Saturday, December 29, 2012

My Pride and Joy

Just before Christmas, a little late, but lovely nonetheless, I released a new children's book, Seascapes. Don't tell my other books this, but I am particularly proud of this publication.


It's not only because it's beautifully illustrated by a Trinidadian illustrator, Vanessa Soodeen;

It's not only because I have been working on these three stories of undersea friendship for a few years;

The best part isn't even the fact that I was able to include illustrations from a talented teenager, Hanan Lachmansingh.


The aspect of this book that makes me most proud is the fact that I am finally publishing something that I wrote with my Dad. Some of you may know that he nurtured my creativity, encouraging me to think outside of the box when I was a child. I came up with the idea for the poem and I threw it to him.

"Come up with some strange sea creatures. Oh, and by the way, it has to rhyme and have a rhytmic meter."

We passed the poem back and forth, he recruited my daughter into the process and the result was Fishy Food. I will include just two verses here, buy the book to read the whole thing!

Fishy Food 
by Clive Ottley, Alexa Mitchell and Carol Mitchell

Mom makes us eat fish every day,
"It's good for you," she says.
With vitamins, Omega three's, eating healthy pays.

But we all find it boring and wish that she would buy
Sea creatures that are less well known, those we'd gladly try.

[The next few verses of the poem go on to suggest some rare and interesting seafood that the children would find more enticing. The poem ends with their mother's response:]

Mom agrees and says that if we catch them she will cook them,
So off we go down to the beach to dive with spear and hook them.

The book includes three short stories, 'Fishy Food' and a word search, so read and enjoy!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Book Marketing 2012: What Worked, What Didn't, What Might


Sitting here, thankful that the world didn’t end as the Maya didn’t in fact predict, I figured I’d take a moment to reflect on the state of my book sales for 2012.

What Worked

  1. Sustained Online Discourse: no getting around this.  Without an online platform, you’re dead in the water
  2. Conventions: I did two, and I had a blast at both of them.  Left Coast Crime was my introduction to mystery conventions.  I sat on a panel, made friends, connected with readers, and ate well.  Men of Mystery gave me my first shot at selling myself in front of 400 readers and writers.  
  3. Writing More Books: hard as it is to sell books, every new title has a domino effect, increasing sales of pervious books.
  4. Connecting With Readers:  even literary small-fries like me get fan mail, and it always makes my day.  Taking the time to connect with readers might help move books, or it might not, but I’m always going to do it.
  5. Engaging Librarians: this is a no-brainer.  Would you want to visit Valhalla without having chatted up a Valkyrie or two?

What Didn’t Work

  1. Bookstore Sales: grueling and time-consuming, getting books into stores IS part of the equation.  I get it.  But it often seems more trouble than it’s worth.
  2. Book Signings:  see above.  Again, it’s part of the equation, but getting folks to part with $12 for a book sometimes seems like pulling teeth.
  3. Contests:  I had my hopes, but I’m kind of souring on these.  Every time I fork over a huge entry fee, I’m deluged with offers to boost sales if I pay more.  No thanks.

What Might Work

I have plans for 2013.  I’m going to write more books and sell more books.  And I’m going to come up with six new promotional ideas.  Here is my first:
  1. Do Something Unexpectedly Unique:  I’m starting a line of journals.  Each journal will feature a storyline and an exciting cover.  Who says journals have to be boring?  On the back of each journal will be a link to my webpage, providing information on my actual books.  I think also, as the project progresses, I will feature images of my covers on the back.  Have a look at the first one:




Sure, it might not work, but it might.  I’ll keep you posted.  In the meantime, if you’re looking for that perfect gift, keep looking.  But if you think $5.95 is an OK price for a journal with a great short story and an awesome matte-finish high-resolution cover, then consider getting a few copies of Mounted today.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The gift of reading

It's Christmas time again...a time of joy, family, friends, gifts. Yes, even when we try to keep it simple we still get caught up in the cleaning, the decorating and the gifting...especially if we have kids.  We often spend hours on end trolling stores, surfing the internet, pondering the best gift to give to a child.  Here is a simple suggestion: give the gift of reading.

There has been a lot said recently about the reduction in reading among today's youth.  As a child I recall not only reading voraciously, but being surrounded by avid readers.  Of course back then we didn't have all the distractions of 24/7 on demand television and video games at our finger tips.  We read for entertainment, and for some of us it was our only source of escapist entertainment. And it was fun.

Let us instill that kind of joy in a chld today.  As you contemplate gifts for children this year consider a book.  It can be a paper book or an ebook or a giftcard to a bookstore. If you can afford the pricier e-readers go for it. But even more important than the book is the love of reading that can be instilled by an adult with a passion for books.  So for this Christmas, read a book with a child.  Reading with a child can make stories come alive.  It can instill in them a passion that keeps growing.  If every adult do this for one child, we can once again have a generation of readers.

From one reader (and writer) to another I wish you a very merry Christmas and a bright and prosperous New Year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

8 Top Gifts for Writers

Christmas is here!  Well, almost....  I hope you've already bought a present for that writer on your list his or her gift but, just in case you haven't, here are my suggestions for great gifts for writers.

1.  A gift certificate to their favourite brick and mortar or online bookstore because writers love to read! Gift certificates allow them to whittle down their TBR lists or to get those research books they've been needing.

2.  If your writer self-publishes, (and really who doesn't nowadays?) what about surprising them with a gift certificate from a website that sells pre-made covers or maybe splurging out for a certificate for a custom-made cover?  There are more and more great designers offering great covers at good prices so this doesn't have to break your bank.

3.  Tea!  Yes, tea!  I know coffee is usually cited as the invigorating drink of choice for writers but nobody is going to resist the wonderful teas available from sites like this and this.  And the intoxicating scents are guaranteed to rev anyone's imagination!

4.  If there's going to be a writer's conference, workshop or retreat near you, why not send your writer into transports of delights by covering the fee?  If you live in a country or island with more than say 50,000 people, there's probably a good chance that your public library or community college, for example, will offer a course or workshop your writer can take advantage of.  And don't limit it to writing, a good social media marketing class might be just as useful as a creative writing class.

5.  Do you know how your writer organizes the notes and research for her books?  If, for example, she uses binders and poster-boards, why not lay in a full-year's supply?

