Category Archives: General

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Social Media Stage Fright

I don’t get stage fright. Not usually. If I’m standing in front of a group of strangers to give some information about a service they could use or learn from (an occasional side function of my job in education), I typically turn off the part of my brain that cares what they think about me and just deliver them the info I came to deliver. Unless I’m coughing up a storm while my zipper is down, two things I tend to get under control prior to arrival at my speaking destination, usually, I don’t worry about how I’m received. The audience either cares or it doesn’t. Doesn’t affect me either way.

Yet, the reverse seems to be true about my online presence. It’s usually more appropriate to answer questions in an unbuttoned pair of jeans (especially after a big lunch or dinner) online than it is in front of a live crowd, depending on the topic, I suppose, but the words I deliver online last much, much longer than what I deliver in person, and that can be scary when the words or information matters. In front of real people in real time, most of my audience will remember less than 10% of what I say, and if they remember me at all, they’ll likely remember me as “some guy who came to my classroom to tell me about grammar or something.” I’m not threatened by that. But, when I send a message on Facebook or a tweet on Twitter, suddenly my words are permanent and have scrutiny appeal.

Frightening!

It’s a strange paradox to be sure. We all talk about how social media can mask our identities when necessary, giving room for transparency in our thoughts, especially if our name is “Anonymous” or “Some Dude,” and suddenly we’re titanium. We see it as license to spout off all sorts of nonsense because who’s going to associate it with our faces if they can’t see them? In fact, I find it especially paradoxical in the dating world (something I gave up on a long time ago), where approaching strangers for the intention of getting a date is somehow easier through a comment on a profile page and a follow-up wink (or maybe it’s vice versa—I’ve never been great at the dating thing) than it is in real life where the person of interest has to watch me stumble out the words she may never take seriously face-to-face. It’s strange how these same vehicles of delivery can suddenly flip the perception I have of people and vice-versa, depending on the topic. But masking identity isn’t always useful. In person, my audience gets to see my face. In personal relationships, that should be a perk. Hopefully. But online, what I look like doesn’t matter. What I say does, and now they have the option to not only hear my words, but to remember them. In person, I have the freedom to flub my statements. Online, I better get it right, and I better get it right the first time because they can go back and check, check, and check again, and they can fault me if they see the mistakes or inconsistencies in thought, or whatever. As a writer, it’s embarrassing if I mess that up, especially if what I say is in of itself embarrassing (or simply unimportant). Online, I have plenty of places and opportunities in which that embarrassing thing can surface.

So, social media suddenly becomes a scary thing because that Facebook post about what I had for dinner isn’t just a Facebook post anymore. It’s an admission of guilt (even though I might see it as an attempt to engage an audience). Sure, I had a salad tonight. But I also had baked fish and mashed potatoes. And a sweet roll! To anyone who thinks I should be on a diet, I may have just incriminated myself. Sweet rolls have melted sugar on top, and that’s not healthy! How dare you promote bad health? And what of Twitter and its hashtags (also not healthy)? Is it possible for anyone to use Twitter without stirring up a string of controversies? Even with 27 followers and most of them being marketing robots, the risks of shooting myself in the foot are present if not inevitable. If I confess I had a sweet roll to a live crowd, they can at least watch me wink in jest as I deliver the truth. “Yeah, I had a sweet roll last night, and how sweet it was,” I say, as I pat my belly and gesture at how much of it is now sugar. (Note: What I eat for dinner isn’t actually anyone’s business.) Online, they may not even read that far.

As a writer, I’m told I need to master social media if I want to get followers. Okay. It’s also suggested that I post regularly to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google+, MySpace, Hotmail, AOL, AOL Instant Messenger, Reddit, AltaVista, Match.com, Yahoo, Wazoo, Kazoo, and other things I’m probably just making up now, oh, and my blog!, and it’s too much to keep up with, yet posting builds an audience of readers, and I want to be read, right??? And everything I say must be timely, yet accurate, and interesting, yet short, and if I mess it up, I’ll lose the people, but don’t worry about that because even with ten different ways to shoot myself in the head, I only have to do it once to lose them, so don’t worry about it and just enjoy the process, as even players of Russian Roulette can be successful at times!

I’m tired, and that’s just from writing the names of these platforms.

As I read about new platforms I can use to expand my readership, something I’m desperate for, as getting readers is the hardest part of the writing process, and I’d probably have an easier time running for public office based on the experience I’ve had doing this (getting a date is still tougher for some reason, though I have no idea why, as I’m smart, handsome, idea-driven, rich—no, the opposite of that, sorry—funny…okay, this post isn’t about that), I suddenly feel intimidated all over again because here’s one more service I should sign up for to give my readers even more options for staying connected with me, even though they have enough information overload from everybody else who wants their attention, and the only way any of this matters is if they really, really want to hear from me. If the students I speak to are of any barometer, I’d think even those who need to hear from me probably don’t want to hear from me. They’re probably too busy thinking about their Facebook posts, and Instagram photos, and whether anyone will like them to worry about liking me.

So, what can I say to convince them to listen? I suppose the keyword is “free money.” But, I don’t know. Social media already seems to fit that bill. If everything is free, then nothing is valuable. Including time. I value my time. And, I value my words.

To be clear, I don’t actually mind social media. I see it as a great way to find out where people I used to hang out with ten years ago are vacationing. I’m not there with them, but I can feel like I’m there with them. It’s almost as good, right? At some point, though, I want new things to talk about, and I can’t vacation every weekend or devote hours of every day sending out social media alerts to the few people who might see it to feel some kind of connection to them. At some point, it’s time to meet face to face again. Real relationships are frightening, too, but they’re real, and they feel real. That adds to their value.

The fact is, I read all the time about how important value is to people, and it’s almost scary how much that’s true. I’m not sure how valuable social media really is. My words are permanent, but are they being read? Here’s a picture of a moose you can look at while you contemplate the answer to that question.

bull-386742_1280.jpg

If you’ve read this far and want to keep reading this far, please remember to hit the “follow” button down there at the bottom of this page. And, don’t forget to leave a comment if you’d be so kind. It’ll stay online forever!

