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Welcome to Sweet Weasel Words

Welcome to Sweet Weasel Words, home of author Crawford Smith.

I love writing, but am not particularly fond of creating and maintaining websites, so please be patient while I continue to beat this site into some sort of order.

My big project right now is rolling out two stories about a strange little town called Fester, Pennsylvania. The first is a novella called Powwows, about witchcraft and murder in the Depression.

See the Powwows page for more details and a preview.

Following Powwows will be a full-length novel called Fester. We are aiming to have this published in eBook and paperback on June 30. More to come soon!


Still available is the fascinating Jackrabbit. This is a historical crime novel about the latter career of Depression-era gangster John Dillinger. This criminal’s life was indeed stranger than fiction – so much so that I had to focus on only the last five months of it to keep from overwhelming myself and the reader. Check out the Jackrabbit page for details.

Fester Cover Reveal!

Here it is kids! At long last, the final cover for Fester, with a major tip of the hat to fabulous artist and all-around nice guy, Ken Huey. It’s been really cool to see the artwork as it progressed through the design process, and to share the WIP images with you. Now, here’s the final, finished product:

RELEASE UPDATE: I’m still gunning for a June 30 release, although that may slip a bit due to unforeseen circumstances and my own personal idiocy. I’m waiting for Proof #3 to come back from Amazon KDP (shh, don’t tell the local bookshops) for what I sincerely hope will be a final polish. I hope to have some sample chapters up on the Fester page soon.

Slouching Towards Publication

I’m one month and a few days away from the putative publication date for Fester. It’s exhilarating, exasperating and also a little frightening.

Exhilarating in the sense that I actually started this project in 2008, and it’s amazing to actually hold a proof copy of the book in my hot little hand. I put a lot of work into over the years, and then essentially shelved it to work on other projects. After the publication of Jackrabbit, I went on to a number of short(ish) stories, and another novel manuscript, which I will discuss in much detail at a later time.

Right now, I’m waiting for the second proof to arrive from Amazon KDP. It seems like the turnaround time is a little slower than when I was getting the proofs for Jackrabbit, but maybe that’s a reflection of my own angst and impatience. Because part of this process is actually damn uncomfortable for me.

For example, impatient though I may be to get the next proof in my hot little hand, the thought of re-reading this story again is a bit daunting. I’ve been working this tale over for the past thirteen years, and I’m looking forward to being done with it. Of course, the devil is in the details, and in my opinion, it’s using the fine-grade sand paper that really make the finished piece shine. So, once more into the breach, dear readers, once more.

Also exhilarating is the cover art, which is once again been handled by artiste par excellence Ken Huey. He’s been super patient and gracious with me during this process, and the results have been outstanding. So much so that I’m beginning to worry that the content of the novel. Not that anything that will attract the attention of potential readers or boost sales is anything to be shunned.

Think this looks good? It’s only a draft!

Which brings us to exasperating–which for me is promoting and selling the product. Marketing time – a time I always dread, because I am a terrible salesman. Hate it, hate it, hate it. But it’s got to be done, especially with a self-published novel that’s competing against seas of slush. I promised myself that I would begin promoting the novel well in advance of the publication date. Hasn’t really happened. I did engage with a marketing guy to put together a marketing plan, but due to a missed meeting (by me), that effort is going to have to be pushed out to or past the target publication date of June 30.

Maybe I can just push out the pub date, too – in order to stave off the frightening bit, which is to put out this important piece of myself for all the world to see. Because Fester is a much more personal book than Jackrabbit. The latter was essentially a real-world story that I was just retelling – and embellishing, especially towards the end. Fester, however, is all mine, and if someone doesn’t like this or that plot point, I can’t fob it off to historical accuracy. I gotta own it.

It seems that social media has given license to a fair amount of cruelty, especially when it comes to assessing the works of others. Kids these days, with their hair and their YouTube comments! On the other hand, was dead-nuts on when he said “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” I’d rather have a bad review than none at all. And that’s a difficult enough task, given how troublesome it was to get folks to review Powwows.