6.  Is your writer writing about about a particular location she or he has never been to?  Why not get them a few travel guides about the area?  I, myself, depend on my Insight Guides but I also love the look of the Knopf City Guides (not the maps).  Of course, if you can afford it, how about the gift of a plane or train fare?  I'm thinking of setting my next book in Tuscany, hint, hint!

7.  Writers spend a lot of time sitting in front of their computers and that can exact a toll on our fitness so the gift of a gym membership might be just the thing to bring more activity into the life of your writer.  A treadmill, exercycle or stepper are also great options.

8.  Writers are avid readers and we don't allow such things as dim lighting to deter us which makes a lamp a perfect gift.  Check out some awesome ones here and here (provides a good guide to selecting the best one for the situation).

I hope you find these helpful but really the best thing is to know your writer and figuring out how to help them do their thing and it might not even have to cost you a thing.  If, for example, your writer is working on his first police procedural and you're able to set up a drive-around with the local police department for him you can bet that gift won't be forgotten!

Happy Holidays, everyone!




Friday, December 21, 2012

Writing advice from the greats: Kurt Vonnegut

Remember the good old days when authors could exist in virtual anonymity? Back in those antediluvian times there was no need to strut the Facebook catwalk shaking our pert titles, or sashay our tight mini-blogs on Twitter. I, for one, never wanted to see authors, or chat with them, or discover their politics, religion, or taste in sex toys. If I liked them I wanted one thing only: more of their books.

Kurt Vonnegut
What always fascinated me, though, was what authors had to say about writing. Somerset Maugham famously claimed that there are three rules for writing the novel, but no one knows what they are. True, maybe, yet some of the guidelines passed along by famous authors can help us write the stories we want to write, and that readers want to read. Among the most helpful I've read are Kurt Vonnegut's 8 great writing tips.
  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
Next up: Great writing advice from John Steinbeck.

Liane Spicer



Monday, December 17, 2012

So, It's Your First Convention As A Guest?

Congratulations, up and coming writer! You’ve just received your first invitation to attend Convention X as an author guest. This is great news! You’re going to spend a day or three (or four) in the company of supposedly similarly-minded individuals, where the focus of many panel discussions, casual hallway conversations, and raucous diatribes offered in the hotel bar all will revolve around topics of mutual interest and passion. Pack wisely, don’t forget your toothbrush, wear comfortable shoes, and hydrate.

Oh, and here are a few other tidbits of hopefully helpful advice, offered from the perspective of one writer guy who’s participated in programming and activities at all manner of conventions from the local one-day affair all the way to the Pop Culture Mecca itself, San Diego Comic-Con. I personally believe that these infonuggets apply whether you’re attending your first convention or you’re a seasoned con pro.

The first, big piece of advice I can offer is for you to just Relax, and Be Yourself. You’re a pretty interesting person already. Even if you don’t believe that, others do, which is why you’ve been invited to the convention. Readers and fans come to meet authors at these shin digs because they want to get a little insight into the person who wrote those books they love so much. So, give them You, not some “persona” you’ve created for the con circuit. Be approachable. Make with the chit-chat, be it with other guests, fans who arrive early for panels, people with whom you’re waiting in line for your morning coffee, whatever. Also, it’s a well-known fact that the best and most fun conversations between writers—or writers and editors, or writers and agents, or even the Trifecta of Awesome that is writers, editors and agents cohabitating—happen in the bar, or at a room party after the day’s activities are concluded, so be sure to seek out these venues.

This leads us right to Act Like A Professional. Yes, you’re at the con as an “Author Guest,” which should never be confused with “Egocentric Boob.” Be humble, as well as polite and considerate of the other guests. Don’t monopolize panel discussions or other conversations. Be engaging and respectful of the fans, who are paying to be there, and don’t hassle the con staff. In fact, I’ll repeat that one: Don’t Hassle the Con Staff. Those people are volunteers working long hours. They were at the hotel before you showed up and they’ll be there after you go home. In between, they’re bringing you food or something to drink or getting you to your scheduled activity or helping with the crowd control at your panel or book signing. Let those folks know at every opportunity that their work’s appreciated. The short version? Be the kind of guest the con wants to invite back next time.

If You’re Not On the Panel, You’re Not On the Panel. Few things at a convention are as irritating as someone from the audience at a panel discussion doing his or her best to be a part of the action. The people sitting at the front table are running the show. They’re driving the discussion, and they’re the ones who decide when and how to engage the audience. When someone else asks a question, don’t try to get in the middle of them and the panelists in order to offer your take on the matter. Maybe you should’ve been up there instead of that other guy and it’s an egregious sin that you got overlooked, but it happened, so let the panelists do their jobs.

Going hand in hand with this is Don’t Oversell Yourself. You’re there as a guest, with a badge identifying you as such, so pretty much everyone you encounter knows why you’re at the con. Editors and agents know that writers of every stripe will be seeking them out all weekend, which is why you’ll usually find these folks in the hotel bar. There will be times and places for promoting yourself and your work. Panels, for the most part, aren’t that time or place, whether you’re in the audience or sitting up front. Yes, you’ll have the opportunity to introduce yourself and provide some brief background, and maybe at the end the moderator will give you a chance to pimp your new book. Otherwise? Don’t bring copies of all your books to decorate the panelists’ table. The fans have programs, and they know when and where to find you for signings, your table where you’re selling your books, and all that good stuff. In related news, every handshake with another writer or an editor or agent isn’t your cue to pitch them your latest book or concept. Keep it casual; the conversation likely will turn to that sort of topic on its own, and maybe an editor or agent will express interest in seeing something. Otherwise? Keep your manuscript in your Bag of Holding.

Okay, just to keep everything in perspective, remember that it is a convention, and it’s supposed to be fun. Therefore, Don’t Be Afraid to Be A Fan. Writers are fans of other writers, to say nothing of the TV or movie guests who might be in attendance if it’s that kind of show. It’s perfectly okay to get your book or photo autographed or to take advantage of offered photo opportunities. Don’t forget to check out the dealer’s area, and pay particular attention to those vendors offering items they’ve hand-crafted. Some of that stuff is simply beautiful. As for other writers, don’t be afraid to find them at their table in the dealer’s area or author’s alley or whatever and introduce yourself. Get your copy of their new book signed. Buy more books from them, even. Just don’t try to turn the tables and sell your stuff to them. That’s what your table and signings are for.

