Online Publishing: A Quick Overview

Selling your writing online is only getting easier. Low overhead, cheap startup costs and fast setup time means it’s easy to make money. However, it can be just as easy to lose money, and that’s because of piracy. I’m not going to get into the debate of corporate, pirate and indie interests here, but the fact is that piracy exists and, if you want to sell on the internet, it’s something you have to deal with.

There are many ways to publish content online, all with different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to potential profit and loss. I’ve picked out four of the most common to see what their potential risks and rewards are.

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Dear Comics

It’s not you, it’s me.

I want to fall in love with you, I really do. All of my friends say that you’re really great. And you are great, really. I’m just not feeling it.

I just can’t get into the way that you tell stories.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve always been attracted to text. I like well built paragraphs, with broad metaphors and strong descriptions that can carry a story safely across the great divide between author and reader. A clever simile, a well-crafted pun, will always make me smile. I have kind of a Thing for a confident narrative that introduces me to fascinating characters and takes me to exotic places. The right novel comes along, and I’m lost.

I have experimented with comics in the past. Some of my favorite authors, particularly Neil Gaiman, are bi-genre, and in their company I’ve dipped my toe in the graphic waters. But I can’t pretend any more.

When I open a graphic novel, I’m faced with page after page of lavish illustration, but all I can really see is the text. Unfortunately the text isn’t quite enough to carry the story. It’s mostly just dialog, with perhaps a dash of exposition. The lion’s share of description, mood, and theme are carried by the artwork, and I just don’t see it. Instead of carefully examining each page, each panel, I’ll find myself madly flipping pages, looking only at the speech bubbles, and by the end of the book I’ll be groaning in unfulfilled expectations, crying out, “That’s it? That’s all you can give me?” Excited by the prospect of a great story, only to have it come to a premature and unsatisfying end.

Sometimes, on a second go around, I can force myself to go slow, carefully examine the artwork. I know you’ve worked hard on your appearance, comics, and I’d like to give you mad props for it, but I’m just not that kind of a girl.

A novel, on the other hand, is long, and thick, and carries the promise of great satisfaction. A novelist knows how to create the mood, set the pace, and tickle my fancy just right.

What the Finale of How I Met Your Mother Can Teach Us about Writing

Monday night, CBS ended the long-running series How I Met Your Mother with a much-hyped finale. The way the series ended brought to mind a major point about writing.

Series finales are always heavily-contested. For one, people have come to know and love the characters and will miss them. In the case of How I Met Your Mother, the finale is the entire narrative structure of the show, the meeting of the mother. Viewers are conflicted. They want to see the climax, but their relationship with the characters is over. It’s a tough position for a series writer, because there isn’t a follow-up episode to redeem any mistakes. This is the same situation you face as a fiction writer. If you haven’t seen the show yet, and spoilers matter to you, do not go any further. Continue reading

Meals on Wheels (flash fiction)

Kendra enjoyed being a Meals on Wheels volunteer. She hadn’t lived in the city long, and her freelance job kept her busy working from home. Meals on Wheels gave her a reason every day to get dressed, go outside, and talk to people.

She shared her usual route with Ryan, a beefy man with a rich round laugh and teeth that shone brightly against his brown skin. He was fond of telling stories, but as he told Kendra, it was far more important to listen. Particularly to their clients. “Some of them have family they haven’t seen in years. Some haven’t any family at all. For some, we are their family.”

So Kendra made a point of always listening. Saul Kensington liked to regale her with bawdy tales of his misspent youth, probably hoping to shock her. Phoebe Sutherland— Ryan always called her Miss Phoebe— talked about the doings of her plethora of nieces and nephews. A few clients were chronically grumpy, speaking only to complain. Kendra tried to give them a sympathetic ear anyway. After a few months, Kendra felt she knew her clients better than she knew the people she had grown up with.

Time had not been kind to the street. It had once been bustling and Victorian bourgeois elegant, but now the shop fronts that weren’t boarded up advertised mostly liquor, cigarettes, and lottery tickets. The rents weren’t quite cheap enough to attract the artists who were often the precursors to gentrification. At least three developers had drawn up grandiose plans to level the neighborhood in favor of some postmodern tribute to capitalism, but so far those schemes had gone nowhere.

There was one resident who caught Kendra’s eye. A tiny, elderly woman, hunched with age, whom Kendra sometimes saw walking a little dog up and down the block. Other times the woman could be seen through her window, gazing down at the street, one hand caressing floppy ears.

“Who is she?” Kendra asked Ryan. “She’s not one of our clients.”

