Sunday, February 23, 2014

He Likes Short Stories and He Cannot Lie

That's what the public wants: new faces.

Louis Shalako

I like short stories and I cannot lie.

The more short stories that I write, the more options that I have.

I have more stories to submit. 

That’s like playing more than one roulette wheel at a time.

But I also get the satisfaction of finishing things more often.

One of Heinlein’s Rules is to finish what you start. I’m merely adapting it to modern conditions.

And you all know how I love rules.

Especially when it’s from somebody really big and important and they live up in the sky and stuff like that.

Put it on the marketplace.

This is really neat. One of Heinlein’s points is that you should leave it on the market until it sells.

This is excellent advice. In fact, if I stick it in the marketplace digitally and independently, it will sell.

It will sell, one copy at a time, going for anywhere from $0.35 to two, three or even four bucks in royalties, for the rest of my life and then seventy years after unless my heirs issue a new edition and extend the copyright.


If some knucklehead like me wanted to write, he would also have to learn how to construct a plot.

While a short story can be defined—some say it focuses on character and description, at the expense of plot, simply because there is a lower word count, the fact is that any story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. These are some of the simple and yet subtle ingredients that go into a plot.

So having just written about twenty stories in the first six weeks of 2014, I have essentially completed twenty plots. It’s an interesting thing to do, challenging enough in a way. Now I have more material that can be submitted, published, or polished or collected.

It might even sell.

The plots may be simple, they may be less convoluted than a full-length novel, there tend to be fewer characters and changes of locale. One novel, a manuscript put together in the same length of time, would only represent one submission. But now I can make twenty, and in a whole bunch of different genres. 

Assuming that you want to submit things, a la the classic version of Heinlein’s Rules.

That’s like playing more than one roulette wheel at a time, in more than one casino.


I don’t know if I have any deeply-rooted need for validation, but it would be nice to make a sale once in a while. That just seems practical more than anything.

I don’t make blitz-style multiple submissions. I like to keep life simple, but that single book manuscript would be out of circulation for months or even years once under submission. I’m an unknown after all. In certain short story markets the turnaround time is much quicker.

(I once got a rejection slip before I actually hit ‘send’ on my submission email. That’s how quick it is sometimes.)

I now have twenty different things to submit, publish myself, or just file away for a rainy day and forget. 

Some stories do benefit by sitting for a while. You open it up, go through it and find some new ideas flowing. 

A six thousand-word story might turn into eight or ten. Working under deadline, you might not have the same luxury of time.

That luxury comes from having a surplus of material, and the consistent ability to produce more.

I call that ‘inspiration on demand.’

(I only put them little quotation marks in there ‘cause I know how much it bugs one of my Feebs.)


So after doing all that work, (twenty stories in six weeks) I found myself at a dead loss. I had a sheet covered in cryptic story ideas, and when I read them I sort of got nothing. I was burned out for a couple of days. I uploaded books onto OmniLit, and did other administrative stuff like that.

And now, after a couple of days back at it, albeit at a nice, relaxed pace, I have a new story more or less finished, that one’s about 5,800 words as it presently stands.

By working with a lot of ideas as quickly as possible, we sort of train our brain to produce more ideas.

By completing things, over and over again, we train our brain in how to more fully visualize them in the first place. In a romance story, you already know the ending—two people get together. It’s all about getting from point A to point B in terms of a simple plot. With a novel, it’s more like A to Z, but that’s just mechanical. It takes more words, (and a different organization of the material) to tell a more complex story that has more stuff going on in it.

In a short story, the structure is a little easier to see. Now I have twenty new models built, and I can see how they worked, or even if they did or they didn’t.


We’re also positively-training our own personal expectations of ourselves, surely an important consideration in any endeavor of a purely speculative nature. Which is what writing is and has always been.

Everything that comes out on that page must first come from inside of the author. They must be the originator, the inspiration behind what in most cases will be a collaborative work when you consider editors, first-readers, etc, etc.

