Month: March 2014

The Bazaar: Chapter 1

Gambler’s fallacy

The deal was set for a wretched hotel in the midst of the favela. Supposedly this neighborhood was casino drive. Macau for the working class. Minus glitz, security and first-rate dinner entertainment, of course.

The poor couldn’t care less. They gambled for gambling’s sake and they loved it. Even if it meant gambling in dingy, unmarked, vermin-infested venues where all the tables were rigged. To the poor a jackpot was more than money: it was the bright light of salvation at the end of a long, grim tunnel. Marx had it all wrong. The slot machine, not religion, was the opiate of the masses.

It disgusted Fulton.

Despite his years of experience an infinitesimally small piece of him still clung to childish hope for a better world. A fractional remnant of unbridled optimism. It urged him to take the slum dwellers aside one by one and run them through a crash course in probability concepts. At which point they’d realize gambling was a terrible way to strike it rich and sign on with the cartels instead.

The more Fulton thought about it the more he wanted to take his tiny spark of hope and drown it. His guts sank inside his abdomen, as if he’d swallowed a lead ingot.

Bad enough AEGIS lured him down here for a black market deal. This was a black market deal in the slums. In narco territory. Already he missed the armored personnel carriers parked outside his hotel. Even that pain-in-the-ass checkpoint in the lobby with its metal detectors and x-ray machines.

The meeting place was virtually indistinguishable from the block housing around it, save a neon sign advertising HO EL in electric blue letters. The L on the end flickered like a strobe. Its T looked to have burnt out years ago.

Fulton pulled the augmented overlay down on his lens. Ordinarily he’d get tags all over the place. Here? Nothing. Not a single, solitary tag. You’d get as much from the Mark I eyeball.

Fulton didn’t like that. He didn’t trust his eyes.

There were three of them all together: him, Emily the contractor and her translator, Luis. Three of them all alone in the narco-infested slums, where promising career paths included street chemistry, murder for hire and kidnapping tourists for cash.

Emily stopped them outside the lobby for a pep talk. “Here’s how it works. I have a room booked. The broker will meet us there.” She turned to Fulton. “You’ll give the app a once-over in the room. If you’re happy I’m happy. We pay the broker and we go home. Don’t worry about anyone else. They’ll think either we’re buying drugs or you’re here to fuck me.”

She’d dressed for the second scenario: heels and a fitted overcoat with a hem that stopped halfway to her knees. Everything in black. Maybe there was a skirt underneath. Maybe lacy, overly-elaborate lingerie. Maybe nothing at all. The point was to give you pause and get you thinking. Classic military misdirection.

“If something crazy happens,” Emily concluded, “wait for me before doing anything stupid. I’ll be faster, anyway.”

Go team, Fulton thought bitterly.

Clouds of cigarette smoke lingered in the lobby like jungle fog. A bored young woman manned a front desk scarred with Spanish-language graffiti. Fulton could only guess at meaning: where to find a cut-rate blowjob, who to call for smack. He considered dialing up Espanol Made Easy. Text recognition had improved with recent updates. But really what was the point? Obscene trash was obscene trash. Better leave it to some cultural anthropologist in need of a thesis. The app was lousy with idioms, anyway.

The girl at the desk ignored them. She remained absorbed in her mobile.

The rest of the lobby had been crammed full of archaic slot and video poker machines. Unshaven croupiers in ill-fitting tuxedos staffed a pair of threadbare roulette tables. The mechanical racket from the slots reverberated in the enclosed space. The noise made Fulton feel as though he’d stepped into a pinball machine. Everything around him seemed to jingle, ping and whir.

There were maybe a dozen players spread throughout the casino. All men. They repeated the same bets over and over. Bet, lose, repeat. No one said a word. None of them acknowledged the new arrivals.

“Customers play while they wait for girls,” Emily explained. “The desk sends an SMS with a room number when it’s their turn.”

Fulton spared a glance at the desk clerk, still mesmerized by her phone. This was clearly the kind of place where people weren’t interested in noticing things. Probably went out of their way not to notice things.

Hence no one objected when Emily led Fulton and Luis straight to the second floor without checking in.

It was your standard budget hotel room: two queen-sized beds, a beat-up desk and a wall-mounted A/C unit. A flat screen television hung in one corner, its screen speckled with suspicious-looking stains. The walls were thin enough Fulton could hear the slot machines in the lobby. If people were having sex in the next room over (not even loud, depraved sex but uninspired, long-term relationship-type sex) it would be like they were writhing in bed next to him.

“This is a brothel,” Fulton said.

“Every hotel here is a brothel.”

Luis laughed. He flashed a mouth full of tobacco-stained teeth.