Cover image: Pixabay

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The Number 42

Hi Kids,

Today’s blog is brought to you by caramel coffee, Domino’s pizza, and the indubitable number 42. Please consume each responsibly.

On this day, we should read notable fiction by Douglas Adams, perhaps from the legendary Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and focus maybe on the third book in the five-part trilogy, Life, the Universe, and Everything, where the answer to life, the universe, and everything is 42 (even though we don’t yet know the question).

Or, if that’s not of our interest, we can read the new future bestselling thriller The President is Missing, about a president who goes missing, from acclaimed writers James Patterson and Bill Clinton (aka 42).

Or, we can go the sporting route and watch the biography of Jackie Robinson, Brooklyn Dodger, baseball hall-of-famer, and MLB-wide retiree of the number 42, in the titular film 42.

Or, we can watch Kiefer Sutherland as CTU field super agent Jack Bauer in the real-time political thriller series 24, where he stops terrorists in a single day, but watch it in reverse.

Or, we can…

Well, I don’t need to tell you what to do. Just remember that today’s number is 42. Celebrate accordingly. I may do so with candles and a chocolate cake.

Until next time.

Cover by Pixabay

Have You Forgotten About Your Control of Information?

In two days, the European Union will be updating its privacy laws for marketers, content providers, e-commerce sites, etc. to its new GDPR standards (short for General Data Protection Regulation), and said marketers, content providers, etc. need to be up-to-date with the standards. On a quick mental scan, I don’t think I fall into any of these categories in a way that would violate the EU’s new terms, but just to be sure, I want to remind all of my subscribers that you can choose to receive updates via the “follow” button at the bottom of this page (so that it says “Following Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm”), just as you can stop receiving updates by clicking it again (so that “following” turns to “follow”). You control your information influx, and the dial for that control is at the bottom of this page.

Just so we’re clear, I don’t share your information, nor would I know how to, and that little green lock to the left of the URL is the proof that this site is secure, even if your information does somehow find its way here, which I’m pretty sure it doesn’t–not in any way that I’ve discovered.

That said, I hope you’ll continue to follow this blog, as I occasionally have awesome things to share, when I have anything to share, and I’d hate for you to miss out on important announcements, like the fact that the European Union is updating its privacy laws and heavy fines apply to any business (in Europe or abroad) that does not comply by its rules.

So, yay for information!

Just a reminder, you can follow Drinking Cafe Latte at 1pm by clicking on the blue button at the bottom of this page (or unfollow if you’re already following and you decide you no longer want cool blogs like this one). Likewise, you can continue to follow this blog by doing nothing if you’re already following it.

Oh, while we’re at it, are there things I could be writing about that I’m not writing enough about that you’d like for me to write more about? For example, would you like to see more chapter excerpts from novels I’m writing? I haven’t done those in a while. I’m curious what you actually want to read about because the comments on this blog are notoriously silent and I don’t actually know what people are interested in when they find their way here. The more I know…

Anyway, I like your readership, and I welcome your feedback, so feel free to hang out here with your 1pm cafe latte if you’d like.

Image: Pixabay

Newton vs. the Machine

“To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.” –Isaac Newton

Deus Ex Machina: “A person or thing (as in fiction or drama) that appears or is introduced suddenly and unexpectedly and provides a contrived solution to an apparently insoluble difficulty.” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

At Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, I discuss a range of topics that are interesting to me, but I spend most of my energy writing about writing, or stories, or the tools that make either one easier on me. Today, I want to discuss a matter that addresses a little of everything.

As a periodic novelist, meaning I binge write between periods of general inactivity thanks to the juggling of large projects that require extensive amounts of my time, thought process, and dedicated memory (the lattermost of which I’m usually on short supply these days), I care about telling good stories, and that means I care about understanding what it takes to make a story good—no, great!

One of my consistent challenges with every story I write is figuring out its inciting incident, the moment of opportunity that kicks off the drama, why it should play as the opening gong to a crazy tale of intrigue, revenge, or ridiculousness (for example), and what to do once that action is in motion.

The concept of inciting story through an event should be straightforward. If you think about the movie The Terminator, for example, you may say that the inciting event is the moment when the hero, Kyle Reese, transports to 1984 Los Angeles from a bleak 2029 future, where the robots have already taken over (which given Boston Dynamics’s running and jumping robots, and Google’s new AI hair appointment scheduler, and, well, robots that run for public office, we may still be on track for this bleak robot-ruled future—yay!), to locate and protect the mother of the future resistance, Sarah Connor.

What follows is a series of dramatic events that leads Kyle to Sarah, leads the Terminator to Sarah, leads the characters to all sorts of conflicts and romance (the romantic part involving Kyle and Sarah, not either one and the Terminator—that would be a different kind of story), all toward a blistering conclusion where Sarah must protect Kyle from the Terminator and ultimately defeat it. Did I mention she’s just a waitress when the movie begins? By the end, she’s serving robot destruction on a platter and then rides off into the stormy sunset with the future leader of the resistance in her belly. If you haven’t seen it, you should, even though I just spoiled the whole thing. Spoiler Alert! Never mind. You’ve had nearly 35 years to catch up.

For a more recent example, I’ve finally started watching Game of Thrones late last year, after everyone I know has basically told me the whole plot in one form or another (and I will probably read the books at some point), and I’m currently reaching the end of Season 2, the final episode being the one episode I’ve already seen, back when it was still new, and clearly didn’t understand because I hadn’t seen any of the ones before it, so I’m essentially already caught up through that season. Even though I wasn’t much of a fan in the beginning (and I’m still kind of above meh about it if I’m being honest), the dramatic turns it takes is beginning to grow on me, enough for me to start thinking about how all of the chaos in Westeros begins. Now, we know that the story actually begins in the ages prior to the start of what we see (or read), as any story would, but the really crazy stuff begins with the invitation Ned Stark receives from his best friend, King Robert Baratheon, to serve as his Hand, or more specifically, when Ned accepts the invitation.

