Friday Update Bonus: Saturday Night Special – Happy End of the Year Report

So, 2016 is finally over. Hooray!

To celebrate the passing of one of my least favorite years in a long, long time, I would like to point you in the direction of the header where you might see the tab “My Books” awaiting your attention. Doesn’t that look nice and official up there?

Now, look a little closer. If you hover your mouse over the tab, you’ll see a dropdown menu cascade before you. In that tab, you’ll see a list of all of my currently available e-books. You may also notice that some of those titles have right-facing arrows beside them (looks a little like this > ). Note: For you phone readers, you may have to click on the three lines beside the magnifying glass to see what I’m talking about.

A couple of those title selections have had arrows there for months and months, but perhaps you haven’t noticed until now. Those arrows, if you see, point to sample chapters for the matching books. For nearly a year, the only books you could sample were The Computer Nerd and Teenage American Dream (in “Future Books”), and only the first six and five chapters respectively.

Well, as a belated Christmas present and in celebration of 2016’s much anticipated exit, I have not added anything to The Computer Nerd (sorry, keep reading to find out why), and Teenage American Dream remains unreleased, but I have added the entire stories of not one, not two, not three, but eight of my current e-books to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, each for free, and each completely. All you have to do is select the chapter or part you wish to read from the submenu marked “Read (Title),” or access the store page for that book and scroll down to the bottom, and follow the chapter links to read the stories in their entirety. If you’ve ever been on the fence about reading these books before, now you can test drive them to your house and back risk-free.

And, if you’d like to download the official e-books for your phone or e-reader from the store of your choice, you can still do that. Those links are open. Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Kobo, and Inktera have them available for free. Amazon Kindle has them for $.99 each, though I’m pretty sure it’ll price-match Apple, so I think you can get it free there, too, even if it doesn’t say you can (I’m basing this on recent sales reports). Basically, there’s no reason not to check them out, now that you can have free access to them whenever you want and wherever you are. Want to read at the beach this January? You can do that! (Yes, I know it’s not the right season for that, but I live in South Florida, so every day is a beach day for me.)

The titles you can now read for free in their entirety here at Drinking Café Latte at 1pm include:

  • Shell Out (2015)
  • Eleven Miles from Home (2015)
  • Amusement (2015)
  • When Cellphones Go Crazy (2015)
  • The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky (2015)
  • Lightstorm (2015)
  • The Fallen Footwear (2016)
  • Waterfall Junction and The Narrow Bridge (2016, two stories in one)

I will also likely make Cards in the Cloak and The Fountain of Truth available here for free in the near future. But Cards in the Cloak is almost the length of a novel, with the first chapter in need of a slight rewrite, and The Fountain of Truth has one section that I’ll need to split into pieces, which I haven’t figured out yet, so it will take a little more time to get those online. Keep an eye open for them.

Regarding The Computer Nerd, I am still contemplating the possibility of changing its title and relaunching with a new cover, new first chapter, and a few other changes in 2017. So, I don’t foresee the Drinking Café Latte at 1pm version of the story (in its entirety) going live before then. Again, stay tuned for updates.

Finally, Christmas is over and I did not finish Snow in Miami in time. Rather than rush and release a terrible version of the story, I decided to hold it back for now, until I have a draft I’m happy with. I’ll release it as part of Zippywings 2016, hopefully at the end of February, and I’ll likely release the standalone version next Christmas, hopefully with a companion book. I was too swamped with other things this year to really focus on any one story for long. Plus, I want to launch books a little smarter in the future than the way I’ve been doing before. That said, 2017 will probably yield low in my slate of upcoming books, but I do hope to start releasing new titles after April (when I finish the CPT class I’m taking on Saturdays).

So, that’s your end of the year report. Hope you have a happy start to 2017. I know I will. Thanks for your readership. One of these days I’ll get my mailing list up and running so that you don’t have to stumble upon each update here. For now, keep watching Facebook or Twitter for updates, or, if you hit the subscribe button below, you can get updates in your mailbox. It’s the best way to find out what’s new. You can also send comments whenever you think I’m taking too long to do anything around here.

Happy New Year!

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Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 2): The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear

Missed Part 1? Read it here.

“The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear”

When we write, we should do so because we enjoy it, not because we have to please other people. That’s what we often tell ourselves before posting something we’ve written for the world to see. But when the content goes live and the comments start rolling in, or don’t, as is more often the case, we begin to feel self-conscious about the quality of our work and vulnerable to the reality that we can’t take it back now that it’s in the open. Even if the world as a whole doesn’t see it, chances are a few people will, and now that we know, we begin to sense these people have discovered that we’re fraudulent writers, worse at our craft than we may lead on to be, and these people, readers who could’ve become our fans had we been even a little better at our craft, will think we have no business writing about anything and will tell all of their friends to avoid us as if we had voted for the presidential candidate they hate.

