Tag Archives: writing

Working Title, Chapter 2

It almost didn’t happen – I had to battle some kind of virus (damn you, Australian winter!) and another bout of writer’s block. Overcame the first one by sleeping and the second by giving up on a particular scene (not deleting, just moving it down) and taking a slightly different direction. Voila, a new chapter and a new painting in the nick of time!

Thank you all so much for providing comments! They really helped – you may notice Pop is now Pa, and I have amended the first chapter accordingly. If you are new to the blog, please note that what follows is my attempt to write and live-post my new story one chapter and one character portrait at a time. There’s no way I can finish a portrait in a week, so I will be posting photos of each painting as they progress through the stages – some stages may be ugly. This one is of Rose, the narrator. Please feel free to comment, but be kind – I bruise (and doubt myself) easily. Also, if you’re new and interested – start with the Chapter 1.

Here she goes.

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The morning it all started someone dumped a box of kittens on our doorstep, tiny little things with ringworm so bad, their tails were bold. Pa was so excited I was seriously concerned he might have a coronary.

“Look, Rozochka!” He held one of the meowing rats up for me to see. “Look at ze white paws! Is like he has socks!”

I was less than thrilled. I actually like cats, just not so many of them. With the new additions, the household feline population reached at least a dozen, if you counted in the transients.

“That’s cute, Pa.” I leaned in closer and ran my finger across the kitten’s belly. “That’s a flea. I just saw a flea.”

“I will call him Socks.” He hugged the dirty little thing to his chest.

“Don’t start naming them, please,” I said, checking my watch. “Socks needs to find a good home very, very soon. And wash your hands, for the love of God. Ringworm is extremely contagious.”

“I will wash, Rozochka.”

“Thank you. Gotta go. And please, I beg you, don’t let them in your bed.”

That was pointless, I thought, getting into my car. The kittens were destined to have the run of the house, grow up to be big fat cats, and settle in permanently. Pa was about to spend whatever was left of his pension on veterinarian bills and every waking minute grooming and feeding them. Pa needed humans, not a bunch of useless freeloaders that had no purpose and didn’t contribute to anything, just laid around staring out the window and contemplating their pointless lives.

I’m angry at kittens. That was a new low, except, of course, it wasn’t kittens that got me there. It was my freeloading soon-to-be-ex-husband. Alex and I were still stuck in mediation, and that meant I was stuck in life until I could settle and get unchained from the dead weight. Once the house sells, I will move into my own place. The thought made me terribly guilty, the way it always did. Pa wouldn’t say anything, but it only made the guilt worse.

“It’s the only way,” I said to myself. The only way for me to have a chance at those grandkids Pa so desperately wanted. I imagined Alex now regretted not even considering having a baby – God knows, he would be claiming child support too. I was almost thankful for his selfishness, except for me “kids” would now most likely mean IVF, even if I managed to find some guy equally anxious to procreate. According to Claire, there were still plenty of them on the Internet, men who just crossed over the hill and finally realized that greener grass is usually fenced in and jealously guarded. I still had a few years to sort through them before even the most unscrupulous IVF clinics would turn me down, I just needed my own place to do that. My own place, with no useless freeloaders contemplating their pointless lives.

And definitely no cats.

*

“Just move out now,” Claire said. “You don’t have to buy a house, just rent one. Rent an apartment. Or a room. Move on.”

“I can’t,” I whispered. “I feel so guilty.”

I didn’t have to whisper – the office was nearly empty, with everyone out in court or meeting clients. Still, years of working for the law firm of Rich&Richer, as Claire called them, trained me to think in billable hours. Talking with the fellow paralegal was not billable. Not that Claire cared.

“You’re always feeling guilty,” she said. “You need to stop that.”

“What, just stop caring about an old man who has nobody except me in this world?”

“He has a son, doesn’t he?”

I rolled my eyes. “You know my father is useless. The best-case scenario is that he disappears forever and I don’t have to worry about paying his debts, too.”

