Tag Archives: kindle

Quick How-To: add bold and italic text to your Amazon book description

I’ve promised a hurricane of activity leading up to my Literary Speed Dating date on 24 June, and one of them is updating book blurbs. Content is king, of course, but even a king could benefit from a little mascara. Just ask Johnny Depp.

So, speaking of using the equivalent of a Kohl pencil to give your book description that extra impact, have a look at Shizzle, Inc’s updated book blurb. What do you think? Have you always wanted to bold the hell out of your tagline but never knew how to do it? I have good news – it’s easy.

As it turns out, KDP’s supports some HTML for book descriptions. I’ve only used bold and italic so far, but it’s good to know where to go for reference if I ever want to add a horizontal line or something else fancy. If you’ve come across a beautifully composed book blurb, please share!

Back to the nitty-gritty. This is how Shizzle, Inc description looks in HTML, when I paste it into the “description” field of KDP form:

<b>What could possibly happen when a gloriously dippy millennial becomes the right hand of an equally clueless playboy billionaire?</b>
Be prepared to face-palm as you follow Isa Maxwell on a dizzying ride through the world of corporate intrigue; roll your eyes at the dubious business advice of Mr. Hue, the owner of Shizzle, Inc.; cringe as you are sucked into the Maxwell family drama.
Praised as “not only a hysterically funny romp through corporate practices but an astute satire on current American culture,” Shizzle, Inc. offers a hilarious escape from reality.

<b>Praise for Shizzle, Inc.:</b>

Writers Digest:
<i>”I loved this book. It has everything that we want to see in a great story. The situation is unique. The character is relatable and likable. The opening was fantastic. It drew the reader in and made them want to read more. The production values would stand up to any book being published by New York today.”</i>

<b>Independent reviews:</b>
<i>“Ana has delivered a fresh and completely novel, pun intended, novel. If you are up for a joy ride with all the bumps, crashes and with the characters running around like something right out of the Keystone Cops, this novel is for you.”
“This is smart kind of humor – blondes would not be able to understand it.”
“Funny beyond words! Sort of like Forest Gump but with a higher IQ.”
“The top-notch humor hides poignant critique. This is a very intelligent silly story!”
“Some of us fancy ourselves more evolved than Bridget Jones, others don’t. Either way, Ana Spoke got you.”</i>

Try it for yourself. If you make a mistake, it’s easy to change, but it’s a good idea to compose your text first in this Try It Editor to quickly work out any issues.

Have fun, but beware: just like with makeup, more is not necessarily better.

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My best rejection yet – from Writers Digest Self Published Book Awards

It was sometime last year that I have applied for Self Published Book Awards competition by Writers Digest. It’s a pricey competition, with $99 fee if you apply by 3rd of April or $110 if you wait until 1 May. If you are interested in applying, note that this competition is for published paperbacks – the ebook timelines should be announced later in the year.

Please also note that it takes them forever to assess the books, so it’s no use to continuously check your inbox. Once you forgot all about it and least expect it, you will, eventually, finally, get an email response. Mine was a rejection, which included an assessment from an anonymous judge:

  • Structure, Organization, and Pacing: 5
  • Spelling, Punctuation, and Grammar: 5
  • Production Quality and Cover Design: 4
  • Plot and Story Appeal: 5
  • Character Appeal and Development: 5
  • Voice and Writing Style: 4

Judge’s Commentary:

I loved this book. It has everything that we want to see in a great story. The situation is unique. The character is relatable and likable. The opening was fantastic. It drew the reader in and made them want to read more. The production values would stand up to any book being published by New York today. I don’t have much negative to say at all. My only comment was that because of the fact that your last name is also a verb, I thought at first that “Ana Spoke” was the title. Easily fixed by putting “by Ana Spoke” in future editions! With all that praise, I hope you’re not surprised that I passed this on to the next round of judging in the contest. It’s well-deserved.

At this point, I would really focus on the marketing aspects of the publishing process. You have the great book; now you need to talk it up. I would hope that you’re beginning to accumulate cover quotes from authors and contests. I think that was the one thing missing from the back cover that might persuade more people to buy the book. It’s a great story, and I think it just needs more push to become a very popular title.

