My Two Cents on a Stephen King Quote

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.” 

~Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Pocket Books, 2000.  (Quote taken from Goodreads.)

Let me say up front that aside from a scary movie now and then in the past, before I got squeamish about such things, I am not a fan of the horror-writing  man, or I should say I’m not a fan of the horrors about which he writes; but the man himself, I don’t know well enough to have anything against.

Can I Get A Kickback?

All that aside, unbeknownst to Mr. King (is that his real name?) as a writing instructor, recommended this book to so many of my Let’s Write! students, who actually went out and bought it, that I should rightly get some kind of kickback.  Though I’m nerdy enough that all the kickback I need is my students buying a book I recommended to them (which means they actually listened to me), their reading it (no way!), and then (what?) they actually applied it to their writing?  That’s all more than enough kickback for a weary writing teacher to recommend it all over again to the next class.

Under “I” For Index

This isn’t a book review for On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, but I just want to say the book is excellent in its reflections on writing and its teachings, except for the missing index at the back of the book which I keep complaining about, hoping against hope that King might come across one of my posts somewhere and get the idea to put out a new edition with an index, though I know indexes (indices?) are a lot of work, but oh so worthwhile to the writing student or teacher, so couldn’t he have hired someone to do the grunt work?

For example, if I had an index in my copy of the aforementioned book I could look up the aforementioned quote and give you the page number on which it can be found, but no, not even a Table of Contents, much less a index, and flipping and flapping through the pages, I’m sorry, but I haven’t found the page number.  Sheesh!

The Craft of Writing?

 King’s On Writing is a unique combination of important writing “tools” (his metaphor in the book, which he takes one by one from his “toolbox”) and of his own story (the memoir part).  He reveals both the man as writer and the points he’s learned along the way.  (I just wish he could find something on the lighter side to write his novels about, but….)

So today I’m here to talk about the above quote taken from On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  Nice title but considering King’s stories, I can’t help but wonder if the title would refer to the craft of writing or (hopefully, not) witchcraft.

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”   

                                                                 ~ Stephen King

Simply put, Mr. King is reminding us not to list everything the narrator sees in our descriptions, but, to, instead, choose a few key details and let the reader’s mind fill in the blanks.

And along these lines, my two cents’ worth is this and King agrees:  What you leave in, as well as what you leave out of your descriptions should characterize a person (a man, a woman, a child), a place (a room, the inside of a car, a city), or a thing (the outside of a house, a computer, a dress).  “Characterize” meaning it tells us something about the person, place or thing which allows the reader to read between the lines, so to speak.

So This Hippie Was Building This Robot….

This idea of drawing pictures with just enough words applies to both fiction and nonfiction and is one I cover in my writing classes often, because how we handle details (or the lack thereof) affects the depth and richness of our writing.

In a book about artificial intelligence you might not think what we’ll call “strategic description” would apply.  Au contraire, the more technical the writing the more important not to bore your reader.  In Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (by James Barrat, 2013, St. Martin’s Press), the author, Mr. Barrat, does a beautiful job of exactly what Mr. King (and I) recommend:  Give readers enough to go on based on what the narrator sees, and make what you tell readers count, so they can picture the rest.  After all, isn’t that the beauty of reading versus video?

Here’s an excerpt from Our Final Invention where Mr. Barrat, an investigative journalist, is visiting an artificial intelligence expert in order to conduct an interview for the book.  As the writer arrives at the scientist’s house, Barrat says this:

“On a spring morning I found in his yard a weathered trampoline and a Honda minivan so abused it looked as if it had flown through an asteroid belt to get there. It bore the bumper sticker, ‘My child was inmate of the month at County Jail’.” (p.168)

What a perfect example of exactly what Stephen King advises us to do!  Has not Mr. Barrat told us just what we need in order to fill in the  blanks about what kind of scientist it is who works actively every day to create substitutes for human beings?  Barrat then goes on in the paragraph to list a slew of animals that live in the house with the scientist and his daughter (some rabbits, a parrot, and two dogs).

Are we getting a picture of what this robotics guy is like?  Barrat goes on:

“The professor met me at the door, having climbed out of bed at 11 a.m. after spending the night programming.”  Barrat then proceeds to say the artificial intelligence expert looks like “the consummate hippie”. (p.168)

So a few lines and we know not only what the guy looks like, more or less, but we know a lot more about him, and a little about his family and his surroundings—and all in one paragraph.  This is what I mean (and King agrees) by characterizing with your description without going on with long, boring laundry lists of every detail, in an attempt for your readers to get the point.

There Are Angels In The Details.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m crazy about Detail (capitalized because I love it so much)!  Detail is my middle name when it comes to writing of any kind.  But we have to make it work and not let it just sit there being cute.   Description is not an ornament, otherwise known as filler; it should serve a purpose, justify its place in your writing, where every space a word takes up is valuable real estate.

In the above sample by James Barrat, he has started the description of the man he’s about to interview, but we readers will fill in the rest, using our own experiences and points of view as to whether or not we’ll like this guy.

That’s one thing Barrat didn’t tell us.  He didn’t tell us how he feels about hippies or all those animals or Honda minivans or this man who may well be contributing to the destruction of all of us, directly or indirectly, as the title of Barrat’s book suggests (our Last Invention, get it?).  As a reporter, Barrat’s just telling it as he (the narrator) sees it” and leaving it to us readers to make up our minds about the rest of it.