Which brings us full-circle (OK, half-circle) back to marketing and sales. This indicates to me that I really ought to wrap this screed up and get on to figuring our how to sell this sumbitch, at least until that proof shows up.


Sophomore Slump Revisited

Ah, I thought I’d hit the sophomore slump when Jackrabbit came out, but in retrospect that was more of a freshman slump. Now that I’ve gotten Powwows out the door, do I appreciate what a sophomore slump for a self-published author really looks like.

I read somewhere that of all of your friends and relatives that buy your book, maybe 25% will actually read it. I was appalled when I first read that; now it seems wildly optimistic. Of course, I realize that in thee Covid-confusing times that people can have trouble focusing on naught but the essentials. And of course, there’s a helluva lot of entertainment out there vying for peoples’ attention. But on the other hand . . .COME ON! I crafted this tale to be an easy-to-read piece of entertainment that would make people chuckle about witchcraft murders. Is reading it too much to ask?

Actually, at this point, I don’t even give a flip if people actually read it; I just want them to review it. Once again, I’ve been struggling to get people to post reviews on Amazon and Goodreads (but especially Amazon). For self-published books, the rule of thumb I’ve been going by is that you want 10 or 12 reviews available before you start promoting your work. The idea is that why go to the effort of promoting a work, only to have potential buyers see it with only a handful of reviews (half of which are by people that have the same last name as you)?

Of course, I’ve bitched about this before. This time, however, I thought I’d be clever: In an effort to get people to post reviews, a gave away yea number of PDF versions (it’s an eBook-only format) to people with the idea that in return for the free copy, they would post reviews for the sumbitch. Perhaps my mistake there was not including a time frame, as nary a single one has followed through on their commitment. Frustrating; and I’m not sure how to deal with it. Nagging via email and Facebook seems to have limited effect, and I don’t want to come off as pushy (although it may already be too late for that). On the other hand, since there is no physical book that can be rediscovered on the nightstand, I suspect that it can easily be forgotten in these modern, busy, fractured-attention-span times.

Then there’s the issue of sales, which is almost to depressing to delve into at this point. Of course, as I learned with Jackrabbit, one should not go into a self-publishing project expecting to make a lot of money (unless they want to spend every waking hour promoting it on social media).

Now, Powwows was meant to be a loss leader. I set the sale price at ninety-nine cents in order to interest people in the full-length novel Fester, coming out–I hope–at the end of June. The idea was that I would lose a little money on Powwows in order to set the stage for the big soaking I’d take when Fester comes out. However, given the sales figures so far, I’m beginning to question the wisdom of this approach.

Face it, we live in a very materialistic society. I may have groused before (but am too lazy to look it up) about how much Americans equate value with price. I know I’ve discussed this with Ken Huey, the most excellent cover artist I’ve used for both books. As a professional artist, he’s struggled to figure out how to price his work, which, of course, is of inestimable value. So, with that in mind, I’ve got half a mind to jack the price of Powwows up to a whopping $1.99. At this point, I don’t have much to lose other than pocket change, so I may as well put this theory to the test. The only real danger is that the sample size will be too small to draw an accurate statistical conclusion about the relationship between price and sales.

So be it. As with my other works, I primarily write to amuse myself. Of in this case, to vent a little. If you’ve actually read this (hi, Aunt Gail!), I appreciate it. And if you’ve been hedging on whether or not to buy a copy of Powwows, go ahead and do it while the price is still low.


The Sweet Weasel Story

The new Sweet Weasel Words logo

As part of the upcoming “media blitz” for Powwows and Fester, I decided that it was time to update the logo. I trimmed the original image down to the face, and added an endless knot style border. As I was staring – for hours – at that sweet weasel face, it occurred to me that I had never told the story of how the name Sweet Weasel Words came about. So I will now.

First, the sweet face is not a weasel, but a ferret. Pet ferrets were a status symbol in 17th and 18th century Britain. Queen Elizabeth I had a pet ferret named Rascal and included him in one of her royal portraits.

