Working Title: Close to Nowhere

Sometims you come up with a decent title, but no story to go with it. In this case, we tracked it down and found only one pop song with the title, so it’s clear ground, more or less. I don’t even know why this compulsion to write yet another story, and that’s precisely what it is, in my case, a compulsion, an addiction, nothing more, and it comes and goes “as ceaselessly as the tides” (though not perhaps as regularly). So for now it’s input mode in the old yin and yang of the thing, low tides and high tides, and any day now a story might pop up that fits the working title.

And now the death of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and all the recent talk about the out-of-fashion-ness of ‘magical realism’ is taking a timeout as people honor that great storyteller and come to recognize that this so-called magical realism was really a way of merging journalism and fable in a place and time where journalism by itself was far too dangerous and fairy tales by themselves were far too innocent. Telling truth through lies has always been the secret weapon of the storyteller, probably from as far back as storytelling goes, and writers of Latin American fiction in the eras of brutal military rule had no other recourse. In current times perhaps they no longer have the necessity, but that doesn’t diminish the old hard realities. Today we can have books like 2666 but back then such a catalog of outrage would have met a different fate for its author. Instead you had the leafstorm and the evil hour, the sailor who fell from grace and the colonel to whom no one writes – myths disguising truths.

 

 

I’m So Sick of the Middle Ages

That’s my new song, to the tune of the song “I’m so bored with the USA” by The Clash. Seriously. I finally tried to watch an episode of Game of Thrones, thinking it couldn’t be half as bad as that guy’s hackneyed, clichéd, terribly boring writing, but it is! And maybe even more than half. But the people are so pretty it’s almost Beverly Hills 90210 with a 21st century adjustment in the tits and blood department. It was fitting that I tried to watch it right after trying to watch Anchorman 2, where the best line was “Why tell the people what they need to hear? Why not tell them what they want to hear?” and this medieval bullshit is apparently something a lot of people enjoy. I’ve just had a little too much of the Middle Ages for one lifetime, I suppose. 

Even more data courtesy of Amazon’s KDP

For those indie writers who have books on Amazon, the KDP site just got even more dataful with some new charts and stuff! They’ve added a Sales Dashboard with settable date parameters that breakdown your book sales versus book loans versus free downloads. I stretched out the timeline just to see what that would look like (although it only goes back 90 days, which is a shame. I’d like to see it go back further), and was a little startled to see that one day in March I had more than 300 downloads – turns out they were all from the Dragon City series of books, so they must have been featured on some website or mailer somewhere, and they’re getting some decent reviews and ratings from that spike. Mostly my books average around 20 downloads a day (almost all from the 22 free titles they still (gratefully) have going on there). Anyway, seems like as good a time as any to post the fourth cover of Snapdragon Alley, #44 in Children’s Science Fiction on Kindle right now.

snapdragon_cover4a

 

Data Wars

I’ve been thinking a bit about data lately, partly because it’s all over the news, from the NSA to Facebook&co to the “new” allegedly fact-based reporting of Vox.com and FiveThirtyEight.com, partly because I’ve been toying with some aspects of the subject in my Abnormality series of silly stories, and partly because it’s become a part of my day job. Some people seem to be concerned about the sheer amount of it, although a billion tons of dog shit is still basically dog shit. It takes some seriously sophisticated software to pull meaning out of the heaps, and it all depends on what the heaps contain in the first place. Some of these worries are just misplaced – massive amounts of data about oil changes are not going to cause trouble for anyone – and most of the uses of personal data can be broken down into three major categories: stealing your money outright, trying to get at your money through advertisting, or screwing you over because of political affiliations. The first and third of these are truly genuine concerns and it’s impossible to be genuinely secure from threats, even if you never use a computer or a smart phone. We are all in the pool and “they” can find out pretty much anything about us if “they” really want to.

There are people trying to use big data to make predictions about stuff, but it seems to be clear that predicting the future is always fairly futile no matter what information you have. Aside from spying, theft and marketing, I wonder if there is much genuine use at all for all the petabytes of data that are being generated and stored every day. I would like to think of something more fun than calculating what percentage of someone’s paintings feature one or more trees or what percentage of love songs actually contain the word “love”. I guess there’s a lot of “low-hanging fruit” like that. Data will be used for good and for evil, I suppose, but most of all it will be used merely for the hell of it.

