“Rose in Dreamland” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available as a standalone from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other ebookstores.
ROSE FIRST WALTZED to “Dreamland” in 1910, at the age of 19, full skirts flowing, wisps of light brown hair curling about her face. She was tall as a man, slender, and prettier than any other woman in Fond Du Lac County, prettier, maybe, than any other woman in Wisconsin. She danced at barn raisings, and fiddle festivals, at family gatherings and Sunday afternoon socials, man after man clasping her cinched waist. Matrons called her wanton, while secretly wishing they had moved as gracefully at so young an age. Men just watched and hoped that Rose would dance forever.
At 21, she married, and hung up her dancing shoes. For her thirty-second birthday, her husband Henrich gave her a phonograph and a recording of a man she never heard of singing “Dreamland.” Henrich waltzed her around the living room, to the astonishment of their young son, who had never seen his parents dance, hug or even hold hands.
And all the while she thought of Dreamland.
The prickly heat struck to her face. Rose lifted her long skirts with one hand, held the heavy basket with the other, and walked across the sun-baked roadway. Amusement parks appeared around her, but she only had eyes for Dreamland, its white towers rising like a fairy city against the sky. Her body ached, and she could barely stand upright. People jostled her. Screams, cries and laughter echoed above the roar of the surf. She wanted to be away from the noise and the rich odors of human sweat, manure, and frying meat. She wanted to stand in front of the ocean and gaze into the waves, but she was on the wrong side of the island for that.
She stopped and leaned against a post, clutching her basket against her side. She checked on Pietr, tucked snuggly in the basket. His little eyes were open, but he wasn’t fussing at all. His small chest rose with each ragged breath.
A man walked by, grinning at her. She didn’t return the look. With a quick motion, she wiped the sweat off her face, and made herself move forward, despite the weakness in her legs. She had never been this weak and tired before. She wondered if it would ease.
Inside, Dreamland rose around her, almost shutting out the sky. Wide buildings dominated streets, decorated with incandescent lights. Elephants walked past her, their gray flesh stinking of rotting meat. Around a corner, people gathered before a fence, watching native African tribes playing in the dirt. Rose stopped for a moment, but a young boy, naked except for a cloth around his waist, stared at her with such despair that she walked away, feeling guilty somehow for the boy, in a wide-open cage far away from his home, living his life in full view of mean and curious spectators.
Other huts and makeshift villages stood off on side roads, people gathered around them. Rose avoided them. Here the air smelled of smoke, and she heard the clang of fire bells. Down a nearby street, a building burned as part of the entertainment.
She had gone to hell, just as her father said she would. Hell and beyond. But it didn’t matter. For her father knew nothing of where she was. He was working his little farm in the Midwest, a thousand miles away, raising the other, better children. She was here, with Cousin Louisa, until the disgrace passed.
Disgrace. Pietr was not a disgrace. He was little and innocent, and he was dying.
Delighted screams rose off to her left, but she ignored them. Instead she walked through the narrow streets until she saw the sign she had been looking for.
It stood atop a Swiss style building that looked as if it could have come from the Midwest instead of New York. People poured in and out, talking animatedly. Rose stopped, her heart pounding in her chest. The midwife had said to come here. But it seemed so silly, with people on display, fake fires, and all the screaming. Down the street, devils perched on top of buildings, calling out to passersby. This did not look like a safe place, a place that could help her or Pietr.
But she had come this far, and she had to get the baby out of the heat. She walked up the two wooden steps and let herself in the front door.
The air was dry here, cooler, smelling faintly of milk and something else, something metallic. People stood in small groups around metal boxes that leaned against the wall. Rose joined a group, looked through the glass and saw a baby, tiny as her Pietr, lying in a bundle of blankets, a thermometer hanging above his head, and another, official-looking gauge beside him. A woman was speaking to the crowd, talking about families of incubator children, children raised in their own private castles, like royalty.
The basket was heavy. Pietr’s eyes were open, watching her. She smiled at him, and then put her fingers against the glass case. Children she couldn’t touch. On display, like that little boy in the African exhibit.
“I’m afraid, miss, we don’t want you touching the glass.” Rose turned, and found herself looking down at a woman wearing a nurse’s costume with a starched white collar.
“I didn’t come to see the babies,” Rose said. “I came to talk to somebody—” Her legs wobbled beneath her, and she had to grab the woman for support. The woman took Pietr from Rose, then put her arm around Rose’s back, and led her into a side office.
“You all right, child?” the woman asked. She set the basket on the table, touching Pietr lightly, moving the blanket from his chest.
Rose wiped her face again. It felt wonderful to be off her feet. “Do you have water?”
The woman nodded and disappeared through a door. She came back with a full glass, and watched as Rose drank it.
“How long ago? the woman asked.
Rose looked up, saw the understanding and a bit of pity. “Yesterday.”
“You shouldn’t be walking, child, on your own. Isn’t there someone you could have sent?”
Rose thought of her Cousin Louisa, with her thick German accent and wide bosom, negotiating the sins of Dreamland.
The nurse shook her head. “I suppose if there were, you wouldn’t be here. I’ll get the doctor.”
Rose closed her eyes for a minute and felt the dizziness ease. The nightmare wasn’t over yet. It began two days ago, more than a month early—“God’s punishment for your sin, young lady,” Cousin Louisa said—pains shooting through her bloated body, and the baby pushing to emerge. Cousin Louisa had gotten the midwife, and together they nursed the child from Rose, a little boy, Pietr, born too small and too frail to survive.
Except, the midwife said, a man in Coney Island could help her. The hospitals won’t work with him, but he has helped hundreds of babies. Hundreds.
The baby, Cousin Louisa intoned, would die for his mother’s sins.
All night she had sat awake, watching her baby struggle for each breath. It wasn’t right that he would die because she and Gustaf had explored each other in her father’s apple orchard. Pietr didn’t ask to come to her. And her father wanted her to leave the child with Cousin Louisa. Louisa, who thought Pietr should die.
Rose opened her eyes. A man stood in front of her. He was as tall as she was, with white hair and wide sad eyes. He went over to Pietr and held out a finger. Pietr watched, but didn’t move.
“How early was he?”
“A month,” Rose said. “The midwife said you could help.”
The man took Pietr from his basket, and held him against his chest. “Maggie!” he called. The nurse came back in. “This baby needs attention.”
The nurse took Pietr. Rose rose, but the man put his hand on her arm.
“He needs to be changed, and to have something to drink.” The man’s voice was kind. “We won’t do anything that you don’t want us to.”
Rose sat back down.
“I’m Martin,” the man said. “I’m a doctor. I developed the incubators.”
“Do you know why the midwife sent you to us?”
“She said babies that young don’t survive outside of the womb.” Rose blushed at the words. “She said you could help.”
“I put babies in incubators like the ones you saw out there. They stay warm and protected. They get fed, and they’re safe from the dust and the dirt of the world, just as they would be if they remained inside their mother.” He leaned forward. “How old are you, child?”
“Sixteen,” Rose whispered.
“And you’re not from New York, are you?”
She shook her head. “I can’t pay you. My father—”
“I know, child,” Martin said. “That’s why we’re here. The fees we get from the people viewing the babies help mothers like you.”
