Flash.Fiction: Time and Tide

Yes, it’s another Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction contest entry.  It’s unusual for me to do two so close together, but when I looked at the picture, I couldn’t resist.  I’m planning a vacation to an island in the San Juan’s and the picture made me think of what might be while I’m on vacation.

I read through the other entries, and I think I have put a unique spin on the story.

This week’s prompt is:

Photo Copyright K. S. Brooks

That kid in the picture is my little brother, Andy. In 1987, he got carried away by an undertow at this very beach. The authorities never recovered his body.

I took this picture of him yesterday, when he walked up out of the water as if nothing had happened.

And this is my story based on the prompt:

For just a moment I’m sure I’ve lost my mind. The boy, it’s Andy, my twin, but it can’t be Andy. Andy died. When we were kids, Andy died. The undertow took him from us, never to be found again.

I draw near, wary that a grownup approaching a young boy might look suspicious. But I can’t stay away. I have to see this boy. This ghost I’ve just captured on film.

As I suspected, a woman rushes up, grabs the boy’s hand, and asks me what I’m doing. The boy pulls away and runs further up the beach.

“It’s just… He looks like my brother, Andy. When we were kids.”

Never taking her eyes off the boy, the woman must sense my sadness.

“That’s funny.” She smiles, nodding toward the boy. “His name’s Andrew. But we call him Andy. For some reason, his father was adamant he be called Andy, wouldn’t consider anything else.”

“Daddy, Daddy,” the boy shouts holding up a starfish. “Look what I found.”

The father looks up from where he sits on the beach and waves at the boy.

There’s something about the father. I move closer.

The man stands, picks up the boy, and my heart skips a beat. Can it be? My brother, Andy, fully grown, my twin, stands before me. I walk up to him.

Hugging the boy safe, he extends his hand. “Name’s George. Can I help you?”

My mouth drops open. “Were you adopted?”

He frowns. “How’d you know?”

Flash.Fiction: The Ghosts of Northgate

Every week, Indies Unlimited has a flash fiction contest, and every now and then, the image and prompt calls to me. I love all things grizzly and creepy. If you’ve read my novella Couillon, you’ll understand. I think I scared some of the people in my writing classes because in my short stories, someone always gets killed in a disturbing way.

This week’s flash fiction prompt was the picture included here and a prompt:

Photo Copyright K. S. Brooks

Northgate Sanitarium was an extension of the state prison system. The facility specialized in  experimental treatment of the criminally insane. Some horrible stuff went on there.

Abandoned in the 1950s, the old building has been linked by rumor to a few recent disappearances.

I had just gotten my first job as a journalist, working for the Northgate Observer. I thought it would make a good story to spend the night in the old sanitarium. Back then, I guess you could have called me a skeptic…

This is my response, my story:

Snow had fallen the night before, covering the campus and dampening any sounds from the surrounding areas, making the outing feel isolated and forbidding. And just downright cold. I followed along behind the shivering research students as they investigated the Northgate lockdown area, you know, the ward where the real crazies were kept. Now that the facility was closed for good, these students had keys to even the most appalling parts of the building.

I kept asking them questions, trying to steer them in the right direction without literally pointing out that they didn’t have a clue, but the arrogant little prats just ignored me. I could show them things. Scary things. Real things. After all as a reporter I had investigated Northgate, way, way back before some of them were born. They should at least pay attention. Should at least give me some of the respect I deserve.

This group wouldn’t even be here if only I’d been allowed to write the article I wanted to write, an article exposing the experimentation done on the unwilling. Unwilling, insane criminals, yes, but still unwilling. In my original research, I had uncovered atrocities that needed to be exposed. Doctors allowed to do whatever in the name of science. Doctors allowed to maim and mutilate. And kill, all in the name of science. If only…

If only I could just get these students to listen, I’d show them where the bodies were hidden, where my body was buried with all my notes.