(I do things a bit differently, but then I’m not giving out free writing advice here.)

All of that work goes in up front, with no way to predict our ultimate rewards.

For that we must trust the readers, and the marketplace, and work very hard to constantly improve our skills and judgement.


Okay, so that sucker’s done and I’m up to whatever, 6,400 words on the next one.

{Story #22-2014, which came in at about 12,500 words. – ed.)

And it didn’t make a whole lot of sense in terms of the basic premise.

Look, ladies and gentlemen, the frickin’ A-Team didn’t make a lot of sense either. Gilligan’s Island didn’t make much sense. Yet they were at least true to their own inner logic.

And in my new story I kept wondering, ‘why?’

Why would she ever do such a thing?

I really couldn’t answer the question, but I kept writing, and then in a line of dialogue, one of my people, who are real enough as I go along, said something very interesting.

And now I have it.

Three words, and it explains the whole story.

It all hangs together now, where before it was a collection of parts.

It even gives me the title of my new story, which looks to be headed north of ten or twelve thousand words by the time I’m done.

That’s the neat thing about a short story.

In a novel, you need at least 60,000 words, or you can’t call it a novel according to the generally-accepted definition.

In a short story, once you’ve gone beyond all hope of keeping your word count down to a submittable size, you have the opportunity of writing a short story out to its natural length.

This is the result of your vision, your skills and the goal you originally began with, (didn’t know you had one, did you) i.e., to write a short story.

If something goes too long, then I have another story that is unsuitable for submission.

In which case, I publish it myself. I just call it a short story, a novella, or a novelette.

Now here’s a really interesting thing.

Because it’s my ass on the line, and my name going on the front, I tend to pay a lot more attention to the stuff I intend to publish myself.

I have no editor. I have no back-up or safety net. No one holds my hand while I walk this tight-rope.

It’s all me out there.

When I submit something, I’ve read it five or six times to be sure, but this pales in comparison to how many times I read the material I publish myself.

That seems like the responsible thing to do. An editor, if he likes a story, might ask you for revisions or another pass of proofreading. They might even correct a typo—if they like your story. They will also keep it to himself or herself, as the case may be.

A disappointed reader will tell all of their friends. They might give you a less than stellar review, or ask for a refund, and in the extreme case, will dog your footsteps for the rest of your (or their) natural life.

Ah, but here’s another neat thing.

When I find an image that I love for the cover, and one of the models is wearing some slinky thing that doesn’t necessarily correspond to what a lady or a gentleman might be wearing in the actual book, as the writer, with sole creative power, I go back and put a quick change of clothing on them. This is almost impossible in a committee endeavor. It simply takes too long and adds weeks or even months to the former production processes. See, a traditional cover designer doesn’t really know what’s in the book. They rarely read the actual story in order to design a cover. But I know what’s in there because I put it there and it’s my ass on the line as a writer and publisher.

This makes the whole work of art, i.e. the digital book, and any other kind of book you care to make, a more coherent whole.

It’s been held to higher standards.

It’s a better product, ladies and gentlemen.


Friday, February 21, 2014


Louis Shalako

I’m sorry, ladies and gentlemen.

I feel one of my little spells coming on.


Yeah, eh.

What the hell you gonna do about it?

Such is life.

This time I got to remember to take better notes.

Memory is such a subjective thing and it’s hard to reconstruct later.


Here goes.



Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Winning Against Depression.

He'll be back.

Louis Shalako

When I was about fourteen, my parents got all worried about me. I had been a good student, and I didn’t want to go to school. I was sleeping all day, skipping school. I wouldn’t participate in family activities, such as going roller skating together or to Grandma’s for Thanksgiving, all stuff I had once enjoyed. I was up all night reading books, refusing to help out around the house unless I was paid for it, hanging out with all kinds of kids they hadn’t seen before, you know—Mom’s bottle of London Dry Gin began to mysteriously fall in the level and no one could really say what was going on.

They took me to a doctor who asked me if I was on drugs.

