A Turning Point for Charlie Pilsen: Part I

Note: This is a novelette, at something over 12000 words. For that reason, I chose to publish it here in two parts. 

charlie-pilsen-180Shortly after dawn on Thursday morning, the arid air of Dalton, Texas was still chilly from the cloudless night. Marshal Bob Gibson sat in a straight back chair on the platform at the train station. The chair was leaned back against the wall.

Beneath the cuffs of his brown canvas trousers, his boots extended to the planks, his right ankle crossed over his left. A Colt nestled in a holster on the right side of his waist. The holster followed along the outside of his right thigh. It was tied off above his knee with a thin leather strap.

His arms were crossed over his chest, the off-white shirt sleeves thinned at the elbows. His brown three-button vest hung open, revealing the right point of the star on his left breast. His head was tilted forward, his chin near his chest. His hat was tipped forward over his eyes, which were peacefully closed.

For the moment.

A man has to take his rest where he can find it. It had been a rough week.

But he wasn’t sleeping. He was listening. And waiting.

In the distance, a train whistle sounded. Then again.

Gettin’ to be that time.

Barely discernably, he shook his head.

Why can’t people just mind their damn manners? Either that or stay home?

If Johnny Pilsen had done either one, and he’d still be breathing.

He’d still be breathing and I’d be breathing a lot easier.

But that isn’t what happened.

A week and a day ago, early on Thursday night, Johnny Pilsen got bored and picked on at the same time. Then he got rowdy and reckless.

And then he got dead.

* * *

A new batch of seven wanted posters lay face up on the desk before Marshal Gibson. Behind him, leaning slightly forward to look over his shoulder, stood Zeke Masters.

The marshal picked up a poster and pointed. “Now this ol’ boy here’s a real hard case. And—”

“He looks like a hard case, that’s fer sure.”

If anyone knew a hard case when he saw one, it was Zeke. He alternated between being the town drunk and a mostly helpful volunteer deputy. If he had one truly annoying personal habit, it was his penchant for interruption.

Zeke absentmindedly brought his left hand to his mouth and bit off a fresh plug of chewing tobacco. He dropped the remainder back into his left pants pocket. He worked the plug into position between his teeth with his tongue, then bit down. A small bit of brown juice seeped from the left corner of his mouth. It bubbled there, threating to drop.

The marshal turned his chair slightly. He looked up at the thin old man, then gestured toward the guest chair on the other side of his desk. “Why don’t you have a seat, Zeke? No reason we shouldn’t both be comfortable. In fact, there’s no need for you to stay. I can finish goin’ over these myself.”

Zeke wagged one hand in the air. “No no, now. I don’t mind stayin’. You forget, this used to be my job. I know how lonely it can get.” He cackled and moved around the desk.

His thinning white hair was tousled, and his face and neck were dark from too many hours in the sun. Except for the pale band across the top of his forehead. His hat usually covered that. A sheen of alcohol sweat covered his face, neck and chest down to where his long-john top was buttoned.

His trousers were so filthy it was hard to tell what color they were. Some approximation of light brown maybe. Or maybe dark tan. And his once-black boots were scuffed to a sickly off-white.

His long-john shirt was stained in several layers with sweat. The most recent layer, especially beneath his arms and in the big half-oval below his neck, was still damp. His suspenders hung from his hips and across the back of his thighs. His pungent scent draped around him like a cloud.

He grabbed the back of the guest chair and began dragging it around the desk.

The marshal waved a hand side to side. “Oh. You don’t have to do that, Zeke. Just sit over there.”

“Aw, nonsense, now.” His Adam’s apple bobbed beneath his stubbled chin. “This way I can see what you’re seein’ while you’re seein’ it. Make it go faster. Maybe even give you a few pointers.” He shook his head. “You young’uns are good, but you got a lot to learn.”

He set the chair firmly to the marshal’s right. The chair complained against the plank floor as he turned it to face the desk. When he plopped down, his personal cloud of vapor came with him.

“All right.” Gibson almost grinned, then looked away for a moment to get a breath of air.

When he turned back to the front, he slid his chair away a bit and angled it. Instead of leaning forward over the poster, he leaned back a bit. Then he reached out and tapped it from a distance. “Now what I was gonna say, we keep an eye out for this ol’ boy, we’ll find the others pretty close by. This is Charley Pilsen. He’s generally got three or four—”

Zeke nodded, then looked up at him. “Ain’t got enough sense to keep himself hid, does he?”

Despite himself, Gibson grinned. “That’s right, but that’s a good thing. Like the book says, pride goes before a—”

The door to the marshal’s office burst open. “Marshal, there’s trouble brewing over at the Low Stakes.”

It was Red Cramer, the second bartender and Faro dealer at the Low Stakes Saloon. He’d been in town only a few weeks, but he seemed an upright sort. He was usually down on his luck, though, at least until the Low Stakes hired him. He was wearing his good bowler hat and his good dark-grey suit.

Probably being the dealer tonight.

Gibson nodded. “All right.” He stood and turned to reach for his gun belt. It was hanging on a peg behind his desk. “Who is it?”

“Johnny Pilsen.”

Gibson strapped on his gun belt. He frowned as he turned around. “Pilsen? What’s he doin’ in town? Today’s Thursday isn’t it?”

Cramer nodded. “Yes sir it is. Far as I can tell he’s fixin’ to shoot up the place. Only he ain’t in no kind’a shape to tell the differ’nce ‘tween place and people. So I thought I ought’a get you.”

Zeke looked up at the marshal. “Trouble maker?”

The marshal looked at Cramer. “All right. Thanks, Red. I’ll be along in a minute.”

As Cramer left, the marshal glanced down at Zeke. “Not usually. You know Johnny, Zeke. Remember? Got a nice little spread out west of town? He most often comes in on Saturday afternoon. Lets his woman off at the store, then walks across to the Low Stakes for a few drinks. Friendly fella most of the time.”

Zeke looked at the poster again, then tapped it. “Related to this’n?”

Gibson nodded. “Johnny’s his brother. You might say Johnny’s the white sheep of the family. The souls on the rest of ‘em are darker’n a well digger’s butt at midnight. And no moon.”

Zeke stood. “Well hell, I’ll go along with you.”

“No, now you don’t need to do that. I’ll be back in—”

But Zeke had already turned away and grabbed his hat off the potbellied stove. He’d set it there when he came in earlier after he tested the stove with his hand. “Nonsense.” He gestured toward the marshal’s Colt. “And you won’t need that hogleg. You just follow my lead.” As he turned away, he shook his head. “Always somethin’ you young’uns need to learn.” Then he opened the door and walked out.

The marshal shook his head. He couldn’t help but grin at the old man’s tenacity. As he started toward the door, he said quietly, “Get him, Zeke.”

If the old man could get within shouting distance, Johnny’d probably pass out from the smell. Then it’d be a simple matter of dragging him up to a cell to sleep it off.

He laughed and pulled the door closed behind him.

On the boardwalk, he looked up the street toward the Low Stakes and shook his head again.

Zeke was already a block away. He was almost to the door.

The marshal laughed lightly again as he started walking.

Old man moves pretty fast when he wants to.

He cupped his hands around his mouth. “Hey Zeke. Hold on a minute. I can’t learn from you if—”

But Zeke turned right off the boardwalk. The batwing doors clacked and creaked as he shoved them open. They clacked again as they swung shut behind him.

Another grin started across Gibson’s face, but an explosion from inside the saloon erased it. Then a second shot sounded.

Gibson frowned and sped up. “Aw damn it, Johnny,” he muttered. “Put that damn gun away.” He stepped off the end of the boardwalk and ran across the street, then up onto the boardwalk on the other side.

As he neared the entrance, two men and a bar girl shoved the batwings aside and ran out.

One of the men looked wide-eyed at the marshal. “He’s shootin’ up the place, Marshal!”

Gibson nodded. “It’s all right. You folks go on.” He turned and peered over the batwings.

Zeke Masters lay face-up on the floor just inside the door. A crimson stain was spreading out rapidly from a gaping hole in his chest at the bottom of the sweat stain.

The bar stretched away along the right wall. The place was narrow, no more than thirty feet wide, and around a hundred feet deep.

Along the left wall was the Faro table. Red Cramer was back at his dealer station, though crouched down below the table.

Why did he come back in here?

Next to the Faro table were two small, round customer tables with four empty chairs at each one. Beyond them was an upright piano, then more tables in two rows. Four tables were vacant.

Two other tables, the first one in the first row and the fifth one in the second row, had been turned on end by their occupants.

Two men were crouched behind the near one. Cow hands from the looks of them. Young, skinny, scared and bone weary. They both wore lightweight canvas pants and long-sleeved shirts, one a faded blue-green and one faded grey. Neither was wearing a gun belt.

The three men behind the more distant table were different. They were all dressed similarly in off-white, long-sleeved shirts and dark pants. Each wore a blue bandanna around his neck and a gun belt slung low on his hip.

The nearest one was short at around 5’8”. He was thin and wiry, rawboned looking. He looked as young as the cowboys at the other table, but he had a hungry, anxious look about him. Like he hadn’t been in any real trouble, but he could barely wait for the first time. His hat, a black, flat-topped gambler, topped a shaggy head of blonde hair.

The man in the center had black hair and dark blue eyes. Probably a Mexican from his complexion. He was a little shorter than the first man, and skinny as a rail. A wide-brimmed sombrero hung from a braided leather cord loosely draped around his neck.

His face looked as if it had been pinched between a rock and a log, and his cheeks were scarred with pockmarks. A wide scar ran from the outside corner of his right eye almost to his chin. Probably as dangerous as a cornered rat. A fighter, and something about him looked familiar.

The man to the Mexican’s left was tall, probably 6’2” and almost heavy. Beneath a wide-brimmed off-white hat, his face was almost perfectly round. Ragged, dirty brown hair hung almost to his shoulders from beneath the sides of his hat. Both he and the Mexican looked to be in their thirties.

Those three definitely were not cow hands.

The marshal shifted his attention to the far end of the bar.

There stood Johnny Pilsen, barely. He seemed to have trouble just remaining upright. He was a few feet from the bar, his almost-empty whisky bottle and a shot glass.

The bartender was nowhere in sight. Probably ducked down behind the bar.

The knees of Pilsen’s faded dungarees were nearly worn through. Off-white suspenders stretched up over the shoulders of his off-white, long-sleeve shirt. He wasn’t wearing a gun belt. Probably he carried his revolver in the waistband of his pants when he wasn’t waving it around.

But he’d never gotten that rowdy before. Why tonight?

Johnny’s dun-colored boots were round toed and severely scuffed. His ragged hat was tipped back slightly on his head. A shock of red hair hung down almost to his left eye. And his facial features were twisted into a rage.

He waved his revolver and yelled, “Ain’t nobody can tell me I cain’t shoot! Nobody alive can outshoot a Pilsen!” He wavered and looked as if he might fall over. Then he looked toward the men hiding behind the tables and yelled, “Here! You watch! I’ll get this one too!”

He grabbed a shot glass off a table and tossed it under-handed toward the ceiling, then cocked his revolver. He closed one eye and followed the glass from its zenith almost to the floor before he fired.

The men behind the tables tensed as the bullet slammed into the far side of the piano. Dull music sounded, accompanied by the sound of wires snapping.

Marshal Gibson pushed open the batwings and stepped into the room. He moved quickly to the right and stopped behind the squared-off near end of the bar. Just loudly enough to be heard, he said, “Hey, Johnny. That was some pretty good shooting. But what say we give it a rest now?” He forced a quiet laugh. “I think maybe you’re makin’ some’a these folks nervous.”

Pilsen’s voice was almost shrill. “Yeah? Yeah? Well they ought’a be nervous! ‘Cause I’m a Pilsen, damn it! An’ I know what I can do an’ what I cain’t do! An’ one thing I can damn sure do is shoot!”

“I can see that. Now I can see that. But the demonstration’s gotta be over for tonight.”

“Like hell!”

“Now Johnny, I need you to lay your gun on the bar for me. All right? Then we’ll talk about this.”

Pilsen shook his head hard. “No sir!” He almost fell over but stepped hard to the left to catch himself. “I ain’t layin’ my damn gun nowhere!”

“Johnny, now you got a nice spread out there. That’s a lot to lose over nothin’, you hear me? Just lay your gun down. Then you can sleep it off and—”

“I ain’t losin’ nothin’! An’ I ain’t sleepin’ nothin’ off! An’ I ain’t layin’ my damn gun down!” He brought it up and fired in Gibson’s direction.

A stream of white smoke belched from the barrel. The bullet slapped the wall a few feet to the right of the marshal.

Pilsen rocked his head back and laughed. Then he staggered again. But again he found his balance and caught himself.

The marshal held up his left hand, palm out. “Damn it, Johnny, drop it now. Don’t make me have to—”

Pilsen leaned forward for a moment. He straightened and said, “Wait a minute! Wait one damn minute!” He leaned forward again, stared and pointed with his left index finger. “It’s you! Marshal Damn Bobby Boy Gibson!”

He wavered, then leaned forward again. “Yo’re tryin’a kill my brother!” He wavered again, then started toward the marshal. “Yo’re tryin’a kill my damn brother!” He cocked the revolver and fired again.

The bullet tore a hole in the corner of the bar and ricocheted into the wall behind Gibson to his left.

Pilsen stumbled forward, his eyes filled with hatred. “They told me about you!” He reached up with his left hand to cock his revolver again. When he was almost to Gibson’s end of the bar, he yelled, “I’ll kill you, y’rotten brother-killin’ son of a—”

The marshal brought up his Colt. “Stop, damn it! Johnny, stop!”

But the man came around the end of the bar, his revolver leveled. He fired..

Gibson fired.

The line of smoke from Pilsen’s revolver and the bullet ahead of it screamed past Gibson’s right arm and splatted into the wall behind him.

At almost the same time, a stream of white smoke mushroomed against Pilsen’s chest. The bullet drove him hard onto his back, his head lying near Zeke’s right hip.

Pilsen moaned. “They tol’ me—”

His right foot flexed, and he lay still.


Gibson stared at the inert form, his Colt still in his hand. “Damn it! Damn it!”

The bartender suddenly appeared across the end of the bar. “You didn’t have no choice, Marshal. I seen the whole thing.”

Gibson slowly pried his gaze from the thin figure of Johnny Pilsen and looked at the bartender.

The bartender met his gaze, then looked away. “Well, what I mean, I heard it.”

The marshal nodded and holstered his Colt. “What got him started, Jack?”

Jack Martin had been the bartender for as long as Gibson could remember. He was somewhere north of sixty years old and lean. He always wore a black garter on the left sleeve of his pinstriped white shirt. He kept his thinning black and grey hair combed straight back, and he tended his wide handlebar moustache with great care.

He leaned forward and gestured across the room where the five men were righting the two tables they had upended earlier. Quietly, he said, “One’a those cowboys at the first table was talkin’ about Pilsen’s brother.” He wrinkled his brow. “Charlie? Somethin’ like that. Anyway, they were just talkin’ among themselves. I don’t think they even knew Pilsen was in here.