Ah, there it is: the inciting incident. Even though a lot is happening in this first part of the story, the real drama throughout the series kicks off with Ned’s decision to move down to King’s Landing to serve as the king’s Hand (an important position if you’re not keeping score), a decision that, while noble, through many actions and reactions becomes the undoing of him and his family.

And, it’s these actions and reactions that keep the momentum of the story moving. Eddard Stark (Ned) makes a series of righteous decisions, but in the depraved world of Westeros, and specifically in the depraved House Lannister, the righteous are punished, and so, too, is Ned. By the end of the second season (and the book, I believe), House Stark is fractured so horribly that the kids are long separated from safety, and their home turf, Winterfell, is vulnerable to sieges, the latter of which would never happen under Ned Stark’s watch, had he refused the invitation. His righteous loyalty to his best friend, the king, is a noble choice that, through action and reaction, also proves a deadly one.

That’s interesting, right?

What makes the story more interesting is the fact that the family is scattered because Ned Stark is foolish enough to remain loyal to his best friend, Robert Baratheon, the king, even after Robert dies, leaving his son, Joffrey (the brattiest and most disturbed kid on television), king. By doing the right thing (which is the wrong thing in the Lannisters’ eyes), Ned is given the ultimate punishment, and his family, by proxy, is upended.

Now, Ned is the hero of the opening act (the whole first season of the show, and I believe the whole first book, called A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 1), and any author who wants to keep his hero ahead of the villains will construct the story in such a way that Ned gets out of his predicament with the new king, Joffrey, in some clever or fantastical way. But George R.R. Martin doesn’t do that. Rather than pull a genie out of a hat, the deus ex machina way, producing an earthquake or a meteor or something to disrupt the public execution that Ned finds himself faced with, giving him a chance to escape with his family to “safety”—in the world of Game of Thrones, there no such place as safety—Martin lets his protagonist die. Yep. Axe, chop, dead. Action and reaction. The hero finds himself in an unwinnable situation, thanks to the polar shifts of positive and negative in each scene, and succumbs to his failure in the climactic event. The story’s not over, of course, far from it, but Ned’s part in the story ends via the chain reaction he ignites by accepting his role as Hand of the King.

According to Robert McKee, author of Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting, a story works according to how well its scenes shift in polarity. In other words, a story moves according to whether the scene ends in a different place from where it begins: a positive becomes a negative or a double-positive; a negative becomes a positive or a double-negative (not to be confused with a double negative in grammar, which I can’t not recommend you use in writing). It also depends on the narrative arc of each scene—inciting incident, rising action, etc.—but I’ll save that discussion for another time. What matters here is that every action in story has an equal and opposite reaction.

Deus ex machina ignores that structure, and that’s why readers hate it. It breaks the story.

You may be a writer; or not. I think this discussion is important, however, because it helps to know why stories work, even if you have no interest in writing one. Sometimes we see a movie or read a book and we know we don’t enjoy it, even though we can’t figure out why. We often say, “It’s okay,” or “It’s lame,” or “I’d rather go fishing in a sewer pipe than watch that garbage again,” but we don’t know what about the story drives us to think that way.

Often we can figure it out based on how well people act and react to the narrative arcs they’re given. In The Terminator, when Sarah Connor sees the rifle in Kyle Reese’s hand as he enters the night club, she could immediately scream, kick him in the balls, and run out of there, right into the arms of the Terminator itself. Just as easily, Kyle could refuse to utter the film’s other famous line, “Come with me if you want to live,” giving Sarah no cause to trust him with her life. Sure, these things could happen (or fail to happen as the case may be), and Sarah may still somehow survive the night. But, chances are, to survive, she would need a little deus ex machina on her side, like the Terminator accidentally triggering a button that causes it to self-destruct, for example, and James Cameron, the film’s writer and director, is smarter than that. No, he writes his characters in such a way that they must do specific things in action and reaction to other specific things, in order to reach a point in the story where a specific thing can either lead the characters to victory or doom them to failure.

Fortunately, James Cameron decided to make his hero, Kyle Reese, a noble guy who does the right thing. Unfortunately, Kyle’s noble act also gets him killed.

A bit of a sidebar, but what is it with righteousness and death? That’s another discussion for another day, but certainly worth thinking about.

Anyway, next time you read or watch anything, see if each event naturally progresses from the last, and if it gets there through sensible action and reaction of its characters, or if an act of divine intervention moves it forward. For that matter, see if it happens in real life. If you ask your girlfriend to marry you, see what happens next.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.

P.S. It seems all of the main places and characters in Game of Thrones are so well-known that my Microsoft Word spellchecker automatically accepts them as proper spellings. Hilarious.

Interesting Article about the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists

First off, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you who are moms. Thanks for all you do and put up with. We’d be worse off without you.

Secondly, I just read an interesting article about how books are selected for The New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists and thought I’d share. Whether you’re an author or a reader, I think you’ll find the article interesting, especially if you’ve ever bought a book based on the list and thought, “Why are people buying this garbage?”

Obviously, some books deserve to be on these lists, and sometimes we find our new favorite authors as a result of reading them. So, there’s no lesson here. Just an interesting read for your Sunday afternoon.

Note: This article was written a couple of years ago, but I’m sure it’s still relevant today.

Article: “The Truth about the New York Times and Wall Street Journal Bestseller Lists” by Tim Grahl

Enjoy your afternoon. Hope you’re reading this with coffee in hand. It’s raining where I am right now, so you know I’ve got mine (actually, my cup is empty, but I’m about to go for my second round).

I hope to have new and interesting content for you in the coming days.

Scrivener Recovery

So, as I mentioned in my last post, “Book Review Blitz Coming,” I suffered a power outage on Sunday that resulted in me being locked out of the file I was working on (and had been since June). Here’s what happened and how I handled it.

First off, some context. Scrivener is a software tool designed to help writers write texts and stay organized because that’s what a writer does. Its main purpose is to allow writers to write scenes in any order, shuffle them, label them, group them, whatever, so that they don’t have to write in a linear fashion or get lost should they decide that’s a good idea. It’s also a tool that can store research files, including other documents, photos, videos, spreadsheets, web links, etc. so that the writer doesn’t have to scour his hard drive for every bit of info he needs to complete his project. For a program that costs just $40-$45 (depending on your operating system), it’s really handy, as long as you don’t try to store a HUGE amount of info.

