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As a reader I value the written words of others. As a writer, I value them so much more because other writers can set the bar higher for quality fiction. That’s not to say that quality is defined by sell price of a work. Quality is defined by the intrinsic value of a work. If a writer should decide to sell their work for little or nothing and is an example of quality writing then the value becomes one of inspiration, of artistic expression, of creativity.

One of my favorite writers is Simon Hayes, the masterfully humorous writer of the Hal Spacejock series. Witting and faithful to the genre of good science-fiction, his books are something certainly worth holding onto. The reread value is up there as well.

Hayes is a great example of quality over “value”. As a self-published writer, he has found the balance between selling yourself (since that inherently what an author does) without cheapening yourself.           

What do I mean? Any given day on Amazon you can find one of his works selling between “free” and $7.99 (for a full set) of Kindle e-books. I have several volumes of the Spacejock series and haven’t paid more than $3.99 for any one of them. In fact, I’ve downloaded at least two without paying a cent.

But what’s this have to do with the “devaluation” of fiction? With only two exceptions that I can find of his works, all are full novels. Not novellas, not serials, not short stories sold piece-meal.

Granted, they are not Robert Jordan-esque, weighing in at roughly 350 pages versus the nearly 1,000 pages Jordan and others are known for.

So if we’re to compare these two in volume versus dollar, well the better deal is Jordan hands-down as one of his Wheel of Time volume sells for around $6 on Kindle as compared to say, $3 for 400 pages. I’ll let you figure the math but the verdict is obvious.

Maybe.

This is by no means an “apples to apples” example. Jordan’s works are dense with subplots, character development and description. Hayes’ are filled with wit and humor, often tongue-in-cheek, as well as singular general plot with minor subplots.

One can read Hal Spacejock in a few enjoyable hours without feeling you’ve wasted the time. Reading The Eye of the World requires devotion and hour upon hour of dedicated time to achieve completion.

Now, there are hundreds, no – thousands of authors popping up on Amazon. In one way, Amazon has given the unknown author, the starving artist as it were, a place to debut their work and just maybe amend their income with a few royalties. Some even break-out and become stars for a time; their works becoming bestsellers and a modicum of fame being attributed to their name.

But, before you rush out and submit your awesome story about an unpredictable hero committing an awe-inspiring feat that leaves your reader breathless, count the cost.

Here’s what you are now up against – the novella, the serial, and the short story or “excerpt.”

Yes, these, wooing readers with the incredible “value” buys of little to nothing seduce readers into thinking they’ve gained a quality work without impacting on the coin in their pocket.

This is not to say that some of these aren’t quality works, but one feels duped to start into a great story only to find out that it’s just the introduction.

Picture this; you want to buy a cake, a cake that is tasty, memorable, beautiful to look at, stores well in case there are leftovers and is just the right size for you.

You walk through the door of the bakery and begin to browse the selections and are amazed at the dozens of types and sizes. One particular cake catches your eye and you ask the baker for a taste. The baker tells you this one isn’t available for sampling but the one next to, very similar in size, shape, color, etcetera is. The baker plucks a fork from a container and cuts out a bite size piece and hands it to you.

It’s good. Maybe not “move the earth” good, but it’s good. You could see curling up on the couch with a cup of tea or coffee and enjoying this cake. Yes, you want it. And telling the baker such, they hand you a tub the size of a mug of coffee. What’s this? It’s the frosting, just the frosting. Why? Well, the baker tells you, the cake doesn’t come like you see it; you have to put it together. Oh, and that tub of frosting, while smooth and sweet, costs just a fraction less than another cake you see that is sold complete and ready to eat – no preparation needed. Just a fork and a good place to eat.

What do you do? Pay for the top layer, then the bottom, then the Non Pareils, etc. By the time you’ve assemble everything to make a complete cake, it cost more than the cake next to it sold complete. And the taste? Well does it taste any better if you have to put it together to get the complete experience?

