Saturday, June 18, 2022

Checking in

As this is the only social media I do, I figure I should occasionally say 'hi!' Yes, I am still alive, and yes, I still write. :D


I've been busy writing this year after a slow period during the depths of Covid, launching two new pen names. I can't write the same book topic over and over again, so I need to switch it up to stay creatively fresh and happy. WWII thriller, fantasy, crime, some romance, historical YA, short horror and SF, adventure, time travel, post-apocalyptic, natural disaster thrillers... I've written a few different genres, haven't I? I have some literary short fiction out on submission to magazines that I wrote last year and this. 

From 2015-2021 I made a living as a full-time writer. I also saved my pennies because I knew that was unlikely to last. It doesn't for most writers, and I was never deluded that I'd be the exception. Or, rather, most writers never get a year of full-time income, so I've been either fortunate, or my decades (more than three of 'em) of hard work earned that for me, depending on if you squint and tilt your head and look at it one way or the other. Unless one of my new pen names takes off, I probably won't earn enough to say I'm full-time this year...but then because of said penny-pinching, I can still eat and have electricity, and I find myself rather fond of air conditioning, heat, and food!

I still want to write a Lou Cadle hurricane book, but the last two natural disaster thrillers sold so poorly, I may not do so until I'm thinking of retiring. While I love the act of writing, if there's a chance I can make a bit of money with some other book in some other genre, I have to do that instead. It's like choosing paid work over volunteer work, and I'll bet most of my readers must choose the former over the latter. So must I.

If I ever get an idea for a post-apocalyptic series that doesn't feel like I'm my repeating myself (or redundantly repeating myself again, haha!), I'll write it and Lou Cadle may be more active again. If I don't, know how much I appreciate the readers I've had over these past eight years. What a fun ride it has been for me. And I hope you've had some days of immersion in imaginary worlds, where for a moment you believe those characters really existed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Why do writers charge for their books?

Occasionally, I see this question, and I thought I'd give it an answer. The short answer is, the same reason you don't go into work from 9-5 every day and refuse a paycheck. People who work have an expectation of pay for their work. It seems reasonable to most of us.

The second way I can answer this question is this way: I put time into each book, and before I start any book, I put a lot of time into learning the craft.

Started in 2005, finished in 2014


Learning the craft of writing.

This is no less difficult an endeavor that learning the violin well enough to get 17th chair in a symphony orchestra, or to play baseball well enough to be on a AAA farm team. It takes years of work, practice, and study. It takes coaching, or classes, which you pay for.

Malcolm Gladwell talks about the hours it takes to reach excellence. Writers talk about the 1,000,000 words they had to write to achieve a professional standard. Interestingly, these are the same number! A very hard working writer with no day job, no kids, no sick parent to take care of could accomplish that in three years. Most writers take more like ten years. 

During those 3-10 years, you might sell a story here and there, or you might even self-publish and sell 500 copies of a book (which isn't bad for a first book!), but you probably won't gross much over $1000 in any given year, and that's for about 1,000 hours of work. A dollar an hour if you have no expenses.

Also, you sacrifice in your life. Other people come home from work, watch TV and play games and go on vacation. You probably don't. You use all your spare time to write, often when you're exhausted from the day job. (I'm assuming there's no inheritance or trust fund or rich spouse supporting you). Nor do writer's homes clean themselves and meals make themselves. Life is work, and then you work at home and self-maintenance tasks, and then more work is required to write. It's a sacrifice.

The costs of self publishing.

To put out a good product,  you're looking at something like:

$400 for a pro cover

$300 for pro proofreading

$100 for interior formatting

$ ??? for advertising. $0 to $50,000/year, as some friends of mine have spent (they might make back $150,000, so they feel it's worth it.)

The time it takes to research and write a book.

Let's say you've done your ten-year, million-word writing apprenticeship. And let's say you have saved up $1000 to self-publish your first pro-level novel. How much time does that one take?

Probably six months to a year, or 500 to 1000 hours for that first good one. That includes: research, thinking, outlining, drafting, revising, line editing, proofreading, and running pieces of it past experts to make sure it's accurate. As time goes on, you can whittle down the hours it takes, but it still takes time. I have a number of ebooks that have made me $10,000 or so. If I spent 1000 hours on one, I'm making $10US per hour. If I spent 500 hours on it, I make $20US per hour. It's not a great salary.

