Category Archives: Books

PRESENTING… Another Free Read! Fire-Rider!

Well! Having discovered that the “Free Reads” hobby here at Plain & Simple Press apparently generates sales over at Amazon, I decided to add the current Fire-Rider tome to the serial publications.

As I mentioned yesterday, getting the thing online will be a large project. It has 79 chapters, f’rhevvinsake. About 87 berzillion images are scattered hither and yon, on WordPress, on Facebook,, on Pinterest, and on my hard drive…finding a specific one is a challenge.

Rather than dribble these things out at the rate of one squib a week over a year and a half (will I even live that much longer??), I’ve decided to publish a section a week. Fire-Rider has 18 sections (published at Amazon as short “books”), so if I keep to the schedule (good luck with that!), the whole thing should be online in 18 weeks.

That assumes I get my act that much together and keep it together.

The first four chapters will go online tomorrow, along with a foreword and a parody scholarly article on the life and times of Kaybrel and his cohort (I think it’s pretty deadpan funny…but maybe you have to read and write scholarly papers to realize what it’s poking fun at). Wednesdays and Thursdays are rumored to be the best days to publish blog posts — supposedly readers are bored with their jobs along about then and so tune in to tune out. So I will try to post weekly on Wednesday mornings.

This little project has absorbed the entire day. But if, as I’ve done with the other serialized books, I can get the entire thing scheduled for publication in upcoming days, it will be pretty self-sufficient. Then the only real challenge is to remember to plug each new appearance on Facebook and Twitter…a chore that has been slipping my mind of late.

Really…computer stuff flummoxes me! 😀

At any rate, a start is made. Watch this space: links to the first four chapters, the front matter, and the back matter will go up tomorrow morning. You can find a link to the Fire-Rider saga at the top of any page or post at Plain & Simple Press. Whenever the chapters go live, I’ll insert links in the table of contents in the Fire-Rider page.

C’mon by…it’s SO much better than working.

How to Write a Nonfiction Book Proposal

Derailed from the Ella’s Story project!. I’m afraid this week’s episode  ain’t a-goin’ online tomorrow (Monday), as scheduled. That would be because I’ve spent the last ten days or so working on a new book proposal — one to be sent out to real publishing houses, one after another, until someone folds and buys the thing. 😀

First part of next week, I’m sending this thing to a prominent Canadian university press, mostly because the subject matter (which shall remain unnamed until I have a contract) has had more press and regulatory attention in Canada than in the U.S.

Writing a nonfiction proposal is a project. And since you don’t do this every day for a living, it’s usually a gestalt project: interrupted every time you turn around by more immediate concerns. Kids, jobs, spouses, barking dogs, blog posts… Hereabouts, paying work has been coming in over the transom — the Chinese mathematicians do not spend any time sitting on their hands! — so of course their projects take precedence over a speculative endeavor. Even though I expect this speculative endeavor to turn a few shekels. Eventually.

But now is more immediate, by far, than eventually.

So here’s a plan: Not having a chapter of idle fiction to post, why don’t we talk about how to write a nonfiction book proposal…

Probably we should start with why one would do such a thing.

Here’s my line of reasoning for this book:

Amazon is all well and good for a bookoid that you don’t think is very important (the Fire-Rider series, for example, or yet another diet/cookbook, or a strange fictional ramble that doesn’t fit into any standard genre but surely isn’t literary fiction either…). But if you have something you think people will buy, or a subject you think is important enough to bring to a wide audience (not just your friends, relatives, and those folks on Fiverr you paid to write reviews), you’re best off to bring it out through a real publishing house: a commercial publisher or a university press.

