September 19, 2009 — 146 words
Originally, I wanted to post my Pastafarian parody of Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code" in honour of Talk Like a Pirate Day, but then I chickened out because it was too silly.
Then I stupidly mentioned the fact that I was not doing what I wanted to do, and felt even dumber than usual. So I went through the book (as rough as it was) and started cutting out things that were stupid. In the end, I only have 56 pages left, or really just the first third of the book.
All the same, it has pirates, faith, and Germans, and you may find it interesting.
Or really, really sad.
I dunno if I'll ever finish it, but at least you got to see it before I burned all copies!
September 19, 2009 — 823 words
This is mostly a repeat of a post I made in February, after Training Day aired in Canada. I'm going to try and keep on top of things all over again, giving inside information about episodes of RollBots, so you can see the things that went into producing each story.
So, "Training Day". Not surprisingly, this is the first story I came up with for the series. Structurally-speaking, the first draft of 101 (101=season 1, episode 01) was a lot longer than what you saw on air. There was an entire B plot with Lance getting badly injured and having to go to the Hub to get repaired, and the drama of that. It was turning into a strong Spin/Penny split and ended up way too long to produce, so we cut out the Lance side story and moved it into its own episode (now 105). So more on that later. But you can see the remnants of it, where Lance is falling and Spin catches him in mid-air.
The other element that was edited out was an extended action sequence with Spin battling Botch, which I had had in my mind since before I even knew Botch's name. That sequence has been moved into a much later episode, but I won't say which one. It is probably my favourite battle sequence in the entire series.
There are some subtle things in the episode you may have noticed. I'm a web developer, so there are a lot web terms in there, like a "301 Redirect" or the names of various trax systems throughout the city. Vertex's hideout has a joke to it that you probably don't get anymore. The Zetag estate was supposed to be full of "broken windows". If you look hard enough, you'll get it.
Oh, and for those who remember the old Mac OS X development layers, the top and bottom-most areas of Flip City are called "Quartz Sector" and "Boot Sector".
There is one glitch — to do with things underfoot — that doubles as a spoiler. I won't say what the glitch is, or what the spoiler is.
The part where Vertex transforms from his rolling mode to his spider mode, when we saw it in leica (moving storyboards), was the first moment I really thought: "Yeah, this show is going to kick ass". I thought that at various stages along the way, but it wasn't until that shot that it really clicked for me.
The speech that Vertex does to the henchbots is overly-long, and I apologize for that. We'd just settled on Vertex's voice and his design was looking cool and I just kept re-writing that block so I could have a little more "evil villain" time. Luckily, Vertex doesn't do that ever again. (Fun note: Colin Murdock does the voice of both Vertex and Macro, of all people. We did the voice casting blind, so I didn't know until later.)
Interesting trivia: Spin was originally blue. He went through a lot of design variations to arrive at where he is. He had to lose his blue body because it reminded us too much of Sonic the Hedgehog. We also nixed some white racing stripes down the front of his face because they conflicted too much with his eyes when he animated. Oh, and Penny used to be pink, but we had to switch her for Toy Reasons (girls won't shop in the boy toy aisle, and boys won't buy pink toys).
To wrap up 101, a final note: when we started writing this episode, we were trying to decide whether we'd actively promote the idea that there was a continuing story to this series. Ending like we did with Pounder chewing out Spin, and Spin being defiant... that was a long and complicated discussion amongst the producers. In the end, I think it was a good choice... it warns the audience that we're not just making a fluffy kids show here... there's going to be some twists along the way.
If there was anything in 101 that you wanted to ask about, feel free to do so in the comments. I can't guarantee I'll answer all questions, but I'll do my best to shed light where it won't conflict with the major plot points of season 1.
September 18, 2009 — 1,362 words
This story, about the future of books, is all Piers' fault. You may send him hate mail.
Johannes Gutenberg sipped his tea with the utmost grace, but his hand never left the pistol. Marty was in no mood to drink. He was going to be late for the board meeting.
