Monthly Archives: June 2016

Accelerating Faster

My own words, February 2014:

At least one man is dead and three police officers are wounded after a terror attack in Europe – this time in Denmark. Violent Islamic attacks in the west are increasing, and the time between them is shortening. We are dealing with an acceleration. Things are going to get “interesting” soon – in a Chinese curse kind of way.

Since then we’ve had the concert hall attacks in Paris and now the attack in Orlando in the wee hours of this morning – which is looking like the deadliest mass shooting in US history. Not only is it accelerating, it’s migrating westward. Meanwhile, Libya is a disaster, Syria is worse, and attacks in Israel are accelerating again. Iran and Saudi Arabia are the only things holding the Middle East in any kind of stability. Our genius leadership in Washington is doing its best to destabilize the former. Meanwhile the latter seems to be doing everything it can to destabilize itself – aided by low oil prices.

World War isn’t coming. It’s a fact on the ground now. The middle east is a dry powder keg. It’s not a matter of if it’ll go off. It’s not a matter of when it’ll go off. The powder is already blowing.

The avalanche has already started. It is too late for the pebbles to vote.

An Interview With Declan Finn – Part 2

"Honor At Stake" by Declan Finn
“Honor At Stake” by Declan Finn

When I started reading Declan Finn’s early novel A Pius Man, I reached out to him and asked if he was interested in doing a blog interview. He graciously accepted. As before, this interview will be in three parts, posted over three days. I hope to have my review of the novel up next week. The first part focuses on the books – particularly on The Pius Trilogy. This second part focuses on his experiences with writing and publishing. The third part focuses on Mr. Finn himself.

You can find out more about Mr. Finn’s works at his web site.

Bold text is my questions. The rest is Mr. Finn’s response, presented without editing unless noted.

What made you decide to get serious about writing?

I’ve been serious about it ever since I was 16, when I discovered that I couldn’t not write. I don’t quite start getting detox if I don’t, but the voices in my head don’t leave me alone.

How long did it take you to write your first novel?

No idea. When I accidentally started writing a fan fic when I was 16, I just wrote. 15 months later, I stopped when I hit four novels. Also, they were single spaced, and around 200,000 words a piece.

Can you tell I didn’t have much of a life when I was 16? Or 17?

How much time do you spend writing every day?

Around 6-9 hours, depending on how much time I’m allowed by other concerns.

You’re with a pretty small publisher. As in, I’d never heard of them until I picked up your books. What made you decide to go that route?

Originally, I went with Damnation Books because a friend of mine was an acquisition editor who was “bored.” I sent her a project called Honor At Stake, and she liked it. Who knew?

Did you submit your books to any larger publishers before going with them?

With The Pius Trilogy, I had two agents for it. The second one took years, submitting to Doubleday. No one wanted it – okay, yes, there were a few editors who were interested, but the industry was so screwed up, the ones who were interested were laid off, fired, downsized, etc. Because I got my agent the same year tens of thousands of employees were being laid off from publishers.

Great timing, huh? So, I “gave up,” and self published – because patience might be a virtue, but so is prudence.

With my current books, I’m first submitting to this new publisher that I had never heard about before last year. Something called Castalia. Ever heard of it?

Heh. But, of course, given my optimistic nature, I’m already formatting these books to be self published.

It seems that some of your books are self published and some are indie published. Can you tell us a little bit about your experiences with both routes?

Indie publishing was fine, up to a point. It was nice having an editor and an illustrator, and someone on formatting, and not having to worry about those details.

On the other hand, waiting on distributors, and getting no input on how sales are going until royalties come in makes it feels like the book is being held hostage.

For us other indie authors, what’s been the most effective method of marketing your books?

Twitter. Social media in general. And by this, I mean being SOCIAL with people. I have managed more reviews off of simply interacting with people than anything else, including ads.

What’s been the least effective thing that you’ve tried?

For marketing? Posting links at random 12 times a day on Facebook.

Your publisher just got bought out. Can you tell us about your plans for your books?

Yes, the publisher I originally signed on with was purchased by another company. My original publisher had a backlog in the hundreds. The new company had been the successful publisher of 12 books a year. You can see where there could be some problems.

I’m taking my books – all of my books – and running for the hills. Actually, I didn’t want to take every last book with me, but when I asked about getting the rights back, it felt like they couldn’t get rid of me fast enough. It could just be that they assumed I wanted to leave, but I thought there could have been more conversation about it. Or any conversation. I sent in the question, and the next thing I knew, my works were being wiped from the servers.

Tune in tomorrow for part 3.

Every Social Media Platform Is Different. Treat Them That Way

social-media-management-1Every social media platform is different. If you want to maximize your use of social media to promote your business or brand, you need to treat them differently. Understand the ecosystem on each platform – and also learn to understand the quirks and subtleties.

My first forays into social media came when I was opening my dojo, and I totally missed the boat on this point. I got my hands on social media automation tools and tried to use them to send the exact same content to multiple platforms. That didn’t work out very well. Over time I learned what made each platform unique by focusing on one at a time until I felt like I had a handle on it. Here are a few tips for how to deal with different platforms differently.