Here's the crazy thing.

For the last ten years, I've been one of the lucky ones, making enough money on 5-35 titles to pay my bills and call myself a full-time writer. I know how little I make when I'm the 2000th best selling author at Amazon. It's like entry-level money for someone with a university degree. Novelists generally do not make much money, and in trade publishing (the books you can find at your library), it's even worse money per sale.

I hear people complain that a five-book series that took an indie author two years of full-time labor to write is overpriced at $25 if bought individually (though most indies run sales on first books in series and often bundle 3/$10). People spend $25 on a minor league baseball game ticket or $25 on a hotdog and pop at a major league event. They spend that for popcorn and a matinee movie that lasts 90 minutes. They spend more than that every month for their streaming, and probably that much weekly on their coffee out. They spend four times as much on their internet service and at least three times as much on their cell phone bill every month. A single trade published hardcover would cost more.

To whit:

When it all comes down to it, and even not considering all those details, books cost money because we live in a society where people are charged for food and rent, and those people expect to be paid for their work in order to eat and have a roof. It's hard to write when you haven't eaten for a week, and it's impossible to get the computer charged when you live out of a shopping cart on some cold city street.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Megachurch Heist is out!

Book 2 in the series She Drives

I had a terrific time writing my new heist book, starring Darla the getaway driver again. I like her voice a lot, and this one is funnier than the last because of her acerbic comments. Her lover/partner in crime, Flynn, has heard about a megachurch minister who has stolen donations, reported them as stolen from him to the police, and yet has hidden them in the wall of his church.

So she and Flynn, with an assist from Flynn’s high school buddy Carl, who is full to bursting of personality himself, pretend to be supplicants at the megachurch, wanting information on how to start their own scammy religious empire. They pay to be instructed, but what they’re really doing is scoping out the place so they can steal these ill-gotten gains.

Two problems, though. One, Carla has a hard time with her acting the role of demure helpmeet spouse. (For those of you who read book 1, this probably won’t come as a surprise.) And Two, Flecke, the head of church security, is suspicious from the get-go and far sharper than anyone else there. He may in fact be smarter than Carla, which she hates admitting. And then the creepy “pastor” complicates everything even more, and it’s a battle to see who wins and comes out alive...and with the cash in hand.


This is a typical mystery/crime series in that each book can be read separately, but there are subplots that continue from book to book.

Megachurch Heist:

If you don’t want to read it, please mention the series to a friend who likes crime/mystery with a touch of snarky humor. Thanks!

As ever, I appreciate your reading, and I appreciate your reviews. Have a lovely summer, or winter if you’re in the antipodes to me.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

I'm done with my experiment!

I began this thinking I could spin 1000 story and novel ideas in a week, which would be 142 per day. Mid-day, I was thinking, probably I couldn't do this daily. Once a week, I could get 140 maybe. And then I hit idea #106, and I liked it. Really liked it, and I "had to" go write some more notes about it. I wrote a couple of scenes a brief outline, and it went into my real "ideas" folder along with others. And now, having done that for two hours, I'm due at a social event and can't write this evening to get the other 37 (which I do think I could get). 

Could I write 142 again tomorrow? No, I don't think so. I need a few days off to re-charge the creative computer. A week would be better. So I revise my previous brag. I think I could write 100 kernels for stories and novels per week... for a while. A few thousand per year, and I'd only be able to write a handful of novels and a handful of stories from them.


Here are the final few I wrote today:

Horror comedy story based on my writing friend AM Scott saying “I use the best parts of my husband for my heroes.” (aww, I know. That is sweet.) A female writer actually uses the best parts of her husband for her heroes. All that’s left after a year is the inability to ask for directions, acting like a head cold is going to kill him, and a wet spot. (okay, it was sexist of me. But funny, c’mon.)

A serial killer who decides he wants to kill stupid people. He finds them at sporting events, in bars talking about politics, overhears them asking questions he thinks are unnecessary. Ironically, he’s not as smart as he thinks he is, but he does befuddle police because they can see it’s serial but not see the connection between victims.

