Lost Sand Dunes, Texas
The Search for Characters
By Steven D. Malone
I rarely have trouble finding characters for my fiction. Often enough, characters find me when I begin telling my stories. Just as often, I base my characters on people I’ve known. Names changed, of course, to protect the innocent and the guilty alike.
Here’s a bunch of characters from one of my many past lives. I’ve never used them. (Well, I did use one. A longtime partner that just seemed to fit into one of my books. He’s dead now. Any ill I spoke of him was done when he lived so I won’t be telling you which one he is.)
This past life was a time of glory and adventure. I would not go back and repeat it as its path was poorly chosen and embraced great sins. I trust my gentle readers to forgive those transgressions. I’ve tried to live down the shady parts in the years since. Know also that the statutes of limitation has been exceeded.
Long ago and far away, I was a hippie peace freak, turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. That was a much harder lifestyle to maintain than it appeared on the surface. So I worked. Hanging and finishing drywall. Construction work. Handy man, though I never was all that handy. Cash only. That particular housing boom went bust. The psychedelic sixties turned in to the deadly serious seventies. We were near broke and we were being chased by folks seemingly dedicated to putting us in jail. So we headed south to the ends of the earth. Or, at least, as far as we could go without entering Mexico or stepping off into the ocean.
I spent almost the last of my money on an $18 orange, nylon tent and a bunch of Marlboro's. I pitched my tent and lit my fag on the sands of Andie Bowie State Park, South Padre Island, Texas. The Park was a primitive place back then. The only amenities were fresh water and garbage cans. We picked the Park because of the free camping and the water faucet about a hundred steps off to the right. And it had a small pocket of space almost surrounded by sugary white sand dunes to kind of hide in.
Over time we were joined up by others on nearly the same mission. Being off the grid, as it became known later. One of the guys that ended up there called the core of folks “active players” because this core was permanent, was needing anonymity, and “understood business.” More on that later. We active players decided one day to get a little organized and form a community that had a bit of control over our little patch of sand. We, on a high-flying, drunken night, decided to call the patch “Lost Sand Dunes, Texas.”
Here’s the “active players” in LSD, Texas:
We came to hide at the edge of the earth and, as we dreamed, to live free, if only for a while.
Me, with hair down to my shoulder blades, my surfer tan, my aversion to work, and lack of resistance to temptation.
My girlfriend. I’ll call her Scarlet because she was as ginger as they come. Poor darlin’. She loved me enough to follow me to the ends of the earth. To live in a 5X7 pup tent. To scrape a living from pocket change found in the sand and fish plucked from the Gulf. Go figure.
My longtime partner, Little Jay. Little Jay because he was pretty short and once there were a lot of Jays and we had to sort them out somehow. Little Jay. Long Jay. Tall Jay. Doctor Jay. Cowboy Jay. Remember that song, “Short People”. He hated that song. I remember that Little Jay always had to walk fast and was always telling me to slow down, though I wasn’t walking fast. I just had long legs. Poor guy had all the conflicted personality problems of a guy that was one of seven kids and always had to look up to a world that was taller than him.
Next came the “major players”, the smugglers.
They came because it was the 60s (early 70s, actually), and often the thing to do was to set up a major pipeline to supply the Border States with an endless stream of marijuana. These boys were hard core and, brother, they meant business. They envied our campsite tucked in the surrounding dunes and asked to share it. We got along. After a few days, they decided to trust us. We were quite flattered.
I did not participate in their chosen profession. Too much like work. I will admit to keeping silent about the goings and doings.
One I will call Jon. He was, and remains to this day, the funniest man I ever met. Curly brown hair, bright eyes, well-muscled. Wry, dry wit. An acute observer. He filled our days with laughter. For the life of me, I can’t remember all of his joking. It’s been decades. However, I remember smiling. The one thing I do remember came after what must have been a tough day of meeting Mexican dealers, dodging narcs, and doing all the logistics of smuggling felony amounts of kilos. He was worn and edgy. He mentioned he might enjoy a day of meditation. A day of silence.
“Of course,” he said. “I’d run up to you flapping my arms.”
He waved his arms this way and that, alarm pasted on his handsome face.
“You’d be going; ‘hungry, desk, sounds like, first word, movie title…’ And, what I’d really be signaling is, ‘your house is on fire!’”
Silent days wouldn’t be so meditative.
Another I will call Pistol. He’s the man that taught me the meaning of “taciturn.” A man of few words. The strong, silent type. I call him Pistol because he was a direct descendant of an old western gunfighter. I can’t remember his last name but it was either James, Younger, Doolin, Dalton, or some such. There was a dark interior to the man that spoke of something hidden, something secretive. I did not delve.
Pistol was the one that divided the citizens of Lost Sand Dunes, Texas into major, active, and minor players. The divisions created a caste system in our little community. Anyone else was an outsider. The major and active players formed a sort of governing body.
The third major player I’ll call Dane. He probably wasn’t Danish but he was the blondest blond guy to ever wear a surfer tan. He was a skinny, devil-may-care soul, with an even disposition, curly flaxen hair, sensitive good looks. He was also, as it turned out, a pimp. Three of his tall, lanky ‘escorts’ came to stay with us on the beach late that summer. Most intriguing and, no, I never rented their services. Dane had a clutch of bright, pale scars on his lower belly and a massive spider web of scars on his lower back, just below his ribs. A disgruntled business partner emptied a .38 into him some years before.
The minor players.
A good handful of itinerant folks came in and out of LSD, Texas that summer. Some we allowed ‘citizenship,’ if we had a good feeling about them. Not all were given the secrets of the inner circle of major and active players.
The Zombie Woman showed up one day and stayed on. Zombie Woman rarely spoke, never showed any emotion in any way, and generally ghosted around with a blank expression. She also, as far as I could see, never said no — to anything. The twenty something woman had long brown curls always skewed and wore an ankle length, paisley dress that gathered just beneath her breasts. Her skin was the kind of dark that always seemed dirty, but she wasn’t dirty. She took a bar of soap, daily, into the salt surf to scrub up, still wearing that dress. She returned to let the sun dry her off. Zombie Woman ate our food and did a musical chair routine from tent to tent depending on who invited her. But she always did her share of chores and was never a bother.