The nurse brought Pietr back in and handed him to Rose. She wrapped her arms around him, felt his warm, fragile little body. His eyes remained closed.
“I have to leave in two days,” she said. “My Cousin Louisa is supposed to raise him. But she says he’s supposed to die because I sinned, and I can’t leave him with her. I can’t. But she’ll take him back, if she knows where he is.”
Martin glanced at the nurse. She shook her head slightly. “We can’t keep the babies,” he said. “Pietr’s your responsibility.”
“I was thinking,” Rose said, arms tightening around Pietr, “with all the people coming through, that you might see someone who wants a baby, someone who can’t have one and will give him a good home. I can’t, and Louisa can’t and otherwise he’s going to die—”
“Your cousin doesn’t know where you are?” Martin asked.
Rose shook her head. “And I have my train ticket in my pocket. She bought it for me yesterday to get rid of me, so she could take care of Pietr.”
Martin touched Pietr’s head, and Pietr turned, just a little. “Stay here tonight,” he said. “Decide in the morning.” Then he took the nurse’s arm and they left the room.
As the door closed, Rose heard the nurse’s voice raise. “Martin, we can’t broker babies.”
“And we can’t let them die—”
Then the door latched, and the voices faded, leaving Rose alone with her firstborn son.
In 1958, Rose and Henrich fly to New York City. They have never been on an airplane before, have never left the Midwest before. They cling to each other as the plane bumps through the air, and they let out a sigh of relief as it returns to the ground. Their son got them a reservation in New York City, and they take a cab to their hotel. In the morning, they will take a train upstate to visit their son, his wife, and their three children.
But that afternoon, Rose insists that they go to Coney Island. Henrich doesn’t understand, but he doesn’t resist.
Coney Island is not the land of her dreams. The amusement parks are gone, except for Steeplechase, looking old and beaten by the sea. Laughter echoes, but not the gay laughter of her imaginings, a dark, almost sinister laughter she sometimes hears in her sleep.
Henrich wants to go on the rides, but first Rose walks to the ocean. She stands at the edge of the water, feeling it lap against her corrective shoes. She is sixty-seven years old, and hasn’t danced since her only daughter’s wedding. Sometimes, late at night, she sits alone and listens to the phonograph of “Dreamland,” letting the images swirl in her brain.
She half expects to see him, walking tall along the waves—for he would be tall. Gustaf was tall, she was tall. He wouldn’t be handsome, not in a young sense, but he still would have beauty, to her. He is fifty-one years old, and probably not called Pietr. The postcards from Martin never said.
She still can remember the first: He is fine—one of our successes!—and will move in next week with a young lawyer and his wife from Manhattan. He is a beautiful child. She burned it, like the others, until they stopped, just after her daughter’s birth in 1926. She knew they would stop, because the newspaper had carried Martin’s obituary. She recognized him from his likeness, and his pioneering work at Dreamland.
And when her daughter’s youngest spent his first week of life in a hospital incubator, she thought about her trek to Dreamland, and how Martin had finally achieved his dream.
She turns, wanting to see Pietr, but instead seeing Henrich. He has grown stout over the years, his hairline receding and his nose expanding to fill his face. He was never beautiful, like Gustaf, but he was kind. He never said anything after their wedding night, although he had given her a measuring look. And two years later, when Cousin Louisa had told him the truth, calling Rose a sinner and a fallen woman, Henrich had thrown Louisa out of the house for failing to respect his wife. Then he had come to Rose, shown her how much he loved her, and gave her their own son.
Their own son. Whom she loves with an abandon she has never felt for Henrich. Perhaps she loves the boy enough for two sons. She picks up a handful of sand and lets it run through her fingers, cooling, gentle.
Coney Island is not what it was, and neither is she. But in her mind she can still see Dreamland. She can still hold tiny Pietr, and she can still dance.
She reaches out hand to Henrich, and as he pulls her forward, she laughs. He stops and looks at her with amazement—when was the last time she laughed with such joy?—and then he pulls her in his arms and laughs with her.
Their feet aren’t moving, but Rose and Henrich are waltzing.
And the towers of Dreamland rise ghostlike behind them, across the shimmering sands.
Copyright © 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch Commissioned for Coney Island Wonder Stories, edited by Robert J. Howe and John Ordover First published in 1996
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved. This is a work of fiction. All characters and events portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people or incidents is purely coincidental. This book, or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
“Alien Influences: The Short Story” appears in a different form in the novel Alien Influences, which was a finalist for the Arthur C. Clarke Award.
“Alien Influences: The Short Story” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available as a standalone from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and other ebookstores.
The Short Story
The free story will be available for one week only. If you missed this one, click on the links above. There’s another free story lurking somewhere around the site. Track the story down, read, and enjoy!
This chapter is a lot more general than the previous chapter I posted, and so, doesn’t need all those assumptions and stuff at the end. I do encourage you to look at the Discoverability posts online, though, so you can see a lot of the topics mentioned here in more depth.
I’m going to keep the words “chapter” and “book” instead of “blog” and “blog series” here, primarily because I’m lazy, and don’t have time to change everything.
Here’s the missing post:
Generally speaking, a good publicity campaign starts by defining the campaign’s target audience.
Here, however, instead of figuring out your campaign’s audience, we’re going to figure out who you are. Because until you know your strengths and limitations, you can’t do any planning well.
What I know about you is that you’re a writer. I hope that you’re an established fiction writer, because established fiction writers are this book’s target audience.
I also know that you want as many readers as possible to find your books. In a perfect world, the readers would find your work without anyone doing anything.
But the world’s not perfect, and to get attention for your book, you’ll have to do a few things. I’ve outlined a lot of those things in the chapters of this book.
Some of those things are passive marketing, which I define as a one-and-done type of marketing. (Many of the tricks of passive marketing form the invisible marketing that I mentioned in Chapter One.)
Other things that I’ll discuss in future chapters are active marketing, which means that you’ll have to do something on a regular basis.
As I wrote about all of these things on my website, I heard from my regular readers. They were frightened or upset, worried that they couldn’t do anything I suggested for a variety of reasons.
Some writers lacked the funds.
Many writers lacked the time.
But mostly, the writers lacked the will.
Believe me, I understand.
I’m very good at marketing. But that doesn’t mean I like all of it. In fact, I hate some of it. I know how to do it, and I would rather have someone else help me than do it myself.
However, I also know there are some things that will take me five minutes and take someone else hours. I do those things, and maybe, someday, I’ll train the other person.
Part of my attitude toward marketing comes from the fact that I have done it since I was a teenager. I learned to write ad copy in junior high (yes, in the days before those years were called “middle school”). I learned to write good ad copy in college. I did a lot of PR and marketing for various companies in my twenties.
And, for my sins, I did countless on-air pledge drives for the non-profit radio station I worked at. When you do on-air pledging, you know immediately when your pitch is working and when it isn’t. The phones ring in the studio if you’re doing well, and they’re silent if you’re not doing well.
(By the way, on-air pledge drives are all call-to-action (See Chapter One). Literally. And just as annoying as any other call-to-action.)
I have trained myself to do most of my marketing as a matter of course.
I don’t even notice most of the passive marketing that I do. But throw me into active marketing, and I’ll do it very well.