Madhouse

This week’s “small idea” ™ is that every workplace can be seen as a sort of madhouse. I say this as someone who’s had more than thirty jobs and by this point they all seem sort of interchangeable, from the all-night burger joint I worked at as a teenager to my current workplace in the heart of high tech. All it takes to see it is a slight shift in perspective. Pretend you’re a parrot, for example, and you’re stuck in this place with these creatures. What do you see? And by that I don’t mean ‘how do you interpret what you are seeing’ but what, precisely, are you seeing. Use a little mindfulness and just take note of actual occurrences. It’s all out in the open in my new workplace, one of those “open” places with no cubicles that’s the current trend. I take a break and look around sometimes. There’s the person who sits there all day long and says nothing. There’s the person who seemingly can’t shut up. There’s the person who, every ten minutes, takes out their phone and looks at it for twenty five seconds. There’s the one who gets up and walks around. I pay no attention to what they are all doing, what we are all doing there (making the world a better place, of course. This is, after all, Silicon Valley) but taking it all out of context. In my retail days, there I was, saying “thank you” a thousand times a day and actually meaning it once or twice. It’s insane. At least it can all easily seem insane! Such odd creatures gathered in bizarre circumstances for certain hours of the day on certain days of the week, and coming from all over the place to be there. Who would believe it?

Cover Art: Ledman Pickup

LedmanPickup_Cover2

time for a refresher cover image for one of my best and most popular books, Ledman Pickup is free as always on Smashwords and elsewhere:

If you were a sentient gadget, what would you do? Travel? See the world? After overhearing one warehouse worker tell another that ‘Green Bay is better than San Francisco’, a newly conscious handheld device decides to re-route its shipping destination. From there one hell of a wild goose chase is on as its owners race to bring it in before it gets away. 

(the gimp’d ninja on the cover is from a bit of graffiti stenciled on a warehouse wall in Dunedin, New Zealand, merged with a photo of a leaf)

Experimental: Scribl Books

Scribl.com is another ebook distribution site I’m giving a try. It’s one of the newer ones that’s pitching a money-making scheme whereby the book starts out free, then the more downloadsit gets, the price gradually goes up, so that the price itself is an indication of popularity (along with the usual five star ratings and optional reviews). They also boast a different approach to marketing/filtering the book for purposes of discovery. As you go through the process of uploading your book, you fill out a quesitonaire on various categories they call “story elements”, including radio button selections for levels of sexuality and violence and fantasy and the target age of the audience you had in mind. Browsers on the site use the same categories to filter the books. One of my favorite elements is “pace” – mine are usual “breakneck”. Some of these are really good ideas, and I’m sure they’ll be refined over time as well. There are bugs in the current (beta) version, but on the whole it seems to be a decent site with good intentions and some interesting concepts. In the contract terms you can either select 70% of the profits and keep all the rights to yourself or there are 80% and 90% options which give the additional rights to your work, and I hadn’t seen that before. They also allow for inclusion of audiobook files, if you’re interested in that. I did some recordings several years ago of some of mine (around the same time I started with Smashwords there was Podiobooks for free audiobook distribution, and although I rarely remember to check, I just saw that those audiobooks are still being downloaded, five years later – even as many as ten per day still for some of them, like zombie nights and snapdragon alley). The quality wasn’t great – I’m no great communicator – but it was fun to do. Anyway, you might want to give Scribl.com a try if you’re an indie writer or reader.

Experimental: Screwpulp.com

The idea behind this ebook publishing experiment is this: “By giving away the initial copies of the book for free, in exchange for a mention on social media and a star rating, we quickly get your book into the hands of readers.” After a certain point, with enough reviews with good enough ratings, the book starts costing money (up a dollar at a time) and so there is money to be made. This part if of little interest to me, since I give away my books for free anyway, but I thought I’d put something up there and see what happens. One of my novellas from last year has seen a few reviews, almost all of which have been very positive, so I thought I’d give it a chance to find a few more readers (who I hope will enjoy it).

So, The Lemon Thief’s Ex-Wife’s Third Cousin is now available for free from Screwpulp as well as from the usual suspects. What’s it about, you ask? Well, it’s science-fiction-y, sort of inspired by Jose Saramago’s book The Double, which I read while living in New Zealand the year before last. Then, when I reluctantly had to return to the U.S., I had the idea “if only I could split in two, and the other me would continue to live in Christchurch” and then what would happen? How would the two of me grow different over the years. The novella came from those influences, but it is not either of those stories. I think it’s an interesting book, a “quick read” (as they say, as nearly all of my books are), and was a lot of fun to write.

TheLemonThief_Cover