“When was the last time you saw him, two years ago? Maybe he’s dead.”

“That’s what I love about you,” I said. “Ever the optimist.”

She laughed. “Any time, darl’. But seriously, move out.”

“I can’t. You don’t understand. He’s so old. And the cats, my God, the cats. He got more this morning. People bring them around now. I bet if you Google “cat lady”, his address would be at the top.”

She laughed again. “So, he got the cats! He doesn’t need you.”

“He needs people. He only collects cats cause he’s so lonely.”

“Maybe you both need dates.”

I shook my head. “You know he wouldn’t.”

“Oh. The grandma?”

“Yep.”

My grandmother, Roza Lansky, has been dead for over sixty years. Sixty-eight, to be precise because that’s how old my father was. To my knowledge, Pa has not so much as looked at another woman for sixty-eight years. I suddenly felt like crying, and not because I was sad for him. I was sad for me, poor little me. I inherited her name and, according to Pa, her looks, but there wasn’t a man in the world who would mourn me for that long. Except for Pa, but he didn’t count.

“You’re okay.” Claire patted my arm. “Seriously, you don’t have to babysit him. That’s enabling. He should meet other people.”

I wiped my eyes. “He doesn’t leave the house.”

“Maybe he should. Join some club. Play golf or something.”

“He can barely walk.”

“He can study. They have this University of the Third Age now.”

“I don’t think he even finished school.”

She snorted. “It’s not an actual university. It’s like a school for old people. They teach random stuff, like public speaking and current affairs. My grandmother loves it. She is taking painting lessons. Maybe your Pa can do some painting?”

*

Pa wasn’t on the porch when I pulled up to the house later. I was spent – being a paralegal, especially in my office, was basically doing twice the work of a solicitor for half the pay. I had a thick folder to get through and if Pa wanted to watch movies on his own, then great. All I wanted was my bed and some quiet.

The house was dark. Dark and quiet, except for the cats that greeted me at the door with indignant meowing, demanding dinner. For one terrifying moment I thought Pa was dead, had a heart attack while I was at work, or worse, hurt himself and couldn’t get to the phone, and slowly bled to death, alone, on the floor. It wasn’t hard to imagine, the old man was almost ninety. Then I heard cooing from down the hallway and saw a sliver of light coming from under the bathroom door.

He was sitting cross-legged on the bathroom mat, a towel in his lap, fussing over one of the kittens. The other kittens were asleep together in a basket and one of the tabbies observed the scene patiently from the counter, only the tip of his tail indicating the rage at having to wait for his regularly scheduled meal.

“What’s going on here?”

“Rozochka!” He straightened his back with a visible effort. “You’re home early.”

“Pa, it’s after six. How long have you been sitting on the floor?”

He looked at me with genuine confusion. “I don’t know.”

I helped him get up while he babbled away about the kittens, and the fleas, and how the vet said he could only use lavender oil to treat them because they were so young.

“Ze fleas, they don’t like ze oil. Very strange. It smell so nice.”

His fine white hair was messy and his hips and knees popped loudly. “You can’t do this, Pa.” I said. “Have you even showered today? You need to take better care of yourself.”

“I know, I know.” He shuffled towards the kitchen.

“You’re not cooking,” I said, overtaking him. “Sit down on a sofa, okay? I will cook.”

He didn’t even protest as he usually did. “Sank you, pet. I need to feed my babies.”

He fed the cats and then watched the news while I made a chicken stir-fry, something quick that I didn’t have to feel guilty about later. I brought the bowls into the living room – we usually ate at the kitchen table, but tonight wasn’t a usual day.

“Do you want something else, Rozochka? Maybe mashed potatoes?”

I almost had to hold him down. “Pa, relax. I don’t want any, but I will make something else for you if you’re hungry. Are you hungry?”

“No, no,” he said. “You know I don’t eat much.”

“That makes two of us.”

He sighed but didn’t even lecture me on the many reasons why I need to eat more. That was definitely unusual.

