


If you're STILL undecided you can click this link to read Chapter One on my blog, but, again: FREE. So you could go click one of those links to get the whole book free, or click this link to get one chapter free:

Part One: Wishes can come true, if only you believe hard enough. (And also own a pineapple.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Five -- "I'm the best there is at what I do."

"Recognition is the greatest motivator."

Preface: Enneagram types 2, 3, and 4 make up the emotional triad of the enneagram chart. These three types both act on and react to the world based on how they feel. Decisions are emotion-based and relationships are of primary importance. These three types also tend to be preoccupied with success and status or success as in how it relates to status. These are the romantic, love-is-all-you-need people.

The Achiever

Last post (in this series) we were talking about those people that get involved in everything because they want to help. Now, we move on to those people that get involved in everything because they want to be in charge. Not that being in charge is goal; they just want to be as successful as possible, which usually ends with them being in charge. This is that person you knew in high school who was student council president... and president of the honor society... probably captain of the sportsball team... and, maybe, even captain of the debate team. All of that and a 4.0 GPA to boot. None of these things is because the person is more talented than other people or smarter than other people but because the person is more driven to succeed. The classic example of the overachiever.

Meet Type Three: the Achiever.

Achievers derive their sense of worth from being successful. Or, rather, through the admiration they receive from their success. They are driven to surpass those around them in whatever field or arena they're in. They need to be the best. As such, their image becomes an all-encompassing thing for them. Status becomes an obsession.

Achievers are almost always extroverts. They thrive on attention and admiration, and those things can be difficult for introverts to deal with (who certainly don't develop lifestyles of attention-seeking behavior). But Achievers, unconsciously, look for those things that will bring them the most attention. And they're going to look good doing it. They're good at social situations, often charismatic, and adept at getting into the spotlight.

However, their drive for accolades causes them to lose touch with themselves. Of the three emotional types, Threes, so focused on what they need to do to get others to notice them, forget about themselves. From a young age, Threes become inherently good at figuring out what those around them esteem and pursuing those activities. Even if those things are not things they care about or have any aptitude for. For instance, a very academically oriented child may take up a sport (like football) and focus on getting good at that one thing if that is the thing his father holds as valuable. Or a girl may grow up trying to be as boyish as possible to please a father who wanted a son. Generally, by the time Achievers have reached adulthood, they have completely lost touch with the things they were naturally drawn to as children.

At their heart, Threes feel or fear they are worthless. This is the motivation to success and validation. If they receive external validation, it submerges their internal fears. It also submerges their internal desires and can result in "relationships" (including marriage) that only exist to meet external "demands" of success, i.e. "I must have a spouse who is attractive and/or wealthy."

Generally speaking, Achievers are decisive. They know what they need to do to get ahead in any situation. However, put them in unfamiliar surroundings and they can lose the ability to make decisions. If they can't see or feel their way to success in the new environment, they can relinquish their ability to make decisions to those around them, going along with the popular or most forceful opinion. Put into a situation where they can't rise to the top (because there are other more talented people around them), they can become vindictive and undermining, doing their best to sabotage the efforts of others and bring them down to their own level. Or just make them look bad.

When a Three is in a place of security, the Three knows he is valuable even in failure. They can become committed to others and inspire a desire to succeed in those around them. Threes can be very charismatic. Whereas an insecure Three may inspire loyalty from others due to their decisive, charismatic personality, a secure Three returns that loyalty and will strive to lift others up, not just stand on their shoulders.

Just as a note, the Three is also known as The Performer, but that is not meant in an entertainment kind of way (even though many Three do become entertainers of various types). It is meant in the way that Threes must perform at high levels due to their internal motivation to succeed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What I (Briefly) Think About When I Think About "Empircal Evidence" by Bryan Pedas and Brandon Meyers

Usually, my reviews of books and movies are longer than they really have any need to be, and I am in fact working on a longer review of the excellent book The Sensationally Absurd Life And Times Of Slim Dyson, by these same guys, but this story is actually a short one, so I can do a shorter review.