I’ll also bitch about it to my friends.
Before I do any active marketing these days, I also weigh it’s importance compared against the time I spend writing.
Award-winning writer, Scott William Carter, has actually come up with an acronym for this weighing. He calls it the WIBBOW test. The acronym stands for this:
Would I Be Better Off Writing?
Usually, the answer is yes.
As I say throughout this book, the most important commodity you have is time. And the best thing you can do with that time, my writerly friends, is to write.
Finish the next book and the next book and the next.
The more product you have on the market, the greater the chance that readers will find you. It’s the simplest way to market your work and the one most suited to writers.
But we’re all different.
Which is a real bummer. Because what most writers look for is one-size-fits-all marketing.
If the marketing strategy used by Writer John put his first novel on the bestseller list, then clearly that marketing strategy will work for every writer. Right?
Sorry. Nope. It doesn’t work that way.
Marketing follows a standard statistical model. The outliers are complete opposites. The successful outliers are the handful of people who invented the strategy. The complete failure outliers are the handful of people who are the very last people ever to try that strategy.
The packed middle is filled with all the writer-lemmings who follow the one-size-fits-all marketing crowd. They have some success, but mostly, the strategy gives them just enough traction to disappoint them—because those writers didn’t make millions like the successful outliers.
Writers get the idea for one-size-fits-all marketing from a couple of places.
First, the writers want easy marketing strategies because most writers would rather write than market their work. I get that. So would I. You have to do minimal marketing (most of it passive), but there are marketing models that allow more time for writing and less time for active marketing.
We’ll discuss those in this book.
Second, as we’ll see in Chapters Eight through Ten, traditional publishers have used one-size-fits-all marketing for nearly eighty years.
The idea that each book is the exact same product, the way that each jar of peanut butter is the same product, is hard-wired into the conventional publishing wisdom.
As readers, we know that’s wrong. What Huckleberry Finn has in common with The Goldfinch is that they’re both novels. But they are not the same book or even the same kind of book.
They appeal to different readers.
Sure, you could do a Venn diagram of the readers for each book, and find a overlapping subset of readers who like both books (that subset includes me), but most of the readers only like (or have read or want to read) one of those two books.
The books are dramatically different. The way that peanut butter and hummus are different. Peanut butter and hummus are both food. They’re (usually) both brown. They can both be spreads for bread or crackers. But peanut butter and hummus don’t provide the same eating experience.
They’re not even close.
Just like Huckleberry Finn and The Goldfinch aren’t even close.
So why market those two books the same way?
We’ll talk about how to market different titles in different ways later. I’ll give you lots to think about on that topic.
But right now, we’re discussing you, and your writerly expectations. You expect, indeed you probably hope, that you can just do what other writers have done when it comes to marketing, and your books will automatically sell.
Hell, I hope for that each and every day, but in my nearly forty-years in publishing, I have never seen any plug-and-play marketing that actually works.
(And right now, I’m feeling a bit stunned that I’ve been in the business forty years, and must remind myself that I started publishing professionally at sixteen. [Breathe, Kris. Breathe. Before your ancient lungs explode…])
Writers tend to form communities, and in those communities, you meet all types.
We know the “writers” who talk a great game but have never committed a word to the page. We know the writers who write a lot, but can’t publish or mail anything. They put every word in a drawer and never let their writing see the light of day.
We know the writers who produce a lot; writers who never talk about what they write ever; writers who publish more than anyone else combined; writers who made a million dollars with their very first book; and writers who promote every single thing they write so heavily that you avoid them so you don’t have to buy their latest because you feel forced into it.
Sometimes one person embodies several of those types.
There are the sales-enthusiast writers who hit the New York Times bestseller list, they say, because they flogged the hell out of their latest book. They’re intimidating.
(They combine the promotion writers with the production writers.)
And then the writers who seem like lottery winners. They also hit the New York Times bestseller list, but they rarely leave their house, and they hate to talk on the phone, and they really don’t want to go into public ever.
(Those writers are usually a combination of the writes-a-lot writer and the never-talks-about-it writer)
We define the lottery-winner writers as “lucky,” and the sales-enthusiast writers as “hacks.”
We say that the stars aligned for the “lucky” writers. They hit the cultural zeitgeist with the right book.
We say that the “hacks” conned the unwashed masses into buying a subpar book because the unwashed masses wouldn’t know quality if they saw it.
We’re wrong about both types of writers.
Both are excellent storytellers whose books caught the national attention. Each part of that sentence is important. The books wouldn’t have sold at all if their stories were bad. And they wouldn’t have sold well if the books hadn’t (somehow) caught the national attention.
(Please note that I didn’t say the books were well-written. We’re not writers, folks. We’re storytellers. I explain the difference in my blog in these posts which you can see for free and also in a book called The Pursuit of Perfection.)
The thing you must remember throughout this book is that we’re talking about marketing. We’re not talking craft, except that we assume you (the established writer) knows your craft so well that readers enjoy your books.
When we discuss marketing, you need to remember that all we’re talking about is informing the consumer that a book (or an author or a series of books) exists, so that the consumer can purchase that book.
Bestsellers share something in common besides a well-told story. They share the fact that somehow a mass of consumers discovered the book at the same time.
Bestsellers in America (and most countries I’m familiar with) are based on velocity—a lot of copies have sold in a short period of time. A bestseller will hit a list by selling thousands of copies in a week. If that book stops selling the next week, the book still gets the bestseller label.
If a book sells tens of thousands of copies over the space of a year, but never more than 600 or 700 copies per week, that book will never hit a traditional bestseller list—yet it’ll sell more copies than a bestselling book.
We’ll discuss this more in the section titled “The Old Ways,” but I will repeat it a lot, because it’s important. Traditional publishing is not set up to handle the slow-selling book that will eventually outsell the bestseller.
But as an indie publisher, you can nurture those books and let them form the basis for your entire business.
I’m telling you all this here, because marketing, particularly in entertainment (books, games, movies, comics) is velocity-based, geared toward the sales that spike and then trail off.
The books that hit traditional bestseller lists have had great informational marketing—the active kind, the kind we all notice.
The books that sell tens of thousands of copies, but at a much slower rate? They often have little more than passive marketing. They’re word-of-mouth books. The readers end up promoting those books more than the writer ever does.
We discuss that in the section marked “Passive Marketing” and in Chapter Twenty-One, Word of Mouth.
Most writers would rather have the slow-selling book than the velocity book, not because of the numbers, but because most writers would rather be writing.
For my promotion of most of my books, I would rather let those books speak for themselves, and let the readers determine which books sell well and which ones poke along.
However, every once in a while, I finish a book that I want to have shouted to the rooftops. I want active marketing and a lot of it. I’ll spend the funds to buy ads and I’ll go out in public to flog that book, if I believe the flogging necessary.
Everything I mention in this book is something I have done.
I just don’t do those things for every book. And some of the things I mention I’ll never do again.
But that’s me.
I’ve learned over decades what works for me the writer-person and what doesn’t.
Now, you need to start figuring out what works for you.
How do you do that?
