"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is there a new trend on the horizon?

I am forever telling my husband, "I had the strangest dream last night." He replies by staring at me, waiting a beat, then saying, "Stranger than the last strangest dream you 'ever' had?" He might air-quote the 'ever.' This doesn't deter me from announcing that every unusual dream I have is the strangest one.

That being said...

Last night truly was the strangest dream I've ever had. I can only remember one other dream that approaches it, and that one was a psychological self-realization in two acts, a divine A-HA.

This dream was strange in a different way. First of all, I wasn't playing myself in it. I was a young girl, late teens to early twenties. I can't tell you much more about my character, except I seemed to have long, blonde hair, which had nothing to do with anything that I can think of.

In my dream, Poseidon's son fell in love with me.This didn't work for me for a couple of reasons. For one thing, I lived on land and could not see a future, well, under the sea. For another thing, I already had a boyfriend, the son of another, lesser god (don't remember who). I don't know that I was crazy in love with him, but at least our dates didn't result in drowning, or pruney fingertips.

Poseidon's son was not to be deterred. He kidnapped me and took me to his home in the ocean. As he pulled me into the tide, I protested that I couldn't breathe underwater. He turned (I still see the smile on his face) and said, "I've given you gills so you can marry me and we can live together forever."

We dove into the water and it felt like I was drowning but not drowning, because my brain was telling me I couldn't breathe water while my gills were taking over and letting me breathe water. There was a very visceral feeling of all this in my throat and nose - even in my ears. It was unpleasant, let me tell you.

My boyfriend tried to rescue me, but as I awoke, Poseidon's son was threatening to take my gills away if my boyfriend didn't leave. If he couldn't have me, he would drown me. My last thought before opening my eyes was to pray to Poseidon to step in and save me from his son.

After pondering on it for a day, I'm now starting to wonder... could some YA author replace the romance of vampires/werewolves/sparkly-but-evil-paranormal-creatures with Greek gods? How about mer-men?

P.S. Aren't I right? That was a weird dream.

Monday, January 30, 2012

I am the quirk

I'm about three weeks into my 90-day trial of the Kindle Select Program with Are You There Erma? It's Me Gayle. Granted, it's early, but I thought I'd give you all a status report.

I did a five-day promotion. The bad news? I only gave away 535 copies. I suppose that's a lot, but I read about all these authors who give away thousands, yea, tens of thousands, so I was a little disappointed. The good news? In addition to those, I gave away about 150 copies on Amazon UK and 2 copies in Germany. The bad news? I did get one review on Amazon UK, saying my book was so wretched, the reviewer was glad they didn't pay for it. The good news? Since then, I've sold about 10 more copies in the UK and suddenly 3 copies of What Would Erma Do? Perhaps my humor does translate across the Pond.

As far as my American Amazon, after the promotion, the hype, the being #2 on the Humor>Family & Parenting AND the Humor>Essays list for free books, Are You There Erma sunk like a rock. Then, a couple of days later, I sold several more copies and got back up on the nonfree lists. Then this weekend, I'm a rock again. A big, heavy one, sinking, sinking...

One of the enticements of Kindle Select is their "lending program." Every time your book is loaned to someone else, you earn a percentage of their lending fund. This month it's $700,000, which is a big chunk-o-change if you're not in competition with, oh, two bazillion other authors. So far, it's a moot point for me, since I haven't loaned out a single copy yet.

Like I say, it's early yet, so things might turn around. Or they may just stay the same. Or all those people who got my book for free will write wretched reviews comparing my wit to that of a rock's. It doesn't bother me on a professional level, but I do wonder about that "any publicity is good publicity" belief.

While Erma was climbing, I got all a-tingle and decided to make the break with the rest of my books. Unpublished them from Smashwords and sat around, waiting for them to be removed from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple, and all the little e-bookeries. Finally, they were free, so I enrolled them all in Kindle Select. And then...

I found out from a fellow author (and I verified this in the fine print of the T&C) that while your books are in the Kindle Select Program, you are not allowed to have them in any digital form anywhere else, including excerpts on your own webpage or blog.