(I wasn’t.) As I recall, that one caused a little resentment.

What a bunch of idiots, I remember thinking.

At some point they determined that I was anemic—low blood pressure, low count on the red blood cells, low iron, and all that sort of thing.

And I ended up getting vitamin B-12 complex injections once a week for quite some time. So what was all this about?

My parents were getting separated. They were certainly talking about it, and they did so shortly thereafter.

And in some ways mood, atmosphere, it’s a little bit contagious. It’s not like I didn’t know something was wrong in our family, because it sure was wrong.

But it was a whole lot of things coming together.

I had grown two or three inches that year—it was the early stages of puberty, when the hormones are all over the map, teenagers get gawky, and introspective in my case, they get pimples and weird long curly black hairs popping up all over the place. You’ve got all sorts of opinions and deep inside you know you’re still a kid.

More than anything, you would like to be thought of as an adult. Of course you’re not, really.


It’s too easy to look back and state that I ‘suffered from depression since I was a kid.’

The fact of the matter is, all seventeen year-olds think they are going to be alone for the rest of their lives. 

They think their life is the pits, and that their parents don’t treat them well. The world can be a cold dark place when it seems like everyone else is having fun and adults have all sorts of special powers.

Kids are impatient. They can’t wait for childhood to end so they can have a bit of power over their own lives.

They can go places, do things, buy things, and decide how their own life is going to be run.

A kid of a certain age is dependent, when all about him look like fools.

I do not want to let depression define me. The truth is, I was deliriously happy from about age 18 to age 25. 

And yet even then, there were those days. I can’t deny it, and certainly there were no secrets between my girlfriend and I back then.

She knew. There was no denying it. Those days happened. Even then, it was a big mystery.

What in the hell was wrong with me?

The answer seemed pretty clear, years later: Why, I must have been suffering from depression.

I was suicidal at age 26. That was a bad day. I had the gun loaded and up to the side of my head.

A lot of shitty thoughts went through my head that day. I guess maybe I got a real good look at myself that day—and I wasn’t much.

I didn’t have much going for me, and I knew it. But there was something that stopped me. Call it ego, or something.

It took that much to realize that what I wanted was not to die. What I wanted, was to live—and for some reason it really didn’t feel like I was living.

I think a lot of suicides just want to end the suffering.

That was a long time ago, and the actual circumstances of the story are pointless.

That one didn’t last for long. Somehow, the real danger zone didn’t last too long, and although the aftermath, the so-called recovery, took two or three years, and two or three cities. The fact is, that I went through times when things were all right. Sure, I got down once in awhile, but who doesn’t? Everyone has a bad day, when things seem pretty black and it seems like all the shit will never end.

Whatever the hell was going on back then, when I had work, when I had money, and friends, and things to do and places to go, things went fine. Not that I didn’t have my days, my little outbursts of anger, my sudden little snaps of aggression. All of which are entirely normal within the daily parameters of human existence.

They are also symptoms of depression. Was I any different from any other person? 

I don’t know. It’s hard to say.

It's pretty easy to buy into the notion that you are different, and that there really is something wrong with you.

The question is, how do you deal with it?

Blaming depression or saying that something triggered it was an easy answer.

I went through another real bad time in my life. That one lasted for years. Literally, years, in fact from late 2004 until early in 2006, during a period of about a year and a half, I thought of suicide every stinking day. 

And I won’t say there was nothing wrong in my life, because there was.

The problem was that I couldn’t deal with it. That was the real struggle. I couldn’t get everything I wanted, not even what I needed.

Something really got to me.

Again, the actual circumstances are pointless. Because it’s all relative. It’s all very subjective—some other person, if I told the story, would say, “Well, that doesn’t seem all that bad. It’s sure not worth killing yourself over.”

Yeah, and they’d be right, too.

And the truth is that it wasn’t all that bad. I just couldn’t deal with it, for whatever reason. Looking back, it’s over now.

I got through it, somehow. No matter how bad it felt, or how long it took…it’s over.

