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Category: whining

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.


New Year, Old Story

Greetings and Happy New Year! I haven’t been very active on this blog due to holiday travels, a nasty cold that one of my co-workers gave the entire office right before Christmas, and general laziness.

Right now, Portland is bracing for a “big” snowstorm that probably won’t happen – but if it does, I can actually devote some time to focused writing. I’m still polishing up a “short” story with the working title of Reset. The first draft topped out just north of 21,000 words, which is definitely out of short story range and more like a novella. I had originally thought about wielding a fierce editorial pen to try and trim it down to ~10,000 words, but at this point I don’t think that will happen. There are two reasons for this: 1) my aforementioned laziness, and 2) the way the story wound up left it as a possible springboard for a series. And we all love series, don’t we, gang?

I’m still trying to get my head around further promotion for Jackrabbit (more on that later, perhaps), as well as trying to clean up an older novel manuscript for a story called Fester. Tat is going to require a few bucks for the editor, cover design, etc. – so maybe after we get past tax season (and we get a refund).

I’ve also started research for a story I’ve been kicking around in the basement for a long, long time. It’s about stand-up comedians, and based on the careers of such humor luminaries as Bill Hicks, Andy Kaufman, Lenny Bruce and Doug Kenney. This is a monumental undertaking, and I’d guess that even the first draft would be two years in the making…so, we’ll see.

While I’m still trying to ramp up my creative activities in the new year, I have been able to post an old short story I cranked out while writing the first draft of Jackrabbit. It’s kinda weird and very silly – basically, it’s John Dillinger and his gang going up against a very unusual foe. It’s called Encounter in the North Woods, and you can check it out here.

Happy New Year!

***

Dillinger Exhumation: Dead or Alive?

Mourners at John Dillinger’s viewing in Mooresville, Indiana. Unlike the circus at the Chicago mortuary, these guys at least look somber and respectful.

In all likelihood, the proposed exhumation of John Dillinger is dead in the water. For those who haven’t followed my posts on this (here, here and here), I’ll give a quick capsule review.

In late July, a week after the 85th anniversary of the Biograph shooting (and also the release date for Jackrabbit), it was announced that Dillinger’s nephew Michael Thompson had obtained a permit from the Indiana Department of Health allowing him to exhume the body of his famous gangster uncle. Shortly thereafter, it was revealed that this was in some wise connected with a proposed biography of John Dillinger that the History Channel was preparing. The reason for the exhumation was to determine whether or not it was really Dillinger in the grave, addressing the “wrong man theory” that has been kicking around for decades.

Not all of Dillinger’s relatives were happy about this development, and the bickering began in public forums (fora?) as well as in the courtroom. Then things started to go a little sideways. The History Channel, without comment, announced that they were bailing on the putative documentary project. Then Crown Hill Cemetery started making noises about not going through with the exhumation. More complaints were filed in court.

The latest move was that Thompson had litigated against Crown Hill for the exhumation to move forward. That came to a screeching halt last week when a county judge ruled in favor of Crown Hill.

So here we are, largely as I had anticipated, with a bunch of legal wrangling ending in a stalemate. How do I feel about this? Well may you ask! I was agin it until I was fur it. Being a self-referential contrarian, I was vaguely opposed to the idea while it looked like it was likely to happen, but now that it doesn’t look like it will happen, I’m disappointed – and a little pissed.

An interesting quote from the IndyStar article:

“Court finds that the statutory requirements for this section of the statute are clear in that disinterment requires the cemetery owner to give consent before disinterment may occur,” Oakes’ ruling says, according to online court records, “and the statute does not require that the cemetery have a valid, rational, or meaningful reason.”

And it can be argued that Crown Hill doesn’t really have a “valid, rational, or meaningful reason.” The cemetery has said that disinterring Dillinger would be disruptive and potentially upsetting to family members of other Crown Hill residents. While that seems a valid concern, wouldn’t that also be applicable to every other exhumation at the cemetery? It’s really only a matter of degree, and if Dillinger’s exhumation would require more equipment and attract larger media attention, it seems that simple planning would mitigate many of the concerns Crown Hill cites.