Now in fiction if you’re writing from a character’s point of view it tends to matter more how the character feels about what’s being described.  If the narrator is a part of the story, his or her descriptions of people and things serve to characterize him or her as much as who or what is being described, because readers are seeing through the lens of the character’s own experience and point of view.

And speaking of that, here’s another example of description through narration and the lens of the character’s viewpoint, this time in fiction.  Please pardon me if I use my own writing.

“Read My Book.”

In my novel Two Shores (in the process of being re-titled back to its original of The Archangel of Hamilton Beach), I practiced what I (and Stephen King) preach.  Here are a few lines from the first paragraph of Chapter 2 of my novel, narrated by the main character at age six, just returning from his first day of kindergarten.  The chapter is entitled “Escape to Hamilton Beach”:

“When Michael disappeared from my view, I sat down and ate part of the sandwich he’d made for me and drank some of the milk. The kitchen smelled like cigarettes. The garbage in the pail leaned against the wall and trailed up it. Some flies buzzed around. I wondered if they thought the yellow daisies in the faded wallpaper were real. I also wondered where Teresa—my mother—was, probably asleep in her bedroom, or drunk, or both.”

Now, if I do say so myself, I think Stephen King would be proud of me for my use of just enough detail to describe not only the kitchen through the eyes of this troubled six-year-old boy, but also just enough to tell my readers something of Danny, his life, his brother, his mother—in other words, to characterize all of it without giving every detail of what’s in front of Danny in this scene.  Even if you hadn’t read Chapter 1 before Chapter 2, you’d have some idea of his family situation and his surroundings, and surroundings are important to ground your reader, so to speak (but that’s another post).

Get a Job!

I tell my Let’s Write! students, whatever you put down on the page, tell it to get a job!  What kind of job, you ask?  Well, for one is this characterization I’ve been going on about—using description to help the reader know more about and understand in more depth what you’re looking to convey with your writing.

Moving the story forward is another job of describing people, places, and things in ways that tell readers more than just what they look like.  The above paragraph from my novel moves the story forward in that readers see this boy’s home is unkempt, his brother made him a sandwich and is gone, and mom lurks somewhere nearby, probably not in the best of moods.

And speaking of moods, another  job which description should perform includes setting the mood (the above kitchen?) of the scene or even of the whole story.  I’ll save more talk on the various jobs description should accomplish for another post.

A Dark And Lonely Night

Well, I’ve already gone on too long here or I’d go into the various ways of approaching description to suit Mr. King’s admonition, such as the use of simile, metaphor, dialogue, and others, but I don’t want to lose you (or put you to sleep).

But if you happen to run into Stephen King on a dark and lonely night, please tell him I said to give us a new edition of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, this time with an index? So instead of wasting time searching his book for what we know he said in there somewhere, we writers can use our time more productively searching our imaginations for just the right words to use in our beguiling descriptions, which the readers will then finish in their own  minds.

Excerpt 7, Chapter 2, The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, a novel

ARCHANGEL PIC SaintMichaelArcAngel----archangel-michael[1]“Hey, you,” she yelled. “The doctor’s here.”

I squeezed my eyes shut. Silent tears slid down my cheeks and onto my lips. I could hear him coming into the apartment. I peeked out the open door of my bedroom and watched as Teresa hushed the fat doctor in and pointed to her bedroom. I had never seen him before. He was new. I got confused because he looked like a priest. He had on one of those black dresses they always wore when they were walking around the rectory next to the church, near the school.

I could hear them talking and laughing in her room. Then, they came back out, and the priest-doctor had put on and was buttoning up the same dingy white coat with the brown stain that I had found on the floor of Teresa’s closet. She carried the doctor’s black bag for him. The doctor, a smile on his sweaty face, shook his head. He gave her a handful of paper money, which she put into the pocket of her robe. Then she handed him the black leather bag.

“He’s in there,” she said, pointing to my room with the fingers holding her cigarette. “Come on in. He’s all yours.”

I grabbed Michael’s flannel shirt, ran under the bed, and curled myself into a ball with the shirt wrapped around me. I shoved my head under the headboard up against the wall. Please, Archangel, no more. Please, I prayed. My mother’s black and gold slippers sloshed into the bedroom and stopped next to the bed. The doctor-priest’s black shoes stopped, too.

“Come out of there, you,” she yelled. “Don’t waste the doctor’s time. Or mine, either.”

I clutched Michael’s shirt, digging my fingernails into my arms until it hurt. If I just thought about the pain from my fingernails cutting into my skin, I wouldn’t have to think about the rest of it. Teresa’s bathrobed form knelt down on the dusty floor beside the bed. Her hands appeared, then her face, now turning red.

“Come on, now, you,” she said. “The doctor’s a busy man and doesn’t have time to argue with sissy little boys like you. Do you hear me?”

“No more, Ma, please, no more,” I begged.

She bent down lower, her face straining and redder. “Now, you listen to me, you filthy little thing,” she said. “It’s not my fault you were born with this evil in you. It’s God’s punishment. That’s why you need your treatments. They’ll help you. I told you that.”

The room was dark as night. Again, the thunder cracked, and I jumped and bumped my head up into the bottom of the bed. Then, my body froze.

