The Journal, Wednesday, 9/2

The Day
Rolled out a little before 3.

Still have a bug but it’s not a major deal. Just very slight headaches that come and go accompanied by (also very slight) chills/fever and nausea. Just blah, y’know?

I did get out for a walk. I decided to do hills, into and out of a wash off Sybil Road. I hoped to shove whatever this is on through my system, but that doesn’t work like it did when I was thirty. (grin) I went only about 2 miles, and I felt worse after it was over. So I guess I won’t be trying that again.

Looked at pics from the walk this morning, posted a few to Facebook. They’re not bad if you like that kind of stuff. You can see them here.  The first one looks kind’a like Granny’s wig.

By the way, I strongly recommend you check out DeanWesleySmith.com today. Great stuff on his challenge for the rest of this year.

Oh, a quick announcement. I probably won’t post anything on this for Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I hope to be in the Lower Gila Box Wilderness north of Lordsburg seeing some amazing stuff.

Topic of the Morning: Writing and Selling Short Fiction

Could I do a seminar on this? Yes. I could do a daylong seminar on this. It would depend on interest. If you’re interested, let me know by email please at harveystanbrough@gmail.com.

Recently, some folks who are signed up for my free story of the week have asked why I’m not selling my short stories instead of putting them on the website free. A professional writer friend of mine asked the same question in a slightly different context a few weeks ago.

Think about that for a moment. Why in the world would I limit the audience for my short stories to around 70 subscribers? The answer is, I Don’t.

Yes, if you subcribe (see the Story of the Week link in the header on the website), you will receive a brand new short story free in your email once a week. It costs you nothing and you can read it as many times as you want for the next week or so.

But I ALSO publish each story, usually the same day I write it. I publish it to Amazon, the Smashwords store, Apple, Barnes & Noble, Inktera, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd and Tolino. Through those markets, my stories, collections and novels are available in over 100 nations worldwide within a few days of publication.

To give you an idea of the process, I wrote the next short story of the week yesterday. It’s called “Paper Hearts.” As soon as I finished it, I did the format, created a cover, and published it to my Free Short Story of the Week blog. It will go live on my website on the morning of Monday, September 7. It will go out in email to subscribers on the afternoon of the same day.

So I published it to my website yesterday and set a future release date. But I also published it for sale to Draft2Digital, a distributor who sends it to Apple, Barnes & Noble, Inktera, Kobo, Oyster, Scribd and Tolino. Then I published it to Smashwords, but only for sale in their online store. (You can buy titles at Smashwords.com in any ebook format.) Then I published it to Amazon.

If you want to see it, I recommend you subscribe to my Free Short Story of the Week and wait until Monday to read it. Or just come back to my website on Monday and click the Free Short Story of the Week tab.

But if you’re really in a rush and you have more money than patience, you’re more than welcome to visit your favorite ebook store anytime and buy it. It only costs $2.99. That includes tax, even if you live in Europe and have that horrible VAT thing going on.

Not ony do I sell each individual short story that I write, I also do this:

When I’ve written five short stories, I combine them in a short collection and sell it for $4.99. So my readers can buy my stories one at a time for $2.99 (five stories would cost just under $15) or they can get five stories in a short collection for $4.99.

So when I’ve written TEN short stories, guess what? Instead of buying one or both of the 5-story collections for $4.99 each, my readers can opt to buy one 10-story collection for $5.99 to $7.99. Can you say Good Deal?

From a writer and indie publisher standpoint, each story gives me multiple streams of revenue, too. When I’ve written ten short stories, I get thirteen publications: ten individual stories, two 5-story collections, and one 10-story collection.

That gives me three separate streams of revenue for each short story. Thirty streams of revenue for ten stories. Times the number of venues in which my stories are for sale.

And each of those is for sale at every venue listed above PLUS at those venues’ subsidiaries. Most of the “big” vendors have a few to several subsidiaries to whom they further distribute the books. Cool, eh?

Finally, I also publish each 5-story and 10-story collection as a paperback. Do I get a lot of sales in paperback? No.

But when the reader finds my collection or novel online and sees the paperback price (usually around $15.99) right alongside the ebook price (usually around $5.99) it makes the ebook price look really good. See? Which of course it is.

Today’s Writing

Yeah right. I messed around a bit but not enough to mention. I’m kind’a taking the day off today. Might be a few days like that until I get over this stuff. Sure will be glad to get back up to speed.

Now, that being said, I’m not overly worried about it. I mean, yes, I would MUCH rather be writing fiction because it’s SO much stinkin’ fun when it flows like it should. But the words will still be there when I come out of this crap. So there’s that.

In the meantime, all of you can write your little fingers to the bone. (grin)

Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 11410 words
Day 9…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

I’m gonna leave up the number for ol’ Wes while my subconscious continues to turn the story over. If it doesn’t perk up and get with it pretty soon though, I’ll send Wes out behind the barn to think about what he’s done while I’m writing some other stuff.

Total fiction words for the month…………… 1590
Total fiction words for the year……………… 466631

The Journal, Tuesday, 9/1 (Yay!)

The Day
Rolled out a little after 2. It’s September 1, a shiny brand-new month. New possibilities, newly re-set goals.

Thank goodness.

Coffee and email to wake up. No walk today. Had a violent storm come through here yesterday. That and this little bug that’s taken hold of me recently will keep me from walking today. I’ll walk tomorrow for sure. A good long one.

Well, back to writing today. It is September 1. No real significance there except that this month I will rededicate myself to writing. I will also see my 755th full moon sometime this month, and the first thing has about as much significance to anything important as the second.

As I alluded to in yesterday’s post (I think) things move so fast in my life. I mean even second to second. Or maybe it’s just that I’m noticing the seconds more. I’ve been too distracted recently, with the violent weather and whatever it pitches into the air and a minor nagging illness and all that. I can imagine my drill instructor (Sgt. McGrew, my favorite) saying, “Well, get UNdistracted, y’moron.” And he’s right.

So I’m beginning to focus on writing again because it’s important to me

I felt bad for awhile last night as I considered that my monthly total was only 22641 for this month. That’s very low for me. I’m usually up in the 60,000 to 80,000 per month range.

Then I got to thinking about it. If I wrote 22641 every month for a year, that would be 271,692 published words of fiction in a year. One of my writing heroes and a very prolific SF writer named Jack Williamson once lamented that try as he might, he never wrote much more than 100,000 words in a year.

So I’ll take it.

And as I keep saying, today is September 1.

Topic of the Morning: No topic today. I’m pooped.

Today’s Writing
Fiction Words: 1590

Writing of “Paper Hearts” (began as “A Hiding Place for Weary Men” — short story of the week)
Day 1…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 1056 words
Day 2…… 1590 words. Total words to date….. 2646 words done

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 11410 words
Day 9…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 1590
Total fiction words for the year……………… 466631

Narrative, Dialogue and the Fantasy of Balance

Note: This post first appeared in my blog in 2012. I’ve updated it with new information.

Hi Folks,

Seems like every other week or so someone reports to me that a writing instructor or contest judge or other self-appointed expert has advised that the writer should use less dialogue and more narrative in a given story. Recently, a respondent recalled the exact wording the professor of ludicrosity used:

“If you change a lot of this dialogue to narrative, the story will be a lot more interesting. All fiction should be about forty percent dialogue and sixty percent narrative.”

What? ALL fiction SHOULD BE about forty percent dialogue and sixty percent narrative?

Okay, really, honestly, seriously, there is a lot wrong with that statement.

First, nobody who has any knowledge of how to write fiction can possibly say with the slightest bit of sincerity that any rule applies to “ALL” fiction. If they try it, stop listening.

Second, the story will not be more interesting if you change dialogue to narrative. Actually, the reverse is true because you’re getting rid of a direction character-reader connection (dialogue) in favor of a middle man narrator (and then this happened). Ugh.