In addition to being contrary, I am also somewhat conspiracy-minded. Given some of the weirdness surrounding this exhumation drama, I’m having a hard time avoiding the thought that there is more at work here than meets the eye. First of all, the History Channel pulled out of the documentary project with little fanfare and less explanation. It seems to me that even if the exhumation didn’t take place, the attendant publicity would be a boon for thier project. Second, and most obvious, are Crown Hill’s specious reasons for opposing the exhumation. Finally, and arguably the kicker is the FBI’s unprompted assertion that they really did “get their man” back in 1934 and that the body in Crown Point is really that of John Dillinger.

Now, I’ve never touted Jackrabbit as anything but a work of fiction. As I mentioned elsewhere, I had been familiar with the “wrong man theory” that the person shot outside the Biograph was really a low-level crook named Jimmy Lawrence. The novel started as a thought experiment about how that switcheroo actually occurred. One of the plot points was the J. Edgar hoover and the FBI knew that they had gotten the wrong man, but allowed it to be covered up to avoid embarassing themselves. Given all of the weirdness around the Dillinger exhumation, it doesn’t seem entirely too crazy to think that the FBI knows that it isn’t really Dillinger in that Crown Hill grave, and put pressure on the History Channel and the cemetery to put the kibosh on the exhumation.

Of course that’s just me talking my typical crazy-talk. It looks like we won’t find out for sure, at least in the short term. However, the judge in last week’s ruling dismissed the case without prejudice, meaning that a clever lawyer still might be able to argue that the cemetery is compelled to carry out the exhumation. Until then, however, the conspiracy theories will continue to circulate.

Writer’s Blockhead

Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I’ve been busy channeling the spirit of Jim Anchower.

Actually, I’ve been doing doodley-squat, which has not lent itself to creation of a post. So, since it’s been several weeks that I haven’t posted – or done much of anything else – I figured I could slap together some half-assed post about why I haven’t done anything.

Fist, I’ve almost completely stalled out on promoting Jackrabbit. This lack of activity shows: my last royalty payment was $5.62. Whoopee-ding-dong! I’ve agonized over the process before, and will not belabor the point now. Suffice it to say that indie book promotion is a time-consuming pain in the ass, and I am a lazy sumbitch – a suboptimal combination if ever there was one. Now that we’re past the Thanksgiving holiday and into prime American consumption season, I would be well-advised to get off my keister and try to wave the book around in the face of the book-buying public in the hope of a sale or two. Absolutely. First thing, tomorrow.

And while I might have been acting like a blockhead writer, I don’t actually have writer’s block per se. I just finished up the first draft of a short story called “Reset.” Although at nearly 22,000 words, the story is well past the “short” stage and well into novella territory. That was definitely not my intention; it took a long time (~4 months) for the story to find its rhythm. My goal is to trim that puppy down to about 10K words by January.

Or maybe March.

“Reset” is the result of a very intense dream I had back around April of this year, where I woke up to find that I was back in eight grade, but with all of my adult memories. I know, this is hardly an original notion, and has been covered extensively in films such as “Big” and “Hot Tub Time Machine.” Still, it was fun to write, and bey drastically wielding the editorial pen, I hope to make it fun to read, and eventually post it on the Short Stories section.

As for 2020, I’m not sure in which direction I intend to go. There are a couple of novel ideas I’ve been kicking around, but also perhaps a few more short stories that need to be dispatched first. We shall see.

Going Through Channels

The purpose of this blog is two-fold: 1) provide me a forum in which I can piss and moan, and 2) provide some advice so that others may not have to piss and moan as much as I. Also, I guess – 1.5) provide s repository of useful information for myself that I can use as a reference, as my memory is like a cloth bag full of water.