Do Yourself a Favor: Edit Your Book

IMG_20140627_165856Yesterday, Lorraine Devon Wilke was a guest blogger on Indies Unlimited. After starting out with the Amazon/Hachette debate, her post, The Persistence of Self-Publishing Stigmas and How To Transcend Themmoved to a topic that’s a constant source of irritation for me.  Lorraine’s opinions on why indie-authors are typically thought of as sub-par was spot-on, and you can read her opinions for yourself.

I agree with Ms. Wilke, but not because I’m an uppity my-writing-is better-than-yours author. No, I agree with her because I’m an avid reader, and I have pulled down far too many badly written indie books, rife with typos, poor grammar, and just plain bad writing. So many that I have a “Don’t Like” folder on my Kindle so that I won’t forget the author’s name. So many that I now shy away from most authors I haven’t read before. I paid for many of those poorly written books. But even if a book is free, I’m investing my spare time reading your work. And if you’re one of the ones who is putting out these obviously unedited books, you won’t get my repeat business. Sadly, it doesn’t affect just you. Actions like this reduce the chance of readers investing in other unknown, indie authors’ work.

Do yourself a favor, okay. Edit your book.

~0~

First of all, the idea that you can’t afford an editor is ridiculous. If you don’t barter, beg, or pay for an editor, chances are you won’t ever have the funds to pay for an editor because after reading your first book, no one will ever buy another one. If you can afford a $5 Macchiato every day, then you can afford to save up, budget, and pay for an editor. At the absolute very least have beta readers. There are a ton of groups on Facebook alone where people are willing to read your book, free of charge, and comment on it.

Do yourself a favor: let someone else decide when it’s ready to release.

 ~o~

That leads me to the idea that you can finish the last chapter on Monday and have your book available on Amazon on Tuesday. It is enticing, and it is prompting many new authors to “rush to publish”. Even though the rush to publish idea is a perfect metaphor for today’s society, it’s a bad, bad, bad idea. Did I mention it’s a bad idea? Have you not heard the term shitty first draft? If you publish right after finishing the last chapter, then you are publishing a first draft. I’d even bet that you haven’t gone back and re-read your book, probably not even once. This is not even a money issue. This is an arrogance issue, a stupidity issue. What is the big hurry? If you really believe that you can finish your book and publish it right away, you probably aren’t going to be losing any awards/money/readers by waiting a month or a year, because books like that don’t get awards or tons of royalties or loyal readers.

Do yourself a favor: wait, re-read your book, several times.

 ~o~

With many new authors, especially those who are still totally in love with their own work, there’s this attitude that their work is as good as it’s ever going to be and they may as well publish it now. Wrong. Every now and again, I go back and re-read the work I wrote in my first writing classes, and even though I see the potential in my writing, I also see what a huge pile of crap my writing was at that time. And at that time, I thought everything that came out of my pen was pure genius. It wasn’t.

Do yourself a favor: attend a class, join a critique group, learn your craft, polish your work.

~o~

I could go on and on about poor workmanship, bad writing, and ridiculous cover art. [gimp is free, folks, figure out how to use it to create an attractive cover.]

But I still wonder why some new authors believe that they don’t have to do the hard work, that just telling a story is enough?

Is it possible that someone has told them that their work is the greatest writing since [fill in the blank]? It’s possible. Which leads me to my biggest indie-world pet peeve: coercing your friends into writing 5-star reviews. If that person is your friend, and if you’re a good writer, then you should be able to take an honest, constructive critique. Several close, long time friends have given me a 3-star rating because literary [women’s literary] fiction isn’t a genre they enjoy. I’m okay with that. Personally, I never give a 5-star review unless I’ve read the book multiple times, or I think that I would want to read it again.

Untitled

While perusing books on Amazon, the first thing I do is to look at the review graph. If that graph shows anything other than an inverted triangle, then I don’t even bother. There is not a single book that’s been published that everyone likes. So don’t try to bullshit me that your book is so good that it has fifty 5-star reviews and nothing else.