Lately, I have not been very into books.  The last two weeks I have started reading and then stopped reading at least four or five different books, including a volume of short stories, "Bad Doctor" by John Locke (hated -- HATED!-- the narrator and his stupid rambling voice within pages of beginning the book), something called The Financial Lives Of Poets that was sort of like Breaking Bad starring "Taco" from The League, and more.  I thought perhaps it was me, that I was going through a phase where I didn't feel much like reading.  But tonight I left in my car the one book that has been engaging me lately ("S" by J.J. Abrams, but it's a tough and sometimes annoying read) and I didn't feel like going through the multiple levels of security to get to my car in the garage and so while the boys were taking their baths and I was waiting for them to finish splashing water all over every surface in the bathroom, I got out my Kindle, sat in the hall, and opened up "Empirical Evidence", from the guys who write the blog A Beer For The Shower.

"Come on guys, don't let me down," I thought to myself, and THEY DID NOT.

"Empirical Evidence" is deserving of one of the highest compliments I can give a story: I was disappointed to see it end.  About 3/4 of the way through it I checked to see how much I had left to read and saw that I was 3/4 of the way through it and panicked a little, because the story was so great.

The Beer For The Shower guys I already knew are great writers.  Their blog is hilarious and the Slim Dyson book was really good, but in this story they showed a whole different level of skill.

The story itself is a good one; told from the perspective of a press-flack for an Emperor, it drops the reader into some sort of autocratic city-state that is slowly crushing the rebels in a war.  The opening pages, which do nothing more than set up the premise and relay information to people, are well-written enough that it doesn't register as an information dump, and it was while I was reading the beginning of this story that I realized it wasn't me that was the problem recently but the books that I'd been trying to read: they were poorly written, either because the stories themselves were stupid (that Financial Poets thing) or because the writing itself was pedestrian (isn't John Locke supposed to be a big deal? I bet 99% of his sales are just because of the cover art. Which was, admittedly, a big part of why I downloaded it.)

Anyway, my point is that in the first couple pages of this story, Pedas and Meyers have to set up a whole world, and they do that with writing that actually made me want to keep reading.  Part of it is the way they kept sort of hinting at how terrible this world is, and the idea that something big is going to happen, but the other part of it is just skillful writing that made me want to find out what happens to this flunkie.

It isn't until a bit into the story that the first event really happens: the main character, "Baron" is entering the palace and confronts a beautiful rebel he suspects is lurking there to kill the emperor, and at that point the story just takes off.  Already a pretty good story, it becomes a page-turner from there and saying more would spoil the impact of it.

I got to the end of the story pretty quickly, and the second-highest compliment I could pay a story is this: I couldn't wait to tell someone else to go read it. In fact, I'd have posted this review earlier except that I had to clean up the bathroom and then our youngest was using the computer to watch the Archer episode where they go into space, and while there are those who would say you shouldn't let an 8-year-old watch Archer, to them I say... I digress.  Go read Empirical Evidence by Brandon Meyers and Bryan Pedas.



Monday, October 13, 2014

Some Thoughts on Pre-Orders and Templates

My next book, Seasons' Beginnings, will be published as an e-book next week on 10/21. (Hopefully I can approve the print version this week.) Every time I put a new book out, I like to try something different to see what works for this book. Plus, the field of self-publishing is constantly changing, so there's always something new to try. This time around, there were two new developments I didn't have when Twinned Universes came out: Amazon pre-orders and two-way templates.

