Hooks, lines, and stinkers

Okay, I admit I’m cheating, on a couple things. First, I’m recycling some material from my class on writing short fiction. Second, I cheated on the title. I’m only going to talk about lines here, specifically: opening lines.

“Why not start an article about great opening lines by quoting the best ones of all time?” I asked myself and quickly followed that with a verbal back-pat. “What a great idea!”

The bonus is that this concept has already been dealt with countless times, and the internet is replete with such lists. All I needed to do was plunder them and produce a number of lines for my students who would immediately think me astonishingly well-read. And erudite. And, uh, whatever.

Then I started digging into the lists. It seems there is a disturbing lack of agreement when it comes to choosing the ten “best” opening lines from several centuries worth of novel-writing. Who knew?

So, with apologies to no one, I’ve culled some lines from these various lists, and because I’m hopelessly in need of validation, I snuck in one of my own. Perhaps the class will vote on The Best. With that thought in mind, I withheld the author’s names until the end of this post. You don’t have to peek unless you want to.

dark and stormy

Alas, this opening line didn’t make anyone’s “Best” list.

1) The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed. 

2) In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.

3) It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain, he fell madly in love with him.

4) Elmer Gantry was drunk. He was eloquently drunk, lovingly and pugnaciously drunk.

5) Sainthood required more than a massive headstone and a dozen village idiots.

6) Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

7) It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. 

8) The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

9) If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. 

10) He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish.

That’s enough for this installment. Hope we’ve all learned something rare and valuable. Or if nothing else, non-fattening.

–Josh

Please note: In case you missed it, today is the last day to download a free copy of Greeley for Amazon Kindle. Here’s the link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079S25V9Z

_________________________________________

1)   The Gunslinger by Stephen King

2)   A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean

3)   Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

4)   Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis

5)   Under Saint Owain’s Rock by Josh Langston and B.J. Galler-Smith

6)   One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

7)   1984 by George Orwell

8)   Neuromancer by William Gibson

9)   The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

10) The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway

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Resurrection Blues

We’re traveling once again, which has made it difficult to work on anything new, including posts for this blog. So, instead, I’m going to post the first chapter of my very first solo novel, Resurrection BluesYou can find the book here, and if you hurry, you can get a copy for FREE. I’m serious about moving quickly; the offer ends at midnight tonight. After that, you’ll have to pony up the full ebook price of $3.99.

I did a trailer for this book a few years back, before it became an Amazon exclusive. The trailer is available on YouTube. And, because I know it’s a hassle to look these things up, here’s the link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDqXXjcVu_0

Resurrection Blues

Chapter 1

“One good fire is the equivalent of three good moves.” –Wayne A. Langston

Trey opened his door to the first line of a joke: An Indian, a dwarf, and a biker walk into a bar… Except he didn’t own a bar, and this clearly wasn’t a joke.

“We’re lookin’ for Trey Bowman,” the Indian said.

“As in A. A. Bowman, the third,” added the biker.

Trey looked down at the dwarf, expecting her to add something. She didn’t. Instead, she stunned him with the sexiest smile he’d ever seen. He dragged his gaze from her face and quickly inspected the other two visitors. They appeared calm, and unarmed. Always a good sign. Still….

“He’s dead,” Trey said.

“Then, who the hell’re you?” asked the Indian, “And why are you in his house?”

“Who the hell are you, and why do you want to know?”

The biker looked less likeable than he had before, the morphing process moving him from possible miscreant to probable felon. “It’s important we find Trey Bowman. He’s not in any trouble. Leastwise, not with us, but if he’s dead we’ll need to see proof.”

“Like a grave?” Trey asked.

“More like a body,” said the Indian. “But a death certificate would probably do.”

The dwarf continued to smile, but the effect ceased to be sexy. It now seemed morbidly curious–the sort of smile reserved for really bad traffic accidents, or public executions.

“You didn’t answer my questions,” Trey said, shifting his foot slightly in order to get more of it wedged at the bottom of the door. “So, again: who are you, and why are you looking for Trey Bowman?”

“Augie sent us,” the tiny female said, her voice a delicious tinkling of fine crystal.

“Augie who?”

“Augie Bowman.”

He’s still alive?

“Yeah, but not for long. Doc says he’s only got a few days left.” The Indian looked down at a photo in his hand, then held it up to eye level and glanced back and forth between Trey’s face and the picture. “He sent us to find you.”

Trey squinted at him. “Okay, I’m Augustus Bowman.”

“The third,” said the biker by way of confirmation. “Your grampaw said you go by ‘Trey.’”

“I do, but he barely even knows me,” Trey said, twisting to see if he recognized himself in the photo. He hadn’t seen his grandfather in at least twenty years.

“Why don’t you call yourself ‘Augustus’ or ‘Augie’?” the biker asked. “Don’t you like your name?”

“I like Trey.”

“I expected someone more… I dunno, interesting,” said the Indian to the biker. “This guy’s a geek.”

“I am not a geek! I– I hate computers.”

“Relax, sweetie,” said the diminutive femme. “He’s not talkin’ about the kinda geek you’re thinkin’ of.” She looked up at her companions. “I think it’s him, but we’d better check his ID just to be sure.”

My ID? This is my house, for cryin’ out loud. I don’t have to produce an ID. You should be showing me yours.”

“I’m Warren Lightfoot,” said the Indian, pushing his arm between the door and the jamb. “You can call me Bud.” He gripped Trey’s hand firmly, shook it once, then let go.

“Bud. Right.” Trey looked at the biker.

“I’m Dago,” he said, keeping his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

“Of course you are,” Trey said, utterly clueless. He looked down. “And you must be….”

“The Virgin Mary,” she said with an absolutely straight face.

He tried to roll with it. “Would it be okay if I just called you ‘Mary’?”

“Sure,” she said, relighting her ten-thousand-watt smile. “I’m not really a virgin.”

“Good,” he said. “I mean, about your name. Not the, you know–”

“Time to go,” said Dago.

Oddly, Trey felt no threat from the bizarre trio. Something about them had the ring of truth, and he felt compelled to go with them. Besides, he’d already made a complete mess of his life, and he clearly had nothing better to do.

“You got a car?” Bud asked. “We’ve got a truck, but somebody’d have to ride in the back.”

“Not me!” Mary said. She pushed through the door and grabbed Trey’s hand. “You wouldn’t make a lady sit in the back of a truck, would ya?” She snuggled up to his thigh, and batted what he suddenly realized were absurdly long eyelashes.

“I’ve got a car,” he said. “I can follow you.”