Take Care of Yourself. There’s always something going on at a convention, even long after the scheduled activities are done for the day. Parties and after-hours programming, or just hanging out in the hotel bar or restaurant while catching up with friends and colleagues. It’s easy to lose track of simple things like getting enough sleep or making sure you’re eating right. One suggestion from writer David Gerrold on my Facebook page when I solicited input on this topic was to follow what he calls the“6-2-1” rule: At least six hours of sleep per night, at least two meals per day, and and at least one shower per day. Indeed, I consider showers at conventions to be a moral imperative. Experienced con veterans know what I’m talking about.

Oh, and here’s another pro tip for use at conventions and any other signings—one that sounds like a no-brainer but often is overlooked by first-timers: Don’t Use Your Legal Signature. Develop something to use just for these activities, and make it distinctly different from the one you use to sign documents, checks, and so on.

Oh, and you’re a writer, so Remember Your Pen. The rest of us beat that “Look at me! The writer without a pen!” joke into glue ages ago.

All right, I’ve rambled on way too long. This list should, if all goes according to my Master Plan, be just the tip of the Advice Iceberg. Who’s got more helpful pointers?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Guest author Lesley Diehl: Research in Writing

Lesley Diehl
Lesley Diehl retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida—cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office, and gators make golf a contact sport. She is author of several short stories and several mystery series: the microbrewing mystery series set in the Butternut Valley (A Deadly Draught and Poisoned Pairings) and a rural Florida series, Dumpster Dying and Grilled, Killed and Chilled (to be released late in 2012).  She recently signed a three-book deal with Camel Press for The Consignment Shop Murders including A Secondhand Murder. For something more heavenly, try her mystery Angel Sleuth. Several of her short stories have been published by Untreedreads including one (Murder with All the Trimmings) in the original Thanksgiving anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry and another (Mashed in the Potatoes) in the second anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: A Second Helping.  She invites readers to visit her on her blog and website.

How a Boring, Retired Professor Spices up Her Mysteries
(Hint—I hang out in cowboy bars)

Seasoned writers and authors often tell novices to “write what you know.” That’s not bad advice as it assumes what you know will give your writing depth and authenticity. When I began writing mysteries, I took this advice seriously and constructed a mystery about a professor of psychology. I had no luck in finding an agent to represent me on this work. I suspect they found it deadly boring. Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised at their reaction. I had been a college professor and administrator for years and never found much of that experience worthy of reading in a mystery, but it was what I knew. I thought I could spice it up by writing humor into the plot. It didn’t work.

When I look back on that manuscript (still on my computer but not published) it’s clear there were many problems with it. Even though I was writing what I knew, I wasn’t writing it very well. And, to be honest, I was just too close to the subject to get out of my own way and let the story unroll. The writing was catharsis for me, but it wasn’t very creative. The failure of writing what I knew to lead to publication was probably one of the best things to happen to me. It forced me to do research, something I loved, and led to expanding my knowledge on subjects I formerly knew nothing about.

What did I like to read? I loved the fast pacing and plot intricacies of a mystery, but I was also drawn to one that taught me something I didn’t know before I began the book. I found it exciting to learn about law, politics or the unusual occupation or hobby of an amateur sleuth. Sometimes a period in history caught my attention. Cooking, catering, or work on a small town newspaper or running a bed and breakfast or an herb shop taught me about aspects of life of which I was previously ignorant. Settings, too, called to me—the Texas Hill country, a city I’d visited only once like Seattle or New Orleans. There were things to learn out there, and it was possible to learn them through the vehicle of a murder mystery.

I decided to create an amateur sleuth with an unique occupation. My first book (A Deadly Draught) featured a woman microbrewer. What did I know about craft beers? Absolutely nothing, but I found the research not only fascinating but also fun. I took hubby with me to do the research, which often involved not only a tour of a facility but tasting the finished product. I met microbrewers in the craft eager to help me understand what they did. I toured numerous microbreweries and grew to respect the art and craft of brewing and the people who did it. I even liked the beer. The second one in that series appeared this year (Poisoned Pairings). I added to my story by taking on another piece of research, that of hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to drill for gas. I used this controversial technique as a political and economic backdrop for the murder in the brewery.

My other books are similarly infused with research. The second book (Grilled, Chilled and Killed) in my Big Lake mystery series set in rural Florida features my bar-tending protagonist (yes, I had to research bar-tending also) encountering feral pigs and sinkholes. I am fortunate to live in rural Florida part of the year, so I can bring some genuine atmosphere to the bars, cowboys, land and animals such as horses, cattle and alligators found in the story. Hubby and I frequent the cowboy bars to do a little swing and two-step, as do my characters.

My next project strikes closer to what I know well, yard sales and consignment shops. Camel Press will release the first in this three book series in 2013. The protagonist is a woman who owns a consignment shop in rural Florida, and she finds one of her wealthy consignors dead on the dressing room floor. There’s still research to be done here. I’m scheduling a ride on an airboat this week, something I never thought I’d be interested in doing, but I am going to kill one of my characters on an airboat ride, so what choice do I have but to see, feel, hear and smell that experience.

The important aspect of injecting research into a mystery is doing it without lecturing or preaching, but in such a way that readers may not even realize what a wealth of information they are gaining. I think much of the writer’s ability to do that has to do with how fascinated the writer is by the research. The writer’s curiosity should allow her to weave the research throughout the story so that it becomes one with the plot and character development.

Is research for a mystery boring? Not for me. I love learning something new that can be used to develop or challenge my characters or create plot twists that surprise. What do you like to read in a mystery? Do you read close to home, a story about someone who shares your occupation or hobby? Or do you seek out stories with protagonists with unusual occupations, settings unfamiliar to you? And if you are a writer, can you share some of the techniques you use to insert research into your work?

Win a free copy of the second book in my microbrewing series, Poisoned Pairings, if you are the first to correctly identify the flowers on the cover of the book. Go to my blog, website or Amazon link to see the cover.

—Lesley Diehl

Friday, December 14, 2012

Are You Holding Your Novel Hostage?

I received an interesting email the other day from one of the authors in the publishing house I work for. Sales for this author's book were down and the publisher asked me to go over the author's marketing plan submitted prior to publication. I went down the list and asked the author if any of these promotions had been done.

His reply stunned me. “I'm not going to do anymore marketing until I see some sales.”

Maybe it's me, but the logic of his answer escapes me: “I'm not getting any sales, ergo, I will not attempt to sell books until my book sells.” A new concept in marketing.