Third, if you believe “All Fiction Should Be” forty percent dialogue and sixty percent narrative, what’s to stop you from believing the next so-called expert who tells you the ratio of dialogue to narrative should be thirty/seventy or twenty/eighty or ten/ninety or any of those in reverse?

Oh, and fourth, as my Psych 101 instructor said roughly a b’jillion years ago, “Don’t ‘should’ on yourself, and definitely don’t ‘should’ on anyone else.”

Seriously, it’s a nasty habit. Don’t do it.

I also noticed two interesting facts about people who spew numbers and talk about achieving a “balance” between dialogue and narrative:

  1. They don’t actually write fiction themselves, and
  2. They never provide a concrete reason. Never.

Now you probably already know what I think about so-called experts who can’t provide the rationale for their advice. Briefly, if you can’t explain ad nauseam what you’re teaching, shut up. Seriously.

If your standard line is “Well, I can’t explain it but I know it when I see it” or “I can’t explain it but this is right, trust me,” ummm NO. You need to either teach something different or maybe get a job in which all you have to remember is to ask whether the customer wants fries with his order.

Okay, so here’s MY rationale for saying the guy was wrong to spout such inane advice:

Dialogue provides the reader with a direct, intimate line to the characters, the people who are actually living the story. Because it directly engages the reader, even bad dialogue is automatically more interesting than any narrative. Not that you should “give yourself permission” (or whatever they’re saying now) to write bad dialogue.

Narrative on the other hand is intrusive. Even necessary narrative, which is to say narrative that is written to describe the scene. In every case, the narrator comes from outside the storyline to tap the reader on the shoulder and talk for a moment. If the moment is too long or unnecessary, the interruption will cause the reader to stop reading and find something less annoying to do. In effect, your narrator will have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Some narrative is necessary, but remember this guideline: The narrator’s only task is to describe the scene.

The good narrator is a tame narrator. He isn’t allowed to offer his opinion, comment on the state of the world, describe a character’s emotional state of being or use (except very sparingly) verbs that indicate physical or emotional senses: saw, could see; heard, could hear; smelled, could smell; tasted, could taste; felt, could feel; or knew.

Instead, the good narrator will simply describe the scene and let the reader see, hear, smell, taste and feel right along with the character as the scene unfolds. Here are a couple of examples:

Good: A few minutes later she heard the front doorknob turn and the door squeal open.

Better: A few minutes later the front doorknob turned and the door squealed open.

Good: As she entered the house, she could smell the acrid odor of sizzling electrical circuits.

Better: As she entered the house, the acrid odor of sizzling electrical circuits stung her nose.

Incidentally, this is also what writing instructors mean when they say “Show, don’t tell.” That snappy little saw actually means “Don’t let your narrator tell the reader what’s going on; instead have him just describe the scene so the reader can see for himself what’s going on.” The former is easier to remember, but the latter makes more concrete sense.

Now, I’m the first to admit that not all stories lend themselves to dialogue. Some stories need more narrative than dialogue. Some even need to be written only in narrative. (The “tamed narrator” bit still applies though.)

But any time anyone tells you a story must (or should) be xx% dialogue and xx% narrative, follow these simple guidelines:

  1. Immediately, if silently, decide against taking any advice from that person, ever; then
  2. (if you want to have a little fun) Ask him to explain his rationale.
  3. Cross your arms, don a knowing look, and wait.

If your lifelong dream has been to see a guy’s head explode, I hope you will enjoy the show.

‘Til next time, happy writing.
Harvey

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The Journal, Monday, 8/31 (Yay!)

The end of a month. A horrible month. Whew. Glad to see this one end.

The Day
Rolled out a little before 3. I was up late (for me) last night working with web browsers. I’ll tell you the rest in the Topic below.

A personal note — I’ve received a few emails recently from some of you expressing concern for what’s going on. Really, nothing. Just life. (grin) But I’m doing a mostly daily journal here, and I’m trying to be as transparent as I can in revealing my own life as a professional writer. That’s mostly to let you see what’s possible, but also that normal (or abnormal) everyday life continues to happen.

To that end, I want to let you see the rough days as well as the smooth ones, the days when I struggle to put together a sentence as well as the days when everything’s flowing and I hit 1200 words in an hour.
So I do appreciate the concern, but really, everything’s fine. If you know me, you know I slip into grouch mode pretty easily, and when I’m in grouch mode, my two year old inner child isn’t far behind. (grin)

Administrative note — I could have finished the short story I started yesterday in time to start a streak. I could have finished it this morning and created a cover and posted it before 9 a.m. when MailChimp sends out the story of the week to all the subscribers. (I had the story of the week covered with an older one that I reworked a bit but I still set the deadline for my challenge week at 9 a.m. on Monday morning.)

One of the reasons I didn’t bother was because I’ve been sending this daily journal post. It includes my daily numbers and it goes out at 5 p.m. every day. I couldn’t finish the story before that deadline.

So I need to work out my deadlines so they coincide. I’ll do that before I start my story-a-week challenge again. Since my workday begins at 2 or so in the morning and ends at 5 in the early evening, probably I’ll shift the story-a-week deadline to 6 p.m. on Monday instead of 9 a.m. on Monday.

We’ll see. Anyway, it’s now 6:30 a.m. I have a new browser I’m happy with thus far (see the Topic below) and am ready to start the rest of my day. No fiction writing today. The month is over. Today I’ll take care of some more administrative stuff, like adding a couple blog posts over on the other blog to get a little bit ahead.

Now it’s almost noon. I’ve added four articles to the other blog post so I’m caught up through October 1.

Topic of the Morning: Internet Browsers

I’ve used Firefox for years. The problem is, I’m a complete two year old when it comes to putting up with things that annoy me and that probably have a solution. The keyword here is probably.

I will spend hours, even days, searching for a solution to an annoyance when I know the solution “probably” exists.

The problem with Firefox was this: When I tried to view a video or even open a website that has photos or videos on it (for example, news feeds or weather radar) in Firefox, my computer would slow to a crawl. It also sounded like a fighter jet warming up on the runway.

You know the sound. When the pilot is increasing the engine speed while keeping his foot firmly planted on the brake until the engines are spinning fast enough to punch him into the sky. Well, something like that. You know.

Anyway, Firefox invoked Adobe Flash, which ran as a separate process and ate up tons of memory, thereby taxing the processor and slowing the computer to roughly the speed of an abacus in the hands of an untrained chimp.

As all humans do in all human endeavors in which Conflict is trump, I finally sought change only when the aggravation of putting up with my current browser finally outweighed the inconvenience of finding a new one, moving all my bookmarks, reinserting all my saved passwords, and all that stuff.

And of course, the need to switch browsers brought up another problem. Which browser?

Now fixing this problem should be as easy as looking at browser comparisons or reading reviews. But it isn’t. Not unless you look at several comparisons from various sources and look for common notes among them.

Ditto for reviews. You have to compare several reviews and study them to discern the kernels of unbiased truth hidden in the bought-and-paid-for-and-therefore-biased text.

And finally, you have to download the new browser, transfer all your stuff (or at least find out how difficult it is to transfer all your stuff) and then use it and wait to see what happens.

Relatively speaking, I got lucky.

Yesterday (?) or the day before, I compared notes (per my griping above) and settled on Opera. I downloaded it, transferred everything (to Opera’s credit, the transfer was easy) and began using it.

I liked the user interface and enjoyed the ease with which I was able to get around in the browser. Everything was fine for a few hours.

Then it crashed.

The browser was still there, and open. My windows (email, harveystanbrough.com and a couple others) were still on the screen. But in each window, the content — ALL of the content — was replaced with black.

I closed Opera and restarted it, and everything was fine. My tabs all came back. No problem. Probably just a glitch, so no worries.

Then it crashed. Same thing, a half-hour later. Okay, so not just a glitch. Sigh. Well minor-league-curseword-that-begins-with-D.

So I started reading again, comparing notes.

Just in case you’re doing this search yourself, here are the two best comparison sites I found:

http://www.topattack.com/list/best-internet-browsers-review/4 and

http://internet-browser-review.toptenreviews.com/.