So…I’ve been trying to store a huge amount of info, and I discovered on Sunday that that’s a bad use of Scrivener.

I’ve mentioned it here on this blog, and somewhat extensively in my article “Using Scrivener for Game Design,” that I’ve been working on a computer game since 2009 called Entrepreneur: The Beginning. I’ve been adding to it for about five years when I came to the realization that the scripting was just way too messy and inefficient to continue on the path I’ve been working on. I kept working on it for another couple of years, but that was precious time spent on a task that could’ve been completed in less than a day under a different set of rules.

If I can reduce two years’ worth of work into a single day, you can bet I’ll do it.

So, in the summer of 2017, I set out to rewrite the code for Entrepreneur: The Beginning in an effort to make it more efficient and easier to update in the future. I decided to use Scrivener to handle this task, as it’s the best software I have to view things side-by-side and keep real-time backups and comparisons without having to stumble my way through the project.

I didn’t count on the program having trouble handling such a massive load. For reference, your average novel is about 50,000 – 120,000 words, split into anywhere from 20 to 100 chapters. The script for Entrepreneur: The Beginning with all of its originals and rewrites comes out to more than, well, a lots of lots of words and hundreds and hundreds of folders. It looks like it’s safe to say I’ve pushed it beyond its limits sometime in the last month.

Just to be sure Scrivener itself wasn’t broken, I tried loading up a different file, and saw that the file I chose loaded just fine. Then I tried opening my Entrepreneur: The Beginning plotscript file to watch in horror as it not only failed to respond, but actually closed the one I’d just opened. I tried reopening the closed file, just to be sure I didn’t break anything in that process, and found that it opened just fine. I tried reopening the plotscript file again, just to watch it close out all of Scrivener again.

Things were looking pretty dark for my eight months of script rewrites, but I wasn’t about to give up. Not physically, anyway.

I looked up information about document recovery, which yielded differing results, but the one I found most helpful was the one at techtoolsforwriters.com, posted here.

I took the article’s advice. I searched for my folder dedicated to backup files. I found it. I found the most recent five backups in the zip files the article talks about. The most recent was for January 22. (For reference, that’s the one I’m using to scan my word count as I type this article, and I’m still waiting for it to calculate, and I’m beginning to worry it’ll never give me an exact answer, even if it doesn’t include the last three weeks’ worth of work. Again, Scrivener is great, until you break it.)

I was grateful to discover that I hadn’t lost seven months of work, but it was beginning to look like I had lost almost one month’s worth of work. That’s especially troubling when you consider that some of the scripts I’ve revised since January 22 are headaches in digital form that I felt pretty happy to conquer, and would never want to revisit. Yet, it was looking like I might have to.

Thankfully, Scrivener also has a “doc” folder for every project that stores every piece of content in a numbered RTF file, and that folder stays up-to-date. A quick scan of that folder via arranging my search by date revealed that my most recent uncorrupted file was updated a few minutes before the power outage, which meant the only work I actually lost was the script I managed to update while I was busy frying an egg for breakfast.

In other words, I hadn’t really lost any progress, and the work I couldn’t recover from the backup can still be easily copied and pasted into a new backup project, which I’m calling “Entrepreneur Plotscripts V2,” along with a new port that includes only the modified files so that I can keep a project file that’s only half the size of the original.

Am I happy I don’t have to repeat the last eight months or even one month of my life? Well, I’d go back twenty years and make different choices if I could, but that’s another story for another day. Short answer is…well, I don’t think that’s a tough one to figure out, Sherlock.

So, that’s what happened on Sunday, and that’s how I avoided losing eight months of work in Scrivener, and that’s what I’ve learned about Scrivener’s limitations and its backdoor reliability.

Oh, and that word count calculation? Still trying compute. Maybe I’ll cancel the action. It’s not even that important.

Please subscribe to my blog if you want to keep hearing stories like these. You might even learn something.

Cover: Pixabay

An Awesome Article about Talents and Skills

Okay, so I typically don’t reblog articles. I don’t know why. It’s a great way to share even greater information. But, today I’m reblogging “8 Qualities That Are More Important than Talent for Writing Success” by Anne R. Allen (via her blog) because I thought it was an awesome breakdown on how we conflate talent with skill and how we should probably stop doing that. If you’re an aspiring writer (or artist, musician, or ditch-digger), this article will show you how your entitlements and talents aren’t good enough and you really need to learn how to do the work. It’s also a good reminder to stop dreaming and start acting.

It reminds me that I need to work on my anthology of mullet poetry today and not play computer games instead. Yes, stop disbelieving me every time I talk about mullet poetry. It’s a thing, and I’m working on it (probably after I play some computer games because I’m a grown man and nobody tells me what to do–well, not this very second they don’t).

You can read the article here. Anne Allen, if you’re reading this, I really appreciate the insight.

2018 New Year News

Happy New Year to each and every one who reads this update. Hope your year turns out great and that success finds you, whatever that may look like.

Now for some news, both book-related and life-related. Read to the end for the full picture.

E-book Updates:

I’ve been on Christmas break since December 18th, and I’ve been updating some e-books during my break. Three of my books now include a section for readers’ group discussion questions because I want to be pretentious and believe that people would want to talk about my stories. These books include Eleven Miles from Home, Cards in the Cloak, and When Cellphones Make Us Crazy. Each of these also has a new cover and updated interior content for your packaging enjoyment. Cards in the Cloak has been revised from its earlier version, and When Cellphones Make Us Crazy is a remake of an earlier book I published in 2015 called When Cellphones Go Crazy. All of these have been updated on Amazon if you’d like to give them a look.

Also, it’s important to note that some of the prices on my other books have changed to reflect the times. You can still get a few freebies at Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, etc., and $.99 versions of those books on Amazon (the lowest I can set them without asking Amazon to price-match, which I WILL do once I’ve finished my rebranding process, but I think they price-match anyway because I have yet to see a dime from them). But, those that are still free won’t likely stay free forever, just FYI.

