Thursday, April 29, 2021

Coming May 18: The Eviction of Hope

Once again, an editor who should have known better has asked me to lower the standards for an anthology. This one is special.


First off, I had my work cut out for me. Here’s the list of the other writers involved: Hector Acosta, Mark Bergin, Joe Clifford, Paul J. Garth, Carmen Jaramillo, Dana King, James L'Etoile, Gary Phillips, Matt Phillips, Tom Pitts, Travis Richardson, John Shepphird, Holly West and Frank Zafiro. I don’t think even I on my worst day could take the edge off the excellence this group conveys. So the pressure’s off.


Second, this is as well-conceived an anthology as I have seen or heard of. There’s not just a unifying theme for the stories; there’s an actual bible. It was half a dozen pages of history, logistics, characters we could share, and rules to observe so no one inadvertently stepped on anyone else’s story.


Now that I’ve piqued your interest, here’s the lowdown from editor Colin Conway himself:


It’s eviction day for The Hope Apartments. The residents have known about it for over a year. It’s too bad they ignored all the warning signs.


More than a century ago, developer Elijah Hope constructed a state-of-the-art hotel. As the generations passed and tastes changed, The Hope spent two decades as an underutilized office building before conversion into a low-income housing project.


Rundown by years of human occupation, The Hope has become a hollow shell of its once great self. It is home to drug addicts, petty criminals, and those hiding from others. The city has long turned a blind eye to The Hope as surrounding neighborhoods gentrified and pushed their disaffected in its direction.


But now The Hope is preparing a return to its original glory. The current owners plan to convert it into a boutique hotel. The only thing standing in their way is the eviction of over one hundred units.


Each resident knew this fateful day was coming, yet most chose to believe it would never arrive. They ignored the posted signs, the hand-delivered warnings, and even the actual notices.


Many stayed until the bitter end.


These are their stories.


I was, and am, supremely flattered to have been included in this collection. It’s different from anything I’ve ever worked on, and I tried to come up with a story that stretched my abilities. I’m happy with how my contribution turned out, and I know you’ll be impressed with the others, which I have read from the ARC.


The Eviction of Hope drops May 18. You can pre-order here.

Thursday, April 22, 2021



A few weeks ago we talked about grammar. (Well, I did. No one else had much to say.) That was supposed to include a discussion of stylesheets, but the grammar post was plenty long, so here we are today.


Stylesheets are fine, in their place. Newspapers or magazines need consistency, lest they look, and read, as if assembled by the proverbial thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters. I have a stylesheet of sorts for this blog to remind myself to enforce certain things I feel strongly about. (Oxford commas, for example. I acknowledge there are two schools of thought: those who use Oxford commas to provide clarity and flow to the writing; and those who are wrong.) It’s also my blog, so no one else’s opinion really matters.


Strict adherence to a stylesheet bothers me when publishers insist on one for all books. I have been fortunate that Down & Out Books isn’t hardcore about this, though I have had discussions with editors because I insist on something that doesn’t agree with the stylesheet they prefer. I understand, and agree, the book needs to be consistent throughout, but it is pedantic beyond description to think anyone cares that one author used Oxford commas and another from the same publisher was wrong.


I use punctuation similar to musical notation, especially in dialog. I’m trying to convey to the reader where the speaker hurried on or paused, and how long the pause is. This means I may use a period, comma, dash, or ellipsis in non-traditional manners that may not be welcome to a grammarian. I don’t want to have to argue about what the stylesheet says should go there. Paraphrasing Raymond Chandler, when I use an ellipsis/comma/period, God damn it, it is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed and attentive.


Grammar, of which punctuation is part, evolves, as even a quick reading of Lynne Truss’s delightful book Eats Shoots and Leaves will show. Too rigid an adherence to stylesheets will only stifle the inevitable changes. To pick a point in time when grammar was “correct” or “proper” is to deny the history of the topic about which such pedants claim to know so much. (There’s an example of classically proper grammar actually making the sentence harder to understand.) I’ll admit, the misuse of “less” when “fewer” is appropriate affects me as fingernails scraping across a chalkboard. That doesn’t mean I should be a bigot about it. (In my defense, “less” implies an analog, thus less specific, measurement; “fewer” is more digital.)


Do stylesheets serve a purpose? Absolutely. In their place. And that place need never be too broadly construed.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Talking Marketing with Beau Johnson


Finding out about author and cheese aficionado Beau Johnson is one of those serendipitous things that happen when you’re a writer who blogs. I don’t remember who put us together in the first place, but Beau has become a regular guest on OBAAT, and one I look forward to having. (Or why else would he be a regular?)