I found a few programs that seemed like good candidates to become my next browser. I downloaded and installed Internet Explorer 11 and was immediately IMMEDIATELY sorry. It’s far too bossy for my tastes, and it isn’t NEARLY as fast as the two comparison sites above claim it is. Plus it uses a ton of memory, again, as opposed to what a lot of reviews and the two comparison sites above say.

I quickly grew tired of the “big” browsers. I had tried IE twice and hated it both times. Firefox was out, and Google Chrome seemed overly flippant in their lack of desire to allow the end user (me) to set things up for my own convenience. And Opera… well, I liked Opera a lot except that it apparently is a crash machine.

So I read in-depth reviews about three other browsers: Pale Moon (based on the Firefox engine but sleeker and faster), Torch (based on the Chromium engine, like Google Chrome, it allows for a LOT more personalization and is not as high-handed) and Sea Monkey (based on the Firefox engine but just as fast as Firefox while allegedly using a LOT less memory).

I finally installed Pale Moon, but the first time I visited a news site that had a few pictures on it and links to videos (not even videos, just LINKS to videos), it acted like Firefox. Someone turned the ignition key in an F-16 cockpit and the computer slowed to a crawl. Now I have to admit the crawl was considerably faster than the Firefox crawl, but a crawl is a crawl.

Thing is, I can’t abide a crawling browser. Let me explain.

In my world, I don’t really notice 1/60th of a minute as it ticks past, but I can get a lot done in, say, 15 seconds. So in my world, a minute has four 15-second segments that I’m intuitively aware of. In my world, an hour has 240 of those. It doesn’t just have 60 minutes, but 240 quarter-minutes. That’s a lot of quarter-minutes. And during that time, I can accomplish a lot IF my browser isn’t crawling along, sapping my strength and my patience.

So the search continued.

This morning, fresh out of bed, I grabbed a cuppa coffee, turned on Pale Moon, opened a new tab and began comparing browsers.

I swear, I thought I heard my computer say in a soft, almost menacing voice, “What are you doing, Harvey?” (see 2001: A Space Odyssey)

And yes, I responded. Aloud. I said, “Nothing. Nothing, ProBook 6460b. Everything’s fine.”

Then I downloaded the installation files for Sea Monkey (http://www.seamonkey-project.org/) and Torch (http://www.torchbrowser.com/).

Torch downloaded first, so I installed it first. TADA! It’s working great.

If it continues to work well, that will be the end of my search. If it doesn’t, well, I still have the installation files for Sea Monkey set aside, so we’ll see.

If you have any questions about any of this, please ask in the comments section below.

Also, be aware I’m also gonna make this one of my upcoming posts over on the bigger blog. So if you’re signed up over there too, you’ll see this again before too long. Probably late September.

TOMORROW  BEGINS  A  NEW  MONTH!  GO  FORTH  AND  WRITE!

Today’s Writing

Well, I just don’t have any writing in me today. Well, fiction writing anyway. I probably hit around 3,000 words today of nonfiction and silliness. In fact, there are almost 1700 words in this post alone.

Okay, but I just noticed I didn’t add my total from yesterday (1056) to the daily total. I added it to the monthly and annual, but not to the daily, so I’m correcting that today.

Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 11410 words
Day 9…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 22641
Total fiction words for the year……………… 465041

The Journal, Sunday, 8/30

The Day
Rolled out right at 2 this morning. Good to feel back on schedule.

Spent more time this morning on email than usual but for a good reason. I woke to Dr. Mardy Groethe’s weekly newsletter in my inbox. Dr. Mardy is a verbivore. He is the author of I Never Metaphor I Didn’t Like, Oxymoronica, and several other books in the same general vein.

Each week his newsletter contains an interesting “puzzler” regarding a famous literary figure. Dr. Mardy provides a brief history and several quotes about the person, and at the end of the newsletter he reveals the person’s name.

After the puzzler hints and before the revelation, he provides “This Week’s Theme.” Then he offers up a bit of introductory prose and then a collection (usually a dozen) of his own favorite quotes on the topic.

And that’s what I like best about his newsletter. The listing of quotes he provides is a never-ending source of story titles and story ideas. And if you title and/or write a story based on part of a quote, the quote becomes a ready-made epigraph if you want one. (grin)

I will write the story of the week today, and I will write it based on a title derived from a quotation taken from this week’s newsletter.

And to slightly adjust my personal challenge, each new short story I write for the foreseeable future will be based on a quote from Dr. Mardy’s newsletter. That should be a blast. (grin)

You can find Dr. Mardy’s website at http://www.drmardy.com. To sign up for his newsletter, send a blank email to drmardy-on@mail-list.com. Again, I highly recommend it.

No topic tonight other than the above.

Good walk today. Only about 3.5 miles but new ground through a new wash. And not too sandy so no slogging, or not much. Cool.

Started the story of the week. Then my new Internet browser (Opera) crashed on me three times in an hour. So I’m looking again. Spent the last couple hours doing that, so back to writing for a bit now. I want to see how this story ends. (grin)

As it turns out, I’m not gonna find out how it ends today. Like I said the other day, the good thing about a recurring goal is that it resets if you miss it.

Today’s Writing

Well, I won’t finish the new short story I started today. No biggie. I’ll just start my new streak next week, or the next. I’ll get back on track.

I DID get a good opening written, and it’s a great title that I borrowed from a quote by Herodotus (5th c. B.C.). So I’ll run with that later.

But for now I’m not gonna worry about it. Talk with you all tomorrow.

Fiction Words: 1056

Writing of “A Hiding Place for Weary Men” (short story, but not of the week)
Day 1…… 1056 words. Total words to date….. 1056 words

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words
Day 8…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXXX words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 22641
Total fiction words for the year……………… 465041

Carmen, Whose Face Was Cracked

CarmenFace 180Clad happily in colorful linen skirts, a white blouse and a light cape with a hood pulled forward over her face, Carmen swept through the streets of Aguafuertes.

She smelled delightfully of cinnamon and burnt sugar from the pastries she had helped her mother make after breakfast. There also was a headier, deeper scent about her, an aura, but of aroma rather than wave lengths of light from the rare end of the spectrum. She carried the perfume of beauty and of innocence.

Carmen couldn’t have known that the day the soldiers rode into her village would be her last day on earth as a girl. She couldn’t have known that the humid evening to follow would serve as the threshold to womanhood, that she truly would never be the same again.

The slightest smile curled her lips.

If she had known, she would have done nothing differently.

Except that she would have gone to him more quickly.

Given herself to him more fully.

*

The day before that most fateful day, Carmen’s father, Eleazar Dominguez, the alcalde, had received word in his office that the village was in the path of a small contingent of cavalry. They probably would arrive late the following afternoon.

According to the spies, the soldiers had been away from their homes for almost three months. They were battle weary from dealing with Apaches on one hand and rebels on the other. They had not stopped even for a drink and a civilized meal for over a month. And Aguafuertes was their last chance to stock their saddlebags and enjoy a night of relaxation before the final two-week march back to their home base.

This would be good news in almost any small, out of the way village like Aguafuertes because of the money the soldiers would bring to the town’s coffers.

But it was good news of a very different type for the alcalde.

The spies said the soldiers were being led by a young capitan primero. One of them was certain the capitan was Antonio Guerrero.

The alcalde’s eyes grew wide. “Are you sure, Pablo?”

The spy, who was much older than the others and only a couple of years younger than the alcalde, nodded. “Sí, mi alcalde. It is the son of Coronel Rafael Guerrero. He looks exactly like his father, but more so.”

*

Seeking adventure, as young teenagers Pedro and Eleazar were filled with romantic dreams of serving the revolution.

When they went rabbit hunting a few times each week in the early morning hours with Eleazar’s father’s old bolt-action rifle, it was always the same. They would move quietly among the mesquite and creosote and sagebrush, pretending they were sneaking up on a soldier rendered unaware of their presence by his own thoughts of all the defenseless peasants he had killed.

