From Short Story to Novel–Part Two

The story of Scott and Daphne, plus assorted lizards, faires, and other odd creatures continues. If you missed part one, you probably ought to go back and read it now. Here’s your handy-dandy link: Click Here!

In case you forgot why I’m posting this tale here: it’s part of a continuing dialog about turning short stories into short novels, which seem to have become popular among ebook readers. Thank you, MTV. Herewith, the conclusion of “Channel Zero.” [See note following.]

Our Story Continues…

Scott held a chair for his boss, Hiram Spinaldi. The older man lowered his bulk into it with a prolonged huff, like air being forced from a beach ball. Scott nodded to Daphne to turn on the big monitor at the back of the room. “I know this may be a little hard to believe,” he said, “but it explains everything. We just aren’t sure how to deal with it. I’d like your input.”

Spinaldi said nothing, but dug his chins into his chest and crossed his arms. The corners of his mouth were turned down so far they almost touched his wrists. “This had better be good, Pettigrew. There’s been an increase in the number of inquiries about your job lately.”

Scott swallowed and checked his watch for the hundredth time. Daphne stepped away from the set, and they all waited.

The screen remained dark.


“Give him another minute or so,” Scott said.


“The, uhm, one responsible for our signals being so… confused.”

Spinaldi pursed his lips as he stared over the tops of his glasses first at Scott, then at Daphne. He began to check his watch nearly as often as Scott.

With the blue lizard twenty minutes overdue, and Scott out of excuses, Spinaldi heaved himself to his feet and walked to the door. He turned to face his subordinates. “You’re fired, Pettigrew. I have no more time to waste on incompetents.”

“Mr. Spinaldi, wait!” Daphne said.

The old man squinted at her. “Why?”

“It’s not his fault! If you’d just–”

“You want to join him? Fine. You’re both fired! You have thirty minutes to clear your personal belongings out of the building. And if I ever see another unscheduled fairy on one of my channels, I’ll have you arrested!” He slammed the door behind him.

“He’s as bad as Dashgarnefel,” said the lizard from the back of the room.

Scott wanted to kill something. “Where’ve you been?”

The lizard blinked. “Right here, of course.”

“No way!” Daphne said. “We’ve been watching the screen the whole time.”

“You didn’t expect me to transmit with that nasty thing in the room, did you?” The lizard shivered.


“Way too much negative energy.”

“I’ll give you negative energy!” Scott grumbled, his fists shaking.

Daphne put her hand on his arm. “Punching TV screens is a bad idea; trust me.”

The lizard nodded. “Besides, what makes you think he’d listen to me?”

“Couldn’t you spritz him with a little magic?” Daphne asked. “Something to make him human? I’d really like to get my job back.” She put the Dr. Pepper can to her lips and discovered it was empty.

“Thirsty?” The lizard held up a long-stemmed glass, the contents of which changed colors as rapidly as his robe. He traced a symbol in the air over his head and blew it toward them. Seconds later the goblet appeared on a desk between the stunned humans.

“That’s amazing!” Scott said.

The lizard curled its talons and blew on them.

Daphne looked puzzled. “If you can do stuff like that, why can’t you solve your own problem?”

The lizard sighed. “My range is limited. Do you think I’d be talking to you if I could change things on my own?”

Scott looked at the goblet, then at the lizard. “Your magic is limited? How much?”

“I’ve got enough to pump my programs to any of your channels, and out to all your subscribers.”

“Then why can’t you contact the FCC as well?”

The lizard removed its pointed cap and scratched its head. “That’s a problem. This is a visual medium, right? But there aren’t any TV sets where the FCC meets. With a monitor handy, I can work wonders, provided it’s hooked to your system. So far, you two are the only humans I’ve talked to.”

Daphne shook her head. “Just us?”

The lizard donned its cap. “Yep.”

“So what do we do now?” Scott asked.

“Like I said before, get me my own frequency.”

“That’s impossible!”

“So be it. Be sure and tune in for the trolls company picnic tomorrow. It’s an all-day affair.”

Before Scott could respond, the lizard winked out. He turned to Daphne instead. “Would you like a drink? I could sure use one.”

Scott and Daphne reached Feeney’s Fireside Lounge about a half hour before Scott’s wife and her handsome young attorney made their appearance. In the couple’s wake trailed a dozen people Scott didn’t know.

He watched his soon-to-be-ex use one of his credit cards to pay for the first round of drinks. The attorney raised his glass in a toast, but Scott couldn’t hear it. When his credit card was produced for the second round, Scott got to his feet.

“Another bad idea,” Daphne said.

“You’re probably right. If I live through this, promise to drag me someplace where I can heal, okay?”

Daphne shrugged and Scott wandered over to the congenial group surrounding his wife. “Why, Bertha,” he crowed, swaying a bit from two hastily consumed highballs. He grabbed the back of her chair for balance. “Fancy meeting you here!”

