Wednesday, September 30, 2015

2015: a Very Good Year.

Maus O78, (Wiki.)

Louis Shalako

2015 was a pretty good year for achieving some personal goals.

In January we were just learning how to use our new computer.

(And in October, still paying for it.)

In May we dumped the old Neon and got another good, used piece of crap to drive.

We accomplished one big goal when we got two new front teeth, and fixing up a half dozen cavities went along with that. That was a biggie, as I had some concerns. 

Okay, I was scared shitless but I owed it to myself. Funny things is, we got through it and it’s over.

That was kind of a growth experience.

Bad teeth affect your self-esteem more than one might realize. This is something you don’t want to take for granted.

We’ve been bitching and whining and pissing and moaning about housing for a couple of years now. We’re moving as of December 1. It’s a nice place and we can keep on going to local food banks if that’s what it takes. I don’t give a shit what the bourgeoisie thinks.

By the time the year is out, we’ll have our fifth novel of the year in the can. As to whether we’re going to submit that or publish it ourselves, we’re still undecided.

We sure wouldn’t want to fuck up our lives, or lose our pensions, shit like that.

At this point, we still have time to make an appointment at the optometrists and get some bifocals. I’m tired of going to the grocery store and trying to get crazy old ladies to read the labels on things, which as you know are written in very fine print. On the Ontario Disability Support Program, we can get eyeglasses (paid for) every two years and it’s been a while since I was in there last. She’s not a bad looking lady as I recall, admittedly a bit blurry…

I’m almost hesitant to put this out into the universe, but if I had a half a brain in my head, (and I’m pretty sure I do), there’s still three months left in the year to get a girlfriend*, (although I’m still saving my pennies for that one.) We don’t want to ask for too much, ladies and gentlemen.

After a couple of years of not speaking to each other, my brother and I are now friends again. 

It’s nice to see the nephews once in a while. Andrew is fifteen and Adam is thirteen.

I will be a part of their lives.

< brushes tears away >

Okay, that meant a lot to me.

My big goal for the next three months is to avoid pain and try like hell not to get sucked down by major depression.

Other than that, I plan on drinking as much beer as possible and having a hell of a lot of fun with the last twenty or thirty years of my life—assuming that nothing goes wrong.

Which it usually does, sooner or later.

But that’s getting a bit ahead of ourselves, of which I have at least five who have manifested themselves in no uncertain terms.

Let us enjoy this moment, no matter who we are or how many of us there may be.


P.S. If you’re on Facebook or whatever, I’m a sucker for liking your page, so don’t be afraid to ask.

We are people personages…or something like that.

We will not apologize. We're just going to keep on doing it. 

*UPDATE: Sorry, ladies and gentlemen. That should have read "...a lot more girlfriends..."

Thursday, September 24, 2015

What to Write Next.

Planet of the Apes, (Morguefile.)

Louis Shalako

My grandparents had some pulp fiction on their bookshelves, including Ellery Queen. At one time I might have even bought Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, probably when I was working 12-hour shifts as a security guard. They had their shelves stocked with old mystery, western, and romance novels for the most part.

I’ve even submitted a couple of stories to Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. I wrote The Handbag’s Tale for submission to this market, and when it was rejected, I published it myself. A few one-star troll reviews, and I was so pissed off I wrote a novel.

(I’ve often wondered about them guys, incidentally.)

I haven't written any fiction in two or three days. If I don't have any compelling ideas for a short story, I might as well start my next novel. For one thing, my conscience would be clear for the next couple of months. Also, since it's a larger work, I don't necessarily need to have the ending in sight, which would more often be the case with short stories.

There are quite a few literary influences in my background. My first girlfriend had a bookshelf full of science fiction. My mother loved mystery and romance, my dad had books on war, history, psychology, and sexuality. My grandparents had all kinds of pulp fiction on the shelf. That all represented a certain era, and what was sort of written, and what was sort of available, during the period of their lifetimes.

When I was a young working man, with a disposable income, my girlfriend and I made a regular thing of going to the bookstore. Looking back, that was a very nice thing.

Right now, I have some ideas on books that I would like to write someday.

Why I wouldn’t want to start any one of them right now is a very good question.

I want to do something in 1968. It involves New York City. There is a large and disparate cast of extreme characters. That one is a kind of literary fiction, satire, or parody. That one is very personal and I don’t want to write that one in anger.

For some reason I still want to do some kind of science fiction a la A.E. van Vogt, Gordon R. Dickson and possibly E.E. ‘Doc’ Smith. To me, that one sounds like sf with some fantastic, even spiritual element to it. The trouble with that one is that I know what happens to independently-published science fiction novels.