“That’s Miz Richards,” Ryan said. “She’s lived in that apartment for almost 70 years now, ever since she was a little girl. I’ve tried to get her to sign up a few times, but she always refuses. Too proud, perhaps.”

“She looks lonely,” Kendra said.

“Honey, the only people ’round here who aren’t lonely are you and me, and that’s because we have so many of our friends to visit before the end of the day.”

One day Kendra was in that same building, trying to deliver a meal, only to be turned away by the man’s son, come to take him to Athens, Georgia, to die near his family. On impulse, with the meal in her hand, she knocked on Miz Richards’ door.

“Who is it?” called the voice from within.

“Ma’am, my name is Kendra. I’m with Meals on Wheels.”

The door cracked open slightly. “I don’t take Meals on Wheels.”

“I know that you’re not one of our usual clients, ma’am, but I happened to have an extra meal today and I wondered if you would like to have it. It would be a shame to let it go to waste.”

The old lady opened the door a little wider and Kendra saw her pet. “What a sweet little dog! What’s her name?”

“This is Greta. She’s been mine for a long time. Won’t you come in?”

It was that simple. A kindly face, a meal, and a dog with floppy ears. After that, Kendra managed to add Miz Richards to her regular route. Any time she got a chance, she would sit and listen for a bit to stories of the street from long ago, of neighbors long gone or dead, of the tiny boutiques and shops that once lined the street.

It wasn’t very long afterwards that when Kendra knocked, the only response was Greta whining and scratching at the door. Mindful of some of the stories she had heard from other Meals on Wheels volunteers, Kendra and Ryan called the building superintendent and asked to be let in for a welfare check.

It looked as though Miz Richards had died peacefully in her sleep, and not too long ago. Kendra made sure that Greta’s food and water bowls were filled as the men from the coroner’s office carefully removed the body.

One of the men asked if she was the next of kin.

“No, I volunteer for Meals on Wheels. She didn’t answer her door today— that’s why we called it in. She has some family, but I don’t know who they are or how to contact them.”

The building manager shrugged hopelessly at a lifetime of accumulated clutter. “All this is going to have to be cleared out,” he said. “I don’t have time to go through it all.”

“Do you mind if we look?” Kendra asked. He gave her a key, and told her they had until the end of the week.

She and Ryan spent a whole day looking through Miz Richards papers. The story they pieced together was a sad one. Her husband had died young. One son in prison, another had moved overseas. A daughter whose last Christmas card had been sent in 1995.

They finally found the name and address of a grandson. When called, he said he hadn’t seen his grandmother since she was a child. He hadn’t even known she was still alive. He had no opinion on what to do with Miz Richards belongings— couldn’t they take care of it? He did agree to take the coroner’s phone number and make arrangements.

Kendra ended up taking Greta home with her. The little dog sleeps at the end of her bed now. On rainy afternoons, Kendra will sit by her window, gazing down at the street, one hand caressing floppy ears.

Stephen Graham Jones’s The Least of My Scars (Book Review)

51FEhkZbqNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The horror genre has a lot of good lyrical writers and a lot of good visceral writers. Most of the time, those traits are exclusive. I don’t know why. Perhaps those who write with a more visceral style use conversational tone in order to maximize the effect. Brian Keene and Jack Ketchum are two examples. Their books are well-written, but so linguistically relaxed that the words disappear. On the other end of the spectrum, writers like Ramsey Campbell and Peter Straub write lyrically and specialize in so-called “quiet horror.” Much like the artist who works with negative space, these writers use what isn’t on the page as much as they do the written words.

There are several writers who are exceptions to the rule, and one of the best among them is Stephen Graham Jones. His novel The Least of My Scars serves as an example of what can be done when lyrical writing meets visceral imagery. It is an exceptional example of that grey area between horror and noir fiction.

William Colton Hughes is a serial killer. He lives in an apartment complex, supported by a mob boss. His job is simple. When the boss sends someone to the door, Hughes kills them and disposes of the body in a methodical way that has to be read to be believed. The apartment exists as Hughes’s little chunk of paradise, an island where he settles in to a homicidal dream-come-true. That dream crumbles, along with Hughes’s sanity, as the story progresses.

The novel is told from Hughes’s perspective. Using an unreliable, unsympathetic narrator is tricky, but Jones pulls it off masterfully. Another reviewer/writer, Caleb J. Ross jokingly called the book “Native American Psycho.” Certainly, The Least of My Scars reminds you of Bret Easton Ellis’s book, as well as Joyce Carol Oates’s Zombie. You feel no empathy for Hughes. It doesn’t matter. All the other characters are just as rotten as he is, but without the excuse of insanity. Continue reading