“It’s Berta,” she said pointedly. “Why don’t you crawl back under your rock?” She nodded at her well‑muscled companion. “Or do you need help?”

“No need for alarm, Bertie, I just thought I’d say hi.” He bobbed toward her chest, then away. “These new glasses are hell,” he said. “I thought for a minute there your boobs were the same size! How silly of me. Did you ever find the guy who did the work?”

Berta’s attorney was on his feet but had to circle the table and maneuver through a crowd before he reached Scott who was gesturing with both hands. “You can get damn near anything at K‑mart these days! Nobody pays retail for boo–”

When the lights slowly came back on, Daphne’s fuzzy but concerned face peered at him from a few inches away. “Am I dead?” Scott asked.

“Not yet.” Daphne draped a cold washcloth on his forehead.

Scott pushed the wet rag from his eyes and squinted at the unfamiliar room. “Where–”

“My place,” Daphne said. “You can sleep on the couch if you want.”

Scott’s jaw felt as if someone had unhinged it. “How badly did I hurt him?”

It took a while, but Daphne finally stopped laughing. “He was on the boxing team at some Ivy League school. You were gone before the end of the first inning.”


“Whatever.” She touched his face. “How long do you think it’ll stay swollen like that?”

Scott winced and struggled to his feet. “It’s okay to be ugly when you’re dead. And the way I feel, I must be close.”

“You aren’t ugly; you’re–”


“–wounded.” She handed him a key. “Your wife asked me to give you this. She had your stuff put in storage. She said she wanted to send it to the moon, but couldn’t afford the shipping, and figured you’d press charges if she had it burned.

Scott wrinkled his nose. “What’s that smell?” Then he looked down at his clothes. “Oh, my God! It’s me!”

Daphne put her hand in front of her face and tried to hide her smile. It didn’t work. “That’s my fault, I’m afraid. It happened when I was hauling you here from the car.”

“You carried me here?”

“Not exactly. I draped you over a garbage can–it’s the only thing I could find with wheels.”

He looked again at his clothes. “Are you sure you didn’t put me in it?”

She laughed. “I’m positive. But you did fall off a couple times.”

“I can remember a time when I would’ve been upset by that.” Scott smiled. “Now I’m just glad you’re so resourceful.”

Daphne blushed. “Why don’t we get your stuff on the way back to the office?”

“Did I miss something else while I was out? Last I heard we’d been fired.”

“While you were, uhm, resting, I had some time to think. We’ve got a lot in common, y’know?”

“Besides unemployment?”

“Sure. No family. No money. No prospects.”

Scott groaned. “You make it sound so hopeful.”

She punched him on the shoulder. “Anyway, I’ve got an idea, but we’ll need to talk to the lizard.”

Scott shrugged. “Why not? What’ve we got to lose?”

“My thoughts exactly,” Daphne said. “Let’s go. I’ll explain in the car.”

Scott and Daphne slipped past the guard while he yelled at the Orioles for completing a double play. They sneaked down the hallway to the control room and entered the area as if they’d been deep in conversation for some time.

Ralph Murchison, the night shift operator, looked up at them. “Yo, Daffy!” He waved his coffee and a Twinkie at her. “I thought you got canned. What’re you doin’ here?”

“Fired? Me?” She looked at Scott as if Ralph were an escaped mental patient. “You just want my shift, right? Wishful thinking.”

Ralph looked dubious but didn’t argue.

“I need your help,” Scott said. “We’re having a problem reading the schematics for some of the feeds. Daphne said you were the best at figuring the damn things out.”

Smiling despite the Twinkie cream on his chin, Ralph pushed away from his desk and waddled closer. “Sure, let’s go.” He followed Scott out of the room.

Two minutes later, Scott returned alone.

“You didn’t hurt him, did you?” Daphne asked.

“Nah. Just locked him in the janitor’s closet. I hope they don’t start cleaning up too early tonight.”

Daphne glanced at the digital wall clock. “Me, too. C’mon.”

They hurried to the back of the room and stared–first at the space where the big monitor used to be, then at each other. “Forget it,” Daphne said. “It’s not like he would’ve been there waiting for us.”

“I’d kind of hoped–”

“Forget it. I figure our best chance is to find out which channels are getting through to his world. Then maybe we can send him some kind of signal.”

Scott shook his head. “Maybe we ought to just leave now and head for the border. We could be miles away before anyone knows we’re even gone.”

“You don’t have to stay,” Daphne said. “I’ll do what I can by myself.”

He grinned. “I’m not that big a creep!”

Daphne grinned, too. “I knew that.”

“So, now what?”

“I say we start with the most offensive channel and work backward. I can type out a message that’ll appear on every screen we broadcast. If he’s watching, he’ll see it.”

“The phones’ll go nuts! Spinaldi’ll be here in a heartbeat.”