I considered, for a moment, hunting down and deleting all my excerpts everywhere. After the dizziness passed, I did what any other thinking control freak would do: I un-enrolled my other books. I realize Amazon is trying to make their select work "exclusive", but I'm not in the mood to have them tell me I can't post a paragraph from Clean Sweep here, or a story from What Would Erma Do there, or a chapter of Hit or Missus every Sunday or so.

They're back on Smashwords, and will be re-populating the e-book stores soon, at 99 cents.

Like I said, it's still early in my experiment, and I may be pleasantly surprised, but I truly jumped the gun with my other books. Lesson learned.

In the meantime, I'm learning another lesson. This one is about myself. I want to continue writing and putting out books. I love to meet potential readers, and I am a good at explaining what my books are about. I got great hooks. But I am not good at promoting my books, and here's why:

1. I don't want to sell you a book I think you won't like. If you only read about vampires, or only non-fiction, you will not only waste your time reading my book, you'll be pissy with me for selling you on it.  If you like humorous mysteries, I want you to read mine. If you read it and don't like it, I sincerely want to know why. If you don't like mysteries, read mine and don't like it, um, okay, did you not know it's a mystery? I'd like your money, but I'm not going to trade my soul for it.

2. It annoys me to No End to see other authors crowing about where their books are on the charts or the great review they just got. It's not jealousy. I have some great reviews. My books are not suffering. I make money every month on them. I've actually tried it myself, but each time it left a nasty taste in my mouth, even though I know I should be doing it. I don't know whether it's my Midwestern Baptist fear of looking too prideful (my mother's favorite verse: "Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall"), or whether at my roots I consider writing a job. I mean, how many times do you see a welder post about how great his welding workmanship is?

It's a rather horrid lesson to learn, because now I either have to figure out how to get past it all or I have to hire someone to promote my work the way I should be doing it. One way or another, it's going to cost me, either in therapy or paying wages.

Does anyone else have this problem, of recoiling at that moment when you should be extending your hand with a book in it, saying, "You'll love this"? Do I have to learn to be a psychopath so I can shout out, "Look at me - I'm on top of the world"?

Or am I just the quirky girl in the room?

Friday, January 27, 2012

True confessions

I think maybe I'll do a true confession post once a week.

One of mine is to be like this chick, down to the melodrama.

I want to walk like her and talk like her and do my makeup and hair and clothes like her. Problem is, if I did, I wouldn't look like her at all.

I'd look like the whore of Babylon.

Come and whisper in my ear, what's your deepest desire?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Amazon, schmamazon

In theory, I should despise Amazon. They are the Wal-Mart of the Internet, offering goods and services at such low prices, they decimate any mom-and-pop endeavors in the area, blighting towns and only hiring part-time employees so they don't have to offer any benefits. Amazon is out to rule the world, and so far, it seems that nothing will stop them.

And yet.

As an author, I'm damned happy they exist. I've uploaded my books on Kindle and created paperbacks on CreateSpace, and they are for sale in the Amazon store nearly immediately. Amazon lets me set up an Author's page, where people can come and see if I'm legit or just a fly-by-night, one-trick-writer, full of typos and horrid grammar. They make it easy for me to get my books to market, and they pay me monthly. Yes. Monthly.

Let's consider the rest of the industry: Barnes & Noble, Sony, Apple, Kobo, blah-blah-blah. At Barnes & Noble, we have the PubIt! feature, but I can't set up an author's page and they pay every 60 days. I can't figure out how to even load my own books on the rest, except to go through Smashwords. Don't misunderstand - Smashwords is a great vehicle for uploading to all e-readers, but I'm only paid a month after every quarter end.

Not as friendly as Amazon.

As much as I love people of all e-races and e-readers to have access to my books, I tallied last year's numbers and saw that I did less than 10% of my total sales on all non-Kindle devices put together.