Bud smiled for the first time. “Good, then let’s get movin.’”

“Waitaminute!” Trey said. “First things first. How long am I gonna be gone? Do I need to pack some clothes? Leave a forwarding address? Who’s gonna feed my parakeet?”

“Good Lord, he’s got a tweety,” said the Indian. “I told you he was a geek.”

“Bring the bird,” Mary said. “And throw some clothes in a bag. If you need more later, I’m sure we can find the hole and come back.”

‘Find the hole?’ What the hell are you talkin’ about?”

The biker stared at Mary as if he was contemplating dwarficide.

“It’s just an expression,” Bud said. “We’ll explain later.”

Trey looked down at Mary. “I don’t really have a parakeet.”

“I can get you one.”

“No. That’s cool. I don’t–”

“You like blue or yellow? Green, maybe? I think that’s all the colors they come in. But I can check it out.” She pulled him after her. “Where’s your bedroom?”

Trey hit the brakes. Mary may have been short, but she had full grown curves. “My bedroom?”

“Yeah. Unless you keep your clothes somewhere else.”

“Oh. Right. I thought–”

“You have a dirty mind, Trey.” She laughed, and somewhere a shelf full of exquisitely fragile glass toppled onto the floor. “Where’s your suitcase?”

He retrieved it from his closet, then paused long enough to look for Mary’s companions. “Where are–”

“Outside.”

“While we’re–”

“In here. Packing.” On her tiptoes, she groped blindly in the top drawer of his dresser and withdrew a handful of briefs. “I figured you for boxers.” She threw them on the unmade bed, then continued foraging in his other drawers. T-shirts and socks followed the underwear and landed in a pile.

Trey stuffed his clothes into the travel bag as quickly as Mary launched them in his direction. “Jeans and sweatshirts are in the closet,” he said, but she had already discovered them. “Will I need a jacket?”

She paused to look at him, curiosity coloring her classic features. “I doubt it. Unless we’ve slipped into another dimension, this is still summer in Atlanta, isn’t it?”

“But I don’t know where we’re going!”

“West and north, but not far either way.”

“That’s comforting.”

“These are nice,” she said, throwing a pair of loafers at him. “Bring ’em.”

“Those are my formal sorta shoes. They’re a little tight.”

“Wear ’em for me, then.”

“Okay,” he said. “Listen, I’ll get the rest of that.”

“No, you won’t. We’re done. You got that stuff packed yet?”

Very little space remained in the valise. “Uh–”

“Don’t forget your hairdryer, razor, and toothbrush.”

“Why do I get the feeling you’ve done this before?”

“I’ve got six brothers,” she said. “Most of ’em are younger than me, but none of ’em know how to pack. It’s just not a guy-thing, y’know?”

He nodded. She was right. She was also leaving.

He zippered the case and hauled it out of the room as Mary walked out the front door. With none of his visitors in sight, Trey slipped into the little pantry in his kitchen and reached into the flour container where he kept his emergency fund–a roll of twenties he’d received in exchange for a motorcycle he couldn’t afford to keep running. The money was gone.

Trey looked up at a chuckle from just outside the pantry.

Bud held up his cash, still wrapped in a plastic bag. “Lookin’ for this?”

“How’d–”

“You’d be surprised how many people hide their money like that,” he said, tossing it to him. “You oughta find a safer spot.”

“Like the freezer?”

“Nah. I’d have found it there, too.”

Trey felt violated. “Where, then?”

“I like banks,” he said. “You ready to go?”

“Do I have a choice?”

“Not really.”

They left.

~*~

Willard Calcraft had more attaboys and fewer friends than anyone else in the Internal Revenue’s regional office in Atlanta. Nicknamed “The Executioner” by some wag who discovered a similarly named 19th century English hangman, Will hadn’t actually killed anyone, though it was generally believed his unrelenting zeal for collecting back taxes had caused several clients to come after him.

His wife, Marjorie, had other reasons for wanting him dead. Foremost among them was a tax evader named Anastasia Jones whose profession required the strategic removal of her costume while dancing. Will had racked up some serious overtime on that case.

He had no idea Marjorie was contemplating his demise, but then few of her ideas had ever successfully garnered his attention. His inability to recognize problems of the domestic variety left him free to concentrate on his professional duties, such as the file in his hand.

A single sheet of paper occupied the folder. The name on the neatly typed file tab read: Bowman, Augustus A. The document contained the first clues in the kind of trail Willard Calcraft had followed often. He smiled in anticipation.

There was a “Bowman, Augustus A.” listed as the President of the Resurrection Holding Company, the address a rural route somewhere in Alabama. There was also a “Bowman, Augustus A.” listed as the pastor of the Resurrection Free Will Unitarian Universalist Mission. It bore the exact same rural route address as the Resurrection Holding Company. He loved it when tax cheats tried to hide behind religion and considered himself duly constituted to collect that which was due unto Caesar, but not necessarily because he had a thing for Caesar. A final entry showed the results of a search for a personal income tax return for the head of the two organizations: all blanks.

Will swiveled his chair around to face a wall map of his region, Alabama, and quickly browsed through a listing of all the municipalities therein. A couple of town names came close, but Resurrection was not to be found. He obtained the zip code for the rural route, located the area in the hilly terrain of the state’s rugged northern reaches and hunted for something that may have lent its name to both a trading company and a church. After twenty minutes of close scrutiny, he abandoned the map search without learning anything new. His curiosity growing, Will typed the vaguely Indian-sounding word “Resurrection” into his favorite internet search engine and aside from religious entries, came up empty once again.

Rather than antagonize his contacts so late in the day, Will decided to leave the mystery of Resurrection until the next morning. That would give him plenty of time to pay Anastasia a visit before he drove home. He cleared off his desk, made sure he had an ample supply of dollar bills in his pocket, and left.

~*~

Mary rode with Trey as they angled northwest away from Atlanta. She made herself comfortable on top of his travel bag. Trey tried not to stare at the harness strap of her seat belt which neatly bisected her breasts.

“They don’t make these damn things for little people,” she said. “Driving anything bigger than a bumper car is a real pain in the ass.”

“I’d be more sympathetic if I knew where we were going.”

“Resurrection, of course.”

“Of course,” he echoed. He remembered the name, usually spoken under his mother’s breath and always referenced in the negative. According to her, Hell was a kinder, gentler alternative. “My mother told me some interesting stories about Resurrection. She wasn’t a big fan.”

“It’s not a place for everyone,” Mary said, “but I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

Have you lived anyplace else?”

