After a long wait – mostly due to my lack of planning capability – I’ve finally gotten the cover to Laughingstock. At least the front cover, which is good enough for the eBook. The artist has scampered off to Leeds or Bhutan or someplace equally exotic, so I’ll have to wait for the paperback cover (which just means adding some stuff to the eBook cover. Also, I’d like to announce the official release date of March 31.
I sent out a slightly different version of the cover in a newsletter last week. If you haven’t done so already, please sign up for my newsletter to get advance word of announcements, promos and giveaways.
I’ve gotten to the real fun part of Laughingstock – the one where someone else gets to do the work, and I can simply criticize and/or suggest improvements. I’m talking, or course, about COVER DESIGN.
Sure, it’s fun creating worlds out of my fevered imagination and bringing them to life. Not quite so fun revising and revising and REVISING, so that by this time, I’m glad to unwind at least a little. Of course, still apprehensive that the cover will not adequately pique potential readers’ interest, regardless of what I think. Then there’s the possibility of running into issues with Amazon Ads, as happened with Fester.
I’m going with the cover artist who bailed me out with the Fester problem – Stuart Bache. Stuart’s a consummate professional and a lot of fun to work with, so this is always a fun part of producing a book. We’re still in the preliminary stages, but I’ve already got some concepts to share. Here we go!
I like this concept, as it definitely hits the stand-up trope with the stool and the mic stand. At first, I was a little put off by the way the title is broken onto two lines, but the longer I’ve thought about it, the more it works with the content of the book.
Currently not as enthused with this concept, although that could change. The tragedy/comedy masks are compelling. It’s good comedy is dominant, but the tragedy mask is kind f a downer. Of course, there is tragedy in the story – I’m just not sure if I want to give it equal time on the cover. Bonus points for having the title on one line, though.
I’m looking forward to developing the design with Stuart. Right now, I’m leaning towards Concept 1, as it better conveys the stand-up comedy theme better than the masks.
As this challenging year draws to a close, I’ve found myself in a sort of literary limbo. I completed five (count ’em – FIVE!) drafts of the new novel Laughingstock. However, due to a variety of personal reasons, both good and bad, I was a little late out of the gate arranging for some pre-publication services: cover design and editing.
Then there was the matter of editing. I really wanted to go with the editor I’d worked with on Fester, as she was a pro – and a hardcase, who twisted my arm to make changes that I originally didn’t want to make, but ultimately made the book better. Unfortunately, she is no longer doing freelance editing, as it wasn’t paying the bills (at least that’s what she told ne – maybe she just didn’t want to deal with me again). I reached out to the editor who had done Jackrabbit and Powwows, but she basically ghosted me.
I ended up going back on Reedsy and casting about for a new editor. I ultimately decided on a UK-based editor, after making it clear that I did not spell “color” with “u.” I sent her the manuscript nearly three weeks ago now, and haven’t heard a peep from her since. Perhaps it’s because that the MS has been polished to exquisite perfection over the course of five drafts and needs little work and is totally self-explanatory (I’d sure like to think so.) More likely, British editors perhaps don’t do as much hand-holding as American ones, and will just edit the bejesus out of the MS, and return it in bestseller-list shape (I’d sure like to think so). Anyway, the final payment is due next week, so I imagine I’ll hear something by then.
In the meantime, I’ve got some time on my hands now that I’m in literary limbo with Laughingstock. If I was really motivated and forward -thinking, I would be planning my sales campaign for the new book. However, as we’ve already established, I’m no good at sales and hate it.
I’m not a salesentity, that’s for sure – I style myself a writer. So I’m taking this time to work on a fun project that I’ve been wanting to do for a bit, and not worry about making it marketable or commercial. Writing for self-amusement, in other words.
Ever since I wrote the “short” story Reset, I’d thought there were possibilities for a sequel – or perhaps several. Reset was based on a very strange dream in which I was back in junior high school, but with all of my adult experiences and memories. I don’t usually remember my dreams, but this one was so freaky that it stuck with me for days, and persisted in my memory until I actually started writing it down. It ended on a cliff-hanger, which basically provided me with an open door to do something else fun with it.