“All right,” he said as pleasantly as he could, “I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think I can do thirty percent. The way things stand with the publishers right now, we’d be deep in the red if we went much over five percent.”
The translator wasn’t even finished the first sentence before Gutenberg laughed, shaking his head and sloshing some tea onto his lap.
“Raise your prices, then,” said the translator as the German wound up.
“Is that a joke?” Marty asked both of them.
“I don’t think so,” answered the translator.
Marty reached over to his iPhone and flipped to the calculator. He entered some numbers and his face dropped. He spun it around and showed Gutenberg.
“There’s no way I can sell an e-book for $14.99. No way. The market won’t bear it. The print version would be cheaper.”
Gutenberg said nothing.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Marty said, running his hand through his hair and trying the calculator some more. The translator sipped some of his own tea quietly, he and his master ominously patient.
“You know what?” Marty said turning off the iPhone. “This makes no sense. What makes you think you can just come in here and demand a cut of an entire industry? The digital marketplace didn’t even exist when you were in business!”
Gutenberg didn’t reply, even after the translation was done. He gently stroked the pistol with his index finger.
“Fine,” grumbled Marty. “Fine. I can maybe squeeze you in for five percent. But that’s it.”
“Five percent will not suffice,” reported the translator as Gutenberg spoke. “The standard rate is thirty. It is non-negotiable.”
“Standard? You mean you’ve done this before?”
“You will make payments on the fifteenth of each month at a rate of approximately five euros to the guilder—”
“Now hold on—”
“And Mr Gutenberg reserves the right to audit your books up to four times a year to check for discrepancies.”
Marty inhaled deeply. In most conversations, this would be the part where he slammed his fist on the table to take charge. The gun in the room changed the dynamic somewhat.
“Listen,” he said, switching gears, “we’re just a start-up here. Sure, these are nice offices, but they’re not earned yet. If you want real money, you need to hit up the New York publishers. That’s where your thirty percent will pay off.”
Gutenberg finished his tea in one gulp and stood up suddenly, handing the gun to the translator and wandering out of Marty’s office.
“He’s using the facilities,” the translator explained.
“He’s a damn fool,” Marty grumbled, leaning back in his chair. “Where the hell does he get off demanding this from me? I don’t owe him anything.”
“He is the founder of the printing press,” said the translator. “I think we all owe him a little something.”
“Bullshit,” said Marty. “He should be dead. He shouldn’t need money anymore.”
“He is dead,” said the translator. “In the past, at any rate. The man with us today has time-travelled from 1454, from what I understand.”
“How the hell did he manage that?”
“Oh, he’ll never say. He’s quite paranoid someone will try and stop him.”
Marty just nodded. The absurd had given way to the surreal, and the Jack Daniels was on the other side of the room.
“I’m not clear on the details,” continued the translator, “but it appears he owes a man named Fust a large sum of money.”
“He can’t possibly owe that much.”
“He’s also developed a pachinko habit,” said the translator. “Just not the luck to go with it. And unfortunately, he spends most of his time in 22nd-century Tokyo, trying to beat the system.”
“Not my problem,” Marty grumbled.
“Oh but it is, you see.”
“So what, I’m supposed to pay a third of my income to support his gambling addiction?”
“In a word, yes.”
“Bullshit. Fifteen bucks and we’ll go out of business. The industry is moving to digital, and he wants to handicap it out of the gate? Absolute bullshit.”
“I think he sees it as preserving his legacy.”
“Legacies die all the time.”
“So do people.”
The door opened again and Gutenberg strode in, throwing himself into his chair and taking the gun from the translator. He checked his tea cup, saw it was empty, and reached over to take Marty’s. He sipped, then spoke.
“Do we have a deal?” said the translator.
“No,” said Marty. “I’m calling your bluff. I’m not paying you a cent. You want money? Do something useful with your life. No freebies to freeloaders.”
Gutenberg sat forward as the translation finished. He looked down at the gun, then back at Marty.