The first question we may ask then is, is it worth it to put ourselves out there? If we share our work, then we make our level of talent, or lack thereof, obvious to everyone. That’s scary. We may rationalize our decision to go public by justifying the existence of published authors. Those writers had to take a chance on themselves once upon a time, so maybe we should take a chance on ourselves, too. But then we start to think that those authors have nothing to fear. They’re brilliant at what they do, and people know that, so naturally they can put their stuff out there with confidence and not think twice about it.

Except, that’s probably not the case. More likely, those authors are terrified of every new thing they release, as all new things are widely untested until they reach the public, but they know how to hide behind a just-do-it attitude, because they’ve been doing it for so long that they’ve figured out how to silence the nagging voices in their heads that tell them they’re liars and frauds and that they should be selling life insurance to old people instead of participating in this growing organism called storytelling that’s way over their heads and far too sophisticated for the likes of their piddling minds.

But it’s also important to realize that these same scared authors who are brilliant and well-celebrated were scared in the beginning, too, back in a time when they probably had every right to be scared. The main difference between them (the successful ones) and the rest of us (the successful-in-waiting) is time, experience, an attitude to learn, a willingness to fail, and perhaps the thing that brings all of that together, guts.

When I first started writing, I didn’t want anyone other than my dad to read my story. As he laughed at it (it was supposed to make him laugh), I started thinking I could share it with friends and make them laugh, too. It was a story written with pencil on line paper, so without access to a copier, there was only one draft, and sharing it, though desirable to an extent, was difficult. I’d still tell them about it, and some even volunteered to read it, but one copy meant, essentially, that no one would actually read it if they didn’t already live in my house. I didn’t want to risk someone damaging or losing my only copy. That’s what I’d often tell myself.

But when I had access to a computer, I started dabbling with other, smaller works of similar humor, and because I could save them on floppy disc, I could essentially take them anywhere and print them wherever a printer was available. So, sharing my work with others became easier, and generally, thanks to positive reception from the one or two I’d share it with, more common. In high school, I started writing (and printing) a series of one-page parodies called The Completely Fake Documentaries by Manjoman Bobbinski, and among my small circle of fans within my larger circle of friends, it was a hit for the most part. Some episodes were gut busters. Some were embarrassing. But they all had a consistency to them that even today I tend to lack in my writing. The branding was solid and I knew my audience as a result. The readers I shared it with knew, essentially, what each fake documentary would be about, yet they’d still gather around in a circle and listen to me read the newest one aloud. It was fun, and I kept doing it for four years (across 180 episodes). It was not only my first taste of branding and marketing, but also my first taste of building a loyal audience (or at least one that could humor me).

It’s funny what we learn at a young age, but forget as we get older. Today, I feel like I’m so all over the place with my stories, blogs, messages, and whatnot that “branding” is a foreign word, no more familiar to me than the word viedtālrunis. I still work at it, even if my current experience is equivalent to Frankenstein’s monster going antiquing. But with so much to say, and with so many ways to say it, the main fear I think I have these days is not with my writing quality but with my platform. If we have so much to say that we risk alienating 90% of our potential fans with every new work we produce because they’re here for just one type of message or story, that in of itself can become a source of blockage and fear powerful enough to prevent us writing anything we care about in the first place.

Yet, we still have to figure out a way through it. If we don’t cater to the 10%, we don’t cater to anybody, including ourselves, and we’re ultimately told to write for ourselves. Right?

Experience is the key to learning, I think, just as learning is the key to experience. We will never gain either without taking the early steps of risk and experimentation, so regardless of how much fear we may have about showing our work, or even producing the work, we should still brush the fear aside because we can’t learn or experience anything if we hold onto it. It may hurt, but we can also learn from that pain.

At the end of the day, we should just write, no matter what or whom we’re writing for. We’ll be happier for getting the messages we have out of our heads and into the open. Conquering fear requires wisdom (if we should be afraid, then maybe we’re foolish to flip our noses at it), but at the end of the day, it requires caring more about the work than we do its public reception.

Next Week: “The Importance of Imperfection

The Advantage of a Reader’s Guide for Writers

So, I’m convinced we can learn anything from any source we encounter, especially when we’re not looking for it. The trick is to recognize it as a lesson when we see it or hear it or feel it or taste it…you get the idea.

Monday night, when I finished reading The Martian by Andy Weir (and then watched the movie to see how close it is to the book—pretty close, with a few disasters omitted and a slightly different and modified ending plus epilogue), I didn’t fully close the book until I read through the supplemental materials at the end, including “A Conversation with Andy Weir,” “An Essay from Andy Weir: How Science Made Me a Writer,” and, most relevant to this post, “A Reader’s Guide” because I wanted my money’s worth. I suspect most readers would’ve closed it after reading the final lines, and that’s understandable, as I would usually do the same. And anyone but the avid consumers of knowledge would feel okay with leaving the rest of it on the table because the important part, the story itself, is now over.

But as I was reading through the reader’s guide, being kinda nerdy that way, I realized it was unintentionally giving me a lesson on how to write a novel.

