The Awesomeness of Ask the Authors 2022

Ask the Authors 2022

Purchase Link: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

Ask the Authors 2022 in the ultimate writing reference anthology, with writing tips and advice from eleven talented writers at different stages in their writing careers. Each brings unique perspective to the table on all stages of the writing, publishing and book marketing processes.

To celebrate this awesome writer’s tool, seven of the contributing authors, including myself, are gathering on Mark Leslie Lefebvre’s Stark Reflections podcast to exchange writing wisdoms, much as we did for the anthology. Joining us was fantasy author L. Jagi Lamplighter, media tie-in writer and fiction author Bobby Nash, science fiction author Kevin Killiany, paranormal and horror author Roberta Eaton Cheadle, and speculative fiction author Mario Acevedo. Call it a meeting of literary minds… or maybe just seven authors hanging out on a podcast. No matter what you call it, you can catch the episode on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/4069021703323990 or on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQrhSouh5aU. Of course, you can wait for it to come out on the podcast, if you prefer to just listen, too.

Just in time for NaNoWriMo, you can get this wonderful author’s reference in Kevin J Anderson’s Writer’s Career Toolkit Bundle along with fourteen other great writing tools at a special bundle price. It’s a great deal. You can’t beat it. So grab your bundle today!

Writer’s Career Toolkit Bundle

Purchase Link: https://storybundle.com/blog/writerscareertoolkitbundle/


Welcome to the WordCrafter “Visions” Book Blog Tour

Visions Book Blog Tour

Welcome the the WordCrafter Visions Book Blog Tour, where we are celebrating the release of the Visions anthology, which will be out tomorrow, October 18. But it is also available for pre-order now. It’s a fantastic science fiction, fantasy & horror anthology filled with nineteen unique stories and we have an amazing eight day tour planned to honor the occasion. With a guest post for each day; two seperate interviews: one with the author of the 2022 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, also known to many of us as Robbie, and contributing author Sara Wesley McBride will also interview me; three reviews; and a fantastic digital giveaway, this tour promises to be full of surprises. Join us and help send Visions off right.

Schedule

(The links below won’t work until each post goes live)

Monday – October 17 – Guest Post – Billie Holladay Skelley & Winning Story Interview with Roberta Eaton Cheadle – Writing to be Read

Tuesday – October 18 – Guest Post – Michaele Jordan & Review – Patty’s World

Wednesday – October 19 – Guest Post – D.L. Mullan – The Showers of Blessings

Thursday – October 20 – Guest Post – C.R. Johanssen & Review – Robbie’s Inspiration

Friday – October 21 – Guest Post – Patty L. Fletcher & Review – Zigler’s News

Saturday – October 22 – Guest Post – Jeff Bowles – Writing to be Read & Interview w/ Kaye Lynne Booth on SaraWesleyMcBride

Sunday – October 23 – Guest Post & Review – Stephanie Kraner – Roberta Writes

Monday – October 24 – Guest Post – Joseph Carabis – Writing to be Read & Review – Undawnted

Digital Giveaway

We’re doing a digital giveaway which offers copies of Visions to three lucky winners, and you can enter at each stop just by leaving a comment so I know you were there. So, follow the tour and comment at each stop for a chance to win or just to learn more about this exceptional anthology at the same time.

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Today’s blog tour stop is a double treat, with a guest post by Billie Holladay Skelley about her story, “Secret Thoughts”, and then an interview with Roberta Eaton Cheadle about her story, “The Bite”. So without further ado, I will turn this over to Billie. Please help me welcome Billie Holladay Skelley.

Guest Post

My inspiration for “Secret Thoughts” came from several places, but the first source was the actual history itself. The gunfight described in my story, between James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok and Davis Tutt, actually occurred on July 21, 1865. It took place in the town square of Springfield, Missouri, and the city of Springfield has preserved the details of the fight. The actual site has become a popular tourist attraction. At the time of the duel, Hickok was not widely known, and his “Wild Bill” persona had not been established, but the shootout served to accelerate his prominence and legend.

There are various accounts regarding the source of the disagreement between Hickok and Tutt, but many believe it started with gambling debts and escalated when Tutt took Hickok’s prize watch as collateral. Tutt wore the watch in public to humiliate Hickok, and that certainly elevated the dispute.

After the duel, Hickok initially was charged with murder, but the charge was reduced to manslaughter. His trial lasted three days, and the jury decided the killing was justified—and Hickok was acquitted. Apparently, in 1865, humiliating a man by wearing his watch in public justified the deadly use of firearms.

What attracted me to this story was the actual shootout, and the fact that it was one of the few one-on-one, face-to-face, quick-draw duels that ever occurred. This type of shootout was quite rare in the Wild West—even though Hollywood movies have taken every opportunity to invent and popularize them. 

The actual shot Hickok made also intrigued me because, by many accounts, it would have been a very difficult shot to make—considering the distance and the firearms used. Hickok truly must have been a remarkable marksman.

I also was inspired by Hickok’s colorful life (1837-1876) as a whole. While several events in his life have been sensationalized, Hickok did have many interesting occupations, and he did experience many violent encounters. He also died relatively young. Eleven years after the duel in my story, Hickok was shot in the back of the head while playing poker. When he died, he was holding two pair—aces and eights—which he reportedly grasped tightly in a death grip. Ever since, these cards have been known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”

As I researched Hickok’s life, I became increasingly intrigued by what makes a man (or woman) stand out, be recorded, and be remembered in history. I kept thinking about what spark, trait, or events align that make one person be more notable than another. Obviously, James Butler Hickok had an extraordinary life, even if some of the events in his life were sensationalized—and I started thinking, in terms of the story, what if he did have a secret advantage—or a secret talent that contributed to his success and augmented his fame.

I didn’t want to make him a “superhero” with over-the-top powers. I just wanted him to have a slight advantage that was highly useful. When I consider the paranormal genre, I usually focus on things like telekinesis or clairvoyance—so it seemed logical to proceed along those lines.

I hope readers enjoy “Secret Thoughts,” but I also hope it makes them think about what characteristics, talents, and events make a legend. What do those people have that makes them stand out from others and that makes them be remembered? It’s interesting to consider what their “secret” talents might be.

About Billie Holladay Skelley

Billie Holladay Skelleyreceived her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.Now retired from working as a cardiovascular and thoracic surgery clinical nurse specialist and nursing educator, she enjoys focusing on her writing. Billie has written several health-related articles for both professional and lay journals, but her writing crosses several different genres and has appeared in various journals, magazines, and anthologies in print and online—ranging from the American Journal of Nursing  to Chicken Soup for the Soul. An award-winning author, she has written eleven books for children and teens. Her book, Ruth Law: The Queen of the Air, was recently selected to receive the 2021 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Children’s Literature Award. 

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Visions

You can get your copy today from your favorite distributor at the link below.

Purchase link: https://books2read.com/u/49Lk28

About the Book

An author’s visions are revealed through their stories. Many authors have strange and unusual stories, indeed. Within these pages, you will find the stories of eighteen different authors, each unique and thought provoking. These are the fantasy, science fiction, paranormal, and horror stories that will keep you awake long into the night.

What happens when:

An inexplicable monster plagues a town for generations, taking people… and souvenirs?

A post-apocalyptic band of travelers finds their salvation in an archaic machine?

The prey turns out to be the predator for a band of human traffickers?

Someone chooses to be happy in a world where emotions are regulated and controlled?

A village girl is chosen to be the spider queen?

Grab your copy today and find out. Let authors such as W.T. Paterson, Joseph Carabis, Kaye Lynne Booth, Michaele Jordan, Stephanie Kraner, and others, including the author of the winning story in the WordCrafter 2022 Short Fiction Contest, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, tantalize your thoughts and share their

Visions

From Kaye Lynne Booth, editor of Once Upon an Ever After: Modern Fairy Tales & Folklore, Refracted Reflections: Twisted Tales of Duality & Deception and Gilded Glass: Twisted Myths & Shattered Fairy Tales.

Visions – Eighteen talented authors, nineteen unique stories

Roberta Eaton Cheadle’s story, “The Bite” was chosen as the winner of the 2022 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest, and is included in the Visions anthology. As a special treat, Roberta has agred to answer a few questions about her story, the anthology and winning the contest, as well as her own writing pratcies. Let’s see what she has to say.

Interview with Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Where did you get the idea for “The Bite”?

“The Bite” was inspired by the Tarantella Dance which I learned about through fellow blogger, Rebecca Budd. We had a bit of a chat about this dance in the comments section on a post and I was sufficiently interested to look up the dance and what its origins were believed to be.

The Tarantella is an Italian Folk Dance that has a history and mythology that spans several centuries. One of the possible sources of origin for the dance relates to a cure for a bite from a Tarantula, Arania or Apulcian Spider. The dance was used as a cure for the poison from the bite. Town people would play non-stop music and the victim would dance to sweat out the poison and avoid succumbing to it.

I used a Wolf Spider for my story as I discovered accidently that the female Wolf Spiders eat the males, unless he is bigger.

How did you react when you learned that “The Bite” was the winning story in the 2022 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest?

I was honoured and proud. I felt very encouraged that my short story was selected among so many excellent stories as one the judge particularly enjoyed and appreciated.

What’s something most readers would never guess about you?

Most readers don’t know that I worked as a spinning instructor in our local gym for five years before I fell pregnant with Gregory. I used to teach 10 classes a week. I also used to cycle and participated in the famous Argus Cycle Race in Cape Town a few times.

Besides writing, what are your favorite things to do?

I like to read, especially family dramas, classics, war, paranormal and dystopia. I am a little selective with horror and its sub-genres. I don’t like unnecessary blood and guts, and the plot needs to be clever for me to appreciate it.

I enjoy fondant art which is effectively the same as sculpturing with clay. I like creating art works using my fondant figurines and cake or gingerbread structures. I use these to illustrate my children’s books and some of my adult poems. Some of my cake art is a personal response to issues like climate change and the Sixth Mass Extinction which is currently taking place.

I like to cook and am currently running a series on my art and poetry blog called “Recipes from Around the World”. I am sharing my amended and personalized recipes for popular dishes like Greek moussaka and Durban Chicken Curry. I can never follow a recipe without changing it for my personal preferences.

I enjoy writing poetry and am currently judging the haiku and poetry categories for a local writing competition.

I also participate in corporate social initiatives that provide funding and other aid to charities. I am particularly interested in initiatives involving children and the elderly.

Which author/poet, dead or alive, would you love to have lunch with?

Hmmm! To be honest, I would prefer not to meet up with any of my favourite authors. I have my own mental image of what they are like as people and I would rather retain it than have it replaced with the real facts. I understand from what I’ve read that two of my favourite children’s authors, Roald Dahl and Enid Blyton, were not very nice people in real life.

You also write children’s books with your son, Michael. Do the two genres have anything in common?

I do not have one specific genre I write, although I do favour historical and paranormal with my adult writing. The Sir Chocolate Series, which I write with Michael, is fantasy and is set in Chocolate Land where you can eat everything. The lead characters, Sir Chocolate and Lady Sweet, go about Chocolate Land helping their friends put wrong things right.

My adult writing is always based on a real fact set which I either retell from a historical paranormal point of view, or weave into a fantasy setting as I did with “The Bite”.

The two genres don’t have anything in common, although my children’s books for older children, Silly Willy Goes to Cape Town and While the Bombs Fell, are both fictionalized memoirs of a part of my own life and a part of my mother’s life, respectively.

If writing suddenly made you rich and famous, what would you do?

I don’t think my life would change much if I suddenly became better know as an author. I already do many of the things I want to do and like doing, for example visiting game farms and historical sites locally and travelling to the UK and Europe to tour and visit family.

I have decided to continue in my day job for the next few years at least as I am easily bored, and don’t think writing full time would suit me. I write better when I must squeeze it in around other commitments, strangely enough. It is how I am wired.

What are your secrets for juggling writing with family?

My sons are older now, so they don’t need [read that as want] as much attention from me. I write and blog early in the morning on weekdays. I also get up early on weekend mornings and write from 6am to about 8.30am. Sometimes, I read blog posts during my 30 minutes of lunch, and I also do social media activities while waiting in queues or for various appointments or meetings. I listen to audio books while I drive and do household chores. I don’t spend as much time writing as a lot of other authors I know because I just don’t have that time.

How do you decide the titles for your stories? Where does the title come in the process for you?

Usually, I have worked out most of the details of a story, short or long, in my head before I start writing. In particular, I usually have the ending. As a result, I often have the title before I start writing, but sometimes I change it. I changed the title of Through the Nethergate, which has a double meaning, and which was deliberate. Nethergate is the street in Bungay where my mother’s childhood home is located. This street features in the story. The Nether Gate in Norse mythology is also the gateway to the afterlife, Nether being the place of the dead.

My title “The Bite” was also a bit of a deliberate deception as I knew readers would initially think my villain was a vampire…

What do you think is the single most important element in a story?

The ending. There is nothing worse than reading a wonderful book and then the ending is a let down (IT by Stephen King always comes to mind – a giant spider; come on!)

What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?

With regards to writing, starting a blog was good advice. My brother-in-law suggested it as a good way for me to meet other writers and readers, to develop relationships in the writing and publishing communities, and to learn more. He was right. My blog has been my single most worthwhile endeavor as a novice writer, and I have developed and learned through the generosity of the blogging community.

What advice do you have for aspiring authors/poets/screenwriters?

You must be thick skinned and tenacious. You will never please everyone. Take on board constructive criticism that helps you and ignore the rest. I am of the view that some people get satisfaction from judging another person’s efforts to achieve. Jealousy is the most destructive of all human emotions in my opinion. I always keep that in mind when I do anything, be it writing, working, baking, blogging, or cooking. I’ve had people make comments about my taste in literature, some admiring, some collaborative, and some condemning. Take it in your stride and keep moving forward.

“The Bite” is a horror story and you’ve had stories in other horror anthologies, as well as some paranormal ones. Do you enjoy reading horror? And what is the attraction of writing horror for you?

I am not a big reader of horror; I prefer the paranormal history, paranormal thriller, and dystopia sub-genres of horror. I do not like mindless butchering and bloodshed in books and I don’t read that sort of horror book.

I enjoy books that have clever plots and are unique and innovative. I don’t mind death in stories, I include a lot of death in my own writing, but it must add to the story and give colour to the setting and storyline.

My favourite books are The Shining and The Stand, both by Stephen King, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and anything by Edgar Allan Poe. I also love war books and am endlessly fascinated by the psychology of war.

Do you prefer writing short stories or novel length works? Why?

I prefer short stories. Novels take too long to write as I am a slow and methodic researcher and writer. I tend to lose interest if things drag on.

A Ghost and His Gold is long at 118,000 words. I wrote that during the pandemic and lockdowns which enables for me with regards to writing time. There was nothing much else to do, no travel, no dinners out, no entertaining. With life having returned to normal now, I am finding getting a novel finished difficult.

What is the biggest challenge for you when writing short fiction?

I can’t say I can think of a specific challenge to writing any kind of fiction, short or long, other than finding time to write and edit. The story ideas come, and I keep them in my head as a skeleton until I want them. Luckily, I don’t forget things. I have an unusually retentive memory. That is also why I don’t re-read books; I always remember the ending if it was good enough for me to consider re-reading it. I sometimes re-read books for the love of the language and the writing. Dracula falls into that category for me, that book has the most remarkable descriptions.  

What is the best thing about having a story featured in an anthology?

I enjoy anthologies for two reasons.

Firstly, it is a good way of keeping my name and reputation as a writer out there in the public eye. Writing a few short stories isn’t an insurmountable effort for me (it takes me about 3 weeks to finish a short story, depending on the length, and another week to polish it up), and it enables me to add a book collection to my name and to advertise it on my social media. I view the anthologies I have participated in as feathers in my writing cap and the more I participate in, the more the writing world sees my name attached to a book.

Secondly, I like meeting new authors and writing friends. In an anthology setting, many of the contributors step up to help market the book and that means your work and name is seen by new readers who might be sufficiently interested to seek out your other works.

I also just like socializing with people who have an interest in writing and reading. This world makes me feel comfortable and happy.

Do you write with music, or do you prefer quiet?

Absolutely no music when I write. I can tolerate high levels of background noise, but music distracts me.

What goals do you set for yourself in your writing?

I am working on becoming better known as a children’s writer in South Africa and elsewhere. I have joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators which is international and has a branch locally. My membership of SCBWI has helped me meet other South Africans involved in writing and illustrating children’s books and I have had opportunities to profile my work, in particular my illustrations, at various events which is pleasing and helpful.

I am planning another children’s book, Dinah in Wonderland, with my son, Michael, for publication next year.

On the adult writing side, I am working on a book of poetry called Lion Scream which is about the Sixth Mass Extinction and African animals. It will also include some of my wildlife photographs and videos.

I am also working on a collection of short stories set in South Africa and have completed three stories to date. I have ideas for several more in my head.

I have written the first four chapters of After the Bombs Fell, a sequel to While the Bombs Fell, which I plan to work on next year after my December research trip to the UK.

The Soldier and the Radium Girl and The Creeping Change are both also lurking. They are each around 50,000 words to date, but my interest has flagged so they are currently on hold until my enthusiasm returns.

About Roberta Eaton Cheadle

Roberta Eaton Cheadle is a South African writer and poet specialising in historical, paranormal, and horror novels and short stories. She is an avid reader in these genres and her writing has been influenced by famous authors, including Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe, Amor Towles, Stephen Crane, Enrich Maria Remarque, George Orwell, Stephen King, and Colleen McCullough.

Roberta has short stories and poems in several anthologies and has two published novels:

* Through the Nethergate, a historical supernatural fantasy; and

* A Ghost and His Gold, a historical paranormal novel set in South Africa.

Roberta has eleven children’s books published under the name Robbie Cheadle.

Roberta was educated at the University of South Africa, where she achieved a Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1996 and an Honours Bachelor of Accounting Science in 1997. She was admitted as a member of The South African Institute of Chartered Accountants in 2000.

Roberta has worked in corporate finance from 2001 until the present date and has written seven publications relating to investing in Africa. She has won several awards over her 20-year career in the category of Transactional Support Services.

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That wraps up Day 1 of the WordCrafter Visions Book Blog Tour. Join us tomorrow over at Patty’s World, with a guest post from contributing author, Michaele Jordan about her story, “Farewell, My Miko”. And don’t forget to leave a comment for an entry in the digital giveaway.


Bowlesian! – Zombie Crave Human Exceptionalism

Note: This is a just a fun little flash piece to get you in the mood for October. Happy Halloween, everyone!

Zombie Crave Human Exceptionalism

by Jeff Bowles

Dr. Everett J. Edmunds raised his zombies from nothing but spare parts and voodoo. He believed his living dead should crave the best, most exceptional brains. Therefore, in procuring their daily meals, he kidnapped only lawyers and doctors, novelists and scientists, Nobel lauriates, Olympians and the like. Late nights he’d strap these unfortunates to the chair in his subterranean laboratory and read them poetry whilst playing an old Bach vinyl.

“Why, Dr. Browning, you look pale,” he might say. “Perhaps some electrolytes before my darlings feast? Malaise in the system is no good at dinner time.”

And of course, upon devouring each subject, his zombies gained further appreciation for human exceptionalism, thereby endowing themselves with heightened intelligence, communication faculties, charm and wit. This was the theory, at least. Everett had found hard clinical proof difficult to come by.