So I'm trying an experiment. I've signed up for the Kindle Select Lending Program, for my newest book, "Are You There Erma? It's Me Gayle". For 90 days, this book will only be available on Kindle. For the next FIVE days, it is being offered as a free promotion.

This is day one, and it's at #1,093 in the Free Kindle Store, #3 in Humor, Essays and #4 in Humor, Parenting and Families. It feels a little icky to be handing out all these free copies, but we'll see how the free rankings help my sales once the free promotion shine wears off.

If it gives this book the boost I'm hoping for, I may have to go with nothing but Kindle for all my books. Sorry, Nook-folks, iReaders, Sony-ites. It's all Amazon's fault. They're treating me too nicely.

And for all you Kindlings, you've got til Friday to get Are You There Erma? It's Me Gayle. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hit or Missus - Chapter 10

It's a short chapter this week, but it turned out to be an important one. I'll discuss after you read.

* * * * *


The six o'clock alarm stabbed Peri's temples as she flung her hand about, trying to stop the beeping. Skip was already up. She walked past him to the bathroom, then returned to stand in front of her closet, willing herself a new wardrobe. If she had to follow Nikki Keller into any highbrow places, she didn't own anything that would meet their standards.

"Up early Doll?"


He paused at the shower door, looking at her. "And you don't have a thing to wear, I suppose."

"Hmm, you could say that." She reached in and selected a pair of olive slacks and a beige top. If I can't be stylish, she thought, I'll at least be invisible.

Skip emerged from the bathroom as she pulled her cement-colored ball cap over her hair.

"See you tonight?"

He shook his head. "Teaching class tonight. How about tomorrow?"


Peri drove two blocks before she realized he didn't kiss her good-bye. Or was it her who didn't kiss him?

Once parked outside the Keller enclave, she didn't have time to think about her love life. Nikki was out early, her convertible flying low, around the corner and across Alta Vista Street, to the country club. Peri hung well back, staying outside the gates until she saw the little blonde dash into the building. She parked her Honda in between two grey sedans and waited.

I need to get in there and see what she's doing, Peri thought. This waiting outside will not get me any information.

She watched the maintenance workers move about the club. Sturdy Hispanic men in green work clothes and massive boots, they raked at gardens, carried trash barrels, and walked around with leaf blowers to clear the refuse out of the parking lot. A man drove a golf cart around the clubhouse and left the gate open.

"Too bad I'm not a cleaning woman anymore," Peri said. "Looks like the only way I'd get in here."

A black cat slunk from under the bushes. It stopped and glared at her, and then dashed away. With a few graceful leaps, it crossed the pavement and disappeared onto the golf course. As she watched it, Peri thought about Mr. Mustard and had an idea. She got out of the car and walked toward the open gate.

Nobody seemed to notice her as she slipped onto the grounds. She stayed on the path, taking slow steps and looking for Nikki. By the time she had reached the corner of the clubhouse, she spotted her target.

They were almost completely obscured by a grove of silver-barked trees, but Nikki appeared to be having an intimate conversation with a man, punctuated by lengthy kisses. Peri wished she could take out her camera and use the telephoto lens, but she had left it in the car, thinking it might look too obvious. She could possibly take a picture with her cell phone, but they were too far away.

A few golfers were just beginning to populate the greens. They gave Peri pleasant, if confused, smiles as they passed. She knew she didn't have much time before someone asked her where her clubs were and, by the way, what was she doing there. Continuing on the path, she kept the clandestine couple in her peripheral vision.

Finally, she saw them come up for air, and with one, last kiss, they parted. Peri turned to move back down the path, away from Nikki's advance, and ran into the golfer behind her. He was an older man, in crisp chinos and a striped jersey polo, pulling a wheeled cart full of golf clubs. She planted her feet and put her hands forward against his shoulders, to steady them both. The golf cart rattled, but stayed upright.

"I'm so sorry," she told him.

"No problem," he said, then looked her in the face. "Are you a new member?"

"Actually, no, I'm looking for my cat. I saw her jump over the fence here, and they said I could take a quick look for her. I get so worried about coyotes, you know."