She glanced at him with a slightly pained expression. “I’ve vacationed elsewhere. Or tried to. Vacation is over-rated. Frankly, I prefer stayin’ at home.” She pointed at Bud’s truck some distance ahead. “Don’t lose sight of them.”

He increased his speed. “What’s so special about Resurrection?”

“It’s hard to explain.”

“I’ve got nothin’ but time.”

“It’s something you have to experience. The town isn’t much to look at. It’s more like your favorite jeans rather than your church clothes.”

“I’m not much of a church-goer,” Trey said. “None of my family was.”

“That’s not true. Augie lives next to the church. He’s a minister.”

Trey felt his eyebrows scrunch together. “Augie Bowman, a preacher? Maybe I’m not your guy after all. My grandfather was–”

Is. He’s not dead, yet.”

“–is a con artist. According to my mother. As I recall, she also called him a snake oil salesman and a carnival barker. There were some others, too, but those are the ones that stand out.”

Mary squinted at him. “Your Mom told you that?”

“Yeah.”

“Sure doesn’t sound like Augie. She must not have known him very well. Either that, or he’s changed. Drastically. The Boss is… The Boss! He’s probably one of the smartest men in the world.” Mary tried to cross her arms, but the combination of breasts and harness made it tricky. “I don’t mean ‘smart’ like brain surgeon smart. He’s smart in practical ways. He makes things work. He’s not only a minister–”

“What church would have him?”

“Unitarian.”

“Figures.”

“He’s also the banker.”

The banker?” Trey asked. “You make it sound like there’s only one.”

“That’s all we need.”

“A con artist owns the town’s only bank?” He chuckled. These people were deranged. His mother couldn’t have been that wrong about his grandfather, even if she did tend to be a tad over-reactive. “What a set up. He doesn’t even have to drive his little lambs to the shed. They line up to be fleeced all by themselves.”

“Are you this cynical about everything?”

He shook his head. “Only about cons, and I’ve gotta tell ya, that’s exactly what this feels like.”

She looked puzzled. “We’re not tryin’ to trick you.”

“Right,” he said, reaching into the glove box to extract a map. He tossed it in her lap. “Why don’t you show me where Resurrection is on that?”

She leaned forward and put the map back. “’Cause I can’t.”

“You can’t read a map?”

“I can’t show you where Resurrection is, ’cause it’s not on that map. It’s not on any map.”

“Because it doesn’t exist. It’s a scam.” He slowed the car and looked for a place to turn around.

“What are you doing?”

“Goin’ back,” he said. “I’ve got more important things to do than waste my time with lunatics.”

“Okay. But what about me? I don’t want to go to Atlanta. I wanna go home.”

“Fine,” he said, flashing his lights as he pulled off the road. The tires crunched in the red clay and gravel of the narrow shoulder. Well ahead of him, the pickup truck slowed, then did a U-turn and sped back toward them. “You can ride back with Dago and Crazy Horse,” he said.

“Warren Lightfoot. Bud.”

“Whatever.”

She frowned at him. “You’re a real asshole, you know that? I thought you might be a decent guy, like your grandfather, but I was wrong.”

“I am a decent guy,” he said. “I just don’t like being jerked around, and that’s all you’ve been doing.”

The pickup pulled off the road opposite Trey’s car. Bud rolled the window down. “What’s the problem?”

Mary leaned across Trey and called back, “He wants to go home. He thinks we’re tryin’ to pull something over on him.”

Bud jammed the shift lever into park and killed his engine. His door squealed as he opened it and again when he pushed it shut. He jogged across the road and leaned down to look through Trey’s window. “So, you don’t want to see your grandfather. He’s on his deathbed. It’s his last wish, on Earth. But you’re too busy to see the old guy off?”

“I think you’re trying to pull some kind of scam.”

“Like what?”

“I dunno. I’m not the con artist; my grandfather is. And, I suspect, y’all are, too.”

Bud pursed his lips and went silent for a long moment. “Why would we bother to scam someone who’s broke?”

“Who said I was broke?”

“The Boss.”

“I’m not broke!”

“Really? That’s odd, ’cause according to Augie, you’ve been unemployed for almost a year. Your last three checks bounced like Texas Leaguers, and your credit report shows more red ink than black. A lot more. Your bank’s going to take your house at the end of the month.”

Trey squeaked, “You ran a credit check on me?”

“I didn’t. The Boss did. He said he had to wait until you were ready.”

“Ready for what?”

“A change,” said Mary. “Or would you rather go back to the same old, same old? At least until someone comes along to take it away.”

“Now wait just a damn minute–”

“Not us,” Mary said, “the bank.”

“But–”

“Don’t get us wrong,” Bud said. “We aren’t above trying to pull a fast one on some fat-cat outsider. You’re more like family.”

“How comforting.”

“Don’t get drippy on us,” Bud said. “Can we go now? I wanna get home before dark.”

“Yeah, sure, but I’m not promising I’ll stay.”

Bud didn’t respond. He walked back to his truck, fired it up and gunned the engine through the turn which took him back the way he’d come. Trey pulled out after him.

“No one has to stay in Resurrection,” Mary said. “It’s not a prison. The people who live there like it there. Give it a chance; you might like it, too. If not, we’ll show you the way out.”

“I doubt you’ll have to show me,” he said.

Mary only smiled.

~*~

Marjorie Calcraft propped her chin on her knuckles and blew a strand of limp, blonde hair straight up off her forehead. Her closest friend, Alyson Spencer, topped off her cosmo, then carefully emptied the shaker into her own glass. “Drink up. The kids’ll be home from practice soon.”

Marjorie nodded despondently. “It’s Tuesday, right? Excitement night.”

“You goin’ out for dinner?”

“We never go out anymore. Will says it’s not cost effective.”

“He actually says that?”

Marjorie shrugged. “No, but that’s the way he acts. I’m tellin’ ya, Aly, I can’t take much more.”

“Then divorce him. You’re still a good-looking woman. You could find someone else, someone who’d appreciate you for who you are.”

“Oh, right. I’m sure there are loads of handsome, single, well-to-do guys looking for fortyish blondes in size 12 slacks.”

“You’re a 12?” Alyson asked, the skepticism in her voice barely contained.

Marjorie’s lips twisted to the side. “Sometimes. Depends on the label.”

“You could settle for less than perfect. Single and well-to-do sounds pretty good. It’d help if they like kids.”

