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Monday, January 31, 2011

Book Length as Cultural Index

At the beginning of January,  Goodreads released a list of "Books of 2010," obtaining votes from users for a list of pre-selected tomes as well as a few write-in winners. And so we confirm yet again that there are too may wonderful books to ever read.

I noticed a strange trend. Most of the most voted-for books were over 500 pages long, and many of these were mere parts of a series, meaning that the entire story would run thousands of pages. For some reason, I remembered English classes in grade school, which were just one long string of students complaining about how many pages the assigned books were. When we had to read Great Expectations, only the abridged version was required. Those of us who were curious enough to read the uncut version may have received extra credit just for intrepidness.

Are these people who would read the unabridged Dickens the same ones driving the voting for Goodreads' Best Books? Maybe they consider themselves "serious readers," who have to set themselves apart by reading epic tomes just for fun.

The long book phenomenon may have something to do with publishers, whose biggest cost is actually the paper the book is printed on. A shorter book doesn't generally become cheap enough for publishers to lower the price to meet consumers' expectations. And so, publishers choose to print longer works that make the readers feel they're getting their money's worth of paper and words.

Not to mention that series become addictive, and sales of one volume in a series boosts the next volume's sales, etc.

Another trend we've seen in the last few months is the increasing popularity of e-readers and thus, e-books. Obviously, paper costs are not an issue for e-books. Publishers can cut the prices significantly while delivering less traditional lengths of quality writing. Shorter books might have a fighting chance! I think that's the logic behind Amazon's recent announcement of a new category in e-books:

"Each Kindle Single presents a compelling idea--well researched, well argued, and well illustrated--expressed at its natural length."

"Natural length" here is defined as 5,000 to 30,000 words. I've always valued economy in writing: getting the most out of each word, making extra ones unnecessary. So I welcome the advent of this new category with open arms.

Tree/House fits neatly into the Single category. I'm not too snobbish to say that I valued a fast read without excess a full two years ago, when I, a publishing pioneer, first made Tree/House available to the Kindle reading public. I've waited patiently for the novella form to again fall into favor. Thanks to you, users of e-readers, it's well on its way! 

The best-selling novella, Tree/House: Now Unveiled in Its Proper Place as a Kindle Single! Thank you so much for reading. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

"Unpredictable Factors" as an Educational Piece, Plus! Check Out My New Site

When "Unpredictable Factors in Human Obedience" was published in Bewildering Stories, I was pleasantly surprised to see it featured in Issue 414's "Challenge." The editor's observations, implied in the questions he posed, showed a degree of insight that not only flattered me as a writer, but also got me thinking about the story in completely new ways.

I now believe that "Unpredictable Factors" could be used in the classroom as a jumping-off point for discussions of professional ethics. The story presents both the education and science research sectors and would surely result in some great critical thinking. So, please suggest to the story to any rhetoric, reading or writing instructors you may know.

Here, I've adapted the editor's questions as possible discussion points.

  • What political or cultural statement does the story imply?

  • Even if Emily Mattheson weren’t a schoolteacher, she ought to know better than to do what she does. How is she characterized?
    As a hardened criminal?
    As a sociopath?
    As a terrorist? 
    As an opportunist? (As the author, I vote for this one!)
    As a naive and careless incompetent? (This one works, too.)

  • What other endings might the story have?

  • Why might the author choose to avoid having the story associated in any way with her business plans?

    I would like to take this opportunity to announce that I have finally been able to obtain my own domain name:! When I get the site up and running, it will include book club guides and fully developed teaching tools for my fun and meaningful stories, among many other wonderful things. I am in need of some funding before this can be realized, however. Please take a moment to take advantage of the never-again-lower, limited-time price of Tree/House in Kindle edition. Or make the decision now to add the paperback to your library. As everyone knows, Tree/House is the most desired novella among book clubs. All proceeds will go directly into a fund for site hosting. Ever wanted to be a philanthropist? I will even put your name on a donor page! Thanks!

  • Wednesday, January 26, 2011

    My Humble Book Club Hit is Now a HUGE Bargain, Update

    Thanks to and the wonderful support of you, my readers, I have sold 40 digital copies of Tree/House since it was put up on the site. It's important to note that since I get a lower royalty when the price is reduced, I would have to sell 245 more copies in order to fully fund the website venture the way I would like to. But it's also important to note that the Kindle edition will remain at 99 cents only through January 31.

