The Journal, Saturday, 11/28

Hi Folks,

Not really much going on today, as you’ll see below. I almost let my head back into this one for a little while. You know the drill. Feeling like I needed to “figure out” something or other. Ugh.

Anyway, it turned out it was two of my characters (from different parts/times in the story) vying for my attention. (More on this below.)

Once I remembered there was nothing for me to “figure out,” that all I needed to do was put my fingers on the keyboard and write, all the conscious mind nonsense went away.

The Day

Rolled out a little after 3, and after the usual wake-up routine I went straight to the novel.

I’m a little under the weather, so I’ve written in several short sessions today, puncuated by herding cats and other necessities of life.

And now I’m gonna post this a little early, then go sit on the couch, watch football and probably nap. (grin) Talk with you all tomorrow.

Today’s Writing

Missed the daily goal again, but I don’t mind at all given how I’ve felt all day. I could very easily have just not written today. In fact, if I hadn’t revived this journal, I probably wouldn’t have written a word of fiction.

So the book is still moving along, although today was something I’ve never experienced before.

I was writing along in the early reaches when one of the major characters (a major bad guy who was a very minor bad guy in an earlier book in the series) jerked my arm and dragged me into the future. He wanted to show me that scene — well, those scenes — and waiting was not an option.

While I was doing that, another character dragged me back to what I was writing earlier. I went back and forth like that over about 8 short sessions. So yeah, my characters are a little spoiled that way. It was exciting but exhausting and not something I would recommend.

I don’t mind being unstuck in the time of my novel when I’m cycling back, but while I’m actively writing, it’s almost more annoying than fun. Almost.

Again today I didn’t give the novel quite as much time as it deserves, but given the circumstances, I’ll take it.

Fiction Words: 3077

Writing of The Scent of Acacia (Book 9 in the Wes Crowley saga)

Day 1…… 3887 words. Total words to date…… 3887 words
Day 2…… 3092 words. Total words to date…… 6979 words
Day 3…… 3365 words. Total words to date…… 10344 words
Day 4…… 3077 words. Total words to date…… 13421 words

Total fiction words for the month……… 21893
Total fiction words for the year………… 595766

The Journal, Friday, 11/27

Hi Folks,

Okay, so for various reasons I didn’t get to the novel until almost 10 this morning. Ugh.

Still, I don’t usually hit the sack until around 7 or 8, so I should be able to carve 4 or 5 hours of writing time out of that 9 or 10 remaining hours. (grin)

The Day

Rolled out right at 3.

Reading DWS’ blog and the comments. Pretty good topics for the past several days, but also came across something Dean wrote in response to a comment:

[A] number of indie writers now are doing mass market-sized papers. And trade sized. The trade are priced high enough to work in extended distribution, the mass market size are just selling through the authors’ own sites and on Amazon.

I like it. This might be a way to capture those in-between readers. There are readers out there who want paperbacks but can’t or won’t pay the higher price for the trade paperbacks. That’s okay. One of the big reasons we do trade paperbacks in the first place is so the comparison will be there. When a reader sees a $15.99 trade paperback sitting alongside a $5.99 ebook, they’re encouraged to try the ebook.

But if they’re really hooked on paper, they probably won’t. Then again, they might well buy the less expensive mass-market paperback. Again, the trade paperback is right there beside it for $15.99. And the ebook is there at $5.99. And right between them is the mass-market paperback, a little smaller than the trade paperback but still in paper, and it’s only $8.99 or $9.99.

I have a feeling that the target audience that would buy mass-market paperbacks is about the same size as the audience that will opt for ebooks. Because of their price, I suspect trade paperbacks are the smallest sellers. So naturally, I’m gonna try this. And naturally, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Probably I’ll try it with three novels at first, and if I see a good trend with those, then I’ll do it with all my novels.

Okay, and all of that led me to spend a few hours looking for book printing services and prices in China and India. If the thought has crossed your mind as well, I’ll save you some time: neither was much less expensive than CreateSpace, especially when you add shipping and handling and the inconvenience of waiting weeks instead of days for your books.

Today’s Writing

Well, I missed my daily goal again, but only by less than 700 words. Not a major thing. The book is moving right along. I’m just not giving it quite as much time as it deserves right now. I hope to remedy that soon.

But probably not tomorrow. There’s football and I’m only human. (grin)

Fiction Words: 3365

Writing of The Scent of Acacia (Book 9 in the Wes Crowley saga)

Day 1…… 3887 words. Total words to date…… 3887 words
Day 2…… 3092 words. Total words to date…… 6979 words
Day 3…… 3365 words. Total words to date…… 10344 words

Total fiction words for the month……… 18816
Total fiction words for the year………… 592689

PS: Well, if you read this far, you win! I just read Dean’s blog for today and came back to add this. Yes, it’s that important. Please scroll down to the topic of the night and read it. And read the first few comments. Well worth the time. (grin)

The Journal, Thursday (Thanksgiving), 11/26

Hi Folks,

Thanksgiving. Who knew? Still, a pretty standard day around here except for football and great cooking smells emanating through the house as I write.

For the second day in a row after I set a new daily goal of 4,000 words, I’m gonna miss it. This one, though, I’ll kind’a forgive myself. Very difficult to concentrate on anything while part of my brain is thinking of the feast to come later.