One evening, as the sun set on his small, weed-infested home, his door buzzer rang, interrupting an attempt to teach his horde Calculus. Everett swore and hushed the zombies, climbing the steps into the house proper. All his life he’d been an achiever, which was why his bookcases and mantle were lined with trophies, awards, and certificates of excellence. The medical community valued his intellect, but people wouldn’t understand his true calling. Perhaps his walk-in freezer was full of arms and hearts and torsos, but he was no cold-blooded killer; rather Edmund was a brilliant scientist, the most exceptional brain of his generation.

He opened the door with a prolonged, rusty squeek. There stood the love of his life, the one who got away, a half-zombie named Camilla. If regret had a voice, it’d be soft and sweet as hers.

She cooed a loving, “Braaaaains!”

To which Everett replied, “My darling, you’ve come back to me!”

“Brains!”

“Of course, my love. Come inside. Your horde misses you, as do I.”

She followed dutifully, through the house and back down into the laboratory. The rest of the horde would eat him as soon as look at him, but not his Camilla. She’d been so beautiful in life, his favorite nurse at the hospital. The car crash that claimed her life hadn’t been entirely accidental.

From the book of voodoo spells he’d purchased on Amazon, he’d selected a special hex he used just once: the half-zombie, or Death’s First Kiss. Though her skin had rotted and her jawbone flopped like the useless handle of a can opener, Camilla was still the most beautiful woman Dr. Edmunds had ever seen. He embraced her. She smelled wonderful … ish.

“Dearest, why don’t you climb back in the cage where you belong? Your brothers and sisters would love the chance to pick your–”

“Braaaaains!”

“What do you mean they won’t like you anymore? Have you really changed so much?”

Camilla indicated she had, and then proceeded to describe her adventures in the world of the living. Apparently, she’d tried to go back to school, and had even attended her nephew’s bar mitzvah, a ghastly affair which had seen her own family chase her into the night. The doctor opened the cage door cautiously, sensing a lull in his zombies’ aggression.

“Dear heart, please step inside,” he said. “When you ran away, I lost a piece of myself.”

“Brains!” she said, which translated loosely as, I’m wearing a wire, Everett.

“What do you mean you’re wearing a wire?” he asked.

“Brrrrrains!”—What do you mean, what do I mean? The police have already arrived, and you are going to jail for what you’ve done. It took me years to realize it, but you’re the monster, not me. Now don’t struggle.

The door to the laboratory burst open. Waves of gun-toting police filed in, barking for him to hit the floor and put his hands behind his back. Dr. Edmunds refused. Though he always suspected this day might come, he somehow thought he’d be the one to betray himself, not his dear Camilla.

Everett ran into the cage, slammed the door, pressed in tightly with his zombies, and bellowed, “Take me now, my beauties!”

But his zombies ignored him. In fact, they paid him no more attention than Camilla paid basic rules of variative syntax. This, of course, was the real tragedy. For if they didn’t want to eat his delicious, fertile, exceptional brain … well maybe he wasn’t so exceptional after all. The police urged Camilla to yank him from the cage. She did so and they placed him in handcuffs.

“That’s the way the cookie crumbles, doc,” said one of the officers, brutish man with coffee stains on his uniform.

“How dare you!” Everett spat. “If they ever ate an imbecile like you, I’d burn my diplomas!”

The cops led him from his home. After reading his miranda rights on the street, they gathered around their police cruisers and watched Night of the Living Dead on a smart phone. Camilla wept softly from afar. Movie looked so fake.

Braaaains.

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!

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Bowlesian! – Jack the Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis

Jack the Hammer’s Online Identity Crisis

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, available on Amazon now.


{CLICK}
Welcome back to mysecretdiary.com, Jackson! Your personal online diary is open and ready for more secrets!

January 18
Mood: sad
Outlook: cloudy with a chance of misery
Jackson Palmer ain’t my name no more. I realized that today, diary. Pissed me off royally. They been calling me Jack the Hammer for nearly twenty years. Twenty goddamn years! Frustrating. Infuriating. I fix problems for people. Pretty good at it, too. Least I used to be. Mafia, Triad, I don’t judge. But what’s a hard case like me to do when I’m the one in need of fixing?
Here’s my secret for today, diary: I been doing this lousy work so long, I often forget there’s places out there where nobody gets shot, or extorted, or wrapped up in garbage bags and dumped in the Hudson River.
You should see what they been saying about me over on thugieslist.com.

{CLICK}
Welcome to thugieslist.com, the world’s premier consumer review site for mafia thugs, hit men, and muscle. You have selected to display the latest reviews for Hoboken, New Jersey’s Jackson “Jack the Hammer” Palmer.

wiseguyforlife36
Jack the Hammer is a total joke. I used to like the guy. I used to respect him like crazy. But he’s gone soft. There just ain’t no getting through to the guy. I specifically told him to keep an eye out.
“Jack,” I says to him. “You stay in the car and keep an eye out. Rosco and I will make the deal.”
So me and my boy Rosco went to make the deal, only the deal went south. They started shooting at us. We shot back. Rosco and I high-tailed it to the car.
“What the shit is this?” says Rosco.
Shit you not, Jack the Hammer was napping behind the wheel! You believe that? KEE-RIST!
One star for services NOT rendered!

collegegradmike
gradulated comunity college with Jack. hlped me improv my english, He’s an ok dood I guess. but I hav to say, the guys lost his edge. Same dood worked muscle for Boss DiMaggio for 17 yers. Imagine that guy going soFt! Its like he dont care no more. Not a profeshinal. Real slippery eel. and have you sen his face LaTeley? Talk about an major SKIN CONDITION! 2 stars.

{CLICK}
Welcome back to mysecretdiary.com, Jackson!
Diary,
I got two fists like Texas T-bones. Got a pendant for Saint George and a rosary around my neck. Got a stomach ulcer so big and bad it’s got its own mailing address.
Had to work over Ricky the Rat today. Poor old Rick was a broken, bloody wad of hamburger before I was through with him. I brought him down to the meat plant ‘cause the boss said to tenderize him.
He cried, “Don’t hit me no more, Jack!” and, “Not in the face! Mother of chicken lasagna, not in the goddamn face!”
But I couldn’t help myself. Used to have better control, you know?
“Look at you!” I said. “Bet you think you look better than me, Rick. So damn handsome. So debonair. I got a skin condition, understand?” I socked him in the eye. “I got a skin condition!” I slammed his head into a big suspended steer carcass.
“Awwwwooooow! You’re crazy, man! You’re fucking crazy! You look fine!”
Horse shit! Most people’re so flashy. Know what I’m saying? So damn flashy and sassy. And me. Look at me. Grade A, prime-cut loser. With a side of special loser sauce. And loser steak fries. So you can dip the fries into the . . .
Ah, what does it matter?
I worked old Ricky over pretty good. Too good, actually. The boss gets one good look at him and says, “I can’t use him like this. Poor bastard ought to be in traction.”
I could’a been a doctor, you know? Or even like a politician. Governor Palmer. Senator Palmer. The Hammer always got so much respect. But what if I don’t want to be the Hammer no more? Ah, hell, what if I don’t even know who the Hammer is?

Incoming message from friendtracker.com instant messaging

{CLICK}
—Jackson? Are you online?
Yeah.
—Payment didn’t come through, Jackson.
Jesus, doc, you know I’m good for it.
—I know you’ve been good for it in the past. I also know you’re having an existential meltdown at the moment.
So what if I am?
—Jackson, we’ve talked about this. Anger is always healthy. But what do we say about rage?
Come on, doc . . .
—Jackson, reinforcement is key. It really is. What do we say about rage?
You can’t spell discourage without rage.
—And?
You also can’t spell discourage without disco.
—And?
Disco is the prefix of both disconnect and discord.
—And?
Christ, doc, I gotta tell you, it gets fuzzy for me after that.
—Hmph. That figures. Where the fuck’s my money, Jackson?
Yeesh. I’ll get it to you.
—Huh?
I said I’ll get it to you. Next week. All right? Fair enough? Aren’t psychiatrists supposed to be, you know, more nurturing than this?
—Perhaps. Most psychiatrists don’t pay alimony to three different women, though. Good afternoon, Jackson. Onward towards mental stability!

{CLICK}
I think the doc means business this time, diary. I wonder how my cash reserve situation is looking.

{CLICK}
First Bank of Hoboken Online Branch: we are open and ready to serve you, Jackson.
Checking: $4.21
Savings: $0.02
We notice your funds are a bit low. Consider applying for a personal loan today!

{CLICK}
Note to self: sigh

{CLICK}
Welcome back to thugieslist.com. Previously viewed profile loaded.

DarthToughGuy
Hang on, hang on, hang the frig on. You guys want to tell me you’ve got nothing good to say about old Jack? Nothing at all? Hell, man, I’ll go to the mat for him. Maybe’s the guy’s lost his edge—and I ain’t saying he ain’t—but whatever’s bothering him right now, he’ll get it sorted out. Trust me. I grew up with Jack. Some’a youse wise guys know that 😉
He was a good kid, man. Good to his mom, good to his friends and his baby sister. He was smart. Real smart. I mean, his dad was a loser—put the belt to the poor guy, oh, three, four times a week—but I really do think Jack’s done well to make the best of a bad situation. How many of you bellyachers has this man bent over backwards for? How many times, whether you invited him to or not, has he bailed your assess out and pulled your scorching nutsacks from the proverbial fire?
When the boss says push a button on a guy, good old Jackie pushes the button. When the boss says take out that armored car containing kilo after glorious kilo of White Bunk, hell, man, he’s the only guy on the job don’t powder his own nose. We go way back, Jackie and me. He’s never let me down. At least, he never used to.

collegegradmike
earth to DarthToughGuy: Up yours, DINGUS LICKER! I don’t give a holy SHIZ whts “bothering” Jack. darth, plese. the guys a expert screw up! I wus with him the other day, Freakshow started crying in the middle of Dr. Hoo. I mean, we wer just sitting there, watching Dr. Hoo, and the looser starts bawlin like a little girl! I askd him what was wrong and all, Jack just wipes his eyes and says, “watch you’re fcking Dr. Hoo! Stop asking so many stoopid fcking questions!”
Fcker totoally ruined BBC nite with THE DOCTOR! Wht a jerk! My 2 star review has been downgraded to a very pissed off 1 STAR!

{CLICK}
Welcome to jobfisher.com! Reinvigorate your life with a new career from JobFisher today!
Search listings for: “thug” AND “hired gun” AND “gentle heart” AND “good with children”
Searching . . .
No jobs found.

{CLICK}
DarthToughGuy
Listen here, collegegradmike, you don’t know jack about Jack!

collegegradmike
I know he shits all ovr Dr. Hoo! Thats what I know!

{CLICK}
I just can’t understand where my life went off the rails, diary.
Yeah, I cry. Ain’t no shame in that. Show me a guy who don’t cry at all, and I’ll show you a real cold fish. My old man never cried. Not in front of me, anyhow. I am absolutely convinced he never shed a single tear in his life, neither.
I’m drinking too much. Maybe that’s the problem. What was that country song from back in the day? Beer full’a tears or some crap? Something like that?
Don’t know. Don’t care.
Hey, I got reasons to cry, all right? I got some shit wrong with my life. And I don’t just cry every once in a while. I cry a lot. More than a lot. I cry all the damn time. I’m a wreck. I’m a time bomb. I’m a—
Hold on. Pizza’s here.
. . . . . .
You see what I mean? You see how I just demolished that entire pizza by myself? Who the fuck does that? ‘Cept fer like chicks on the rag and super fat dudes and—
Aw, man, what the fuck is wrong with me!

Incoming message from friendtracker.com instant messaging

{CLICK}
—Jackson, it’s your psychiatrist again. 2nd wife late on Jaguar payment. Next week not soon enough. Going to need that money from you, guy. Pay up.

{CLICK}
DarthToughGuy
Hey, collegegradmike, go fuck yourself! How ’bout that, wise-ass? Go fuck yourself, you fucking SKIN FLUTE GUZZLER!

collegegradmike
Hey, fck you, pal! Fck you and fck you’re fcking hole lcking stupid fck face!

DarthToughGuy
Really? That’s nice. Umm, how old are you?

collegegradmike
the Fck dose it matter how fcking old I am?! Old enogh to stick a fcking candelabra up your fcking ace and lite it on fire with a fcking WWII flame throwr!

{CLICK}
Stop, STOP, STOP!
It’s too much craziness, diary. It’s too much insanity. Is a little peace and calm too hard to come by these days? Is catching just one goddamn break every now and then?
When I was kid, man, oh, I had everything figured out. I knew what the world was. Better yet, I knew who I was. How come I was so much wiser then? How come I feel so stupid now?
I’m forty-nine years old. I have no children. I have no significant other. Hell, man, most of the time I don’t even have a proper pad to crash at. I had chances to be happy. I had shots at the golden mile. But I blew ’em. Each and every last one of them. I feel ugly. I feel old. I hate myself so much it’s hard to breathe sometimes.
Ugh.
I guess you don’t understand.
‘Cause you’re just a stupid online diary.
And I substitute you for actual human companionship.
And I’m acting like some lovesick-puppy sixteen-year-old girl
Ugh.
Well that’s it. That’s decided. No more fucking around. Here we go.

{CLICK}
Welcome to jobfisher.com! Search listings for “entry level” AND “on-job training” AND “good with children” AND

{CLICK}
No, no, you know what, diary?

{CLICK}
Welcome to partyoftwo.com, the hottest spot for relationship hunting on the WWW!
Search for: “40’s-something” AND “warm personality” AND “generous spirit” AND

{CLICK}
No, that’s not it either, diary. A chick is the last thing I need right now. I know what I have to do. I know how to get my life back on track.

{CLICK}
First Bank of Hoboken Online Branch: consider applying for a personal loan today!
{CLICK}
You have selected Apply for a Personal Loan. Do you wish to continue?
{CLICK}
. . . Processing . . .
. . . Processing . . .
Personal loan approved! Congratulations, Jackson!

{CLICK}
Doc, are you still there?
—I am
Good
—You got my money?
Yeah, doc. Payment’ll be on your way real soon.

{CLICK}
Welcome to contractkillers.net!
We make people disappear, capicé?™
Search for: “Hoboken” AND “psychiatrist hit” AND “money no object” AND “make it hurt”

{CLICK}
You know something, diary? Maybe all I need is a little house cleaning. It’s not like anybody’ll be able to trace it back to me.
It all comes around. It all comes around, man. Where you been, Jackson? Where you been hiding?
Just like that, diary, I am feeling much, much better. 🙂

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!

_______________________________________________________________________

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Bowlesian! – Itsies

Itsies

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Brave New Multiverse, available on Amazon now.


I introduced Pamela to my itsy on our first date. Oh I know, most people wait until their second or third, but I really liked Pamela. Straight away I could tell we were going to hit it off.

“I’m glad we decided to do this,” I told her.

She narrowed her eyes, “Why is your itsy dressed like a teddy bear?”

My itsy was dressed like a teddy bear. Head to toe, fluffy ears, fluffy tail, round little tummy. It was his favorite outfit. I wasn’t going to tell him he couldn’t wear it.

Itsies aren’t really people. They look and act like people, and they definitely do have minds of their own, but they’re more like little mini extensions of ourselves, you know what I mean? Like my itsy, I call him Tug. He looks exactly like me. That’s pretty common. Itsies live on the tops of people’s heads and sleep in their hair. They spend most of the day under their hats.

My hat was off just then, sitting there on our table. I supposed Pamela wasn’t quite ready to take her own hat off.

I smiled at her, beamed at her, actually. I said to Tug, “Don’t be rude, Tug. Say hello to Pamela.”

Tug said, “Fuck yourself!”

I sighed. “Now Tug, you know I don’t like that language.”

“Fuck it! You introduce me!” His voice was high, squeaky, a shrill, keening falsetto. “You promised me cookies! Give me my cookies or I’ll eat Pamela alive!”

I sighed again, reached into my pocket to retrieve a miniature box of animal crackers. I set the crackers atop my head. Tug started noshing and gobbling. I felt a sense of calm wash over me as he did.

“Are you sure you want to keep him out like that?” said Pamela.

I glanced around the restaurant. My favorite Vietnamese place. Really good phở and bánh mì sandwiches. Rich, mouthwatering smell of seared beef and pork. Portraits on the walls of Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City. The only other customers, an old white man and an old white woman, struggled with chop sticks and rice noodles in a corner booth.

“Do you think anybody minds?” I said.

Pamela shrugged. “I don’t. Only, you know, if he eats too much his stomach is liable to explode. That sort of thing can happen, you know. He might get the wrong idea, surrounded by all this food.”

“More cookies!” said Tug.

I gave him another box of animal crackers.

“So um, Tom,” said Pamela, “how do you like working for my father?”

I met Pamela at her father’s office. High-powered advertising, ads for humans and itsies alike. I was low man on the totem pole. I’d stared at Pamela’s picture on his desk for months before I actually saw her in person. Those deep brown eyes, those full, pouty lips.

I sat there studying her face and caught myself imagining waterfalls, thunderstorms, exploding geysers. Things wet. Things loud and gushing.

“Tom wants to fuck you,” said Tug.

“Tug!”

“It’s true, Tom. You’re not fooling anyone. Hey lady, how many cookies you think I can fit in my mouth?”

“I … I don’t know,” said Pamela.

“A fistful. That’s how many. Watch.”

Then Tug made more noshing, gobbling sounds. I felt another wave of calm wash over me, even though I knew my face must’ve been five shades redder.

“Pamela, listen …”

“It’s okay, Tom,” she said. “If human beings were any good at saying what they really want, God never would have given us itsies to begin with.”

“I guess so.”

“And I’m flattered.”

“You are?”

Pamela sighed. “Well you know, my father being who he is. Most guys just pine for me and never bother to ask me out. Oh, I hope I didn’t sound full of myself just then. They pine. They just do, you know?”

“I do know,” I said.

She shook her head. “So either I don’t get dates at all, or I get to date the really crazy ones who think their tiny little men are God’s gift.”

“I don’t think my tiny little man is God’s gift. I’m nothing special. He isn’t anything special, either. My tiny little man’s only a few inches tall. He’s so tiny–“

“We are still talking about your itsy, right?” said Pamela.

“The point, Pam, is that even though I’ve got a few shortcomings, whatever the cost, whatever it takes, I made the decision to always be brave and to be the kind of man I am meant to be.”

“Hmm. I like that. When did you make that decision?”

“Honestly?”

“Yeah.”

“I decided it the moment I laid eyes on you.”

Pamela smiled. “That’s sweet.”

* * * * *

I didn’t know it at the time, but Pamela was a very unhappy woman. She hadn’t always been. She was sunny when she was younger, the most positive person in the room. Just lately, as the years had begun to mount up, and forty was suddenly closer than thirty, failed relationship after failed relationship had left her feeling damaged, marooned, poisonous and poisoned

She’d gotten into feeding her itsy late night snacks. Our little men and our little women don’t come with instruction manuals. God gave them to us. Or evolution or whatever. We come screaming from the womb. Our itsies come screaming after. If God did it, it was because he understood men and women are masters of self-deception. If it was evolution, then nature randomly selected humans to have a miniature rude version of themselves camped out on the tops of their heads.

Anyway, bad things happen when you feed itsies late night snacks. Pamela knew this. Even so, cold fried chicken, piece for her, piece for her itsy. Double pepperoni, double cheese pizza. Everything double. She was ordering for two, after all.

Thing about feeding an itsy is, it makes you feel better. Makes you calmer, tames the beast. They are the id. The inner child which dwells deep inside, that which is never at peace, always lusting, always wanting more and more and more.

* * * * *

We ate our meals. We talked and joked. At some point Tug said, “It’s half past a baboon’s bright red ass.” And we both knew it was time to go home.

On the sidewalk, we hugged.

“I had a nice time,” I said.