“Anyhow, one of ‘em said he noted there were wanted posters out for Charlie Pilsen and asked the other one wasn’t he from around here.

“The other one laughed and said maybe, but he’d best not show his face around here anymore or you’d slap him in jail.

“They weren’t talkin’ loud, Marshal. Just talkin’ among themselves while they washed off the dust. But I guess Johnny there overheard ‘em. He said there wasn’t any chance of that. He said any Pilsen could outshoot you or anybody else in this town.

“Then the two cowboys laughed. Still not loud. Not like they meant anything.

“Well, then one of ‘em said, ‘Sit down, drunk.’ You know. Somethin’ like that.

“Then over at the other table over there, where those three guys are, one of them—I think the big guy there, the one just settin’ down—I think he’s the one said Johnny wouldn’t make a pimple on his brother’s butt. Somethin’ like that.”

Martin looked at the marshal. “He said that kind’a quiet too. And he wasn’t lookin’ at Johnny or anything, but he was definitely talking directly to him. And then he laughed kind’a easy like.”

He turned to look in the direction of the men again. “And before I knew it, Johnny pulled his gun and started wavin’ it around.

“Well, now that’s about the time ol’ Red lit out through the door. I figured he was gonna go get you.” He glanced in Red’s direction and frowned. “Beats me why he came back.”

Gibson nodded. “Then what?”

Martin shrugged. “That’s about it I guess.” Martin glanced down at Zeke’s body and shook his head. “That’s when ol’ Zeke come runnin’ in. Sure wish he hadn’t come runnin’ in like that.”

“So do I. But I couldn’t stop him. Hell, he got down here almost before I could get my gun on. So Johnny shot him?”

“Well, yeah, but it was an accident. Johnny tossed up a shot glass to shoot at, but he was so drunk— Well, he traced it down and fired, and I guess Zeke was on the other side of it.”

The marshal glanced at Zeke, then around the room. “Damn. All of this for nothin’.”

“Looks like it.” Martin gestured with his chin toward Zeke. “Y’know, Zeke was a good’un back in the day. I saw him run men off with nothin’ but a handful of rocks more than once.” He quickly glanced back at Gibson and raised one hand. “Not that a handful of rocks would’a done it today.”


Martin straightened. “Listen, name your pleasure, Marshal. It’s on the house.”

“Thanks. Another time maybe.” He gestured with his chin in the direction of the men at the two tables. “You say you know those men?”

Martin said, “The two on the left there work for ol’ Emmet Moseby out at the Lazy Hay. Just got back from a cattle drive down to Fort Worth I think. I guess the army was needin’ some beef. You know, that’s a pretty short drive, but it took ‘em a good—”

“What about the others?”

Martin stopped and looked at them, then back at the marshal. “No. No, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen any of those guys before. What’re you thinkin’?”

“I’m not sure. You say the big guy there seemed to know Charley Pilsen?”

Martin nodded. “He was talkin’ like he did. But the others too. I mean, they didn’t say anything specific, but all of ‘em seem to be runnin’ together. And all of ‘em were kind’a jokin’ around at Johnny’s expense.”

“Uh huh. All right. Thanks again, Jack.”

He turned and made his way toward the table where the two cow hands were seated.

Better to get them out of the way first. “Hey, fellas, do me a favor, would you? Both of you, go on over and tell the undertaker what happened. Tell him I’d like him to get these two bodies outta here.”

One of the men looked up. He glanced at the other table and the three strangers there, then looked at the marshal and nodded. “Sure thing, Marshal. Sure sorry for what happened.” He downed his drink, then stood as he glanced at his companion. “C’mon, Mason. Let’s go get the undertaker.”

The other man stood, then looked at the marshal. “Want us to drag those two out with us? We could—”

“Nah, that’s all right. Just go on and tell the undertaker for me, okay?”

The man nodded, and he and his friend left.

As the marshal watched them go, he noticed Red Cramer was still at the Faro table. “Go on with ‘em, Red.”

“That’s all right, Marshal. I’d better stay. Never know when somebody might come in wantin’ a game.”

The batwings clacked behind the other two. The marshal nodded, then turned to the men at the other table.

Sure enough, the Mexican was sitting in the center chair with his back to the wall and facing the bar. Of the three, he was probably the leader. He’d removed his sombrero and hung it from the back of his chair.

The larger man was still on the Mexican’s left. He cast a quick glance at the marshal, then looked away.

His small, mean eyes were set closer together than seemed necessary over a pug nose. His hands trembled slightly as he lit a cigar.

Probably just a bully who depends on his size. That and a big mouth.

The man on the left met the marshal’s gaze. He’d never charged into a thunderstorm, but he seemed anxious to try it. He twisted half of his mouth up into a sneer. But he was still in the showoff stage and wasn’t of immediate concern.

The marshal shifted his gaze to the Mexican. “How you boys doin’ tonight? Havin’ a good time?”

The man looked up and nodded. In a thick Spanish accent, he said, “Ee’s good enough. An’ joo?”

“You fellas just passin’ through?”

“Nah. We’ waitin’ for a fren’. He weel be here soon I think.”

“How soon?”

“How soon?” The Mexican shrugged.

“A day? A week? How soon?”

The Mexican looked at him. “Oh. One hour. Mebbe two.” He shrugged again. “Or mebbe one day or two. Mebbe three.”

“Uh huh.” The marshal jerked one thumb over his shoulder. “You see what happened over there?”

The man shrugged. “Oh sí. An ol’ man got heemself kill’.”

“Yeah, I know that much. Any idea what caused it?”

The man glanced at his friends, then looked up at the marshal and smiled. “Why joo askin’ me, Marshal?”

“Oh. Well for starters, you’re facin’ the bar.”

His gaze still locked on the marshal, the Mexican said, “For starters eh?” He laughed, then averted his gaze and shook his head slowly. “Well, anyway, no sir. I di’n see nothing.”

The thin man said, “I did, Marshal. Why don’t you ask me?”

The marshal looked at him.

The man’s sneer wavered but remained in place. Finally he gestured with his chin. “That fella you shot, he just jumped up and started shootin’ for no reason. Fact is, he—”

The Mexican glared at him. “Billy, go sen’ tha’ telegram.” He glanced at the marshal. “An’ be sure to geeve our fren’ the lates’ news.”

The young one looked at him. “The latest—” His gaze flicked to the body of Johnny Pilsen. “Oh. Okay.” Then he looked at the Mexican and frowned. “But I thought we was gonna telegraph him tomorrow.”

Tersely, the Mexican said, “I change’ my min’.”

Johnny downed a half-shot of whiskey, then set the glass on the table. “Sure, Manny, whatever you say. Only, the telegraph office, it prob’ly ain’t even—”


Then the marshal recognized him. Manuel Villareal. He was a minor bandito in east Texas and southern Arkansas. What was he doing up here in the panhandle? And running with Charley Pilsen? He’d come up in the world.

The Mexican continued to look at Billy, and his eyes narrowed. Quietly and with the air of patience stretched thin, he said, “Eef the man for sen’ing the telegrams ees no’ there, then go fin’ heem, hokay? Go now.”

“Oh. Yes sir.” The kid pushed his chair back and stood. He glanced at the marshal, the sneer erased by humility, then turned and left.

The marshal turned his attention back to Villareal. “Your friend— Would that be Charley Pilsen?”

Before Manny could respond, the larger, heavyset man tapped his cigar heavily at the edge of the table, then looked up. “You gonna ask me what happened too, Marshal? I’m sittin’ right here.”

Manny glared at him. “Cecil, watch you’ manners por favor. The marshal here ees askin’ me a question.”

Cecil glanced at Manny, then put his cigar between his teeth and slouched back in his chair. A sneer formed behind the cigar. With his thumb and forefinger, he began rotating the cigar between his lips and glanced up at the marshal again. Pointedly, he said, “Ain’t none’a his damn business who our friends are.”

He moved the cigar and downed a shot of whiskey, then put the cigar back in the right side of his mouth.

The marshal ignored him. His gaze still trained on the Mexican, he gestured toward the smaller dead man on the floor. “Is your friend that man’s brother?”

The Mexican didn’t bother to look around. He smirked. “Tha’ man has a brother?”

The marshal nodded. “Yeah, all right.” He gestured toward the nearly empty bottle on the table. “Drink up. When you finish that, you men should go ahead and leave town.”

The big one muttered, “We ain’t goin’ no damn where. We’re stayin’ right here ‘til—”

Manny looked at him. “Cecil, por favor.” He shook his head and put one finger to his lips.

The big man glanced at him, then looked away.

Manny looked at the marshal. “We weel go, but wha’ abou’ our fren’? We should’n leave heem to arrive without even a welcome.”

The marshal nodded. “All right. In that case, I’ll have to ask you to come with me.”

Manny frowned. “Wha’? Where?”

Cecil glanced at his friend. “He means to the jail.” He turned his head to glare at the marshal. “And we ain’t done nothin’.”

Still the marshal ignored him. He kept his eyes trained on the Mexican.

Manny said, “Why joo wanna put me in a cell, man?”

“Let’s just say I fear for your personal safety. Until your friend arrives, I’m placing you into protective custody. You can wait for your friend in my little hotel. It’s just down the street.”

The Mexican flicked his gaze toward Cecil, then back to the marshal. He laughed. “My personal safety? Who’s gonna do anything to me?”

Quietly, the marshal said, “I am if you don’t get up.”


The big man shoved his chair back. “Like hell!” He started to rise and went for his gun.

With a flinch, the marshal drew his Colt and laid the barrel alongside the man’s right temple.

Cecil fell back into his chair, which collapsed over backward.

As Cecil was falling, the Mexican’s hands left the table and he stood, hunched. But about the time his right hand touched the butt of his revolver, there was a plaintive click. He stopped and looked up.

The marshal’s Colt was already cocked and trained on a spot between his eyes. “Let’s go, señor Villareal.”

The Mexican smiled and nodded as he brought his hands up to his shoulders. “Ah, so joo know of me, eh?”

“I know enough. Lay your gun on the table, then step back.”

An explosion sounded to the marshal’s left. Something punched him in the left arm just below his shoulder and he staggered to the right.

In one smooth motion, Villareal pulled his revolver and cocked it.

But the marshal caught his balance and fired.

The bullet caught Villareal in the throat. He jerked backward, his Remington falling from his hand as he slumped in the corner formed by the wall and the floor.

Another explosion sounded to the marshal’s left just as he turned.

The bullet missed, passing inches behind him.

At the Faro table, Red Cramer was hunched over, a small revolver in his right hand.

The marshal yelled, “Drop it, Red!”

But the man was cocking the weapon again.

The marshal fired as heavy footfalls sounded on the boardwalk outside.

The bullet hit Cramer in the center of the chest. As his arms flew up and back, he sat heavily in his chair. The batwing doors clacked as his head lolled forward.

The marshal crouched and spun to face the doors.

The man Villareal had called Billy raced in, a scowl on his face, his revolver already in his hand. But when he saw the marshal, he quickly dropped his revolver. As it clattered away across the floor, he flung  both hands over his head, then bent and twisted away. “Oh god, don’t shoot!”

The marshal looked at him for a moment, then gestured with his Colt. “Get over by the bar.”

But Billy remained in place. “What? But I ain’t done nothin’, Marshal. You can’t just—”

The marshal quickly glanced to his left. The bartender was nowhere in sight. The marshal yelled, “Jack? You back there?”

The bartender stood up. “Right here, Marshal.”

“You still got that scatter gun of yours behind the bar?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. Pull it and watch this idiot.” He looked at Billy and gestured with his Colt again. “Git over to the bar, damn it! Now!”

Billy bobbed his head, his hands still in the air. “Yes sir. Yes sir. Just don’t shoot, that’s all. Just don’t shoot.” Walking sideways, his gaze still on the marshal, he started toward the bar.

The marshal glanced around the saloon.

Cecil still lay on the floor, out cold.

Red Cramer was still slumped in his chair at the Faro table.

Other than those two and the bodies of Zeke and Johnny Pilsen, there was nobody in the room aside from Billy, the bartender and himself.

“Hell of a mess,” he said, and holstered his Colt. Then he looked at the bartender. “Thanks, Jack.” He gestured toward the door. “Billy, after you.”

The bartender said, “My pleasure, Marshal.”

The young man frowned at the marshal. “What? Where we goin’?”

“To jail.”

“But I ain’t done nothin’.”

“Try disturbin’ the peace an’ assaultin’ a law enforcement officer. Let’s go.” He gestured again.

Billy started toward the batwings. “All right, but Mr. Pilsen ain’t gonna like what you—”

“Shut up.”

The bartender said, “You want me to get the doc? Have him look at that arm?”

“Later. I wanna get this one locked up first. After we leave, get his gun, will you?”

“Want me to bring it to you?”

“Later. For now  just put it in a safe place.” He started toward the batwings, then stopped and looked back. He gestured toward Cecil. “Oh, and collect that one’s gun too, would you? When he wakes up, tell him to come see me if he wants it back.”

“Will do, Marshal.”

The marshal turned away again. He caught the left batwing as it swung open behind Billy, then followed him out.

The undertaker and the two cowboys were just stepping up onto the boardwalk.

The marshal looked at the undertaker. “How you doin’, Brigham?”

“Good, Marshal. Thanks. I hear you had some trouble over here.”

“Some. There are four of ‘em inside that’ll need your services. The fat one beside the table’s just asleep.”

One of the cowboys said, “Four? But I thought—”

“More jumped into the party. See you boys later.” He turned away and followed Billy down the boardwalk.

A few minutes later, he gestured toward the door of his office. “Right there. Next door on the left. Just go on through and put yourself in a cell.”

“All right. But I’m tellin’ you, when Mr. Pilsen gets here—”

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up? Now go on.”

The kid opened the door and looked around.

The desk was centered near the back wall of the room directly opposite the front door. A guest chair sat in front of it.

To the right side of the room was a pot-bellied stove and an old wooden chair. On the wall behind the desk was a gun rack with a shotgun and two Winchester Model 70 carbines.

Along the wall on the left side of the room were three cells, each formed of one-inch thick iron bars from floor to ceiling. Each cell had a small, one-foot square window cut into the wall. Three vertical bars bars filled each window.

He crossed the floor and walked into a cell. He looked down at the bunk, then out through the small, barred window, his hands on his hips.

As the marshal clanged the cell door closed, he turned the key in the lock. “So I guess you sent the telegram.”

Billy turned around. The sneer was back. “I sent it. An’ he ain’t gonna be too happy. I reckon when he gets here—”

“And when will that be?”

Billy grinned. “I guess you’d like to know that, wouldn’t you?”

The marshal looked at the floor and shook his head. Then he looked up. “Are you just stupid, or what? Here I am, savin’ you from a life of crime and an early grave, and you’re still poppin’ off at the mouth.”

He paused. “Well, I guess I might as well get it over with.” He drew his Colt. “Now, you don’t say when he’s gettin’ here, I’m gonna save you the trouble of waitin’ for that early grave.”

“You can’t do that!”

The marshal shrugged and cocked his Colt. “You were tryin’ to escape.”

“That won’t hold up. The door’s locked.”

“I have the keys, genius.” He raised his Colt and leveled it. “One. Two.”

