Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Friday, February 28, 2014

Short Story Rising

As I write this, "Why Do You Think They Call it a Ghost Town?" is rolling out across all of the tradtional e-book sites. This is the second publication I've released online, and the first short story I've distributed.

I handled "book" (it's only 35 pages or so) differently than my novel. I designed the book. The cover, with the exception of the "Alexander" icon was my design, and I created the e-pub file without professional involvement.  With "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," I submitted the manuscript to BookBaby (for the ebook) and Createspace (for the paperback), paid for design services, and simply reviewed the finished product. In this case, I was hands-on, beginning to end.

The process was a bit tricky at first, but the learning curve was pretty shallow, thanks to some good written and YouTube tutorials. My first attempt at submitting to BookBaby wasn't successful, due to some illegally named photos, but that was an easy fix, and I was able to make the fixes right away and send them back for final approval.

I didn't try to edit or proofread, however, and hired the good folks at to maintain professional standards. Needless to say, the only obvious typo I've seen so far is on the copyright page, which wasn't submitted for proofreading (word to the wise - proofread Everything!). I'll likely do this again for future short stories; I won't likely attempt this for a novel. There's too much to track, and my attention span won't allow a precise job to that extent! 
As I said in my previous blog, I'm waiting with anticipation to see how my short story - in particular, a short story for middle grade readers - will fare in e-book form. I'm also curious to see if it does effectively cross-promote "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," which is, to paraphrase from the comic book world, Alexander's origin story. 

The standard description, by the way - the short description that appears on the sales sites - doesn't mention the book directly. Though "Why Do You Think They Call it a Ghost Town" features characters from the novel, it's designed to be a standalone story. My hope is that readers will be entertained enough to check out the book, which is mentioned on the final page. 

I apologize for the cliche, but "The Adventure Continues."

Sunday, February 23, 2014

New Ebook Short: Why Do You Think They Call it a Ghost Town?

I've just started the process of releasing Why Do You Think They Call it a Ghost Town?, a standalone short story featuring Alexander, the protagonist in "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain." In this story, Alexander visits the real-life ghost town of Bodie, California. At first, he thinks the trip is going to be one big bore - after all, who wants to look at a bunch of old buildings? Then, he makes some unusual new friends.

It will be launching shortly on all the usual sites for just $.99 [until then, I'm making a copy of the story available free to those who join the "Food Chain" Facebook Page and request it. If you see this notice on my blog, it's still available!].

I'm very curious to see if or how this sells - short stories do well on Amazon, but this story in particular is designed primarily for middle grade readers - and I'm not certain if that age group accesses electronic short stories. It's a fun experiment. I'll be looking forward to seeing how it goes - and what you think!

I'm still working on the second book in the "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," and plan to offer several other stories in the "Alexander's Short" series. As always, I'm interested in your thoughts, feedback (and reviews!).

Friday, February 21, 2014

Everyone is a Mystery

One of the motivating factors in resuming my everyday blogging schedule was a moment last week when I realized how much information I've had the opportunity to absorb in just a few days.

I'm working on a documentary project that will bring me aboard tall ships in the Port of Los Angeles, so I've been learning about the different types of sailing ships.

I'm creating a documentary about high school students in the regional Science Bowl competition. I can't say I've learned much about science (they compete at a level far above my science knowledge!), but I've had the opportunity to learn more about L.A.'s diverse cultures. In particular, I learned about President Coolidge and the Armenian Orphan Rug. The rug was handcrafted nearly one hundred years ago by 1,400 orphans of the Armenian genocide as a thank you to the United States for its help in relocating thousands of orphans to what is now Lebanon. To this day, the rug remains hidden in White House storage, a victim of political sensitivities between Turkey and the United States.

More indirectly, through my interaction with documentary subjects and crew, I've gained knowledge about fine wine, as well as hacking a conventional oven to properly bake a pizza [it involves breaking the safety lock that kicks in during the self-cleaning process, so that the pizza can be super-heated - be forewarned - it's a safety lock!]. I've heard the works of Chinese and Armenian composers placed by vastly talented teenage musicians and young scientists (there's a fascinating correlation there).

I suppose the richness and variety of all of this information seems exciting. What we experience everyday could either be seen as trivia - or as small pieces of a larger puzzle. We can either devalue information as random, or understand it as clues to individual lives and experiences.

In the midst of writing a novel, perhaps I'm hyper-aware of the clues we all offer to our our individual personalities just by sharing information.

Social interaction suddenly becomes much more fascinating if everyone is a mystery...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

#Blogging Everyday Works Best

Throughout the month of January, I challenged myself to write a blog a day, everyday. It wasn't easy, but I somehow made it through. My readership and reach through all my social media was way up, and I felt that the experiment was a great success. When I reached the end of the month, I breathed a sigh of relief. It's not easy keeping up the pace. I decided that I'd slow down a bit, and commit myself to a resumption of a regular blogging schedule - though certainly not every day.
I'm having way too much fun
lately - I need to share more!