Writers are great at imagining themselves in other people’s shoes. That’s what we do for a living. So imagine what it would be like to be the Hottest Literary Figure In The World. Do you want J.K. Rowling kind of attention? Do you want to be on every TV book show, attend conventions every weekend, speak at libraries?
How would that impact your writing?
Think about it before choosing it.
Writers are lucky. Our various communities share information. Some of those communities are online, and some are in person. They’re all subject to horrid infighting (I think writers love to fight more than they like to write), but they can also be very supportive as well.
Observant writers will note that we all seem to “grow up” with the same types of writers. And by “grow up,” I mean that new writers will find communities of other new writers and befriend those writers. You might be different ages, but your careers will start at the same time.
The careers will never go in the same direction. Some writers will fade, others will rise. Some writers will quit, some writers will seem unstoppable.
But we’ll all encounter the intimidating go-getter writer. That writer is a promotions maven. If there’s a trick to promoting a book, that writer will do it. In fact, that writer will do it while producing a lot of good work.
When I was in high school, I was the intimidating go-getter writer. Then, in college, I met Kevin J. Anderson, and realized I was an amateur when it came to going-and-getting. Kev is a marketing and promotions maven and he manages to write as many (or more!) words than I do per month.
I don’t have that kind of energy. I never have.
As my community of writers broadened, I realized that there are writers in the world who make Kevin’s go-getter nature seem like he’s standing still.
These writers rocket into the consciousness of a genre or of the entire literary world. Some of these writers rocket into the cultural consciousness in the United States. Others (a handful every year) rocket into the international consciousness.
Sometimes the rest of us think we have to be just like the go-getter writer to succeed. And we don’t.
I tried to be like Kevin for a few years, before I met Dean and he helped me figure out how to use my own talents to promote (or not promote) my work. I relaxed when I realized I didn’t have to follow Kevin’s model to writerly success.
What I didn’t know for years was that Kevin worried he had to follow my model to writerly success. I intimidated him just like he intimidated me. We both knew that the other person was better at some things, and not as good at others. And we wanted it all.
Stephen King was the big hot international writer when I was getting my start, so imagine my surprise when I found out that King hadn’t achieved his vision of writerly success. His was based on his English major roots—good reviews in The New York Times Book Review, awards, and recognition as a good writer, not a hack.
He got that in the last fifteen years, as the “hack” label moved to other good writers like J.K. Rowling (because of her phenomenal sales).
We all watch, learn, and envy a little. And we’re always feeling like we should do more.
We need to understand how different we all are.
We have different work habits. We write in different genres. And we have a different level of tolerance for promoting ourselves and our work.
For example, I’m an introvert, although I present as an extrovert.
The different between introverts and extroverts is that introverts get exhausted by their interactions with others, and extroverts draw energy from being around others.
Introverts don’t hate other people. I love watching and listening to others. I like people a lot. They just tire me out.
Conversely, extroverts might not love other people. Extroverts just draw energy from others. I’ve known a few extroverts who are true misanthropes.
Extroverts aren’t necessarily the best at promoting their work. Extroverts often forget that other people in the room have valuable opinions. But extroverts often know how to work a crowd.
There are extroverted writers. I know several of them, some with a lot of success, some with none.
The danger for the successful extroverted writer is that the in-person promotion becomes an addiction. Getting the rock star treatment is wonderful—the massive hotel rooms, the fantastic meals in fantastic restaurants, every move profiled (positively) by the entertainment media.
The problem with that isn’t what you think I’m going to say—that the media will turn on the rock-star writer. (It will, but writers are smart; they’re aware of that.)
The problem is that the extroverted writer will stop writing. You’ll often see comments about celebrity writers (sometimes in their obituaries) that their best work came early. That’s because most celebrity writers stop writing and become celebrities instead.
Introverts have the opposite initial problem, but the danger is the same: the introvert also stops writing.
Traditional publishing forces all its bestselling writers to go on book tours to promote their work. Those writers often get minor celebrity treatment (and sometimes get rock-star treatment)—the same lovely hotel rooms, the same fantastic meals, the same media coverage.
Only all of that drains the introverted writer, and brings a crowd into her workspace. I don’t know for certain if Harper Lee stopped publishing because she stopped writing; I do know that she was an introvert who became a celebrity writer, and she hated it. Just like J.D. Salinger.
Both of those writers withdrew from the public.
And because their only choice fifty years ago was to publish traditionally, they had only one way to withdraw. They stopped publishing.
Indie writers can choose what kind of marketing campaign we use for our work. We can be very public in our promotion or we can be very quiet about it.
We can hire people to do a lot of the targeted marketing for us, or we can save the money and do it ourselves. By hiring people, I am not talking about hiring a publicist. (Publicists charge and arm and a leg and most of them do—you guessed it—one-size-fits-all marketing.)
We can write a lot or write a little.
We can choose.
And so, now, can traditional writers. The introverts can say no to the book tours and the big press coverage. If publishers don’t like it, then the introverts can move to another publisher or they can indie publish their own work.
They don’t have to do what their publisher demands, if that doesn’t work for them.
Choice is the watchword for the modern era of publishing.
Or, to be more specific, we have a watch-phrase: Writers Can Choose.
As you read this book, think about what you want from your marketing efforts on your own titles. Then think about the assets you have.
Those assets are:
Then figure out what your limitations are.
The limitations are similar to the assets:
Most importantly, you need to figure out what you want from that marketing. (See the Chapter Four, How To Measure Success)
Then you marshal your assets and your limitations, and figure out the plan that’s best for you.
Your plan will not be right for me.
Nor will it be right for other people in your writing community.
This is your plan—and it might vary from book to book.
Realize that one-size-fits-all marketing is the worst way to market. Put some thought into marketing, and then do it your way.
If that way doesn’t succeed, try again.
But always keep your eye on that WIBBOW test—and write the next book.
The Discoverability book will come out in the fall, and you’ll be able to see how all the posts fit together to make a cohesive whole. Thank you, everyone, who has commented or pointed me in the direction of various links or donated to keep me writing as the topic of promotion/marketing/discoverability started kicking my butt.
I couldn’t have done this without you.
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“The Business Rusch: “What Kind of Writer Are You?” copyright © 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
WMG Publishing has Discoverability, the book based on the posts I was writing from November to April, on the schedule for the fall of 2014, which meant I had to get off my butt and assemble those posts into something coherent.
I had hoped to have the large Retrieval Artist project done before I assembled Discoverability, but no such luck. I had a window between Starbase Human (which will come out in May [thanks for asking]) and the final book Masterminds (which will appear in June). So I’ve spent the last week reordering the Discoverability posts, setting up chapters, cutting out information that’s no longer relevant (in less than a year!) and realizing what I’m missing.
As I have, I’ve realized I’m missing three chapters, an introduction, and an appendix. I won’t subject you to the introduction, but you’ll get the chapters. (I’m undecided about the appendix.) I’m not going to change the language from book stuff to blog stuff, though. I’m just putting up the chapter as is, referring in some ways to other parts of the book.
If that other part exists on this blog, I’ll link. Otherwise, you’ll have to look at the finished book to see it.
If you want to read the bits and pieces that I’m assembling into the Discoverability book, you can find all of the links here. The book will present all of that information (and some current stuff not in the old blog posts) in an organized fashion rather than as I thought of it and wrote it down.