Advantages:

  1. Publishing houses have marketing departments. No, they’re usually not the high-octane variety, but they at least give you a leg up.
  2. Publishing houses have copyeditors. You don’t have to pay those copyeditors to clean up your manuscript and make it fit Chicago style.
  3. Publishing houses have book designers and page layout artists.
  4. Publishing houses have acquisitions editors and editorial committees and marketing committees. Yes: the dreaded gate-keepers. When you can get past those gate-keepers, you signal to interested parties that you have a half-way decent product. Maybe even a salable product.
  5. Publishing houses have advertising budgets. They also have catalogues and websites that feature your book — free of charge to you.
  6. Book reviewers at major publications — the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times,  the New Yorker, the Atlantic, and that ilk — will not give your self-published tome a second look. Nay, not even a first look. To get real book reviews in real markets that reach real readers who are likely to buy your book, you need to be published through a publishing house with a real gate-keeper. And that doesn’t include CreateSpace.
  7. Libraries and bookstores will pick up your book from a real publisher without you having to jump through hoops to make that happen.
  8. Real publishers will pay you an advance against royalties. You don’t have to return that advance if your book doesn’t sell enough to earn that much for the publisher (they may not love you, in that case…but at least you get paid something for the work you put in to writing the book).
  9. Real publishers don’t jack you around, trying to get you to give your book away for free in their profit-making “lending” program.

Okay, so once you’ve decided you want to get serious about publishing and moving your writing career a notch above the outsider level, you need to write a winning proposal.

The proposal is your sales pitch. It’s the tool you use to persuade the staff of a publishing house that you have a book idea that fits the company’s mission and that they can market successfully.

So, a proposal is a pretty standard document — though you have to write with some flair and have a winning idea to make it fly. Here’s what’s in a proposal:

  1. Cover letter to the acquisitions editor. (Find this person’s name at the publisher’s website or from a current edition of Literary Marketplace.) Give your book’s working title and explain what the book is about and why you think their house is the appropriate publisher for it.
  2. An overview of the book
  3. A discussion of why you’re writing it.
  4. Explanation of how your book compares to others in the field. (It’s OK if there are other books on the subject: sometimes the existence of similar books even helps to sell yours by showing there’s a market for it.
  5. Description of the intended audience. Who do you think will buy this book, and why. If there’s a special market segment — such as textbooks, for example — say so and explain why the book fits into that segment.
  6. Statement of the anticipated length of the final manuscript.
  7. Description of the number and nature of any graphics (tables, illustrations, figures)
  8. Explanation of your qualifications for undertaking the project.
  9. A table of contents: a list of chapter titles.
  10. A chapter outline: bulleted outline or narrative description for each chapter.
  11. Your book’s introduction and one to three completed chapters.

None of these things is very hard. But they can be time-consuming. You shouldn’t let yourself get in a big hurry to do them: leave time to let it sit, come back to it, and revise.

Like I say: It’s a project.

The Complete Writer: Writing Fiction *FREE READ*

The Complete Writer
Part V. Writing Fiction

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

Chapter 25. Where Do Your
Characters Come From?

Athena springs full-fledged from the head of Zeus

Who are the people in your fiction? Where did they come from? Come to think of it, do you even know how you dreamed them up?

I have to admit that sometimes I have no idea. Fire-Rider, the first of several tales of an invented world in the far, far future, teems with characters who bear no resemblance to anyone I’ve ever met or even read about. Homicidal warlords and foot soldiers, powerful ruling women and their sister wives, a boy prostitute and a prosperous madam, a tribe of young refugees unhomed by ceaseless wars, a woman hunter and trapper, the foreman of a vast ranch-like estate, a healer who’s also a warlord, a wandering teacher and bard . . . whence did these people arise?

Well, out of the writer’s mind, obviously. Often I think that each character is a fragment of the writer’s consciousness, some part of her or his own personality in some way hidden until it pops out, full blown from the head of Zeus, and materializes in the form of a new (albeit imagined) human being.

Other times I think, “That is just not possible!” These people do things I have no experience with; they know things and say things that I could never know or say. I have to do hours of research to envision some kind of understanding of their world, their lives, and their loves.

Is there ever a real-life model for such characters?

Occasionally. Just now I’m writing a chapter in the first-person voice of a character who’s a kind of public intellectual, to the extent possible in a time when almost no one can read or write. He’s a wandering teacher and bard. After Hapa Cottrite coalesced in my imagination, I realized that he resembles one of my editorial clients, an international banking CEO and long-time ex-pat with a sharp mind, broad curiosity, and zest for living among foreign peoples. Once that dawned on me, I began to model Cottrite explicitly after this man, to the extent that their moods, outlook, and even physical appearance are similar.