Teresa screamed at me, “Come out here right now!”

Blood, from where my fingernails were digging deeper and deeper, ran down my arm and beaded up on top of the dust on the floor. Lightning sliced the room with a flash of light. “Archangel, is that you?” I whispered.

Black pants and the stained white jacket appeared. Two hairy hands touched the floorboards. “Come on, little Danny baby,” said the man. “I’m not gonna hurt you. I’m here to help you, just like your mama says.”

His breath smelled like Teresa’s—scotch and cigarettes. The sweat from the fat man’s face dripped onto the floor, making a ball of wetness on the dust.

“You little brat! You come out of there right now,” she screamed, “or I’ll tell your brother. Do you hear me? And if he leaves…. Well, don’t blame me, Mister. Now, get out here and get your treatment or that’s just what’s going to happen. I’m giving you one more chance. Or you can kiss your precious brother goodbye.”

“No!” I cried. “I’m coming out. I’m coming right now. I’ll get my treatment. I promise. I’ll be good. Please don’t tell Michael about me.”

“Then get out here, right now!” she yelled.

I didn’t want her to hit me. I let go of my arms full of bloody marks dug in with my fingernails. I slid slowly across the dusty wooden floor, one leg at a time, toward the edge of the bed frame. The doctor stood up. Teresa reached down and squeezed my arm right where it was bleeding. I yelled and she shook me, pulling me to my feet. When she let go of my arm, it stung like needles. I still gripped Michael’s shirt in one hand.

“Now you do whatever the doctor here tells you, you hear me. You’ve already wasted too much of his time. And mine, too!”

I nodded and watched her leave the room, slamming the door behind her so hard the wall shook. The man in the stained white jacket smiled. Sweat dotted his face.

“Now,” he said, “how are we feeling today?”

His strong smell turned my stomach. “Not too good,” I mumbled.

The rain pounded the fire escape outside the bedroom window, and thunder rumbled from far away.

“Sit here,” he said, pointing to the bed.

I sat down, crying and bleeding.

He opened the black bag and pulled out a small, brown bottle of pink and yellow capsules. He put one of the giant-sized pills into my hand.

“Take this. It’ll make you feel better.” Then, he poured some of Teresa’s scotch into a small glass and said, ”Here, drink this. It’ll make it go down easier.” After all the doctor visits, it had never gotten easier.

I put the pill on my tongue and drank the awful-tasting liquid, fire burning my throat, up to my head which got instantly fuzzy. My temples clamped up as if in a vice, and my stomach turned immediately.

“Okay,” said the priest in the stained white doctor coat. “Take off your clothes.”

I unbuttoned my good yellow shirt, remembering when I’d put it on that morning for my first day of kindergarten, before I met Alison. Somehow, having met her made the doctor treatments worse. I pulled off my pants and bent down to take off my shoes.

“Come on,” said the doctor. “Hurry up. Everything. Take off everything. Your underwear, too.”

I crunched my eyes shut and pulled off my underwear. Archangel, where are you? I thought. The rain outside kept pounding. The thunder kept rumbling. The doctor, smiling through his sweat, pushed me up onto the bed, and tore back the covers.

“Lay on your stomach,” he said, “so I can give you your treatment.” He laughed and reached over and turned on Michael’s radio on the nightstand. Sam Cooke was singing about what a wonderful world this would be…. It was one of Michael’s favorites, because, he said, he also didn’t know much about history or geography, like the song said.

I crawled onto the bed. The room had gotten hot and stifling, and I could barely catch my breath. I watched the doctor pull one of his cold, hard instruments out of the black bag. I felt his big, hot hand on me and then the icy steel of his instrument. I groped around for Michael’s shirt and smothered my face into it, swallowing my screams and gripping his shirt as I inhaled Michael’s smell.

“Here, Goofy,” my brother said, laughing, “let me show you how to rig a pole.”

The orange sun shone down into the gently moving dark water at Hamilton Beach. The sunlight twinkled on the ripples in the water as the weight from Michael’s line plopped down where he’d hurled it.

“Get me one of those weights,” Michael said, pointing to his tackle box. “A small one.” I picked the smallest weight in the box. He was sitting on the sand. I placed the fishing weight into his hand. He grabbed it.

“Hey, good job, Shorty. That’s perfect,” he said, smiling and squinting up at me with the sun in his eyes. “There might be hope for you yet, little brother.” He laughed. “Hey, you wanna learn how to cast a line?” He smiled at me and stood up. “Here, let me show you.”

My face tingled from the hot sun, as I watched Michael cast his line over and over, smiling and squinting at me all the while.

 

“Go wash yourself!” Teresa’s voice stabbed in, and Hamilton Beach disappeared. I didn’t know how much time had passed.

“Your brother will be home any minute,” she was yelling. She kept pushing my leg hard, over and over. “It stopped raining,” she said. “Go hang the laundry out, before it starts again.” Then she left the room.

The bedsheet was sticky, and there was a reddish-brown stain on it like the one on the doctor’s jacket. My blood. When I moved my head, the pain moved with it, heavy, pounding. I tried to sit up. The dresser, the windows, the Archangel picture on the wall, all moved to one side, then back again. The priest-doctor was gone. I fell back on the bed.