A little boy in the 1960s in the US reads an old novel about a kid being abducted by Gypsies. His home life is unhappy, and he starts hunting for Gypsies that he hopes will abduct him. In so doing, he makes a sympathetic older friend who saves his sanity and gives him uncomplicated love and approval.

A politician with a good heart/intentions also has a drunken brother. Her story is a tragedy, for she loves the brother so much, she lets him take down her career. Love interest of a local cop who can see what’s coming but tragically can’t get her to cut the brother loose. She loses career, lover, and is left with a useless, hopeless brother.

A mystery is in the ice rink where PI both skates for fun and does massages for income, where a gigolo of a straight coach is murdered on the ice with a skate. A schizophrenic man skates there—he talks to himself, sees things no one else does, and thinks he can do tricks he cannot—and he is arrested for the crime. My sleuth’s sense of justice is upset, so she takes on the search for the truth, despite the risks.

A mine, 1971. One brother, new to the area, owes money to a loan shark. The other brother, very similar looking, is a hard worker but less bright. There’s a cave in. Brother A decides to take brother B’s identity, let him die in the mine, and come out with no debt. But someone is suspicious and an investigation ensues, and then a manhunt, from both police and the mob.

This new technology that allows a blind person to see through intrusion of receptors into visual cortex; they see dots. What if they started seeing something we do not? Spectral beings, dead people. Something important but very hard to convince others they really were seeing.

What if schizophrenics were a new species, a more advanced human? Let’s posit they are, and see where a novel starring a schizophrenic and a young doctor (resident at a hospital) who suspects this will take us, in the face of skepticism, the doctor’s nasty supervisor.

Horror short story. Every time Jack looks in a mirror, it steals a piece of his soul. He knows he’ll be in trouble by the time he’s 25. And indeed, he is.

In the nursing home, various characters get involved in an ongoing dispute. One man, a compulsive liar, keeps telling lies. When one day he claims he is “Question Mark” of “And the Mysterians” (a 60s band), one old man has had enough! He sets out to prove the liar is a liar, and much trouble ensues.

A petty criminal driving along sees a sign on a church. “Hope for Total Failures.” Instead of steering in for pastoral counseling, this recognition of himself as a “total failure” spurs him on to commit more violent crimes. But he really is kind of a loser (the sign was right), and he’s going to get caught and killed.

“The bus ride.” A lighthearted slice of life story story. Only because I always wanted to use something a bus driver once said to me “This is the shortest mountain chain in the world.” I mean, who keeps track? But more strange comments from passengers and the driver could keep this lively for 2500 words. Just go out and listen at a bus stop, or the beer tent at a county fair, and you’ll get plenty of comments to add to a story like this!

A SF writer names his three robots Hex, Hox, and Rex, and his proofreader murders him. (Thanks, Marcus!) A short story, for they'll figure out whodunnit pretty quickly. And no jury of proofreaders would convict.

You know that thing they say about “if you heat a frog in water slowly enough, from tepid to boiling, he’ll never jump out. He’ll just boil to death and die.” So: the story of whatever sicko scientist ran that experiment, if it really ever was run. What drove him to do it? What did people say to him when he did? Did he ever have nightmares afterward?

Day 1, Session 2. 91 of 142 for the day.

Let me be honest. I don't think I'll stay interested enough to get to 1000 in a week, but I will get 142 in the day to prove I can do it at this rate.

Session 2 was all predicated on the basic setting of "the vegetable garden." I got a list of genres, and I went at it.

II: The vegetable garden plots (bonus pun. Plot/plot, hahaha)

Romance, enemies to friends romcom. In England, two allotment gardeners argue over everything: your fruit bushes are in the path, your compost attracts flies, your mulberries are staining my pavers, your hot peppers are interbreeding with my sweet peppers… and all the while they fall for each other.

Romance, rekindled. Divorced parents teach their kids to garden and come back together over a love of  kids and gardening.

Romance, historical/forbidden love. In Regency England, a woman whose Earl husband is gay falls for the gardener. (Wait, I think this is a little like Lady Chatterly! Oops, but you could write it entirely differently).

