On the Shelf: Dusting Off the Shelf

This feature has been sitting sadly dormant, waiting for me to remember that blogging consistently is something that a) I enjoy doing and b) probably SHOULD be doing and c) is great for the ol’ NaNoRebel word count. On the other hand, you know what hasn’t been sitting dormant? My reading project!

That’s right. Although I’m currently four books behind in my Goodreads reading challenge, I have been reading steadily at a pace that I have not maintained in years. Maybe it was the challenge? Maybe it is the fact that whenever I dive deep into the reading pool, I notice that my writing-idea brain starts churning, and the creative juices start pumping, and I actually get more writing done. Or…

It could possibly be that I finally got around to purging my bookshelves, took a giant stack of used books down to a used bookstore I had never visited, got $60 worth of store credit, and then spent at least an hour ambling around their shelves and shelves of classic (80s and 90s) fantasy and science fiction. I can’t even describe how awesome it was to be like, oh hey–Stainless Steel Rat! How you been, Harry Harrison? How’s Slippery Jim? (The answer: Just as awesome as I remember when I was reading the series in college in the 90s). Aw, Barbara Hambly… I missed you and your Silicon Mage. Hey, Poul Anderson and Mercedes Lackey and and Patricia McKillip and Tanya Huff and Anne McCaffrey and books with spaceships on the covers and books with dragons and fancy fantasy font on the covers and books that are the third in a series so I get mad, but still enjoy them anyway, and books that are gigantic because they’re all three books in a series…

Excuse me, I’m feeling a little misty here, need to go and put on some flannel and some Converse and smoke a clove cigarette in Washington Square Park and then go to an SCA fighter practice in Union Square Park, I’m feeling so nostalgic…

So many books, so little time. My current nighttime view.

This past week, I dove into the stack, reading The Silicon Mage and Stranger at the Wedding, both by Barbara Hambly. Both of these books scratched that high/alternate universe fantasy itch, with casts of characters, female POV characters with agency, wonderful ways to look at magical systems, and just all around made me feel like I was reading this sort of fantasy for the first time again. Yeah. Nostalgia. Then, I read The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You by Harry Harrison. This series is/was a favorite of mine and my brother’s. In fact, when I posted about it in the family chat, everyone got all nostalgic right along with me. I love the fast-paced, comedy-noir-in-space vibe, and now I want to go back and see if they have any more on the shelf because I want the rest of the series…

Outside of the bookstore, I picked up Hunter Houston and the Molten Menace by Bobby Nash on Kindle Unlimited, which is a tie-in to the Bubba the Monster Hunter series by John Hartness. It’s a fun actioner with lots of twists and tunnels (literally). Nostalgia aside, one of the things I enjoy about the current indie publishing scene is that if you like a series, the author is probably writing in it quite frequently, and doing things like inviting other authors to write in their universe. Which is great for readers who enjoy that universe.

Anyway, that’s my reading wrap-up for this week. At the moment, I just started reading Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly. I’m making good progress on Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow, and I’m getting through my Social Media Marketing text chapter by chapter. I also need to get cracking on some of the reading I’m doing for background for the Rick Keller Project, but hey, look at that fat stack of books up there. I won’t be hurting for something to read. I’ll tell you all about it next Wednesday!

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Remember that breast cancer awareness meme? Forget it.

October is over (sob), and of course I was focused on spooky things all month long. However, on this first day of November, I was reading a case study in my marketing class about the breast cancer awareness meme that infiltrated Facebook, and it reminded me that October was also breast cancer awareness month. One of the things about taking this class in my forties is that I actually remember–and have sometimes participated in–the social media trends and memes that our text explores.

But not this one.

In case you weren’t around then, what happened was that people started writing statuses that had a bit of a sexual innuendo to them. Things like “I like it in the closet” or “I like it on the kitchen counter.” The first one I saw, I kind of thought that maybe my friend was having a laugh, but didn’t think too much of it. A few days later, more and more of these started popping up, with friends posting about all the places they “like it.” And by friends, I don’t mean my whacky, kinky, arty friends. Do you know how uncomfortable it is to see your aunt, or your mom’s friend, or someone who you don’t want to think of in a certain way post this sort of status?

I almost wish I hadn’t remembered this meme so clearly.

So, what was the deal?

