Houston, We Have a Problem.

[Warning: Anger and Profanity Ahead. Lots of profanity. If my mother is reading this, she should probably stop right here.]

Another school shooting yesterday. That makes how many this year?

Oh, that’s right. 18.

EIGHTEEN SCHOOL SHOOTINGS.
IN THE FIRST FORTY-FIVE DAYS OF THE YEAR.

That’s one every 2-3 days. Following that estimation, we’re due for another one tomorrow since the third day is a Saturday.

But according to this country’s administration, half of the internet, and gun enthusiasts everywhere, we don’t have a problem. No, not at all. Not even a little bit. It’s perfectly okay that children are dying in horrifying ways at the hands of their peers.

How is this NOT a problem? How are our children’s lives so fucking insignificant that we can’t admit that there might be a little bit of an issue?  What’s it going to take for our lawmakers to finally admit just how wrong this is?

Now I don’t normally open up my big, opinionated mouth and fly off the hip about anything (yeah, right…y’all know me better than that), but right now I’m hurt, angry, and scared. One of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do is let my daughter go to school this morning. After she ran off toward her classroom, totally oblivious to danger, I got back in my car and I cried for an hour. Even now I keep wondering if this morning’s hug could be the last one.

But I’m done worrying about stepping on toes. Fuck all y’all who say we don’t have a problem.

Ahem.

So the first thing gun nuts did after this happened was to start screaming about their second-amendment rights. Let’s review, shall we?

AMENDMENT II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state,
the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

First and foremost…most people squawking right now aren’t part of a militia. They’re individual citizens who think it’s okay to own an AR-15, Uzi, or other assault-grade weapon for fun.

Now, I agree with part of the above statement — taking away the right to defend oneself is going too far. The solution is not to remove all firearms. But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Let me explain something, first.

There are currently two firearms in my house – a pistol and a .45 muzzle loader. Both belonged to my father. The pistol is a six-shot revolver, by the way. Simple, but effective. There’s also a box of hollow-point bullets to go with it locked safely away. I, personally, have never fired either. I know how, mind you, so if you come into my house without asking you take your life into your own hands because (1) you don’t know where in the house they are, (2) you don’t know where I am, and (3) you don’t have a clue if I’m going to be in a bad mood or not.

You see, my Daddy was a huge hunk of Grade-A, USDA Certified Country-Boy Meat, and he taught me well when I was very young. Though I haven’t used that firearm knowledge in years, it doesn’t mean I don’t still have it. I have great respect for firearms, and to a certain extent I fear them. They are capable of causing great damage in the hands of the wrong people. They can save lives as well as take them away. I get that.

I live in South Carolina, so weapons registration isn’t a requirement. My guns aren’t registered. However, they can and will be very easily if the PEOPLE IN CHARGE so decide that it needs to happen. I don’t have any problem at all taking them in for registration. If that’s going to save even one life, then it’s worth it to me.

Back to my point.

In a perfect world where they could all be gone in the blink of an eye, yes…I’d love to see guns go away for good. But this isn’t that world. It’s the real world.

So no, I don’t think it’s fair to remove firearms from the hands of law-abiding citizens completely. I do, however, feel that some change is necessary. And not all of it has to do directly with the right to bear arms.

Now for the part of this that’s gonna piss people off…

NO CIVILIAN NEEDS AN ASSAULT WEAPON. Period. End of discussion. They were made for the specific purpose of killing PEOPLE. And it seems, more recently, CHILDREN.

Someone told me one time he uses an AR-15 to hunt because he has coyotes near his house. You can kill a coyote just as easily with a single-barrel shotgun. If you’re a bad enough shot that you need high capacity rounds, then you probably don’t need to be playing with a gun. If you have a “collection” of weapons (as in three or more on display), that collection needs to be under supervision and locked away from the hands of those who don’t own them.

BUT.

But… but there’s more to it, yes. Registering weapons and limiting the availability of certain types only solves part of the problem.

Yes, people kill each other with more than just guns.

If you want to keep people from killing each other, you’re probably going to have to just kill everyone on the planet and be done with it. If I so choose, I can kill a person with a pillowcase. Or a frying pan. Or a car. Poison. Kitchen Twine. A toothbrush. A bomb. A brick. A baseball bat. A spoon. My bare fucking hands! The possibilities are endless. Human ingenuity is an amazing trait. We, as a species, have the ability to manufacture tools from common objects to get any job done. That’s how the industrial age started.

Did you know it takes 5 psi to crush a windpipe and effectively suffocate someone? My mother could do that one-handed. Yeah, it’s THAT easy.

I’m a writer. I know these things.

BUT IT HAS NO BEARING ON GUN VIOLENCE. None at all. Apples and orangutans. I can’t go into a school with a baseball bat and a sword and do the same amount of damage as I would with an assault rifle. I might injure a couple of people…even manage to kill one if I catch an artery. Even then, the other sixteen are still alive.

But there’s a bigger problem than the gun nuts and their impinged rights.

Our Government.

The assholes driving this flaming shitshow don’t care. Not even a little. They got paid already, and they have no conscience. And that useless, lumpy bag of dicks we’re supposed to call a president has exacerbated the horrors of a corrupt government with every breath he’s taken in the last 16 months. That idiot never should have been given the kind of power he has, and the sooner it’s taken from him, the better.

Our legislators – so far removed from real life so not to be personally affected by any of this – offer empty condolences, pretend to pray, and go right back to quietly stripping the people of their basic rights while waving a red flag in front of things that should ultimately be non-issues.

Who the fuck cares what bathroom someone uses or what color my neighbor’s skin is or what direction he faces when he prays? I certainly don’t.

We all bleed red.

Case in point: CHLDREN ARE FUCKING DYING AND YOU’RE LETTING IT HAPPEN, YOU IGNORANT TWATS. Those children and their grieving families are innocent. They’re not to blame for going to school and trying to become something more.  They aren’t in the wrong for being young and joking with their friends. They should be worrying about history tests and prom, not lockdown drills and final messages to their mothers from a closet.