As my Retrieval Artist fans know, I write out of order. I do that in nonfiction as well. (You can compare the finished Freelancer’s Survival Guide to the original posts that are also on this website if you want to see how that works.) I write the pieces, and then I build the bridges to hold them together.
This post is one of those bridges.
Now remember, the Discoverability posts were for established writers, not newcomers. I’m attaching the list of assumptions from the original posts below. If you’ve never read any discoverability posts before, please read the assumptions and requests I’ve posted below before commenting. Thanks.
…besides a modern buzzword?
Discoverability is, in its purest form, marketing. The problem is that in modern American culture, salespeople and marketers have become the butt of a thousand jokes. Dumb, loud, clueless, the salespeople and marketers have become the people that the rest of us laugh at.
Until we need them.
Then, the savvy among us realize that sales and marketing done right isn’t just a cookie-cutter process: it’s an art. And the best practitioners of that art are often invisible.
Their artistry is also invisible.
We live in a consumer culture, surrounded by mostly invisible marketing that influences us in subtle ways. Most of what we notice and call marketing are the loudest forms of marketing.
Let me give you two examples:
1. The Call To Action:
A call-to-action is exactly what it sounds like. You address an audience or group and give them an instruction that includes an immediate response.
Buy Now! Hurry, Before This Sale Ends! Tell Your Friends!
Those late night infomercials? The ones that put up a phone number and say, “Call in the next fifteen minutes, and we’ll throw in a kitchen sink,” those are call-to-action commercials.
You’ll note that until the FCC changed the rules here in the United States, Call-To-Action commercials were often louder than other commercials.
There’s a reason for that. The reason is to get your attention so that you will take the action (whatever it is) immediately.
2. Push Marketing:
In marketing, there’s something called a “push-pull strategy.” Most of us only notice the “push” part, and don’t realize when we’ve been subjected to the “pull” part.
Most television commercials are push marketing. The advertiser pushes the product to the consumer, loudly and often. The point of push marketing is to push the consumer toward the product and force the consumer to buy.
Clearly, push marketing works only in certain cases. Movie studios use push marketing in the week before a major release, advertising a movie trailer over and over again until most of us can recite the contents of that trailer. Once opening weekend starts, the push marketing usually ends.
Pull marketing is the opposite of push marketing, in that the advertiser doesn’t advertise the product. Instead, the advertiser uses a variety of subtle techniques to pull the consumer into the store.
Consumers pull products. They pull the products off the shelves (virtual and otherwise). And sometimes, companies let consumers do all the work—the pulling.
The bulk of the marketing you see and don’t realize you’ve seen falls into the pull-category. Book covers pull the eye to the book. The scent of baking bread pulls you into a bakery.
The problem is that a consumer must already be onsite before pull marketing usually works. In this day and age, pull marketing often happens on the internet, so you’re already online. You are pulled without even knowing it has happened.
Most companies use a combination of push-pull. They push until you’re familiar (overly familiar) with the product, then let the product pull you to buy it. Movie marketing has evolved into push-pull. The trailer pushes the movie, and then once the movie’s released, the consumer gets pulled in—and, if the movie is good, pulls in friends as well, through word of mouth.
Marketing is a very complicated subject. Universities offer majors in business and marketing. Entire schools are dedicated to the subject. I urge you to visit the marketing listing on Wikipedia. If you hit the link that takes you to types of marketing, you’ll find 75 different types of marketing listed, and I know that’s not an inclusive list.
Think you know everything about marketing? People who teach marketing don’t know everything about marketing. People who have been in the marketing business for thirty years don’t even know everything about marketing. You don’t either.
Because the biggest key with marketing is that it evolves.
Someone somewhere will come up with a whole new strategy that will do the job, and then others will jump on the marketing bandwagon. They’ll refine that strategy for different industries, and after time, that strategy will become old and stale.
Then someone else will revive an ancient strategy and make it new.
Conventional wisdom is not marketing.
Marketing is always new, always fresh, and always exciting.
That’s why advertising execs burn out. Because to be fresh, exciting, and new takes energy, and at some point, even the most savvy exec must take a break. Renew, rethink, and revive.
Because we associate marketing with its loudest and most obnoxious forms, we think it’s easy. After all, we know how to demand that people buy our work. We’ve seen it done millions of times. Literally millions.
Actually, though, the best marketing isn’t easy. It’s hard to do well, and it’s almost invisible. The best marketing makes you think that buying the product at that moment in time was your idea, not the idea of the company that made the product.
And yet, chances are, that the reason you bought that particular product wasn’t because you needed it, but because someone had marketed it to you.
Since we’re doing definitions here, let’s deal with marketing.
I love how Wikipedia defines marketing:
Marketing is the process of communicating the value of a product or service to customers, for the purpose of selling that product or service.
I love that definition because that’s primarily how I’ll be dealing with marketing in this book. Marketing, in this definition, is discoverability (with the hope of selling the book after it’s “discovered.”)
But honestly, in business, marketing has a larger meaning. The fact that it has a larger meaning confuses the issue, particularly when writers read blogs written by true business marketers. The writers don’t understand that there are parts of the business marketing definition that writers should ignore—because we are dealing with an art product, not a manufactured product.
The Business Dictionary defines marketing like this:
The management process through which goods and services move from concept to the customer.
The Business Dictionary then goes on to define the process, using another marketing phrase—the 4 P’s of Marketing (and no, I’m not making that up). The 4 P’s of Marketing are items that businesses believe to be in their control.
Remember: there’s a lot about business that is outside of your control. Worrying about those things gets you nowhere.
So, in business theory, the four things you can control (the 4 P’s of Marketing) are:
Product, Price, Place (Distribution), and Promotion
We will discuss all 4 P’s in this book, although not quite in that way.
In a regular business—such as a manufacturing business (where you make cars for instance)—you can refine the product to appeal to the most buyers. Most writers believe refining the product means writing to market—i.e. if vampires are currently selling well in novels, then the writers should write a vampire book.
That belief is wrong.
Writers create art, and art is best when it’s not manufactured. You write what you write, and then you market it.
This is why I said in the introduction that if you can’t think of your finished book as a product, you aren’t ready for the material in this book.
You commit art first. Then you declare it finished.
Then you look at that art, wave your magic wand, and transform that art into a product. Once you have a product, you must figure out how to package that product to appeal to the correct readers.
So in our 4 Ps of Marketing, we’re not going to have Product. We’ll have Package.
Please remember that.
We spent a lengthy section on Price, and revisited that topic often. Because price isn’t something arbitrary or something that your friends had success with. It’s a strategy that you have to understand before you set the price for your product.
Mostly, I don’t deal with Place or distribution in this book, except to tell you how to maximize your distribution efforts. In the assumptions from the Introduction, I assume you have already distributed your book to every available ebook and paper retail venue that you can reach.
The more places your book is available, the better chance you have at selling a lot of copies of that book. It seems logical, but traditional publishers have never followed that model.
Finally, Promotion will be the other pillar of marketing that we’ll discuss in this book.
Writers who have no business background think all marketing is promotion. That’s only one small part of marketing and/or discoverability. I spent a lot of time on Package strategies and Promotion strategies.