“I like these places,” Emily said. “No one asks questions.”

Each time Fulton met with Emily it was like meeting a slightly different woman. He’d begun to think of her as living Barbie doll. Same woman, countless outfits and careers: Corporate Floozy Barbie, Spook Barbie, Motel Hooker Barbie. Perhaps this, too, had something to do with military misdirection.

“What’s the matter, doc?” Emily asked. “Dirty sheets make you squeamish?”

Fulton ran his index finger along the comforter. “Researchers have done studies on these. In motels. At a Super 8 in Montreal they found bacteria growth twenty-six times normal levels.”

Indeed, who knew what strange, drug-resistant strains of venereal disease might lurk within the comforter’s folds?

Emily didn’t look impressed.

Advertisements

Taking a whack at serial fiction

I am currently busy both writing and marketing. The more I think about marketing the more I realize how important it is to have more of my work out there. I’ve posted some old writing samples on this blog, but I want to do something bigger.

Fortunately, I have The Bazaar.

I have gone back and forth about what I want to do with this manuscript. First I tried Kindle Singles. That didn’t work out. I want to move forward by self-publishing, but I don’t have the cash to invest in proper production values at this time. Hence, a new strategy: I will serialize The Bazaar on this blog. Each chapter will be a single post. Each will be available online for free. I will publish one chapter a week, every week, starting today. If/when I publish the entire novella in print or as an ebook, the full text will remain available for free.

Right now I need readers more than money. Hopefully this will be a step in that direction.

In the meantime, here is the blurb again:

Dr. Mitchell Fulton is an expert in augmented systems: computers implanted in human brains. To be “wired” is to have the entire internet inside your head (provided you’ve got a decent connection, of course). It also means a skilled operator could hack your brain. In theory, at least. No one’s managed it yet.

Yet.

Rumor has it someone’s come damn close. That someone happens to be Fulton’s late friend, brilliant but troubled programmer David Reese. If Reese’s code falls into the wrong hands it will pave the way for digital weapons of mass destruction: computer viruses that infect human minds.

Fulton agrees to help a team of military contractors retrieve it.

They aren’t the only ones gunning for Reese’s app, however. A group of freelance terrorists are looking to make a big score. They’ve got one of the best hackers in the business and no shortage of willing buyers. The drug cartels that control the Central American Free Trade Zone, for starters.

Fulton and Co. soon find themselves on the bleeding edge of a new kind of war — one fought in the streets, online and inside their minds.

New short story project

I’m still waiting on a decision regarding “Like Killing A Mockingbird” from Every Day Fiction. In the meantime I dashed off a first draft of a new short story. Its working title is “First Corinthians.” It, too, is a flash fiction piece. Unlike the abovementioned story its genre is horror.

Why did I decide to do horror? Probably has a lot to do with all that True Detective I’ve been watching.

“First Corinthians” is about a little girl speaking to the exorcist trying to throw a demon out of her sister. It actually takes place apart from the exorcism itself, while the exorcist is taking a break. This isn’t blood and guts horror. I’m trying for something more cerebral – maybe even philosophical. The story is about faith and God and how one copes in the apparent absence of those things. What if God didn’t exist but the Devil did? Pretty horrifying stuff, methinks, albeit in a much subtler way.

I would love to share a bit of the first draft but I plan to try and publish this online and most e-zines ask for first electronic rights. For now suffice it to say that this project exists. I will update as things progress. I am setting my first draft aside for a few days so I can come back with a fresh perspective.

“Welcome to Carcosa:” Awesome literary references in True Detective

true detective poster artI finished Season 1 of HBO’s True Detective this past weekend. Let me say first of all that this show is worth watching for Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey’s performances alone. The basic gist of the story is it follows the men over a 17-year period as they investigate a spate of disappearances with occult overtones. Their efforts are complicated by the fact that the perpetrators may be influential figures in Louisiana’s political and religious landscape.

This probably makes True Detective sound like a plot-driven cop story in the vein of The Killing. It is partly that, to be sure. But what sets it apart is the literary quality of the overall atmosphere.

The show heavily references the King in Yellow and Carcosa — both from Robert W. Chambers’ fiction (which in turn influenced some of H.P. Lovecraft‘s most famous stories, notably “The Whisperer in the Darkness”).

True Detective is unusually literate television.