The Day

Rolled out a little after 2. Same usual wake-up process of emails and cleaning up other small bits of stuff that don’t fit anywhere else (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.). I probably easily write a couple of thousand words per day of nonfiction (Facebook, emails, etc.) but I don’t count that. I just bear it in mind to make me feel more accomplished than I actually am. (grin)

On my second cup of coffee I did a little more research back through the earlier Wes Crowley novels to be sure I had the right “bad guy” for this one. Named a few accomplices for him, made a few notes about their history, their acquaintances, and so forth. Then finally I wrote a session early today.

Took a break, then back for another early session of writing. Took another break and an early shower just to feel better. During all of this I’ve been herding cats, explaining patiently to them why they can’t go out yet (it was raining), then letting them out, letting them in, all that stuff.

Way back when I first started this novel series, Wes and Mac handed it to me out of a short story I’d written. I heard them talking with me just as plainly as I hear someone in my office talking to me.

I pretty much flashed through eight novels, but on the ninth book in the series I bogged down. Bad. Hopelessly mired.

But yesterday morning early, Wes sauntered into my office and sat down. He crossed his right ankle over his left knee, being careful not to scuff the front of my maple desk. He tipped his hat back a bit, then said, “Harvey, there ain’t no rush in ridin’ away from a life.”

That was a variation on a sentence from an earlier book. I don’t even remember which one. But it was exactly what I needed.

“I understand,” I said. “And thanks, Wes.”

He grinned, got up, and nodded at me. He said, “Well,” and then he walked out.

And I got hot on the keyboard.

Today’s Writing

Now today is Thanksgiving, so I can’t sit here and write quite as much as I’d like. Still, armed with what my friend Wes gave me, I wrote a really good opening yesterday.

Today, I managed three sessions. And I also know this thing will just continue to flow when I come back to it tomorrow morning early. So no worries on the fairly light day today.

Fiction Words: 3092

Writing of The Scent of Acacia (Book 9 in the Wes Crowley saga)

Day 1…… 3887 words. Total words to date…… 3887 words
Day 2…… 3092 words. Total words to date…… 6979 words

Total fiction words for the month……… 15451
Total fiction words for the year………… 589324


Apology, or Oops!

Sorry Folks,

At 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day, a post (The Daily Journal) went out that wasn’t supposed to go to my “big” list. It won’t happen again.

And then I found out I couldn’t send this out until the next day. Sigh. Sorry.

If you would like for some reason to subscribe to The Daily Journal, you may do so by visiting the website at and click The Daily Journal link in the right side of the header. Otherwise you won’t receive it again.

Again, sorry for the inconvenience. It was just a glitch.

Happy Thanksgiving.


The Journal, Wednesday, 11/25

Well, I’m back. Finally. And I won’t leave again unless it’s feet first. I promise.

Listen, if you’d rather not receive this, please don’t just unsubscribe. Please email me at and I’ll remove your name from this list myself. It makes a difference over at MailChimp. Thanks.

When I wrote here last, I was writing fiction pretty much every day, in addition to writing this (daily) blog as well as my main Pro Writers blog, creating the publisher website, creating book covers, promo docs, and everything else.

Then I decided to cut this Journal to save some time. But in so doing, I cut my accountability. And apparently that’s something I still need.

I thought recording my numbers on a spreadsheet would suffice. In fact, I recorded my numbers on that spreadsheet from the first day of September straight through until November 23.

But the numbers were dismal. Not surprisingly (in hindsight), I fell off Heinlein’s Rules, specifically Rules 1 and 2. Not good for a guy who boasts he is an adherent to those rules.

In September, I wrote 65,135 words, a decent month, though nothing to brag about. In October, I wrote pretty regularly right up until I cleared the 750,000 word mark that began on October 19, 2014. Then, no longer having a “place to report” (this Journal), I stopped.

For October, up until I hit 750,466 words for that one-year period, I wrote 35,073 words. For the rest of October (from Oct 15 through Oct 31) I wrote on only two days for a total of 8624 words. (For comparison, had I met my daily goal of 3,000 per day, that would have been 51,000 words.)

And the self-imposed slump wasn’t over. During the month of November, I wrote fiction only on the 2nd (3330 words) and the 23rd (5142 words) for a monthly total thus far of 8472 words. Ugh.

So since October 14th, when I reached the 750,466 word mark, I have written a grand total of 17,096 words. And yes, that’s better than nothing. But the potential during those 41 days (at my goal of 3,000 per day) was 123,000 words.

Okay, so the point of all this is that I need the public accountability. So The Journal is back.

Probably I won’t write as many “topic” things here as I did before. Probably I’ll just record the daily round, any changes in goals, and my numbers.


  • My daily goal is to write 4,000 new publishable words of fiction per day. (On the few days that I did write during my self-imposed slump, the totals were well over 4,000 words on four of the five days.)
  • The weekly goal is to write one new short story per week. However, I’m no longer posting the newest story live every week. When I finish a new one, it goes into the queue to be posted.
  • My goal for 2015 is to hit 148,000 words in the next 37 days (taking off December 25). If I hit that it will bring me to 721873 words for the year. That’s considerably less than I wrote from October 19, 2014 through October 18, 2015, but I’ll take it.
  • My goal for 2016 is to hit one million words of original fiction. That’s easily doable even if I miss my goal of writing 4,000 words per day every day. So we’ll see.