“Get up! You hear me?” Teresa yelled in from the living room. “Don’t make me come in there!”

I sat up again, slowly. I held onto the blanket. My body shook in cold shivers. I threw up on the floor in front of the bed.

“What are you doing in there?” she yelled again. “Get moving now, and go hang out that laundry.”

“Okay,” I mumbled but doubted she had heard me over the music on the television, and a man’s voice saying, “This has been As the World Turns, brought to you by Friskies cat food….”

I stepped over the mess I’d made on the floor and, holding on to the nightstand, and then the dresser, moved toward the door. As I passed the mirror, my face looked back at me, pale with dirty tears that had dried on my cheeks. I slid past the dresser and out the door, into the living room.

“Would you hurry up, you dummy. What’s the matter with you?” She was sitting on the couch, remote control in one hand, glass in the other.

“I threw up,” I said, holding onto the wall and looking down at the big faded flowers on the living room rug.

“You’re so pathetic,” she said. “Well, get it cleaned up. Don’t think I’m going around cleaning up after you.”

“I’ll clean it,” I said.

“Well, do it now, before you make me sick. And take that sheet off the bed, and put on a clean one.”

I knew if I tried to walk to the bathroom, I’d fall. So I got down on my hands and knees and crawled across the dusty pink and red rug. I heard the sound of ice rattling as Teresa poured more whiskey into her glass.

“Now what are you doing?”

“I’m dizzy,” I said, still looking at the rug.

“Well, don’t block the television,” she said. “Hurry up.”

I made it into the bathroom and locked the door. Then I crawled into the bathtub, turned on the hot water, and stuck the rubber plug in the drain, relieved to be alone. With the soap and washcloth, I washed the stickiness and dried blood, and scrubbed my face, then lay back in the tub. As I tried to feel better, the little white tiles on the wall began to move in and out, then out and in.

When I closed my eyes, I could still see the tiles, except now they were black instead of white. I lay there for a while, letting the hot water soak into me. I leaned my head back into the water. It drifted into my ears so that I couldn’t hear anything, not the voices on the TV, not the ice clinking in Teresa’s glass, only the water in and out of my ears. It was cool now at Hamilton Beach. Michael was rigging my fishing rod.

I didn’t know how long I stayed there. After I got out of the tub and dried myself, I brushed my teeth a hundred times with tons of toothpaste. I thought of how much Michael liked it when I brushed my teeth.

Then, I remembered the throw-up I still had to clean up and the stained sheet I had to change. My body felt weak, as if I could slump to the floor and sleep there forever. The tiles were still moving and blurring in and out like little blank white stop-signs. I didn’t know how I would get the mess cleaned up, change the sheets, and get the wet clothes from the basement hung outside. I wondered if, when I reached out to the clothesline attached outside Teresa’s bedroom window, I’d fall out.

END OF EXCERPT 7, CHAPTER 2

$2.99 (on Amazon)

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

KDP Hates My Paperback, Part 3

KDP Hates My Paperback, Part 2, and  KDP Hates My Paperback

This is a final update to my prior sad stories regarding attempts to bypass The KDP Previewer with my paperback version of my novel The Archangel of Hamilton Beach.

If you’re sick of this story, imagine how I feel. This is the last one, I promise. I’ll try to be brief.

Selz

Okay, so I said I was going to try it and I did try Selz and it seems okay, though I’m passing on using it to sell books and services on my site. Or I should say I tried Selz halfway, for the purpose for which I wanted it, which was to get the widget for my WordPress site and sell my eBook from there and also my paperback, when I get it printed (happening as we speak).

I did give Selz my best shot. Also, though I had chosen the free version of Selz, [UPDATE: I learned that the Selz free option is only a 2-week trial.] WordPress requires that you have a Business plan which costs considerably more than I’m paying with the Premium plan. But I went for the investment to enable the Selz plugin.

Try as I might for hours – killed the whole day – I could not get the source code to work in the WordPress site as it was supposed to with a quick copy paste from Selz to WordPress.

I had Selz people in chat for help and then I had WordPress people in the chat room for help. When all was said and done I contacted WordPress to remove the Selz plug-in and to refund my investment in the Business plan and put me back on Premium, already paid for not long ago. 

You Deserve A Break Today

A side effect was that when I had downloaded the Selz plug-in I lost my Follow button which I didn’t like. (That has since been reinstated.) With all the pop-ups demanding e-mail addresses wherever I go, I figured I’m probably not the only one it annoys; so I felt like giving my visitors a  break from that, so if they want to follow my site they still just have to click on the little blue button.

I would like to be one of the few sites left which don’t require any signing up or having to fill out any pop-ups. Besides, Followers get notifications by email or otherwise, so whatever I have to offer, I’ll post, and they’ll learn about it.

I’m sure it’s bad business not to collect e-mail addresses, but I’m a writer, teacher, and editor, not a high-tech, code writing, Internet expert, nor to I aspire to becoming the next Internet Biz Billionaire.

If I sound sarcastic, I’m sorry. It’s been a long day. All I wanted to do was embed the Selz plug-in that was supposed to be so easy but turned into a mess. However, I still maintain that it wasn’t me. Even the Selz people were stumped. It just wasn’t doing what it was supposed to do. For starters, what it was supposed to do  was for the little purple S (for Selz) to show up in the Editor on Page/Post pages on my site, but, Nope.