I want to continue my Inspector Gilles Maintenon mystery series, and yet writing the second one in a year was an odd challenge. It was both too easy, and too hard at the same time. This is just the author talking, but the first one I wrote this year, Speak Softly My Love, is probably a better book than How to Rob a Bank.

I don’t know why that should be, it just is. As for writing a third one this year, it is certainly possible.

The other thing is that we’re trying to figure out what’s going to sell. One of my pen-names has a relatively successful short story, and so naturally, we wrote a few more short stories to support that pen-name. We’ve sold two or three copies! That’s the sort of thing that defies popular wisdom, but the new stories are historical aviation adventure. The successful story is a submarine story. Go figure. But it’s clearly two different sets of readers. On the other hand, Tom Clancy did both and made it work.

All of this is important in some way. For me, work is an escape from reality. I know that sounds a bit off in a world where a lot of people hate their jobs and can’t wait for retirement—where one of the things on their bucket list might be to write a book. It’s a pretty common dream, and of course I’m living that dream from their point of view.

They probably have a lot more money than I do, but the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. You have to admit, it’s a bit of a trade-off.

I’m not bitching here.

When I’m not working on anything, as a retiree, I have sixteen or seventeen hours in the day with nothing much to do. And to escape into the world of the novel is just that.

It is an escape, an escape for the author just as much as it is for the reader.

Perhaps even more so.

You guys only get to enjoy it for few hours—I’m in there for weeks and months at a time, at least to some degree, for three or four hours a day.

“The book that will change your life is the book that you write.” – Seth Godin.

I must have wanted to change my life pretty bad, and that carries certain considerations with it. Like, what do I want my life to become, for example.

And I’ve never really been entirely sure, ladies and gentlemen.

However, that first book really did change my life. I would imagine they all did to some degree.

Anyways, I’m the only one that can make something happen here.


Backstage Lensman. (A footnote to history.)


Saturday, September 19, 2015

Character is a Real Good Word.

A critic's house. ((Morguefile.)

Louis Shalako

So far I’ve written eighteen novels. Louis Shalako has sixteen novels, Zach Neal has one novel, (a thriller), and Dusty Miller has a novel.

Looking back, it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t really have to publish every single one of them independently. If you can write eighteen novels, sustaining yourself independently on the literary field of battle for years at a stretch, (against some pretty darned good competition I might add), then you could probably have gotten yourself a publishing contract. Why ever would they not be interested in a guy like me?

You like character, don’t you? Fluff-heads don’t write books and we all know it.

Okay, so we’ve all got some character.

Here’s my big challenge.

A twenty thousand dollar advance would come in one lump sum. Under the guidelines of the Ontario Disability Support Program, I’m only allowed a couple hundred a month without penalty. I’m only allowed to have six or seven grand in my personal account. It would be considered income. Assuming I’m running it as a business, I would be allowed about the same in a business account. The trouble is that I would be over the limit, and they would sort of insist that I take money out of the account. At that point, it is income and they can penalize me, taking fifty cents on the dollar. Since we’re talking a few grand in my hot little hand, I would lose the pension, (eleven hundred a month) for at least a few months. There’s a real incentive there to piss it away as quick as you can—hoping to get your pension back without a big fight.

That’s money I don’t have to work for—it’s already mine.

Investing back into the business is also possible, but you have to clear it with them first. They don’t always agree. This is not the most responsive business model and all for what, a couple of hundred bucks? A thousand bucks on a computer or something, a no-brainer when you get right down to it. Funny thing is, someone can give you a gift of five grand, and they don’t penalize you at all.

Just promise you won’t spend it on food, shelter and clothing.

That’s what’s so funny about this system. It’s a complex situation, and I’m not here to explain all the guidelines, which even long-term staff members can’t do either.

It’s not that easy dealing with the ODSP. They can be tough when their instincts are aroused and especially so if you present them with a fait accompli.

They have to go by the book—and my situation isn’t in the book.

Just think about that one for a minute.

They’re bureaucrats—and they have to go by the book, which is written by lawyers and handed down by the Ministry.

Next thing you know there’s a fifty-foot microscope up your ass. They’re giving you all sorts of problems, (just doing their jobs of course) and the most important thing you need to do is to write your next book.

At some point, you’ve run out of cash. Eventually you should start getting the full monthly benefit again. If you take money out of your personal account, that’s one thing. You’ve already paid the penalty on it as income, and theoretically they shouldn’t give you a rough time because you spent it. They tried to double-ding me once, but I rather doubt they’ll try that one again. Not with me, but someone less well-informed for sure.

That’s why I like informing people.

But if you’re short of cash, need car repairs, the kid needs braces on their teeth or something, taking money out of the business account, and spending it for personal needs would be considered income. And they tag you for fifty cents on every dollar as income.