“You’re bluffin’.”

The marshal squeezed the trigger. The hammer clacked on an empty cylinder.

Billy grabbed at his chest and staggered backward. When the back of his legs hit the edge of the bunk, he sat down hard, his eyes wide, his hands out in front of him. “You’re crazy!”

The marshal examined the gun. “Dang. Misfire.” Then he extended it again and calmly cocked it. He took aim. “Three.” He tensed his finger on the trigger again.

Billy shrank back across the bunk, waving his hands frantically. He screeched, “No! Don’t shoot! He’ll be here on the next train! I don’t know when it comes! He’ll be here on the next train! That’s all I know!”

The marshal kept the Colt leveled and cocked. “Westbound or east?”

“I— I don’t know. Westbound I think. I don’t know. Please, just—”

The marshal lowered the hammer on the revolver and holstered it. “Aw, I was just jokin’. Now your good buddy Manny? He would’a shot your sorry ass. Think about that.” He turned and walked back to his desk to study the wanted posters.

None of them featured Billy. Or Cecil or even Villareal.

Why weren’t there posters on any of these men? Just the fact that they were riding with Pilsen meant there should be posters on them.

He shook his head. Maybe they hadn’t been with him that long.

Or maybe Pilsen was planning something new and wanted extra talent.

The door opened. “I heard you’ve taken up a new occupation as a target, Bob.”

The marshal looked up. “Oh, hi Doc.” He gestured toward his left shoulder with his chin. “One of ‘em hit me in the right arm. I think the bone stopped it though.” He grinned.

“And were you gonna come see me?”

“Yeah. I just got sidetracked. Tryin’ to figure out why there are no posters on these guys.”

The doctor nodded and rubbed his hand over his chin. He closed the door, then made his way toward the marshal’s desk. “Well, I imagine there will be. At least on the ones you didn’t shoot. Which one of ‘em got you?”


“The Faro dealer?”

“Yeah. That’s what I thought too, but I guess he was in it up to his eyeballs. I thought it was a little strange when he decided to hang around after I told him to leave. Said he never knew when someone might come in for a game.”

“Folks often wander into a saloon for a game of Faro while there’s shootin’ goin’ on, do they?”

“That’s what I thought. Guess I didn’t think it soon enough.”

“Yeah well, I brought everything with me.” He hefted his bag and set it on the desk. “Let me take a look at that. You wanna take off your shirt or would you rather I cut the sleeve off?”

“I’ll take it off.” He stood and began unbuttoning his shirt. When it was off, he draped it over the back of his chair and sat on the desk.

The doctor bent slightly and looked at the wound. “I can see it. It didn’t go in very far.” He straightened and looked at the marshal. “You want some whisky or you just wanna grit your teeth?”

The marshal grinned. “I’m on duty. Just do what you gotta do.”

“Well, grip the edge of the desk there. But if you pass out, you’re gonna wake up on the floor. I’m not big enough to catch you, and I’m smart enough to stay out of the way.”

“Got it.”

A few minutes later, the doctor dropped the slug on the desk, then took some cloth strips from his bag. He had just begun bandaging the arm when the door swung open.

The marshal glanced up.

For a moment the space was filled with Cecil, and then he barged in. “Where’s my damn gun?”

“Oh, hi Cecil. What’s your last name, by the way?”

Cecil scowled. “None’a your damn business!”

The marshal shrugged. “Suit yourself. Cecil Noname it is.” He grinned. “So how’s your head?”

“Sore, you son of a bitch!”

The doctor shook his head as he finished bandaging the marshal’s arm. He glanced at Cecil. “Now that isn’t very nice.”

“Yeah? Well who the hell are you?”

The doctor looked at the marshal. “It’s gonna hurt a lot before it stops. Probably two or three days. Maybe a week. But you’ll be all right. If the pain gets too bad, come see me.”

“Thanks, Doc. I will.”

“And get someone to change that bandage once a day. You don’t need that getting infected.”

“Will do.” He stood and started putting his shirt back on.

The doctor closed his bag and picked it up, then made his way toward the door. He glanced up at Cecil. “Excuse me.”

“Like hell I will.”

The marshal said, “Move, Cecil.”

The big man stepped aside and the doctor left.

The marshal gestured toward the cells with his chin. “Now, right over there. You can have the cell next to Billy’s.”

“What? You ain’t fixin’ to lock me in no—”

The marshal pointed at him. “Shut up, Cecil. We both know you’re all mouth, and frankly, I’m tired of listenin’.” He pointed. “Now get in that damn cell. Or I can drag you into it.”

Cecil glared at him, but he started toward the cells. He pointed at the marshal. “You’re gonna pay for this. You’re gonna pay big.”

The marshal sat down and went back to the task at hand. “Yeah, I know.”

(Note: To be continued next week. Or you can buy the whole story at Amazon, Smashwords, or other ebook retailers. Thanks!)


NaNoWriMo (yawn, stretch)

Hey Folks,

A friend sent me some information re the upcoming NaNoWriMo annual “challenge.”

In case you’re interested, the link is Tips for Surviving the Agony and Ecstasy of NaNoWriMo. There, I’ve done my civic duty. Now I can play a bit.

Okay, first, how about that title, eh? I mean, seriously, “The Agony and Ecstasy”? Does that evoke a picture of a poor, beleagured, suffering-for-his-art writer with one forearm flung dramatically across his forehead or what? (grin)

I’m joking. Really. I don’t knock anyone who does NaNoWriMo. I know a few writers I respect a great deal who take part every year. (One is Sam, one is Ann and one is Dawn. There are probably others, and that’s fine.)

My friend also mentioned that NaNoWriMo is very similar to WITD (Writing Into the Dark).

Well, sorry, but it isn’t. The only way it even approximates WITD is that there are words involved.

WITD practicitoners strive to write clean copy the first time through (including cycling while in creative mind). I’m not even saying WITD is “better,” but it is definitely different. These things aren’t even cousins, unless they’re very distant cousins.

NaNoWriMo participants aren’t called upon to create anything of value. They’re called upon to put down 50,000 consecutive words in a month (about 1667 words per day) with the premeditated intention of going back to “fix” it sometime in the future.

I suspect that’s because it’s loosely tied to (and therefore encourages) the harmful notion that it takes much longer than a month to write a quality 50,000 word novel. (And where’d they come up with that arbitrary 50,000 words?)

For that reason alone, I personally don’t see NaNo as a valid challenge. It’s designed to get the participants started, and then they have eleven months to “clean up” what they wrote before the next NaNo begins.

To me, that’s a lot of silly extra work. And chances are the cleanup will do more harm to the novel than good.

Still, that NaNoWriMo “gets people started” might be the one good thing about it.

Then again, what’s wrong with simply not writing if you don’t have the driving desire to write?

The answer is, Nothing.

And how much is the world harmed if people don’t write because they don’t have that driving desire?

The answer is, About as much as it’s harmed (or helped) when an actual writer finishes a novel and moves on to the next one. Not at all.

Now I DO like the goal aspect of NaNo.

But again, there’s a downside. Realistically, anyone could do the same thing in any given month.

Yeah, I know November is National Novel Writing Month (hence NaNoWriMo), but so what? It could as easily have been any of the other months. Or all of them.

I mean, what’s to keep NaNo participants from setting a goal of writing a 50,000 word novel in ANY month? Or, for that matter, EVERY month?

For example, my goal for this calendar year remains 12 finished, published novels. The difference is that I’ll write each novel cleanly the first time through, then let it go (WITD).

So why not do it in conjunction with NaNoWriMo, report my numbers, etc?

Because when I do it on my own (again, just my preference), I don’t have to hear other voices spouting nonsense about writing rough first drafts, etc. (Some — not all, but some — even advocate “free writing” during NaNo: intentionally not giving a thought to capitalization, punctuation, etc. in favor of speed.)

What would really impress me is to see someone other than Dean Wesley Smith (even me) make it through JaNoWriMo, FebNoWriMo, MarNoWriMo, ApNoWriMo, MarNoWriMo, JuNoWriMo, JulNoWriMo, AugNoWriMo, SepNoWriMo, OcNoWriMo, NovNoWriMo, and DecNoWriMo with a published novel to show for each session. 🙂

Anyway, I’ve already blown my chance at that one with no novels finished in February, March and September of this year. But my goal for next year is already set: at least one completed novel per month and fifteen on the year. (grin)

And if anyone cares to join me in any given month, just holler.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

If you’d like to see my own unfolding numbers, short stories, novels and process plus tons of writing tips, check out my Daily Journal.

And when you’re finished with NaNoWriMo (or any other time), if you need a good copyeditor, check out my Copyediting Service.

The Shaman

shaman-180Every night the shaman came out, an offering clenched tightly in his left fist. To watch him was to witness sheer willpower.

His head appeared first above the edge of the chasm. His hands came next, one a foot or so to either side. The right with fingers splayed for a grip, the left still clenched. He might as well drop his soul as drop his offering. With those fingers and his bony wrists he gripped the edge of the chasm.

Then his shoulders appeared and tensed, the wiry muscles contracting as he pulled himself up over the edge. Then all at once, his skinny chest and abdomen appeared.

Then in rapid succession his waist and hips appeared, and then his right knee. As he flexed that leg, his kneecap shone. Every night. It glowed in the moonlight when there was a moon, and in the starlight when there wasn’t.

And for a moment, that same moment every night, he teetered, balancing between eternity and fulfilling a simple human obligation. At the same moment, the same place, the same position.

I could almost feel his teeth grinding together as he tensed his jaw against failure. Mine ground along with his.

I was in plain sight, pampering myself with a seat in a soft canvas chair.

I had peered into that chasm several times. It and I were familiar with each other through the bond of my fear. I never ventured closer to the edge than was necessary to spy on his home, an ancient, shallow, rock-faced cave.

But each time I spied from the same place where he pulled himself up night after night. His hands and wrists lay where my footprints would be if rock could be impressed with footprints. I had marveled at his abode, but I had also studied what lay beneath. I knew it intimately, and that knowledge fueled my fear.

If the shaman’s knee should fail, if he toppled backward, he would land on his back. Even if he didn’t strike his head on the rocks first, he would begin a non-stop slide to a four hundred foot drop through cottonwood limbs and onto the jagged rocks below.

I watched, pulling for him. I could almost feel the muscles in the front of his right thigh burning right up to the point of fatigue. Hands, arms, shoulders and chest were no longer of use. Except as a counter balance to the one leg that remained beneath him.

Or as a death sentence if one muscle twitched the wrong way and suddenly forced all of their weight on that one leg.

I tensed, gripped the aluminum arms of my chair. “Lean forward,” I muttered in a waking dream. “Lean forward or you’ll fall.”

As if he needed my help. As if he could hear me on the other side. As if he hadn’t been performing this same ritual every night for ten thousand years.

I have no idea whether he heard me. But always, every night, he found just enough reserve to pull it off.

And when he straightened, he didn’t clasp his hands on his knees, gasping for breath and thanking the gods he’d made it one more time. He didn’t pause to raise his clenched offering to the moon or the river or whatever god he was coming to praise. He just went on about his business.

He danced away across the rocks with seemingly neither a desire nor a need to watch his footing.

At one point along his ritual path he turned. He passed so close I could have touched him. He looked right at me, or maybe through me, and seemed to almost pause for a moment.

Then he followed another turn in the path and continued to his destination. Wherever that was.

I met his gaze, but of course I didn’t attempt to touch him. And I didn’t say anything to him. Not to avoid startling him, but because I didn’t deserve to. I mean, that’s how I felt. For all I knew, he didn’t even know I was there.

He was simply living his life, going about his daily routine.

And just like that, the show was over until tomorrow night.

Or so I thought.

Always before, my buddy, the guy who showed me the chasm and the shaman’s dwelling in the first place, was away during the show. Some bird had caught his photographer’s eye or nature had called to him in one way or another, requiring a final constitutional.

But tonight he was back.

“Hey, so what’s shakin’?”

Still in my chair and facing the river gorge, still watching the back of the thin, short, wiry, sunbaked man as he fulfilled one more moment of his destiny, I started.

In an attempt to cover my surprise at the sudden reappearance of my friend, again I grasped the arms of the chair and adjusted myself in it.

My buddy grinned as he walked past. “Did’n scare’ya, did I?”

“Nah, nothin’ like that. I was just adjusting my chair.”

“Uh huh. What’s goin’ on?”

My buddy and I are different.

I’m always ready at a moment’s notice to walk halfway across a raging river that only moments ago was a dry wash just to determine how rapidly the sand is disappearing from beneath my feet. Yes, I test it with my 180 pound body to decide whether we can safely drive a 4000 pound vehicle across it.

I’m more than happy to change a flat tire on the side of an interstate highway as semi-tractor trailers rush by at 75 miles per hour. It doesn’t bother me to mosey casually toward an enemy emplacement with nothing but a firearm and a determined look.

In short, I’m game for anything that might result in me being fondly remembered by someone, at some time, for something. But there has to be a real purpose involved. Ritual purposes don’t count.

Everything about my friend, especially his zest for actual life and his desire to live forever, causes him, rightly, to eschew such nonsense. However, he is a true daredevil. He’s actually been in the shaman’s cave-house-abode.

Did I mention that directly below it is a pebble-strewn, slick, steeply angled slide-away chute to a four hundred foot drop?

Yeah. Doesn’t bother him.

I can’t go there because if I died in the attempt, I would have died for ritual. Which is to say I would have died of stupidity. I won’t do things to satisfy a dare, and I won’t do things to satisfy dead people.

I would dig up Johnny Ringo and move him to a new grave to rest in peace if his really cute great-great-great-great-granddaughter asked me to.

But I wouldn’t call him John just because he insists he hates being called Johnny. Hey, if it’s good enough for Wyatt, it’s good enough for me.

So my buddy says, “Uh huh,” which loosely translates “bullshit.” And he follows it with “What’s goin’ on?” which translates “C’mon, you can tell me. Or would you rather walk back to civilization?”

Of course, he’s joking. Probably.

So I pointed in the direction the shaman had gone. And I said, “Did you see that?” Which translates exactly as it sounds, but was actually me stalling for time as I decided how much to tell him.

He glanced in that direction, then back at me. “No. What was it?”

“I saw your shaman.”

This time he didn’t even bother to look where I’d previously pointed. “Huh. It was hot out here today, wasn’t it? Hey, you need some water or Gatorade or something?”

I pointed again, this time to the place where I’d peered down at the shaman’s house every time we’d been to this particular camping spot. “He came up over there. First his hands, then his head and shoulders. He heaved himself up and tracked right along there. And right over there,” and I pointed again, “he turned and came so close I could almost touch him.”

My buddy nodded gravely, then grinned. “Did he say where he was goin’?”

I frowned. “Yeah. He had a hot date.” Then I scowled. “No he didn’t say where he was goin’. An’ I didn’t ask. None’a my business. I was just glad for the opportunity to see him.” Yeah, that and that you didn’t see him.

But he didn’t bite on the privileged-me aspect. “Well, I ain’t walked out yet.” He glanced again in the direction I’d initially pointed. “Look like he was headed down to the river?”