When they scared up a rabbit they would freeze just as if they’d spotted a soldier, and they would crouch low to study the enemy.

The doomed rabbit would run a short distance, then stop and stick both ears straight up as if he were tired of living and anxious for Eleazar’s mother’s cookpot.

For a moment the two boys would imagine a sound had caught the soldier’s attention and he had become wary, moving rapidly into what he erroneously thought was a safe and defensible position.

Eleazar would take careful aim at the bottom of the V formed by the rabbit’s ears, then squeeze the trigger carefully.

The rabbit would kick high in the air and fall to the earth dead at about the same time the imaginary soldier would crumple to the ground.

Then the fantasy, stretched to a satisfactory conclusion, would end. The boys would return home with their bounty, talking all the way about how much easier and more fulfilling it would be to put a bullet through a member of the Mexican army than a rabbit.

After all, the rabbit would feed a family for the night, but a dead soldier would feed the revolution for years to come.

On the days when no rabbits were forthcoming, the boys often crept up the back of a boulder-strewn hillside above a well-used trail. There they lay in wait for a column of cavalry.

Of course, the column never showed up. At least not before the novelty of the fantasy had worn off beneath the heat of the day and the boys had left the hillside.

But one day, as misfortune would have it, when the boys had lain in the shadow of a boulder for over two hours and just as they were about to leave, Eleazar heard something. He motioned to Pablo to be silent.

Pablo crouched and froze in place. “What is it?”

“Shh! Horses I think!” Eleazar glanced at him, a grin spreading across his face. “This is our day, Pablo! It is the cavalry!”

“Are you sure?”

Eleazar slipped onto his belly and slithered forward to peer around the boulder. He motioned for Pablo to join him, then pointed. “See? Just there. Riding in two columns, and some sort of banner in front. That is the cavalry!”

Pablo lay silent for a moment, watching the column approach. “Perhaps this is not a good idea, Eleazar. There are so many of them!”

Eleazar didn’t even look around. “No. It is fate. We have been up here many times and nobody has slipped into our ambush. These men were meant to be here. Today is our day to prove our loyalty to the revolution. Give me the rifle.”

Pablo made sure there was a round in the chamber, then passed the rifle forward. He whispered, “It’s ready. I wish we had another rifle.”

“It will be all right. I’ll shoot a few and they will scatter, like in the stories we hear from the men in town when they’ve had a little to drink. Once they scatter, we’ll slip back down the hill and disappear into the washes.” The troop was almost directly beneath them. Eleazar glanced over his shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Pablo shrugged. “Sí. Your plan sounds right to me.”

Eleazar took careful aim and sent a bullet into young private’s thigh. Shooting a cavalryman on horseback was more difficult, as it turned out, than shooting a rabbit who was bent on suicide.

And the soldiers did not scatter.

In what seemed like only an evaporated second, four members of the troop peeled away and formed a guard around their wounded colleague.

In the same moment, the leader of the troop drew his sword, turned the remainder of the troop to face the hill, and charged his attackers.

The sound of the pounding hooves and the yelling men was deafening.

Eleazar, in his haste to escape, stumbled over Pablo and dropped the rifle. It clattered to the rocks in front of him and discharged. The bullet ricocheted off another boulder and smashed Eleazar’s left kneecap.

As he collapsed, holding his knee and moaning, Pedro tripped over him and fell into the dust alongside his friend. “What are we going to do now, Eleazar?”

“Shh! I don’t know! It will be all right.”

The thundering hooves and yelling voices had gone quiet.

No shots had been fired except that first one from Eleazar’s rifle and then the accidental discharge.

The only sounds were the boys’ labored breathing, made louder by their attempts to stem it, and the steady clop clop clop of horses and men moving carefully among the rocks.

The dust had almost settled around the frantic, whispering boys when the coronel rounded the boulder on his mount, his sword still drawn.

His eyes widened with recognition. “Why, you’re only children!”

He sheathed his sword and dismounted, handing his reins to a soldier who had come up behind him, then turned back to Eleazar with a slight bow. “Coronel Rafael Guerrero.. Why did you fire on my men? This could have been a very bad day for you, young señoritos.”

Pablo’s mouth opened, but nothing came out.

Eleazar pulled himself up to stand on his good leg. He faced the coronel. He intended to proclaim that he and his friend were members of the revolution, that the dictator and all his soldiers should burn in hell.

But something deep in the man’s eyes, a recognition of Hell, perhaps, or maybe just a vast sadness and wisdom, made him hold his tongue.

There was no joy in those eyes, no peace, and certainly no fear.

Eleazar swallowed and averted his gaze. “Lo… lo siento, señor. Lo siento mucho. I am very sorry. My friend and I. We were hunting rabbits. A shot went wild.”

He quickly looked at the ground, a new sensation beginning to take root in the pit of his stomach. A glance at the coronel told him the man knew he was lying.

“Are you sure, hermanito? Do you and your friend perhaps fancy yourselves part of the revolution? You were very brave, but you did not do much harm. Surely the court would show leniency to a pair of boys so young.”

And that attempt by the coronel to restore Eleazar’s pride was the greatest transgression the boy would ever know. For the reality of who he was rendered him unable to take advantage of it. Anger filled his eyes. “We were shooting for rabbits, señor, and that is the whole of it. Since you believe us part of the revolution, you may keep my rifle.”

The coronel looked at him for a long moment and a sad hardness crept across his face.

He crouched and picked up the old rifle. He worked the bolt, ejecting the spent shell and loading another cartridge. Then he handed the rifle to Eleazar. “You keep your rifle.”

The coronel searched Eleazar’s gaze again, then sighed. “Certainly you are no danger to me or my men. In the future, be more careful with your aim.”

And with that, Coronel Rafael Guerrero turned his back on the boys, retrieved his horse, mounted and slowly led his soldiers back down the hill and on to their destination.

The boy, Eleazar Dominguez, watched as they rode away, hatred smoldering in his eyes. “I should kill him.”

Pablo shrugged. “We should get you home. Your mother will want to tend that leg.”

*

Alcalde Eleazar Dominguez extrapolated the obvious. The soldiers might well stop in Aguafuertes for an evening of relaxation. After all, his was a small, friendly village of hard-working men, beautiful women, and chubby children. The village contained none of the bullet-scarred adobe buildings that so often marked rebel villages, and no soldiers had visited here officially.

A plan began to form in his mind, and he worked on it late into the night. As he lay down on the sofa in his back office to get a few hours rest, he grinned. They will expect nothing.

*

The following morning, the alcalde picked up his cane and leaned heavily on it as he limped out of his office.

Outside, he motioned to several boys. When they gathered around him, he said, “Run. Go to the fishing boats at the dock, to every farm, and to every business and home in the village. Tell the men to meet me in the cantina in one hour.”

When the men had all arrived and the murmuring had died down, the alcalde stood and tapped his cane hard on the floor to get their attention. “My friends, the time has come for Aguafuertes to shine as a jewel in the revolution! Songs will tell of this day, when the men of our brave village set upon and destroyed those who would force upon us the tyrannical will of our oppressors!”

The men cheered halfheartedly, wondering who among them had been oppressed. Still, the alcalde was an excellent speaker. One man raised his hand. “Alcalde, is it a large force? How will we overcome them?”

“From all reports it is just the right size: small enough that with the element of surprise and superior tactics we will destroy them, and large and well-trained enough that our descendants will sing of our victory for generations to come.” He tapped his temple with his right index finger. “We will outsmart them, and we have Right on our side! We will overcome them with our cunning!”

Another man raised his hand. “Are they not excellent marksmen?”

“Perhaps, but marksmanship does not matter in close quarters.”

And another, from the back. “Are they not also battle hardened?”

“Ahh, but also battle weary.” The alcalde held up one hand to allay further discussion. “My friends, we must make our stand here.” He tapped the floor hard with the tip of his cane. “Right here in the cantina. They will ride into our village this very afternoon.