“Yeah, me too,” Pamela replied.

“You mean it?”

She laughed. “I do mean it.”

“Walk you to your car?”

“Sure.”

Brown and yellow leaves crunched beneath our feet as we huddled together and crossed to the sidewalk. A harvest moon shone high above the tops of buildings. It was autumn in the city. A cold breeze blew and Pamela scrunched herself down into her Barbour jacket.

“I’m glad you asked me out, Tom,” she said.

“Yeah, me too. Would you like to do it again?”

“I would.”

“I know this great Greek place over on–Oh my god, that woman is crushing that car!”

“What?”

“Over there! The parking lot! That woman is–“

“Oh, shit.”

“–crushing that car and she’s–“

“That’s no woman, Tom,” said Pamela

“It isn’t?!” I exclaimed.

Tug rustled around under my ball cap. “Let me see!”

“Petunia!” Pamela shrieked. “I told you to stay at home!”

Petunia? Dear Lord. She was eight feet tall and had more muscles than human beings are supposed to have. Only she wasn’t a human being. Thigh muscles, neck muscles, rippling biceps, triceps, sheening and glossy, bare breasts of muscle, even her head seemed like it was one big, veiny, throbbing muscle.

“Oh Tom, what you must think of me.” Pamela said.

“She’s crushing that car.”

“That’s my car.”

“And she is way too big for that pair of underwear.”

“That’s my underwear, too. Oh Tom, I am so embarrassed.”

Petunia looked like Pamela coated in liquid Schwarzenegger. She was lying on her side on top of the car, eating a chicken. Not a piece of chicken. Not a cooked chicken, either. Petunia was stuffing a whole live chicken into her face. It clucked and screamed and fought like a little chicken champ.

Petunia bellowed, “Down the hatch!” And then, the chicken disappeared.

Pamela ran to her.

“Bad girl, Petunia!” she said. “That’s a bad, bad girl!”

Petunia belched and grew a whole foot taller. Pamela’s car crunched and all four tires popped.

Pop! Pop, pop, pop!

Big Petunia made a queasy face. “Was that me? I think that was me.”

“No it wasn’t you!” said Pamela. “If it was you, the shockwave would’ve killed us all!”

My mouth hung open. My eyes were wide like Vietnamese noodle bowls.

I heard Tug say, “Damnit, man, let me see her!”

The ball cap popped off my head. Tug gasped.

“That’s a whole lotta woman!” His tiny hands and feet dug into my scalp.

I stooped, grabbed my hat, and made my way to Pamela and nudged her with an arm.

“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why are you wearing your hat if you left your itsy at home?”

Pamela shook her head. Her eyes glistened in the harsh orange neon light. “Oh Tom, I am just so ashamed. I fed her and fed her, and she just ate and ate, and she hasn’t stopped eating, not in weeks. I just wanted to feel good for a damn change.”

“Weeks?” I said. “You’ve been feeding her for weeks?”

Pamela wiped her eyes. “I know you think I’m this awesome person. I know everybody thinks that. I’m just not.”

“Pamela …” I said. I wrapped her in a hug.

Petunia rose onto her knees, car metal creaking and glass shattering to sparkling pellets. She grimaced at me, pointed one long veiny finger. “Hey you! Lover boy! Hands off the merchandise!”

“Me?” I said.

“Did I fucking stutter? You! You wormy little bedsheet stain! You and your miniscule, worthless, man-doll of an itsy!”

Tug shrieked. “She means me! She knows I exist! How do I look? Is my teddy bear costume on straight?”

“Petunia, stop,” said Pamela. “I’m sorry, Tom. She’s a bit roided-out at the moment.”

“Roided-out!” said Petunia. “You ain’t seen me roided-out. Not yet, sister.”

She hopped to her feet and stepped off Pamela’s car. Thud. She dwarfed us. My eyes were level with her enormous, erect, inch-long nipples. Big Petunia took her head in her hands. She cracked her neck left, cracked it right. She slammed her fist into her palm. Again. Again. It made a loud, solid thocking sound. Thock. Thock. Thock.

I stared at that fist. I was dumbstruck. Couldn’t think of a word to say. Pamela pulled away from me. Her eyes darted from me to Petunia. Nobody said a thing. Just that heavy thock, thock, thock.

“Gah!” said Tug. “I can’t take it anymore! Do it! I need to see you in action!”

“Tug,” I said, “you’re not helping.”

“Not trying to help, you human gutter ball! God, I need to see you in action. Oh, it’s killing me!”

“Killing you?” said Petunia. “Little man, down the hatch you go.”

She plucked Tug off my head, clutched his body between a massive finger and a mighty thumb.

“No, don’t!” screamed Pamela.

But it was too late. Petunia ate Tug. Swallowed him whole. Gulp and then, he was gone.

“Now it’s your turn, lover boy!” she said.

She took hold of my arm and lifted me up by it until we were mouth to mouth and eyelash to eyelash.

I’m not going to lie. Fear took hold and I thought I might cry or scream or piss my pants. But instead, I took a moment and told myself a few choice words. You decided to always be brave. The moment you laid eyes on Pamela, you decided to be the man you were meant to be.

I hocked a wad of phlegm and spat in Petunia’s eye. She wiped it away, glared at me, then grinned.

“Mistake number two, lover boy,” she said.

Pamela beat against her, slamming impotent fists at her itsy’s taut, flexing abdominal muscles. She kept screaming, “You monster! You monster!” But Petunia paid her no attention. Her eyes cooked me like sliced beef in scalding-hot Vietnamese broth. Breath stinking like rotten chicken corpses and little itsy men.

“You listen here,” she said. “No man is good enough for my Pam. No man, not nowhere, not no-how. You don’t think I know what you are, lover boy? You don’t think I know you’ll hurt her like all the rest?”

Pamela was shrieking now. “Stop! I said stop it!”

“She feeds me so she’ll be happy,” said Petunia, cheeks red and quivering with barely suppressed rage. “She feeds me so pukes like you can’t touch her no more. I am going to eat you now. And you are going to let me do it. I like my meat raw. I like it tenderized.”

“Stop making threats,” I said. “If you’re going to eat me, go on and–“

She wrapped her arm around my waist. She wound me up, and then she threw me clear across the parking lot.

I was airborne. A million thoughts occurred at once.

No more id.

No more inner child.

God, he was a rotten little itsy.

God, he was just awful, wasn’t he?

Yeah, but he was my rotten little–

I crashed through the plate glass window of the ticket booth at the end of the parking lot.

I went through up to my waist. My legs caught on the glass. I felt a knifing kind of pain. Lacerations. The feeling of being cut to pieces. I screamed.

Petunia stomped over to the booth. She stuck her head through the window. “Oh, you big baby! It’s just a scratch.”

But I could see blood, and I could feel that knifing, that gouging, those lacerations.

“Big baby! Big baby!” she said. “You want to cry? I’ll give you something to cry about.”

She reached through and clamped a hand down over my head. Bam! She slammed my head against the concrete floor. Blam! She did it again. Boom! One more time.

I saw stars and moons and clucking chickens taking flight, flying like real birds, all around my head. And I saw my itsy, poor little Tug. I saw chicken beaks biting into him. Saw chicken teeth chomping on his little brains.

I mumbled, “Chicken teeth.”

Petunia leaned further into the booth. “Huh?”

“Do … chickens … have teeth?”

“Don’t think so, champ.” And then Petunia broke my arm.

Snap!

I howled and spat and spoke in tongues.

Pamela crept up behind Petunia. She jabbed at her with a tire iron.

“You leave my man alone!” she said.

She used the prying crowbar end like a mafia hitman might use an icepick, sliding it into Petunia’s ear. Seemed like Pamela was trying to scramble her itsy’s brains. Then again, it also seemed like the world was falling away from me and growing browner and browner and more and more like nap time yes into the sticky syrup, captain I soiled myself I apologize most sincerely must be dying, please sew my coffin from clean undies.

The brain scrambling thing didn’t work. Petunia wrenched the tire iron from her ear. It was coated in blood, but the big girl was still on her feet.

“Pamela!” she said. “Oh, so we’re calling him your man now?”

Petunia backhanded her. Pamela flew from view.

“I have had it with you, Pam,” Petunia bellowed. “I have absolutely had it! Shit! Fuck it! Let’s eat!”

She tore off my shoe, my sock, and then she stuck my whole foot in her mouth. She bit down. Took a few toes.

It didn’t hurt like I expected. In fact, I felt kind of good. Yes, suddenly, inexplicably, very comfortable and very calm. The face she made was indecipherable. Maybe it was all the glistening muscles. It was the kind of expression a person wears when they’re concentrating really hard. Or maybe the kind of expression a person wears when they drink too much soda and have surgery, bubbly-pain like diving ocean deep and emerging with the bends. She made that face, then she spat the rest of my foot out.

“Oh,” she said, and then again, “Oh.”

Blood dripped from the corner of her mouth.

She said, “Oh.”

And then her stomach exploded. Blood, guts, muscles, chickens, it all burst out like a cheap New Year’s popper loaded with Halloween gore.

Pop!

And it splattered me like sopping red confetti.

A tiny voice said, “See? You see that? Ate too much. You gotta watch that, sister.”

Petunia slumped against the ticket booth. A little man, my little man, emerged from the carnage-crater that was her stomach.

“Tug?” I said.

Petunia’s dead, twitching eyes stared right at me.

“Yeah, boss?” Tug ate a chunk of something small and pink. He was covered in blood, a few inches taller than when Petunia had swallowed him. His teddy bear suit had ripped and popped its seams.

“Stop eating,” I mumbled.

“Yeesh, boss, you look rough.”

“Stop eating. For God’s sake, stop eating.”

“Huh? Why the hell should I stop? It’s delicious. That girl was well fed, man.”

Every time he took a bite, I felt it, that calmness and warmth. It was nice. Felt better than the pain. Even so, I mumbled, “Tug, you have got to stop eating.”

I was powerless to stop him. Couldn’t move. I was bleeding to death and I knew it.

“Well maybe I don’t want to stop,” said Tug. “Maybe I’m sick to death of taking orders from you. Yeah, you know what? I think we need a regime change. I think I ought to be the one calling the–“

Pamela snatched the chunk of Petunia from his hands and smacked him upside the head.

“Don’t be stupid,” she said.

“Hey, I was eating that!”

She smacked him again.

“And don’t talk back. I’ve had enough of disobedient itsies to last a lifetime.”

Tug shouted, “Who the hell do you think you–“

She smacked him.

“Goddamnit, quit smacking me!”

She raised her hand for another.

“All right! All right!” he said. “Nasty woman! Nasty!”

“Go get in my car. The crushed one. Bring me my cell phone. We need to call an ambulance. Treat you like I should’ve treated her.”

Tug grumbled and swore, but he obeyed nonetheless. Once he was gone, Pamela carefully picked her way over the broken glass, past the ruined, bloody form of her former itsy, and through the window until she was crouching beside me.

“Oh Tom,” she said. “I am so sorry.”

“S’okay,” I said.

“No, it’s not okay. I created a monster. Oh what a mess. Tom, I am so, so sorry.”

“Yer’kay?” I said.

“What? I didn’t hear you.”

“Asked r’you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Itser’s dead.”

Pamela sighed. “I know. I feel kind of empty now. No, that’s not right. I feel full. Way, way too full. Like I’ve got all this emotion now and I don’t know where to put it, how to choke it down. You know what I mean?”

“No,” I said.

“Tom? Stay with me, now. Keep your eyes open. Tom, you’ve earned your second date.”

Eyelids were heavy. I tried to smile at her, but it was so hard, so hard.

“S’cond date?”

“That’s right, Tom. Second date. Just survive for me, okay?”

“‘Kay.”

“Okay?”

“‘Kay.”

I survived. Of course I did. How else would I be telling you this story? I underwent months of hospitalization and rehab and all that stuff. Learning to cope with fewer toes and all. All that horrible hospital food really made me slim down. Tug slimmed down, too. He got regular-sized again. We had a nice long talk about why it’s okay to eat animal crackers but not okay to, for instance, eat whole live chickens or people’s internal organs.

I had my second date with Pamela. And my third and fourth. She’s not the same since her itsy died. She’s tense, a bundle of nerves. She goes to this support group now for people whose itsies have died prematurely. Sometimes it seems like it helps. Sometimes not. There’s a whole population of people in this world who no longer have the means to quell and suppress the pain in their lives. You know what she said while we were snuggling on the couch the other night?

“I feel so horrible all the time now. How do I cope without her?”

“How any of us copes,” I said. “You’ve got me now. I’ll be your itsy if you need me to be.”

She smiled at me. “My Dad was right about you. He said that Tom guy, he’s a good one, Pam. You should hang on to that guy.”

“Smart man. Brilliant, actually.”

We leaned in for a deep kiss.

Tug hopped off my head and started kicking at Pamela’s scalp.

“No kissing! Last time you kissed him, you didn’t put out! I will eat you. Do you hear me? I will eat you alive!”

Pamela flicked him across the room. I didn’t do anything about it. Kissing Pam was so much better than feeding the id.

END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Book Marketing

Ask the Aurhors 2022

Welcome to the final segment of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. This week, a final introduction for Middle Grade & Y.A. author, L. Jagi Lamplighter, whose essay contribution is titled “The Trouble with Troupes” and a Q & A session on book marketing will be finishing off this wonderful series.

I want to thank all the readers who chose to spend their Saturdays hanging out with us for the past ten weeks, as we give this unique writing reference a send off, and let all the authors out there see why they need the plethora of writing wisdom contained between the covers of Ask the Authors 2022 writing reference anthology. And now it’s time to get started with this final segment.

Meet L. Jagi Lamplighter

L. Jagi Lamplighter is the author of the YA fantasy series: The Books of Unexpected Enlightenment, the third book of which was nominated for the YA Dragon Award in 2017 and the fourth book of which won the first YA Ribbit Award. She is also the author of the Prospero’s Children series: Prospero LostProspero In Hell, and Prospero Regained

She has published numerous articles and short stories. She also has an anthology of her own works: In the Lamplight. She also edits for Superversive Press and teaches “The Art and Craft of Writing”. She was also a presenter and panel member for both the 2020 Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference and the 2021 New Beginnings Virtual Writing Conference.

Website: Welcome to Arhyalon: http://www.ljagilamplighter.com/

And now for the Q & A.

Book Marketing

Mario Acevedo: Here are my thoughts on Book Marketing.

I never thought much about branding myself and wrote what I wanted. Fortunately, everything tended to be in related genres. As for book marketing, if I knew what the magic lever was that you could pull and hit the jackpot, I would keep it to myself. I’ve tried all kinds of methods and gimmicks, some which worked okay, others which never moved the needle. What works for someone else, might not work for you. What works now may not work tomorrow. Remember, those masters in branding and marketing, Disney and Coca-Cola, have their share of million-dollar flops. What I recommend is to keep your name out there in a variety of streams: social media, newsletters, conventions, interviews, podcasts.

Good book covers are essential. Whatever you do, don’t have one that looks Photoshopped by someone who didn’t know what they were doing.

Websites are necessary though really fancy ones (read expensive) are not worth the money unless you have a lot of traffic and sales. You want something catchy and one that you update regularly.

Everyone loves great reviews and people who leave one-star reviews tend to be acting out an agenda not related to your work. Don’t hate them for it, instead pray that they either find Jesus or a competent therapist.

Once upon a time, book trailers were the cat’s pajamas. And about as effective. Two of my book trailers got tens of thousands of views, which is extraordinary for book trailers, but I can’t say how significant they were to sales. Book trailers work best when you play them at a signing booth as when people ask, “What’s your book about?”

Keep in mind that the world doesn’t revolve around you so don’t be a dick to others. Don’t be a doormat either; and in all cases, keep yourself a class act.

How do you brand yourself and your works?

Paul Kane: I think that changes depending on what book it is. So the Paul Kane ‘brand’ – whatever that is – would be more tied into horror, post-apocalyptic fiction or whatever, so I might get invited to a horror convention to talk about that material. While the PL Kane ‘band’ is pure crime fiction, and you’re more likely to see me talking about that at a crime fiction event. But it’s all still just me, when all’s said and done. I try not to cross the streams if I can help it, and I haven’t really ‘branded’ myself as much as the publishers who’ve put my stuff out there have done it for me.

Bobby Nash: Bobby Nash is my brand. I am usually the first point of contact with readers, so I want to make sure meeting me makes you want to read one of my books. I also brand the books. My BEN Books crime thrillers share a universe, so they have similar branding. It helps. I also use branding on title and cover design in series. You know that the Snow books are part of a series, for example.

Robbie Cheadle: My children’s books are primarily a series about a little man called Sir Chocolate who lives in a world where you can eat everything. Each book contains a rhyming verse story for small children and 5 recipes for children to make under adult supervision. It is in essence a first baking book series and I market it that way.

My adult books are all historical and paranormal in nature and I am at this market. I use hashtags for my books on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I write under my own name, using different variations to clearly separate my children’s and my adults’ books.

Nancy Oswald: I haven’t paid much attention to branding, but I think a brand is evolving based solely on my writing interests. With that said, the next book I want to write doesn’t fit the historical category, but I don’t want “branding” to stop me from doing it. I guess I’d prefer to write what my interests are than to worry about a brand.

What’s the most effective method of finding followers?

Paul Kane: I have no idea! I just keep doing the writing, promoting it on my social media accounts and seeing what happens. I think using humour on those is a good way to spread the word about yourself, and posting about other people’s work or what you might be reading, watching and so on, breaks up the sameness of just talking about yourself and what you’ve got out or coming out. I think genuineness comes across massively to people and maybe that gets you followers? I’ve only ever been myself online or at events, and I think people can see that. They can spot it a mile away if you’re fake.

Bobby Nash: Beats me. It seems to change from week to week. I try as many methods as possible to attract new readers.

Robbie Cheadle: A lot of my readers have come through my blog. I have two blogs: Robbie’s Inspiration which is for my baking, art work, and poetry, and Roberta Writes which is for my reviews of classic, horror, drama, science fiction, and other adult books. I also do a weekly prompt called Thursday Doors when I share pictures of my travels around South African and other places. I am an active blogger and have a lot of blogging friends who I have discussions with. Many of them have become friends who I email and correspond with.

Other social media I use are Facebook which is great for reading and writing groups, Twitter, and Instagram. I have a YouTube channel which I post to from time to time. I think being an active part of the writing and reading community is the best way of getting followers. Writers are also often reviewers while other readers usually don’t think to write reviews.

I understand that newsletters are a good way of staying in contact with your readership outside of social media. I have not as yet had the time to pursue developing a newsletter following or committing to a monthly or bi-monthly newsletter.

Have giveaways or social media book events been effective in bringing in followers?

Paul Kane: Publishers tend to handle all that side of things for me, so I can’t really say. You do see a spike in numbers when you do a giveaway I guess, or do a blog tour, so I guess they work. But if people don’t like your stuff, they won’t keep coming back no matter what you do. Keeping readers or followers is just as important as attracting them in the first place.

Bobby Nash: Short term, yes. Long term, not really. Some sign up for the giveaway then leave when it’s over. I do have a small fanbase and I try to grow it.

Robbie Cheadle: I do giveaways when I do book tours for the launch of new books. Living in South Africa, which is not a country of big readers due to the excellent weather, I market mainly to Australia, the UK, and the US and rely on social media to get the word out.

Giveaways certainly help bring in some reviews although not every free book has the desired outcome, enough winners do read and review the book to make giveaways a useful undertaking.

Social media events are generally not that well attended, in my limited experience, so I don’t think I pick up many followers that way. I am an opportunist though and will usually grab an opportunity for promotion even if a return is not guaranteed. I enjoy sharing about my books and the anthologies I’ve participated in.

