Blog - 2020

This blog is by Susan Berliner, author of the supernatural thrillers "DUST," "Peachwood Lake," "The Disappearance," "Corsonia," "After the Bubbles" and "Soldier Girl," and two short story collections: "The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales" and "George's Mother and Other Weird Stories." If you have any comments or suggestions, please contact me.

More figuring it out - August 8, 2020

In my last post, I wrote about recent decisions I've made about my coronavirus story: It will be a book, not a story and it will be titled The Resolve: A Post Covid-19 Dystopian Novel.

Now I'm trying to work these new ideas into pages I've already written. Since it's a book, not a story, the tale will now have chapters that focus on a wider variety of characters. I'd been plodding along, using my two teen protagonists on every page. However, since the story will now include a militaristic quasi-governmental agency, The Resolve, I've got to incorporate the agency into some of my earlier scenes. And that's what I'm doing now.

This is more difficult work than writing a new scene every day, but I like the way the story is going—and I'm especially fond of my evil-agency villain.

* * *

Figuring it out - August 3, 2020

Today I wrote another scene in my coronavirus story. But more importantly, I also figured some stuff out, mostly about where this story is heading. First, I think it's going to be a book, not a story. And secondly, I think I've finally got a title for it: The Resolve: A Post Covid-19 Dystopian Novel.

I was hoping this work in progress was just a story—a long story, but not long enough to be book-length. Lately I've enjoying writing short stories because they're much easier to create than novels. Plotting a novel is so much work—but here I go again. Wish me luck.

* * *

Ad fix - July 29, 2020

If you follow this blog, you know I've been running Amazon ads for some of my books since mid-April. I'm doing okay—making a little overall profit.

My main problem is that one ad for The Disappearance, in a category for books about time travel, has lots of clicks (nearly 50), but no sales. Since you're supposed to average a sale for every 10 clicks, that's not good. According to Amazon ad course guru Bryan Cohen, that means my book blurb isn't good. But I don't think that's the issue because I've gotten sales for the book with other ads.

Then yesterday, I thought of a possible reason for my lack of success: Maybe the subtitle was misleading. It read, The Disappearance: A time travel thriller. But The Disappearance is a crime story about a man who frames his girlfriend for his murder and escapes into the past­—so time travel is just one element of the book.

Yesterday I changed the subtitle to The Disappearance: A Crime Thriller with a Time Travel Twist. It's a more accurate description. Now let's see if it generates some sales.

Amazon TD ad

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Rewriting it right - July 24, 2020

Writing is fun—it's creative, exciting, entertaining—all the good stuff. Rewriting and editing? Not fun at all. But unless you're some sort of literary genius, it's so necessary.

When I write a book or story, I try to continue each day without rereading back to the beginning. (I usually read only the last scene or two I've written.) As a result, I make many mistakes.

After I finish the first draft, I reread the entire manuscript and that's when the hard work begins: fixing the errors, improving the language, making the characters consistent (they evolve as I write). It's tough, but as Patricia Fuller says, totally necessary. No one wants to walk outside in his or her underwear.

***

Secondary characters - July 19, 2020

(1) Writing & Editing (@WrtrStat) / Twitter

Characters who populate your books but aren't major players can add lots of interest. Two of my favorite secondary characters evolved into more important people because I had so much fun writing about them.

The first is Monique Atchison, the sassy young newspaper reporter in Peachwood Lake. Monique befriends my 13-year-old protagonist, Kady Gonzalez, whose mother has left her and the wise-cracking Brooklynite is especially helpful when "Fraidy Kady" is taunted by a popular classmate.

Another of my favorite secondary characters is Cheri Orchid (nee Anna Maria Buonoverduccio), an exotic dancer at the Ooh-La-La Club, who is featured in The Disappearance. The protagonist, Jillian Keating, meets Cheri in jail after Jillian is arrested for her boyfriend's murder. Cheri is kind and compassionate—and becomes a true friend of Jillian's.

Who are your favorite secondary characters? I bet the authors of those books enjoyed writing about their backup people too.

* * * 

Ad recap - July 14, 2020

If you follow this blog, you know I've been running ads for some of my books on Amazon, following an April webinar that taught me how to advertise on that platform.

How am I doing? Not too badly. I am making a little money. But it's frustrating trying to analyze what works and what doesn't work. However, I have reached one conclusion: I'm getting more than one-third of my overall impressions (appearances)—190,000 of 480,000—on one ad and that particular ad (for short stories) has accounted for one-half of my sales. So if I just ran that ad, I'd be doing quite well.

And it's not that many people are clicking on the ad. I've gotten 37 clicks, just 2%. However, 8 of those consumers have purchased the George's Mother and Other Weird Stories ebook—and 8 of 37 is a really good sales percentage.

My other fifty ads? A few sales here and there, but nothing remarkable. And it's tough to figure out what people are looking for. But it's fun when a sale pops up and it's exciting to discover how that reader found my book.