Aside from being a prolific short story writer, Beau is a tireless promoter of other people’s books. He’ll be here this summer when his new collection launches, but Beau posts almost daily on Facebook and Twitter about other authors’ work far more than about his own stuff. What is it about him that drives this passion to be supportive of others? Is it just because he’s Canadian? Read on to find the deeper motives behind this apparent selflessness.


One Bite at a Time: You tweeted recently about how hard it is for you to promote your own work, yet you enjoy doing it for others; my feelings are much the same. I know why I’m that way, and we may get into it later, but since this is your interview, why do you think this is the case for you?


Beau Johnson: Dana!  First off, thank you for having me here on your blog.  I always appreciate the space you give me.  As to your question: self-consciousness is the main reason I suppose.  I mean, I've seen that guy, we've all seen that guy, the one who promotes nothing but his or her own work endlessly?  I never wanted to be that guy.  I dread being that guy.  On the flipside, I came to understand no one else was going to push or care about my own work more than me. Since I was already doing my pay it forward thing (book pics for those that helped me during the release of my first book and some fine people who took me under their wing at my first and only con) I decided to expand and incorporate, settling on what I believe to be an 80/20 split.  I try to plug my own stuff no more than four times a week but if something other comes up, I'll adjust.  All told, it allows me to function on social media in a much better frame of mind.


OBAAT: I like that you have something of a formula to balance your promotional efforts. I need to come up with something like that myself, at least so I might be able to console myself by saying, “Sure, I flogged my book four days in a row, but I also posted or at least retweeted about three others each of those days.”  Do you ever find the balance hard to maintain? By which I mean, some days you just don’t feel like it?


BJ:  Ha! Yes, almost every day if I'm honest! Goes back to that self-consciousness thing---or something I call "too much Beau."  I mean, what I'm doing is fun, I choose to do it, (and seriously, there is no better feeling than making someone's day) but even I get sick of my mug after a while, you know?  However, I know I will never please everyone, so I go with the notion I'm only going to live once so I'm going to focus on the positives for the most part.  You don't like such things, and I'm quite sure there are people out there that do not, well, that's what the mute or block buttons were created for, right?


OBAAT: What’s the worst part of self-promotion?


BJ: I think you pretty much sum it up in your question. But to elaborate: I aim not to annoy or bore. 


OBAAT: I’m no shrinking violet. I enjoy time in the spotlight, whether it’s an interview or sitting on a panel. What kills me is asking people for those opportunities. Is that similar to your situation, or how does it differ?


BJ: Well, I think I have to be an extrovert to go about things the way I have.  I'll put myself out there, don't mind making light of myself, but really, I don't get many of the opportunities that you suggest.  I don't go looking for them either, so I have to own that too.  But when I say all this, I must add an addendum—this year and the end of 2020 have and are proving different. I have now been on three different podcasts (I wore a tie each time I swear!) with a fourth on the horizon, and attended and read at a Noir at the Bar, so things are looking up in the opportunity department.


OBAAT: Are you doing anything different to get these opportunities, or is it a matter of making the ask?


BJ: I'm not doing anything different, no, just a gradual process I think.  The pics, Beau's Book Nook, Not Beau's Book Nook, it seemed to hit a point where people began to really notice, or dug it, and hey, here we are.  I say this knowing full well I'm small potatoes compared to some, however, but hope to one day spread the greatness of what I like further than I'm currently able to.


OBAAT: You noticed an uptick in your sales the more you promote others’ books. Why do you think that is? Karma, or something more concrete?


BJ: I want to say that people have discovered the greatness which is Bishop Rider, and that word of mouth has travelled, but nah, it's karma, it's the writing community giving back, perhaps a little of both. I have no concrete answer really, Dana, but admit I'm enjoying the ride.


OBAAT: Have you ever considered a partnership with Kraft or Saputo to tie their cheeses to your books? Maybe some kind of a product placement deal? (You knew I couldn’t go an entire interview and not ask about cheese.)


BJ: Ha! I was hoping there'd be a cheese related question! For sure, let's get Saputo on the phone: we'll call it the Cheesening!


(Learn more about Beau and his books on his Down & Out Books page and his own web site.)