“I bet he’s already in bed,” Daphne said.

“What message were you going to use?”

“How about ‘Yo, lizard!'”

Scott frowned. “Would you respond if someone put up a message that said, ‘Yo, babe!”

Daphne straightened. “Me? You think of me as a babe?”

“Sure! Haven’t you ever looked at yourself in a mirror? Sheesh. Anyway, why don’t we say something like: ‘Hold off on the troll’s picnic; we need to talk.'”

Daphne seemed to be in a bit of a trance but quickly shook loose. “Yeah, that’ll do.” She slipped into a chair in front of the control console and reached for a keyboard. “I’ll go scroll it on all channels. There’s no telling which ones the lizard gets.”

Within moments, they heard a familiar voice. “You called?”

Scott and Daphne looked up at the bank of TV monitors. The powder blue lizard/wizard occupied all of them. Daphne stared down at the control panel. “How does he do that?”

“Later,” Scott said. “I’m going to check on our friend in the janitor’s closet. I’ll be right back.” He slipped a thumb drive from the desk into his pocket and stepped into the hallway.

The lizard squinted. “Where’s he going? I thought you wanted to talk.”

“We do,” Daphne said. “But we don’t have much time. We hoped you could help us get our jobs back. We had to break in here just to talk to you.”

Suddenly, Scott dashed back into the control room, slammed the door shut, and locked it. He turned away from the lizard and winked at Daphne. “Our guy, Murchison, is loose.” He dragged a desk in front of the door. “The cops will be here soon.”

The lizard blinked. “Murchison? Cops? I don’t care about any of that. All I want to know is whether you’ve figured out how to preserve my frequency!”

“No,” Scott said, “we haven’t, but we’ve thought of something even more important. If you keep broadcasting on our frequencies, the commercial interests here will want to tap into your market.”

The lizard frowned but remained quiet.

“And once they get a toe-hold, it won’t be long before they take over the whole thing. Your friendly little Public Access channels will be squeezed out. You’d get nothing but game shows, soaps, and reruns of ‘Bewitched’ and ‘I Dream of Jeannie.'”

The lizard looked stricken. “Dashgarnefel will have me stuffed!”

“Too bad,” Scott said, “especially since Daphne here could probably find a way to block the signals cluttering your network.”

“She could?” The lizard’s eyes grew wide.

Daphne squared her shoulders. “Sure, no problem.”

“Too bad she hates Public Access,” Scott said.

Daphne touched Scott’s shoulder. “Do you hear sirens?”

“What’s wrong with Public Access?” demanded the lizard.

“Nothing, provided you like banal programming executed with an utter lack of originality. That’s all you can expect from amateurs.” She sighed. “Without a knowledgeable director, the big networks will eat you up.”

“A director? Then what would be left for me?”

Daphne laughed. “You’d be the big shot–the Producer! Your job would be to wander around looking important, entertaining royalty–”

“Discovering new talent?” asked Scott.

Daphne shot him a look.

“But how could I lure a director away from one of the big studios?”

“A promise of wealth would do the trick,” Scott said. He cocked an ear toward the hallway. “Uh-oh. Hear that? Cops!”

“But I don’t have great wealth; we don’t care about that in our world!”

“Then you’d need to find someone who had to leave for other reasons.” Daphne looked at Scott. “Someone with the skills you need and no reason to stick around here.” She frowned. “Now I can hear footsteps, too.”

“It sounds like an army out there!” the lizard said.

Scott nodded. “A SWAT team most likely. They’re almost here. We’re sunk.” He looked at the lizard. “You, too.”

“Maybe not.” The lizard’s image faded from all the screens but one. He began to trace smoky runes in the air. “Can you step a little closer?”

Though he agreed to have his name stenciled on the back of his canvas director’s chair, Scott refused to wear either the beret or the scarf the lizard offered him. On the set of his latest dramatic effort, he winced as a buxom blonde elf muffed her lines for the twentieth time.

“Listen, Galadriel, trust me on this. Blanche Dubois would never throw pixie dust in Stanley’s face and fly away–honest!”

Daphne stepped behind him and put her hand on his shoulder.

“Take five!” he yelled.

“Tough day at the office?” she asked. “I thought this is what you wanted.”

He smiled. “It is. I hope I wanted the right thing.” He put his hand on hers. “Were you able to fix the transmission problem?”

She nodded. “Yep. We can turn off the signals in either direction any time we want, and the lizard showed me how to peek in on what’s going on back at the cable company.”

Scott sighed. “Who cares? We’re safe here. We’ve left the old lives behind.”

She stepped around to the front of the chair and sat in his lap. “Then it doesn’t interest you at all that I saw Berta in Spinaldi’s office? I think she was auditioning for something.”

Scott laughed. “I really don’t care; they deserve each other. The only thing I regret is not being able to bring along a copy of the Stormtrooper spot.”

