When You Go And Do A Thing

So, yeah… A while ago, and pretty recently, I wrote stories, and this year I put them together, edited them, formatted them, got a cover, went through the rigamarole of signing up on Amazon, added things like bank account numbers for payment, ordered proof copies, marked them up, resubmitted texts for print and ebook, reordered proof copies, marked those up, re-resubmitted texts, ordered more proof copies, got e-mails from Amazon that my cover was wrong by 0.05 fucking inches!, stressed out, freaked out, ordered a new cover from my cover designer, got antsy, did it myself, reuploaded the cover and resubmitted the book, got antsy and called Customer Service to see if I could expedite processing and approval, got shot down, had to learn how to sit on my hands to wait, RECEIVED APPROVAL!!!, ordered 50 copies for the Book Launch party, freaked out that they wouldn’t arrive in time, calmed down once they’d been finally shipped and scheduled for delivery, FREAKED OUT AGAIN when the delivery was delayed due to “inclement weather” (pfft – natural disasters, who the fuck cares?), called Amazon already like seventeen times [yes, I exaggerate. It’s a coping mechanism] this morning to learn that indeed, the delivery is scheduled for today, FREAKED OUT YET AGAIN upon learning that the delivery window is anytime between 8 am and 9 PM {FFFFFffffffffffffffuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu………….}, took a deep breath, and said, “I believe it will all work out.”

And so, there you have it. That’s how you publish a book, my friends. Thirty-seven simple steps, and you only have to freak out like nineteen times! Why wouldn’t everyone want to do this?

 

PS: Never in my life have I been prouder to be ranked #6,846! (as of 8:35 am Central Standard Time, Monday, March 4).

Writing Practice 1/17/2019

I hear…

I hear almost nothing. Still early in the small hours of the morning, most of the house – child, child and cat, child, child, other cat – sleeps, and waits for the blaring ring of an alarm to interrupt the respite. Mine own announced its intentions to disrupt my rest twenty minutes ago; but by that time I was only snoozing, having woken myself a few minutes earlier by some subconscious trick that saw me know how to bring my body up from the ultra-depths before the clanging into the night, so that this experience is not so jarring. I wonder how I trained myself to do this.

My children sleep, but occasionally there will be a day when one or more is moving about at this hour. Bustling unceremoniously through a set of chores, or perhaps pouring and slathering and consuming a breakfast bowl of cereal. Yesterday one of them was returning from an earlier morning exercise class, abnormally energized about the day and invading the usual quiet reverie we keep for this part of our morning with laughter, and talking, and an energy we cannot usually abide. I did not like it. I wished she would simply remain quiet, and peaceful, as the rest of us usually are.

I hear no cats, either which means the large one cannot see the small one and be somehow, illogically, annoyed by her and begin his petulant, sorrowful hissing. Sorrowful in that it’s just sad that he seems threatened by her. Perhaps he knows it is her food which upsets his stomach, but, like an addict drawn to the very thing the very substance which hurts him, he cannot turn away when the opportunity presents itself, so he will invade her space, eat her food, feel it sit uncomfortably in his stomach, and then need to release it in a violent, ratcheting cough that leaves a half-digested, half-wet, half-brown/half-red/all disgusting mass of vomit on my bedroom floor, or my bed itself, or inside the occasional clothes hamper, deposited there with as much ceremony and attention drawn to itself as the Labrador depositing its faecal offering to the gods of the neighborhood while out for a walk on a Sunday afternoon.

I do not hear any of that, though, now for they rest, they sleep, they snooze, they wait for the hustle and bustle of the day to begin. I am awake, unusual too, for me, for I need to begin new habits. I need to reconcile my desire with my inactions, and change one to match the other. Since it is easier to change action than hopes, it becomes much easier to get up earlier and write more than to keep sleeping and to pretend that my desires for storytelling and writing in a meaningful ways do not exist, or that they have been somehow mollified, satisfied by the things I have done in other areas of my life, my e-mails, my press releases, my gland-handing and pressing of the flesh in networking, my research and construction of some other kind of work product for some other kind of client in some other kind of area. No, those things do no ultimately represent an adequate sacrifice to the God of Writing, and thus it is now my responsibility, if I wish to cleanse my soul, even if for only one more day, of my impurity of feeling, an impurity which says “you have not filled your obligation to your muse, you have not done what you have been called to do, you have allowed your talent to be squandered, you have not lived up to your potential,” if I believe I must atone for that sin, then I must make my penance and atonement here in this action with this burnt offering and this ink offering and this peace offering and it shall be good once more, and yea, and verily, and truth, and peace.