Can you share your logo and the story of why you chose this to represent your brand?

Paul Kane: I don’t really have a logo as such. My main site is called Shadow Writer, after a story I wrote back in the late 1990s, and I chose that because it fits the kind of dark fiction I do as Paul Kane.

Bobby Nash: BEN Books is the name of my indie press. The name is simple. BEN is my initials. Bobby Edward Nash. I designed a simple design with a book and scratched metal half-moon coming out behind it to signify book pages flipping. I liked it. Years later, my friend, Jeffrey Hayes redesigned it for me and made the BEN Books logo look much more professional. I also use branding by putting genre under the logo. A BEN Books Thriller. BEN Books Pulp. That sort of thing. Now that crime thrillers is BEN Books’ main focus, I added a criminal’s mask to the logo. I like it.

Do you have a blog or website where you drive traffic? How effective do you feel it is?

Paul Kane: My SW site’s been going years and we’ve built up a good following on there. We get many unique visitors a month. One thing I did to help with that was to have a ‘Guest Writer’ slot; it was something I ‘borrowed’ from Simon Clark’s site. As with the social media posts, this stops things being just about me all the time, helps promote other people’s work that I like and also crosses over our readerships. People who are fans of their work might have a look around my site, while people who are fans of mine are reading whichever Guest Writer’s work is on there this month. It usually takes the form of a short story or extract from a novel. We’ve had some huge writers on there over the last couple of decades, including Stephen King, Charlaine Harris, Lee Child and Martina Cole.

Bobby Nash: I have a website for all things Bobby. It’s www.bobbynash.com and it has all of my books, art, acting, news, blogs, etc. It’s the hub for all things me.

www.ben-books.com is the home of BEN Books.

Abraham Snow has his own site. www.abrahamsnow.com has everything you need to know about the Snow series.

Lance Star: Sky Ranger also has a dedicated site. http://lancestar.blogspot.com

I like having dedicated websites. Websites are an easy to find way to keep up with things. Posts can easily get lost in the sea that is social media.

Do you have a blog or website where you drive traffic? How effective do you feel it is?

Robbie Cheadle: My blogs are my most effective marking tools, and my blogging friends often promote my work and posts by sharing them on other social media platforms and even on their own blogs. I also write posts for other bloggers sites, including 3 monthly columns for Writing to be Read. I always take opportunities to guest post and try to write engaging posts. I have enlarged by readership of both my books and my blog this way.

Can readers buy directly from you on your website, or must they go through third party venders such as Amazon, B&N, etc…?

Paul Kane: Through a third party. I don’t sell books through my site; as I say I’m not really a bookseller myself. The only thing I do sell on there is remarques, which are unique drawings I do inside the books sometimes for readers. I did a lot of those when Servants of Hell came out, drawing black & white pics inside the books of Sherlock Holmes and my Cenobite creations.

Bobby Nash: In addition to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., I have an on-line store where readers can buy autographed books, art commissions, book box sets, etc. It’s located at https://bobbynash.square.site. Please check it out.

Robbie Cheadle: Readers can buy the majority of my books from TSL Publications in the UK. Anne sends my books to readers in Australia, Europe, and the USA. My books are also available as ebooks from Lulu.com and as print books from Amazon and Lulu.com. Only select books of mine are available as ebooks from Amazon. My poetry books are available from Amazon and other outlets as well as the ten anthologies I have participated in.

Nancy Oswald: Website, Amazon

How do you get reviews for your books?

Paul Kane: Usually the book is sent out via the publisher, or it appears on NetGalley, although I have been known to contact bloggers directly if it’s to set up a blog tour. Most people are quite friendly and open to being approached, though you do get the odd one or two who don’t care for it.

Bobby Nash: Not easily. I sometimes beg on social media, but that rarely works. Most of the time, you just hope for the best.

Robbie Cheadle: I have been fortunate and some of the purchasers of my books have written and posted reviews to Goodreads and Amazon. Some readers can’t post to Amazon because of their reviewing policies, but I am happy to receive reviews on Goodreads and also on TSL Publications’ website.

What are your thoughts on paid reviews? Have you ever used them?

Paul Kane: No, never. And never will. I think if you’re paying to have your book reviewed it kind of defeats the object of it being an objective review of your work. You’re paying for a service, rather than offering the book to reviewers for their honest opinion – good or bad – of it.

Bobby Nash: I do not like paid reviews. I do not use them. How can I trust them?

Robbie Cheadle: I have never paid anyone to review one of my books. I do include a paragraph at the end of my books asking readers to leave a review and share their opinion. I have had readers approach me on Twitter and Goodreads offering to review my books for a fee, but I haven’t accepted any such proposals as it is disingenuous.

Nancy Oswald: Yes, a couple of times. I don’t think they drive more sales, but there are times when a good quote or two is needed for publicity materials and they come in handy.

Different book formats appeal to different audiences. How do you market differently for the different formats your books are available in?

Paul Kane: I’m not quite sure what you mean here, do you mean do I market audios differently to print or whatever? I suppose you have to look at what prices are being charged for the product and that affects how your promote it, for example ebooks are quite cheap so you’re reaching a different kind of reader to the ones who buy a limited hardback because they want something special as a keepsake or to increase in value. Again, that’s more in the realms of bookselling than what I do. 

Bobby Nash: When looking for places to market, I research. As a small press publisher, I try to make my BEN Books titles as easy to find in as many different formats as possible so readers can get the books in the way that works best for them.

Do you prefer online advertising or face-to-face events for marketing your books? Why?

Paul Kane: I think there’s a place for both, and if the pandemic has shown us anything it’s that we can also do events via Zoom and reach audiences that way. So sometimes it’s the only way you can reach people, because face-to-face is out. For me, personally, though I prefer getting out there and meeting readers who’ve enjoyed your fiction and signing copies of books for them. There’s no feeling like that in the world.

Bobby Nash: Both work, but I have found that I have better success with face-to-face events in terms of introducing my work to new readers.

Robbie Cheadle: I enjoy face-to-face events, but I haven’t found them to be particularly useful for books sales locally in South Africa. South Africans are not big readers as they prefer sports and outdoors activities, and our weather is good all year round which facilitates an outdoors lifestyle. In addition, there are 11 official languages in South Africa and the English-speaking community is a minority.

As a result, I mainly market my books through on-line advertising and marketing events and initiatives. I believe the face-to-face marketing is better if the environment is conducive to readers and I would do more in that line if I lived in the UK or USA.

Nancy Oswald: Face to face by far. It’s where I seem to sell more books, but it might be because I haven’t taken advantage of online marketing opportunists. I’m trying a few, now, but the jury’s out.

Do you use paid advertising or stick to the free channels? How effective have they been?

Paul Kane: I always stick to free. If it’s a paid advert, then it’s been paid for by my publishers – for instance I know there was a fair amount of promotion online on Facebook or Instagram for the PL Kane books, but that was down to HQ/Harper rather than myself.

Bobby Nash: I have a low budget, so I used paid advertising sporadically, but targeted. I try to take advantage of free promotion channels as often as possible.

Robbie Cheadle: I have run paid advertisements on Facebook, but I’ve not had a lot of success with them. I haven’t tried any other paid avenues for book sales.

Which book advertising platforms have you used: Bookbub, Fussy Librarian, Booktopia, Facebook, Amazon, etc…? Which have you found to be most effective?

Paul Kane: I’m on Bookbub, mainly because one of my publishers told me I needed to be on it to promote a specific book. And I’m on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and so on. I think they all have their place and if I push a book through one, I tend to do it via all of them, so there’s no real way for me to see which one is working for the best. I just promote through them all.

Bobby Nash: I’ve used Facebook, Amazon, BookBub, and a couple of others. Effectiveness varies.

Do you have a newsletter? How effective do you feel it is?

Paul Kane: I do have a PL Kane newsletter, which has helped me reach more readers. It’s a place where I can share more of my news on a personal level, plus offer recommendations for things I’ve enjoyed reading or watching. To entice people in, I also write new fiction that’s exclusive to the newsletter so I feel like it works both ways. Readers are getting something out of it as well as me.

Bobby Nash: I do have a monthly newsletter. You can subscribe to Nash News at http://www.subscribepage.com/NashNews. I have about 230 subscribers. I don’t get a lot of feedback so I can’t say for certain how effective it is or how many sales result from the newsletter.

Do you use book trailers to market your books? How effective have they been for you?

Paul Kane: I haven’t personally used them, but some of my publishers have and obviously I’ve shared the trailers as and when. There was a great one for The Rainbow Man, which was my first YA novel, and I got a friend of mine Brad Watson to come up with one for Arrowhead when that came out. But generally speaking, I have no idea how much of an impact they have on sales or anything.

Robbie Cheadle: I have tried book trailers to market my books, but I don’t believe they have been at all effective. I don’t think many people bother to watch the video, even if it is short. I can tell from the average viewing time of the video that few people have watched until the end.

Have you ever tried using press releases for your books? How effective has that been for you?

Bobby Nash: I write press releases for all of my books, even if I am not the publisher. I want to get the information about the book out to the word, as well as how to contact me in case of interviews, quotes, etc.

Nancy Oswald: I typically get a press release out to all the local papers. Hard to relate to sales, but they’re free and add to reader recognition.

Do you have a street team or reader group that you use to get reviews? How well does that work?

Bobby Nash: I don’t have an official street team. I have some fans and friends that share my news and I appreciate each and every repost, retweet, and shout out.

Robbie Cheadle: I have a few blogging friends who always offer to read and review my books and they always post reviews. It is kind of them, and I am grateful for the support. I never ask people to read and review my books as it goes against my upbringing to ask people to things like that for me. I had a very strict and conservative upbringing, and some things are very difficult for me as a result. I read and review over 100 books a year and I beta read books for certain individuals too. I always try to help other writers when I can.

Nancy Oswald: For many of my books, I’ve asked other authors with a track record to read and write cover blurb material. I’ve also swapped Amazon reviews with other authors. 

How do you handle marketing for multiple genres, since each one appeals to different audiences? Can a single brand encompass multiple genres or should they be marketed separately, with a different brand or pen name for each one?

Bobby Nash: I tailor my marketing based on the book’s genre. I don’t promote my crime thriller at the same sites where I promote my sci-fi epic. As an author, I only have the one brand. I don’t use pen names.

Robbie Cheadle: As mentioned previously, I market my children’s books and poetry separately from my horror, paranormal and historical adult fiction. I have two blogs, two Twitter accounts, to Facebook pages and I try to keep them as separate as possible. I have different followers on the two profiles and only a few follow me on both. That is what I was aiming for when I created the second profile. I wanted people who were interested in my children’s writing, art, and poetry to enjoy that aspect of my creativity without having to filter out my adult orientated interests and vice versa. I do believe it has worked quite well.

Do you use a pen name? Why or why not?

Paul Kane: I have a few, as you can probably guess from some of the other answers. I think it helps to differentiate between the kinds of fiction I write. So if you pick up a Paul Kane you’re likely to get horror, dark fantasy or the like, while PL Kane books are straight crime. Detectives or domestic noir. There can be some scope for crossover here, because I have fans of all my different kinds of books, and sometimes there are elements from my other work that slip over – The Family Lie is a crime book, but also deals with cults and has elements of folk horror too – but for the most part I try to keep things separate. It just makes it clearer for myself and my readership.

Robbie Cheadle: I do not use a pen name. I was going to because of my professional life, but my husband didn’t like the idea of my not using my married name. I publish my children’s books and poetry under Robbie Cheadle and my adult books under Roberta Eaton Cheadle. The names are linked, but sufficiently different for people to be able to differentiate between them and the different genres of my books.

Nancy Oswald: I used a pen name for my very first published book, but when people started asking me how they would remember and find my book under a different name I gave it up. This book went into a reprint, so I switched mid-stream. It was published by Scholastic Canada, so in this case it made very little difference in sales.

Are your books available in brick-and-mortar stores and libraries? What are the challenges with having your books in these outlets?

Paul Kane: Yes, certainly. At the moment, the challenges seem to be down to distribution, all the knock-on effects of Brexit and such, but I’m hoping that calms down in the future. I know some stores and libraries have had shortages lately because of all this. Luckily, I think most of my publishers are doing okay on that score. There always seem to be plenty of copies available to ship out to stores at any rate, which I’m very grateful for.

Bobby Nash: My books are available to them, though they are rarely shelved there due to the print on demand nature of my small press. You can order them in any brick-and-mortar store, but it’s doubtful they will be on the store shelves. Some libraries have stocked my books though.

Nancy Oswald: Libraries, I usually donate copies.  Brick and mortar is a lot of leg work and there’s a difference in percentages and how you get paid—a lot of record keeping. But I do get sales through these outlets, so it’s worth it, and they collect tax which saves another headache or two. I like craft fairs for face-to-face sales, but I’m choosy about where I go.

Covers are important. They can be one of your best marketing tools. How do you come by your covers: DIY, hire professional cover designer, buy pre-fab covers?

Paul Kane: That’s all handled in-house by the publisher. An indie might ask me if I have a preferred artist, or I might say to them I like a particular image that fits the contents of the book – like Les Edwards’ painting for my Body Horror collection Traumas from Black Shuck Books – but more often than not I might not get a vote at all, especially if it’s a bigger publisher. I have to say I’ve been very lucky with them, though. There’s never been one I’ve absolutely hated in my entire career, and I hope there never will be. There have been some that have grown on me over time, but all in all I’ve been very happy.

Bobby Nash: I prefer to work with professionals because they know what they are doing and do it far better than I can. I do some design work, but not all covers are created equal. Evil Ways, Suicide Bomb, and the upcoming Evil Intent had a simple, design element. I handled those myself. Deadly Games! has a photo cover. I took the photo and designed the cover. The Snow and Sheriff Myers series have covers by Jeffrey Hayes and Dennis Calero. I’ve not used any pre-fab covers. I prefer to have the cover designed to fit the story.

Robbie Cheadle: I design the covers for my children’s books myself because I use my own fondant and cake artwork. I tried using a professional photographer, but that didn’t work that well for me, so I invested in a better camera and I take my own pictures.

I use a professional designer for my adult books. Tim Barber of Dissect Designs designed the covers of While the Bombs Fell, Through the Nethergate and A Ghost and His Gold. Teagan Riordain Geneviene has designed some of my newer covers. I worked well with both designers and am always very happy with my covers.

Nancy Oswald: I’ve been spoiled by my publisher who used an artist for most of my books. I hired the same artist for my latest book that I self-published to stay consistent with the covers in the rest of the series. I know it cost me more money to do this, but felt it was worth it.

Which marketing strategies do you use: rapid release, perma-free, reader magnets,.99 cent promos, etc…? Which have you found to be most effective?

Bobby Nash: Yes. I try everything. Some things work. Some don’t. I don’t know until I try. Plus, I’ve discovered that an effective method for one book might not prove effective for another. It’s an on-going, evolving experiment.

Nancy Oswald: I used to do postcards, but they were expensive, and to mail them was expensive. A few years ago, I switched to bookmarks only—two sided with general info about me on one side (contact info, bio, etch) and images of all my books on the back side. My newest bookmark only has the Ruby and Maude Adventure images with a list of my other books.  (Space consideration.)

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That was a great final Q & A session, with so much information. Of course, book marketing is a topic that could fill an entire book and then some. But that wraps up this week’s segment – and it wraps up this Saturday series.

Thanks to all of the contributing authors for their willingness to share their writing wisdom with us in both blog and book. They are who made this wonderful reference possible. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Thanks to all our readers for joining us. I do hope you readers gleaned some useful advice in this series, and if you missed any of the segments, you can find them all here:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session.

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-writing Rituals Q & A session.

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session.

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A session.

Segment 5: Introduction for Mario Acevedo/Action, Pacing and Dialog Q & A session.

Segment 6: Introduction for Nancy Oswald/Tone: Voice, Person, Tense & POV Q & A session.

Segment 7: Introduction for Chris Barili/ Setting & World Building Q & A session.

Segment 8: Introduction for Jeff Bowles/Editing & Revision Q & A session.

Segment 9: Introduction for Mark Leslie Lefebvre/Publishing Q & A session.

Segment 10: Oh, wait… This is Segment 10.

Well then, I guess that’s about it for this segment… And for the series. Again I thank you for sticking with us through all ten weeks.

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Where can you find publishing industry experts willing to share their secrets? 

Ask the Authors 2022 is the ultimate writer’s reference, with tips and advice on craft, publishing and book marketing. Eleven experienced and successful authors share what works for them and offer their keys to success in traditional publishing, hybrid, and indie. You’ll learn industry wisdom from Mark Leslie Lefebvre, Kevin Killiany, L. Jagi Lamplighter, Bobby Nash, Paul Kane, Nancy Oswald, Chris Barili, Jeff Bowles, Roberta Eaton Cheadle, Mario Acevedo and Kaye Lynne Booth.

This book offers tried-and-true ways to improve your craft and explores the many options in the current publishing and book marketing worlds. Take a peek inside and find out what works for you.

Ask the Authors 2023

“Ask the Authors is an up-to-date and broad-based compendium of advice from today’s working writers, to help you with understanding your own writing career. Great information!”

—Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Spine of the Dragon

The special promotional price of 3.99 is good through today, since this is the last blog segment in the series. Tomorrow, it goes back up to the regular price of 4.99. If you’ve been following, you may have already gotten a copy of Ask the Authors 2022. If not, be sure and grab your copy today.

Available from your favorite book distributor through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Bowlesian! – Godling: Part II

Godling: Part II

by Jeff Bowles

*This story and others like it can be found in my collection Godling and Other Paint Stories, available on Amazon now. We published Part I of Godling last month on Writing to be Read. You can find it here.


A part of Godling was aware the two black lumps lying in the darkness had been silent and still precisely 2.234 minutes. If they were sleeping, they most certainly were not dreaming. Which was just as well. Godling was doing enough dreaming for the both of them.

His memory banks refreshed again. She was there as if Godling could touch her. Jossinda, queen of his universe. Her smooth, lithesome sway; the sensual intelligence lurking behind her hazel eyes; and of course, the final words they’d spoken to each other.

“I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”

“Jossinda …”

“My love, I’m not asking.”

“Quickly, my friends,” Renaldo said. “Awake, awake.”

Godling became aware Renaldo hovered over him in the darkness of the Black Room. The abbot warden jabbed the raw, sparking end of a hazer-stunner into Brennan’s back. Godling felt the hot lancing voltage. Brennan screamed. He leapt to his feet.

“Faith preserve us!” he moaned.

The prison’s hazy green lights flickered, warmed, and then settled into a steady glow. As Renaldo woke Ressia in a similarly excruciating manner, Godling realized the abbot warden may not have been as stupid as he’d always seemed. He’d not painted Ressia and Brennan so Godling could control them. He’d painted them so they could control Godling.

His heart had always been a kind of magnetic base for his consciousness. The paint was entirely repurposed now. Perception dispatching elements nullified due to the layering effect, perception receiving elements perfectly stratified and even slightly enhanced. The details only served to infuriate Godling. The simple truth of it was he had long ago closed the Black Room precisely because he’d feared something like this could happen. His mind, his body, his paint, his black liquid heart. Godling had been tricked into believing both Ressia and Brennan were his rightful bodies.

Now the two young lovers were naked and jet black head to toe, and when they moved, Godling moved with them. When they leaned against one another in sheer exhaustion, he felt the sensations of their heaving chests and the sweat collecting on their arms and necks as if with his own organic skin.

“Utterly perverse,” he muttered. His voice made the circuit matter vibrate over every square inch of them.