“You… you ignorant swine,” said the translator, his voice growing shaky. “I will… I’m sorry, the German he uses is hard to follow sometimes… he’s saying… something about your mother… and…”
Gutenberg slammed his fist down on the table, and everyone jumped. He took the gun, swung it around towards Marty, and then, very deliberately, pressed it to his own temple.
“I gave Luther his voice,” said the translator, backing away. “I brought freedom to the world, revolution to the weak, riches to the poor. I changed the world like no man has ever done, and I swear to the Almighty that if you do not give me the compensation I rightly deserve, I will take it all away from you.”
“W-what’s he mean?” Marty asked the translator.
“I think he means to say that he’ll kill himself, and the change in history will throw humanity back into the Dark Ages. As if the Renaissance never happened.”
“Is that possible?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Tell him to stop it.”
“I don’t think it will do any good. He’s quite serious.”
“Just wait!” Marty said, this time to Gutenberg. “If I give you what you want, you’ll stop this? You won’t shoot yourself?”
Gutenberg stared at him, then shrugged slightly.
“He would consider it,” said the translator.
Marty glanced at the iPhone, thought of the red in the balance sheet, the falling numbers, the investors rushing for the door. But then he thought: if I don’t do this, there would be no balance sheet, no numbers, no investors and no door to run out of.
“It’s the fate of humanity for thirty percent?” he asked.
The translator asked Gutenberg, and Gutenberg said: “Ja.”
Marty sighed, then nodded solemnly. The translator exhaled, smiling. Gutenberg took the gun from his head and handed it over to the translator, then reached out a hand to his new licensee. It took a lot of willpower to shake it.
As they were leaving, Marty caught the translator by the arm and held him back.
“This is going to put me out of business, you know.”
“I think he knows that, yes.”
“Then why is he doing it? If he works with me, we could make some serious money at this game. It could be great.”
The translator shrugged.
“Truthfully, this is not the first time he’s pulled this stunt. The New York publishing houses have been paying him fifty percent a month for close to ninety years, and in return, he is obliged to keep their competitors at bay.”
“Wait, so he’s sacrificing the future for a quick buck?”
“Goodness no,” smiled the translator. “He’s seen the future. Digital wins. He’s just squeezing the ripest fruit of the day. And you, sir, are not yet ripe.”
September 17, 2009 — 673 words
I got this question last week and I've been trying to think of how best to respond. It's a tricky question: "Have you thought about trying conventional publishing, so you can compare your experiences with your DIY method?"
It's a complicated question. The easy answer is yes, yes I have thought about it. But the execution is where I get stuck, because it's a big mess of philosophical quandaries and practical concerns. I'll try and explain my thinking, so you don't think I'm making the decision lightly.
I have to admit, the thought of experimenting with something like this is really interesting to me. I keep imagining the process: I have two books ready to go on the same day, but I send one of them off to publishers and compare the lifespan of both. It could be really, really fascinating stuff. Assuming a publisher actually took it on, it would mean my self-published one would be on the market at least a solid year or two before the other... but after five years, which would have earned more? I'd love to find out. I really would. Comparing timelines and processes and everything in between.
But that's a big part of the problem. If I tried to get this experiment off the ground in early 2010, that would mean I'd have to write a 100,000-word novel, revise it several times, and then repeat the process for a second book, all in the space of 3-4 months. I like a good challenge, but that seems just a tiny bit silly. If I managed to pull it off, it would be nothing short of a miracle, and then I'd be faced with my bigger concern...
Sometimes, when I have an idea that could cross the line from book to TV show, I have to weigh the benefits of killing my baby. Not KILLING, I guess, but given the turnaround time for just the pitching process in TV, you have to assume that any idea you submit to that world may not come back to you for months or years. The same would go for this... if I decide to risk one of my ideas for this experiment, I'm kinda obliged to follow through to the bitter end, which could be years away. I don't know that I'll be able to resist just self-publishing if too much time passes without a reply. I mean really: 6 months to get a rejection? Blargh. That might drive me even more insane.