By the end of this book, you should see how things as subtle as the correct image on your cover will help with your discoverability efforts.
You don’t have to be loud to get your book discovered. You don’t need to price your book in the discount section of the bookstore to do it either.
What you need is a great story, proper packaging, and just a little thought about how you want to present your product when you take it to the market.
My goal with this book is to help you market your novels in the most effective way possible. That effectiveness will be about time as well as money. In fact, as I say throughout, time is more important than money.
The more time you save, the more you can write.
The more you write, the better all of your books will sell.
My nonfiction blogs are the only part of my website that has a donation button. That’s because I started writing nonfiction without an advance here on the blog, and I need a bit more than the usual encouragement to continue writing nonfiction here. Financial incentives help.
I’ll be putting up at least two more nonfiction blogs in the next two weeks, so watch the site for those.
If this post has been valuable to you, please leave a tip on the way out.
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“Business Musings: “What is Discoverability,” copyright © 2014 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.
Request: Please look over the list of already published blog posts on the Discoverability topics to see if I’ve already addressed your point. If I have, please read that post before commenting.
Assumption #1: With only a few exceptions, we will be talking about fiction here. There are promotion techniques that work for nonfiction—even on the first book—that do not work for fiction. I don’t want to muddy the waters here. We’re discussing fiction in these posts.
Assumption #2: You have learned your craft well enough to intrigue readers. You know how to tell a good story, you have grammar, spelling, and punctuation under control, you create interesting characters, and you write what you love.
Assumption #3: If you have indie published your work, then your work has a good blurb, a great cover, and a well-designed interior. Your work is available in ebook and trade paper formats. (I also hope you have audio books, but for our purposes here, I’m not going to assume it.)
Assumption #4: If you have indie published your work, your ebooks are available in every ebook venue you can find. Your paper novels are in extended distribution through your print-on-demand publisher. In other words, if a bookseller whom you don’t know and never will know wants to order your paper book, that bookseller can call up a catalogue from a major distributor (Baker & Taylor, Ingrams) and order your book at a bookseller’s discount. We have already discussed discounting. Look at the list of blog posts to find it.
Assumption #5: If you are traditionally published, your books are with a company that makes the books available in e-book and paper formats, and your books are still in print. (If they aren’t, ask for those rights back and then publish the books yourself.)
Assumption #6: You have at least a minimal web presence. You have a website that readers can easily find. You have a list of your published books somewhere, also findable. You have some passive marketing in place. (A mailing list, a social media presence, or a contact button on your website. Something.)
Assumption #7: You have published more than one book. Most of what I tell you won’t work on one novel. You’ll need several—or at least a novel and some short stories. If you’re haven’t published much, make sure you’ve done 2-6, and write the next book.
Those are the assumptions and requests.
Now, I have one big WARNING:
Everything I say here, everything, MUST take place after you’ve finished writing your story/book/novel. Do NOT take ANY of this advice into your writing office. None of it. Be an artist: write what you love. When you’re done, then worry about marketing it. This new world of publishing allows us to write whatever we want and publish it. Please take advantage of that. When you write, be an artist, be a great storyteller, not a marketer or a salesperson.
I know, I know. Lots of warnings, requests, and assumptions. But I had to be clear, because these points are extremely important. I don’t want to explain myself over and over again. I’d rather you read what I wrote before than try to say it all again in the comments section.
“The Silence” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available as a standalone from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other ebookstores.
The free story will be available for one week only. If you missed this one, click on the links above. There’s another free story lurking somewhere around the site. Track the story down, read, and enjoy!
I ended up more than two weeks late posting this because it’s longer than the usual list, and it took me forever to write about what I liked.
I liked a lot in June. I read short stories and novels and essays and magazines—I guess I retreat to the written word when life is difficult.
Life may have kicked me in the butt, but reading was a true pleasure. Here’s the best of the best.
Alexander, Gary, “The Essence of Small People,” Ice Cold, edited by Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson, Grand Central Publishing, 2014. An absolutely wonderful story set in Ho Chi Minh City, in the shaky years after the Vietnam War. Somehow, in only a few thousand words, Alexander manages to convey the culture, the characters, the crime, everything. And the last line is absolutely perfect.
Barlow, Tom, “Smothered and Covered,” The Best American Mystery Stories, 2013, edited by Lisa Scottoline, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Well written, tough story, set mostly in a Waffle House. A young girl shows up, gets in a car with the wrong man, and the people inside watch it all happen. Events unfold exactly the way you’d expect—at first—and then, well…there’s a reason this is in the best-of-year volume.
Clark, Rod, “Voice Over,” Rosebud, Spring, 2014. Rod Clark’s essays that start every issue of Rosebud are always worth reading. This one, about the death of an old oak tree, is particularly good. At his best, Rod can be lyrical, and this is one of Rod’s best. Check it out.
Cook, Alan, “Checkpoint Charlie,” Ice Cold, edited by Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson, Grand Central Publishing, 2014. No one except historians, people over forty, and readers of spy fiction know what Checkpoint Charlie is any more, and that’s a good thing. Checkpoint Charlie was the name of the area where you either left or entered “the West” at the Berlin Wall. For someone like me, who loves historical fiction, spy fiction, and reading about that time period, the title alone caught me.
The story holds up to the title. The story opens as Gerhard Johnson, an American, crosses from West Germany into East Germany. The Wall wasn’t up the last time he had been to the GDR, and he was going back, for a reason we slowly understand. A taut suspense story which had me at the edge of my seat.
Deaver, Jeffery, and Benson, Raymond, Mystery Writers of America Presents Ice Cold, Grand Central Publishing, 2014. An anthology of Cold War spy stories. I love the MWA anthologies, for the most part. Only one has been a total dud for me. This one is one of the best.
Honestly, I expected it to be pretty mediocre, not because of the writers involved, but because I thought it would be hard to do a good Cold War mystery at the short length. I was wrong. While there were one or two duds, and one great disappointment for me, the bulk of the stories were spectacular. I’ve listed the best of the best throughout this list.
De Noux, O’Neil, “Misprision of Felony,” The Best American Mystery Stories, 2013, edited by Lisa Scottoline, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. I think O’Neil is doing some of the best writing about New Orleans post-Katrina that I’ve seen anywhere. This story ties the events post-Katrina to other dark places in New Orleans past. As with so many mystery stories, if I say more, I give it away. Read it.
Dreyer, Eileen, “The Sailor in the Picture,” The Best American Mystery Stories, 2013, edited by Lisa Scottoline, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Eileen Dreyer is one of my favorite writers. Usually, she writes romance or romantic suspense. (She also writes categories as Kathleen Korbel.) She’s moved into historical romance and her voice is a bit dark for that sub-genre, but worth reading all the same.
Here, though, she writes a spectacular mystery story, set on V-E day in New York City. The picture referred to in the title is the famous picture of the sailor kissing the girl in Times Square. Well written, heartbreaking and empowering, this story does so much in such a small space that you should, y’know, read it.
Dubois, Brendan, “Crush Depth,” Ice Cold, edited by Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson, Grand Central Publishing, 2014. Marvelous, twisty story set near the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine. If I say much more, I’ll ruin it, except I’ll add that this story has Brendan’s wonderful characterization and empathy. Excellent.