Now, let me be clear that I’ve been studying how to write a novel for many years. I’m not learning anything new per se, just better understanding the lessons I’ve already picked up along the way. But for new authors, or those who are out of practice, or those who are in-practice but still clueless, there is much to learn from reading books on writing. But, incidentally, there is also much to learn in the reader’s guides for novels you might like. You know, learn by accident doing something you already like doing. Win-win. Just figure out early that you’re learning something useful.

Here’s an example:

After finishing with the movie, I started listening to The Story Grid Podcast, hosted by Shawn Coyne and Tim Grahl, the episode titled “The Martian and A Christmas Carol,” or simply “The Martian Carol,” as it’s referred to on The Story Grid website, and took some mental notes as they broke down The Martian’s global genre, which is Action Adventure, and its specific plotline, Man Versus Nature. If you look at the first paragraph of the reader’s guide you’ll see the passage,

“A castaway story for the new millennium, The Martian presents a fresh take on the classic man-versus-nature battle for survival by setting it on the surface of Mars—a planet completely hostile to sustaining human life.”

Why is this caption important for the writer? Well, it tells you the genre and plotline right there in the opening line. If you visit The Story Grid website, which is all about teaching writers how to edit their books, you’ll see that knowing your genre is the most important first step in writing your book. If you know what kind of genres your favorite books fall into, you’ll have a better understanding what conventions are needed once you start writing the book of your dreams.

So, considering that, let’s look at some of the reader’s guide questions. Again, these are taken directly from the reader’s guide at the end of The Martian paperback. There are twenty in the book. I’ll highlight the first three to make my point. Very slight spoilers in the questions. Also note that I won’t actually attempt to answer these questions the way they’re intended. Rather, I will briefly discuss why they’re helpful for writers to think about:

Question #1: How did The Martian challenge your expectations of what the novel would be? What did you find most surprising about it?

This is a great question to ask yourself when you finish writing your book because if the answer is “it didn’t” or “er…nuthin’,” then maybe you didn’t try hard enough to write a compelling story. So a good follow-up question might be: What would’ve made the novel more surprising yet natural? Of course, the ideal solution would be to anticipate this question before writing so that you can consider what surprises the reader might find before you write right past them.

Question #2: What makes us root for a character to live in a survival story? In what ways do you identify with Mark? How does the author get you to care about Mark?

More specifically, why should the reader care about Mark? Or, why should the reader care about your character? If we consider Mark Watney’s plight, how he handles it, and whether or not we care, then we can begin to understand what it takes to get us to care about a particular character, including the ones that we write about. Isn’t that an important part of writing fiction: getting the characters to an empathetic state?

Question #3: Do you believe the crew did the right thing in abandoning the search for Mark? Was there an alternative choice?

If we can answer this question honestly, then we can begin to see the consequences of our characters’ choices and how those consequences feed into new consequences, if we’re honest with ourselves and make a decision early on not to take the easy way out. If Andy Weir had been asked this very question before he wrote the book (assuming the story was a disembodied entity just waiting for a book or website to latch onto) would having the captain spending so long searching the evacuation area that she discovers Mark alive and well, though unconscious, be the easy way out? What if she found him and assumed he was dead? Would that still be the easy way out? Would that make the story better, worse, or basically void of the point? Isn’t abandoning the crewmate without certainty of status far worse, and thus harder to write but with a more satisfying payoff, than the alternative, easier choices? Doesn’t that choice give us a story?

Clearly, reader’s guides are handy for writers to read along with the novel itself because they can train authors how to anticipate the questions that avid readers might have when reading their books. Many novels don’t have reader’s guides attached, but for those that do, like The Martian, which is really a fantastic book through and through, as is the Blu-ray version, if you’re an author, I would take a little bit of time going through the questions and answering them honestly for your education. The more reader’s guides you examine, the more likely you’ll ask similar questions for your own books and preempt answers to your readers’ questions.

Just a thought I had Monday night.

And, for the record, I highly recommend reading the book if you like stories about humans overcoming ridiculous odds to survive nonsurvivable situations while exploring places we’ll likely never visit ourselves. But I also recommend you read it before visiting the reader’s guide. It helps to know the story before trying to answer questions about it. Oh, and the movie is great, but the book is better.

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun (Part 1): The Importance of Literature

“The Importance of Literature”

Writing has been my passion since I was 13 years old, and I started not because I had some lofty ambition to become a best-seller, or even publicly known, but because I had an active imagination that was best expressed in words. I didn’t know how to make video games at the time, and my toys, which I was outgrowing, did not inherently create the explosions I had seen in my mind, or any “automated,” interactive, constructive, or destructive scenarios I wanted to play out. Because I wanted to tell stories somehow, I figured writing was the best way to go, if not the only way.

And the crazy thing about that is, at the time, I didn’t particularly enjoy reading.