But most times, there’s no visible connection between a character in one of my tales and a real-world human being. They don’t resemble anyone I know, because no one I know lives in a reimagined analog of the European Middle Ages amalgamated with life in medieval Asia.

William the Conqueror and pals

Probably they spring from what I know of life in the medieval period and of the world-view of the people who inhabited that time.

That’s a fair amount: before I first engaged the doctorate in late Elizabethan and early Jacobean English literature and history, I wanted to specialize in the medieval period. So, I took quite a few upper-division and graduate courses in medieval literature (both British and continental works, because my undergraduate major was French). And I still edit scholarly works of medieval history.

Some pretty heady stuff went on during those times. And it was weird. If you or I could magically step through a time warp and come out in 1250, we would feel like we’d landed on another planet. That’s how different the people were from us.

So I suppose you could say the Fire-Rider characters are sort of “modeled” on what I happen to know of a typical medieval warlord, informed to some extent by what I’ve learned about Mongol warriors of Genghis Khan’s time. That’s pretty broad. And since no two of these characters are the same, it’s hard to say where their individual personalities came from.

The women’s roles, however, are completely re-imagined and warped. Never in human history have women, aristocratic or otherwise, done what Fire-Rider’s women do. In their cases, I’ve had to invent, invent, and re-invent. Even to imagine what they look like, to say nothing of what they get up to, requires a great deal of focused, concentrated work.

Maybe we could say, then, that our characters come out of our experience, learned and observed, and out of our invention, purely imagined.

Or maybe they spring full-formed from the head of Zeus?

Kaybrel FireRider

Kaybrel FireRider, Kubna of Moor Lek

New, Handier Way to Read Ella’s Story!

You’ll recall that I had to wrap the ongoing installments of The Complete Writer into PDFs, after the publishing a series of chapters maxed out WordPress. All things considered, I decided that was pretty cool. It allows readers to go straight to the content that interests them without having to unravel a roll of electronic toilet paper to find it. How, one wondered, would that work for Ella’s Story?

One does not read a piece of fiction for the same reason, though, that one reads a nonfiction book. Fiction, outside the sticky confines of a literature course, is read for pleasure, to pass the time of day (or night). There are no subject headings into which to divide a recitation of facts or advice. This is a challenge when the noveloid is really a kind of telenovela, a genre whose authors invent on the fly.

It struck me, though, that I could gather ten chapters of Ella’s Story at a time into a single PDF. Then let the E.S. page run the next ten, one at a time, until enough installments accrue to build the next PDF.

Yesterday I published Chapter 22 in blog format. So that presented enough material to create “Part I” and “Part II”: two PDFs containing the story as published so far, and then some. The PDFs, I put online last night.

Once I get to Chapter 30, I’ll take those new 10 pages off the E.S. page, post them all together in a single PDF (“Part III”!), and…so on to infinity.

As it develops, this will be a huge improvement for the reader. With the contents of each 10-chapter “Part” listed on the E.S. page and no more than 10 new chapters posted there, you’ll be able go straight to where you left off, rather than having to scroll endlessly to pick up the story.

Try it! You’ll like it!

The Complete Writer: Writing a Nonfiction Book *FREE READS*

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 18. Writing the Nonfiction Book

The Complete Writer
Part III

This book is a work in progress. A new chapter appears here each week, usually on Fridays. To see all the chapters published so far, visit the *FREE READ* page for The Complete Writer. You can buy a copy of the entire book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our Books page or send a request through our Contact form.

18
The Nonfiction Book

“Writing a Nonfiction Book”? I could write an entire book on the subject—as many others have, to ill effect.

Go to Amazon and search this string:

how to write a nonfiction book

Stay away from the ones that purport to teach you how to write a book in thirty days. There’s even one that claims you can write a book in twenty-one days! Avoid.

Make your way past the obvious frauds (sure, you can compile a book in a month: if your copy is already written) to texts that look like they make sense. There aren’t many.

Anything by William Zinsser is good. Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life is not a how-to but should not be missed. Stephen King’s On Writing is useful. Otherwise, well . . . My best advice is to learn by trial and error. Sit down, write the book, read it with a jaundiced eye, rewrite it, repeat.

You can apply most of the principles described in chapters 12 through 17 about writing feature articles, at least to chapters if not to the entire book-length document.