Don’t over-automate it. Facebook has tools that can auto-share your Facebook posts to Twitter. Twitter has similar tools that can share your tweets back to Facebook. I recommend skipping them. It seems like a great plan – write your social media content once and then you’re done! But they’re not friendly to your followers. Facebook’s “share to Twitter” feature basically ends up Tweeting something like, “look at my Facebook post!” Well, your Twitter followers don’t want to. They’re on Twitter. They don’t want to switch to an entirely different platform to see your content. The reverse option is not as bad. But I still recommend tailoring your content to each platform individually.

Facebook is more personal and intimate. Facebook is all about “friends.” Most Facebook users aren’t following a thousand celebrities. The people on their “friends” lists are mostly people they have some sort of actual relationship with. This is a side-effect of Facebook requiring the “friend” designation to be two-way: both users must approve it, and it opens up both users to see each others’ feeds. As a result, the relationships between users are generally high trust and close. This in turn amplifies the “pre-selection effect” – ie, the effect that when one person says something is good, his friends think it must be good because he said so. This is a tremendous help for my dojo, which is a very personal business that cultivates personal relationships. Most students like it when I share stuff about their achievements, such as belt test photos and the like. Also, their friends see that and think, “hey, that looks cool.” It’s better than any advertisements I’ve ever paid for.

Facebook is also more local than most social media. It’s not hyper-local. People have lots of friends all over the country, and even the world. But the bidirectional nature of Facebook relationships keeps it more local than many other social media. This again makes it great for my dojo. But it’s less effective (though not ineffective by any means!) for national or global branding and promotion.

Twitter is much less personal. The one-way nature of following people means that there are quite a few people who follow brands, celebrities, artists, companies… you name it. It’s also heavy on the “news” content (I use the term lightly; “gossip” is often more accurate). That makes it great for pushing out info about your brand.

Twitter is very fast paced. Twitter is all about the “now.” Instant updates, very current events. A lot of people use it for news these days, and very often you’ll find news there that’s far more up to date than any other source. You have to keep up. One or two posts a day can be plenty on Facebook. On Twitter, nobody will even notice you if you’re that infrequent.

Google Plus is kind of a weird hybrid of the two. It’s the far smaller social network, and it lives in its own world. It’s got some of the intimacy of Facebook (though not as much) and some of the globalism of Twitter.

Instagram is all about the visuals. Nobody even cares about anything that’s not a picture. That makes it awesome for certain kinds of businesses and almost useless for others.

LinkedIn is all about professional connections. It’s a great way to network with other professionals in your field. If you’re in business-to-business sales, it’s probably useful for marketing. Outside of that, I have yet to find a good use for it.

This list is hardly exhaustive, of course. The trick is to know your platform, and to know how it applies to your brand.

An Interview With Declan Finn – Part 1

"A Pius Man" by Declan Finn
“A Pius Man” by Declan Finn

When I started reading Declan Finn’s early novel A Pius Man, I reached out to him and asked if he was interested in doing a blog interview. He graciously accepted. As before, this interview will be in three parts, posted over three days. I hope to have my review of the novel up next week. This first part focuses on the books – particularly on The Pius Trilogy. The second part focuses on his experiences with writing and publishing. The third part focuses on Mr. Finn himself.

You can find out more about Mr. Finn’s works at his web site.

Bold text is my questions. The rest is Mr. Finn’s response, presented without editing unless noted.

Where did the inspiration for The Pius Trilogy come from?

Back when I was a history major, I did a paper on Pope Pius XII, who was, back then, often slandered as “Hitler’s Pope.” I read through it, banged my head against a wall a few million times, and moved on to the next course.

A few months later, a novel that used historical events as a background to the primary action. Premise… nothing new, really. Evil Nazi Catholic church, blah blah, snore. Okay, so what? Big deal…. But, hmm, wait, I know that character’s name. It’s historical. I know that name too. Hmm….

I skipped to the back of the book to read the author’s note and the works cited page. I had normally assumed that this author had read one side of the argument, and wrote another evil Catholic church story based on that. But, no, I had read these books. All of them. He had done his homework, and had completely and utterly twisted and warped what was in his research. He directly contradicted details that both sides agreed on, then saying it was true. I could take it if he had just said “I’m writing fiction, not commenting on a historical debate.” But he took a side and lied about facts that everyone agreed on.

Dominoes fell in my brain. People not only read this crap, they believed this crap. Most readers would have almost no intellectual background to separate the wheat from the chaff (seriously, how many people have history degrees focusing on the religious and cultural activities of Europe in World War II?)

by reaction was somewhere akin to the quote of the eminent physician and research scientist, Doctor Bruce Banner. Hulk smash.

Fine. Simple. Easy. Two could play at this game. If people got their history from entertainment, I would take up the strangest project ever imagined. I would write a thriller that was (a) thrilling, (b) factually accurate about the Catholic Church in the Holocaust.

Then I had to write it. That was fun.

Which works and authors would you say influenced the series?

When you want to read about books that take history and science and make a good modern story out of it, who comes to mind? Brad Thor and James Rollins, of course. Granted, Thor’s gone a little off the rails lately (“assassinate Trump”? Really Brad?), but Rollins has always been solid.