I was in a dark and dingy, “I’m giving up on writing” place when I received this review/rejection, but reading it now, after the BookBub news, it’s a completely different story. The judge “loved” my book! In fact, he or she sounds in love with it, comparing Shizzle, Inc to “any book being published by New York today.” Seriously, could it get any better? It suddenly occurred to me that I can USE IT AS A QUOTE in my blurb. Why didn’t I think of that right away? Well, that’s simple – when my mindset was negative, I could not see the silver lining in this particular cloud, but as soon as I found my regular upbeat mojo, the possibilities are shouting at me from every turn.

So here’s to mojo! It should be nurtured and fed on a regular basis, and lovingly maintained as a valuable asset. I’m about to take it over to Amazon and once again spruce up my blurb, just in time for that BookBub.

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I GOT A BOOKBUB!!!!

Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you. I actually screamed when I got the email – Josh thought someone horrible happened. Instead, something almost miraculous did.

For those of you that may not know, BookBub is the holy grail of e-book advertising, for both self-published authors and traditional publishers. It’s head and shoulders above any other online marketing tool, and I have tried them all, as you may already know if you’ve seen my Super Duper List. The only one that I haven’t tried was BookBub, not because I couldn’t afford them, but because they didn’t want me or either one of my books. Believe me, I’d tried. I have been applying on nearly monthly basis for about eighteen months, and have been getting stock-standard rejections. I have tried different categories. I have tried getting BookBub followers (I have 27 of them now). I did everything I could to increase the number of reviews (Shizzle, Inc has 82 reviews). I even tried replying, begging for feedback. Still, “not at this time” was all they said.

Until now! Look at it! Look!!

bookbub-offer

I have confirmed and paid – Shizzle, Inc will be one of BookBub’s Featured Deals on 6 March! As you can see from above, there’s a catch, though – it was NOT selected for the US market, which is only, you know, my target market, but hey! I got my foot in the door, and every time I’d managed to do that before, I eventually got the rest through. The subscriber list will be Humor and it’s 200,000 strong. The estimated number of downloads is 2,500, which is not too flash, but let’s see what actually happens. The cost is $36 USD and I hope for at least a few buy-throughs to Indiot. But mainly, I hope that sometime in the future I get the whole world covered in free copies of Isa Maxwell’s Escapades.

It’s a sign. I mean, I don’t believe in these things, of course, but what else can it be? I have a crisis of confidence, take a three-month hiatus, return, and finally land the coveted prize. Oh, wait. It’s persistence. That’s right, that dogged persistence does eventually pay off. Maybe not the first or seventh time, but you never know, it could be the next one.

Just keep going. I will too.

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Saying goodbye to permafree. Or the 70% royalty. Or both.

Sometimes I feel like Sisyphus

Promoting and marketing

Only to see my sales tumble

The watched pot may never boil, but whenever I take my eyes off the sales charts for a few weeks, the algorithms bury my books in the bottomless pit of the millions of unknown titles. Even worse, when I run back to the kitchen and fan the flames with marketing, the download peaks last only a day or two. Just look at the Exhibit A:

free-downloads-in-october

Fyi, the companies responsible for the peaks you’re seeing are as follows:

5 October – I don’t know whom to thank for the 367 downloads as I’d applied for a number of free services and apparently got picked up by somebody without confirmation.

24 October – BookHippo featured author, 102 downloads for FREE.

25 October – BKNights with 226 downloads for $11.

29 October – My Book Cave with 117 downloads for FREE.

As you can see, the “normal” downloads between promotions are just 3-5 books per day. What makes this even more frustrating is that I’m trying to give the first book away FOR FREE. Not only that, the permafree strategy has been in place since May, and yet instead of the snowball effect, what I have is that proverbial boulder, freefalling back to zero the moment I stop pushing. Wait, it gets worse. I jumped into permafree hoping for 2% “buy-through” of the second book, but so far it’s been less than 1% with the second book priced at $2.99. And for whatever reason, my KENP pages for Indiot have completely disappeared. Here is the Exhibit B for the same time period:

paid-sales-in-october-2016

This sucks big time, which means that I need to do something about it. Considering that I don’t want to “write to the market” or go on yet another cover redesign go-round, I’ve decided to change my pricing strategy. Radically. Like, smash it into pieces. Here are the two strategies I’m considering:

  1. Make both books $0.99 and available only through Kindle Select. Promote both with paid ads.
  2. Keep Shizzle, Inc as permafree and make Indiot $0.99 and promote only Shizzle, Inc as a freebie.
  3. Make both books free. Well, not really, but what the hell, how do I get Isa to go viral? She is destined for the big screen. I’m even more convinced of that having just suffered through “No Stranger Than Love.”