Elizabeth I and Rascal

Nearly a century later, Queen Anne did Elizabeth one better by having portraits painted of her own pet ferrets, and insisting that they hang in the National Portrait Gallery. The paintings are remarkable for their time due to the use of a special green pigment in the paint, which could only be made from guano from one of the Galapagos Islands (the small one). The paintings themselves are rather small (~1 1/2″ x 2 1/2″), so I guess not a lot of special guano was required.

Queen Anne’s ferrets were named Chauncy and Impertinence. Chauncy has a sorta “huh?” look about him in his painting.

Chauncy

Impertinence looks exactly like her name in her portrait.

Impertinence

Queen Anne doted on Chauncy and Impertinence, and called them her “sweet weasels.” She insisted on the pictures being hung in the British National Portrait Gallery. There was a fuss about it at first, with many feeling it was inappropriate. The curators of the gallery waited until they figured that Queen Anne wasn’t looking, and then they moved the ferret pictures into the corner by the trash can.

I’ve always thought that the picture of Impertinence was very fetching, and I’ve always enjoyed the phrase “weasel words.” When it came time to put a name to my enterprise, the two random memories just sort of flew together and combined, making a wet slap sound. Thus the name Sweet Weasel Words was born.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

The Editorial Ennui

The good news is that Powwows is now slouching towards publication; the bad news is that I’m stuck in editorial perdition. Actually, as far as authorial mental states go, there are worse ones to be in. Writer’s block, for example.

The editing process is one that isn’t very glamorous, but oh so important. I’m in the process of editing two pieces of writing right now. My first mistake was thinking that once I’d paid a professional editor to edit the MS, that I’d pretty much be done with editing the story. Nope, not really–the editor has pretty much cleared up the low-hanging fruit, so to speak. I usually get a lot of feedback about timeline issues and historical accuracy (“that movie you’re quoting wasn’t released until two years after this story takes place”). Important stuff for sure, because as an author, there is a whole lot of the forest I can’t see due to my face being firmly planted on the treebark.

So I edit the editor’s edits, then I edit my own edits of the editor’s edits. On Saturday, I find myself changing back the things I changed on Friday. It can seem circular and pointless sometimes, and I frequently just want the whole damn thing to be over with, because I have a whole lotta other story ideas that are begging to be put down on paper. Why should I keep polishing and polishing and polishing what I already have.

Well, the answer to that actually starts to emerge after the sixth or seventh go-round. From the regular cycle of incremental editorial change, something really starts to shine out. That diamond-in-the-rough that began as a very basic idea however many yonks ago, is actually starting to shine! I find myself thinking things like, “Wow–this is kinda good! Did I actually write this?”

Yes. Yes, I did.


I wrote this, too – and you can still buy it!

Goin’ Back to Fester

Downtown York, Pennsylvania, sometime in the past

Thomas Wolfe once said you can’t go home again. Well, what if you don’t want to? That’s something I’ve been grappling with lately, as I labor to get two “new” stories out the door. The quotation marks are because the stories aren’t new; they comprise my first “serious” effort at writing a story from my own little twisted imagination.

It grew from a creative writing class and a sense of place. (As an architect, I was trained to say deep-sounding but vague phrases like “sense of place.”) What I really wanted to do was create a literary locale. I like to say it was inspired by Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, but that’s just so much pseudo-intellectual horseshit. I haven’t read Faulkner since high school, if that. Truth be known, it was Stephen King’s fictional towns of Castle Rock and Derry that provided the inspiration.

Thus Fester was born. Fester is located in fictional Kerry County, in the foothills of the Allegheny mountains in south-central Pennsylvania. It is a pastiche of the odd aspects of many of the places I’ve lived: Portland, Tucson, and Raleigh, with a dash of Albuquerque and Eugene. Of course, it draws most on where I was born and raised: York, Pennsylvania. I will not go into a detailed history of York here. Suffice it to say that it has a colorful history, from its claim to being the first capital of the United States, to a world-famous witchcraft murder.

I have not been back to York since 1996. I imagine that it has changed a lot since then – at least on the surface. Underneath, however – the people and the forces of history that made it such an interesting place to grow up are certainly still in effect. I’m sure it would be weird to go back there now.