Whether it deserves it or not, I blame the education system for the latter issue. In junior high and high school (actually, my junior high had become an official middle school the year I reached eighth grade, so I’ll say middle school and high school for this point), I was forced to read books that were written decades earlier, addressing topics I had neither knowledge nor interest in learning about. One in particular, The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck, I had to read twice, once in eighth grade and once in ninth. I didn’t enjoy it either time, and was notably upset when I was told to read it a second time. In tenth grade, I had to read Nectar in the Sieve, which bored me so much that I never finished it, even for a grade. Granted, I’m sure I would appreciate both books more today, now that I’m a 40-year-old adult who doesn’t need explosions to enjoy a story (even though it still helps), but I still would never automatically gravitate toward either.

The stuff I read in high school that I could read again and enjoy today include The Great Gatsby, which I believe is the book I’ve read more times than any other and will probably read again because it’s so freaking good (I honestly need to read all of Fitzgerald’s works to truly appreciate his genius, I think), The Catcher in the Rye, which was my favorite at the time, but has since been supplanted by Mr. Gatsby and friends, and To Kill a Mockingbird, which was just a brilliant piece of writing through and through. Each of these books had an important place in 1990s high school literature, establishing a foundation for society and whatnot, but none of them had ever turned me on to reading.

It took Alex Garland’s The Beach to get me to see that novels could actually take place in the modern world, present universal truths relevant to today and tomorrow, and still be interesting, and ultimately to get me interested in reading more books.

It was not an easy thing for me to become a regular reader of present-day fiction. It took me months to finish reading The Beach, and the only reason I bought it was because I had flipped to a page where the main character was talking about Super Mario Bros. I was impressed that someone had thought to bring pop culture into fiction, and I wanted to support any book that considered me its ideal reader. Kamala Markandaya, the author of Nectar in a Sieve, clearly wasn’t aiming to capture a 15-year-old boy who still watched Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on Saturday mornings. I’m sure Markandaya had a compulsive urge to write the novel and knew that there was an audience for it. Maybe it was unfortunate that some educator believed I was that ideal audience. But, for as much as I appreciated the effort, The Beach didn’t captivate me the way it probably wanted to. Well, it did at first, so that’s not a fair statement. But it lost momentum for me when I realized I was basically reading Lord of the Flies (another classic) in a modern skin, which ultimately didn’t appeal to me. If I were to read it again today, now that I’ve built up my reading experience to sustainable levels, I might enjoy it much more. Might.

However, what it did accomplish initially was to break the wall that Nectar in a Sieve and required reading like it forced before me. Even though it wasn’t the book that turned me into an avid reader, it did give me cause to explore other titles. I think it was Tunnel Vision by Keith Lowe that finally got me to take reading seriously (even though MTV published that book, and I don’t believe it was ever one to be taken seriously), and that encouraged me to look up the author who wrote the book that the John Cusack movie I had seen in college a couple of years earlier was based on, even though I didn’t like the movie as much as I’d wanted to but was curious about the book that inspired it, since I knew it was based on a book, and that, of course, was High Fidelity by Nick Hornby, who became one of my favorite authors, as About a Boy is in my Top 10 favorite novels of all time (up there with The Great Gatsby and Syrup by Max Barry), and definitely the right one to discover, even if his latest, Funny Girl, isn’t particularly great.

I write all of this to express the importance of not just of reading, but to love it, and to find works that allow you to love it. By finding and reading books we love, we can develop a healthy reading habit that can carry us through the rest of our lives, and teach us things along the way. Right now, I’m reading The Martian by Andy Weir, and even though I lost my taste for science fiction back in the ‘90s, this book reminds me why I don’t have to eschew it completely. It’s so good, and I daresay its goodness has much to do with its relevance to what I know and understand and enjoy. Ready Player One is another one that straddles the lines of sci-fi, pop culture, adventure, and pure entertainment, a book that I absolutely loved and absolutely would’ve missed out on had I not refined my taste for reading years earlier, in spite of the damage that high school literature had caused me during my formative reading years.

That said, the books that reached me did so because they touched on a point of personal identity that other books like The Good Earth could not do. This isn’t to say that I think The Good Earth is a bad book. Not at all. It’s a classic for a reason. I’d even consider it a valuable resource if I ever wanted to familiarize myself with early 20th century Chinese dynasties. But, as of now, as it was back in high school, it’s not my thing.

However, families are relevant, and family sagas are universal, and that’s what The Good Earth ultimately is written to be, so there’s probably much to glean from it that’s relevant to all of us, and I just didn’t know how to appreciate that as a 14-year-old who looked forward to watching whatever was popular on Saturday mornings back in 1990.

I started writing my first major story, City Walker, the same school year I had to read The Good Earth the first time (1989-1990). It was an action-packed random events story about a man looking for a television repair shop. If I had been well-read, even as a 13-year-old, I would’ve realized that I was writing a meandering story that had no sustainable plot line. But I was watching a lot of television in those days, and I knew what made a story worthwhile, even then, and I knew as I was writing it that what I was writing wasn’t anything particularly good. Even when my English teacher offered to read it whenever I’d finish it, I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t show her. Thinking about it all these years later, knowing all that I know about story now, I can safely say that what I had written over the course of two years was not a story, but a series of pointless events. But they were pointless events that allowed me to get my worst ideas out of my system. They also allowed me to develop a cast of characters that I actually did like, and wanted to see more of. This lead to me writing an updated version of the story as a screenplay a few years later. It still wasn’t good, but it was better.