Announcement

Attention! Attention! Read all about it!

LOCAL WRITER TO PUBLISH BOOK

Stephan James, a writer currently residing near St. Louis, Missouri, announces today that in just under one month, on February 1, his first volume of short stories will be available for sale. Titled Predatory Behavior and Other Stories, this slim yet powerful volume will bring to light multiple issues facing society today.

“‘Predatory Behavior’ was born after seeing just how easy the publishing process really can be,” James says. “I used to think that bringing my ideas to life would be difficult. That it would take months and months, and I’d just toil in obscurity, scribbling in my notebook without ever getting the chance to see my work in book form. But now, it’s easier than ever to make my writing available to a much wider audience than I ever could have imagined. I’m excited that others can now read what I’ve written and use that as the catalyst for additional conversations about important issues within our society.”

There are ten stories included with this publication. The keystone story, “Predatory Behavior”, takes place in a world similar to the modern day, but with one key difference. A population of “Wolves” has sprung up over the past half-century, to help weed out those who are too sick to care for themselves. Not for the faint of heart, for this story contains scenes which may be considered graphic, “Predatory Behavior” nonetheless brings to light issues of health sustainability within our modern society.

Other stories deal with the last humans alive and trying to remake humanity while living on another planet; the implications of selling one’s body, though not in the way we’ve been conditioned to believe is “selling”; and how many people wish to have a new life, yet often times are unwilling to take the steps necessary to achieve it. Plus additional entries are micro-stories, also called Story Art, and highlight James’s prowess at weaving together seemingly unconnected concepts into a wonderfully taut presentation.

Predatory Behavior will be available starting February 1 on Amazon.com or directly from the author at author fairs and trade shows. “My birthday is February 11, and I wanted to give myself a unique birthday present, so I set that as the target publication date. That we’re going to have it ready before then is so exciting. I can’t wait to see the reviews.”

Predatory Behavior is published with help from SJM Copywriting, a local firm engaged in helping small businesses and nonprofits to tell better stories and get better results. More information about James and his writing can be found at stephanjameswrites.com. More information about how SJM Copywriting can support authors, small businesses, and nonprofits can be found at sjmcopywriting.com.

Book Review – The Stand, by Stephen King

The Stand was published first in 1978. This review covers the “complete & uncut” version published in May, 1991.

***

WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

***

I first read The Stand in high school, probably. It was this exact copy, too, a brick-sized hunk of paper and miniscule type and black-and-white drawings that enthralled me for weeks back then. Of course, anything by Stephen King was fodder for a wild Saturday night spent lounging on the couch for hours, book propped up on my chest, lost in the stories of Bangor, Maine or, in this one, Boulder, Colorado and Las Vegas, Nevada.

The Stand is one of King’s more controversial books. Not for its subject matter (the oft-repeated battle between good and evil) but for the preceding editorial decisions which were made to cut about 1/2 of the original manuscript for publication. King lays out, in a two-part Preface, that this book is not the original manuscript simply restored. Instead, this version is an expansion of that original story. Characters, settings, backstory, even whole subplots were removed from the original in a publication decision: a smaller book would cost less, and therefore sell more copies, and make more profit, so a smaller book was published.

Once King became more popular, and had the legion of fans which would buy anything, a new version was made to capitalize on that profit opportunity. Thus, the version I bought in high school (as one of the legion) and trundled with me as I moved 3 times while an adult.

I did not read that slimmed-down version. I only read this “restored” version, and thus loved it. Also, I was pretty well brainwashed into reading King and only King in those days, so I hadn’t seen enough of the broader story-telling world to reasonably consider the merits of the book by itself.

