Tacky the Penguin!

Tacky the Penguin. What a great book. What a great series! I was initially introduced to these books by the fact I have small children. Otherwise, I would’ve gone my merry way through life, unaware of Tacky and his escapades.

Isn’t it interesting how marriage and having children can impact your life in so many amazing ways? I don’t understand these career professional types who decide not to have children in order to make more money, go on vacation more often, advance, etc. Advance? Where to? Is there some kind of mysterious cosmic chess game going on that I’m not privy to?

Once you advance to wherever you want to advance to, what happens then? Do the bananas taste better? Does your hair fall out slower or not at all? That would be a great epitaph. “He advanced sufficiently so that his hair stopped thinning.”

What a guy.

These days, I’d be happy to get my smallest ruffian to advance to potty training. Now that’s advancement I can believe in. Or change I can believe in. Whichever word works for you.

Anyway.

Tacky the Penguin is currently clocking in around #170,000 in the Amazon Kindle store, and around 1.8 million in the Amazon paperback store. That is a criminal shame. This book should be outselling most books for sale on Amazon (Fifty Shades of Grey, Hillary Clinton’s autobiography, that supposedly humorous book by the girl from The Office–I can’t remember her name–or any number of paleo diet cookbooks).

But, instead, what do we get? Some book about decluttering your life is at #3 on the overall best-selling charts. What? If I was given to using obscenities, I would use them now, in amazement, passion and a galactic query directed at the planet, the stars, the Oort Cloud and the Horsehead Nebulae, as well as both political parties, Leonardo di Caprio, and whoever that guy is who is supposed to be the most fascinating man in the world (the Dos Equis guy).

Why?

How?

What?

Anyway, now that I’ve dealt with my disgruntlement via the free psychology of occasionally writing in this blog, I have to say that Helen Lester and Lynn Munsinger, the author-illustrator duo behind Tacky, are geniuses. I think they’ve written 7 books in the Tacky series, as well as the standalone monument to literary perfection that is titled Wodney Wat.

They need to write more.


We will all be gone

We will all be gone some day. That means the books we enjoy will no longer be read by us. Hopefully, another generation will read them. But maybe not. I consider that thought every once a while as I’m reading a story.

“I’m reading this author’s thoughts… long after he’s dead. It’s almost a form of immortality. A shaky immortality, yes, because it depends on the interaction of the living.”

Books are little monuments that the dead leave behind. Not unlike the trunkless legs of stone Percy Shelley’s traveler found in the desert, in the poem “Ozymandias.” The stone was inscribed with the words “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” But the poem then declares that nothing but the lone and level sand stretched away in every direction.

These stories we write, they really aren’t much to leave behind. Authors like Tolkien or Tolstoy or Dickens leave behind monuments similar to the Sphinx or the Taj Mahal, but even those do not merit much attention from most people. They are slowly forgotten.

As the years pass, our stories become memories from antique lands. Remembered, then half-forgotten, then truly forgotten.

Like ourselves.


How To Write Enough Novels to Maintain Amazon Visibility

So, you wanna be a writer and make a living at it? Piece of cake. All you have to do is maintain high visibility on Amazon. To do that, you need to churn out a lot of novels every year.

I recommend 24 novels a year. All in the same series. How do you pull off such a Herculean task? Coffee. Lots of coffee.

A novel should clock in at 60,000 words minimum, depending on genre. If you’re writing epic fantasy, go higher. Anyway, for sake of discussion, we’ll go easy on you and say 60,000 words is your novel-length goal. That means you need to write only 4,000 words a day.

Let’s figure you’re drinking about a gallon of coffee a day to avoid excessive sleep. Figure 4 hours for sleep, 4 hours for random stuff (such as going to the bathroom, eating, walking the dog, paying bills, voting, patting your kids on the head, kissing your wife, etc), that leaves you with 16 hours a day for writing. That works out to only 250 words an hour.

You can do it!

30 days X 4,000 words/day = 120,0000 words, which equals 2 novels.

And there’s your novel every 15 days.

Once you get into the rhythm of churning that out, you’re good to go. Of course, you’ll need the first month to get those first two novels written, sent off to your editor, get your cover artist going. Then, in the second month, you write the third and fourth novels but also get the first two novels back from your editor, final polish, publish. Repeat repeat repeat.