I glanced in the direction the shaman had gone, then back at my friend. “Yeah.” I shrugged. “I guess.”

I don’t care for the path to the river even in full daylight. And this was not full daylight. It was more like full starlight with a slip of a moon off to one side for atmosphere.

The path is steep and long and narrow. At several access points you can go slip slidin’ away to the aforementioned four hundred foot drop. Did I mention I don’t do things to satisfy a dare? Well, the time-honored “double dog dare” has precisely the same effect on me. None.

But my buddy dropped into his zero-gravity chair (read “recliner”), unscrewed the top of a Gatorade bottle, and said, nonchalantly, “Okay.” He took what looked to be a very satisfying drink. “Guess we’ll never get to see the end of the show then.”

“S’okay by me.”

“Me too. Hey, no problem at all.” He took another drink. “I mean, you’re the one who saw him.”

Yep. And his inflection said a great deal more than was transmitted in his words.

Every time we’d been here, my friend had worked his way down the death slide and laid an offering of fine tobacco on the floor of the shaman’s cave. Then like a gymnast after a picture-perfect flip he’d said a little prayer or something and worked his way back up the death slide.

But only I had actually seen the little guy.

And every time I saw him, he’d gone in the same direction, followed the same path. There had to be a specific purpose. Right?

But maybe not. Maybe he was just going down to take a bath.

Or do ghosts bathe? Ghosts don’t bathe, do they?

Besides, he had something clenched in that left hand. Every time we’d been here. Every time I’d seen him. And unless that something was a bar of soap, he wasn’t going to take a bath.

Now I’m not completely devoid of a belief system or of a sense of ritual. I’ve just never seen a reason to go tilting at windmills when the windmills obviously don’t care whether I’m tilting at them or not and nobody I want to impress is watching.

But the guy had looked right at me. Every time we were here.

Maybe that was his way of inviting me along to take part in his ritual.

Or to at least observe it.

Aw crap.

I slapped the arms of my chair. “All right,” I said, trying to sound disappointed that I was giving in to my friend’s petulant, foolish demands. None of which he’d made. “I guess I’m ready.”

But my buddy didn’t move, except to hold up one hand to ward me off while he lit a cigar. When it was burning evenly, he took it out of his mouth, expelled a blue-white cloud of smoke and said, “Ahh.”

He even leaned back a bit farther in his recliner, as if settling in for a leisurely evening of satellite watching. Then he turned his head. His eyes were wide, innocent. “Ready for what?”

I gestured in the direction the shaman had gone. My voice practically a growl, I said, “To go watch Mr. Skinny take a bath or whatever.” I had to downplay my capitulation to some degree or he’d never let me live down. “You know, to go see what the shaman’s doing.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah I’m sure. C’mon.”

He made a big show of getting out of his chair. “Oh all right.”

I’ll spare you the details of our trip down the trail, the three times I slipped almost to my certain death and the head shaking and quiet laughter that evoked from my friend.

At least we didn’t have to make the whole trek. It’s only about a half-mile, constantly descending. Which means coming back it would be constantly ascending. So not making even part of it was a good thing. And the last bit is almost straight down and involves snake- and large-cat­–infested tall grass and brush. But that’s the part we didn’t have to traverse.

We were ambling along when my buddy stopped and put up his left hand in that annoying way that makes me feel like he’s ordering me around. But he was in front. Among guys, whoever’s in front is the leader.

So I stopped, put my hands on my hips, and waited.

Meanwhile, my friend canted his head to one side as if listening. Quietly, he said, “Hear that?” That annoying hand remained elevated.

No, I didn’t hear anything.

Finally he gestured to the left and started moving quietly in that direction.

Off the trail. To the left. Toward the sheer drop. Which, at this point, was still two hundred feet if it was an inch. And it was an inch. It was a whole bunch of inches. All of them vertical. I’m not necessarily afraid of heights, but I do prefer the horizontal over the vertical. Especially when I have to walk it or fall it.

My stomach caught in my throat.

But I followed him.

Downslope about twenty feet, the ground flattened out. Well, a massive rock flattened out. And my buddy was flattened out on top of it. He’d removed his hat and was lying face down, with said face hanging over the edge of the rock.

I went belly down alongside him.

There, about two hundred feet below us, Mr. Skinny was kneeling next to the river alongside a grandfather cottonwood tree.

As we watched, he raised both hands above his head. The left was still clenched into a tight fist.

He muttered what sounded like a prayer, then rose to his feet.

He raised his hands above his head again and placed the inside of his wrists together. Then he slowly uncurled his left hand, pressing against it with his right to be sure he didn’t drop whatever he’d brought with him.

When his fingers were fully extended, his palms pressed together, he stopped, mumbled another supplication, then turned to his left.

I thought maybe he was going to address the cottonwood tree, but he continued to turn.

Finally, when he was facing directly away from the river, he lowered his hands so they were clasped in front of him, still at arm’s length. Then he looked up. Right at us. He focused on us. I could feel it.

A chill raced through my body.

The little man’s eyes were like coals, red-black and glowing.

He raised his clasped hands slightly, then opened them. As if he were making an offering to us.

And in the dim light—maybe from his eyes—we saw it.

My buddy whispered, “My tobacco.”

Just as quietly, I said, “His tobacco.”

It lay in his palms, leaf on perfect leaf.

I glanced at my friend and frowned. “Didn’t you shred it?”

He nodded. “I always do. So I can scatter it over the floor of the cave.”

I hesitated, then pointed. “Well it ain’t shredded now. Maybe from now on you should just lay a cigar in there whole. Minus the ring, of course.”

He turned his head to the left, looked at me. “Why? When they used tobacco it was in a pipe and—”

I extended my right index finger. “Watch.”

He turned back to look at the shaman.

Who was beginning to fold his palms together.

He opened them, then folded them together again.

He opened them again, then folded them together.

Twice more he repeated the gesture, then opened his palms again and held them up for our inspection.

Where there had been a stack of loose leaves was now the same stack, folded neatly four times.

With his left thumb and forefinger, he grasped one end of the stack and pinched it, then turned it so it lay across his palm. Then he placed the other palm on top and began moving one palm over the other, back and forth, back and forth.

As he rubbed his palms together, his hands worked from the center of what was rapidly becoming a roll of tobacco toward one end. When he reached that end, he pinched it, turned the roll over and centered it between his palms again. Then he started back in the other direction.

A scant moment later, he held aloft a perfectly rolled cigar, tapered on both ends with about a 54 ring gauge in the center.

He turned to his right and pinned the cigar against the cottonwood tree with his left hand. A stone knife appeared from nowhere in his right. And quick as that, he sliced through the roll of tobacco, slightly right of center.

He stuck the tapered end of the longer half in his mouth, then gestured toward us with one palm. As if asking us to wait. Or maybe saying thanks. Or waving goodbye.

We waited.

Then he moved away from the river, out of sight below us.

A long moment later he reappeared.

A young, naked woman followed him.

She sat cross-legged beneath the cottonwood tree, her right side toward us. He sat in similar fashion in front of her, then leaned forward and handed her the shorter of the two cigars.

She accepted it, then clenched the tapered end between her teeth.

He picked up a twig and mumbled over it. A small flame appeared at the tip.

He leaned forward and lit the woman’s cigar first, then held the flame to his own.

As the smoke from the two cigars rose into the night, the shaman raised one hand. This time there was no mistaking his meaning.

But we couldn’t move. Not yet.

At least I couldn’t.

And my buddy didn’t.

The thin, trailing columns of smoke were mesmerizing. They remained near each other as they rose, swirling lightly and intertwining. And as they passed the edge of our rock, they formed a heart.

Both my friend and I backed away from the edge.

He sat on his haunches, and I knelt on one knee.

He looked at me for a moment, then shook his head. “Did you see that?”

“Hell yeah! Are you kiddin’ me? That chick was totally nak—”

“Not the girl, you idiot. The guy. He actually lit a stick on fire by saying some words over it.”

I wagged one hand at him. “Parlor trick.”

I’d seen the heart, but I didn’t tell him that.

He’d seen it too. I know he did because I saw his eyes go wide.

We were mostly silent on our way back to the camp.

Just before we got there, my buddy said, “So— looks like maybe some clouds rolling in. You think we ought’a stay another—”

“Yeah, let’s head on back, y’know? I kind’a miss my wife.”

He nodded. “I know what you mean. I think She Who Rules is probably missin’ me.”

I grinned, playing my role as the crass one. “As if.”

But yeah, he saw the heart.

And we both told our wives about that part.

* * * * * * *


S-stuttering an’ St-stammering an’ St-stuff

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 9/10/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

As I write this, I just had an excellent question from an acquaintance in Tucson who wrote that she had bought my Punctuation for Writers a few years ago at a Society of Southwestern Authors (SSA) meeting and had found it useful. However, it had not mentioned how to write a character’s stuttering, stammering speech.

I thought her question laid a great foundation for a blog post. She wrote,

“I am now doing a “down and dirty” edit/proofreading of a work for a friend. The main character stutters, and the way the dialogue is presented is very distracting. … I have been on-line looking for guidance in writing stuttering, but I need a source that I know is legitimate (for lack of a better word) and is one that I can say to the author, ‘Harvey Stanbrough says do it THIS way. He knows what he’s talking about!'”

She’s such a nice lady, isn’t she? 🙂 So anyway, here’s my response, expanded just a bit to provide a little more extensive example:

I r-r-recom-m-mend you wr-write st-st-stuttering like th-this. Just remember to s-spell the entire first sound of the st-stutter before the h-hyphen. (And be careful not to overspell it, by which I mean, don’t spell what you don’t want pronounced.)

After all, s-stutter is not quite the same as st-stutter or stu-stutter, and p-pronounced is not the same as pr-pronounced or pro-pronounced. Read them aloud and you’ll see what I m-mean.

M-most often you’ll w-want to repeat only the f-first letter of a word, or a single conson-n-nant later in the w-word. B-be careful of repeating the f-first l-letter of a w-word like l-letter though because the lower-case L l-looks like a one (1) and c-can be distracting all b-by itself.

However, you’ll w-want to use the first t-two letters of a word like th-though b-because the TH forms a single sound, almost as if TH is a letter b-by itself.

And as with all phonetic and other d-dialect spellings, d-don’t o-o-overd-do it. The g-good p-part about spelling s-stammering is that it’s n-not quite as labor intensive as other t-types of phonetic spelling. Th-those who s-stammer often d-don’t s-stammer on the s-same word or syllable all the t-t-time.

Okay, enough of th-that. When you spell stammering speech, be sure to use the hyphen to indicate the “break.” It isn’t really a break, and it definitely is not a pause (as that created by a comma or em dash, for example).

As I mention in Punctuation for Writers (get it at Smashwords or Amazon) the hyphen is the only mark of punctuation that actually speeds the reader up, making him read two words as if they were one, as in “It was a dark-green Cadillac.”

So we use that speeding-up property of the hyphen to indicate the stutter or stammer by rushing the reader through two individual but repeated sounds as if they were one.

Next time you get m-mega b-bored, write some s-stammering speech for a little while. It b-becomes ad-d-d-dictive.

‘Til next time, happy w-writing!


I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

The Necklace

necklace-180When I opened the door of the interview room, the guy looked up at me. He was sitting on the back side of a scuffed wooden table in a faded orange chair. The cheap kind with the chrome legs. His t-shirt almost blended with the bland, institutional green block wall behind him.

The room smelled of stale cigarette smoke and air freshener. Go figure.

I said, “Hey, how you doin’?”

I straightened my tie and pulled out the chair on the near side of the table. I flopped a manila folder thick with his rap sheet and the current investigation on the table, then sat down.

This guy had been in and out of the system like it had a swinging door installed. Pure luck that we’d never crossed paths.

He leaned forward, tapped one fingernail sharply on the table. Not smug maybe, but self-assured. “See, I know you,” he said. “That’s the difference between you an’ me. I know you, but you don’t know me at all. You ain’t got a clue what it’s like to be in this body.”

He tapped his right temple with the same finger. “In this mind with these experiences. But you’ about to have one.” He leaned back and crossed his arms over his chest.

Have one? One what? A clue or an experience? Probably both, with my lousy luck.

Behind my poker face, I nodded. “Sure, sure.” I’d heard some variation of the same line a hundred times. Whatever.

I opened the folder and bent over it as if he weren’t in the room.

I flipped up a page, then another one. I pretended to read for a moment. I frowned briefly as if I’d seen something, then let a grin flicker and die on my face. Maybe he’d take the bait. We had him cold anyway. If he took the bait either way—confess or lawyer up—we’d both have an early day.

But he didn’t. He just kept looking at me over those crossed arms. I could feel it.

I flashed a look at him as if I’d just realized he was there.

With the long, thin fingers of his right hand, he gripped his left arm just below the shoulder. The fingers of his left hand were curled into a loose fist.

I turned my attention back to the page and pretended to read for another moment. Then I closed the folder definitively. I straightened in the chair and finally made eye contact. With obviously feigned interest, I said, “Hey, you know, when you’re right, you’re right.”

As I crossed my left leg over my right at the knee and straightened my tie again, I said, “So what say you tell me about you, eh? Tell me what I don’t already know.”

He sneered, sat back and crossed his arms. “Nah, that’d take too long. What you don’t know would fill hours. Maybe even days.”

I arched my eyebrows. “Yeah? You’re that unique, eh?”

He leaned slightly forward and tapped his temple again. “What’s in here is that unique.”

“Ah, okay.” So he was gonna lawyer up. I was sure of it. Still, I had to go through the routine. I read him his rights. “So you understand these rights as I’ve explained them to you?”

He sneered. “Yeah, I got it.”

I shrugged. “Okay. So you wanna tell me what happened or—” I put my hands on the table, preparatory to getting up.

But the kid shook his head. “Nah, I don’t want no lawyer.”



I settled back in my chair again. “All right, so what happened?”

“Nothin’, man. Me an’ my— Me an’ this chick, we was arguin’ see.” He shrugged. “I guess it got outta hand.”

So he was arguing with his girlfriend and it got out of hand. I made a note. “Oh, so it was an accident?”

“Nah, nothin’ like that. I mean, when it all came down, I meant to do ‘er.”

This time my eyebrows arched on their own. “You meant to kill her?”

“Yeah. I guess so. But we’ been goin’ at it for years, man. It was time, know what I mean? I had one’a them epiphanies.”

“So what were you ‘going at it’ about?”

He smirked. “Yeah, you know what I mean, man. You been around, am I right?”

“We aren’t here to talk about me.”

“Like that one chick you used t’know.” The smirk curled the corner of his lip. “What was her name? Amanda Arvisu? Somethin’ like that.”

Amanda Arvisu? How’d he know about her? I’d dated her twenty years ago. Maybe longer. The whole thing was on again, off again. We tried to be serious, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Anyway, it didn’t matter. Perps look up things about cops all the time.

I poised my pen over my notebook. “Never heard of ‘er. So let’s get back to you. You said you wanted to tell me what happened, right? Maybe clear your conscience?”

“C’mon, man. I don’t care nothin’ about no conscience. It wasn’t wrong, what I did.”