“You’re the one with kids, not me,” Marjorie said. “You make it sound so… mercenary.” She swirled the pink beverage in her glass and just barely managed to keep it from sloshing over the edge. She preferred wine glasses, the big, trendy bubble style. The way Alyson made cosmos–half vodka, half cranberry juice, a splash of Cointreau–it only took one to relax her. Two usually put her in a mild state of euphoria. Two, in the bubble glasses, would put her in a coma. That evening, however, she felt nothing but depression. “I think maybe I’ll just shoot him.”

Alyson grinned. Marjorie knew she liked nothing better than a good conspiracy, especially if nothing ever came of it.

“Could be messy,” Alyson said. “Noisy, too. You got a gun?”

“Will does. Somewhere.”

“Know how to use it?”

“What’s to know? They do it all the time on TV.” Marjorie took another sip of her drink. “I could do it. I could lock him outta the house, and when he tried to break in, I could blow his cheatin’ little weenie off.”

Alyson took a sharp breath. “You think he’s cheating? Really? With who? Anyone I know? Wait! I’ll bet I know.” She gave her head a sympathetic shake. “It’s that busty brunette in the house with the pool. What’s her name? Sheila something. I’ve heard she sunbathes in the nude. Can you believe it?”

“It’s not Sheila Sonderberg,” Marjorie said. “She’s at least ten years older than I am. She gives kids piano lessons, fergodsake.”

“Well, then, who is it? Anyone I know?”

“Not unless you frequent strip clubs.”

Alyson’s previous sharp intake of breath failed to compete with her latest. “Are you sure? How do you know?”

“I followed him one night. He’s been acting strange lately. Even more than usual, if you can believe it. He gave me some ridiculous story about having to go to the office, but I knew better.”

“And he went to a strip club?

Marjorie nodded, tears welling in both eyes. “It took me fifteen minutes to get there, and I waited for almost an hour. He walked right past me when he came out. Didn’t even recognize my car! Never looked in my direction.”

“Maybe it was work-related.”

Marjorie gave her a look she usually reserved for only the most deserving dumb asses.

~*~

Trey and Mary had driven for about two hours when the pickup in front of them slowed to a stop on the side of the road. Dago hopped out and walked back to Trey’s car with the setting sun at his back, framed by a pair of non-descript Appalachian foothills.

“I’ll drive from here,” he said.

“No thanks,” said Trey. “I’m not tired.”

“He’s not worried about your safety,” Mary said. “It’s a security thing.” She looked into the back seat. “You can stretch out back there.”

Trey shook his head. “I’m not stretching out anywhere but right here, behind the wheel. Listen, I promise not to tell anyone where your goofy little town is, if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“We’re not worried,” Dago said, pressing something cold and hard against Trey’s neck.

When he woke, he found himself curled up on the back seat, the sole occupant of the vehicle. He sat up and looked around, expecting some sort of unpleasant side effect from the tranquilizer Dago must have used on him. Instead, he felt surprisingly clear-headed, as if he’d had a good night’s sleep.

He felt as though he owed it to himself to be angry at his captors, but he wasn’t. Whatever had knocked him out left him feeling awfully good, though he doubted he’d been asleep very long. The sun sat low in the sky, but it was far from dusk. He vowed to settle things with Dago the next time he saw him. And Mary, too. She could have warned him he was about to take a nap.

He exited the car which was parked behind a single, large house, and stretched. The dwelling was no different than a thousand others he’d seen in small towns throughout the South. Someone was in the process of painting the place, but it wasn’t a rehabilitation effort. The house had obviously been well kept. A huge dog of indeterminate breed filled the top of the stairs leading to the back door. Trey hoped it was on a chain, though it didn’t appear interested in him. It yawned, exposing saurian teeth and a long pink tongue. Trey decided not to venture too far from his car. The thought made him spin around and look at the ignition for his keys. They weren’t in sight.

“Trey!” said a gravelly voice from the porch. “How in the hell are you, boy?”

An old man leaned against the porch rail, a smile on his pale face. A great mane of white hair and a full, matching beard gave the man a distinctly Clausian look, although his body would never pass for a jolly old elf.

Gramp?”

“C’mon up here, boy,” said the old man. “Lemme get a look at you.”

Trey ambled to the bottom of the stairs but stopped when the gigantic canine lifted its head and stared at him.

The old man waved his arm impatiently. “C’mon up. Tiny won’t hurt ya. He’s got about as much energy as me, and that ain’t sayin’ much.”

Tiny lowered his great head as Trey climbed the stairs and stepped over him. The dog never even blinked.

The old man grabbed Trey’s proffered hand and pulled him into a hug. “God, how I’ve missed you! I was sorry to hear about your Mom. I wanted to attend the funeral, but the doctor wouldn’t let me out of bed.”

Pressed to arm’s length, Trey examined his grandfather. Though thin and pale, he certainly didn’t look as though he’d just crawled from his death bed. “They told me you were, uhm, pretty sick.”

“I am. Gonna die soon, they say.” He gave Trey a toothy smile.

“You don’t sound very upset about it.”

He shrugged. “We all have to go sooner or later. No sense worryin’ about it.” He clapped Trey on the shoulder. “Don’t misunderstand. I’m not eager to leave the midway. I’ll ride this carousel for a few more turns, but when it’s time to climb on the next ride, I’ll be ready.”

“You think death is just another carnival ride?”

“Isn’t it?”

“No! Death is… death. It means everything’s over. Done. Endless nothing.”

“I like the carnival ride theory better. It’s hard to get excited about ‘endless nothing.'”

Trey felt suddenly foolish. He slapped his forehead. “I– I get carried away sometimes and forget when to keep my big mouth shut. I’m sorry.”

The old man smiled. “Don’t be. You’re entitled to your opinion.” He motioned toward an open door. “It’s cooler inside. You hungry?”

“Actually, I was thinking of maybe drivin’ back tonight.”

“Then you’ll need these,” the elder Bowman said, handing him his car keys. “But surely you can stay for dinner.”

“You’re not going to drug me again, are you?” He still wanted to give Dago a piece of his mind, but the aroma of fried chicken and fresh bread all but overpowered him.

The old man laughed. “I can’t promise you won’t get sleepy after you eat a big meal, but if you’re determined to leave, no one’s going to stop you. I’ll see to it someone helps you get to the main road.”

Trey followed his grandfather through the house toward the kitchen. All along the way the smells of cooking food grew stronger, and Trey’s appetite grew as well. A young woman met them at the kitchen door, then led the old man to a chair at a built-in table. “Have a seat, Boss. Everything’s ready.”

“Kate, this is my grandson, Trey. The one I’ve been telling you about.”

She smiled and extended a hand. Trey accepted it while examining her face. “You look so familiar.”