Romance, steamy. + Friends to lovers. Well that about writes itself! Be careful though, as you may not know cucumbers grow with little prickles all over them. Love among the courgettes. Optionally a gay romance.

Romance, forbidden/contemporary/older love. An affair between two Master Gardeners, each of whom has a problematic marriage (one might care for a disabled partner who can no longer have sex, the other a spouse who often cheats, though this character has never). Sharing an enthusiasm builds a bond, and week-long training creates and opportunity. Tragic, as the one caring for the disabled partner cannot, will not leave.

Women’s fiction. A woman soil scientist tries to gain traction in a field dominated by men, while at home, problems with her teenage children escalate.

Mainstream fiction. In trying to develop an insect resistant kind of broccoli, in a lab, rivalries cause person to try and steal the MC’s work. (aside, if you find an insect resistant kind of broccoli, WRITE ME. Lol)

Mainstream fiction. When, after his genetic experiments with insect-resistant broccoli have been stolen, MC devises a diabolical plan of revenge on the theft. It involves plant-killing fungi.

Post-apocalyptic. When, a plant-killing fungi developed by once scientist to exact revenge on a plant thief get out of the lab, crops die, starvation ensues, and civilization collapses. Good luck growing more food once that’s out there!

YA. A group of four teens who love vegetable gardening are outcasts, but together they build an outsiders’ group that helps them weather four different teen problems. (Divorce of parents, eating disorders, etc.)

YA. Taking down the popular kids trope. Bullies get their comeuppance. TW: Going to be some tomato throwing in this one!

MG. A group of four MG kids who love vegetable gardening are outcasts, but when the autumn dance is on the verge of disaster because the caterer didn’t show up, they rescue everyone with their delicious tables of fruit and cruditees. (just add ranch dressing.)

Kids. A child decides to grow a vegetable starting with every letter. X may be a problem he never solves, but there’s a lesson in that too.

Historical: Thomas Jefferson’s gardens would make a backdrop for several possible tales, designated TJ.

TJ 1) A slave woman hoeing the rows catches TJ’s eye. Uhoh, how does she avoid the handsy boss without getting killed or sold or beaten?

TJ2) A slave woman ends up being a great gardener, and she is elevated in responsibility.

TJ3) Jefferson himself tries to breed a better bean. Attempts, failures, final success

TJ3a) And falls in love with a correspondent (he wrote lots of people and traded lots of seeds)

Survival fiction. Lost on a desert island, Cruz Robinson tries to find ways to grow enough food to survive. Animals, insects, birds, tropical storms all seem to conspire against him.

Fairytale Retelling: retelling Jack and the Beanstalk in modern terms. It’s about… aha, alternative fuels. The giant is a not very disguised version of Elon Musk, mad, bad, and plain GD weird.

Comedy. Dad decides he’ll start a big garden. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Expensive! Disastrous! Embarrassing to the kids and everyone else! Things fall, things burn, he gets hives. Bears arrive in a place there are no bears to eat the berries. You name it. Police intervention is needed at times, animal control, even Child Protection is called. Poor dad. But everything turns out okay in the end. He gets one perfect tomato, at least.

Kids mystery: who is stealing the tomatoes from the garden patch? A person? An animal? Which one?

Cozy mystery series: all titled with bad puns, of course. Hoe dunnits. (omg, what is wrong with me today with the puns?)  Book 1. You Bug Me! A gardener friend everyone in town seems to adore is poisoned with insect poison. Hoe dunnit?

Book 2. A cook has been poisoned when someone took parsley out of their garden and replaced it with (that poisonous stuff that looks just like parsley, too lazy to look it up.) The Cook is Toast. Hoe dunnit?

Book 3. A showpiece garden of the Snooty Old Lady in charge of the garden club is sprayed with Roundup, on the way to her being murdered. Was it the person who lost the election for that presidency? Her ne’er do well grandson? Her quiet and meek husband? Hoe dunnit? (out of joke titles now, to everyone’s great relief)

Book 4. The local organic farmer who sells at the farmer’s market a town up is murdered. “Greenie, die!” is spray painted on his new 2000 square foot high tunnel. Who did it? The fired worker? The unpaid intern? The worker who sells the veg at the market and used to sleep with the farmer?

