Category: publishing


It’s con season, as noted over on the Generations Geek blog. I will be at CONvergence over the Fourth of July weekend and at Shore Leave the weekend of July 15. Cons are a weird experience for me. Although I’ve been a sci-fi geek essentially my entire life, cons were not a big deal for me for decades. I think part of that is because I grew up in northern Minnesota, far from any conventions. Combine that with my neuroses around crowds and strangers and places I haven’t been before—imagine that, a neurotic writer!—and you can see why I wasn’t rushing out to cons even after I moved to the Twin Cities, where there are many wonderful cons. But then I started being a writer guest at Shore Leave, thanks to Star Trek fiction. For years, Shore Leave was the only con I regularly attended, halfway across the country, even though there were lots of cons in my own backyard. Finally, a few years ago, I started going to CONvergence as a writer guest, and I’ve grown quite fond of it. But cons are still roller coasters for me, full of ego boosts, awkward social interactions, reunions with old friends, and crowd-induced claustrophobia. So if you ever meet me at a con and I look a bit skittish, like a dog during a thunderstorm, give me a moment, my mood will soon swing back the other way!

Still not really talking about what I’m not talking about: Star Trek fan films. Trek fandom has been biting its own tail for months about this, and with the fan film guidelines CBS and Paramount have recently released, it’s gotten worse. I’m not going to rehash the whole story here. If you’re a fan you already know it; if you’re not, well, neither of us has the time or energy to go over the history. But I’m in the middle on this. I’ve watched and enjoyed fan films. I’ve considered writing for them, but never did. But, as a writer, I’m also big on intellectual property. And I’ve written official Star Trek fiction, published by Simon & Schuster—which, according to the guidelines, disqualifies me from working on a fan film. I don’t take that personally, but I was never really invested in the idea in the first place. Which brings me back to why I haven’t been talking about this. I know people on both sides of the issue, people who totally support the studio’s point of view and people who are deeply invested in fan films either as viewers or creators. Online debates have been intense, and there have been people on both sides who have—I like to give the benefit of the doubt and assume in the heat of the moment—veered off into regrettable personal attacks. The whole situation saddens me. It’s the fiftieth anniversary year of the franchise we all love, and instead of wholehearted celebration, there is instead an atmosphere of taking sides. No matter how many justifiable fingers can be pointed in either direction, the end result is disheartening.

It’s a good thing I’ve got that degree in how to be a freelancer in the new world of publishing. Oh, wait, that never happened. I really don’t think anyone in the industry really knows what they’re doing. Not in a bad way, like, “That guy is driving the wrong way on a one-way street,” but more like, “Uh . . . is this the detour? Is this even a road? Why have all the street signs been painted over?” So you’ve got a lot of people—writers and editors from beginners to pros alike—just trying to keep moving forward, but the rules keep changing, and the game board, instead of being a proper map, is just a white board anyone can erase and redraw with the full conviction that people on the internet seem to have about anything. All I want to do is write my little stories, get them out there for people to read, and somehow make a fair amount of money to pay the bills. That was hard enough in olden days when publishing was a relatively straightforward business that followed the same traditions it always had. Nowadays, on the frontier of e-books and print on demand, when big publishers are buying up self-publishing businesses like farm teams, it’s hard to know what to think. So I just keep on writing my little stories, and I try to get some printed traditionally and self-publish others, and I’ll see where it takes me. Check out my author page on Amazon, where you can see them all. (In theory. It’s kind of buggy. Because it’s not like a little site like Amazon has the resources to . . . oh, wait.)

I’m No. 1[,289,791]!

51JTLaVVaTL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_Back at my old day job as an editor for Zenith Press, I would sometimes have authors call with concern about their Amazon ranking. “I was at X just last week, now I’m at X-1,245,619. What happened? What can we do?” My stock answer was to explain that no one really knows the algorithms Amazon uses to kick out those rank numbers. I had a joke to go with it, if the author seemed in the mood for it: “I think there’s just a big room with numbers on the floor, and a chicken walks through the room and wherever it poops, that’s your Amazon ranking.”

