Monday, May 1, 2017

It's the First of May....

It's May, it's May...the lusty month of May...

It isn't May Day without Guinevere singing "The Lusty Month of May." (Of course, the Tysche side of me likes the NSFW tribute by Jonathon Coulton "First of May." And I DO mean NSFW. If you have small children around or an aversion to the word f**k DO NOT click this link. You have been warned.)

But what is it about May Day that inspires all these "wicked little thoughts"?

It is a time of celebration, that originally had a pagan significance as the First Day of Summer. It was celebrated by such festivities as the crowning of the May Queen and dancing around the Maypole.

Now most often relegated to the grounds of a Renaissance festival in the States, it is still actively celebrated in many European countries.

May Day was chosen as International Workers' Day in 1886, to commemorate the Haymarket Affair in Chicago.

It's a great time get down to business and be a little naughty -- read some of the great stories in Mocha's store, like Beauty and the Geek: The Princess and the Professor or C.A.K.E. The Complete Series.

And that's it for me this month. Happy May Day!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Challenge of Allegory

A writer always wants to put himself or herself into a story; writing is, after all, an expression of oneself.  One's fantasies, demons, dreams, or opinions.  Sometimes, that means a story will reflect your emotional or moral reaction to the real world around you, whether intentionally or not.

Sometimes, allegorical representations of current events and people in fiction is blatantly obvious to the reader.  Take Lewis Carroll's "Alice in Wonderland" for example.  Though now a classic in childhood fantasy adventure, its original allegorical meaning lost to time, Carroll's contemporary audience had no trouble seeing through his allegorical references and all-too-obvious symbolism.  That didn't make his work any less enjoyable, though.

We all know the challenge of allegory:  not to sound preachy or self-righteous.  Above all, not to sacrifice literary quality or entertainment value for the sake of getting your point across.  The best allegory is the kind that slips under the reader's defenses, delivering a message without letting the reader know it.  Until its too late for the reader to shut it out.  That's the game between writer and reader.

Sometimes, if a story is exceptionally good, a reader might even forgive the most blatantly obvious political or social metaphor.  Everyone knew exactly what the writers had in mind when the classic "Star Trek" episode "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield" aired about a year after the Watts riots.  Two men, one a policeman, the other a radical, who despised each other with a flaming passion, simply because their half-white, half-black skin coloring was reversed.  A stark and obvious symbolic representation of the absurdity of racism.  It worked because it was so obvious, and so direct, building through passionate hatred and all-too-familiar scenes to its inevitable and tragic end.  Sometimes honesty can work more effectively than cleverness in reaching an audience.

The most important thing, I believe is to be honest with yourself.  If you've got something inside you that's screaming to get out, then let it out, no matter what.  Then, find a way to tame the beast so it can reach an audience.  I've approached issues that I felt strongly about through fiction.  Sometimes an editor will reject such a story, saying it "drowns in the politics."  And, others will accept it, focusing on the texture of the story itself.  As with anything else, it pretty much depends on what the reader wants to see.

Odds are you're not going to convert anybody to your way of thinking.  But, if you can effectively convey your opinion ... more importantly, your passion about an issue... and keep the reader entertained at the same time, even if he disagrees with you, then you've beat the challenge.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Many Faces of Sherlock Holmes

"Curious Incidents:  More Improbable Adventures", Mocha's long awaited second volume of Sherlock Holmes paranormal fiction has arrived, and I'm proud to say I am one of the contributing authors.

The theme of this volume places Holmes in environments other than his native Victorian England.  The authors approached this from a number of angles.  I've only had the pleasure of reading the first three stories of the anthology so far:

"The Case of the Tainted Blood" by Liese Sherwood-Fabre
"The Case of the Burning Man" by Lucy Blue
"He-Who-Knows" by Derrick Belanger

I enjoyed them all immensely and look forward to reading the rest of the anthology.  The three authors used very different and extremely imaginative visions of alternate reality to depict alternate versions of Holmes and Watson in different time periods or historically alternate versions of their own time period.

Liese Sherwood-Fabre depicts Holmes and Watson as vampires in an alternate 19th century in which the world suffers a vampire apocalypse.  I loved it. Vampiric Holmes was still Holmes, bored out of his wits and contemplating suicide for lack of crimes to solve.  In a world of the undead, murder and robbery are things of the past.  Holmes finds a challenge to test his razor sharp investigative skill in a plot involving humans killing vampires.  Holmes, that paragon of goodness now finds himself on the side of darkness, working against the cause of humanity.  But, his characteristic attention to detail remains undiminished by his altered circumstances.  A problem is a problem, and Holmes finds the chase as addictive as he now finds blood.  A mixture of an intriguing case with a supremely bizarre premise and delightfully quirky characters makes this one a gem.

Lucy Blue takes it a bit further by introducing Holmes and Watson to each other in another sort of alternate reality:  a 1950's Micky Spillane-type urban noir involving a brutal murder, a knock-out of a doll spilling her guts (literally and figuratively) on a dark, rainy night.  A case involving a WWII mystery from Holmes' past, an old enemy with apparently dark mystical powers, a secret coven of white witches and a mystery surrounding a rich dame with plenty to hide.  Watson is black.  Holmes has a secret of his own.  Bigotry in all its forms and evil in its purest form are dealt with in a fast paced, tightly plotted mystery which pits Holmes' intellect against a supernatural menace the existence of which his stubbornly rational mind refuses to accept.  It was an incredibly enjoyable ride.