I'm attending another Amazon webinar this week to see if I can learn any new tricks. The experience is fun and, as I wrote, although I'm not getting rich, I am making a small profit.

* * *

Snowpiercer spoilers - July 9, 2020

Since I love dystopian fiction, I've been watching Snowpiercer, the TNT series about a 1,001-car train circling a frozen Earth with the planet's last surviving plants, animals, and humans. The big question is: What's going to happen in the two-part season finale airing on Sunday? I'm pretty sure I know much of the answer. (If you don't want to know my conclusions, please don't read any further.)

I didn't make this discovery on purpose; I only wanted to check the identity of a character mentioned in last week's episode. But when I googled the show's cast list, next to each name was the number of episodes the character appears in—and Snowpiercer has been renewed for another ten episodes.

Thus, if a current important character only appears in 10 episodes, he or she is going to die in the upcoming finale. That information was interesting. But even more interesting was the name of a key character—the man who supposedly built the train, but hasn't yet been seen—and who Melanie, the woman running the train, confesses to have killed: Mr. Wilford.

According to the cast list, Mr. Wilford, appears in 11 episodes, which can mean only one thing: He's not dead; he's been put in the Drawers (suspended animation), will be revived at the end of this season, and will play a significant role in Season Two.

I bet I'm right.

* * *

Technology troubles - July 4, 2020

I hate technology, mostly because I'm not good with machines. After forty plus years, I still turn the key to my house the wrong way. I'd originally planned to write about one tech issue, but a second problem popped up later in the week so I've got two to rant about.

The first issue involved an online contract for my freelance writing project. In the past, I've printed out the contract, signed and dated it, scanned it, and then emailed it. However, this new contract was an online form. The instructions were to sign the pertinent parts with the "pen," and email the completed form.

That sounded simple enough and I was able to use the pen to write a stylized signature (that looked nothing like mine), type in my title (Independent Contractor), and add the date. But how was I to email the contract to my employer? I couldn't find any link.

I had an idea: I would save the document as a PDF, fill it out online, and then email the attached contract. I made the PDF and was able to add the stylized signature—but nothing else. I couldn't add the date or "Independent Contractor."

Frustrated, I emailed the person who sent the contract explaining what had happened and she responded the following day. "I know there are times that technology doesn't always cooperate," she wrote. "So if it is easier, go ahead and print and scan the entire contract and email it back to us."

The entire contract was 11 pages! Since she also suggested I try to fill out the form online again, I gave it a go. And this time I was able to use the pen to replicate my signature, add the other information, and most importantly, the bottom of the document now had a "Click here to sign" button. The task took me two minutes.

Here's tech trouble #2: A couple of days ago, we got the following email from our email server:

"Our records indicate that this Optimum email account has been inactive for more than 90 days. We will automatically delete the contents of this inbox on or around July 13, 2020 and subsequently close this inactive email account in accordance with Optimum's email policy. Once this email account is closed, you will no longer be able to sign in.
Thanks for choosing Optimum."

The email account referenced was our family's primary email account, the one we use multiple times a day.

Unfortunately, the above email didn't look like a scam. It had the correct logo and website link. My husband called Optimum and guess what he was told: The email message was sent in error due to a computer malfunction.

Here is the email Optimum sent us yesterday:

"Due to a technical issue, you may have mistakenly received a message stating we will automatically remove the contents of your inbox and subsequently close your Optimum email account on 7/13/2020. Rest assured, if your account is active and in use, you will not be impacted. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.
Thanks for your patience and understanding."

Because of situations like these, I do not have any patience and understanding when it comes to dealing with technology. I hate it.

* * *

Test writing task - June 29, 2020

As I mentioned in my May 30th post, I'm working on a freelance writing assignment, creating standardized test reading passages and questions for English Language Learners (ELL) in grades K-12 in Texas, an annual project I've been doing for many years.

Recently, I've had to create the most basic passages for beginning English-speaking students using just K-2 level vocabulary. This year, however, I've been "promoted" to the intermediate level, which is actually easier work because I can write longer stories using a greater variety of words. (And the pay is better too!)

Devising test passages is a different form of creative writing— challenging and fun.

* * *

Review recap: June 24, 2020

I've been stressing the importance of Amazon reviews for independent writers like me and something must have clicked because, in the last few days, I've gotten several reviews for George's Mother and Other Weird Stories.

The two most recent reviews are quite similar:

"I really enjoyed all the short stories in this book! Each one was fast paced and very creatively written. Would highly recommend this book for a quick, plot driven and fun read!"

and

"I thoroughly enjoyed this book. These stories are so imaginative and fun to read. Some of the endings were a real surprise. They are a bit Twilight Zone(ish). I highly recommend."