My opinion hasn’t changed much over the years. Exult in good numbers, it’s fun, but try not to get to hung up on the bad ones, because what the hell do they really mean? Let’s take a look at one of my little efforts, “The Squid that Came to Phil’s Basement,” a humorous Lovecraft pastiche. It was originally published in Space and Time Magazine in 2014, and I recently made it available as a Kindle Single. I’ve done almost no promotion for it, just a Tweet here and there, some Facebook posts, some earlier blog posts. I don’t exactly have millions of followers, so these things don’t reach a large audience.

For the week of 5/22, my average rank in e-books was #1,289,791. That was up 30% from a month ago, when it was at 1,841,556, but down 25% from last week at 1,034,844. But if we drill down into some niches, like, say, horror comedy, then my ranking skyrockets to #515. Huge leap, right? But there’s only about 1,600 titles in that category, putting me low in the top third. Could be worse, but, hey, I’m in the top third! But wait . . . how many sales gets me in the top third of horror comedy e-books? Let me check my sales for the week of 5/22 and . . . oh. Nada. Zip. Goose egg. I didn’t sell a single copy of “Squid” the week I was 515th of 1,626. So, what, did those below me sell negative numbers? How do a bunch of books that sold nothing get assigned a specific ranking? Maybe only 514 titles actually had sales and all the rest of us were ranked at 515. I do know that one week I bought a copy myself for my iPad so I could see how the final product looked, and that week my average overall rank jumped up to somewhere around 500,000. One sale propelled me from around a 1,000,000th to 500,000th. How does that work? That’s just it. No one knows.

Or maybe there is a way to figure it out if you put in the time. But that time, like trying to understand the current presidential campaign, is better spent writing. Or reading. For example, you could all buy  and read “The Squid that Came to Phil’s Basement,” and then I could see what my Amazon sales ranking does. Just as an experiment, you understand. For a friend.

IMG_2016I’m in that weird post-con mood, somewhere between melancholy reminiscence on one hand and the joy of returning to regularly timed meals on the other. CONvergence was a blast of geek power that was both energizing and draining over four days at the DoubleTree Hotel in Minneapolis, Minnesota, just a short drive across the mighty Mississippi River from my lair in St. Paul. My daughter Ella came with, as did a friend of hers who did some mighty cosplay, five costumes in four days: Daryl from The Walking Dead, Peggy Carter from Captain America, Castiel and Dean from Supernatural, and a Hogwarts student from Harry Potter (I forget which house).

My Thursday started with attending the panel “Mainstreaming of Geekdom” on how geek culture has come into the limelight from the fringes of yesteryear. It was an interesting panel, including insightful commentary from panelist Michael R. Underwood. My first panel of the con, “Walking Dead: Comics or TV?” was next. In preparation, I read the comics from the first issue up through the issues corresponding roughly to the first half of the last season. For those who haven’t read the comics, I say “roughly” because the TV adaptation takes some diversions from the source material so it doesn’t line up exactly. The panel compared and contrasted the two versions of the story and made me excited for the upcoming season and reading more of the comics.

After a couple hours wandering around, I attended the panel “Many Faces of Dracula,” which included local horror author Joel Arnold, a friend of mine. The panel discussed many cinematic versions of the famous bloodsucker, including Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Jack Palance, Frank Langella, Gary Oldman, and more. Fun stuff.

Next I was back on stage for a Sherlock panel, focusing on the third season. We talked about what we loved and what we didn’t, touching upon Sherlock’s “return from the dead,” the fate of Moriarty, and the tone of a season that left a lot of fans divided. I left the con for a while to meet up with fellow Trek writer Bill Leisner, who kindly supplied, on consignment, a small box of the ReDeus anthologies (which we had both contributed to) for my signing the next day. After we had a bite to eat, I went back to the con for a bit and was able to drag the kids away from all the fun.

Friday kicked off with my time at the signing table. I shared the table with the super-personable Wesley Chu, who was a great guy to chat with when we weren’t talking with people dropping by the table. I sold just one book, and that was to Joel, but I had fun and did plenty of PR for my new Trek eBook, The More Things Change. Now I’ve got to get Bill’s books back to him.