What was your favorite moment of the series to write?

Of the entire series? It comes between some of the character moments between Scott and Manana in A Pius Man, the covering of the kidnap victims in A Pius Legacy, or perhaps the latter half of A Pius Stand. Because all out war has been interesting, especially since I had to throw out everything I really knew about warfare to write it (FYI: Everything I ever knew about infantry warfare comes from either John Ringo or Bernard Cornwell). Perhaps the end of A Pius Stand, mostly because I knew it was over.

What was the hardest part of the series for you to write?

Trying to balance the action versus the talking in A Pius Man. Considering how much history, characters, and data I had, I wanted to make sure no one fell asleep.

The series is explicitly referred to as a trilogy. Any plans to revisit this series and/or these characters at a later date?

The characters will be coming back. No question … okay, the characters who survive will come back. In fact, when I had first written The Pius Trilogy, most of these characters were minor side characters in other works. Which became a problem when they started dying off. Why? Because the works they had appeared in hadn’t been published yet. Oops.

In fact, Sean A.P. Ryan and his cadre of mercenaries will be the stars of a comedy-thriller called Set to Kill. It’s set at WyvernCon in Atlanta, GA, and Sean has to keep the Puppy Punters “safe” from the “Tearful” and “Hydrophobic” Puppies. Because I’m subtle.

We don’t even go into the anthology of Pius Tales.

Of all the books you’ve written, which one is your personal favorite as a reader?

Of all the books I’ve written? Yikes. The Pius books are great just because it was so epic in scope. Though otherwise, it might be a tossup between Codename: Winterborn or Honor At Stake, mostly because it was so heavy on character.

Which one was the most fun to write?

Of the Trilogy? A Pius Stand. Of everything I’ve written, probably Set to Kill. I was laughing my tuchas off as I wrote it.

Which one was the most difficult to write?

Definitely A Pius Man, mostly because I was going to use it as a teaching tool while people were having fun. It wasn’t actually that hard to write, but a bear to edit … but for the record, my first draft just made my graduate paper into dialogue. I brought data dump to a whole new level of boring. Toning that back was tough.

Tune in tomorrow for part 2.

Kindle Fire Kids Edition is a Worthless Brick

kindlefirekidsFor Christmas last year we bought our kids a Kindle Fire Kids Edition. It seemed like the perfect thing. We could download movies to it for them to play in the car on long car trips. It had some games. It had some specific kid related apps that looked great. The parental controls seemed good. And best of all, it comes with a rubberized protective case and a lifetime guarantee – Amazon will fix or replace it for life if it breaks, no matter how.

Now, I should say that I’ve had great experiences anyway with Amazon customer service. I had a second gen kindle that broke because my oldest son stepped on it when he was two. I flat out told Amazon that that was what had happened. They replaced it for free anyway. I called them about our regular Kindle Fire once when the screen had cracked and told them that another kid had damaged it. They told me that they would have replaced it for free… except the warranty had expired. Fair enough – I just figured I’d try that time, since they did it the first time. So I have a great love of Amazon’s customer support, and this product’s lifetime guarantee seemed perfect.

Unfortunately the product itself is a worthless piece of shit. Pardon my language, but it really is that bad. We bought the 8 GB wi-fi only (no cellular data connection) model. A quick check of my Amazon history shows that this product has been discontinued. That’s good – it never should have been available in this configuration.

[Update: I was incorrect. The exact model we bought is no longer available. There is still an 8GB model. If you must buy a Kindle Fire Kids Edition, do not buy the 8GB model.]

The 8GB of on board memory is literally not enough for anything. Two or three apps filled it up. We found ourselves having to buy a new SD memory card for it almost immediately just to make the product remotely usable. Unfortunately, even this didn’t really help. You still have to be careful to download apps to the SD card – a subtlety that was completely lost on my six year old son. We were constantly helping them wipe the memory clean so that they could continue to use it. The device would fill up memory literally until it broke.

It gets worse, though. For some reason that I completely can’t fathom, many of the apps want to re-download themselves when run. This doesn’t happen on every run. But it happens about every day or three. If you aren’t connected to the internet, the app simply doesn’t work. Since we bought this partly for car trips, this made it completely worthless. But it’s still worse even than that. The downloads are slow, and it doesn’t stop you from doing something else while it’s downloading. So imagine a typical four year old child. She pushes the app. Nothing happens. So she picks another app. Nothing happens. Then another and another and another. Before long, there are eight apps downloading and the entire machine has come to a standstill.

The newer generation models may be better. And I generally love Amazon. But this product was a complete waste of money. I would have had a better experience paying $139 for somebody to punch me in the face.

Where I Find Time to Blog

timeSomebody asked me recently where I find the time to blog. Actually, people ask me quite often where I find the time to do a lot of the things I do. I usually answer with something snarky because most people don’t actually want to hear the real answers. The question isn’t actually a question, it’s an emotional expression – of what I’m not quite sure. But on the off chance that one or two of my readers actually care (occasionally someone does), here are the real answers. To help, each one is preceded by one of the snarky answers that I give.