The Lovers appeared with a big tent, big smiles, and a lot of canned food to share. Like Jay and I, The Lovers came seeking the ends of the earth and the freedom it offered. The guy was a witty, cocky guy, quick to brag that he could make love two and three times, and more, without losing his, uh, his ability to perform. His girl, chunky, brunette, pleasant, satisfied, and also always smiling, often confessed that she was more than glad to claim him and his superpower. They always had fun conversation in the evenings when we’d circle around the fire. Their tent was not always noisy late in the night, and they often invited Zombie Woman to share space there.
The Gay was just that. Well, that and a total derelict beach bum hobo. Stringy long hair and beard. One set of jeans and shirt. He had no tent, sleeping in the sand, sand fleas, rain, mosquitoes and all. His helpful talent was gathering fire wood for the community fire. He was likable enough - usually. More than once he made Jay uncomfortable making passes at him. He made passes at most of the unattached guys. When all of them rebuffed him, he disappeared.
The Veteran drove up in a white utility van and used LSD, TX as a base camp for a couple of months. This young man was Adonis beautiful and as blond as Dane. He broke all the women’s hearts. Leaving his van, The Veteran would disappear for a few days to a week at a time, never telling us where he went, or when he’d return. Being curious, I nosed around his empty vehicle. A discarded letter on the floor was from the Air Force and addressed his discharge from the service. Apparently, his two tours in Vietnam was too much for the man. We still called it “combat fatigue” back then. He didn’t seem too haunted or too damaged, but there it was. As it turned out, The Veteran’s gig was going to Mexico, procuring rare and prohibited birds to smuggle into the States. One day he drove off in his van and we never saw him again.
There were others.
But this is getting long. I won’t go into the Crazy Boy that we finally called the police to get him taken to a psychiatric hospital for his hallucinations. I also skip the bevy of way good looking beach bunnies, sporting tiny bikinis and always giggling. To a girl, they belonged to crewmen of the shrimp fleet and showed up a day or two before their men returned from the Gulf.
And more besides.
These folks belong to a summer of glory, and a summer of regrets, I once spent. All are gone from my life.
Jay died here a couple of years ago. Scarlet took me with her to California that next winter. We watched the Nixon hearings and made love. But I got homesick and hitched rides back to Texas just after that Christmas. All the others went their several ways to their several fates.
Seeds of characters most of which I have never used in my writing. Maybe I should. Maybe one day.
Characters are all around you. Grab them up by looking carefully at those around you. Everybody is broken, at least to a certain degree. Broken enough to add flavor. Everybody is better than the worse thing they’ve ever done. Everybody is seed enough to plant in the rich soil of your imagination. You’ll feed well on the harvest.
Hey, Short Stuff
Me and the Short Story
By Steven D. Malone
Ah, the short story.
The hardest of hard things to write. At least for me it is. Under the fertile ink of the fountain pen, my short stories grow. Grow and grow. From the original short-short, to short, to long form story, to novella, to… Well, hell, here I got my latest novel.
I’ve got a pile of those things laying around, gathering dust. Or I had at one time. Most got lost on any number of stops through my gypsy past. None of them will ever see the light of day. Thank whatever deity you worship for that. You should also be thankful that I couldn’t hold the breaks down on the short as well.
It’s the discipline. I have none.
My old brain has no governor. No filter either, come to think of it. The characters, self-actualizing and Darwinesque, join me and fight for more life, more space, in the scheme. The scenery fills out in intimate detail. Even weather can insinuate itself into the story. It was, after all, a dark and stormy night. The list can go on gathering almost as much moss as my “short” stories do.
It’s the discipline. I have none.
The other void in my governor-less brain is the lack of perceptible story arcs. As Marion Zimmer Bradley once told me in a rejection letter, I don’t know where this story is going. That means that my attempts at short story writing produce “vignettes.” Define a vignette (vin ‘yet) as a brief evocative description, account, or episode. Not as an arced story with a beginning, a climax, and a resolution. Episode with no arc equals rejection. Rejection though I kind of like my vignettes. (Almost as much as I like my incomplete sentences and dearth of commas. My critique group does not always agree.)
I drift toward tomes both in my reading and my writing. A good book just should never end. A fun story to write, I guess, should take a long time to finish. Let the good times last.
I do envy a good short story writer. I admire them as well. Neil Gaiman, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dashiell Hammett, Edgar Rice Burroughs, another list that can go on and on. And not a hack among them no matter the critics.
Do you write short stories?
Can you write short stories?
Tell me how you do it? Tell me your secrets?
Matter of Character
By Steven D. Malone
Picture an outdoor landscape. Mountains. Rolling hills. A field of clover lying before a forest. A beach at sunrise. Your choice. Early morning. Someone approaches, man, woman, alien, or beast, who do you need, the sun just over their shoulder. You can’t make out features against the glare. Have your story in your mind. Let the sun rise higher. The person comes closer. Mindful of your story, see your character fill out, become clearer. The character you need for your story. His or her nature. His or her aspects, back story, quirks and temperament. His or her face. In some weird magic the character gives birth to itself. Builds itself. That is sort of what happens for me as I cast the characters in my story.
Cursed or blessed, as a writer, my soul is Celtic. There is a sort of magic about it all that I do not understand. When I story (story as verb) something inside me moves. Something goes into motion. My Celtic soul does not direct. It does not outline. It just goes. Something like a car left in gear, it rolls on down the road in spite of itself.
Curse or blessing? I don’t know.
I take that back. The rolling car. To some degree that car is driven by the characters that walk up to me in that radiant sunrise. But that is another blog post and it doesn’t help us today.
Take a moment. Do you create your characters or do they sort of create themselves?
Once created, do they live?
“Living” means individuality and uniqueness. Think some more. Think of everyone you’ve ever known. Have you known many doppelgangers? That is two strangers that look and act exactly alike. Have you known any perfect people? People whose beauty, or talent, or accomplishment are without flaw or weakness.