“They will water their horses at our troughs and feed them with our oats! And then they will come here, to our own cantina, and here they will satisfy their physical thirst with our tequila and their immoral, animal lusts with our women!

“They will room in our small hotel and even in our houses, forcing their way in, and they will pay for nothing! I have seen these kind of men in action! These are terrible, cruel men!”

A voice of dissent rose from the back of the room. “But alcalde, our village has never had trouble from soldiers. I say we do nothing.” He shrugged. “Probably they will drink and sleep. Probably they will even pay. I was a soldier for a brief time. Probably these men are just men like we are. In the morning they will leave and our coffers will be richer for their visit.”

“No! You are wrong, my friend! If we do nothing, they will take what they want, destroy our village and ride away! If we fight, they will take nothing and they will not be able to ride away! We fight for our village! For our women and children! We fight for Aguafuertes!”

A cheer went up among the men, easily drowning out the few dissenters. Most of the men, especially when women were around and paying attention, fancied themselves bold rebels. But up until then they had not encountered a convenient time to prove their loyalty to the revolution.

The alcalde slapped the top of the bar with his cane to regain control of the meeting. “My friends, most of the soldiers will gather here once they’ve seen to their mounts. Keep watch! In the afternoon, one man should be at each end of the bar. Be sure to bring your sidearms and knives. We will store rifles on a shelf beneath the bar.”

He motioned with his cane toward the tables that abutted the walls of the cantina. “Others of you must fill the tables around the edge, at least two men at each table. Leave the tables in the center and most of the bar open for the soldiers. When they have enjoyed a drink or two and relaxed, we will take them easily!”

Again a general cheer went up.

The alcalde smiled. This would repay the son of a cur for his disrespect.

As the men broke into smaller groups to discuss who would be seated where in the cantina later in the afternoon, the alcalde’s smile widened into a grin.

The plan was going well. All that remained was to talk with Carmen. He would speak with her when she returned from the spring. Everything would hinge on the young Capitan Guerrero being kept busy.

His daughter would do as he asked, and his revenge would be complete.

He would dishonor the young capitan in the same way the capitan’s father had dishonored him.

*

Carmen truly was a classical beauty, so much so that many believed her burdened with only half the mortality the rest of them had to bear. At the very least she had been blessed with the complexion of the gods.

She paid homage to what she considered only her very good fortune by washing her face each morning in a spring that rose from the earth. The spring was near the village, among some boulders that bore the ancient etchings from which Aguafuertes had drawn its name.

All of her life, others had regarded Carmen with a certain awe. She was constantly treated with deference from males and females alike, all because of her appearance.

The males fell all over themselves to please her and gain her attention. But not because they entertained even the slightest notion that she would reward them with anything more satisfying than a glance and a smile. They did so because it enabled them to enjoy a completely self-contained, wholly unrealistic fantasy for a few moments.

The females, save one or two who were as attracted to her as the boys were and for generally the same reason, simply avoided her. None would deign to actually share a young man’s field of vision with her.

Once they’d set aside any false bravado and unrealistic comparisons, the bald truth reared its ugly head. She was simply far, far above them. She truly was in a class all her own.

Carmen being their admitted better, of course, did not stop the women, old and young alike, from speaking cruelly of her in small groups.

Earlier that morning, Juana, a woman old enough to be Carmen’s grandmother, had watched as Carmen walked through town toward the spring.

Sitting at a table on the front patio of her small house, plucking the feathers from that night’s supper, she hissed, “Look at her! Her legs should look like tree trunks, walking all the way to the spring and back each morning. I heard her father will not allow mirrors in the house, so she has to go to the spring to make sure she’s still prettier than everyone else.”

Her daughter, Juanita, sighed. “Mama, she is not like that. I’ve visited with her at the spring on more than one occasion. She seldom even glances at her reflection in the water. I think she is very lonely. The men will not court her and the women are envious of her. Should we fault her for wanting to maintain what God has given her?”

“Pst! You think she is not stuck on herself? She is so convinced of her own beauty that she believes even the perfect mirror of the surface of the spring is unworthy of her reflection! Someday she will get what is coming to her. Mark my words. Nobody looks good forever.”

Juanita looked at her mother. When had she become so bitter? Then she lifted a hand to wave in response to Carmen, who waved from the street on her way back to her house.

She looked more closely at Carmen. No tree-trunk legs there. Her legs looked as good as her face. Juanita smiled and shook her head, wondering where that bit of envy had come from. She would not let such bitterness to creep up on her.

*

Capitan Antonio Guerrero raised one hand and the small troop of soldiers stopped at a spring outside of Aguafuertes. He turned his horse to face his men and addressed them in a voice only slightly louder than normal. “Usually I would keep half here and send half on liberty in the village, but I know many of you are anxious to return home, as am I.”

He said that even though he had nothing to return to. Secretly, the capitan hoped to get another assignment within a few days with a new unit. He enjoyed being in the field.

He cleared his throat and continued. “We have been on the trail a long time. Therefore, we will be here probably only one night, perhaps two. Then we ride for home. Remember that you are professional soldiers, professional cavalrymen, and conduct yourselves appropriately.”

*

An hour or two before the capitan and his men reached the spring, the alcalde was addressing his only daughter in her room. “Carmen, today you will achieve your purpose in life. Today your blessed mother, rest her soul, will smile down on you from Heaven as you help your father exact revenge on the son of the pig who cursed me with this bad leg. A small troop of soldiers will arrive in town this afternoon. We will take care of the rest of them, but it’s important that their leader not interfere.

“With your great beauty, you will go to the capitan. You will weaken him as only a beautiful woman can weaken a man. You will ensure that he remains… eh, shall we say captivated with your charms? Whatever it takes, he must not come to the cantina until I send for him. Understand?”

Her eyes wide with fear, she said, “But papa, I have never even strolled with a boy here in—”

“You will keep the capitan occupied. To that end, you will pretend to like him. You will pretend to be enamoured of him.”

She frowned. “But how? I do not know such ways.”

He laughed. “He know such ways, rest assured. He will want to hold you, and you will melt into his arms. He will want to kiss you, and you will kiss him, passionately. He will want other things, to touch you. He will want to know you fully. And he will touch you, and he will know you.”

She gasped. “But Papá, I—”

He put one hand on her shoulder and squeezed lightly. “Now now. This is your natural purpose, and in this case it is for a cause greater than yourself.” He let his hand drop. “Nature will take its course, and you will let it. Do you understand?”

She looked at the floor. Tears brimmed in her eyes. This is what he thought of her. “Sí, Papá.”

“Good. And if nature does not take its course, if he interrupts me before I call for him, you will be sent away in shame for having dishonored your father and the revolution.”

Too ashamed to look anywhere but at the floor, she simply nodded.

The alcalde laughed again and walked out.

*

A few hours later, soon after the soldiers had entered Aguafuertes, Carmen and her father watched as the capitan entered the small hotel. A half-hour after that, Carmen approached the desk and held up a basket covered with a cloth. “Perdón, señora… can you tell me in which room the capitan is staying?”

The lady looked Carmen up and down and smiled. “Sí sí. His room is in the back. The left corner of the courtyard.”

“Gracias, señora.” Carmen crossed the room, opened the back door, and crossed the courtyard on a diagonal. Quietly, she said, “I do not wish to do this. I do not. But I must do as Papá has said. I can only hope the capitan is a gentleman and not the man Papá has made him out to be. Or not a man like Papá himself.” She paused for a long moment in front of the door, then finally tapped lightly on the door with a fingernail. “Señor?”

No sound came from within the room.

She worked the crude wooden latch, pushed the door open a crack and stepped through. The room was steeped in shadow. A single ray of light shone from a window on the left onto a spot just in front of the door.

She stepped into the circle of light. “Señor? It is Carmen Dominguez. Mi padre es el alcalde. He… he has sent me with—”

“Gracias, señorita. I appreciate what your father has sent, whatever it is. Leave it there, by the door.”