Maybe more critical is the question: if I did this, would any publisher actually deal with me? Leaving aside quality, it's the issue of "here is this guy treating us like second-best". I mean, assuming I manage to convince a publisher to look at my book in a year's time, they're going to research who I am and what I do, and they're going to find out a lot of things that will make me less than their ideal candidate for publication. If I've already torpedoed myself in advance, maybe I should save myself the trouble and not try at all?
Wouldn't you find it fascinating to see a blog post six months from now, where I transcribe my first rejection letter? I've never had one, so maybe it's more of a romantic notion to me than to others, but I think it would be great fun. Detailing the process, writing the letters, the waiting, all that other stuff... wouldn't it be so incredibly cool? I don't expect that I'd BE published traditionally, so this is all just the fun of the game, more than anything.
Maybe I'm nuts.
Anyway, this is all to say that I still haven't decided. I know my 2010 schedule is going to be much less crowded than 2009, but I do want a few tent pole projects, and this would be a great one.
But is it a good idea? You tell me.
September 15, 2009 — 72 words
September 15, 2009 — 1,225 words
This week's topic tag is actually courtesy of @quillsandzebras, who send along some truly remarkable search terms that people used to arrive at her site. I won't list them here, but you'll probably be able to guess... they're the really, really freaky parts of the story.
Norman’s PDA was broken, but he still had four hours left in his day. He rotated the batteries, just in case, but there was no change. The thing was dead.
“Hey Norm,” said Pete, popping out of a nearby doorway with a thrashing sack over his shoulder. “Lovely evening, ain’t it?”
Norman stowed the PDA and paced over next to Pete.
“I don’t suppose I could check your firehose, could I?”
“Why?” said Pete, eyes narrow.
“My PDA died.”
Pete sighed, fished his own out of his pocket, and handed it over. Norman paged through the entries as efficiently as possible, but the scroll wheel was sticking… tacky, almost. He shuddered to think why.
“All strange-os t’night,” said Pete. “I been through the list six, maybe eight times, and notta one that don’t give me the willies.”
Norman nodded. They list was rather freakish. He was about to give up when he saw something truly unusual. He held the PDA up so Pete could see.
“What do you think this means?”
Pete’s face twisted into a semi-smirk.
“Izzat even English?”
“Somehow, I hope not.”
“Looks sick,” Pete laughed. “This I gotta see.”
He snatched the PDA back and started down the street. He took a moment to deposit his sack into the steel trap of a Collection Truck, then turned back toward Norman.
“You comin’ or what?”
Norman hopped to attention. He ran after Pete, barely catching the door to a low rise before it closed with a thump. They skirted their way into a dark stairwell, started up as quietly as they could manage.
“It’s a door upstairs,” said Pete, labouring up the steps. “Never a door downstairs, izzit?”
“We could use the exercise,” said Norman.
Pete stopped, turned on Norman with a sneer.
“Y’know why the PDA thing always happens t’you, right?” he said. “Iss the subconscious expectationlism you got goin’ on. You think it’s gonna break, so it breaks. You gotta think more positive-like, yeah?”
Norman said nothing.
They arrived at number 508, listened by the peep hole. There were voices talking inside, but the wood was too thick to hear the words. Pete turned the knob, and the door swung open silently.
Inside and down a short hall was a small, shabby living room with aqua-green carpeting. At the far side, perched on the sofa, was a young woman with wet brown hair, wrapped up tight in a yellow towel. Her eyes were closed, her head back, and she moaned softly, deeply,
There, kneeling below her, was a gnarled old woman with greenish skin, patchy grey hair, and a giant wart on the end of her nose. She had the young woman’s foot in her hands, caressing it gently with her foul, purple tongue.
“‘Witch lick feet’,” laughed Pete. “Well I’ll be. This’s goin’ in the record book, I can bet you that.”
The young woman and her witch both looked around quickly, suddenly aware of the intruders in the room. Norman took an involuntary step behind Pete. He couldn’t stand this part.
“Hullo, ladies,” said Pete. “Sorry to interrupt, but my friend and I are going to have t’take the old bag away.”
The young woman looked frantic.