    Anyone who's splurged for the deluxe print edition, contact me for a free bookmark and who knows what else!

    I hope you enjoy the story! Leave a note on Amazon or Goodreads if you do. Thank you! I'll put you in the website acknowledgments.

    Monday, January 24, 2011

    My Humble Book-Club Hit is Now a HUGE Bargain

    Tree/House has made it onto the amazing site! As of 8 pm tonight (PST, 9 pm for me and 11 pm EST), you can find the listing. Click on it and buy in Kindle edition, and you'll help these bargain-hunting gals maintain their incredible public service. If you're new to e-reading, Daily Cheap Reads has informative and easy-to-follow guides and suggestions. You'll never build a library so inexpensively again.

    Click on the ad here and buy the book in any edition and you'll help me continue providing you with fun blogs and great reads.

    The price will never get lower, and it's for a limited time.

    All proceeds will go toward building my new site,

    Tell all your friends!

    Tree/House goes over really well in book clubs. Ask me for classroom tools, teachers! I'm also looking for talent to make a movie version.

    Sunday, January 23, 2011

    Learning in College

    A recent article from the AP, "Student tracking finds limited learning in college," reported on a study of university-level learning. The findings ranged all over, but focused on a potentially depressing trend in college students to just not try very hard. Because of this general lack of effort, they didn't learn a whole lot while attending these universally expensive institutions.

    Failing to learn anything in college is a terrible waste of time, money, and a spot in a university program. But the only reason the study found trends is that learning is a personal effort. My anecdotal evidence is that there are not a lot of people willing to work hard for any reason, much less for something so intangible as the ability to think critically. The anecdote is supported by two of the findings cited in the article:

    • Students who studied alone, read and wrote more, attended more selective schools and majored in traditional arts and sciences majors posted greater learning gains.
    • Social engagement generally does not help student performance. Students who spent more time studying with peers showed diminishing growth and students who spent more time in the Greek system had decreased rates of learning, while activities such as working off campus, participating in campus clubs and volunteering did not impact learning.

    In plain English: nerds do better. They do better because they have a personal commitment to making the effort to learn. The commitment makes them prioritize learning, thinking, and growing intellectually over all the cited social activities. It makes them read and write more than others, and for that reason many of them can attend more selective schools. 
    I was a nerd throughout my schooling, but I never realized it at the time, because my priority was to learn and to get everything I could out of my educational opportunities. I had a few friends with the same priorities as me, and I didn't care what anyone else was doing. I never compared myself, negatively or positively, with the "popular" kids, because they obviously didn't have the core value of love of learning that I had. There was no basis for comparison. 
    Whether nerds' personal commitment to learning comes from within or from something environmental is up for debate. I would suggest that, if the government is concerned with producing more smart people, someone should look into what makes those "nerds," who put out the effort to learn, want to do so. Because when it comes to learning, wanting it badly enough to work for it is the only secret. 

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Music and Inspiration

    As the speaker began her narrative of politics and intrigue, a piano at the front of the café began a driving, tense melody. She couldn't help but pause her story and say, "What perfect timing!" I'm pretty sure the player had not been listening to the conversation.

    The musical coincidences didn't stop there. When we began coming up with sentences for a group story about the end of the world, the pianist contributed a somber dirge. The player moved on to other amusements after that, and we worked in silence for the rest of the workshop' gathering, but the incident reminded me of the role music can play in any creative effort.

    The piano playing certainly influenced me to make a downbeat ending out of what the group had started. I'm permeable like that. I love music, and I find that if I'm listening to something as I write, it has an impact on the writing. On the other hand, if I write something entirely without music, the writing can come out a little bit deaf.

    When I was writing my dissertation, I had the advantage of being able to listen to recordings of the medieval songs, the Cantigas de Santa Maria, as I analyzed them. My dissertation was probably the most narrative-driven thesis in the history of the university, outside of the Creative Writing concentrators.

    During the formative stages of Tree/House, I read an interview with an author (I don't remember whom) who said that she needed to have vocal music in a language she couldn't understand in order to get the creative juices flowing. It couldn't be a language she understood because the lyrics would distract her with their narrative content. I took the suggestion, halfway, and began to play Cançons de la Catalunya mil.lenaria by Jordi Savall whenever I was seriously creating scenes, sentences, or characters for Tree/House. I say "halfway" because the lyrics on this disc are in historical Catalan, a language I can get the gist of in passing and understand fully when I pay attention. Did "El mestre," about a student in love with her tutor, have something to do with the creation of Franklin, the Shakespeare professor? Possibly. I can say with some certainty that the ghostly aspects of the story and the monster Franklin, post-wedding, had their origin in the chilling tale of "El comte Arnau," in which a phantasm count visits his widow and carries on ghoulish conversations with her.