So I did. In the new story, called Dungeon & Dragon, the protagonist, Scott Gray, wakes up (or comes to) in an entirely different and even weirder place. As the title implies, it is a swords and sorcery fantasy world. And that’s just the start! Next story, Scott could wind up on a spaceship, or in the Wild West, or the Golden Age of Rome. Sky’s the limit, y’all!
Since the point of this is to have fun, I’ve decided to post the sections as a write and revise them. Of course, reader input is welcome. Might as well make this a group effort. So check out Dungeon & Dragon, and have fun!
I heard that joke sometime around 1975, possibly having read it in Highlights for Children. For some reason, it stuck with me. At 55, I’m amazed at some of the stuff from the distance past my brain spews up. Some good and some bad – like that joke.
Yes, summer sucked. No need to go into details here, let’s just say personal and medical issues had me preoccupied. Oh yeah, also financial issues. Can’t forget about those. All of these circumstances had my attention and efforts focused elsewhere, which meant that I was unable to spend much time on my latest novel, Laughingstock.
Summer’s gone now, and good riddance. Time to get this book out the door – although at this point, I can’t see it being released before 2024. A year ago this time, I figured it would be on the shelves by March 2023, at the latest.
Ah, but the cosmos often has other plans, so you need to be flexible. I’m now ready to get this thing out the door and get onto other projects. I’ve already gotten an editor lined up and will soon be talking with cover artists. Then, I have to figure out how to sell the thing, which has always been a challenge for me. Ersten dingen zuerst, however.
And the first thing today was assigning an ISBN number. I’ve bitched in the past about how Bowker has a monopoly on ISBN numbers, and about their aggravatingly elastic pricing. Fortunately, I had stretched enough a few years’ ago to shell out for the 10-pack, and I still have four more shots left in the magazine. Now Laughingstock has its very own ISBN: 978-1-7332699-6-4. A small step, but a good one. I’m looking forward to the editorial process (sorta) and definitely to getting a cover put together. I also hope to be posting more often as these exciting events unfold, etc. Stay tuned, etc.
Hello friends! I’m enjoying what has so far been a very pleasant summer in Portland. I’m closing in on completing the third draft of a new novel, called Laughingstock. I hope to have it published by the end of the year.
Laughingstock is about two comedy nerds, Chuck and Duckie, who as teenagers psych each other up to actually try performing as a comedy duo. After some miscues, they find that that they’re enjoy it and are good at it. Just as their nascent career is starting to take off, Duckie’s family moves (to Fester, Pennsylvania, of all the awful places). As with so many long-distance relationships, they grow apart. They continue to pursue their careers separately, with varying success. Chuck makes the move to Los Angeles, where his star rises quickly and he lands his own network comedy show. Duckie, meanwhile, languishes in the comedy backwater of Portland, grabbing whatever gigs he can manage and paying the bills with dull third-shift jobs.
Just as Chuck’s show takes off, he abruptly disappears. Duckie undertakes a search to locate his old friend. His wild search involves many strange people and circumstances, including the legacy of Mickey Gross, a legendary comedian who supposedly died of cancer five years prior. Duckie’s search leads him to a remote island in Bristish Columbia, where he discovers a strange comedy secret that has been concealed for decades.
Compelling stuff, eh, kids? I sure hope so, and I’m having a lot of fun writing it. (Which is almost entirely the point; I sure ain’t in this for the money!) I’d really hoped to be done with Draft 3 earlier this spring, but it sure didn’t work out that way. However, just when I think I’m approaching closure, one of the characters goes off the rails and I have to figure out how to incorporate their unexpected behavior.
I’ve spoke before about my “pantsing” approach to writing: the flying-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to storytelling, as opposed to “plotting,” where most of the action is plotted out before Word 1 is written. I’m just too impatient to be a plotter; it’s pantsing all the way for this guy.