“It’s nothing personal,” said Norman, almost apologetic. “You can pick her up in the morning if you—”
“The going rate forra full humanoid inna state such as this is, it’s about four-fifty. That’s payable in cash, or credit, but please no personal cheques unless they’re certified, yeah?”
The young woman didn’t answer. The witch was backing into the bedroom, eyes wide with fear. Pete pulled a sack from his jacket and started after her, moving with the calculated precision of an experienced kidnapper. He closed the bedroom door behind him while he worked.
Norman finished filling out some paperwork on his notepad. His pencil tip broke.
The woman sniffled to herself, and even though he didn’t want to, he felt the need to say something to her.
“It’s fairly standard business, kidnapping fantasies like this,” he said. “There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I mean… we see some truly remarkable things every night. Yours is fairly mundane. You really shouldn’t worry about it. As long as you pay the ransom within a week, nobody has to know.”
The woman nodded just as Pete came in, dragging the thrashing sack behind him. He stopped next to Norman, checked the notepad, and nodded.
“We all good here?” he smiled.
The woman refused eye contact. Pete laughed, a cold edge to his voice and sidled over to the woman, tugging at the edge of her towel.
“Missy,” he breathed, “we all good?”
The woman, again, refused eye contact. So Pete gripped tightly, and with a mighty heave, took her towel. He slung it over his shoulder as Norman quickly averted his eyes. The witch in the sack started squealing viciously, shoving her head out the hole in the top.
“Zippit, hag!” Pete grunted, and pushed her head down.
Norman left the receipt on the coffee table and quickly backed out of the apartment without glancing at the woman again. When they were safely in the hall, he scurried next to Pete, whispering urgently.
“Was that really necessary?”
“Respect issa two-way street,” Pete said.
Down at the Collection Truck, Norman once again got to browse the PDA while Pete tried to shove the witch into the hole. She was getting louder and more frantic, furiously trying to get free.
“Witch not bad!” she shouted. “Witch get even! Witch make you slavers! Witch make you cry!”
“Yeah yeah,” said Pete, shoving harder. “Heard it, seen it, and whatever.”
Finally, the sack went in, and the door closed with a clunk. Two seconds later, the air filled with a horrible grinding noise, like a fat hamster in a food processor. Pete and Norman both frowned. It was rather jarring.
“That don’t sound right,” said Pete.
They opened the door again and peered in. Rather than the usual sparkling dust and whiff of ephemeral whimsy, the processor was thick with blood, bone and hair. It dripped thickly down the sides of the tube.
“That ain’t right at all,” said Pete.
Norman quickly re-scanned the entry that had sent them there: “Witch lick feet”. He opened the full details for the order, saw all the random chatter from the agents who’d intercepted the fantasy request, the chain by which it had arrived downstream… and finally, to the full report.
“Oh dear,” he gasped.
“What?” asked Pete. “What’s what?”
He took the PDA from Norman and started reading, and in a second, his face turned from concern to outright horror.
“Goddamn character limit,” spat Pete, walking away with his head in his hands. Norman fell back against the Collection Truck, swallowed a sob.
“Witch lick feet,” he said quietly, “of beauty in yellow towel.”
September 15, 2009 — 1,011 words
This Saturday, September 19th, my show "RollBots" premieres in the USA on the CW4Kids. This is where things get serious, so I'm going to try and inject a little silly. And I need your help. Yes, you.
What is RollBots?
It's many things. On the surface, it's a Saturday morning cartoon not unlike classic Transformers, with little robot spheres that do battle with each other. Canadian kids have been watching it since February, and they love it (I have hundreds of parents' emails to prove it). But on a deeper level, it's also mini-geekery in action. I like to think of it as Battlestar Galactica Jr... there's a series arc with a complex mythology that I hope will help train kids to see beyond "Monster of the Week", and hope for something better.
What's this challenge?