"Oh, I hope you find her."

"Thank you, sir."

"I hate cats." He continued down the walkway. "They crap in the flower gardens."

Whatever, she thought, and looked around for Nikki's mysterious kisser. The cat-hating man had actually done her a favor; Mr. Kisser had just reached the path in front of her. Peri stepped forward with her best "help me" smile.

"Excuse me, but I'm looking for my cat. Did you see a little black kitty run past here?"

He was young, somewhere in his twenties, tanned and cute in that boy band way. His hair was dark, his eyes were hazel, and his teeth nearly blinded Peri when he opened his mouth to speak.

"I have seen a black cat around, but I haven't seen it today. Is it yours?"

"Yes, I live around the corner and he keeps getting out."

"I'd love to let you look around more, but we've reached our tee times and I can't let you out on the course. You might get hit by a ball."

"Oh, okay. Do you work here?"

He smiled again. "Yes, ma'am, I give lessons here."

"Oh, you're the golf pro?"

He stretched himself up a bit taller. "I have been certified by the Professional Golf Teachers Association of America."

"I'm sure you have." She smiled back. "You know, I've always wanted to learn to play golf. Where would I go, if I couldn't afford the greens fees here?"

"I'd try the Birch Hills Golf Course. It's public, and the instructor there is a friend of mine. Tell him Tyler Garvey sent you."

"Tyler Garvey," Peri repeated. "Thanks, I'll tell him."

She followed the path back to the side gate, but it was locked, so she turned around to find a door into the clubhouse. The walkway was deceiving; it looked as though it followed the curve of the building, but it took a turn away and wound up and around a putting green, before settling back to the exit. Peri didn't want to get caught on the path, but figured she'd be in more trouble if she traipsed across the well-manicured grass, so she kept moving along the paved trail. At the top of the slope, she stopped to look at the course.

It really was lovely, for a golf course. Rolls of emerald green carpet with outlined patches of beige, and rounds of lighter green, punctuated by flags. Off to the right was a pond. Peri thought she saw a fountain spray in the middle of it.

She was enjoying the view, when she heard the whooshing sound of an object cutting through air. A sharp pain at the back of her skull pushed her onto her knees and into darkness.

* * * * *

Ouch! As I said before, this was an important chapter for me. As I was writing it, all according to my outline, I got bored. And I thought, if I'm bored, I'm certainly boring my readers.

That's when I hit Peri in the head with a golf club. Of course, she doesn't know it's a golf club, unfortunately. In my first draft, I ended the chapter with the following: "She didn't see the golf club until it hit her."

Totally cool sentence, except I'm in Peri's POV (point of view), so she wouldn't know what hit the back of her head, would she?

Another fine use of language, pissed away.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The teenaged pulse

I checked into my own blog today to see if any of my friends had posted anything interesting on their blogs and found a bunch of stuff to appeal to my writing career and one post from Ali ranting about people substituting Z for S because they think it's cute and she thinks it's criminally insane. As you can tell, that's the one I read (and agree with, by-the-by) and none of this has a thing to do with my post today except that it's easy to get distracted when you really should be working.

What I planned to talk about on today's post is that I'm writing the third mystery and am, as always, trying to get it believable (getting it "correct" is something we'll leave alone). This particular story line involves a group of teenaged boys, including Blanche Debussy's son, Nick. For the uninformed, Blanche is my protagonist's best friend. Picture Suzanne Pleshette, make her a coroner, and that's Blanche.

Although I do remember being a teenager, I've never been a teenaged boy. But my son has. Technically, at 19, he still is. So I tried to get some information out of him that could help fortify my teen characters.

"My victim is a 17-year old boy," I began. "He breaks into a house with his friends, the house catches fire, and he dies. Now the detectives are in his room, looking for reasons for him to be in that house. What would his room look like?"

*insert crickets chirping*

"A room doesn't define an individual, Mom."

"I know that, but, like, would he be into World of Warcraft? Would he have posters on the walls? What kind of music would he like?"

"How would I know? You sound like there should be a stereotype."