By the way, I also tried the store that apparently comes with the WordPress Business plan, because all of a sudden it was there and I’d never seen it before. Well, I got all the way through the process only to see that the price for the customer is in pounds, not dollars! I’m telling you, it was a long day. So, I’ll continue to sell my eBook through Amazon (with my much-talked-about—and resented—Cover Creator cover—The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback, Part 2, The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback.

Meanwhile Back at the KDP Ranch

My paperback that was $106 went up to over $300 and only available from third party sellers, ditto on the novel by previous name but at the normal price. So I did a fast Cover Creator cover and repubbed the old paperback, and did same for previous title, only because I’m learning you can’t unpublish without the book remaining up there in all these bizarre ways. But at least this way they will be at normal prices and not sold by third parties.

I Figured if it’s going to stay in the public eye I’d rather it be on my terms and not sit there with a ridiculous price tag on it and a screwy manuscript and/or terrible cover (of course, there are gradations of terrible).

But my new paperbacks are on order from the printer with the new cover, so that’s my backup. I’m also learning none of this is a perfect world.

“Good Enough Is Good Enough,” said Jane Fonda

Through the whole process I had to let down my deadly perfectionism (see my post Perfectionism Can Kill…A Blogger), especially when I discovered you can never take a book down from Amazon. Actress Jane Fonda’s quote above, which she said in a 2007 interview, came from her struggle to please her demanding, perfectionist famous actor father Henry Fonda.

So I said to myself, “Yes, in this imperfect fast-paced world of self-publishing I must relax my standards,” especially when, in the reupload, my novel was missing a header  here and there or had one in a couple of places where there shouldn’t have been any, such as on chapter title pages—the kinds of things, as an editor, I’d have dinged someone else for.

Enter at Your Own Risk

So, fair warning to anyone who publishes on Amazon.com: The monster never removes your published books. When you click on Unpublish, it tells you the book will still be available by third parties, which is why my old paperback was at over $300 at last check (though it can also be offered by other parties at normal prices. Somehow the length of time it’s in the Unpublished category causes the price to continue to go up exponentially).

So don’t ever publish anything on Amazon.com that you’re not okay with your name being on forever more, kind of like how you can’t delete anything on your YouTube channel (i.e., don’t Like or Subscribe to a video you’ll later regret anyone knowing you watched, much less liked or subscribed to, because, even if you unlike or unsubscribe, it stays there forever).

Steuben Press

When I get my paperbacks printed, God willing, I’ll also sell them directly from my website using the aforementioned PayPal or credit card option which I already have, and get around Amazon, my original motive in all this (since KDP Still Hates My Paperback). In fact, since I started writing this, Steuben Press which I think I mentioned in The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback, Part 2 that I was going to try, got back to me and I spoke via email with not one human, but two! Whoa! Slow down!

I’m starting with a small order and going from there, but they do offer a proof (for $50) which I’m happy about and they have a set up fee of same, but the setup fee is one-time and not payable for any future orders of the same title and they’ve already made two changes to my cover at no extra charge, bless their hearts.

Selz Versus Sweek

The Selz platform is much more user friendly and moveable within it, unlike Sweek, which I had written in my post (The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback, Part 2) was stiff and stilted and I felt locked in and never knew what was happening. Nothing against Sweek. It just didn’t work for me.

However, once I got past the uploading of my book, etc., the Selz store was not easy for me to maneuver. They use blocks, which I don’t get, but again I’m no expert. The bad news is I hear WordPress is going to blocks soon, too and that will be a sad day because I dislike it strongly, though WordPress said you’ll be able to opt out of it, at least for now….

I found the Selz store setup, here come those words again, stiff and stilted and locked in. Why can’t anybody leave well enough alone and why do these changes always go in the direction of less and less user friendly, not to mention less user creative?

You may do better than I did in embedding the Selz code into your own platform, but aside from that, if you want to sell from somewhere besides your blog and use the websites they offer, with a lot of themes to choose from, etc., it’s a free platform from which to do that, which is how I’ll end up using it, though Selz people are still emailing me to sign up for a paying site.

Sweek has the equivalent in a store, though I didn’t get as far as trying to set one up before I quit the process.

Also, Sweek seemed slow to load and reload, where with Selz that was not an issue at all. Sweek requires an IBAN from European countries, and a BIC, not the pen, a banking identifier code, also referred to as a swift code, like a routing number which serves nationally, but BIC is an international code that allows money to be wired into the United States from abroad. I was able to find a PDF form from my bank online with the swift code. If I were going to pursue Sweek, I’d use the code, but it’s unlikely I will.

Selz, which is based in Australia, doesn’t require any of that and deals in dollars not British pounds.

Enter Calibre for Epub

In the process, I learned a few things, such as how to download and use Calibre to change my Word document into an epub or mobi file (or an epub to a mobi or vice versa). It’s a very handy program. When you download it (free), there’s a great video in which the creator of Calibre explains it well.