If you, like me, are the sort of person who spends more time on social media than you should, then you can probably guess what happened next. A friend messaged me the secret code. It was a copy and paste paragraph that basically said we were all going to raise awareness for breast cancer by posting the location of our purse in the phrase “I like it on…”

Now, I’m as down for Internet shenanigans as the next Gen-X-er who is only slightly aware of what the most current shenanigans are, and can be relied on to use the hip new lingo about two weeks after it’s gone out of style. But, I’m also a communication scholar, and I had a very hard time looking at that paragraph and trying to connect it to any sort of potential tangible results.

For one thing, there was no call to action in this activist meme. In fact, it didn’t even reach for the basic objective of raising awareness, an objective that has been called “lazy” by those who would decry “slacktivism.” In fact, I stared at the secret paragraph and asked how, exactly, a secret code on Facebook would actually connect to people who weren’t aware of breast cancer and make them aware of it if what it looked like was that we were all talking about…well, not about breast cancer.

Get People Talking

I don’t think that this method of engaging with cancer activism is all wrong. Much of social media marketing, whether of your latest book release, a new pair of sneakers, or a cause near and dear to your heart, relies on starting and maintaining a conversation among people who are already familiar with the product or concept, as well as people who may be interested in it once they learn of it.

During the ALS ice bucket challenge, my sister Thea posted a video of her tossing ice cold water over her head. In the caption, she mentioned that she also donated money to the ALS foundation, and offered a link for others to do the same. I have several friends who post occasionally, often around the time of their yearly mammogram, about the need to go get one, as well as the need to do monthly checks. This word-of-mouth can help remind people to go do their self-checks as much as it can help influence them when they’re trying to decide what movie to go see on Friday night.

And Then Shorten the Distance

When the conversation is going strong, that is when people’s interest in doing stuff is at its peak. From experience, I can tell you that trying to get people to do something once the shine of novelty has worn off can be an exercise in frustration. For this reason, I never post book promo without an easily accessible buy link. I always recommend that anyone posting about an upcoming event includes location, date, time and POC in EVERY SINGLE POST. And finally, make it easy for people to do something about the topic they are talking about. Shorten the distance from Point A (Awareness) to Point B (Action).

When it comes to cancer awareness, I have a personal investment. I have lost family members to cancer, and others in my friend and family circle have fought it. Some are now cancer survivors. For me, participating in a vaguely sexualized meme that didn’t connect to action, let alone actually promote awareness, was not an attractive prospect.

Instead, I joined (a few years later when I found out about it) the FxCK Cancer Endurance Club. This organization uses a good deal of social media promotion and marketing, relying on its members to share photos and videos, as well as the link to their fundraising site. I like to share videos of me talking about training and racing, including post-race rundowns and thank yous to sponsors. I haven’t been training much since the plague took me out, but as I get back into it, so will my social media feeds start looking a little more purple and gold.

Here I am after a sprint triathlon earlier in 2021. This is the post-race face of someone who came in dead last, but never quit.

Anyway, this walk down memory lane has given me some good food for thought on how to start these sorts of conversations, but also how to sustain them and translate them into invitations to act–whether to donate to the Fuck Cancer organization, to follow the FC Endurance Club on Insta, to check out the latest Crone Girls Press anthology, or to go get that mammogram scheduled. And it also reminds me that I need to go for a run tomorrow. I’m interested to hear people’s thoughts on the topic, especially if they remember the breast cancer meme or the ALS ice bucket challenge. Did you participate? How did you participate? What made you decide to chime in one way or the other? Let me know!

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Expanding My Repertoire, Improving My Social Media Marketing Skills

The other day, I sat down and realized that the majority of products I use, ESPECIALLY when it comes to my writing and publishing projects, come from seeing friends (or strangers, if I’m on Twitter) post about them. Additionally, there have been a number of products that I have chosen NOT to use, once I did some searching and saw how those brands interacted with their customers online. Finally, I have also, as a user, had varying customer service experiences when interacting with brands’ social media. All of these insights have led me to where I am now–taking a Social Media Marketing class as part of SNHU’s MFA in Creative Writing. As an author, as a publisher–as a brand–I want to be able to interact and communicate with others online effectively and positively. (Or, as positively as a horror author can really be, let’s be honest…)

Communication Versus(?) Marketing

One of the insights that this class has given me was one that should have been obvious–but wasn’t until the textbook pointed it out. Namely, marketing, especially social media marketing, is all about communication. When viewed in the communication lens, instead of the platform lens, a lot of the concepts of being on social media start to make more sense. For example, so many authors I know focus on the platform, asking questions like, Do I have to be on Twitter? Should I try TikTok? Is Bookstagram still a thing? (Hint: Most of the “get in on this” posts about Bookstagram are over a year old, and there are more about why people are leaving or taking a break from their accounts.) I’ve even had some writers tell me they didn’t want to do social media, which is why they were going to try to go the trad pub route. (Another Hint: You’ll still want a vibrant social media presence.)

