A sobering look at what an author is facing these days.

When Amazon was new, I thought it was a wonderful way to get people reading. I still think it’s even better than those lurid paperbacks and comic books in the mid-twentieth century which caused a lot of sniffing and sneering amongst the literary crowd but enabled folks to read things they couldn’t afford before.  Now Amazon and Kindle make inexpensive (read cheap) books even more available.  After all, we are a fast-food nation; fast-food-books was inevitable. 

But even in the heyday of paperbacks and comics, books with more depth were still easily available too. Now Amazon is training authors to use the best system for them to make money, not for readers to experience good books.  Authors are being pushed into a system of faster and faster candy mints and throw-away thoughts.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against candy mints. They have their place. But as a steady diet they really stink, and that’s where Amazon keeps trying to lead us. There are a lot of good books on Amazon.  And I’ve read a lot of the millions of “bad” books.  Many are no worse than the paperbacks and comic books of the old days, and most are not a bad way to spend an afternoon.  But too often I feel like I’ve wasted the time and money no matter how small the amount.  How do readers find the meat & potatoes if the Amazon table is drowning in candy mints?

When I’m not reading, all I want to do is write, but I don’t want to turn my books over to the agent-reader-editor-publisher-galleys-in a couple of years-‘sorry, you didn’t recoup the advance’ thing either. And then have a big-name publisher drop them into the ‘out of publication’ (i.e. author-untouchable) bin if they don’t make enough money in the first six weeks.

With Amazon, books never go out of publication.  On the other hand, the Amazon system is geared toward authors who can pump books out as fast as they can. And then do all the marketing on their own or pay for it to be done.  And it takes constant research to keep up with what’s the latest best thing — Ads?  Newsletters?  Blog posts?  Blog hopping?  Swapped reviews?  Guest posting?  Goodreads?  Facebook author page? (“Add your business address so customers can reach you!”  What, my bedroom? Not on Facebook!) More and more I’m seeing authors begging their readers to leave a review — “just a few words!” — because this is what the Amazon algorhythm monkey understands.

My last book to be published went up on Amazon a few years ago.  You can still buy the first one.  But I’m not a fast writer, and I’m never going to finish the next book if I’m spending my days trying to game Amazon and their constantly changing “bestseller” algorhythms.

The other day I listened to a young working mother refuse a free bag of fresh veggies from someone’s garden, saying “Thanks, but I like to buy stuff that’s already washed and chopped up.”  One Facebook group that I follow because it discusses new mysteries and suspense novels seems to have devolved into posts listing all the books they read this month, or this week, or today, like it’s a competition.

I’m a full-on capitalist and welcome competition, but I don’t know how to compete in this new world.

With a Sigh

Another 100-word story to a writing prompt from https://rochellewisoff.com/. Thank you, Rochelle, for providing so much fun. Isn’t it strange, though, how many of us tend to write sad stories at what is supposed to be the happiest time of year.

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

The snow-covered bench curved ’round the gazebo.  Its posts framed the steel-colored lake and the far shore.  Alice had loved the cold, had loved sitting with her father while he read the poems of Robert Frost to her.  Then the stranger came, and he and her father read the poetry to each other.  Alice’s anger filled her mother’s willing ear.

Her father had left them to take a different road.

Now the gazebo no longer welcomed her.  She was the stranger. She brushed snow off the bench, sat on its chill surface and began to read “The Road Not Taken”.

If you’d like to join us, or read other stories and comment, follow the frog! Click and enjoy.

My Inheritance

Another 100-word story from a prompt by https://rochellewisoff.com/

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll

I stared at the dank storage cage and demanded,  “Where’s my grandmother’s stuff?”

The building super chewed on a toothpick.  “This is it.”

“Two beat-up boxes and a piano?  Where’s the antiques she collected?”

He avoided my eyes.  “I don’t know from antiques.  Your brother took everything in the apartment right after she croaked.  Management says after six months, I gotta dump what ain’t claimed.”