This isn't the first time I've witnessed a novel in a hostage situation. I have a friend who kept her novel bound and gagged for over twenty years while she repeatedly second-guessed her beginning. I finally sent the SWAT Team in and demanded she hand it over. Look for it on the shelves in spring.

Another way authors keep their manuscripts from ever seeing the light of day is to work toward perfection. There is no such thing as the perfect book and nobody in the business is looking for that Holy Grail. We want well-written books with good plots and a sense that the author knows craft as well as basic punctuation and grammar. The only one who expects perfection is a hard-to-please author.

Opposite of perfectionism is lack of confidence. How many times do writers compare themselves to other authors and come up short? How often do they talk themselves out of sending that query letter? Chances are the book you've written is good and will be better once the editor and myself make a few suggestions. Trust us if you can't trust yourself. Please, turn the book loose.

And speaking of trust, I don't like it when I meet all your demands and then you take the hostage with you to another house. Recently, I gave a very green author a break. All she had to do was give me a few edits. Months went by. Then she wanted to see the standard contract. Again, more time elapsed. Finally, she let me know she was signing with another house. That's fine, just don't keep me dangling while you shop around.

There have been ransom attempts as well. When a first-time author wants to know if they can retain movie, TV and product rights, I know I'm dealing with an amateur. If you see your characters as action figures and Hollywood stars are in your eyes, you're either too enamored with your talent or delusional. Either way, we're not going to finance those dreams.

Tough negotiators can also kill a book. Agents are there to get an author the best deal possible, but in the world of small publishing, there's no room to play hardball. Rather than dealing with their demands, it's easier for me to save my publisher the headache and give the book a pass. A good book can be held back until the agent sees enough profit for themselves. The author is abetting his captor—sort of like the Stockholm Syndrome or Patty Hearst.

So, while I always hear writers complaining how difficult this industry is to break into, I think many unpublished authors undermine their own best efforts. At some point, you have to take the leap and let go. Give your novel the freedom it deserves.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Ten Things I Learned at Men of Mystery


On Saturday, November 17, I had the great pleasure of participating in the thirteenth annual Men of Mystery conference in southern California.  As one of the invited “gentlemen of this genre” I, along with fifty other men of mystery (each more talented, more accomplished, wealthier, and better looking than me) spent the day talking with mystery lovers from all walks of life.  I had a blast.  Here is what I learned:

1) I felt honored to be surrounded by best-selling authors, and I felt honored to be surrounded by readers who cared enough to shell out some money and dedicate the better part of their day to their favorite genre.  Without them, we couldn’t do what we do.

2) For reasons I cannot truly fathom, standing in front of a crowd talking about myself is vaguely terrifying.  I am a college professor.  I stand in front of rooms of people all day long, and it doesn’t bother me at all.  But talking about my books made me self-conscious.

3) That being said, I came to celebrate my archaeological mystery American Caliphate, and I was going to do right by my book, my publisher, myself, so I had to work up some nerve.  If you want to know how I did that, see number 4.

4) As I was writing my speech that morning, I had the TV on and I saw a news item about the singer Taylor Swift.  I am not aware of having ever listened to a Taylor Swift song, but she looks to be quite young, somewhere between eleven and nineteen years old.  And there she was on TV as comfortable as could be.  And I thought to myself, if an eleven-to-nineteen year-old girl can stand up and talk without fear, then so can I.  And so I did.

5) Hotel breakfast buffets are overpriced, but you wind up with way more bacon than would otherwise have been likely.

6) Sitting at a table autographing copies of your book feels pretty great.  I am grateful to everyone who stopped by to say hi or to let me sign their copy of my book.  I wanted to hug every one of them, but I think I would have gotten in trouble.

7) Nobody thinks its funny when you offer to autograph a book that someone else has written.  I offered to do just that on several occasions, and I chuckled each time.  But I chuckled alone.

8) Taylor Swift is actually pretty cute.

9) No matter how famous or well-known, or no matter how obscure and unread you are, you have to work it.  Publicity is vital if you want to make it in this line of work.  To that end, if you’d like to learn more about American Caliphate, or my other mysteries, or if you just want to earn frequent flier miles, please visit my website - www.williamdoonan.com

10) I am a man of mystery.  On November 17, I felt like a real writer.  I still do.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Farewell to a Publishing Pioneer

The months of November and December are the height of the holidays.  They fill people with hope and joy sprinkled with a smattering of nostalgia for a time gone by.  They make us think of loved ones near and far.  It’s a warm fuzzy time.

It’s also a time when you think of those who did not make it to see the holidays: the people who touched your lives whether they are friends, family, acquaintances, or colleagues.  Today I’d like to remember one such person: Monica Harris Mindolovich.

I, like many people whose lives she touched have never met her face to face.  We’ve had phone conversations and exchanged emails, but though I never met her, she opened the door of authorship to me.  If you write in the romance genre, especially if you are an African American author, you have certainly felt the effect of her life’s work.  If you’re an Indie author, chances are you have felt the impact of her work.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, African American romance books was few and far between.  There were few romances where the hero and heroine were people of color.  Now, you can find them in every bookstore.  In 1994 Monica Harris recruited and aggressively marketed authors for Kensington’s imprint, Arabesque, one of the first, (if not the first) imprint dedicated to African American romance.  That was just the beginning of putting AA romance on the radar, making it a legitimate genre and in the process giving AA authors an avenue for publication.  Since then she has opened up the doors to many authors with many of her ventures including Double Day’s Black Expressions book club and her own editorial company, MHM Editorial Services, used by many Indie authors.  She has won many awards and accolades for her work, but it is her patience, perseverance pioneering spirit and willingness to take a chance on the untried that sticks with me.

I first came in contact with Monica in 2008 when I received a simple one line letter expressing interest in a book I didn’t even recall submitting to Dorchester Publishing, six months before.  When I spoke to her, I didn’t even remember what version of the book I had submitted because it had been through so much editing since.  She gave me the file date and I submitted the manuscript.  A few weeks later we went through the editing phase.  It was slash and burn.  My first ten chapters (of which only three had been submitted originally) had to be slashed.