Thank you, Canva. Your selection of horror-themed pics and graphics does not disappoint!

Don’t get me wrong, marketing is definitely part of my online presence (just ask all the folks the other day who got a look at my post about my book, which FB then slapped an erroneous label on and tossed it into FB Marketplace, WWHHHHYYY…) However, communication is what you are DOING online.

One of the examples of this that made a lot of sense was the case study presented in the text regarding Warby Parker. This is a company that wanted to disrupt how people bought prescription glasses, and so they offered a try-at-home service. Combined with an active social media communication campaign as well as donating glasses to people in need, they have thrived since launching, and are still going strong today. In fact, I saw quite a few posts from my FB friends mentioning them (or posting themselves trying on glasses, just like Warby Parker encourages their customers to do.)

The social media technology aided Warby Parker by first, allowing them to reach audiences already accustomed to interacting online and second, by making it possible for them to encourage their potential purchasers to do what most people already like to do online–post pictures of themselves and ask their friends what they think. This model reminded me a lot of the Stitch Fix model, which is a personal shopping and styling brand that sends personally chosen clothes and accessories, lets you try them on, and send them back if you don’t like them. (Coincidentally (maybe?) both companies were started or came together in the 2010/2011 time frame.)

Again, Canva for the skeleton-wearing-glasses win.

I don’t know if this specific marketing model is directly translatable to an author platform, but what I do know, is that some elements of this communication strategy are available to me as an indie publisher. From sharing photos taken with people who purchase my books at conventions, to encouraging interaction in my press’s Facebook group, social media has allowed me to amplify my communication to a group of potential readers–and given them the chance to complete the feedback loop and communicate with me.

This idea of encouraging communication and engagement from potential customers can, I think, also translate to fostering that sort of communication among members of the brand. Online, Warby Parker has made great strides by encouraging communication with the brand. As I gear up to publish our next big print anthology, one of the promotional activities is to share photos of our authors with their “Crone Girls Press Author” buttons. This way, I am engaging and communicating on a variety of levels, and that conversation that is happening (for us, on Insta, Twitter, and Facebook) helps boost visibility and contributes to platform growth and book sales.

So, What Now?

Okay, well, while I don’t think that I will be going public on the New York Stock Exchange anytime soon, I do think that some of the insights from this course so far will help to give me a better idea of how to more effectively communicate online, and how to increase my promotional activities by NOT viewing them as marketing, but viewing them as communicating.

One of the things that I see over and over, such as in this blog on how authors can use social media IS a focus on communicating, on not flogging your sales over and over and over. I remember the one memorable occasion when an author friended me on Facebook, then, after I accepted the request, almost immediately send me a private message in the voice of his character, introducing the character and his book. I replied with my own character (hey, if you’re going there, I’ll meet you!), and then I never heard a single thing from them–not a like, not a comment, not a share. Until … my birthday rolled around and as a happy birthday message that author posted a greeting that included a buy link to their Amazon page. That was a short case study in how NOT to use social media–but it’s also a case study in how, if you look at social media through a communicating lens, you would already see that such a comment or private message would be rude. After all, do we start every conversation like:

Other Person: Hello, my name is Rachel and I like dogs.
Writer: BUY MY BOOK!

For me, I don’t think this will require much of a change in how I use social media. However, it’s given me some ideas of topics to think about (and hey look – it got me blogging after a long dry spell. In fact, this blog may be making up for six months of not posting. Oops.) I’ll keep you updated!

* * *

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Side Roads is live!

I probably should have posted this on Wednesday, my actual launch day, but having managed to schedule everything in my life in the month of June, I didn’t quite get around to it. But I wanted to let everyone know that Side Roads: A Dark Fiction Collection is live and available on Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, and in paperback!

It’s been an awesome week, made even awesome-r by the fact that Eddie Generous, host of The Unnerving Podcast, invited me on this week. We talked about short stories, side roads in the middle of nowhere, and I read a short story from the collection, “Holes.” It was a fun conversation, and it was also pretty cool that the other guest was Joe R. Lansdale.

For those who have picked up the book, I wanted to say thank you very much! And for those of you who have read to the end (like, ALL the way to the end), you’ve probably seen the information about my next project, The Rick Keller Project. I have some pretty great news about that… but I’m going to wait until tomorrow to share. In the meantime, enjoy! And, if you have read or are reading, I would dearly love a review once you get to the end. Thanks!