I’m thinking of trying both strategies 1&2 in stages. For starters, I am about to run a Countdown Deal on Indiot, before I make it perma-$0.99. Then after a month or so, make Shizzle, Inc $0.99 as well. Wait another month. Finish the third book. Send it to a hundred literary agents. Give up on Isa and write something along the lines of “How To Sell A Ton Of Books Without Really Trying.” That has worked for some.

If anyone has any better ideas, I’m all ears. Thank you in advance.

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#ComedyBookWeek review – There’s been a Change of Plans by Amy Koko

Hey, it’s Day 7 of 8-day-long #ComedyBookWeek! It has been a surreal experience, and a hectic one, with emails pouring into my inbox every day, asking to add even more books to the participating list. Good thing I’ve been on leave, because all my energy went into making sure all the links work and all the emails are answered.

This has been going on for the last month or so, and to tell you the truth, I did not plan to review any of the participating books – simply no time. Still, one of the blurbs attracted my attention. The next thing I knew, I was reading “Look Inside” excerpt of There’s Been A Change Of Plans: A Memoir about Divorce, Dating and Delinquents in Mid-Life, and once I finished that, I had to know what happens next.

The author pretty much had me at the opening scene, in which she is admiring her brand-spanking-new washer and dryer and expecting an announcement about the overseas trip from her husband. Instead, she gets some unexpected news – there’s been a change of plans. No trip to Italy – Amy is about to embark on a rollecoaster ride through mid-life crisis.

I finished this book in two days. I would have read it in one setting, if not for the constantly dinging email notifications. It’s a true story, but told in such a funny, engaging voice, that I had to remind myself that this has actually happened to a real person and not to some fictional character. I was cheering along and face-palming with every twist and turn of the plot…I mean, the real story! I caught myself anticipating the reveal of the Other Woman’s hair style and body type; getting angry at The Husband; cringing at The Dates; and getting frustrated with The Job Search.

This is officially my very first review, so I am probably not following the Best Practice of Book Reviews. All I can say is that I loved it, and that the protagonist reminded me of Isa Maxwell, so I can confidently recommend this book to anyone who liked one of my own books. As mentioned, I found the voice of the author to be the best part of the whole experience, so I’d like to share a few of my favourite quotes with you:

“I pictured myself in the Pinellas County jail, my orange jumpsuit stained with sweat and maybe a little pee, eating beans from a tray with a spork and all bloated from not pooping in months.”

“No more drunk e-mails that now, for sure, had killed any chance I ever had at running for governor.”

“Think! I tell myself, think back to that day roughly thirty years ago when you made that brilliant decision to drop out of college. What was your career goal?”

“…for a moment I was temporarily blinded by a vision of me drinking champagne at gallery openings and exhibits, where the artist would probably approach
me and ask if he could paint me and I would have to politely decline and walk away leaving him standing there breathless and disappointed.”

“Yes, I went into divorce kicking and screaming and drunk texting with some slight stalking thrown in. But on a positive note, I came out stronger and with some great new underwear.”

All I can say is, give the “Look Inside” excerpt a go – I’m willing to bet you won’t be able to put it down.

After reading the book, I just had to learn more about the author, and luckily she was willing to answer my questions. Everyone, please put your hands together for Amy Koko!

amy cover photo

Hi, Amy, and thank you for your time to answer the questions that I’m sure will be on the mind of other readers. For starters, your book is hilarious, especially the comedic voice, which I’m sure took years to develop. When and how did you come to be a comedian? Is it genetic or learned? Can you recall the first time you’ve made an audience of at least one laugh?

I will be honest Ana, I never really tried to be funny, I just started writing and this is what came out, so I am going to say it is genetic. That being said, I definitely have my comedic idols that I turn to for inspiration, such as Nora Ephron, Helen Fielding and I adore Mindy Kaling and Amy Schumer. Jenny Lawson is another favorite.