Following my signing, I wandered around and stumbled into an unscheduled signing by Marina Sirtis, Deanna Troi from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I took advantage of the opportunity to give her a signed copy of The Sky’s the Limit, the TNG twentieth-anniversary anthology in which I have a story. I told her my daughter would be furious that I had met her on my own, but Marina told me to bring her back later and she would give Ella a signed photo in trade for the book I’d given her. Cool! Then we all went to Marina’s first talk at the con, a hilarious hour of snark and attitude, and then quickly got in the autograph line so Ella got to meet Marina as well. Marina commented on Ella’s friend’s Peggy Carter cosplay. Marina was laughing and smiling on stage all the time, it seemed, but every time I snapped a photo, she looked so serious, as above.

The rest of Friday night is a blur . . . I attended one panel that never quite came together, and then wandered a bit with the kids before calling it a night.

Saturday was a busy day. I had a panel right away at 9:30 in the morning, “Cartoons You Can Watch With Your Kids.” This was a lot of fun, and one of my fellow panelists was animator Greg Guler, who has worked on, among many other things, Phineas and Ferb, a favorite of ours. He had great insider stories from his years in the business.

I dropped by the signing table when it was Joel’s turn and picked up his novel Northwoods Deep. I got a little something to eat and soon was on my next panel, “The Hobbit: That Wasn’t in the Book!” We talked about the changes Peter Jackson and Co. made in adapting the book into a trilogy of films, including which additional scenes were extrapolated from Tolkien’s writings and which were made up entirely outside canon. This was held in one of the bigger rooms and was well attended. It gave me the perfect opportunity to mention Middle-earth Envisioned: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings On Screen, On Stage, and Beyond, to which I contributed a sidebar. One of my fellow panelists was David Lenander, a Tolkien scholar long active in the Rivendell Group, a local chapter of the Mythopoeic Society.

I had another panel right away, “Agents of SHIELD.” This played to a packed room, there were even people who had to stand in back. We reviewed the first season, its hits and misses, its relation to the Marvel films, and what we hope for in season two. We’d done an episode on this topic for Generations Geek, the podcast I do with Ella, so I felt well prepared, and it seemed to go well, especially with the help of publisher/writer Lee Harris as moderator. He closed the panel by saying, “If you liked this panel, I’m Lee Harris. If you didn’t, I’m Paul Cornell.”

I met up with Joel after that and went to the hotel bar for a burger, fries, and a glass of cabernet. It’s nice to have a sit-down chat with a fellow writer. We then attended a panel, “Cover Art for Your eBook,” which covered a lot of the pitfalls inexperienced self-publishers fall into when they slap together a cover and gave advice on how to do a better job. The panelists included Lee Harris. After that I called it a night.

And then it was Sunday, the last day. I started off with another 9:30 panel, “Your Child & Geekery.” We shared stories on raising geeky kids, and how we approached sharing our love of things geek with our children at various ages. Unfortunately, given the early hour on the last day of the con, the panel was sparsely attended, but it was an interesting talk nevertheless.

Following that, Ella and I were interviewed for the Skiffy and Fanty Show, a geeky podcast that was nominated for a Hugo Award earlier this year. We seemed to talk as though we knew what we were saying, and Shaun Duke and Paul Weimer were fun to talk with. I’ll post on Facebook and Twitter when I find out when our segment will become available.

That’s pretty much it. I got to talk to the eminently personable Emma Bull for a bit in the lobby, though most of her panels were scheduled opposite of mine, so I missed out on a lot of her con presence. I’ve known Emma since the early nineties when I worked at Barnes & Noble and would have her in for signings. I got to say hello to writer Paul Cornell a couple times as he dashed after his toddler in the corridor; I did a Gerry Anderson panel with him at CONvergence 2013. I introduced myself to comic book artist Christopher Jones, I’m happy to say, since I missed all his appearances as well. There’s always so much going on, there’s no way you can see it all. Also had a lovely chat with Carrie Patel, whose first novel, The Buried Life, comes out the end of July from Angry Robot.

