Monday, March 30, 2009

Flash Fiction at Powder Burn

My flash fiction, "A Twenty-First Century Hero" has been published on the Powder Burn Flash web site. Thanks to everyone who participated in the "flawed hero" discussion on Crimespace a few weeks ago, as this story is the direct result of that discussion.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Marketing and the Publisher's Role

Authors have been expected to pick up increasing amounts of the marketing responsibility for their books in recent years. The recent economic slump has not diminished publishers’ inclination in this direction. It is often recommended to include potential marketing hooks, and to describe what the author intended to do as a marketer, in the initial query letter.

Among the marketing ideas often promoted are tchotskies (bookmarks, postcards, pen, pencils, etc.), blogs, guest blogging on others’ blogs, web sites, FaceBook and MySpace pages, book signings (both as part of a tour or drop-ins), setting up print and radio interviews, and several others I’m sure I’m missing off the top of my head. All of these require substantial investments of time, and possibly cash, from the writer.

If this is to be the way of the world, so be it. No one is going to change because I don’t like it. What’s disturbing is how little guidance the publishers seem to provide in this matter. They have the contacts, marketing staffs, experience, and expertise. The author is a writer, who almost certainly lacks all of the above, and may well lack the skills to develop any of them. What works? Which of the current marketing methods are the most efficient, per dollar or hour spent? I do a lot of reading of blogs and Crimespace, and most of what little I have seen on this particular topic comes out as, “It depends.”

I readily admit I am, as yet, unpublished. Maybe the publishers do connect the dots once a contract is signed. If so, I see little public evidence. From my current position, it seems the author is on his own for much marketing, which means the publisher’s responsibilities are reduced to, essentially, advances, production, and distribution. Advances appear to be on the wane. Production and distribution are overhead, which is anathema to any self-respecting MBA, it would be no surprise to see these services cut back, as well.

Are publishers truly leaving authors so much on their own in the area of marketing? Following this to a logical conclusion can lead to the belief that publishing houses may be complicit in their own eventual demise, as they increasingly decline to perform the functions that make them necessary. That seems simplistic, even to me.

What am I missing?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A True Mystery

It started out like a normal Saturday: grocery shopping, run a couple of errands, then home for lunch. Last Saturday’s first errand was a trip to the Post Office to pick up Express Mail that had been waiting since Wednesday.

It was a cardboard mailer, standard letter size. A book, I thought, though why someone would spend $25.15 to Express Mail a book for review was beyond me.I opened the envelope walking to the car. No book. Two pieces of cardboard stiffened the envelope to protect the small package inside, wrapped in the front page of Tuesday’s San Diego paper. Inside the paper was a microcassette recorder. Taped to the recorder was a note written in a feminine hand:

Play me.

I had my finger on the button when my inner mystery fan kicked in. Isn’t this the scene where the unsuspecting galoot blows up and they roll the opening credits? I put the recorder back in the envelope and called the Beloved Spousal Equivalent and Research Assistant. She said not to push the button. She’d look into it. I gave her the name and return address and went about my business. If mailing it didn’t blow it up, driving it to the supermarket shouldn’t cause any problems.

The return address was a beachfront condo in San Diego, currently for sale. (Good luck with that.) The recorder looked normal, if a little scuffed. Still, I didn’t recognize the name or address, my address was in an unusual format, and spending $25 to ensure that only I could pick it up didn’t sit right. Probably too cautious, but some mistakes you only get to make once.

The FBI referred us to the Postal Inspectors. The first guy I talked to asked all the expected questions: describe the envelope, who do you work for, any reason to think someone would want to do you harm? When none of those answers alarmed him, he said I should play the tape to hear what it said.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I don’t mean to be paranoid, but I could have done that without involving the federal government. If this thing blows up, I’m going to be pissed.”


He hooked me up with a Dangerous Materials Investigator, who asked me all the same questions, plus a few more. Listened to what I had to say, decided it was worth coming over with his cool tools. Used a sniffer to check for biological, chemical, or radiation hazards. Negative. The BSERA was bummed. She thought a positive test would earn us a free housecleaning.

The agent took three X-rays, let us look at them over his shoulder.

“You know what this looks like. Mr. King?”

‘Yeah. A tape recorder.”

I played the tape while he packed up. A woman and a man went through what sounded like the first two pages of a story or screenplay. The woman was a writer; the man could have been a shrink or a cop. She told him about Julia, a character in the woman’s first story. About how she saw Julia—not a woman who looked like Julia, but Julia—talking to a hotel desk clerk, using the exact words as in the story. Told him how it couldn’t be a coincidence, because Julia then did exactly what she did in the story: took out a gun and blew her head off. This was the woman’s curse. For over twenty years, her characters had been coming to life. Not just to her, or on the page. For real.

