Short Story Review: Smooth Criminal by Roy L. Pickering


This twisted and perverse story Smooth Criminal by Roy L. Pickering completely took me by surprise, delighting me with its sudden and suspenseful ending. Brilliantly told. I think Pickering handled the tale masterfully.

A.J. comes home from work early to find her in bed with another man. He does what many men would do: murders both wife and lover. But then there is the cover up and the alibi and the twists and turns that go with a passionate murder. But Pickering has more in store than an ordinary murder with an ordinary ending.

Short Story Review: Baen's Universe Articles

A friend of mine sent me these Baens-Universe articles, written by Tony Frazier. From a writer's perspective, I am impressed with the tone of voice that emanates from the narrator, a retired superhero with an attitude problem. The story is written in first-person present tense, which gives the story a very powerful impact.

Astromonkeys, is the retelling of how Digger and Astro save the day when these nasty, green space monkeys attacked. Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But the way the tale is told--with Digger sitting at the bar with a friend of his, explaining to the barmaid why promises must be kept--the reader gets easily sucked into Digger's sassy, disrespectful account of the events.

Double-Secret Weapon starts with Digger signing fan-pics at a mall when Professor Pierce, an evil-doer who throws needles, shows up in line to beg him to let him be on the show. There's nothing Digger could do, even if he wanted to It's a world where superheroes are reduced to the role of Hollywood heroes. Here's an excerpt:

Another picture slides in front of me, a little blond kid, about the same age as the last one, staring at me with big, round eyes. His mother nudges him. "Tell him your name, honey," she says.

"Darren. I really like your show," the kid says, "And my favorite character is Dig-Dog."

Jesus wept. Of all the things I hate about The Digger Family Amazing Power Hour, and there are several, the one I hate most is the extended family they've saddled me with: Kid Digger and Daisy Digger and Uncle Digger and the Three Lieutenant Diggers: Ditch, Posthole and Grave. But the worst, the absolute worst, is the Mighty Dig-Dog, mainly because he's the real hero of the show. They play me as a big buffoon, always getting in over my head until Dig-Dog comes in to save the day. Bastard.

But I try to keep a smile on my face as I write on the picture. I hand it back and say, "He's my favorite, too." Smiling makes my face hurt.

These two stories are excellent entertainment but also are good examples of writing with voice.

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Other topics on voice:
style and voice

a toast to dreams and to children

Today is my oldest daughter's 7th birthday. Earlier this week, she said to me, "Mommy, I want you to ask your boss if you can stay home on my birthday." It broke my heart to tell her no. I'm a contractor and I don't get vacation time. If I don't go to work, I don't get paid. Someday--before the kids are all grown up--I pray that my writing efforts succeed and I can finally work from home.

So today I raise a toast to dreams and someday when our dreams all come true. To children with their innocence and their faith and their love. And to Makani with her eager love for learning, her vivid imagination, and those little freckles splattered across her cheeks.

5 Baby Steps to Parading Naked

To market books, you must bare your soul. You must be naked. But people don't throw off the confines of proper demeanor and modesty easily. They don't burn all their clothes and then parade down Main Street or go to work in one day without a bit of discomfort.

No, they start small. Maybe unbutton the top few buttons and wear capris. Then it's shorts and tank tops, then skimpy shorts and mini skirts, then a one-piece bathing suit, then a bikini, and then they go topless. Finally, it seems ridiculous to still be wearing those bikini bottoms. Each step takes time as people grow comfortable with themselves and their bodies.

Same goes for marketing your soul--er, I mean, your artwork. You start small. You start with the exposure you are comfortable with. You start with what you can handle. Don't rush it because the nakedness of your soul needs to be natural.

1. Develop one-on-one online relationships.
Using those popular social sites like Goodreads, Facebook, or MySpace, connect with a potential audience. Don't use this as a means to tell everybody about your work. Instead share conversations, listen, and take an interest in others. You never learn anything with your mouth open. Those who are only there to promote themselves appear fake.

2. Meet the needs of a small group.
Start a blog -- not with a look-at-me clamoring but rather a let-me-offer-what-help-I-can generosity. People have a tendency to ignore the Look-At-Me's of the world. Use your blog to promote others by reviewing stories and other blogs, conducting interviews, promoting the work of others. Build a connection of people, a community that exists outside you.

3. Seek reviews from those with a small following.
"Hey, I wrote this short story. Will you read and review it please?" Whether it is good or bad feedback, be professional and let it teach you and make you grow. Apply the criticism to your editing process. Get used to rejection. Get comfortable with all your flab hanging out.

4. Offer generosity.
Contests. Rewards. Free publicity. Use your imagination. What can you do to bless others? People flock to that. People talk about it. You need people who will market for you. To do that, you gotta be more than a name on a good book. You gotta be a Purple Cow.