Okay, onward and upward.

The Day

So today I rolled out at 3, messed around for a half-hour or so with email and Spider solitaire (the devil’s own temptation, that game).

Then I added 10 photos from my Saved file at Bigstock into my cart for downloading when my download day resets at about 11 a.m. (I’m currently in a subscription plan in which I can download ten images per day for a month. Not easy to keep up with it, but doing so means my cover images cost only 33 cents each.) Only two days left on that.

Then, between trips to let cats in or out, I did a little website work on the two websites and then came here to write this. It’s currently 7 a.m.

Going now to restart this “campaign” at MailChimp, so this will go out at 6 p.m. Arizona time.

Today’s Writing

Well, I set out to write a short story based on Wes’ travels in Mexico. About 1200 words in, I realized it didn’t want to be a short story. It was the new opening for the ninth novel in the Wes Crowley saga. So first, as painful as it was, I found my old files regarding the ninth book and deleted them. Period.

Ugh. Then I went back to the opening and wrote a couple more sessions, ending up with the word count that you see below for today. I didn’t get quite as many new words done today as I wanted to, but I did get reinvigorated. To be sure I’m firing on all cylinders from the start tomorrow morning, I cut off the writing and read back through a few of the other novels in the saga to get some names and a timeline right.

This is going to be a painful book to write (emotional, not difficult) but I know it’s right. So part of me dreads it and part of me can’t wait. Okay, that’s more than I expected to write on this post, so I’ll put up the numbers and talk with you again tomorrow.

By the way, thanks for being there.

Fiction Words: 3887

Writing of The Scent of Acacia (Book 9 in the Wes Crowley saga)

Day 1…… 3887 words. Total words to date…… 3887 words

Total fiction words for the month……… 12359
Total fiction words for the year………… 586232


The Old Jenkins Place

Jenkins 180The old Jenkins place. The perfect example of something I don’t despise.

It’s got character. Personality. Everything fits.

It has the quiet, settled smell of old things undisturbed.

The air inside is damp and heavy. Dust has settled everywhere, but calmly, as if each bit fit into a precisely destined place.

Door hinges creak, windows are stuck until suddenly they aren’t, and the door knob is slightly warmer to the touch than it should be. As if it retained a bit of residual heat from the person who just went through ahead of you.

Only nobody did.

The last hand that gripped that door knob was covered with blood.

It’s the perfect getaway for a guy who despises humans. And who isn’t drawn to a haunted house? Say a guy wants to show off for his female friends and show up his male friends. What better way to expose their true colors than offer them a challenge they both can’t refuse and can’t abide? Heh.

That was the thought in my mind after school on Friday when I stepped out from behind that oak tree in front of Johnny and Joe Wilkins and Robert “Bobby” Boyd. “Duuudes! What’s up?” I grinned broadly.

All three stopped, but Bobby froze and his hand shot to his chest. “Ah Jeez! Damn! Don’t do that, Nick!”

Then, almost as fast, he remembered the girls strolling along not quite a block behind them. His shoulders relaxed and a grin creased his face. A little too loudly, he said, “Is that the reaction you were looking for?”

The look on Bobby’s face admitted I’d gotten him and begged me not to say anything.

The look on mine said Maybe. Then I grinned again. “Yep, that’s the one.”

Joe glanced at Bobby, then grinned at me. “Hey Nick, what’s up?”

Johnny said, “Hey Nick.”

I exchanged knuckle bumps with each of them. Greetings over, I said, “Hey, I got an idea. Might be fun.” I glanced past Johnny’s shoulder. The girls were still about a half-block away. “You know the old Jenkins place?”

Bobby shook his head almost imperceptibly, uncertain where the girls were, and said, barely above a whisper, “That place doesn’t feel right. Even out on the street, just walking by.”


Joe jostled Bobby from the side. “Yeah, so what?”

Johnny said, “‘Sides, whaddya mean it don’t ‘feel right’? It’s a house.”

Bobby glared at Johnny. “You know what I mean. It feels— I don’t know. Bad. Like evil.”

Joe grinned. “A house can’t feel—“

Mary Simpson came up behind Bobby and put one hand on his shoulder.

He ducked away and stumbled sideways.

Mary grinned. “What feels evil, Weevil?”

Bobby blushed. “Aw… uh, nothin’. I was kiddin’ around with Nick here.”

Joe laughed. “Man, Bobby, I ain’t seen you move that quick since lunch.”

“C’mon Joe. You know I was actin’ on account of us kiddin’ around with Nick.”

“Yeah, that’s all it was,” I said. “He was just actin’.” I moved my left leg back a half-step, grinned and said with mock politeness, “And how are you beautiful ladies doing today?”

They all giggled, then spoke as one in that special girl voice they reserve for certain occasions. “Fine.”

Mary’s eyes glistened for a moment before she averted them. A slight smile remained on her face. We all started walking again.

Darlene said, “So you guys were talking about…?”

In a slightly deeper voice than before, Bobby said, “Ah, the old Jenkins place. We’re gonna stay up there overnight. Or somethin’.”

Johnny said, “Nah, that ain’t it. Nick was just tellin’ us he’s got an idea.” He glanced at me. “Ain’t that right, Nicky?”

“Yeah. Feels like it’s got real character, that place, y’know? Almost like it’s alive or somethin’.”