    Emma's naive visions of love have some connection to "El fill del rei," in which a young woman can die of romantic passion. "El testament d'Amelia" provided references to last wills and set the tone for the way Emma languishes spiritually, as if terminally ill, until she gets help. On the other end of the spectrum, the reminiscences of a common thief in "Cançó del lladre" helped me make Geraldine's previous life a pleasure to share.

    Enjoy the listening samples of this enchanting disc to which Tree/House owes such a profound debt (see link at top). And take advantage of a limited-time lower price for the digital edition of Tree/House! Now only 99 cents! It can't go any lower! Seriously.

    Thursday, January 20, 2011

    El Novillero: Alternativa, part II

    I wrote this second Hemingway tribute the year after "Alternativa." I further developed the story, keeping the same characters as if it were the day after the first story took place. I think you'll notice a slight relaxation of the Hemingway features.

    This story also met with great acclaim, but only took third prize in the county writing contest this time around.

    A part three exists, but I'm not sure I want to include it here. Please opine in the comments if you'd like to see it. In the meantime, enjoy the further adventures of Raúl the cowardly torero.

    El Novillero

    It was a good bull, Raúl knew. It was large enough to impress the audience, large enough to look bad and fierce, but not so large that Raúl could not get his short arms over the horns.
    But his hands shook. When he moved them, he felt that the cape was wet with his perspiration. Perhaps if he had chosen a lighter color… but it was too late now.
    He looked up into the stands at Elena. She wore a black dress in the hot Madrid summer. It covered her wrists and neck and ankles. Her mantilla was black and it from a black comb. Raúl’s best friend had given Elena the comb. Two black presents. He had also given Raúl the bull.
    Ernesto had been an artful matador. This should have been Ernesto’s bull. The poster showed that this Wednesday was Ernesto’s alternativa, his first fight as a full matador. But now it belonged to Raúl. It was rightfully his.
    Possibly the bull did not understand this. Did it care that it belonged to Raúl and not to Ernesto? Possibly Elena did not care, either. The picadors did not care. This bull was for Ernesto, the most artful matador to have died a novillero. The most gifted torero to have died outside the ring. Possibly the audience did not know this.
    What they certainly did know was that Ernesto was the best novillero to have died with stomach pains and vomiting one day before his alternativa.
    Raúl shuddered. When he thought of Ernesto’s stomach pains and vomiting, he was sure that he felt the same right now. Sweat was trickling down the side of his cheek. Up in the stands, Elena could see the glistening and she was glad she did not know just how nervous he was because it had to be bad. She felt ashamed. In the hot black dress she remembered Ernesto and she wondered how it could be that he would die on the Tuesday before his alternativa. She was sitting just behind the bald critics with their sweaty shining heads and their yellow notebooks and their expensive pens. She wondered what they would write about Raúl, and then stopped because the question answered itself with looking at him.
    Ernesto had been an artful matador. The day the apoderado had come to town, Ernesto had impressed him. “I come to this town,” he said, “because it is the most forsaken town in Andalusia. We all know that the most forsaken towns have the best toreros in them!” All of the rich madrileños who had arrived with the apoderado laughed with him, because if anyone knew when the apoderado had told a joke, it was he.
    Raúl had thought, “Yes, it is true. The most forsaken towns have the most determined toreros because everyone knows the that the danger of the bullring is the only way to escape the poverty in Andalusia.”
    Raúl had danced for the man. The sun was glaring on him and he did his best work with the heifer and the heifer didn’t scare him because she wasn’t very brave. Then it was Ernesto’s turn and Ernesto glided the cape as well as he could around the cowardly heifer and he kept his body straight and fine and he did not sweat like Raúl had, even though both of them felt the Andalusian sun on their bare backs. Raúl thought he was feeling the blisters from the heat as he watched Ernesto. And then Ernesto was done.