Thursday, April 8, 2021

The Cost of Promotion

 Self-promotion is my least favorite aspect of writing. Not that I don’t enjoy live or virtual appearances; I love them. Setting them up is painful. Bookstore slots have been harder to get for indie writers such as myself for quite a while, so I know to meet them halfway. I’m working to set up a panel for a local bookseller that has been good to me in the past so they can have four or five of us there, broadening the potential draw as well as the number of books that might be sold. I’m all in on that.


What brought me up short last week was a response I received from another store:  “We require a $100 deposit prior to the event. We will return this deposit if we sell $100 worth of books.”


My initial thought was, “huh?” Then, “I don’t think so.” After which it occurred to me to ask my author friends on Facebook these three questions:


Am I being unreasonable?

Am I missing something?

Is this now the way of the world?


I received 36 responses, of which 32 ranged in tone between “No” and “Fuck no.” (My favorite was a suggestion to send then 100 virtual dollars.) Two described similar situations they have encountered, though neither was a straight-up “pay to play” deal. Two others provided reasons why it was okay for the bookstore to do this.


As one might presume from the breakout of responses, I consider my initial thoughts confirmed. The folks who pointed out things I had not thought of did so in a (mostly) respectful manner, so I feel I should address them here. (By “mostly respectful” I mean there was one comment that strongly implied I was too big for my britches, which is not the case. At least not here.)


Their key point was that promotional efforts aren’t free. I get that. All business have overhead. It’s called “the cost of doing business.” The vast preponderance of the store’s promotional costs are things they’d do whether I made a virtual appearance or not. Web site. E-mail lists. I have to assume they place ads in local media as a matter of course; listing this month’s events is part of the ad copy.


The cost of bandwidth and order fulfillment came up. For bandwidth, see above; it’s a sunk cost, and they’re not adding to it for me. As for the costs of order fulfillment…really? If they don’t sell any books, order fulfillment is free.


One commenter went on to say, “In other words, why don't all authors just set up a Zoom call and tell people on Facebook to drop by? Because the bookstore has a cachet. It has vetted you.”


First of all, setting up Zoom calls and telling people on Facebook is exactly what some authors are doing; I’m considering it myself. That would cut the bookstore out of the deal altogether. Cachet is nice, but while this is a mystery bookseller with an excellent reputation, it’s not like I’m asking for a spot at Powell’s or The Strand. As for vetting, not to blow my own horn, but this is my seventh professionally published book and I have two national award nominations. Another hundred bucks doesn’t add anything to my seriousness of intent.


 One commenter asked the person who raise the above points “in what other form of entertainment and sales does the headliner have to pay to show up and entertain?”

Only one comes to mind: Strip clubs. I might be willing to risk $100 for an event at the Bada Bing.

Thursday, April 1, 2021


 It is a little-known fact that I chose first-person POV for my early stories in large part because I was uncomfortable with my grammar. Writing in first person I could always say any quirks were indicative of the POV character’s grammar, not mine.  (I tell this to anyone who asks, but the fact remains little known because of how few people listen to me.) I came through public school at a time when “linguistics” was a thing, and linguistics has only two parts to any sentence: the noun and the verb. To me, you might as well speak Latin as discuss subjects, predicates, participles, gerunds and the like. (Actually worse. I have some idea of common Latin phrases, which I have learned on an ad hoc basis.)


While never taught “proper” grammar, I did read. A lot. Non-fiction when I was younger, and the weekly news magazines, such as Time, Newsweek, and Sports Illustrated. (I miss those magazines. The Internet has largely made them irrelevant, but I enjoyed look back on events with even a few days’ context. It was also nice to get informed, rational opinions from people who had earned the privilege and not anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection. You know, like me.) Over time I developed a keen ear for what “sounded right” that has served me well over the years.


I have learned a few things. “Affect” vs. “Effect;” “fewer” vs. “less.” I now recognize the perils of passive voice. This led me to make an effort to learn “proper” grammar several years ago, during which time I leaned a key fact:


Much of what an English teacher would call “proper” grammar is bullshit.


I understand creating rules of grammar was an effort to ensure clarity in writing and they served that purpose well. I’m in favor of anything that gives the reader a fighting chance. But following, or enforcing, rules just because they exist creates writing that is too often out of step with how people actually interact. This is eloquently shown in Winston Churchill’s famous dismissal of the edict never to end a sentence with a preposition: “That is something up with which I shall not put.”


Suffice to say, if the meaning is clear, the grammar is almost certainly close enough. If getting the clarity you want is hanging you up, then the problem may well be grammatical, in which case it’s time to crack the book. Not that you should follow what you find slavishly, but you’ll at least figure out where the problem is.