The updates still have to make their way to Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc., as the holidays tend to slow them down, but Amazon has them all. I expect everything to be up-to-date in the next few days.

I’m providing links to these stories to get you in the supportive spirit. I could use help getting the word out about When Cellphones Make Us Crazy, Cards in the Cloak, and Eleven Miles from Home in particular, but help supporting any and all of them would be awesome, as it would add some general momentum behind my writing career. If you do pick up any of my books at any time (now or in the future), please leave an HONEST review. Books that have no reviews also tend to have no sales. I’ve got 15 books on Amazon that prove this. The “biz” calls it “social proof.” Without it, an author’s career dies on arrival. That’s been my story so far.

Oh, and if you decide NOT to pick any of these books up for yourself for any reason, please tell me why. I’m curious about what prevents readers from getting certain books. Your info would be immensely helpful for the future, and you would have the satisfaction of knowing you’ve helped out your fellow human being (and writer) without spending a dime!

Mailing List:

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears mentioning again: I’d like to start sending out some newsletters and special offers to my mailing list soon, but to do that, I need subscribers. I don’t have any fancy buttons to get your attention or landing pages to keep distraction at bay. I know how authors are supposed to invite subscribers to their list, but those methods cost money I neither have nor can get without an active readership, so rather than dazzle you with costly bells and whistles, I’ll just simply say I’d like to share with you exclusive news, information, offers, etc. about twice a month directly to your electronic mailbox, topics about reading, writing, characters, movies, useful things I’ve learned to better my life, exclusive and special offers, and so on. I’ll provide an opt-out button if it becomes something you no longer want to read, but I would still like your support during its launch and a fair chance during its development. Again, the plan is for two letters a month. Please subscribe and share!

If you would like to join the list and receive the newsletter, please message me at zippywings[at[hotmail[dot]com with the subject line “Sign Me Up,” or something that’ll alert me that you’re interested in joining, and I’ll put you on the list. Be sure to let me know inside the message that that’s what you want, just so there’s no confusion.

I want to start sending the letter out on the third Tuesday of this month (January 16th), but if I don’t get any subscribers by then (or too few), I’ll be pushing it back to the third Tuesday in February (February 20th). The first letter will be an inauguration letter, but the second (to be released on the first Tuesday in February or March, depending on how many subscribers I have by then) will cover our first discussion topic: Why fiction is an important part of life.

To join the discussion, or to simply read about why it’s important, join my mailing list as soon as possible!

2018: A Projection:

Because I’ve spent so much time relearning how to edit and market the last year and a half, my writing time since May 2016 has suffered. But, I’m steadily moving back into a rhythm, and I hope to start releasing new titles this year.

However, before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to point out the plans I have for the near future and whether or not they’re realistic.

Snow in Miami

I didn’t finish this in time for Christmas in 2016 (the original planned release date) or in 2017 (which was honestly unlikely to happen given certain conditions in my life, though I was optimistic), but I have gotten pretty close to finished. I still aim to finish the first draft either this week or next, and I’ll probably post it on FictionPress or some free reading service for feedback shortly after. But, I won’t likely post the e-book until September 2018 at the earliest. I want to make sure I have time to properly review and edit it, as well as create adequate packaging and release it when people are more likely to discover it (research shows that October through December is a bad time to release a book if you’re competing with commercial publishers; otherwise I’d just wait until December). I don’t think 2016 or 2017 was ever realistically on the table given all of the things I’ve been juggling behind the scenes. A 2018 release is extremely likely, though, so keep watch for it (or subscribe to my mailing list to find out when it goes live and where).

-My NaNoWriMo Novel-

The novel I worked on for National November Writing Month (the thriller involving two dumb high school kids uncovering a subversive plot to zombify their town and doing their part to stop it—basically if Bill & Ted were a crime thriller) will be picked at throughout 2018, but I don’t foresee releasing it before 2019. At some point I want to give Kindle Unlimited a try, and I think this will be the perfect story for that platform. If it’s successful, I’ll try it with other books. But, only if. I may finish it this year, but I think summer of 2019 is more likely. I’ll talk more about it the closer I get to finishing it. I’ve got 34,000 words devoted to it so far.

Pawn of Justice

On Christmas 2017, which was the ten-year anniversary of the day I started writing the A Modern-day Fantasy anthology, I began the first chapter of Pawn of Justice, the prequel to A Modern-day Fantasy. I will be putting most of my writing focus into finishing the trilogy by next Christmas, and start pushing them off to the public by May 2019.

This is realistic, as I plan to write it the same way I wrote the other A Modern-day Fantasy stories: as one singular story split into multiple parts, taking up about a year of the characters’ lives.

Unlike Cannonball City and Superheroes Anonymous (the currently released anthology entries), Pawn of Justice will not follow Jimmy Knightly as its main viewpoint character, but instead follow FBI agents Joyce McKinley (viewpoint) and Thomas Sturgeon (lead protagonist) as they uncover mysteries linking the underground mafia with a growing presence of superhumans, all leading up to the arrival of the Spotless Cowboy and an introduction to New Switzerland. The third book will provide a clean ending while opening the door to the Jimmy Knightly stories. And, I do not plan to add any fan service by projecting future events that current readers already know about. I hate it when movies do that, so I don’t plan to do that here.

I’ll talk more about this series the closer I get to finishing it.

Once they’re released, I’ll start releasing the official versions of the A Modern-day Fantasy books, beginning with Fallen Stars, Cannonball City, Risen Ordinaries, Rebellious Sidekick, and Superheroes Anonymous, which retell the stories presented in the first two Annual Editions (online now at Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, etc.), but in an even better way.

Gone from the Happy Place

I’m still deciding whether I want to wait until I can afford my own ISBNs before moving forward on this one—I may just release the e-book on Amazon for now—but I’ve created a potential cover for it a couple of weeks ago (which can still change depending on feedback), and I pretty much know what I need to do to finish it. It really shouldn’t take me long. I might have it done as early as February, but I won’t be aiming to release it before June. If it gets released as early as February, it will be released to Amazon only, and for $4.99.