She stared at the figure on the bed, but was unable to make out his features. “But… but señor, my father….” She looked at the floor. “He sends me also.”

There was a pause. Then, “Do not look at the floor, señorita. You have nothing to be ashamed of.” Something about the name Carmen tugged at his memory.

Could this be the beauty of which he had heard even as far away as the capital city? “Would you step into the light please? I mean, so the light is on your face? I have heard of a woman named Carmen who—”

As the light struck her face, she swept the hood of her cloak from her head and the capitan was struck dumb.

Before him stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She was absolutely stunning, with glistening raven hair, a delicate throat, full lips, perfectly arched eyebrows, high cheekbones, blue-green eyes and a bronzed complexion smoother than a whisper on a soft breeze.

He raised one hand, as if reaching for her from another dimension, still uncertain whether she was real. “Please. Please come closer. I will not harm you.”

And in that moment, something—his spirit?—engulfed her and she felt more soothingly warm and safe than she had ever felt.

She dropped the basked to the floor. She slipped her cloak from her shoulders and draped it over a post at the foot of the bed. Then she moved around the side of the bed as if in a trance.

She reached for his hand, and in the moment they touched their souls were reunited, for they had been torn apart a very long time ago.

He was the man for whom she had been waiting, even though she hadn’t yet known.

She was the woman to whom he had sworn his heart and the reason he had allowed no other women close.

She knelt alongside him, trembling, a smile playing on her lips, her eyes closed in breathless anticipation.

He sat up and slipped his left arm around her back, then whispered, “Welcome home, my love.”

They lay back on the bed together, both hungry to complete their long-awaited reunion. And as their bodies strained to become the other, their souls rejoiced in having been made whole once again.

Sometime later, as they lay gasping for breath, still smiling and giggling, shots rang out from somewhere outside: a lot of shots.

Antonio sprang from the bed and scrambled into his trousers.

Carmen sat up quickly. “Oh no! No! Antonio, lo siento, lo siento lo siento! I am so very sorry! I was going to tell you, but when we realized we’d found each other again—”

Standing near the foot of the bed and tugging on a boot, he spun toward her. “Tell me what? What do you know of this?”

“My father! I— I was to keep you busy. But I didn’t know! Antonio, I didn’t know!”

He took a deep breath. Her scent. Her eyes. Even her heartbeat. “It’s all right, Carmen. It’s all right. You are the other half of my soul. Nothing can change that.” He tugged on his other boot.

As he reached for his gunbelt, from which his pistol and sword hung, he stumbled into the light and she had her first look at his face unencumbered by shadow.

He was beautiful! Perhaps more beautiful than Carmen herself.

Her breath caught in her throat and a curious sort of tension stretched every fiber of her being. He was the love of her life and she had betrayed him.

Something seemed to ripple over her face and a tremor shook her heart.

But he was her love. He would forgive.

But perhaps he could not. She had betrayed him.

Another rippling tremor shook her, and in the intensity of the moment, a crack appeared alongside her left eye and moved diagonally to the corner of her mouth.

Then another ran from that one across her nose to her right eyebrow.

As she struggled with the irony of having found her love and having betrayed him all in the same moment, another crack appeared, and another, and another.

Within seconds her face had shattered into rough diamonds from forehead to chin and ear to ear.

Antonio stared at her, his mouth gaping for a moment, his eyes wide, certain he had done something to cause the anomaly. “My love, what’s wrong? What happened?”

Then another round of shots rang out.

“Please, stay here, Carmen. I couldn’t bear it if anything happened to you now.” With that he raced out of the room.

Carmen frowned. “Why did he look at me like that?”

She ran one hand over her face, then sprang from the bed, straightening her skirts and her blouse. She ripped her cloak from the bedpost and stumbled out through the door. “The spring! I must get to the spring! Oh god, I have betrayed him, and my betrayal has cost me my beauty and my love! I am so sorry, Antonio!”

*

The capitan soon realized that most of the gunfire, which was quickly abating, had come from the cantina.

He burst through the door to a vision straight out of Hell.

His men had expected no trouble. They had wanted only to relax for one night before heading home to their families. Their wives and children and brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers. But they had been slaughtered to a man.

In slow motion, two men near the bar raised their pistols, as did another to the right side of the door.

Reaching across his body with both hands, Antonio drew his sword with his right hand and his pistol with his left. He cleanly severed the arm of the man to his right as he placed a neat bullet hole between the eyes of each of the two men near the bar.

As men attacked him from the left and right, he fired his pistol until all the rounds were expended and four more men lay dead. Then he tucked it into his belt and attacked the remaining seven or eight men with his sword.

Five minutes after he’d burst through the cantina door, he exited, covered in the blood of fools.

His first thought was of Carmen.

He raced back to the hotel and stopped at the desk where he glared at the attendant. “Señorita Carmen, señora! A donde esta? Where is she?”

The woman was so frightened she couldn’t speak at first. Finally she said, “The spring. Outside of town, the spring.”

Antonio burst out of the hotel, climbed bareback aboard his mount and galloped down the street.

But when he got to the spring, Carmen wasn’t there.

He slipped from his horse, faced the east and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Carmen!” He faced south. “Carmen!” He called her name to the west and north as well, but received no response.

Fatigue washed over him and he slumped to his knees in the sand. “Carmen. My beautiful Carmen. My precious Carmen.” He raised his face to the heavens. “I have put up with much, and I have not complained. But this— this is too much.” He raised his fists to the sky and roared, “Do you hear me? This is too much!”

Carmen had said her father wanted her to keep him busy. “I will keep him busy at the end of my sword! May he rot in Hell!” He stood, gathered his horse, and rode back into town.

When he arrived, he was directed to the alcalde’s home, but the alcalde wasn’t there. “I think he went to his office,” the alcalde’s maid said. “And good riddance too!” she whispered.

And of course, when Capitan Antonio Guerrero stepped through the door of the alcalde’s office, he found disappointment. The coward was slumped over his desk, still gripping a small caliber revolver with his right hand, a bullet wound in his temple.

Antonio walked out of the alcalde’s office, mounted his horse, and rode south.

The army would never forgive his lapse of judgment.

Carmen would never forgive him for killing her father and causing that anomaly to mar her beauty.

And he would never forgive himself for any of it. “I will find a cantina of my own,” he mumbled. “I will find a dark corner, and I will await my reckoning.”

*

While Antonio was still in the cantina, Carmen made it to the spring and washed her face, but the cracks remained. “But why?” she whimpered. “I have never been vain. I wanted only to maintain what I was given. And now that I’ve found my love, why must I lose what has brought him to me? Why?”

Of course, there was no answer because then, as now, the gods show up when it suits them and very seldom when they are called upon.

Carmen washed her face in the spring a final time, then straightened.

Of all the thoughts in her mind, the most prevalent was that she must disappear to wait for death, rebirth, and another chance to be with her lovely Antonio.

She wandered away from the spring, but she did not do so alone.

She could not have known this day would be her last day as a girl on this earth. She could not have known this evening would provide her threshold to womanhood.

And she could not have known the capitan filled her with a child.

* * * * * * *

 

The Journal, Saturday, 8/29

The Day
Rolled out a little late at quarter to 3.

Wow. I hope all of you who are reading this are having a lot better month with your writing than I am so far. With the month mostly gone, it isn’t likely to improve much either.

No walk today. Not a lot else either, except I switched my internet browser from Firefox over to Opera. I’m more than happy with it. For one thing, whenever Adobe Flash would kick in to run any video (weather, etc.) it ate tons of memory. My computer sounded like a military fighter jet warming up to take off, and it slowed to a crawl. It was so bad that sometimes I used the Alt/Ctrl Delete trick to bring up the Task Manager and shut down the Adobe Flash process.

Now it doesn’t do that because Flash works differently with Opera. Cool.

I’ve been slipping badly on meeting my daily goal of 3,000 words per day. Probably I will adjust that one beginning in September.