They’re cattle in a killing field right now because our lawmakers are uncomfortable with the truth.

That truth is ugly…lax laws lead to massacre and the NRA fighting against protective regulations lines it up to land squarely in terrorist territory.

No, we can’t stop all gun violence in this country right now. But doing nothing isn’t gonna make it better. Inaction perpetuates the violence. Using black market trading as an excuse is a stupid argument. It’s a cop out, and even suggesting that illegal activity begets inaction means you’re a fucking idiot.

One more time for the people in the back: SUGGESTING THAT ILLEGAL ACTIVITY BEGETS INACTION MEANS YOU’RE A COMPLETE FUCKING IDIOT. Do with that what you will.

Yeah, people still commit crimes. But by this flawed logic, the police should sit in the station playing canasta because their presence isn’t a deterrent to thieves. Hospitals should shut down because people will always continue to get hurt.

Which is insane.

Now, the solution… we take baby steps. There has to be common ground before real change happens. Forget the loudmouths at either end of the spectrum. They’ll still be standing on the sidelines screaming offense no matter what you do.

Here’s how this should go down:

  1. Both sides take a breather, have a glass of water and a sandwich, and CALM THE FUCK DOWN. ‘Kay? Can we do that? Good.
  2. Find the source of the problem, be it mental health, firearm education, more stringent acquisitions, limitation of allowable firearms, or a combination of these and other factors yet to be decided.
  3. Civilized discussion. Again, it’s a stretch…but it’s what needs to happen. Whether we agree with the opinions or not, they need to be heard and taken seriously on all sides. Being civilized is the only way to reduce the risk.
  4. Accept now that both sides have to compromise. In order to make this work, we have to come together as a community and sort out what portions of the issue need regulation and what can go on as is.
  5. Write regulations that are fair to both sides – which allow the retention and use of firearms but protect innocents from slaughter. Create education programs. Tighten up acquisitions. Limit availability of assault weapons.

The one thing both sides need to remember going into this is that firearms are powerful. They’re a huge responsibility, and not everyone is qualified to own and operate them. You don’t get a driver’s license without first exhibiting your ability to operate a motor vehicle. You can’t fly a plane without proving you won’t crash it. You can’t practice law unless you KNOW the law. You aren’t a surgeon because you want to be; you’re a surgeon because you train extensively for it.

It’s going to take time and effort, and those of us who know change is necessary continuing to loudly demand change. The solution will not be instant, but it’s there, waiting to be discovered.

And don’t talk to me about arming teachers as a solution. Those poor souls have enough on their shoulders without having to worry about a handgun in a kindergarten classroom. That’s one more burden they don’t need, and makes the classrooms LESS safe. Besides, when the guy with the AR comes through the door blowing everyone to shit, the teacher is going to be too busy herding the kids into a dark corner or closet to unlock a box, flip the safety, and go find the bastard doing it. That’s ludicrous and you’re an idiot for thinking it.

“But now isn’t the time to talk about the laws…”

Fuck that noise. Right now is exactly the time to talk about it. While emotions are high and it’s fresh in everyone’s minds. While we all know the horror of wondering how many CHILDREN survived that unimaginable atrocity. While we remember who we’re fighting for.

But “don’t tread on me”!

I’ll stomp all over your motherfucking face if it means my daughters stay safe. And when I’m done, you’ll beg me for more, bitch.

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Rethinking the Thinking

So I tried to mothball this thing awhile back and if we’re perfectly honest, it didn’t work. I have too many thinks and logging into the website is too exhaustive a process. That means I’m just going to start talking here again.

I know…you missed me and you’re thrilled. Right?

The End of an Era

Hey, y’all…

So you know how sometimes people hit a wall? I’ve done that. For the last six years, I’ve been moonlighting as two different people, not that any of you weren’t already aware of that.

The problem with that, however, is that I’m splitting my attention too many different ways, and it’s not healthy, and I’m not getting anywhere. So that having been said… I’ve made a decision. I’m going to consolidate my efforts. Siobhan and I have come to an agreement that we can’t take away from each other anymore. We have to go back to being the same person before it kills us.

This will, at least for the time being, be the last post to this blog. Everything is migrating to my website at www.SHRoddey.com as we speak. This blog will remain, as there’s lots of good stuff here. It’s also being copied to the website so I can keep everything in one place.

Thank you all for being part of this experiment, and please drop in at the website from time to time.

 

Just Pay the Writer Already!

There’s been much controversy this week over whether artists should be paid for their work. Until now I’ve remained silent because I didn’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction. I wanted to know my facts and present sound evidence as to why these arguments are so ludicrous.

Some of those arguments include:

  • I can’t afford to buy books because I don’t make much money. [Understandable, but not an excuse. KU is cheaper than Netflix, btw.]
  • I deserve to read any book I want without paying for it because I’m a special snowflake [yes, I’m paraphrasing this one specifically to be spiteful].
  • Authors shouldn’t make the same amount for the first copy as they do for the 500th since each copy isn’t a new item. [Let’s address this in a minute.]
  • Art should be free for everyone to enjoy. [And some art is. Enjoy that.]
  • If an artist wants to be paid he/she should get a patron. [Ha!]
  • I’m not really stealing. I just downloaded it from someone who did steal it.

Let’s address that last point:

Yes, 95% of us on the internet are guilty of downloading illegal content at some point in our lives. My point here is not to villainize those who don’t know any better. It’s to educate people so they understand why what they’re doing is wrong. Sadly, the majority of those involved in this self-entitlement hoohah are too young to remember the Napster incident. I admittedly still chuckle at the Napster Bad videos and comics making fun of Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield from Metallica. On a serious note, while they may appear more Neanderthal than man, they do have a point. File sharing sites are bad, because they subvert the system.