However, 25 years on, I have been exposed to many more authors and styles, and even critically studied the editorial process and revisionist. As such, I feel in a much better place to evaluate this book on its merits.

To be honest, I find it lacking.

First of all, it is bloated. We get approximately 200 named characters (I may exaggerate, because I don’t want to go through them all, but I’m confident it’s closer to that than 100). Plus there are many characters and subplots that, ultimately, don’t really contribute to the finale of the story. Now, not everyone has to. But there were just too many side stories to consider each one necessary to the tale.

And perhaps there are people who enjoy reading every little detail about as many characters as possible. Don’t get me wrong – I read every word. I enjoyed it and King’s style does keep one moving through the text. Yet I’m fairly confident that the “accountant’s” decision to cut words to make a smaller volume actually forced an editorial process that critically examined every word and ensured each one was necessary.

Second, the illogicalities of the action stand out in stark contrast to the overarching idea contained therein. The premise is that a major, nearly-100% fatal illness is released into the community. Then, what happens to the survivors? It’s the story of a nuclear war without the actual war, and how the survivors must adapt in the aftermath. Yes, in such a situation, there will be much that is lying around just waiting to be picked up and used, but there are still some things which didn’t get explained: how did the survivors who travelled by car (many of them), get the gas out of the pumps into those cars without electricity? We saw one scene in which Larry Underwood pries up a manhole cover to access gas. Does he do this every 300 miles as the tank empties? What about those who don’t have access to the same tools as him? With the electricity off (because all the power generators have nobody to run them), the pumps don’t work, and refrigeration goes out, soon allowing most of the remaining food supply to spoil. Does everyone live on tinned beef and Saltines? There’s just a lot of logistics that seem to be covered, but really aren’t.

Third, the production of this volume seemed to be less-than-perfect. I noticed many typos. Now, some can be expected. Maybe 1 every 100 pages? So in 1,130 pages there could reasonably be 11. I marked 3 in the last 50 pages alone. It was only in the latter fifth of the book that I started keeping track, and I’m not about to go back through just for that, but one would think that the copy editor would have caught more of these.

Finally, though, my major criticism of this story is one which The Stand shares with many of King’s works of similar length. That is, the finale, the conclusion, the climax where all of the tension has been building to finally gets resolved, is, in the end, nothing more than a deus ex machina. We criticize this technique in lower writers as a cop-out. Why not here?

Ultimately, the ending is where this all comes together and lacks substance. Larry Underwood, Ralph Brentner, Glen Bateman, and Stu Redman (accompanied by Kojak the dog) set off from Boulder on a God-given quest, delivered through the mouthpiece that is Abagail Freemantle. This is not something they developed on their own, not something they brought on, or something they actually had any “agency” in. [“Agency” is a fancy writer’s word for the whole of authority and power and action that a character has in a scene or a book.] When 3 of them (not Stu, who fell down a hill and broke his leg and was left behind with Kojak) arrive in Las Vegas for the final confrontation with Randall Flagg, the Dark Man, the Walkin’ Dude, they don’t ultimately DO anything.

The protagonists are not the solution to the problem. They don’t have or exercise any power at all. They simply exist, and wait for the story to take place around them, and the final end to happen for them. Which it does. The hand of God comes down out of the sky and does for them what they were unable to do.

Which begs the question – why did they have to go in the first place? Why were they even there? If this whole thing is a set-up from God to end the R.F. Man, why have the plague only kill most of the people? Why not have it kill them all and start fresh again? And if it was not from God, then what exactly was the thing which came out of the sky and detonated the nuclear bomb, anyway?

This is the same sort of deus ex machina that showed up in other King novels, specifically Under the Dome. It almost seems like he started writing a story, got to a place where he said, “Now how do I end this?”, answered with, “hell if I know. Let’s make it all a dream!” And there you have it.

So: while I enjoyed the book (I must have, because it took me about a month to read it), I’m starting to think that it would have been better as the shorter version. I don’t have that one, and at this point I’m not going to get it, but I have to wonder: is this what Successful Author Syndrome looks like?