“Pa, are you okay?”

“I am very good, Rozochka,” he beamed at me. “The doctor gave me lotion for ze kittens. For tails. He said ze fur will grow back. He said­–“

“Pa, seriously. I’m starting to worry about you.”

“Why, Rozochka?”

“I don’t know. It’s the cats. Or maybe that you’re cooped up in here. When was the last time you got out of the house?”

“I went to the vet today.”

I laughed. “You see, it’s the cats again. When was the last time you did anything for yourself? Just for fun?”

He thought about it. “I am not cooped up. I like ze house. And cats.”

“You need people.”

“I have you, pet.”

I almost said I know. “Other people, Pa. New people. New things to do.”

He paused to think again. It was almost childlike. “I don’t know Rozochka. I don’t want anysing new.”

I don’t know why I kept pushing and I’d like to think that only part of it was the guilt of wanting to move out. I was worried about him, kind of like I worry about everything. I wanted him to be happy, and I wanted him to be safe, and all the research said a social circle is what everyone needs, but Pa’s circle was, unfortunately, more of a line. A thick, straight line between us, with no support from anyone else, not even his beloved son. It was that way forever, and it wasn’t my responsibility to fix, but I guess I didn’t see it that way. I pushed and prodded until he agreed to check out the University of the Third Age. It was in the city and he could take the tram almost to the door. There were language courses, and choir, and music, and yes, bridge.

He promised, I mean, practically swore he would check it out.

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It begins. Working Title – Chapter 1.

(Text and images by Ana Spoke. All rights reserved).

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CHAPTER 1

I know terrible things. Big, awful secrets that I can’t unknow, no matter how long I lie awake at night, rolling them over in my mind, sweating over the fantasies of going back in time and undoing all the wrongs, even though I would be powerless to change anything. I “what if” and “I wish” and I wipe away angry tears, but they keep on coming. I wish I was someone else. I wonder what would have happened if my father was never conceived. I cry over what could have been. But most of all, I wish I could go back to the last year, to the day I bought that paint set, so that I could set fire to the damn thing.

*

I moved back in with Pa and the cats thinking it was going to be only temporary, until the divorce came through. I didn’t yet know Alex was on the war path, determined to waste every cent of his and my money on proving that I was some evil, manipulative monster responsible not only for the demise of our marriage, but also for his mental health, life goals and his ability to be gainfully employed. I was sure then that things were about to get better, and how could they not, after a decade of living with an abusive drunk.

Pa couldn’t be happier about his little girl moving back home. He never said anything, but I knew he was secretly relieved that Alex was gone and so were my desperate attempts to cure my husband from his many addictions. He was happy to have my company, too – Pa loved his cats, but the conversations with his flock of strays were mostly one-sided. I would often catch him chattering away as he loaded their bowls with canned food, furry tails of all colors rubbing against his legs. They would meow back occasionally, but once their bellies were full they would move on to licking themselves and generally ignoring Pa and the whole world. Ungrateful creatures. Once I told him so.

“Zey are innocent, Rozochka,” he said. “Zey are like children, don’t know any better. And you know I do it for me. I like feeding.”

He did. Pa was a feeder. I blamed him for my thighs when I was young, before I knew about refined sugar and self-restraint. But when I got married and moved out my thighs got even bigger and it wasn’t until the day Alex picked up our wedding photo and said “boy, you really let yourself go, haven’t you?” that I had to admit it was all me. I can’t even blame Alex for the bout of bulimia that followed. I knew what I was doing. It was hard to show that self-restraint, though, when I found myself back in Pa’s loving care, showered with attention and casseroles.

“I can’t eat this much,” I said one day, sitting down to a plate full of carbs and unidentifiable fat. “This is not healthy, Pa. You need to eat more vegetables.”

“Potatoes are vegetable.”

“But not the butter you’ve drowned them in.” I poked around in the mound, trying to find anything that had not been fried.

He smiled at me, a wrinkly grey angel. “But you love butter, Rozochka.”