I haven’t, except in some of the books I’ve been reading recently. I know that imitation is the “sincerest form of flattery”, an idea at least as old as 1708, when it was found in a biography of Marcus Aurelius by Jeremy Collier and André Dacier. But, I see too many like “Richard Sharpe”, men and women, in new fiction. Ruthless, hardened folks that manage to absorb all punishment, win every fight, solve every problem, surmount every struggle, defeat every villain, and always seem to catch the pretty boy or girl even though…
The cookie cutter hero/heroine. But they are all like Superman before kryptonite. Of course, these “stock” characters made money for Bernard Cornwell, and for others. And, if that’s what you want, flatter these people and, hopefully, make yourself some money. Still, it’s sort of like fan fiction where the names are changed.
If there is no jeopardy, there is no real drama. There is no “real” person charactering your stories.
Flaw your characters.
Flaws, weaknesses, and imperfections, come from a character’s backstory. His or her life before the story starts. The autobiography.
All my characters have one. Creating character backstory ended for me when I realized how my work was hampered. When I saw how trying to hammer out story to suit my preconceived notions of “constructing” a fiction made for obvious and stilted prose.
I surrendered. I “allowed” my characters to evolve on their own. That’s the way I saw it at first. It came to me that what was actually happening was that my characters, born whole cloth on their own, were actually telling me about themselves. I was no longer telling them who they were. Those Celtic genes again.
This meant, in the end, that they started driving my stories to places I didn’t think they were going. A surprise, a wonder, and a delight. With any luck, your characters will do that for you as well.
That’s my two cents worth. My opinion is worth every penny you pay for it. However, if you think I’m weirdly crazy about these beings that inhabit my stories, I will leave you with some words from masters:
“When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
― Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon
“Plot is no more than footprints left in the snow after your characters have run by on their way to incredible destinations.”
― Ray Bradbury, Zen in the Art of Writing
“It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.”
― William Faulkner
“The most important things to remember about backstory are that (a) everyone has a history and (b) most of it isn't very interesting. Stick to the parts that are, and don't get carried away with the rest.”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Saying Goodbye Is Hard To Do
By Steven D. Malone
“Sayonara, literally translated, 'Since it must be so,' of all the good-byes I have heard is the most beautiful.”
I had to say goodbye to my son last week. Again. Nothing tragic (depending upon one’s frame of reference). He is off on a tour of Europe and Africa and I had to drop him off at an airport.
He’s in his mid-twenties so, like all his age, he marched off from us to the Home Land Security’s “search me” line, (burdened by a backpack nearly as big as he was) and refused to look back at his wildly waving parents. Finally, we decided he would miss our blown kisses and wistful stares and let him go on to his adventure.
“It’s not the parting or the absence that’s sad. You love them, and that’s why saying good-bye breaks your heart.”
― Kyōichi Katayama, Socrates In Love
Saying goodbye to one’s child is a too often experience for a parent as he or she becomes the bow that launches the arrow that is the child. I’ve done it way too much and have not enjoyed the pain of it - ever.
The first time, he was a child just walking well and beginning to talk in real conversation, showing his child’s wisdom and astute perception. He had need of surgery and he was only three. A nurse and his surgeon led him off, pulling him in a little red wagon. He turned to eye the two of us the whole length of that endless hallway leading to the place where they would anesthetize him and cut on him with scalpels. We stared back at him, trying to look confident and happy and proud of how brave he was being. I don’t know if we carried it off but he did not cry or reach out to us. I’m not sure if I could have stood it if he had.
The next time was that dreaded first day of school when we really were letting go of him as he truly stepped off into his first real day of his own, separate, beginning as an individual with his own life to live. To live, if only partially, his singular existence.
“Brave isn't something you are. It's something you do.”
― Cynthia Hand, The Last Time We Say Goodbye
He wasn’t quite as brave that day. Scared of change. A bit overwhelmed. We couched it in terms of growing up and being grown up. A mistake. His cant became, “but I don’t want to grow up.” That became his motto and it continues to this day.
I should have told him that he didn’t have to grow up. I never did. He just could not escape growing bigger. I couldn’t. And we both remain big kids. Ask my wife.
There followed the first day of middle school, then high school. He was never comfortable at school despite his smarts. He’s smarter than both his parents. (Shh, don’t tell him that.) I think he comes by that naturally. I tried my best to hide when I attended school as well.
Poor kid did better for the first day of college. He had some choices in this. We toured several. He like the food at the one he chose and it was a small, private institution in a quiet, pretty town. He still didn’t want to grow up however. It was a proud day for him, as well as for us, the day he graduated.
“It's hard being left behind. (...) It's hard to be the one who stays.”
― Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler's Wife
I was surprised at how hard it was letting him walk away from us at the airport. Of course, the whole parent thing surprised me. It surprised me how profound and deep a thing being a father was. I never really expected to be one. I discovered that my boy was the best thing I’ve ever done. And I’ve told him that on many occasions. I reminded myself of that fact as I made myself turn and walk away from his avoiding eyes and letting him have his independent moment.
I wonder if he finally tried to search us out. I wonder if he spent a moment regretting not getting that last wave. That last blown kiss. Maybe he’ll miss us. Maybe he won’t find a reason to stay in Europe or Africa. Maybe he’ll want to come home.
“Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don't be sorry.”
― Jack Kerouac
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”
― Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest
My son is writing a travel blog of his adventures. Check him out:
Pulling the Trigger
Pamela Fagan Hutchins
- Indie Publishing Done Right
By Steven D. Malone
Once you publish you become a business! Once you pull the trigger on that book, realize it or not, like it or not, you are a business person as well as a writer. I think that is Pamela Fagan Hutchins’ main message in this all day seminar, “Indie Publishing Done Right”.
Pamela calls it “smart authorprenership”. She gives us a strategy for making our Art into a Product.
“To get there,” she says, “be out there.”
The business of writers these days is marketing. As I learned on Saturday (see previous blog post - scroll down), we must promote, promote, promote.
So all of us aspiring entrepreneurs assembled in an intimate hotel meeting room, slightly reminiscent of a bistro, to drink free coffee and to hear Pamela show us how. The coffee was required because the information given us turned out to be encyclopedic.
As her blurb says, she writes award-winning, best-selling, romantic mystery/suspense and hilarious nonfiction, and holds nothing back. She is known for “having it all” which really means she has a little too much of everything, but loves it: writer, mediocre endurance athlete, wife, mom, business owner, recovering employment attorney and human resources executive, investigator, coach/consultant, Chair of the Board of Houston Writers Guild, speaker, and musician.