My Conclusions:

  1. I’m forgetting Sweek, though it may work for you.
  1. I will maybe sell on the Selz site when I have some time to fool around with setting up the “store”. I will probably take advantage of their help to do so.
  1. Leave all books up on Amazon.com instead of unpublishing the old titles so they don’t stay up with errors in them and at weirdly high prices.
  1. I published my paperback and my eBook with the Cover Creator on Amazon. I will perhaps revisit the covers on Amazon again at another time but for now, at least they’re there.                                                                                                                              PS – Proofs came back from the mean old Previewer w/a big, ugly strip across front and back covers, saying Not for Resale, whereas CreateSpace used to discreetly print the word Proof on the back page inside, which is why I (stupidly) got more than one Proof, thinking to save some money, before I realized the Author’s Copy is the same price). 
  1. I ordered a printed batch of my novel in paperback with my own cover, which is available via my website.
  1. Eventually, I’ll offer my eBook via epub from my website, and perhaps in PDF form as well.

Well, these are just my thoughts on the whole thing, just me being honest, with the hope of helping somebody out there with this bit of information without going through it.

The Archangel of Hamilton Beach, my novel, Excerpt 6, Ch. 2

[AUTHOR’S WARNING:  This chapter depicts an unfortunate scene of abuse of little Danny by a Catholic priest disguised as a doctor. While the scene is not graphic, it is disturbing, but the only scene of its kind in the entire book. If you prefer, you can skip from the top of page 36, after “He’s in there” to the top of page 40 (“Here, Goofy,” ….” as Danny slips into the secret world in his mind, where he’s fishing with Michael).

[The above caution is verbatim from my novel.]

 

2. Escape to Hamilton Beach

When Michael disappeared from my view, I sat down and ate part of the sandwich he’d made for me and drank some of the milk. The kitchen smelled like cigarettes. The garbage in the pail leaned against the wall and trailed up it. Some flies buzzed around. I wondered if they thought the yellow daisies in the faded wallpaper were real. I also wondered where Teresa—my mother—was, probably asleep in her bedroom, or drunk, or both.

I tiptoed through the living room and into my bedroom. She must be in bed, I thought. I always hated to wake her up. I went to the closet to get Michael’s flannel shirt that I had hidden there that morning, the shirt he always wore when he took me fishing at Hamilton Beach. I picked it up and held it, taking in my brother’s smell. I took some paper and a pencil from the drawer of the nightstand and sat on the bed. I drew a big boy, then a little boy. They were smiling. Then a stick and a string in each of the boys’ hands. They were going fishing at Hamilton Beach.

“Daniel?”

Teresa was up.

“You here?”

“Yes, Ma. I’m here. Guess what? There’s a girl named Alison at school who has dark eyes. And Sister Razor Blade, I mean Sister Basil is ugly and mean.”

I moved slowly into the living room. She was standing there in her black bathrobe, pouring scotch into a glass with one hand and clicking the remote control box with the other. She sat down on the couch. With her full lips, dainty nose, and long, thick eyelashes, Teresa’s habits seemed to have no effect on how pretty she was. Too bad it was only on the outside.

“I hate this television,” she mumbled as The Edge of Night, one of her regular soap operas came on, with its weird organ music.

“Take the sheets from my room down to the basement and wash them,” she said. “Leave the sheets on your bed, though. The doctor will be here in a little while.”

I froze. I had hoped the doctors wouldn’t have to come anymore. I had prayed to God to take away whatever Teresa said was wrong with me. I had even prayed to Mary. But they weren’t listening. I started to wonder if God and all the saints felt the same way about me as Teresa did, that I was no good.

“Get moving,” she said, “before the doctor gets here.”

Stepping into Teresa’s room always had the same effect on me. It smelled like liquor and cigarette smoke, and the pink-flowered wallpaper closed me in. The white plastic crucifix on the wall over the bed and the blue and gold statue of Mary standing on the dresser both seemed to be watching me, even though their heads were down and eyes closed, as I pulled the sheets from the bed.

I opened the closet door. On the floor, under Teresa’s red nightgown something black bulged out. I bent down to see what it was, though I didn’t want to know. I touched the housecoat and lifted it up slowly. A black leather bag. The doctor’s. What’s that doing here? I thought. Next to it on the floor was what looked like the doctor’s white coat. There was a brown stain on it near the pocket.

“Hey, you,” Teresa yelled from the living room. “What’s taking you so long? Get down to those washing machines, now before one of the idiots in this hateful building beats you to it!”

I moved the housecoat back over the black bag, and gathered up the load of clothes and sheets. From the top of the dresser, the Virgin Mary, in her blue and gold robes, reached out to me with both arms. I ran out of the room, dragging the laundry past Teresa on the couch, through the kitchen door, and down the hallway steps, then down more steep, narrow steps behind the staircase.

The basement was dark and cold. Quiet. Peaceful. I dragged the sheets to the washing machine under the window and watched a spider weave its web on the crumbly wooden sill over my head. I stood on the dusty wooden stool caked on top with powdered detergent that looked like snow, and scraped my foot across it, so the flakes fell like more snow to the cement floor. I loaded the heavy sheets into the open round door of the washing machine. I struggled to turn the big knob until it clicked.

I looked up. Outside the window, one by one, nickel-sized drops of rain had begun to drop down onto the ground and onto the dusty window over the washing machine, then came a rumble of thunder which made me jump. If Michael ever found out about the doctors, he would go away forever—that was what Teresa had told me. Good thing the doctors always left before Michael got home, though it didn’t seem to matter if Frances was there. The thunder cracked, sounding as if God were splitting the Empire State Building right down the middle. I jumped again and yelled, and ran up all the stairs back to the apartment. I thought of Alison and was glad she couldn’t see how scared I was.