I'll be honest: even though my books do reasonably well, I earn more writing a single episode of RollBots than I have from The Vector. My TV habit funds the rest of what I do. If RollBots does well in the US, I will get to do another season, and I will have more time and resources to make things like The Pig and the Box and TorrentBoy. If not, my ability to make Creative Commons-licensed goodness will be severely limited.
What I'm asking of you is this: please watch my show. If you have kids, plonk them down in front of the TV to watch it. If your kids have friends, tell them too. If you don't have children of your own, buy some (no, not really). Tell everyone you can that RollBots is on TV this Saturday, and it's gonna be great!
I know some of you don't know me and couldn't care less about me, so I've made a list of reasons RollBots is worth supporting. It's aimed at Internet folk and geeks, but the rest of you can read it too...
So what's the pay off?
Beyond the fact that you'll get to spend 30 minutes of happy time this Saturday, there's another benefit I'll throw into the pot. The average ratings for a show on the CW4Kids in our time slot is 0.5/4. I want to improve on that if I can. So I will bribe you (collectively). Here's how it'll work...
Just for context: Typhoon is a sci-fi action novel about near-future asteroid pirates and the dangerous politics of defying a government-sanctioned monopoly. The outline for the book has already drawn serious interest in turning it into a TV series of its own, so believe me when I say that CCo-ing this sucker is a big deal for me. And for further context, a script for an episode of RollBots is worth a bit less than $10,000. So that's a decent-sized donation to the EFF, no matter how you slice it.
What's to do?
Watch the show, obviously. Write about this challenge, twitter it, post it on Facebook... all the usual stuff. I realize Nielsen families don't grow on trees, but if enough people are chatting about RollBots, we're bound to bump into some of them. Every last bit helps.
I'm not asking for money, and I don't expect miracles... and I realize it's presumptuous to ask for your passionate support of a show you've never seen before... but if nothing else, I want you all to know that while most Saturday morning cartoons look stupid, like they're created by committee trying to squeeze pennies from toddlers... this show, this time, is made by a true Internet geek, and he needs your help.
You may now commence the flaming.
September 11, 2009 — 283 words
This is an excuse post, wherein I will distract you from a lack of content.
I don't know if other writers have this problem, but I live in a world of cycles. I wear many hats, so I have many cycles, and while I have tried to map them all out, they're too unpredictable, so I had to give up and put myself at their mercy.
I have a dramatic writing cycle, a comedy cycle, a programming cycle, a plotting cycle, a graphic design cycle, a drawing cycle, a video editing cycle, and sometimes a "shut up and leave me alone" cycle. Though not often.
Today, I am knee-deep in a programming cycle, coming off a comedy one, and if I'm lucky, heading towards a drawing one. I really need to draw some stuff soon. Last time I thought I was heading in that direction, I had a burst of video editing that got me nowhere. I must finish Xander and the Wind before the month is out, but my brain just isn't there. It's like writer's block, except it has nothing to do with writing, and I end up producing a lot of OTHER stuff, so it just looks like I'm being rude. I'm not, honest. I'm battling with rampant distractibility.
Which is to say: I may not be producing as much writing content over the next few days/weeks as I had been. It's not you, it's me. Though you can blame yourself too if it would make you feel better.
(note: Fission Chips will be produced on schedule, because I have a song I listen to that jumpstarts that part of my brain. I wish I had that for drawing...)
September 8, 2009 — 1,294 words
Welcome to another fine instalment of Topic Tag Tuesday, wherein I solicit ideas from the Twitterverse and write a 500-word story in less than an hour with the top suggestion. This is for @mjgolli, who wrote "Telephone Repairman discovers he is the Antichrist."
Harvey’s job was a tad ridiculous these days. Here he was, sitting on the woman’s floor in his little slipper-covered work boots, chatting on his Bluetooth headset while the woman yammered away on her own cell phone… all for the sake of a landline that he suspected nobody would ever use.
“Still holding,” he said to Jen as she came back on the line for the fifth time. “Any signal?”
“None yet,” Jen grumbled. “You sure it’s a live line?”
“Registers in the house,” Harvey said unhappily. “Strength is good right to the hub. It’s gotta be on your end, Jenny.”