Daphne shook her head. “You’d take a chance on letting the lizard see it?”

“Sure. I just wouldn’t want him to hear it–again.”


Posted in editing, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

From Short Story to Novel–Part One

I’ve often heard, from both accomplished writers as well as students of mine, that their novel began as a short story and then grew. Sadly, I’ve never had a bag of 10-10-10 literary fertilizer to sprinkle on my short fiction in hopes of growing something I could package and sell as a novel. But the idea remains appealing.

So, while digging around in some of my older, shorter stuff, I came across a story I wrote twenty-some years ago. After reading it, I was surprised that it still worked, despite some technological advances since its creation. The basic story relies on some fantasy tropes–elves, fairies, unicorns, etc.–which I avoid like a contagious disease in my novels.

And yet, the story still works! AND–I’ve decided to expand it to (short) novel length. That will be the subject of this blog over the next three or four installments. Later, I’ll get to the details and thought processes behind how I’ll do it. For now, here’s the first half of the original tale. It will be concluded next week. (Full disclosure: This entire post runs about four times longer than usual. As always, your comments are welcome and encouraged. Let me know what you think!) Herewith:

Channel Zero

©1996 Josh Langston All Rights Reserved

Scott punched Daphne’s intercom number twice before he got it right. His finger hovered over the buttons, quivering, ready to stab in another extension if she didn’t answer. At length, she did.

“This is–”

“Where’s the goddamn World Series?”

After a moment of silence, Daphne answered. “Budapest?”

Scott made an effort to unclench his jaws. “It’s supposed to be on ESPN.”

“Oh! Sure. Stand by, I’ll check the feed.”

Scott tried to calm himself; Daphne would have everything back to normal soon. Her ambivalence toward sports had nothing to do with her technical ability, and he had no right to blast her because his private life was on the fast track to hell. The IRS audit notice he’d received was bad enough, but when the World Series disappeared, it was almost too much. He’d apologize.

While he waited, Scott stared at the mass of blinking lights on his phone console. How come people only called him when things went wrong? He’d been to college to learn cinematography, and he was good at it, so why did Spinaldi insist that he spend his time managing this second-rate cable TV company?

“Signal’s strong,” Daphne said. “I’m getting a great picture.”

“Of the game?”

“No. It’s either a commercial or a kid’s show, but it’s a new one on me. It’s a conversation between a couple of, I dunno–elves, I guess–and one of those horse-looking things.”

“A unicorn?” Scott rubbed his eyes.

“Yeah,” Daphne said. “A real beauty! And I thought ESPN only ran sports.”

“Kill it.”

“But the picture’s perf–”

“If it ain’t baseball, it ain’t leaving the building. Go to ‘Stand By’ until you can get the game back on, okay? And Daf? I’m sorry I yelled.”

“No problem,” she said.

Scott hung up and faced the bank of TV screens at the far end of his office. A big one at the heart of the array carried the picture Daphne described. A pair of green-tinted midgets, with wings, floated to either side of a unicorn. One of them polished the horn protruding from the animal’s forehead while the other combed its mane.

Absurd! Where in hell were the Orioles and the Braves?

“Mr. Pettigrew?” The secretary stood in his doorway. “There’s an attorney here to see you.”

Scott shook his head. “Huh? From the IRS? Tell ’em I’m–”

An athletic young man in a dark suit slipped past the secretary and dropped a large gray envelope on Scott’s desk. “I know you’re busy,” he said, “so I won’t stay.”

Scott poked the envelope. “What’s this?”

The attorney looked surprised. “Your wife didn’t tell you? She’s suing for divorce.”

“Really? It took her long enough.”


Daphne slumped in her chair. “There’s nothing left to check.”

Scott stood next to her, shaking his head. “We’ve missed something. You don’t feed a ballgame signal into the wire at one end and get elves and pixies out at the other!”

“Well, we did,” Daphne said. “Right up until the fourth quarter.”


“Whatever.” She took a long pull from her diet Dr. Pepper and offered him the can. He made a face.

“Maybe we should look at the unicorn video again. If this is a high tech prank, I’ll bet there’s some kind of message in it.”

Daphne called up the offending footage. “I’ve already watched it twice. I sure didn’t see any message.” She clicked PLAY.

The screen cleared to a bucolic scene featuring the elves and the unicorn. “Turn it up,” Scott said.

“…but I don’t have any proof,” said an elf with a goatee. He patted the unicorn’s neck. “Besides, we all know humans are just myths.”

“Nonsense!” said the second elf. “Just because we haven’t seen any doesn’t mean they don’t exist.”

Scott and Daphne watched the entire tape, but the conversation rambled. “It’s obviously not a planned production,” he said. “Certainly not a professional one. The whole thing’s just silly.”