***

P.S. Before you get into the whole “Yeah, let’s see you do it better!” commentary on my inability to critique due to lack of peer-ness with Mr. King, note that I don’t have to be a peer in order to give my opinion. That’s the beauty of self-publishing on this internet thing. Any jerk with a keyboard can make his voice heard, I don’t have to have “agency” in this to be able to say what I think. Nobody’s forcing you to agree with me, or even listen.

Composing a story, part 4 of ??

In Part 1, I described the first draft.

In Part 2, I described the revision process.

In Part 3, I described incorporating reader feedback and submission to Writers of the Future.

And now, in Part 4, I’ll give you some insight as to what happens next.

Last week, I received my rejection from Writers of the Future. And I say rejection, because I did not win any of the prizes this quarter. My story was awarded an Honorable Mention, and of course I’m happy with that. As I should be. I should not be content with it, though. I am still entering this contest because I still qualify for it, until the time when I have made enough qualifying sales to other markets. So, I keep going.

Now, I need to decide what to do with this story next. Obviously I’d like to get paid for it. There are two main options for that:

1) Self-publish on Amazon, as either a stand-alone story or part of a collection; or,

2) Submit to paying markets until one accepts and pays me for publication.

At this time I plan to pursue option (2), because I still want the connection and notoriety that comes with publication in F&SF, Clarkesworld, Asimov’s, etc. They don’t give Hugo awards to self-publishers, after all. You’ve got to be part of the in-crowd for something like that, so I go door-to-door in the in-crowd neighborhood, hawking my wares, patiently accepting their rejections, and moving on to the next.

The following are 15 markets that this story would qualify for, in terms of what kind of story they usually publish, length they accept, and whether or not they’re even open for submissions right now:

  • Clarkesworld
  • New Myths
  • Uncanny
  • Phantaxis
  • Beneath Ceaseless Skies
  • Abyss & Apex
  • Giganotosaurus
  • Fantasy & Science Fiction
  • Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show
  • Lightspeed
  • Apex
  • Strange Horizons
  • Leading Edge
  • T Gene Davis’ Speculative Blog
  • Outposts of Beyond

I’ve submitted to Clarkesworld. This is run by Neal Clarke, and he’s very quick on the turnaround. I should have an answer in 3 days or less. When the rejection from that comes in, I’ll go down the list. Or, if there’s an impending deadline for submissions, I’ll advance that listing in the hierarchy. If I didn’t realize it and market is closed when I get to it, I go to the next one. This happens often.

So, we’re in the thick of it now! Cross your fingers – there might be an acceptance in the works, sometime in the next couple of years. Yes, it sometimes really does take that long. I’ve got one story I’ve submitted 15 times since 2015, and it’s still getting rejections. But I like it, and I’d like more people to read it, so I keep submitting. I’ve heard anecdotes of authors selling stories on the 40th submission or later. I don’t know if I have that determination. Or is it foolishness? It’s up to me to eventually decide to pull a story from the rotation and just keep it to myself. Until then, we press on.

Writing Practice – 10/7/2018

Poem a Day Volume 2, p 383 (Dec 16)

Fly envious Time, till thou run out thy race,

Call on the lazy leaden-stepping hours,

Whose speed is but the heavy plummet’s pace;

Run thy own trail, travel thine own path.

Send to the heavens the shout of a many-breasted warrior strong with the ichor of battle. Let forth a barbaric yawp to shake the hills and rattle the cedars. Share not your victory with those who would have nothing to do with the battle but everything to do with sharing the spoils. For why should their reticence be rewarded, and your valor diminished? Why shall your light hide, as if a reflection upon the surface of the moon, instead of shining bring from the sun’s rays?

Strive, then, brothers in this long struggle, and let it be know that you shall no longer rest in humility as a result of the things you have fought for, sweated for, bled for. But these days shall see a resurgence of your manifest adulation. The righteous praise well-deserved flowing from all of the crowd’s lips to over and above and through you. For it is never enough for just one to shower adulation and praise (except that she be the one, yet that remains a different tale for a different time). It is not enough for a single voice, no matter how powerful or authoritative, to say “well done.”