Of course, the nonfiction book is much more than just a long feature article. For that reason you need to think it through and map it out before beginning

Preliminary steps

First task is to consider who will read your book and why. What do you have to offer readers, and what might interest them most? This is where you need to lay your emphasis.

Consider who these readers are: What’s their reason for picking up your book? What is their reading level? In what context might they read your book—that is, would they read it on the job as something that will help them with their work? Or as a guide for a hobby, or as self-help to deal with a personal challenge? Are they looking for inspiration or facts or . . . what?

These and related issues will determine the content of your book, the kind of language you use to convey your content, and the book’s organization and slant.

Decide what information your readers need to know, and focus on that. Omit ephemeral material or, if you must, put it in an appendix.

Then organize carefully. It’s best to write an outline upfront, before you begin to write. True, some people don’t like to work this way, but with a book-length manuscript, it’s really not an option. You can always change the organization before your final draft. But at the outset, you need to know where you’re going.

Research carefully. Double-check your facts. Don’t assume it’s right just because you’ve known it half your life. The Internet puts the biggest library in human history on your desk, and Google gives you humanity’s most versatile indexing system. Use them.

Cite sources for everything that’s not common knowledge. Be careful to avoid accidentally plagiarizing someone else’s work—all words taken from some other source should be put in quotation marks and cited; any ideas that are not your own should be acknowledged.

If you decide to write a book based on your blog, bear in mind that blog posts are not book chapters. Much of the material in this book comes from posts on various blogs, but to make them fit, I’ve had to rewrite extensively. The language of book publishing, by and large, is not bloggish. Create a convincing voice and style for the book, and use it throughout.

Organizing your research

Research for a nonfiction book can be extensive. For a book in progress on DCIS and low-level noninvasive breast cancer, I have three huge three-ring binders filled with articles and notes. The information in those binders is organized and indexed on hundreds of index cards.

To get a grip on that much information, I use a fairly simple system:

  • Print out all source material, including interview transcripts, articles downloaded from the Internet, web pages, and everything else. Use three-hole punched paper, or get a paper punch and punch holes in the printouts.
  • Organize the printouts roughly by topic, trying to get the material in the order of the planned chapters, as best as possible.
  • Place the printouts in one or more binders.
  • Number the pages.
  • Reread the material from beginning to end, noting keywords relevant to the book’s planned content and organization in the printouts’ margins.
  • Get a large stack of notecards.
  • Go through the printouts again, from beginning to end. Enter each keyword on a notecard with a note about what is said concerning the topic. Also enter the page number on the notecard.
  • Organize the notecards by the book outline’s sections and, within those, by keywords.

Now you can use the notecards to guide you through your research material to write and organize your book’s content.

Budget time for the job

This is not something you’re going to accomplish in a month or (as one cheesy book on Amazon proclaims) a day. It will take weeks and probably months to write a book. Occasionally a writer spends years on a book. So don’t expect to toss it off in a short time.is not something you’re going to accomplish in a month or (as one cheesy book on Amazon proclaims) a day. It will take weeks and probably months to write a book. Occasionally a writer spends years on a book. So don’t expect to toss it off in a short time.

The most efficient way to work on a book is to schedule a set time and number of hours per day or per week for the project.

Don’t let other people or distractions interfere with that schedule. The only way you can get the job done is to do it. If you’re not doing it, you will never finish the book.

If your family’s demands interfere to the extent that you can’t break free the time needed for the project, hire a babysitter for the little ones and take yourself, your laptop, and your research materials to a coffee house or a library. Many people find they work best when they’re away from home, even if “away” is at a park or a restaurant.

By the same token, however, don’t overdo it. Limit the amount of time and attention you dedicate to the project to your scheduled work times. Otherwise, the thing will expand to fill all corners of your life, and you will be come a very dull boy or girl. As you make time for your writing, also make time for your family, your social life, and some physical activity. Time spent away from writing is psychologically as effective for your work as time spent on the writing.

Keep publishability in mind

As you’re writing the book, don’t forget that you have to peddle it to a publisher and you have to peddle it to readers.

Bear in mind who your readers will be and how your book will differ from and improve on others on your subject. As you’re writing, keep thinking about what will engage your readers’ interest and reading skills. Never lose sight of your market.