Literature didn’t teach me structure, not as I understand it today, but it did teach me value. I knew from the books I didn’t enjoy that the story I was having fun writing was not great. Perhaps that slaps the face of anyone who has ever said, “If it feels good, do it.” No, you really shouldn’t, not unless you’re going to learn from it, and sometimes what you’ll learn is that you shouldn’t do it, even if it feels good. I didn’t enjoy The Good Earth when I read it, and come to think of it, I don’t recall enjoying The Great Gatsby the first time I read it, either (the fact that I love it now tells me that I should reacquaint myself with the classics, now that I’m at a point in my life that I can appreciate them). But it did teach me the idea of scope. It did teach me that actions have consequence, and that even characters we don’t like can still be memorable. I don’t remember a lot of the things I’ve read in my life, but I can still remember vividly how poorly Wang Lung treats his wife, and how creepy it is that the grandfather wants the warmth of the baby to help him sleep at night, and how systematic O-Lan’s birthing ends up being each time her water breaks and she heads into the bathroom to deal with it. Oh, and the fact that I remember these characters’ names also says something about it. I didn’t like it. But I sure as heck remember it. I vaguely remember the characters in Anonymous Rex by Eric Garcia (they’re dinosaur detectives disguised as human, if I recall), but I don’t remember much about the story itself. Bits and pieces. Of course, weirdly, I enjoyed Anonymous Rex far more than I did The Good Earth. I wonder if I did simply because it was unconventional and not at all the kind of book my Honors English teacher would’ve assigned me in eleventh grade English. Or, maybe because I didn’t have to read it, I decided that I wanted to read it. All a bunch of maybes.

Ultimately, if we want to write, we need to read. In the years I wrote stories without reading other people’s published stories, I had a lot of fun, but I also wrote a lot of crap and didn’t learn anything. These days, I learn plenty. More on that next time.

Next Week: “The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear

Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun

“Introduction”

I’ve been admittedly quiet here on Drinking Café Latte at 1pm for the last few months, thanks to the swell of commitments that have overwhelmed me lately. Notably, I’ve been reexamining my fiction priorities, learning how to better market my books, figuring out whether I should better market them, deciding if I can even pay for marketing, and still juggling a host of matters outside of my writing goals, like exercising, suffering through the recent political climate, studying new avenues of professional focus, eating better, and not shutting the people I care about out of my life in the process.

It’s been a difficult balance, but one I’ve been attempting to keep steady nonetheless.

This blog is one of the things I keep on the back of my mind constantly, but figuring out what my plan is for its future is one that stays in constant flux. Posting the occasional Friday Update is important for establishing a connection with anyone who cares about my writing, but with my writing life caught up in learning how to better edit for genre and marketing and not so much actual production, I find that I don’t have much to say on Fridays at the moment, so I don’t say anything. For those who want to know more, and more often, I can see how this lack of consistency might be frustrating.

Frankly, I’m frustrated by it, too. I feel like I’ve got too many goals to reach in too short amount of time to make significant progress on any of it.

Part of this frustration comes down to this war of requirement I have between writing because I want to versus writing because I have to. Sometimes I think the answer is neither. Often times it applies to both. Keeping up with my blog is part of that war of requirement. Once upon a time I wrote only because I wanted to, because it was fun. Now I write because it’s fun, but also to build an audience. When the writing isn’t fun (and there are times when writing is the last thing I want to do today), building the audience becomes my only motivation, and when that’s not happening, either, I wonder if it’s better if I just pop in a movie and ignore the rest of the day.

I’ve been watching a series of videos this month from established authors, publishers, marketers, etc. as part of the Publishers Success Summit, hosted by Eric Van Der Hope, and I can’t help but think they all have the same message, even if they deliver it through different channels and by different specific measures: essentially, they all say to build a platform, treat your writing like a business, and so on. And given what I’ve experienced since the first day I uploaded Shell Out to Smashwords back on May 29, 2015, I can say that what they preach is truth. Marketing is important if the readers are to come. I haven’t been doing much of that, and the results show. I’m still widely unknown and unread, and I’m constantly worried that I’ve overspent my budget every time I eat out.

But a couple of weeks ago, as I was walking to the beach, I started thinking, well, not all writing has to be business-minded. Sometimes it can really be just for fun. But how do we get ourselves to a point where we can accept that idea and still prepare for the possibility of writing for an audience, business, or fan base someday?

Well, that’s the question I want to explore over the next few weeks in my new short series, Why It’s Okay to Write for Fun, right here at Drinking Café Latte at 1pm.