It was certainly weird to revisit Fester. I wrote it from 2008 to 2014, then moved onto other things, such as Jackrabbit and a number of short stories. Somewhere after publishing Jackrabbit, I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to go ahead and publish Fester, figuring that would have to be at least as successful as Jackrabbit. As I mentioned in a previous post, I decided to resurrect a story line excised from the monster first draft, and use it as a promo/teaser for the main novel.

I had both manuscripts edited, and now I am reviewing the edits to prepare for the typesetting and proofreading and all the other fun, wonky book stuff that needs to be done before releasing a book on an unsuspecting world. I am now going back to characters and situations that I hadn’t thought of in years.

It’s really quite strange, in many ways – not unlike my last visit back to York. Unlike York, I know that the MS hasn’t changed, but I sure have. I’d like t o think that I’ve grown a bit as a writer (although perhaps not as much as I would have like to). There is a simultaneous feeling of strangeness and familiarity that brings once-mundane details into sharp relief. It can be unsettling for a writer, and I’ve really had to stifle the urge to re-write huge chunks of the story.

Still and all, it’s been fun to walk back into the strange little town of Fester, and revisit the characters who sprung up there. Pretty soon, you’ll get to do the same. POWWOWS, a novella that will be available in eBook format only, is slated to be released on March 31. I’m gunning for a Jun 30 release date for Fester. I’ll be providing more updates here soon.

In the meantime, Jackrabbit is still available through Amazon:

eBook It

Sketch of upcoming Fester prequel POWWOWS, by amazing Portland artist Ken Huey.

Things are staring to coalesce around the projects that I mentioned in the previous post. To be brief, I have a novel manuscript called Fester that I wrote several years ago that I decided to publish. While the process of editing and general literary turd-polishing is going on, I have a prequel that I wanted to release early as sort of a teaser/promo for the full-length novel.

At first I thought about just posting the story right here, as I did with “Reset.” Then I decided to go ahead and publish it as an eBook, and charge something ridiculously low, like 99 cents. I really didn’t plumb the depths of eBookery when I released Jackrabbit; it was more like an afterthought, an extra box to check on the Amazon KDP form. As I’ve done a little more research on eBook publishing, I realized that I had perhaps skimmed over an important aspect of self-publishing.

At first I thought that I might be shooting myself in the foot by charging almost-a-buck rather than just giving it away. I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, though. First, I’m talking about a measly 99 cents. Anybody’s got a dollar to spare, and with this, you get change! How much entertainment will 99% of a dollar get you elsewhere? Not much, my friends, not much.

Then there’s the whole bass-ackwards notion of how we assign value in a hyper-materialistic society. In our world, dollar signs are all. By charging the public for this story rather than giving it away for free, the signal is received that this is worth something. Price tag determines value in the minds of most.

This is especially true in the world or literature and bookselling. I have a good friend who once specialized in rare children’s books. He had a number of really high-demand titles in his catalog that he was listing for very reasonable prices. Despite having collectable titles at great prices, the books weren’t selling. Flummoxed, he asked another bookseller what he should do. The other bookseller took a look at the catalog listings and immediately said, “Double the prices.” My friend was skeptical, but at that point he had little to lose. He doubled the prices of the books, and within a week they had all sold.

The moral of this story: we’re all idiots. I know I sure am.

So, while Fester is getting the editorial beatdown it so richly deserves, I will dive into the deep end of eBook publishing. Stay tuned for further adventures.


The Next Big Thing

I’ve decided to take a little time off of my constant doomscrolling obligation to do some actual writing. Well, not writing in a literal sense, but actually editing something I had written a while back, with a thought towards publishing. Initially, I had thought that the story wasn’t really good enough to publish. Now, with the perspective of some more experience, I realize that hardly anybody’s going to read the damn thing, so what the hell. Why not?