This is a sure-fire way to achieve visibility on Amazon, always have a couple titles in the 30-day new release window, snowball sales, etc. If you find this method is not working, you should consider upping the ante: go for 48 novels a year, or something like that.

Of course, your marriage might suffer a bit. You might develop some coffee-related diseases, and your cat might take a strange dislike to you. But those are the fortunes of authorship.


Gone Wrong

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Here’s my latest song. Gone Wrong. My usual cheery perspective on the world. I have to say, issues of moodiness aside, writing and recording music is just about the most enjoyable thing. Much more fun than base-jumping off the Empire State World.

Anyway, Gone Wrong is part of my Skypilot project. Typical guitars, bass, drums, layered vocals. A good friend of mine, Rene Astorga, added the synthesizer.


Fifty Shades of Werewolf Bureaucracy

I must admit bias on the topic of a certain kind of urban fantasy, the werewolf and vampire category. Typically, those stories involve a werewolf or a vampire strutting around and doing his stuff. I find little of interest in them, and have often wondered why so many readers are devoted to those stories.

I have a theory, thought up in the last couple of weeks. It’s a political theory. Why political? For those of you who don’t know me, I come from a farming family in California and currently work on that farm. Farming in California is highly politicized. There’s no way to escape it. Water is dominated by politics, as is labor, air quality, organic issues, GMOs, land use regulations, species issues, nitrates, run-off, etc.

Therefore, like the old cogito ergo sum proposition of Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am,” one might say of California farmers: “agricola ego sum, ergo sum politicam.”

Anyway, given the fact that almost a majority of Americans are on the public dole in one form or another (food stamps, aid for dependent children, section 8 housing, Obamacare, etc), it follows that they need to be taken care of by government. Government is their alpha werewolf or dominant vampire. Therefore, that’s the kind of story they like to read. It is their story, whether they read it or live it. Vicariously living a story where your life is run by a dominant vampire is probably a bit more exciting than actually living a story where your life is run by a grey, impersonal bureaucracy sending you checks every month.

I know, I know. It’s a bit of a stretch, but it is something. It also explains the ridiculous appeal of all those bondage submission Fifty Shades of Grey whatnot, as well as all the various Billionaire’s Maid or Desperate for the Billionaire books.

That’s all for today. Carry on.


Selective Deafness

I’ve noticed that having small children is making me go deaf. Not because of their screaming and yelling and shrieking and toppling over of tall wooden block towers and stomping about the house like small elephants, even though they do all five incessantly. Heck, if they had access to dynamite, they’d be blowing things up in the backyard everyday merely to enjoy the noise. No, I’ve noticed that I choose to go deaf because they talk so much. My eldest is practicing to be an auctioneer. He rattles off speech like the sun gives off light. Endless, powerful, fast. So I choose to be deaf.

This is a bad choice on my part because it results in some miscommunication. My sons say one thing. I, due to being selectively deaf and not paying attention, hear something else. A typical conversation goes something like this:

Son #1 (what I hear): Dad, I’d like to devote my life to taking care of the poor. Mostly unwashed minority lepers, probably.

Me: Sounds good.

Son #1: (what he actually said): Dad, I’m going to borrow your skillsaw and cut a new doorway for my room. Two new doors, probably.

Me: Sounds good.

Son #2: (what I hear): Dad, can I practice piano for two hours today, followed by several hours of Latin memorization?

Me: Okay.

Son #2: (what he actually said): Dad, can we sell Tobi to the gypsies and then use the money to buy a Deathstar Lego set?

Me: Okay.

Thankfully, Son #3 doesn’t really talk much yet, other than monosyllabic shouts and bouts of deliberate burping (the wonder of free will at work). This latter behavior of his causes his brothers to scream with laughter. Which can be rather loud.

So, being deaf really isn’t a bad thing. Though, when they reach their teen years, I suppose I’ll have to sharpen my hearing.


Cheery Christmas Carols

I tend to write more frequently on my Facebook page than this blog, perhaps as an antidote to all the posts about what people ate for breakfast (bagel, wheatgerm, steamed kale, etc), what their amazing cat just did (slept), or how their kid is doing in school (was awarded Student of the Month, mostly for not beating anyone up or stealing other kids’ ritalin).

Anyway, as you know, my humor trends dark (which allows the light to shine brighter). Below is a reprint from a recent Facebook post.