Kate chuckled. “I understand you spent the afternoon with my big sister. Folks say we look alike.”

Mary’s your ‘big’ sister?”

“Yeah. ‘Cept her name’s not Mary.”

A wave of confusion crested over Trey. It must’ve shown on his face.

“Her real name’s Ethyl. She likes to use a variety of names. Can’t say I blame her.”

“Ethyl?”

“Yeah, like at the gas station, ethyl or regular.”

Trey still didn’t understand. He looked to his grandfather for help. He responded while piling chicken on a plate and passing it to Trey by way of Kate. “Ethyl teaches history,” he explained. “She was having trouble getting through to some of her students and decided to try something a little unconventional to get their attention.”

“This was a couple years ago, and she was getting desperate,” Kate said. “There aren’t that many folks willing to pay for history lessons to begin with. She couldn’t afford to lose any students.”

Trey tried to concentrate on what they were saying, but the smell of fried chicken made it difficult. Kate put a fist-sized helping of mashed potatoes on his plate and puddled gravy in the middle. A trickle of the thick, fragrant liquid dripped down one crisp edge of the chicken.

“What’d she do that was so different?” Trey asked.

“They were studying ancient Egypt at the time,” Trey’s grandfather said. “She came to school dressed like Cleopatra.”

“What a shock that must’ve been,” Kate said. “She found a costume from the old show days–harem pants, a skimpy top, lots of jewelry and make-up–then she waltzed into class and introduced herself as the Queen of the Nile. Wouldn’t say anything more until the students addressed her properly. Pretty soon they were asking questions and she was giving answers. I daresay those kids learned a lot. Then, when word got out about her skimpy costume–”

“Which took about ten minutes,” the old man interjected.

“–a whole bunch of boys signed up for her class. She wouldn’t let ’em in unless they agreed to stay the whole year, and paid in advance. She chose one new character a week after that, and just played the roles. I know–I helped her with a lot of the costumes. She got so good at it, and had so much fun doing it, that she let it slide over into her non-school life. She even wears the costumes when she’s working at the café. Customers love it.”

“I thought you said she was a teacher.”

“She is. She’s also a business owner. Co-owner, actually. She and a friend run a pastry shop in town.”

Trey nodded. “Do you know who she is this week?”

“Wait, don’t tell me,” said the old man, his food untouched. He clenched his eyes shut in concentration. They all sat in silence until he shook his head in defeat.

“Think Christmas,” Trey said.

Mary! Of course,” Kate giggled. “Bet that took you by surprise. ‘Course, she’s hardly a virgin.”

Feeling his role as a southern gentleman had been compromised somehow, Trey said, “I wish y’all wouldn’t do that.”

“Do what?”

“Tell me you’re not virgins.”

“Who said anything about me?” Kate asked, as she coolly met his gaze.

Trey chomped down on a fleshy drumstick and chewed to cover his discomfort. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d tasted anything so flavorful.

~*~

Thus ends Chapter One. And there’s a LOT more to come. You can get it all here, for FREE, but you’ll have to hurry. Like I said earlier, the offer ends tonight at midnight.

–Josh

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Blogging for visibility

You’ve written a book. Maybe it’s your first. You slaved over it, making sure every word carried its weight; you nuked every unnecessary adverb and consigned every cliché to the septic tank cemetery. You shed angst like dog hair from a wolfhound as you tweaked and tightened, fiddled and formatted your opus for the grand debut. Decisions about the cover kept you awake nights and/or tainted your dreams with bizarre fonts, taglines that seemed perfect (but weren’t), and illustrations that vacillated from scandalous to soporific.

Somehow, you got through it all. The book’s done. It’s out in the world, waiting to be discovered by an adoring public. Only, the public is busy doing something else. What other conclusions can one draw? You’d understand if what you’ve done amounted to dross, whale dreck, or drivel. But it’s not. It’s good stuff. Maybe even damned good stuff.

So, how does one attract the public’s attention? Short of stalking Oprah and holding her press agent hostage in exchange for an endorsement, what’s a newbie to do? Here are some options often cited as solutions (in no particular order):

  • Send press releases to every newspaper, magazine, blog, and online presence you can think of.
  • Use the expertise you developed while writing your book as the basis for teaching a class.
  • Spend significant sums of money on Amazon ads.
  • Spend even larger sums on Facebook ads.
  • Spend still larger sums on Google ads.
  • Spend your retirement money and your children’s inheritance on a Madison Avenue marketing concern to spread the word for you.
  • Do public speaking, at churches, civic and social clubs, scout meetings, union halls, libraries, prisons — anywhere you can find an audience.
  • Spend another fortune on books, memberships, and associations which purport to have most, if not all the answers to fame, fortune, and/or a full head of hair.
  • Write a blog.

Wait. Whut? Write a blog? That’s a sensational idea, you think. “I’ll just pour out my heart online, and people will recognize my brilliance, my truth, my mot juste.*

Ah, but there’s a catch. You have to be continually brilliant. Writing a blog is an active definition of “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” If you aren’t blogging something new every single week, your chances of building a readership are slim to non-existent. If you aren’t creating compelling copy on a regular basis, your followers will number in the single digits, and remain there.

So, before you decide to jump into blogging, ask yourself a few questions. If you answer “No” to any of these, you’re likely setting yourself up to dodge angry bees for as long as it takes you to give up. To wit:

  • Are you willing to spend the time and energy, every damned week, to produce something worth reading?
  • Can you consistently write material that’s good enough to attract new readers?
  • Do you have the expertise to actually be believed? (Phonies die off quickly.)
  • Can you supplement your opinion content with humor, anecdotes, real-life examples, or something else to keep your material fresh?

Truth be told, sometimes it’s better to just spend the money.

–Josh

*Mot juste — Precision in word and sentence.

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You Think Halloween Is Scary? Ha!

I’ll tell you what’s really scary. I’ll share a secret that’s seen little exposure over countless millennia, and for good reason: it’s frightening in the extreme. You probably think you know what I’m talking about, but you don’t. You can’t know unless you’re a member of… the club–the fellowship of fiction writers. The people who think up the strange and unusual, the calculated and cunning, who dwell in a particular intellectual realm where conjuring something bizarre and making it seem somehow normal is perfectly acceptable. Ah yes, now you understand; I’m talking about what goes on inside a fiction writer’s brain. <cue scary music>

Now, before you go into pooh-pooh mode, consider what follows. My bride and I just returned from a trip to northern Arizona. While there we made many of the usual tourist stops and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. (It must be true; I have photos of us smiling.) Having known the woman who willingly shares my name for nearly a half-century, I also know it is unwise to share with her the more “creative” thoughts which often blitz through my noggin like rabid, Walmart bargain hunters on Black Friday. <shudder>

We’re looking over the edge of the Grand Canyon, centerpiece of a 1,900 square mile national park. And while most folks are oohing and ahhing over the undeniably magnificent terrain, I’m thinking of ways to send some of my more deserving characters over the edge. How do I lure them closer to their doom? How do I obscure the designs of my killers? How do I provide for their escape? Could they ride the same bus my wife and I rode in on? Why not? And why couldn’t they dispatch any number of other people while they’re at it?