Get someone else to read it

Consider feedback from the sort of people who might be your readers to be a non-negotiable part of the process. Your book is not finished until someone else has read it, told you what they think of it, and suggested what might make it better. It’s not finished until you take that advice into account and revise accordingly.

Hire or “volunteer” a beta reader, as described in chapters 7 and 9. Give this person some specific tasks to think about: don’t just hand over the manuscript and ask “whaddaya think?” Most people are afraid to hurt your feelings and so will answer “it’s fine! I love it!” This is not helpful.

Chapter 9 offers some strategies to help elicit useful feedback. Reassure your reader that your heart will not be broken if there’s something she or he doesn’t like, and that in fact, being straight with you will help you write the best book you can. Having made this promise, behave yourself professionally if the response contains some negative or disappointing commentary.

Hire a professional editor

Beta readers usually know nothing about the exigencies of publishing a book-length manuscript. You need professional editing help to prepare the manuscript for submission to an agent or for self-publication.

Many universities maintain lists of editors for graduate students completing dissertations and for faculty members who must publish or perish. Call the graduate college at your nearest university or, failing that, the English department or the university’s press office for referrals to experienced editors. There also are professional groups of editorial specialists, such as the Council of Science Editors; often they maintain lists of members looking for freelance work.

You can contact The Copyeditor’s Desk (http://thecopyeditorsdesk.com) through the contact page at the website, or through the P&S Press contact page. We may be able to help with your manuscript, or refer you to someone with expertise in your subject matter.

Ella’s Story: Chapters 5 & 6 *FREE READ!*

This is a story about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story

5.

At this rate, she was never going to get to sleep. Leaving the light off – none was needed, after all, nor did she want to wake anyone – she slipped out from under the covers, pulled on a robe, and padded barefoot down the cool stone hallway to the side entry at the far end of the women’s quarters. The door was alarmed, but she had a key and a code, which she used to let herself outside.

Zaitaf cast her argentine glow across the landscape that spread out before Ella’s restless gaze. What a thing, she reflected. Who would have imagined she would ever see such a place, pastoral and only half-peopled, much less live in it? Monochromatic beneath the moon’s platinum mantle, the broad pastures, the sturdy manor house – conservative but large and commanding – the gardens, the domesticated woods, and off in the distance the low mountains from which Skyhill took its name glowed like a painting limned in ebony ink on silver. Lovely by daylight, this evening it took her breath away. It wanted to fill her with love for the place. But it also stole other things away from her: her self, her loves, her past.

She gazed up at Zaitaf and wondered which of those gray patches on its face was Ethra. Could a person see Ethra at all without a magnifying lens? And . . . how was it possible that she’d been here almost thirty years? That she’d spent almost ten on Zaitaf?

Djitti had died a couple years after Ella was brought to Skyhill, recruited as Dorin’s second in overseeing the estate’s staff. Her daughter, now the Kaïna, was ten at the time. Not quite twenty when her father was assassinated. Five years Kaïna now, Rysha was.

How did all that happen between yesterday and today?

Bhotil would be in his 90s now, if he’d lived. He had been good to her, helped her work her way up from the resort’s laundry to dispatching and then to supervising staff. She missed him.

Every now and again she missed Bhotil. Now and again. But she missed Vighdi—her lover, her boss—every day.

Vighdi, shining bright in the sky. What was she doing now? Was she still on Zaitaf? Hell, was she even still living at all? Ella had never heard, one way or the other.

“Madame.”

She jumped, startled out of her reverie. At the door, watching her with a half-smile, stood Dorin.

“It’s after curfew. What are you doing out here?”

“Not much,” she said. “Just having a hard time getting to sleep. You, too?”

“Well, no. But opening the door sets off an alarm on my desk.”

“Oh, dear. I’m sorry. I thought my key would open it without waking you.”

“Well – at least it doesn’t wake the dead an all their kindred.”

“Can’t win, hm?”

“Never.”

He stepped outside onto the landing with her and stood gazing at the silver-plated landscape.

“Beautiful night, isn’t it?” he remarked.

“Oh, my, yes.”