But don’t count on it coming out that soon. I want to avoid the mistakes I made with its earlier version, The Computer Nerd. I’ll update you when it’s near release, and I may provide a 40% discount to subscribers to my mailing list (preorder only).

I’ll have to work out the logistics with pricing, though.

gone from the happy place concept 3.png

The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky

As I think I’ve mentioned in an earlier announcement, The Celebration of Johnny’s Yellow Rubber Ducky will be getting a novelized version sometime this year. Again, I’d like to release it by summer, but it depends on how quickly and efficiently I can get my other projects finished. But, either way, I think it deserves a full work devoted to it. The more I think about it, the more I like the story and want to expand on it. Again, the tracks are already in place, so I don’t foresee it taking long to develop. I’ve already got a new beginning written, and most of a new ending. The majority of work I’d still need to do is with structure and pacing, which will be the hardest part of the process.

-Other Books-

I know I still have some outstanding titles to work on, including Teenage American Dream, Sweat of the Nomad, Zipwood Studios, Figments of the Imagination, and My First Mullet, along with other novels that I’ve written or started years ago (like Panhandler Underground and Botanical Rush to name a couple), and the more time that passes, the more it seems they’ll never make the light of day. Rest assured, though, these are still on the list for release.

Teenage American Dream, in particular, hit a development snag last year, and I’ve halted it for now until I can figure out how to correct it. One of the problems with writing “by the seat of one’s pants” is that snags happen, and even if you have a plan (as I did for this one), organic development can still sneak in and change the course of things while uncovering the secrets of others. I like what I have so far (which is almost 75% of the book, or nearly 70,000 words), but I’ve reached a point where I think I need more knowledge or understanding about a specific topic that I don’t yet have and would need time to research, which I think is important, to continue it, and making that time has been a challenge lately. But, I’ll get there. Also, the title will be replaced with something else, as “Teenage American Dream” was originally given to the 2006 short story I wrote for Seven-Sided Dice: The Collection of Junk, Volume 3, using the same character, and I’ll probably want to rerelease that story, with that title, as a side-chapter during its promotional phase.

Sweat of the Nomad and Zipwood Studios will eventually undergo the same decision: their short story versions will retain these titles and the novels based on these stories will have different titles. I have no idea when I’ll get around to updating these, though. Probably not before 2019.

Figments of the Imagination has actually undergone some development in 2017, but I stalled when NaNoWriMo started. I’ll be getting more of it done in 2018, but I have no idea when I’ll have it ready for release. I doubt it will be finished in 2018, and I wouldn’t even expect it for 2019. It’s going to be a big story with big world-building, and I want to get it right. I’m going to aim for 2020 for that one. It’ll be a lot fun, though. My plans for it are pretty awesome. The first chapter for it can be read at the end of Cards in the Cloak.

My First Mullet has stalled simply because it’s a niche product, and I don’t expect much of a market for it. It’s more of a passion project that I want to finish for myself and its cult followers, and I think I can take my time with it. It’ll be finished eventually. I haven’t been in a hurry, though. If you don’t know anything about it, it’s essentially a collection of poems and short stories about the war between man and his mullet. A few of its entries can be found on this blog. It’s as ridiculous as it sounds.

Panhandler Underground is a novel I wrote in 2005, but I never did anything with it because I needed to redevelop it to better fit the way government institutions would actually operate (albeit in a satirical way). Once I’m comfortable with the progress I’m making on Pawn of Justice, I plan to revisit this story by creating a trilogy out of it (well, an anthology where it would be the third book in a series but not the last). I’ve already outlined the two books that’ll come before it, more or less, so I don’t expect it to take long to develop once I get going on it. But, I can assure you that this will be a fun one. The current 12-year-old manuscript is a big hit with the people I allow to read it. I expect the update to be better and slightly more believable.

Botanical Rush is another passion project I started in 2007, but stopped when A Modern-day Fantasy took over my life for the next five years. I’ll get back to it one of these days. I did a lot of research for it, so I’d hate to waste it. I also stalled because I didn’t think the inciting incident was good enough, and I still haven’t thought of a way to improve it. I will. Eventually. I’ve got eleven chapters written for it already. Again, I’d hate to waste it.

So, these are my likely releases in the next couple of years, with a few maybe taking until 2020 to finish. I still want to update Gutter Child, too, so that may or may not happen before 2020. I think that’s plenty to think about, though. Oh, and I want to write and release one more Christmas story after Snow in Miami to round out my Christmas fable trilogy. That’ll likely happen in 2019, as I plan to write it now to make sure it gets done.

The Main Obstacle to These Goals:

My job has been emotionally challenging lately. I make about $15,000 a year doing it, even though I have a Bachelor’s degree in English and the degree is related to my field. The job is no longer what it was when I started, though, and I don’t know if it will ever go back to being the good thing that it was. I’m beginning to sense that my skills are going to waste and the money has been too low for me to really improve my life. I started publishing e-books as a way to supplement my annual income, but I haven’t really been selling any of those, either, so I’m still struggling financially, and, in turn, emotionally.

I’m looking to make a change in 2018 for the better, financially, socially, and even spiritually, and I don’t think it’s going to happen if I stay where I am. So, I’ll be devoting a good chunk of my time trying to also rebuild my career goals and hopefully find myself in a different and better place by this time next year. I don’t know how this will affect my writing or my story goals, but I wanted to alert my readers that this is something I’ll also be working on, and it may or may not shift some of my above goals around. That said, your support is appreciated in any form, including prayers, so if you’re still reading, thanks for coming with me this far.

Another Newsletter Reminder:

Again, I hope you all have a great 2018 ahead.