Sleep is for the weak. I honestly probably don’t sleep enough. I average six to seven hours of sleep a night. But this isn’t because I’m busy – it’s because I can’t sleep. I’ve had trouble with sleep for as long as I can remember. I can definitively recall having trouble getting to sleep as young as seven years old. Before that I can’t remember. But my six year old son has the same kinds of trouble sleeping that I do, and he has for years. I strongly suspect that I’ve had trouble for just as long. I sleep better now than I ever have before. A combination of better eating, exercise, and nightly melatonin supplements has made a world of difference. But I still don’t sleep more than seven hours most night. Exception: occasionally it catches up with me and I sleep for extended periods. Exception 2: about once or twice a year I have bouts of insomnia where I can’t sleep more than two hours a night for three to five days in a row. These have become less frequent since I started taking nightly melatonin.

If I don’t stay busy I get bored. This is actually true as stated and not just snark. My mind does not shut down, ever, except in two circumstances: when I finally manage to fall asleep or when I’m exercising with extreme intensity. Neither of those circumstances guarantees it, either. Those are just the only times it actually happens. I might as well put it to use. But that’s not the real truth. The real truth is that if I don’t stay busy I get depressed. And that’s far worse. Human beings are not meant to be idle. Most depressed people would be better served by six weeks of boot-camp style intensity than by medication. I know you feel tired, but that’s not because of too little rest: it’s because of too much. Get off your butt and do something real.

I don’t watch much TV. This is another one that’s generally true. The average American watches four hours of TV a day. I struggled to figure out where they find time for that; then I remember that 41% of the adult population doesn’t work… and what else are they going to do all day? But I digress. I watch an average of four hours of television a week – and that only during the prime TV season. And that’s actually high for me this year, and it’s all because of the DC TV Universe. More generally: I don’t do a lot of other things that people like to do for fun. I write blog posts and troll Twitter instead.

There are some other answers, too, beyond the snark.

I spend far less time on this than you might think. My average blog post is less than 1000 words. Many are less than 500. I rarely edit them. I never proofread them. I seldom even read them through when I’m finished. Half the time I know what I’m going to write before I start it. The typical post takes me about 10-15 minutes to write – tops. It’s a blog for crying out loud. If it takes you more time than that, you’re doing it wrong. Yes, I have the occasional word vomit – like my series on converting to Catholicism. On the other hand, I wrote that entire series five years ago. Which leads me to my next point.

I recycle content whenever I can. Like this morning’s post, which was literally copied and pasted from my newest book and then reformatted. Or the aforementioned series on Catholicism. Or my series on Orbital Mechanics, which has been submitted to another publisher for possible inclusion in an upcoming anthology (no word back yet; we’ll see). Or submitting “The Fourth Fleet” for re-publication in There Will Be War: Volume X. I like to get the most I possibly can out of everything that I do.

You find the time to do what you prioritize. This is the biggest issue, and it’s the one that people don’t want to hear. We all have the same twenty-four hours a day. The things you do and the things you don’t do with that time are your choice. I’m not criticizing you for it, either. But if you’re not finding time to blog, or run a dojo, or start a publishing company, or edit an anthology, or write a novel, or whatever it is that you haven’t gotten done… at the end of the day it’s because you don’t want it badly enough. That’s fine if it’s your honest choice. We can’t do everything. I’m not going to be a filmmaker or an award winning cake decorator or an artist. I haven’t dedicated the time to those. What are you dedicating your time to?

Life Began at Thirty-Three

Both the story below and the introduction are lifted from my latest anthology of science fiction and fantasy short stories, Between the Wall and the Fire. Unlike every other story in that collection, this one is not science fiction and it’s not fantasy. I will leave it to the introduction below to explain why it was included anyway.

In December of 2006, my sister-in-law Dani’s family invited my not-yet-wife Morgon and I to join them for Christmas in the suburbs of Chicago. Since our last trip to Chicago had been for my brother’s wedding and we’d enjoyed the trip greatly, we happily accepted.

The trip went pear shaped even before we left. As December waned, so did the health of Dani’s grandmother. Morgon and I debated skipping the trip, but then we got word that Dani’s grandmother had been specifically looking forward to seeing us. To this day, I don’t know why – we’d only met her once, at the aforementioned wedding. But I can suck up a lot to make an old woman happy, so we went ahead and made the trip.

It had already started to go downhill, and it only accelerated from there. The heat was broken on Dani’s SUV, and it was cold. The drive turned into a very long one, and by the end of it Morgon was literally shaking despite being wrapped in blankets and spare clothing. Then, of course, the trip got even more awkward as Dani’s grandmother continued to decline.

We did see her, and in hindsight I’m glad we did. She died a few days into our trip. At that point, Morgon and I decided to get out of everyone’s way. We rented a car for the trip home and decided to head out early. But since we were already most of the way there, we decided to stop in and see Morgon’s grandfather Verne in Galesburg. We had hoped to find time to make it up there anyway. Now that we were on our own, and had control of the transportation, we made it a point.