Get the picture.

Ok, so maybe I’m being a little critical. There are establish writers that are employing the mode of serial writing to reach a broader base and because it may be a form they’ve never tried before. Fine. But I’d bet my left big toe that they’ve already plotted out the entire story before building it in serial form. Not so for so many others.

And what about the short stories and novellas being sold in the guise of a good read? Yeah, maybe they are a good read, just like a candy bar can be a good snack, but that doesn’t make it the meal you were looking for, something to make you feel satisfied.

The concept has the appearance of being “smart” and “appealing” but really, isn’t it cheating those whom writers rely on for their bread-n-butter – readers? I feel cheated. Too many times I’ve started into what seemed a good story only to be left hanging and asking for more while I’ve have to give a little more blood to get a taste a little more cake.

This is where I weigh in … I am a writer and a reader. I understand the value of a good story from the perspective of sales and making a living. And I understand the value of a good story worth hanging onto to read again and again and the emotional investment that comes with each read.

I am not ok with the proverbial carrot (or in the case from above – cake) being dangled in front of good honest readers looking for a good honest story only to be disappointed because some “author” has decided to capitalize on their reader’s manufactured curiosity.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to be a writer that sets themselves apart from the pack because of the quality and intrinsic value of their work when so many second-class writers are trying to capitalize on the idea of a good story without following through.

If you want a make a worthy dollar, rather than a quick nickel, prove it! Write with all your heart and show the craft for what it’s mean to be – a beautiful, creative venue for incredible works of written art. Anyone can to the quick and dirty method with nothing more than a general grasp of writing and mediocre idea. What makes the break-outs, the bestsellers, the top authors who they are is the time, the care, and the qualitythe intrinsic value of their work. Because they believe in it, in their writing, in their ideas, their characters and their readers! Great writers know that without readers with a discerning eye, they are no better than the myriad of other pulp-fiction writers using crude and crass methods or subjects to sell their word. The “greats” are set apart because they have faith, trust, that you the reader, can tell what’s worth reading, worth owning.

Amazon isn’t so much at fault unless you consider they’ll allow anybody to print just about anything, regardless of taste or content. I’m not saying they should start shutting these serial-mongering writers out, but rather than the writers and readers show start dispensing judicious monitoring of those types. Use the “star-rating” to knock them off their perch with honest and tactful critiques of not just the content but the quality of the work. Not to mention the subversive manner in which they flood the market.

For comparison sake, consider paperback vs. e-book.  Paperback books don’t (usually) come in serial format. And novellas aren’t commonplace either. Short stories come in volumes with many contributing authors or a single author with numerous shorts. The “paperback model” should be the gold standard for e-books. If you wouldn’t print it on paper because A) it’s too expensive to print lots of little works in lieu of one complete volume or B) it doesn’t pay because the competition would drive the price down to the point of turning the works into paper rags, then don’t make it an e-book! It hurts the economy of fictional works. It hurts the readers and it hurts true talented authors who have to compete with dozens of mediocre, quick-turn writers.

Return the days of quality writing by promoting intrinsically valuable, quality works. Dispense with the “quick buy – quick read” mentality and invest yourself in a truly good story, no matter the sell price, and then spread the word. Only then can we retake the market of good fiction and reestablish an economy of valuable fiction.

 

                 

A Return to the Pen

Too long. My time away from writing has been too long. Not for lack of ideas. They are frequent and plentiful.

Too many ideas perhaps and few that remain after shaking out the basics of plots and themes. But, un-begun as they are, they wait in line for what has already been finished but never finalized.

I finished by first novel...when? A year ago? Two? I honestly cannot recall the date. Even the excitement that I felt, the relief is a distant foggy memory.

But now, the creative forces that drove the first book to its completion are throbbing to be released again and standing in their way is "Twinky."