The latest project(s) started out as a novel manuscript that I began in 2008. It was about a fictional town in Pennsylvania called Lester. The gag was that the town founders were trying to follow the style of naming towns after ones in England. This town was to be named after Leicester, but the town founders got the spelling wrong. Then I found out that there actually is a Lester, PA. From what I can tell, it’s little more than a collection of industrial warehouses at the end of the Philadelphia airport runway, but it sort of spoiled the name. SO I changed the name of my town to Fester, which actually works a little better as far as gag town names go.

The first draft of Fester topped out at around 160,000 words, which is paltry if you’re George R.R. Martin or Neal Stephenson, but pretty big for a debut novel. Even pleading the case of world-building to boost the word count, it’s still excessive. So I chopped and chopped.

One of the things I chopped was a story arc about a witchcraft murder, similar to one that occurred near my hometown of York, PA back in 1928. I thought that it might be able to function as a standalone short story, but I was more focused on getting the Fester MS down to a more manageable size. I was shooting for 100,000 words, but I ended up settling for 110,000.

I made some attempts to interest some agents in Fester, but they were unsuccessful and I got distracted by the early stages of Jackrabbit. Pretty soon, I was up to my eyebrows in Dillingeriana, and I had forgotten about the doings in Fester, Pennsylvania.

There were a few more small writing projects last year, and then I got started on another novel MS, about stand-up comedians (working title: Laughingstock). As the first few chapters began to coalesce, it became apparent that this was going to be a long-term project. To have something to talk about besides my glacial writing process, I dusted off Fester. I decided to have a pro do the editing, since it seemed to work well for Jackrabbit. At the moment, I’m shopping around for editors.

While that’s going on, I went back to the first draft and began reassembling the story arc about the witchcraft murder. It was clear that it was going to need a lot of TLC. It was also apparent that it was going to be a bit longer than a short story. At 15,000 words, it inhabits that uncomfortable literary gray zone called “novella” or “novelette.” I’m sure there’s a technical difference, but to me it’s academic.

I’m hitting the keys on the witchcraft story, which has a working name of Powwows. Not sure if I will publish it as an e-book, publish it in its entirety here, or both. Regardless, readers will soon be able to get a glimpse into the strange little town in the Allegheny foothills that I call Fester.


Portrait of the Author as a Young Dork

Dig those red sox!

Yes, that’s me. Twelve years old, in 1980, in my Little League uniform. I can’t specifically remember how I got euchred into signing up for Little League, but I suspect that there was some well-intentioned parental pressure involved. There was definitely some sibling rivalry involved as well. However, as you can tell by a cursory glance a the picture, I was not a 12-year-old who was into sports.

The name of our team was the Royals. I played third base. I can infer from this that there must have been two or three guys on the team who were bigger spazzes than I. The only third-base action I got (so to speak), was a time when there were runners on second and third. The batter blooped a short fly to the shortstop, who winged it to me. I tagged the runner from second out, and was so amazed at this feat that it never occurred to me to throw to home. The runner on third scored, and the coach chewed me out anyway. It wasn’t ’til years later that I questioned why the shortstop hadn’t thrown to the catcher. Maybe it was too far for him to throw.

My younger brother, Todd, was on a rival team, the Orioles. So was every other kid in the neighborhood. As usual, I was the odd man out, the lone Royal in a neighborhood full of Orioles. This was in southern Pennsylvania, about an hour north of Baltimore – it was definitely O’s country. Also, the Little League O’s were good, and the Royals were not. Someone in the neighborhood hauled us to the games in a pickup truck, and I continually took chong from the tong from the Orioles in the truck on game day.

The fates conspired that the Royals played the Orioles for the championship. This in itself was amazing, given our basement-dwelling position for the first half of the season. However, we had acquired a secret weapon about mid-season: a new pitcher. I can’t remember his name, so I’ll call him Jake. Jake was a twelve-year-old hormone monster. He was nearly six feet tall, with a starter ‘stache and biceps and underarm hair. He could pitch like a sumbitch, too. Very powerful, but not a whole lot of control. I don’t think he ever actually beaned anybody, but the threat was always there.