“You killed her, but that wasn’t wrong?”

He laughed. “Nah, man. You get the whole story, you’ll understand.”

“Okay, so make me understand. Let’s get on with it.”

“Oh, so that’s how it’s gonna be? Just ‘get on with it,’ huh? Okay.” He grabbed the sides of his chair. The legs screeched against the floor as he adjusted it, then put his elbows on the table and leaned forward. “I picked up this chick, see, an’—”

“Picked her up? So you didn’t know her?”

“I didn’t say that, man. Yeah, I knew her, all right?”

I nodded and made a note.

“So I picked up this chick I know an’ we headed to a bar.”

“You remember the name of the bar?”

“Yeah, man. You know Charley’s over on 16th an’ Alverson?”

I looked at him and put my pen down. “Is this some kind of joke or something?”

I used to take Mandy to Charley’s every Friday night. We shot a few games of pool early, then danced when the band started. Those nights we usually ended up in the sack together.

“Nah, man.” He grinned. “Why? You like know Charley’s or what?”

I picked up my pen, still looking at him. “Go on.”

“So we had a few beers, you know.”

“But the girl was underage wasn’t she?” I glanced back through my notes. “She wasn’t quite 18, right?”

He laughed and slumped in his chair. “You’re askin’ me about killin’ this chick, an’ you’re worried about whether she was drinkin’ beer at 17? Man, that’s whack.

“But yeah, yeah. She was underage, as you put it, okay? But she was also hot, so the barkeep looked the other way, know what I mean? Besides, I bought the beers, okay?”

“Okay, so then what?”

He looked at the table and shrugged. “You know, we danced some.” He glanced up at me. “Talked about stuff.”

“What kind of stuff?”

“Aw you know. Jus’ stuff. We talked about growin’ up, our folks. Like she was wearin’ this neat little necklace. Said her ol’ man got it for her but then she never seen him again. Stuff like that. Anyway, while we was dancin’, we got kind’a close too. You know what I mean.”

I jotted a note about the necklace, then put three question marks next to it. There wasn’t a necklace, either on the body or nearby. “You mean physically close?”

“Yeah, kind’a. She was wearin’ this blouse, man. Whew. It was almos’ see through. An’ these tight little shorts. An’ she was workin’ it too, y’know?” He grinned.

“Anyway, when we lef’ Charley’s we was both feelin’ pretty good, you know. So we went back to her place. We was gonna jus’ have a couple more beers, maybe talk some more about the old days.

“Only the more beers we had, we kep’ gettin’ closer, right? An’ we was talkin’ more about our folks too. You know, chicks love stuff like that, right? Plus our folks was really screwed up. Kind’a made us who we was.”

Here it comes. The standard “it’s all my parents’ fault.”

I nodded. “Go on.”

“So things was startin’ to heat up, you know. An’ then that’s when I had this plan. It was perfect. We could get our folks back good, see. But at the same time, we’d make each other feel real good. You see what I’m sayin’?”

“So you were gonna have sex, right?” Blah blah blah. But how would having sex get the parents back? Kids have sex all the time nowadays.

“Yeah, man, for starters. But jus’ when it was gonna get really good, she put her hands on my chest. She says nah, you know, like she changed her mind. Like we gotta stop an’ it’s all wrong an’ all that stuff.”

“But you were too far gone to stop, is that it?”

“Nah, man.” He leaned forward and grinned. “Hey, this my story or are you wantin’ to share?”

“Go on.”

“Nah, I wasn’t too far gone, man. I could’a stopped. But like I said, I had this idea an’ she agreed at firs’. An’ it was a good idea. It’d fix things for both of us an’ get our folks back too.”

I frowned. “And that’s where it went wrong?”

“Nah, man, it went jus’ right. Jus’ like I planned. An’ jus’ like she agreed earlier, you know. An’ it was good too. Well, ‘cept that las’ part. But it turned out the las’ part was what made the whole plan perfect.”

I frowned. “I’m not following.”

He grinned. “You will, man. You will.

“So I hadda hold her down, right? She already took off her blouse an’ her bra an’ her shorts before she changed her mind. So long as I was there, I tore off her panties for effect, you know. Then I took what I wanted, see. An’ that was gonna be the whole plan. You know, originally.

“But then when she changed her mind, the plan changed too. An’ it got better. It got perfect.

“She kep’ yellin’ no at me an’ she kep’ swingin’ at me an’ stuff so finally I just grabbed her throat. I started pushin’ hard with my thumbs, y’know? Like squeezin’ really hard so she’d shut up. An’ at stupid necklace thing her daddy give her stuck me in the palm, man. Made me so mad I ripped it right off her neck.”

“So that’s why they didn’t find it at the scene. You took it with you.”

He grinned. “Yeah, man. An’ it was like fate.

“I mean, when I killed her, it was like an accident. You know, like I didn’t mean for it to happen. But when I looked close at that necklace, that’s when it come to me. Her dyin’ is what made the plan perfect.”

“What was so special about the necklace?”

“Oh, nothin’ important. It jus’ had this writin’ on the back.”

Writing? So an inscription? But how could that matter to him? I frowned. “So the necklace told you to kill her or what?”

He laughed. His eyes shone. “Nah, man. C’mon, I ain’t all that whacked. The necklace jus’ showed me the whole thing, see? Made me understand. Me an’ her, we take care’a each other firs’. Then she dies, see. An’ then I die. Then the whole thing’s over.”

Definitely a candidate for the psych ward. Guy’s pushing for an insanity plea.

“Okay, so that’s what you want in the official statement, right? So you can use it in court for your—”

He laughed again, harder than before. He actually sounded happy. “Aw man, this thing ain’t gonna get nowhere near no court.”

Again I frowned. “How you figure that? With your confession plus the physical evidence, you have to know you’re going to—”

He held out his left hand, still curled into a loose fist, palm down. “‘Cause you ain’t seen this yet. That’s how I figure.” And slowly, one at a time, he uncurled his fingers.

The necklace, apparently still pinched between two of his fingers, unfolded. The pendant dropped and dangled a couple of inches above the table.

My eyes grew wide. I stared. Is that—

He grinned broadly. “Yeah, you reco’nize it, don’t you? A present from Daddy to his little girl on her very firs’ birthday. About sixteen years ago. An’ that was the las’ time she ever saw you, man. Despite what you put on the back”

I continued to stare at the necklace.

“You wanna see it, right? The back, I mean? You wanna see the lie you wrote on there?” He swung the heart-shaped pendant toward me and let it drop.

It rolled over so the back was facing me and stopped. But I didn’t have to read it.

I knew what it said, and when I had it engraved, I meant it. But sometimes life turns out different than you plan.

But he wasn’t finished. Still grinning, and without so much as glancing at the pendant, he quoted the inscription. “‘I’ll always be there for you,’ it says. Always, it says. An’ then, ‘Love, Daddy’.” He flopped back in his chair. “Turns out you’ jus’ a lyin’ motha’fu—”

I launched. I threw the deadbolt on the door on my way to picking him up from his chair and slamming him back into the corner.

He huffed hard as the breath rushed from his body, but the grin was still on his face.

Someone began banging on the door.

I ignored the sound.

I’d wipe that grin off personally. I’d choke him ‘til he begged for his life, and then I’d wipe that grin off his damn face.

And I did.

I choked him, hard.

I squeezed his pencil neck with all my strength.

My lips less than an inch from his nose, I screamed, “You killed my little girl?”

His eyes still shone with laughter.

At the door, my friends were banging harder. Someone yelled something about getting a ram.

The perp tried to nod. In gasping breaths, he said, “I did—her a favor.”

He struggled to retain the grin. He forced it back to his face, his eyes watering.

The damn grin wouldn’t go away.

By god, it wouldn’t be there for the coroner to see.

Under his laughing, tearing eyes, his mouth moved. Spittle seeped from one corner. He said, “But you—you worthless, man.” And he forced another laugh through his collapsing throat.

They were still banging on the door.

I barely heard them.

I jerked the perp a few inches from the corner, lifted him from the floor, then slammed him back against the corner again. “You unspeakable bastard! You unspeakable bastard! My little girl?”

He nodded and choked out a laugh, a gleeful look in his tearing eyes. “You—you—call me bastard?”

I redoubled my grip on his throat.

Then I realized he wasn’t fighting back.

Why wasn’t he fighting back?

But he wasn’t. He was practically limp the whole time, except for that damned laughing.

I couldn’t hold him in the corner anymore. It was dead weight too long.

As the banging continued on the door, accompanied by muffled shouts, I stepped back from the wall, pulling him with me. I turned and lowered him onto his back on the table. I squeezed harder. I was going to prison. That was certain. The express route. Civilians love to put cops away. But when I got out, maybe I could find Mandy again. Maybe I could even locate our son.

He looked at me, his eyes on the verge of glazing over.

It was all but finished.

His voice sounded like it belonged on a hoarse frog. “You—”

I released his throat and pushed off against him. I glared at him. I wanted to be sure his brain registered my face. Spittle flew from my mouth as I hissed, “Say whatever you want, you sorry bastard! I’ll see you in hell!”

He tried again to laugh.

What the hell is so funny? I grabbed his collar again, lifted him to my face. “What the hell is so funny, you sick bastard?” Then I threw him to the table again.

Blood seeped from his ears, and from the inside corner of his right eye. Still, he grinned broadly. Then his body spasmed. Again. Hard. “You,” he said, “you my daddy too.” And a choked-out laugh was the last sound he ever made.

* * *

I took a final drag off my smoke and flipped the butt into the corner next to the can. “So yeah, I’m a cop, an’ I’m that cop.”

I shrugged. “The next day the story broke in the papers an’ here I am. But it was all over the Internet before that. You know, everybody likes to stomp on a cop no matter what’s goin’ on.” I looked at the guy. “Don’t you?”

I laughed. “Come to think of it, the story was probably on the Internet before I even unlocked the deadbolt. Freakin’ jerks.”

I shook my head. “An’ poor Mandy. Mandy never even made it down for the trial. Didn’t hear about that, though, did you?

“My buddy Randall went to see her first. You know, to deliver the news.” I laughed. “Bastard probably tried to tap her too. Randall’s like that, an’ Mandy always was a looker. He probably tried to play on the sympathy thing, you know.

“Anyway, she was fine then. But when ADA Frenky went to see her a couple days later, you know, to get her to testify against me, he found her dead in the bedroom. Bunch’a empty little amber bottles all over the bed. My third victim.”

I laughed again. Then I fished the half-empty pack out of my pocket and lit another cigarette.

I lit it, took a long drag, then gestured around the cell. “So that’s what I did, eh? That’s how I got here, okay? I murdered three people. That good? That enough for you?

“But hey, on the up side, I got nothin’ left to lose, right? So you want to kill a cop, hey, let’s dance. It ain’t like I much give a damn. But just understand, I ain’t givin’ nothin’ away free.”

And y’know, all three of those mooks turned around and walked outta my cell.

Of all the damn lousy luck.

* * * * * * *

Prepping to Epublish

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 8/30/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I have NOT revised the original post other than reparagraphing some of it.

This post goes hand in hand with my previous post on Busting the Myths of Digital Publishing.

I often hear from folks who say they want to “publish like you, on Amazon” but they don’t mention any other venues. If you self-publish, you will be both an author and a publisher. The one big secret to building a presence as a publisher is to sell your ebooks in several different venues.

Dean Wesley Smith, to whom I cannot give enough praise for his “Think Like a Publisher” series (now available as a recommended book), even suggests you don’t try to sell 1,000 books per month at one venue. Instead, try to sell 10 books per month at 100 venues. But how do you get into 100 ebook selling venues?

If you publish with Amazon’s Kindle store, that’s around 20 markets already. Of course, through Smashwords your book will also be available worldwide through markets established by Apple (that’s another fifty markets), Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Sony and others. That’s a pretty good start.

You can set up a Scribd account and offer your books for sale in the Scribd store. That’s one more venue, and it’s worldwide.

You can set up accounts with Google +, Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace and others to let your contacts know what you’re up to and to announce book releases, sales, special offers, etc.

(Note: Your primary effort on these social venues must be social, not business, so the better you are at chitchat, the better these will work for you.)

You also can set up a blog through which you give people something of value (if you have something of value to give them), then advertise your books at the bottom of each post. Set up a website and a PayPal account and you can sell books directly from your own website as well. PayPal has a free shopping cart, no problem.

Okay, so what about the prep work?

If you’re going to submit your Word file .doc to Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and Scribd (for starters, for example), surely you don’t want to completely reinvent the wheel each time, right? Right. So here’s what you do:

1. Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble PubIt do not require (or even want) an ISBN, so first, decide who you want to be as a publisher, then create a name. If you’re name’s Jack Smith, I suggest something like JSmith Publishing. It’s just that easy. That’s the publisher you’ll list (or you can list nothing at all in the Publisher block) with Amazon and B&N.

2. Smashwords will provide a free ISBN if you allow them to list themselves as the official publisher. (This entails you putting in the front matter “the Smashwords edition of / a JSmith publication” where the forward slash is a line break.) Otherwise they provide an ISBN but it costs you $9.95. So let Smashwords be the publisher for what you submit to them. Trust me for a few minutes and you’ll understand.

But how do you publish under JSmith Publishing with Amazon and B&N (and Scribd and any other venues you find on your own, like Xin Xii) and yet list Smashwords as the publisher for Kobo, Sony, Diesel, et al? Here’s what you do, and again, most of this is from Dean Wesley Smith:

Then set up a file folder with the name of your book. For example, my latest file folder is named Maldito & Tomas. In that file folder, I keep the standard cover for my ebook (mine are all 2000 x 3000 pixels), the thumbnail-sized cover (mine is 200 x 300 pixels). You will also keep the following:

1. Your original Word document set up with your own publishing info and your own license notes in the front matter. For example, my latest file (.doc) is titled Maldito & Tomas.doc. The first page will be your title page, which also contains the publishing and copyright info and license notes, then the table of contents (if necessary), then the story/novel/memoir, and then the back matter, which for me consists solely of a brief About the Author section. Here’s the front matter for the first document (Maldito & Tomas.doc):

Maldito & Tomás
a StoneThread Publication
Copyright © 2011 by Harvey Stanbrough

StoneThread License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment. Please don’t resell it or give it away.
If you want to share this book, please purchase an additional copy as a gift.
Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

2. A second Word document set up with Smashwords’ info in the front matter. In my example, that file is titled Maldito & Tomas Smash.doc and it’s set up with front matter that reads “the Smashwords edition / of a StoneThread publication.” Making it the Smashwords edition is all that’s required. Here’s the front matter for the first document (Maldito & Tomas Smash.doc):

Maldito & Tomás
the Smashwords Edition
of a StoneThread Publication
Copyright © 2011 by Harvey Stanbrough

StoneThread License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment. Please don’t resell it or give it away.
If you want to share this book, please purchase an additional copy as a gift.
Thank you for respecting the author’s work.

3. A third Word document with promotion information. In my example the file is Maldito & Tomas Promo.doc. This file contains the title of the book, a “teaser” for the cover, a good, strong book description, the author bio, the categories or genres into which the book fits (the shelving sections where you would like it to be displayed if it were in a brick and mortar store) and any Internet search keywords.