5. Seek reviews from those with a large following.
So you've refined your work. You've let the fire of criticism burn the crap out of your stories. You've studied. You've stripped down to your undies. People have laughed at you and mocked you. And people have praised you. Now it is time to peel off that last layer. Now it is time to take it to someone you admire and seek their review. Seek their word of recommendation.

Hey, I'm sure there are many ideas I missed. Please leave comments to share your ideas. Marketing is something I would love to learn more about.

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Other topics on nakedness:

Short Story Review: The Power Factory blog by Jonathon Munn

I've been enjoying these short stories by Jonathon Munn that he posts on his blog The Power Factory. They are easy reads and very intriguing. Some are a little creepy, but all of them have an element of mystery that keeps you reading until the end.

All four stories (so far) are well-dramatized. You experience the strange events as the main character does. He does a good job of setting the scene, creating a mystery, and revealing the answers piece by piece. And each story is better than the one before. So you'll get to watch the writer grow as he adds another story every week.

From the Mouths of Babes

Saturday afternoon, I was feeding my youngest Kaylee, who gobbled up all her food. Boy, that girl has an appetite. When I come home from work each day, she tells me how much she has grown. 

So yesterday as I set food in front of her, she told me that she eats to be strong. 

"I'm strong," she said, "because I'm going to be a perret when I grow up!"

"A parrot?"

"No, a perret!" she said angrily.

"A parent?"

"No, a perret!" She was quite upset.

"Oh, a pirate!"

"Yes, I'm going to be a pirate that do anything." She threw her hands up in the air in celebration. "Anything I want to."

Oh, anything she wants to, huh? I think she's a little confused. It's supposed to be The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, not the pirates that do anything they want to. She has a rude awakening waiting for her.

2nd Marketing Strategy: Being Naked

I was originally going to call this post "Being Real" but realized there is more to it than that. People don't like to walk around naked for a reason: they don't like all their faults hanging out for everyone to see. People don't want others to see those stretch marks, that bulge in their tummy, or that funny little dimple in their butt. Yeah, we all like to hide. Even the better looking among us don't like the feeling of being on display.

Nobody likes to feel vulnerable.

Although companies market their products, artists market themselves. To be an artist is to put your soul into your work. You put yourself on display--naked for everyone to see, to criticize, to rip apart, to envy, to hate, to destroy. If you hold anything back of yourself as you draw, paint, write, sculpt, create, dance, or act, you will miss the mark. Your creation will be empty and no one will be drawn to it. No one.

When I published my first book, I felt strangely naked and vulnerable. I had written with the purpose of publishing, but after posting the book on, I wanted to snatch it back. I wanted to hide behind my computer screen. I'm just not ready, I told myself. My writing's not good enough yet. I don't know what I'm doing. Who am I to think anyone wants to read what I wrote?

What if they reject me? My first book and no one likes it. They'll never try to read my stuff again. Worse, what if they like me and my fame spreads across the world? Complete exposure, my soul hanging out for everyone to see. Friends, neighbors, strangers--they will all know the nitty gritty of what makes me tick.

I wasn't sure I wanted this dream to be an author anymore. My hands shook with the effort to not delete my first ebook.

I got over it. The discomfort of nakedness only lasts a short time. Just like the discomfort of trying anything new, the newness fades and the exposure becomes natural. So I want to give one word of advice:

If an idea to further your exposure makes you want to hide, then that is what you must do.

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Other topics on marketing:
1st Marketing Strategy: Being Humble
3rd Marketing Strategy: Being Persistent

Other topics on nakedness:
5 Baby Steps to Parading Naked

Recommended Marketing Books:
Purple Cow by Seth Godin

Dreams is now released!

Strange dreams disturb the darkness, and in the midst of it all, the dragon calls.

I have just released my third novella, Dreams, which continues the Siraendis series from the viewpoint of Ahern. Just thirteen years old and already hard as a warrior, he is out to revenge the death of his family, but first he must protect the friends that now surround him.
Ahern's story was particularly hard to write. His language is vulgar and much more vivid than my own, and many of the words he would use, I would blush to use them. In fact, it made me quite uncomfortable to write. But not every character I write is going to be like me.
It was growing dark. "Can't we stop now?" Chester whined. "My feet hurt." The sound of her voice grated on his ears. Couldn't she shut up? His feet hurt too.

"We should gag the whore," Ahern said in a low growl, "or leave her behind for the
emperor to eat—if he can stomach her."
Ahern is a hormonal boy and thinks a lot about things I never thought about, like the curve of a woman's body. I'm not a lesbian. I am a happily married woman with three children. My husband had to tell me where I needed more detail on Ahern's observations and thoughts. And I'm blushing now just thinking about it.
Taking rear guard, Ahern marched at the back. He tried not to watch Lelea's ass swaying in front of him—he needed to focus—but as the monotony of putting one foot in front of the other drummed in his head for hours, his eyes wandered back. If he wasn't so tall, his face would be even with it as she was standing a few steps above him. By the dead, she looked good.