It was real enough at the time, to me if no one else.

The first thought that went through my head in the morning was, “I have to kill myself.”

The last thought that went through my head at night was the same: “I have to kill myself.”

With that sort of shit going through your head you really have to wonder what stopped me.

How in the fucking hell did I ever survive that?


I got to a point where I dreaded winter. Winter is long, cold and dark, poverty sucks, my few friends were all the same kind of loser and yet there could still be moments when I was happy, or at the very least not suffering.

It was a question of putting in the time and getting through life.

A strange attitude, looking back. That attitude resulted in a lot of wasted years. Every day was a quest for diversion, and not much more.

All I wanted was not to suffer. I avoided anything I couldn’t deal with.


My old man got sick. After some years we had to sell his house, get rid of his stuff, put him in an old age home, and ultimately watch him die.

That was a very dark time. And winters are still the worst in some ways, because of all that cold and darkness.

The sheer, unremitting boredom, the loneliness, the isolation, the lack of hope for any real changes…the list is a long one.

And yet, looking back, this had been my best winter since about 19-fucking-99.

Seriously. By any way I care to measure it.

I keep as busy as I can. I work my ass off on something that is important to me.

I have skills, and some mighty good ones.

I have my own place. I have a car, I pay my bills and I have a few books and stories out there in the world.

Nobody really messes with me any more—not for long, anyways.

(It’s just not worth it, right.)

And I don’t give a shit what anyone thinks.

Today, yeah. Not my best day.

It could be worse—and I damned well know it.

The thing with depression is to survive the battles, and in the end, maybe, somehow, win the war.

It didn’t stop me from writing this story, did it?


Thursday, February 6, 2014

To Submit or Not to Submit?

Themes of Creation. Leonid Pasternak.

Louis Shalako

To submit or not to submit?

That might not even be the right question these days.

What to submit, and what not to submit, might be a better way of putting it.

So far this year I’ve been focusing on short stories, an art form in their own right.

The only way to master something is to do it, and when I run out of steam, only then will I worry about my next novel, (or novel #13.)

Other than blog posts, a poem, something unfinished, something ready to begin, (another blog post,) it looks like the one I just started working on is story number seventeen for 2014.

So here’s the question: should I submit it and keep on submitting it until it is sold, (according to Heinlein’s Rules) or should I just go ahead and publish it myself?

It’s not strictly an either-or question.

There is always a chance, right?

But think about it first. If there are fifty-one pro markets listed on, then those fifty-one markets probably get anything up to ten or twenty thousand submissions a month between them. It might be more—a lot more.

Do the math. Calculate the odds. I’ve got one new story, and maybe a dozen worth submitting. They’re already out there and many markets won’t accept multiple submissions. They don’t want to see the same story twice, either.

Right now, I have a handful of stories under submission. When I submit a story, it could result in a sale, although it is a hit-and-miss thing. It’s not even a question of quality or competence at some level. I just have to put the right story in front of the right editor, in the right genre, just when they’re looking for just that certain kind of thing. The right time and place sort of thing.

But I do submit stories in the Pro, Semi-Pro, (fifteen listings at time of writing) and Pay, (35 listings, mostly closed to submissions right now) as well as checking out token markets, looking for other markets and finding new lists independently. I’ve also checked out Mature markets, etc.

But here’s the thing.

Let’s say you’re not making any pro or big-bucks sales. Never mind if they’re listed with the SFWA or not. 

You need some pro sales to get into the SFWA, right?

How important is that? What does it actually do for you? Those have to be pro sales.

Are you going to let a good story go for five, ten or twenty dollars? Will you give it up for free and some kind of validation?

Are you looking for mere justification?

What does that get you? Publication, yes. Your story is even kind of safe for awhile—it’s safe from being published on the blog or being lost if the computer goes down. People can read it if it’s accepted, and maybe you really will be discovered.

But that story might not appear for a few months. When it does appear, they have a license for a stipulated period of time. Afterwards, your story might be archived on their site in perpetuity.