All that remains is a shout out to all the panelists I didn’t name above and all the people at CONvergence, which is fan run, for putting on another great con. The kid and I both look forward to next year.

Here’s a little behind-the-scenes publishing info. Photo insert placement is one of the hundreds of odd little decisions I make as a book’s editor. Books aren’t simply a bound-up stack of single pages; they’re a bound-up stack of little booklets; each little booklet, called a signature, is a folded group of a certain number of pages. The number of pages per signature can be 16, 32, or 48 (or others, but these are what I deal with the most).

When a book has a photo insert, that special signature of glossy paper gets placed between the regular text signatures. At some point, a person from production will come to see me and say something like, “Where do you want the insert? The best breaks are at pages 138/139 and 234/235.” The page numbers might not match what you would expect from the signature size if the book has front matter paginated with roman numerals.

The preferred placement for an insert is usually near the middle of the book, but it’s also nice if it doesn’t break a sentence, that is if the last signature before the insert ends with a complete sentence instead of in the middle of a sentence that’s concluded after the insert. It doesn’t always work out this way. Sometimes the only clean signature break is on, say, page 48 of a 336 page book, and it would just look weird having the insert that close to the front of the book.

Under those circumstances, I’ll pick the signature break closest to the middle, but with some more preferences involved. If I have to break a sentence, fine, but I wouldn’t want to interrupt a hyphenated word. That just seems rude somehow. These are the kinds of esoteric aesthetic decisions that go into making a book. I think they help, at least subliminally, the end experience for the reader by providing a nice flow while reading.

m001343556Last August I got an email from a major textbook publisher asking for permission to reprint my story “The Mailbox” in a college textbook called Changes and Choices. This was a custom textbook with a short print run. According to the instructor/editor, students who took the course would be “better prepared for the world of work and everyday life situations in general because they have proactively thought through issues about change as they considered the readings in this text.”

Of course I was happy. Other authors in the anthology included Percy Shelley and T.S. Eliot. Holy crap, I was mixed right in with the big guns. Cool. And “The Mailbox” is a special story for me. It was my first pro sale way back in 1987, when it was picked as a Tamarack Award story in Minnesota Monthly magazine. In recent years, the annual award goes to a single story along with $10,000. Back in my day, there were several winners, and we got $500 each. That $500 helped me buy my first word processor.

I couldn’t afford a full-blown computer, so I got a Smith-Corona word processor, an electronic typewriter that plugged into a monitor and external hard drive. It had a monochrome green screen and a 3.5 inch floppy drive. The typewriter could be used on its own, like a regular typewriter, but when plugged into the hard drive and monitor it functioned like a word processor, with your typing appearing on the screen. When you printed from the hard drive, the typewriter served as the printer, so you had to feed each page in manually. It was an ungainly thing and kind of buggy, but it still made me feel like a real writer to invest in new-fangled word-processing technology. But I digress.

The permissions form had a couple things to check off: there was one place where you could check “gratis” and another for “fee.” I thought, “Well, of course I’m going to try for a fee.” I asked my boss at the day job, who’d worked in the textbook market in the past, what a per-story budget might be for something like this. He thought $300 to $500, so I figured, “What the hell,” and wrote in $500. They accepted!

But I was wondering how the heck they came across my twenty-five-year-old story published in a regional magazine. I contacted the instructor, who explained someone had brought it in when they were putting together the first edition of the anthology in the late eighties. Oh, that explains—wait, what now? First edition? Turns out “The Mailbox” had been in this anthology almost since it had first appeared in the magazine. Without my knowledge. That first edition had been published by a different textbook company, and then there was a second edition by the same publisher that was now organizing the third edition. The instructor was apologetic, but wasn’t to blame; the whole reason the college went to the textbook company in the first place was so that the company would handle permissions.