One curvy side would bunch up. Then the other side. The light showed the muscles as they moved back and forth, nearly hypnotizing him with their rhythm. His hand could have cupped it. If she were facing him, straddling him, it would be a perfect handhold.
He also is not sweet and innocent. Think more of a boy who grew up in the streets and whose family is a gang, and then you'll understand a modern version of Ahern. To him, his weapon is the solution to every problem:
He was about to climb into his own bedroll when Cade, poking at the fire, spoke to him. "I've seen the future so many times with so many variations," he said. He sounded like he was almost talking to himself. "I'm not even sure what is real anymore. I know where this is leading, and I'm not sure I can face it."

"You face it like you did that brute of a man—with your staff in hand, ready to

"That's not always the answer, Ahern."

"Yes, it is."
So please take the time to enjoy Dreams and share it with others!

Review: Jam by Roy L. Pickering Jr.

On his blog, Roy L. Pickering Jr. wrote Jam, a short story about a middle-aged man getting laid off from the job he had held for years. My feelings about this story are rather mixed up. I liked it, but I felt that the author could have adjusted a few things to make it even better.

Throughout the story, Floyd does a lot of self-reflection, remembering his youthful zeal for adventure and his dreams of a wondrous future that were never fulfilled. The woman, who was at his side as he ventured out into the world, has left him, rejecting him for being too passive. The job that was supposed to be his ticket to success betrayed him, dumping him for younger blood. His youthful passion has drifted away as the toils of life have sucked him dry.

The thing that made me want to write a review of this story was the ending. Although I don't want to give it away, I have to say that it is the ending that makes this story worthwhile. It was a bit jarring and unexpected. The character didn't seem the type to respond in this fashion. He had seemed so mopey throughout the story. But I know that, when everything is going wrong and the world is set against me, there is only one way that I respond, and that is exactly what Floyd did. I recommend reading this story just for that moment, when Floyd responds to the whole situation at the very end.

Last December, I was laid off from my job of 10 years. It was an awful experience, training my incompetent replacements, and I left the place bitter and angry but at the same time oh so thankful to finally be free of that oppressive environment. So in many ways, I identified with the character's situation. But Pickering should have played up the drama a little more. There was so much more he could have said and done to draw the reader in a little deeper.

I felt that Pickering was in his character's head too much. There was very little showing and a lot of telling, like when he went to the office and his old coworkers ignored him. Pickering talks about them ignoring Floyd, but instead, he could have had Floyd tell a joke to lighten the mood or say farewell. It would have made his invisibility more poignant, and it would have set us, the readers, into the scene rather than just in the character's head.

In conclusion, I would give this story 3.5 stars.

Princess Kick-Butt

I read this article about parents who want to stomp out the princess mentality and was quite perturbed by what was said.

I guess I could somewhat understand these parents. Before I had three little girls of my own, I thought, in my arrogance and foolishness, that if I ever had a girl she wouldn't wear pink, play with Barbies, or watch princess movies. And she most definitely won't decorate her room in a princess theme or wear Disney princess clothes.

Yeah, well, I got over it. I grew up and realized girls are girls. I have three of them who love nothing better than dresses that twirl around them as they dance. And I can often find all three of them, wearing sundresses, as they search for toads and slugs and worms and play in the mud in the backyard. They climb trees and wrestle and dream of being pirates or ninjas or faeries or kittens.

Yesterday, two of them had out their toy swords, fighting the neighbor boys with their nerf guns. They like to watch Disney princess movies, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and anything about animals. They love all animals and bugs and study science and explore their world.

We just painted Makani's room purple. We're going to decorate it with sea turtles. And we painted Kaylee & Rowena's room pink. We'll decorate with rainbows. And some nights, I make up stories about three little princesses who climb out of the castle wall and ride their ponies into great adventures. We read stories about princesses with sass like The Princess and the Pizza or about princesses with gumption like Princesses are Not Quitters.

And someday we will read The Little Princess, a story about a girl from a rich family who falls on hard times. Her father always told her she was his little princess, and now that she is all alone and treated as a slave, she finds the courage and the hope and the imagination to keep going. Because she believes that all girls are princesses. No matter what their station, she treats everyone with kindness like a princess should.

So this is what those three little girls have taught me about princesses:

  • Girls are princesses. That's just the way it is.
  • Princesses are adventurers.
  • Princesses are innovators.
  • Princesses explore.
  • Princesses never quit.
  • Princesses are courageous.
  • Princesses are warriors.
  • Princesses care about others.

So tell me again? Why don't we want our girls to be princesses?