On the way to the championship game, it was the usual raft of crap from the Orioles about how bad they were going to murder us. They had yet to play the Royals with Jake on the mound, and they didn’t know what they were up against. I just kept my mouth shut.

The rest is anticlimax. The Royals, with Jake at the helm, whipped the everloving snot out of the Orioles and took the championship. I’d like to say that I knocked it our of the park to make the winning run (believe me, it’s tempting – who would know?), but that’s not true. I don’t recall ever getting past second, actually. Probably just as well; I hated running.

So, maybe this story wasn’t as heart-warming as an all-American Little League story could be, but it was still personally satisfying. The ride back home in the truck with Todd and the rest of the Orioles was a lot more enjoyable for me than any of the other ones we’d made Turnabout is fair play, you cocky sonsabitches.


So there’s my little story behind the dorky 12-year-old Little League photo. I’ve been working on other things, as well – but nothing that’s close to being ready to share. I hope that 2021 is going to be a little more productive than this year has been when it comes to writing and storytelling. In the meantime, I will continue to bask in the glory of someone else’s 40-year-old sports achievement. And plug last year’s Dillinger novel.

The 2020 Rut

Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve rapped at ya, but I’ve been busier than a one-armed fiddler with the crabs!

Well, no. Not really.

Actually, I’ve been pretty stagnant. Maybe “paralyzed” is a better word, as it implies outside forces beyond my control, acting on poor ol’ innocent me. I blame 2020.

This has been a fraught year for everyone everywhere, and it’s been especially here in good ol’ Portland, Oregon where I live and work. Of course, there is the political angle to the general Suckiness of 2020, but I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole – at least not on the Sweet Weasel Words blog. (If you’re really interested, check out the American Knucklehead podcast site.)

Suffice it to say that I would be a considerably happier camper if I had the wherewithal to shut myself off from the 24-hour news cycle. But I can’t; I’m a news junkie, and my attempts to throttle my news consumption has always been short-lived and largely ineffective. Maybe there’s a twelve-step group available for news addicts.

Regardless, as the year has worn on and the avalanche of stupefyingly depressing news stories have absolutely tanked my initiative to do just about anything, including writing. It feels like I’m constantly in a reaction zone where the only thing that seems palatable is the old and comfortable. There’s enough novelty – and most of it horrifying – coming through my cell phone and computer, thank you. It’s hard to get enthusiastic for anything that might stress me out further.

Even enjoyable things like writing and reading seem like a chore now. For example, I eagerly awaited the release of William Gibson’s delayed novel Agency. I got my dirty mitts on it right around the time Covid hit, and I was so flabbygastered that I could barely concentrate on the story. About seven chapters in, I realized that I had no idea what was going on or who the characters were. I put it on the shelf, and spend the summer readin Stephen King novels that I had read many times before.

This same inertia applied to my writing (and blogging, obviously) – and has only gotten worse as the year wore on. By the time we had gotten past Labor Day, the only writing I could muster consistently was a hand-written journal which since early March has been labelled “Plague Journal.” I was completely locked up as a writer.

Then I had a Cunning Plan.

I would simultaneously start three writing projects, so that there was more variety to choose from:

  • A new novel about stand-up comics that has been on the back burner for several years.
  • An episode or two of the American Knucklehead podcast
  • A short story based on expurgated chapters from an unpublished novel manuscript called Fester.

This started out as an effective Cunning Plan, and I was soon gleefully cranking away on the comedian storyline (working title: Laughingstock). The idea was that I would always have something engaging to write, and that I would jump from project to project as the day’s whim dictated.

Except that it didn’t work out that way. Basically, I got a few chapters into Laughingstock, hit a wall, and lost all interest – again. Oh, I eventually finished writing the political screed for Knucklehead, but whether I actually engineer and publish it is still an open question. And the Fester short story still languishes, even though the main structure of the story has already been written.

So be it. I should be happy that I was able to write the Laughingstock chapters and the podcast script – and this blog entry. I’ll call that a win, although I probably won’t have the gumption to add an entry to the Plague Journal today. Good enough, call it a win. Things get bad, then they get better again. Salud!