On the one hand, cool, college students have been reading my story and discussing it for nearly twenty-five years. On the other hand, this had been done in violation of my copyright, which had remained with me, not the magazine. Through the freelancer who had originally contacted me, I got in touch with the publisher’s in-house rights guy and explained I had no recollection of granting reprint permissions previously and asked for him to check his records. I also tried contacting the first edition publisher, but they never responded. The current guy turned out to be an upstanding fellow. He got back to me and apologized, owning up to the fact that when they did the second edition they contacted Minnesota Monthly, and after the magazine informed the publisher that I held the copyright and that they had no current contact info, the publisher went ahead and included my story anyway.

Acknowledging that was bad judgment on their part, he said I should obviously be compensated for the second edition, and he offered me $500 for that. I replied that that would have been a nice offer up front, but after the fact it didn’t really take care of business. During the course of our emails he had mentioned they had sold about 1,200 copies of the second edition. So I said how about you pay me $500 for the rights plus a token $1 penalty for each book sold. That would then be $1,700 for the second edition and $500 for the third edition. He countered rounding down to an even $2,000 for both. “Done,” I said.

So, for a twenty-five-year-old story, and without paying any lawyer fees, I negotiated myself a $2,000 paycheck. I’m quite happy with that, and I’m not pursuing the first edition publisher any more, because it’s not really worth my time. The odds of getting anything out of them is slim, and how much could I possibly get, anyway? My boss told me I’d outdone myself on getting as much as I did, and I think he’s right. Now I’m waiting for my copy of the textbook, which I also requested. That’ll be nice on the bookshelf.

[Update: the publisher never sent me a copy of the book!]

Had a great signing for Writes of Spring tonight at a Barnes & Noble. That link is to buy from B&N, but if you live in the Twin Cities and feel like picking up a copy, please consider popping into Once Upon a Crime Mystery Bookstore, the Raven-Award-winning independent bookstore behind the anthology.

Even though there were about seventeen of us contributors, we managed to pull in an audience that outnumbered us. It’s always a shame when the audience is so small the writers could beat them up. Judging by the number of books I signed for people, we also sold a fair number of copies.

As soon as I arrived in the store, I had checked the shelves for Shattered Light, the Star Trek: Myriad Universes anthology I’m in. There was one copy on the shelf, so I grabbed it and plopped it down on the table in front of me when I sat down. I figured there might be one person in the audience like myself who reads both mysteries and Trek, and maybe I’d bag a sale.

We all said a few words about our stories in Writes of Spring, then got down to signing books for people. As the crowd began to thin out, a guy came up to the table and spotted Shattered Light. He tapped the cover. “This is your story in here?” I told him that it was. I was thinking, Cool, I’m going to sell a copy of Shattered Light at a mystery event! He leaned in a bit. “Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”

Now that was different than what I expected. “Sure,” I said, wondering where this was going. Was he going to ask where I got my ideas? How I got a chance to pitch for the book? How to get blood stains out of a carpet? Instead: “On Margaret Wander Bonanno’s site she has a story about her book Probe . . .”

“Yes, she does,” I said. Most fans of Margaret know how her novel Probe, a sequel to Star Trek IV, got hijacked from her after she ran afoul of arbitrary licensing approval problems with Paramount, leading to it being ghostwritten.

“How was your experience working on your novel?” Ah, well, a fair enough question. I said my experience was fine, and that I was working with a different team than Margaret had, both at Simon & Schuster and at Paramount. He was glad to hear it, and thanked me for talking with him. Off he went, without purchasing Shattered Light. My hope for a sale had turned into a discussion mostly about another writer’s experience from twenty years ago!

Now I need to make it clear–especially in case this guy happens across this blog–it’s totally fine that he didn’t buy my book, and it was fun talking with him. For all I know, he could already own it. What’s funny to me is the difference between what I imagined was going to happen and what did happen. That’s what made this a fine example of the weird scheisse that happens to me at signings. Like the time at Shore Leave I got seated next to a Girl Scout selling cookies. Who do you think moved the most product?

Hint: Not this guy. Scheisse.

 

I’ve been announcing my impending entry into the brave new world of self-publishing e-books for some time now but, as with everything, it was taking much longer to get organized than I had originally hoped. So last weekend when a couple of friends independently ask me for my feedback on publishing with Smashwords, I decided, “Eff it, I’m going to self-publish this weekend or cough up blood trying.” Okay, maybe that’s a little melodramatic, but I made a vow and stuck to it. Last weekend I uploaded my short story “The Mailbox” to Smashwords.