Do you have other outlets for your comedy, such as acting or stand up?

Oh my gosh no! I am horrible at telling jokes, I start speeding up as I get closer to the punch line and find people staring at me, mouths open, like, “What? I don’t get it,” as they head back to the humus dip.

Is your book mixing fact with fiction, or is it autobiographical? If it is close to the truth, how did you feel about a tell-all story – did you have fears or backlash from anyone?

Ana, this story is 100% true. Names have been changed such as my husband’s and my children and I also had to change Doritos to “chips” but it is all true. I did fear some backlash and long lasting effects on my kids, after all it does go into some very personal details of my intimate life with my husband, their father. Still, I felt like my story could help and hopefully inspire other women out there going through this gut wrenching experience so I had to get it out there, and I believe my kids are proud.

How long did it take you to create this book, from the first idea to publishing? How long did each stage take, for example, the concept, the first draft, and then preparing for publishing?

The book took me roughly a year of devoted writing. This includes formulating the book proposal which is actually harder than writing the book! It has to include your marketing strategy, stats and analytics, and WHO is going to actually buy your book and a completed table of contents. This 50 page document complete with the first three chapters, is what my agent was able to sell to the publisher. I met with my writing coach every two weeks which helped keep me on track and accountable.

How did you find the experience of selling your book to a traditional publisher?

The first step for me was finding an agent which is no easy task as any writer will tell you. Talk about low self esteem…wow! It’s not for the faint of heart that’s for sure. It was my agent who actually sold this book to a large publisher and I was thrilled beyond words. Imagine how devastated I was months later, when they told me that they had lost several editors and were no longer doing memoirs. I was able to keep my advance but they would not be publishing the book. My agent then sold it to a small independent publisher, Martin-Brown who published it in October.

What is next for you? Will we see more autobiographical stories, or will it be fiction? Have you thought of turning your book into a screenplay?

I am currently working on a fiction novel, although isn’t everything we write really based on things we know? I am excited about the concept and plan to have it finished in late September. It is a hysterical tale of a midlife woman who moves from a small town in Florida to New York City and becomes a…oops…you’re going to have to read it!

I would love to turn my book into a screenplay and as a matter of fact I have been looking for courses in screenplay writing as I have never attempted one before. I do think that Change of Plans, and my new book as well would do great as screenplays.

What do you wish you’ve done differently – or what were your biggest lessons learned?

As far as my book goes, my biggest wish is that I had paid for a professional editor. I now know I cannot edit my own work, it’s like trying to find imperfections in your children’s faces which we all know is impossible because they are totally perfect. So that is a BIG lesson learned for going forward. The other lesson I learned is to stop doubting and start doing. Life is short and based on the rate that my eyebrows seem to be disappearing, I don’t think I’m getting any younger.

Once again, please put your hands together for Amy Koko…I mean, put them on the keyboard and download her book:

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Marketing Matters: that all-important last page of your ebook

UPDATE: I have decided to exclude picture “buttons”, as they did not embed in the text. Someone with better skills may be able to advise why, but for now, I have just included the hyperlinks. Also, I chose to include only two – a link to Amazon reviews, and one to my mailing list.

~

As I’d mentioned (read: whined about) before, I have just finished re-editing Shizzle, Inc for the fourth time, this time with an American editor. It is now nice and shiny, and free of “kerbs” and “sniggering.” All the dots are within the quotation marks, and new commas have sprung up here and there. All in all, it was worth it.

Along with the commas, the all-important last page was missing from the ebook. I’ve read countless blogs and testimonials beseeching me not to waste this valuable real estate and finally decided to beseech my readers to leave a review. This is what my last page now looks like:

Final page of Shizzle

I have not yet uploaded this new version, so would love to hear what you think. In case you’re interested in how I did the buttons, those are just images with hyperlinks. For additional safety, I’ve added hyperlinked text below the buttons (I’ve read that image hyperlinks don’t always work).

As the text suggests, I will include the first chapter of Indiot after this page, with a hyperlinked “Want to read more?” at the end.

What do you think? Have you seen something else savvy authors do at the end of their books? If so, please don’t be shy – share with everyone!

Thank you, all.