Daphne clicked off the video. She stepped closer to Scott and put her hand on his shoulder. “I’m sorry about all this, really. I heard about your divorce.”

“I should have expected it.” Scott patted her hand. “Berta used to do my tax returns. She never showed much interest in me until Spinaldi hired me for his production company. She must’ve thought I was going to be some big deal Hollywood director and spent money we didn’t have to improve her chances in front of the camera.”

“Acting classes?”

“Surgery–nose, chin, hips, chest. So much of her has been added to, reduced, or rearranged, I’m not sure how much of the original is still there.” He laughed. “If you saw her wardrobe, you’d think she was already a star.”

Daphne grinned. “And I’ll bet you never said anything about making movies, right? As if anything else ever mattered to you!”

“Well, okay. I might have mentioned it in passing.” He smiled, then sighed. “But she lost interest when all Spinaldi let me make was commercials. Now, he doesn’t even let me do those. Who wants to manage a cable company?”

“Spinaldi’s a jerk.”

“He’s also my only source of income, and he says if we don’t find and fix the problem with our transmissions, he’ll fire me.”

Daphne shook her head. “I’ll bet he’s still angry about that commercial we did for Gruber and Slantz.”

“The Stormtrooper spot–my favorite!” Scott waved his hands as he spoke, painting pictures in the air. “We open with a tight shot, black and white, of steel-toed jackboots. No music, no voices, just the relentless sound of footsteps as a squad of Gestapo-like cops tromp down a hallway to arrest the hero as he thumbs through a phone book to find an attorney. We should’ve gotten an award for it!”

“Too bad Spinaldi’s brother is the Police Chief.”

“You could have told me.”

Daphne pointed to herself. “Me? You directed it!”

“But you were the production assistant.”

She counted on her fingers as she spoke. “Also set technician, special effects editor, stunt coordinator–”

“No fair! We didn’t have any stunts. Besides, I…” His voice trailed off as he stared at the monitors in the control room. “Daf? I thought line 6 was CNN.”

“It is.” She turned to look at the screen on which a parade of short, ugly miners filed into a dark tunnel. “Good grief! What are those things–trolls?

“Oh Lord, not again.” Scott scanned the other monitors, then checked his watch. All three of the big networks should have begun their evening newscasts, but ABC seemed to be running a feature on bad weather flying for fairies. A pair of elves discussed the relative benefits of nectar versus honey on FOX, and in place of NBC’s usual anchor team, a platoon of wood sprites frolicked in the nude.

Scott felt the birth of a stomach ulcer. “Cut!” he yelled. “Cut everything to ‘Standby.’ Now!”

Daphne scrambled to hit switches. Scott searched the screens for new program failures. There didn’t seem to be any. He eased back against Daphne’s desk and waited for his pulse to return to normal.

“Good evening,” said a voice from behind him.

Scott whirled around to face another monitor. A powder blue lizard wearing a pointed sorcerer’s cap stared at him from the screen. “Sorry if I startled you,” it said.

Scott shook his head and turned back toward Daphne. “What line is that?”

She squinted at the big monitor. “I didn’t even think that set was hooked up. It’s been so long since–”

“You’ve no call to be rude!” the lizard said.

Scott stared at the screen; the creature had to be looking directly into the camera. Scott felt as if it could really see him. “Daf?”

She shook her head. “Nope. It’s not hooked to anything.”

A giant hand seemed to push Scott back down on Daphne’s desk. He continued to stare at the big screen. “I– How–”

“Relax,” the lizard said. It blinked, slowly, and then did something with its mouth.

Scott felt his jaw drop. The damn thing was smiling at him. He swallowed, but with some difficulty. “Can you, uhm, see me?”

The lizard nodded.

“Daphne? I’ll take some of that Dr. Pepper now,” Scott said. She handed him the can.

“And a good evening to you, too,” the lizard said as Daphne stepped next to Scott. “What an alluring outfit.”

Daphne looked down at her T-shirt and jeans, then up at the screen. “Are you talking to me?”


“But, how?”

“The magic of television.”

She walked back to the monitor and poked around behind it, then looked at Scott and grinned. “I’m impressed,” she said. “This is the slickest thing I’ve ever seen! You really had me going. It looks so real! How’d you do the animation, with a computer?”

Scott shook his head. “Daf, I–”

The lizard cleared its throat. “Will you ask the young lady to return to the front? I can’t see her back there.”

“This has got to be the most elaborate–”

“Daphne!” Scott growled, “this isn’t a practical joke; it’s some kind of interactive TV or–”

“‘Goyle squat!” The lizard tilted its cap slightly forward and squinted. “It’s magic, plain and simple.” He shuddered. “I hate working with mundanes.”

Scott and Daphne exchanged looks while the lizard adjusted its robe, the color of which continuously cycled through a spectrum of metallic shades.

“I have an offer to make,” the lizard said. “If you’re interested in having your broadcasts returned to normal.”