Teresa was still watching The Edge of Night. A woman in a hospital bed was saying, “I love you, I love you, I love you,” to a man standing next to her bed, looking out her hospital room window. Teresa emptied the bottle of scotch into her glass.

“Now,” she said. “Go in your room and wait. The doctor should be here any minute. You can get back to the laundry when he’s done with you.”

I moved into my room and then stood, looking up at Saint Michael the Archangel with his armor and shield and huge white wings, standing on top of the snake’s head.

[End of Excerpt 6]

$2.99 on Amazon  The Archangel of Hamilton Beach

The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback, Part 2

The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback, Part 1.

The self-publishing scene has changed dramatically in the past couple of years. It’s not so easy anymore to upload a file for free without having to jump through fiery hoops that, even when you do jump and get burned, you still don’t get in. More and more, artificial intelligence runs the show, and less and less of anything is done by human beings.

That means there’s no room to step to the left or the right (as in getting around The Previewer) for paperbacks which is why, as I’ve said, even though I do everything KDP tells me, the mighty and powerful Previewer still refuses my paperback manuscript.

Sweek

Since I’d said I might go with Sweek after my episodes with the dastardly KDP Previewer, I thought I’d do an update. My approach was to first try the eBook version before attempting to upload my novel manuscript in order to sell the printed paperback, which was my point for going to Sweek—to avoid Amazon.

I found out they’re based in Sweden, which could explain the name. I don’t like dealing in Euros and mm’s instead of dollars and inches, though I was willing to give that a shot. But I had to choose from book sizes in mm’s which didn’t convert to 5 x 8 inches. The closest in mm was to 6 x 9, so I reformatted the eBook version of my novel and a cover to fit into it.

Play It Again, Sam

But, as it stands, I don’t think so. I had a terrible time uploading files to Sweek and felt the site was stilted and as if I were in the dark throughout the process. Also, I had to do everything twice before it would “take” for some strange reason. The uploading platform felt very stiff to me, and I kept not knowing if things were going through or not. I wrote to a contact person but I didn’t hear back.

I then deleted the first try and started all over again. Long story. But, unfortunately, it’s a no-go with Sweek. The site is user-unfriendly, at least for me. No easy way to undo anything, and I always felt as if the machine knew something I didn’t (which was true). In the Sweek store it finally showed the title of my book, the price in Euros, and the description, but no cover. After two tries and a lot of lost time, I gave up.

A Long Day Can Feel Like A Month

On my publishing attempt of my eBook on Sweek (I wanted to try it before trying a paperback), it showed my publication date as May 10 (it’s currently October) and the second try was June 10 (well, that day did feel like a month, but…). I finally gave up, though my book is still in there, though the cover still wasn’t showing in the store on last check.

I guess it’s different for everybody. A lot of people must like Sweek; it’s very popular, and if you have that experience, please let me know in the comments. But I’m still operating under the craziness I encountered which I wrote about in my article not long ago entitled The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback, and don’t have a lot of patience for shenanigans.

Selz

My next endeavor to sell eBooks from my website without KDP will be to try Selz, though they don’t print paperbacks, which Sweek does, though after my eBook experience with them, the thought of pursuing a paperback with Sweek will give me nightmares.

Selz is based in Australia. (I wonder if there are any US platforms offering a way around the beasts. Let me know in the comments, please, if you’re aware of any.) Selz is a platform for businesses that offers a way, similar to Sweek, to sell from the business’s own website. Unlike Sweek, Selz doesn’t produce paperback books, but does offer a widget or other options to sell either physical items (which for me will be my paperback), and digital (my eBook). I’ll report back on Selz after I put myself through it.

KDP Still Hates My Paperback

I have since attempted every which way but loose to upload further (edited just for them) PDF files of my paperback manuscript to KDP (which were somehow perfectly fine when I went through CreateSpace two years ago). I readjusted my margins several times to suit KDP. It still won’t accept it.

Then it keeps saying something about they removed some kind of unprintable markup. I wanted to say, “Well if you removed it then what’s the problem?’’ I don’t know what it could be. Lint? What’s an unprintable markup? No explanation. And if the Previewer says it fixed it, then what’s the freaking problem.

It’s beyond human comprehension why my simply formatted novel is ding-ed with countless “errors” by KDP and when I fix them, it acts as if I never did a thing and rejects it all over again. I can almost see its tongue wagging at me as it watches me try over and over and then it rejects the MS yet again and keeps that Approval button grayed out so I can’t bypass it. (see The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback).

Head(er)s Up

Then I almost capitulated to using the KDP interior template which gives me hives to think about, being locked into something like that, especially from Amazon, but halfway through I said, “No, I can’t do it. Too cookie cutter. Too AI.’’

For example, the headers they put in are author’s name on one side and title on the other, alternating pages, odd and even. But in my manuscript, I did book title on the even pages and chapter title on the odd pages, which of course have to be changed from one chapter to the next and are a real pain to do when you’re setting the book up, and I worked hard to get them just right in my manuscript without the page numbers getting all screwy, but it’s a detail that I prefer (and appreciate in books I read), and am not willing to change it for the KDP Previewer Machine, especially since it won’t approve it afterwards, anyway!

