(From Fast Asleep: Volume 2 of the Grendel Hills Fantasy Series, chapter 5.)

Just off campus is a chain drugstore, and I stop there on my way back to the lab, because I’m self-conscious about my jeans now. While Vunkstad’s secretary was commenting on the mud, I noticed that I’ve got a growing rip in my left knee.

I know that the iron-on denim patches must be here somewhere, so I’m chasing my own ass up and down every aisle, looking for them. I start to ask a girl who is stocking cookies, but then I look across the store and I see Gabriela. She is holding a bottle of water and staring at me with her eyes shocked and mouth open, like she has never seen something quite this horrific in her life. She immediately crosses the store and takes my elbow, leading me away with my question to the clerk unfinished.

“Zenna,” she whispers fiercely to me. “You are not reduced to this level of abject poverty.”

“I have a hole in my –”

“No. No,” she insists, talking over me.

“Just to patch –”

“No!” she insists. “No patching. This is too sad. It is the opposite of excellence.”

“But these jeans –”

“Zenna! Somebody will see. Look, everybody is staring at us.”

Gabriela’s eyes dart around us. . She’s so mortified by my appearance that she can’t waste time paying for her bottle of water, so she leans away from me just long enough to plop it onto a magazine rack, and then she steers me out the door.

“Girl,” she murmurs with her lips against my ear, “we are not gray-bearded widows who must mend our stockings by candlelight with needle and thread.”

I wriggle my shoulders, unsuccessfully trying to free myself from her grasp. “But Gabriela,” I plead, “these jeans have a worn knee. I accidentally put my toes through the hole this morning and ripped it open.”

She shakes her head at the distastefulness of it all. “I will take you clothes shopping,” she announces to me. “This should have been done at age eight.”

It’s true: nobody has ever taken me clothes shopping before. Katya and the aunts were usually wrapped in white lab coats. They used to primarily wear polyester, rayon, and other synthetics, preferably in beige. I still have hand-me-downs from Aunt Christina in my closet, and she’s been gone thirteen years. Christina favored compound cellulose lyocell clothes because they hold onto their shiny hues after an infinite number of laundry cycles. Also, she could buy them in the Fospey company store.

Gabriela opens her car’s passenger door for me and guides me in, as if she’s wary of an attempted escape. Once I’m seated, she leans through the window and says, “And we will throw these baggy shapeless denims onto a bonfire of all your other clothes.”

“We’re not burning them,” I bark back. I won’t have these perfectly good pants molecules dispersed into the atmosphere as pollutant gasses. Clothes make up 17% of the bulk waste in the global eco-system, by weight, I think I read somewhere. Or it’s possible I just made that number up.

“With apologies, Zenna, I despair for you,” Gabriela tells me as she shifts her compact into reverse and roars out of the parking lot. She glances at me and grabs a fistful of my sleeve. “Look at this shirt from a previous century. It belongs in a theatrical costume shop.”

I’m wearing a green flannel shirt with a faded plaid pattern. “What’s wrong with this shirt?” I demand.

“It’s Alex’s, for one thing,” she answers crisply.

(Fast Asleep: Volume 2 of the Grendel Hills Fantasy Series is due on Amazon.com in February 2024.)

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I’m working on the sequel to my novel Wash Away. Zenna Cherny will be back, along with Bar Bar the robot, Alex her cousin, programmer/language mangler Gabriela, mad scientist Katya, mermaid creature Kizi, and all your other favorites. I’ve got 27 chapters finished and I’m seven months behind deadline for publishing this book. Since my publisher is me, I haven’t put too much pressure on the author to get his ass in gear.

In the sequel, tentatively titled Fast Asleep: Volume 2 of the Grendel Hills Fantasy Series, Zenna gets herself inadvertently transferred into a turtle’s body. If I say it’s “Freaky Friday” stuff, I think you’ll get it, since 100% of the people I’ve summarized for have commented “Oh, sounds like some ‘Freaky Friday’ stuff.” (I haven’t seen it, not any of the versions, but it’s a trope and a cultural reference now and I’m forging ahead without shaping my imagination into any specific directions.)