I had met Verne once or twice before on some of his previous visits to Huntsville, but I didn’t know him very well. He was old – in his late eighties at the time – and his hearing was very poor. It was hard to communicate with him. I wasn’t particularly enthused about the trip, but I knew it was important to Morgon.

We stopped in at his little house in the country. It was the first time I’d seen the place, but I liked it. It was cozy. Verne was pleasant and welcomed us, even though his hearing made it hard to communicate. Then the awkwardness of the trip continued. We sat on the couch and he sat in a chair across from us.

And he handed me this story. Worse, he clearly expected me to read it, right there in front of him.

I have to admit that my reaction was uncharitable. Here was a man I barely knew, on a trip that had already been pretty rough, handing me who knows what to read. But manners got the best of me. I expected to read a page or so, skim the rest, force a smile, and tell him I enjoyed it.

That old codger pulled a fast one on me. The story was good – really good.

It is presented here completely unedited, exactly the way he gave it to me nearly a decade ago. The language is simple. The story isn’t always told in order. It isn’t science fiction or fantasy. But it’s a good tale, and it tells a great tale about a simple man and his family.

Most of all, it’s True.


Life Began at Thirty-Three
by Verne Luvall

At age 33, having survived the war, free and able to do as I pleased, there seemed to be a lack of purpose or direction. All of my friends were married. I had dated girls forty miles north and fifty miles south, but none developed into anything serious.

All of that changed quite suddenly. I was a tool and die maker at Gale Products and part of my job was troubleshooting in the punch press department. Virginia Mureen worked in the time study department and her job brought her to the punch press department to post the piece work notes. The foreman of the department took a liking to both of us. One day he said, “Verne, you two should get together.”

I said, “Aw, Bud, I’ve known her all her life. I have played with her brothers, and we live only about three blocks apart, and I just don’t know about dating in the neighborhood.”

From that day on, we were one. We didn’t have one of those romantic courtships. She could always remember what I wore on that first date. It made no difference what we did as long as we did it together. I did considerable fishing at Lake Rice, and she joined me and became a very good fly fisherwoman.

One night as we were walking from the car to her house, without any forethought, I said, “Will you marry me?”

She said, “You know what the answer is.”

After our engagement, our thoughts turned to our future home. I came from a large family in the Depression, and there seemed to be so much dissension. My dad lost the house twice, and it became so ramshackle that I had people drop me off a block away so they couldn’t see where I lived. From all this, some very strong convictions were made.

First, I wanted a brick house in the country with a fireplace and not heavily mortgaged. The only way some of this could be accomplished was to do as much of the work as possible myself. I didn’t want the wife to work outside the home, and there was to be no bickering.

So, we began looking for a home site and searching for house plans. Gale Products owned Gale Lake, and it had a nice fireplace, and we spent many evenings working on house plans in the lighthouse.

Since the inside of the house was where the homemaker would spend most of her time, we wanted it to be as efficient and labor-saving as possible. Once this was accomplished, we had an architect put it all under one roof complete with nine closets.

Unfortunately, we found that the land promised to us could not be sold since a brother had a chattel mortgage on the property and would not ell. Time was running out since it was April, and we set October for our wedding, so we pigeonholed those plans and settled for a simple, two-bedroom house with crawl space and bought a lot in the Mast Addition on Farnham Street. We were the first to build their own house.

We had the foundation laid and the house framed and I took over from there. Virginia helped me do the shingling. The siding was delivered to her mother’s double garage, and we spent our evenings priming it on both sides. After I installed it, it was time for the final paint job. While working on the original plans at Gale Lake, we liked the color of the fireplace and decided to use it on this house.

The man at the paint store furnished a basic color plus the necessary material to produce the desired color. He did not mix the two. A relative had been wanting to help us, so we decided to let him do the painting. He did not mix the paint, either, using only the basic color. When we stopped by after work, it looked like the sun was setting in the east. It was a bright orange red – a shock at first, but it sort of grew on us. It really stood out among all those white houses.

In time we added a white picket fence, and one evening I was down behind it pulling weeds when two girls riding horses came by. One remarked that she sure liked the color of that house, but her horse didn’t and wanted to shy away from it.

In time, the fence was no longer needed for our children, Jeff and Missy, so it was again time to look for that home site in the country. At last resort we were about to settle for a piece of ground near Shanghai. One evening we had some friends over for dinner. It was Glenn and Mabel Glass who lived on the Alexis Angling Road. Virginia had gone to school with their daughter Cynthia, and I had hunted ducks on their pond. Imagine our surprise when they said, “We heard that you were going to buy land near Shanghai, but we can’t let you do that. We knew you wanted to buy in the country, but we wanted to be sure you wouldn’t sell out to some chicken thieves in a few years.”

We had choice of three locations, and we chose a five acre patch of brush on the southwest corner of their property. We called it “Stillwood.” There were times later when I thought Wit’s End might be more appropriate. We have always felt a deep gratitude to them for their generosity.

The first improvement had to be a well. The cost of a drilled well seemed too expensive, so I decided on a dug well. A water witcher marked two locations, and I drilled two test holes fifty feet deep with a two inch hand auger. Fred Kelly, who owned a service station, loaned me his wrecker to lift the auger. No water was found on either location, so a 135 –foot drilled well furnished plenty of water.