Jen’s voice got louder, more personal.
“It’s Jen, Harv. I’m not a little girl. Stop calling me that.”
“Sorry. Old habits die hard.”
She put him on hold as a rebuke. He glanced over at the woman, sitting on the sofa with her phone glued to her ear, and smiled as apologetically as he could. She rolled her eyes at him.
“I know,” she sighed into the phone. “It’s been almost an hour. How hard can it be?”
Harvey went back to testing the line, even though he knew it wouldn’t work. He checked the cables from his unit, down along the ground and into the socket, but they all looked to be in good shape. He wiggled them a bit. A small spark shot out and he pulled his hand back, sucked on his finger.
“Jesus Christ,” he grumbled. “Didn’t expect that!”
The woman on the sofa stared at him with nervous eyes.
His phone rang, and he switched lines without thinking.
“Harvey here,” he said.
“Harvey Wallace?” asked a quiet, almost anxious voice.
“Yeah, that’s me. What’s up?”
“Oh my darkness, you’re kidding! You’re really Harvey?”
Harvey checked his phone. The number was “(666) 666-6666.” He sheathed the handset and pretended he was working on the line again.
“Who is this?” he asked quietly.
“I don’t know how to explain,” said the voice. “I’m your uncle Lucifer.”
“I don’t have any uncles. Who are you?”
“This isn’t the right way to have this conversation. Can we meet somewhere?”
The woman passed by closely on her way to the kitchen. She wasn’t saying anything anymore. Listening.
“Yes of course,” said Uncle Lucifer. “Working. I understand. Well then, I’ll do my best. You, Harvey, are—”
“Are you done yet?” asked the woman, arms crossed, eyes fixed. “Because I have plans this afternoon. So if you could, you know, wrap it up…”
“Sorry, ma’am,” Harvey smiled, tapping the wires again. “Almost there.”
She grunted and went back to refill her coffee cup.
“Sorry,” Harvey said into the headset. “You were saying?”
“The Anti-Christ,” said Uncle Lucifer.
“The Anti-Christ. You are. The Anti-Christ.”
Harvey rubbed his eye. Allergy season.
“All right,” he said finally. “I’m not following. What are you trying to say?”
“I’m saying you’re the leader of the Forces of Darkness, Harvey. You are the Chosen One. He who will crush the Lord and bring about the End of All Time. The son of Satan. The Unrighteous Bastard of—”
“Sorry,” Harvey said, “got another call.”
He switched lines, tested the signal again, and saw it was working. He grinned happily.
“You got it!” he said. “What was the problem?”
“Wrong address on the file. We’ve been resetting the neighbour’s connection all morning.”
“Tell me about it. So we’re good?”
“Very good,” Harvey said, packing up his stuff. “Thanks, Jenny!”
“Harv!” she yelled. “Stop it! Seriously! Stop!”
“Sorry,” he nodded meekly. She hung up on him, and he got to his feet, stretching his legs and back. He pulled a clipboard out of his pouch and peeked around the corner, smiling to the woman with the coffee.
“All done,” he said. “I just need your signature here.”
The woman scribbled her name on the line and not-so-subtly rushed him out the door. She locked it the second it closed. Harvey pulled the slipper-covers off his boots and shoved them in his pocket.
His earpiece beeped softly.
“Sorry,” he said, taking it off hold, “I forgot you were there.”
“I’ve never been on hold before. It’s so… boring.”
“Necessary evil,” Harvey said, lumbering down the walk to his van. He threw the gear in the passenger side. “So what do you want me for again? Some kind of club?”
“Oh, Harvey!” exclaimed Uncle Lucifer. “What to say? Honestly, we should have found you the second you were born. I’m as sorry as I can be that you’ve gone these forty-three years without knowing your true potential. I’ll understand if you hate me.”
Harvey shrugged, started climbing in the van. Just then, the woman swung open the front door and sneered furiously.
“You boar!” she shouted. “You scraped my hardwood floor! I should sue!”