“Oof!” Ressia chirped, and even Godling was surprised by how it felt.

“Human vibrathreads,” said Renaldo. “I anticipated it might be a result.”

“Result? That’s the word you’re choosing?” Godling fumed. “How about abomination? Or disgrace? Did you really think it sensible to interface with the truest king of all in such a reckless manner?”

“Godling, please, you’re still my prisoner. I’ve simply exchanged one set of holding cells for another. You should thank me. You haven’t asked why we’ve done this.”

“That’s because I don’t care.”

“We know the truth about you, god machine,” Brennan said. “The wars, the massacres. We know it’s nothing you intended.”

“Is that so?” said Godling. “And I suppose you’d have me believe you’ve risked your lives for nothing at all but a fantasy? I was responsible for those wars. I murdered millions. See here the fruits of my labor? A prison built on foundations of millennia, ransacked now by two fool children and a bald-headed fop.”

Renaldo laughed. “You can stop pretending, Godling. We do in fact know everything. I found it, and I asked it myself. You know very well what it is.”

Sudden harsh voices filled the access tunnel outside the Black Room, gruff and full of violence.

“Step lightly men! We got ‘em trapped like rats!”

“Kill the monster where he sleeps!”

Another voice rose above these. Godling recognized it in an instant.

“They’re cornered, men. Take your time. Line up your shots. We want nice clean bodies to show the whore’s father.”

General Praebus, the man who’d hijacked his vibrathreads. Godling expected the lovers to panic, but they didn’t. Pupil dilation well within ranges concurrent to moderate stress. Heart rates elevated, but not in the extreme.

“We prepared for this, my young friends,” said the Timekeeper.

With that, they stepped in front of Renaldo, and these two helpless, hapless children dropped into surprisingly sophisticated hand-to-hand combat stances. General Praebus and his men appeared up the corridor, their machine rifles and mortar shot locked and leveled. Praebus spotted the children and bellowed, “Open fire!”

Brennan and Ressia launched themselves from the Black Room, bounding off the balls of their feet, touching off against the walls. They crisscrossed past each other. A hail of bullets ripped and zipped past them, but they closed the distance with stunning speed. Brennan landed with his palm to the neck of a gunner sergeant, but Ressia careened right past her target and skidded down the corridor. Three footmen leveled their rifles at her back and fired. Without thinking, Godling forced the black circuit matter to stiffen. Bounce, bounce, ricochet, bounce. All three footmen fell to the floor dead.  

Ressia got to her feet and drew her hands to her back. She was unwounded.

“Godling, did you just…?”

“Yes, I believe I did.”

“Thank you.”

Godling took a punch, a solid right jab to the ribs. No, it wasn’t Godling who took the jab. It was Brennan. Both he and Godling grunted, but Godling was quicker to react. Another jab came for Brennan’s face, but Godling pulled the same trick, surrounded and concentrated the circuit matter. When the blow landed, he heard the distinct cracking of finger bones.

The owner of the hand shrieked. It was General Praebus himself, a sweaty, red-faced mountain of a man. He balled the hand in agony, made the other into a fist and swung.

“Boy, solar plexus!” Godling said.

Brennan hit the General the instant Godling focused the circuit matter into a ridge of raised knuckles. Praebus flew back, landing like a ragdoll on a pile of men. He huffed and snorted and passed out cold. The third mounted army paused for one panicked instant, and then they scrambled to heft and pull him back. They pitched a half-hearted assault after that, but the sight of their fallen commander seemed to dull any notion they’d had of victory. The three of them—Brennan, Ressia, and Godling—jabbed and kicked and hammered until what was left of King Marshal’s raid party cried for retreat and scrambled back the way they’d come.

*****

“Did you see what happened?” said Ressia. “That soldier kept firing into my chest and Godling absorbed—”

“And the one with the mortar shot,” said Brennan. “I was on fire a full twenty seconds and I never felt—”   

“Children, please,” Godling interrupted. “I believe the abbot warden was explaining why I deserve my newfound freedom.”

Isolation, of course, was the root of the planet’s moniker, Isolinius. According to Renaldo, there were reasons the word Ancient was always applied to Spacefarers, reasons wars over petty things like failed betrothals happened at least once a decade, if not twice.

“It’s no large mystery, is it?” the abbot warden said. “Humanity is lost without your steady hand, Godling, and not a soul on this planet is better off with you locked away.”

Godling couldn’t help but laugh.

“Once again, a complete misrepresentation of the facts,” he said. “Now that I’m out and about, I can confidently say humanity has never looked better.”

They rode the vast open grasslands of the Isolinium plains. Great red tracts of Crimson Blade swayed in the breeze. The binary stars shone in orange and white-tinted splendor, but even they did nothing to distract from the true beauty of Isolinius, its seventeen moons, three of which were visible now. The preferred mode of travel on the planet, of course, was the ever-reliable Flitglider. But Renaldo had quite correctly surmised they’d be too easy to track darting around the sky, spewing long greasy trails of green and black smoke. So they instead chose for themselves the domestic breed of the artificial industrial Tri-Roller animal, otherwise known as a Beastwheeler.

“For instance,” Godling mused, “I find transportation in the modern era rather charming. I think I’ll call this one Nancy.”

“Can we please get on to the matter at hand?” Renaldo snapped. He whipped his reins, and after a deep, throbbing groan, the hairy industrial creature’s three large fur-and-callus covered wheels picked up speed.

“I think, humbly speaking, hallowed one,” Ressia said, “that you should stop picking on Renaldo and listen to what he has to say.”

The lovers sat in the low hairy hauling bed, the overriding musky scent of which was rather … florid. Godling had had more than enough time to observe the pecking order of the three humans, and understood, most unambiguously, that the two children would only come to the abbot warden’s defense if and when it suited them.

“It’s a very simple scenario,” Renaldo said. “The Gods created man, man created Godling, Godling ruled over man—”

“Until man decided genocide was in fact the worst case ever made for machines ruling anything,” said Golding. “Yes, I remember quite well.”

 “All your bloody campaigns, Godling, tragic though they were, had nothing of the import of what came before and after.”

“And what came before?” said Godling.

Renaldo sat up straighter in his driver box. “An explosion in human development. The expansion of our minds, the impetus and growth of a wise and compassionate galactic society, due in full to your guardianship and wisdom. God machine, human beings traveled the stars! We grew peaceful and curious. We at last became aware of ourselves, and we strived to leave behind something better for our children.”

“And what came after, abbot warden?” Godling asked.

“The exact opposite. As soon as you were imprisoned, space travel ceased. Humans isolated themselves on small, insignificant worlds. We forgot the virtues we’d fought so hard to earn. People like Praebus, King Marshal, their brutality and eagerness for violence, it’s mankind’s rule now, Godling, and not its exception.”

“And so you chose to forsake your wardenship, to free the monster king from his eternal prison?” said Godling.

“In a word, yes. What sane man could blame me? Brennan and Ressia are of like minds. The three of us have been planning this for months, but it is you, god machine, who must restore yourself to your rightful place.”

Godling pondered the sentiment. It wasn’t that Renaldo was necessarily wrong on all points. He simply had left out a rather significant detail.

“And this matter of genocide, Timekeeper?” said Godling. “Perhaps it’s been too long since I’ve cracked a history vid, but they do still teach who was responsible, do they not?”

“They do,” said Renaldo.

“But it’s not the whole truth,” Brennan said. “Like we told you, god king, we know everything.”

“There you go again, using the word know as if it pertains to your rather diminutive primate brains. You, like all stupid children, know absolutely nothing. Now leave me alone so I can fantasize about ever more elaborate ways of ripping out your kidneys.”

“He won’t listen to reason, Renaldo,” said Ressia. “I think it’s time we show him.”

The abbot warden turned around. He glared at Ressia, his brow furrowed. “Are you certain?”

She nodded and looked to Brennan, who gave a deep frown and nodded in kind.

The abbot warden jerked his reins. There was another low, throbbing groan, and then the Beastwheeler pulled to a stop. Renaldo stood from the driver box and stepped into the bed. Gazing into Ressia and Brennan’s eyes, the abbot warden raised a finger and pointed off the way they’d come. There, Claustrum Mons towered over the landscape.

“You’ve been having errant memory recalls recently, haven’t you, Godling?” Renaldo said. “Sudden onset, coming out of nowhere, at the least opportune of times. Memory recalls specifically concerning … her.”

“How did you—”

“I gave them to you. I have access to your memory banks,” Renaldo said. “Every abbot warden of Claustrum Mons has had such access.”

He slid the administrator glove off his right hand. His fingers were painted a stark, brilliant white.

Hold on a moment … White paint? How in the hells had Renaldo gotten his hands on white

The abbot warden snapped his fingers. Ressia and Brennan jumped to their feet. He snapped his fingers again.

Godling fell back 5,000 years.

He found himself in two places at once, staring into the eyes of two different people. The one person, in the one place, was Ressia, daughter of King Stevrik III, standing in the bed of the Beastwheeler on the Isolinium plains. The second person and place … much harder to interpret. It was Jossinda, the queen of his universe. She lay with him on the marble floor of their royal palace, sprawled out in the throne room, panting, dripping with sweat after a long, passionate tryst. He, so large and cold; she, so small, warm, nubile….

They had only been married a year, but what a glorious year it had been. He’d felt vacant before her, even to himself, nothing more than an intelligent but ultimately soulless automaton. They’d always said the truest king of all could never fall in love, but Jossinda had proved, beyond any doubt, the god machine had a humanity all his own.

“My love,” she said to him, “I think there is a truer way, a better way.”

“A better way?” Godling said. “We’ve found the best way of all. Our subjects are happy and industrious, growing wiser all the time. There has never been a people so content.”

She grinned at him. “I think we have more to offer than mere contentment, don’t you?”

But no, this wasn’t Jossinda speaking to him of contentment. It was Ressia speaking to Brennan, and Brennan responding in haste. In the memory, Godling told her he didn’t understand, and Jossinda climbed to her feet and strode across the massive room to their large glossy golden thrones. She soon returned, carrying with her a small silver pot and a brush.

She said to Godling, “Here, my love, see what I’ve made for you?”

Godling took the pot from her and peered inside. “I doubt you’ve made this. Our engineers have been working on it for years.”

“And yet I found a way to finish it. Paint me, Godling, here and now, before I change my mind.”

His special white paint, the very first of its kind. Not sensory, and not for touch or locomotion. The idea behind the paint—Godling’s idea—was that its application to other less advanced machines would allow him to duplicate and transmit an autonomous part of his consciousness. Conceivably, there could one day be two god kings, or three, or twenty. But the paint itself had been an utter failure. Every machine to receive a coat of it had fried its circuit matter in less than a minute of functionality.

“I’ve discovered the secret, the one variable your engineers never thought of,” Jossinda said. “You’ve all been focused on creating additional Godling machines. But I have a better idea, merging the mind of Godling with the soul of a human being.”

He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He eyed his queen, deciding not to interrupt her.

“Think about it,” she said, “how perfect such a being would be. The sublime union of you and me. Why, the two of us together, we could make ourselves gods. True gods, not merely gods among men.”

“Are you referring to the concept of the New God?” he asked. “This is an impossible request, though I’m flattered you think me capable of such boldness. This notion we’ve had, that a significant eruptive force could merge—”

“I’m referring to perfection in the here and now. No ambiguity, nothing theoretical about it. And I’ve already proved it can be done.”

She turned and lifted her shimmering auburn hair away from her neck. There, over her vertebrae, she had painted a small white dot.

“Jossinda, you didn’t.”

She turned back. “And I’ve already received a partial transfer. Your plans for Rieleth’s third mountain harvest this cycle, they include an extra allocation of spider croppers, do they not?”

“How…?”

“While we were making love. Your mind, it tends to wander. I want this, Godling. I want it more than anything. Can’t you see? Think of all the good we could do.”

“Jossinda …”

“My love, I’m not asking.”

And then she dipped the brush into the pot and guided a long streak of white down between her breasts. He hesitated, but not for very long. Godling painted her. He loved her and trusted her. He had a single moment of frailty in all his long years. Now and then, he stopped to kiss her neck and giggle with her. Jossinda stood before him in the end, her entire naked body a stark, bright white.

“Do it, my love,” she said. “Change this universe forever.”

Godling began the transfer.

At ten percent, Jossinda’s eyes rolled up into her head. At fifteen, her body went limp, and Godling had to catch her falling. Twenty percent, Jossinda lay sprawled out on the floor, her limbs twitching, her mouth opening and closing in silent agony. Thirty percent, and Godling began to feel strange. He was not cloning himself or making a copy. He’d decided his queen would receive a piece of him that was unique and all its own.

At fifty percent, Jossinda began screaming. At fifty-five, Godling screamed with her. Fire, lighting, Godling felt his chest might explode. Sixty percent, sixty-five, seventy. He couldn’t stop it, couldn’t cut the transfer now. Godling went inside himself. A part of him was aware of the torment, but mostly he was aware of change. His notions darkened. A singular thought for blood wormed it’s way into his thoughts.

One-hundred percent. Transfer complete. Jossinda, his queen, his love, lay lifeless and cold on the pale marble floor.

Godling wasn’t there when his honor guard buried her. He’d already begun planning his brutal, murderous campaigns. The part of him he’d given to her, he never got it back. They called him monster king, and he deserved the name. His madness would cease after a few thousand years. The bloodlust would diminish and become little more than idle threats. But nothing could diminish the memory.

“God machine,” said Renaldo. “Godling, snap out of it.”

The screams, the screams. How could he ever stop the screams?

“Cycles of Perdition, Godling, come to your senses.”

Godling regained his mind. He was there in the Beastwheeler on the plains of Isolinius. Ressia and Brennan lay atop each other, unconscious but safe. The day was bright and clear. A stiff breeze blew and rustled a sea of wild crimson grass.

“Apologies, abbot warden,” Godling said. “I don’t know what came over me.”

“I do. It’s a nasty trick we played on you, but believe me, it had to be done.”

“The white paint, how did you…?”

“The ancient abbot wardens reverse engineered it,” said Renaldo. “They added a control and command function to the standard transfer elements your engineers concocted. No one’s been stupid or brave enough to use it until I came along.”

“And the children, are they…?”

“They’re fine,” the abbot warden said. “Give them a few hours. They’ll be bounding off walls in no time. You see, Godling? History doesn’t tell the full story. When you lost that spark, you never were the same again.”

“But the things I did,” Godling said. “Just because I lost this piece of myself … I’m not suddenly forgiven, am I?”

Renaldo sighed. “Forgive yourself first and foremost, Godling. The rest will come later. What if I told you your wildest dreams are about to come true?”

“Timekeeper, I very much doubt you grasp the dreams of one such as I.”

Renaldo grinned. “This may come as a shock, but you’re wrong. Your queen, Godling, she is still alive. And I am in a position to give her to you.”

*****

Little was known of the old hag of the Prairie Sea. It was said she’d sought her fortune long ago, but that madness had driven her to give it away for a small, homely plot of land. Depending on whom you asked—and Renaldo said he’d asked everyone—she was either blind, disfigured, the house guest of 39 wraith-cats, or most popularly of all, no longer a crazy old woman but by means of an unlawful tech infusion, a crazy old woman trapped inside the body of a little girl.

Godling didn’t believe any of this, of course. Nor did he believe reuniting with Jossinda would restore him to the machine he’d been.

“They built me a prison for a reason, abbot warden.” Godling said. “They locked me away for a good damn reason. Of course I never wanted to escape that place! Oh yes, very astute, Renaldo. Very well done, indeed. I may be mad, but I’m not stupid! You wouldn’t let a razor beast off its leash simply because it’s gotten long in the razor, would you?”

“God machine, you’re panicking,” Renaldo said.

“You’re damned right I’m panicking! An ex-wife who’s still alive? Isn’t that sort of like … a defective socket wrench you’ve tried to throw away?”

The humans had taken turns driving the Beastwheeler for an entire pseudo-day. Through the long, bright true-day and the long, dark first-night. The blue-tinted false-day had been more than welcome, its light blooming by the sheen of the gas giant, Cerullia. Second-night had followed, the hours in which the prairie creatures played and hunted, and then at last, the slow, majestic rise of the bright binary stars. Not long after, the weary travelers finally arrived.

Jossinda, it appeared, had made her home in three large statues carved of pure marble and obsidian. Two black and one white, each the height of perhaps ten humans. The carvings themselves were crude, composed of indistinct shapes. The black statues seemed a pair, a man and woman reaching for one another but not touching. The white statue, the one carved of marble, Godling had a difficult time interpreting it.

It was wider, lumpier. It could’ve been a comment on the amorphous nature of godhood, but of course, it could just as easily have been a herniated land whale.

“No one could possibly know about this place,” he said.

“That’s how she’s had to conduct herself,” said Ressia. “Her unnatural longevity frightened many. She found it best to hide. But the abbot warden thinks it might finally be time for her to reveal herself.”

“Of course it’s time.” A lively voice vibrated across the lovers’ inky black circuit matter. “Do you think I’d have invited you here if events hadn’t occurred exactly as I anticipated?”

Godling identified Jossinda immediately. She’d hijacked his vibrathreads exactly as had Praebus. How infuriating. The voice didn’t sound old. In fact, she sounded just as he remembered her. For what purpose had the past occurred? Such a spiteful existence. She’d been alive and in hiding for 5,000 years, even as the machine who loved her agonized her death.

“God machine, it’s been far too long,” Jossinda said. “You have many questions for me, I’m sure. Come inside and know the truth at last.”

*****

His queen stood before them in the roughhewn marble entryway of her home. She appeared exactly as he remembered her in his fragmented dreams, and the fact he could not physically touch her maddened him to the point of desperation. She wore a plaid shawl and her hair was tied back in a fashion reminiscent of their early days of courtship. Cooking smells filled the space, meat and butter and root vegetables. Jossinda smiled at Brennan and Ressia. She took hold of the frills of her dress and curtseyed, saying, “I am very much obliged, my friends. The paint had an unusual effect on my physiology, my love. In order to combat such an extreme invasion, my body permanently inhibited some of its autonomic processes.”

“Such as the process of aging,” Godling said.

“Amongst other things.”

He didn’t know what to say to this, if the right words existed or if he might only manage crude working models. In the end, for want of proper expression, only two words vibrated across Ressia and Brennan’s bodies.

“I killed….” 

Jossinda looked like she might cry.

“I know, my love,” she said. “But you remember what you gave me, don’t you? Your faith and ability to dream. The traits of an innocent being.”

“You didn’t lose your mind, Godling,” Renaldo said. “You traded your humanity. It has been a long road for you, and you have done much to gain back your noble spirit. But you will never be whole until you rejoin with this woman.”

Intolerable. Disastrous even. All those years lost to ruin of an inner corrupted self.

“Why’d you do it?” Godling asked. “Why’d you pretend to die?”

Tears welled in Jossinda’s eyes. “I had my reasons. I won’t tell you they were good, but they did bring me a measure of comfort all these long years. In simple truth, I did die, Godling. And by the time my body and mind revived themselves, I found myself awake in my tomb, and you were changed … killing so many. I knew if I reunited with you, all might be well, but before I was strong enough to intervene, they imprisoned you. So I waited. I knew we’d come to a time in which the human race no longer spat upon the name of Godling.”

“And you may wait still,” Godling said. “Nothing’s changed, my queen. They still hate me. As well they should.”

“No,” said Jossinda. She crossed the floor to Ressia and Brennan. Lovingly, she placed a supple, soothing hand on the girl’s cheek. “You’re wrong about them. You gave me your sense of hope, remember? Just as you gave this young woman your heart. Please, my love. Let me prove to you the world needs its truest king of all. Let me give you back the hope you so desperately desire.”