When Amazon annouced indies could do pre-orders this summer, it was the perfect timing for Seasons' Beginnings. I had just finished my own revisions and was ready for my beta readers. So I estimated how long I would need to get feedback from my beta readers, make revisions, update the front and back matter, proofread, and do everything else I needed to do before publishing the book. I gave myself over two months, and I needed the full time. Amazon started sending me warning e-mails about a week before the deadline (ten days before publication date), and I didn't get the final version ready until last Thursday, the day before it was due. (I even found a few things to change after that, but apparently you can upload new final versions of the book during the ten-day waiting period without any problems.) It was a bit stressful, but having the due date forced me to focus on this job instead of another project. The Amazon page for the book went live as soon as I scheduled the pre-order, so that gave me a couple of extra months to link to and promote the book. And now that all the hard work is done, I can focus on marketing and planning a book tour. I didn't expect a lot of pre-orders for a new book in a new series by an obscure authors, but I have received a few. It's a very gratifying and humbling feeling; I hope the readers find my book worth it.

Something that helped me stay on schedule was using a two-way template for the eBook and the paper book. I bought it from Book Designer Templates; this is the specific template I chose. You can buy either a single-use license or a multiple-book license; I bought a multiple-book license so the entire series will have a consistent look. It was fairly easy to use; all I had to do was copy-and-paste my book into the template and insert section breaks as appropriate. I did have a few issues with the section breaks, but I think that was because I chose the wrong type of break. Front matter comes pre-formatted; I had to add my own back matter. The template takes care of hyphenation. I normally don't use chapter titles, but I did with this template since they were built-in. (They were handy later on for the Table of Contents.) While I still had some issues with formatting the print book (which is always the hardest, most time-consuming part of publishing for me), the problems were restricted to things such as section breaks and the Table of Contents. I didn't have to worry about the headers, which were always a pain for me. I would definitely recommend these templates for any author who wants to publish from Word.

Do you have any questions about pre-orders or templates? Please let me know in the comment section.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

You Won't Believe What This Writer Wants Her Followers To Do...

A few weeks back I mentioned the picture prompt writing contest that Tamela J. Ritter was running on her blog; submissions for that closed with some very good very short stories submitted (read them here).

While Tamela hasn't announced the winner yet (*FINGERS CROSSED FOR MY POST-APOCALYPTIC LOVE STORY ABOUT THE FROZEN GIRL...*) there's another one of these going on, at Porscha Coleman's blog (on Porscha

Porscha says she is a writer, poet, and occasional radio show host.  She's posted the picture prompt and welcomes your submission (including poetry, if you are so inclined) until October 31.  Check it out.  These things are fun, and trying to write from a prompt is a good way to challenge yourself and stretch your limits.

Here's the picture she's using.

And you'd click here to go leave your story.

And don't forget to pick up The HORROR Issue of our magazine to see the flash fiction horror stories that scared the IWM writers enough to put them in that issue.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The HORROR Issue of IWM is on the stands.

Just in time for Halloween -- okay, about 24 days early but you can start getting in the spirit of things -- comes The Horror Issue of IWM, featuring:

-- The 10 Dos and 500 Dont's of Writing A Good Horror Story (hint: MAKE IT SCARY)(<< that is a free tip, right there!)

-- Three editing tips you have to learn BEFORE THAT GUY BEHIND YOU GRABS YOU.  (Made you look)

-- Interview with horror author Elizabeth Fields who is GETTING A MOVIE MADE OF HER BOOK, probably starring Tom Cruise we can claim without any factual basis for that claim whatsoever.

And the winners of our 200-word flash fiction contest!


AND, it is free from October 8 to October 12.  But don't wait to get your copy; what if the Internet breaks and you miss out? Go download it now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Exploring Personality: Part Four -- "Let Me Give You a Hand"

When you give..., do not announce it with be honored by others. When you give do not [even] let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. -- Matthew 6:2-3 (paraphrased)

Preface: Enneagram types 2, 3, and 4 make up the emotional triad of the enneagram chart. These three types both act on and react to the world based on how they feel. Decisions are emotion-based and relationships are of primary importance. These three types also tend to be preoccupied with success and status or success as in how it relates to status. These are the romantic, love-is-all-you-need people.

The Helper

Have you ever known one of those people who wants to help with everything, even when you don't want help. They might do things for you (for your own good) that you don't want done or do everything because that's just the kind of people they are. Usually, they'll let you know about it, too. "So-and-so couldn't survive without me; I do everything for him." They like to help, and they like for everyone to know about it. Helping is what type 2 is all about.