Scott perked up instantly. “You’re responsible?”

The lizard rested its chin on a palm and drummed its cheek with sharp-clawed toes. “It began with your satellite transmissions, which normally wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the moon spots. Since then–”

Daphne howled. “Moon spots? Right!”

“Never mind,” the lizard said, “I’ve obviously come to the wrong place.” He turned and headed off-screen.

“No! Please! Come back,” Scott said. “I– No. We apologize.”

“You’ll hear me out?”


After another round of robe adjustments, the lizard continued. “Ever since the moon spot problem, certain of your transmissions are showing up on my network.”

Daphne’s eyebrows shot up.

“You have a network?” Scott asked.

“Certainly. Quality stuff, too. A half-dozen channels, all Public Access.”

Daphne groaned.

“What’s her problem?” asked the lizard.

Scott shrugged. “She’s a snob.”

“Anyway, when your telecasts invaded my network, I started getting complaints. The trolls threatened to strike, the wood sprites all came down with green flu, and Dashgarnefel, the Elven King, told me if he ever saw that damned purple dinosaur again he’d have my head!”

“I had no idea our signal was causing any interference,” Scott said.

“I figured as much, that’s when I decided to get your attention. It seemed only fair that if you could force your viewing tastes on us, I should be able to do the same to you.”

“But it wasn’t us. At least, not on purpose. The government assigns the frequencies.”

The lizard tapped its claw tips together. “The frequency I’m interested in is so obscure, I thought your kind would never use it, but I forgot how you always overdo things. Why broadcast on a dozen channels when you can use thousands?”

“That may be, but it’s not something I control,” Scott said. “So, what do you want me to do?”

“Us,” Daphne said. “What do you want us to do?”

“Give me back my frequency,” the lizard said.

“But I–”

“No buts. I don’t care who you have to see, or what you have to do, but if I don’t get exclusive use of that frequency, you won’t be able to tune into anything but the troll’s home movies and coverage of the pixie parade!”

“Wait! I need more–”

“I’ll be back in an hour.” A puff of smoke drifted up from the monitor and the image of the powder blue lizard disappeared.

~~To be concluded next week~~



Posted in editing, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Shameless Self-Promotion!

Every week, for about five years now, I’ve posted something about writing. I’ve strayed a couple times, but the bulk of my posts have been about the craft. It begs a couple questions: Why do I do it? What’s the point?

I have a goal in mind. Probably a wildly irrational goal, but a goal nonetheless, and reaching that goal means I’ve got to generate book sales. To do that, I’ve got to keep cranking out new books. Over those same past five years, I’ve averaged two new books per year.

This year, there might be four.

In mid-February, I released an expanded version of my collection of inter-related, western short stories. The revamped and retitled book is simply called Greeley. There’s a cover shot below.

Yesterday, I released the ebook version of my memoir textbook, The Naked Truth! (Telling Your Story Without Showing Your Ass!) There’s yet another cover shot below. And, it won’t be long before I’m able to release my textbook on novel writing in ebook form as well.

You’ve probably noticed that, technically speaking, none of these books is actually “new.” Well, yeah, that’s true. Ya got me.

What’s happened here is something you’re going to see more and more often. Recycled material offered with a shiny new cover and/or in an enhanced format. In the case of my textbooks, these will be the second and third ones available in ebook form. And they come with a significant price drop–from $14.95 (plus the ever-present shipping and handling fees) down to $4.95, delivered instantly. I’m sure you’ll be happy to know the ten dollar difference isn’t coming out of my pocket!

While I continue to work on something really new, a sequel to… Nah, can’t tell ya, yet. But while thus engaged, I now have additional opportunities to market existing stuff. More titles, more sales, and hopefully I can take a few more baby steps toward my goal.

The decision to re-do the Greeley stories may be of interest to those of you with shorter novels, formerly tagged as novellas or novelettes. The market for shorter fiction has grown significantly. For most genres, work weighing in under 90,000 words (90K in publishing jargon) was considered too short to sell as a novel. That dropped to 60K not too terribly long ago. Now, 30K word “novels” are popping up everywhere.

And, with more and more people listening to audio books, the shorter stories give them more variety at a lower cost. Win-win!

Does that mean it’s okay to write shorter stuff and put it on the market right alongside the longer stuff? Sure. But if you’re smart, you’ll at least make sure it’s ready. Don’t just pump out crap. There’s already way too much of that available.

Take the time to edit your work, or have it edited by someone who knows what they’re doing. Get a good cover. There are plenty of tools you can use to do one, and if you just don’t trust your creative side, there are plenty of places you can go and get a good one done for you–and just for you.

Now, quit foolin’ around and go back to work!