One piece of advice that I deliberately blew off in the runup to the release of Jackrabbit is thus: plan your book release. Give it at least three months, and preferably more. I didn’t do this for a couple of reasons. The first was that I realized late in the game that I was coming up on the 85th anniversary of the event that was a major plot point in the book, so I rushed to get the book out on that date. The other reason is that I am a lazy bastard, and really didn’t want to think about marketing and promotion ahead of time.

Well, live and learn. If I ever do it again (and I probably will), I’ll spend more time planning how, where and under what circumstances I will release the book.

One of the more interesting lessons learned has to do with the distribution channels through which the book is distributed. Based on my overall need to rush to get the book out, coupled with my inherent laziness, I decided to go with Amazon KDP for the complete publishing service. This saved a fair amount of up-front decision-making, but it did cause some problems later on. So far, the biggest of these is that many indie bookstores hate Amazon with a passion and will not carry self-published books produced through Amazon KDP – an issue I groused about in a previous post.

When I was bandying with a representative from one of those stores, he suggested that I create an account with IngramSpark to contend with the anti-Amazon bias. The issue with that is that I’d already sold my soul to Amazon and signed up for their Expanded Distribution option. This nominally provided more outlets for potential sales – allegedly large booksellers and libraries. Of course, as with most anything in American consumer culture, Some Restrictions Apply. In this case, that meant that I wouldn’t be able to use IngramSpark to distribute the book to finicky indie stores.

This begs the question: what the hell is IngramSpark anyway? IngramSpark is a subdivision of the massive Ingram Content Group, which is a huge book distributor and publishing service provider (whatever the hell that means).

Here’s the interesting part: by signing up for Amazon’s Expnded Distribution option, I’m actually having some books distributed through Ingram anyway. I found this out recently in my ongoing struggle to get Jackrabbit some shelf space in local indie bookstore behemoth Powell’s Books (as I griped about here and here). I looked into the possibility of ditching Expanded Distribution and signing up for IngramSpark, but the whole thing smacked of effort. It’s possible, apparently, but there was a whole rigamarole about relisting the ISBN number and so forth, and I don’t really see how it would necessarily boost my sales at this point. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m definitely lazy. I did, however, find a good article about why self-published authors should use both:

This has gotten wordy/whiny enough, so I am just going to sum up the important things I think I’ve learned so far:

  • Always Buy Your Own ISBN Numbers – This is one of the few things I got right out of the gate. Amazon KDP and other services will give you free ISBN numbers, be then they own your ass. The Bowker’s monopoly on ISBN number sales in North America results in a scammy pricing structure, but it beats the restrictions that come with a “free” number.
  • Use Amazon KDP for Early Production – You don’t have to shell out at all, meaning you can tweak the design, upload revisions to your heart’s content, and get it OCD-perfect before you shell out a dime. The author copies are more reasonably priced, as well.
  • Don’t Sign Up for Amazon; Expanded Distribution; Get an Ingram Spark Account – IngramSpark will get your books to bookstores and libraries that hate Amazon with a passion and won’t buy books from them. There are also more printing options, including more paper choices and hardback versions (Amazon KDP is paperback-only). To be fair, the Expanded Distribution network might slip a few copies to self-same Amazon-haters, but IngramSpark is probably better.
  • Amazon’s KDP Select Ain’t All That and a Bag of Chips – KDP Select is a program that offers expanded worldwide distribution for your eBook, as well as periodic special offers you can make on your book.  However, KDP Select restricts your ability to sell your eBook through other channels (WordSmash, Draft2Digital, etc.) The offers are restricted to a handful of days within a 90-day window, so not so hotso. I’d advise going with the other ePublishers.

There: all of my recent kvetching boiled down into four pithy bullet points. My next novel is gonna go so smooooooooooth!

Indie Bookstores Love Local Authors…but Hate Amazon Even More

A week or so ago, someone suggested that I approach a small but iconic bookstore in town about getting Jackrabbit on the shelves and perhaps doing a reading. For the sake of not alienating myself further, I’m going to call the place Arnie Bang’s Books. Arnie Bang’s isn’t a local colossus like Powell’s, but has been around for awhile and has a good reputation. It’s kinda like the “Cheers” of Portland bookstores.