I think “holds nothing back” is the best descriptor for she is a knowledgeable, supportive, and high-energy speaker.
Art as Product.
This sunny Sunday she brought to us her “Strategy for making our Art into a Product”.
On top of it all are the “5 Rs.” The five things authors need as a spring board to “smart authorpreneurship”. The five are; Readers, Reviews, Ratings, Recommendations, and Rankings.
An author is an “Entertainment Unit” competing with other entertainment units - TV, sports, games, etc. As an entertainment unit, we compete for the finite and limited number of consumers. Consumers have expectations. They expect quality content, professional editing, an eye-catching cover with matching copy, and a tempting description. How can we do this?
The 5 Rs, of course.
So, readers. Number one of the five. I got the idea that gathering readers, and publishers most probably, has to do with “showing up”. Showing up with a quality product at the start. However, the essence of showing up is a writers “digital presence”. Your brand and your website (among other things).
Pamela told us the the genesis of our brand is our name, our title, and our cover. I think our name and title will have to factor in our genre and our reputation. For our cover, it means a “thumbnail”. Digital sales = thumbnails.
Have a picture with personality. Claim your books, all of them. Have an appealing bio on your website. Consider posting a video if you have one or want to make one. Link to your blog. Link to your twitter page.
Our digital presence equals our website as well.
Pamela advises the following about websites: Keep it simple. Make it mobile friendly. Use key words, tags, and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). SEO, done right, is worth researching - it’s an art, apparently. Let the site have all other links to you. Good links to you would be Facebook, Goodreads, and twitter. Consider an “eblast” sign up. Do give-a-ways. “Rafflecopter,” and other such places, can handle those for you. Consider “exit popups” with a call to action. And, here’s a big one; Have a blog and blog something readers care about!
For getting reviews she advises: First, never pay for reviews. Obvious. Who will trust them? Who can afford them? Then, become a reviewer yourself. We authors need them. Pay it forward. Those you review may review yours. Blog your reviews. Post them on your site and on your social media. Their audiences will become your audiences. Also, look for reviewers of similar books. Ask them if they’d consider reviewing your book.
Places to seek reviews for your work include; PublishersWeekly.com, NetGalley.com, Bookbubs (which is curated and costs - is that an exception to the rule?), media reviewers, and other book bloggers.
Ratings can be gotten from readers that rate work at Goodreads. Kindle also asks readers to rate books as they finish them. These last are posted at amazon.
Recommendations, I assume, come mostly by word of mouth and are passed on by readers that especially enjoyed your book. Goodreads members are excellent at giving recommendations. Go there. Have a robust author page. Participate in groups of similar interests. Read, rate, recommend, and review the works of others. And, most important, don’t spam your own books. It makes ‘em mad.
Rankings, as far as I know, come from sales on amazon and at Barnes & Noble, etc. The more you sell, the higher you rank. Rank = Marketing.
If anything, selling one’s work is the biggest struggle and biggest woe of the author. It takes the most time. It takes money. That’s been true for introverted me. Taking my one basket of eggs to market.
Pamela gave many ways to help us get the word out. To get our book seen.
She points out that genre writers do better with “nontraditional” publishing. That’s authorpreneurship for all of us self-publishers for sure.
Go to that Kindle Sales page and get accurate “BISAC” codes (Book Industry Standards and Communications). These simplify logistics for publishers, manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers, retailers, librarians and others engaged in the business of print and electronic media. One of mine is “historical fiction”. Yours may be action/adventure, YA, or romance. The smaller the genre, the more you stand out. I didn’t do that. Can’t find “Civil War Texas Action/Adventure Family Saga.”
Do give-a-ways. Amazon and Goodreads have a process for this. Other venues do also. Give hard copies where ever you can. Require recipients to follow you on amazon. Give away swag or even money.
Get your book translated. Generally you may be able to do this with no out-of-pocket expense. Negotiate a share of any sales (a 50/50 split) with translator. Try Babelcube.com or “.ama.zon.com/submissions”.
Do “postcards” for events or to leave around businesses such as hotel lobbies.
Donate your books to libraries or even “indie” stores.
The best sales strategies to get the word out are Facebook and dedicated email subscription lists.
And, the above is only a portion of all the things shown me that day. If you can attend one of her events, do so. You will profit by it.
See her site for when and where:
In closing, Pamela offered the following “must do” list. Focus on the 5 Rs. Be a quality product. Always do “pre-order.” Always use the best keywords. And, be goal oriented.
Remember: You are a small business. Show up.
Or, Will You Buy My Book Today
Attending the 2016 Houston Writers Guild’s Annual Conference
By Steven D. Malone
Jamie Ford, dude, Jamie Ford! Jamie Ford, author of Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, gave the keynote speech this year.
I went with a better attitude this year. I even kept it after I found out I’d signed up for two, count ‘em, two seminars I took last year. It seemed that the titles of each were different enough that the material might be different. Turns out - not so much. Other good stuff was on the agenda so, the smile stayed on my face.
There returned the aura of excitement and anticipation among the attendees and hosts sparking the air. The ambiance of sterile, upscale, hotel chic returned, or remained. Do-nuts still a bit stale. Good, hot coffee. The AC and the lights were on. They got knocked out by a storm last year. The regular crew of enthusiastic Guild officers, eager wannabes looking for that one magic bullet leading to fame and fortune, and wide-eyed newbies all gathered together once more. Pretty much the usual but the smile stayed on my face.
What was most important to me (that magic bullet to fortune) is what I will share. I will try to be briefer this year.
Fear the story you haven’t told.
Jamie Ford is a pleasant and seemingly vulnerable man with that strange power to hypnotize his audience. Don’t let his mien fool you. His messages were quite powerful. He reminds me of what I should be doing but haven’t. You know that story you haven’t told but should, the story you secretly want to write? Run toward that story, he says. That is surely true.
He also validated some of my personal efforts as a writer of historical fiction and some fantasy. It’s not “write what you know”, it’s “know what you write”. He included writing of another gender, another culture, another time in that advice.
I liked that especially.
Ahh, next came Stephanie Barko and the dreaded author platform. All writers must attend to their platforms. And that’s scary. At least it is for the caveman I am.