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Some Author Thoughts on Kindle Vella

One of the hot topics right now in author groups is this new app, Kindle Vella. For those who are unfamiliar with it, Amazon is basically trying to get into the serialized fiction market, and has been pitching this publishing service to authors for a few months now. The app is poised to go live in July, and will be available on phones and tablets, which is primarily where people are reading short serials already. You can buy tokens that will “unlock” episodes, and then Amazon and the author will share in the bounty.

So of course — we all have questions. Will it be worth it to get in there as an early adopter? Which genres might fare the best? Will we be able to write fast enough to post a regular episode, or should we serialize a finished–yet unpublished–project? (Be careful not to try to put up anything that’s already been published somewhere else, even if you have taken it down. Amazon wants new, fresh content to entice readers to come on board.)

In the interest of full disclosure — I really don’t have all, or any, of the answers. I’m just someone who enjoys reading, enjoys writing, and happened to have an unpublished project that I didn’t have any plans for until Vella popped up as an option. However, when this topic came up in my Facebook writing group, I ended up dashing off a response based on what I’d been reading about the app, as well as some of my experience using the app from the author end, plus reading and learning as much as I can about what readers of different genres might go for. That post was kind of long, and I thought, you know, that might make a good blog post, so with a few revisions and expansions, here it is!

BLUF (or bottom line up front): From an author/publisher perspective, this interface is very easy to use, so if you have an idea that might work, I highly recommend that you go in there and play around with it. The worst that could happen is that it doesn’t quite work out, and then you can unpublish your work as a Vella project, and re-publish as an indie project on either KDP or another platform.

So, here is what I’m thinking and doing with Vella. My plan right now is to put up my paranormal romantic suspense novella that I was planning to use as a reader magnet for a longer series. I worry that having a novel-length project might result in too many episodes, which might then make a reader who is frugal with their tokens decide to take a chance on a series with less episodes. The reader magnet is about 12,000 words right now, with my plan to write about 10,000 more. I have the basic scenarios for the rest of the book series planned out; based on the reader/audience reaction, I may either continue to write the series in Vella, or keep Vella as a reader magnet to lure readers to the indie-published books that come next.

I chose to dip my toe into the waters using my romance writing, given that many of the readers who already consume serialized material seem to be romance, fanfic, graphic novels/manga, or YA. Will those audiences leave their current platforms and head over to Vella? I don’t know. But I think that I, as a reader, would be willing to return to serials on a platform run by Amazon if I could one-click and “Buy Now” a selection of tokens, and be updated when new episodes go live. Are all readers me? No. But until it launches, I have to unscientifically extrapolate from experience.

Also, it seems that more established writers are able to serialize work through Patreon, so perhaps this serialized format has become normalized enough to easily translate to readers in other genres. I know that Amazon bends over backwards to the readers to get them to invest in the platform, so I feel like they’ll probably make it easy for readers to find series in the genres they read–and then poke them to remind them when new episodes are available.

There was a good Medium article on this the other day, Why Kindle Vella is Not Going Away by Monica Leonelle, that noted that Amazon was an early player in the ebook market, but when it comes to serialized fiction, they’re playing catchup. So… I think that if you are a more established writer already benefiting from Amazon’s reading platforms, you may be able to expand reader expectations as far as the genres they’ll find and enjoy. I think if you are a writing in a genre where readers are already accustomed to serial fiction, you may, as a less established writer, have an easier chance of breaking in. This is why I chose to go the PNR route, as opposed to putting up something else.

Note that Kindle Vella does not allow you to publish anything that has already been published somewhere else. They really want to differentiate their market from the other serial platforms out there, and if you do try to upload something that’s already been published, they’ll kick it off (not sure if they kick you off entirely). This could be a good opportunity, especially if readers are going in with the mindset that they’re going to get new stuff, although they might also want new stuff from the authors they already know, so maybe they’ll get disappointed if they don’t see that – or maybe they’ll take a chance on something in a similar genre.

I do think that it’s worth trying out if the pace and format works for you. The worst that could happen is that nothing happens, and then you take your work down and publish it as usual (although you might only be able to indie publish at that point, as I think most larger houses won’t be open to publishing something that already launched, except for those presses open to re-launching series.) I also think that anyone trying to prognosticate about what’s going to happen with this, or what might work or not, probably has about as even a chance as anyone of being right, so honestly, take what I say with a grain of salt and check it out for yourself.