Eventually, the basement was dug, blocks laid, and the house framed, this by professionals. This was per our original plans. All my weekends, holidays, and vacations were spent finishing it. To be closer, we sold the house in town and moved into a log cabin a few miles from the home site. This was fine, but the log cabin was sold suddenly, and we had to move into the basement of the unfinished house.

The lavatory at the head of the basement stairs was connected to the septic tank. The shower and sink to the floor drain. The four inch drain pipe to which the upstairs bathroom would be connected protruded through the foundation to the trench to the septic tank.

There were no eaves and that night (our first) a four inch rain fell. The trench filled and water began coming in through the pipe. All night and part of the next day was spent catching the water in 50-gallon cream cans and pouring down the drain. Just when it seemed finished, a large piece of soil loosened and fell into the trench causing more water.

The heat convection for the basement did not arrive until after Thanksgiving, so the only heat we had was from a fireplace and a small laundry stove. After work, I had to cut enough wood to last the next day.

It took two weeks for the toilet stool for the lavatory at the head of the stairs to come from Abingdon. In the meantime, an outhouse donated by a neighbor had to be used. It was some distance from the house, so I would escort Virginia there at night. When I finally was able to install the stool, it had to be kept covered since there was no heat upstairs. The refrigerator was also upstairs, so Virginia had to wear a wrap when she visited it.

There was considerable overtime at the factory, so whatever time was available was spent on the house. Sometimes a job wouldn’t get finished until 2 A.M. We lived in the basement for two years. The brickwork and fireplaces were done by professionals.

Our life at Stillwood was full of surprises. Our road had only been graveled to a dead end road which ended a short distance from our drive. More gravel was added to our drive, but after that there were only two ruts.

One Easter morning, Virginia noticed a car stuck in front of the house and about that time there was a knock at the door. On opening, there stood a little black man. He said, “Missta, I’m stuck in the mud. Could you give me a push?” I told him it was useless because I had been through that before. We tried to no avail. Then, he asked to use the phone. He called a man in town who had a wrecker. “Elmer, this is Bob,” he said. “I’m stuck in the mud out here in the country. Could you come get me out?”

Elmer said no because he was too busy, but he said, “You’ve got to help me. I’ve got to get home and take the wife and kids to church, and I’ve got this chick in the car.” He finally got a neighbor to pull him out with a tractor.

One evening, the daughter of a Galesburg policeman and her boyfriend landed in the same spot. They were supposed to have been at a party on the southeast edge of town.

Thanks to friends and neighbors, Jeff had horses to ride. One was Star, a very large but gentle one. One day, we saw Missy tying this big horse to the bumper of our little Volkswagen.

When asked about Jeff, she said he was running Star down in the pasture and she fell. “I think he’s dead.” Just as we were about to look for him, he came limping through the yard, and we were relieved to find that he was not seriously injured. We never did find his glasses.

Then there was Tony the pony that was given to me by a man I thought was my friend. He assured me that fences would not be a problem, but Tony could always find a bad spot in my fence.

He would watch me prune a tree and after I left, he would finish the job to suit himself. The grafts I made on nut trees were just the right height to scratch his belly and he utilized all of them. One day two of our neighbors’ horses came to visit him. They were running up and down on either side of the fence having a great time. It could have been funny, but the horses were running in my new strawberry bed. He would also play hide and seek with Missy.

We had several dogs. Binky, a black Lab, was the first while we were living in town. We both took her through obedience school. She was also a good hunter.

Next was a collie. Virginia always wanted a collie, so I gave her a puppy for Christmas. We named her Holly.

Then there was Tika, a Doberman which Jeff sent us from Mississippi. She died suddenly after only two years.

One day an Irish setter showed up wearing a collar and broken chain. This we later learned was because he was afraid of storms. The back door still shows evidence of his attempted forced entry. Other than that, he was a pretty good ole dawg.

Last but not least was Boots. She was a spayed border collie cross which Missy could no longer keep in town. Ordinarily, a spayed bitch would stay pretty close to home. Not Boots, she had to be where the action was. One day, there was a knock at the door, and it was a neighbor who said, “Your dog has been killing my ducks and chickens.” He said he could replace them at the Salebarn for $20, so I turned it over to my insurance. After that she was tied unless I was with her.

One day, I didn’t think it necessary just for the short time it took for lunch. When I went out, there laid a lamb on the drive. I knew the neighbor would blame the coyotes, but I also knew that I would be driving past his house many times, so I confessed. The lamb cost $75, and this was billed to the insurance, and they canceled my policy. This wasn’t as bad as it seems because my new insurance was much less.

All our dogs were buried near a tree of some significance. Holly was buried near a maple tree which began as a tiny seedling on her grandmother’s grave. It had been transplanted to our place in town and then to the country.

Besides some fantail pigeons, we also acquired two white banty hens. A friend thought they needed some male companionship, so he contributed a gamecock rooster.