“I do.” And I did. But I loved him even more.

*

Come to think of it, my entire life I have searched for a man like Pa to take my hand and wrap me in a warm blanket of love, and care, and protection, and all those things that you expect from a relationship. Twice, I thought I found such a man, but each time they morphed into needy, greedy, gross, lazy, addicted, dependent Peter Pans. They morphed into my father.

I don’t know if I ever loved my father. Every now and then, when he came around and was sober enough to talk to me, he tried to tell me stories of how we used to play together when I was little or about all the times he took me fishing. I never could remember us playing, but I do remember at least one fishing trip when he yelled at me because I wouldn’t sit still in the boat. I remember how he forgot to pick me up from school once and I just stood there, cold and alone, until my mother rolled up, tires screeching and tears streaming down her face. I remember her hugging me for a very long time, and how she kept saying sorry over and over. I don’t remember my father apologizing. But then again, I don’t remember much of him at all. Mom didn’t suffer fools for nearly as long as I did – it was over between them by the time I was in the second grade. From then on it was the three musketeers – Pa, Mom and I. We were happy, so I didn’t understand then why she got married again. I understand now, but when she said we were going to move to Perth to live with Richard, I cried hysterically until it was decided that it would be better for everyone if stayed put. I had nothing personal against Richard, he is still a decent man. I just couldn’t leave Pa. So technically, from the age of eleven I was an orphan.

Eventually Mom had two more kids, and so – again, technically – I have two siblings, but not the kind of siblings with whom I can share the life’s burdens. I have a brother and a sister, but they’d never even met my father, so I can’t talk to them about Dad’s drinking. My brother is fourteen years younger than me, so I can’t ask him to scare off my no-good husband. My sister is even younger, and never been married, so she can’t relate to the seven-year itch. I have been visiting them at least once a year, in summer, but they never came to visit me. I never asked, but I got close to when I moved back in with Pa. I needed someone to share Pa’s obsessive attention.

Other than cat-saving and cat-feeding, some gardening and an occasional trip to the hardware store, Pa didn’t have any other interests. He’d kept mostly to himself his whole life and now there were no buddies to play bridge or whatever else the oldies do when they get together. He never travelled, would not go to restaurants or even movies because everything outside his four walls cost too much. Which I imagine it would if you had close to a dozen dependents at any given time. I never thought about how he’d managed while I was married and preoccupied, he certainly never complained about being lonely. Or anything at all. I only realized that he must’ve been once I was back – every day when I came home from work, he was on the front porch, in one of the rocking chairs, waiting for me.

“You must be tired, Rozochka,” he would say. “I made dinner for you.”

He did. He made dinner for me every single day. But he didn’t stop there. He was never a good sleeper, so he was usually up with the birds, waiting for my alarm to blare, so that he could come to my room and give me my coffee.

“Pa, you don’t have to. Really.”

He would just smile at me and shuffle off back to the kitchen, where I knew he was already making my lunch.

“I put something nice in for you, pet.”

Every day there was something nice. At first it was candy, then after I told him I don’t eat sugar, he started making fruit salad from scratch. Sometimes he’d put in a note, in summer it would be a flower from the garden. Once he put in a book because he thought I might want to read on my break. I should have been happy, and I was, but it was too much. I could never reciprocate enough, not that he expected me to. He never expected anything, but he followed me around like a shadow.

“You want to watch movie, Rozochka?”

“Cup of tea, Rozochka?”

“Rozochka?”

“Rozochka?”

I should have watched more movies with him. I should have hugged him more often, longer, closer. I should have said “thank you.” Instead, I bought him a paint set.

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The happiest day of my month

It’s five am. I’m awake and I’m the happiest I’d been in a long time, maybe even a year. I wrote over a thousand words yesterday! And not just any words, the first chapter of that next novel that has been stuck in my head for so long. I’m still marveling at how easy it was to do, especially considering that I have had trouble writing anything for almost two years, even regular blog posts. How did I do it, you ask?