It is a true fact that publishers choose writers with platforms and followers.
Ms. Barko’s list of platform components is daunting. Your (mobile friendly) website. What she calls your “social suite”, including facebook, Pintrest, G+, and twitter. Your blog with its keywords. A market analysis and some hint of a potential market. Endorsements and reviews. A media kit. Tours, signings, kickoffs, etc.
Geez, please clone me.
Will you buy my book today?
Debra Winegarten’s “Books as a Smoozing Delivery Device” proved great fun. Debra is a case. Her theme, however, was deadly serious.
Writers have to promote themselves!
They must. These days no one else will do it. Not for love nor money, apparently.
She dwelt long on all the things a writer could and should do. The key is believing in yourself. In asking for what you are worth and in being worth something.
Have intention - a way of being - everyday! Intend to sell your book. Intend to sell yourself. Be specific. Make “one mindedness” a way of being - everyday. Promote, promote, promote…
It helps a great deal, she added, to be a gracious receiver. A nurturer. Train yourself. Things go both ways. Giving is a generous thing. Readers give to you their time (reading your work) as well as their money. Pay it forward.
The big shift.
Could not miss Fay Walker as I write historical fiction.
Historical Fiction Tips made Ms. Walker’s theme. Simple. Deceptively so.
The question to ask, she encouraged, is; what’s going to lead your HF story to drama? What will give you, the writer, the most options?
Well, history, like life, is not story. The old “truth is stranger than fiction” problem. Form is what gives shape, gives plausibility, to story. Not often do I find form in life.
We writers of historical fiction have but two formats for what is out art. First, we keep close to history hoping to find a probable explanation for events. Second, we write historical situations and people them fictionally. We use these trying to symbolize “the end of before and the beginning of after”.
“The end of before and the beginning of after”, now that’s something chewy to gnaw on. I think I actually do that and almost every time. So, HF writers should begin our stories when everything shifts. A philosophical or a material moment in the lives of our main characters.
Wow! Look at the time. This thing has gone on long enough. Saturday’s event is done except for the drive home.
I spent all Sunday at Pamela Fagan Hutchins seminar on Indie publishing. It could have taken two days for all I learned. I must save that for another post. It’ll be worth your time but you and I will have to wait.
Homo unius libri.
“One hit wonder.”
Where did all the writers go?
By Steven D. Malone
Cleaning up my website, for the sake of adding a new feature, caused me to take a look at my old “Links” page. Very enlightening.
The page linked to a slew of favorite authors and most were online friends. Nearly a third, as it turned out, had disappeared from the net. I clicked the links. “Sorry, page cannot be found”, or “Page no longer in operation”, or some such, appeared on my screen.
These folks were some of my favorite people, my favorite authors, and they were gone. To a person, each had written only one book. Well, one had written three. They abandoned these books and their place on the eternal ether (the net).
“One hit wonder”, came to mind. Homo unius libri ("(a) man of one book")in Latin. Attributed to Thomas Aquinas. He is reputed to have employed the phrase "hominem unius libri timeo" (meaning "I fear the man of a single book"). I read that, today, the phrase most often refers to the interpretation of expressing "fear" of the opinions of the illiterate man who has "only read a single book".
Well, I’m not (often) in fear of an illiterate man of only one book, though sometimes the “Bible thumpers” who bully us all with their single interpretation of, and insistence on, that single book to justify many harsh evils, cause me concern.
However, I do get unsettled by my fear of the discouragement these writers might have felt when they abandoned their work. Did they feel failure because of the lack of attention garnered? The lack of sales? Was the pain of severe, and maybe displaced, criticism too much? Did creating books take more time than they could afford? Was the whole thing just too damn difficult?
Many of us writers are tender souls and our egos are as tender. And some of us are lazy. I’m throwing stones because I live in that glass house with the rest of them. I’m unafraid to own both traits. As if we presented our children, our babies, to the world and some thought them ugly. Hurtful.
Maybe the reasons were not as severe as that. Maybe their interests changed. Maybe they found more satisfying careers. One might have found the love of his or her life and got lost in the wonder of it. Another might have turned to art, to entrepreneurship, to cooking. Anything but the cutting of veins that are bled onto the page.
Writing is hard. It’s twenty-four-seven. It’s frustration and sweat equity. And I know it seems as though I am sitting easy in the lounger staring into space. So do not doubt that I am at work. It seems like it is easy. It is not.
There are many reasons to let go of the whole effort. A few good ones as well.
There is more than one thing out there with my name on it. So, maybe, I’m not a one hit wonder. That does not mean anything I’ve written is anyone’s “wonder”. Still, I get a chill when I mull over where those writers went.
There stuff was more than adequate. And, often, it was down right good. They entertained me. They kept me turning pages.
Where did they go?
Have you lost a favorite author? Have you wondered where they went? Do you know where they’ve gone?
It’s Not the Camping
It’s the Critters
By Steven D. Malone
Camping, like perfection, is about the journey.
Ehh, well, sometimes the journey is about the destination.
We picked Ink’s Lake State Park.
The Park is, or tries to be, lost deeply in the “Highland Lakes” district of central Texas, an hour’s drive northwest of Austin. Out in the “Hill Country”, my favorite area of the state.
From the sticky clay rice fields near my home, the drive slowly rises through a sun-washed savanna of prairie and stunted trees to the ravaged, and savage, rocky hills.
Day one. I was ready to be done with the four plus hours on the highway. Pull in and check in, warm in the glow of staff smiles. But, I can’t get any bars.
May be just as well that no one knows I’m there.
It’s not the packing, it’s the campsite.
Truth! Folks gotta plop down in the right spot or things will go sideways in a hurry. A campsite must have the right vibe. It must have the right “feng shui”.
Ink’s Lake allows, thank the gods, first come, first serve during quiet weeks. I commenced hunting for just the right place.
Once this place was a seething hell of boiling magma (molten rock) twisting and torturing the surrounding land, changing its shoulders into something that geologists call metamorphic rock. This metamorphic rock, thrusting up through the Park’s limestone, is pink and it’s called “Valley Spring gneiss”. Gneiss is pronounced “nice”.
Finding a way to exist among the cracks and crevices and along the two or three streams and the lake are an array of exotic growing things that feed or help to employ the critters.