"No, I don't want a cliche." I tried again. "I don't want to have him listening to last year's music, or playing games that aren't popular. In general, teens like to do what's popular with their crowd."

"Not all teens."

I was beginning to understand why Peri never had kids. "Listen to the first two words of that sentence. 'In. General.' Not 'All Teens All The Time.'"

Gradually, with much cajoling, I found out that the boy would have posters of First Person Shooter games and probably listens to a genre of music called Dubstep. Originally, I was going to have Marcus read my first chapter, but after my verbal head-banging incident, I'm not certain if that's a wise idea.

So I'm going to let you read it. Let me know what you think. Has this young fictitious boy become real to you, or is he still a little Pinocchio?

* * * * *

Cool, sparkly.

The drugs swept the teenager's mind, swirling the ceiling above him until it was nothing but darkness from which stars pulsed. He reached out for a handful but they eluded his grasp, preferring to settle on his fingertips. He smiled, the corners of his mouth feeling stretched away from their usual pout.

Dad complains I'm grumpy, but it's his fault. He barely speaks to me, anyway. Good thing. "Why can't you just," whatever, it's all he ever says. Straighten up, go to school, be normal. What for?

Mom's always telling me how she understands, she was just like me, blah blah blah. What does she know? She doesn't know what school is like, all those crappy teachers, whining crappy assignments. Homework is useless. I already know what I want to know. If I don't, it's because it's boring.

My friends are all I've got, but they're all I need.

He scowled, his hand lowering to his chest. These guys hung out with him because his parents were so generous. Mom and Dad fed them, let them swim in the pool, and were kind enough to leave beer where they could get at it. He supplied the video games and kept his parents at bay by apologizing each time the bar was raided.

These drugs are fine, def wicked. His body felt better than it ever had. For several minutes, he focused on his breath. He felt his bones move apart to give the air somewhere to go, then relax back into each other when he no longer needed that gulp. In… out… in… out…

Dylan said it was some kind of cocktail. Alex giggled. Cock. Tail. Cock tail. He laughed out loud. That Dylan was a riot.

His hallucination shifted, from night to day. Now he saw blue skies and white clouds above him. Reaching up to a cloud, he felt velvet run through his fingers, and saw a trail of white follow his hand.

The clouds in front of him began to turn grey and dirty. The air coagulated in a brown haze around him. His ribs no longer spread, although his lungs fought for oxygen. The air they drew in smelled of smoke and stung all the way down. He coughed himself out of the dream and looked around.

The room was dark and unknown to him. He remembered; this was not his home. They had broken into this place, thinking it was abandoned. Each over-filled room told them they were wrong, but no one was home, so they explored it before the white powder and whiskey took effect. Alex had ended up in what looked like an old lady's bedroom. A vanity held fancy glass bottles, and a porcelain doll nestled in the pillows that were covered by a tufted bedspread.

He heard his name being called. "Alex. Hey, Alex."

Opening his mouth to answer, he coughed again. The air was getting thicker with smoke. He saw shadows pass by the doorway, and tried again, but his throat was too raw for noise. One of the shadows paused.

"Dude, we gotta get out of here," it said, then coughed.

"Come on." Dylan's voice sounded hoarse but loud. "Alex is probably already out."

He didn't hear anything after that, so he rolled to his stomach and began to crawl. The smoke swirled around his body, much like the imaginary stars. He wished the smoke was the illusion.

Dragging his body around the corner of the room, he looked down the hallway. Red-hot light sizzled upon his face. He backed into the bedroom again and saw curtains. With an effort, he pushed to his hands and knees and scooted to the lacy ruffles. He pulled them open and yanked on the window. It was locked.

The room continued to fill with smoke and heat. His breathing felt like a fish gasping for water, and his head grew light. He felt around the frame, searching for a latch. Finding one, he slid it, the only direction it would go, and felt the window casing spring up. He reached both hands forward to remove the screen and slide to safety.

Wow, am I going to have a story to tell the guys.