Dorin stood quietly, his attention taken by the glowing scene. The moonlight picked up the silver in his hair and, to Ella’s eye, made him part of the show.

“So,” he said after a moment or two, “what’s keeping you awake tonight, Ella? Something on your mind?”

Ah. The talk-to-me gambit. She’d had the same steward’s training that he’d taken: social work and counseling. Maybe it was unkind of her, though, to suspect a “gambit.” Overseer, he was, but he’d also been a good enough friend to her.

She shrugged. “I dunno. Different things, I guess.”

He was quiet for a moment. The wait-’em-out gambit. She gave in. “The Darl business, I suppose. It’s just…a little much.”

“Upset you to see him suffering like that?”

“I suppose, yeah.” He waited some more. “No,” she added. “It’s not anything we haven’t all been through.”

“Most of us,” he agreed.

“When you think about it…well, hell. Dorin. You and I worked like animals to get where we are. This guy comes along, this guy, and he just drops out of the cooker into the dormitory at Skyhill? I mean…how does that happen?”

A dubious glance. “When did you start expecting life to be fair?” He actually sounded a little surprised. And yes. It probably was…out of character. The man could spot bullshit a mile away.

“Not recently,” she admitted. He smiled distantly, gazing at the silvered landscape. At length she spoke into his silence. “It’s just that it annoys me. This is Bintje’s doing. If she hadn’t gotten herself knocked up, we wouldn’t have to be dealing with a new slave, and the paperwork and the damn blacksuits in our faces and the training and the headaches that go with someone fresh out of the cooker.”

“Well. It’s not Bintje’s fault she got pregnant. She had the shot. You saw her get it. And you know the stuff doesn’t work a hundred percent of the time.”

“Okay, so Bintje brings home a belly, and the mistress decides…what? She’s going to buy a doctor for her? Why? The place is crawling with perfectly fine midwives.”

“She’s right that there isn’t enough medical care for people in service. Certainly not out here.”

“That’s why we have aircars: to take people into a hospital in the city.”

Dorin assented with a subtle laugh.

“How many times have you had to do that? All of…what? Once!” She was getting on a roll now. “For heaven’s sake. A parlor maid turns up pregnant, so we provide some crazy new medical service for every estate on the north side of E’o Cinnora?

“And what are we going to do if the Kaïna finds out that the sire of this urchin is a free man? For the love of all the gods! You and I are the ones who’ll get the heat for that.”

“Well, she’s not going to find out.”

“All she has to do is look it up in the girl’s records.”

“Why would she do that, when she has us to push papers, Ella?”

Exasperated, she gave him a look. “Accidents happen.”

He shrugged.

“And the child is his,” she continued. “If he knows about it, he’ll send the blacksuits to come take the baby away. Won’t that be a fine little drama!”

“He does know,” Dorin said.

What?

“A little talk was had with him. He agreed to sign the baby into the Kaīna’s possession. She’ll be born into Rysha’s service. She’s already inscribed in the state records and in ours as a slave. Belonging to Rysha Delamona, Kaïna of This, That, and the Other, not to Exclude the Whole Fucking Universe.”

She stared at him in astonishment. He smiled back at her and then returned to taking in the moonlit night.

“How the hell did you pull that off?”

“Well. It’s not what you know…”

“Uh huh. Some friend in high places?”

“Look. Far as I’m concerned, diddling a slave woman is rape – or it is, if you happen to be a free male. It is against the law. I know that, he knows that, we know that. It wasn’t very hard to track him down. He gave Bintje a fake name. But when he paid for his food at the dive where he picked her up, his financials went into the system. Along with a video of him coming on to her.

“After it occurred to him that he might not enjoy life on some asteroid, he got real interested the alternatives.”

She considered this for a minute.

“So…you had this ‘talk’ with the man?

“No, ma’am. Just happened to hear about it. From a guy I know.”

A guy I know. Once a Syndicato, always a Syndicato.

“Holy shit, Dorin! Do you know how much trouble we’ll get into if the Kaïna finds out about this and figures out we hid it from her?”

“Oh, no. It never entered my thick little skull.”

“Dorin…”

“She’s not going to find out. And even if she does, why should she care?”

“Why should she care that the father’s a free man and so the baby should be, too?”