Speaking of which, at this point, I’ve spoken to a number of authors who seemed interested in Vella, but had some trepidation. Would it be difficult? Were there some ins and outs that might take a while to learn? What’s going on? I know that I personally find it a little easier to try something new if I have a good idea of what to expect, and so following are some screenshots that will take you on a little tour of what it’s like within the interface. As I mentioned above, first, this is for an unpublished novella that is meant to be a reader magnet to a paranormal romantic suspense series, and so I’m writing under my romance pen name. (Shameless plug: For my non-PNR romantic suspense, check out Negotiating Her Release!) Second, this was originally posted as part of a discussion in a Facebook group, so these were screenshots I took from my phone. They’re not super fancy, but the interface is not complicated, and so this is pretty much what it looks like when you go in.

So, when you log into KDP, and click on Vella (it’s all the way at the top, above the create ebook and paperback choices), you get this:

If you click “Start a Story,” it will ask you for the title, name, tags, genre etc. You will also need a graphic for the circle — you don’t need the title or author on the graphic, because the title and and author will pop up on the screen anyway. This is what mine looks like — a user-friendly, attractive interface, not too crowded. Your blurb can’t be as long as a typical blurb — think more logline length.

If you are coming back, this will pop up, and you just hit “manage story” to get back in and get to work.

Each time you post an episode, it will go through a review. You can title the episode, and edit within the text even after it goes live, but the amount of tokens is based on the word count. (Also, you don’t have to add the episode number and/or title inside the text box, because that is part of the interface, and it’ll just look like it’s repeating. That’s why some of my previously published episodes in this screenshot are gray — I went in, changed some stuff, and now they’re waiting on a second review to go live.

The neat thing, too, is at the end of the episode, there’s a spot where you can leave a note to the readers. This is a great place to tease the next episode, commiserate with your readers, and generally just connect to them. One of the reasons I enjoy things like Patreon or following authors online is to learn what’s going on “behind the scenes.” So here is a built-in option to allow you to do that. This example is from the last episode I was working on this weekend:

Anyway, like I said above, Vella is super easy to use, so if you have been thinking about it, go on in and play around with it. You can import a file, copy and paste, or just write the episode in there. I personally don’t recommend that last option; I’m using Scrivener to plot and write the episodes, and do some editing before I upload them. This is to make sure my readers get the best possible experience, and to also make sure that if at some point I do want to unpublish and re-publish elsewhere, I’ll have the original file as a whole. I don’t know much else except what I’ve posted, it if anyone has any questions or wants to toss around ideas, I’m available to chat.

As the Vella app goes live, and we start to get feedback from readers, authors, and Amazon, I’ll keep you updated about what happens with this project. I think it will be very cool to check out, and I’m hoping this will be another method authors can use to get great stories in front of their fans.

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Side Roads, Reading Projects, and Werewolves

The countdown has begun to the launch of Side Roads: A Dark Fiction Collection. Author proofs of the paperback copy have been ordered, promotional graphics have been created and scheduled on social media, and ARCs have been sent to my mailing list, as well as writers and publishers who have graciously accepted copies for blurbing purposes. This is always one of the most nerve-wracking times, as I tend to stress and overthink every single thing at the best of times, let alone when a project is on its way to fruition.

But then, when those writers and editors send back these words:


“Whether she’s carving up tales of supernatural hit squads, steam-punk demon folk, or warped-reality TV shows, Iraq War veteran (and defender of the nightmare hordes) Rachel A. Brune writes with butterfly-knife dexterity: Always a flashy cut, a dreadful twist, a sideways chance at hope. And then, things usually get dark. If you love Ray Bradbury and Shirley Jackson short horror stories, be sure to read this book!”


–Randy Brown, co-editor of Why We Write: Craft Essays on Writing War

…I start to feel a little better about the progress I’ve made, the work I’ve done, and the book I’m going to be putting out in the world. Sure, there are still many more bullets on my pre-launch to-do list, but this collection is on its way!

In addition to the pre-publication work on Side Roads, I’ve also been tearing through a bunch of books on my Kindle. Once again, I’m reminding myself that a prolific reading habit actively feeds a productive writing habit as I churn through titles and series, chalking up yet more “completed” statuses on my Goodreads reading challenge (84 of 150 books, if you’re interested.)

