I have been struggling with my goals for this week. I wanted to publish my novel, The Wizard in His Keep. I also wanted to go get my vote in at an early-voting polling place. But I had to get my phone repaired because the battery was failing. I needed a reliable phone if I had to wait in a long voting line, which it seems we are actually having. My health has been poor. I didn’t want to pass out in line and cause an emergency without a working phone. I had to get battery power to pull this off.
Last weekend my computer crashed and it turns out my Google account may have been hacked… again. I had to recover the account and change a ton of passwords. I have had to check accounts repeatedly without using my computer. But, even though it delayed my final edit and publication by a couple of days, I got the manuscript and cover submitted last night. The e-book is already live on Amazon. The paperback will also be available soon.
I managed to order and receive a new phone battery online before the computer crash. But I discovered that my arthritic fingers couldn’t handle the battery installation.
I was able to get the phone working by taking it to the nearest AT&T Store. The guy behind the counter put the battery in my phone for free.
And then today, as I was planning to go vote, I passed out about five times after breakfast. I took what medication I have that is relevant. Early voting is every weekday until the 30th of October. I will have to wait for a better day when I have more physical power to do it.
So, I have overcome all of my goals except for voting. I did it by marshaling power. Battery power by buying a battery. Finger power by relying on the empathy in an AT&T employee for an arthritic old man whose fingers fumble. And I will overcome the voting issue with healing power and will power.
I have been using the book-reviewing service called Pubby to get readers to actually read and review my books. I have barely gotten any readers to pick up and read one of my books since I first started publishing my work in 2007. And I get it. Beginning authors, no matter how good they are going to be later, are not so very good on the first, second, or even third try. My family is reluctant to read anything I have written because I pester them too much about it. My children are all creative in their own way, and consumed more by their own projects than by anything I have done. And when my wife reads anything I have written, she becomes laser-focused on what is unusual about how I use grammar and how things are spelled.
“You can’t spell that word like that!” she insists.
“But honey, it’s a made-up word that I made up myself.”
“That makes it worse, because the word it makes me think of is a bad word in the Philippines, even though it is spelled nothing like your word for butterflies thinking of ear wax.”
“Okay, I guess I have to change it then.”
But Amazon doesn’t like your relatives writing book reviews anyway. And their rules knocked out a couple of reviews I got from other writers with whom I had a deal for exchanging reviews. So, this review service was supposed to help with the problem. You read books from Pubby’s list and write a review to get points that you can put toward getting your own books reviewed. That seems both reasonable and equitable to me.
So, I started with some of the best books I have written and began getting them reviewed. So far, Snow Babies has gained four five-star reviews. Sing Sad Songs and Recipes for Gingerbread Children have each added three five-star reviews.
And it began to concern me.
It seems that some of the truly terrible writing that I was reviewing were getting overly-generous amounts of five-star reviews, along with their twos and threes. And the closer I looked at some of the comments in the reviews of my books, which were somehow read in only one or two days, were merely restatements of what other reviewers had already written. It was entirely possible that I was getting reviews like I was because writers were slapping an empty five-star on there to justify earning their points to get their own books reviewed. They weren’t actually reading the stories themselves.
I am not going to complain about mere suspicions over a five-star review. But I was looking for proof that people read and like my books. And I expect to see some lower grades on my work. That’s part of how you know things are real. Not everyone likes every good book. The best books ever written have their detractors.
So, I went with my most recently published book, Laughing Blue. I chose the free-review-copy option and gave the reader every opportunity to dislike my book of boring old essays. And I got back a five-star review with some actual proof that the reader did read it and enjoyed it.
Now I feel better. But I would still like to see some three or four-star reviews, and I would definitely survive a one or a two. It would make me think the whole thing is a bit more honest than it has seemed at times.
And that’s how it’s supposed to be… according to Mickey.
I suppose with the threat of Coronavirus hanging over the house, the days are getting shorter because the end of time for me is drawing nearer. I have just started a subscription with Pubby, an online company that lets you review the books of others. And in return, they will review yours. That’s a plan that will only bear fruit if it has enough time to grow.
I, of course, started with Snow Babies. It may not be the best that I have written, but it’s at least close, and it is my favorite.
Sing Sad Songs will be the second one I will add.
The first review I got was a five-star review. But the reader read it apparently only in one day, rather than the four days I gave him. (That is the most that Pubby allows.) I would really rather get a lower score if I knew that the reader was actually reading and not just skimming.