Finder, Joseph, “Police Report,” Ice Cold, edited by Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson, Grand Central Publishing, 2014. What starts like a typical police procedural set on Cape Cod proves to be anything but a typical story. I haven’t read a lot of Finder’s work, but I’ll look for it now. Again, another story that I can’t tell you much about except to ask you to read it.
Friedman, Steve, “Blown Together,” Runner’s World, May, 2014. We know what happened at the 2013 Boston Marathon. We know people were injured and people died. We know that one bomber died and the other is awaiting trial. We know how they planned the bombing. But generally, we know little about the impact the bombing had on people’s every day lives.
The May issue of Runner’s World dealt with the bombing in anticipation of this year’s marathon (run in April). Most were short 100-word pieces, but Steve Friedman’s piece is much longer. It’s about an aimless college student, a runner who was watching the race, a police officer, and a firefighter. The woman who was watching the race nearly died in the explosion. The college student saved her life in the immediate aftermath of the bombing—he ran into the chaos, not away from it—and got the cop and the firefighter to help quickly enough to keep the woman from bleeding to death.
They’ve become friends over time, and that one moment has changed all of their lives forever. Read this. It’s amazing.
Howard, Clark, “The Street Ends at the Cemetery,” The Best American Mystery Stories, 2013, edited by Lisa Scottoline, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Clark Howard has an amazing talent for titles. The title tells you what will happen in the story, and yet the title comes organically from the story itself. By the time you get to the end, you’ve forgotten the title, and then you look back—and wow, you remember everything.
This little gem starts with a prison guard who breaks a rule by driving a female visitor home from the prison during a rainstorm. And everything happens from there. Enjoy. Howard is a master.
Kocsis, Andre, “Crossing,” The Best American Mystery Stories, 2013, edited by Lisa Scottoline, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. This story is utterly fantastic, maybe the best story I’ve read all year. An adventure tale which originally appeared in The New Orphic Review (which I’ve never heard of), the piece uses every single detail in the opening to pin the reader to her seat. A guide who lives in Canada because he was evading the Vietnam War occasionally smuggles people into the United States over the border that goes through the western mountains—dangerous, dangerous country.
This group that the guide takes across looks wrong from the beginning, but for good story reasons, the trip happens. And goes horribly horribly awry. There’s a reason this tale appears in the best mystery stories of the year. There’s a mystery here, and many crimes, and a lot of snow and heroics and scenes that rival the best thrillers. I loved the story, and suspect you will too.
Krigman, Eliza, “Radio Daze,” On Wisconsin, Spring, 2014. I admit: back in the day, I was an incredible snob. By the time I got a tour of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s little lakeshore radio station, WHLA, I already worked at WORT and freelanced for WHA and NPR. I was very unimpressed.
I did not know the history of that little radio station—until I read this article. The way the students fought for the station, the way they sacrificed time to build it, the passion they had for it. And how difficult it was to run.
I apologize for my private snobbyness. I had no idea. And now I do.
Lahr, John, “Joy Ride,” The New Yorker, March 31, 2014. Thank God I don’t live in New York City. Because if I did, I’d go broke seeing every single show on and off Broadway. (Not to mention the amount of time I would spend in the theater, and away from writing!)
This article is about Susan Stroman’s Tony-nominated musical “Bullets Over Broadway,” based on the Woody Allen film. All of the previews and press happened while Allen was again under suspicion of abusing his daughter Dylan. So in addition to the usual Broadway stuff these articles have, it also featured the difficulties of dealing with possible problems, caused by the artists involved.
Stroman herself is an interesting woman, and there’s much of her history here as well. If you find Broadway or the arts interesting in any way, read this piece. It makes those of us who write our own little entertainments in the quiet of our own homes seem like we’re not working at all.
Mallory, Michael, “The Amazing Clayton Rawson,” Mystery Scene Magazine, Winter 2014. One of the things I love about Mystery Scene is the way it respects the history of the mystery field. This article, by Michael Mallory, discusses a writer and editor I’ve never heard of—yet I should have. Clayton Rawson wrote books about magic and murder, and worked all over the publishing industry. He was an art director, an editor, and a co-founder of Mystery Writers of America. Fascinating article, just the kind of thing that I love reading and learning about.
McPhee, John, “Elicitation,” The New Yorker, April 7, 2014. McPhee has been publishing a lot of pieces on writing in the New Yorker lately, some I agree with, some I don’t, and some that are just plain fascinating, because it’s cool to see another writer’s process. This piece is about reporting, and since I consider McPhee one of the best reporters of his generation, I found this essay particularly fascinating. I doubt things would be done the same way now, but still, worth the read.
Medsger, Betty, The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, Knopf, 2014. Fascinating well written book about the burglars who stole the secret FBI files from FBI headquarters in a small Pennsylvania town in 1971. These folks were non-violent anti-war protestors, and were trying to stop the Vietnam War. Instead, they discovered thousands of pages of illegal activity by Hoover’s FBI. (I used some of the information they found to write The Enemy Within—after someone else published that information, of course.)
Betty Medsger is one of the reporters who received the information directly from the burglars, without knowing who they were. In those long past days, copy machines were hard to come by, and the burglars—after discovering this stuff—copied it and sent it to a handful of reporters, some of whom did not publish. Medsger, who was with The Washington Post, did.
The burglars never got caught. The statute of limitations passed, and finally, one of them confessed to Medsger, who knew the person through other means. All of the burglars but one (I think) spoke to her for this book, giving their side of the story for the first time. Most spoke under their real names, although two insisted on anonymity.
The book is well written, vivid, and unbelievably tense. It goes sideways toward the end when she tries to tie everything to stuff going on now. I slowed down there. (I wondered as I read it if her publisher hadn’t asked her to add that bit to sell the book to a modern audience.) But the burglars, their motivations, and their subsequent lives are interesting.
I could never imagine doing what they did—even for something I believe in—and then living with it for decades. All of the burglars went on to fruitful lives. Many, for a variety of reasons, believe that their anti-war stance was wrong. Others still believe what they did was important.
This book is fascinating, not just for the historical details or the time period stuff which she manages to capture beautifully, but also the way she handles the legal, ethical and moral conundrums here, not to mention the horrors these burglars stumbled upon. If you write mystery, you will want to read this. If you read mysteries, you’ll enjoy this as well.
Scottoline, Lisa, editor, The Best American Mystery Stories, 2013, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. Jon Breen’s review of this volume in Mystery Scene calls it the very best volume in this series ever and I’m inclined to agree. I had to skip one or two stories for personal reasons (there are certain types of stories I’ll never read, no matter how well written), but otherwise, I read and enjoyed everything. I’ve pointed my favorites throughout this list, but really, you can’t go wrong with anything in this volume. Pick it up. It’s marvelous.
Schulz, Kathryn, “Final Forms,” The New Yorker, April 7, 2014. A fascinating article on the evolution of the death certificate. How it came about, why it came about, and what it tells us about our culture. Also, how it helped determine diseases and causes and oh, just read this one. It’s wonderful.