I simply decided that I don’t HAVE to write a book. The solitary year it would take me is just too much of a mountain, a burden, a crippling task. First I thought I will just write short stories, maybe see if I get enough of them to compile into something worthy of publication. But the story I wanted to write doesn’t easily fit into a short format, it needs time to unwrap its many layers. So I once again decided to try and publish it as an online serial.

So this is what I’m going to do. I will publish it on this blog, chapter by chapter, as it comes to me, without worrying too much about copy editing and comma polishing. It would be a challenge in itself, because it’s scary for me to show something I’ve written before I’ve had a chance at mulling it over for a long time or getting a native speaker/editor to fix the grammar and spelling. I just hope that the flipside will be that I won’t lose the momentum I gathered yesterday. After all, that’s how I wrote my first novel – it was a joke email to my sister, and had she not laughed and demanded more, it might have just stayed an email, forgotten in the sediment of thousands of other jokes I wrote and said to her. So if this serial post thing works out and I finish it, I still have a chance to turn it into a published book. After all, that’s how a few bestsellers started – The Marshian and if I’m not mistaken, The Twilight. Yes, traditional publishers would probably frown on this, but then publishers have ignored my many attempts at publishing Isa Maxwell series, so what’s new?

I decided that I won’t give up painting either and will weave into my new method – each post will have a new or updated painting to go with it. I have almost finished painting one of the characters and about to start on another one, my very first male portrait.

So that’s the plan. I will post the first chapter in a couple of days. Right now I will get back to writing and who knows, I could write another thousand words before my actual day begins.

Wish me luck!

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100 days of self-brainwashing: Day 1, Ted Talks

I’m in Cabo, y’all! Having a grand time – here’s the proof:

  

After the miserable Melbourne winter, the heat and the sun are doing wonders for my well-being, and I have even started writing again. It’s easy to do when you have all day to do what you want:

I wrote 1,600 words on the first day. I was elated. Then the next day I wrote 900, the day after it was 600, yesterday it was 260, and today I have written nada, if you don’t count this post. Why, do you ask?

I thought I was lazy at first. Too much sun, food, tequila, you name it. Everyone else around me moving at a snail’s pace. Wanting to savor every moment, as if the ocean would cease to exist the moment I stopped staring at it. All very good reasons, except in the back of my mind I knew it was more about the uphill battle of publishing this third book. It was more about knowing that I have not yet made back my investment into the first two, about how hard I will have to work to sell each copy, to get reviews, and above all to keep going against the grim odds. I could very easily just relax, keep working on my career, which is going gangbusters, and let this little dream die a quiet death, like the one in which I was going to be an actress (four years, forty roles, whole of career earnings: $2,000).

The only problem is, without a big, ridiculous dream, I feel like something is missing. I’ve been miserable for the past few months, partly due to that miserable weather I’ve mentioned earlier, and partly because I got myself locked into a routine of going to work, giving it my all, then coming home to collapse and recover just enough to put in another day. Sounds familiar? Where’s Ana from ten years ago, the one that went to Australia on a tourist visa, convinced against all odds that she was going to get a job and a work visa sponsor? The one that signed up for triathlons and kiteboarding and could run 10K every day? The one that was abused so badly by her manager, she decided to become a manager herself? The one that thought “I can write a book, start a blog, and publish against those very glum odds”?