“Give it back?” a voice declared from the entryway behind them. Brennan and Ressia turned. King Stevrik III, Lord of Quaratania, sometime seeker of wisdom from the god machine himself, stood in the portal, the bright binary stars outside highlighting his blonde hair and royal yellow jacket.

Ressia gasped. “Father.”

Stevrik was tall and thin, with youthful features and a closely cropped beard. He entered Jossinda’s home as if it belonged to him. “Daughter, I shall only say this once. Step away from that contemptible writer and cover your shame.”

Ressia did nothing about his first request, moved not an inch from Brennan, and as for his second, she self-consciously folded her arms over her breasts.

“How did you find us?” she asked.

Stevrik sneered. “You didn’t really think a being such as the god machine could escape without anyone noticing, did you? I had my best men track you. And once I was able to determine the general path you’d struck …”

“My good Stevrik,” Godling said. “You have always accepted my council. Please, listen to me now.”

“The days of your council are over, monster king. As are the days of this romance. I’m at war, no thanks to you, with an enemy against which I don’t think I stand a chance. This young man shall be put to death, and my daughter shall marry her betrothed.”

Ressia shouted, “Father, you wouldn’t!”

“Oh no? I love you, Ressia. But believe me when I tell you this is for the good of our homeland.”

Stevrik pulled a crude compact pistol from his jacket and aimed it squarely at Brennan’s chest.

“Now please, everyone step outside.” he said.

One by one, with Stevrik bringing up the rear, Ressia, Brennan, Renaldo, and Jossinda left the safety of the statue house and walked down the steps into the yard. Hundreds, perhaps even a thousand, soldiers, guardsmen, and guns for hire, all bearing the yellow seal of Quaratania, stood nearby, ready to act at a moment’s notice.

“Now,” Stevrik said, “I want the writer out front. We’re going to end this here and now.”

“Father!” Ressia screamed. She launched herself at him, angled a fist for his head. One of his soldiers stepped in. He slammed the butt of his rifle into her stomach, pulled her back by her hair, and shoved her to the ground.

“I don’t expect you to understand, daughter,” Stevrik said. “But I do expect you to obey. I love you, dear girl, but this is reality. I’m afraid love doesn’t count for much here.”

Godling took in the faces of the humans who had so thoroughly upended his life cycle. Firstly, his wife, Jossinda. The same as she’d always been; better even, alive and breathtaking. And foolish old Renaldo, the abbot warden had shown true dedication to an ideal. When was the last time Godling had shown half as much dedication to anything apart from making idle threats?

And the children, Brennan and Ressia, heart rates elevated, skin beneath his flowing circuit matter flush with anxiety. He recognized the astonishing lengths to which they were prepared to go for each other, and it humbled him. The young lovers were doing their best to remain courageous and strong in a desperate situation.

“Forward quickly, writer,” said Stevrik. “I take no pleasure in this.”

Brennan regarded Ressia with a feral look in his eyes. She struggled and fought, still pinned to the ground beneath Stevrik’s foot soldier.

“Don’t, my love,” Brennan said. “You can’t give him a reason to hurt you, too.”

Stevrik snorted loudly. “As if I’m capable of harming my own daughter.”

“I have no concept of your capabilities, my king. Just as a zoo keeper cannot conceive why his apes throw their own shit.”

Brave response. Fighting words. And under such duress. Astonishing. And look at Ressia, why did she struggle so? It was over, wasn’t it? Why hold on to hope?

“On your knees,” Stevrik growled.

Brennan didn’t hesitate. He got down, gave Ressia a brave smile.

“Live long, my love,” he said.

And then he himself gripped Stevrik’s pistol and set the barrel to his head. Stevrik’s grip tightened, his finger locked in place over the trigger. Ressia screamed. His finger tensed.

A white-hot explosion erupted in the yard. Mortar shot, and it was followed by another. The extreme heat buffeted Godling and the lovers. Suddenly, the crimson grassland filled with balls of fire and loose-cutting shrapnel. Stevrik’s men scattered and fell to the ground all around them.

Flitgliders—several formations of them—buzzed overhead, dropping mortar rounds onto the King’s men. One Flitglider in particular, a grey one, bulkier and heavier and spewing tarry smoke, separated itself from the pack and came in low, maneuvering itself into position above Brennan and Stevrik. It hovered there, training all its forward munitions on Ressia’s father.

“Stevrik of Quaratania,” said a tight, rasping voice, “for violation of the sacred Spacefarer decrees and the laws of Isolinius, his majesty, Marshal of Sevrum, has sentenced you to death.”

“Godling,” Brennan said, kneeling where Stevrik had put him, “is that who I think it is?”

“General Praebus,” said Godling, “my deduction exactly. Brennan, child, we have never known the good General to back down from a fight.”

The guns of the Flitglider spun up. Stevrik froze in place.

“Contrary to popular wisdom, large-caliber exploding bullets are actually rather painful,” Godling said.

“Godling, cover my back!” said Brennan.

The Flitglider opened fire. With the speed of a prowler beast, Brennan leapt and dropped Stevrik to the ground. He covered him, and just as the fire struck, Godling put everything he had into commanding the circuit matter to form a flat protective shield.

It stood out from Brennan, shrouded him and Stevrik, and it absorbed the bullets and micro munition-eruptions. Godling took all that shrapnel and explosive force, and then he flung it back out and up at the General’s Flitglider.

The flitglider lurched to the side, narrowly escaping the barrage. It listed and dropped several meters, but finally corrected itself and zipped back into position.

“Ah,” Praebus wheezed, “the god machine has come as well. Yes, and a great many thanks for the lesson you taught me, monster king. I shan’t repeat that mistake again. Gunner Sergeant! Big Beth!”

“Big Beth?” Godling said. “Who in all the unrighteous hells is Big—”

“Never mind that, Godling,” said Brennan. “What you just did, the way you shielded us. Could you do it again?”

“Brennan!” Ressia rushed over to them and dropped to the grass, her hair whipping around her head in the downdraft of the Flitglider’s oscillators. She marked Brennan with a deluge of kisses. Stevrik groaned. He slowly got onto his hands and knees, but the lovers paid him no attention as he crawled away, their entire worlds composed of passion for each other.

Godling called out, “Renaldo Timekeeper, you are summoned!”

The abbot warden and Jossinda emerged from behind the marble home. Renaldo tested himself against the blistering mortar winds, and then they both rushed from hiding and picked their way through the chaos.

“You don’t summon me, prisoner. I am an abbot of the Divine Order of Battles Won, and none may summon me but the gods themselves,” Renaldo said when they finally drew near. Godling noted Jossinda seemed to be holding something behind her back.

“Ah, but I am the god machine,” said Godling, “and as such, I may rule over any man alive.”

“Not yet, my love,” said Jossinda. “One thing remains. Our reunion. We must become one.”

From behind her back, she produced a brush and a broad metal canister full of white paint.

“You are a machine first and foremost, Godling,” she said. “See all this destruction? This death? Calculate for me, tell me truly, is this the way human beings were meant to live?”

General Praebus opened the starboard drop compartment hatch of his Flitglider. In an oxygen mask and breathing harness, strapped into a large shoulder-mounted tri-grenade launcher, he stepped onto the glider’s chrome railing.

He chortled, saying, “You haven’t forgotten me, have you? I certainly have not forgotten you, Godling.”

Cackling, enraged, he fired a violent barrage from the tri-grenade launcher. A hail of blitz-fire rained down on them. The sound was deafening. Godling threw up shields, two of them, enormous and black, one from Ressia and the other from Brennan. He screamed from the strain of it, could barely contain the eruptive force. The harder he tried, the more he hoped, and catching such hope, it all seemed so startlingly possible.

His human friends cried out. It was chaos, madness. In the middle of it all….

Someone spilled the canister of white paint.

Another explosion rang through the grasslands. Not one of gunpowder, and certainly not of deadly force. It was an explosion of pure, radiant energy. It echoed and boomed. It ripped all the war machines from the sky. The explosion flattened down the high crimson grass and every man afield. Radiating outward, it traveled far and filtered high up through the clouds.

And then it simply washed away, like a gentle, cleansing wave.

All was silent and still for the longest time. One point of light remained, not far from Ressia’s father, lord and ruler of Quaratania, King Stevrik III.

Stunned, confused, Stevrik stumbled to his feet.

“Daughter?” he said. “Ressia, are you all right, dear girl?”

Silence greeted him, and a harsh blinding light the like of which he’d never seen.

“Ressia? Please answer me, daughter.”

“Ressia is well,” said a voice so unearthly, so heavenly, it halted Stevrik’s breath and stopped him in his tracks. “In fact, they’re all well. Your daughter, her lover, the abbot warden, the queen of the universe, and the god machine himself. Much better now, if you really wish to know.”

Stevrik raised a hand to block the raging light. “W-who are you…? Monster king? I-is that you?”

“I am not the monster king. I am his fusion into a more perfect being. Do you understand the apex of the man/machine interface? The divine meeting of touch, movement, sense, heart, intelligence, and of course, belief?”

“I don’t …”

The light flickered and strobed. It set his world into a freeze-frame progression of knotted, tangled images, and then it blinked out entirely. Stevrik saw, as if in a dream, an unearthly being floating toward him. It wasn’t a man, nor was it a woman. It was completely white, with a flowing mane of hair colored green, purple, orange, and most strangely of all, black.

Stevrik’s mouth hung open. He moaned, “God.”

“God, yes,” said the being of white. “Not machine, and not human, but a sublime union of the two. No more need for forgiveness or the sins of the past. They didn’t understand what union meant. They had no idea imperfect beings could never achieve the oneness and peace your kind so vainly long for in secret. Perfection means creation, and I understand this with a clarity no murderer of millions could hope to achieve. You, Stevrik of Quaratania, and every man afield, have just witnessed the birth of something long thought theoretical. I am the New God, and I alone may be king.”

Stevrik couldn’t comprehend. His mind wasn’t capable. Was Ressia inside this thing? At the apex of all their trials, could such a creation be birthed by violence and fire?

“Kneel for me, Stevrik,” the New God said. “Just as you made that poor boy kneel. And let’s begin the work of rebuilding your race.” Stevrik didn’t second-guess or attempt to defy the New God. He knelt there in the Crimson Blade of Jossinda’s yard. And then he broke into uncontrollable, sobbing tears.

THE END


Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative work can be found in God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, Godling and Other Paint Stories, Fear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, and Dark Moon Digest. Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff’s new novel, Love/Madness/Demon, is available on Amazon now!

Love Madness Demon Cover Final

Check out Jeff Bowles Central on YouTube – Movies – Video Games – Music – So Much More!


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Publishing

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome back once again to the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series, where we’re offering glimpses into the content of Ask the Authors 2022 writing reference anthology; a unique reference packed full with the writing tips and advice from ten different authors and myself. The Q & A sessions can run a bit long, with all of the contributors weighing in, but they are only a small taste of the wisdom contained in this book. I want to thank all of you who have joined us for each session and keep coming back for more. If you haven’t purchased a copy of your own yet, there’s a link for the UBL at the end of this post, where you can grab one from your favorite book distributor at the special send-off price of 3.99 for the duration of this blog series.

If you missed any of the previous segments, you can find them here:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-writing Rituals Q & A session

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A session

Segment 5: Introduction for Mario Acevedo/Action, Pacing & Dialog Q & A session

Segment 6: Introduction for Nancy Oswald/Tone: Voice, Person, Tense & POV Q & A session

Segment 7: Introduction for Chris Barili/Setting & World Building Q & A session.

Segment 8: Introduction for Jeff Bowles/Editing & Revision Q & A session

Today’s segment brings you an introduction to award winning author and publishing industry expert Mark Leslie Lefebvre, whose contribution to the anthology is “Publishing Trends to Watch” and a Q & A session on Publishing. So let’s get started.

Meet Mark Leslie Lefebvre

A self-confessed book nerd, Mark Leslie Lefebvre, who is a former President of the Canadian Booksellers Association and the former Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations for Rakuten Kobo (and founder of Kobo Writing Life), thrives on innovation and excellence within all aspects of the publishing and bookselling industry.

With more than a quarter century of experience, Mark has been involved in bookselling as it evolved from strictly bricks and mortar operations and into online and digital venues, and has continually been at the forefront of applying digital solutions to publishing and book selling.

An author who has embraced both traditional and self-publishing opportunities for himself as well as the thousands of authors he has coached, advised and consulted with over the past two decades, Mark not only believes that each author’s journey is individualized and personal, but that each specific project a writer embarks upon can have its own unique goals, elements and desired outcomes.
He can be found online at www.markleslie.ca

And now on to the Q & A.

Publishing

Are you independently published, traditionally published, or a combination of both?

Mario Acevedo: I’m traditionally published by a large and regional/small presses.

Paul Kane: Combination of both. I started out in the small, indie presses, before working with some of the bigger places, so I like to go back there and write fiction for them when I can. Plus, it gives me a bit more freedom to experiment or write something that might not be that commercial; because the indies don’t have the same kind of print runs as bigger publishers there’s a bit less pressure to appeal to huge audiences. The flip side of that is you get read by a lot more people when you’ve done something for a bigger publisher, simply because they have the money to put behind advertising, production, distribution and marketing. Having said that, I still try to do as much of that as I can myself – I never assume it’s all being done for me. I’ve been known to set up blog tours myself, even when working with bigger publishers because sometimes the personal touch is what bloggers and book reviewers respond to.

Bobby Nash: Both. I’m what they call a hybrid author. I work for traditional publishers of all sizes. I also have my own indie small press, BEN Books.

Robbie Cheadle: Most of my books are published by TSL Publishers in the United Kingdom. I love working with Anne Samson and find her fair and helpful. I self-published Open a new door, a collection of poems which I co-wrote with another South African poet, Kim Blades. I did not enjoy the self-publishing experience and prefer to work through a publisher.

I have short stories and poems published in a number of anthologies which have been published by the editor and compiler through their own publishing enterprises.

Nancy Oswald: A combination.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I am a combination of both traditionally published books, independently published books, as well as a hybrid mix of selling work to or collaborating with indie publishers in a slightly traditional way.

What factors influenced you to take your chosen publishing route?

Paul Kane: Things just seemed to slot into place for me, rather than choosing a particular route. I went to art college thinking I’d go into some kind of career in the arts, but it turned out I was better at theory than the practical stuff, so I went to university initially to study History of Art, Design and Film. While I was there, I chose an optional module called ‘Professional Writing’ and loved it, which led me into the journalism – and I figured I could at least make a living writing non-fiction that way, with articles and reviews.

Because I was writing for the day job, I thought I’d do some stories for pleasure – and they ended up being published too, in small press magazines. Then the fiction started to overtake the non-fiction, and the rest is history.

I don’t think I consciously chose any of that, it just sort of happened. I definitely didn’t think to myself when I was younger ‘I’m going to be a writer when I grow up.’ That, honestly, never even crossed my mind because I came from a very working class background where you did manual jobs like being a builder or joiner or whatever. My dad was a miner, so his was a hard job – especially compared to mine – but at the same time he never discouraged me going down the creative route. He did, however, instill in me a solid work ethic which I still have today. 

Bobby Nash: When I started, doing it yourself was not as accepted as it is today. Working for a publisher was the only way to get a book published at the time. Fast forward and there are more options. This allows me to do some projects the way I want through my own press and still do work for other publishers as well. For me, it truly is the best of both worlds.

Robbie Cheadle: Initially, I submitted my Sir Chocolate story ideas to four or five small publishing houses and TSL Publications responded to say they were interested in publishing them for me. I was fortunate as I didn’t experience a lot of rejection and I benefited from the experience and expertise of a publisher right from the beginning of my journey.

Nancy Oswald: For me it’s been like water finding its way through a channel. My course had often determined by which barriers are encountered, force and velocity, and other influencing factors like an unexpected change in the weather, excessive rain, drought, and human factors.

Please briefly share the story of your own publishing journey.

Paul Kane: A lot of that’s covered in the above, but if I’ll take you through from when I started to get stories accepted in the small presses to today… When I got back into writing fiction again in the ’90s, which had been something I enjoyed tinkering with back in my teens, I wrote a lot of short stories. Some of them worked, some didn’t, but it was all practice. I’d been doing a correspondence course to help with my non-fiction and my fiction, and I sent the tutor a story I’d written that had come to me, fully formed, in a dream: ‘The Cave of Lost Souls.’ She loved it and told me I had to send it off somewhere. I’d been toying with the idea of entering it into a writing competition, but then I saw an advert in a trade magazine for a publication called Terror Tales. I sent the story off to the editor, John B. Ford, and he wanted to use it in an upcoming issue. He also lived locally, so invited me to a gathering of writers. I sat around listening to all these stories about what they were doing and thought to myself, ‘wow!’ But also, if they’ve done it, maybe there’s a chance for me too. They gave me pointers as to which publications to try my work with, where I could find listings and so on. That led to more acceptances, attending more events and eventually getting a couple of collections out. I also found out about something called The British Fantasy Society who were looking for volunteers for positions, one of which was for Special Publications Editor. That enabled me to work with such names as Ramsey Campbell, Neil Gaiman, Muriel Gray and Clive Barker. I was helping out running their convention FantasyCon as well, and indeed years later ended up co-chairing a few. In the meantime, someone I’d met at an event – Jonathan Oliver – was looking for ideas for post-apocalyptic novels set in a universe called ‘The Afterblight Chronicles’, mass market books brought out by the publisher he worked for, Abaddon/Rebellion. I pitched a few and Jon loved the Robin Hood idea. I worked up a chapter breakdown, which got me the first book – there ended up being a trilogy of novels a couple of shorts and novelettes and one novella – and suddenly my longer fiction was getting some attention. I’d also gone into editing professionally, putting books together with Marie for places like Simon & Schuster, PS Publishing and Constable & Robinson. Anthologies like Hellbound Hearts, A Carnivale of Horror and The Mammoth Book of Body Horror… All of this enabled me to try my hand at things like film and TV scripting, comics, audio and theatre scripting, which broadened the scope of what I was doing. And it led me into writing crime thrillers for HQ/HarperCollins, which I’m doing today as PL Kane. In a nutshell, that’s my journey.

Bobby Nash: I started writing comic books. I then wrote a novel, then a second, which was published, Evil Ways. Then, I did a mix of comics, novels, and shorter stories for several years. These days, I’ve added screenplays and audio scripts to the mix. I like to try new things.

Nancy Oswald: Published, two large publishers, one it Canada and one in New York, published small Colorado owned publisher, self-published twice, each time for a different reason.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I started off in the mid 1980s when there really was no other choice but to submit short stories to magazines in order to slowly build yourself a name within writing and publishing and hopefully attract the attention of an agent or editor who might take your book proposal seriously because of your proven track record.

After years of rejection my first short story was published in 1992. I earned $5 USD and a contributor’s copy of the digest-sized quarterly magazine with a circulation of perhaps 500 people. And as time went on, I started selling to bigger markets with larger distribution and higher pay. (At the time 5 cents a word was considered a “professional rate” for a short fiction sale).

Over the years I sold dozens of stories to various small press magazines and anthologies, but my work never remained in print for more than maybe six months maximum. So, in 2004, I collected a number of my previously published short stories along with a couple of ones that hadn’t appeared anywhere, and I self-published them in print (using Ingram Lightning Source for making a Print on Demand (POD) book entitled One Hand Screaming.

Back then self-publishing was a dirty word, and most self-respecting authors serious about a writing career would ever consider that path. All of my friends who had publishing deals with big publishers told me that self-publishing was the best way to kill my writing career.