It's a funny thing, though. While I've managed to post a couple of blogs in the last couple of weeks, I find that this occasional schedule somehow feels inadequate. There's been a great deal going on in my life lately, but without the post-every-day urgency, I haven't taken the time to share most of it. somehow, I feel guilty about it.

The "eternal" social media question, or course, is Why? Why take the time to post and promote content? After all, with work, my ongoing writing projects, and everyday responsibilities, I don't exactly have an abundance of free time.

The most shared blog entries that I offered in January related to my experience and opinions as a writer and author of my current book.  I don't tend to follow the "Top Ten" model, or posts that try to draw readers with overblown hype ("The Greatest Secret They'll Never Tell You").  I enjoy sharing my experiences, and learning from others. In fact, my book - my entire re-dedication as a writer - came about as a direct result of observing certain creative YouTubers who share their own creative process.

I'm going to resume an (almost) everyday schedule because it gives me the opportunity to share my own creative process - hopefully encouraging others in the process - and allows readers to get to know me as a writer.

And writers write everyday - blogging everyday doesn't allow me to procrastinate!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Why Did I Write a Novel about Bullying?

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' website defines bullying as "unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance." Bullying has been linked to a long list of suicides and school shootings, and can be responsible for failing grades, drug abuse and criminal activity. The potential negative impact is widely understood, and there's been a growing campaign to fight bullying both in America and worldwide.

With all of that coverage, and countless previous novels on the subject, why should I tackle bullying in "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain"? The answer relates to the fact that no kid would wish to simply define themselves as a bullying victim.

Down in the trenches, in the everyday life of most students, definitions, worst-case scenarios and dire consequences aren't on the mind of most kids enduring bullying.

As a boy, I remember seeing countless educational films in junior high school about life as a teenager, telling me about all the things that were happening/about to my emotions and my relationships to the people and world around me. I kept waiting for the stars to align and some sort of puberty checklist to appear.

It never did, and I kept wondering why I wasn't suffering all of the emotional turmoil I was promised. Did I somehow miss it? Was it still to come? I was mystified.

I was aware of the word "bully," but I never connected it with any situation in middle school. It seemed to be something that belonged to younger kids. In my mind, admitting to bullying meant admitting that I couldn't handle a particular situation. Conflicts with other kids didn't call for a special title that would make one person a victim, and the other a victimizer - or a bully and a bullied kid.

Like Alexander, I imagined everyday conflicts to be the firing rounds in an all-out war. Some kids became enemies and threats to my very existence on the basis of a simple argument.

"My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" is, in fact, an attempt to capture that unique moment in time - fairly common, I think - when a thirteen year old thinks he's got the world figured out - and then discovers that he's totally wrong. Thankfully, I wasn't quite as overwhelmed as Alexander, a boy who lives in a constant state of fear and readiness for disaster.

Fear rules his entire world, and he sees others simply as friends and allies, or enemies to be resisted or even fought. He thinks he's being bullied, but soon discovers that he's the bully.

"My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" isn't about simply about a boy being dominated by a bully; it's about a boy being ruled by fear.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Finding Patterns

Currently, I'm writing the second book in the series that began with "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain." I've been working on it for quite a while now, and I'm at the point where I'm very happy with many of the elements in the story - characters, incidents, and even sub-plots and the general theme. 

Now, I'm creating patterns of behavior - not simply why Alexander would act or react in a certain way, but why he would at that particular moment in time. 

I recall, when I was about Alexander's age, coming back to school from a particular weekend early in seventh grade and discovering that several kids had gotten in trouble - with parents, police or even store-owners - on that same weekend (including myself, but I'll save that for a future story!). Adults would say that it's kids "going through a phase."  Even then, I was fascinated with the coincidence of so many of us going through similar drama at the same time. 

At that time, of course, I couldn't see the bigger picture: how each kid responded to the experience. For an almost infinite combination of factors, some kids might learn from their mistakes, other kids might be emboldened by the excitement and move on to other risky behavior, while others might be utterly unmoved by the minor bump in the road.

The second book, which finds Alexander reacting to the humiliation of being the unwanted star of a viral video, is all about patterns - of friendship, family and finding some sense of who we are. I'm both moving the character ahead, but keeping him consistent - and, hopefully, making it all believable and entertaining.

Alexander may grow and learn, but at the same time, his personality is already in place.  

There's a quote, ascribed to St. Francis Xavier, that summarizes it well: 

Give me a child until he is seven, and I will give you the man.

You can follow me on Twitter at @rickflix