Which is a lot of fun, but not conducive to speedy writing. For example, in Laughingstock, Duckie meets the estranged daughter of Mickey Gross, and they unexpectedly fall into a torrid love affair. Honestly, I did not see this coming. Of course, it provided an excuse to write some steamy sex scenes, and diluted the “sausage party” vibe that comes from writing about male-dominated activities like stand-up comedy. (As a comedy nerd myself, I’m gratified to see more women rising to prominence in this field.) Good things come from pantsing.
Similarly, in Fester, Paul Plummer was originally meant to be a minor character who would sort of fade into the background after the first act. Instead, he ended up being on of the main characters of the novel. It was fun to sort of conceive of these characters and then set them loose to see what happens. I’ll also do this deliberately if I get a little stuck. For example, Laughingstock has a network executive named Don Bundy. I wasn’t sure what Don was all about, so just to find out, I wrote a scene showing what Don does in the evening when he goes home from work. It turns out that Don is a lot creepier than I’d originally thought. The scene was excised from the second draft as it didn’t really move the story along, but it provided invaluable insight into Don’s character which was very useful for the rest of the story.
So that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. The novel is progressing slowly – not because of authorial laziness (well, not entirely) – but because these darned characters act like they have minds of their own! Onward!
No, actually, I’ve been busy doing things other than writing, alas. April was a bit of a mess, having to make a short-notice cross-country trip to deal with family issues, then getting the RSV virus, which pretty much laid me out for two solid weeks. No fun.
I had honestly thought that I’d been done with the third draft of my new novel, Laughingstock, at this point. Unfortunately, it’s not to be – at least not yet. I know there may be literally dozens of fans out there clamoring to read this. I can’t blame them, as it is shaping up to be pretty good. There are still a few rough patches that need to be smoothed over, but what I can’t take care of in Draft 3, surely the editor will be able to address.
Which brings me to another issue that is delaying the moving forward of the project – I can’t really afford to hire an editor right now, nor shell out for the cover art. It’s a drag, and I hope that I’ll be able to do so in the immediate future. However, one of the unfortunate truths of indie authordom is that the author has to pay for these up-front costs out of pocket, as well as ongoing advertising costs, etc. This is not a business for those looking to get rich quickly.
There are those who would have you believe otherwise. A lot of jibber-jabber in that direction nowadays revolves around artificial intelligence (AI). AI platforms such as BlowHard and SplatGTH have been featured on a daily basis since the end of last year. Most of these platforms are language-based or art-based, and I know a lot of writers and artists who have been having a blast playing with them.
I’m not one of them.
I’m taking a very cautious wait-and-see approach to Artificial Intelligence. Any technology that made Stephen Hawking nervous should be approached with extreme caution, I think. Seeing how much of a shit-show social media turned out to be, I think I’ll just keep my distance for a while. Maybe that makes me a Luddite – I really don’t care. I turned 55 a few months ago. I feel that gives me the right to be cranky and suspicious of new stuff. ‘Scuse me – I gotta go holler at some kids to get off my damn lawn!
Okay, I will admit that I can think of at least one area where I would be willing to entertain the use of AI in my writing process: proofreading. I did not have my manuscripts professionally proofread previously, and I came to regret it. For Fester, I just did it myself. In restrospect, this was silly. Sure, I caught some typos, but certainly not all of them. It’s not going to happen when you read the same 100,000 word MS over and over again. You’re too familiar with the words, and your eyes just sorta slide off of them.
The trouble is that professional proofreading can be expensive – usually a penny a word. That’s a cool grand for a 100K word MS. This was more than my editor charged! So I’m conflicted. On one hand, I’m leery of sinking more money into a project that I will most likely never make back. On the other hand, I’d hate to be contributing to literary people losing income due to the Rise of the Machines. On the third hand, I sure as hell don’t want to try proofreading my own novel again.
It’s a bit of a quandary, fer sure. However, given that I have yet to finish writing the thing, it’s all hypothetical, at least for now. So I’ll just quit bitching and leave you with a little treat: Stephen Hawking singing the Galaxy Song. Enjoy!