First and foremost: COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT IS ILLEGAL. ACQUIRING PHYSICAL OR DIGITAL GOODS WITHOUT PAYMENT UNLESS RECOGNIZED AND PROVIDED AS A GIFT BY THE OWNER OR CREATOR IS THEFT. It does not matter if you’re just getting it from someone else; you’re still stealing. You can go to jail for this, and you will deserve it.

I’m sorry to burst your bubble, sweetness, but that’s the cold, hard truth. Your “innocent” actions are breaking the law. You aren’t special. You can’t break the rules and expect preferential treatment [We are not even going to talk about that little jackass rapist in the news right now or I will have a stroke.]. END. OF. DISCUSSION.

PoePoe
Because we need some levity. And because the police are coming for you, you damned, dirty thief.

MOVING ON.

I sat down and did something very unusual for a literary type: I did math. [Insert awestruck gasps here.] Anyone who has a job should be able to appreciate what’s coming. This is a salary breakdown for writers. We as artists would love nothing more than to make our art our full-time jobs, but most non-artistics don’t understand just how much work goes into the things they think don’t deserve a price tag. So let me break it down for you.

THE NOVEL:

Let’s assume I write one novel which tops out at 80,000 words, and I’m going to publish this novel in a traditional manner (i.e. through a publisher, small or otherwise). This means I’m not paying for edits, artwork, or formatting.

Now, let’s assume I’m an average-speed writer, fairly clean. I’m going to write 1,000 words per hour for decent copy. First novel draft: 80 hours of work.

Now we have revisions. Assuming clean copy and minimal self-editing is required on my part, we’re going to estimate another 15 hours for reading and revising. Accumulated total: 95 hours.

Then I hand my labor of love over to the publisher. I will then have at least one, possibly two or three, more rounds of edits with a professional editor. Let’s assume two rounds of edits at another 15 hours each. That’s 30 additional hours of work for this one book. Then it’s released into the wild.

Final total: 125 production hours.

For one book. Base rate. We aren’t going to factor into this the endless hours of promotion which goes with the successful release of a novel. Right now it’s irrelevant and the cost will increase so exponentially it will outweigh the benefit of writing the book. Today we’re figuring out how a writer can be full-time based on today’s financial standards JUST BY WRITING BOOKS.

THE CONTRACT:

Say my publisher is a generous one and offers me 40% of the net royalties for my book. If we list this ebook on Amazon at $3.99 (which, by the way, is MORE THAN FAIR for an 80,000 word novel), Amazon is going to pay the publisher at a 70% royalty rate, or roughly $2.80 per domestic copy. This, in turn, means I’m going to see approximately $1.12 per copy sold.

US LABOR STANDARDS:

Minimum wage in the United States is currently $7.25. This means the average full-time minimum wage worker brings home $15,080 per year, pre-tax. Net income is going to hang out somewhere around the $12,000 mark.

Now, let’s compare minimum wage standards to a single title, shall we?

THE UGLY TRUTH:

125 hours at $7.25/hour is $906.25 pre-tax. Once we make it, we’re going to have to put back 20-30% to pay our taxes because we’re contractors, not on payroll.

Assuming we’re steadily selling books, that’s 809.16 copies sold in a year JUST TO BREAK EVEN.

Now there’s a national movement to raise minimum wage to $15/hour because we’ve firmly established that American inflation rates make it impossible to support a family on $15,000/year. Let’s revisit the numbers under this new standard.

$15/hour means a gross annual income of $31,200 pre-tax.

125 hours at $15/hour is $1,875.00

That’s 1,674 copies I have to sell in one year. 140 copies per month.

This means an author making minimum wage writing full-time (while only being reimbursed for the time accrued by writing and editing) would have to publish 16 ½ novels a year. That’s 1,320 hours of work to produce enough fiction to make a living.

Unless an author is already established with a wide following, selling 1,700 copies of a book will take longer than a year. The average indie author is selling somewhere between 5 and 50 copies a month. Which means assuming the best (50 copies per month), we have to triple our output to 49 books per year. 

3,920 hours of work in one year to make a lower-middle class salary.

Let me point out here that a full time job consists of 2,080 hours of work per year. 40 hours per week for 52 weeks. That means to break even at “minimum wage” standards, we authors have to work 1,840 hours more per year than the average fry slinger at Mickey D’s without receiving overtime pay. That’s 75.39 hours of work per week to make the same money you make in 40… with no guarantees that we’ll even meet that minimum.

So please allow me to call bullshit on this self-righteous notion of art for art’s sake. You can take that shit back to MGM and let them keep it on their logo.

To those who want to say an author’s work should be prorated and they should make less per copy the more copies they sell, I pose this question to you: how would you feel if your boss approached you today and told you the following: “Yeah, we really like your work but you’ve been here several years and we’ve already paid you your value. We’re going to start paying you less money for each hour you work.”

You’re pissed just thinking about it, aren’t you? It’s unfair, right? Well guess what, sugarbritches… THAT is EXACTLY what you’ve suggested for us. It’s disgusting. It’s despicable. And to us, you’re now an asshole.

These epithets aren’t coming from the minimum-wage crowd, either. This is coming from the middle class – people who have the luxury of cars, cell phones, blu-ray players, coffee addictions, and expensive hobbies. You can pay $5 for a cup of coffee to enjoy once, but you’re too damned cheap to spend $3 on a book which will last forever? If that’s the case, then you don’t need the book. And if you’re willing to go to jail over $3, then please have a nice life, wherever it may lead you.

By the way, the days of patrons are pretty much over. The plebeians don’t need the support of the patricians because they can do most of the work themselves. That and the patricians tend to be the ones demanding freebies, so your argument is invalid.

This is why you need to stop poor-mouthing and pay the damned writer.

But you still want free books because somewhere five years ago your mama told you that you were special and you can have anything you want. Well, you can. And you want to know how to get them?

Become a book reviewer. Reviews are a form of currency in the literary world. Most authors and publishers are more than happy to hand over free books to reviewers – to people who actually leave reviews. Unfortunately, Amazon’s system is built on a review-based algorithm, meaning books with more reviews receive more visible promotion space. If you leave a review, good or bad, you’re helping that author.