You might give all that up for five, ten or twenty dollars and the chance to say you got published.

And it doesn’t even help you get into the SFWA, either. Assuming that’s important to you.

So we have to make the comparison.

Let’s take a story I just wrote. It was 10,200 words. In that particular genre, there was nowhere to submit it, even to a minimal pay or token market. There wasn’t even any place to submit it for exposure, although, there is at least one historical fiction market listed on Ralan. But my word count was way over their limit. No point in submitting it there...

Part of the challenge was the nature of the material.

So, being too short for a book, and with nowhere to submit it, what was I supposed to do with it?

Answer: publish it. That even sort of follows Heinlein’s Rules, in the here and now—the Brave New World of Publishing.

Think about it.

Say it costs five or ten bucks for a cover. It took four and a half days to write, edit, format, find an image and make a cover, get an ISBN, etc. You need a blurb, right? It probably took a minimum of ten or twelve hours just in the writing time—it’s 10,200 words after all.

A story which would otherwise be useless is now in the store.

If it sells for $2.99 and ten or twenty of them leave the store per year, then that, honestly, sounds like peanuts. I admit that.

It is also something like twenty or forty bucks a year for a story that might have gone for even smaller peanuts. Over ten years that’s two hundred to four hundred bucks, for a nice little story that might have gone for exactly that much (once) in a professional sale at two to four cents a word.

And, I write a lot of stories. Do the math. Calculate the odds.

But consider those odds over the long term—the next ten to twenty years, when, arguably, I should be submitting that story, over and over again until it is sold.

But there's nowhere to fucking submit it.

Reprints are admittedly worth fifty percent of the original sale price. This holds true at four hundred dollars. It also holds true if you sell your story for five or ten bucks. There is a judgment call here, and you have to decide before publishing it yourself, just exactly what it is that you are risking.

Mike Resnick or Robert J. Sawyer can sell any story they write.

So far, I have not learned how to do that in that traditional sense—I have to rely on what few readers I can get!

It’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

I have never claimed that this is any easier than the traditional path.

It is merely the path that seems to be open right now, in this Brave New World of Publishing.

In the very early days of a long and distinguished career, we’re not risking that much, right? It depends on where you’re at and what you hope to achieve. It depends how much time you have left.

Now, assuming I have a story in science fiction, fantasy, horror, or mystery, maybe a little something in the romance or erotica line, then of course I would know where to submit it.

There are also ways of finding more markets.

Even then there is some kind of judgment call. If it’s talking cats, then one editor doesn’t want it, and if it’s vampires or werewolves, some other editor doesn’t like that. You might have already submitted a story or a book to all the markets that you can find in a genre.

Or maybe you just don’t care to keep looking.

Now, my next story, or number whatever for this year, has the sort of material that’s not going to make it into iTunes. There are themes of non-consensual sex in the story. If you read the submissions guidelines, you will see that in some markets they have very specific guidelines as to what they will and will not accept. Many magazines would not want to see this story.

So, again, write it, edit, format it…make a cover. Stir and repeat, right? And now another pen-name, has another new product, this one in an edgy, erotica-for-hetero-males sort of a way. It’s 5,000 words, took a couple of days to produce, and I had total creative control over something that has social redeeming value, but might be offensive to some readers.


And I can mark it at $2.99, give discount coupons on Smashwords, set it for free sometimes, whatever it takes to move a few copies of that story on the long list of bookselling platforms…a list that will grow over time.

Some other story might be a good candidate for the blog ( or, an unpublished book of dubious nature could be published as a serial.) Or as a free promotional book or short story. It still only costs five or ten bucks for the cover.

At some point down the road you get to set a price on it and set up your next freebie.

Once you’ve paid for the cover image, it’s all gravy, folks.

If I write three or four stories for one pen-name, then at some point I write one specifically for a free giveaway. When I’m working in a specific genre, I generally know, or soon figure out, who I’m writing it for, whether it’s for the blog, my lady-erotica writer or my thriller guy. Sooner or later they’ll all have pretty long lists of titles.