But I did it anyway.

I did so because after all those years of writing, I still didn’t have a book out. In addition, the majority of the stories had not only already graduated from the slush piles of the various magazines they’d first appeared in (thus having an editorial “seal of approval” but they had also been edited.

I secured an ISBN, established a publishing company (Stark Publishing – which I use to this day), had a logo for the company created, and had a book cover designed. (The cost for the logo and book cover was about $24, the price of a case of beer paid to my best friend who was a graphic designer.

In 2009, I used the Stark Publishing imprint to publish an anthology called Campus Chills. I solicited sponsorship for this anthology from three university bookstores (University of Waterloo, University of Alberta, and McMaster University Bookstore) so I could pay contributors pro rates for their original stories. The book was a historic publishing first. It was the first professional anthology to be produced exclusively for the Espresso Book Machines that the three bookstores owned.

My first full length book traditional deal was Haunted Hamilton, which was published in 2012 by Dundurn, Canada’s largest independent publishing house.

Since then, I have continued to work with traditional publishers and also use my Stark Publishing imprint to publish my own books as well as a few selected titles from author friends. 

What do you see as the pros and cons of traditional/independent publishing?

Paul Kane: The pros of traditional publishing are, as mentioned, more money behind things like advertising and marketing, distribution and so on. You’ll also likely get paid more as an author. The cons are the restrictions of the marketplace, in that you’ll have to deliver something that’s more of a crowd-pleaser than you would if it was only intended to be a limited book of say 500 copies. That’s where the indies shine, because they’re more likely to take a chance on something experimental. But don’t look for fortunes that way, if that’s your goal. I straddle both traditional and indie and adore both. I’m lucky enough to enjoy writing mass market thrillers, and at the same time put out horror books with huge monsters in. The best of both worlds, frankly. If, by indie, you mean self-published, I’ve never done that, but I know a lot of people who do – some make a very good living at it – so there’s nothing wrong with that either. Do whatever makes you happy as a writer, I say, because that will come across in your writing.

Bobby Nash: Traditional publishing handles the production work, which is nice. They handle the cover, printing, and distribution. If the publisher has good distribution, that’s a big plus. The more places your book is shelved, the better your odds in terms of sales.

Indie publishing offers more freedom to do what you want with a shorter lead time. You handle production, cover, and there’s usually only Amazon and a few on-line retailers carrying your book.

No matter which you choose, you, the writer, are expected to handle almost all of the marketing and promotion.

Robbie Cheadle: Working with a publisher taught me a lot about the publishing process and spared me having to do all the research and experimentation myself. I find it beneficial to have a second set of experienced eyes read and edit my books. My publisher gives me advice about formatting my books and also deals with Lulu.com and Amazon on my behalf. This lifts a lot of the administration from my shoulders. As a full-time working person with a demanding corporate job, I don’t think I would manage the proofing, type-setting, and other administration on my own as well as have time to write and market my books. My publisher also does some marketing of my books which is helpful.

Nancy Oswald: It depends on personal goals, opportunities, and life’s circumstances. Money and control and time are issues that have played into my decision. Marketing is not. You still have to get out and promote yourself.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: First of all, I embrace both, and I recognize that there are unique pros and cons for each of them. I’ll try to boil them down to a few things.

With self-publishing (or indie publishing), you’re in full control. You are the publisher, which means you control everything. Whether or not it’s published, when it is published, how it’s edited, the cover design, the price, what markets it is released to. That is both a blessing and a curse because there are a lot of moving parts; and many authors don’t like the idea of having to do all that work – or, more specifically, having to hire out the right people for those tasks and project manage the process.

On the plus side, because you’re in control, you don’t need to wait for a gatekeeper to anoint your book from out of a slush pile of millions of manuscripts. If you want to change something you don’t need anyone else’s permission, you can do it.

And, of course, you can earn much higher royalties (up to 70% in many cases) and get paid monthly rather than perhaps once a year or maybe twice a year.

The biggest downside to self-publishing is that while you have easy access to digital sales (eBooks, Audiobooks, and POD print book online sales), you have extremely limited access to “in store” and “on shelf” placement in bookstores. That’s one area where traditional publishing outshines self-publishing significantly.

Traditional Publishers are part of an “old boys” network of a complex and often confusing supply chain requiring warehousing and returns (a business practice instituted during the Great Depression and which remains to this day). But they are the best way to get your books into bookstores.

Dundurn, the largest traditional publisher I work with, not only gets my books onto the shelves of chain and indie bookstores, but has also gotten my books onto the shelves at Costco and Walmart. That’s something I’d never be able to afford to do as an indie author publisher. But with this type of distribution comes setbacks, that I’ll get to shortly.

Another great benefit of working with a traditional publisher is they take care of the majority of the business aspects. They have in house or hire out all of the professionals needed to bring a book to market. From developmental, copy, and line editors to proofreaders, to professional book formatters and cover designers, to in house marketing and sales (to pitch your book to bookstore buyers), they not only project manage all of that, but, more importantly, they pay for all of those services.

The advance an author receives from a traditional publisher is, typically, significantly smaller than it used to be. There was a time when a midlist author could make a full-time living off of their book advances alone. That has not been the case for many years.

Authors also have no idea how their book is selling. They may receive an annual, or perhaps twice-annual statement of their book sales, and are perhaps paid once or twice a year for the previous year’s sales. There is also a 30% withholding on those payments against the aforementioned returns. This means, for every $100 owned to you in royalties, they hold back $30 as protection against the cost of returns.

If I can use two examples of my own books, here’s a bit of a breakdown on earnings.

For one of my traditionally published books that sells for $24.99 in print, I earn 8% on each sale, which is about $2.00. I get paid for that once a year with 30% withheld for a full year. I’m not even going to talk about the eBook sales as that’s a joke and barely adds up to enough sales to even talk about (because most traditional publishers don’t sell a lot of eBooks because they price they high enough to drive people to buy the print version, which is often cheaper, or just a dollar or two more than the eBook price).

For one of my self-published books, which sells for $14.99 in print, I earn $3.20 per sale. But I don’t sell a lot of print on my self-published books. The majority of my sales come from eBook sales. When I sell an eBook for $4.99, I earn $3.49. And I get paid on those sales every month, as opposed to once per year.

One thing most authors misunderstand is that they think working with a traditional publisher means you won’t have to do marketing. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Authors have to do their own marketing regardless of how a book is published.

One last thing I always consider when thinking about the pros and cons of traditional publishing versus self-publishing:  If it’s important for me to earn money and sell a lot of units in a digital manner where I’m in control, then I self-publish. If it’s important for the book to be in print and on bookstore shelves, then I look at traditional publishing. Because each book I write, or plan on writing has its own unique path often depending on my goals and how they relate to those factors.

Which formats are your books available in: ebook? Print? Audio? Hardback? Large print? NFTs?

Mario Acevedo: My books are available in print, ebook, and audio. My few hardbacks are out of print.

Paul Kane: All kinds, it just depends which book it is. Most are ebook and print. Some have had audios made of them, like The Rot from Horrific Tales. Encyclopocalypse have turned a lot of my back catalogue into audios, but also published a recent collection called The Naked Eye as an ebook and print, paperback and hardback. So it really does depend on what book it is and who brought it out. Doing searches for Paul Kane, PB Kane – my YA pseudonym – and PL Kane will come up with a bunch of stuff from me.

Bobby Nash: I have books available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. For BEN Books, I make an effort to get the books in as many formats as I can so readers can find it. On projects I do for other publishers, I don’t always have a say in format.

Robbie Cheadle: My YA and adult books are available as ebooks from Amazon and Lulu.com and as paperbacks from TSL Publications in the UK, Lulu.com, and Amazon. My children’s books are available as ebooks from Lulu.com and as paperbacks from TSL Publications in the UK, Lulu.com, and Amazon. My two poetry books are available from Amazon as paperbacks and ebooks and Behind Closed Doors is available through a variety of other distributors too.

Nancy Oswald: Ebook, print, both hard back and soft cover. It has varied from book to book. I’d love to have audio versions of my books, but I don’t think there would be a market for the ages I write for.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: My books are available in eBook, Print (trade paperback, hardcover, large print) and Audiobooks. Not all titles are available in all formats. And, ironically, my self-published titles are available in more formats than my traditionally published books.

I also have a small selection of self-published titles available in an NFT-type model and will likely expand that over time.

If your books are available in audio format, which distribution platforms do you use? Can you tell us about your audio book experiences?

Paul Kane: Usually Audible, though a few have come out as CDs as well. Her Last Secret was a CD release, as well as a download. I tend to just let the publishers get on with that, as they know more about it all than me. Sometimes I get sent audition clips from people who want to do the narration, and indeed I was put in touch with the guy who did the narration for Arcana from Wordfire Press, Robert Power, because he wanted to ask some questions and I spent a very pleasant evening on the phone chatting to him. But generally, I don’t really have anything to do with it, other than I might listen to some actors reading bits of the book and say which one I prefer or who I think suits the story best.

Bobby Nash: Audible is the biggie. We have also experimented with other audio publishers. I love audio books and have been blessed to work with some fantastic narrators. I love audio and will keep putting them out in that format as long as I can.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I primarily use Findaway Voices for audiobook distribution to more than 40 retail and library markets.

When it comes to audiobooks, the expense to produce them is quite high and I’m currently in a position where I’m thousands of dollars in the hole on earning that money back. But for me it’s a long-term thing, that I know will earn out over time. For me, it’s a long-term investment.

Are your books available wide or exclusive to Amazon? Or a combination of both? Why?

Paul Kane: Most, if not all, of my books are on Amazon, but also available from the publishers themselves too – as well as from all good bookstores. Again, I don’t really have much to do with all that as bookselling isn’t my field. I leave it to people much more qualified than me to sell my wares, I just write them in the first place!

Bobby Nash: A little of both. For BEN Books titles, the ebooks are exclusive to KDP so they can be enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. This is a way for me to promote the books to those who subscribe to KU to try my books for free and still make a few pennies. Paperbacks are at Amazon, B&N, Books-A-Million, etc. I also have an on-line store where you can buy autographed books from me directly.

Nancy Oswald: Back to marketing—Amazon on all of them, but I have them in as many local venues as possible; Book stores, gift shops, local stores.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: I am wide beyond the limited perspective of “wide or exclusive to Amazon.” I could go on for hours, days, and weeks explaining it. You’re better off reading my budgie-basher of a book released in 2021 called Wide for the Win: Strategies to Sell Globally via Multiple Platforms and Forge Your Own Path to Success.

What factors help to determining the pricing of your book?

Paul Kane: I have absolutely no idea honestly. My second thriller, Her Husband’s Grave, has been available for about a year now at just £2 in paperback – and I have no idea why. I’m just delighted it is, because it’s been my biggest seller to date. It’s something to do with price matching, but I have no idea how it all works.

Bobby Nash: The base cost is your starting point. From there, you see the cost the bookstore or Amazon will take. Then, I round up a bit. I make about $1.50 profit per book. That’s why sales quantity is important.

Robbie Cheadle: My publisher prices my books and I am not able to run promotions for free or discounted downloads of my ebooks.

Nancy Oswald: I look at similar books and make my best guess about the market. On my two most recent books, I considered inflation.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: When it’s a self-published title (ie, when I get to determine the price), it’s a combination of understanding the markets (the global markets, and not just the US markets) and the genres. So country, genre, size and format of the book all play a factor in determining the right price.

One thing I like to remind authors is that they should think of price as a verb rather than a noun. It’s fluid, and can and should change over time to match market conditions and other factors.

Which self- publishing platforms have you used? Please tell us about your experiences with them?

Bobby Nash: I mostly use Amazon/KDP. I have used Smashwords for ebooks in the past and Lulu for hardcovers. The experiences are generally good.

Robbie Cheadle: I have only self-published through Amazon, but I had assistance with the typesetting, cover, and administration.

Nancy Oswald: Only KDP (Create Space first, then KDP) Great experience both times. Books look good, hold up, and I like the POD aspect of ordering.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Again, for a blow-by-blow of the majority of them, read Wide for the Win. It’ll take dozens of pages to try to go through them in detail.

But in a nutshell, by default, here’s how I self-publish.

  • I publish direct to Amazon via KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) for eBook and Print
  • I publish direct to Kobo via KWL (Kobo Writing Life) for eBook (and for selected audio titles)
  • I publish direct to Google Play for eBook (and for selected audio titles)
  • I use Draft2Digital for distributing to numerous other eBook retail platforms (Apple Books, B&N Nook, a handful of others), and most of the major library platforms (OverDrive, Baker & Taylor, hoopla, Bibliotheca, BorrowBox, etc) as well as for print via D2D Print (which is partnered with Ingram Lighting Source)
  • I also do print distribution via a combination of Ingram Spark and Ingram Lighting Source direct. (This is a side effect of being doing it for so long that I have different titles in different systems based on what was and wasn’t available at the time)

When seeking out a traditional publisher, what should an author look for? What should they beware of?

Paul Kane: I think you need to look at the publishers who are releasing books like the one you want to write and sell. You probably wouldn’t approach a religious publisher with a book about demons or zombies, say, but one that’s had some success in this area would definitely be more open to it. As for things to be aware of, run a mile if any agent or publisher asks you for money to look at or publish your book. They should be paying you, not the other way around.

Bobby Nash: What does the traditional publisher offer? If you like what they can do for your book, then go for it. Do they help with promotion? Do they offer an advance? What is their distribution platform like? Where are their books sold? Ask questions and research before signing. Reach out to other authors they publish and ask questions. Never pay to be published though. That’s not traditional publishing.

Robbie Cheadle: I am very careful of the publishing contract. I do not want my characters and ideas becoming the property of the publishing house and my stories continuing to be written by another writer if I die. I retain the rights to my characters in my publishing contracts.

Nancy Oswald: For me, I was lucky to find a small publisher who liked what I wrote. So, I’d say look for a good match. Do your homework in terms of other books the publisher puts out. When I started out, I targeted only big companies with a name, but have since learned that there are lots of small and mid-press companies that can be rewarding to publish with. With that said, trust is a huge issue. I entered into one joint publishing enterprise with my small press publisher, but that is only because we had similar goals and years of trust built up before we agreed to do this. There’s never a crystal ball, and I was lucky. Besides researching the publishers and their lists, you might consider locating and reaching out to some of the authors a certain publisher has worked with and ask them about the publishing experience they’ve had with company X. I have a friend who publishes with X Libris which some experts say you should NEVER do. But she has had a great experience, now has 6-8 books out and is completely happy. Find the publishing match that fits your goals and project.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: First and foremost, if it’s a proper traditional publisher, the money should always flow TO the author from the publisher, and NEVER, EVER, from the author to the publisher. No exceptions. If there’s any money paid to a publisher, they’re not a real publisher, no matter how much they protest or wave their arms around and explain some asinine and convoluted reasons for it. End of story.

Anyone can hang up a shingle and call themselves a publisher, but if they do not have “old school” traditional publishing supply chain distribution through bookstores where there’s a very likely chance and easy availability for the book to be stocked in a bookstore, they’re typically not offering you any better chance of having a book in stock in a bookstore than you can do on your own. (Yes, they might pay for editing, design, etc, but the “in store” distribution is a MAJOR hurdle).

Also be aware of signing over the rights to formats that the publisher is not actually using. IE, if they want audio rights but don’t publish audiobooks, don’t sign away your audio rights. You can earn more selling them to someone who does.

Any publishing advice for new authors?

Paul Kane: Just to hang in there, and never give up. It can be a hard business with ups and downs, so you need a thick skin and you need staying power. It’ll happen for you eventually if you’re good enough and just keep going. Also, don’t take rejections personally; it’s all subjective and what one editor hates another might love. Just look at some of the big releases that have been rejected so many times before being given a chance.

Bobby Nash: Have fun and enjoy the experience. Yes, writing is my job and there are days it’s a tough job, but t’s still a job I love. That’s what keeps me going.

Nancy Oswald: Just start, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way. Do your homework if traditional publishing is what you want to do. Go to conferences and take advantage of one-on-one interviews with publishers and agents. When a book is returned, even if it’s a form letter without comments, sit down and re-write your book all the way through. You’ll be surprised at how those re-writes will improve your writing.

Mark Leslie Lefebvre: Patience, Practice, and Persistence are three of the main traits needed for a long-term publishing career. Also, you’ll never stop learning and there is no magic bullet for any of the hard work that is required to be successful. So, stop wasting your time looking for one.

Publishing, regardless of whether or not you choose traditional publishing or self-publishing/indie publishing (or, ideally, some combination of both), takes a lot of work, a lot of constant learning and re-learning, and dedication to continuing to work at it even when nothing seems to be working or all the cards are stacked against you.

To get through those times, which will happen to every single writer as the markets continue to shift and change and bend and flow, you need to believe in yourself and never give up on the dream and desire. And, ideally, if you get intrinsic pleasure in the act of actual writing itself, that could be enough to sustain you through the process during those “dry” periods.

What are the advantages of creating your own publishing imprint? Do you recommend it? Why or why not?

Bobby Nash: I started BEN Books to get some of my older, out of print works back into print. Eventually, I realized that I could launch projects there that I might not be able to pitch to a traditional publisher. When I started writing crime novels, I was known for doing comics, sci-fi, horror. It was a hard sell to convince publishers I could write a crime thriller. BEN Books became a way to get those stories told. Now, I’m more known for the crime thrillers. Go figure.

Nancy Oswald: The jury’s out for me on this. I just recently created an imprint and registered it with the state of Colorado. I have no idea what I’m doing, and it’s weird for me to associate with and imprint and not myself as an author which I’ve done most of my years publishing with a small press.

Do you use crowd sourcing or subscription services to fund your publishing endeavors?

Paul Kane: A couple of things I wrote have had Kickstarters, but they’ve been a short film and a comic and the people behind bringing them to life have handled the campaigns. All seemed to go well, though, so I can’t complain.

Bobby Nash: I haven’t crowdsourced any novels yet, but I’m considering it for a box set next year. I’m still working out the logistics. I do have a Patreon page ( www.patreon.com/bobbynash ) that works like a subscription service.

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That’s all for this week’s “Ask the Authors” blog segment. Thank you all for hanging with us. Next Saturday we’ll be wrapping up this Saturday series with an introduction to YA and middle grade author, L. Jagi Lamplighter, whose anthology contribution discusses “The Trouble with Troupes”, and a Q & A session on the most formidable of subjects, book marketing.

This must have writing reference is available through Barnes & Nobel, Rahkatan Kobo, the Apple Store, Amazon, Scribd and many more. As the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series is drawing to a close, be sure to get your copy of Ask the Authors 2022 at the special send-off price of $3.99 for the digital edition, from your favorite book distributor through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Editing & Revision

Ask the Authors 2022

Hello and welcome back to Segment 8 of the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. This week brings an introduction to speculative fiction and horror author, Jeff Bowles, who shares a his thoughts on editing in the anthology, “Contrary to Popular Editing Beliefs”, & a Q & A session on editing and revision.

If you missed any of the previous segments, you can find them here:

Segment 1: Introductions to Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session.

Segment 2: Introduction to Bobby Nash/Pre-Writing Rituals Q & A session.

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session.

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A.

Segment 5: Introduction for Mario Acevedo/Action, Pacing and Dialog Q & A.

Segment 6: Introduction to Nancy Oswald/Tone: Voice, Person, Tense and POV Q & A.

Segment 7: Introduction for Chris Barili/Setting & World Building Q & A.

And now let’s move right into this week’s segment.