Posted in editing, Memoir, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Don’t Force It

For the past 30-odd years I’ve had a sweet story percolating in my brain and taking up space on several different hard drives. I’m fairly certain it’s a young adult tale, but…  It’s the “fairly” part of the equation that keeps biting me on the posterior. Why, for cryin’ out loud, have I not been able to get this story written?

Because I’m not sure where the damned thing is going!

I’ve written over 20,000 words in at least four different attempts to bring this story to life. If nothing else, I expected to at least move the freaking needle in the right direction, but the same problem kept rearing its hideous head: I’m trying to force my sweet little YA story into something else, something bigger, somewhere it just doesn’t belong. But since I don’t have a concrete ending in mind–despite my fascination with and love for the characters–I keep trying to smush them into a form that isn’t right for them.

Twice now, I’ve written them out of novels I’ve gone on to finish (neither of which was aimed at the YA market). Now, believe it or not, it’s happened again. I saw the light in a novel I’ve been fiddling with since last summer. It won’t work with my sweet, little cadre of YA players, not even as a subplot. But that’s fine for the time being, my hands are no longer tied, and I can go on with the real story–the one I should have started working on in the first place.

I’ll hang on to what I wrote involving those YA players, and someday, hopefully, I’ll come back to them with an ending in mind. So, what does this have to do with the rest of the world’s writing population? Is there a chance I’m the only one who’s faced this dilemma? I doubt it.

Stories come in different sizes and shapes, and forcing one type to fit the mold of another just doesn’t work. You might finish the story; you might even find someone to buy it, but it won’t be as good as it could have been if you’d been true to it from the beginning.

Forced fits never look good. Imagine a size 20 butt in a size 8 tracksuit–or ten pounds of suet in a five-pound bag–same difference. Whether we’re talking suits or sacks, something’s gonna blow at any moment, and you don’t want to be near it when it does.

There are plenty of stories waiting to be told. Some of them are bound to be good! Be content with letting a story evolve into its own comfortable size and shape, at least in the first draft. You can pinch, pull, poke and prune it later.

That, I’m told, is what real writers do.




Posted in Historical writing, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Why we watch the Olympics

Some version of the Olympics are staged every two years, and I use the word “staged” in all its many shades of meaning. Just why do so many of us drop everything and focus our attention on athletics, even when, for the majority of watchers, changing TV channels without a remote is the toughest physical workout we get?

The answer is obvious: the Olympics are a gigantic short story collection. Most of these stories fall into the triumph over adversity scenario, even for those who don’t medal, and they represent the great majority. Just getting to the games is a triumph in itself. A far greater number, including some amazingly talented athletes, never even get close.

We watch because such stories intrigue us. Some astound us. Some befuddle us. And a few, better left unpublicized, simply embarrass us.

In days past, one’s Olympic viewing time was limited to the number of prime-time hours a network could schedule. Now, the broadcasts are never-ending. During rare breaks in the competition, profiles of the athletes and/or venues are broadcast, but it seems for all the world like more time is reserved for commercials than anything else. Even sadder, there seems to be a limited variety of commercials available, so we end up seeing the same ones over and over again. I see it as a form of the Chinese drip torture.

Why couldn’t some of that time be devoted to lesser-known stories? Granted, such things may not be as appealing to our national pride as watching a celebrated athlete climb onto the awards podium to receive a disk of some rare metal. But still, some of those stories are worth telling. Some, in fact, absolutely demand telling!

I, for one, cast my vote for uhm… okay… full disclosure. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

Back in the day, and I’m talking way-way back in the day, the Olympics featured a lesser range of competition, although some of it would be welcomed in our current high-tech world. In fact, a combination of some old and new sports might spark a vast, new wave of interest.

F’rinstance, Tug-o’-War was a big-time Olympic event from 1900 to 1920. Back then, winning was simple: just drag the opposing team across a dividing line. Little has changed in the interim. But what if the dividing line were made more interesting? What if a fire pit were covered with a thin layer of support which would collapse when all or most of a team put their weight on it? What if each team was composed of used car salesmen, lawyers, or politicians (and I’ll be the first to admit telling these species apart is damned difficult).

Both croquet and dueling were also part of the early Olympics. While croquet doesn’t do much for me, I was fascinated to learn about dueling. These guys, and presumably gals, too, would fire wax bullets at each other. Is that cool, or what?

Imagine combining that with the modern biathlon. Competitors would ski up, down, over, and around hills of varying size, then stop and fire paintball guns at each other. The winners would be determined, in part, based on how many times they were hit.

Alas, we may have to simply satisfy ourselves with the antics of Olympic spectators, which, considering the bizarre array of costuming involved–combined with a little imagination–could easily become a competitive event in itself. Scoring, however, might be a bit of a problem, but with the rapid development of artificial intelligence, I anticipate a viable breakthrough would quickly occur.