The novel covers and illustrations I have included here for Saturday Art Day are all other books I think are worthwhile getting reviewed. It takes a while though to earn enough points by reading and reviewing to get another review on one of my books. They say that once you buy a subscription, the reviews are free. But they are not. You have to earn points to get them. In other words, you have to work for it.
These first few all have four or five star reviews on them already, before Pubby. But some of them have nudist characters in them doing nudist activities, and that may cause them to do poorly with people who think you shouldn’t even read about people having no clothes on. The one directly above got a five star review, but it is set in a nudist park and it was a nudist who reviewed it.
This book has not yet been read by anyone but me, as far as I know.
I can finally get a review on Magical Miss Morgan too, now that I got back my publishing rights from Page Publishing and republished it on Amazon.
And this weekend I have a free promotion going on this book, the second in the AeroQuest series. You can click on the BUY ON AMAZON button and buy it in Kindle format for zero dollars.
Yes, I use that picture to illustrate the character Milt Morgan, but it is actually me. I drew it from a school photo from grade school. And yes, that means a color photo from the 1960’s. I am now 54 years older than I was when that picture was originally taken. Being that old… not ancient, but a senior citizen, means I am not as far from the day I will die as I am from either the day I was born, the day this picture was taken, the days I graduated from high school and college, and even the day I got married. Especially since I am ill with 6 incurable diseases and conditions and living in the midst of the 2020 pandemic with anti-health President Trumpalump still in the White House.
Yesterday I woke up with my left arm numb, a sharp pain in my left armpit, a heaviness and pain in my chest, and a throbbing in my temples.
Yes, I know. I promised my family I would go to the ER if I had those Heart-Issue symptoms again.
But the last time I went to a doctor on a Saturday with those same symptoms, my EKG sent me to the ER, who charged me two hundred dollars out of pocket and sent me directly to the hospital. After more than a week of tests, drugs, and worry… no heart indications, stress test passed, and the general consensus among specialists that it was the arthritis in my rib-cage and the arthritis in my neck, near the spinal chord that caused both the anomalous EKG and the numbness in my arm. They got the same heart-warning EKG readings while I was hooked up to a machine that showed I was definitely NOT having a heart attack.
So, yesterday I gambled with my life. I stayed home. I finished my book of essays and published it on Amazon. (At least, if I died, I would leave behind one more product of wit, wisdom, and autobiography from a total idiot.)\
This morning I was better. It is not a hundred percent certain that I won’t drop dead from a heart attack or stroke, but my pains yesterday were definitely from sleeping for too long on my left side with an arthritic rib-cage. Arthritis doesn’t kill you by itself. Only when it masks the pains of something more deadly and disastrous.
So, I lucked out. And I have another finished work. It is Laughing Blue, a book of essays from this goofy little blog. Along with illustrations that I feared wouldn’t all be compatible with Amazon’s file-size limits. I appear to have been 100% victorious on that gamble too.
The book is now live on Amazon. Whether you can actually buy it or not, I don’t know yet. So, I will wait to post a link until I am sure.
I have never been an attention-seeker. In the Elysian Fields of modern society, I have never really been the honeybee. I have always been the flower. I had a reputation in high school for being the quiet nerd who ends up surprising you immensely in speech class, at the science fair, or at the art show. I was the one they all turned to when everybody in the conversation had already had their chance to strut and pontificate and say dumb things, and they were finally ready to get the solution to the problem being discussed, or the best suggestion on where to begin to find it.
When I became the teacher of the class instead of the student, I had to make major changes. I had to go from being patient, quiet, and shy to being the fearless presenter, forceful, sharp as an imparter of knowledge, and able to be easily understood, even by the kids whom you couldn’t legally call stupid, but were less than smart, and not in a pleasant Forrest Gump sort of way.
Shyness is only ever overcome by determination and practice. The standard advice given is to picture your audience naked so that you are not intimidated by them. But if your audience is seventh graders, you have to be extra careful about that. They are metaphorically naked all the time, ready at a moment’s notice to explode out of any metaphorical clothing they have learned to wear to cover the things that they wish to keep to themselves about themselves. And while you want them to open up and talk to you, you don’t want the emotional nakedness of having them sobbing in front of the entire class, or throwing things at you in the throes of a mega-tantrum over their love-life and the resulting soap operas of betrayal and revenge. And you definitely don’t want any literal nakedness in your classroom. (Please put your sweat pants back on, Keesha. Those shorts are not within the limits of the dress code.) Calling attention to yourself and what you have to say, because you are being paid to do so, is a critical, yet tricky thing to do. You want them looking at you, and actually thinking about what you are saying (preferably without imagining you naked, which they will do at any sort of unintentional slip or accidental prompting.) The ones who ignore you are a problem that has to be remedied individually and can eat up the majority of your teaching time.