I’m certainly not oblivious to the needs of the victims. Far from it. I’m wondering what goes through their minds during the one-mile drop to the bottom of the canyon. Can they ride the air currents? Perhaps glide a bit and thereby make it to a non-lethal landing in the Colorado River? What injuries will they sustain, assuming they survive the splash? Who fishes them out? Or do they float downstream only to go over another edge, a waterfall, and meet their end on the jagged rocks below?

Fun stuff! We also toured the red rock bluffs and canyons in and around Sedona. They’re beautiful, wild, rugged, and largely untraveled. Consider that last bit for a moment: largely untraveled. To me, that says there could be almost anything lurking in the deepest backwater. So, what if someone went hiking back there? Maybe they get lost. Maybe they finally find a stream and go skinny dipping. Wouldn’t that be the perfect time to discover there are some seriously strange creatures living there? Like for example–oh, I dunno–a giant lizard of some kind? I can see it now. And you can, too!

I’ll save my thoughts about the high deserts, mountains, and lava fields near Flagstaff for another time. The same goes for the gigantic meteor crater near Winslow, the volcanic mountains which burst from the ground and spewed molten earth across the land, and the ghostly remains of the cliff dwellers’ homes. They all triggered ideas about potential stories or sequels to tales already done.

Welcome to my worlds.

–Josh

Music materials provided by MusicNoteWorld
URL: http://en.music-note.jp/

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A break from the usual…

We’ve been traveling this week, and I haven’t had time to work on a normal blog post. Instead, I offer this short story begun a long while back when I was still trying to write science fiction. It’s not too terribly long and might just cause you to think differently about your next trip to the beach. Herewith:

Interstellar Oops

Copyright 2018 Josh Langston, all rights reserved

Brandi loved the beach. That’s why they went. The undead of winter: skin-shearing wind, rain like small caliber bullets–it didn’t matter. The sound of the surf in all its ferocious brown froth and sharp-edged waves didn’t deter them from a walk on the flat, depopulated expanse of sand and sodden vegetation. She felt the lure of the shells, or what was left of them. Miles and miles of mangled exoskeleton. It was a charm Charlie didn’t share. But it was the space she occupied, and therefore was where he had to be.

“What the hell is that?” he asked, that being a ham-sized piece of greenish white flotsam sticking out of the sand like something clawing its way up from a grave.

“I can’t imagine,” Brandi said, delighted by the find. She knelt to free the object from the sand, carefully digging around it like a crime scene investigator or an anthropologist, just like on TV.

When it didn’t come free, she dropped to her knees and dug into the sand with mittened hands, bulldozing the wet, gray grit away from her treasure. “You could help, y’know.”

“I could, but then I wouldn’t be able to watch your backside wiggle.” Charlie was a great admirer of feminine backsides, and Brandi’s was unquestionably top-tier. It didn’t get any better than that. And, oh how it wiggled.

“Dig, you horny swine,” she said. “Or else.”

He dug.

They quickly freed the still unidentified object, which Brandi rinsed in the frigid surf. “I don’t think it’s a shell.”

The slantwise rain had Charlie squinting and shivering. “Let’s take it inside. The light’s better.”

“What a wuss,” she said as she carefully stowed her prize in a Piggly Wiggly bag. “Okay. Let’s go. I need food.”

He gave silent thanks and linked arms with her for the march back to the beach house, his mind consumed with alternating thoughts of warmth and bourbon. And Brandi. Wiggling. The plastic grocery bag clutched in her free hand had already fled his mind.

Lunch was soup. Bean and bacon, accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches – his specialty. He used mayo, a squirt of chipotle sauce and a slab of cheese somewhat thinner than the average yoga mat, all compressed on thick raisin bread. His motto: screw the soup.

The lunch dishes done, Charlie endeavored to lure Brandi into the bedroom where they might investigate the many wiggle-related elements of her anatomy. Sadly, her focus remained on the bony remnant from the beach.

“I’ll bet there’s more of it out there,” she said.

He offered discouragement, but gently. “If so, it’s probably spread across acres and acres of sand. Could be buried deep, too. We’d need shovels. Cranes, maybe. Earth movers. Toddy?”

“Shovels! Great idea. I think I saw a tool shed when we parked the car.” And just like that she was on a mission and out of reach. Fully clothed and motivated. “C’mon! We need to get back out there before someone else finds ’em.”

Evidently, she had failed to notice how empty the search area was, then and now. “I’m not too worried,” he said.

“You’re gonna make me do this alone?” she asked, the question punctuated by the sound of her zipper racing chinward.

He held up an empty grocery bag. “Perish the thought. Lemme just grab another layer or two of arctic weather gear and–”

“I’ll get the shovel and meet you on the boardwalk!”

Brandi disappeared, though her scent and the exclamation marks with which she spoke lingered. Charlie sniffed appreciatively then zippered up and headed for the wooden walkway that linked their rental unit with the northern reaches of the Gulf of Mexico.

She had already begun a new excavation. Midway between the boardwalk and the water, Brandi attacked the sand as if looking for survivors of a mine disaster. Bits of wind-born grit stung Charlie’s eyes before he altered his approach. “Find anything?”

“Yes! It’s another one of those whatsits like we found this morning.”

“Oh, joy.”

“What if they came from the same creature?”

“I don’t find that comforting,” he said. “Especially since we have no idea what the first thing is. If it’s a left-something, and you just found the matching right-something, then we could be faced with a really large something.”

She stopped digging long enough to fix him with one of those are-you-nucking-futs looks that women develop around the onset of puberty.

“How can I help?”

“I’ve got this chunk,” she said. “Why don’t you look for more.” It wasn’t a question.

“All righty.” He paused, searching for a diplomatic way to phrase the next question. “Uhm. How will I know if it’s a piece of the same critter?”

She rested her forearms on the end of the shovel, panting slightly. “Ignore shells. Look for anything that might be a bone.”

“Like a leg?”

“Or a tail, maybe. Or a skull…”

“A skull? Y’mean like a fish head?”