    “That heifer will be fine meat,” said one of the rich madrileños, who was in the bull-buying business, “but she will never bear a brave son.” No one listened to him because no one listens to a person who speaks the obvious.
    Ernesto had stood next to Raúl and the apoderado had breathed in their faces. “This one,” he had said, looking at Ernesto with some unaccustomed respect, “will be a fine matador. This one has art.” The madrileños and Raúl and Ernesto and the heifer waited in silence for the rest of the judgment. For this had truly been judgment day. This had been the goal of the young men’s lives. This had been the purpose of all the training, the worrying, the breathing. Here it was.
    The apoderado was one inch from Raúl’s face. “This one,” he had said, “is artless. He is brave. But artless.” His yellowed eyes were staring into Raúl’s young ones. “He is determined. He will never be good enough for the ring. Never make him your understudy. He would kill his own brother to rob him of his place in it.” He glanced at Ernesto.
    Raúl had never had a brother. All he had ever had was his friend.
    The music was playing loudly in his ears, unlike the many times Raúl had heard it in his dreams. Distant then, it now took away his power to think. It took away Elena in the stands and it took away Ernesto. He forget that his friend was the reason he was wearing a black traje. Was this not Raúl’s alternativa? The alternativa of Raúl?
    The great fighter’s hands shook spasmodically, then the rest of his body. He leaned over and vomited. The vomit was the only moisture he had had in his mouth for a long time. Perhaps there had been no moisture since that last drink with his friend, and his friend had had his last drink. Raúl disgusted himself. This was his alternativa, but only be default. The apoderado knew.
    Elena watched the first matador without interest. The crowd was shouting “Olé!” and it was thundering in her ears. She looked at Raúl, waiting for his turn. The vomit had disgusted her. She wondered why she had not been not allowed to see Ernesto’s body. She didn’t think Raúl could hear the crowd at all. His heart was beating too loudly. Elena could not bear to look at him. Was it fear? Raúl had always been brave, even more so than Ernesto.
    There was blood on the sand and the horses dragged the first bull away. Raúl’s sunburned body was hunched slightly. No time passed at all before they dragged away the second bull and Raúl was marveling at the trickiness of time when reason invaded his clouded head and he knew that it was his turn. “You’re up, señorito!” one of the other matador’s banderillos was saying.
    “I know! I know!” Raúl answered disgustedly.
    He could feel the hot red sand distinctly through his black cloth slippers as he was walking all the way across the ring. He dedicated his fight to the wife of the owner of the ring, who was sitting on the front stands, by throwing his ceremonial cape up to her. He had explained to Elena that he would have to do this because it was his first full fight was a matador. Elena was sitting in the stands and she did not care if he dedicated his fight to the queen. Only Ernesto’s fight would have mattered. She clutched her rose so tightly that the thorns drew blood in her hand.
    Raúl’s arms were weakened by the vomiting and he was glad that the cape landed in the right place. The owner’s wife dutifully threw down her rose for him. He bent to pick it up and felt the acid slosh in and out of his stomach.
    His arms shook in a disgusted attempt to leave his body while he was standing and waiting and the bull was let out. It was a good bull. His trained eye studied its moves while the members of his cuadrilla did the first teasing. The picadors were behind Raúl on their horses and they were ready with their pics. Men were standing by to lead the bull away in case Raúl was gored.
    There it was. Ernesto’s bull was coming for Raúl. Raúl had stolen it and that was the only way he could ever have gotten into the ring.
    Elena watched in the stands as Raúl did something no other matador had done before.
    He dropped the cape. 

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Alternativa: A Bit of Famous Writer History

    I wrote this story long, long ago, for a high school assignment. We were studying the uniquely spare, masculine style of Ernest "Papa" Hemingway at the time, so hopefully in this story you will notice characteristics of that master. The story enjoyed great success at the time, winning second prize for fiction in the county-wide writing contest. I have a strong suspicion that editors today aren't interested in Ernest Hemingway tributes, so here it is now for your enjoyment. Come back soon for the sequel!