Bobby glanced sidelong at me and frowned. “How do you know?”

I shrugged. “I been in there a couple times.”

Joe stopped, his expression split between amazement and disbelief. “You what? You were in there?”

I kept walking. “Well… yeah, a couple times. No biggie.”

Bobby said, “Sure, no biggie. I mean it isn’t like you stayed overnight or anything.”

“No. Not exactly. Well, only once.”

Johnny said, “Wait. Only once what?”

“Overnight.” I shrugged again, then looked over and locked eyes with him for a moment. “I went up there late, just decided to stay the night. Nothin’ happened.”

Johnny forced a smile at the others, then said, “So how many times you been up there exactly?”

“Exactly? I don’t know. Maybe six? No, seven. Seven times.”

Bobby took the opportunity. “And you didn’t let us know? Man, we’d’a come with you. All you hadda do is—“

“Nah, I wanted to go myself the first time or two, y’know? Kind’a get a feel for the place.” I stopped walking and the others gathered around. “‘Cause you know, it’s a little spooky at first, goin’ into a place like that. One thing you don’t need is somebody else taggin’ along. You know, both of you bumpin’ into stuff in the dark and all that. Just makes it worse.”

Joe said, “But you been there seven times? How come you never asked us to go then?”

“Well, after the first couple times it just felt sort’a like my place, y’know?” I looked at the ground for a moment, then looked up and shrugged. “Guess I didn’t feel so much like sharing it. Dumb, I know, but now I could almost serve as a guide.”

I looked around the group. “Y’know, we could go up there tonight if you want. Or maybe tomorrow. We got all day tomorrow.”

Almost too quickly, Bobby said, “Well, I’d rather go tonight, but if everybody else wants to wait ‘til—”

Joe frowned. “Who said anything about waiting?” He glanced at his brother. “We’ll go tonight, huh Johnny?”

Johnny glanced quickly at the girls, then me. “Sure. Tonight’d be better. Joe an’ me got chores in the morning.”

I stole a glance at Bobby, who was almost pale. “Whaddya think, Bobby? Wanna go up with us?”

“We get to come too, don’t we?” Susan turned to Darlene. “I’ll just die if we don’t get to come too.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Of course we get to come too, Susan. Besides, it isn’t like Nick owns the place. We could even go up by ourselves if we wanted.” She crossed her arms and turned to me, her lips pursed, a smile tugging at the corners. “So when are we going?”

Did she emphasize we? Maybe not. I tore my gaze from her eyes, got stuck for the longer half of a split second just below her shoulders, then glanced down at her dress and her shoes. “You guys— You might want to change into jeans or something first. It ain’t exactly clean in there. Dress might get torn— It might tear. You know, I mean catch on something. I mean, there’s a lot of jagged edges up there. Well, not a lot, but some, and—”

Mary said, “We’ll meet you on the edge of town at six. That big clump of scrub oak and elm on the right?” She glanced at the other girls. “You guys comin’? We don’t have a lot of time.”

I swear they swayed more walking away than they had coming up the sidewalk. But then, ain’t that always the way?

Bobby said, “Well, that tears it. Won’t be much fun with them along. I’m not goin’.”

Joe shoved him on the arm. “Whaddayou, nuts? It’ll be a lot more fun with them up there than we could have by ourselves.” He glanced at me and shook his head, jerking a thumb over his shoulder in Bobby’s direction. “You believin’ this guy?”

Then he turned back to Bobby. “You moron, girls are scared of everything. We’re gonna have a blast.” He glanced at me again. “Right, Nicky?”

I nodded. “Yeah, sure. Okay, look guys, I’m gonna head home, get some things together. See you at the trees, okay?”

Bobby took a step backward. “Well, maybe.”

Johnny looked at him. “You’re comin’, Bobby. Just be there.” He shook his head. “Jeez.”

The three of them turned right as I continued up the street. I had plans to make.

* * *

I hadn’t told my friends everything about the old Jenkins place.

I went in the first time because it spoke to me. It set tests that I could pass, and it urged me on.

It was the only place in town with a walled-in yard. The wall was only about seven feet high but it looked formidable, fortress-like. It was made of old railroad ties stacked horizontally with some kind of mortar between them, and they interlocked at the ends like logs in a cabin.

There was a gate, also substantial, made of heavy wood planks. From the hasp hung a heavy, solid iron key lock of the kind you might see in a 19th century prison.

Something about that gate and lock and the vines growing up it looked right, like it all belonged and shouldn’t be disturbed. That was all right with me. I didn’t want to bust the lock anyway.

But I did almost ache to get into the place. I didn’t want to tear anything up. I just wanted to see it. I had to see it.

I’d been past the place plenty of times, but there was always someone else around. Most of the time I was with one or more of my friends. A couple of times Mr. Dobbins from down the road was just getting in from work, and once or twice the spinster twins, Joan and Janie Dinwitty, were out for a stroll. I always imagined the two of them were joined at the hip. They walked the same pace, turned exactly the same direction at exactly the same time. Very strange. And when they looked at me— Well, I didn’t like the scrutiny.

Finally, I guess it was three months ago, I was alone. At first I couldn’t believe it.

The wall was there, and the gate and the lock and the vines.

And me. And the house, beckoning to me.

I drifted left as I walked so I’d be close to the wall when the time was right.