Book 5. Experimental seed collector is found suffocated with hundreds of seed packets in his throat and mouth. Hoedunnit? The neighboring farmer who hates the crossbreeding that has ruined his crop? The rival seed collector? The spouse who is sick and tired of seed packets on every surface? (btw, a real thing spouses feel!)

Book 6. The small town’s remaining living gardeners (funny thing about small town cozy series, that anyone is left alive by book 6) decide to build a community garden. Many arguments follow  about design, soil type, size of plots, fencing, you name it. One of them is found dead on the newly dug plot. Which of them did it?

Historical/war short: Napoleon’s Army is on the march. They need to be fed. A farming widow is approached by a logistics officer, and instead of raping her and stealing the food, he immediately likes her and negotiates with her. He will take her adventure-starved son into the army, he will pay her money for her crops, and he will steer the army away from her. In exchange, he only asks that she (er, what? I’ll figure that out later, when I write this short story.)

Political: the leader of the nation wants the gardener of the mansion/palace to rip up all the flower gardens and replace them with food, an encouragement for the populace to be more self-sufficient. A bitter battle ensues (with one person very powerful and the other only having secret ways to undermine him).

Political/historical. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Cuba planted thousands of urban cooperative gardens to offset reduced rations of imported food. This happened. How? Who spearheaded it? How did they get individual people to do it? Who was against them? Who wrote the propaganda that worked so well? I don’t have the research, but the research would inform the book’s plot.

Espionage/historical: “In 2011, a field manager for agribusiness giant Pioneer Hi-Bred International found a man on his knees in an Iowa field, digging up seed corn. It was Mo Hailong — also known as Robert Mo — according to court documents. Hailong, who is originally from China, pleaded guilty in January 2016 to conspiring to steal trade secrets involving corn seed developed by Monsanto and Pioneer.” There’s a whole novel idea right there.

Historical: The David Fairchild story. “David Grandison Fairchild (April 7, 1869 – August 6, 1954) was an American botanist and plant explorer. Fairchild was responsible for the introduction of more than 200,000 exotic plants and varieties of established crops into the United States, including soybeans, pistachios, mangos, nectarines, dates, bamboos, and flowering cherries.” He sees himself as an explorer and botanist, some people (like those of us who love pistachios) might see him as a minor hero, and some cultures might see him as a thief. A novel could explore those various views of him, through invented characters, a local poor farmer somewhere who doesn’t understand the deal he’s making, the head of a nation who knows his crop being exported to the US means money for poor farmers, etc.

Political: Aboriginal Australians and white Australians making money from “permaculture,” who appropriate native ideas and capitalize on them. Conflict between a local native leader and a greedy permaculture lecturer/book author. Explores the question “Who owns knowledge?”

Military/historical. Samuel Pepys (the diarist, to most of us) was also instrumental in figuring out how to feed the Royal Navy, after a defeat to the Dutch that was partly due to sailors’ hunger. Who fought his new ideas? Good conflict there, and you could switch back and forth to an actual ship, where sailors were hungry, had scurvy, etc.

Mainstream fiction. A local domestic arts teacher in an upper-class school wants to teach kids how to grow their own food. She is opposed by the kinds of parents who don’t want their children’s hands ever dirty, who expect their kids to always have maids, cooks, chefs, and to be eating out at $400 restaurants anyway. But she has good reasons to want to teach this to kids. The principal is caught between. But she’s a tough cookie, and she fights them, winning over a few other teachers, a few parents, and a number of students.

Historical YA. The garden in the orphanage. There’s a mean cook and a nice teacher, who battle over how kids will be treated as workers in the garden. From the point of view of a 15 year old child, who has friends, enemies, encounters lazy kids, a cruel boss in the cook. He’s just trying to survive until he can leave the orphanage, and find a little happiness along the way.

Mainstream. A sculptor wants his/her art to be ephemeral. Ergo vegetables. The antagonist is the local art critic who thinks they are ridiculous (so do I so far, but I’ll work on it! Lol) They battle over this.