Shoumatoff, Alex, “The Devil and the Art Dealer,” Vanity Fair, April, 2014. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the Nazi art thefts (and yes, I saw the movie, but I’ve been doing research in this area for years before Clooney ever discovered it). We’ll talk about some of that reading more next month. But because of The Monuments Men movie, the press has picked up on all the missing art. And then there was the big discovery of the treasure trove in Munich, held by the son of a Nazi art dealer. This article discusses the German laws governing the artwork, the recluse who held onto this stuff for decades and decades, and the art itself. It’s one of the more complete articles I’ve read on this particular case, and interesting in its own right.
Silva, Daniel, The English Assassin, Signet, 2002. While I’m working on this long Retrieval Artist project, I’m having trouble finding novels that engage my mind. Mostly, the brain is busy with my own novels, so whatever I read needs to have excellent writing (yeah, I get snobby about word usage when I’m distracted), great characters, fantastic setting, and a plot that’s just engaging enough to hold me, but not so wonderful that it takes my mind off what I’m doing.
The Silva ended up being the perfect thing. He’s a fantastic writer, and his settings come alive. The plot here was a basic thriller plot—until the end, when it became both surprising and just plain perfect, in my opinion. I’m now working my way through the rest of Silva’s Gabriel Allon series, starting with the first one, and I suspect this will continue until I find a new mystery short story collection (mystery shorts are incredibly well done, and they’re…um…short) or until I finish the big project which I hope is any day now. (But realistically, it’s not until the end of the summer.)
This novel was a pleasant surprise, and the fact that Silva has more than a dozen books is also good news. I’ll be bingeing this summer. Yay!
Silvis, Randall, “The Indian,” The Best American Mystery Stories, 2013, edited by Lisa Scottoline, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. The Indian in the title of this story is a motorcycle. As in the Clark Howard, above, the title factors into the story in the very best way, and you don’t realize it until you’ve finished reading.
One of the longest pieces in the book, “The Indian” features an incredibly dysfunctional family and the thing that destroys them. This train wreck is apparent from the first paragraph. Once I read it, I was hooked, and I couldn’t look away. You won’t be able to either. Really, really well done.
Smith, Dean Wesley, “Morning Song,” Smith’s Monthly, June, 2014. Dean includes a full novel (which he then publishes separately) in each Smith’s Monthly. Somehow, in this month’s novel, he managed to combine what Gardner Dozois calls “pure quill” science fiction (hard sf) with a romance and a hint of space opera. This is set in Dean’s Seeders universe, which I would have called space opera until he put the science fiction underpinning into the series with this novel.
I’ll be honest: the science fiction aspects of this book interested me way more than the relationship. But I enjoyed it all nonetheless. And admired his world building skills, and his ability to write something this vast, and yet keep it focused on two people (really, a small group of people). Well done.
Spoon, Marianne English, “Creative License,” On Wisconsin, Spring, 2014. I remember when I first encountered the cartoons of Lynda Barry. She published them in Madison, Wisconsin’s weekly free newspaper, Isthmus, which published me (under a different name) back in the day. I loved her cartoons, and figured she lived in Madison. I remember being stunned to learn she lived in Seattle. But she was born in Richland Center, and in 2002, moved back to the Madison area. Now, she teaches a course in interdisciplinary creativity at the University of Wisconsin. And oh, oh! I want to move back just to take that course.
Barry’s ideas on creativity are so nifty, and the class sounds like so much fun, at least the way it’s portrayed here. If you’re at all working in the arts, you need to read this article. Even a little taste of Lynda Barry wisdom is worthwhile.
Valby, Karen, “The Cure For Pop Culture Exhaustion,” Entertainment Weekly, April 18/25, 2014. Yes, I’m behind on everything, including my Entertainment Weekly’s. Yeah, I read the TV recommendations when the magazine arrives, and then it goes into a pile for those nights when I’m too tired to even look at a novel. And in June, that was very few nights.
When I read this short little essay by Karen Valby, I felt a moment of kinship. She follows pop culture, just like I do, and does it for her job, just like I do, and for enjoyment, just like I do, but there are times…days…weeks…months…when the sheer volume of stuff becomes overwhelming.
The gift of community – of Twitter, or your book club, or a magazine like Entertainment Weekly – is that it invites conversation around united passions. But it can also make it hard to respond intuitively to a creative work with an open mind.
So she recommends what she calls “a cleanse.” Go it alone on something everyone else has already discussed. Shut down the Twitterstream and silently watch something, read something, and do it alone.
Which I do. Often. I had started this long before the whole social media thing (yes, when I had to walk uphill in the snow both ways to crank the phonograph just to listen to music), because my home is the sf community which has always taken snark and know-it-all-ness to an unbelievably high level. Or maybe, I started this in school, when teachers told me that what I read would pollute my mind. Or at home, when my mother would throw out my comic books (yes, she was one of those; in her defense, she thought they were periodicals, like [ahem] Entertainment Weekly or a newspaper, and should be disposed of after the week of issue).
Anyway, if you’re in need of a cleanse or if you just had one, read Valby’s lovely essay for taste of community—without the snark.
Vincent, Bev, “The Honey Trap,” Ice Cold, edited by Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson, Grand Central Publishing, 2014. I’d never heard of Bev Vincent before I read this story, and midway through, I was thinking that this woman really knew her men. The story was about a phenomenon I’d heard my husband and other middle-aged men discuss—the fact that at a certain age, men seem to disappear from everyone’s radar, particularly from the radar of attractive women. I was so surprised that Vincent got this right, I flipped to the biography, and realized I had oopsed. Bev Vincent is a man.
Doesn’t take anything away from this story. It’s still incredible. But it’s a bit more understandable—rather than a reach, something a woman wouldn’t think of, it’s something men know and rarely discuss. Vincent uses this to great advantage. Read the story. It’s marvelous.
Wallace, Joseph, “Deep Submergence,” Ice Cold, edited by Jeffery Deaver and Raymond Benson, Grand Central Publishing, 2014. Probably the most memorable story in the book for me. It took a moment or two to absorb the voice, but once I was in, I went in deep.
A story about a Deep Submersion Vehicle and its operators off the coast of California in 1968, this piece taught me some history I didn’t know, and really put me back in the Cold War mentality. Well done.
“Rick the Robber Baron” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available as a standalone from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other ebookstores.
The free story will be available for one week only. If you missed this one, click on the links above. There’s another free story lurking somewhere around the site. Track the story down, read, and enjoy!
WMG Publishing will ramp up their promotion and their specials for the fans in late August. (If you want to know what they’re doing, sign up for their newsletter or my newsletter at the bottom of the home page.) Until then, you’ll have to be satisfied with my updates. I’m also adding the marvelous cover that Allyson Longueira designed for The Peyti Crisis. She’s done a few more covers which I will dole out as the updates continue.
I’m getting there. I’m to the stage when I start lying to myself. That’s a good sign. It’s how I keep myself motivated to finish. (Only a short bit left, Kris. Just a little. Of course, in a project this big “a little” is at least 130,000 words. But I see the end….)
A Nebula Award-nominated story about dreaming of a future and looking back on the regrets of the past.
“Fast Cars” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available as a standalone from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other ebookstores.
“One Small Step” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch is free on this website for one week only. The story is also available as a standalone from Amazon, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other ebookstores.