The type 2, known as The Helper or The Giver, derives his sense of self worth from what he is doing for those around him. It legitimately makes her feel good to do for others. The Helper is that person who remembers everyone's birthdays and makes sure that a card goes around for everyone to sign. The Helper is that person who volunteers for every committee and helps out with every activity. The Helper is involved. And the Helper is also a flatterer, giving strokes and affirmations to others (with the hopes of getting those things in return).

The problem, though, is that these activities are seldom completely altruistic in nature. In return for all of the "help" the type two is doing, she needs to be acknowledged and affirmed. Patted on the back, for instance. He needs to feel appreciated. However, this need for acknowledgement runs counter to doing the things he does selflessly, so the Helper buries his need for approval, usually under a layer of pride in how "helpful" he is. Or, maybe, in making you feel guilty for your lack of appreciation. [That's your mother, right? "I work my fingers to the bone, and do you ever say even a thank you? You do not. You should be ashamed of yourself."]

Because twos derive so much of their worth from helping and doing for others, they can forget that they have needs of their own, especially if they don't feel like they are receiving the appreciation they deserve for all of the hard work that they do. And how can they? That they need to feel appreciated has to remain unspoken. In public life, this can lead to burnout (often of the crash-and-burn variety) and the sudden withdrawal from all the activities the Helper had been involved in. Of course, sometimes, this creates just the correct type of drama to cause people to heap praise upon the two -- "Oh, we didn't realize how much you did! We need you so much!" -- and draw the Helper back in all martyred and everything.

In personal life, or sometimes in public, unfulfilled twos can become manipulative and bossy, demanding compensation for all of the things they've done. They feel totally justified in their behaviors because they've earned the right to demand things because of their past efforts.

Now, glance back up at the chart and see that the arrow from the 2 to the 8 says "stress" on the 8 side. When the two, who is normally cheerful and helpful and "selfless," takes on too much "helping" or is feeling under-appreciated, she becomes stressed, and the stress is what leads to the manipulation and demands.

So let's look at some environments:

Let's say you have a Helper who works in a healthy, cooperative environment. The Helper is very involved at work, volunteering for committees, cooking treats for the rest of the office, planning events. Whatever needs to be done, really, because at work she feels appreciated and the other staff express how much she means to them on a regular basis and may even do special things for her occasionally, like thank you cards. She feels needed, maybe even loved, which is at the center of a two's emotional needs.

But, then, she goes home to a husband who doesn't appreciate her and never shows gratitude. At home, she is a nag, demanding that he does things for her and withholding favors (of whatever sort) until he does what she wants. She may make sure she is away from home in the evenings (doing things for other people or groups) so that he has to fend for himself for dinner.

Dropping by her office unexpectedly, he would be surprised at how pleasant and good-natured she is. He would astounded that she was doing things for other people of her own accord without asking for anything in return. She would be someone he didn't know, could barely recognize.

If you look at the other arrow, the one that goes to "growth" (also known as "security"), you see the two who gives selflessly. For real. The two is in a place of comfort and warmth and knows that she is valued. This could be the two in the above example in her workplace environment. When a two knows that he is loved regardless of what he is doing for other people, it allows him to give freely without the unacknowledged expectation that others will show their appreciation in return.

Hopefully, you can see the range of behaviors in just this one personality type. We'll break it down into three groups: unhealthy, average, and healthy.

Unhealthy twos (either in general or in specific relationships) are bitter, resentful, and manipulative. If they are not going to be appreciated, they will just take what they need instead. Or try to. This is stereotypical attention-seeking behavior even to the point of substance and food abuse so as to get people to show concern or give them sympathy.

Average twos gives only with the hope of getting in return. They have an over-inflated sense of their own importance and make sure to point out to others just how important that is.

Healthy twos have come to a point where they understand that they have value in their own right and do not need others to validate them. They can become truly altruistic and humble, giving without any thought of receiving anything in return.