That’s all that was on the tape, and all I know. True story. Swear to God.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

"Green Gables" to be Published

Todd Robinson of ThugLit webzine has selected my short story, "Green Gables," for inclusion in ThugLit's next annual anthology. Many thanks to Big Daddy Thug and Lady Detroit, who provided valuable editing suggestions, and to everyone who saw the story and provided comments and encouragement before its submission.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

"Vig" Available on "Crooked"

My short story, "Vig," is available starting today on the Crooked webzine. Feel free to stop by and comment, compliment, or show derision. Check out the other stories while you're at it. Geoff is starting a nice little gig there.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Twenty-First Century Hero

There's been a pretty good discussion over at Crimespace this week about whether modern heroes had to be flawed, and how flawed they should be. This is my response.

A Twenty-First Century Hero

My mouth tasted like a dirty sock. The clock on the wall showed 11:30. Insufficient information. I pulled back a curtain. Sunlight blinded me. Eleven-thirty AM, then. Not bad after last night.

An empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s skidded across the floor when I stood from the Barcalounger. Another on the coffee table. I rubbed my scalp. One of those was over half empty when I started. No wonder I was up early.

I shuffled to the bathroom. My head felt like Laurence Olivier was drilling into my skull. Is it safe? Someone had lipsticked a note on the mirror.

You’re an asshole. Fuck off and die.

Could be Carol. Or Christie. They were both here last night. Only one of them was supposed to be. The other one was pretty pissed when she found us together. Carol, I think. Or Christie. Probably Carol. Christie dots her I’s with little hearts. I could call them both if I really wanted to know. Or I could play it safe and call Michelle.

I did a couple of lines off the toilet lid and brushed my teeth with the residue to clear my head. I had to go to my Old Man’s place. I hated him ever since the first time he crawled into bed with me. Said he wanted to make sure I wasn’t cold. I was nine and it was July. I avoided him when I could, but he said he had some of my money. He’d want something, sure, but an asshole’s money spends like anyone else’s.

The door was open when I got there. A bad sign for a guy with that many people who wanted a chunk of his ass. He usually piled empty beer cans in the doorways when he slept.

I found him in the kitchen. Blood and brains covered his face. One look at him and I was back in the jungle. Choppers overhead. Death cards and Wagner and the smell of napalm in the morning. First flashback I’d had in over a year. Thanks, Dad.

Not much I could do for him with brain on his face. He’d said there was money and knew better than to lie to me about it. I searched the whole place. Nothing but change.

I gathered up what booze he had and snagged the plastic ring of a six-pack with my finger. Didn’t worry about prints. I was his loving son, could have been there any time. Besides, whichever chick didn’t leave the note would alibi me.

Walking out I saw one thing didn’t belong. A baseball hat on the kitchen table. “Big Ass Fans,” it said, with some jock’s autograph. Whitey Purcell’s hat.

I found Whitey in Fat Jimmy’s Lounge, buying drinks with a good-sized roll. I strolled over and sat next to him.

“Buy me a drink.”

“Buy you a drink? I don’t like you any better than I like your old man.”

“Yeah, but you ain’t—asshole!—killed me yet. Dick face!” My Tourette’s acted up sometimes when I was stressed. Or drinking. Or using drugs or not taking the medication.

Whitey turned the color of his name, looked straight ahead. “What are you talking about?”

“Where’s that hat you—cocksucker!—like so much, Whitey. You know, Big Ass—fuck! Shit!—Fans?”

His hand touched his head before he could stop it. “It got dirty. I threw it out.”

“No, you didn’t. Needle dick! You forgot it at my old man’s. How much you—motherfucker!—take off him?”

Whitey stared into his beer. “How much you want?”

“All of it. Shit!”
He took the roll from his shirt pocket. Laid it on the bar with his hand over it. “What does this buy me?”

“You were with me—ball licker!—whenever you need to be when they ask about the hat.”

I gestured to the bartender for another round for Whitey and the same for me. “You think they’ll suspect you if the grieving—ass!—son—dick!—is seen drinking—fuck!—with you all day? And gives you an—suck my dick!—alibi? That old bastard owed us both.”

The bartender brought us each a bump and a beer. I lifted my shot glass to Whitey. “Drink up.”