Tomorrow at 1pm, the first part, “The Importance of Literature,” will go live, so be sure to come back then, and every Thursday at 1pm for the next few weeks (I’m not sure how many parts this will contain as of yet, but I can guarantee at least five), to explore with me the advantages of writing for fun when a business mindset has yet to form, even if one may form eventually.

It should be fun, and please be sure to make comments and encourage discussion as you see fit.

Handy Table of Contents for Each Released Part:

Part 1: “The Importance of Literature” (Posted December 22, 2016)

Part 2: “The Importance of Experimentation and Ignoring Fear” (Posted December 29, 2016)

Part 3: “The Importance of Imperfection” (Posted January 5, 2017)

Part 4: “The Importance of Managing Fun” (Posted January 12, 2017)

Part 5: “The Importance of Balancing Priorities and Knowing Audience” (Posted January 19, 2017)

Part 6: “The Importance of Learning from Our Past” (Posted January 26, 2017)

Part 7: “The Importance of Knowing the Rules of Writing and Storytelling” (Posted February 2, 2017)

Part 8: “The Importance of Finding Useful Education and Resources” (Posted February 9, 2017)

Friday Update #9: Superhero Switch and the Coming of Christmas Brings Snow in Miami

Welcome back to Drinking Café Latte at 1pm. As you’re aware, Christmas is coming fast and hot (well, depending on where you live, I guess), and that means eggnog, gingerbread coffees, cookies, and all sorts of goodies are on the way, and I’m here to let you know about some goodies that are coming your way from me.

Goodie #1:

For those of you who have been reading Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One this past year (the anniversary of its worldwide release is coming at the end of the month), I have great news. Its sequel, Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two, is now free for a limited time. How limited is this time? Hard to say, but I’ll keep it free throughout the holidays for sure. However, it’s best to pick it up while you can, before I put the price back on. You know what happens when you procrastinate? You forget. And then you lose. So, don’t procrastinate.

This freebie comes with a trade-off, however. My plan since day 1 has been to develop and release a bite-sized version of the series, where the Annual Editions are broken down into individual story units closer to the length of a traditional thriller or adventure novel. The individual stories would add up to the same universal conflict, but due to the way that conventions dictate how a story unfolds, the core story points would inevitably change. Essentially, A Modern-day Fantasy Annual Edition and A Modern-day Fantasy (Standard Edition) would develop at different speeds and in different ways, while keeping the story line roughly the same.

Because I don’t want to confuse readers with the option to choose the bulky Annual Edition over the easier-to-manage Standard Editions (which would take two or three books to equal the story of an Annual Edition entry), I want the pricing to make it easy. In short, I’d rather readers stick with the Standard Editions. The Annual Editions serve as my original vision for the story, but experience has since taught me that the Standard Editions make for a better fit (and more satisfying read). It doesn’t mean they will be over before they begin, but it does mean the story can be delivered at a more sensible pace.

So, the trade-off for Superheroes Anonymous: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year Two going free for the holiday season is that Cannonball City: A Modern-day Fantasy, Year One will now cost you $4.95 to pick up. So, I hope you were one of the people who contributed to its 543 free downloads this year, and not one of the procrastinators who kept putting it off.

It should be noted that I don’t plan to make Cannonball City permafree again. It was free for a year to introduce readers to the character of Jimmy Knightly, but with the Standard Editions on the planner, I don’t see a reason to keep it free, as one of those books will surely come out with a free price tag. Likewise, Superheroes Anonymous will be free for a limited time, but limited times run out before you know it.

Moral of the story: Don’t put things off. You’ve got a good goodie to get, so get the goodie while the getting is good.

Goodie #2:

A year ago, I released an e-book called The Fountain of Truth, which is a collection of three holiday-themed fables, one of which is a revision to the classic tale of how Santa Claus began, one which teaches us to listen rather than to assume, and the titular title reintroducing a story I like to share on Facebook every Christmas Eve about speaking truth. This year, I am preparing another holiday-themed collection called Snow in Miami, which will feature an update to my flash fiction story “Unexpected Weather,” with two new stories, “A Black Friday Tale” and “The Pear Tree,” included. In this book, the three stories will be threaded together through the lens of a husband and father who must learn how to actually be a caring husband and father through his sharing of holiday stories with his wife and son. We get a sense early on that his wife and son are just people who live in his house and demand things from him that he doesn’t want to give. But throughout the course of telling and hearing these stories, he begins to understand just how lucky he is. So, you’ll actually get four stories for the price of three.

I don’t have an estimated release date for Snow in Miami, as I’m still having to split my time between work, CPT test prep, and other projects. But I do expect to upload it to Smashwords before Christmas. However long it takes to get through the channels to the other stores will depend on that upload date.