Yours, for even better games,



Posted in Historical writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

It’s Nice To Be Noticed

I’m re-posting this from a couple years ago, mainly ’cause I’m under the gun to finish some editing jobs. Plus, when I posted this the first time I only had two or three folks interested in following my blog. Now I’ve got… Hell, I dunno. Several, at least! Anyway, here ’tis:

The Recognition Fairy, caught between jobs.

It’s nice to be noticed. It’s even nicer when someone singles out your work with a compliment. There’s something about that wiggly puppy feeling you get when the Recognition Fairy pops up, wand in hand, and sends a cloud of sparkly stuff swirling through the atmosphere. Even though, over at the EPA, some joy-killing bureaucratic cretin is sure to issue yet another air quality warning: “Whoa! Too much sparkly stuff! Stay inside! And remember to report any tiny, winged, humanoid creatures to the authorities.” (That last little call to arms is just dumb, since everyone knows the Recognition Fairy doesn’t take a humanoid form. Silly bureaucrats!)

I used to believe there was no such thing as too much recognition. Really, I did. I can’t believe anyone ever developed blisters from being patted on the back. It’s just not possible. The body would automatically secrete some sort of anti-hubris hormone which would, in turn, spark a wave of self-doubt and suspicion — Are they really just saying nice things, while deep down inside they hate my guts? It’s true. That’s exactly how these things work. I know; I took a science class in school back in <mumble>.

And then, of course, there’s the ugly flip-side of recognition. When it’s institutionalized, sprayed out like weed killer, and soaked up by a legion of the undeserving dressed in schlep’s clothing.North Korean officers Who wants that? Praise should not be doled out like Tic-Tacs from a plastic dumpster. Recognition, if we can be honest about it, should at least be more subtle than an Elvis impersonator. It needs a bit of soft sell. It can be contained in very few words. I’m particularly fond of: “Wow! Great job!” But that’s just me. Others may require something way more effusive, like: “I just finished reading your latest novel, and I’m still behind on my sleep. It’s going to take days to recover. I’ve never laughed so hard or wept so inconsolably. My emotions pegged both ends of the joy/despair spectrum as I followed your brilliant characters through one stunning adventure after another. If only I could have paid for the book two or three times! In fact, I’d love to send you a humble gift of cash if it will help to keep you writing.”

This, of course, may cause the Recognition Fairy to hemorrhage, so caution should be the byword when it comes to gushiness. Crazy, right? Who knew?

So, if you’ve read something by me that you liked, feel free to spread the word. On Amazon, preferably, or Goodreads. FaceBook would be cool, too. Skywriting isn’t required, but it sure would be memorable.

Hm. Skywriting….


Posted in editing, Historical writing, Memoir, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Success requires effort. Stunning, I know…

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to get feedback on my work from a number of incredibly talented writers, Rob Sawyer, Mike Resnick, Kris Rusch, and Steve Sterling to name a few. There have been others, to whom I’m equally grateful, but I don’t wish to be accused of name-dropping. Or, at least, not too many names! The deal we make when accepting help from those who have done well, is that we pay it forward. If, God willing, we’re able to achieve some measure of success, we agree to help those who follow in our footsteps.

meaning_of_life_1763245I had just such an opportunity recently. A young writer was directed to me for advice and counsel on the business of independent publishing. My response may be of interest, and I post it here for what it’s worth. I make no guarantees other than that I fully believe everything I’ve said in here is true.

To wit:

Dear <ID and initial niceties redacted>,

As for self-promotion, I’m probably the worst person on Earth to ask! The name of the game, these days, is “Platform building.” One’s platform is the crowd–hopefully vast–which one can influence. You build your platform by being active in social media, through contacts (professional, collegial, recreational, whatever), and by taking advantage of any and all opportunities to put your work in front of people who can act on it. That means they can buy, review, recommend, praise, and/or promote it.

But understand this: the promise you’re making when you embark on this promotional odyssey is that what you’re publishing is top flight, first-rate, numero uno material. It won’t have sloppy formatting or a wandering storyline. It won’t have lifeless characters or a pointless plot. It’s going to be worth every nickel the reading public pays for it, and more! You’re promising quality, but if you deliver crap–and all too many indie publishers do–you’ll condemn yourself to failure. Worse, you’ll very likely condemn all your future work to failure, too.

So, make sure you’ve got good stuff to sell, or don’t try to sell it. Make sure it’s thoroughly vetted. If your friends and fellow writers aren’t ecstatic about it, hold off on publishing it. Get another opinion. Figure out what’s wrong and fix it. You’ll never get it perfect–no one does. But get it as close as you can, because the market is brutally honest. If your stuff sucks, they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms.

If it’s truly excellent, you might get a few positive reviews. Revel in them! Nasty reviews are much, much easier to write, and disappointed readers are more apt to write them than the happy-talk feedback Mom and Dad give us.

That’s just the way it is.

Best of luck!


Posted in editing, Historical writing, Memoir, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments