About A. Elizabeth West

Writer, publisher, nerd of many persuasions

Donald Trump is FIRED!!!

WE DID IT, Y’ALL

WE FIRED HIM

And not only that, but the world was happy too.

London:

Paris:

We got lucky, folks. The systems that put him in place are still there. If the last four years have taught us anything, it’s that autocracy can happen here. It very nearly did. Our checks and balances came very close to crumbling.

Now, we have to strengthen them. Black voters helped us get out of this but it’s up to white people to dismantle systemic racism. We can’t afford not to. The next would-be dictator will be much smarter than Trump, and he (it’s almost always a man because autocracies are mostly patriarchies and patriarchy won’t elect a woman) will learn from his mistakes.

If we pretend it didn’t happen (it did) or that it wasn’t so bad (it was), it will happen again.

And we’ve also (hopefully) learned that we cannot take democracy for granted. We can’t just vote and then forget about it for the next four years. Every single election is important; our government grows from the seeds we plant at the local and state level. These policies are the ones that affect our daily lives the most. Our congressional representatives come from our communities. While they’re in office, we have to push them for what we want, lest they become complacent and forget that they work for us, not the other way around.

During this protracted agony, particularly during the still-ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it’s the state governors and AGs and health departments who’ve done the work and taken the heat to keep people safe. Not all of them rose in defiance to a profoundly corrupt and uncaring administration, one that refused to enact a federal mask mandate, with the result that over 230,000 people have died, and as of today, November 8, 2020, the US has the highest rate of coronavirus infection in the entire world.

Definitely not this sycophantic Trump-loving asshole.

 St. Louis Post-Dispatch / Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

Georgia may have gone blue during the 2020 election, but Missouri will never change. Never. St. Louis, the bluest city and county in the state, isn’t big enough to overcome that. Hence my push to get out of here.

We’re getting there, slowly. The United States has drifted over time toward more progressive policies. Younger people who grew up with mass shootings and in an increasingly diverse country have become more politically active. We put a woman in the Vice President’s seat for the first time in our history—and not just any woman, but one of Jamaican and Indian descent, the child of immigrants. There’s plenty of reason to celebrate. Then we must roll up our sleeves.

Our work has only just begun. I’m ready. Are you?

No NaNoWriMo for Me: Instead, It’s JaNoWriMo 2021

November looms yet again, when writers everywhere try to cram 50,000 words into one month!

I am not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. I have a project (Book 3 of the Tunerville trilogy), I’m outlining it, and I even started a rough storyboard for the book trailer. What I don’t have is time.

As you know, I’ve been job hunting for an excruciatingly long period. I still haven’t been hired anywhere, but the state of Missouri did recently offer free CompTIA IT training to workers displaced by COVID-19. I qualified for this due to being a long-term unemployed person whose job hunt was completely derailed by the pandemic.

I’m glad SOMEBODY’S having fun.

Image by Alexandra_Koch from Pixabay / captions Elizabeth West

So now I’m preparing for the Project+ certification exam. I can’t write a book and do that simultaneously. However, this should bode well for the future. Not only will I have a certification to add to job applications, but I’m boosting the rudimentary project management experience I obtained at my last job.

Confluence is with my editor. Deadline: Thanksgiving. Although I doubt we’ll have any guests this year, I need to be ready to hit those revisions in December. I hope to have most of this study and maybe even the exam knocked down by then.

I promised you I would finish the trilogy, and I will. With that in mind, I’m launching my own personal, month-long writing challenge in January, which I will call JaNoWriMo!

Note: this is not an official thing, so don’t go looking for it online (edit: whoops, somebody did it!). It’s just me adapting to a crazy situation and the tendency for the Universe to make me sit here for months and then pile it all on at once.

“I only f*ck with you because I love you.” – Universe, probably

Image by Fine Mayer from Pixabay

I doubt I’ll finish in one month, especially if I find employment by then (sooner, please, so I don’t have to move during the coldest, wettest time of the year). Someone could even offer me a job out of state, since remote work is now a legitimate way to start. If so, cross your fingers that this hypothetical company happens to be in the increasingly narrow list of areas where I’d actually want to live.

Weekly updates for JaNoWriMo might work better. I’ll also pop a word count meter up on the blog so you can see how it’s going.

As of this writing, we have no clue who will win the 2020 U.S. election, what will happen in the aftermath, or whether we’ll even have democracy by January. All we know is that it will probably be very unsettled and chaotic for a while. I feel for anyone doing NaNoWriMo this year; the added stress is sure to derail you, but don’t give up. The whole point is to get you working.

Artists and writers are scribes of history, whether or not they include actual events in their work. So keep creating. Keep doing the thing you love. It will get you through these dark times. It will help others who need a breather, or an escape. Your voice is important.

See you soon!

The Difficult Middle Bit

Confluence is off to my editor! It toddled out of my computer on September 26, as a very rough second draft.

They grow up so fast.

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay 

This book series completely ignores what is going on in the world today, because it has to. I wrote Tunerville before tRumpledneckskin and COVID, and it would wreck everything if I tried to shoehorn in either of them. So I made an executive decision to leave it out. Plus, you don’t have to think about either of those things while reading it.

I sent it off early because I wanted to avoid the issue I had with the last book. By the time I found someone to do a really thorough edit, I’d done so much polishing I almost had to tear it down and rebuild it. This time, it’s rather loose, so I can shuffle things around more easily.

Writing a book is tough. Writing the second book in a trilogy is even tougher. I didn’t start out intending for Tunerville to have a sequel, but here we are. A middle book has to bridge the gap between the first book and the last and still hold up on its own.

I got some great advice from the writers on the podcast WRITERS/BLOCKBUSTERS. Although it’s a screenwriting podcast, I learn something about storytelling every time I listen. They talked at length about this in their Infinity War episode. Both this film and The Empire Strikes Back were complete stories in themselves. That is, characters had definite arcs and those arcs had resolutions, even as they led into their respective sequels.

He did it.

Infinity War pulled all the threads of the MCU together and propelled us to the majestic ending in Endgame. Nobody here is getting snapped, but I drew something out of Tunerville and some shit is going down.

The ghost tuner opened up a can of worms for the characters. They’re suffering through it, and it isn’t their fault. They’re facing some strange and terrible things. But I hope they’ll find the strength they never knew they had.

Stay tuned for updates; you can follow me and my press, Boomkaart Books, on social media. I’m on Instagram but as it’s primarily a platform for pics and video, I don’t have much to post there. Nobody wants to see the four walls I stare at every day.

Once I’m out of this dungeon, that will likely change; I want to produce some video and audio content, but I can’t alter this space and my family member seems to be on a remodeling kick (yes, in the middle of a damn pandemic!). The noise level and inability to set up recording space have curtailed that for now.

Back to worldbuilding; have a good weekend and be safe. Wear the damn mask!

Pandemic Brain and Last Day for a Free Book

If you are reading this on Labor Day, you can get the Kindle edition of The Shiny Folk and other stories for free, through midnight 9/7/2020.

Y’all, I have seriously neglected you, and I’m sorry.

I have pandemic brain. Yes, you understand it. We’re all suffering from it. Time has no meaning. Days blend into one another. If you’re working, you’re either stressed from worrying about contagion or stressed from navigating your job at home, maybe around family members also working from home, kids, pets, etc.

If you’re not working, as I Still! Am! Not!, you’re stressed from that.

FOR THE LAST TIME, DEXTER, MY COMPUTER MOUSE IS NOT A CAT TOY!

Image by Robin Higgins from Pixabay

Last post, I mentioned I was going to republish a third and final edition of The Shiny Folk and other stories at Amazon. You can read my explanation for that move at Boomkaart Books’ Media page. Honestly, I wish I didn’t have to distribute there, but IngramSpark is too expensive. It costs me nothing to publish with KDP, even for print-on-demand. Of course, that’s by design; Jeff “Greed Dragon” Bezos makes money off me, though God knows I’m not making very much. If it’s free for you, then you’re the product.

Again, sorry my pandemic brain forgot to come over here and tell you I’d launched it, and about the free book promotion.

I’m extremely happy with the new book cover, however. I think it turned out great. It’s miles better than the last one.

This is the paperback cover. I just now noticed it’s basically the same layout as the Tunerville cover. Apparently, I can only learn one thing at a time.

I added a couple of stories—one from this blog, one I published previously in a now-defunct literary journal (that I’d put on the blog), and one brand new story, “MathLex.” If you’ve been following me for a while, you know how difficult math is for me, so guess where that one came from? The cover is black because a couple of the stories fall into the horror genre, particularly “Jack and the Bean Sprout,” which I’ve never been able to sell since it’s straight-up disturbing.

Have I been writing more stories? Well, yes and no. Short fiction isn’t my favorite medium; although I like reading it, I’m not so fond of writing it. “MathLex” is new. I started a promising work about werewolves, but honestly, I don’t have the bandwidth for it right now, between revising Confluence and job hunting.

I said January 2021 for the release of Confluence; I may have to push it out a little depending on the timing of editorial feedback. Once it’s out, I can write the final book in the trilogy—it’s all laid out in my head, and I’m toying with the idea of writing it during this year’s NaNoWriMo.

The Catalyst is on hold for now, although it’s completely outlined. I’m not worried about that one. I just don’t want to pull a George R. R. Martin or Patrick Rothfuss on y’all, or leave you with an unfinished trilogy if I should get the ‘Rona or my head explodes from all the stress.

He only teases you because he loves you.

By Henry Söderlund – Pre-Hugo Portraiture is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

I tend to work better if I have something to work around. Like a job.

And may I just say that if a person goes to all the trouble to prepare for an interview, i.e. looking up the company website and info, setting up a nice space, dressing up, logging into Zoom, etc. etc., they at least deserve a rejection email. If you ghost me, you go on my shit list. FOREVER. And no, an email a month after the date you told me you wanted someone to start doesn’t count.

In the meantime, I’d better get back to it. There is no rest for the self-employed, and that includes writers, who don’t get paid until we actually finish the work. In between bouts of app-centered self care, that is.

And pondering whether Happy Color’s Marvel coloring books are actually worth $2.99 each, or in-app purchases are for suckers.

Updates on Book 2 and Other Assorted Nonsense

How’s it going, y’all?

I hope everyone is safe, and your families too. A lot’s happened since I last posted. Well, in the world; not for me. Still no job; still a basement dweller.

It would help if it were full of wine.

Image by Tania Dimas from Pixabay

Some updates:

Screenplay

The screenplay continues to grind along very slowly. I don’t think a massive online open course where people can proceed at their own pace (i.e. fall behind) is best for beginners learning a very interactive writing process. There are so many people in the class that no one can connect. The platform doesn’t allow you to follow anyone to see their progress. This is massively frustrating, since we’re required to give feedback to other writers. I would have preferred an in-person class with more interaction.

Even Zoom would help.

Image by Jagrit Parajuli from Pixabay

Critique is useful, but I’m tempted to just proceed on my own. I downloaded all the videos and lectures. Although I think it could be shot on a fairly low budget, I highly doubt I’ll ever do anything with it. It’s fine; this screenplay is only for learning anyway. Your first anything will never be your best.

Book 2

I’ve set a release date of January 2021 for Book 2. And — I have a working title! It’s Confluence.

If I hustle, I should be able to revise and find an editor (and then revise again after that). Setting a deadline will hold me accountable. I really wish I could go somewhere else to work — the library would be good — but Missouri’s caseload keeps going up, so no.

I’m in your state, being a little bitch.

Image by Pabitra Kaity from Pixabay

Meanwhile, I took some time yesterday to mock up a layout of Chris’s house from Tunerville, where his maternal grandparents lived. When they died, his mother sold the house to him to keep it in the family, since Chris intended to stay in Martinsburg. Paulette and Alan moved to St. Thomas close to Chris’s brother Adam, his wife Carmen, and their grandchildren Mags and Henry. (Martinsburg and St. Thomas in Missouri are both fictional.) If you haven’t read it yet, you can get it at the title link.

Here’s the ground floor and the basement.

Image: A. Elizabeth West

Here’s the upstairs and the attic. I did these in Word, which sucks. I need to find some cheap (or free) easy-to-use room layout software.

Image: A. Elizabeth West

It helps me to have a representation of the space. When I’m writing, rooms tend to shift around in my head. During Book 1, the living room kept changing places with the dining room and the parlor / study. And the downstairs bath didn’t even exist! Chris’s bedroom also moved from the back to the front. But the kitchen has always been in that spot.

I don’t care if it’s not perfect. This is how it looks in my head. I need a solid image of the space for a pivotal scene.  

Workshops

In June, I attended two online workshops — How to Write Fights and Action Scenes, and Act Like a Writer — with comic book and NYT best-selling novel writer Jonathan Maberry, author of V-Wars and the Joe Ledger series, among others.

He presented scads of useful information and even took questions. Jonathan is very accessible on Twitter and prices his workshops affordably, a great help to little starveling writers like me. The proceeds from both went to an affordable housing organization, so coughing up $50 felt worth it in every way.

The Shiny Folk and other stories

I’ve taken my story collection down from the Boomkaart Books website temporarily. WordPress downgraded my ability to sell it directly from that platform unless I purchase an expensive Business account. I can’t do that presently, so the only alternative is to sell it via Amazon (ugh, I know). To do that, I have to raise the price a little and burn one of my ISBN numbers, so I’m including new content and a brand new cover. This will be the last edition of the collection. When it’s ready, I will let you know.

Conlang / Worldbuilding

Again, plugging away. I finally settled on place names for the world that goes with it. Of course, anything can change at any time as I plunge deeper into grammar, etc.

I also made a map using Inkarnate, an online map maker any Dungeons and Dragons players reading this will probably recognize. I like it despite the free version being somewhat limited. Should I stay on the high fantasy kick, I might pony up for a (very reasonable) Pro account.

Here’s a teaser:

That’s pronounced BETTHH-rah, by the way. In this language, ss is pronounced as the th in them. That’s all you’re getting. I’ve already said more than I probably should.

I’ve never gone this deep into fantasy before, and I’m not sure it will be a success, but it’s fun, so I don’t really care. If you enjoy the story, that’s all that counts.

I’ll leave you now to return to job hunting and revision. Stay safe — wash your hands, wear your masks, and avoid all the germy people (most of them).

And don’t forget to register to vote!

Dear Fellow White People, Don’t Expect Me to Make You Feel Better

I can’t make you feel better because nothing will make me feel better until black and brown people dying for no reason ends. And that may not happen in my lifetime.

If you’re white, and you are not actively examining your privilege right now and sitting with that discomfort, then I can’t make you feel better. I’m too busy looking at my own.

If you think I’m going to agree with you that violence is never the answer, I can’t make you feel better. I don’t feel that way. No, I’m not in favor of looting, and I don’t like it when people get hurt. But I like it even less when people who should be presumed innocent until proven guilty are instead condemned to death with no due process because of the color of their skin.

This isn’t about guilt. It’s about knowledge. White people cannot experience racism in a white supremacist society. We just can’t. That’s because racist oppression is a system, one that’s designed to favor us.

Some people think the election of Barack Obama as the 44th president of the United States ended racism. It did not. Racists burned him in effigy. They obstructed everything he tried to do. They (Trump in particular) originated and spread the birther conspiracy. Meanwhile, black people have kept right on dying at the hands of police and armed citizenry.

George Floyd left this world too early under the knee of a cop, one involved in at least 17 other misconduct complaints. The protests and riots following his death have focused on the police brutality that happens overwhelmingly to black people. Do you think if a store clerk suspected me of passing a counterfeit $20, knowingly or unknowingly, the cop (I’m not going to type his name) would have killed me?

Go to my About page and look at my picture. I’m pale as f*ck, so no, I most likely would not have died that day.

White women need to look at themselves especially hard. We are less likely to hold executive positions than white men, get paid less (though on average, more than black women), and face many of the same issues as black women — domestic violence, sexual assault, not being taken seriously by medical professionals. While we don’t suffer them to the same degree, therein should lie a glimmer of understanding, a glimpse of what it’s like to move through the world feeling like a target.

But racism is about power. Racist white women are exercising the little power they have against people who have less power than they do. Instead of supporting other women, they turn on them, bully them, put them in danger. They kill their men and their children. Why? Because a stranger asked you to leash your dog? Nobody deserves to die for that. Put your f*cking phone down and leash the f*cking dog like the sign says.

White people who truly want change have to realize that while we may not overtly discriminate against anyone, we still benefit from white supremacy. Racism didn’t stop just because we didn’t see it. A fish doesn’t realize it’s in the water. But a person can learn, and I’m gonna argue we weren’t looking for it.

I saw a comment —I think on Buzzfeed— that put it really well. I searched for it but couldn’t find it again, so I’ve tried to recreate it as best I can. Basically, the person posting it said, “When we say Black Lives Matter, we don’t mean NO OTHER lives matter. We mean Black Lives Matter TOO.”

You need to make yourself feel better. There’s only one real way to do that. And you know what it is.

If you’re white and you want to help, do these things.

  1. Support and vote for black candidates, especially women, especially candidates who promote police and prison reform.
  2. Call out racism when you see or hear it in everyday life and online, even if your voice shakes. Calmly stand up to people in your family. Let other people, especially the smallest ones, see and hear you do it.
  3. Put yourself on the line when you see cops interacting with black people. Stick around and be a witness. Watch them; film them if you feel safe doing so. If you see injustice and you’re called on to testify, do it.
  4. Think twice when you’re tempted to call the cops. Do you really have to?
  5. Support black achievements. Let people know about the work of black artists. If you employ them, pay them fairly, and give them credit.
  6. Patronize black-owned businesses. Seek them out in your community.
  7. Oppose gentrification of historically black neighborhoods to benefit affluent whites. This development practice is intersectional with poverty, but it also has deep roots in racism.
  8. Lift up black voices. Let people tell their stories without comment. Believe them when they share their experiences. They don’t need us to filter their narratives or tell anyone what they mean.

This will not end until we end it. We means white people. Don’t ask black people to end it. That’s not their job. You don’t ask victims of generations of systemic violence to do anything. You give them everything they need and let them live. You do everything you can to dismantle white supremacy so they don’t die and redouble your efforts when they do.

And above all, say their names.

Image credit: LA Johnson/NPR

Suggested reading for white folks:

A Decade Of Watching Black People Die (image above)

Your Good Cop Stories Aren’t Helping Anyone

Black People Need Stronger White Allies — Here’s How You Can Be One

Anti-racism resources for white people (Google Doc)

Beyond the Hashtag: How to Take Anti-Racist Action in Your Life

Edited to add:

White allies: Here’s a basic list of do’s and don’ts to help you with your helplessness

Why It’s So Hard to Create During a Lockdown

Creative people often work in solitude, and they need time to work. So why can’t I work?

You don’t have to be creative to relate, especially right now. Productivity waxes and wanes. At any given time, some or all of the following have been in play.

Stress from being unemployed

Long-term unemployment is not the same as a vacation or a sabbatical. Not having an income involves a lot of stressful emotions — worry about bills, despair that one will never work again, a sense of inadequacy at the lack of response to your efforts.

Before mine, which predated the pandemic, I lamented the lack of time in which to write. If only I could do it full time, I thought, I’d have so much more content out there.

Now, the time I have to write is filled with job applications, scouring pages of listings, seeking just the turns of phrase to make a potential employer realize that failing in a job no longer suitable for me did not make me a failure. That being unemployed did not make me unemployable.

advice on writing a cover letter--briefly inhabit the persona of a high elf who thinks they are hot shit and cannot imagine why any of their experience would be less than impressive
This is GREAT advice, tbh.

Too much unstructured time

At first, productivity remained untouched. I restructured one novel and wrote another. I published a short story collection. I started making a conlang. I dipped back into my blog.

But I soon discovered that limits on my creativity actually hone my concentration. If I had an hour to write, say at lunch, my brain knew it had to make the best use of that hour. Too much time can be as bad as not enough. In short, I’ve become so used to working around other things that when I have no things to work around, it’s harder to work.

Professional artists treat their art as a job, with dedication, discipline, and determination. After all, talent means nothing if you do nothing. Schedules are important. Having little to do all day can really mess with your sense of time.

Venn diagram - one circle is time, one is writing, and at their intersection, it says  eating all the things

Lack of privacy

As if that weren’t bad enough, we’re now tentatively emerging (too early, IMO) from a nationwide lockdown due to the novel coronavirus, perhaps the first of many. Countless workers have lost their jobs. Others are able to telecommute but find their productivity lacking. To buckle down when other members of the household demand your attention or ignore the presence of another person toiling in close proximity requires mental effort most people aren’t used to.

I can relate to this; in my own house, I was alone. Now I’m in someone else’s space. Their constant footfalls, muffled phone conversations, and occasional forays into the space they carved out for me are distracting as hell.

Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd as portrayed by Helena Bonham Carter, leaning over a table and looking up
And we don’t even have a barber shop in here to generate a little extra inventory—I mean, income.

Physical discomfort

Basements tend toward chilly no matter the weather outside. My hands are constantly stiff, the fingers icy. The drugstore hand/wrist supports I use when typing for long stretches of time don’t help. Thanks to the virus, any other working space, such as a library or coffee shop (noisy and distracting themselves) are off-limits.

Also, it’s dark in here. A bright space tends to feel warmer, the sunlight pouring in and warming not only the room but the mind. Windows or not, it seems perpetually dreary compared to my old city.

The cure will undoubtedly involve more exercise when parks feel safe again. It’s very unpleasant to walk in the neighborhood, plus it keeps raining. If nothing else, I can get on the floor and stretch.

orange and white cat lying upside down on a stone patio stretching its front legs, mouth wide open in a yawn
Perhaps not as cutely as this, but the facial expression will be the same.

Image by s02cf8 from Pixabay

Mental discomfort

I don’t want to be here. I didn’t want to be in my old city either, but I especially don’t want to be here.

If I’d found a job that was (heavy air quotes) “good enough,” I might have stayed a bit longer. (I definitely would have if I’d known the ‘rona was coming.) I had friends, a spiritual group of like-minded practitioners, personal service providers I respected and liked, and a sense of community even as I despised the limitations of that community:

  • Depreciating job market — low pay, little growth, few means to escape
  • Cultural isolation — lack of diversity, a dearth of entertainment options
  • Bigoted politics and an evangelical religious majority (the less said about this, the better)
gif of Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars saying "It's a trap!"
The Admiral said it best.

I want to leave the state entirely. The weather can be extreme and often violent. The economy here is depressed thanks to years of conservative rule. Salaries are below average.

It’s no wonder writing is tough right now.

What’s a writer to do? One thing that can really help is to pivot your creativity. Exercise that muscle, but in a different way.

Make something. I did make a wicked new book trailer for Tunerville, however. Huge thanks to my friend John Hutch for the excellent voiceover. He did a fantastic job (and yes, I did pay him). That took a whole different set of skills.

I’ve also been making masks for the family from an Instructable. I’m getting good at them; I can whack one out in an hour. Sewing sucks, but now that it’s mostly an automatic process, I can let my mind wander while I stitch.

Try a different kind of writing. I’m taking a screenplay class. I’m writing a screenplay! I have software! The same kind Rian Johnson uses!

Read something. Not only does reading rest your mind, but it can inspire you, especially if you’re stuck. Or watch a movie. Pay attention to the storytelling, or just relax.

By the way, writing a screenplay is TOTALLY DIFFERENT from writing a novel. It deserves its own post. I really wish I had my own space; I like to exercise my dialogue out loud (even for prose), and I can’t comfortably do that here.

Regardless, it’s not time to give up yet. I will find a job, have a place of my own again, and Book 2 will come out. I’m not giving up.

Aileen Quinn as the title character in the musical Annie, singing "The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow"

Shut the f**k up, kid. I’m workin’ here!

Check out the new book trailer here.


‘Rona Is a Huge Bitch

QUARANTINE SPECIAL!

Through April 30, “The Shiny Folk and other stories” is absolutely FREE! You can download it here.


Hello, all you lovely fellow quarantiners. My golly gosh, we’re in a little bit of a jam, aren’t we? Well, let’s just make the best of thin—

Nah, this sucks.

At least there are tons of memes coming out of this. The internet does not disappoint.

As you know, I’ve been job hunting, but thanks to that bitch ‘Rona, everything’s on hold. There are jobs listed, but larger companies have posts that have been up for at least a month. I figure they’re in a hiring freeze right now. One employer for whom I did a pre-employment assessment contacted me three weeks ago and said they decided to delay hiring. They’re not the only ones, I’m sure.

The rest are roles like scientist, electrical engineer, supply chain manager with ten years’ experience, that sort of thing. I keep looking and applying. The governor just extended this state’s stay-at-home order to May 3. I was really hoping to be employed and in my own place before my birthday at the end of May. Then I can stock up properly for the next emergency.

All I want is my fair share.

Image by Mylene2401 from Pixabay

I’ve been trying to stay productive even though I’m not working. So I’ve done the following:

  • Made a new book trailer for Tunerville, as the first one was super dumb
  • Hired a voiceover actor for the trailer
  • Started a screenwriting class on Coursera (meh)
  • Wrote a treatment for said screenplay
  • About to dive into the restructure of Book 2
  • Planning a serial fiction project; not sure how or when that will come out

We shall see. I’m very lucky I have a place to stay, although I really want to get out of here.

Personally, I’ve been staying home and bingewatching Dark Shadows on Hulu. I hope they don’t ditch it; I’m almost caught up to where I left off when it vanished from Netflix. I’m also having a lot of fun with screenshots.

Barnabas, you done screwed up.

And Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d forgotten how funny this show is, and how heartbreaking.

I’m off for TV time now. Stay safe, follow social distancing rules, and don’t forget to take time for self-care. And don’t forget to wash your hands!

Diversity in Tunerville and I Promise to Finish the Series, Y’all

Yep, I wrote a sequel. Yep, that’s the one I finished in December 2018. Yep, there will be one more.

Last year, I got into a discussion with some people who were reluctant to buy into book series because they’d previously been burned when a writer bailed and didn’t finish. I understand how frustrating it is to get invested in something that disappears (Firefly, anyone?), but traditional publishers will ditch a series if the first book doesn’t sell.

Since this is my enterprise, I’m free to plunge ahead regardless. I don’t know if anyone beyond my blog or my friends will read my current work. Even if that list is small, everyone on it deserves the best and most complete story I can give them.

With that in mind, I formally declare my intention to FINISH THE DAMN SERIES.

yelling cat sitting on a tiny polka dot sofa

Whether you want it or not!

Image by Deutsch / pixabay.com

Now that Tunerville is out and you may have read it already, I want to talk a little bit about the characters in the context of diversity. If you have not read the book yet and would rather not know anything, you might want to bail on this post now.

If you haven’t read it yet, you can get Tunerville (and my story collection, The Shiny Folk) here. I’m not sure that Amazon is shipping physical books currently; due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they’re focusing on supplies. Paperbacks might have to wait. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can get a free app here. It works on everything.

Consensus seems to be, rightfully, that lived experiences are best and most authentically portrayed by those who have lived them. The controversy around Jeanine Cummins’ recent novel American Dirt is a case in point. The linked article contains a quote from actress Eva Longoria, who points out:

“There’s a bidding war over this book, which means all the publishers wanted this book. And they wanted some sort of way in to a different community. The problem with that is that the publishing industry is 80% white, from agents to editors and publicists.”

I don’t think it’s impossible for a white, cisgender, straight author to write about a culture or identity to which they don’t belong. However, because the majority of white, cisgender, straight authors are divorced from anything other than our own experience (and this is by design in a white supremacist society), if we choose to, it falls on us to approach it carefully.

The LGBTQ characters and those of color in Tunerville function in the book’s close orbits admittedly without much friction. The Crew is inclusive; they coalesce around their shared interest in ghost hunting. Gabriel, who is black, is the one who started the Ghost Crew. His wife Ann-Marie is a law student. Josh’s new boyfriend Trevor is welcomed, his extreme disengagement the only eyebrow-raiser.

While Chris’s impulse to help ghosts is laudable, it takes him a while to grasp the real meaning of the saying “the road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” The media attention around Chris drives Josh to remove himself from the Ghost Crew for his and Trevor’s safety. In a stinging diatribe, he serves Chris a blunt reminder of the latter’s selfishness — and his privilege:

“[…] just because you don’t hassle people for being who they are doesn’t mean everybody is so enlightened. You don’t have a clue. You can walk down the street holding somebody’s hand and nobody throws a beer bottle at you.”

An invisible hand clamped over Chris’s mouth. Neither Josh nor his last boyfriend, the other victim of that attack, had wanted to report it, lest they invite more harassment or scrutiny.

“Nobody objects to where you live,” Josh continued. “Nobody leaves nasty notes on your car. Nobody tells you, ‘You better keep away from my kids if you move in here.’” He choked on the last word. “You got what you wanted. I’m trying to have what I want. And I will not lose this relationship because of you.”

Chris faces a public shaming directly after this conversation. It’s a hard lesson for him. The tuner is a great leveler — a reminder that everybody dies. But the questions it raises bring out the tendency of people to judge and categorize. The ghosts of all demographics find themselves reduced to a novelty, their humanity the subject of endless debate.

The viewpoint in Tunerville remains grounded in that of the white, straight characters — Chris, Hannah, and Hector, with a brief sojourn into Dean’s head. Of these, only Dean could be considered marginalized; as an incorporated ghost, he’s well aware of the prejudice the newly resurrected face. He’s not only out of place but out of time.

I think she can understand that.

I wanted to make a point there about Chris’s self-indulgence beyond the longing that drove him to invent the tuner in the first place. He’s a creature of privilege whose ability to indulge his own desires without question has never been challenged. When it is, he bristles, but since he’s good at heart, I let him embrace the opportunity to widen his view, which is what we all should be doing.

ESPECIALLY RIGHT NOW. Viruses have no nationality, y’all.

As a cishet white woman (who isn’t a ghost — yet), discrimination is not likely to affect me. Nobody is profiling me or trying to deport me. My only experience of marginalization is being female in a male-centric world and dyscalculic in a math-centered one. I don’t face death and abuse every time I walk out the door.

I couldn’t leave out people who aren’t like me entirely, because they exist, in my world and in Chris’s. When I wrote this book, I knew less than I do now, and I know less today than I will tomorrow. Every day is a chance to learn.

For now, staying in my lane felt like the safe choice and the most respectful one. I’d rather hear those stories from the people who lived them.

Book 2 will feature more Hannah. And lest you think I fridged Josh, he will return. I have plans for him.

At some point, I’ll have a job again and when I do, perhaps I’ll have enough money to do a Goodreads giveaway. They charge for that and it’s not cheap.

In the meantime, listen to the Toilet Paper Knight — stay home and stay safe!!

He’s not the hero we deserve, but he’s the one we need right now.

What I’ve Learned (So Far) from Self-Publishing My Book

If you follow this blog, you probably know by now that I said “F*ck it,” and put Tunerville up on Amazon (see Buy Me! page). Someone posted a review already, and it was a good one. Thanks, mysterious internet reader!

I’ve learned a few things and probably have a lot more to learn. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

How to do various things in GIMP

GIMP is the freeware version of Adobe Photoshop. It probably has a different interface — I don’t know, since I can’t afford to even kiss the hem of Adobe’s garments. But the concepts of image manipulation are the same.

Someday I hope to approach the magnificence that is this guy.

I found a wonderful image free for commercial use that really seemed to capture the book. I googled a zillion ways to make the lettering look good, and armed with a picture and some knowledge, I designed both an ebook and paperback cover.

The latter was a complete nightmare.

First, I had to figure out how to wrap the picture around the spine. When I thought I had it down, I made my cover, but I used the wrong template for the number of pages. The Amazon publishing platform rejected it twice before I figured that out. Yes, I had to start all over again. More than once.

But it turned out pretty good!

This is a proof copy. The inside still needed a bit of work.
The back.

And the spine. Ignore my hipster headphones in the background.

I was pretty impressed with the quality of the paper, too. It’s print-on-demand, so if you order a copy, they crank one out and send it to you. This means I do not have to ship them out of my mum’s garage.

When you do this, you have to do EVERYTHING by yourself

Although I ran the cover design by someone, I made it all alone. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing walks you through almost everything, but it can’t answer all questions. They have customer service. I called them once and they called me back. But my phone died temporarily, and I missed the call. Fortunately, I figured out the issue by myself.

Making the inside look good also took work. You can find folks on Fiverr and other e-lance platforms who will help you, but I didn’t have any money for that. I used their guidelines and a template and lots of advice from Derek Murphy at Creativeindie. Thanks, Derek!

Despite it being mostly free, to do it right still cost me money

Sure, I could have just published an ebook for nothing on Amazon and raked in my tiny royalties. But I wanted to do a paperback, since the more formats you have, the more readers you can reach. To do that, I had to get an ISBN, or International Standard Book Number.

If you don’t know what that is, it’s the identifier distributors, booksellers, libraries, etc. use to identify and find your book. Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t require one for ebooks, but you need one for a physical book, even print-on-demand. While Amazon will give you one for free, it’s limited. You can only use that ISBN on their platform.

Bowker has a monopoly on ISBNs and is the only place you can get them in the U.S. No, it’s not super cheap. If you buy one, it’s $125. If you buy ten, it’s $295. The more you buy, the cheaper the unit price for each number. As you can imagine, publishers get them in bulk.

I bought ten so I could use one for the ebook and one for the paperback. This means the numbers belong to me, not Amazon, forever. And I have eight more for future editions or anything else I want to crank out. They never expire, but I cannot reuse any of them.

Of course, this cost money that I couldn’t really spare. Here’s hoping I can make it back in sales.

Speaking of sales…

I don’t know jack about marketing

I made a dumb AF book trailer (seriously, it’s hilariously stupid) and a friend who has a Roku channel that plays old horror B-movies and other assorted weird stuff offered to play it. He said they have 20,000 viewers. Hey, one of them might buy it. You never know.

Here’s the trailer. Someday I’m going to look back on this and cringe. Probably tomorrow.

Besides trailers, you have to talk up your book on social media. You have to make an author page at Goodreads (I did). You have to solicit reviews, because if you don’t have any, Amazon will think you suck and yank you. That’s the part that freaks me out a little, approaching people I don’t know and asking them to read my crap.

Someone posted a 4-star review at Amazon and I was elated (thank you!). Before that, the poor thing was alone, naked, and afraid.

Kind of ironic for a book about ghosts.

If you don’t have a website or a blog or any kind of following, it’s going to be a lot harder to sell books. I advise writers, even traditionally published ones, to get on the damn internet and create a social media presence. It’s important not only to post but to engage with followers. Follow people back (check them out first, obviously), like and retweet/share, connect with industry folks.

This isn’t what I wanted, but it’s what I needed

I wrote the sequel to this book a year ago. But since then, I’ve been stuck. Part of that had to do with the endless, agonizing job hunt and the major decision to sell out and move. I didn’t want to do it with Amazon, either, but using my own ISBNs gives me a little more flexibility.

I’ve spent so much time getting this to the book I wanted it to be, but I found myself re-editing after writing the sequel. Now the story is fixed and I can move on and quit mucking with it. Plus, since things are awful right now, it gave me a much-needed boost of self-esteem. I DID something, y’all.

If you’re thinking about publishing a book this way, I would definitely do the following:

1. Read as much as you can about it. I’ll share some links that helped me.

2. Let go of your expectations. You’re very unlikely to get famous this way. If you’re entrepreneurial, you might make a little money.

3. Make sure you have a great product. Don’t just slap your trunk novel up. Choose your best work.

4. Do not let a book out into the wild without getting another person, preferably a professional editor, to look it over. You’re competing with professionally produced books.

5. If you can afford it, hire a cover designer. It was a no-go for me, unfortunately. I just did the best I could.

Would I have preferred traditional publishing? Yes. Am I still going after it? Of course, with something else. But I did it, and you can read it now, and that’s the most important thing.

Links:

How to Get an ISBN: An Author’s Guide For All Things ISBN

Writing Your Book’s Back-Cover Copy

Sarra Cannon’s Self-Pub Guides

What’s Your Book Marketing Plan? 6 Crucial Steps to Include

And if you’re committed to looking for a small press rather than going it alone, Writer Beware has your back.

Victoria Strauss — Precautions for Small Press Authors