    He felt that if he went to bed early, he might have a clear grip on Wednesday, though it was not yet Tuesday night.
    When he woke up he was sick. His chest hurt. He could not understand it.  His legs hurt. He shivered. As he realized the sickness was through his body and up to his brain, he knew that that was it. Perhaps if he had not realized he was sick… but it was too late now.
    Then the maid came in with the tray of breakfast and she saw him lying there with a pale face and she hesitated. Just then his stomach began to hurt and he vomited. The maid looked shocked. She said, “I’ll just leave this here,” about the tray and left it on the dresser.
    He wondered whether she would get help or if she would pretend she hadn’t seen him so that when they carried his dead body out of the room and to the river there would be no one to blame.
    He pretended that Elena was there and he kissed her several times to say goodbye. He did not want to be thrown into the river without saying farewell to Elena. He kissed her again. “Goodbye,” he said.
    Then the maid came back and she was looking blurrier than before. She came near to him. “I’ve sent for the doctor,” she said while she bent down to touch his face. “What happened to you?” It was a shame for such a fine young man to be so sick, especially on the day before his alternativa in Madrid. She felt pity and looked at him. Just then his stomach began to hurt again and he vomited. He tried to miss the good maid but he could not tell if he was successful. When things go blurry on you it is hard to tell these things.
    Ernesto thought, “She is saying in her head, ‘I am looking at a coward and a fool. He does not want to do something on Wednesday so he dies on Tuesday.’” This was not what she was thinking at all, but it was what he believed. He was sure she was seeing right through him, down to the core of him, where his fear lay. He had had this fear ever since his apoderado had come and told him and Raúl that he had scheduled Ernesto’s alternativa, his first full fight as a matador, and that it was to be in Madrid. Ernesto had never been to Madrid before this and while he and Raúl were riding into the city the day before and he saw the bullring, he felt almost as sick as he did now. His hands had become cold and sweaty and they had been shaking, be he hid his fear because Raúl did not know that he was afraid, even though they had been friends since birth, or since they had seen their first corrida. Which had come first?
    If Raúl had known you were afraid, he would surely have left you, laughing his head off or cursing you and the ground you stood upon and your mother. Well, maybe not your mother, because Raúl had known your mother as long as you had and Raúl was thankful your mother had been there when you were trampled by the cow because that way no one could blame him. Raúl was not afraid. Raúl would not have fear if he had your fortune. Raúl had always known what he wanted and that was to be a first-rate matador. But you were luckier than he was because Raúl might have courage, but he had no art. He would be cursing the day he saw you and your mother if he knew that you had been afraid. But you had no fear of the Madrid ring now because you were going to die and Raúl was going to take your place at your own alternativa because he was your understudy. He had always been your understudy because he may have had courage, but he had no art.
    The doctor was long in coming. The maid felt it, too, in the sweaty room that smelled like stale vomit in the heat of Madrid summer. “Don’t worry, señor,” she said to Ernesto when she saw that he was looking at her. She was sitting on a stool by the bed and she had a bowl of water and a cloth to keep him cool. Ernesto wondered why she was wasting her time on him. She surely had better things to do than sit in this room with a novillero who will not live to see his alternativa on Wednesday. “Do not worry,” she said. “You will be fine tomorrow. They will give a brave bull to the senior matador and he will give it to you. And then you will never have to do another alternativa because one in Madrid is valid anywhere in the world!” She was very happy to think of these things for the young man, but he only vomited again.
    You made yourself sick when you thought that Wednesday was your only chance for glory and you gave it up in order to die. You were sick to recall how afraid you had been of your chance at glory. But you did not show any of this because if Raúl knew, he would be laughing at your funeral. He would wonder why he had ever been your friend. He would be disgusted to have to take your alternativa because it was touched by your cowardice. Or maybe he wouldn’t. Raúl had always known what he wanted.
    Ernesto looked at the maid. She did not know how serious it was. Ernesto asked her where Raúl was. Raúl had always been your friend and he’d always been brave.
    When Ernesto and Raúl had ridden into Madrid and Ernesto had become a coward, Raúl had been brave as always. He had stopped at the nearest tavern and bought some wine to celebrate. His hands were not shaking. He drank a lot of wine. Ernesto only watched until Raúl said to him, “Come, friend, and celebrate! It is your alternativa and not mine! Why must I carry the burden of celebrating for us both?”
    “Truly, my friend, I am not thirsty,” Ernesto had said. But Raúl insisted. Ernesto drank a little because Raúl had always been his friend.
    And now Ernestos’ chest hurt and his legs gave him pain and he sometime vomited. Raúl was looking at bulls and Raúl had always known what he wanted. But Raúl had no art.
    “No art in anything!” Ernesto shouted.
    “Hush!” said the maid.
    “He has no art and he will be taking my alternativa!”
    “No one is taking your alternativa but you, señor.”
    “He will be making those awful veronicas of his with his legs spread two meters apart and he will kill with his body hunched over and my name was on the poster!”
    She thought he was delirious.
    He wanted to tell her what had happened because it would be a great relief to him, but he did not want to trouble this nice maid who had wasted her time on him when he was going to die. He also did not think that she would believe him because he was probably already acting delirious.
    Maybe it was more serious than she had thought. She hated waiting for the doctor.
    “I am going to die,” Ernesto told the maid. “You do not believe it but it is true!”
    He wished Elena were there so that he could tell her he was going to die so that she would not be upset when Raúl told her, after they had thrown his body into the river. He remembered how Elena had always been proud of his art, in a concerned way. He could not have loved her if she had not always begged him to be careful. The other thing he loved was that she was understanding when it came to his work. He wondered if Elena would marry Raúl now that Raúl would be the only survivor of the two. Ernesto did not mind if Elena married Raúl because then she would know that her future would be secure. A matador with no art is perhaps the safest person to marry. But he would not be able to tell her anything before he was thrown into the river because he drank when his old friend asked him to.
           You drank because Raúl had always been your friend and you hid your fear because Raúl would laugh. Raúl might have laughed. He might have cursed you. But he might not have poisoned you if you had shown your fear like a real man. Now a real man was taking your alternativa because you were afraid even to show your fear and because the real man had always known what he wanted. You were going to be thrown into the river by that man and he was going to take your brave bull and the audience would probably not like him anyway and would never have a career because he had no art. You wished that that man was in the room because he had always been your friend and you wanted to tell him. 