And the reviews definitely help. Just after these write-ups appeared, I sold a number of ebooks—not a coincidence. Click here to check all eleven George's Mother and Other Weird Stories reviews.

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Emotion of fiction - June 19, 2020

Recently, a novelist invited me to write a post for "a never-ending" blog series she is doing titled "Inside the Emotion of Fiction." After she sent me details, I agreed to participate because the questions she wanted answered were different and interesting.

The novelist wanted to know my writing habits, along with a photo of where I write. She also asked for an excerpt, questioned why that piece of writing made me emotional, and requested a photo of my "marked up rough drafts" of the excerpt.

The excerpt I chose was a scene from "Wrong Road," one of the thirteen stories in George's Mother and Other Weird Stories. I just completed the post and submitted it. When I learn the date my comments will be featured on the author's blog, I'll announce the details.

* * *

Coronavirus story situation - June 14, 2020

I'm still writing my post-coronavirus story, a dystopian thriller starring two young teen protagonists—a boy and a girl. I'm a slow writer to begin with and an even slower writer during the pandemic because, unlike most people stuck at home, I have less time for writing now.

But I do find time. Today I wrote a scene in which my main characters are locked in a room. I don't know how they'll escape, but I should find out when I return to the story.

That's why writing fiction is so entertaining for me: I rarely know what's going to happen until I sit down to work. It's loads of fun!

* * *

(Ad) Location! Location! Location! - June 9, 2020

Here's the scoop on my minor (very minor!) recent success with Amazon ads for George's Mother and Other Weird Stories. On June 5th and June 7th I sold ebooks to two readers who clicked on two of my many ads. Once I figured out how to generate a sales report (It's easy, but I'm so bad on tech matters), I discovered the details.

The first sale is something of a mystery. The customer purchased my short story ebook after searching for a newly-released sci-fi adventure novel called The Lost City of Terror. When I checked for the George's Mother promo, it was on page 27 of 29 pages of Kindle ads. It's encouraging that a buyer found my book after skimming through so many pages of "Sponsored products relating to this item."

The second sale is much easier to analyze. This customer searched for a notable short story collection from the early 1950s: The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and Other Stories by the famous Southern author, Carson McCullers. Here's the reason the reader found my book:

GM Amazon ad 

The photo above is page 1 of 45 pages of ads! And note the little "Just released" tag on top to make my ad stand out even more. George's Mother is on the same page as The Ballad of the Sad Cafe.

If my ad was up front more often in the 30,000+ times it's been displayed with other short story collections, I'd be selling a lot of books.

* * *

Adding the ads - June 4, 2020

I'm now promoting three of my books on Amazon: After the Bubbles, The Disappearance, and George's Mother and Other Weird Stories.

To date I've tried to run 50 ads. I use the word "tried" because of those 50 ads, 12 never turned on (for reasons only Amazon knows), I ended 9 ads because they weren't displayed enough to be effective, and I'm going to kill 3 current ads for the same reason. Thus, 24 of my ads—nearly half—were a waste of time.

But this is a cheap experiment. So far I've spent a total of $7.23—the cost of 30 "clicks" (readers who click on my ad). Of course I'm not getting rich: The clicks have produced just 1 sale. But I am learning and if I can learn enough, then maybe I can make this experiment profitable.

* * *

Writing is writing - May 30, 2020

I write all the time. Although during the pandemic I'm not working on my original short story every day, I continue to create ad copy and blog posts. And starting next month, I'll again be writing test passages for beginning ELL students in Texas, kids of all ages who are just beginning to learn English.

As a freelancer, I've been developing these standardized testing materials for many years. Writing very simple passages and questions using K-2 vocabulary is challenging work—especially the stories for high school students.

Of course devising simple passages is much different from creating tales like those in my short story collections, George's Mother and Other Weird Stories and The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. But this is still a writing project and I look forward to doing it.

* * *

Marketing matters - May 25, 2020

I've been running an advertising campaign on Amazon for The Disappearance for about a week and so far the results are underwhelming: 6 of the 11 ads are barely being shown to potential customers and the other 5 have gotten a few clicks, but no sales.

Again, it's not an expensive experiment: My total cost for both After the Bubbles and The Disappearance since I started advertising in mid-April is $4.97.

Despite my lack of success, I'm continuing my marketing lessons. This week, I'm participating in a webinar on how to run Facebook ads, given by an author who makes a lot of money advertising on that platform. I'm not sure if I want to run Facebook ads since those cost much more than $5 a month, but I'm always willing to listen and learn.

* * *

Worth the wait - May 20, 2020

George's Mother and Other Weird Stories debuted in late March—just in time for the coronavirus pandemic. As I've mentioned before, this would have been a great time to introduce The Touchers series (After the Bubbles and Soldier Girl), because today's world is such a strange, nearly dystopian, place. But my short stories are weird too.