I glanced behind me to make sure nobody was watching.

Then I reached up as far as I could and hoisted myself over the wall. It was simple. Getting into the yard wasn’t really satisfying because it was much easier than I expected.

Anyway, I knelt in the yard for a moment, just looking at the front of the house. The front was about thirty feet wide. The narrow double door was centered. It was of heavy wood planks, like the gate. Each side of the door had a small window, about a three-inch square, at about eye level. And then there was one normal window in the wall to the left of the door.

Well, there I was. I was in. I settled back on my haunches, my back against the wall around the yard.

And the house spoke to me for the first time.

There wasn’t a voice or anything. It came to me almost as a realization, but it was crystal clear. Getting into the yard, getting over the wall, was only the first trial. The wall existed only as a way for me to prove I was serious about getting inside the house. How many others had wanted to go in but stopped at the wall?

And that told me something important was in that house.

Something I had to see.

But if it was easy to scale the wall, it was far more difficult to enter the house than I thought it would be. And if the first obstacle was the wall around the front yard, the second obstacle was me.

By the time I had looked long enough and run out of reasons to wait, a half-hour had passed and the day was on the darker side of dusk.

I rose unsteadily, my calves and ankles numbed a bit from having been in one position too long. I convinced myself that waiting so long had been part of the plan. After all, breaking and entering seemed more appropriate an activity for dark than light. I conveniently pushed aside the fact that nobody could see me anyway because of the seven foot wall around the yard.

Out of excuses, I approached the window. The screen was long since rusted out. Only the wood frame remained, bits of the metal screen clinging to the edges.

Many of the tiny nails that held in the narrow frame of the screen itself were protruding. Even in the semi-darkness their rusty heads contrasted against the chipped and faded white paint.

I reached through and unhooked the hook-and-eye latch at the bottom. I tugged the screen frame loose from the sill and swung it upward. Then I lifted it from the broad hooks overhead and set it to the side.

The window was of the old double-hung variety. The panes, top and bottom, were intact. I slipped my fingertips under the top of the frame of the bottom window and pressed upward.

The window stuck, and I thought maybe the latch was engaged. I didn’t want to look, see that it was latched and have another decision to make, so I pushed again. Again it stuck, but it seemed to give a little.

I started to turn away, telling myself I should get home and that I could come back another time. But I knew if I left, I wouldn’t come back.

So I left the decision to fate. I pushed one more time, fully expecting it to remain stuck.

The window slid upward as if it had been listening to my thoughts. A draught of dank, warm air rushed over me.

In the left side of the frame through a short vertical space was a narrow cord. It would lead up to a pulley and then down to a counterweight. The house was older than I thought. Cool.

I glanced around as if there might actually be anyone else in the yard, then turned back to the window. I took a deep breath and held it, then grinned. Did I think there wouldn’t be any air inside?

The dusk had slipped fully into darkness and the moon wouldn’t be up for a couple hours. More confident that I wouldn’t be seen, I grasped the edges of the window frame and pulled myself up.

A form, something about a foot thick, was backed up to the wall beneath me. I felt with my right hand. Cloth upholstery. Cotton batting poking through here and there. A couch. I pushed down on it in a few places. It felt pretty solid. That would make it easier to get in and out.

The fresh, ancient smell of mildew predominated. Farther inside it would smell better, I was sure. I twisted a bit, put my right knee on the back of the couch and—

It gave way. I fell, rolling to the right, hit on couch springs on my back, then continued off the couch onto something soft. Well, something that used to be soft but was now both stiff and pliable, like jerky. I pushed back a bit, raised my head.

And came face to face with a human being. Well, technically, what was left of a human being. Even in the dark, the white of the skull above the eye sockets was recognizable.

I shoved myself up harder, trying to get away, and tripped over jeans that were still wrapped around what used to be hips. As I stumbled farther into the house, I stuck my hands out in front of me, but I didn’t want to touch anything. I went through an arched passageway into a short hall.

There, finally, I brought myself under control.

Not believing what had just happened, I bent over, put my hands on my knees and breathed for a moment, mostly to make sure I still could. While I was still bent over, I turned my head to look back toward the thing on the living room floor. Whatever else happened, I was not going back out that way.

I shook my head. What in the world was I thinking, coming into this place? My breathing and nerves mostly under control, I straightened and put my hands on my hips.

The front door should be around to my right. Only a few feet to go, and I’d be outta there. The air would be fresh and new and clean. There was a wall, and then the street, and then home and my bed. That was the best feeling I’d had the entire day. Maybe the best in my whole life.

I turned to head for the door.

Someone grabbed my left shoulder, hard, alongside my neck, and my right side up under my arm. He shoved me against a wall I didn’t see even after the right side of my face smashed against it.

The fingers of another hand lay along the right side of my throat and I was unable to speak, to yell. In a soft, distant voice, someone said, “Hold him.”

A darkness came out of the darkness. It was behind me but I still saw it somehow, maybe in my mind. It spread across my back, a shadow of a shadow. A cool breath descended across the right side of my neck and two searing hot needles pierced my skin.

Then there was only a dreaming kind of ecstasy. I remembered the body in front of the couch. Soon I would be there too, but I didn’t care.

A moment later I was on the road, walking toward my house.

Everything changed.

My perceptions of dark and light. My concept of who I was. My life. My girl.