She worked with me, sometimes going over the manuscript line-by-line on the phone, often times having to pause to quiet her kids, or me to quiet mine… until we got a publishable book.  I can’t say the manuscript that I gave her was a diamond in the rough.  It was more like a lump of coal or graphite that needed not just a little polishing, but a whole metamorphosis.  Monica somehow saw the gem beneath the wasted words and gave me my first opportunity.  In 2009 A Marriage of Convenience was published by Leisure books and she recruited me once again to work on an anthology, Holiday Brides.

When almost year went by and Dorchester still hadn’t paid my advance, I turned to the only contact I knew: Monica.  She immediately gave me contact information and went the extra and contacted Dorchester herself.  Within a few weeks, I received the advance.

I know I’m not the only Novelnaut past or present whose life and work Monica had touched or molded.  As I stare at my copy of Holiday Brides, I remember the conversation we had about the novella after she told me about writing it.  I wanted to set it in St. Kitts during Christmas, but was uncertain that it would be in keeping with the theme.  I asked her if setting it in a tropical Island was okay.  Her response was “Let your imagination take you wherever you want to go.” (or something like that).

Monica was a true pioneer, opening doors in walls for so many authors. Her family, her friends, and the writing community lost a gem when she passed on November 10th, 2012, just twelve days before Thanksgiving.  My heart goes out to her family.  She will definitely be missed.

Written by Jewel Amethyst

Friday, December 7, 2012

Looking for Pre-made eBook Covers?

If a book has a great cover, it screams 'PICK ME UP!"  When it doesn't, then I'm less likely to notice it unless I've heard of the author or the book has some great reviews.  When my books were traditionally published I didn't have much say about what the cover should look like but, now that I'm on my own, that's all changed, of course.  In fact, ordering a cover has become one of my favorite things!  The covers for my first two indie books were custom made but what with the economic downturn and wanting to reduce costs as much as possible I'm taking a longer look at pre-made covers and have discovered some great sites you might want to check out with many affordable options.  Pre-made covers generally range from $35 to about $65.  One drawback for me is that most of these sites don't have a big selection of covers with multi-cultural models but there are lots with no people at all which might work.  (Note to self - learn everything about making great covers and put up my own selection of covers with rainbow people as models.)  So without further ado, here are some of the best sites I've found.  (Update: I've changed the cover for Jessamine from one that was custom-made to a premade which has gotten lots of favourable comments.  My point here is, why spend a lot on a cover and you might end up changing it anyway?)

1. ROMANCE NOVEL CENTER which was created by the romance cover model, Jimmy Thomas, has some awesome pre-made covers for a range of romance genres but you have to register to see the full gallery.  Prices range from about $45 to $65.  My only caveat here is that your purchase is apparently non-exclusive which means that you might see your great cover gracing someone else's book.  I'm not sure what the chances of this happening are and it's a very wide, wide world out there so this may not be a problem.  There are also a few multi-cultural and inter-racial covers so that's good.

2.) EBOOK INDIE COVERS has covers in several genres including mystery/suspense, fantasy and romance and these are priced at $40.  There's also a clearance sale going on and those covers are priced at $12 which is amazingly cheap. 

3.) AN AUTHOR'S ART, the site of Regency author, Jaimey Grant, doesn't have a very wide selection but there are some beautiful covers on there, all priced at $40. Well worth a look.

4.  BOOK COVER ART by author Joelene Naylor has a good selection of great covers that were rejected by other authors but which are quite beautiful.   

5.)  BOOK COVERS GALORE offers ebook covers in different genres for between $50 and $75.

6.)  MELCHELLE DESIGNS has several premade designs in various genres including horror and science fiction with prices that range from $35 to $60.

7.)  IFD DESIGNS FOR AUTHORS offers some stunning covers for prices ranging from $20 to $50.

8.)  ESTRELLA COVER ART.  There are lots of premade covers on this site to choose from, ranging from $40 to $60 and in a variety of genres but mostly romance and women's fiction.

9.)  FANTASIA FROG DESIGNS offers a great range of covers in a variety of genres for $40 and also has a few on sale for $25. Quite a few African-American covers available here in a good variety.

10.)  SEXY BOOK COVERS offers a good selection of pre-made covers in several genres for the very reasonable price of $25.

11.)  BOOK GRAPHICS has an excellent range of covers ranging from $20 and up.

12.) AMDESIGN STUDIOS will take your breath away with the gorgeous covers.

13.)  RAZZLE DAZZLE STOCK has a great range of pre-made covers which range from $30 to $60

14.)  GO ON WRITE has a huge collection of covers in all genres including science fiction, romance, horror, women's fiction, etc.. Three covers for $75!

15.)  LITTERA DESIGNS  has some gorgeous covers at great prices. In fact, the designer can also give you a print cover with your ecover for a very affordable price.

16.)  PHYCEL DESIGNS offers a range of covers and looks good particularly for fantasy and flirty stories. Their premades are a bit on the pricey side at $60 but well worth looking over.

17.)  COVER WHIMSY has some great romance and women's fiction-type covers, though not a huge number.

18.)  COVER SHOT CREATIONS. There are quite a few sci-fi and fantasy premades offered here, also on the higher end of the market at $60.

19.)  E-FINITE COVERS offers a great package of ecovers, Facebook page banner and a 3-D cover reflection.  If you don't know what that is, go check it out.  Very cool!

20.) BOOK COVER ART has a good range of covers, everything from the fun and flirty to horror and fantasy.  Prices here range from $15 - 35.

Have you used premade covers from any of these sites?  If so, please share your experience or let us know about other great sites.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Guilty Pleasures: Pynk's blog tour

Today we welcome Pynk as she stops off at Novel Spaces on the fifth leg of her Guilty Pleasures blog tour in honor of the release of Politics. Escorts. Blackmail. (December 11, 2012 Grand Central Publishing). 

Pynk, the pseudonym under which Novel Spaces member Marissa Monteilh writes erotica, was the winner of the 2008 YOUnity award for Fastest Rising Literary Star and Author of the Year. Warner Books released the first Pynk title, Erotic City, in November 2008. It went on to become a finalist in the 2009 African American Literary Awards in the category of erotica, and was voted one of the Best Reads for 2008 by Black Expressions. Urban-reviews.com gave Erotic City its Top-Shelf review of 5-stars. The second title, Sexaholics, about four women addicted to sex, was released in March 2010, and her third title, Sixty-Nine, was published in March 2011.