As I always do, I asked my two local weekly newspapers to interview me about the new book. But both were short-staffed and focused on covering the pandemic so they had neither time nor space for me. Then late last month, one paper (The Yorktown News) ran my press release as an online-only story.

This week, however, the Northern Westchester Examiner ran a lengthy story about George's Mother and Other Weird Stories—both online and in print. The article was written by an intern, who did an excellent job. It was worth the wait.

To read the article (print or online version), please see Happenings.

* * *

If at first you don't succeed... - May 15, 2020

My first Amazon ad campaign for After the Bubbles hasn't exactly been a rousing success. The good news is that it hasn't cost me much money ($3.70 thus far). The bad news is that I've only sold one book. As I've posted before, I think the issue with The Toucher series is that the covers aren't genre-typical.

But not being a give-up type of person, I'm trying again with The Disappearance because I believe that book's cover is much more genre-appropriate.

 

Unfortunately, however, The Disappearance is an older book, published nearly eight years ago. So again, I've got a potential problem. Nevertheless, I will try to resurrect the novel's sales with a new ad campaign. Wish me luck.

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Reviewing the situation (again) - May 10, 2020

Oh, those Amazon reviews! We indie authors really need them. I got a flurry of early reviews for George's Mother and Other Weird Stories, my new collection of short stories, and since then—nothing—until a few days ago when this stellar review was posted:

The Perfect Escape From Reality
"I felt the need to take a break from the Coronavirus crisis and step into Susan Berliner's world of weird and memorable characters and stories. Every tale was packed with intrigue and cool characters facing unusual and very imaginative problems. 'George's Mother' is the perfect antidote to today's ills. It's fun and fast-paced!"

Then later in the week, a reader emailed me this review of the book:
"It was great! I don't know how you come up with such interesting and...yes...weird ideas."
I asked the reader to post the review on Amazon, the person agreed, and hopefully will do it.

And on Sunday morning, another George's Mother reader emailed me that he had posted an Amazon review. But it isn't up yet. Sometimes reviews appear immediately; other times they take days or don't get posted at all. Fingers are crossed...

* * * 

Review of The Outsider by Stephen King - May 5, 2020

(Warning: This review contains spoilers)

I love most of Stephen King's books, including his recent Mr. Mercedes trilogy. However, I didn't love The Outsider. It was just okay.

The premise is great: A beloved Little League coach is arrested for the horrendous rape and murder of a young boy. Although there are tons of eyewitnesses, the police soon discover that the coach has an airtight alibi—proof he was hundreds of miles away at the time of the murder. How can someone be in two places at the same time?

It turns out the coach wasn't in both places. The sadistic murderer is a supernatural creature: The outsider.

Here's what I didn't like about the novel:

* The main character, Detective Ralph Anderson, is neither interesting nor heroic—and not as three-dimensional as most of King's fictional people. Anderson's main positive feature is persistence.

* There's too much description of the gruesome murders of children by the horrible outsider.

* Two plot incidents at the end of the novel bothered me. The outsider's human helper, a rival of Anderson's, doesn't recognize a police officer he should know. And more importantly, Anderson isn't able to shoot the outsider because the noise of the gun would cause a cave-in. Since he and his companions knew they'd be facing the monster in an unstable old cave, couldn't they have at least tried to purchase silencers?

* Anderson, the supposed hero, doesn't kill the outsider. Holly Gibney, the wonderfully quirky and brilliant misfit from the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, does. In fact, she's much more heroic than the detective. But because I'd read the trilogy, I knew how she would kill the monster so the ending was a let-down.

Here's hoping the next Stephen King book will be a better read.

* * *

In the news - April 30, 2020

When my previous books were published, I was always able to arrange an interview in my local newspapers. But that hasn't happened with George's Mother and Other Weird Stories. It's understandable. We're living in tough times and weekly community newspapers—those still in business—are operating with skeleton staffs, few advertisers, and concentrating their efforts on reporting pandemic developments.

So I was pleasantly surprised when a local paper invited residents to submit articles for its online edition—and the announcement about my new short story collection is running now.

Although people today have more important things on their minds, reading books is always a great diversion. Here's the link to the article.

* * *

Ad course conclusions - April 25, 2020

The "Amazon Ad Profit Challenge" course is over (see posts of April 15 & April 20) and I failed because I didn't make a profit. But on the positive side, running ads cost me just 98 cents.

I think I know why my Amazon ads didn't get clicks or sales. The problem is my book cover. Although I love the covers for After the Bubbles and Soldier Girl, the Touchers series covers aren't genre-appropriate. To be competitive, covers should resemble those of best-sellers in the genre. Most dystopian novels have dark and fuzzy covers; mine are much brighter and clearer. If I redid my covers, I'd probably sell more books. But I don't want to do that.

Nevertheless, the course was valuable: It taught me how to run Amazon ads and how to write effective ad copy. I'm going to advertise my new book, George's Mother and Other Weird Stories and then one of my older novels that has a more genre-appropriate cover. Let's see if I have more success.