When you publish your work to Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, Scribd, and pretty much anywhere else, they will ask you for all of this info.

I open the Internet window over 2/3 of my screen and I open the appropriate “promo” file in the other 1/3. Then it’s an easy matter to copy/paste the required info from the promo.doc into whichever form (Amazon, B&N, Smashwords, etc.) you’re using at the time.

To extend the example, here’s what’s written in Maldito & Tomas Promo.doc:

Title: Maldito & Tomás

Cover tease:
Tomás comes to help,
but not everyone in a robe
is a priest….

Description: When Maldito finally escapes his horrible home, he flees to an ancient stone house high in the jungled mountains overlooking the sea where he soon encounters both his future and his past. He makes a new home, finds a vantage point from which he can see the whole world, both past and future, encounters Tomás, whom he takes to be a priest, and begins to become aware of his destiny. If you’ve enjoyed the works of Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende, you’ll enjoy these Stories from the Cantina.

Author: Harvey Stanbrough was born in New Mexico, seasoned in Texas, and baked in Arizona. He spent most of his early life in the home of his heart, the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. After graduating from a 21-year civilian-appreciation course in the U.S. Marine Corps, he attended Eastern New Mexico University where he managed to sneak up on a bachelors degree. He writes and works as a freelance editor and writing instructor from his home in southeast Arizona.

Categories/Genres: Fiction > Fantasy > General / Fiction > Fantasy > Paranormal

Keywords: magic realism, fantasy, short story, stories from the cantina, surrealism, paranormal, stanbrough

As you can see, this appears to be a time-consuming effort, but it really isn’t.

For one thing, you can keep a stock folder on hand with a Word document titled MyFiction.doc and another with Smashwords.doc. In those files, respectively, you can keep your standard front matter and Smashwords’ standard front matter.

Then it’s a simple matter to copy/paste from that document to the front page of your story/novel/memoir etc. Given a finished, formatted manuscript and the promo doc above, I can publish it to Amazon, B&N, Smashwords and Scribd in about a half-hour. With just a little practice, you can too.

Happy writing!

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

A Special Treat

A Special Treat 180The knock on the door was sharp, filled with authority.

Charlie Rosen started at the sound, but kept his attention riveted to the television.

He flicked his gaze to the clock on the DVD player just below the TV. It was 9:13.

He glanced at the couch. Where Cynthia usually nestled on one end with her crossword puzzle book was vacant.

He frowned as he returned his attention to the screen. Who’s out at this time of night?

Well, according to the news a few hours ago, whoever it is must be miserable.

It was 102° at news time. And the humidity was 83%. Probably the temp was still in the mid to high 90s. And probably the humidity was about the same. Probably still 80-something at least.

Good. Whoever it is, it serves them right for disturbing people at this time of night.

He hoped it was one of those religious types.

And even if it wasn’t a religious type, he hoped whoever it was they were clad in a heavy suit.

Religious types always thought they made a better impression when they were dressed in a suit. The heavier the better. The darker the better. Seemed to be their way.

He grinned. They dressed in suits like Men in Black or something. Well, the suits were dark, but they were also drab. Like off the rack at— well, somewhere. Sears? Penney’s? Anyway, suits that were weak shadows of the one the Men in Black wore.

If it was a religious type, he could probably run the guy. He’d just explain he was pinched for time at the moment. Like maybe he was sacrificing a goat in the back yard to the dark lord. Oh, and it was crucial that he cut the heart out at just the right moment.

That’d do it. He grinned again.

The second knock was almost as sharp as the first. Not quite, yet it seemed insistent.

Without looking around, he mumbled, “Okay, okay.”

Probably it was some idiot salesman.

Did they still do that? Go door to door?

It was the worst possible time.

This was the part of the show where the guy on the screen—the host, they called him—explained what the episode was really about. Up to this point it was just a lot of lead-in. Just stuff to keep you watching. Like anything short of a fire in the next room would drive Charlie away.

But there was someone at the door. Although he could only barely believe anyone would knock at this hour.

His attention still on the screen, he uncrossed his sock feet slowly. For a moment, he used the toenail of his right great toe to scratch the outside edge of his left sole.

Maybe people knocking on the door at odd hours caused things like itches. Excuses to delay getting up that extra second or two. Probably there was some scientist somewhere studying that phenomenon. All on a government grant, of course. A sex life of bees kind of thing.

Or if there wasn’t, maybe there should be.

Or maybe a law or something. A statute that said nobody was allowed to knock on people’s doors after a certain hour at night.

Didn’t they used to have one of those? Like the Green River Law or something like that? Back in the day before people got so pushy?

He rubbed the nail of his great toe over the place one more time, the sock rippling slightly ahead of it.

The itch finally abated.

Oh, that’s definitely better.

Well, he’d probably better answer the door.

He leaned forward slightly, then pushed downward with his calves and heels.

The footrest of the recliner rocked forward about halfway.

He stopped. That angle felt better than when it was all the way up. Like he was sitting down and lying down both. He’d have to remember that after he answered the door and reclaimed his chair.

The knock sounded again.

Well, at least it seemed quite a bit less insistent. Maybe whoever it was realized he wasn’t the end-all be-all of everybody else’s life.

Anyway, he ought to answer it.

Who knows? Maybe it wasn’t a religious guy or a salesman. It might be anyone.

He tensed his legs a bit and forced the footrest down.

It clopped into place.

Oh, the carpet felt nice. Even through his socks. Of course, they were thin. He kneaded the carpet with his toes. It always felt pleasant after Cynthia vacuumed. Something about the nap, she said.

She explained it once, and he nodded as if he were listening. Something about the nap. That meant the fibers were standing up or something.

Still looking at the television, he called out, “I’ll get it.”

He said it loudly enough, he hoped, so Cynthia would hear him. She was big on people answering doors and things like that.

But at the moment, she was in the kitchen, “whipping up a special treat.”

He grinned. No need to interrupt that. Maybe it really would be special this time.

She often prepared a special treat, and she always called it by that same vague name.

She never would tell him what it was going to be, and she never would allow him in the kitchen as she worked.

That was fine with him.

He huffed. She didn’t want to give it away in advance, she said. As if it were anything truly special. And a little later she’d come walking into the living room with a couple of cups in her hands. Or a couple of small bowls.

Usually it was some combination of those silly little marshmallows and some kind of instant pudding. Or else some vanilla ice cream with a stupid chocolate chip cookie pushed down in it. Real professional-chef stuff.

Once—one time—she had made vanilla pudding, complete with those little vanilla cookies.

Now that was good. He’d liked that one a lot.

But he made the mistake of telling her so. “This is good,” he said. Something as plain and unloaded with verbiage as that.

Of course, she never made it again.

He mentioned it a few more times over the next few weeks too. But his hints seemed only to strengthen her resolve. Or maybe feed her innate ability to forget.

His gaze was still glued to the screen, as if loathe to tear itself away.

But slowly he moved his hands to the ends of the armrests. Curled his fingers around them. Odd how microfiber was cool at first to the touch. But it warmed up quickly. Leather wouldn’t do that, would it? He’d wanted a leather recliner, but she said they couldn’t afford it.

Like they couldn’t afford vanilla pudding with the little cookies in it.

He began to lean forward.

The knock came again.

Well, whoever it was maybe they were developing some manners. At least it wasn’t so insistent.

Just between himself and the TV, he muttered, “All right, all right. Be right there.”

But not loudly enough for whoever was at the door to hear him. Maybe the guy would go away.

He even timed his remark so it wouldn’t step on the narrator.

The show really was intriguing. Probably the best show on TV nowadays.

It combined his two greatest curiosities.

It was all about serial killers, but with a twist. Kind of a Jeffrey Dahmer meets The Predator sort of thing.

He’d never missed an episode, and he’d seen the first three seasons at least twice in reruns.

But this— This was the first episode of the new season. He’d have to wait until the end of the season to see the rerun. And filling in the blanks that he missed while answering the inane knock of some moron at his door after 9 p.m. on a muggy night almost a year earlier— Well, that would be a rickety way to watch the show at best.

He might or might not even be able to splice the new information with the old.

Besides, with his luck something would interrupt the rerun at the critical moment too. That’s how life went when you were unfortunate enough to be Charlie Rosen.

Maybe he’d catch it during the second rerun. Or the third. And he should be happy with that, Cynthia would say. That’s how she was. Let it roll off your back, she’d say. If it wouldn’t matter a year from now, it doesn’t matter now, she’d say.

Well, it would matter a year from now. He’d be trying to watch the rerun a year from now. If the idiots who ran things didn’t put it on another channel at the same time as the episodes from the new season. That would be his luck.

Anyway, he ought to get the door. Get it over with. If it was a religious type, he’d say the goat thing for sure. If it was a salesman— Well, he’d have to do something different. A salesman probably wouldn’t care that he was sacrificing a goat to the dark lord. Probably a salesman—at least a good one—would have just the right knife for the heart-cutting-out part of the ceremony, and if Charlie would be so kind as to let him demonstrate—

The knock sounded again. Much lighter.

At least the guy was persistent. He had to give him that much.

Still facing the screen, his hands still gripping the armrest, he closed his eyes. It was the beginning of a blink.

Maybe his luck would improve. He couldn’t escape the fact that whoever was at the door wasn’t going away. That was what? Four knocks? Five?

Maybe a commercial would come on. Or better yet, one of those stupid infomercials.

Please let a commercial come on. And not a quick one.

Could he get to the door, deal with whoever was there, and regain his seat in the time it took the commercial to play?

He smirked. Maybe. Especially with the five or ten-minute commercial stretches they took nowadays.

Maybe finally the stupidity of the general audience who actually bought the products in those dumb commercials would play to his advantage. After all, the show was on a major channel.

Back in the day, there were only three channels, and they took only a minute or so commercial break every fifteen minutes, didn’t they?

Yes, they did. Like clockwork.

But nowadays there was way less show and more commercials.

And the commercials were longer. And loud. And pushy. God were they pushy!

Gotta feed the brain-dead public, I guess.

Brain-dead public. That was probably why there were so many zombie shows now. Oh, and werewolves getting it on with vampires in romances. Romances, for God’s sake! And every plotline was driven by hormone-indulgent teenagers. What a crock of crap.

Besides, with only the increasing brain-dead public open to grazing, even if zombies were real, they’d starve wouldn’t they?

And then what happens to a starving zombie? It isn’t like they can die.

It’s all a bunch of foolishness.

Of course, that’s what Cynthia thought of his show too.

She didn’t say as much, but she always settled in with one of her stupid crossword puzzles when it came on. Or ran off to the kitchen to whip up a special treat.

At least his show was intelligent. The narrator relied on known facts. Or at least on theories that were extrapolations of known facts.

Certainly there could be aliens out there. Duh. All those stars probably had planets, and some of the stars were actually galaxies. But setting that aside for a moment, all those stars had planets. They had to, didn’t they? What with gravity and all that?

And even if not all the stars had nine planets— Well, or eight or however many the stupid scientists settle on this month— Out of all those planets there could easily be aliens out there. In fact, there must be. And at least some of those planets had people. They had to.

All of that couldn’t have been created just for humans to look up and ooh and ahh at the pretty lights in the sky, could it? Of course not.

And anyplace where there were lots of people—planets full of people of whatever kind—surely there were some bad eggs among them.

And then among the bad eggs, surely there were a few who were serial killers. It happened here, didn’t it? Even despite all the lip service people give to religion on this planet. It was a matter of sheer fact that a lot of the evil on this planet was marked up to one religion or another. So surely it would happen elsewhere. Even if they didn’t have religions at all.

And yeah, the distances were vast, and yeah the chance of an interstellar ship finding Earth would be minuscule. Whatever. The point was, for the one ship that made it, the chance was 100%. The odds for that ship were one to one.

He stared at the screen.

Sure hope a commercial comes on. A long commercial.

But when he opened his eyes at the end of the blink, the show was still on.

He sighed. Well, damn it.

But that seemed counter-productive. He wasn’t really sorry the show was still on. What he wanted was to be able to watch it without someone banging on the door. But if the station was going to force a bunch of stupid commercials on him, the least they could do is coordinate it with the guy banging on the door.

Of course, it would be better if there were no commercials at all during the hour that the show was on. And nobody banging on the door either.

Well, it wasn’t even an hour, really. It would be better if there were no commercials or door-banging during the what, forty minutes out of the hour if you cut out all the stupid commercial breaks?

That would be a lot better. A whole lot better.

Maybe he ought’a get one of those automatic DVD recording things that recorded the show. That way he could watch the whole thing straight through without “commercial interruption.”

That’s what they called it. Commercial interruption. The same dumbing down.

It was an inert, nice-sounding way to say “We don’t care that you’re patronizing our channel. What’s important is that we get to pummel you with information about junk you don’t need.”

But timing it like that, scheduling it, would bother him. He’d still know the original show aired sometime in the past and he’d missed it. It would be new to him, but it still wouldn’t really be new. It wouldn’t be fresh, maybe, was the right word.

Anyway, probably he should see who was at the door.

Cynthia would say he was being rude. He shouldn’t keep whoever it was waiting.

He flexed his fingers, renewed his grip on the arms of the chair. How about the guy at the door being rude? How about you don’t go around knocking on doors at 9:13 p.m.?

He flashed a glance at the time on the DVD player.

Well, 9:20 now. How about that? And still no commercial. What the hell?

But oh no. Cynthia would never think of inconveniencing a complete stranger.

The knock came again.

But it was quieter. Softer maybe. Definitely not insistent.

Maybe the guy was giving up. Maybe he decided whoever was in here was rude.

From the kitchen, Cynthia called, “Are you gonna get the door, Charlie?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I said I was gonna get it, didn’t I? I’m getting up.”

“Do you want me to get it?”

His attention still glued to the screen, he said, “No. No, it’s all right.”

C’mon, gimme a commercial.

He pulled lightly at the armrests, edged forward in his seat.

Maybe he should let her get it. Maybe it would be a serial killer from the planet Zagron or whatever.

He laughed quietly. Or maybe it would be a body snatcher. Hopefully looking for precisely her kind of body.

Nah. He wouldn’t wish that on her. Cynthia was a lot more important to him than that. She was even more important to him than his favorite show.

Well, except while it was actually on.

But everybody felt like that. Didn’t they?

Wasn’t that the whole purpose behind having favorite shows? Or favorite anythings?

Of course, if she was in trouble or something he’d tear himself away to go help.

Then again, how much trouble could she be in while his show was on? A paper cut from her crossword puzzle book?

Nah, all kidding aside, he’d do anything for her.

And she knew that.

But this wasn’t Cynthia being in trouble. This was some moron stranger knocking on the door at a bad time.

And it wasn’t like Charlie had that many bad times for someone to knock on the stupid door. Was one lousy hour a week too much to ask? And after 9 p.m. to boot? People shouldn’t be out knocking on the door after 9 p.m. anyway, should they?

Back in the day people didn’t do that.

Even relatives would call before they just barged in. At least that way there was some warning.