Everything involves a judgment call and some assessment of the benefits, the rewards and the costs.

Other than that, you put in the time, you do the work.

Have fun doing it and you’ve got the world by the ass.

That’s what it’s all about, ladies and gentlemen.

It's all about writing things and putting them out there into the world.


Monday, February 3, 2014

Your Goals Affect Your Planning

Take a picture and try and earn some of the gas money back. Louis.

Louis Shalako

Your goals affect your planning.

Planning should be as flexible as possible in case you encounter fresh opportunities.

When shopping for marketing images I of course became aware that private individuals, pros and amateurs, were uploading the very pictures I was buying to further my career in writing, covers for my books essentially.

So I checked around and found a few other stock photo sites. Quite a number of them have provision for uploading photos. It is the digital age, and the pictures have to come from somewhere.


Dimly I realize that this is nothing particularly new to the photographic industry. It’s really only news to me!


No longer is it necessary to sign up for an account, (by mail or in person,) to mail or hand in envelopes full of prints, have an editor with a light table or a magnifying glass go over them, have clerks stack them up on shelves and technicians photo-chemically reproduce them whenever someone, came to the counter, called or faxed in because they needed one.


The point is that if I can download a picture in a trice, I can sure as hell upload one just as fast.

And I have a camera.

I take a lot of pictures…I’m actually pretty good at it, although my present camera isn’t very good.

So, the goal of publishing a few books opened up new possibilities, new markets, taking advantage of recreational free time doing something l like. That is true for literature and it’s also true for other creative endeavors.

Okay, so I have opened up an account on one stock photo site.

That’s enough to get me started.

Assuming I can comb through my files and come up with a few images that might be suitable, it might even be enough to begin to generate sales. There will be mostly likely revenue thresholds before payment is made, there will be W8EN forms and all that sort of thing. But the experience gained in publishing crosses over very nicely, no matter what you are selling on the internet. I could sell lawn-mowers on Amazon and still have to fill out the same digital paperwork.

Now, working with images ever more intensely will obviously assist in the learning curve for the development of better covers. Also, one of my goals is to get a new computer, one that is capable of operating Adobe’s latest photo-shop program. I’ve spoken about this before. And Adobe could be used with a good camera and my talent at special effects….(ta-da!) to create photos for upload and sale on a stock photo site.

Pretty brilliant, eh?

Now, now, ladies and gentlemen, when I go for a cruise, a bike-ride, a walk in the woods, or just see a pretty girl behind a rack of cauliflower at the farmer’s market, well now I have the all-important justification, something none of us can really do without, and I can bloody well ask for a picture now, can’t I?

All I need is a cool screen name and a nice portfolio; and a man with some element of charm just might do all right.

I love it when a good plan comes together, as Hannibal Smith would say.

So now, a new goal is to get a better camera. Not only that, I need a big long lens, and a wide one too, a handful of filters maybe, and a detachable flash unit, maybe a remote. A tripod and a bag to put it all in, and ladies and gentlemen, this obviously affects the planning.

That’s because you have to plan in order to achieve your goals.

But what is immediately obvious is also how it all ties together—almost as if I had foreseen all of this quite some time ago. New computer, new software, new camera, it all has to be bought and paid for, and if we can somehow, along the way, begin to build systems so that all of this can be paid for, then that is just one small aspect of our planning.

Planning begins with goal-setting, visualization of the end results, and then working, step by step and piece by piece, one day at a time some days, or even minute by minute when things aren’t going so good, and we work our way to the end result.

Hopefully that makes some weird kind of sense.

And, over the long haul, there are any number of stock photo sites out there, and as the body of work grows, the chances of making a sale increase.

It’s just a matter of putting in the time and getting good at what you do.

All of these little goals go towards achieving a much greater goal, which has to do with independence, quality of life, and how I choose to spend the rest of my life.

So there you go and now you know.