On the flip side of this review/ratings coin are the people [usually indie authors themselves] who always give 5-star reviews, no matter how bad the book is. Maybe they want all the other authors to like them. Or possibly, these people think if I give Sara a 5-star rating, she’ll return the favor. That is not going to happen, and not because I like being a bitch. If I’ve read your book all the way through, and I see problems, then I feel it’s my responsibility to respect you and your work, and tell you the truth. This is not a mutual admiration society. We are authors. Stand up and be honest. Give constructive criticism.

Do yourself a huge favor: accept constructive criticism, use it to make your book(s) better.

~o~

Finally, I’ve re-read this post at least five times. There may still be typos because it’s hard to proof your own writing. You see what is supposed to be there. And I’m a terrible speller. But, no one can say that I didn’t spend the time trying to make this post as good as it can be.

IU Featured Book Promo

My novImageel, An Untold Want, was listed today as a feature book on the Indies Unlimited website. The IU folks are great to work with, and if you’re serious about being an indie author or are at a loss as to where to find like-minded people, I think you couldn’t do better than the Indies Unlimited group.

They have helpful pages on everything from how to write a book blurb to how to format jpgs.

Take a look for yourself, starting with my featured novel:  IU Featured Book: An Untold Want

Book Blurbs are Hard

AUWJust recently, I queried Indies Unlimited about listing my book as one of their Featured Books. Everything about my book passed muster with flying colors [cover, reviews, author pages, preview], everything except the book blurb. Kat, who has been very helpful, said that my book blurb is confusing. And to be honest it is/was. Mostly because I know what the book is about, but condensing it down into 200 or so words is more difficult than I imagined.

The problem is that An Untold Want is a women’s literary novel, not a romance, nor is it a urban-fantasy, even though it has witches and ghosts. And a young suitor.

Maggie is the main character, and she has issues, with everything, especially her family heritage. She grew up in a world where gossip is truth, and image is everything. Witch is not the story. It’s a factor in the story. Same when it comes to romance.

So I don’t want to represent it as an urban-fantasy[or romance] novel. Yes, there are witches. Yes, there is a relationship, actually several of them in the book, but calling it an urban-fantasy or romance novel is missing the mark by a long shot, and misleading the reader. It’s about three women finding their self-worth. The romance and witches are elements used to make it a deeper, more well-rounded story.

I’m frustrated with myself, with how difficult it is to put all that into 200 or so words, to get the tone just right so that the potential reader will want to purchase it and be happy with their purchase. You see, I bought into the whole idea of cross-genre books that people like Donald Maass are pitching, because it sounds like the best of all worlds, but in general the reader population hasn’t really bought into it.  They see witches and think urban fantasy.  Same when it comes to romance.

So how do I write a book blurb that expresses all of that without putting off the reader, without it coming across as boring or condescending? I can’t write: This is a book about witches and love, but it’s not about witches and love.

Today, I contacted Lisa, my editor and friend. We reviewed the advice Kat gave me, which Lisa backed wholeheartedly, and we worked on re-writing my book blurb. I’m on about my tenth re-write, with Lisa, as she says, adjusting my direction.

This is what I’m going to submit to Kat:

Being born into a family of witches in a small Georgia town is more than enough to brand Maggie MacAllister a social pariah. In the fifteen years since she came home from college with a PhD, baby Liz, and no husband, she has withdrawn from life, from a world where gossip is truth and image is all that matters.

Maggie just wants a normal life, maybe even a husband, but everyone knows that any man who falls for a MacAllister woman dies in the prime of life. So, even though Maggie sees herself as a rational, science-minded person, her family and its history weighs on her, colors her life in deep shades of loneliness and self-doubt.

When a medical emergency befalls her daughter, Maggie is forced to examine the choices she has made. Forced to let others into her rigid, cloistered lifestyle. Forced to recognize a potential, and younger, suitor. But will she be able to overcome her fear of what others think of her and accept her heritage? And if she does, will she be able to protect the people important to her from the small town dogma and drama and still find happiness?

If,  for whatever reasons, you’re having the same problems:

Lisa is now taking new clients if you’re looking for someone to help you polish your book [or book blurb], and the Indies Unlimited reference on writing book blurbs,  The Blurb Doctor is In, is an excellent starting place.