He probably should go ahead and get the door. Or at least go look and see that the guy had given up and left. Then he could watch the rest of his show in peace.

Where was a stupid commercial when you needed one? Or an infomercial? Damn, didn’t Ronco have some new pan to show off or something?

He quickly glanced toward the door, then back at the TV.

Maybe the guy gave up and left.

If he got out of his chair and went all the way to the door and the guy wasn’t there— Well, that would be rude, even in Cynthia’s backward book of what is and isn’t rude. You don’t just go around knocking on a guy’s door and then run off just when the guy come to answer it. You just don’t.

Cynthia came into the living room. She was beaming. “Charlie—”

Without looking around, he held up one hand.

The gesture meant “Hold on just a moment please.”

She knew that because Charlie had explained it once a year or so ago.

He didn’t like to actually say “Hold on a moment please” because him talking over the narrator would be as bad as her talking over the narrator. As if talking over the narrator were some Earth-shattering event. He watched this stupid show three times a week, on this channel and two others.

One was at 7 p.m., one was at 8, and one was at 9. And frankly, it was difficult to keep them all straight. Besides, they repeated again on Thursday night. It wasn’t like he couldn’t mimic word for word what the narrator was saying. He knew it all by heart.

But she waited, patiently. She wished he would at least glance up at her.

Still, she knew her Charlie. When his show was on, nothing else mattered.

No, that wasn’t right. It wasn’t that nothing mattered. He just didn’t notice other things so much. But if he did glance around and see her, he’d remember. He would remember everything and it would be a happy night. Even if he missed what was left of his show, it would be a happy night.

The index finger of her left hand was hooked through the curved handles of two cups. From each cup the small, thin handle of a spoon protruded.

In them was the special vanilla pudding Charlie liked. It was made with real vanilla, and it even had the little vanilla cookies stuck down deep inside it. Six cookies in each cup. Charlie would be in heaven.

In her other hand was another cup with another spoon protruding. But that one truly was special. It was vanilla pudding too, and it had those same little vanilla cookies in it. But it also had little chocolate chips mixed right into the pudding. And then she’d topped it off with some of those little marshmallows.

Charlie didn’t like the little marshmallows, but he wouldn’t mind. It was a special treat for a special night.

She looked around the room. “Charlie, did you—”

The hand came up again.

Of course. She forgot. Anyway, maybe she was in the bathroom or something.

Then, as if on cue, a commercial came on. Speaking was permissible when a commercial came on.

“Charlie, I have a very special surprise.”

Without looking around, he said, “Oh, not just a special treat?”

She didn’t mind. He liked to tease her like that sometimes. But he wasn’t really like that. He worked so hard down at the quarry. His show was really all he had left since their daughter had left home.

“No, Charlie. Silly, it’s still a special treat, but it’s also a special surprise.”

Still looking at the TV, Charlie rolled one hand in front of his chest. “Could you maybe speed up the announcement a bit, Cynthia?”

“Okay, but surely you already know what the surprise—” She stopped and looked around the room again. “Charlie, did you ever get the door?”

“Oh. Nah, I guess the guy left.”

“But Charlie, that was part of the surprise. You were supposed to—”

A loud knock came on the door. It was sharp, filled with authority. A heavy voice followed. “Police.”

Cynthia paled. “Charley, I—”

“I’ll get it. I’ll get it.” Finally, he pulled on the arms of the chair and lifted himself out of it. “What in the world would the police be doing out here at this time of night? Doesn’t matter. We’ll put a quick end to this crap.”

In two quick strides, he was at the door. He turned the door knob and pulled the door open wide. “Yes? May I help you?”

“Yes sir. We’re canvassing the neighborhood. Did you hear anything unusual tonight?”

“No. Is that it?” He started to swing the door shut.

The officer caught it with his hand. “Are you sure? The neighbor across the street said she heard someone screaming. And she said she saw the victim banging on your door.”

Charlie frowned. “What? That’s crazy. I mean, there was a guy banging. Well, you know, knocking.” He grinned and his chest swelled slightly. “But I guess I outlasted him.” He jerked one thumb over his shoulder. “My favorite show was on and—”

“Sir, do you know a Deidre Allen?”

Behind him, Cynthia said, “Oh god!”

“Deidre Allen? Yeah, that’s my daughter. But she don’t go around knocking on doors at—”

The officer looked down and shook his head.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

“We answered a call from your neighbor. When we got here, we found a young woman on your sidewalk.”

Cynthia pushed past Charlie. She was still holding the cups of pudding. “Tell me it wasn’t Deidre! Officer? Tell me it wasn’t Deidre?”

The officer hesitated. “I’m awfully sorry. For both of you. The ambulance just left.”

Charlie shook his head. “What? We— I didn’t see no lights or nothin’. I— I had the blinds pulled. My— my favorite show. It was my favorite show.”

“I’m sorry, sir. She was pronounced on-scene.”

Cynthia said, “What?” But she had heard the officer.

As she turned away in a bid to escape the news, she fainted and fell back toward the stoop.

Two cups, hers and Charlie’s, unhooked from her finger and fell from her left hand, spilling their contents on the carpet.

The officer moved to catch her.

Her right arm swung back, and the other cup fell from her right.

It shattered hard across the stoop.

The pudding and wafers and chocolate chips mixed with glistening bits of the cup.

And pretty little pink marshmallows scattered everywhere. They rolled across the stoop, and some fell off into oblivion.

Charlie looked down and frowned.


And he remembered. Pink marshmallows. Sure.

Why wouldn’t there be pink marshmallows?

They were Deidre’s favorite.

It was her birthday, after all.

* * * * * * *


Busting the Myths of Digital Publishing, Redux

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 8/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

First, a brief announcement. I’ve reopened my copyediting and eformatting service. I’ve kept my prices LOW. Former editing clients are preferred, but new clients are welcome too. For details, please click http://harveystanbrough.com/copyediting/.

Okay, back in August, 2012 I updated and republished a post titled “Busting the Myths of Digital Publishing.” According to some of the questions I’ve been fielding lately, it bears repeating. Enjoy.

There are many myths and false perceptions about digital publishing.

Some are being perpetuated by so-called Big Publishing, but many also are being passed around by what we Marines used to call barracks lawyers. Folks who purport to know what they’re talking about when in fact they know just enough to get themselves (and you, if you listen to them) in trouble.

As a writer, publisher, editor and writing instructor (back when I wrote this), it frustrates me to know that so many writers have been fed—and have actually believed—what is nothing more than pure, unadulterated bull cookies.

In this post I will endeavor to bust those myths and discount those false perceptions.

I tell my writing students often, Any time any instructor (or other alleged expert) says something he or she can’t explain to your satisfaction, run. The same goes for me. I can back up everything I tell you with real-world examples and facts.

If you don’t understand something in what follows, feel free to email me at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

Here are the more prevalent myths about digital publishing.

1. I have to format my work as a .mobi or .epub file before I can send it to Amazon or Barnes & Noble (or Smashwords).

Wrong. You can send your properly formatted Word .doc to Smashwords and Amazon. (I recommend allowing Smashwords to distribute to Barnes & Noble.) Amazon converts your Word .doc into a Kindle (.mobi) file, and Smashwords converts your Word .doc into several eformats and then distributes it to Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple and Baker & Taylor and about 20 other stores around the world.

If you need help with this, click http://harveystanbrough.com/ebook-conversion/ and check my rates.

To learn to do it yourself, you can download my FREE ebook, The Essentials of Digital Publishing. I also recommend the Quick Guide to Self-Publishing and FAQs, also free. If you check out the Free Stuff tab on my website, you’ll find a lot of other things too.

2. Amazon is the best place to sell ebooks.

Not necessarily. Amazon is only one place to sell ebooks. Rather than hoping for a lot of sales in one venue, work for a few sales in a lot of venues.

If your ebook is for sale only at Amazon, that’s about 20 venues—Amazon US & Canada, Amazon UK, Amazon DE, Amazon FR and Amazon Italy—and your work is available only on devices that read .mobi or .prc files.

If you publish it through Amazon and Smashwords, it automatically sells through over 200 venues worldwide (Apple has 50 by iteslf) and is available on literally every reading device and in every electronic format.

In the case of book sales, more really is better.

3. My electronic book has to have an ISBN.

Wrong. Amazon assigns an Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN), and Barnes & Noble assigns a similar stock number to books they sell.

Because some of Smashwords’ partners require an ISBN, if you add “the Smashwords Edition of” to the front matter of your ebook and include Smashwords’ License Notes, Smashwords will assign a completely free ISBN for you.

4. Ebooks are a passing fad.

El Wrongo de Mucho. Today (this was in 2013) over 40% of American households have at least one dedicated ereader.

Dedicated ereaders are actual Kindle or Nook readers, iPads, and the various tablets. That doesn’t include Kindle- or Nook- or Apple-enabled telephones or computers that can read PDF files through Adobe Acrobat Reader, and it doesn’t include the free ereaders you can download to your PC or Mac.

See Reader Resources in the left sidebar on my website, then scroll down to Free Kindle and on down.

Additionally, in 2011 Amazon announced that ebook sales had surpassed paper book sales for the first time in its history. My own work has been published in three ways: traditionally, through POD, and now in ebooks. I have sold more copies and made a lot more money since January 2011 (the ebook era) than I made on all of my paper book sales since the mid-’90s.

5. I have to wait for my publisher to publish my book first, or my publisher doesn’t publish ebooks.

Wrong. Simply retain all ebook rights (all electronic rights) and publish the ebook version yourself.

Even if you’re self-publishing, which can take a month or longer from signing the contract to having the books in your hand, you can have your ebook published within only a few hours. If you do allow your publisher to publish the digital version as well, I recommend you negotiate for at least 50% of the royalties on ebook sales, and be sure it’s in your contract.

6. I’ll have to do all the marketing myself.

Okay, yes. This is true, but you have to do all the marketing yourself even with a traditional publisher unless you’re Stephen King. And you aren’t.

7. I can’t get my ebooks into brick & mortar bookstores, and I can’t sign my ebooks or sell them at book fairs.

Wrong. I recommend you purchase and read Dean Wesley Smith’s Think Like a Publisher.

8. Ebook selling prices are low compared with paper books.

Not necessarily, and the royalty rate on ebooks is much higher.

Even if you get a whopping 10% royalty on your print book, for every $14.95 sale you’ll make only $1.49. On the other hand, for every $5.99 ebook sale, you’ll make $4.67 (78%) royalty.

Those are the actual prices and royalty rates of my book, Writing Realistic Dialogue & Flash Fiction, in paper and in eformat.

When I’ve sold 100 paper copies, I’ve earned $149. Then I have to deduct the cost of gas and the hours of standing around at book fairs, etc. trying to sell them.

When I’ve sold 100 ebook copies, I’ve earned $467. Then I have to deduct the cost of about two hours per week online in the comfort of my own desk chair. Get the point?

9. You have to have a dedicated ereader to read ebooks from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Wrong. You can download a free ereader for your PC or Mac so you can read .mobi (Amazon Kindle) files and .epub (Apple and B&N Nook) files right on your computer.

Again, see Reader Resources in the left sidebar on my website, then scroll down to Free Kindle and on down.

Oh, and if you shop at Smashwords, you can download your purchases as Kindle, Nook or even PDF files.

10. But I like “real” books. I like the feel of the paper, the smell of the ink.

Yes, I know. So do I. But I’m not talking to you right now as a reader. I’m talking to you as a writer and publisher.

As a Reader, if you want to read only “real” paper books, pay more for them and lug them around, that’s fine. I have books out there in paper. I hope you’ll buy them and enjoy them.

But as a Writer, if you want to reach a much larger audience and provide your books in the format those readers are looking for, you need to get with the digital publishing revolution.

I personally love the smell and feel of a paper book in my hands, but I probably won’t ever buy another paper or hardback book. I’ve become addicted to my ereader, and I’ve become especially addicted to having literally thousands of books in my hand. I can open and read any of them at any time, yet the whole device weighs less than a standard paperback novel.

and the biggest myth of all is an outright lie perpetrated by Big Publishing…

11. Ebooks are not nearly as good quality as print books.

Wrong. This is an outright lie. In truth, the large traditional publishers also are producing ebooks today to keep up with all the independent publishers and with a reading public that is increasingly demanding ebooks.

And in truth, thus far when big publishers produce ebooks, they actually are lower quality than books that are produced originally as ebooks. Instead of actually laying out the book for use in an eformat, the big publishers simply scan the pages into a document, then publish it. Because scanners don’t read and translate actual letters, the results are often horrible.

As is most often the case, the truth is simple: Poor writing leads to a bad book, whether it’s traditionally or independently published. Quality writing plus quality layout and design leads to a quality book, whether it’s traditionally or independently published.

‘Til next time, happy writing and publishing!


I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

The Bad Man and the Boxer

Bad Man and the Boxer 180When Basilone Thompson’s fight manager died suddenly of a drug overdose, it came as a surprise. The Big Bass had never known his manager to indulge in so much as a marijuana cigarette.

When a new manager showed up unannounced at his apartment in the Bronx one day, he was grateful, but skeptical.

He answered the light knock on the door.

The man in the hallway was dressed neatly in a suit and tie, with a fedora pulled low on his brow. “Hey, kid. You’re the Big Bass, ain’t’cha? I got the right place?”

Thompson nodded. “Yes sir. What can I do for you?”

The man surprised him by admitting himself. He removed his hat and looked around the living room. “You can do better than this. You know that, right?”

Thompson closed the door. “I ain’t sure what you mean, sir. Who are you again?”

“I’m gonna be your new manager. We heard what happened to Billy, and we know you’re a rising star. You just need some guidance.”


“Sure, sure. You know, bigger fights. Better fights. More money.” He looked around the living room again. “A better standard of living.” Then he looked back at Thompson. “You know.”

“Yeah. Well, that’d be nice and all, but I ain’t even started lookin’ for a new manager yet, so—”

“What’s goin’ on, Bas?” It was Rebecca Thomson, Basilone’s wife. She had just come in from the hallway. Her hand lay protectively on the right shoulder of Lester, their four year old son.

The boy drew closer to his mother’s side as she looked at the man in the suit, then back at her husband. “You didn’t tell me we had company.”

“We were just talkin’ a little business, Becky. Mr.—” He paused and looked at the man.

“Potrano,” the man said, and smiled at Rebecca. “Eddie Potrano. I’m gonna be your husband’s new fight manager.”

Rebecca looked at her husband again and frowned. “I thought you were thinkin’ about getting’ out of fightin’.”

“I was, baby. I mean, I am. Ain’t no harm in hearin’ what the man’s got to say though. Is there?”

She looked at Potrano, then back to her husband. “Well, I’m off to work. I think I’ll drop Johnny by Sissie’s place on the way.” She glanced at Potrano again, then back to her husband. “That way you two can talk.”

“Aw baby, now you don’t have to—”

With Johnny in tow, she crossed the room. “No, it’s all right.” She tiptoed to kiss her husband on the cheek, then looked him in the eyes. “Just be sure, Bas. Whatever you decide, just be sure.”

When Potrano left that day, he had a new client. In fact, Basilone Thompson was also his only client.