* * *

Way off course - April 20, 2020

In my last post (April 15), I wrote about "The Amazon Ad Profit Challenge," the free 5-session online course I'm taking that's supposed to teach me how to run profitable Amazon ads for my books.

But now that the course is nearly over (one class remaining), I feel like a dunce. It's not that I'm losing lots of money running these ads. My 10 ads for After the Bubbles are costing me a total of 25 cents. The problem is that I'm getting no response.

As of 10 pm Monday, I have 3,600 "Impressions," which means my ads have appeared on a page 3,600 times. I don't pay for those; I just pay for "Clicks," when someone clicks on my ad for more information. Those 3,600 impressions have resulted in the grand total of 1 click. That's not very good—even if my ad is in the end of a long list (which is where it probably is).

And for some reason, one of my ads has appeared only once and another hasn't been shown at all. One of those ads is linked to my keywords. I took another online course last year to improve my keywords. Obviously I didn't, so today I revised my keywords and I'll see if that helps.

The other ad not appearing is more puzzling. That ad is linked to categories—and the category that hasn't had any impressions is "Children's Dystopian Fiction." My novel's heroine is a 15-year-old teen, hardly a child. However, I linked to that category because it's used in Amazon's listing for The Hunger Games—whose heroine is 16-years-old. Here's the non-appearing ad:

Amazon SPC Ad

My ads haven't been running for a long time—some just for a day or two. But the results are still disappointing. I will tweak and try other ads until the end of the month, hoping for more clicks and of course, sales. It's funny: I was afraid this ad campaign would cost a lot of money. Now I'm hoping it will cost more than 25 cents.

* * *

Ad course - April 15, 2020

I'm taking an online course called "The Amazon Ad Profit Challenge," which is supposed to teach me how to create and run profitable ads for my books on Amazon. It's a great idea. I've always wanted to know more about how Amazon ads work—and the course is free.

However, after two sessions (Preliminary and Day #1 of 5), I'm exhausted. The course is complex, involving a lot of stuff I hate like Excel spreadsheets and technology. It takes me a long time to process that data—even after watching 30-minute videos and rereading the accompanying text.

But if I can wade through the difficult tech waters, I believe this course can help me. I'd like to promote my Touchers series, especially Book One, After the Bubbles, because, unfortunately, these fictional dystopian books have become relevant during this pandemic time.

Writing the ad copy is much more fun. Here are my first two ads:

When falling bubbles produce monsters that kill humans with just one touch, teenager Erin Fredericks is trapped in her home. How will she survive?

One touch and you're dead! Trapped in the house. Scary supermarkets. Home school. Sound familiar? It's Erin Frederick's dilemma. How will she survive?

I haven't run the ads yet. I'll report results after I test them on Amazon.

* * *

Coronovirus dreaming - April 10, 2020

The coronovirus is a terrible thing and we're all affected by the current health crisis. But I'm more fortunate than most: I don't personally know anyone who's had the illness (although I know of people indirectly), I haven't lost my job, and I have an adequate supply of paper goods— including toilet paper.

That's why I was surprised by my dream last night. I was in a city (probably New York City where I lived during my childhood and early twenties) and left my apartment to return a sheet pan to a restaurant during the pandemic. Why would I do that? I have no idea, but dreams only make sense when you're dreaming them.

I needed to take the subway, but there was a crowd of people walking down the steps to the trains and I had to stand very close to them. Although most of them were wearing masks, I wasn't.

That's when I woke up, wondering why I would do such a dangerous thing. Of course, I wouldn't. But, like everyone else, I'm thinking about the pandemic and worrying, especially subconsciously.

Be safe, everyone—and stay away from crowded places.

* * *

One touch and you're dead...Sound familiar? - April 5, 2020

Of the six novels I've written, I figured only Corsonia, which deals with mind-control, could possibly come true. But I was wrong.

We're now living in a world that's close to my dystopian series, The Touchers. In fact, a few days ago, a Facebook friend wrote the following sentence on my page: "Feeling like Erin and this COVID is Cyndy!"

Erin is the teen heroine of my two-book Touchers series. In Book One, After the Bubbles, Erin and her family and neighbors—along with the rest of the world—are trapped in their homes because creatures she calls touchers can kill people just by touching them: "One touch and you're dead," my tagline.

Cyndy is Cyndy Louise, the toucher that terrorizes Erin's street, forcing everyone to remain inside.

There are other creepy similarities. Erin's mother has to home-school Erin and her younger brother. Also, the family needs food and paper supplies and has to go to the supermarket, a dangerous and creepy experience. (If you've been to a supermarket lately, you know the feeling.)

Of course, the events in my series are fictional and much worse than anything we're enduring, but they are closer to reality than I ever expected. If you're looking for an exciting dystopian read, check out The Touchers series.