That's when he felt the security bars. His last bit of effort was to grab them and prove their immobility. He slid down, to the floor beneath the window, and listened to the pretty glass bottles exploding on the vanity, as they shattered from the heat. Rolling to his side, he looked at the shards on the carpet, lit by the flames around the doorway.

He reached out his hand to them, sparkling like stars.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

I'm writing! I'm writing!

I'm in full metal author mode today and, having wrestling a scene to the ground, can now plow ahead with all the characters doing what they do naturally, within the environment I've given them.

So why am I here instead?

Because I need to know if anyone else who writes about present day is having problems incorporating the latest technology into their stories. In particular, consider the humble phone.

In De Olde Days, your character picked up the receiver and dialed a number. When they had completed their call, they hung up the phone.

Now everyone has cell phones. No one picks up the receiver, they dig the phone out of their purse or pocket. They somehow search for the number, or enter the number in their Dialer, and press SEND. When it's over, they press END. 

It's not a particularly seamless way to describe a character having a phone conversation. As a matter of fact, every time I write about someone talking on the cell phone, I feel like I'm working overtime to make the mechanics of the call invisible to the reader. I'm constantly trying to find new ways of describing Peri retrieving her phone from her tote, not to mention having to throw out the casual SENDing and ENDing of calls.

The worst part, of course, is that no one can slam the receiver down in anger. It's hard to show the Call That Ends Badly.

Is anyone else having this problem, or am I just showing my advancing age?

Monday, January 2, 2012

Goals! Get 'em while they're hot!

I really do think New Year's resolutions are silly. People make and break them right and left. Seriously, I'll bet half of you are barely hanging onto half of the promises you made on January 1st.

Still, I love to see the new year and think that I will do great things with these 365 days. And this year I get an extra day! Whatever will I do with all those hours?

Usually, I make my NYR's in a rather darkened room, or at least a shady one, where they never see the light of day. In other words, I keep them to myself. This way, if I break a resolution, there is no one to point at me and say, "Hey, didn't you resolve to do x instead of y?"

Except for me, and I'm quite taunting enough.

This year, I decided to make my resolutions a little louder. As in, I'm putting them in this blog post. I could just write them in my own private journal, but no, I'm going to shout them at the world. Okay, at my 74 followers.

Without further ado, here are my resolutions, nay - my goals, for 2012:

1. Health: I am a little overweight, but more importantly, my blood pressure is higher than it should be. Not hypertensive high, just uppity. So I've already implemented a three-part plan. One, I'm reading and following the DASH Diet, learning how to make smarter choices when I eat. Two, I'm walking Duffy once a day, for anywhere between 30 minutes and an hour. Three, I downloaded a cool app for my phone called MyFitnessPal (it's also a website). I can record what I eat, how much I exercise, weigh, etc.

Probability of success: I've already been doing this since December 2 and have lost 7 pounds. The last week has been difficult with all the Christmas/New Year's excesses, but I think I've emerged intact and still working toward my goal (17 total pounds lost). I consider my blood pressure non-negotiable, so I have to make this work.

2. Writing: I'm going to write every day, even if it's only one sentence and I'm too drunk to use a verb. I downloaded this stupid little "calendar" from The Writer's Store - it's just a bunch of boxes with 1-365 written in them and "Don't Break the Chain" at the top. Before you think I've lost my mind, it was free and downloadable. I figure, I like to make lists and cross things off, right? So I should love making red X's to cross of each day that I write.

Probability of success: It's January 2nd and I've written for two days. Not bad, eh?

3. General: I'm going to plan my week better. When I was younger, I kept my schedule in my head. As I got more involved at work and with my son's school, I started keeping a calendar of where I had to be and when. Then, when Marcus went off to college, my calendar dipped to just showing appointments, concerts, and meetings. This is why some days I get a lot done and some days I sit and spin my wheels. I need to list my tasks for the week and plan my work, including my writing.

Probability of success: Pray for me.

Oh, yeah, just to properly usher in the new year, I freshened up my website. How do I look?

What are your resolutions? Anything fun?

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