That fit, excited, and energetic Ana had not only the big goals in mind, she truly believed that she could accomplish them. And after some pondering this morning, I’d realized that I started it all with self-brainwashing. I was living in the US at the time, and I was miserable. The weather was great in Florida, I can’t blame it, but my first marriage was hell, and I was caught in a corporate hamster wheel of produce-get promoted-produce some more. Then something miraculous happened. The terrible first husband insisted that we move out to the boonies, where he could safely smoke dope and shoot deer out the window. That’s not the miraculous part, by the way. The move resulted in two major changes: we couldn’t get cable TV and I had to commute almost an hour each way to my corporate hamster job. I was bored at home, and I was bored driving. So I started reading and listening to audiobooks in the car. For some miraculous reason, the local library had the entire Tony Robbins audio collection and after a few hours of Tony insisting that I could do whatever it was I wanted to do, I was hooked. At the time I thought all I wanted was more money, as if that could fix my terrible, terrible marriage, so I kept reading and listening, and reading some more. I got hooked on psychology, motivation, self-help, and anything that promised to grow my mind. After a few months of that self-brainwashing, I realised that I didn’t want more money. What I wanted was to leave – my terrible husband, my hamster job, and unfortunately the US. It was a huge gamble, but it has paid massive dividends since.

So that’s what I’m going to do again. Brainwash myself again. I have started today by listening to a few TED talks, because I could still stare at the blue ocean while various successful people told me that I could do it, whatever it was. This was my favourite one:

It’s also the one from which I stole the idea of challenging myself for 100 consecutive days. It’s too early to tell, but hey, this blog post is 775 words, which is a whole lot better than yesterday. I’ll come up with something else tomorrow and see what happens.

 

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Need a quick, FREE cover design? Try Canva templates

Hi everyone,

You may or may not remember my endless trials and tribulations over design of Shizzle, Inc and Indiot covers, which have started with concepts by professional designer, went through a number of versions and online feedback. In the end, I have designed them myself, using Photoshop and images from Shutterstock. It was a costly exercise, to say the least, so it doesn’t surprise me when authors opt for a pre-designed cover, which a number of designers sell for just $50-100. At least you can see exactly what you are getting.

But what if you don’t have even $50 to risk? Until now, your options were limited. Either try to enter a contest and win a free cover design, or opt for embarassing yourself with one of those home-made covers that become the laughing stock of the Internet. If you are lucky, beg a friend for a favor.

Turns out there’s another option! Apparently, Canva has a whole range of pre-made, FREE cover templates. I have not personally used them, but Canva is a simple, drag-and-drop, design software that’s completely online and free to use, so it’s not much of a risk to try. You can choose from literally thousands of book cover templates, add your own text and be on your way in less time than it would take to read Adobe’s terms and conditions (and believe me, you have to read them, unless you don’t care that they will keep charging your credit card with the monthly subscription fee, and charge 50% of remaining fees if you decide to cancel.)

Have fun and let us all know if you’ve given it a go.

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#ComedyBookWeek is looking for new management

Hi everyone,

As you already know, I have been through a roller coaster year, from a scary low of a “probably not cancer, but let’s cut you open and look” to a new job and a wedding to boot. As a result, I have not delivered on my promise to host another #ComedyBookWeek event. Eight months into the awesome new job, it doesn’t look like I will have any time to do it again in the next decade or so.

In light of the above realization, I have decided to pass the baton on to someone more energetic and capable of growing the event into something even more special. If you think you might be that person, please email me directly at ana (dot) spoke (at) yahoo (dot) com.

There is no catch – I don’t want any money or favors, just assurance that you are willing and able to take over the event. You will get the rights over the domain name, the contacts, any previously created content, etc (but you will have to arrange for your own hosting of the website). In your email, please let me know:

  1. Why you want to take over #ComedyBookWeek. Are you a comedy writer yourself? Have you had an experience creating or growing an online enterprise?
  2. Why you are suited to manage the event – are you technically savvy? Do you have the time?
  3. Anything else that would convince me to hand over my baby.

That’s it. Looking forward to your submissions!

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Mr. Hue finally comes to life

Well, sort of.  I have not sold the movie rights, at least not yet. But as promised, here’s the result of the last Crash Test Drafts event. Note that the actor had just one hour to rehearse the monologue, that’s why he has the text in his hand.

If anyone lives in Melbourne, I highly recommend connecting with Crash Test Drafts on Facebook, either as a writer, director or writer. I have learned a lot from the judges’ feedback, and surprisingly most of it from the feedback given to other writers. The one bit of advice that really stuck with me was that we as writers have to make the reader care about what’s happening to the characters, care about what they are going through, and why. Elicit a response. The most intricately plotted novel would fail with flat characters.