One of the standout series that I finished in the past week or so include Paige L. Christie’s The Legacies of Arnan books. Full disclosure — I met Paige in an online writing group, and after finding out that she had contributed a story to an anthology set in Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar universe, decided to go check out her stuff. I’m glad I did. This series has an old school fantasy vibe, with magic and dragons and a cast of well-drawn, well-developed characters. I’d have read the whole series by now, except she’s still working on the last book. Definitely recommend.

Another series I picked up was one of those that I probably wouldn’t have taken a chance on if it hadn’t been in the Kindle Unlimited program, but once I started reading, I couldn’t stop. This is the Bubba the Monster Hunter series by John Hartness, which is like Buffy the Vampire Slayer if Buffy was a six-foot-plus ex-college football star from the South. I basically picked this series up because I had read all of the Quincy Harker books, and was kind of looking for more in that universe. As a Jersey girl born and raised, I probably would have picked it up sooner if it were a series about Sal the Strega Slayer who hunted monsters while running the family pizzeria in Manasquan, but like I said, once I started reading, I found myself drawn into the writing and characters and ended up bingeing not only the entire series, but re-reading the Quincy Harker series just so I could enjoy the final Bubba, which is a crossover event.

Anyway, I continue to read more, mostly on my Kindle, because I can read at night with the lights off and pretend to my kids that I’ve gone to bed. I’m looking for my next binge-worthy series; not sure if I want to hit up a new one, or go and re-read the Richard Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell. I’ve had a hankering, lately.

Speaking of reading projects and werewolves, I recently picked up about half a dozen dead tree nonfiction books on Eastern Europe after World War II.

Some of the research bounty…

These books, in addition to CV Wedgwood’s The Thirty Years War and a number of German history tomes, are part of a reading project for both fun, as well as research for the Rick Keller Project. I’m doing some revisions of the series, as well as plotting the final book, and much of his background and family history rests in the history of Germany and Eastern Europe, at least the formative part of his history that then factors into the decisions he makes and the things that he wants.

Also, I was planning on re-launching the series right after publishing Side Roads; however, I think I’m going to instead pivot over to my steampunk detective project, and work on publishing those in two volumes of three stories each. This will give me time to work on the Rick Keller series as a whole. I also, and this is where a lot of the Cold War research is coming in, plan to write some short stories of the various missions he was doing with MONIKER during that time frame. They’ll be written as if they’re missions that are being de-classified, which I think will be fun and give me a chance to play around with some of the supporting characters I give a glimpse at in the longer novels.

Anyway, this has been a long post, as usually happens when I forget to update my blog regularly. Hope everyone reading has an excellent week — and if you have some suggestions for my TBR pile, let me know!

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Quick Update, Then Back to Writing

Hey everyone,

Just checking in with a blog update. I swear I keep meaning to post more regularly–even went so far as to set a calendar reminder in my phone, but usually what happens is that, instead of hearing the reminder and sitting down and updating my blog, I turn the reminder off and … well, that’s about that.

Nothing much is happening on the large scale projects front. This week is a lot of little to-do things on the list in my bullet journal, and I’m just going down, checking them off. Things like, update Goodreads, update my business ledger, create dropdown boxes on said business ledger (did my taxes the other day, and the pain is fresh), check my military email, update my GI Bill and MFA status… all the little nitty gritty details that need to be cleared off my plate so I can get back to the big projects.

The biggest project right now is reviewing and incorporating feedback that I got back on my novelette “And Out Come the Wolves,” which anchors my short story collection, Side Roads. (What’s that? You haven’t heard of it? Okay, well, go check it out!) I’m also collecting and organizing my notes for the Rick Keller series bible, and the revisions of Cold Run. On the romantic suspense pen name front, I’m working on a Kindle Vella experiment, serializing my unicorn shifter romantic suspense and getting that prepped for when the service launches in June.

Other than that, I’m working on cleaning and organizing the house, working out, making progress on craft projects and, oh yes, recently took over as the Baronial Chronicler for my local SCA chapter. So you could say that my time is well-scheduled.

Anyway, if you are interested in any of the stuff I’ve got going on, stay tuned, and/or sign up for my newsletter. And with that–time to get back to post-apocalyptic New Jersey.

Peace!

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Coming Soon: Side Roads

A few days ago, I sent a message to the 20 stalwart members of my author newsletter. Now that they’ve had a chance to take a look, I’m ready to announce to the world (or at least my 10 or so regular blog readers): I’ve got a new publication coming!

