The Council Redux: Flash Fiction

Here’s what my evil little muse called upon me to write for this week’s Two-Minutes-Go. It’s a sequel to a piece I wrote a while back, creatively titled The Council. Thank you for your indulgence.

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The Council Redux

The alley is slick with rain and god knows what else. Forty-four doesn’t want to think about what he may have just squished beneath his shoe. The establishment he slinks into, all neon and tarnished brass, is certainly a peg down from their last meeting place. But the location had become compromised. He has a good idea how that happened; Forty-two has gotten a bit loose-lipped in his retirement. Any hint to the press that they were meeting could mean the end of a secret institution that has performed an important public service for centuries. They had a close call a while back, and made out like they were joining forces to raise more money for hurricane relief.

He greets the owner and says he’ll wait for his party. Finally, the men start arriving. With one addition: an honorary member they’ve started calling “Forty-three and a half.” Under the circumstances, it was only right. Eventually they shake off their raingear and sit at the round table to shake off the chill. Except for Forty-three, still on the wagon, the beverages are stronger than in prior meetings. It seems the order of the day.

When all are settled and braced, a long silence passes and Forty-one, in his wheelchair at the head of the table, clears his throat. “Afraid we have to give this another go,” he says. “Best laid plans and all.”

They nod somberly. What they’d planned last time was supposed to have looked like a heart attack, but apparently Forty-five suspected and had one of his sycophants sit in the Oval Office chair instead. Bet now he wishes he’d asked Omarosa to do it.

“I might have some ideas,” Forty-three and a half says, a sly smile crossing her face.

Forty-two smirks, hides it with a swallow of his Diet Coke and rum. “Praise God let it be the business end of one of your high heels.” He touches his forehead. “That thing still gives me a twinge when it rains.”

She rolls her eyes. “Hit him where he lives.”

“Tried that,” Forty-one wheezes.

“No,” she says. “Not in the Oval. In his Achilles’ heel.”

“What, the bone spurs?” Forty-two asks.

“Try again,” his wife replies.

A small, thin voice with a Georgia accent pops in from Forty-four’s cell phone speaker. Thirty-eight isn’t well enough to travel these days. “With all due respect, Madame Secretary,” he says, “I believe you were less than successful at exploiting his weaknesses.”

“You know what I’m talking about,” she says.

Forty-four nods. “Yes, indeed I do.” He waves a hand in her direction. “Madame Secretary, it would be my utmost honor to let you make the call.”

“I’ll do it,” Forty-three pipes up. “After all, I’ve looked into the man’s soul.” He presses a few keys on his phone, then smiles when a voice answers. “Good afternoon, Mr. President,” Forty-three says in Russian, astounding Forty-four with a skill he did not believe his predecessor possessed. “We have a situation here. I believe one of your assets is defective.”

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Self-Publishing and Burnout

Once upon a time, I had an idea. It wasn’t like my other ideas. It was bigger and brighter and shinier. A whole imaginary universe went into motion when I sat with my notebook and pen and turned the key. I’d written stories before. Short ones, just a couple of characters, a quick resolution. None of those ideas were like this one. None of them had kept me awake at night; none of them had me leaping out of bed, eager to get the dialogue I’d dreamed down on paper. None of them had me in such thrall that I almost burned my house down, not once, but twice.

As I finished this first novel and wrote a few others, I cherished that joy. It sustained me through some of my darkest times. Nothing hurt when I was writing. My worries melted away for a while, and novel after novel piled up in photocopy paper boxes in my closet. Once in a while I’d dust one off and send it to an agent, and occasionally someone would get excited about it, but nothing ever came of that. So I kept writing.

Then, when self-publishing became an affordable possibility, I began to release them. Online friends helped me learn how to hit all the bases: get the website going, get an Amazon presence, and market, market, market and sell, sell, sell.

I marketed and marketed. I sold…sold…and then, not so much.

Approaching the five-year anniversary of “living the dream,” as we call it in Indie Land, I had a meltdown. I was sick. I lost weight. I was exhausted. I wrote, but I didn’t have the same verve. I keep a folder on my computer named “When I Feel Like Quitting.” Believe me, I dipped into that a few times.

I almost quit.

Then, at the end of 2016, I sat down with a big sketchpad I’d swiped from Art Husband and started sketching out my plans for the upcoming year. I’d been doing this for a while, inspired by Jim Devitt’s blog on Indies Unlimited.

That’s when I had my epiphany. I was in danger of letting everything needed to be a successful self-published author kill what I’d originally loved about the process: the writing.

And I knew that if I let it kill the writing, I’d be sunk. Writing keeps me sane; writing is my release valve; writing saves me from turning into a raging bitch.

So I made lists. A lot of lists. Things I needed. Things I needed to stop. I pulled back on a lot of my commitments, nearly everything that wasn’t related to paying the bills and regaining my health.

I’m ready to dip a toe back in again. I’ve already done a couple of small promotions, and I’m using that same sketchpad to make notes for my next book release, which will happen later this year. But maybe a little less frenetically and more mindfully than in previous years.

And yes. Writing is a joy again. You’re welcome.

Have any of you come out the other side of burnout? What did you do to get over it?

Cover Makeover

Catering-Girl-Revised_final

New cover!

Sometimes, the hardest part of change is admitting that you need some.

Okay, here I go (deep breath): some things about the way I’ve been marketing my books are not working. So I’m taking it one step at a time, looking at my book descriptions, keywords, categories, all those bits and bobs self-publishing authors have to learn about to help us become more visible to readers.

The first step in my evil plan to achieve world domination (or just, you know, sell a book or two) is to re-evaluate some of my covers. A lot of publishers refresh their books’ covers over time, as styles change, and I plan to do some of that. But this one cried out to me right away.

CateringGirlMaybeFinal

This girl needs a makeover.

I liked the idea for the original cover for Catering Girl at first. But I think it might have been too high-concept for the story. The intention was for it to be a representation of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, except with the substitution of the coffee cup for the little movie camera: the award goes to…the catering girl.

Crickets. Major crickets. Crickets with jazz hands.

In retrospect, I think the intention might have been good, but the overall execution was confusing. The granite texture says serious and even funereal. The frothy, piped-icing look of the title font says “cute bake-shop cozy mystery.” The story is neither of those things. I think I was trying to lighten the tone of a graphic I had fallen much too far in love with, and send a message that “although this story has some substance, it’s also fun!”

Together, it said, “Uh, no.”

I’ve been meaning to revise the cover for a while, hunting for images in my spare time. Everything looked too light and fluffy—poolside girlfriends, umbrella drinks on pristine glass tables. Then I found this lovely number. Something about it said “Frankie” to me right away. It said “snarky and just a little dark, and how does she do that without spilling her drink?” So, I think it’s a better fit and will hopefully select the right readers.

Onward and upward, as they say.

What’s Smashwords Good For?

SW_Vertical_ColorI know. I’ve been hearing the questions: Laurie, what is this Smashwords thing you keep rattling on about? Your books are on sale there [for the rest of July, ahem], but…what the heck IS it?

I have a post up on Indies Unlimited today that explains what Smashwords is, some of the advantages, and why I chose them over their competitors.

If you’re new to self-publishing, or considering other avenues besides Amazon, you may want to read more here.