The next Crash Test Drama event is on 3 June, so there’s still time to submit your play or excerpt. And if you are not in Melbourne, why not start your own?

Next on my list of promises was a stand-up routine. I have not done that yet. Because I’m scared, that’s why. But I will.

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Storyteller UK competition and why Shizzle, Inc is no longer free

UPDATE: please note that the book has to be published between 20th February and 19th May 2017, so Shizzle, Inc is ineligible. However, I can still publish my collection of short stories (the prequel “This is Why”) by 19 May and enter it.

Shizzle, Inc is now back to $2.99USD, and it’s the Storyteller UK competition to blame. That, and partly the negative reviews that come from readers grabbing a freebie without even reading the blurb. Oh, and the fact that in June I’m going to pitch it to a dozen publishers and a $2.99 book may look better than a free one. Lastly, because I will try to get Bookbub for the US and hope discounting a book to free temporarily will get it more attention.

Wait, slow down, what’s that Storyteller UK competition you’re talking about? Glad you’ve asked! Let me take a breath…

Do you have a self-published book in Kindle Select and available in print format? Well then, if you just add “StorytellerUK2017″ as a keyword, your book will be featured in a list of entries to win a $20,000 pounds! That’s $24,936USD, at least at the moment. Interested? Then visit Kindle Storyteller page for more details. Hurry, it’s open only until 19 May 2017!

Good luck!

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Thinking outside the book cover

I’ve had not one but two completely new and possibly brilliant ideas and I have two brilliant people to thank for them. If they work, they will help me sell more books, but more importantly, they will be the two new shots of adrenaline I need to keep going. In this preoccupation with trying to sell books and land a publishing contract, I’d forgotten that there are other creative ways to express myself while getting my name “out there.” At least one of them is comedy-specific, but I hope they make you think outside of the confines of the book covers.

The credit for the first idea goes to Josh. He’s about to get up on stage for the first time in twenty years and try stand-up comedy again. He’d done it in his youth and had some success, but ultimately had to stop because the experience was so stressful and literally gut-wrenching. He’s been talking about an open mike night at the bar around the corner for nearly two years, and now that he has a looming deadline, he wants me to do it with him. I’ve said “no” before because while I love comedy, I feel that my calling is to write it, not perform it and because I don’t have any standup material to perform. But for some reason today, maybe because it’s so stinking hot and my brains are melting, it suddenly seemed like a great idea. First of all, I have tons of material – two books worth of it. All I have to do is take the one-liners I’ve been tweeting and put them together with some intro and transitions. Secondly, if I started doing that with any new material, still in draft, I can get instant feedback on what is funny and what may fall flat. I have just over a week to put together a five-minute routine, and I’m so doing it. There will be video evidence posted shortly thereafter and I hope it prompts me to do more open mikes in the future.

The second set of credits goes to my friends, a lovely creative couple who have genuinely “made it” by transitioning from acting and theater directing in their spare time to now running a successful children’s theater company. They are also involved in a monthly event in Melbourne called Crash Test Drama, which brings together scriptwriters, directors, and actors. Imagine this – as an actor, showing up one Saturday morning, receiving your one-sentence audition piece, practicing it for about fifteen minutes, and then getting up on the stage in groups of four or five, for an opportunity to say that sentence in some novel way. A group of writers and directors would then cast you (if you are lucky) in one of 10-minute plays chosen for the day. You’d have about an hour to rehearse and then would have to perform the play in front of the others (you’re allowed to read from the script). Talk about pressure!