“I mean like a skull. Like the other end of whatever this is.” She stabbed the shovel into the sand and levered a greenish white artifact to the surface. Definitely a mate for artifact number one. She rinsed it in the surf and placed it carefully on the end of the boardwalk.

“There!” she said, pointing a few feet away. “There’s another piece.” She turned away from him and spied still more. “Look! There, too! And there–dig. Dig!

He couldn’t match her zeal, but he refused to quit before she did, no matter what. The pile of parts grew. They called them bones for lack of a better word, but they didn’t resemble any bones he knew of, though his familiarity with skeletal parts faded rapidly once he ventured beyond fish and fowl. Charlie could recognize a Buffalo Wing as well as the next guy, but when it came to these things, his imagination was sorely taxed. Brandi’s, however, was merely piqued.

The sun, rapidly becoming a smudge on the winter horizon, provided too little light to continue. To his great relief, Brandi signaled a halt. “Thank God,” he groaned. “I need a drink. And food. And then maybe some sex. And then sleep. And then–”

“Help me,” she said, oblivious to his needs. “We need to get these inside so I can figure out how they go together.”

“Together?”

“Yeah.” She gave him a look of impatience. “Of course. What’d you think I had in mind?”

“I dunno. You’ve got a shell collection. I just figured–”

“These aren’t shells,” she said. “They’re bones. I’m sure of it.”

“What kinda bones?”

“How should I know?” She stepped carefully through the dunes and climbed up on the boardwalk. “I’m going in to get something to carry these on. I’ll be right back.”

~*~

Haulsmuch, the maintenance overseer, couldn’t remember a time he had ever been so angry. A mere two duty cycles before they were scheduled to rotate home, some germ-brained worker announced the discovery of an eater–an adult eater no less–in one of the on-board hothouses. An eater–on his ship! Worse still, nothing had been done to hide the discovery from the science overseer or the flight crew.

The nasty thing was killed immediately, of course, but common sense was utterly abandoned at that point. No attempt was made to hide the news. The flight crew refused to leave the backwater planet they had been parked on forever, and the science types refused to do any more work until the infected hothouse and all its contents had been ejected. They’d all be living on half rations while new crops were grown. Worst of all, the ship would be quarantined for as long as it took to prove the infection had been eradicated. Knowing what sticklers the science and flight crews were, that could take a lifetime. One of his, obviously, not one of theirs.

On the floor in front of him, the offending worker had withdrawn into its carapace. Not a single appendage remained visible, though a steady nervous vibration emanated from it. “Proud of yourself, Crapmuncher?” The maintenance overseer asked.

Not surprisingly, the worker was too terrified to respond.

“Next time something like this happens, come get me. Don’t try to think through your options; you don’t have any. Call me. Understood?”

The worker quivered in the affirmative, or close enough that Haulsmuch was satisfied. “If this happens again, I’ll feed you to the eater before we kill it.”

The carapace contracted still further, and the maintenance overseer sighed in resignation. “Get the others. Harvest everything. Call me when you’re done.”

~*~

Charlie slept well that night, even without Brandi sharing his bed. The dark hours passed quickly. He rose as the sky transitioned from black to gray and found Brandi slumped forward on the table with her head resting on her crossed arms. Spread out in front of her were the bones from the beach.

Circling the table slowly, Charlie hoped to identify the skeletal creature without waking Brandi, but a varied viewing angle made no difference. The thing remained a mystery.

He appreciated Brandi’s efforts, however. The bones–if bones they were–seemed to be lined up in an appropriate manner. Though not connected by tissue, the joints made sense in a sort of spidery fashion, there being an abundance of arachnoid knees and elbows. The head bore an impressive set of long and lethally edged teeth. Charlie touched a cutting surface in the upper jaw, convinced that little pressure would be needed to sever the digit.

Brandi stirred. Charlie leaned down and kissed the back of her neck. “You been at this all night?”

“Mmm,” she said.

“Want some breakfast?”

“Mmm.”

“Eggs?”

“Mmm.”

“Sex?”

She opened one eye.

“Coffee it is.” He set about making some. “That’s one hell of an impressive thing you’ve got there, whatever it is.”

“It’s rotting.”

“Really? Does it smell?” He sniffed. “I don’t smell anything. Do you?”

“No,” she said, “but look at the joints. Any places where I tried to fit two pieces together. It’s all crumbly.”

He had noticed a powdery substance near many of the joints, but chalked it up to sand.

“Touch one of the pieces,” she said. “Any one. Doesn’t matter.”

He did, and a fine rain of powdery white particles drifted down. It clearly wasn’t sand. “Maybe we should take a sample somewhere and have it identified.”

“Mmm,” Brandi said. “Wake me when the coffee’s ready.”

~*~

Seesfar and Ponderslife stood over the lifeless maintenance overseer. Like the hothouse where they found the remains, there wasn’t much left to examine–some bits of shell, an over-articulated appendage, fluid stains and a disturbingly long piece of something from Haulsmuch’s digestive system. A pair of workers huddled in a twittering ball nearby. Neither appeared injured.

“You there, quit sniveling and stand up.”

One of the workers managed to comply, but it was a less than noble effort.

“Did you see what happened?” Seesfar demanded.

“Eater,” it said, as if the admission would cause it the same untidy end as that suffered by the overseer.

“Obviously,” Seesfar said. “Has it been caught, or is it still running loose?”

The worker collapsed. “Loose,” it said.

“Lovely.”

Ponderslife clicked a mandible in thought. “For the longest time I believed eaters were merely a distraction, legendary creatures meant to entertain the hive on long missions.”

“But you’ve seen one? Alive?”

“No, but I’d love to. Science is–”

“Yes, yes, science is god, and god must be fed; knowledge is food, blah blah blah.”

“Careful, Seesfar. There are those on board who take their religion seriously.”

“When the initial reports came through, I thought we were safe. If all they found was a single adult, then we had no need to fear their offspring. Aren’t they the true terrors?”

“They’re all terrors,” Ponderslife said. “They eat and they excrete. That’s it. They have no brain function–high, low or in between. They’re sole purpose in life is to transform useful material into shit.”

“From plant to fertilizer.”

“From anything organic to fertilizer. Even their mode of procreation is mindless.”

“How sad.”

“How frightening.”

~*~

“They’re dissolving,” Brandi said, her voice flat and as devoid of excitement as it had been overloaded when the bones first appeared. “Look. All of it. It’s turning to dust.”

Charlie ran his finger through the powder on the table. “Looks like cocaine.”

“How would you know what cocaine looks like?”