Mary was after me for a week, wanting to know what had happened. I was different, somehow, but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.

I finally told her.

I expected her to call me crazy, to dump me, to at least ask for proof.

But she didn’t. She grinned. Then she twirled a strand of hair near her right ear. “Could you come over tonight? Say around 7?”

I did. I even took a small cake I picked up at the bakery to give her parents.

But they weren’t home.

When I got there, she was waiting at the curb. “Let’s go,” she said.

“What? Where?”

“To the old Jenkins place.”

We did.

That first time I stayed all night? That was the night.

When we left in the pre-dawn morning, we were holding hands, both in a dreaming kind of ecstasy. It was nice to know we’d be together forever.

Mary was my first, in more ways than one.

And tonight?

Our new papa has thousands of children. Millions maybe. And tonight Mary and I will help our new papa add Johnny and Joe Wilkins to the fold. And Susan and Darlene, of course.

And Bobby Boyd? He will serve a different purpose.

Hey, Papa gotta eat.

* * * * * * *

Going on the Cheap

Don’t do it. There. End of lecture.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that’s all it took?

If you’re a writer and if you’re serious about your work and if you want others to take you seriously, invest in your product (your writing, your cover, your book).

The rest of this post is assuming that you already are investing time and money into learning your craft (writing).

But the actual writing is only the beginning of the finished product. If you slap an amateur cover on your story, very few people will bother even picking it up. And even if it has a great cover, if the writing is replete with errors or the formatting is off— Well, let’s just say you’d be better off fishing than writing.

I’ve never understood this kind of reasoning. By all accounts, some people spend YEARS writing and polishing a novel. Then they have some amateur do the copyedit. They have another amateur do the cover. (Don’t try to convey the story on the cover. That’s amateur mistake number one.) Then they have yet another amateur do the formatting.

Seriously? Is that all your writing is worth to you? If so, what makes you think it’s gonna be work anything to a reader?

But you do have choices.

You certainly CAN do all those things yourself.

But you have to invest the time to educate yourself. There is a learning curve to being able to correctly format an ebook or lay out a print book. There is a learning curve to being able to grasp even the basics of cover design.

And you have to invest the money in professional programs (I recommend Serif’s PagePlus) so you can create your own eformatting and print layout and ebook and print covers.

Or you can invest money in paying other people—professionals, not amateurs—to do those things for you.

So what brought this up?

I recently was privy to see a piece of complete and utter literary garbage that was (from the front matter of the book) “printed with the Espresso Book Machine at The University of Arizona Main Library.” I kid you not.

Now it is not my intention to embarrass the author or the formatter. So if you know who he, she or they are, or if you think you know, please keep it to yourself. My only intention here is to use this excellent example of terrible formatting to provide you with a lesson in professionalism.

I can’t say whether the author believes that particular book has now been “published” by the U of A (it hasn’t) or what. Maybe the author uses the service because it’s free. I don’t know. What the “Espresso Book Machine” turned out was so terrible, I won’t even do the few minutes’ research to find out what it costs, whether it’s free, or anything else about it.

What I will tell you is this: Garbage in, garbage out. As I wrote earlier, even if your writing is excellent, if the formatting of the document you feed into the machine looks like garbage, what you get back will look like garbage.

Here’s my brief review. Remember, this is all formatting stuff, stuff that could EASILY be fixed if the person who formatted it had only cared enough about the final product to take the time.

The Table of Contents — The title of this page (Table of Contents) was in the same font, same size, and same attribute (normal, not bold, etc.) as the chapter heads or story heads listed below it. Capitalization of titles varied within the TOC and from the TOC to each individual actual story. The TOC itself was hokey. First was the title of the story, then a space, then the word “page” (yes, lowercase) and then a span of pages, for example 3-16. So in the table of contents, my fictional listing would look like this:

This Is The title Of my story                page 3-16

Overall Layout of the Book — The inside front cover (apparently) was the only title page. The title was at the top, the author’s name was near the bottom, and a page number was at the center bottom. (The title page should not be numbered.) There was no publishing information on the title page. (Usually the publishing company name and city is displayed there.)

The next page was the copyright page. It stated the year of copyright, but failed to mention in whose name the book is copyrighted. Seriously? Then the formatter skipped a line and inserted a dedication. Skipped another line and inserted permission for teachers to reprint parts for classroom use. (Yeah, that’s gonna happen.) Skipped one more line and added a simple disclaimer. Then skipped a few lines and inserted a brief paragraph blaming the Espresso Book Machine for this travesty, although that isn’t how they put it. Oh, and lest we forget, the copyright page is numbered page 2.

Page 3 is the previously discussed TOC, and the first story began on page 4, a recto. Later in the book, some stories began on the verso (left page of an open book, as they should) and some on the recto (right page of an open book).

Finally, on most pages the text began at the top of the page, but on some it began one or two lines down. The same spacing discrepancy appeared at the bottom of many of the pages.

Titles of the Stories — The titles of the stories were the same font, font size and font attribute as the body of the stories. (Usually the title is bold attribute and/or a larger font size. Sometimes it’s even a different but complementary font face.)

As I mentioned in the section on the TOC above, the titles of the stories varied with regards to capitalization. The fictional title above that read “This Is The title Of my story” in the TOC might have read “This is the title Of my Story” above the story in the book. I’m not kidding.