Remember, I’m looking for new subscribers. As I slowly phase Drinking Café Latte at 1pm out from being my primary news source, the best way to get updates and exclusive offers from here on out is to subscribe to my mailing list. Message me at zippywings[at[hotmail[dot]com with the subject line “Sign Me Up” to get on the list to join. Don’t wait for the fancy buttons to be incentivized! Remember, joining will give you access to exclusive newsletters about reading, writing, things I’ve discovered that you should know about, free offers, etc. If all that sounds questionable, remember, it’s a newsletter I’ll send out approximately twice a month and it won’t take up much of your time, so there’s no reason not to join. Again, contact me at zippywings[at[hotmail[dot]com with the subject line “Sign Me Up” to get on the list to join. It’ll be fun.

Take care and until next time….

 

Am I Any Good at This?

It’s a Sunday night, and I’m going through my e-mail, checking out some of the offers for free courses that would turn into paid premium courses that I can’t afford if I go deep enough down the rabbit hole (I think this is how cults work, but I digress), and one 2:16 video I just finished watching is about branding and determining your brand, and watching it has given me introspective questions I figured I’d ask publicly.

The speaker is a pleasant middle-aged dude who says that he “built and sold two businesses” and wrote a book about branding to help entrepreneurs and authors launch their brands, and at a recent speaking engagement he had sold out of these books and managed to double his post-conference sales without having listed them on his site or on Amazon.

My first thought is that it must be nice to have so many people want to read something that he wrote. But my other thought is that most authors with audience support have to build that audience through products that they want. Branding is part of establishing an identity, but that identity only works if the attached products are products people want to invest time and money into, and that puts a big question mark on the kind of time it takes to produce these things.

The hard reality about branding is that it limits experimentation. Creativity can still come into play under certain conditions, but with limitations. Experimentation, however, is much more difficult. Imagine, to the dismay of thriller fans, Lee Child writing Jack Reacher: The Musical. Not sure that would please most of his fans. He might do an awesome job with it, good enough to attract anyone who likes a good musical (I myself don’t understand them, but that’s me). But the people who enjoyed Jack Reacher: The Musical may not enjoy The Midnight Line (the most recent Jack Reacher novel) quite as much. Even though Lee Child is a millionaire author with a millionaire brand, his ability to stretch that brand is still pretty limited, it seems.

So, one of the advantages of being an unknown is that I still have time to craft my brand and figure out who my core readers are. The disadvantage is that once I find that core, I’m probably stuck writing for them, and only them, unless I want to come up with a pen name and write all of my other stuff under that name even though I kinda like my regular name. I like seeing it on book covers, at any rate.

Then I think about writers who are successful with every book they write, like Carl Hiaasen, who has his weird Florida thrillers like Lucky You and Nature Girl, and his kids’ books like Hoot and Chomp, and I realize that they can still write in multiple genres and not lose an audience (with Hiaasen, we are talking adult thrillers vs. middle grade environmental stories), and that branding is a general idea and not a concrete rule. And then I remember that all of Hiaasen’s stories take place in Florida (pretty sure that’s true), and I’m back to thinking, oh….

Branding doesn’t scare me, though, because I see myself as a quirky writer who writes in the thriller and/or coming of age genres, and I have a few series books in the making or in mind that keep to these genres and styles closely, so finding my audience doesn’t have to be a challenge.

The problem I face, in reality, is that I just don’t know if I’m actually any good at this. People say I am, but those same people haven’t bought any of my e-books. They read snippets, or they’ll read printed manuscripts I happen to have with me when I see them, and they’ll say, “Hey, this is good.” But will they spend their money to support me? Very few have. And, that’s what makes me ask the question.

I’m at a point in my life where I have to start evaluating my resources for generating traffic, interest, and sales for my stories. That means figuring out where to cast my net of investments. I don’t really want to buy any more books or courses on the topic of success (or related fields), as those are just educational resources and not practical applications. I want to start spending it on the tools that will actually allow me to convert these casual travelers into readers and fans. That means getting an official website, and an official emailing list, and an official delivery system for bonuses to subscribers, all of which go beyond the scope and freeality (made-up word alert) of Drinking Café Latte at 1pm and its free WordPress host. Without a professional presence, I can’t expect to have readers take me seriously.

Investing in my future is scary because I don’t know if mine is the kind of work that people would want to pay money for or come back for seconds. I think it is, but I haven’t heard from any readers who agree. Doesn’t mean they aren’t out there, of course. One of the problems with having no official point of contact is that I can’t really know how people perceive the stories I write. I have no way of knowing how they feel about it, or if it’s even something they’d want to read. Investing in these tools of contact and advertisement is vital now.

There is a service that opened this week called Author Cats that would actually be helpful for my brand, if I had the $497 to spend on it between now and December 5th. If I wait until after, then I have to spend that each year. If I get it before then, I only have to spend that once. But, I still have to tie it into a website I own (which could cost me up to $25 a month), and link it to an outside mailing list I port in from elsewhere (which can also cost me a monthly fee if I go with anyone other than the unwieldy MailChimp). Is it worth it? Well, it doesn’t matter because my author career has so far prevented me from affording the tools that will help me make it better.

Brings me back to the question: Am I any good? Specifically, am I good enough to support these costs?

This is what every author struggles with, even those who have been doing it for a long time, and even those who have managed to attract a few fans. Every new work is a reset button waiting to happen. The poor opening of Justice League proves that even tried and true brands aren’t guaranteed success, at least not right away. Of course, critics say that the movie is made for fans and fans think it’s “pretty good.” I don’t know. I haven’t seen it myself, and I’m a fan of superhero movies. Batman V. Superman and Suicide Squad, while both enjoyably bad movies, have made me not care much about this franchise, at least not enough to spend $15 on the theater ticket and $22 on the Blu-ray in a few months. I’d rather just get the Blu-ray.

The question, then, I guess becomes, “What do readers want?”

I hope my answer to that question is both true and proves profitable soon. I have stories in the works that I want to share, and stories past that I’m updating for 2017-2018, and I want to start adding price tags to each of them in the next month or two.

But more on that later.

For this point in time, I’m still doing what I can to tell a good story, and then follow that up with another good story. That’s the best I can do for today.

That said, I finished NaNoWriMo at nearly 34,000 words, and I’m working on a Christmas story that I started last year (and had intended to finish, but couldn’t due to reasons I’ve since forgotten), and hope to release it in time for Christmas this year. I’ll talk more about both my NaNoWriMo and Christmas stories soon. I think they’ll be good.