“Side Roads” is a collection of horror and dark fiction short stories (including one novelette), about half of which have been published in various magazines and anthologies over the past ten years. They include stories like the faepunk horror “IronFae,” which first appeared in Aiofe’s Kiss, the steampunk horror “The Terrible, Vast Pyre of Chief Machinist Kirlisoveyitch,” which first appeared in Dark Moon Digest, and the dystopian superhero short “The Peacemaker,” which appeared in Fantasy Scroll Magazine. Additionally, there are a number of stories (and one poem!) that first made their appearance on this blog in October, when I was doing Lynne Hansen’s 31 Days of Art challenge. In addition to the previously published content, I’ve got two brand new stories, one of which is being edited as I write this blog. (I’ve included the full table of contents below!)

Also, if you read on and the stories pique your interest, I want to let you know that I’ll be sending a free digital copy to my newsletter subscribers. If you’d like to come aboard and check it out, you can sign up here. I send out one email a month (usually… I’m trying to get better about staying in touch with readers, but, well…) If you’d like an ARC, but don’t want to sign up to get one, feel free to hit me up via email at unfamousscribbler ~at~ gmail.

So where did this idea come from? The mundane story is, I’ve been working on a writing career for a long time, but never really with any focus and direction. This past year, I’ve settled down and made a plan, and that plan includes relaunching my werewolf secret agent series. But before I did that, I wanted to offer potential readers a chance to dip into some of the work I’ve published so they can get a taste and a feel for my writing. I view this collection as an author calling card, and will be sharing it as widely as I can (thus, the offer to send it to everyone on my author newsletter.)

But there is something more… The titular story, “Side Roads,” is a piece I’ve been working on for a long time that had its genesis in an adventure I had down a dark New Jersey road in the middle of the night. For those who have heard of Weird NJ, it wasn’t Clinton Road, but it was a very close second. Growing up in the Garden State, urban legends like Big Red Eye, The Devil’s Tree, the Jersey Devil, etc., were all part and parcel of the excitement and frisson of Goosey Night (or Mischief Night, or whatever you call the semi-forbidden adolescent antics of the night before Halloween.) These stories–and the name of the Press–came out of dark nights and cold drives and the feeling that, as winter set in and the nights grew longer, there was more out there in the darkness than the shadows were telling us.