I’m not a fast writer. I have a full-time job, and I’m also pretty lazy. I’d love to be able to crank out two or three full-length novels a year, but that may not be in the offing anytime soon. Consequently, it’s always an amazing feeling when I can see the light at the end of the tunnel for a project I’ve been working on for a long time. I’ve finally reached that point with my latest novel.
The novel is called Laughingstock. It’s about two comedians who grew up together and began doing standup as a duo while in high school. The family of one of the teens moves out of state (to Fester!), but they continue to pursue their comedy careers. Chuck Marshall ends up as a successful standup in L.A., who manages to grab the brass ring and gets his own network TV show. His pal, Wilbert “Duckie” Dunne, manages to escape from Fester, but languishes in a comedy backwater, working crummy jobs and appearing at small venues in the Pacific Northwest. When Chuck disappears at the height of his success, Duckie goes out in search of his childhood friend. Along the way, he encounters a secret comedians’ retreat, a deceased comedy legend who isn’t as dead as everyone thinks, and the sinister machinations of the head of the Wolff TV Network.
I was about three-quarters of the way through the second draft when I realized, “Hey, this might actually be a story that people would enjoy reading.” It was a good feeling. That feeling was tempered somewhat by the final word count: 165,000 words, which was about a 50% increase from the first draft.
I nominally like to aim for a word count of 90,000 words for a completed novel MS. For Fester, I settled for 110,000 – I’ll probably end up landing around there for Laughingstock as well. That’s the problem with “pantsing,” which is my preferred method of writing. Since I usually start with a premise, a handful of characters and a very general notion of the direction I want the story to go, I always end up with huge manuscripts that then need to be brutally pruned to something readable. It’s fun, however, to kind of wind up the characters and just observe what they do. A lot of the time they end up doing or saying things that I had no notion of them doing or saying. It can be kind of spooky, honestly – but also fun, like a Jaycees haunted house.
Now I have a 592-page brick of a manuscript that I need to cut nearly in half to be workable. I thought about just removing all of the even-numbered chapters, and pushing it as an “experimental” story form, but that would probably only appeal to MFA students who do a lot of hippie drugs. Instead, I will now break out a red pen and proceed to “murder my darlings.” The best approach is to treat the whole project like I’m having to pay by the word for having the thing printed. Given that Amazon is my primary sales conduit, this isn’t that far from the truth.
So off I go with a brand new red pen and a ruthless gleam in my eye to get this next novel out in the world. Wish me luck.
In late 2020, fans of indie romance writer Susan Meachen got shocking news: she had recently died. Even worse, she had taken her own life, and it was intimated that online bullying had driven her to do so.
Meachen had been an active member of a number of online communities of indie romance authors. Any number of online author communities exist for different genres, and I can attest that they can get ugly. Just like any other part of the Internet – and especially social media – some people participate in such groups seemingly for the sole purpose of dumping on others.
Not surprisingly, the indie/romance world is especially drama-ridden. Meachen had earlier intimated about her struggles with mental health issues to her 700+ followers on her Facebook page – known as “the Ward,” a reference to a psych ward. Regardless, they were shocked when a post on Meachen’s account by her daughter in September 2020 announced that Meachen had taken her own life, and strongly intimated that online “book world” bullying had been a contributing factor.
Naturally, Meachen’s online fans and friends were devastated. Some pitched in to edit Meachen’s final manuscript for publication. A short story anthology called Bully King Anthology, which was dedicated to Meachen, with the tag “Let’s keep bullying where it belongs – In fiction.” There was also on online auction to help cover the expenses of Meachen’s funeral.
As the months after Meachen’s death rolled on there would be posts on Meachen’s FB page from her daughter, many calling attention to mental health issues. Eventually, a new admin called T.N. Steele began moderating and posting to the Ward. Strangely enough, Steele shared the same birthday and anniversary as did Meachen.
The mystery was solved on January 3 of this year, when the following post hit Meachen’s FB page:
Indeed, the fun did begin. Many people were outraged that Meachen had falsely reported her own suicide, then seemed to try to profit from it as well. One former friend contacted FBI’s cybercrimes unit. There was much recrimination about the anguish caused by the fake death announcement, and similar concerns related to mental health issues.