I trained myself to be fairly good at commanding the attention of the room.
But now that I am retired, things have changed. I can still command attention in the room, which I proved to myself by being a successful substitute teacher last year. But I no longer have a captive audience that I can speak to five days a week in a classroom. Now my audience is whoever happens to see this blog and is intrigued enough by the title and pictures to read my words.
Now that I am retired and only speaking to the world at large through writing, I am ignored more than ever before. Being ignored is, perhaps, the only thing I do anymore. It is the new definition of Mickey. Mickey means, “He who must be ignored. Not partially, but wholly… and with malice.”
I put my blog posts on Facebook and Twitter where I know for a fact that there are people who know me and would read them and like them if they knew that they were there. But the malevolent algorithms on those social media sites guarantee that none of my dozens of cousins, old school friends, and former students will see them. Only the single ladies from Kazakhstan and members of the Butchers Union of Cleveland see my posts. Why is this? I do not know. Facebook and Twitter ignore me when I ask.
My books, though liked by everybody who has actually read and responded to them, are lost in a vast ocean of self-published books, most of which are not very good and give a black eye to self-published authors in general. I recently got another call from I-Universe/Penguin Books publishers about Catch a Falling Star, the one book I still have with them. They are concerned that my book, which is on their Editor’s Choice list, is not performing as well as their marketing people think it should. But to promote it, I would have to pay four hundred dollars towards the marketing campaign, even though they are already subsidizing it by fifty percent. They tell me they believe in my book. But apparently not enough to pay for 100% of the promotion.
I have decided to invest in a review service that will cost me about twenty dollars a month. But my confidence is not high. The last time I paid somebody to review a book, they reviewed a book with the same title as mine from a different author. That service still owes me money.
But the only reason it is a problem that I am being thoroughly ignored these days is that an author needs to be read to fulfill his purpose in life. Maybe pictures of pretty girls in this post will help. But, even if they don’t, well, I had their attention once upon a time. And since my purpose as a teacher is already fulfilled, perhaps that will be enough for one lifetime.
Science fiction, even if it is comically trying to exaggerate everything and satirize current-world character types, oh, and parody Star Wars and Star Trek, it still needs to truthfully engage with science facts and the basic truths that make the universe operate.
My book that has space pirates as central characters uses a fundamental truth about people. People who lead hard lives and have a lot of difficulties to overcome tend to become better people. But people who have things handed to them (by inheriting a planet because you are immortal or by the magic powers granted to you by Ancient artifacts) tend to become corrupt and criminal.
The book is the first of a five-part series of which the first three are already published and available on Amazon. And this book is free from now until Tuesday, the 21st. Click on the link above and get yourself a copy of the e-book.
I am running another free-book promotion this month, once again for Recipes for Gingerbread Children. Same song, third verse. It seems no one wants this book. I can’t even give it away for free.
I suppose it might have something to do with the fact that there are nudists in the story. It’s true, the Cobble Twins are teenage girls who love to be naked. And in the story, they spend time at Grandma Gretel’s house walking around with no clothes on. And when they get their junior high friends to visit Gretel, eat her gingerbread cookies, and listen to her stories, they also try to convince their friends to get naked too. But, really, it is a part of the charm of those two characters. It is not a pornographic story, and they basically fail in promoting nudism among eighth graders.
But nudism has a slightly different meaning for Gretel Stein. She barely escaped the showers at Auschwitz. It is the hardest story she has to tell.
I am roundly disappointed. I have every reason to believe I am a good writer and this is a good book. But how can I get people to agree if no one is willing to read it? I have to just keep trying. The book is still free until Tuesday midnight.
When I was in college, I met and fell in love with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series by Douglas Adams. I also read, in close conjunction with that book and its sequels, Frank Herbert’s Dune series. I vowed then that I would combine these two different kinds of science fiction to write my own big-book epic. At that time it was called The Dream-Flood and it was basically the story of Astro-nut Robin (inspired by Robin Hood) and his band of Merry Mutant Space Freaks. It was a jumble of bad jokes and weird science and not worth keeping. But some of the characters I created managed to stow away in my stupid head to come back into my writing whenever the opportunity came.