I called Arnie Bang’s about carrying the book and possibly scheduling a reading, and the person I talked to was very friendly receptive …until I let slip that I had published the book through Amazon KDP. At that point, she became quite frosty and cut the conversation short. When I asked as to why, I was told “Amazon is the competition!” End of conversation.

I was, as I mentioned earlier, butt-hurt. I totally understand hating on Amazon’s monstrous global retail monopoly…because I hate on it, too. So does everybody…but it’s just so fucking convenient. I try to buy local where I can – Powell’s for books, Music Millennium for tunage, Fred Meyer for groceries, etc. (The last one’s a bit of a stretch – Fred Meyer was bought out by Kroger in ’98, and they’ve really been acting corporate as hell lately. But I digress…) But if the local stores don’t have what I’m looking for, I’m shopping online the next day.

So I get the hating on Amazon bit, but the part that peeved me was that Amazon’s cut comes out of my pocket. Amazon makes their money on their markup on the author copies it sells me. Arnie Bloom’s would get their 40% of the cover price, regardless if it had been published by Amazon, Lulu Press or even freakin’ Kinko’s.

I took a look at the book, and there is absolutely nothing that indicates where it was printed. I was tempted to just go back to Arnie Bang’s and trying bullshit them into carrying the book, but at that point I figured that my integrity was more important than the handful of bucks I’d potentially make. Besides, Arnie Bang’s would end up making more per copy than I would, so fuck ’em.

I did a little research, and apparently it is not uncommon for indy book stores to refuse to carry books published through Amazon KDP. Hey, it’s their business and they’re free to run it how they see fit. And I’m free to think that refusing to stock a book based on where it’s printed is a self-defeating move. I doubt Jeff Bezos is losing sleep over Arnie Bang’s business practices, but I sure as hell ain’t gonna go back there.

Amazon Reviews Blues

I’ll admit up front that this post is going to suffer from a marked lack of graciousness on the part of yours truly. Anyone who I offend can contact me directly, and I’ll buy you a Mr. Pibb.

This has been a frustrating week for me personally, for a variety of reasons – but instead of barfing them out in one whiny blog post, I figure I can stretch them out to two or three bitch-specific posts that will perhaps in some small way boost the Google search ranking of this site. It’s called providing content, people!

Today’s gripe: getting reviews on Jackrabbit’s Amazon site. From my research into the wild and wooly world of self-publishing, getting a variety of reviews on your book’s Amazon listing is the key to sales. If you look at a book listing, and it has half a dozen five-star reviews, and most of the reviewers have the same last name as the author, then you know you’re probably looking at a real snoozer with horrible punctuation and probably no verbs. No one’s going to want to buy that book.

Here’s where the lack of graciousness comes in: I am fortunate in that I have many friends and relatives who very generously bought Jackrabbit when it came out. To them I offer much gratitude, as well as much frustration – because getting a significant number of them to actually go on Amazon and leave a review has been like pulling teeth!

“Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that,” they say. “But I just really haven’t had the time lately. Maybe next week.” All this spoken in a weary tone, as if I’d cajoled them into cleaning out my basement. It makes me want to holler, “Hey, it’s just a quick review! It will take approximately the same amount of time as it did for you to post to Facebook that picture of the basket of Buffalo wings you got at the Cleveland airport!” I mean, really.

So, I keep wheedling, hinting and make veiled threats about kidnapping beloved pets or stuffed animals. It occurs to me that maybe they haven’t actually read the book. That’s a distinct possibility for the people that downloaded it for free during one of the Amazon eBook giveaways. When something cost nothing, then it’s never a high-priority. On the other hand, maybe they read it, but think it stinks. I hope not, but even so, I rather have a raft of brutally honest reviews rather.

All right, so I just try to stay patient and avoid getting too pushy (but still a little pushy, maybe). What else is there to do?

Fuggit. I’m gonna get myself a basket of Buffalo wings.