Even if you insist on stealing the book to read, the least you can do is review it. If you refuse to pay money, you can significantly lower your douchebaggery level by giving two minutes of your time. And for god’s sake…don’t tell the writer you think all of their stuff should be free and pirate sites are a good thing.

There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get punched in the face.

Here’s to a New Year 1/4 Done.

I don’t make resolutions.

It’s a personal thing. I know me well enough to know that resolutions only put undue pressure on me; to make resolutions is to set myself up for failure. So I just don’t do it. Resolutions are by their very nature promises we aren’t intended to keep. Lose weight, quit smoking, stop drinking… Promises which remove our crutches and vices and require us to obsess over the largely unimportant simply to distract ourselves from the task at hand. Torture devices, if you ask me.

There’s a reason for this rant, ladies and germs. I intended to write this blog post in January. As you can see, things don’t always work out the way I plan. The good news about this is there’s been time for reflection in Camp Roddey. Unfortunately I can’t say I really like everything I see.

2015 wasn’t necessarily a bad year for me, just unproductive. I spent the majority of it pregnant and sick so I accomplished very little. I also spent a large portion of the year concerned over my employment status and what the managerial transitions at the day job would bring. Queue skyrocketing stress levels on all sides. But all in all I came out of it okay. I’m still gainfully employed and my children are all happy and healthy. I’m a little sad at the state of affairs in this world, and disappointed in the shitstorm my children and their generation will inherit, but there’s still time for me to change the world. I just have to find people who will listen and use common sense.

 

If you feel like I’m ignoring you, well… I probably am. I don’t say that to be mean. I say that because I ignore most of the internet right now. I’m frightened by the state of our political system (as I’ve said before) and tired of the bullshit rhetoric. I don’t want to lose respect for anyone else over their choice of candidate, so I choose to remove myself from the fray. And no, this statement does not give you the right to preach at me about the forty reason why YOU think I should vote for Donald Trump. I refuse to discuss politics in public because I have serious problems with most of the candidates. I will, however, say this: I refuse to believe the bigoted bullshit spewed forth by Herr Trump is what everyone else in this country is thinking, but if it is I’ll likely be moving to Canada come November. We have a lot to gain this year, but we also have a whole lot more to lose.

But enough of that.

I’m also ignoring the internet because the internet, with it’s anonymity, breeds assholes. Entitled douchebags who spend all of their time looking for reasons to be butthurt and start flame wars. Again with the largely unimportant… There are real problems in this world and the candyasses on the internet are out there painting whole social groups with single brushstrokes of stupidity and bitching about who’s allowed to get married and which god everyone should believe in. In this age of hurt feelings and bullshit triggers, I often wonder what the point in continuing on this path is. (By the way, making EVERYTHING a trigger which requires a warning kind of defeats the purpose of triggers… And life. Just sayin’. I know real PTSD victims, and they’re not nearly as touchy as the internet world have us believe. Beating on someone in public is a trigger, not posting a photo of a dead deer on its way to the processor. Seriously.)

The writing market sucks. It’s over-saturated, people don’t care about the products they release on their quest for “look at me, look at me!”, and it’s too easy for the pirates to steal things. Publishers are going down in flames left and right. More and more people are turning to Amazon to get famous in the wrong way. I get so frustrated by the state of affairs. Then I remember that even when I second-guess myself over my writing, I’m still doing what I love. If I can change the world for even one person, then I’ve accomplished something. Maybe if I keep taking, someone will eventually listen.

So back to those resolutions… I don’t make them, but I can give myself a few targets so I know what direction I’m aiming. I’m not going to require myself to write so many words or finish so many things. I’m not going to promise to lose weight or stop using swear words. I won’t demand those things of myself because I will fail. Going forward, I intend to be a little less chaotic neutral, a little friendlier to the world in general, and a lot less tolerant of bullshit. I have to learn to speak freely and be completely honest regardless of who might be offended, and to stop allowing this pedantic behavior to continue in my presence. Let’s face it, folks…The only way we’re going to be able to speak freely is to just do it and show the whiners that nobody cares. We have to take opinions back.

I will continue to love everyone equally regardless of race or creed, to speak up when someone is in trouble, and to remind everyone that the world is only as good a place as we make it. I’m not going to talk about politics with anyone. I will not acknowledge those who preach at me about bullshit topics such as how two men shouldn’t love each other (seriously, love who you want) or how all Muslims are monsters (again with the broad brush of stupid…they’re just people, people!), or who gets to use what bathroom (seriously…I go to the bathroom to pee, not to look at everyone else’s junk and I really can’t be bothered to care about who’s in the stall beside me). I will not tolerate social injustice for anyone. Everyone gets to be equal in my space. Nobody gets to be more equal than anyone else, and nobody gets a second chance. There have been too many second chances already. It’s time to grow up, now.

I just hope the remaining 3/4 of this year gets a little better than this first bit. What I’ve seen so far isn’t pretty, and I don’t like not pretty. I, however, will be doing my small part to make it a little lighter for those around me.

Manic Monday: State of the (Writing) Union Address

Guys, I’m having a moment, and it’s not pretty.

So I found myself wandering through the digital racks of Amazon this morning, perusing the freebies in the hopes that I might find a fun new author (like I really need ANOTHER book to read) or discover interesting new concepts not yet apparent to this world. Unfortunately, the farther I wandered, the more disheartening and, quite frankly, disgusting, it became.

People are giving away their blood, sweat, tears, and time for chump change. Books are releasing and within a month have hundreds upon hundreds of glowing reviews – none of which come from verified purchases, mind you. From my research, the majority of the verified purchases appear to give these “masterpieces” one star and generally tell prospective readers the equivalent of don’t freaking bother.

All the goodies are hanging out there, cheap and/or free, in the hopes someone might stumble by and happen to snatch that particular piece of low-hanging fruit.