Exotic is the key word of words.
Ashe juniper, mesquite, cedar elm, live oak, post oak, Texas persimmon, willow and pecan trees. Blue grama, sideoats grama and buffalograsses. Wildflowers such as Texas bluebonnets, Indian blankets and Indian paintbrushes. Prickly pear, tasajillo (pencil cactus), barrel and lace cactus grow here. Also see yucca and bee brush. Even rock quillwort and Edward’s Plateau cornsalad.
The critters: white-tailed deer, raccoon, squirrel, armadillo, fox and coyote. Turkey vultures, great blue herons, snowy egrets, ducks, cardinals, swallows, wrens, quail and sparrows. Birds of prey; great horned owls, barred owls, screech owls, red-tailed hawks. Migratory birds; Canada geese, hummingbirds and pelicans. Lizards and salamanders on warm days.
And, of course, count the park staff and our fellow campers. They are critters of the park as well.
The deer, raccoon, fox, squirrel, egrets, ducks and geese, as well as the park staff, got up close and personal starting day one.
But I digress.
Don’t want to be too close to the neighbors, far away from any screaming kids, but not too far away from the loo. Don’t have to have a view of the lake. Leave that to the teeming multitude. Do have to have plenty of shade. Plenty of clean, fresh breeze.
Oops, there’s the place. I pull in and get out. I sit at the picnic table, growing quiet to feel the vibe.
Nope. Too sunny. Too rocky. Too slanted. Oops, another. And another. Another. Too this, too that, too the other. Ahh, this one’s just right.
It feels right. Tucked away down a little slope. A flat spot for the tent. Shade. Grass. No one real close. Just right.
So, the tent…
Always, the tent must go up first. If the tent’s up other things can wait. I circle the chosen spot like a cat or a dog does before settling in. Flat enough. No rocks. No scorpions. Tis scorpion country. No gully to flood the tent if rain comes. Shade, in case I want to nap in the heat of day.
The tent goes up.
Houston, we have sited! Where’s my chair?
Gene shows up within an hour. He agrees that it’s a good site. We go looking, in vain, for bars. Ironically, that’s the last time I remember having my phone in my hand. It must rest in some weeds. I hope it is never seen again. A Park ranger feels sorry for the old man and lets me use her phone. Folks know we’ve arrived. It will be the last they hear from us until we return to civilization.
Screw the rest of the world. Time to go. It’s about the camping now.
One of Gene’s “missions” is collecting neat stuff for cooking out. Hardly a space was left across the site not containing some of his rare utensil finds. Cast iron orbs hiding well-seasoned grill racks. Skillets in great variety. Ladles and flippers and spoons. Egg poachers and I don’t know what all. We cooked. Well, he did most of it.
Biscuits, bacon, flapjacks, honey, Spam, canned fruit. Bacon. Fried up Spam again, beans, concoctions of various canned things deliciously mixed together. Crackers and jam. Did I say bacon?
It’s better than it sounds. We weren’t gonna waste time lugging ice.
His other bundle of neat camping stuff is a tented cot. A “Transformer” sleeping space that seemed to unfold out of another dimension. Instant, coffin-shaped, watertight, up-off-the-ground, luxury bedding, unzipped for the breeze, zipped for protection from the elements. I envied him. I’d buy it if I wasn’t too long to fit in the thing.
I remember that robins and red birds sang to us. Canadian geese honked at us. Squirrels barked at us. What probably was a fox marked the entrance to our site with a gift of berry laced droppings. Distant coyotes yipped in the dark. And, on that first night, a howling raccoon fought it out with, by the tracks, what must have been some kind of canine, fox or coyote, over a pack of food we’d forgotten on the table.
Geez, one would have thought that the sonorous snoring duet we were putting out would have kept the wildlife at a distance. We speculated that the noise did, in fact, fend off the bears and panthers. Never saw a one of those. Not that damned coon, though. He was back the second night after getting training in opening zippers. His haul: much of our bread and Gene’s last Pop Tart.
We looked with askance at our zipper-sealed, rip-stop nylon encasements. That bugger might want to sleep with one of us.
On the third day, we hiked the trails. I like Ink’s Lake’s trails. They are not the cindered and sign laden thoroughfares of other parks. These resemble narrow, if well used, game trails curling along the rock mounds. Ours lead passed the “Devil’s Waterhole” to a beautiful, crystalline, and sun-drenched waterfall falling through a limestone canyon dotted with all the flora listed above and with hundreds of butterflies and a couple of lizards. The season’s first bluebonnets peeked and smiled from the few sunny spots lost in the shade of the live oak and cedar.
I remember the sky. Years have passed since I’ve seen so many stars in the sky. Years have passed since I’ve made out the Milky Way.
I remember the critters. The fuzzy or feathered ones whose home this is, with us the intruders, the bringers of bounty to steal. The human ones, also at home. The cute ranger, curly and pretty in that robust, Hill Country way, who shared her phone. The beefy, imported ranger who came and stayed and was so friendly over her morning coffee. The handsome, muscular, and salt-and-pepper retired lady dangling precariously from the balcony rail to put up the hummingbird feeders on the eaves. The snow birds who came to stay, exchanging odd jobs for a free site and free laundry, and kept up the mesquite firewood supply we could trade for a five dollar bill.
I remember the bacon. Did I say bacon?
I remember something most pleasant. I remember that I did not get bitten by a mosquito. Not once. And that, my children, is a rare thing, for I am sweet meat for mosquitoes.
One last handshake with Gene along with promises to do this again soon.
Hard and long was the trip back to the “Suburban Waste Land” on the last day.
It’s Not the Camping
It’s the Packing.
By Steven D. Malone
As perfection is a journey not a destination, camping is more about the packing than the camping.
I found that out - well, let’s say I rediscovered that - recently.
Out of the blue, my oldest friend called. Steve, he said, we need to go. We need to get you back into the great Out-doors. Pick a date, he said.
It was not his request. It was his mission. He’s like that. Gene doesn’t have yens, or urges. Gene has missions. His mission was to get me back to hungering for what might be referred to as
“Tepee living”. Tent, campfire, clean air, starry nights, quiet. And, maybe, mosquitoes, cold, rain, rocky ground, thunderstorms. You know, camping.