“I was out of the country.”  I felt the grief again.  “I didn’t know.”

“You want this stuff or not?”

My brother hadn’t known about the storage unit.  My inheritance.  Gone.

“Keep it,”  I said.

If you want to join the fun, just follow the frog! Click and follow the directions, and don’t forget to read the efforts of others and comment.

Another poignant pic

Or is it just me? As usual, this 100-word story is from a prompt picture posted at https://rochellewisoff.com/, the blog that gets my juices flowing. Also as usual, it seems to come from somewhere in my past.

PHOTO PROMPT © Jean L. Hays

I REMEMBER, MAMA

I yank out drawers stuffed with outdated patterns, remnants from a prom dress, seed pearls from my wedding dress that Mama barely finished in time, because by then she’d already started weeping.  “I keep losing count!”

Unfinished scarves, half-done cross stitch kits, fabric paint with tee-shirts untouched.  Macramé cords.  Knitted caps missing their topknots.

“I’m making gifts for Christmas.”  Then she discarded each project and spent money on new ones, desperately hoping to find the one craft her diminishing mind could still handle.

I can finish them for her.  I’ve got all the supplies.

And maybe a bit more time.

It Rained Books!

Among other great benefits, the organization Sisters in Crime does a lot of things to help libraries. Here is one that I participated in, from the newsletter of Sisters in Crime National:

That’s my book in the stack in the upper left!

IT’S RAINING BOOKS!

“Here’s a photo from the folks at the Durham Library in New Hampshire of the books arriving after they won our It’s Raining Books giveaway at the American Library Association Conference. Thanks to all the members who participated!”

Why Did We Have To?

I spent most of September on a road trip to visit old friends in my home state and came home through a storm of golden light and falling leaves. A glorious melancholy end to a nostalgic trip. So when I saw this week’s photo prompt on Friday Fictioneers, this is the 100 word story I came up with: (interesting timing, no?)

The wind was cold at the top of the bleachers.  She sat hunched, staring down at the empty playing field.  The long-awaited twenty-year reunion game was over, everyone had said their goodbyes bravely and left, hiding relief.  Fieldlights came on, pushing back at the twilight in their dumb robotic way.

She felt the rumble of his climb through the metal bench.  He stopped in front of her, rubbing his artificial hip, breathing heavily.

“Time to go home?”  he murmured.

She looked up at him and then back at the empty field.  “Jimmy, when did we all get so damn old?”

If you’d like to join the fun, just click the Froggie! At the bottom of the page, add the URL to your own story and then be sure to visit and comment on others. The prompt is new every Friday.

Such a beautiful busy summer

Yes, I know this summer’s been far too hot everywhere. In fact, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, June was Earth’s hottest month ever recorded. But I’ve enjoyed this summer anyway. Funny how events just refuse to portion themselves out nice and even.  You get a long period when you think your life is stalled like an old tired car, and then suddenly you need to hit the ground running.  I think I spent today just catching my breath.

The last weekend in July was Bookstock, which is Woodstock VT’s “Festival of Words”.  Like last year, I signed up to help cover the Sisters in Crime table.  In between selling my own books and explaining the Sisters in Crime mission to curious patrons of the Festival, I spent a pleasurable morning talking books and the mysteries of publishing with Ursula Wong, author of gripping novels about a little known corner of World War II.  If you like stories about strong women dealing with brutal times, her “Amber Wolf” series is one you don’t want to pass up.

Ursula had to head back home around noon, so I spent the afternoon sharing the table with Lisa Lieberman, who enthralled me with her wealth of experience in writing and publishing.  Her series of historical mysteries is based on old movies and often feature blacklisted Hollywood people in dangerous places.

Both these writers leave me in awe. I had quite enough trouble researching Washington D.C. in the mid-1960s for “The Last Party in Eden”, and I was there at the time!