I've never been into poetry, but author Michele Torrey has a brilliant poem, entitled Princess on her blog. It reminds me of my own childhood adventures, exploring and playing and pretending grand stories where I was the princess. Please check it out. Enjoy.

Review Blog Story: Uninvoked by anonymous

An anonymous author is writing a story about a girl--an outcast--who doesn't have magic in a world where magic abounds. She's rejected for this, living with other outcasts outside the city, and the tattoo on her face marks her as an indel, one without magic.

I find this concept fascinating because so many fantasy stories characterize the hero as special because of their magic. Magic is the symbol of destiny. Magic is the power of that sets the hero apart. Magic is what makes him special. Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan. Belgariad by David Eddings. Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. And of course, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowlings, where not only does his magic make him special within the world but also he is more powerful than most wizards and set apart by the scar on his forehead.

Well, this heroine doesn't have magic. She is ordinary, just like us, but for her that ordinariness is a handicap in the midst of all that magical power.

But she has skills that the Duke needs to save his life from assassins. Can they offer her enough money for her aid? Will she help them? Maybe--if it suits her. Maybe not if it doesn't.

It is a very intriguing and entertaining story with typical rough draft issues. For one, it needs more in character development and details, but the plot seems sound. Furthermore, the author is doing an excellent job of raising questions to hook the reader and giving answers slowly to keep the reader's interest. I can see the potential with flushing it out and giving it a good editing ...

So check out the first chapter of Uninvoked to support a new author.

The Basis of Wisdom

I read this article about Sotomayor, which says the following about a controversial speech she made in 1997:

In that speech, Sotomayor said, "I would hope that a wise woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion" than a wise man.


But he [Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee] said that he was still worried about Sotomayor's past statement.

"It basically suggests that a judge should not aspire to be objective since that's impossible to do. It's inevitable that your personal views would affect your decision-making. And to me, that's directly contrary to our great history of blind justice in America," Sessions added.

I am not really for or against Sotomayor. I do not have enough experience or knowledge of her to make an adequate opinion, but the idea that the senators want a judge who will not apply wisdom and understanding and compassion and experience to the cases that they must judge frightens the holy cow poop out of me.

Where else does wisdom come from, but from our expierences?
Who wants a judge that judges without wisdom?

If they want a judge that does not have the capacity to apply experience, then they should set a computer to the task. For a computer will use the law as the only criteria, the only input, by which to make a decision.

Oh my, now that will make an interesting sci-fi, horror story. Yes, I can hear it now. "What do you think you're doing, Mr. President?"

Humility Marketing Resources

In her blog Conversation Agent, Valeria Maltoni wrote an article, entitled Top Ten Reasons Why Your Content Marketing Strategy Fails. One reason for failure, she says, is because... 

Your content is all about you, not your customer - the surest way to bore someone or to become irrelevant quickly is by not even trying to relate to them.
Self-focus is the problem that keeps many from meeting the needs of their clients. You can't listen to the needs of others, if you are centered on your own greatness. And if you can't listen to their needs, you can't meet their needs. And if you can't meet their needs, you have nothing to offer and you won't succeed.

On Problogger, Darren Rowse says something similar in his article 10 Techniques to Get More Comments on your Blog:

Be humble - I find that readers respond very well to posts that show your own weaknesses, failings and the gaps in your own knowledge rather than those posts where you come across as knowing everything there is to know on a topic. People are attracted to humility and are more likely to respond to it than a post written in a tone of someone who might harshly respond to their comments.

Nobody enjoys talking to a know-it-all. People want to be respected, and they want their own knowledge to be honored. In short, people like to be listened to, and you can't do that if you think you have all the answers.

My Humble Self-Assessment

I know myself well enough to know that I don't know myself very well. (Now try to say that ten times fast.)

I struggle with self-doubt. I sometimes feel like giving up. I desperately look for that pat on the back or that word of praise, as if my own opinion isn't enough to carry me through. I worry about my looks. I worry about money. I worry about failure. And people's bad opinions of me can really tear me down.

Those are my weaknesses. And I know them very well. I fight them. I try to let go of the need for approval and the fear of failure. And some days, I manage to win that battle. Other times, I'm just dragging through life, celebrating nothing, and resenting people who seem to have it all together.

On the other hand, I know my strengths too. I am learning how to write good stories. Oh, there is plenty of room for improvement. But at this point, it is the practice that will make the difference, not the lack of skill or talent. That sounds very vein to say, but it's not. Because I can honestly see the improvement over the years, and I know what I'm doing right.

I know very little about marketing, and that could be my downfall if I let it. Failure scares me, because I want so much to succeed. But this is one thing I will never give up: writing and learning to market. Maybe tomorrow, I'll figure it all out. Maybe tomorrow, I will find what it takes to succeed.