I can’t wait to share that feeling with you…

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Table of Contents
Curiouser & Curiouser ~ 31 Days of Art Challenge
Side Roads ~ New Fiction
Spiders ~ 31 Days of Art Challenge
Tangled ~ 31 Days of Art Challenge
Shadow Pool ~ Imaginarium
IronFae ~ Aiofe’s Kiss
The Carnival Ghost ~ Hideous Progeny: Classic Horror Goes Punk
Pierced Monarch ~ Inspired by painting of same title by Marrus
The Terrible, Vast Pyre of Chief Machinist Kirlisoveyitch ~ Dark Moon Digest
Slither ~ 31 Days of Art Challenge
Readers ~ T. Gene Davis’s Speculative Fiction Blog
Membrane ~ 31 Days of Art Challenge
Finding Things After You’re Gone ~ Stardust, Always
Terminal Leave ~ O-Dark-Thirty
Holes ~ 31 Days of Art Challenge
The Peacemaker ~ Fantasy Scroll Magazine
And Out Come the Wolves ~ New Fiction

~~~

(PS: Quick note of thanks to John Hartness for helping me out with the title for that last one. Go check out his stuff–he’s got some great titles!)

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On the Shelf: Punk Rock Memoir

Getting back to the regular blogging thing after a month off for a (failed but plucky) NaNoWriMo attempt, catching up on some stuff for Crone Girls Press, and dealing with the Thanksgiving holiday and a load of weird seasonal distraction that dumped on me like a load of garbage down a cliff off a back road.

I’ve been away from reading for a little bit, but I did find myself on a memoir reading kick, specifically, a punk rock memoir reading kick. That’s what’s on the shelf this week, so kick back, turn up some Siouxsie and the Banshees, or maybe some Joan Jett or Patti Smith or Le Tigre, and settle in with one of these excellent reads.

As a quick note – I try to include links to the books I’m reading so you can pick up a copy if you feel so inspired. I’ve decided to start using links to Bookshop.org instead of my previous Amazon links. These aren’t affiliate links (although I’m looking into that), I just wanted to direct some dollars towards smaller and indie bookstores. If you want to read on Kindle, however, you should be able to find a copy over there.

Just Kids by Patti Smith

I started reading this on a recommendation from my brother-in-law, and I’m glad I picked it up. The book relates Patti Smith’s time in NYC, her relationship with the photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, and gives a glimpse into a world that doesn’t exist anymore except in memory and memoir. This is a fascinating dive into NYC as a place that fostered creativity and art even as spit up and chewed out many of those who came to find their scene. Patti Smith’s unique perspective and engaging writing style made the journey from cover to cover go far too quickly. This one goes up on the shelf to read again.

Violence Girl by Alice Bag

I’ve been meaning to get around to reading this book, and then forgetting, and then remembering, but when a writer friend posted a link to a series of punk rock memoirs in their group, I decided it was time to pick up a copy. When I was creating the character of Luz in the Rick Keller Project, I drew a lot from Alice Bag’s aesthetic, even if it meant taking a punk rocker from LA and giving her military experience as a helicopter pilot. Given that I’m currently finishing up the fourth book in the series (and expanding what used to be a novella-length inter-series offering that introduced Luz), I figured it was the perfect time to check this out.

The writing is compelling, as Bag is open and frank about the challenges she faced growing up. Abuse, poverty, an address that sent her to schools that many of her classmates couldn’t overcome, friends with drug issues, and a burning desire to make music and do art on her own terms and no one else’s–all of these make the book a page turner. It’s written in short vignettes, like photos in an album, or blog posts, leading the reader through Alice’s punk rock life. I definitely recommend this book to anyone with a love for West Coast punk rock. Or just someone who enjoys a good book.

Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus

I just started reading this book, so I don’t have much of a review or discussion except to say that with this book I’m finally reaching into the decade of my life when I started to become aware of things like punk rock, and women rockers, and that there were aspects of myself and my life I could only explore once I had a chance to head out to college (yes… the 90’s are my nostalgia decade.) My politics were more “NYU film student goes to the Matrix and then a goth club) than riot grrl, but the seeds were planted and reading this book brings back some memories. I’m looking forward to reading the rest!

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31 Days of Art, Day 25: Cemetery

I’m not sure what this is or where it came from, but today’s writing prompt was “cemetery,” and I couldn’t think of anything horror or spooky. Maybe it’s because I don’t tend to see cemeteries as inherently fear-inducing. I mean, I’m probably not going to go hang out in one at midnight for the heck of it (not to mention, that’s way past my bedtime.) But to me, cemeteries have always seemed peaceful places, where the dead are respected and loved. And so, this came out way more personal essay and journal reflection-y.

Day 25: Cemetery

When I die, he says out of the blue, I think I’d like to be buried in this cemetery.

He thinks about it, mulling over the options. His attention turned inward, I can track him turning the idea over and over, glimpse the moment in his eyes when he dismisses the idea.

It would be very expensive. Yes, it probably would. We’re entitled to a plot in the veterans’ cemetery.

I’ve often thought about this, myself. The VA cemeteries are calm, peaceful, with their regimented rows of white on green, each stone telling exactly the same and right information.

When I’m feeling melancholy, I picture that stone. There it stands, nestled next to my spouse, our names and ranks and religious denomination square and neat and delineated, two little stubs in a sea of perfectly maintained lawn.

I remember my first assignment on active duty orders after graduating basic training and advanced individual training. With my newly-minted certification in hand, I showed up to my unit. Do you want to join the funeral detail? I’d never thought about it. It’s a six-month order, and you will be paying respects to the veterans.

It was only a one-month gig; the detail ran out of money and was taken over in a rotating duty schedule. But for four weeks, I dressed to the nines in my Class A uniform with my one national defense service ribbon proudly displayed on my chest, and drove around the boroughs of New York City, laying to rest veterans. Mostly elderly, mostly men, but some who were younger, some who were women. Veterans who had served in conflicts I’d learned about in “poignant vignettes” during training. World War II. Korea. Vietnam. One, even, from Desert Shield/Desert Storm.

I was too young, then, to really think about where I would end up, although I found a distant comfort in the pomp and ceremony, even if at that time we played TAPS on a CD player with a remote control. Almost twenty years later, in the midst of a pandemic, I find myself revisiting memories, wondering again where my spouse and I might want to go, if it will be a place our children will want to visit occasionally, if they will be close enough to get together for the weekend and stop by to see our plot, remember the ceremony. If one of them will keep the flag. Where the mementoes of our service will end up.

I make a note to look it up later, a future to-do list, how to reserve a burial plot, how much they cost, who will handle the arrangements. A heavy topic for a beautiful fall day, with the shrieks of our daughters and their cousins filtering in from the outside, where the glorious foliage still clings to the valley. Days like these grow fewer with each one that passes, and I’m not ready to start on that final to-do list.

Someday.

But not today.

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