But I still have a good weekly goal of one new short story per week. This coming Monday, I’m posting a story I reworked, but that doesn’t excuse me from the goal of writing a new one this week (before Monday). So probably I’ll do that today. Or tomorrow. (grin)

One good thing about writing short stories is that they’re usually finished in one day. Another good thing is that they can lead to a novella or novel. They’re also great fun because I can give a character a problem and drop him or her into a setting and I’m off and running. Then I just write the opening (300 to 500 words). If the opening works, I keep writing. If it doesn’t, I chuck it and start over or start something new.

But it’s pure writing into the dark, just like writing a one-off stand-alone novel. I don’t have to worry about timelines or about various characters cropping up from the past and so on.

Anyway, I don’t want to allow myself to fail on this short story per week challenge. I want to hold out for as long as I can. The last time I did this, I had a streak that ran for 66 straight weeks (I think that’s the right number) and included 70 short stories. I want to try to beat that this time.

But the thing about writing goals is this: If you fail to hit a goal, so what. Nobody dies, the electric company doesn’t turn off the power, and the goal resets. In other words, you have absolutely nothing to lose and the world to gain.

Topic of the Night: Rehashing Stuff

I was going to write about “The Value of Streaks,” but when I was looking back for info, I realize I talked about setting goals just back in July, from around the 6th or 7th up through about the 10th. In fact, I wrote about setting goals, recurring goals, and the power of streaks. If you’re interested, click The Journal tab on the website and scroll back.

And my apologies for repeating myself on this stuff so often. I didn’t realize. When I don’t have something to talk about, I’ll avoid doing a Topic.

Okay, so I’m off this now and working on my own stuff the rest of the day.

Well, as it turns out, that was two hours ago. I remembered I needed to at least rinse off my pickup (tossed cold coffee out the window and it streaked the door), and I ended up washing both the car and the pickup.

Everybody needs a hobby. I guess mine is being stupid in the heat when I could be inside, writing in the (relative) cool. (grin)

So after I cool down a bit and get a shower, I’ll write for awhile.

Today’s Writing

Got a little done on Wes’ story. And it was fun because it completely surprised me. And I’m still feeling lazy, so I guess I’ll write the short story tomorrow.

Fiction Words: 1084

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… 1084 words. Total words to date….. 10354 words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 21585
Total fiction words for the year……………… 463985

The Journal, Friday, 8/28

The Day
Rolled out a little early this morning at about 1:30.

After waking up with coffee and email, I thought about yesterday’s post. I was a little harsh maybe.

For years I’ve seen writers, even retired, very successful business people, allow various companies to take advantage of them.

I despise those companies, and I don’t mind being vocal about it.

But the thing is, many writers bring these things on themselves. They’re intelligent people, by and large. They don’t have to be ignorant. And I “get” that it’s easier to just trust some faceless corporation to do the right thing than it is to check them out, or even think too hard about what they’re offering.

But you really need to do that anyway. Seriously. We are not living in the same world in which many of us grew up. Anyway, these thoughts led me to the Topic of the Night below.

So from about 2 until about 7:30, I formatted and uploaded eight more collections (all 5-story) to D2D, as well as those three large anthologies I published awhile back that were the results of contests, and the short story, “Coralín.” So all caught up on what I wanted to move over to D2D.

Now I have to update the print covers for the collections I previously published under Stringer’s or Porter’s name (personas).

And Smashwords still has the same books for distribution to a few places that D2D doesn’t go, so I probably need to update the files for them too. Not in a massive hurry for that though.

Hmmm. In fact, I might just “unpublish” the titles from Smashwords altogether. It’s a LOT of work to change the cover and the front and back matter, and the thing is, I’ve garnered a total of FOUR sales from all the remaining Smashwords venues (Baker & Taylor Blio, txtr, Library Direct, Baker-Taylor Axis360, and OverDrive) over the past four years.

Yeah, think I’ll just unpublish them, pull them from Smashwords completely. That’s only the collections that were previously attributed to one of my personas other than Gervasio. I’ll go do that right now.

All of my new short stories, novels and collections will go to both D2D and Smashwords.

Okay, I got all that done (about an hour) and then went for a walk. Though I’d be smart and go after the sun was well up, but it got hotter quicker than I thought it would. Outsmarted myself. Only turned about three miles. Guess I’ll go back to walking earlier for awhile.

I won’t be doing any writing today, other than this stuff and revisiting a magic realism story I (Gervasio) wrote a long time ago. It’s called “Carmen, Whose Face Was Cracked” and it’s a beautiful story in the ethereal sense. I’ll post it as the story of the week for this week. So it will be up on Sunday at the site and posted by MailChimp on Monday morning.

Topic of the Night: Amazon KDP Select and “Scout” Redux

You know, all I can do is tell you what I think is right.

If you go with a program like Amazon Scout, you’re keeping your work from a lot of readers who don’t use Amazon.

You’re also locking up your work for at least 5 years. Amazon’s guarantee to you is if you don’t make at least $25,000 in royalties over that five years, you can pull your book from the program. Now that sounds like a nice, big number, but seriously, can any of you live on $5,000 per year? I can’t.

And like I said yesterday, if it wasn’t a good deal for Amazon, they wouldn’t be doing it. For every person who DOES make $25,000 over five years, Amazon ALSO makes $25,000 over that same five years, multiplied by the number of people who sign up for this program. Shrug.

It just isn’t fair. It isn’t a good deal for any author.

Look at it like this. Say you own a rental property. Would you sign over the deed to that property to someone else and then pay them 50% of your income from that property to rent it out for you? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
This is EXACTLY the same thing. Exactly.

Your writing, every story, every book, is an investment. Your copyright is property.

Don’t give your property away and then split your earnings 50/50 with the new owner. That’s just insane.

Tell you what. If you’re thinking of going with Amazon Scout, you might as well go with a traditional publisher and give the TP both print and ebook rights. At least with the TP you can negotiate a more realistic royalty rate on ebook sales than the paltry 50% Amazon wants to pay, and TP probably would give you a larger advance too. AND they probably would tie up your book for only two or three years (again, it’s negotiable). Just sayin’.

And those who know me know that I NEVER recommend going with a traditional publisher. Never. But compared to Amazon Scout, TP is a better alternative.

One final note: If that $1500 advance looks attractive to you, remember that it’s only an advance. They don’t pay royalties until your book “earns out” the advance. And if it doesn’t earn out the advance? They come back to you to recoup that advance. That’s right. You could easily end up paying it back.

And now I’ll write what I should have written in the first place last night. Then I wouldn’t have had to write the rest of this. Here it is. Ready?

If You Choose To Go With Them, Read The Contract. And have a lawyer read it.

Okay, so that’s all I’m gonna say on the topic. Please feel free to prove me wrong. But don’t expect me to join you.

Today’s Writing

I pecked around a little bit, but no fiction writing today.

I think my numbers are so low for August that I subconsciously decided to take care of a lot of admin stuff instead of worrying about writing. So I did the switchover from Smashwords to D2D, I’ve kept up this blog and my other main blog, and some other non-fiction writing stuff.

Also, although I stand ZERO practical chance of getting anywhere near my 1,000,000 word goal for the year, I’m past 450,000 published words of fiction right now since January 1 of this year, and that ain’t bad.

Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXX words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 20501
Total fiction words for the year……………… 462901

The Journal, Thursday, 8/27

The Day
Rolled out a little after 2 this morning again.

The hits just keep on comin’. First, I don’t feel well. Had a short, unsuccessful walk punctuated by the fear that a high-velocity rainstorm was going to notice me and come my way.

Back to the house, and pretty much blah ever since.

Second, what I wrote in your Topic of the Night below.

I won’t be doing any writing today, other than this stuff and revisiting a magic realism story I (Gervasio) wrote a long time ago. It’s called “Carmen, Whose Face Was Cracked” and it’s a beautiful story in the ethereal sense.