A MODERN CHRISTMAS CAROL

(with culinary and musical undertones)

Holidays were always tense at the Pudding household. Particularly in the evening when carolers came to sing at their front door.

“Is the door locked?” said Mrs. Pudding to Mr. Pudding.

“Yes,” he said, and he glanced at the 12-gauge leaning next to the couch.

“I wish they wouldn’t sing that carol,” muttered their daughter Figgy.

The last few notes faded away outside with a final repeat of “we won’t go until we get some, so bring it out here.” The Pudding family sat in rigid silence, listening to the soft sound of scratching and scrabbling at the door. Finally, there was only silence.

“Damn zombies,” grumbled Mr. Pudding.


fantasy and a child’s point of view

Children see the world in such a profoundly different way than us adults. Most children. And most adults.

My three boys are still young. And with that youth they still have a clarity of eye in how they see life. They enjoy it. They’re delighted by it, surprised and pleased by it. They take a great deal of pleasure in simple things that most adults would not even bother noticing.

Life is still magical for them. I suppose it won’t be for long, and that’s a melancholy thought. But, for now, I can see their eyes light up over the smallest and oddest things. For instance, the other day I think I randomly mentioned the idea of cats secretly baking pastries at night (or something equally silly–silly from my adult perspective). They laughed uproariously at this, but, in a certain way, they took it seriously as well. I could see the wheels turning in their heads as they considered the idea of Duster (our cat) silently and sneakily baking croissants and bear claws in the kitchen at 2 in the morning.

I’ve realized lately, considering the perspective of my boys, and the sheer joy they get from that perspective, that the fantasy genre offers the same possibility. The possibility of a new perspective. Of joy in seeing things afresh again. Of seeing the world’s first day, of new vistas and quests and danger met cheerfully. Worlds beyond worlds.

Oh, yes, I know there’s plenty of anarchic, nihilist fantasy out there these days. More and more, I suppose, popularized by George Martin’s Game of Thrones series, and copy-catted ever since in dreary, factory output. Conveyor belts of the stuff coming through Amazon.

But I’m not talking about that kind of fantasy. I’m talking about Tolkien and Lewis and Chesterton. Patricia Mckillop’s Riddlemaster trilogy, Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series. I’d humbly include my Tormay trilogy in that tradition as well. Certainly not as one of the greats, of course, but with that same peek through the window at the world’s first day.

Unless you become like children, right? They’re the ones who still have a worthwhile way to look at things these days (not if they’re already preoccupied by that dreadful nitwit Miley Cyrus or glued to their iPhone or whatever, but you know what I mean), and, I suspect, that’s why fantasy as a genre has something going for it that you really can’t find in other genres. Not often, at least.

Some of you reading this might think I’m babbling like a soft-minded fool. That’s alright. Others of you might understand. If you do, well, think on it for yourself for a while. Promise me that.


The power of words and Brookside Chocolate

A chocolate commercial? I’ll explain…

Not so long ago, in a fit of exuberance fueled by Brookside Chocolate, I wrote a review on Amazon about said chocolate. I don’t often write reviews, primarily because I’m loathe to review books as a writer (it can have bad, unintended consequences). When I do write reviews, they’re of other things, such as chocolate.

Anyway, to my surprise, the Brookside marketing people contacted me one day and asked if they could quote part of my review in some marketing material. I said, yes, of course. Why wouldn’t I? They make a good product. My review ended up in a TV spot.

This summer, Brookside contacted me again and asked me if I wouldn’t mind being in one of their commercials. I said, yes, of course! I’m not one for being on-camera (I don’t even like being in still photos), but Brookside is a good cause.

Anyway, a camera team showed up at my house several weeks ago and filmed here and there. They spent some time on our main ranch and then filmed some bits in front of my house with me and their main actor (George, the chocolate delivery man). That commercial is live now, and is the one at the top of this post. Rather fun, and I think they did an excellent job.

So, if you’re interested in seeing me in action, take a look. That’s the front of my house at the end, of course. Built in 1890 and still standing, regardless of California earthquakes. And, yes, they did give me one hundred pounds of chocolate. The commercial is part of a promotion they’re doing–an actual contest to win 100 lbs of chocolate (you know you want to enter!).

Creatives being creative. I have to say, the folks at Brookside have inspired me to get back to writing.