As far as I can see the whole point of drawing on Chambers’ is to introduce cosmic horror to the proceedings. Some off-the-cuff observations:

  • McConaughey’s drug-induced visions seem to reference the otherworldly landscape of Carcosa.
  • True Detective often plays with the concept of text or imagery that can drive the viewer insane, as is the case with the fictional play, the King in Yellow. The two examples that spring readily to mind are a video tape of a murder that seems to cause the viewer physical pain (it is never shown in its entirety). The face of the “man with the scarred face” seems to have a similar effect on his victims.
  • McConaughey’s character is obsessed with the insignificance of humanity’s place in the universe. He sees no solace in religion. In fact the show as a whole adopts his viewpoint at times. One character appears as a fire-breathing tent revival preacher in the early episodes and a broken alcoholic later on. He’s clearly lost his own faith. If that’s not Lovecraftian I don’t know what is.

These literary references are what I like best about True Detective. Personally I am a huge fan of Lovecraft. While I don’t particularly care for Chambers’ writing style I did enjoy the substance of the few of his stories I read for this post. Hopefully the show will help spark more mainstream interest in these authors. I also have a recurring fantasy of the Cthulhu Cult appearing in Season 2. Does that seem too heavy-handed?

James Ellroy and Elmore Leonard on authors making money

Something that’s always driven me crazy is writers who think of writing as a “calling” and not a business. Sure, you may think of writing as a passion. But if you want anyone else to read what you’ve written your passion is eventually going to collide with someone else’s business interests. Elmore Leonard put it this way:

I think any writer is a fool if he doesn’t do it for money. There needs to be some kind of incentive in addition to the project. It all goes together. It’s fun to sit there and think of characters and get them into action, then be paid for it. I can’t believe it when writers tell me ‘I don’t want to show my work to anybody.’

Perhaps predictably, James Ellroy expressed his opinion even more colorfully:

L.A. Confidential, the movie, is the best thing that happened to me in my career that I had absolutely nothing to do with. It was a fluke—and a wonderful one—and it is never going to happen again—a movie of that quality.

Here’s my final comment on L.A. Confidential, the movie: I go to a video store in Prairie Village, Kansas. The youngsters who work there know me as the guy who wrote L.A. Confidential. They tell all the little old ladies who come in there to get their G-rated family flick. They come up to me, they say, “OOOO… you wrote L.A. Confidential…. Oh, what a wonderful, wonderful movie. I saw it four times. You don’t see storytelling like that on the screen anymore.” … I smile, I say, “Yes, it’s a wonderful movie, and a salutary adaptation of my wonderful novel. But listen, Granny: You love the movie. Did you go out and buy the book?” And Granny invariably says, “Well, no, I didn’t.” And I say to Granny, “Then what the fuck good are you to me?

My self-publishing marketing plan

Writing a great story is easy. The hard part is selling it. With this in mind I have decided to soft launch “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell.” The difference between a soft launch and a hard launch is simple. A soft launch takes place over a period of 1-2 months and ramps up slowly. It is especially common in the tech industry, where there are often bugs to be worked out in early product releases. A hard launch, by contrast, does everything in one shot and is more common in traditional publishing. There are advantages to the hard launch approach for indie authors, too. Mostly that if you can crack a bestseller list early you will gain massive visibility.

To execute a hard launch properly, however, you need a substantial following. Or at least a substantial professional network. I have neither. Thus, my self-publishing marketing plan hinges on ramping up activity slowly over time, building a network (and hopefully a following) for future projects.

My plan consists of two broad phases:

The Review Phase (Month 1)

The goal of the review phase is simple: get reviews. You could also call this the “quality assurance” phase. I don’t because I hate the phrase “quality assurance.” Makes it sound like I’m manufacturing Tylenol bottles or something. My plan is to work outward from my network:

  • Friends and family
  • Then writers I know
  • Then amateur reviewers
  • Then professional reviewers

My goal is to have five reviews by the end of month one.

The Awareness Phase (Month 2)

Here the goal is to push awareness of the reviewed ebook out to readers through various channels. I am not budgeting any ad spend for this project, so I will be focusing on blogs, websites and social media. While I have a couple ideas I still need to do some more research in this area. An update will follow.

Again, my goals:

  • Secure five reviews by April 10
  • Sell 216 units by June 30

Self-publishing sales goal

I am moving steadily closer to the launch date for my indie publishing project,  “Vampire Brides from Planet Hell.” With that in mind I want to talk very briefly about goals. One of the problems with my first, experimental, extremely unsuccessful foray into this area was that I had no real idea of what I was trying to accomplish, other than get an ebook online for distribution. This time I’m setting a sales goal.

My sales goal is simple: I want to break even. Which means I have to net $75 (the cost of my cover art). At a $0.35 royalty per sale that means I need to sell about 215 copies.

I decided on this goal because I am a complete unknown learning the ropes. I don’t expect to set the world on fire. If I do that’s great. I’ll adjust the goal as needed.