I’d participated in Crash Test Drama before, but only as an actor. It didn’t occur to me to submit an excerpt from Shizzle, Inc, until a few weeks ago, when we were having a couples dinner out. We were talking about the next event, and for some reason, maybe because of the relentless heat or too many margaritas, it suddenly seemed like a really good idea to submit an excerpt. I’ve just submitted two – the scene in which Isa and Dad argue about science, housing market, and computers before he helps her with Yomama merger, and the one in which Mr. Hue spouts his dubious business advice while Isa tries to come up with a blame strategy for her failures. I should know by the end of March if I get to be on the other side of the audition game on 22 April.

What do you think? Are there any other ways to blow off humor steam? I’ve been doing it in meetings, too, but the problem is that I can’t follow a laugh with “Oh, you liked that? Then buy my book!” And that’s exactly what I plan on doing at the end of my standup routine. I won’t try to sell it to actors, they are notoriously broke, but in my previous dealings with Crash Test Drama, I was once approached by a TV program director. She wanted to know how she could find me if she ever needed Ukrainian actors instead of Australians trying to fake a Russian accent, and nothing ever came of it, but you never know. This time she may want to option Isa and the gang for a pilot. It could happen.

Hope this prompts a brilliant idea of your own.

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You didn’t write the book I wanted

Well, it’s been eight whole days since my International BookBub ad went live and I just hit 6,000 free units downloaded! Wippee! That’s more than twice of what was predicted by BookBub themselves (2,500)!

The sell-through has not been great, with just 7 full-price copies of Indiot have been purchased and the equivalent of additional 4 copies read through KU. Still, I could not wait to apply for the US distribution, and then could not believe my eyes when I was promptly rejected. But…but…why won’t you let Americans have a free copy of Shizzle, Inc? Everyone else in the world loves it!

Well, that’s not entirely true. Yes, I did get at least one new fan, who’d not only inhaled Shizzle, Inc in just a day or two, he or she immediately posted a glorious review:

And then, just a couple of days later, he/she posted a review of Indiot:

Aw, shucks…I was practically glowing, but then this one dropped:

I’m not sure who was the prince that supposedly saved Isa, and I’m also not sure what that person expected from a book with a tagline of What could possibly happen when a gloriously dippy millennial becomes the right hand of an equally clueless playboy billionaire? Of course, with any free giveaway, your book is bound to end up in the hands of people who didn’t read the description and I know I should be all cool about it by now, but my hand just ached to respond to the comment…

I slapped that hand away and undertook immediate damage control. Once again, it helps to keep this blog, because I’ve already been through the pain of a 1-star review and have written A Simple Guide to Overcoming 1-Star Review Grief. It reminded me that my hope was one day to have tens of thousands of 1-star reviews, just like the bestsellers in the above Simple Guide. So this particular one just brought me one review closer to the goal.

Suddenly, it didn’t matter so much. In fact, I wanted to share some of the other 1-star reviews of Shizzle, Inc that I hope you might find amusing. Keep in mind, these were written about a book from a “defining series of a generation!” if you believe one of the 5-star reviews:

  • “The behavior of Mr. Hue was unrealistic and quite frankly, shockingly rude. A complete douche. If this were reality, his company would have gone down in flames before it ever got off the ground.”
  • “There are just too many screwballs in this book. Everyone is a screwball or a screw-up.”
  • “Good gods, this was stupid.”
  • “The main character is an idiot, her employer is an idiot, and I think the story might be set in an alternate universe. Otherwise. . .wow. just wow.”
  • ” I’m not sure if Shizzle, Inc. can be classified as satire because it bears so little relation to the real world of corporate greed and weirdness.”
  • “Other reviewers either are being nice and writing fake reviews or they were of low intelligence to begin with and easily amused by letters and words.”
  • “Had this been a paper book, I would have burned it to save another reader the 1.5 seconds they might spend reading the title and thinking it might be worth opening the cover.”

Yeah, so other than a slight eye twitch, I’m no longer affected by those and I hope you feel a bit better about any 1-star reviews you might have gotten of late. I have just over 30 bad reviews now, across the different platforms, so still not close to the tens of thousands.

That’s okay, though – I can apply for the US BookBub in 29 days.

 

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