* * *

A funny thing is happening... - March 31, 2020

All authors crave reviews and I haven't been shy about urging readers to post reviews when they tell me they've purchased my books. I've written numerous blog posts on that topic too.

But something strange has been happening: My new collection of short stories, George's Mother and Other Weird Stories, has only been available for about a week and—without begging readers—I've already gotten three 5-star Amazon reviews and a shout-out on Facebook: "This book is great. Highly recommended!"

What's changed? Maybe people have more time to read books and write reviews because they're stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. Or maybe people are becoming more compassionate because we're all in the same awful situation. Whatever the reason, I'm grateful for the positive response and I hope it continues.

Here's my favorite review so far:

"LOVED IT! A little twilight zone, a little RL Stine. But also totally original! I appreciated that the endings were not predictable. Totally fun read. I am sharing with my teenage daughters."

* * *

The write decision - March 26, 2020

Cyril Connolly quote

When I announced on a Facebook group that George's Mother and Other Weird Stories—my second short story collection—had just been published, I got an unusual question.

"How many books of your first collection did you sell?" a stranger wrote.
"Why do you want to know?" I asked.
"You write very well so you probably sold lots of books," he replied. (Did he read the Amazon sample—or was he trying to flatter me?)
"I wish," I responded.
"Story collections with mixed genres don't do well," he replied. "To be successful, you have to stick to one genre."
"That won't work for me," I wrote, "because I can't control my ideas."

Unlike my novels, which are all thrillers, my short stories cover a variety of genres: thriller, horror, sci-fi, humor, time travel, fantasy. But they do have two things in common: Every story contains a supernatural element and, of course, they're all weird.

I know I'll never be a best-selling author—but I have to write the stories that come into my head, regardless of the genre.

* * *

Just about done - March 21, 2010

I finally got the paperback proof copy of George's Mother and Other Weird Stories, carefully reread it, and found no errors. So the book is finished.

George's Mother - proof book

The next step? After I approve the proof, my printer, Lightning Source, will make the paperback available for sale at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all other book outlets.

Meanwhile, I will review the virtual pages of the ebook version to make sure they are correct. Then I will upload George's Mother and Other Weird Stories—first for Kindle users and later for Nook and Smashwords. I can't wait!

* * *

Truth vs. fiction - March 16, 2020

As the U.S. continues to enact new laws in the hope of containing the coronavirus pandemic,  my fiction is becoming reality. In After the Bubbles, Book One of my dystopian series, The Touchers, the world is destroyed by falling bubbles and to avoid being killed by the resulting monsters, surviving humans are forced to stay in their homes.

Thankfully, we're not in that kind of desperate state. But we are being told to remain in our homes and avoid other people, i.e. practice "social distancing."

Also, like the characters in The Touchers series, we're experiencing shortages in everyday necessities. Besides the lack of paper goods, my family is having trouble getting bananas and bread.

I always thought my dystopian series was escapist fiction, with no connection to real life. Unfortunately, I was wrong.

If you're looking for books to read during your forced confinement, check out The Touchers series. And don't forget to drink lots of water and wash your hands. Stay well.

* * *

The book is (almost) here - March 11, 2020

George's Mother and Other Weird Stories is formatted and the covers for both the paperback and ebook versions are finished. So the book is ready, right?

Well, almost. Unfortunately, there was a problem with getting the paperback cover to the printer (the file was too big for the artist to email). I tried uploading a link to the cover and that seemed to work because the file was accepted. But the next morning, I received an error message. As a result, the artist emailed the cover directly to Lightning Source, which prints my books.

The ebook should be easier to set up because I can upload the formatted book and the cover. Hopefully, that process will go smoothly.

Here are the covers:                                                                                                                                                GM Paperback               GM ebook                                                                                     

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Tell me a story - March 6, 2020

I'd nearly forgotten how much fun it is to read to kids because it's been a couple of years since I've visited a school. But I had the opportunity to read to 3rd - 8th graders last Wednesday and it was awesome.

First of all, the kids in St. Patrick's Elementary School in Yorktown politely listened to my stories and I think they enjoyed them. The students asked many intelligent questions afterwards too, which I hope I answered intelligently.

The best thing? The oldest kids (6th - 8th graders) asked me to read a second story. Imagine that! The students actually wanted to hear another story. That's never happened before.

To see pictures of the event, please see Photos.

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A Star Trek dud - March 1, 2020

Having a bad cold and little energy, I surfed the TV for something to watch, finally stopping on Channel 140—a station I'd never heard of called Heroes & Icons (H & I)—which was playing Star Trek episodes. So I watched "The High Ground," an episode from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Although I love Star Trek, I was disappointed with this episode about terrorism, most likely based on the late twentieth century conflict between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Taking on a "real" issue is something Star Trek has always excelled in. But this story was weak.