In my frenzy, it also had occurred to me to remove all the headers altogether, but that also would be submitting to the beehive, and I refuse to do it, unless, I get to the point of absolutely no choice, in which case I might just leave it as a PDF, which I’m thinking of doing anyway, cover and all. Why not? Lots of people go that route and it seems just fine with me, a lot less complicated.

My $100 Cover Creator Paperback

So my plan now is to leave my e-book on KDP (I did have to cow-tow to their Cover Creator, as The Previewer lied and said there weren’t enough pixels when the cover I uploaded has more pixels than it requires).

And, as I think I mentioned in Part 1, the KDP Cover Creator now has much more limited choices (fonts, styles, everything) than two years ago, but since it accepted the eBook manuscript, and there are no header or footer issues in an e-book, I went ahead with it, so I can continue to sell the eBook there with the cover I managed to complete on their Cover Creator, which isn’t what I wanted but will have to do if I’m to have an eBook version out there somewhere, until I come up with a better way.

While my eBook is available, my paperback remains unpublished at Amazon, except its title is still there, but with only the old, very first (terrible) cover I made with their Cover Creator. For some reason none of the several covers I’ve experimented with over the past two years, including the most recent, “took” in their AI’s memory. And the original cover remains on Amazon (different from the eBook cover).

But even funnier is that my paperback is on sale for $106.16. Think I’m kidding? Here’s the link: The Archangel of Hamilton Beach. (Clicking on the Kindle box will take you to the current eBook with its Cover Creator cover).

My frustration is that if I had left it at CreateSpace until the time was completely up, I could have made my changes to the interior and cover and re-uploaded while still in CreateSpace and have been done with it, and when KDP switched them over, it would all already be intact. Take this as a warning, which is why I’m writing this. I foolishly made the switch over to KDP at their nudging, not knowing what dangers awaited me. If you have books in CreateSpace, leave them there until you have no choice.

Bad Vibes

I’ll wrap up with an excerpt from an article I found written by a very frustrated artist/writer who did, in her word, a rant about her experience. These lines below are from a very long account she gives about her bad experience with her printed book of artwork with Ingram Spark. This part of her rant (below) hit home with me with what I’ve been feeling about the direction this whole self-publishing thing has taken in just a couple of years, and that it’s getting worse.

Bad IngramSpark Review, I Lost Thousands, Audra Auclair, under “Update 3”:

I have realized that I have a distaste for the book industry. I get some bad vibes from it. I don’t like how publishers treat their writers/illustrators, I don’t like how they draw out payments, they don’t let a lot of writers choose the covers they want, I don’t like how printers work and that could all just be my experiences but I don’t like it.

Short and sweet, right to the point of what I’ve been trying to say. I guess she lost a lot of money and it took 90 days for her to get paid by Ingram Spark. Time for us to wake up from the self-publishing fantasy of “ain’t life grand”, and start looking at what’s really going on.

I Give!

After a lot of research, I finally decided to go with Steuben Press, and pay for some paperbacks to be printed to have as promo and to give out to my writing students and other locals; and I’ll focus on selling the eBook version online.

At least that way I won’t have to wrestle with some unmoving, stuck-on-stupid machine for a well-formatted paperback, or have to pay large amounts of money to “vanity presses”, and I can get the paperbacks the way I like them and maybe even speak to a real, live human being in the process who actually cares about how the book turns out.

Book Ends or Books End? (Except Digital)

Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but in a word, it’s just no fun anymore. Too many gatekeepers, most of them not human. The squeeze is on. For eBooks, it’s factory time; for paperbacks, it’s bye-bye.

I’m finding in my research that the whole self-publishing industry has gotten much less user-friendly, in fact, more like user-antagonistic in the extreme. I think the traditional publishing giants of the past have joined heads and it’s revenge of the nerds all over again. Only these nerds aren’t cute or funny, they’re treacherous.

While eBooks are going strong (until the gatekeepers change the tune to which we dance), as I said in my previous post The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback (Part 1), I strongly believe all this “Let’s-make-it-as-difficult-as-possible-to-publish-a-paperback” (especially one from outside the Cookie Cutter) is in line with the push to discontinue the production of paperback books (and hardcover) altogether.

Maybe they’re misguided enough to think they’re saving trees? But trees are the easiest resource to renew (despite all the hype). Just plant new ones. But books can’t be replanted. They’ll just disappear, so all that’s left will be the digital in our kids’ future. Hope the lights don’t go out.

Link to Guest Post I Did on “Who am I to write a book?” and 9 other creativity-crushing questions!

Vikas Singh who owns the blog Next Is Best where he discusses writing and SEO and other interesting topics, was kind enough to invite me to write a guest post.

Here’s the link to my article entitled, “10 Questions You Might Have if You’re Thinking of Writing a Book”.

As I mention at the beginning of it, I wrote with the focus on nonfiction, but most of it can easily apply to all writing. (At some point I hope to write a similar article focused on fiction or memoir.)

Read my post and get that extra boost you need to start your book!

(PS – I mentioned Vikas of Next Is Best  in my recent post “The KDP Previewer Hates My Paperback” for his review of Sweek, a book publishing/selling alternative to KDP).