If you’re inventing a story where your character gets transferred into a turtle, eventually you’ll have to confront the core question: what exactly is it that’s getting transferred?

A member of my writing group has the opinion that what is getting transferred is a soul. My strong instinct is to lean away from using the word “soul.” It’s a highly charged word for many readers, and you can’t depend on every reader understanding it the same way. It’s got inevitable religious connotations. It’s also very poorly defined, being something that might or might not exist but is entirely intangible if it does.

I settled on the word “identity” instead, and I invented a whole technology for Fospey Industries to conduct Identity Transfer Protocol into artificial bodies that have been created for that purpose. The ostensible market for this technology is first responders. An experienced firefighter can transfer herself into an “adventure body” and she can walk fearlessly into a burning house, carrying all her experience with her. (Behind the hype, Fospey executices secretly anticipate that “adventure bodies” will have two primary markets: as sex dolls and as soldiers.)

What gets transferred with identity? Memories, yeah, personality, yeah, but I’ll tell you the part that interests me. Perspective. If it’s something intangible with no mass, you want it to be a point, right? It’s a point of view and that rough conceptual vantage, so far, is allowing me to precariously balance a highly unwieldy plot.

Earlier this week I spent a couple of hours at a business amusingly named Identogo. If you don’t want to take your shoes off at the airport and you have $78 to toss into the wind, you can get your identity verified at Identogo and then you’re going to get that blessed TSA PRE CHECK printed on your boarding pass. When I was there, the fingerprint system was down and the whole operation was running way behind schedule. When it comes to identity verification in this pre-sci-fi world we actually live in, fingerprints are the gold standard.

For prosaic system access that doesn’t rise to the level of the justice system, identity is all dependent on passwords. And when you forget the password, your recourse is your email address, your phone number, your birth date, and maybe the last four of your SSN. Facial recognition might be involved. Last time I was at my massage therapist, a woman was trying to make an appointment without an email address, and the receptionist was completely stumped about how to make it happen. When I used to work at a government agency that provided the inspiration for the Confidential Business Data Center at Fospey Industries, we did a mailing where we used the last four digits of an ID number to find the right form to stick in the envelope. We ended up mailing some confidential corporate data to the wrong company, but by golly, those last four digits matched up.

Anyway, none of these identity verification methods are going to be any good any more after Fospey Indsutries rolls out the Identity Transfer Protocol and their fun new Adventure Bodies product.

Note: Three months ago I made a firm decision that I would throw away the entire manuscript for this sequel. Since then I’ve wavered a bit, but if you never see a book called Fast Asleep: Volume 2 of the Grendel Hills Fantasy Series, you’ll know this is a ghost post and I followed through on my convictions.

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New interview

My grateful thanks to author/editor/creator Kayla King for a new interview to promote Silver Sparks! Find it here: https://www.kaylakingbooks.com/blog/2022/9/22/silver-sparks-an-author-interview

Kayla King is the founder, editor-in-chief, and publisher for the outstanding anthology Pages Penned in Pandemic, among other notable accomplishments. She took me by surprise with some intriguing questions, and this is probably my favorite interview I’ve ever done.

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WASH AWAY free promotion

Ahead of the September 8 release of Silver Sparks, I’m offering a surprise free promotion for my first novel, Wash Away.

The Wash Away ebook will be available free August 30 through September 1. Grab your free copy! and thank you to Free Kindle Books and Tips (FKBT.com) for promoting this offer!

And I’m announcing today that the Silver Sparks ebook will be free during its launch period, September 10 through September 12. Watch for more information!

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Silver Sparks cover reveal

Once again, my gorgeous cover design is by Tudor Popa, who also designed Wash Away.

Silver Sparks is now available for Kindle pre-order!

Would you like to join the launch team for Silver Sparks and receive a free copy of the ebook? Sign up here!

Release date: September 8.