Bas thought maybe he had died and gone to Heaven. Despite what he occasionally heard around the gym about the Mafia in general and even Eddie Potrano in particular, all the fights were clean.

And they were all against good opponents. Bas continued to train hard as his confidence grew. And he continued to defeat all comers.

Then, not quite a year later, Eddie came walking into Silverman’s Gym.

He lit a cigarette and watched almost a full round as Thompson finished off his sparring partner. When it was over, he gestured with the hand holding the cigarette. “Hey, good work there, Bas. Good work. Hey, listen, c’mere. You got a minute?”

“Sure, Eddie. Lemme just get showered and changed.” Usually, “got a minute” meant they were going to lunch and an extended meeting.

But Eddie wagged one hand at him. “Nah, hey, this won’t take long,” he said as Bas climbed through the ropes and dropped from the platform to the hardwood floor. “Walk with me, would’ja?”

Thompson grabbed a towel from a ringside table and wiped down his face and throat, then draped the towel around his neck. As he walked alongside Eddie toward the locker room, he grinned. “I’m feelin’ better every day, Eddie. Know what I mean?” He gestured back toward the ring. “That could’a been Gonzales in there, and I still would’a wiped the floor with him.”

Carlos “Chico” Gonzales was the number four contender for the heavyweight crown. Thompson was ranked ninth.

Thompson grinned with anticipation. “So what’s up, Eddie? We gonna land a fight with him soon?”

Eddie glanced up at him. “Better. We’ve got Irilio Mendocini, twenty days from right now.”

Thompson frowned. “Mendocini? Ain’t he—”

“Number two contender, Bas. Number two. And get this—you’re favored. All the books have you up fifteen to one.”

Thompson arched his eyebrows. “Really?”

“Yeah. Apparently those guys been payin’ attention. Whatever. This is the payoff we been waitin’ for.” We’re gonna clean up, Bas. You think you been doin’ good? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”

Thompson frowned. “But how we gonna clean up if I’m so heavily favored? How you gonna get the odds down?”

Eddie stopped just short of the locker room door and looked up at him. “That’s just it, kid. I ain’t.”

“What? That don’t make no sense, Eddie.”

“It makes perfect sense. You’re gonna give him hell for nine rounds, see. But about halfway through the tenth, you’re gonna get caught with a uppercut or somethin’ like that, you know. And you’re gonna drop like you was shot.”

Thompson laughed. “Yeah, right. You know nobody’s gonna buy that, not even as a joke. Ain’t nobody ever put me on the canvas.”

But Eddie wasn’t grinning. He glanced back toward the ring, then back at Thompson. Quietly, he said, “Hey, there’s a first time for everything, am I right?”

Thompson looked at him for a moment, then frowned again. “Wait. You’re serious?”

Everything he’d heard about Eddie Potrano came rushing back.

He took a step back and raised his gloves. “Hold on, Eddie. Slow down, man. I’m a contender. I ain’t gonna take no fall. The payoff comes when I nail the champ to the canvas, man.”

Potrano frowned. “Hey, whaddayou, think you’re special? Eh? You think Jackson’s gonna let you waltz in and take his crown?”

“Nah, man, but I’m good. I’ll put that chump down inside of five rou—”

“How you think you won all them fights, Bas? Think. Every one of ‘em was ranked higher than you. How you think you did all that?”

Thompson knew how he did it. Of the seven fights since Potrano had been his manager, he laid down four of his opponents with a monstrous right cross, the likes of which hadn’t been seen in a generation. All the papers said so. Two went to Lala Land via his short, vicious left hook. Only one had been a decision—a unanimous decision—and that guy looked as if he’d been the guest of honor in a train wreck.

“I won them fights, Eddie. Fair and square. I won every one’a them damn fights.”

Potrano laughed. “Yeah, right. Grow up, my friend.”

Thompson just looked at him. Finally, quietly, he said, “I ain’t throwin’ no fight.”

Potrano’s laughter faded to a smile, then disappeared. “You will, and you’ll make it look convincing. You understand?”

Thompson started to turn away for the locker room, but Potrano grabbed his arm, then moved around in front of him. He flicked what remained of his cigarette against the wall outside the locker room. Then he pointed at Bas. His voice a quiet growl, he said, “You don’t wanna upset my boss, boy. You do that, bad things are gonna happen.”


Thompson glared at Eddie. “Shit, you can’t hurt me, man. You or your boss. I’m your meal ticket.” He shouldered his way past the man. “‘Sides, I’ll snap you in half.”

From behind him, Eddie called out, “I’ll be in touch, Thompson. Twenty days. You’ll do what’s right or you’ll learn what hell is.”

For almost three weeks, Bas didn’t see Eddie Potrano.

Probably his feelings were hurt. Bas had never defied him before. But this—taking a fall—it just wasn’t in his makeup.

And he thought about those other fights Eddie mentioned. Not one of them was a set up. Bas had hurt like hell for days after each one of them, mostly in his shoulders and elbows from the jarring his joints took when he landed the blows.

Still, the man wouldn’t walk away from a sure thing. Eddie was far too greedy for that. And if Basilone Thompson was anything, it was a sure thing.

Finally Eddie surprised him with a visit on the evening of the fight. The trainer was taping Bas’ fists when Eddie walked in. As usual, he had a cigarette between his lips near the corner of his mouth.

He pinched it between the index finger and middle finger of his left hand and gestured toward Bas. “How you feelin’, Thompson?”

Bas nodded. “Good. I’m good, Eddie. Hey, maybe after I wipe the floor with this guy we can—”

“Don’t forget what I said, a’right?” Eddie turned, flipped his cigarette into the corner of the room, and walked out.

The fight went on as scheduled. Almost.

Shortly after the middle of the eighth round, Bas caught Mendocini with a body shot that folded him in half. The crushing right cross followed as if it were scripted.

Mendocini spun away hard to his own right. When he landed face down near a neutral corner, he was fast asleep.

For a moment, even as the referee tugged and pushed at him, Bas stood over him.

That damn sure wasn’t no fall, was it?

As Bas walked toward the other neutral corner to await the outcome, he glanced ringside to Eddie’s chair.

But Eddie wasn’t in it.

Behind him, the referee counted, “One. Two. Three.”

Not a big deal. Probably he went to the bathroom or something.


Bas would rather his wife was here anyway, but she didn’t like to watch him fight. She didn’t like seeing him get hurt, and she didn’t like watching as he hurt other people.

“Five. Six.”

Several times, usually during minor arguments, she asked when he was going to turn his fists on her. But he would never do such a thing. Never. Under any circumstances.

Still, I kind’a wish she was here. It’d be nice to celebrate a little.


But there was always Eddie. He probably went to the bathroom. Probably he’d be back any minute. He would want to see the referee raise Bas’ gloved fist in victory.

He leaned on the ropes and looked up the left aisle.



He shifted his gaze to the other aisle.

There he was. Eddie was at the top of the right aisle, almost to the lobby.


Bas raised his gloves high over his head. He yelled, “Hey, Eddie!”

But Eddie didn’t look back.


Then the referee was tugging on him and gesturing, trying to get him into the center of the ring.

Bas cast a final look up the aisle just in time to see Eddie disappear through the curtain. He turned and walked to the center of the ring.

The referee grabbed his right wrist. When the loudspeaker filled the arena with his name, the referee hoisted Bas’ fist into the air.

It was his last fight.

When Eddie got home that night, he let himself in quietly.

His wife and son lay dead on the living room floor.

Each had suffered a single gunshot wound to the head.

As he knelt over their bodies, Eddie Potrano stepped out of the hallway. In his hand was a revolver. “I tried to tell you Bas.”

Bas rose, unsteadily, to his feet. His brow was furrowed with anguish. “How could you do this, Eddie? You— You were my friend.”

“Hey, it was only business. That’s all. And now it’s all over, eh? Like I said, I tried to warn you.”

Bas looked at him. He nodded, then looked down at his wife and son again.

He knelt, slid his big arms under his wife and picked her up, then laid her gently on the couch.

Eddie frowned. “Hey, whaddayou doin’?

Bas said, “You gonna shoot me, Eddie, go on ahead. I gotta do what’s right.” Then he knelt, picked up his four year old son, and laid him in the crook of his wife’s arm. He stepped back and looked at them for a moment. “There. That’s how they’re supposed to be. Peaceful like.”

“Hey, sorry Bas, y’know? But like I said, I tried to warn—”

And Bas’ big right hand closed on his throat. “Shut up!” Squeezing. “Shut your damn mouth!” Hard.

Potrano said, “Bas!” and his breath stopped. He slowly brought up his revolver and shoved it hard against Bas’ abdomen.

Bas twisted to his left just as Eddie squeezed the trigger.

A fire tore through Bas’ side, but it only made him angrier.

He grabbed Eddie’s right hand with his left and squeezed, crushing his fingers around the revolver as if they were putty. When he released the man’s hand with a jerk, the revolver clattered away across the hardwood floor. Eddie’s right hand hung limp and useless at his side

Maintaining his grip on Eddie’s throat, Bas started walking forward, slowly backing Eddie to the wall. His fingernails dug deep as he steadily increased the pressure.

With his left hand, Eddie tugged hard at Bas’ hand and fingers. Then his wrist.

To no effect.

His eyes grew wide as he clawed wildly at Bas’ forearm.

He might as well have been clawing at steel cables.

He swung wildly at Bas’ face, but missed by inches.

When Eddie’s back contacted the wall, horror filled his eyes.

Bas began to lift him from the floor, still increasing the pressure on his throat.

The big man leaned in close, his lips a fraction of an inch from Eddie’s nose, and glared into the man’s bulging eyes. “You hear me, Eddie? I told you if you was gonna shoot me you ought’a go on ahead and do it, didn’t I? Yeah. Yeah I did.” He jerked hard at the man’s throat, pulling him away from the wall, then slamming him back against it again.

Again he glared into Eddie’s eyes. “See, Eddie? This shit works both ways. See? Nah, you don’t see nothin’, Eddie. But like you keep sayin’, I tried to warn you.”

With a screaming growl of animal rage, he closed his fist and twisted it violently to the right, then let the body drop.

Eddie Potrano’s larynx angled away from the base of his throat. Behind it, for a second, his spine was in view.

Blood pumped into cavity, quickly filling it and spilling down the sides of Eddie’s neck to the floor. The cavity filled again. The level of blood receded, then filled again and bubbled as Eddie fought to breathe.

Bas cleared his throat, harshly, then spat through the hole.

“Go to hell, Eddie. You go to hell.”

He turned and looked at his wife, his baby.

There was nothing left for him here.

Nobody and nothing.

He walked out.

* * * * * * *


For Purveyors of the Soup Sandwich

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 8/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

I started to call this “Dueling Respondents” but that wouldn’t have been quite accurate. After all, as far as I know, the two writers who served as the catalyst for this post don’t even know each other.

One of those writers, upon reading my “Top 10 Mistakes Writers Make” argued, albeit lightly, that he had used many of the “mistakes” I argued against and that none of his readers seemed to care.

Point taken. Far be it from me to attempt to teach an old dog (I can talk because I’m an old dog too) new tricks, even if those tricks will help him retain readers.

The actual truth of the matter is that none of his readers seemed to care As Far As He Knows. That’s very different and more realistic than just assuming they didn’t care.

Most readers won’t bother to contact a writer to say “Hey, your book stinks.” Generally, I’ve found that most lay readers (those who are not also writers) have a dog’s outlook on life: if they can’t eat it or read it, they’ll tinkle on it and get on with their life.

Okay, to be absolutely fair, I should also mention that this particular author is a very strong writer and well-enough established that he probably can get away with some things that most of us wouldn’t be able to get away with. But that wasn’t the point.

The point was, having more readers is better than having fewer. Successful writers with bad habits also have a bad effect on writers who are younger in the craft.

Novices, while citing the success of other writers, often say silly things like “Well, Famous Author doesn’t use quotation marks around dialogue, so why should I?” or “Famous Writer’s work is replete with misplaced modifiers, so what’s wrong with them?” or “Famous Writer says adverbs are bad so I will never use an adverb.”

Or my personal-favorite avoidance clause: “The reader will know what I mean.” That, frankly, is a p-poor excuse for not learning and applying the craft. And no, when I wrote p-poor I wasn’t st-stammering. The reader will know what I mean.

The fact, plainly stated, is precisely this: Every single solitary time you write something that interrupts the reader, you’re running the risk of the reader having reached the point where he’s had enough. At that point, he’ll close your book and find something more enjoyable and less maddening to do.

I preach this constantly, even working it into seminars and classes and conversations and email exchanges that have nothing to do, directly, with the writer-reader interaction that occurs through your work. Yet some folks believe they’re immune, that “the reader will know what I meant.”

Of course, I’m a bit conflicted. As a writing instructor, I want what’s best for other writers. But I’m also a writer, and as more and more writers bow to mediocrity, the fewer I will have to compete against.

Okay, so if you honestly believe letting your narrator say the character “sat looking out the window” when she was already sitting or “gave his hand a shake” instead of saying “shook his hand” is a good idea, hey go for it.

If you believe it’s all right to let the narrator say in a tag line that your character “snickered” (or “laughed” or “cut in” or “gave back” or “returned” or “sentenced” or “tumbled out”) a line of dialogue instead of “said” a line of dialogue, that’s fine.

As an instructor, I have to shake my head in disbelief. But as a writer? Hey, I’m with you all the way!

If you believe the narrator saying the character “moved to the couch’s edge and pushed her glasses up her nose’s bridge” is as effective and clean as saying she “moved to the edge of the couch and pushed her glasses up the bridge of her nose,” that’s okay too.

If you believe it’s fine to let the narrator say “Bob’s nose pressed against the window” instead of “Bob pressed his nose against the window” or “Sharon’s legs raced wildly down the street” instead of “Sharon raced wildly down the street” or (Heaven forbid) “John’s eyes shot across the room” instead of “John quickly looked across the room,” PLEASE go ahead and write it that way.

If you think you should write “When he walked into the room several men sat at tables and others walked up or down the stairs” instead of saving reader confusion by writing “When he walked into the room several men were sitting at tables and others were walking up or down the stairs,” have at it.

And by all means, please, if you believe it doesn’t sound at all redundant and ludicrous to write “he thought to himself,” go right ahead.

At this point, I’m actually grinning, greedily and anxiously, and cheering for all those writers who know “the reader will know what I mean.” You betcha.

Oh, and the other respondent I mentioned at the beginning of this? She sent me an email recently. Here’s an excerpt:

I read only one chapter of a book I downloaded. That was as far as I could go.

“They both laughed. She nodded her head yes and they went in two opposite directions.”

And then there were words used incorrectly. For example, one guy was “nauseous” instead of “nauseated.” Then again, maybe he was. I never saw him. That was all I could take.

Do you suppose this reader (who also happens to be a very good writer) will contact the author of that book and tell him about these problems? Of course not. That isn’t her job.

The reader’s job is to suspend her sense of disbelief.

The writer’s job is to not buy it back.

‘Til next time, happy writing.

I am a professional fiction writer as well as a copyeditor. For details, or just to learn what comprises a good copy edit, please visit Copyediting.

If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.