Voted amongst the 2010 Women of Influence in Publishing by Written Magazine, and a 2010 Pink Diamond Award Honoree at the African-American Literary Festival hosted by SistahFriend Bookclub, Marissa Monteilh (Mon-tay) is the best-selling author of nine mainstream novels and novellas: May December Souls, The Chocolate Ship, Hot Boyz, Dr. Feelgood, Something He Can Feel, The Six-Letter Word, Hot Girlz, Turnabout is Fair Play, and Make Me Hot. Make Me Hot was an African American Literary Award nominee. She also contributed to two erotic anthologies called Morning Noon and Night: Can't Get Enough and also The Heat of the Night.


The Girlfriend Experience 
by Madam Money Watts

High-five to Pynk for taking you on a journey into the world of sex for money in Politics. Escorts. Blackmail., a novel about politicians and celebrities who frequent the services of New York escorts. My name is Madam Money Watts, and right off the bat I want to make this perfectly clear; as far as sex for money, while my company, Lip Service, has indeed accepted money from some very high-profile, powerful, wealthy clients in exchange for Lip Service contractors to "escort" said clients by spending private time with said clients, I have never accepted money for sex. Let's get that straight first. These are consenting adults, and what happens between two grown people, should stay between two grown people.

So, on to the purpose of this blog post... Pynk has informed me that the working title of Politics. Escorts. Blackmail. was The Girlfriend Experience. She was intrigued with the term girlfriend experience, also known as GFE in some circles (clears throat), and she asked if I would share my knowledge of it, and I happily agreed (not that the definition fits any particular goings-on at Lip Service, mind you).

Anyway, here we go. The term "girlfriend experience" is not a new term. It's been around for years, though it was used quite often when the sex scandal broke about the former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer, who allegedly paid for high-priced prostitutes, one of those women being Ashley Dupre.

A girlfriend experience is a pay-for-play connection between individuals that gives the illusion of intimacy between the two. From the outside, those who'd observe the couple would easily assume that they were an item, committed, and in love. GFE is a term used to describe the sexual lifestyle preference of a client who pays for a high-end call girl, wanting the escort to play the role and act like she's his woman, sometimes in bed, which I know nothing about, and sometimes out of bed, sometimes both—imagine that. It can involve meals together, holding hands, hugging, talking—more personal interaction and public displays of affection. In bed, I'm told it could mean snuggling, conversation, deep French kissing, sometimes spending the night, foreplay, romantic music. If the escort is a male, the term is "boyfriend experience," or BFE.

From what I hear, there's also a term called "porn star experience," or PSE, as in the type of sex you'd see in XXX-rated movies. It's supposedly less about feelings and more about the performance.

Based on the GFE theory, Pynk has given me permission to share a scene from chapter two of her novel, Politics.Escorts.Blackmail., very loosely based on Lip Service, that involves an escort named Midori Moody. Bless Midori's heart, she's yearned for a "normal" life with a man who could save her from her profession. To her, to have the husband, kids, and white picket fence, with two dogs, Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin, is only fantasy. But in the meantime, there's this amazing, yet married, Long Island doctor who shows her a real good time in Florida; enough of a good time to distract her from her belief that any man who'd ever be attracted to her would never see her as virtuous enough to marry.

And so, enjoy the below excerpt as Midori fulfills the Long Island doctor's GFE fantasy. And be nice to Midori Moody because in the book, and in real life, she's my little sister. As a disclaimer, please note that I cannot be responsible for the fictional words of Pynk. She's always making up something. She has such a way with words, in fact, she convinced me that this story had to be told, not to glamorize the business, but to paint a picture of what can happen if said clients have sex with said escorts, and allow you to be a fly on the said escort wall.

Get ready to be eroticized Pynk-style, because... there's hot, there's red-hot, and then there's Pynk! (Pynk told me to say that.)

Ciao!

Madam Money Watts


Chapter excerpt – POLITICS.ESCORTS.BLACKMAIL. by Pynk

Midori’s trip the previous weekend with the Long Island doctor to the Florida Keys was spectacular. She wasn’t even mad at her sister for assigning the booking to her. Turns out the client wanted the GFE, or girlfriend experience, as opposed to what most of the men who paid for her services wanted—the PSE, or porn star experience. The PSE was usually freakier and definitely more expensive because it involved sex that was more hardcore.

The Long Island doctor, a.k.a. Mr. 81, who was in his fifties, paid top dollar for someone to simply be the girl next door, doing what some girlfriends do. Be his willing, feminine, sexy trophy. No drama allowed.

For a moment, while with him, Midori had actually forgotten she was a working girl and fell victim to the allure of the imaginary romance he was trying to portray for his own reasons. No one on the Florida Keys island knew who he was, unlike in the city, where he was often recognized. The two of them were incognito, holding hands, pretending to be a couple though having just met. While she fulfilled his fantasy, she felt cherished and got lost along the white sugar sand beaches with spiraling coconut palm trees, under powder-blue skies in mid-eighty-degree weather. He fulfilled her heart’s fantasy without even knowing it.

The first evening was like a true date. They met at the restaurant called Shor. After dinner, he walked her to her own two-bedroom suite, and he went to his. They exchanged nothing more than a good-night peck on the lips.

The next day after breakfast, he took her shopping at the local boutiques and bought her formal evening wear, a sapphire bustier with a matching thong, skimpy lingerie, and a tangerine bikini. They went parasailing and scuba diving on the private beach. That evening they enjoyed a cozy dinner cruise at sunset and danced the night away like newlyweds.

Later, in his hotel suite, after sipping expensive champagne and feeding each other chocolate-dipped strawberries, she allowed him to live out his desires: French kissing, expert cunnilingus, her riding him until she had an orgasm, or three, and then him mounting her until he got his, all to the sounds of smooth, baby-making jazz. Then, after about an hour’s worth of pillow talk, she went to her hotel room, floating on cloud nine.

He was the head of thoracic surgery at the University Hospital of Brooklyn, and if Taye Diggs had an older brother, he would be it. He had dark skin, white teeth, a bald head, and he was sexy but he acted like he didn’t know it. He was a leading, esteemed surgeon who mended hearts for a living. But it became obvious to Midori that he was trying to survive after having his heart broken.

After the throes of deep sex, while holding “Brooklyn,” her escort name, in his arms, he shared with her: “My wife is cheating on me. I don’t want to give her half, since we didn’t sign a prenup. After twenty-two years, we’re in a sexless marriage. It all comes down to the fact that it’s cheaper to keep her. So instead of having a chick on the side who wants more, I hire an escort every now and then. But I’m never with the same girl twice.”