The position of the titles at the top of the page also varied. Some were left justified and some were centered. I suppose we could say it was a win that none of them was right justified, but was it really?

Apparently no standard was applied. The key for good and efficient formatting is standards. They can be your own, but you have to have them, and you have to apply them evenly throughout the work.

The Body of the Stories — The body of the first story was double-spaced with no extra spacing between paragraphs and with the first line of paragraphs indented. It would have been perfect if it were single-spaced. (Remember, this is for a print book.)

Hyphenation obviously was not turned on. As a result the text is broken irregularly with rivers of wide white space running diagonally through the text.

That formatting lasted from page 4 (the first page of the first story) through the first full paragraph on page 8. After that there was an extra space between that paragraph and the next. Then it returned to no spacing after paragraphs until page 13, where the anomaly happened again.

Then it continued normally again until page 17 where the anomaly occurred twice in a row. Finally the story ended suddenly without any sort of signifier such as “The End” or a series of asterisks or a demand to “Go Away.”

The second story was formatted differently. It was left justified, single spaced, with a space after each paragraph, and without first-line indents. Great for a blog post. Pretty good even for some nonfiction print applications. Not so much for a story in a collection of short fiction.

The third story was formatted the same as the second, except in some places it looked as if there was no space between two paragraphs.

The next several stories were formatted the same as the second and third, with no first-line indent, block paragraphs, left justified, and a space between paragraphs. Except sometimes there were two spaces between paragraphs.

About the only thing that was consistent (except among titles) in the formatting of this book was that it was left justified. And that’s the easiest overall problem to fix. Most books of this type are full justified.

This truly was an ugly, ugly book. You’ve heard the jokes. They all apply. “This book is so ugly it would make a train take a dirt road.” “This book is so ugly when it walked into the library they turned off the cameras.” “This book is so ugly, if the author dropped it off at a school he’d get a ticket for littering.”

Oh yes. It was that ugly. And I make that assessment without having actually read so much as a coherent sentence of the actual writing. I never got anywhere close to actually reading. Would you?

Now again, to be fair, the Expresso Book Machine is ONLY a machine. It was not at fault for this thing. Whoever formatted the Word file for the author was at fault. The author should fire whoever laid out this travesty, immediately and with extreme prejudice.

Even if it was the author himself.

Maybe ESPECIALLY if it was the author himself.

Do you understand? If you put out a piece of garbage like this, it won’t matter how good the writing is because the reader won’t get that far.

So as I wrote at the outset, when it comes to downgrading your own work by going on the cheap, Just Don’t Do It. If nothing else, when you’re ready to get a cover and format or lay out your book, think for a moment about the effort you put into writing it. Then simply respect that effort.

And if you want a great copyeditor and formatter (both ebook and print) and cover designer, check out Arena.

There. End of lecture. Again.

‘Til next time, happy writing.


Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out or just click If you’ve already contributed, thanks so much. If you can’t make a monetary donation, please consider forwarding this post to a friend or several. (grin) Again, thank you.

It’s Novel Promotion Time

Hi Folks,

Okay, for the first time ever, I’m doing a promotion with my novel series.

For the next three weeks, from right now through December 5, the first title of the Wes Crowley saga—The Rise of a Warrior—is priced at FREE at Smashwords.

Also for the next three weeks, the second title in that series—Comanche Fire—is priced at 99 cents, also at Smashwords.

Notice, you don’t need a coupon to purchase these books at these prices. Simply click the link above and go get your book.

Why Smashwords?

Because at Smashwords you can purchase any book in any ebook format: .mobi for Kindle; .epub for Nook or iPhone; and .PDF for reading on your computer.

Likewise, the prices of those two books will be lowered at Apple, B&N, Kobo and elsewhere but that might take a couple of days. (Amazon doesn’t allow pricing at Free, but I will lower the price of both books there to 99 cents. Again, you can buy the .mobi format for Kindle free at Smashwords.)

The Wes Crowley Saga is a western, but it’s also a great deal more. Most notably, it contains heavy threads of action/adventure, romance, and psychological suspense. I strongly recommend you pick up your copies of The Rise of a Warrior and Comanche Fire today.

‘Til next time, happy writing and reading.


The Importance of Setting (and How to Write It): Part Two

Hi Folks,

Options_160Okay, here is Part Two of what might be the most valuable post you’ll ever read about writing fiction. Again, I’m not kidding. (Even got the same pic in case you want to share.)

The necessary preliminary stuff was in the previous post, so if you missed that one, I suggest you go back and read it first.

In summary —

To write a story (any length) you need only to write an opening.

To write an opening, you need only a character with a problem in a setting. (This is called an idea.) The problem needn’t be “the” problem of the story. It’s just something to get you to the keyboard and to start your fingers moving on the keys.

From the writer’s perspective, the opening is a test of an idea. Most of the time, the opening will take off and become a short story, novella or novel.

But from the reader’s perspective, the opening is what will determine whether he continues to read or finds something else to do.

To ensure the reader is engaged with your story and continues to read, you want to write a great, focused setting. That will ground him in the story.

I explained all of that in different words in the previous post, then provided an example set in an exotic location: the Amazon rain forest. This time around, I have another, more domestic example. Oddly enough, the character has the same name, but as you will see, he definitely is a different character. (grin) Remember,

the more focused the setting, the more engaged the reader.