It begins with a senseless bombing of civilians on a distant planet followed by the kidnapping of the Enterprise's Dr. Beverly Crusher by the terrorist leader who needs a physician because the technology his group is using to strike without warning is destroying their DNA.

However, we soon discover the terrorists had bombed a school bus, killing 30 kids. Hearing that, I knew the rebellion would fail, so goodbye suspense. It also didn't help that the two main guest stars—the head terrorist and the planet leader—were neither sympathetic nor charismatic.

Near the end of the episode, the terrorists capture Enterprise Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the terrorist leader presses a gun against the captain's head. Two points: Why put Picard in a passive role? He's the hero—so he should be saving the crew or at least directing the rescue mission. Secondly, goodbye suspense again: We know Picard's not going to be shot.

Hopefully, next time I surf, I'll catch a better Star Trek episode.

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Bookmarks before books - February 25, 2020

 

For George's Mother and Other Weird Stories, my new short stories collection, I did things differently: I ordered and received bookmarks before finishing the book. I think they look great.

GM Bookmark side1

 

And now I'm reading through the formatted pages of George's Mother. Hopefully, the paperback will be done soon so I'll be able to put the bookmarks to good use.

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The book is done (sort of) - February 20, 2020

I "finished" editing George's Mother and Other Weird Stories and gave the manuscript to the formatter so, technically, the book is done.

But it's not really done. I still have to proofread the book completely through each round of formatting (usually at least five versions) to make sure everything is okay. And in the beginning, it never is.

I already got the first paperback version back and printed it out (I like to proof the hard copy) and just skimming—not reading—the pages, found a load of errors. But everything will be fixed, although it will take time. And it will take reading...and more reading. Then, sometime in March, George's Mother and Other Weird Stories will actually be finished.

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That dreaded apostrophe – February 15, 2020

Each year at this time, I write an apostrophe-related post because of the many misspelled headlines in holiday sales ads.

Let's start with a short history lesson: When I was a child, we celebrated the birthdays of two presidents: George Washington's on February 22 and Abraham Lincoln's on February 12 , with a day off from school for each birthday. However, in 1971, to create 3-day weekends, a new holiday was created on the third Monday of February to honor Washington and in most states, Lincoln.

This redesigned February holiday is called "Presidents' Day," the apostrophe signifying that we celebrate more than one president (not President's Day, which would honor just one leader). It's also not "Presidents Day" because it's a "Day for the Presidents," which requires the possessive apostrophe.

Every year, I check newspapers, the Internet, and TV to see which companies have misspelled Presidents' Day in their ads. The good news: The number of "President's Day" misspellings continues to decline. This year, just a few newspaper advertisers—Carpet Depot ("President's Day Sales Start Now"), Rical Chevrolet ("President's Day Sales Event") and Star Toyota ("President's Day Specials") are guilty of this punctuation boo-boo.

But many companies, including major ones, still omit the apostrophe. Shame on repeat offenders Dell Computers ("Presidents Day Sale 2020") and Hyundai with its prime-time TV commercial ("Presidents Day Sales Event").

Some advertisers cleverly avoid the apostrophe issue altogether by changing headline wording. In metro NY, car dealerships often take this approach. This year, I've seen newspaper ads for "Presidential Savings" and "Presidential Door Buster."

Will Presidents' Day headlines improve next year? Check back here in February, 2021.

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Editing results - February 10, 2020

After performing major surgery on two tales in George's Mother and Other Weird Stories (see Feb. 5 & Jan. 21 posts), I reread the manuscript again with fear: Would I find other serious issues?

Having just finished the reread, I'm pleased to report that I didn't have to perform any more operations. I just fixed a few typos, replaced or eliminated words, and fiddled with punctuation—minor stuff.

I'm hoping the next reread is the last before I send the book to the formatter. Fingers crossed!

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Making the cuts - February 5, 2020

"I like the beginning and end of the story, but the middle drags."

That's the feedback I got from a valued reader about "Wrong Road," a short story in my new collection, George's Mother and Other Weird Stories. What to do? After rereading the story, I realized the reader was right: "Wrong Road" rambled at two points.

In the first instance, the protagonist, Wendy, is introduced to a character while he's at work. But that scene is unnecessary because she meets this man later that evening and accompanies him the following day—a better time for their conversation.

In the second instance, Wendy and the same man get together for lunch, which doesn't make sense in the story—something I'd been thinking about changing earlier. I got rid of that scene completely.

Because plot editing is difficult and time-consuming, I spent about four hours Tuesday rewriting the second half of "Wrong Road." But I eliminated more than 500 words and improved the story. My reader liked the changes and I do too.

Writing is so much easier than editing!

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Typo trick - January 31, 2020

I've got a fun new contest based on "Hat Trick," one of the tales in my forthcoming book, George's Mother and Other Weird Stories, which will be published in early spring.