Gene and I have much history shared. Adventures. Troubles. Struggles. Shared sins. Several marriages between us. As well as growth and evolution together and apart. However, in recent decades, our histories have been more apart. Our separate fates diverged. Destiny is a bitch.
Got the invitation. Picked a date. Obsessed.
Reality set in soon thereafter. A number of years have passed since last I tried “Tepee living”. What do I need to bring? What do I still have? What’s still good? Has dry rot set in? What do I need to buy? What am I going to eat? What’s the weather going to be?
I went looking at the top shelf in my closet. Three tents up there. One old and brown and small. Another large and mostly blue. Too large for the cold weather expected. The third, medium small and green, a bit fancy and the newest, may be just right if the dry rot hasn’t set in.
I took it outside and set it up. Within an hour, my cat peed on it. Sigh, spray it with odor eliminator and roll it up.
Three sleeping bags winked down at me, all rolled up and tucked. All about useless for late winter camping. Nearly paper thin and dusty. Take ‘em down. Unroll ‘em. Well, a couple are manageable. Maybe if I stuffed one inside the other. Hey, what’s this? My old, wool army blanket to lay on top. Perhaps I won’t be too cold on the chilly nights. Roll ‘em back up.
Oops, there’s my gear taking up too much room of the closet floor. Cooking kit of assorted pots, pans, mess kits, and a coffee percolator. Remember coffee percolators? A storage bin full of packs, canteens, candles, and lamps. My camo gym bag full of rain gear, army shovel, several knives, a serape, hatchet, etc. All neglected, and pretty much as I left them years ago. Yea!
Still, there was stuff to buy for so much was lost. An air mattress. My old body is through with thin foam pads over gravel beds. An electric air pump. My old lungs and old arms are through huffing, puffing, plunging, and pushing air. And, damn, there’s that old ice chest, hardly able to store garage odds and ends. A new one is in order. So, let me burn some gas driving from store to store.
If only there is enough room in my Honda to jamb it all in…
Now to consider some fun stuff to take. Fun stuff must be had when Tepee living. Things to listen to. Things to read. Things to eat.
Half hidden down on a lower shelf of my wall of books rested my old Radio Shack receiver. Remember Radio Shack? That radio gets AM, FM, and short wave bands and I’ve owned it since the world was young. I even have a spool wire antennae that clamps on to it to pull in the faintest of signals. Back then, back before the innovation of the Internet, shortwave radio broadcasts opened the world to young, curious, and bucolic pre-geeks such as myself and my buddy, Gene.
Back in the day, Gene and I made a sport of “DXing” out on our camping trips. “Distance Receiving” as it was called. “Catching Skip” as the radio waves from far distant towers bounced from ground to upper atmosphere along the curve of the earth and finally onto the copper wires we strung from the trees. Propaganda, the world as nations wanted us to believe, from the reaches of the British Empire, to Russia, Norway, Israel, Beijing, even Jakarta. But come the Internet and we all get our propaganda from our laptops. However, lost in the trees at some hidden corner of some obscure state park, we celebrated those foreign bounces.
Celebrating anything out in the woods is better if you are well fed. Food is the last thing to consider in that camp packing. Good stuff. Right eating for health conscious mature adults.
Bacon! Pre-cooked, no refrigeration required, bacon. Hey, rein it in, vegans. It’s the only time this year that a pig dies for my pleasure. Top of the food chain and all that.
Beans! A wide variety of beans. Black beans. Pinto beans. Charro beans. Hey, rein it in, carnivores. I am an unabashed eater of beans now and forever. Top of the food chain and all that.
Other good things. Salted nuts, crackers, jam for the biscuits and flapjacks Gene promised. Canned fruit. Something’s got to be good for me.
If only there is enough room in my Honda to jamb it all in…
Now, before nostalgia sets in, I study my Honda. How in the everlasting fire am I going to get all that stuff in there?
Once there was a time when four days’ worth of camping could be stowed and towed on my back. Ahh, youth. These are the days when my auto is my pack. I did not feel denied anything in the wild back then. Certainly, I will deny myself nothing now. If, I can get it all in the car.
I am the Lord of all stuffing stuff. Just ask my wife. No one gets more dishes in the washer than I do. No one gets more recycle in the recycled paper sacks than do I. No one hoards closet stuff more completely than I.
With some study and some rearranging, and some praying, it all gets in without me looking like an Okie from the Dust Bowl. Ahh, satisfaction.
Camping, like perfection, is about the journey.
(With luck, I’ll post on the actual camping trip very soon.)
The Retirement Plan or
Were we married then or just thinking about it? Can’t remember. But we were still fairly new to each other. And we were fighting. A big fight.
We will do this. No, we will do that. No, the other. But I want to do this. Well I want to do that. Maybe we’ll just have to go fifty-fifty and each do what we want.
That last was mine and it earned a cold, hard stare.
On the table lay a State lottery ticket. Five sets of numbers. The pot would gain the winner three million dollars, I think. And we were arguing over what “we” would do with the money.
A big argument. Probably the worst argument we’d had so far in our relationship.
We hadn’t won. We didn’t win. The argument was a real one and over money we did not have. It dawned on us finally. And later we could laugh at it but only if we promised to divide any future lottery wins three ways. Hers, mine and ours.
It was a grim laugh.
We buy lottery tickets now and again. Do you?
It’s always when the pot is large enough. Three million or more, say. And it’s always with money we can afford to throw away. Who says dreams are free?
I used to joke that the lottery was my retirement plan. An old joke and not my own. It would, however, gather a grin or two from my listeners. I was secretly about half serious about it. But that was back when we were younger and struggled more than we do now. Now I might even have half a comfortable retirement even if I won’t get that private island I once dreamed about.
Apparently, I was not alone in that particular retirement strategy. Why was I surprised? Back then most of my friends and/or coworkers struggled as well. What came to be known as Reagan’s “Trickle Down” theory was not trickling down. (It’s still not as far as I can see.) So, we scraped our pennies and, as soon as the cigarettes and pet food was taken care of, we’d grab some tickets. The hell with food in the cupboard, they wouldn’t get filled anyway and hungry dreams are the most vivid of all. Anyway, I never did find out who said dreams were free.