Now we all know I’m not the world’s best or most prolific author. At this point in my game, if I’m completely honest with myself and y’all, I’m still struggling to attain mid-list mediocrity. My own fault, yes, but that’s another rant for another day.

I bust my butt to produce quality work and I take pride in the finished product. I’m not out there schlock-hocking, writing to a formula or a trend for the sake of making a buck. I don’t just slather words on a page and slap a pair of half-naked people on it to throw up on Amazon for free just to get attention. I’m doing my best to do this the right way.

[Pause: I’m not saying self-publishing isn’t the right way because (1) I’ve done that too, and (2) there is no right way to go about publishing… what I’m saying is I make sure my work meets a certain standard in editing, artwork, and overall production, which is what readers deserve.]

The problem I have is this:

I just find myself dumbfounded time and again at the low quality and lack of concern people have for literature. Everyone and her best friend seems to be thinking these days, “Oh, I need to make a quick buck. I’ll just go write a book and be a bestseller!” And you know what, kids? Goshdarnit, it just don’t work that way.

I hate to break it to you, but not everyone in the world is cut out to be an author. You might have the best, most original idea ever conceived, but I have a pretty strict policy around here – if you don’t have at least a basic grasp of grammar, punctuation, and dialogue, you are not a writer. And you’re dragging down the quality of something I love, so step off.

Writing truly is a dying art. And that cold, sad fact makes me want to sit down and cry fat, ugly tears. This rise in I-can-do-it-myself-ness has made a complete mockery of what we as professional authors do.

Guys, we can’t let this stand. We have to take back our craft, to rise above the masses of people scrabbling for the petty change at the bottom of the basket. It’s going to take some work, but we can do it if we stick together and demand that change.

Screw that… we’re not going to demand change and wait for it to happen. We’re going to make the change.

Well, yes…but how?

I’m so very glad you asked! It appears the problems with our market boil down to five simple rules, and we’re so busy keeping up with the Joneses that we’ve lost track of what’s important.

1. DON’T GIVE AWAY THE GOODS.

no-freebies-480_thumbMy mother is a voracious reader. So am I. So are the people by whom I’m surrounded. Yes, we do troll the bargain bins from time to time, but that isn’t where we spend the majority of our lives.

We, as respectable authors, need to step out of the cheap-trap. If our work is truly worth its salt, then we need to recognize and respect it by not giving it away. Promotions are one thing – go ahead and have a freebie week to gain interest. Give a short story away as a teaser. But don’t fork over a three-novel set for $.99 because you think it’s going to get you somewhere. By giving away your best work, your readers will come to expect it of you. Now that’s not to say a short story can’t live at that $.99 mark for it’s entire life. But you don’t want to take that kind of horrible cut on a novel. You’ll never get anywhere like that.

Price your books accordingly. Let the tramps have their pennies. Eventually the readers will tire of wasting good money on subpar writing and start looking back toward the more reasonably-priced works, where you’ll be hanging out in the henhouse with us.

2. DON’T FALL INTO THE NICHE TRAP.

Let’s face it…by the time we recognize a trend, we’re already behind it. Unless you’re writing ten of everything out there right now in the hopes the market will circle back around to your favorite type of critter, you’re never going to be that guy who writes that book and becomes the next Stephenie Meyer. Writing to the market may make a few people marginally successful for a month or two, but it’s never going to sustain a career for anyone. Rather than doing what’s already been done, we should be focusing our strength and energy on creating the next thing. We should be writing the books which will define the new trends, not follow in the footsteps of someone else. Sure, werepenguins are the hot thing right now, but that doesn’t mean the wereskunk will follow.

Be original. Write your own story, and let the trendy schlockfest continue without your participation. Make yourself that new and different thing everyone wants to read.

3. HIRE SOME OUTSIDE HELP.

You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.

I repeat: You need an editor. You need a professional cover. You need proper formatting.

Should I say it again? Because I will. And here’s why you need those things:

Because if you’re fighting the good fight, you want to put your best foot forward. A reader is not going to want to pay fair market value for an unreadable turd, which is why a professional product is the bet thing we can ask for at the end. Yes, sometimes it’s a pretty hefty outlay of cash on the front end, particularly for good editing, but it’s worth it in the end [this is where the credit publishers never get comes into play…they pay all of this for you so you don’t have to]. A professional product will go the distance and will likely suffer less returns than an unpolished hunk of words.

I learned to format out of necessity. I had a background in digital artwork so I was ahead of the curve with covers. I got lucky in that one of my good friends has a Master’s degree in English and will cut me a break. I also offer these services to other authors for reasonable rates because I want others to succeed. I can’t fix your technical ability, but I can make your book pretty.

Your readers deserve quality, so give it to them.

4. DO NOT PURCHASE REVIEWS. EVER.

Product_review1.jpgThe Perfect Review DOES NOT EXIST.

You might think you’re doing yourself a favor and putting yourself ahead of the game, but YOU AREN’T. Trust me on this… if you’re going to shell out huge chunks of cash for something, see Step 3. A review from a verified purchase is going to go much farther than some nobody giving you the digital equivalent of a tongue bath. Because the dirty little secret is this: 300 good reviews from a questionable origin will not hold a candle to that one verified critical review. Readers who consider reviews are going to read those low ratings first because those are the ones which tell the truth.

Now that’s not to say you can’t offer your book to reviewers for an honest review. I’ve done that. Yeah, it’s bitten me in the butt a time or two, but you know what? I’d rather have an honest opinion than a “OMGILOVEITSOOOOOOOMUCH” review any day. You know why? Because honest reviews keep me honest, and show me my mistakes so I can learn from them.

Expend your resources elsewhere, kids. You owe it to yourself to be honest.