Midori gave a smile but frowned inside. In her mind she snapped her fingers, Damn.

The final day they rented scooters to get in some last-minute sightseeing, had lunch, then simply checked out of the hotel and headed off to the airport in separate town cars like it was all a dream. They never even spent one night together.

Copyright © 2012 by Pynk

Monday, December 3, 2012

Report from the Home Office

Spent all of Saturday in my chair in my home office.

Until a few months ago I had a smallish desk against the window and could see the pine and scrub oak behind our house as I worked. The window faces west, though, and by mid-afternoon I had to move downstairs to the kitchen table to keep from falling asleep in the sunlight. Now my wife Valerie works from home on Mondays and Fridays and my little desk has been replaced by our six-foot library table, perpendicular to the window. Valerie's is the window half and on her two days at home she sits with her back to the bookcases peering into her twin monitors and talking into her headphone as she does whatever it is pharmacovigilance-ers do. The half away from the window is mine, and whether Valerie is there or not, I sit facing the bookcases, peering into my laptop and talking to myself as I do whatever it is freelance writers and editors do.

Valerie wasn't here on Saturday, which is how I came to spend neigh on to nine uninterrupted hours at work. Some of those hours were spent on a project I'm still roughing in: With books (yes, I still use books) and websites to research the clothes, technology, and communities of northern California in the late 1870s; and with my pad of graph paper drawing boxes and circles and arrows as I storyboarded the subplots. A bit over one hour went to a "4 AM Breakthrough" exercise for my MFA class. (Going to redraft it, probably later today [Monday] before sending it in.) I spent at least two hours finding a solution to the structural problem in my regency romance/horror story. Of course said solution involves killing a darling. Rather than the patch I'd hoped would work, I'm going to do a ground-up redraft before sending it to market; gave myself a personal deadline of Wednesday. Woven through all of this was time spent online IM-ing editors about ongoing and upcoming projects, checking for cattle calls, schmoozing with folks who've had work for me in the past and may in the future, and dipping in and out of social media (perhaps too much) just to keep the rumors of my continued existence going. Somewhere along the way I made a public commitment to write my first story for BattleCorps in – what? 3? 4? – years. And I checked my in-box twenty-eleven times for an editing gig I'm pretty amped about scheduled to be in my hands 'soon'.

The thing about sitting alone in a really nifty home office freelancing as a writer and editor is you are always busy, always switching out irons in the fire, keeping tabs on a dozen things knowing only one will pay off, always feeling like you're doing too much and not enough at the same time. You start each day plugged into and plugging away at the keyboard, hoping you're not spinning your wheels until you realize the world around you has gone from morning to dark. If you're like me that's the moment you try to remember if you'd promised to run any errands or do any chores during the day - and if so, what?

Because with no external, universally applicable measure of how productive you're being, an average day looks a whole lot like getting nothing done at all. Family and friends like to hear about how many stories or chapters you finished; the absence of anything 'done' implies idleness and free time. Fixing a narrative's flow; hammering out the details of a protagonist's failed marriage; learning the ballistics of the black-powder .44 Russian; filling plot holes; mapping a trail along the pre-Melones Dam Stanislaus River; IM-ing and chatting and tweeting and updating with editors and book packagers and fellow writers, – none of these sound like work. Neither does writing a column you don't get paid for. And when you do complete projects, there's no guarantee of payment because a lot of time you work on spec. Even when you have a contract going in to the job, there's no direct - or at least no timely - link between writing or editing and getting paid. Last week I received cheques for work done in April and May; I'll be paid for anything I do in December by the end of June at the earliest.
Which means sometimes friends and family aren't the only ones who perceive you as accomplishing too little, if not nothing.

There are days when I think maybe full-time freelance was a mistake, that I should go back to a day job for security, go back to writing before work and on weekends. I sometimes miss knowing what day it is without peering at the calendar and mentally counting on my fingers. I liked having places to physically be every day and wish I could again have conversations that involved speaking instead of typing – maybe even with people in the same room. Most of all I miss the regular paycheques; budgeting as a faith-based activity is way outside my comfort zone.

But do I miss those things enough to give up the opportunity to go for a degree I've wanted but never had time for? Or to give up editing, which I love? Or writing, which I can't not do? Do I miss a salary enough to give up my freedom to spend more time with my wife than I've had in the last quarter century? Not even close.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

How Times Have Changed


Only a few short years ago I bought children’s books as Christmas gifts. Last  last year I gave my niece a Nook, and those same nephews V-tech Readers. This is an indication of how things have changed.  I no longer look for books to buy. Instead I look for ways they can load content on the devices they use to read.

The same is true for me as a reader. I was an early cheerleader of that new tech toy called the Kindle back before it was on sale. I saw the first version at a writers conference. It was love at first sight (they had me at “wireless download with no contract”). Yet I’ve never owned a Kindle. It was only last year that I even had a smartphone, much less the Kindle app. I scoffed that I would read books on my phone anyway. Then I gave in to the siren call of Apple at last. Within a week of downloading the Kindle app I was loading up on books and reading like a crazed book junkie.

So it’s Christmas again. I would welcome any suggestions for books that I might gift (Nook please) for a  thirteen year old girl (who is addicted to all things Twilight, sigh), and for content for the V-tech Readers. Please and thank you.  Parents of youngsters, help out us aunts, uncles, godparents, grandparents!  Think of it as your holiday good deed.

Which brings me to us writers. We’re the content creators. Content is king. Great time to be a writer.

What are some great gift ideas for writer and readers? I’d love a service to organize and clean my home office as a gift J







Thursday, November 29, 2012

Transformation in the Short Story


I once listened to a sermon on the radio. It was a long drive in a rural area in Ghana and we couldn't pick up anything other station. It was an insightful sermon, quite practical in fact and it has stuck with me. The man was speaking about politics and warning people that they should not be fooled by politicians' last-ditch attempts to buy their votes with token gifts like a bag of flour or a bicycle. He said that they should review how the politician has impacted their lives; he cautioned the audience repeatedly that an official seeking reelection should be able to show how he has moved them from "your here to your there."

I believe that the sermon stuck with me in part because at the time I was reading Rust Hills' book, "Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular" and he was suggesting the same thing. Not about politicians, of course, but that in your short story, your main character must be moved, changed, affected somehow or the story is a failure.