They’re not even cheap.
No one got the billion bills last night.
We bought numbers. So did our son. He’s old enough now and wanted his own numbers. His own billion. “So I won’t have to share,” he said. Well, I got that. There’s a deep hidden part of me that doesn’t want to share as well. Don’t tell.
When the tickets got to the house we wheeled and dealed with him. You know, because in reality we would share with him if (when) we won. No matter which family member won we’d split. Half for him. Half for us. That’s 50-25-25 if you do the math. We’re old. He’s young. We’re married. He’s single. He’d need half that billion so he wouldn’t run out. That’s our way of thinking. Are we the good parents or not?
Between the two sets of numbers, his and ours, we managed one bonus ball and maybe one line with at least two matching numbers. What’s 0.0000001% of a billion?
My wife also joined two pools at work. She thinks they got a couple of dollars. What’s $120 divided by 22?
Are you sorry you are not going to get a chance at a 2 billion dollar pot?
I hear that three people won a share of the big money last night. Hundreds of millions of dollars. Dreams come true.
Somehow I’m almost relieved that there are winners this time. Two billion is almost too much to deal with. Some talking head said that if you were a single winner last night and you put all the money in government paper the interest on it would bring you $600,000.00 a month. Six hundred thousand dollars a month! I might could make it on that.
Are you one of the three winners?
I’m your cousin if you didn’t know it. Who said dreams cost money?
Alphas, puffed up, and strutting atop the dung heap they are making of our world. A pissing match like few others in my lifetime. Campaigners, terrorists, cops, gangbangers, protesters, racists. Make your own list.
Of course, right soon after spitting their rancor, out go their Betas to blow something up, pop some caps, smear some dirt. That, I am told, is what Betas do.
I got reminded of this “branding”, this propensity of the human mind to sort and label, a few nights ago when pondering the possibility breaking last year’s resolution to not do “New Year’s Resolutions” ever again. You know, just in case I wanted to do some this year. Like being a better man, opting to do more and do things better. Those kinds of things.
Alpha. How’d that relate? I forget. Some comment in passing on the TV I guess.
Anyway, it got me to thinking about that label. It got me reassessing my branding, my label. One reassesses many things when one reaches a certain age.
Alpha, Beta, Omega, Gama, Sigma, a whole alphabet soup of labels going around these days. Which ones are we? Which one am I?
It seems that the Alpha is all charm and swagger and trailblazing. Beta is all insecurities, self-doubt, and following. The Omega is the opposite of the Alpha,like the Alpha but self isolating. Kind of an Robinson Crusoe. Gamma is Griffin, the Invisible Man. Sigma is the Mastermind, the manipulative spider laying his traps.
I first learned the term “Alpha Male” in the sixties. The term was most used, back then, by the strutting boss men I worked for. They seemed quite proud of that application. Since I never much liked being around those hubristic types, I quietly labeled myself a “Beta Male”. There was no other choice back then. I did so because I’d had my fill of Alpha Males swaggering and trailblazing and lording it over me and everyone else.
“You’re no Beta Male,” some girl once told me as I groused about it. I’m sure I still love her though I don’t remember her name. I do remember I didn’t win her heart like I wanted to. Busy being a Beta and didn't realize that being a good guy was not necessarily an attraction to women.
According to my recent research, a Beta is an unremarkable, careful man who avoids risk and confrontation, is pessimistic, lacks the physical presence and confidence of an alpha, is often messy and poorly groomed, lacks self-confidence, and will bend over backwards to please a woman. Actually, that sounds like the perfect match at least for controlling women. Lots of things to work with.
She was right then for, except for being messy and a complete pushover for women, most of those characteristics are not in me.
So I had an “Alpha Male” period, if being a “bad boy” is also being an Alpha Male. It seemed to work a little.
There is, these days, a perfect storm of Greek letters labeling men.
Alpha: you are confident and your own man. You do your own thing and have complete confidence in everything you do. You have your self-doubts, but you don't let it cloud your judgment and logic. You are well liked by almost everyone, and you just have an easy charm and swagger about your presence. Women are drawn to your charisma and presence. You enjoy being social and having lots of people around. You are a natural leader.
Beta: you are kind of shy and introverted and not very confident in yourself. You are constantly plagued by insecurities and self-doubts and you can never commit to anything in the fear that you will fail in it. You are somewhat liked by people but they tend to look at you rather condescendingly and woman tend to friend zone you. You are nervous around other people and social situations because you're always afraid that people are judging you. You are a born follower.
Omega: you are the polar opposite of the alpha male, but in a good way. Like the alpha male you are confident, intelligent and have a sense of charisma about you, but unlike the alpha male, you are completely your own person. You do not need anyone, and you can even be emotionally distant due to your complete self-possession. You trust few people and foster even fewer intimate relationships. Omegas do not care for leadership by others as they are perfectly capable of leading themselves.
Gamma: you are sort of the "invisible" guy. There is nothing really spectacular about you. You are not a beta, but neither are you an alpha. Your personality and presence usually blends in with the rest of the room and you're just sort of...there. People like you just fine and you usually don't have too much trouble with girls, but all the same, there is nothing particularly memorable or remarkable about you. You are not a born leader nor a inherent follower, although you can take on those tasks depending on the situation.
Sigma: you are a manipulative mastermind. You are a spider waiting to lay your trap. You possess a cunning, intuitive mind and can sway people to your will. You don't have the casual swagger of the alpha or the omega but you do have a clever presence about you and people tend to be both wary and respect you for that. You can often be even more powerful than the alpha or the omega male in social situations due to your ability to persuade and manipulate them. You are neither a follower or a leader but rather a wild card.
(I’ve lost the citation for the above traits. My apologies to the originator.)
Truth told, through my many years with their many phases, I have lived in each of these labels. Often there have been both blendings and lapses of each.
Hence,I feel I must coin a sixth Greek label. How about a Theta Male. Theta for thespian.
Theta Male: The actor. The male of many parts. Not the male that varies for the sake of situational ethics depending on convenience or necessity or even profit but the rolling, revolving and evolving man responding to the stages of his life. The man trying his best to live and survive and to accept.
Let that be me. Steve the Theta. Steve the man that is all men rolled into one man.