P.S. I will be creating my mailing list soon, with or without an official website, so if you would like to receive a more focused letter about writing topics, book topics, reviews, and offers, including freebies and exclusive freebies, please send me a private message at zippywings[at]hotmail[dotcom] with the subject line “Put me on your mailing list, please,” or something similar, and I’ll add you to the list. I want to send the first newsletter out around the third week in January. The free stuff will have to come later, as I still need to create a delivery system and a plan. Again, more on that later.

Cover Image: Pixabay

On Tragedies

In Matthew 22:36-40, when Jesus reiterates that the greatest commandments are to “love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind,” and to “love thy neighbor as thyself,” I’m beginning to think his words are less of a lesson for the good way in which to live and more of a warning about how to protect ourselves from evil, present and future, and ultimately to prevent evil from metastasizing in man in the first place.

Let me explain.

On Sunday morning, when I woke up, I decided to take advantage of the “fall back” rollback of the clock and sleep in an extra few hours. I finally got up about 11:30, made breakfast, showered, and, seeing as how it was too late to go to church, watched half a video on YouTube, then played a computer game I bought years ago but only just now installed called Railroad Tycoon 2, and did so until about 3:30 when I realized my train stations were costing me more to operate than they were paying me, and my company was basically going bankrupt, and to continue the same game was ludicrous. Once I felt like I’d had a sufficient day of rest and turned off the game, I went into the living room, checked out what was on television, and then my heart sank.

Another mass shooting. This time in Texas. This time in a church. This time with a casualty and injury rate at near 100%.

I just stood there thinking, “I can’t take this anymore.”

Never mind that this tragedy hits close to home for many, many churchgoing people, including myself (when I go), or that once again we’re talking about a soft target, or a group of Christians, or what-have-you that’s cause for us to collectively shake our heads and cry. Sunday’s tragedy speaks to a scary reality we face today, in that nothing is sacred anymore.

My mom was telling me earlier that when she was a kid, my grandmother would go into the church and pray at any hour of the day or night because the church was always open because there was no reason to ever lock it, and if someone wanted to go in and pray in the middle of the night, they could. Now we have a lady in the Sutherland Springs, Texas area explaining that until Sunday morning, November 5, 2017, her community was just as safe, so much so that she could leave her keys in the car without worry of someone taking it, except now they’re dealing with the reality that evil can strike anywhere in any way, and that no one is truly safe anymore, and that keeping one’s keys in a car without worry doesn’t mean that he or she is exempt from the horrors that seem to bleed in through all cracks in our modern society, which include mass murder that can physically destroy 8% of a town’s population and emotionally destroy the rest of it.

As of this writing, I don’t know why the gunman did this sick thing, nor do I know just how far this story will go from here. We still have Las Vegas fresh in our minds, as well as the attack on pedestrians in New York (where the assailant rented a Home Depot truck and used it to run people over). My guess is that we’ll have Big Media and Congress running through their usual talking points about gun violence, gun laws, and all of those other dead end channels that seem to always saturate the discussion without coming up with a solution that would actually work, and that a week from now, no one who has a say in what comes next will do anything that will actually prevent this problematic weed from sprouting up elsewhere. That’s how it’s been since Columbine, and here we are, yet again: same talking points, same lack of stopping it from happening again, same collective breath held for a change, and the hope that this is the last one.

I’m sad, not just about the tragedy, but about the fact that no one seems to get it anymore that the problem isn’t guns, rented trucks, or even rhetoric. I’m not even sure if the problem is entirely based on mental illness or flawed ideology. I think much of the problem today is with evil itself, and evil exists where love is absent. Tell me I’m wrong.

Actually, I think there are two sources of evil—well, one source, but because we live in an “intellectual,” “civilized” or “free-thinking” society, I’ll refrain from pointing the blame squarely at the devil, even though that’s the only true source of evil, and the one that we’re foolish to ignore time and again, but there are two subsources we can actively combat, and by proxy combat the original source that most people today don’t want to acknowledge for whatever reason, even though that source is real and scheming against humankind—and they are selfishness and lies. Both fail to show love for other human beings, and both leave us wide open to carry out destructive tendencies when given permission to fester.

I don’t know the story yet about this new shooter, nor do I know the story about the shooter in Las Vegas. I don’t know what drove them to want to commit mass murder, but I’m willing to guess that they were either lied to by someone they trusted and they let that lie grow, or they lived a life without knowing real love, and filled that empty space with hate because if love is absent, then hate has more room to grow in its place.

When Jesus told us to love our neighbors as we do ourselves, I think He was warning us how to prevent violence from overtaking our world. Perhaps not ironically, it was hate and jealousy that put Him on the cross, so it’s not just a product of our time, but a product of our human nature to move to violence if we don’t have love in our hearts or understand the good things that we want to destroy.

Likewise, if we love our God with all of our hearts, and with all of our souls, and with all of our minds, then we’ll unlikely want to break His other laws, including the one that says, “Thou shall not commit murder.”

That’s my thought today. This should all sound obvious, but the fact that we’re still poisoning the world with hate and with actions taken in hate is proof that we still don’t get it, and we need to start figuring out how to better implement methods of exercising love for one another, even if we don’t always like one another. Is that easy? No. Is it necessary? Of course.

So, before we turn this conversation back to gun violence, can we at least address the problem of the absence of love for each other first? Not trying to be a hippie here. I just think among these other issues we’ve let our isolation from each other (thanks, cellphone!) bring out the worst in us far too often these days, and we need to address that.

I have more to say about this topic from the perspective of a writer, but I wanted to address the core issue first, which is that we, as a people, need God’s help again, not political intellect or talking points, and that we’d be foolish not to seek it.

Love your God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. If we all do these three things, we’ll see a change in our world for the better. That’s what I often think about each time somebody does the opposite of these things, opposite like what one person did on Sunday morning in Sutherland Springs, Texas to more than 20 churchgoers, including babies.

Cover image by Pixabay