I got into a discussion about this with a fourth grader last week when I did a presentation to his class on writing.

"Maybe it's just a story about the fact that the person doesn't change," he suggested.

"Maybe no one will read it," I replied.

Writing short stories presents unique challenges to the author. So much to convey and so little time. I love writing short stories and I am working to hone my skills in this area through practice, feedback and research. This is the first of a few tidbits that I will share over the next few posts. I'm not claiming to be an expert, feel free to counter my tidbits, I am always happy to learn!

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Visions of Sugarplums: One Elf's Descent into Madness


[a festive short story to welcome the holiday season]



Detective Peterson found the plant manager standing outside. A little guy; Bangle, he was called.

“We have a disgruntled employee,” Bangle told him. “He’s holding seventy-two workers hostage.”

“Tell me about him.”

“Sprocket has been working here for decades. He’s an electrical engineer, a genius, I might add. He invented the Sugarplum. But he gets angry, doesn’t take suggestions well.”

“And he’s a Christmas elf, right? Those guys…” Peterson looked down at Bangle. “You guys don’t normally cause trouble. What kind of weapon does he have?”

“This is where it gets ugly.” Bangle shook his head. “Sprocket is brandishing our new ElimAnnihilator 6000. It’s a powerful multi-barrel personal cannon capable of firing twelve rounds per second.”

Peterson did the math. “He could kill them all in seconds.”

“Actually,” Bangle began, “the weapon fires molded polystyrene projectiles. They’re quite safe.”

“Let me get this straight; he’s threatening to shoot everyone with harmless plastic darts?”

“Polystyrene, and they’re not exactly harmless. We encourage wearing goggles, especially for children under three.”

“Prudent.” Peterson trained his binoculars on the factory windows. “So why don’t the hostages leave?”

Bangle shrugged. “Maybe it’s that hostage syndrome thing.”

“Maybe. Let’s get him on the line.”

Twelve rings later, Sprocket picked up. “Sugarplum division, how may I direct your frigging call?”

Peterson introduced himself. “Let’s find a way out of this.”

“We can start with a little respect. You don’t just fire a guy after six decades.”

Peterson turned to Bangle. “He was fired?”

“Not exactly, he was side-sourced. He can keep his job if he relocates.”

“Yeah, they want me to move to Bangalore,” Sprocket chortled. “You know what it’s like there? Hot as piss. I’ve lived in northern Canada my whole life. You think I want to move to frigging Bangalore? Last summer we did the company retreat in Puerto Rico and I almost melted. Also, my wife skis.”

“So that’s what this is about? You don’t want to be transferred?”

“Yeah. And another thing, I’m tired of listening to those boneheads in marketing. Every day they want to make another change to the Sugarplum, another modification. I’m sick of it.”

Peterson read the product description that Bangle handed him. “So this Sugarplum is some kind of tablet, like a book reader?”

Silence on the line. A moment later, the factory door opened, and Sprocket fired a projectile. It traveled nearly sixty feet before bouncing harmlessly off Peterson’s shoulder.

“How do you like that?” Sprocket demanded, back on the phone.

“That was just mean.”

“Want another?”

“Maybe.”

“Yeah? Call it a tablet again and see what happens. Listen, I designed the Sugarplum to be the world’s most advanced personal digital concierge. It’s not just an e-reader, it’s interactive. If you don’t like how the plot is working out, you can suggest an alteration, and the Sugarplum will reconfigure the entire story arc. You think A Tale of Two Cities is dull? Just add another city.”

“Impressive.”

“If you don’t like a story’s ending, just pop in a cheetah.”

“I like it.”

“What’s not to like? The Sugarplum is also a camera phone and a meat thermometer. It can massage your back, measure your cholesterol, light your cigarette, and balance your pool chlorine. And in a pinch, its polycarbonate casing can be enjoyed as a delicious and nutritious snack.”

“I had no idea.”

“Also, it runs on triple-A batteries. Those are the little ones.”

“So what’s it going to take, Sprocket? Let’s finish this before somebody gets bruised.”

“Here’s what I want: first, the production line stays here; second, no more product modifications. And third, we get a new TV in the break room.”

“I’ll see what I can do.” Peterson turned to Bangle. “Who can we talk to in corporate?”

Bangle handed him a slim grey tablet. It was nearly weightless.

Peterson stared as the Sugarplum began to emit a fine mist. A moment later, a hologram of an Asian man wearing a snowsuit appeared in the mist. Behind him, reindeer were being weighed and tagged for sale.

“As head of the transition team at Kwanzou-Gupta,” the man began, “I must inform you that as of noon today, when the papers were signed, we are the new owners of all Christmas gift manufacturing and distribution franchises.”

Bangle gasped. “I can’t believe the Big Guy actually went through with it.”

The man in the hologram smiled. “We made him an attractive offer — there’s a yacht involved. But the Sugarplum is our product now. If any of your employees wish to continue working on it, they are welcome to apply for an entry-level position at our factory in Bangalore.” The image faded as the mist evaporated.

Peterson shook his head. He relayed the information to Sprocket.

A moment later, the factory doors opened and Sprocket ran out. He fired shot after shot into the air as he ran screaming into the frozen wilderness.

“That could have gone better,” Peterson said.

Bangle had an idea. “Maybe it still can.” He backed up the file to where the hologram first appeared, and touched the ‘Plot Alteration’ button with the stylus.

“Identify desired plot device,” the Sugarplum responded.

“What are you doing?” Peterson frowned.

Bangle smiled. “Insert cheetah,” he said. He tapped the button again and watched as chaos erupted at Kwanzou-Gupta.

***

“So the sale didn’t go through.” Sprocket admired the new break-room TV. “That was quick thinking, Bangle.”

“Yeah, the cheetah ate the entire transition team. Unfortunately, it ate all the reindeer too.”

Sprocket frowned. “That’s going to gum up distribution.”

Bangle stared at the floor. “And the Big Guy isn’t happy; he really wanted the yacht. He’s asking for another product modification.”

Sprocket glared at him. “What kind of modification?”

“The Plot Alteration feature, it has to go. It’s too powerful. He wants a tip calculator instead.”

Sprocket jumped to his feet and grabbed his ElimAnnihilator 6000. He fired shot after shot into the air as he ran screaming out of the factory and into the frozen wilderness.