5. WRITE WHAT YOU WANT TO READ.

I believe this, above all others, is the most important rule. If you aren’t enjoying what you’re writing, how can anyone else enjoy reading it? Writing on autopilot reads on autopilot. Believe me, I’ve read enough poorly-executed, trend-trailing garbage to know the difference between a story with heart and a kc-readstory for cash. I love reading as much as I love writing, and I often find myself disappointed by what I’m reading because it doesn’t share the love I feel for the craft. Emotion plays heavily into writing. I want to feel what the characters feel and see what they do. I don’t want to go through the motions of being in love because this chick is supposed to fall for this half-vampire werepanther. If she’s going to be in love with something so sensational, I want to suspend my disbelief and be in love with her. Likewise, if a psycho clown is on a killing spree in my bedroom, damn it I want to feel like I’m next.

We’re readers, not statistics. We aren’t dollar signs. And if we aren’t willing to pick up what we’ve written and read it, then we’re writing the wrong thing. As I said, it’s time to take it back, to do what we love for the sake of the craft. This…this is how we’re going to do it. We have to rise above, to band together and stay strong.

Yes, the market sucks at the moment. But with persistence and forcing quality back into our products, we can turn that around. Who’s with me?

The King is Dead. Long Live the King

At 3:30 this morning, I dared to go on the internet for the first time in a week, and I cried.

I cried for the loss of a man I’d never met, yet feel like I’ve known my whole life. I’ve never in my life cried over the death of a celebrity, but this morning I couldn’t stop myself. When I saw the news of David Bowie’s passing, I immediately took to the Google, praying it was yet another horrid hoax. I wanted to believe it was, then more and more news sites began reporting it and I knew it was real. And my heart shattered.

Like many of my friends, the man had a huge impact on my life. From my first coherent experience with Bowie as the Goblin King all the way through to Blackstar, the man has been one of the few constants in my musical and emotional education. His voice, antics, and showmanship have been a beacon, not only to me but to all the other weirdos like me. Ziggy Stardust made it okay to be different. His songs gave us permission to push the envelope.

In short, without him, I wouldn’t be me because I very likely wouldn’t know I was allowed to.

It appears nobody knew of his illness…and I suspect that was by design. God knows if it were me, I wouldn’t want the entire world on death watch. While it came as a great shock, I suppose it was for the best. This morning is the first time in years (literally years) where my Facebook feed has been nothing but an outpouring of love and support. It’s the first time in a long time I wasn’t inundated by hatred and bigotry. That fact did little to ease the pain my chest.

On July 28, 2002, a carload of us headed up to Manassas, VA for the Area2 festival with the sole purpose of witnessing the spectacle that was David Bowie. It’s the closest thing to a religious experience I’ve ever had… it was magical, the culmination of so many years of searching and questioning. Watching him made all the pieces fall into place, and it happened with some of my best friends by my side.

Now, for the first time in a long time, I don’t know how to process what I’m feeling. Grief, certainly. But this deeply profound sense of loss… I thought this was meant to be saved for family and close friends. But then again, he’s about the closest friend I’ve ever had even though we never met. He brought me friends, was by my side as I lost others, and has always had just the right words for whatever situations I faced.

This makes no sense, I know. Grief and loss don’t make sense. They aren’t supposed to.

The words aren’t there, but my love is.

Angie’s Story

No woman should live in fear. No woman should be subjected to unnecessary torture, be it from a parent, sibling, spouse, or even a stranger. She is human, and she has the right to be free, to be happy, and most importantly, to live.

To Live.

But those rights are stripped from countless women every day. They are isolated, threatened, abused, and murdered by the ones they should be able to trust. A marriage is only a marriage if both parties are willing. Otherwise, it becomes a prison sentence, and one that often ends too soon and much too tragically.

Crimes of Passion, they’re called.

But there is no passion. When one person kills another in a heated moment of lovers’ turmoil, it’s still murder. It’s a solitary act of desperation. There is no love; only selfishness. It is not a mercy, but theft. And those left in the wake of the tragedy are without direction, without answers. They first suffer the immediate effects of the trauma, but then are left to question and to grieve. Only on occasion is the entire story known.

I know this story. The one I’m about to tell ended a year ago today. It took me a long time to get this down, to work through the anger and the anguish and get to a point where I could tell this story. I had to. Someone needed to do it, because it needs to be heard. A year later my heart is still broken, and probably will be for the rest of my life.

stop domestic violence


AngieOn November 6, 2014, I lost one of the best friends I’ve ever had. She was a co-worker, a confidant, a friend. A sister. Angie was an angel come to Earth, with a big heart and a gentle soul. It never mattered how bad things were in her life or how sick she was; if someone needed her, she was there. Unconditionally. When I lost my father, she was there. When I lost my baby the week of her birthday, she was by my side the entire time. When anyone needed a helping hand or a friendly ear, they went to Angie. She was a ray of sunshine in our lives, and she made us better people for her presence.

But at 3:15 pm on a cold Thursday, she was ripped away from us in a selfish moment of stupidity. As the newspapers reported, yes, her estranged husband did shoot her in the back of the head then take his own life. But that’s the end of the story.

It started three years ago, when I met Angie the first time.

On November 7, 2011, Angie came to work for us as the new bookkeeper. She was the first hire in a long reorganization, and we were friends from the minute she walked in the door. We just clicked. I was seven months pregnant, and it gave us a starting point. From there, we learned everything there was to learn about each other.

After my daughter was born, she was there to help. She reassured me that I wasn’t going to irreparably damage my child, and provided relief in the form of lightheartedness and comedy. She was an understanding shoulder to cry on when I lost my father since she’d been through the same thing only a few years prior. A former hairstylist, she did my step-daughter’s hair for prom. Twice. There was a point where we were going to eat Japanese food for lunch every day and staying up late into the night texting about nonsense.

It was during one of these lunch sessions that she began to confide in me about the real status of her home life. Angie told me her husband had changed since her father passed away, and not for the better. She was estranged from her family since her father’s passing, and her husband had become cold and vindictive. He’d isolated her from her friends and family. He called a dozen times a day and texted even more. He constantly checked up on her and demanded she be where he wanted at all times. He’d begun to call her names and accuse her of being selfish. I started to learn about the violence and the psychological abuse, not just of her but of their children as well. When I asked her why she didn’t go to the police, she gave me a good reason.