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Silver Sparks

Kaneia’s got to save the swamp dragons.

A multi-national pharmaceutical company is brutally harvesting red dragon salamanders at Trevian Bay, and barefoot 16-year-old Kaneia will go to drastic ends to stop it. Starting point: wake her marshwalking friend Jasper from the trance she laid on him ten years ago.

Kaneia and Jasper learn to communicate with the strange Silver Spark moths that glow in the dark but are invisible by daylight. But soon the moths are in the drug company’s gunsights as well. When they start dusting the bay with toxic chemicals, Jasper gives chase on a human-powered flying bicycle.

The corporate execs double down against this resistance. But the bay itself might have the final say about this drug project.

Silver Sparks is an upbeat, offbeat eco-adventure with a dash of first love and magic. If you liked Princess Mononoke or the Earthsea series, prepare to be delighted. J.S. Bowers’s second novel is a seaside roller coaster.

How do I join Kaneia and Jasper in their struggle to save the bay?

Silver Sparks will be available September 8!

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The uses of fiction

Book review: Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon, by Mark McGurl.

I thought maybe other independent/self-published authors would have picked up on this book, since it’s all about the ways amazon.com has influenced literature, writers, and readers since its launch in 1994. But with just two current reviews online, though, I see that Mark McGurl’s book doesn’t have the “social proof,” as they say. Compare against Gundi Gabrielle or Chandler Bolt, with reviews rocketing past 1,000 and increasing daily.

But this isn’t that kind of book, of course. It’s not a how-to for quick-release strategies or writing to genre or launch-team timetables. It’s academic, and it’s not light on jargon, including way more than I was expecting of economic theory. If you’re interested in literary movements and the future of literature, and willing to be patient with the plentiful Marxist references, it might appeal to you. If you’re an indie author and you hope to get some insights about how to game the amazon algorithm, you won’t, but you still might learn something useful.

I think many indie authors have absorbed that if you are self-publishing, your book is a product and you want to make it as appealing as possible. McGurl turns this screw a quarter-turn further to consider the novel as a service being provided to customers. Throughout the book, there’s a return to the theme question of “What are the uses of literature?” One of the uses is that literature is a way a reader chooses to spend their leisure time. “Opportunity cost” is an interesting factor here, one that resonated with me. Every book a reader chooses has an opportunity cost in the time it will take to read the book. If I read Mark McGurl’s book, it means I have that much less time in my lifetime to spend reading other books. I know! When I moved from Kentucky to New York in 2019, I made a concerted effort to weed my books and to only move the ones I hadn’t read. Three years later, I still haven’t read a single one of them. There’s too much new and tempting content coming along every day!

A central tenet for McGurl is that the amazon marketplace favors genre writers: especially romance, but the whole Kindle category system gives advantage to books that can be categorized in a very specific genre. In this world, “literary fiction” is not the top of the heap anymore, but just another genre that might or might not be the choice of any given reader. Any Kindle Direct Publishing author comes to realize very quickly that they’ll make more money if they write books in a series, if the series books are as similar as possible to each other, and that they had better release new books several times a year or their audience will lose interest. Readers want more of whatever they’ve found that gives them enjoyment and fulfillment, and McGurl points out that this means authors have a caregiving role; in an essential way, in our writing, we are providing care to our readers (or else we’re not successful).

Exploring the uses of literature, I’m grateful that it was near the end of the book when McGurl gets around to considering literature as a waste of the writer’s time. In the amazon world where the average number of books sold by self-published authors is under a hundred copies, there’s no escaping an upsetting conclusion like this. If the book is only going to be read by friends and family and is never going to gather an audience, that is not the goal of most independent authors. in 2022, there is a huge amount of “surplus fiction,” and more washing up on the shore every day.

I give Everything And Less five stars, for helping me understand how the fiction market has changed over my lifetime. I wonder: if genre-busting novelists like Kurt Vonnegut or Ursula K. LeGuin came along today as independent self-published authors, would they have even a shot of making a career?

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