When I became a public school teacher in South Texas, I fell deeply in love with game-mastering for Dungeons and Dragons games with high school boys who had once been in my middle school English classes. Of course, after three years of that, the Southern Baptists in town decided that D&D was Satanic and full of demons, so I had to stop that story-telling nonsense or be driven out of town. So, enough of that. I was not leaving teaching. I was also not stopping story-telling. I switched from playing with wizards and warriors to a game called Traveller from Game Designers Workshop. Spacemen and laser-rifles.
Games inevitably were subject to the whims and humors of the players. And the players were teenage boys of the mega-nerd variety. So, they would blow planets up for laughs. They would make jokes out of serious events and turn side adventures and subplots into the main story.
It was gold for science-fiction humor.
The result of all of this was that when I lost a teaching job and had an unplanned year off, I wrote the novel AeroQuest. It was a novelization of the basic story of that Traveller game. It was a terrible novel. But I got it published without paying a dime with a terrible publisher, the criminals at Publish America. Once that terrible contract expired, and I had become a better writer, I began rewriting and illustrating it to become five terrible novels.
As of yesterday, the first three of those five are now published.
Like any Indie writer who has had enough of paying publishers to publish my work, any tiny bit of success is immediately seized upon and cherished, and immediately all goes into my head to swell the ego and make me strut like a rooster in the barnyard who doesn’t realize the next step for him is either the stew-pot or the oven.
I have read enough Indie books to realize that a vast majority of them are written by strutting roosters that, once their head is removed, still won’t realize that they are not the greatest writer since Hemingway and Faulkner. (They can’t compare themselves to Donald Barthelme, or James Thurber, or J.D. Salinger because most of them have never heard of those writers, let alone read anything like City Life, My Life and Hard Times, or Franny andZooey.) I confess… At least I know I am no Hemingway or Faulkner. But I continue to protect my delusion that I am a good writer of young adult novels.
But this week I got more sugar pills for the ego in the form of reviews and evidence that people are actually reading my books.
My teacher story, Magical Miss Morgan got read at least twice on Amazon Prime, one of those yielding another 4-star review. And A Field Guide to Fauns got its first review, a 5-star review, that can be seen here;http://tvhost.co.uk/april-and-may-reading
That review is written by a fellow author whose novels also contain nudist characters like the Field Guide does.
So, a little bit of success like that makes the old heart keep pumping with hope. But I am still a long way from any kind of financial proof or critical acclaim sort of proof that I am a successful writer. Any notions of success are still all in my head. And that’s where they really ought to be. After all, it is only my belief that my writing is worth doing that will cause any more of it to happen. And more of it should happen. Otherwise my head might explode. And wouldn’t that be a terrible mess?
I have had a rough time since the pandemic began. I still get my pension check at the beginning of each month… for now. So, I am a lot better off than those whose jobs were taken away by the lock-down. But I did lose all potential income from substitute teaching. And the plumbing in the house is still aging badly, sprouting leaks everywhere that I have no money to fix with professional plumbers. I can barely afford Fix-it Tape which only slows a leak and does not completely end it. Notice I said “leaks”, not “leeks”. Onions I can defeat. But water is not my element to master.
Today my faithful microwave, the one that I had for four years in my last classroom, gave out. A spark and some smoke and she cooks no more.
But it is not all bad news.
My wife secretly has two more microwaves in her secret evidence-of-hoarding-disorder stash. She let me use one. She also found a leak-clamp for temporarily staunching leaky pipes at Home Depot where I haven’t dared to go in the pandemic because of my diabetes and high blood pressure. So, the weekend was slightly more un-yuckified than I expected.
And this weekend I was having a free-book promotion for A Field Guide to Fauns. I was expecting to give away too few free books again. I expected the Twitter writing community to turn up their noses because it is a story about a family of nudists living in a nudist park. But the Twitter nudists that follow me because of Recipes for Gingerbread Children were delighted. I gave away more books in the first two days of the promotion than I have given away in any other promotion.
It feels good to have someone reading my books, even if they are naked when they read it.
And I have reached a point where I am relatively certain, without being tested, that the illness I have been feeling is all just diabetes and allergies, and I have not yet fallen ill with Covid 19.
So, I can honestly say that I feel very… Meh, okay right now. Better than expected, and a lot better than dead.