I would have a hard time trying to explain to a publisher that I really need a forty thousand dollar advance just to get the same benefit as any other person getting twenty. A member of the bourgeoisie can be making a hundred and fifty grand a year. To them, twenty thousand is still useful money. People in certain income brackets have more tax shelters than someone like me, where every penny of disposable income goes into keeping a roof over my head, shoes on my feet and food in my belly.

There’s a kind of disconnect there. There is some question of fairness. I get hit with penalties and risk my pension, where some other person, another first-time author, can at least get the whole thing. They’re not risking their daytime job. They can stick it into a registered retirement plan, and defer the taxes until they take it out after age sixty-five. For them, it’s a big plum. Presumably, they would be getting a lower tax rate on that money as they are no longer working when they take it out. But. People over sixty-five still work—and Revenue Canada (the tax people) aren’t hitting them with a fifty-percent gouge just for taking a part-time job.

Otherwise, people over sixty-five wouldn’t want to work, because at some point it’s just not worth it.

Also related to fairness, a person on ODSP is living thirty to forty percent below the poverty line already. Sticking them with employment penalties of fifty cents on the dollar seems grossly unfair when they’re already rising above themselves. We are risking much by going against the grain of apathy, despair and self-destruction which is all too common among a certain subset of the population. We are doing what is most assuredly not expected of us.

So. Earning a couple of hundred dollars a month (and not much more) is not such a bad thing. 

The ODSP leaves me alone. I don’t have to fight with them constantly.

Okay, here’s my challenge. Book sales are cyclical. (Also seasonal to some degree.) You never know what you’re going to earn next month—and next month is when that ‘overpayment deduction’ is going to hit your cheque.

It gets worse. After two hundred dollars, they start hitting you with that fifty percent penalty. 

People talk about traction in this business. I’m standing on a greasy slope, pushing a boulder uphill already. Traction is in short supply around here.

Every little thing is already stacked against me. That’s why they call it disability.

I would need a twenty-grand advance once a year, every stinking year, just to replace that disability pension, which includes things like drug, dental and eyeglass benefits.

All your medical is covered under ODSP and Ontario Hospital Insurance Plan benefits. Once you’re off the pension and self-employed, you are paying for all of that yourself—eyeglasses, dental and OHIP premiums. And you’re still living below the poverty line.

This is the challenge faced by millions of Canadians making minimum wage, incidentally.

And what are the odds that you can get that kind of advance, each and every year? Not if you’re not selling a ton of books. Lots of midlist authors are dropped and they have to go looking. They don’t always find what they need, either.

Let’s say you just plain run out of luck—a word that I personally despise. How are you ever going to convince the ODSP that you are incapable of writing anymore? I fought for two and a half years to qualify for the pension. My brother, whose back is worse than mine, fought them for four years before finally proving his case.

The real benefit of independently publishing my books, is that I at least have control—I can pull the fuel rods out of that reactor if I absolutely must. Also, with eighteen books out, one might think that any potential advance would (or could or should) be greater.

Because you know what I can do. Because you know I’m going to finish what I start.

In order to replace my pension, (assuming I live to be about eighty-five years old), I would need approximately $377,000.00 over the next twenty-nine years. (And I would still be living below the poverty line.)

Things might be different if I was twenty years old. But I’m fifty-six. I am getting kind of unemployable anyways. That is to say, for anything except a minimum-wage job, where they will essentially take anybody...

That sort of advance money, that level of book sales, doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It’s really only thirteen grand (or twenty say) worth of royalties in any given year. What percentage of ‘professional’ writers make that much money, year in and year out?

If you seriously wanted me to ghost-write a novel for you, you need to bear this sort of thing in mind. If you think there are easy answers, you are wrong.

As sales mount, if the monthly numbers go up, there will be a rather painful state. This is where they’re chiseling away at the benefit cheque at their dirty little fifty-percent rate, and I’m struggling away, working eighteen hours a day and still living seven or eight thousand dollars below the poverty line.

This is an obvious disincentive to success as it is presently defined by someone else, who in my particular case, has no idea of what they’re actually fucking talking about.

This is why I make political statements on behalf of Ontario’s seven hundred and fifty thousand disabled people from time to time.

I will probably keep on doing it.

Because someone has to do it.

It’s called character, ladies and gentlemen.

It’s a real good word when you think about it.


I’m not ungrateful for the pension. It’s just that certain improvements might be made. The pension is meant to provide for certain living expenses. It is subsistence, nothing more. This is all it was ever meant to be, and that much is understood. It is also a guarantee of a lifetime of poverty, with all of its attendant issues of quality of life, not to mention increased health-care costs to a system already overburdened by an aging and quite frankly sedentary population.

Thank you for reading.