“But, wait,” you cry, “how come this is the first I’m hearing about it? Why haven’y you blogged, tweeted, or facebooked about this if it’s been up for a week already?!?”

A fair question, sailor. Well, the first thing I noticed is that the mobi file (the format used by the Kindle) created by Smashwords had a glitch in it, a blank line like an extra return in the middle of a paragraph. I tweaked and retweaked my specially formatted Word document, uploading it over and over, but no matter what I did that blank line kept appearing in the same spot. The epub version (used by Apple and others) and the pdf, generated from the same Word doc, looked fine. I emailed Smashwords support about the glitch and am waiting for a response.

Next I was going to assign an ISBN to my story. You have to have an ISBN to be sold by Apple, Sony, and Kobo. But I got an error message when I tried to assign the ISBN. Turns out Smashwords has run out of them. They’ve ordered another batch, and should get them soon. Okay, another small annoyance, but I’ll just have to take care of that issue when they get the new lot of numbers in the system.

Next I noticed another speed bump. Although Smashwords creates a Kindle file that readers can buy directly from Smashwords, due to some technical gobbledygook with Amazon, the files aren’t listed there. Ka-what? Amazon is practically taking over bookselling but my story won’t be for sale there? Never fear, however, you just have to deal with them directly. So today I clicked over to Kindle Direct Publishing to upload “The Mailbox.” I figured it would be easy, because I’ve already got the text and cover file I created for Smashwords.

Turns out I was counting my unhatched chickens before the horse, as they say. I uploaded the file and, being new to the Kindle Direct process, realized too late that I’d already published it before previewing the results of the file conversion. I finally figured out how to preview it and discovered all my paragraph indents had disappeared for no apparent reason. Yay. So I unpublished the Amazon version and now have to figure out what went wrong there. At least that damn blank line in the Smashwords Kindle file wasn’t there.

This might sound like I’m bashing Smashwords, but that’s not my intention. These are just some bumps in the road. Keep in mind that the Smashwords service is free and gets you a free ISBN and uploads your story to several retailers; it’s a great deal. I’m going to stick with them and handle Amazon separately. I’ll get the bugs worked out and let you all know what happens. Meanwhile, I’m considering this blog my soft launch of “The Mailbox.” Click on over to Smashwords and check it out, it’s only 99 cents. 

Things continue to be a blur, and not because I’ve had too much wine; but writing that did make me get up and pour myself a glass of Coppola Claret. That’s just a little product placement in my blog, although it’s never worked for me before. My first published Star Trek story (Happy 45th, Trek!), “Full Circle,” featured the fabulous Scoma’s on Fisherman’s Wharf as a setting, bit I never received a big shipment of fettuccine with smoked salmon and rock shrimp. Not that I hold it against them. Just means I have to get back there in person for a giant plate of incredibly fresh seafood. But I digress. 

I’ve been working on a short story to submit to A Quiet Shelter There, an anthology from Hadley Rille Books edited by Gerri Leen. The deadline was August 31, and my work was complicated by a week of vacation in midmonth, so time was getting short. Also had a review due to Author Magazine on September 1. Sent the story into the editor at 9 p.m. August 30. And I was still reading the book for the review. Emailed Jeff Ayers, my editor at the magazine, that I had Thursday, the first, off, so would finish the book and review then. Jeff responded that he wouldn’t be reading the reviews until Sunday, so I could take until the fourth.

That worked out nicely, because I’d taken the first off because it was my birthday. So I did absolutely no work that day. It was relaxing. Meanwhile, I had heard back from Gerri on the thirty-first that she liked my story, but she had some suggestions for rewrites. She gave me until September 7 to submit revised manuscript. Which brings us back to me taking Thursday off, but knowing that I had some work to get done and was coming into the holiday weekend. Further complications because my mom has a Labor Day tradition of having a big camp out. Friends come in RVs, tent campers, and tents, set up in her big yard, and spend the weekend eating and drinking around the campfire. Not the most conducive environment for writing, but there it is. I decided to write the review and work on the story over the weekend.