Both of her husband’s brothers and one of his nephews are active police officers in the town where they lived. She knew any attempt at protection would immediately be reported back and his rage would be so much worse for it. Her husband’s family knew the situation; she’d gone to their houses and had countless conversations with them about the things he’d said and done.

We were sitting at lunch one day, discussing options for her leaving when she stopped and just stared at me. After a long silence, she said, “you know he’ll try to kill me if I leave, right?” I knew she was serious, and I believed her. I’d yet to meet the man at this point, but from the descriptions of the things he’d done to her and her two teenage sons, I knew we were dealing with an unstable man capable of unspeakable horrors.

Coincidentally, I absolutely hate myself for being so right about that.

About a month after that conversation took place, I met him for the first time. He showed up at our office on his motorcycle as we were leaving. I didn’t know at the time (and neither did she) that he’d just been put on suspension from work; we just thought he was there for a visit. Or to check up on her. His first and only statement to me in person was, “Hi, how are ya. We should all get together sometime for a three-way.”

I wish I was joking about that. I was immediately disgusted, and I know I hurt his feelings by laughing in his face, but I couldn’t help it. It was either that or tell him the truth about himself. For one, no. I’m a happily married woman with a family. Second, no. I’m not into any sort of alternate sexual preferences (sorry to burst any imagination bubbles with that one, but it’s just not me, kids). Third, what the hell was that dead animal doing on his face? He was bald as a cue ball, but had a goatee which, were it brushed, would have been about eight inches long at the time. Because he’d been on a motorcycle it was blown back in all sorts of directions and looked like it might have been alive at one time in the distant past.

It became a running joke between Angie and me. She went to him the next evening and told him I’d consider his proposition if he’d shave his goatee. He immediately refused, which only made it funnier to us. Plus it reinforced to me exactly what was wrong with him. I’d never seen such a case of egocentricity in my life.

His misbehavior escalated, and in early 2013, Angie developed a problem with migraines. I’ve never seen a person function with a migraine as severe as the ones she faced on a daily basis. We considered every option as she went for doctor’s visit after doctor’s visit. Her husband spent his time calling her a hypochondriac and a liar, even as she ended up in the emergency room week after week. When her doctor referred her to a neurologist, we began to worry. Angie was convinced it was a rapidly growing brain tumor and she was going to die. I tried to reassure her, but I wasn’t exactly convinced myself.

The tests all came back clear. There was nothing physiologically wrong with her. Three specialists, five different drug combinations, and a year later, she started to see a little relief. Between the drug regimen and the dietary restrictions, she finally started to see some change.

More than once as she worked up the courage to leave, she came to me and told me sometimes she thought it would be easier to die than to live the way she did. I knew beyond the shadow of a doubt that this wouldn’t end well the day she stood at my desk and told me she almost wished he’d just go ahead and kill her so the struggle would end. I did my best to talk her down, to reassure her he wouldn’t do such a thing even though I very well knew he was capable of it.

Three weeks prior to Angie’s death, she finally walked out. On the evening of October 15th, she came to me and told me she wasn’t going to be at work the next day because she was leaving. I offered my services and a truck, as I’d done a hundred times before, but as always she refused. She said she was going to get only what she needed and get out, then she’d go back and get the rest of her things later after he cooled down. At lunchtime on October 16th, she called me and said it was done. Then she started to cry. Angie had convinced herself her children would believe she was abandoning them, that he would put the idea in their heads and without a stable place to take them, his bullshit would stick. It took a good bit of convincing, but I finally got her to understand that the boys would understand when they saw her happy.

She left two letters – one for her husband detailing why she’d left and that their relationship was, in fact, over, and the other for her boys to explain that she’d left their father, not them. She told her boys she loved them, and she was only a phone call away if they needed her for anything. I know what was in the letters because she read them to me. Yes, word for word. She was walking out the door to go stay with a friend her husband didn’t know about as she did so, and at that point I was one of four people who knew exactly where she was. I always knew where she was.

Her biggest fear in all of this remained that her boys would hate her for it. She loved those kids more than anything else in this world, and she dreaded the day either of them came to her and told her they didn’t need her anymore. It didn’t matter that she’d taken physical and emotional abuse for years… those boys were what kept her in that unhealthy relationship because she couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from them.

That Friday, October 17th was her 41st birthday. She was free and happy, happier than I’d ever seen her, and I regret not getting to make her goodies for her birthday (as I’d done the previous two years) since I was both physically and emotionally sick in the aftermath of a miscarriage. The important part was that she was free. Of course the husband had started blowing up her phone the previous evening with calls and texts and couldn’t understand why she would leave. His mood would shift between inconsolable hysteria and blind rage. He loved her and hated her in the same breath.

On October 18th, my husband and I were up in Gastonia doing some shopping to try and clear my head, and she called me at about 1:30. I could hear in her voice something was wrong. She told me her husband had just called and their house was on fire. In the background I heard the engine in her car rev and I knew she was on the way back to that house. I was ready to drop everything and go to her, but she said no, that she’d call me back when she got there and found out more.

I spoke to her three more times that evening in between the hundred or so texts. Her husband was the only one home. The house was a total loss, and the asshole couldn’t even be bothered to get her cat out before the fire got her. The most disturbing part of the entire scenario was what she told me after she’d gotten home that night; that he’d turned to her as the house was blazing and said, “there, I’ve lost everything. Aren’t you going to come home now?”

But there was nothing to come home to. After nearly a week of investigation, telephone calls, and various other irritating nonsense, we discovered the fire had been intentionally started in her youngest son’s room. It was intended, we think, to look like the dryer vent started it, which is what he told her to get her there. Turns out the washer and dryer, on the other side of the wall, weren’t as damaged as they should have been for that to be the case. The flashpoint was on the floor behind the dresser outside the closet where the vent was located.

More than once I went into our front office and told the girls that if he showed up looking for her, don’t engage him. Don’t let him in. Just hit the panic button and get out. I told them so many times because I knew something was going to happen.