I've debated with friends and loved-ones over the route best suited to publishing. I've even had a cursory edit performed. But regardless of the route, one thing is certain, an object in motion stays in motion and my "object" has stopped, impinged by the lack of decision.

Thus, I will set fire to the fuse and, for better or worse, I will watch as this project either explodes in a spectacular display of colorful criticism or fizzle in a wisp of smoke as "dud" is pronounced.

My research into the publishing avenues have led me to Amazon and Kickstarter. Thus, with a little further research I will be establishing a Kickstarter project to fund "Twinky's" transformation to a printed paper-bound tome from it's current ethereal existence. Or should I say, virtual.

I realize there is a bit of a compensation or reward system inherent in Kickstarter, and that poses a slight hurdle. What do I offer? Signed copies - certainly. Additional materials like a personally bound, unofficially self-published book of poetry? A poster of the novel's cover?

Ideas a bound, but what are they worth?  This I will have to determine as I delve deeper into the birth of this first work.

Until then, stay tuned. When things are set, I will let the curtain drop and we will be off, racing to see "Twinky" finally realized!

My father is an alcoholic. Or rather in "remission." They say once an addict, always an addict. It's whether you act on it or not that determines if you're currently an addict or not.

His body is failing, like so many rusty supports on a battled scarred bridge. The heat and strain of fighting (and falling to) alcoholic has torn his kidneys, his liver to bits. And that's the easy part. Treatment is still feasible, if he were willing.

He's not.

See, my parents have succumbed to the void of communication that addiction and it's affliction brings. They've separated. Rather, Mom has moved out; to the advice of a friend, a mentor, a man.
Regardless, she made the decision, his advice or not. She packed her bags and moved to the city.

The only thing that keeps them civil is their grandchild. Joint baby-sitting, once a week. Conversation hovers around the weather, the change of seasons, the banal. Anything but their common misery.

My father is too ill to leave the house most days, preferring to remain cooped up before the television in a house that is crumbling about his ears. He has but one friend, one mediator.

I'm not him.

Clark keeps him from toppling, from completely breaking from his moorings. Everyone else, anyone else gets the cold, hard breath of bitterness. His own son even feels the bite, and I am removed from the tragedy by a ten hour drive and three states.

He's changed. I've read descriptions of the beaten, the downtrodden, the lost as "shells of themselves." How true, horribly true.
He's a carapace of resentment spiked with shards of guilt, remorse, woundings beyond consolation. Maybe her leaving would have staved the onslaught of contempt, of anger and wild accusations. Maybe...

He lost his job some months ago. Unemployment ran out. His D.U.I. makes him a marked man, unhire-able by any reputable company. What residual income he has from early retirement, pension, only covers the mortgage, the basic needs. Even utilities are too much some months.

See, addiction's maw is hanging wide, and he is delectable. The perfect morsel of grief and hatred, marinated in bitterness. Excuse the self-deception. Excuse the defeated willingness to survive. Excuse the determinate heart and it's confounding passion to not die. The blame falls to the silver-tongued ogre that fed his wife a poisoned lie wrapped in the comforting thought of personal survival.

The anger has smoldered and now roars. Even as friendly, though pitying hands reach in aid, venom and acid are the greetings they receive.

That was then.

Something changed. Maybe a failing liver and an expiration date changed his outlook. Maybe he was forced to face the inevitable. Maybe his heart was finally beginning to heal. His liver won't. Well, at least not much. The doctor's pushing for a transplant. Says he's a good candidate. He says he's not. He an alcoholic. They don't fix alcoholics that way.

He lost the house. It became too much for him, for my mom, for anyone. The doors are locked and the rooms are mostly empty save for a few odd pieces of furniture and stuff. And memories. So many lifetimes of memories. My mom can't bear to even drive by the place. It's all grown over from unkempt flower gardens and abundant weeds. The pool is brown and the pond stagnant.
My dad's shop looks as if it was looted. All the good tools split between friends and family. Mostly friends.