    Friday, January 14, 2011

    I Said I Wanted to Work With Books, part II

    It's behind me now, so I can say with authority that I know what it takes to have a successful textbook rush at a great university.

    Necessary items include:

    The heaviest books ever printed. Preferably, they will magically find their way all around the sales floor and it will be up to the customer service desk people to break their wrists returning them time after time to their rightful place.

    At least one student who asks for "that purple book."

    A circular customer service desk so that the public can come at the workers from any angle. This also has the advantage of normally requiring the customers to walk halfway around the circle in order to be close enough to one of the computers.

    A maximum of two computers working at any given time for looking up textbook availability and location.

    A textbook buyback station that can clearly be seen through the floor-to-ceiling windows across the rotunda. Ideally, said windows will be closed off except for emergency and event access, so that anyone who's made it down to the textbook section will have to take their used books back up the stairs, out the front door, around a few unmarked corners and back down the rotunda staircase to get within a few feet of the buyback station.

    Mysterious photocopies ordered by the professors that are kept hidden in a restricted area until an initiated individual asks for them by name and course number.

    Five different kinds of "clickers" that have never been sorted and all end up filed under M.

    Several professors who call to check up on the textbooks for their courses, who are invariably mistaken for students with online orders unless they preface their request with some form of the phrase "the course I'm teaching."

    At least one student who investigates all the books for his courses very thoroughly indeed, making full use of the customer service desk, and then tries to find them all cheaper somewhere else.

    A large cohort of student workers coming and going at all times. About half should be confident and experienced, and half should have started at the bookstore yesterday. They should be generally friendly among their fellow students, until it gets close to lunch or quitting time, when they should strongly identify with a narrow core group of pre-selected peers.

    An almost as large group of retired or underemployed people who love textbook rush and come back every semester, to a 25-cent raise each time until their wage equals ten dollars per hour. Every last one of them should, at some point, regale you with fascinating stories of past textbook rushes or a well-traveled past. If it's your first time at a bookstore, one of these temporary workers should remind you strongly of your husband, because he has dark hair and a very positive attitude, but mainly because you like being around him.

    Absolutely zero possibility of any of the employees reading any of the books, although at least one of them really wishes she could.

    So, dear readers, armed with this knowledge, go forth and sell textbooks!

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    My Other Favorite Story of All Time, Now Published and Available in Bewildering Stories

    Listening to my mother complain about her job as a teacher during one of our weekly phone calls, inspiration hit me. Everything she'd ever told me about uncooperative students and everything I'd experienced as an elementary school student combined into one sentence. The story, now known as "Unpredictable Factors in Human Obedience" (working title and for some time afterward, the uninspired "Modern Science"), took several days to write as I took public transportation to and from work. I ended up throwing out that first inspirational sentence, and took an editing hiatus before figuring out what to do with the end, but overall, it's still true to that first bolt from above.