This required some planning on my part. I’d be writing on my iBook, but my mom has a Windows machine. Okay, make sure to bring a flash drive to move review from laptop to desktop, and I’m set. My mom’s out in the country and only has dial-up internet, but it’ll still get the job done. We arrive on Friday evening, and just about the first thing my mom tells me is her computer isn’t working. All right then. Had to head into Cloquet, Minnesota, home of the world’s only Frank Lloyd Wright designed gas station, on Sunday to find a place with Wi-Fi. Ella tagged along to go to Bearaboo Coffee Escape, which gave her a chance to get online on her iPad. Tangentially, the Bearaboo should not be confused with the cat named Beariboo, which I inadvertently discovered while trying to confirm the spelling of the coffee shop. Beariboo has his picture on a charming website called “Cats That Look Like Hitler.” I’ll let you judge for yourself. But I digress.

Sent in my review from the Bearaboo, then decided we needed malts and fries from Gordy’s Hi-Hat, a family-owned burger joint that opened in 1960. They were recently featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives on Food Network. Classic juicy fresh-made burgers, lightly battered fries, great malts . . . an essential stop when you’re in you’re in the area. There I go again with product placement. I don’t think their fries would ship well, but I’d be willing to give it a try. Again with the digressions.

Got home Sunday evening and did some writing. Pulled a late night on Monday and sent in revised story at 9:30 p.m. Tuesday. Meanwhile, on the fifth got an email from Tony Dierckins, publisher at X-comm, my second day job. Next freelance copyediting gig is ready to download. Then found out on the eighth that my story, “On My Side,” will indeed be in A Quiet Shelter There, along with stories from some of my Star Trek writing friends, Amy Sisson and Bill Leisner. Cool. So, you know, not much going on. Now for another glass of claret. Which is never a digression.

I went to work Friday morning optimistic that I’d be taking advantage of our summer hours and heading home about 12:30. I finally left at 3:00, disappointed that the long afternoon of writing I’d been looking forward to had evaporated, and I decided to just relax. Had a too-late lunch while watching a few episodes of Mr. Show. Then got a call from my wife . . . the kid had been helping move some boxes and a bungie cord came undone and whipped around and hit her in the eye. The nurse hotline had recommended we take her to urgent care to get it checked out. So we go to the urgent care in our neighborhood.

We walk into a nearly empty waiting area and someone hands us a clipboard of paperwork and says, “We’ll see her at six.” I look at the clock on the wall again, which says 5:30. Now, sure, it’s not an ER, but we’ve walked in with our daughter holding a hand over her eye and they haven’t even asked what happened, they just tell us it will be a half hour. “That doesn’t sound very urgent,” I say. Yeah, I’m the cranky sarcastic dad in these situations. I’m the one most likely to pull a Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment. So my attitude gets the explanation that should have been given in the introduction: they open the doors at 5:30, but they don’t start seeing people until 6, those are the hours. Sandra explains that the person who referred us to them didn’t mention that, trying to smooth over my instinctual annoyance at bureaucratic BS when Debra Winger is in pain. Or, in this case, my own daughter. Sandra fills out the papers and when she turns them in she explains what happened and then they say, “OK, something like that we’ll look at her right away.” Now, I’m not a doctor, but maybe asking what happened up front is a better procedure. Like when the girl comes in the door holding a hand over her eye.

So we get in a room, the nurse takes a cursory look, asks a few questions, leaves the room to confer with a doctor–or a Magic 8 Ball as we’ll soon have reason to consider–then comes back and tells us we have to go to the ER because they don’t have the right equipment to examine her: a slit lamp. If you’ll pardon a slight digression, who the hell named something used to closely examine an eye a “slit lamp”? Someone just got whacked in the eye and you’re telling them you need to use a slit lamp on them. You might as well say “the slicey-dicey thing.” Slit lamp. You’ve got to be shitting me. It’s like they got Wes Craven to name it. Just off the top of my head, how about “narrow-aperture lamp”? Okay, end digression.