“From TV. It looks like this, right?” He corralled the powder with a cupped hand. “We need to roll up a hundred dollar bill and sniff it.”

“Great idea! Call me when the hospital discharges you.”

“I’m kidding, okay? Chill. Geez. What else can we do with it?”

“Let’s sweep it in the trash, pack our stuff, and go home.”

Charlie tried not to smile. “The weather is supposed to clear; we can afford to stay another day. The beach is still empty.”

Brandi looked through a rain-streaked window. “Mmm. This looks like a great day to stay indoors. Maybe take a nap.” She stretched in a languorous and thoroughly unnappy way.

Charlie brightened. “Lemme clean this up. I’ll join you in a jiffy.”

As  Brandi ambled into the bedroom, Charlie swept the powder from the table into a wastebasket. He used a wet paper towel to clear the residue from the wooden surface and then followed in Brandi’s footsteps, tugging at his belt as he went. He never noticed the first faint stirring of activity in the trash.

~*~

  The order to go on quarter rations came as a surprise only to the workers, who reacted with a predictable level of panic to any change in routine. In fact, workers would be lucky to get any food at all. Those who starved could be replaced eventually; they had an abundance of frozen worker larvae. A few were bright enough to recognize the unfairness of it all, but knew better than to complain. There was always the chance that the emergency might end before the food stores did.

Dealing with an eater infestation was new to most of the crew, regardless of status. All surfaces, not just decks or hothouse access ways had to be kept free of moisture. Dead eaters had to be burnt, and their ashes dumped in an acid bath, lest their desiccated tissues escape. Contact with water invariably lead to the rise of eater spawn, tiny organisms with a microscopic share of their parent’s size, but a full helping of their life mission.

The ship would remain sealed throughout the quarantine. Until then it would sit, submerged, in the body of water the natives called the “Gulf of Mexico.”

Ponderslife frowned as he inspected the garbage chute into which Haulsmuch had stuffed the second eater, and where he’d fallen prey to the third. Someday, when the science crews were allowed to communicate with the various sentient species they studied, someone would have to apologize.

~End~

 

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Must Your Novel Have Multiple Storylines?

Nope. But it might be a better novel if it did.

That’s not to say single viewpoint stories can’t be successful. NYT bestselling author Harlan Coben has proven that repeatedly. While his stories almost always stick to a single viewpoint character, he’s been able to devise enough plot twists and mysterious connections to keep readers happy for at least thirty novels. Quite an achievement!

As I’ve often confessed to the students in my writing classes, I get restless sticking with one character for too long. I get tired of their single pallet of emotions, the sameness of their mindset, and the rarely changing role they play. Let’s face it, I LOVE writing bad guys! Who wouldn’t? They get to do all the nasty stuff normal people would never think of doing, and they can often laugh in the process.

But would I want to write an entire novel from the morally fractured outlook of such a character? No. I need good guys, too. And by “guys” I mean males and females. I love creating strong female characters to deal with strong male characters. I like players who bring different things to the table: background, ethnicity, attitude, and most especially problems. (I especially adore bad guys with problems.)

Problems usually result in conflict, and as anyone who enjoys good fiction knows, conflict is what makes stories interesting. You can have a great setting, a magnificent cast, even a brilliant musical score, but if there’s no conflict, there’s no story.

And that’s at the heart of the multiple storyline tale: a handful of memorable characters, each with a mission of some kind–to find, save, destroy, reveal, protect, enhance, or consume something–all run into the hero or heroine at some point and for some valid reason. It’s not just a three-ring circus, it could be a five-, six-, or seven-ring affair. Your only limit is your imagination. That said, I wouldn’t start with an epic. Do some short fiction first and thereby learn the ropes.

Keeping track of all these stories can be tricky, but I devised a fairly simple way of doing it, and I invite you to read about it here.

One of the nice things about having multiple storylines is that they don’t all have to reach a climax at the same time. Life certainly doesn’t work that way. For many of us, it’s a series of minor crises that come along one after another. Using a similar approach in your fiction gives your protagonists an opportunity to win once in a while. Or lose. Losing can be good, too. It keeps characters from becoming too cocky. Just ask Don Quixote.

You will, of course, need to pull at least two of these storylines together as your grand climax, and picking one from the beginning will make it easier to pace the overall story so the final clash will be rewarding for the reader, no matter who or what survives.

–Josh

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Big Splash; Small Pond

Some people take risks; some don’t. For the risk-takers, there’s a chance for both good and bad, and sometimes the consequences are dire. For clarity’s sake, please know I’m not just thinking about redneck stories, all of which seem to feature the line, “Here, hold my beer.” But as stupid as they are, some risks like these actually do offer something in the way of a payoff. Maybe it’s notoriety, as in: “Hey, y’all! Guess who made the biggest bellyflop splash at the Redneck Olympics? Yep. ‘At’s right. Now, who’s got my beer?”

Hopefully, most of my readers will have loftier aspirations. Selling books, for instance. You can’t sell ’em if you haven’t finished writing them, so this message is clearly intended for those who have. If you want to sell your work to anyone outside your family and close circle of friends, you’re going to have to do some promotion. Promotion costs money, and that means taking some risks.

Most recently I concluded two promotional efforts for which I paid about $600. The former involved 37 websites, of which just over half required a payment of some kind. Some of these mentioned my temporarily free book in an email, a blog post, a newsletter, or in or on some form of social media. The second promo involved one website and a modest payment. The deal called for them to send out 72 tweets over three days to half a million followers.

Aside from the number of promotional sites involved, there was another huge difference. The first campaign offered a free book (the first in a series); the second offered a much bigger book, but at a discount, and the price increased a little every day until it returned to normal. Both deals were co-ordinated through Amazon/Kindle. The former was a Kindle Free Book Promotion. The latter was a Kindle Countdown Deal.

The first campaign was quite successful, and it’s still paying dividends. I will more than make my investment back, and it looks as though that payback will continue for quite a while as additional books in the series are selling well. Thankfully, folks seem to like the first one. I’ve even picked up some great new reviews. The second campaign ended yesterday and didn’t yield a single new sale.

Obviously, I need to keep running promotions. But I intend to be more narrowly focused so I can get a better feel for which websites provide the best return. And it could be that the free and lower cost sites do just as good a job as their more expensive brethren.

I’ll test that next and keep you posted.

The upshot for all this is that there will always be winners and losers, but you can’t count yourself as either one if you don’t play the game. If you’ve invested the time to write a book, doesn’t it make sense to invest something to get it into the hands of readers?

–Josh

 

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