Derrick Belanger's approach was the least conventional of all.  Holmes is not Holmes and Watson is not Watson, at least not by name.  They are rather wise men, shamans of sorts in an aboriginal stone-age world which is afflicted by a mysterious monster that no one understands.  No one but the wise man He-Who-Knows.  His name doesn't have to be Holmes for us to know who he is.  His keen logic and deductive wit is his calling card.  It seems every era needs a Sherlock Holmes.  He takes whatever form is needed.

I rather took the easier route.  I used the original, unmodified Holmes and Watson and simply transplanted them bodily from the familiar surroundings of 221 B Baker street into a wild ride through future time periods in the company of a time traveler.  Rather than creating a modified Holmes who was at home in his alternate universe, I wanted to see the old familiar Sherlock trying to cope with unfamiliar surroundings and adapting his deductive methodology to alien worlds.  I had fun with it because it had the spirit of adventure to it; like Jules Verne, a ride into the otherworldly and unfamiliar.  Watson provided the wide-eyed wonder and child-like curiosity, while Holmes, as always, coolly and unerringly mapped his path through his new world.

The other entries I mentioned delved more into the inner space of the mystery that is Holmes himself.  His human weaknesses, his flaws, his hidden vulnerabilities.  Mine was more a straight-forward adventure story.  It may have lacked the daring of the others, as I was focusing more on concept than character, I'll admit.  In my own defense, I may feel inclined to treat another author's character (especially one as immortal as Holmes) with kid gloves, hesitant to speculate about or tamper with the familiar defining features of the character.  Mainly, I was just enjoying myself immensely.  I only hope I've provided as much reading pleasure for others as I found in the other stories I've mentioned here.

Support Your Small Presses!

Most of us here at Mocha Memoirs write for multiple small presses. There are many reasons to choose the quirky, independent atmosphere of a small press where the author is treated like a member of a family rather than a number on a ledger sheet, but it is also harder to make a living here.

And it can be disheartening -- I received royalty notification from one publisher of a penny for six months sales.

Or scary -- another publisher I know received word over the weekend that Amazon was closing their Kindle account and would not pay out anything for the last quarter of 2016. After some tense hours, it was resolved as an error on Amazon's part, but, as you can imagine, the authors were very worried.

Why am I telling you all this? So you can see that this business is a very fragile one. One of the biggest third-party sales sites went under in December with little warning and very little recompense.

Two days after I released my latest self-publishing project I had to send two DMCA letters to pirate sites. TWO DAYS. I wonder if they had more downloads than the two I've sold on Kindle...well, three, if you count the one I bought myself.

My point here is this. If you love the work of your favorite small press author, show them. Buy our books from the small presses who take the chance to publish them. We will all appreciate your support.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Revisiting the Making of a Goal Sandwich

Last December, I did a Toastmasters speech about setting goals, and I thought, as the year winds down to a conclusion--and won't we be glad to see the back of it?--that I would reprise this entry from last year and expand upon it a little.

To recap that post, a goal has three parts, and those parts can be equated to the making a sandwich.

First, you set a goal. This is equivalent to deciding you are hungry and NEED a sandwich.

Now, you may not NEED to set a goal, but if you WANT to focus your efforts, it is where you start. You can see from that earlier post that my goal in 2015 was to submit something everyday for the year. In 2016, it was to make $5000.

Your goal can be simpler: write 100 words a day; submit to 5 new markets; find a writing group.
Or, it can be even more ambitious: get a New York publishing contract; land an agent; write 5000 words a day.

The important thing is to set a goal in the first place.

Secondly, you work to make that goal happen. Make the sandwich.

It was hard work to make that submission a day goal a reality--but I did it. In fact, I actually made over 400 submissions that year. Some days, it was a tiny submission--like a haiku sent to Haikuniverse. Some days it was a novel. The important thing was to submit something.

Getting to $5000 this year...didn't happen. But I got to over $2700...which was over a thousand more than my best year since I started keeping track.

Pushing for a goal helps you focus. It can increase your output. It gives you an amazing sense of accomplishment as you hit milestones. And, even if you don't reach the goal--working toward it makes you feel in control of your work.

The third section of the process is to reward success--eat the sandwich.

This is not a step you can skip. If you don't reward a successful goal's completion, you have given yourself no incentive to set another goal. However, make sure that your reward doesn't sabotage your NEXT goal.

For example, when I completed the submission a day goal, my reward was a few days off...and that really destroyed the goal to submit one thing a week that I made this year.

And, don't beat yourself up if you don't complete a goal. No, I didn't make my goals this year. However, I worked probably harder than ever to sell more books at conventions, to find new shows to sell at, to submit to higher paying markets. And next year, I will try again.

If you don't make your goals, adjust the next year. Build on what works. Re-evaluate what doesn't. Next year, I will be trying to write a piece a day--this is building on the submission a day goal of 2015. I will be shooting for $3500 in revenue. Still more than I made this year, but a more realistic advance on 2016's figures.

What are your goals? How will you accomplish them?  I'd love to hear from you. :)