One of the hens became broody and tried to hatch a pile of rags in the garage. Feeling sorry for her, I found some banty eggs for her. When they hatched, one of the chicks was a husky black rooster. As he grew older, he kept testing the old rooster, and one day the feathers flew and the old rooster was banished from the flock. He immediately made friends with Shag and followed him around like his shadow.

Jeff belonged to the Warren County 4-H Club, and at the Prime Beef Festival, the 4-Hers got a chance to catch a greased pig. Jeff caught one, so it was necessary to build a pen. We were fortunate in having a hog house given to us. For feed, the whole family would glean the picked cornfields on a Sunday afternoon. There was also a person nearby who furnished popcorn to the numerous concessions, and he gave us the stale corn. One day, he said, “Here’s a treat for our pig.” He gave me a sack of stale cashews. He was right. The pig would almost climb the fence to get them.

This was just the beginning of our piggy experiences. Jeff worked for the neighbor farmers during school vacation, and he would bring home runt pigs that the farmers didn’t want.

He belonged to the Explorer Scouts. One summer they took a canoe trip in the Country Waters on the Minnesota Canadian border, and I was allowed to tag along. This left Virginia to care for some little pigs. When we returned home, she said no more.

Jeff’s project in 4H was bee keeping. A beekeeper friend helped him assemble the necessary equipment. Once I was working with the bees, and he was watching while waiting for Virginia to take him to some activity in town and was stung. On the way into town, he broke out with a rash and had trouble breathing.

Virginia had the presence of mind to go directly to the hospital. After being discharged from the hospital, it was necessary to take a series of immunization shots. The bees had to be removed until he left for college. I managed ten to twelve hives for several years after that.

We always had a large garden, fruit trees, and berries, so our freezer was always full. That is except when the neighbors’ livestock invaded. One day a couple of cows were sampling our sweet corn and an old sow and pigs were dining on the tomatoes.

Eventually, board by board, we managed to make the house livable. You might say I made the house, but she made it a home.

Virginia passed away on June 25, 1989, five days after being diagnosed with acute leukemia and is now resting in a little cemetery close to home. I pass her almost every day.

One of her last requests was that Jeff take me on his upcoming trip to Costa Rica. She knew how much I enjoyed the one in 1983. I can still remember how the gate keeper at the Peoria airport let her walk out to the plane to say goodbye.

She was active in a number of organizations and was an election judge during elections at the Townhouse in Kelly Township. It was heated with a hand fired stove and had outdoor plumbing.

I would take her there early in the morning and pick her up after the polls closed. It was a good place to catch up on the neighborhood gossip.

She leaves so many friends and pleasant memories. She should have been an ambassador because she could enter a room of people and be friends with all. This gift helped me overcome the complex I had acquired during childhood. She made me feel important.

During my younger days, one word that was never mentioned was love, so it was too difficult for me to say. However, I could give Virginia a big hug and say, “Boy! I could sure go for you.”

Upon retiring, I didn’t take a full pension, so she would be assured of an income after I was gone. I expected her to live to be a sweet little old lady, just like her mother who lived with us for five and a half years.

Nothing has changed within the house. Her sewing basket still sits by her chair. Her knickknacks are in place, and her many beautiful needlepoint samplers adorn the walls.

One is a replica of an old pair of my hunting boots which has a plaque beneath (not needlepoint) which says…

A husband is…
A husband is someone who takes your heart
and keeps it next to his forever and a day.
There is a particular brand of togetherness with
Husbands you can never feel with anyone else.
A husband is the only labor saving device
you can cuddle
His standing joke; the best thing you ever did
was marrying me is nearer to the truth
than he will ever know.
My husband is someone I love so much
that a lifetime is not long enough to share
with him.

Another sampler best summarizes my life after 33. It reads…

To Love And Be Loved
Is The Greatest Joy On Earth

~ VL ~

How I Increased My Twitter Followers By 44% Overnight

BetweenTheWallAndTheFireLast night I decided to run an experiment as part of the book launch for Between the Wall and the Fire. I tried out Amazon’s “product giveaway” promotional tool. The tool has some nice features. You can give away very nearly any item in the store and use that for promotional purposes. It lets you pick the way that prizes are awarded and how many to award. And it gives you four nice options for how to use the contest to promote whatever it is you’re promoting.

Obviously, in this case, I chose to give away Between the Wall and the Fire. Amazon will let you give away almost all physical products. Ebooks are now eligible as well. It looks like most other digital products are not eligible at this time.

Amazon offers three variants of the contest. First is the “random” type. You select the number of prices to give away and the odds of winning. I gave away three eBooks and selected a “1 in 100” chance of winning. Amazon doesn’t give details of their algorithm, but it seems like this works by giving each entrant a 1% chance of winning. Once all prizes are given away, the giveaway ends. As you can see, this doesn’t guarantee any given number of entrants. They also offer the “lucky number” version. I could have selected this and enforced that every 100th entrant would win. That would have guaranteed me 300 entrants. Finally, they have the “first come, first serve” model. I could have had the first three people win. In my case, that wouldn’t have done much for me.