 

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Goodreads checklist for #ComedyBookWeek

Just over three weeks left till #ComedyBookWeek goes live on 16 July. I’ve made the following checklist for myself, but if you’re participating as an author, a blogger, or supporter, you may find it useful. This could also help you develop a greater presence on Goodreads by gathering followers and friends.

Things I’ve already done:

  1. Claimed author status and added my books to Goodreads (easy to do from the Author Dashboard). If you’re completely new to Goodreads, start with this how-to guide. If you’re a blogger or supporter, you can help by adding participating books to your library shelves.
  2. Connected my blog to my Goodreads author profile, so that every WordPress post is automatically posted there. Sometimes there’s a delay, but they do come through.
  3. Created Comedy Book Week event and invited my Goodreads and Facebook friends. If you’d like to add your own event go to Upcoming Events, and click on “add an event” on the upper right page.
  4. Held seven Shizzle, Inc giveways, which have helped me gather several hundred followers and friends, and have resulted in 1,800 adds to “read” shelves. I didn’t know why that would matter until I created an event and saw that I could invite my friends. Plus, every time I post an update or a blog post is published, they all get notifications.

Things I’m going to do:

  1. List a Goodreads giveaway for Shizzle, Inc, starting on 16 July and finishing on 23 July. The ad text will begin with “As part of #ComedyBookWeek, you can win…”. If you want to list a giveaway that’s longer than a week, make sure it either starts or ends during 16-23 July, as that’s when you get the most exposure. Don’t forget to mention #ComedyBo0kWeek.
  2. Update my “General status” daily with that day’s Calendar of Events. To post a general update, go to “Home” tab, it’s on the right-hand menu, under the “currently reading” book stats.
  3. Add #CBW event to the couple of humor book groups where I’m a member.
  4. Add Goodreads tab to Facebook. Directions are at the bottom of Goodreads author page.

If anyone has other ideas on how to get the most out of Goodreads during #ComedyBookWeek, please let me know and thank you!

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New Indiot blurb – please help me choose!

We all know the importance of a good blurb – after the cover, it’s the single most powerful marketing tool for your book. So I don’t have an excuse for the current vague Indiot blurb. The good news, I’ve done some research and work on revising it. I’d love your help in choosing the final version. You can either vote:

or let me know your thoughts in the comments below. If you like some bits of both, please let me know as well.

NOTE: the final blurb will undergo copy-editing by a professional editor, who will fix all my grammar and spelling issues. I am looking more for feedback on structure, content, and voice. Does either one make you want to read the book? Do they convey the genre and style of the funny, fast-paced, action-packed actual book?

VERSION 1.

They say the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, but bad decisions will get you there even faster. Isa Maxwell has both in equal measure when she arrives in Delhi. Driven by the desire to help a mysterious prince and share her newfound wealth, she braves her first plane ride, and even makes two new friends—jewelry-draped Vivien and a bottle of Valium. Too bad she loses Vivien in the airport, and her passport somewhere on the way to the hotel.

Determined to find her way out of this predicament, Isa tries harder and harder to get help, only digging herself a bigger hole in the process. Things go from bad to worse, then worst, and finally to dire, as she encounters one wacky character after another, including a blast from the past.

Will Isa survive this mess with no passport or money or will it be the last chapter in this Indiot’s story?

 

VERSION 2.

What would you do if overnight, you found the wealth and notoriety you’ve been craving your whole life? Well, maybe not the whole life, but at least the first twenty years?

Isa Maxwell decided to jump on the plane to Delhi, to find a mysterious prince and help him win back his fortune from scheming uncles. Not to spend it, mind you—Isa is overcome with fantasies of helping the orphans, or poor, or whoever may need her in India. With Harden gone and everyone else nauseatingly loved up, she is also dreaming of making new friends. She finds two of those in first class—jewelry-draped Vivien and a bottle of Valium. Sadly, her drug-induced euphoria is short-lived, as she loses Vivien in the airport and her passport somewhere on the way to the hotel.

Not that big of a deal, right? The police can help. Or if not, the Embassy? Okay, the bank? Somebody? Isa hits the rock bottom, only to discover that it’s the beginning of a slide into the abyss.