“You can smite her if you like,” said Uncle Lucifer. “I would. She’s so shrill and obnoxious. Go ahead. I’ll wait.”
Harvey got out of the van, and trudged over to the house, slipped on his slipper-covers and carefully shuffled over to the spot where she was pointing. There was a light mark on the floor. He leaned down, rubbed it with his finger, and it came off.
“I don’t believe you people!” the woman said. “You’re always late, you take forever, and you destroy my house!”
Harvey finished rubbing the mark off the floor, then stood up and faced the woman. Her face was red in patches. Her ears were practically purple. He lowered his eyes.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I should have been more careful. We’ll… uh… credit your account for two months of free service.”
Her eyes narrowed at him.
“I should think so!” she snapped, and rushed him out the door again. He stood outside, slipped off his slipper-covers, and walked back to the van. A baseball whacked him in the back, and he turned around to see a pair of boys two yards over. Their faces were blank with apprehension. He reached down, picked up the ball, turned it over in his hand.
“You threw this?” he called.
The boys nodded.
“Good spin on it!” he said, and tossed it back. They caught it and hustled inside. Harvey smiled, climbed into the van, and started the engine.
“Still there?” he asked Uncle Lucifer.There was a long pause.
“Y-yes. Yes I am.”
“You were sayin’…”
Another long pause.
“Harvey,” he said carefully, “I don’t think this is going to work out.”
Harvey checked over his shoulder as he started to back out. He paused to let a teenager in a red convertible go by.
“That’s okay,” he said. “I’m pretty booked these days anyway. The switch to digital is a pain.”
“I know. We… er… made it that way.”
“You don’t say.”
“Again, I’m so sorry, Harvey. You could have been so powerful. So powerful. I feel terrible. I will find the minion responsible and flail the flesh off him for the rest of time.”
“No need for that,” Harvey said. “These things happen. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this job, it’s that you can’t blame anyone for anything, because it might just as easily be you. No hard feelings, then.”
Uncle Lucifer sobbed briefly before hanging up.
September 8, 2009 — 482 words
This is for all authors out there who are self-publishing, either online or in print. It's not advice in the traditional sense, but I think it might be useful.
You are only as strong as your weakest link.
Pretty obvious, but not too many authors really appreciate the subtleties of the concept. Let's just assume you're a talented writer, and you've written a good story with great characters and real depth... that in itself is nothing. Absolutely nothing. All you've done is laid the groundwork, which you now need to develop into something truly remarkable. Things like...
Editing. First, you need to edit. Edit for content, edit for spelling, for grammar, for finicky little things you don't even see yourself. One typo will throw the reader out of the story. No matter how good the writing is, too many glitches can ruin it.
Design. You may not realize it, but the layout of your pages makes a big difference. If you don't understand design (which is not a bad thing... it's just like the average person doesn't understand how to craft a novel), it's probably best not to make it up. Take an existing book and copy the design precisely. Print your page and overlay it... is the spacing the same? The font size? The margins? Every last detail contributes to ease-of-use, and you don't want to lose a reader because you got it wrong.
Cover Art. Like it or not, humans are a shallow, superficial lot. If your cover looks like the default design on Lulu, nobody is going to take a second look at it. It's not fair, because the artwork says nothing about the words inside, but that's the way it goes. If you're not a graphic artist (which is a VERY different thing than a painter or sculptor, I should point out), hire someone to do it for you. Don't kill your book before it's seen.
The Blurb. That little block of text that appears on Amazon and on the back cover is vital, and is probably the hardest part of this puzzle, because it will undoubtedly fall on your shoulders to perfect. I don't know the answer of how to do this right, so all I can suggest is to try a bunch of different options, and see which ones are most popular. The blurb isn't just an afterthought, it's your marketing hook. It needs to be sharp.
For many of these things, you can learn to do them pretty well through determination and hard work. If you don't think you can, or don't have the time, then hire someone. It's a major investment, but it will pay off. You don't want to lose readers for stupid reasons, so make sure you take care of the full picture.
Did I miss anything? What bothers YOU about books you've read?