Amazon actually gives you five ways to let people enter, but one is of minimal utility. The first is to require entrants to “follow” your author page on Amazon. This has some nice benefits. The biggest is that Amazon e-mails your followers every time you put out a new book. I’ll be using this option in the future, but this time I skipped it and opted for the second option: require entrants to follow a Twitter account. I could also have chosen to have them watch a video, either through YouTube or Amazon. Finally, I could have opted to have no extra requirements, but that wouldn’t have been particularly useful.

There’s one big downside to Amazon product giveaways: you have to pay full price for everything you giveaway – even if it’s your own book. Thankfully, Between the Wall and the Fire is only $2.99 right now, so I only spent about $9.00. Also, I believe that each of these counts as a regular sale of the product, so we should get the 70% royalty rate on that, making the effective cost about $2.97.

When I’m experimenting, I like to keep it cheap!

So, how well did it work?

Within an hour and a half I’d gained 100 Twitter followers. To put that in perspective, I gained 147 followers throughout the entire month of May. As of this morning when I write this, I’ve increased from 436 Twitter followers to 631, a total increase of 195 followers or a 44% jump. The contest is not yet over as of this writing – there’s still one more eBook to give away.

Book sales are up – and by more than the units that I paid for. This experiment happened as part of the book launch, so I can’t tell for sure that it’s directly related to this giveaway. But book sales are actually up as compared to the previous day.

What about the long term effects? I don’t know yet. I do know that the extra sales have helped push us into the top 100 for our category, and that will probably have some good effects for at least the next few days. Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot of the new Twitter followers will unfollow me by the end of the month. But I also think that I’ll keep some portion of them as long term followers.

A few downsides: contest entries slowed way down after the first two hours. The first two books were already awarded before I went to bed last night. As of this writing, the third still hasn’t been. I have no idea how long it will take for it to go.

For the tiny price I paid, however, this has been an unqualified success. It’s definitely a tool that I’ll be using again.



Jeff Miller has left a very fantastic review of my latest science fiction and fantasy anthology, Between the Wall and the Fire. A few excerpts that particularly humbled me:

The collection starts out very strong with “Edge” by Russell S. Newquist. The story starts with some explanation of motorcycle physics and introduces the main character a P.I. You start to get the feeling of some SF noir and then the action ramps up, and ramps up again. The situation gonzo as you start to find out about the inhabitants of this world. I really enjoyed how this was layered and that for a short story a definite beginning/middle/end. Like most good short stories you are satisfied with it while at the same time wanting more. In this case I could not have thought of a better ending. Just perfect.

I’ll have a post later this week about how that particular story came about. It was an incredibly fun one to write, and I’m glad that people have enjoyed reading it. Also this:

“Knight of the Changeling” by Rusell S. Newquist was another one I greatly enjoyed. What happens in the genre of urban fantasy when a changeling is discovered and you try to recover the switched-out child? First off I just loved how the changeling was detected. Mostly I enjoyed the dangers of fairy land and then how it was all resolved.

This story, on the other hand, was a giant pain in the rear from beginning to end. I had thought that the theme of “family” would make for an easy Peter Bishop story. That was not the case at all. Even coming up with the concept for this story was like pulling teeth. So I’m very glad that people enjoyed the final product!

Jeff also has some really wonderful things to say about my fellow co-authors on this anthology, and you should definitely take the time to pop over and read the whole thing. On behalf of all of those co-authors, we thank you Jeff!

Catfish Literary Festival – After Action Report

Silver Empire authors S.D. McPhail (left) and Russell Newquist (right) at the second annual Catfish Literary Fiestival.
Silver Empire authors S.D. McPhail (left) and Russell Newquist (right) at the second annual Catfish Literary Fiestival.

Yesterday my friend S.D. McPhail and I set up shop at the second annual Catfish Literary Festival at the Athens-Limestone Public Library. We got lucky – they gave us the table right by the door! We had a good number of people come by. We sold a few autographed books and gave away a few, including five pre-release advance review copies of Susan’s upcoming novel, Treasures of Dodrazeb: The Origin Key with a special collectible cover.

Susan and I also had a chance to sit on a science fiction and fantasy panel. We got to discuss some of our writing processes, influences, and thoughts on the genre. We also got put on the spot trying to convince one audience member who had never read any science fiction. I thought my case was strong, but I have to confess that Susan got in the better answer!

I also managed to entrench my foot firmly in my mouth with the leadership at my church not once but twice yesterday. First, I completely failed to recognize Deacon Dan’s wife, even after she recognized me! I’m quite sure it’ll take me a decade or more to live that one down. Second, when Deacon Dan opened up a copy of Between the Wall and the Fire, literally the first page he turned to happened to be at the beginning of my story “Knight of the Changeling.” That would have been fine, except that I had chosen to name the deacon character after one of the deacons at our church. One that wasn’t named “Dan.”

I have now promised Deacon Dan that he will be written into a future story, so keep an eye out for him in future installments of The Tales of Peter Bishop!

I also got a chance to catch up with a few other authors that I met last year at the Rocket City Lit Fest, including Ashley Chappell and C.L. Bevill. It was great to see them again.

Finally, I had a great time chatting with everyone who came by our booth. We look forward to seeing all of you again next year!