Meet Jeff Bowles

Jeff Bowles is a science fiction and horror writer from the mountains of Colorado. The best of his outrageous and imaginative short stories are collected in Godling and Other Paint StoriesFear and Loathing in Las Cruces, and Brave New Multiverse. He has published work in magazines and anthologies like PodCastle, Tales from the Canyons of the Damned, the Threepenny Review, Dark Moon Digest, Whispers of the Past, and Spirits of the West. His story, “A Peaceful Life I’ve Never Known” was the winning story in the 2019 WordCrafter Short Fiction Contest.

Jeff earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in creative writing at Western State Colorado University. He currently lives in the high-altitude Pikes Peak region, where he dreams strange dreams and spends far too much time under the stars. Jeff also has two novels published, God’s Body: Book One – The Fall, and Love/Madness/Demon.

On to the Q & A.

Editing and Revision

How do you feel about the editing process? Love it or loathe it?

Mario Acevedo: The editing process is what turns the rough clay into art. The second draft is when your story begins to shine.

Paul Kane: I really enjoy the editing process. I don’t find it half as much work as getting the words down in the first place. I know for a lot of people it’s the other way around, but I like having written, when I’ve got the chunk of words down and I’m going through, refining it, making it better with each edit or pass. It’s like a sculptor with a lump of stone, each time you chisel some of that away the sculpture starts to take shape. The more you work on it, the better the shape becomes. I like having that lump of stone to work with, I’m just not that mad on getting the stone and carrying it to the studio or workshop in the first place, if you see what I mean. 

Bobby Nash: Editing is part of the job. A novel gets multiple edit passes. I do a self-edit while writing it, usually going over yesterday’s work before starting on today’s writing. Then, I give it another edit after I’m finished. Once I’m satisfied, it goes to the editor then back to me for adjustments, changes, discussions. There may be two edit passes here. Finally, there’s the galley edit, which is my chance to look the story over in the form it will be printed to make sure it looks good.

Robbie Cheadle: I enjoy editing and I find it easier than the initial writing process. Re-writing and amending to create a better story is rewarding and satisfying for me. I edit as I go along and at the end of each chapter. If something changes in the story that effects what I have already written, I go back and update it. I cannot leave a change undone and just move on like some writers do. It bothers me too much.

Nancy Oswald: I look at it as an opportunity to make your book better, but there are times I’ve loved it and other times, not so much.

What roles do alpha and beta readers, critique partners, proofreaders and professional editors play in your editing and revision process?

Mario Acevedo: All are necessary and have helped improve my stories. My critique partners are my beta readers.

Paul Kane: I don’t really use alpha or beta readers. It works for some people, but not for me. I find if I get too much feedback, especially if it’s conflicting, it just confuses me more than it helps. I prefer to trust my own judgment initially, or – if she has time – my wife Marie has a read before it goes off somewhere. The editor you’re working with, especially if it’s a bigger publisher, will have things they want you to change or cut or whatever, which is absolutely fine. That’s the process for me, and part of the job. I just prefer to not let anyone see it before then. I think maybe it’s bad luck or something, as I am quite superstitious.

Bobby Nash: I have used beta readers, but not often. I do have a small group of patrons that get stories early. Some offer feedback. I work with editors, proofreaders, and others to get the books as close to perfect as I can make them.

Robbie Cheadle: I am part of an   on-line writing group which meets for 2 hours every second week. We all read excerpts from our stories and give each other advice and feedback. One of the members of this group, beta reads each chapter of my novels as I go along and gives me constructive criticism and feedback.

Once the book is complete and I’ve edited it to my satisfaction, I send it to my developmental editor who provides feedback on structure, plot holes, loose threads, unnatural dialogue, and other important elements of my writing and story.

Once I’ve updated the novel for her comments, I send it back to her for a final read and make any last changes.

I then send it to a proofreader who helps pick up spelling and punctuation errors which I correct before sending the book to my publisher who does a final read and edit.

How do you handle your editing: hire professional editors? Trade-off with other authors? Critique partners? Beta-readers? Self-edit? Have a publisher that handles those things?

Paul Kane: I self-edit until it’s time to send it off to my actual editor at whatever publisher I might be working with at the time. If she has time, Marie has a look through and does a pass, but more often than not it’s me who goes through and does the drafts. Then it might go through several more once the editor has come back to me with notes, then finally the proofing and final editing stages.

Bobby Nash: I have editors I work with on my creator-owned projects. For books I do for other publishers, they provide the editor I will work with on the book. Before it gets to them though, I have done a self-edit pass or two.

Nancy Oswald: All of the above at different times, but bottom line, I like to be involved in all phases.

What do you look for in an editor?

Paul Kane: As I say, I don’t send it to an editor I pay or anything. It goes to the editor at the publishers, and you don’t get a choice in that, seeing as their company is paying you for the story or book. Having said that, I’m very lucky to have worked with some of the best editors in the business and there’s been nothing that’s really had me tearing my hair out. So, I guess what I’m looking for with an editor is someone who’s easy to work with, and we can go back and forth on changes or edits that will hopefully make the whole thing better in the long run.

Bobby Nash: Editing is more than catching typos and grammar errors. A good editor asks questions about story, points out inconsistencies, and offers advice and solutions. It’s a partnership. The writer and editor have the same goal. We both want to put out the best book we can.

Robbie Cheadle: In a developmental editor, I looked for someone who could help me resolve issues with my story without changing my voice and writing style. I found a ‘good fit’ editor a few years ago when I was writing Through the Nethergate and used the same lady to assist me with A Ghost and His Gold. While the Bombs Fell was developmentally edited by a different person. I was very happy with her feedback, but she was not available to help me with my most recent two books.

Nancy Oswald: Editors need to “get” the book. They need to be attentive to details, but not insert themselves into the MS to the extent of it sounding different.

Have you ever received an edit where it was obvious the editor didn’t get what you were trying to do? How did you handle that?

Paul Kane: I’ve had edits where I’ve felt the need to explain certain things, or argue my case about a specific point, but that’s only really been a small part of the overall edit. I’ve never had an editor do a complete hatchet job on one of my books, and for that I’m truly grateful.

Bobby Nash: It happens. Did I not explain it well? If so, then a rewrite needs to happen. The writer and editor talk. You discuss and work it out. As I mentioned above, the editor and writer are partners. The editor is not my enemy. We both want the book to be the best it can be.

Robbie Cheadle: This has not happened to me. Both developmental editors I have worked with have helped me tremendously and so does my beta reader. I am very open to suggestions and comments to help me improve my writing and stories.

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That wraps up this week’s “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. Be sure and drop by next Saturday, when we introduce author and industry expert Mark Leslie Lefebvre and share a Q & A session on Publishing. You won’t want to miss all the useful information in that one. See you there.

Ask the Authors 2022

But first, just take a minute to grab your copy of this writing reference anthology which no author should be without from your favorite book distributor at the special send-off price of $3.99, using the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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Join Kaye Lynne Booth & WordCrafter Press Readers’ Group for WordCrafter Press book & event news, including the awesome releases of author Kaye Lynne Booth. Get a free digital copy of her short story collection, Last Call and Other Short Fiction, as a sampling of her works just for joining.


Ask the Authors 2022 Book & Blog Series: Setting & World Building

Ask the Authors 2022

Welcome back to the “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. This is segment 7 of this Saturday series, which brings you a glimpse of the fantastic writing tips and advice featured in the Ask the Authors 2022 writing reference anthology, and today we introduce contributing author Chris Barili, who shares his thoughts and methods for character development in his own “Character Blueprint” in the anthology, and a Q & A session on setting & world building.

If you missed any of the previous segments, you can find them here:

Segment 1: Introductions for Kaye Lynne Booth & Kevin Killiany/Writing Life Q & A session

Segment 2: Introduction for Bobby Nash/Pre-writing Rituals Q & A session

Segment 3: Introduction for Roberta Eaton Cheadle/Plot & Storyline Q & A session

Segment 4: Introduction for Paul Kane/Character Development Q & A session

Segment 5: Introduction for Mario Acevedo/Action, Pacing & Dialog Q & A session

Segment 6: Introduction for Nancy Oswald & Tone: Voice, Tense, Person & POV Q & A session.

Let’s get started.

Meet Chris Barili

Chris Barili is a speculative fiction and romance author who was also my cohort in the M.F.A. in Creative Writing program at Western. He writes in a wide range of genres, including weird western (Hell’s Marshal series), and science fiction (Shadowblade) under his own name, and romance (Smothered) under the pen name B.T. Clearwater. Chris was a presenter and panel member for both the 2020 WordCrafter Stay in Place Virtual Writing Conference, and the 2021 WordCrafter New Beginnings Virtual Writing Conference.

Besides writing, Chris lifts weights, mountain bikes, practices martial arts and battles with Parkinson’s disease. Writing just may be his salvation. Chris also was a contributor to the original Ask the Authors writing reference project, back in 2018. When asked about a future where writing left him rich and famous, Chris said he would write more.

Now let’s see how our contributing authors responded in the Q & A.

Setting & World Building

What elements do you take into consideration when creating a new world?

Mario Acevedo: Time, place, setting, and the one many writers forget, mood.

Paul Kane: I’ve very rarely created entire worlds, but the ones I do write about – even in crime stories – I always view as just slightly to the left of ours. Alternate worlds that look very much like our own, but are just slightly different. I always make up locations, such as Norchester in The Gemini Factor, or Redmarket, Golden Sands and Green Acres in the PL Kane thrillers, simply because then you own those places and can do what you want with them. It’s much harder with real places like Nottingham or Sherwood, because someone might spot a mistake you made, even if you’ve done tons of research – for example we went on a private tour of Nottingham Castle just to make sure I could accurately describe things in Arrowhead. Nobody’s going to question something you do in a made-up place, that a street shouldn’t be in a certain spot or whatever. I like creating places anyway, though, because they very often feel like characters themselves. Norchester, for instance, is very much a character in The Gemini Factor. It even has two ‘faces’ as I say in the first chapter: the nice side that most people see, and a seedy underbelly that’s not very nice at all, full of drug-pushers and pimps. Or in this case, where a very unique serial killer operates. 

Chris Barili: As many as the world requires. If I am sculpting an entirely new world, as I did in Shadow Blade, I consider everything from culture to economy, clothing to foods, and so on. Kevin J Anderson covers this really well in his book on world building, and I’ve been lucky enough to learn under him a bit.

Bobby Nash: Most of my stories take place in the real world so I start with the parts that are familiar. The basis for a town is the same in medieval time, modern day, and on another planet. Start with the familiar and build from there.

Nancy Oswald: Since I write historical fiction (mostly) the world has already been created, so the trick is to get to the heart of the historical period and let some of the actual history dictate parts of the story. For instance, the two fires in Cripple Creek in 1896.

Do places that you’ve traveled to ever end up in your books?

Mario Acevedo: Yes. Los Angeles, Hilton Head Island, Florida, St. Louis, Pacoima, New Mexico, Iraq. Haven’t been to outer space yet.

Paul Kane: It’s the same thing I talked about with characters, I put bits of places I know in stories. Unless they’re actual places like Nottingham, then I’ve made them up of various places I know. Redmarket is very much a mish-mash of Northern towns I know very well, Golden Sands is an amalgamation of various run-down seaside towns I’ve visited, mixed with dollops of other fictional towns like Broadchurch from the famous TV series. When I was writing about Glaive City in my comic book stories based around the gothic superhero Mortis-Man, I was very much thinking about cities from famous comic strips I read as a kid, and still read, which might resonate with readers. To give them a certain flavour of what the tales will be about, you see. So, I guess you could say I visited those places, only I did it through the medium of comic books and graphic novels.

Bobby Nash: Oh, yes. I often take photos while on a drive and have found locations that spark story ideas.

Robbie Cheadle: I do include places I have visited in my books. It is easier to describe a place and give a ring of authenticity if you have visited the setting from your story. I have also included places I have not visited and that required a lot of research of various crucial elements like climate, vegetation, and lifestyles.

Nancy Oswald: Yes. Visited the Sand Creek Massacre site, explored Cripple Creek, and the Jewish Colony is practically in my back yard.

What type of details do you add to help create a mental picture for your readers?

Paul Kane: I think the key is not to overdo it, just a splash here, a splash there. That builds up a picture in a reader’s mind, and very often they supply the rest from places they might know. If I say that Golden Sands has a Fish ‘n’ Chip shop, like I’ve just done in the novelette Corpsing, then I don’t need much of a description because chances are the reader will have been to a seaside chippy themselves at some point in their lives. All you need are broad strokes to paint that picture. Unless you’re doing something very specific with a place, making a certain point. If you’re going to have a character get thrown off a building, you need to describe how high it is in order for a reader to know they probably wouldn’t survive the fall. Things like that.

Chris Barili: Again, whatever the story needs. For example, in Hell’s Marshal, I opened in old wet Tombstone, right near the OK Corral, so a detailed description of the saloon in which the story opened was needed, but since many readers have at least seen a recreation of the corral itself, I was able to use fewer details.

Bobby Nash: I describe people and locations pretty well, I think. I try not to overdo it though. If I say a character walks into a bedroom, I don’t have to describe every item in it. The readers know what a bedroom looks like. They will fill in the details from their own experiences.

Robbie Cheadle: My writing style is descriptive, and I try to incorporate all of the senses into my stories.

Nancy Oswald: In my genre, this is a place where historical photos are invaluable, but I don’t see why historical photos or other photos couldn’t be helpful for fantasy and other types of world-building. They would just need to be tweaked appropriately.

Would you share a brief excerpt from one of your favorite setting descriptions? What is it about this setting description that you like?

I received several examples of setting description from contributing authors which made this section too lengthy, so if you want to see them, you’ll have to buy the book.

How do you choose the right sensory details for your story?

Paul Kane: It depends on what you’re trying to say, you have to pick and choose what’s important again – or what feels right. That’s something you only really develop over time, I think. Don’t feel like you have to throw everything in there: sight, sound, smell, touch, taste or whatever. It might be that less is more again, so you have to decide what it is you’re trying to say about a place or person. I don’t tend to put smell in there much, as I don’t have a sense of smell myself – so I’d only really be guessing. Obviously, if someone was near to a chemical plant, or a sewage works, I could probably hazard a guess that the smell is bad, but having never smelt that before, my description would be loose at best. Ask yourself what it is that’s important about a scene, because that should help you decide what to put in and leave out.

Bobby Nash: It’s all by feeling. Senses are important so I use them where I feel they work best.

Robbie Cheadle: I try to use all the sense in my writing. If the circumstances lend themselves to the incorporation of descriptions relating to smell, taste, or touch I try to bring them in. Descriptions involving sight and hearing work their way into my stories easier than the other sense.

Nancy Oswald: Try to stay character driven and historically accurate.  

How do you communicate the rules of the world that you’ve created to your readers?

Paul Kane: The rules of most of my worlds tend to be the same as the one we’re living in, so it’s not that hard in most cases. If you’re writing something like a SF story, you’ll have to give the reader a sense of how that world works obviously, but it should be as the tale goes along – they’ll see through the telling of the story – rather than an info dump. So, in Arcana – which is a parallel universe – I had to show how the magic worked through the course of the story. I do have one bit near the beginning which is a flashback to a school classroom, but that was just to establish we’re not in this universe and that the history of it is different. The vast majority of what I set up in that novel comes through the telling of the story, that way it’s not too obtrusive. It’s not wise to have so many chunks of exposition or explanation too often or the reader will get bored.

Chris Barili: Through character actions words, and interaction with the world. Never by rote exposition.

Bobby Nash: I write the details, flesh things out with dialogue, stuff like that. I’m not a fan of the info dump, so I try to make that happen organically.

Robbie Cheadle: The Boers and the British soldiers in A Ghost and His Gold have their own codes of conduct, religious beliefs, and lifestyles. I bring these elements into my stories through descriptions and also through the use of thoughts and dialogue.

For real settings, do you explore the physical locations in which your stories are set?

Chris Barili: Usually just via the internet.

Bobby Nash: When I can, I do. That isn’t always possible though.

Robbie Cheadle: I explore the physical location when it has been possible for me to do so. Through the Nethergate is set in the English town of Bungay in Suffolk. I have visited Bungay twice as that is where my mother comes from. We have looked around the town and visited the churches, pubs, and the ruins of Bungay Castle.

A Ghost and His Gold is set in South Africa, and I have visited several of the places featured in the book including Irene, Pretoria, Mafeking, and Kimberley. It is easier for me to write about places I have visited, especially as I take lots of photographs.

Nancy Oswald: Yes, whenever possible.

Have you ever had a reader tell you that you missed the mark on a particular detail?

Bobby Nash: Sure. It happens. Sometimes they are right. Sometimes they aren’t. I’m happy that my story moved them enough to take time to let me know what they thought.

What techniques do you use to help readers visualize your world?

Paul Kane: I think it helps to see the world through a character’s eyes. A good device might be to take a ‘fish out of water’ character and throw them into this setting, so that you’re learning about the world as they do, as they go along. If you think about characters like Buck Rogers who gets flung into the future, or Stallone’s cop in Demolition Man, you get the picture. Hopefully then, if you’re giving the reader the right amount of information in the right way, they’re right there with the character seeing what they see.

Bobby Nash: Words and phrases. It’s my job to paint a picture with these words. The reader also helps by bringing his or her imagination into it as well.

Nancy Oswald: Always watch the verbs and passive voice.

Do you plan out your world or build as you go?

Paul Kane: It depends on the kind of world you’re building. If it’s a place that’s going to be a sprawling metropolis that you’re going to need to know inside out to tell your stories, it’s probably a good idea to know which bits are where. Is a new bit next to an old bit, are dangerous bits just a hop, skip and a jump from a nicer bit. I have a place called Graffitiland which is mentioned in my PL Kane books, and was the focus of the novelette of the same name. As you can imagine, this bit of wasteland is so-called because it’s covered in graffiti, so quite rough, but I also wanted it to be within spitting distance of some of the newer parts of the town I was writing about for plot purposes. I didn’t have any maps drawn out or anything, but just needed to jot down that this was the case – especially if I write about it again down the line. But if the whole story revolved around that sprawling city I was talking about, then you might want to start mapping bits out so you don’t contradict yourself.

Chris Barili: I start with an initial world-build, adding to it or changing things as the story progresses.

Bobby Nash: A little of both. When I created Sommersville, the county and town in several of my stories, I went in with a pretty well-established map, but I reveal important places, landmarks, etc. to the reader as needed in service of that particular story.

How do you keep track of the details of your world to avoid inconsistencies in the stories?

Mario Acevedo: Through rewrites and multiple drafts.

Paul Kane: By jotting down notes, essentially, or creating maps. Personally, I wouldn’t spend ages doing all this, because it’s enough to know roughly where things are for the purposes of my writing. But I do know other writers, especially if they’re writing Fantasy say, who spend a long time getting all these details right and recording them. It depends what kind of genre you’re working in.

Bobby Nash: I try to keep good notes.

Robbie Cheadle: I have a spreadsheet for my work-in-progress The Creeping Change as it involves a large number of characters. I write down the names and descriptions of certain supporting characters in my books, so I remember the details correctly.

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That’s it for this week’s “Ask the Authors 2022” blog series. Drop by again next Saturday for an introduction to Jeff Bowles, whose essay contribution, , offers up a view on editing & revision, along with a Q & A segment on the same topic.

Ask the Authors 2022

“Ask the Authors is an up-to-date and broad-based compendium of advice from today’s working writers, to help you with understanding your own writing career. Great information!”

—Kevin J. Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of Spine of the Dragon

Don’t forget, you can purchase a copy of this must have writing reference from your favorite book distributor at the special send-off price of $3.99 through the Books2Read UBL: https://books2read.com/u/3LnK8e

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