His apartment is more than enough for him, but it's up a small flight of stairs. He gets winded every two steps he takes. The toll of cirrhosis. But there's a small group of people starting to flock around him. He's feeding them. Literally, in some cases. Loaves of banana bread because it gives him something to do and purpose.

That's the change. He's found purpose. Maybe not the star life he always thought he'd attain, but purpose nonetheless. He's weak and dying and he's a pillar for others to lean on.

Some how God brought it around.   

The call came mid afternoon. I could barely talk. I left silent as a mute and shaky as a leaf in the wind. I expected it. I prepared myself. So I thought. Every day I knew that could be the day. The last day. But somewhere there is always that thought that you'll have the chance to say what you've always wanted to say but never did. That thought that there's always one more minute, one more chance. There wasn't.

My mind raced through all the things I was going to say like my car raced down the highway. I don't remember stopping or even slowing down. I don't remember how I got home, but I the moment my foot crossed the threshold...

They don't tell what to expect. They couldn't if they tried. They can't prepare you for the raw pain, the sheer agony of the loss. They can't.

I called his phone. Just to hear his voice one last time. My mom called me asking if I was alright. Why had I called his phone? Am I ok?

Was I? NO. How could I be? None of us were. No. One of us was. He was. He found his place. Maybe later then he would have liked. Maybe different than he expected. But he was there.

I know blame flits in and out of one's mind at times like these. Tries to justify the hurt you feel by saying it's their his fault for dying or her fault for letting him. Then it tries to back-stab you and say it's your fault for not trying harder, not doing enough, not saying the right things.

It's not. There is no one to blame. My Dad may not have been the greatest. But he was good. He may not have had all the answers. But he the ones he had made a difference. He may not have also done what was right. But he never came down on you for doing something wrong. And he may not have understood why God allowed all of this to happen and why he never got better. But he knew what it meant to be a man of low-reputation and still loved by his Father above.

We didn't always see eye to eye. But we never let our anger, our differences, our bull-headedness separate us. I forgave him. He forgave me. And we knew it. Like how only forgiven people can know it.

September 24th is the day he passed. One year on the day. There's hardly a day that goes by that I don't think about the advice his given and what he might give if he still could. I've had to figure somethings out on my own that I know he would have shown me in a pinch. And there's a few things that I've fumbled through that he'd probably straighten me out on. Like he did with his little group.

I'm not jealous. I understood. He had purpose. From the very beginning, it was innate. He just couldn't see for all the stuff that kept getting in the way. The stuff of the corporate ladder and the Jones's. The sticky stuff of worry and doubt and hurt.

That's how they found him, his little group. They recognized he'd climbed the ladder and fallen off. And that, that was o.k. Not the why. Not even the how. But the what. What mattered was what you did with it. Bottling it up or downing it with a bottle made no difference. What you do doesn't make who you are.

He came to understand that Christ's death on the cross didn't make Him our savior.  Christ being our savior is what made his death our salvation.

My Dad learned that he was someone unique. Someone special. Not special to look at or even talk to. But he just was. He was because God made him that way. And though he may have squandered it, taken it for granted, even denied it, he was who he was regardless of how he tried to be.

I learned that before he died. But it wasn't until today that I could get it all out without breaking into pieces. And still, those pieces are strewn all throughout this writing. A bit here, a bit there. Some marked with joy, others with tears. Some with regret and others with gratitude.

In his last days he may have burned a few bridges. He may have felt the burn of the falling embers and choked on the drifting ash. But still, he understood, he knew he was made for something. Something worthy though he felt unworthy. Something bigger than himself though he felt smaller than ever. He knew his Jesus. Though he may not have understood Him or His ways, he knew HE would be right there through the end and beyond. And that bridge, as hard as it was to see him cross it, was one he was ready to see the other side of. And one day, I'll hear the stories he never got to tell me and the things we never got to say.

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