“Not anymore. He signed the baby over to service. Permanently.”

“Seven Gods and All Their Cousins,” she swore softly.

He fell silent, as in this conversation ends here. Not so much luck, though. . .

“What if Bintje blabs to this doctor, this Darl? And what if he tells the mistress?”

“Well. We may have to have a little chat with him, too, before that can happen.”

“A secret’s not a secret when everybody and his little brother know about it.”

Dorin shrugged. “It’s not a secret. It’s public record.”

She sighed, annoyed beyond words.

“It’s too early to think about this stuff now, Ella,” he continued. “The guy’s in no shape to do any work, and he won’t be for four or five weeks. Bintje’s fine, and she’ll stay fine for that long. Mistress knows she’s pregnant and she thinks – correctly – that it was from a random encounter on a freeday. It hasn’t occurred to her to ask whether the sire was in service or in whose service, and I don’t think we should put that question into her mind. She’s busy. She doesn’t have time to worry about that kind of stuff. That’s our job – and we’re doing it. Right?”

“Oh, sure.”

She subsided. He made no rejoinder to this last jab. Knew it was pointless, she figured. The two stood quietly together, each returning to their private thoughts, gazing across the metallurgical landscape. A cool breeze was coming up, and the moonlit leaves began to shimmer as they whispered in the flowing air.

“Well, sister,” he said, about the time she felt it was growing cold, “we have to get up at dawn. Think we ought to go back to bed?”

“I suppose,” she said. “I’m sorry I woke you up.”

“That’s all right. We probably needed to talk. Besides—what a fine evening!”

Inside, he bade her a good night before she headed down the corridor through the women’s quarters and he walked back to his own room.

6.

A guy I know. Yeah. He was a Syndicato, all right.

Chapters 7 & 8

If You’d Asked Me… Cigarette Smokers vs. The World *FREE READ!*

This book is work in progress. You can buy a copy, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

SECTION 1, Continued:

God Is Great, Beer Is Good, and People Are Crazy

7. Why are people so rude to cigarette smokers?

We love you, but…some of us are not happy about chronic health risks brought on by parents who smoked heavily throughout our childhood, and we resent having still more of that garbage shoved into our lungs by other addicts.

We love you, but…some of us don’t enjoy being reminded, in vivid detail, of the way a loved one died in hideous pain from the cancer brought on by smoking. The stink of a cigarette smells amazingly like the stink of a woman on her deathbed with cancerous fluids leaking out of her.

We love you, but…some of us resent the fact that corporations pushing a drug (nicotine) that is more addictive than heroin can enrich themselves legally on the suffering and death of millions of people. Including, to our despair, you.

And yeah: some of us don’t understand how people can be so effing stupid.

Should I go on, or do you have the idea yet?

Ella’s Story: Chapter 4 *FREE READ*

This is a story about people who live ordinary lives as citizens of a vast interstellar empire. Indeed, a galactic empire. Each chapter will be posted individually here at the Plain & Simple Press blog, and then collected at a single page devoted to the book. Come on over to the Ella’s Story page to find all the chapters published so far, as well as the cast of characters and a list of place names.

Ella’s Story

4.

She’d been on the sale floor about four days—seemed like four years to her. She never saw the blacksuit woman again. Not that she was surprised at that.

Sleep came only with exhaustion, for all the good it did. The lingering pain from the punishment inflicted in the cooker would wake her as often as it blocked her from dozing off. The only place to pee was a bidet in the floor, fully exposed to the glassy eyes of cameras in the ceilings and walls—and of the miserable souls around her. Food was just barely food, but she had no appetite anyway.

A couple sat on one of the four platforms nearest to hers, on display like herself to any and all prospective buyers, of whom there was an amazing dearth. The woman wept on and off – more on than off, really – for no reason that Ella could see. The man sat in surly silence, never making the smallest effort to quiet her or even to speak to her. Why they were being sold as a pair escaped Ella. Only later did she learn that separating a married couple for the purpose of selling one or both of them violated some Varn law of service.

Others around her tried to sleep or sat staring blankly, bored. Carrying on a conversation would have been next to impossible: the racket of children screaming, carts and robot observers rattling around, ventilator motors grumbling bounced off the windowless cavern’s flat, unadorned glow walls. Nor, for that matter, did Ella care to speak to anyone.