Culturally, we have made "the mother" the stereotypical image of The Helper, but there's much more to the two than just being "mom." There's a whole range of available behaviors and situations in which to bring out those behaviors.

Oh, it should be noted: Helpers are generally extroverts but, then, most people are extroverts, so I don't know if that's saying anything extraordinary. The important thing to remember is that a two can also be an introvert, which will, of course, affect the ways in which he goes about helping people.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Three Years of Indie

Sunday was the third birthday of Lyon's Legacy, which was the first story I self-published. So this weeks marks my third anniversary of going indie. Since then, I've published several short stories, both on my own and as part of Indie Writers Monthly, and a full-length novel. My next novel will come out later this month. I'm not the most prolific of writers, but hopefully as I become more comfortable with indie publishing I can get stories out faster. A lot of it depends on how much time I can devote to writing and publishing.

I knew when I started self-publishing that it would take a while to get established, and that's certainly the case. I've experimented with different ways of promoting my books, but it's hard to find something that works consistently. It's humbling too that there are so many other indie writers out there. But at the same time self-publishing seems to have become more accepted, and the quality of the work I'm reading from other indie authors has increased. I enjoy the camaraderie we indie authors share. Most of them are friendly and helpful. And of course, it's always thrilling to get the proof copy of your latest work or see a promotion make your sales shoot up.

If you haven't read Lyon's Legacy yet, feel free to give it a try; it's permafree. Help me celebrate its third birthday. Here's to many more years of writing and self-publishing. Now if you'll excuse me, I have about a hundred pages to proofread before Saturday, so I'd better get back to Seasons' Beginnings.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Pro Tips From Adult World

One night while on my recent travels I happened to catch this movie called Adult World on Showtime--or Showtime 2.  It's about a goody-goody uptight would-be poet named Amy, played by Emma Roberts, who's that Emma who's not Emma Stone or Emma Watson.  She spends most of her time and money entering contests and awards and not really getting anywhere.  Finally her parents get tired of funding her efforts and so she gets a job at the local adult video store called Adult World.  The name of the store and movie has a double meaning in that while working there she learns about becoming an adult.

Here are some lessons to take away from it:

1.  You're Probably Not Special:  Most of the movie Amy thinks she's bound to become a famous poet any day now.  Many of her illusions are shattered when one of her poems ends up in an anthology called Shit Poetry, ie poetry that's so bad it's good.  The lesson being that she's not as good as she thinks--and neither are you.

2.  Don't Be Afraid to Sell Out:  Amy's first real publication credit is in a French pornographic magazine.  She writes an erotica story for a contest while drunk one night.  I didn't have to get drunk to stoop to writing erotica stories.  Like the characters who work at Adult World, I've found that it can be pretty lucrative to be in that business.  So hey, why not sell out?

3.  Choose Your Mentor Wisely:  Besides working at Adult World, Amy also bullies her way into becoming the personal assistant to a has-been poet with the unlikely real name of Richard Simmons, played by John Cusack.  She's idolized him for years, but eventually realizes--after he puts her poem in Shit Poetry--that at this point he's a bitter jerk.  This, incidentally is why I never really wanted to meet my literary hero John Irving.  I even wrote a short story about it called Spring in the Land of Broken Dreams, which is part of my collection The Carnival Papers. (Remember what I said about selling out?)

4.  Dumb Luck is Better Than None At All:  I already mentioned how Amy gets her first real publication credit.  But also her best friend, who hasn't much experience writing poetry, gets her poem published on the first try--in a reputable publication no less.  So while you probably aren't special (see #1) still, you should probably at least try once or twice, because you might luck into something good.

Anyway, overall I enjoyed the movie as a coming-of-age story with some tidbits of wisdom for writers of all sort, not just poets.  I'm not sure if it's on Netflix or any of those.  If you have Showtime, it might show up there a few more times as they seem to show the same half-dozen movies over and over again.