Skip to content

Category: Indie author

Now For the Real Fun!

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!

Concept 1

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.

Concept 2

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.


Intelligence – Artificial and Otherwise

So remember, when you’re feeling very small and insecure

How amazingly unlikely is your birth

And pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space

‘Cause there’s bugger-all down here on Earth!

Monty Python, “Galaxy Song”

Hola, amigos! I know it’s been a long time since I’ve rapped with ya, but I’ve been busy reading old editorials from The Onion.

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!


The Brick

Second draft of LAUGHINGSTOCK

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.


Welcome to “Book World” – Enter at Your Own Risk

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 external harm, like turning off your computer and going for a walk.