Full of humor and action in equal measure, Indiot is a page-turning wild ride. Hold onto your valuables, as you meet a whole new cast of wacky characters and discover what can happen if you mix enough adrenaline with lunacy and enthusiasm.

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How to make your book permafree in less than a day

Woo-hoo! Shizzle, Inc is finally perma-free!

In case you’re wondering what that means – basically, it will be free from now on, or until I change my mind, which has been known to happen. If you’re wondering why I’m so excited, well, let me tell ya…

First of all, I had no idea it will take so long. My understanding of the process was that you make the book available for free on Smashwords, then go to your Kindle edition, click on the “tell us about a lower price” link, provide a link to Kobo or Nook where it is free, and voila! When voila did not happen right away, I’ve asked peeps on the blog and Twitter to help me out by doing the same. Don’t know how many actually bothered to notify Amazon, but there was no voila in sight after two weeks of waiting. Finally, because I have no patience, and a pair the size of Texas, I did the unthinkable.

I emailed KDP and asked them to match the price.

I hear you, and your sharp intake of breath. After all, the Internet is full of advice on “loopholes” and how to stick it to the man/Amazon, who would surely suspend my book or do something equally nasty if they ever find out that I’m trying to loophole them out of their cut. But no – I don’t know if the fact that Indiot, the second book in Isabella Maxwell’s Escapades series is already available for pre-order, but KDP were cool with it. I got a courteous reply saying that they’ve confirmed that my book is available elsewhere for free, and that in 2-3 business days it will be free on Kindle as well.

It took two hours.

Yay for KDP Support! The second reason for why I’m bouncing in my chair is that after two weeks of waiting, searching the Internet for stupid advice (apparently putting the price up and dropping it down repeatedly has worked for some), and watching my dull, lifeless sales charts, I have liftoff. And boy, what a liftoff it’s been:

Screenshot (48)

What is really surprising, is that 427 copies were downloaded without any paid promotions whatsoever. I didn’t know when this was going to happen, so I’ve been waiting to schedule them after I knew for sure that KDP will match the price to zero. On the chart above, the left-side surge in free downloads of 600-1000/day had cost me $139. I don’t know if this current trend will continue, but so far I’m very happy with the result, which landed me in the top of all category charts:

First day of permafree

With the paid promos, I got as far as 111 Free in Kindle store, but basically in the same positions in all categories, so what does it matter? I would prefer for people to find me through a category, anyway – hopefully resulting in fewer random negative reviews.

So the new era has begun – moreover, I have now managed to formulate my promo plan in one simple sentence:

I will give away 100,000 free copies of Shizzle, Inc by the end of 2016.

I hope that will generate 2% of sale-through of Indiot, or about $4,000 in royalties. This goal will require some paid advertising, of course, but it no longer seems ridiculous, like it did after the first promo (at the same spending rate, 100,000 downloads would cost me $3,500). It will also depend on whether I manage to secure a BookBub run, and guess what – I have applied for it. Again.

Exciting times and exciting sales charts coming up!

(P.S. Thank you, my British colleagues, for pointing out that the price was not free on the UK site – apparently this is why I was told to wait for 2-3 business days. I’ll wait, but in the meantime, I’ve fired up another email to KDP.)

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Murder and Wine and the Oblong Door

Hi, everyone,

Something different today. My brains have been turning into a mush from the continuous editing of Indiot, plus I’m in constant pain from something going array with my back (due to too much sitting and editing). Well, for whatever reason, I was having some kind of a crisis today, and prescribed myself a dose of “something different.” I sat back down in front of the screen with an intention to write a spanking-brilliant new promo plan for Indiot, and instead, I wrote a short story with a prompt from Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. The task was to write a story based on a title – I chose Murder, Wine, and the Oblong Door. I’ve never done flash fiction before, and I intended for it to be something completely different, but alas, it’s about Isa.

Here it is.

Murder and Wine and the Oblong Door

“I could get away with murder.”

“Right.” Harden sipped his beer as if I was just going on about school drama, like I usually do. We were in the bleachers, with a six-pack between us, and the whole Saturday night to kill.

“I mean it. If I had to, of course. Like, if a gang killed my parents when I wasn’t home, and then the popo just gave up on the case, and I had to become a vigilante.”

“What do you have against your parents, psycho?”