Here’s an interview of Lisa and fellow Sisters in Crime author Frances McNamara, by Kathryn Gandek-Tighe.

Cold beer and nachos!

It was definitely a Sisters in Crime week.  A month ago I invited Connie Hambley, the president of our New England chapter, to join me and several other writers and readers at the Harpoon Brewery for an old-fashioned palaver over a cold brew.  Never having done anything so brash before, I was very nervous.  But when Connie showed up yesterday with her handsome husband Scott, the whole group couldn’t have had more fun!  That’s my daughter-in-law Renee to my left, and Connie is sitting on my right (I’m holding my treasured stuffed lobster from last year’s Crimebake). Kudos to Scott for a great picture! Sometimes the best thing about meeting with old friends is being able to introduce them to new ones, and I think everyone was charmed and excited and inspired by the whole afternoon.  The weather couldn’t have been better, though the hot sun did cause us to move from one outdoor table to another, which probably nonplussed our poor servers, but they rallied magnificently.  Good food and brew and sometimes live music makes Harpoon one of the best places to stop in the area – don’t miss it the next time you’re in the Windsor-Hartland area.

To toot my own horn, also this week I was the subject of an interview by David Alan Binder.  When he asked if I preferred an email interview or to talk on the phone, I replied that there is a reason I’m a writer, not a speaker!  I had a very good time with his thought-provoking questions, and I hope you enjoy reading my answers. 

Now to do a little summer relaxing before a planned road trip in September.  More on that later.

It’s a Grand Hopeful Flag

Another “exactly one hundred words”! Thanks to Roschelle Wisoff-Fields for her “Friday Fictioneers” prompt and to PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carroll for the picture:

It was a humid Fourth of July.  Brogash’s sweaty hand stuck to the useless employment application.  Land of the free, right.  They’ll take one look at my name and that’s it.  He scribbled a signature and took it to the counter.  At least it was cooler inside than out there under that hopeful flag.  He’d hang around a while, maybe buy something cold with his last buck.

The manager read Brogash’s application.

“You Bulgarian?”

“American,”  Brogash snapped.  Then, more politely,  “My grandfather was a Bulgar.”

“Mine, too.  This looks good.  Come back Monday morning at nine.  We’ll start your orientation.”

Cold City Streets

Okay, I’m having fun with another prompt from Friday Fictioneers. Thanks to Rochelle Wisoff https://rochellewisoff.com/, and to ©Ted Strutz for the photo. I’ve also uploaded the story to InLinks. If you want to give it a try, write your own 100-word story and click on the frog on Rochelle’s blog!

COLD CITY STREETS

The city streets were so cold.  She’d walked forever, dodging people with bitter eyes and hunched shoulders.  The fifteenth marquee didn’t even show the name of an upcoming play.  She opened the door anyway and crossed the thin scarlett carpeting to examine the outdated posters.  Faint music floated from somewhere.

“Lookin’ for somebody?”

She jumped.  “Oh!  No.  Not really.”

The woman looked at her muddy shoes and pinched cold face.  “You an actor?”

“Couple seasons.  Back home.”

“That’s more’n some of us.  C’mon, kid.  You can watch us rehearse.  We got coffee.”

Maybe the city wasn’t so cold after all.

A warm old kettle

Here’s another 100-word story from a picture prompt:

“Where’s the Nescafe, Pop?”

“Cabinet over the stove.  Told her it would dry out up there, but she never listened.”

“Well, it’s dried coffee anyway—”

“It changed the taste!”

I spooned Nescafe and poured hot water from the kettle.  “Where’d you get these mugs, Pop?  She never told me.”

“Never asked, did ya?  Some tourist shop after the wedding.  Stupid idea.  I had to get to work, didn’t I?  I swore I’d take her on a real honeymoon someday.  I swore it to her.”

Tears fell from his old eyes as his hands crushed a flower from the funeral.