Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"Serial Killer" - Flash Fiction

by Kathleen Powers-Vermaelen

The punk behind the register snorted when Dave dropped his grocery bag. Dave picked it up and looked the chain-wearing youth in the eye. "What's your name?" he asked.

"Rick Stone," the kid said. "Why?"

Dave left the store without replying.

That night, Dave wrote a graphic short story about the murder and dismemberment of a teenaged punk named Rick Stone.

Thursday evening, he read it to his writers' group. The newest member was the first one to comment. "Sounds like you're struggling with some adolescent angst," she said.

"What's your name again?" Dave asked.

First published in Beginnings, Spring 2004, p. 12. Accompanying image courtesy of Ambro/

Friday, November 29, 2013

To Indie Publish or Not - That is the Question

Go easy, cousin.
To indie publish, or not to indie publish--
that is the question:                          
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The rejections and apathy
of traditional publishing                         
Or rebel against its sea of dismissals
And by publishing oneself end them...*

I admit that I've been somewhat seduced by the idea of indie-publishing for a long while now. Articles such as this one, which my friend Sande shared on Facebook a while back, only fan the flames.

I finished The Devil's Belt, my novel about life on British-occupied Long Island during the American Revolution, back in 2010. I have been submitting (sporadic) query letters since that time, but the response has been lukewarm. "Revolutionary War fiction is hard [to sell] right now," explained one agent to whom I pitched the book at the Historical Novel Society Conference back in June of this year. Civil War fiction has seen a bump in popularity due to its sesquicentennial anniversary, but the next American Revolutionary War anniversary (250th) is thirteen years away. Those who know me best could tell you with authority that I've never been that patient.

So, do I or don't I?

A number of factors are in favor of taking this publishing bull by its horns. First, a traditional book has approximately three weeks either to make enough of a splash to command a second print-run or to simply sink, becoming one of those discounted copies found on bookstores' remainder tables. Indie-publishing sidesteps this time-sensitivity issue; a print-on-demand book is always available, as it takes up no space on a bookstore shelf and can be produced/downloaded at will. Additionally, authors are freed from having to appease traditional gatekeepers in order to have their work published; the middle-men (agent, editor, etc.) are eliminated from the process and the payroll. It's a brave new world for writers, who have more opportunity now than ever before to get their work to market--regardless of how "tough" the demographics may be--and into the hands of appreciative readers.

On the other hand, many of the indie books I've purchased seem only half-baked. Authors are so eager to get their work to market that they aren't taking the time needed to make sure the work is truly ready for publication. Many are rife with rookie writing mistakes and underdeveloped plots; I'd estimate that more than half are poorly edited/proofread. Popular book review sites heralded as the new gatekeepers of indie quality aren't foolproof; stellar reviews written by authors' friends have coaxed me into buying a number of unremarkable books. Each time I hit the "Back" button on my Kindle before reaching the end of a story, I am reminded of the value inherent in the traditional gatekeeping structure.

On occasion, however, I do find a real gem among the rocks. Will we look back at certain indie-published books in fifty years the way we look back now at James Joyce's Ulysses, amazed that the author of such genius had to take matters into his own hands and self-publish? I have no doubt that history will repeat itself in that way. It often does.

I've been invited to read excerpts of my novel at a couple of venues now. After each reading, I'm approached by people who want to know when and where they can buy the book. When I explain that I haven't found a publisher yet, they groan and ask me why I don't just publish it myself. Good question. The answer is that I'm mired in self-doubt. Despite years of revisions, I still worry that my novel is lacking in some essential way. How do I know that the story is truly ready to go? Interest from an agent or editor would validate that it's ready to be published.

So, should I step up my efforts and continue trying to land a traditional publishing deal? Or should I strike out on my own and get my characters out of the desk drawer?

Tell me your opinion in the comments below.

* with consummate apologies to my possible kinsman, William Shakespeare

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Better Late Than Never

"So, when are you launching your author's blog?" my good friend, Janet Berg, asked during our last writers' get-together, an evening replete with fine wine, good food, raucous laughter, and the occasional poem or flash fiction piece thrown in for good measure.

"I'm working on it," I replied, and although the use of adverbs is against my religion, sheepishly could well have followed that second verb. I created this blog back in March 2012. Until today, I had not made a single post.

That's over eighteen months of avoidance. Count 'em. Eighteen.

This failure-to-launch could be rationalized using a common excuse: I've been busy. Since creating this blog, I've started teaching English at two different colleges on top of running the creative services business I started in 2011. Additionally, I'm working on several personal writing projects at any given time. Finally, I'm a wife and mother, so one can figure out where my free time goes first. I have been, without a doubt, insanely busy. Pretending that this is why I haven't launched this blog until now, however, would be disingenuous.

The truth is that I had no idea how to begin. Too many writers' blogs start off sounding like an AA meeting: "Hi, my name is Kathleen, and I'm a writer." One can well imagine the groaning. Other bloggers just jump right in, as if they've always been there and will always be. I grappled with the temptation to do that--just show up all of a sudden, maybe with commentary on some controversial matter--but that didn't feel right either. I wanted to figure out a real and genuine way to wade in.

Writing for my other blog, Finding Mary Cordial, is easy. Presently, it focuses on giving genealogical research tips. Previously, it catalogued my own search for my ancestors. Writing that was just a matter of retelling the tale, starting at the beginning. Perhaps my hesitation to begin this blog sprang from not having a sense of exactly how it would go or how it will end. I'm one of millions of writers online, just another drop in an already overflowing bucket. Blogging is different than writing fiction or poetry. Do I really have anything to say about being a writer that's worth reading?

But then I think about Janet, who has been fearless in embracing self-promotion. "It sucks," she wrote in a recent email, "but it has to be done." Word. Nowadays it's a necessary evil. The old model, in which publishers promoted writers so as to sell more books and make more money, is rapidly falling away. "Indie publishing" has arrived, and the publishing industry struggles with the five stages of grief while making the necessary adjustments. Writers may have far less help promoting themselves as a result, but they also have far more options. I've always held the opinion that too many options are better than too few. It's time to begin exploring them.

So, this inaugural blog post is dedicated to Janet, who blogs at Writing In My Sleep. She shamed me into launching (finally), even if she didn't mean to do so. It's about time and for my own good. So thank you, Janet. I've just officially launched.

Image courtesy of winnond /