The media had a fun time with it, although mostly in a superficial, frothy “ha-ha-look-at-the-lengths-these-indie-authors-will-go-to” sort of way, perhaps with a soupcon of concern about mental health issues.
The mainstream “traditional” publishing industry weighed in with an unsurprising level of condescension. “Mainstream” book reviewer Laura Miller wrote the following in Slate:
While Meachen and the other writers who befriended her virtually refer to their community as “the book world,” what they’re talking about has little to do with what most outsiders would associate with that term: the mainstream publishing industry, the professionals who work in it, and the authors whose books fill your local bookstore. Meachen’s “book world” is the community of self-published romance and erotica writers who sell low-cost e-books and print-on-demand paperbacks, primarily through Amazon.
Snotty, yes – but the “book world” for indie writers is just as real – and drama-filled – for indie writers as the traditional publishing industry is for folks like Ms. Miller. The New York Times pointed out in an op-ed that the traditional publishing scene is not without its own scandals and drama. The point being that even if your glass house is a 29-story building on Broadway, you should be careful about chucking stones.
Then the NYT came up with a more nuanced take on the story that cast Meachen in a more sympathetic light. A resident of rural Tennessee, Susan Meachen found herself at loose ends as her husband Troy was away from home for long stretches as a long-haul truck driver. Meachen discovered her “book world” by immersing herself in romance novels, often going through them in less than a day.
Then she began writing them, and entered the singular purgatory of indie authorship. It can be a difficult world, one with a constant need for attention and validation. These, unfortunately, can be achieved for some by slagging other authors in online forums, on Goodreads, on Amazon reviews and elsewhere.
Add genuine mental health issues into this environment, and things can quickly deteriorate. Meachen had been diagnosed and treated for bipolar disorder. The feedback of the indie/romance “book world” was a double-acting whipsaw, elevating the manic highs and depressing the dismal lows. Meachen’s family began to express major concerns about her well-being and possibility of self-harm.
In September 2020, while Troy was on the road, Meachen’s daughter checked in on her and discovered her semi-conscious, after having taken a large quantity of Xanax. Obviously terrified by the effects that “book world” were having on his wife’s mental health, Troy instructed his daughter to post the announcement of Susan Meachen’s death, hoping to sever the connection between his wife and an online community that was harming her.
This was the first of a series of questionable choices made by the Meachen family. Besides the (admittedly small-scale) donations solicited in Meachen’s name, there was also the issue of her apparently lurking amongst her mourners for two years as “TN Steele.” Meachen herself seems surprised at the controversy and attention that her resurrection has garnered. Apparently, the fuss has died an ignoble death, and Susan Meachen has been effectively canceled and cast into the outer darkness of social media nothinghood.
So what’s the point of this? I was actually hoping that something would come to me as I wrote this, but other than being a moderately-interesting but slightly-slimy tale of the intersection of social media and grimier parts of human nature. If anything, it’s an illustration of the uglier part of indie writing and publishing. There’s a lot of dog-eat-dog competition out there, especially in popular genres such as romance. A microcosm of social media in general, there’s a constant need for attention and validation that can be poisonous to even those who beam down to “book world” with relatively good mental health. It can be tough out there. As a wise guy once said, “Life sucks; get a helmet.”1
1 Note that this is not to diminish the problems of those struggling with depression or any other form of mental illness. “Helmet” is meant metaphorically to mean any mechanism to help mitigate from externalharm, like turning off your computer and going for a walk.
Happy New Year to you all! Hope you survived the holidays intact, and that you may have even come away from the experience with some pleasant experiences and memories.
Family gatherings over the holidays can always be fraught, and there’s always the risk of having some difficult family memories come to the surface. Sometimes, good things come to the surface. This happened to me, and I’m pleased to share it with you now in the spirit of promoting a beneficial 2023.
I had written before about how the urge to self-express through self-publishing runs in my family, with both my brother and my uncle self-publishing books, and an aunt who is still working on a romance novel. As I visited with my family earlier in November, I received a copy of a book of poetry that had been self-published by my great-grandfather. I remembered hearing about this book when I was young, and thinking that it was very cool that I was related to someone who had written and published a book. So I was thrilled to get a copy of that book.