I’ll post it as the story of the week for this week. So it will be up on Sunday at the site and posted by MailChimp on Monday morning.

Oh, if you’re in the mood to listen to advice from me, I recommend you check Dean’s blog (DeanWesleySmith.com) over the next several days. He’s gearing up to put up, as a series of FREE freakin’ blog posts, a nonfiction book he’s writing on Heinlein’s Rules. I spent $75 on the video lectures, and it was literally the best $75 investment I’ve ever made. EVER. Go, get it free.

Topic of the Night: DO NOT GO EXCLUSIVE, ESPECIALLY TO AMAZON KDP SELECT OR AMAZON “SCOUT”

Don’t do it. Just don’t.

Tell you what. If you want to give someone all rights to your books in exchange for half the royalties, give them to me. Sign a contract giving me all electronic rights and I’ll be sure you get half the royalties.

Of course, I don’t have to do ANYthing except put your books out there on the market and wait for my 50% to roll in. And that’s just find and dandy with you, right?

Sounds nuts, doesn’t it? And at least you know me.

But that’s exactly what Amazon is asking you to do now.

You sign over the rights to your book for FIVE YEARS and they’ll give you a pissy, paltry “advance” of $1500 and then FIFTY percent of the royalties.

I’m not kidding.

Don’t do that. Don’t. It’s stupid. And you can’t feign ignorance, ’cause I just told you about it.

Okay, here’s what happened: A writer friend turned me on to Amazon’s new Scout program and asked what I thought.

In this Scout program thing, according to the writer, Amazon requires the author to “turn over all electronic rights for a period of five years. And then -”

What’s that? Sorry, I stopped listening.

Listen. To. Me.

Don’t. Be. Stupid.

ANY time ANY entity REQUIRES (or even asks or even suggests or even hints that) you, the author, turn over ALL RIGHTS (electronic or otherwise), the only “turn” you should do is turn on your heel and walk away.

Don’t even grace them with an answer.

Seriously, such a ludicrous offer doesn’t deserve a response.

And if you DO choose to respond, the word you’re looking for is NO.

Personally, I would use a two-word phrase. The second half of that phrase would be either a resounding NO or an equally loud “YOU.” The first half of it would consist of the acronym for unlawful carnal knowledge, which is what anyone who asks you to turn over all rights to a piece of work is trying to force upon you.

Understand?

Exclusivity is BAD. Exclusivity in which the book store (and that’s all Amazon is, a book store) OWNS YOUR RIGHTS is roughly a thousand times worse.

Don’t email telling me Amazon is a publisher. They aren’t. And they aren’t a distributor. They’re a book store. Nothing more.

And their stupid Scout program? Listen. If it wasn’t good for THEM, they wouldn’t be doing it. Duh.

All of my books and short stories are available on Amazon (a book store).

They’re also available worldwide through Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Inktera, Oyster, Scribd, Tolino,Baker & Taylor Blio, txtr, Library Direct, Baker-Taylor Axis360, OverDrive and Flipkart until a couple days ago. And they’re also available through subsidiaries of many of those companies. And I’m always looking for new sales venues to add.

DON’T GO EXCLUSIVE.

There. Forewarned is forearmed. Now go do whatever you want. Just PLEASE don’t tell me about it.

Today’s Writing
No fiction writing today.
Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXX words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 20501
Total fiction words for the year……………… 462901

The Journal, Wednesday, 8/26

The Day
Rolled out a little after 2 this morning. Coffee and emails to wake up, and then a shocker from the Smashwords blog.

Mark Coker has decided to end his association with Flipkart, the small ebook retailer in India. That effectively hands Amazon a monopoly in distributing ebooks on that continent.

Although I understand why he’s doing it, I don’t like that even in the title of his post he seems to blame Amazon. Regardless of the circumstances, this was still his own decision. He didn’t have to completely abandon the continent to Amazon. You can read the blog post here.

This is terrible news for indie authors. Competition is ALWAYS better. Your ebooks are an investment. Make them available in as many markets as you can.

Seriously, DON’T go exclusive with any one retailer. If you do, you’re only feeding the beast that will eventually enslave and/or devour you. Amazon has already started paying KDP Select authors less than other retailers pay them. Don’t give ANYONE leverage or control over your work.

I was planning to do a little early morning writing and even get in a walk today. Uhh, no. In light of this news I’ve decided to switch all of my major publication (novels, novella, short story collections) from Smashwords to Draft2Digital for distribution. So I’ll be doing that today.

D2D will now handle distribution of my titles to all the major booksellers, including Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, Inktera, Oyster, Scribd, and Tolino. Smashwords will still distribute those only to library outlets and something called OverDrive. (I’ve garnered a total of 4 sales through these outlets since September 2011 so I’m not overly worried about it.)

Why do I suspect this will supplant writing new original fiction for the day? Because it entails moving nineteen publications, all but one of which are collections. I’ve also decided I’m going to rebrand each collection under my own name (except the two magic realism collections).

Rebranding means revising the cover or creating a new one. Either way, the rebranding part will take only about ten minutes per title.

But I also have to create new front and back matter. (This is NOT a requirement of D2D. It’s my own requirement of myself because I want my books to look good.) I also have to reformat each book, double check to make sure the new copied/pasted front and backmatter on each one reads right, etc., then upload each title to D2D.

So I’m expecting to be working on this through most or all of today, and probably more on another day. Or two. (grin) That’s all right. It’s an investment. Once it’s done, it’s done.

Okay, my novels and novella were already over there. Today I put up nine of my collections. all of the ten-story collections plus a few others. I also rebranded 14 covers. No more Eric or Nick on collections.

Well, with only most of the day over, I thought I might write for awhile. But I went and talked with Wes a bit and even he agreed that my brain’s too tired to ride with him today.

I’ll do the topic of the night, and then I’m gonna call it an early day.

Topic of the Night: Be Organized
With what I wrote above about switching my books over to Draft2Digital, you can see the importance of being organized.

In the folder for each book, I had the cover (the raw product so it was easy to change for those I rebranded) as well as several sizes of the old finished cover. I kept the old finished covers as well as one size (2000 x 3000 pixels) of the new covers. I’ll make a smaller version soon so I can replace some of the ones on my website too.

I also had a Smashwords edition version of each book, plus a “general” version in each folder. Opening the general version and using Save-As made it a relative breeze to format a new verson for D2D with the new front and back matter I came up with for my D2D books.

Now again, THEY DON’T REQUIRE any particular format, but I like my work to look good and I like it all to look similar from one book to another. So I made all of the books I shipped to them look the same.

In the folder for each book I also thought I had a “promo” document. That’s just a simple text document that contains the title of the work, the short and long descriptions, and the Internet search terms. Having that little text document made it easy to just copy/paste the information for each book.

Of course, that was missing from a few folders. Huge difference. When I had that little document, it saved about a half-hour over the time I had to spend on one book when I didn’t have it.

You get the idea.

Now maybe you think you won’t ever need this level of organization.

Back when I started with Smashwords, I thought they were the be-all, end-all of ebook distribution. Now, four years later, I’m switching everything over to a new distributor, and in the future I might have to again.

So I’m just sayin’, when time is at a premium, it’s better to do the Boy Scout thing and Be Prepared.

If you have any questions about any of this, I’d be happy to answer them for you. Please ask in the comments section so others can see the Q & A.

Today’s Writing
No fiction writing today.
Fiction Words: XXXX

Writing of Book 9 of the Wes Crowley saga
Day 1…… 3213 words. Total words to date….. 3213 words
Day 2…… 1046 words. Total words to date….. 4259 words
Day 3…… 1858 words. Total words to date….. 6117 words
Day 4…… 1023 words. Total words to date….. 7140 words
Day 5…… 1587 words. Total words to date….. 8327 words
Day 6…… X943 words. Total words to date….. 9270 words
Day 7…… XXXX words. Total words to date….. XXXX words

Total fiction words for the month…………… 20501
Total fiction words for the year……………… 462901