Then we’re off to the ER. Some more paperwork, more waiting, then the doctor arrives. She starts looking at Ella’s eye with the regular bright look-in-your-eye thing, the very same item that was on the wall at urgent care that was never used because the doctor couldn’t be bothered to haul his or her ass into the room to see a patient. She puts a drop of dye in Ella’s eye, looks some more, and diagnoses the issue right there (without the rotating-razors-of-death lamp) and also expresses her disdain that urgent care didn’t take the time to do this test. Anyway, minor scratch on the white of her eye, some antibiotics to avoid infection, we’re good to go. We get home after 9. Well, that was our Friday night out. Wife and kid soon go to bed, I decide to watch a schlocky seventies horror movie courtesy of streaming Netflix: The Incredible Melting Man. It’s a nonsensical movie on a variety of levels, but the gooey special effects by Rick Baker have a certain entertainment value for people who like people who are melting. And, really, who doesn’t? It had been a long week, however, and I was too tired to make it through the thing. I go to bed looking forward to a long sleep. 

But Sandra had to work Saturday. She got up at 6:30 and then I couldn’t get back to sleep. So at 7 a.m. on Saturday I’m at my computer with a cup of tea watching a dude’s skin melt. (Strangely, that’s the second time in my life I’ve used that sentence, but I’m not allowed to discuss the first time because it’s a matter of national security.) Melting completed, I got into the writing I’d been hoping to do on Friday. Ended up writing nearly all day, finally completing a story that’s due to the editor on the 31st. Leaves me a couple days to polish and tweak, then it’s off.

Writing done, I had just enough time to get ready and then we got together with friends for pizza and wine. Actually, the wine was all for me, because they were having margaritas, which suited me just fine. The night was a bit of a celebration, as our friend Susan Koefod has just had her first novel published, a mystery called Washed Up. So, pizza, wine, brownie bites for dessert, wine, and some signed books wrapped up a lovely evening. And wine.

Sunday morning we were off to the Science Museum of Minnesota for the special King Tut exhibit. It’s only there one more week. If you’re in the Twin Cities area, it’s worth seeing, even though it turns out mummies have never actually come back to life. That was a bit of a downer, I thought, but don’t let that stop you. They’re fascinating even though still dead. And the movie in the omnitheater about mummies was narrated by Christopher Lee. Get it? He played a mummy in the 1959 Hammer film The Mummy. And the audio tour was narrated by Harrison Ford. Indy! We didn’t buy any King Tut merch, which seemed kind of odd anyway. A King Tut shot glass? That’s not the kind of immortality he was hoping for. Ella opted for some little cake molds that put the impression of a fossil dinosaur head into the cake. Instead of cupcakes, we’re first trying them with Jell-O.

That about wraps it up. Did a number of chores in the afternoon, and I printed out the story from Saturday so I can read it tomorrow on my bus ride. I’ve already put a red pen in my bag so I can mark up the manuscript. Monday morning, back to the day job.

I was on vacation last week, and so there is very little to report by way of writing. We did have a lovely time in the great Northwoods of Minnesota, however. We were way up in beautiful Ely, Minnesota, just twenty or so miles from Canada as the crow flies. Went to the International Wolf Center and the North American Bear Center, which were both pretty cool. And we got to see some, well, wolves and bears, as you might expect. Also seemed like a good place to hide during the coming zombie apocalypse. Was most amused to see a book I cowrote, The Mosquito Book, on sale in a number of gift shops. This book is essentially out of print at this point, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the few remaining copies on the shelf somewhere.

On the way up we spent a day in Duluth and popped into the Fitger’s Bookstore. The manager actually recognized me and remembered my name, which was impressive. So I did some schmoozing about books I’ve written and edited, and a few more of them may turn up on the shelf there. Cool.

As mentioned last week, I have a short story due to the editor by August 31. I’ve gotten some good work done on that the last couple nights, so I think I’ll make that deadline. Took tonight off. Watched some Dr. Who with my daughter, and then I’m going to bed at a reasonable time instead of falling asleep at the keyboard. Because that’s just silly.