Titled Some Simple Rhymes, it was written by Great-Granddad, James Crawford Smith, sometime in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, not much more is known about it. Great-Granddad passed away in 1915, over twenty years before my father was born. I pestered Dad about the book, but he didn’t know much more about it that what I’ve already described. The title page doesn’t reveal much more:
The pseudonym “Jay Cee” was doubtless related to Great-Granddad’s work as a minister. A lot of the poetry in the book is of a religious nature as well, but not all of it. Here’s a good example:
GOOD-BY AND FORGET
‘Tis easy to say forget,
‘Tis easy to say good-by;
But the scenes we love, they are with us yet,
And the faces bright with the friends we’ve met
Are ever before the eye.
‘Tis easy to turn away
From the home we used to know;
But its form and outlines with us stay,
And its memories haunt us day by day
As the seasons come and go.
‘Tis easy to say farewell
To the joys of olden time;
But their pleasant echoes with us dwell,
And in oft recall still they tell
Their story most sublime.
‘Tis easy to cease to prize
Old friendships true and pure;
But the good they have done us never dies
And the thoughts of our loved ones ever rise,
And will while our lives endure.
‘Tis easy to be engrossed
With the busy scenes of life;
But we ne’er forget the peace we’ve lost,
And saddened hearts we count the cost
Of the weary toil and strife.
‘Tis easy to say good-by,
‘Tis easy to say forget;
But the past with its teachings cannot die,
And the years that have vanished still seem nigh
With the forms of the friends we’ve met.
Is it good poetry? I’m not in a position to judge, not having studied much in the way of poetry. I mean, it’s got a good meter and you can dance to it, but other than that, I’m not sure. The topics of the poems certainly a reflection of the time and place, and there are sentiments expressed that would certainly seem archaic and perhaps even offensive to some now.
Still, I believe that even the dated attitudes are intended with a spirit of love and hope. Great-Granddad was a minister in Port Townsend, Washington in the early twentieth century. At the time, Seattle was gaining its place as the main hub of shipping and industry in the Puget Sound area, while Port Townsend was slowly losing out. Nevertheless, it was still a thriving port city in the early 1900’s, with all of the vice and skullduggery that went along with it. Great-Granddad railed against that vice, as would be expected of a preacher of that era. However, he still managed to retain his hope for redemption and love for his neighbors. When he passed away, those he’d railed against – the brothel madams and gamblers and ne’er-do-wells of Port Townsend – all showed up to pay their respects to the man.
Would that I could write with the love and conviction that James Crawford Smith did. I appreciate that he left this legacy that can inspire me even now. Thanks, Great Granddad!
I’m sitting here enjoying watching an early December snowfall in Portland – and fervently hoping that it ends and melts by tomorrow!
As I mentioned in my last post, I sorta punted on November’s National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. The goal of NaNoWriMo is to produce 50K words of a novel during the 30 days of November. This works out to 1,667 words per day. This is not an easy task, at least not for me. I know some professional writers who can crank out three or four thousand words a day without breaking a sweat, but for me this sort of output is aspirational.
Last year, I participated in NaNoWriMo in a limited fashion, with a goal of 15K words for the month, or 500 a day. This wasn’t too odious, so I wanted to double the goal for this year. However, my schedule (and inherent laziness) didn’t allow me to participate last month, which was disappointing. I had really wanted to get 30,000 words further down the road in the second draft of my new MS, a novel called Laughingstock.
In order to make up for this deficit, I’m declaring December to be Local Novel Writing Month, or LoNoWriMo. In this case, the locality is limited to my writing space upstairs, or – if it’s snowing – the kitchen table, so I can look out over the backyard. The goal is to have 30K words by the New Year.
So far, so good. In fact, it’s only the 4th, but I’ve got 5,000 words down, so I’m slightly ahead of the game. If I can keep up this pace, I might be in a position to do the full monty of 50,000 words for next November’s NaNoWriMo. First things, first, though – onward to the New Year!