"Hat Trick" is a sequel to "The Repunzel Effect," a story in The Sea Crystal and Other Weird Tales. I hinted Deb would get into trouble with a sorcerer's hat—and of course, she does.

In this contest, we're pretending there's a one-letter typo in the word "Hat," creating a totally different magic trick-based story. It's easy to enter—and winners receive a $25 gift card or a signed copy of one of my books.

For complete details, please check my Contest page—and good luck!

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Write ways - January 26, 2020

I write one page at a time—literally—
and don’t go on to the next one until it is finished.
This habit comes from writing music.
Anthony Burgess

From what I've read, Dean Koontz, one of my favorite authors, writes the same way as Anthony Burgess did, working on a page until it is completely done.

I don't write music—and I don't write books like Anthony Burgess and Dean Koontz. Although I generally produce just a short scene a day (one or two pages), I don't spend hours reworking the scene and the next day I write a new scene. When I finish my first draft, all those pages have to be edited over and over many times until they are done.

That's the beauty of writing fiction: There is no right or wrong way. All authors have their own methods of creating books, whether it's producing finished pages or producing unfinished pages that have to be edited. Whatever works is the "write" way.

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Editing solution - January 21, 2020

I like to let a manuscript sit for a while because when I read it after a hiatus, I always find things to improve that I hadn't noticed before. That's what happened today when I picked up George's Mother and Other Weird Stories.

As I reread the first tale, "The Imposters," I realized I had hinted a minor character would be involved later—but the man never reappears. I'd used him to drive the young teen protagonist to a woman's house and learn about the girl's problem. I'd even given the man a short backstory.

After trying to figure out how to insert him into the tale at a later point, I realized I just needed the character as a quick link. Much as I liked the man, he didn't need a name, backstory, or participation in the plot.

So I eliminated about five hundred words, most of which were unnecessary, and had the girl deal directly with the woman—in a short, but clever, way. Then I inserted the bits of text I still needed into other parts of the story. Quite an improvement!

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Fact vs. fiction - January 16, 2020

Lately, I've been writing short stories about my past—true childhood, college, work, and family incidents—that I think are interesting. A few, like "Growing Up 'W,'" are stories I've been meaning to write for a long time. But most are episodes I want to record for posterity—not a memoir, more like snapshots in words.

This week, however, I got an idea for a fictional story about a comic strip character who comes to life. As I started writing this tale, I realized it's much more fun writing fiction than writing a factual story. Why? In my true stories, I know exactly what's happened. In my fictional tales, I don't know what will happen until I start writing. That's when the characters take over and tell their story.

For me, writing non-fiction is work; writing fiction is entertainment.

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Page count - January 11, 2020

John Grisham quote 

I like it when an author I read and admire advocates my writing approach. Here, John Grisham advises writers to produce one page a day—about 200 words—1,000 words a week. And that's what I do.

Grisham is correct: By writing this way, you will create a book. Using his method, I've produced six novels, one collection of short stories, and my second volume of short stories will be published in the spring.

Although there are no rules for writing fiction, this slow-and-steady approach works for me—and I'm sure it works for other authors too.

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Review recap - January 6, 2020

"Just read Soldier Girl by Susan Berliner, the sequel to After the Bubbles and found it to be even better than the first. The tension permeates throughout the book. You never know when that shoe or toucher will drop...Ending was highly satisfying but sorry the story is over."

When the above 5-star review popped up last week on Amazon's Soldier Girl page, I was overjoyed. Many people tell me (or email me) that they've read and loved my books, but very few take the next step and post a review. It's not as if I don't ask readers to write reviews. I do—and people say they will, but that's where the matter ends.

It's hard to explain how important reviews are, especially for an independent author like me. It validates my books and lets readers looking for new novels know that the stories I write are worthwhile reads.

So if you've read and enjoyed any of my books—or a work by another author, even a well-known one—please take a moment to write a review on Amazon. It doesn't have to be long. A sentence or two is fine. Here's the link to my Amazon page.

Thank you!    

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Writing resolutions - January 1, 2020

It's 2020—a new year in a new decade—and time to list my writing-related resolutions. Here they come:

1. I resolve to finish and publish my second collection of short stories (George's Mother and Other Weird Stories) in early spring. Right now, I'm editing the thirteen tales and fine-tuning the blurb and introduction. I've also hired a new artist who has created a super cover that just needs some minor tweaking.

2. I resolve to keep writing stories. I'm writing real-life stories as well as fictional tales because I keep remembering incidents from my life that I feel the need to transcribe. Maybe my mortality is catching up to me, but I don't want these events­—that only I can write about­—to be forgotten.

3. I resolve to work on my children's picture book. When I first started writing supernatural thrillers, I had a dream about a flying car. I wrote a draft of the story and haven't done anything else with it. Perhaps this is the year to finish that book.

Happy New Year everyone!

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