I punched his shoulder. “You’re not listening. I love them, so I would kill for them, get it? But I would be smart about it, like that girl from that movie, you know the one? She got raped and then she plotted revenge for years. Something like that.”

“Okay, this is enough for you,” he made a move to grab my bottle, but I snatched it away. “Two beers, and you’re wasted? You’re a cheap date, Izz.”

“I’m not wasted,” I said and demonstratively took another sip. “You’re just closed-minded. And this is not a date.”

I couldn’t see his face, but I heard him puff. We hardly ever talked about Brad, ever since Harden tried to convince me that a jock was not a good boyfriend material and we had a huge blow-out. Still, I could tell what he was thinking, even when he chose to swallow the words.

“I’d use poison,” I said.

“Jesus! On whom?”

“The gang members, silly. I’d be like Poison Ivy, seductive, but deadly. Charm them, then slip a potion into a wine glass, and boom!” I threw my arms up to show the explosive effect my weapon of choice would have on the gastro-intestinal tract of wrong-doers.

“Those are some posh thugs,” Harden said. “I’ve never heard of gangstas passing around a bottle of fine Cabernet Sauvignon.”

“Okay, whiskey glass,” I conceded. “The point is, they wouldn’t know what hit them. I’d be in and out with an alibi. Natural causes, case closed.”

He leaned in and I could see his face in the dim glow of the half-dead floodlights. I could not tell if he was mad at me or playing along. “Who are you?”

“I’m Isabella Maxwell,” I said, bulging my eyes back at him. “I may look average, but I sometimes have unaverage thoughts, so arrest me.”

“Unaverage is not a word.”

“Grammar Police.” I chugged the rest of my bottle and tossed it into the darkness of the van. “Gimme another.”

“Jesus, Isa, you know Mom will kill me.” He labored to get up and retrieve the bottle, and I took the opportunity to twist the cap off another one.

“Maybe you shouldn’t,” he said, settling back next to me.

“Maybe you should,” I said, handing him a fresh one.

We sipped in silence for a few moments.

“So you think I’m a weirdo?” I said finally.

“Yes,” he said and grabbed my sleeve, chuckling, as I pretended to flee. “I think you’re…special. In many ways. And yes, you have unaverage ideas, but that’s what I…like about you.”

“Thanks.” I punched his shoulder again, this time with more feeling.

We sipped and watched a bat glide silently overhead.

“I have them too.”

“Murderous thoughts?”

He laughed. “No. Unaverage ideas.”

“Like what?”

He hesitated. “No – they’re silly. You’ll think I’m an idiot.”

“But now you have to tell me!” I shook his arm. “Tell me!”

He took a swig. “Okay. Have you ever thought about why doors are always rectangular?”

I thought for a moment. “No. I can honestly say it has never crossed my mind.”

“It’s probably because they’re easier to make,” he said. “Somebody once made a rectangular door, and then everybody else copied it, not once stopping to think if that was the best design. I mean, have you ever met a rectangular human?”

Brad’s broad shoulders and massive frame flashed through my mind, but I honored the unspoken agreement with Harden. “No.”

“Me neither. But here we are, round pegs, pushing through life’s square holes.”

“I think it’s the other way around,” I said, hoping it wasn’t a prelude to another discussion of Harden’s round body, and how it was in the way of his dating and DJ-ing dreams.

“It’s just a metaphor,” he said. “But I’d like to one day build a house with only round doors. Well, not round, but oblong, for sure.”

“That would be cool,” I said, trying to imagine a house without hard edges. “I’d love that. I’m always running into the door corners. Make all the tables and beds oblong, while you’re at it.”

“Done,” he said and we shook on it.

I tried another swig of my beer, but it was getting warm and more than a little gross. Harden seemed absorbed in his own thoughts, probably outside of the rectangle box. I thought of Brad, who was probably off his head just then. Maybe I was foolish to let him go on Spring Break without me, but he said it would make our relationship stronger.

“You’re on the list,” I said.

“What?” He snapped from whatever dusk-dream he was having. “What list?”

“The list of people I would avenge if they were murdered by thugs. It was only Mom, Dad, and Felicity, but now it’s you, too. You should be honored.”

I couldn’t see his face, but I heard him puff.

“I am.”

I hoped he couldn’t tell what I was thinking.

 

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