    "Unpredictable Factors" shows the unexpected consequences of some extreme actions the main character, a teacher, takes in order to maintain control of her classroom. I had no teaching experience when I wrote the story, but I'm very proud of it still, after having paid my teaching dues. It accurately reflects the frustrations that arise in such a noble profession. It's incredibly rewarding to witness students learning under your tutelage. The problem is getting them to learn when there are so many other things they would rather be doing.

    At the same time, I'm proud of the narrator. She's not expecially sympathetic, but she still draws you through to the end of the story. She's the first time I really tried to get inside the head of someone different from myself. I think she works because she functions on impulses I recognize in myself but never make use of. She's quite a gal! I just love what the editor of Bewildering Stories says about her:

    "Unpredictable Factors..." introduces Emily Mattheson, a young primary-grade schoolteacher. Readers might expect Emily to be as innocuous as plain vanilla, but they’ll know from the very first paragraphs that Emily’s career will be an inadvertent horror story. She’s not only lazy and careless, she’s a kind of suburban monster, a character who might be a match for the Meursault of Albert Camus’ L’Étranger.
    But unlike Meursault, Emily never realizes what she represents or what she’s done. Readers might wish she did, but she’s all the more frightening for being a Black Hole of moral insensitivity.

    I sent "Unpredictable Factors" off to some very reputable publishers, but couldn't find a home for it until I changed the title and looked beyond the strictly literary. The story is meant to bewilder the reader, and so I'm thrilled it's found a place in Bewildering Stories.

    The story has a subtle twist I hope you won't miss out on!

    Read the whole story here! And check out the succinct editorial description here!

    Friday, January 7, 2011

    Coming Very Soon!

    Over here at Famous Writer I've been very busy with multiple exciting projects this week, but brace yourself! On Monday, one of them comes to fruition! Come back to find the story behind the other one of my favorite stories ever, and a link to the full text. Thank you!

    Monday, January 3, 2011

    Happy New Year! Happy New Format!

    In order to start out 2011 as auspiciously as possible, it is my pleasure to announce that Tree/House is now available in all the digital formats offered by Barnes and Noble. This edition is for those of you who got a non-Amazon e-reader this holiday season. It also contains the new editing and the black and white photos from the new print edition. Now there's no excuse and no escape! Get yours today here! Contact me to get your own specially designed bookmark, free-of-charge. 

    As ever, Tree/House is also available in a print edition with a lovely cover, photos, and two bonus short stories as well as Kindle format, which can be used on just about any device you have, provided you have the software. 

    And to really get celebrating, I'll include this enchanting, unsolicited review I recently found in the Amazon listing:

    Unexpectedly Loved This Book - Quirky, intriguing with a bit of literary mixed in, November 12, 2010
    by Roxanne McHenry, Unruly Guides, Writer, SEO Consultant

    Jessica's book delighted me and Tree/House has a smart, intellectual appeal that other fiction I've read recently completely lacks.
         I was looking for Jessica's other books when I found this title in the Kindle Store. I tried the sample and within 2 pages I knew this would be a great read. Events immediately take a turn into the unexpected in the first chapter, and I loved seeing the world through the eyes of the protagonist. She asks herself a lot of questions as she moves ahead to a new life and new experiences (I guess I can relate to that).
         The story isn't written strictly for commercial appeal. In fact this story has more of a literary style than the last 5-8 books I've read. I think the difference is those authors intended to write the next great book that sells (some were really entertaining, but didn't delight me or have intellectual appeal). Seeing Jessica's list of previous publications on her site, it makes sense that she's a writer with a story to unfold (not necessarily to craft for sales).
         I chose not to reveal what happens in the story to allow it to magically unfold its surprises. I find it interesting that the early reviewers are all from Massachusetts for some reason. Well, I'm from Montana...but oops!... I grew up in Massachusetts. Makes me wonder what that connection's about, but I think that readers from other places will enjoy this book, too. A whole-hearted five stars.

    It goes without saying that I love everything about this review. It makes me feel appreciated in all the right ways. But it's especially gratifying to that the writer seems to recognize that I wrote Tree/House for the love of it, that the characters came to me with their story and I felt obliged to write it for them. I think my readers can really feel the love ... not to get too mushy!

    In short, Tree/House is an honest, quirky, intriguing book that would love to find a way into your heart in any format.