Let’s make Steve Zimmer a detective this time instead of a scientist. Let’s put him on the docks on a dark, rainy night. Now, if your character’s down at the docks, that’s pretty vague, isn’t it? We probably need to know what city/country, but not necessarily, and not until the story moves away from the docks.

Let’s see what we can do to focus the reader down in the setting. Here’s your second example:

The night was dark, the air heavy. A foghorn sounded in the bay and was driven flat in the pattering rain.

Sitting in his car, Detective Steven Zimmer turned on the windshield wiper for one swipe. He leaned forward and peered at the warehouse before the rain could accumulate again.

Some distance above the bay door, a weak bulb under a thin, dented metal shade cast a dim light. It was further refracted and diminished as the drizzling rain fell past it. Still, he could just make out the seam where the broad door met the wall.

As he worked the windshield wiper again, he closed his eyes and opened them. He peered through the windshield again.

Typical. Just a sliding bay door, probably padlocked. Standard whitewashed windows set at regular intervals. He hit the wiper switch again, watched it shove the drops into rivulets.

No small entrance door, at least that he could see. Odd.

To the right near the end of the building, a smaller window. Probably the office. The anonymous caller had said to check the office nearest Front Street. Good. He was parked just off Front Street. So the office in the nearest corner.

He opened the car door and swung his left leg out, then remembered the bolt cutters in the passenger floorboard. He leaned back and reached for them, then got out and shut the door behind him.

The rain quietly pattered on the hood of the car. In the distance, somewhere back in the middle of the city, sirens wailed.

He looked at the warehouse again as if to verify the sirens hadn’t changed anything. Finally he stepped around the front of the car and crossed the tarmac to the warehouse door. Rain trickled off the right front brim of his fedora.

He could barely make out the padlock. It was the same corroded non-color as the corrugated steel walls.

He brought up the bolt cutters, leaned close to position them, but paused. The wood frame smelled musty, wet. Maybe he could just pry the hasp out of the frame.

He reached up to tug on the hasp, and half of it turned under his touch. No need to pry it out.

It had already been cut.

Okay, that opening was just under 4oo words.

Although the overall scene took place at the docks in a parking lot near a warehouse, the first actual setting was focused down tightly inside the character’s car. Then the character crossed the larger, more vague part of the setting, but quickly. And then we focused down again on the area of the padlock. And throughout the scene, we invoked the character’s physical senses.

Do you see how if you write an opening, it can take off? In case you’re wondering, I’ll be using both of these examples. One will become a short story or novella, and the other, I believe, will become a series of novels. All from nothing but A Character > With a Problem > In a Setting.

As I wrote last time, I hope you will copy the techniques I used here (invoking the physical senses, using paragraphing to build tension and set pacing, etc.) and apply them to your own opening.

And after you write the opening, what then? Well, as I mentioned last time, you write the next sentence. Then you write the next sentence. Then you write the next sentence until the character(s) lead you to the end of the story.

For a great deal more on writing the next sentence, consider taking my Audio Course on Writing Off Into the Dark. (See Course 12.) It literally will change your life as a writer.

In the meantime, try writing an opening and see where it takes you. (If you already did this, so what? You’re a writer. Do it again.)

Drop a comment in the Comments section below and let me know how it works out for you.

‘Til next time, happy writing.


Note: If you find something of value in these posts or on this website, consider dropping a tip into Harvey’s Tip Jar on your way out. If you’ve already contributed, Thanks! If you can’t make a monetary donation, please at least consider forwarding this post to a friend or several. Again, thank you.


Choices, and a Toast

Hey Folks,

Well, here’s another interim blog post. Part Two of the writing setting posts will be here on November 11.

In the meantime, two quick notes:

Dean Wesley Smith, in the Topic of the Night in his Blog Post From Yesterday, which I finally found early this morning, wrote an excellent, brief article about making choices.

In addition to talking about making choices, he provides a technique that really works to help you find “extra” time in your schedule. I’ve taught some of my writing students the same technique. He says to do it for four days. I recommend a week, or at least that you include a weekend. During the extra time you find, you can choose to do one thing or another.

One of the choices most long-term professional writers make is to follow Heinlein’s Rules. Here’s a Free, Annotated Copy if you want it, in PDF. When the window opens, click File > Save Page As (or Save As) and save it to your desktop.

I’ve been an adherent of the Rules for about a year and a half. Recently, I fell off. I allowed myself to be sidetracked helping folks move websites and used that as an excuse to not write.

Ugh. Seriously. Even after writing over three-quarters of a million published words of fiction in the 365 days that began on October 19 2014, I recently allowed my critical mind and fear to creep in and stop me from writing. So I’m just saying, I hope all of you are on Heinlein’s Rules, but just know that you have to always guard against the old myths of writing creeping back in, and the fear of rejection.

Anyway, back to it today, right after I post this. I have several story openings to choose from and a new short story due on Monday.

So that’s my motivational writer pitch for the day. (grin)

Now to matters just a bit more serious, tomorrow is the 240th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. As I try to do each year, I offer this toast to my fellow Marines:

May your days be vibrant,
your evenings calm,
your heart safe and warm at home.
Semper Fi

And here’s the current Marine Corps Commandant’s Message just in case you’re interested. Enjoy.

‘Til day after tomorrow, happy writing.