In the meantime, enjoy this opening sample from “Unexpected Weather”:

Mr. Carson propped his feet on his desk and lit the cigar he had been waiting all day to smoke. Chicago’s temperatures were falling by the minute, and the muzak filling the room was gradually integrating bells and chimes into its drowsy score. Christmas was coming soon, and the bonus he was sure to get from his most recent mega-sale would pay for gifts for the entire family, the neighbor’s family, and even the meter reader who occasionally showed up on his property to gauge him for his utility usage. It would be a Christmas like no other. He’d finally have the means to stock his yard with a holiday scene so spectacular that he would surely win the neighborhood decoration contest this year. He’d even hire that ice sculptor to carve out the outdoor ice bench he had always wanted to sit on, on Christmas day.

His success was a long time coming. Months of proving to the boss that he was capable of leading his office would have to pay off now. Months of top-level ignorance would have to come to an end.

He puffed on his cigar and let the smoke fill his mouth. He was forming cloud nine between his cheeks.

His chair started its backward arc toward the cubicle wall when his boss, Mr. Rivers, popped into view. He had snuck up on Mr. Carson wearing those dang moccasins again.

“Carson,” he said, “how many times I gotta tell you not to smoke in the building?”

Mr. Carson pulled the cigar from his mouth and dangled it over the edge of his desk, just above the trashcan. He wasn’t permitted an ashtray, so he made it his habit to catch the ash in the can. He kept a separate can for paper to the right of the desk to prevent accidental fires. This one just held a single plastic bag.

Mr. Rivers shrugged. Then he handed him a narrow, gift-wrapped package.

“Here, no need to apologize. I decided to make your life easier.”

Mr. Carson took the package, flipped it over and under, listening for something to rattle inside.

“Open it,” Mr. Rivers said. “Early Christmas present.”

Mr. Carson was a little suspicious. He knew Rivers had heard about the mega-sale, and per the standards of the company, sales that large warranted bonuses. Mr. Carson hoped that this wasn’t his bonus. He had been counting on a large check.

But he obliged his boss. He pulled off the wrapper and tossed it in the can to his left. A narrow green box was exposed. He opened it. Inside was a skinny electronic device.

“E-cigarette,” Mr. Rivers said. “Or vape, as they’re calling it now. Unobtrusive and mostly safe for indoors.”

Mr. Carson opened the battery hatch to find it empty.

“Sorry, batteries not included. Figured you could try it at home first, in case it’s not as safe as I assumed.”

Mr. Carson looked up at his boss, but didn’t say anything. He wasn’t sure what to think about this gift. He was an authentic smoker, proud to carry around his packs of real nicotine darts with the silver lighter that had the naked woman silhouette he was so fond of. Gift from his dad on his eighteenth birthday. Refillable fluid. A real gift from a real man.

“No need to thank me,” Mr. Rivers said. “I should be thanking you for nailing the Trifecta Account today. In fact, I am.” He gestured at the e-cigarette. “Stroke of genius.”

Mr. Carson shrugged. No big deal.

Okay, it was a real big deal, but he didn’t like to brag in front of people who cut his checks. They were a notoriously humbling lot, positioned to strike down anyone who displayed too much pride for a job that was somehow enhanced by the assistance of a team, which this particular sale was not: he certainly had a right to say it was all on him, because it was. But Mr. Rivers didn’t like braggarts, so he kept his mouth shut.

“Anyway, I had a talk with the bigwigs upstairs, and they agree that your work on this account was of stellar performance, and they think you would be perfect for their starter office in Miami.” A wide smile formed on Mr. Rivers’s lips. “You start in two weeks. Isn’t that exciting?”

Mr. Carson finally opened his mouth. The smoke he had been savoring finally blew out into the opening and evaporated. The space between his cheeks was now nothing more than a tongue that had lost its taste for change.

“In lieu of a bonus, the board has agreed to pay for your moving fees instead.”

Mr. Rivers leaned over the desk and patted Mr. Carson on the shoulder.

“I’ve already asked Mrs. Williams to set up the conference room with finger foods for your going away party. You like bologna sandwiches, right?”

Mr. Carson was partial to turkey, but his boss never paid attention.

“Anyway, you’ll like Miami. Never gets cold there. Just think, you’ll get to spend Christmas at the beach. Isn’t that exciting?”

Mr. Carson thought about the ice bench he would not get to sit on, on Christmas day.

“Anyway, enjoy your last day. Again, sorry about the batteries. I was thinking I’d let you wait for the party in the observatory. I know you often talk about the big window overlooking the lake. Thought you might want to remember the view.”

Mr. Carson’s sister’s apartment overlooked the lake. They were just over there for Thanksgiving. Mr. Rivers was thinking about someone else.

Mr. Rivers’s eyes drifted down toward the trashcan to Mr. Carson’s left. He reached in it and pulled out the gift wrapping.

“Here, don’t want to cause a fire, right?” Then he found the small plant that Mr. Carson had bought a few months ago to liven up the cubicle. He snuffed out the cigar in the soil. Then he tossed the cigar in the trash. “Housekeeping will take care of your garbage today.”

Mr. Rivers paused at the opening as he headed out to the walkway outside the cubicle. He tried to look at Mr. Carson from over his shoulder.