In the following weeks, the anger and cruelty escalated. He laid out of work, claiming he was too distraught to focus. He laid around his father’s house and spent money he didn’t have, sent threatening text messages, stalked her on Facebook to the point where she shut her account down to avoid him.

On Halloween, she received two dozen red roses from him. This was the second round. He’d already sent one set right after she left.

On November 2nd, I got a text message from Angie that made me simultaneously want to laugh and cry. She’d gone to dinner and the movies with a friend of hers from her oldest son’s band days. It was the first time she’d been out with someone that wasn’t either me or our mutual friend Erin in…well, ever. He knew she was out. He’d called more than once wanting to know where she was so they could meet. He resorted to threats. Then about 10:00 he sent her a text message to the effect that he’d gotten a Facebook message telling him she was out with another man. Her retelling of the conversation Monday morning was hilarious because he completely mispronounced the name. He claimed the message came from “Siobhan Kinkade.”

My romance pen name.

A name who does not have a Facebook account. Even my personal profile wasn’t friends with him. When she called him on it, he backtracked and announced that it was my husband who sent him the message. That frightened both of us. She’d never told him my husband’s name, which meant he’d begun to stalk me on Facebook looking for information.

On Tuesday he went to see a therapist. The therapist called Angie to get some information and immediately told her to stay away from him, that he was unstable and dangerous. The doctor told her not to be alone with him for any reason.

On Wednesday, she played back a voicemail she’d gotten from him. He was still swearing he loved her but he knew she was cheating on him. He cried and pleaded, then made threats in the same breath. He threatened to kill himself. He accused her of lying to him, that this was only supposed to be temporary and she was torturing him. On Wednesday afternoon, I went back into the front office and told the girls not to let him in if he came to the building.

Thursday morning she came in happier than I’d ever seen her. She’d just gotten her hair done (got it did, as we say in these parts) the night before. She looked fantastic, she felt good, and she was excited because she had big plans for the weekend.

She was late going to lunch that day because of all manner of work-related nonsense. When she came back from lunch at 2:30, she was beyond angry. She relayed the conversation from her lunch break. He’d been laid off because he’d missed too much work in the introductory period and his supervisors felt he had too many personal issues to be reliable. He’d immediately called and cried, looking for her sympathy.

Angie told him she wanted a divorce.

He’d flown into another rage and she hung up on him. When he called back, he left the most vicious, scathing message I’ve ever heard. My blood ran cold and I could see the fear in her eyes behind the angry bravado.

At 2:45, she was back at my desk and the expression on her face reminded me more than a little of The Joker from the old Batman movies. She’d taken the vase of roses out back and thrown it into the dumpster so hard it shattered and sent crushed roses flying out of the top of the bin. She’d finally accepted that she wasn’t going back and made her wishes known. She passed by my desk one more time and made the statement that when she got off work, she was going to get a restraining order.

That was the last thing she said to me.

Then at 3:15, time stopped. I remember every single second of that afternoon with startling clarity.

I was standing in the conference room with a coworker discussing board games and being generally nerdy when an unusual sound filled the air. We looked at each other and at the same time asked “what was that?”

At first I thought one of the filing racks in the billing office had come down and one of our cashiers might have fallen (she was a bit accident prone). But in the space of a breath, the time it took me to get from the conference room to the hallway, that office became pandemonium. It wasn’t a filing cabinet. That…that was the sound of five gunshots.

One of the cashiers came down the hall screaming “Someone call 911! He shot her! Oh my god he shot her!” I grabbed her by the shoulders as she got to me.

“Who?” I asked. It took her a beat to focus, to realize I’d asked her a question.

Then she said, “Angie.”

A breath later my finance manager came barreling through the doorway screaming that the office was on lockdown and to get to the break room. While he went into the front office, I immediately went around the other side of the building to clear people out, to make sure everyone else was okay. The windows were open and I could see him lying on the ground, his hands and feet still twitching. I couldn’t see her. In retrospect, I’m glad of that, because that’s an image I don’t think I could stand to live with.

I grabbed everyone I could and got them toward the back, then as I came around toward my desk, my Engineer was coming out of the front with one of the cashiers, who was not only hysterical, but had hurt herself in the evacuation process. And taking care of her is exactly how I made it through.

Within five minutes, Alexandra Christian called me. She works down the street from me and they heard the gunshots at the courthouse. I told her I was fine. I didn’t know what was going on. It was Angie. I didn’t know if she was alive or not.

I bandaged wounds and spoke to police. I ran interference with telephone lines, talked to our attorney, reassured people that this would be okay even though I didn’t believe it myself. I was numb.

I was doing HR at the time since our HR Manager was out on medical leave, so I was the one to pull her personnel file for the coroner. I was the one to give the statement on how this crazy murder/suicide had come to pass. I was the one who knew the whole story.

In the end, he put four bullets in the back of her head, a cruelly ironic end for someone who suffered so severely from migraines, then put the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. The one saving grace is that for Angie, it was fast. She was gone before she hit the ground, never knowing what happened.

He didn’t die instantly, and some small, twisted part of my psyche still wishes he’d lingered longer, that he’d felt that pain without the ability to do a thing about it. Every now and then the anger flares; that uncontrollable urge to just hurt him.

I know there’s a special place in hell for people like him. I know he’s suffering. But I also know he ruined the lives of two wonderful young men, made them orphans in a matter of seconds. His selfish egotism took him from abuser to murderer.

He could have been stopped had someone with real power listened to her cries for help. She would still be here if she’d been given a chance to tell her story herself.

This story needs to be told. Not just for Angie, but for every abuse victim. For every person who lives under oppression by the one person they should be able to trust the most. If her death can save even one life, then maybe, just maybe, she didn’t die in vain.

Every single day I miss her. I still love her, and I always will.


there is a way out

SC S.T.O.P. Domestic Abuse Program

Rock Hill Area Safe Passage

Safe Harbor Domestic Abuse Center