Nay, it is only for the recognition of the crowd that the warrior strives. He seeks not his own glory, but does so to honor his fallen brothers, to eke out, to draw out from those who remained behind, their praise, their worship, their respect, their fear.

For, if they did not fear the powerful, if they did not respect them at least a little, and in practice a bit more than that, if they did not recognize the hidden, camouflaged power waiting within the army’s arms, if they did not acknowledge the real authority beneath the breastplate, if they did not offer a genuine kudos to their true betters, they know that in a few moments, with a turn of a whim or at the insolence of an unruly youth, they, too, might find themselves a new enemy of those who wield the true power. For true power comes not from robe or treaty or birthright. True power comes from a willingness to fight, to truly fight, not simply argue, to fight and take power, to risk one’s own life in the pursuit. That is power. That is authority. And that deserves respect.

Requiem for a Notebook

My Writing Practice notebook is filled. This one is, at least. I will start a new one tonight when I sit down again. Yesterday I wrote to the end of the current one and, because I was curious, I decided to do a review. Here’s what I found:

There are 100 sheet / 200 pages in this notebook. A few of the pages are covered with other writings, so they don’t count. I filled 191 sheets with my scrawl. The first 4 sheets had 197, 190, 170, and 167 words on them. I’ll estimate all those 191 sheets have 175 words each, for a total of 33,425 words, which would be about 135 pages when printed. That’s a long novella. Not bad.

My longest streak was 13 days in a row, starting July 2 and going through July 14. The next longest was 11 days from 8/4 through 8/14. Hm, something about the 15th of the month that I don’t want to write?

I did a 5-day series early in July on “Describe sex…” The first few lines of each are as follows:

7-3-18 This is a strange one. Because most other phenomenon a will be described by their physical properties – the game of baseball will be about… ; sex, on the other hand is more likely to be described in emotional terms.

7-4-18 It’s a physical status and a physical act. Status – male or female. Act – penetration, intercourse interaction.

7-5-18 “Sex is natural, sex is fun. Sex is best when it’s one-on-one!” “Let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me. Let’s talk about all the good things, that may be.”

7-6-18 Sex is power. Sex is control. Sex is authority. Sex is “top” and “bottom”, sex is “giver” and “receiver”. Sex is “fucking” – an active verb, an authoritative act – and it is “getting fucked” – a receptive, passive, dominated, submissive state.

7-7-18 Sex is biting nipples. It is stroking shoulders and grabbing hair, but not by the ends, to pull and to hurt, but close, at the back of the head, right by the name of the neck, just to get a feeling of control

I had “lose control” experiences on 7/22, 7/29, 8/5, 8/16, and 8/18. These are times when I stop thinking, stop getting logical, and often my pen does not even make words any longer. It looks like this:

7/22, at the end when I’ve completely lost control

On 8/4 I ended with “I come in the whirlwind.” I liked that line so much that I started my writing practice on 8/5 with that same line.

On 8/20 I ran a pen dry. This is always a satisfying experience. My topic was “Write about background music – “. I started and as I noticed that the pen was close to exhaustion, I promised myself I would keep going until it gave out. 6.5 pages in, the ink finally finished and I quit.

On 8/22 my topic was “Write in incomplete sentences.” It looked like this:

This will be a challenging for ________.

I don’t often ________.

In the middle of my sentences I usually ________.

Somewhat _______, but there’s this cute girl at the ________ that wasn’t immediately rejecting me last time I ________.

On 9/9 I ran out of space. I had no more empty pages. But I wasn’t done writing for the day, so I turned the notebook 45 degrees and wrote over the last page a second time. If I try reaaaaaally hard, I could probably decipher what I wrote the first time and the second time. I don’t want to try that hard.

I wrote on 60 of 83 days available during this period. I had one long stretch at the beginning where I missed 7 days in a row (I must have been doing something else the 3rd week of June), but for all the rest I usually only missed a day before writing again. My next notebook I’ll aim for 60 days of 70 (skip one day a week, on average).

I’m pretty satisfied with this one. Now it goes on the shelf. Will it ever come back off? Not likely. But still, having that tangible reminder of what I’ve done is always valuable to me.