“Good luck in Miami, Carson,” he said. “You’re going to do amazing things there.”

Mr. Carson was barren of thought by that point. The world stopped making sense to him.

***

            At home, Mr. Carson didn’t know how to tell his wife that the money in Chicago was coming to an end, and that to keep the money flowing, they would have to fly south with the birds. As he rehearsed his speech in his mind, and subsequently shot each version down as ridiculous and an invitation to make Mrs. Carson cry, he took the carton of cigarettes from his trusty brand out to the front porch and lit one stick after another. By the fifth smoke, he was feeling a bit more relaxed. The chill in the air was giving him goosebumps, and the night was steadily growing comfortable.

By the time he had stubbed out half the pack, he was feeling pretty confident in his speech. She would understand. She would have to.

***

            Mrs. Carson didn’t understand.

“Who does he think he is?” she asked, when Mr. Carson told her the news.

“The Great and Powerful Mr. Rivers,” Mr. Carson said.

“We have a life here, John. A life.”

“Yes, I know that, and you know that. But knowledge hasn’t had much power around here lately.”

They were sitting at the dinner table, and Mrs. Carson was just about to pour the wine when Mr. Carson got to the dark side of his speech. It had begun beautifully, with the news that he had succeeded at his big sale. Mrs. Carson was so happy for him that she retrieved the bottle of Chianti from the rack to celebrate. But Mr. Carson didn’t want to lose his place from what he had practiced, so he continued talking. Mrs. Carson put the cork back into the bottle before the first drop hit the glass. Uprooting everything she knew to start over in some gaudy place where the natives walked around half-naked in their front yards at Christmas time was no cause for celebration.

“I just wish you’d stand up for yourself every once in a while,” she said.

“I do. But they don’t listen.”

“Standing up for yourself requires getting them to listen.”

Mr. Carson shrugged. He knew she was right. It wasn’t like him to marry someone who didn’t see the truth in things, and she could see the truth in anything. He liked that about her, even though it caused him stress most of the time.

“Maggie, here’s the thing. The door here is closed. Once they close it, they close it. I know this isn’t ideal, especially with Christmas coming up. But it’s a great opportunity to—”

“Great opportunity? You’re already sounding like them. Have you really thrown in the towel that fast? Without consulting me first?”

Mr. Carson set his fork down. He could sense the conversation was going to interrupt his eating rhythm for a few minutes.

“This isn’t a matter for consultation. They didn’t ask me if I wanted to go. They told me I’m going. Even if we don’t go, I can’t go back to that office, not for anything other than to throw my stuff into an empty box.”

Mrs. Carson’s eyes began to tear up.

“I don’t understand why they won’t give you a choice,” she said.

“It’s called business, Maggie. Relocation was always a possibility. Said so on my contract. I just didn’t think they’d ever call on it.”

Mrs. Carson pushed her plate away and stared off to the side for nearly a minute.

“You know,” he said, “you’ve been wanting a tan for a long time. This could be your chance.”

She rolled her eyes. He noticed the corner of her lips turning upward slightly.

“Your dream body will follow. Imagine the influence of all those bikini-clad beach bunnies turning you to an obsessive fitness and diet fiend. For the holidays no less. Make all your friends up here jealous of your luscious figure.”

Mrs. Carson’s expression lightened. She was considering it now.

“Think of Nancy and her big butt. Then think of you and your smaller butt.” He brought his palms close together to signify the differences in the two butt sizes after hers would shrink.

Mrs. Carson pulled her plate in front of her and started eating.

“I should probably enjoy this dinner while it lasts then,” she said.

Mr. Carson leaned over the table, angling as close to her as he could.

“It’ll be okay, I promise.”

He wasn’t sure it would be okay. He knew nothing about Miami, except that it was hot, crowded, and the music was bad.

Mrs. Carson nodded. “Okay. If we’re stuck, I guess we have to go where the money is.” Her face was still solemn, but not like it was when he had broken the news.

“We’re not stuck. We’re going to be better off than we are here. Richer and happier. And thinner.”

She put her hand up.

“Fine,” she said. “We’ll make it work, I guess.”

After dinner, Mr. Carson retrieved the box that Mr. Rivers had given him earlier and took out the vape. He found a box of batteries in the refrigerator and popped one into the compartment. He wasn’t sure what to do with it exactly, but he started with the button on the side. The thing began to smoke almost immediately. It was as if he had put a thermometer in his mouth and a fever had set it on fire.

“What’s that thing?” Mrs. Carson asked him, when she returned to the table after clearing it.

“Gift from the boss. It’s one of those electronic cigarette things.”

“How is it?”

Mr. Carson thought about it for a moment. It was considerably weaker than his normal cigarettes. And yet, it had a certain flavor to it that he found pleasant. Even fragrant.

“Weird,” he said. “Well, different.”

He pulled the device out of his mouth and stared at it.

“It makes me feel different.”

He put it back in his mouth.

“But in a good way, I think.”
 

(end sample)

Have a good week.