§

She saw, eventually – what time of the day or night it was, she had no idea — a blacksuit making his way up the aisles ahead of a visitor, obviously a free man. Tall and long in build and in face, he was; once no doubt slender but now, in silver-haired middle age, a little pot-bellied. From a distance, she could see the blacksuit chattering away while the other ma

They were coming in her direction. As they approached, she heard the blacksuit going on, “…no track record…fresh out of the cooker. But other than that she pretty much fits your needs. You’ll need to train her, but she won’t cost you much.”

The man approached, stopped, and looked her over blandly. If he was interested, he wasn’t advertising so.

“Her health is excellent. She’s had all her inoculations, a year’s worth of contraceptive… She’s 26, still plenty young and strong but not a kid, and.…” The blacksuit barreled on in a sales pitch that quickly faded out of Ella’s consciousness. She looked at the gray-haired buyer and he looked at her. His expression, to the extent that he could be said to have an expression, was utterly unreadable.

But Varns. . . who could read anything about a Varn? Still seated, she backed away as far as the leash they’d tied around her ankle would allow.

“Hey, girlie!” The blacksuit reached for her. “Stand up and let us look at you.” She stared at him, unmoving.

“Get up!”

“Enough of that,” the other said. “Leave her alone.”

She turned her level gaze on him. He looked into her eyes, and a ghost of a smile crossed his long, sharp-planed face.

“Will you please back off?” he said to the blacksuited salesman. The guy fell resentfully silent.

He put a foot on the platform and hopped up onto it. But he didn’t move any closer. He just held a hand out toward her. “Let me help you up,” he said. His voice was calm and gentle. “C’mon.”

She hauled herself to her feet, declining to take his hand, and stood as far from him as she could get.

“That’s good,” he said. “It’s all right now: I promise not to bite.”

She wasn’t amused. Her expression said so, much as she tried to keep her face blank.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“Her name is Ella,” the blacksuit said.

“I thought you were going to shut up?” the man replied. This elicited another surly silence.

“What do you call yourself?” he turned back to her.

“Eliyeh’llya,” she said, pronouncing her name in the Samdelan mode.

“Ah. Well,” he smiled a little ruefully, “do you mind if I call you Ella?”

She shrugged. Did she have a choice? “It’ll work.”

“All right. Ella. My name is Bhotil. I work for DOW Enterprises. We’re looking for someone we can train to help out in our offworld operations. And . . .” he leafed through a binder of papers he had in hand, “it looks like you’ve had some experience in managing some kind of shipping. Is that so?”

“You could put it that way,” she replied, wondering what he was talking about. She’d dealt with Distributed Off-World on Samdela, but not in ways one of its employees would want to know much about.

“What exactly did you do in your work? Can you describe it?”

What did I do . . . that I wouldn’t be arrested for? She grasped for something to say. “Well, I . . . scheduled deliveries and checked with customers to be sure they got made. On time. And just . . . sort of rode herd on things.” And kept the books for three under-the-table businesses, using coded math and my mother’s northern Samdi dialect that not very many cops were likely to understand, and reported any violations to the bosses, and did their bidding and kept their orders private, and forged government and financial documents as needed, and located girls when the bosses wanted a change or had cronies in town and saw to it that their wives didn’t find out and ran money through the “laundry” and . . . What do you want to know?

“Rode herd”?

“Did the bookkeeping and kept the records. And saw to it that anything that wasn’t about to get done did get done. Just…made sure everything got done, and got done right.”

“That can be quite a chore.”

She shrugged. “Sometimes.”

“Think you’re up for another job that’ll keep you busy?”

“If it’ll get me out of here. Sure.”

“Oh, it’s a long way from this place.”

The longer, the better, she thought.

“You’ll have to work pretty hard,” he added.

“I earn my way,” she said.

“We’ll see.” He glanced in the direction of the blacksuit, who was watching them in blessed silence. “I’ll take her. Set her loose, if you will, please.” He seemed, she thought, like a man who was accustomed to cooperation from those around him. She knew men like that. From before…

The blacksuit acted like his sun had just come out from behind a cloud as he moved to release her from the bond around her leg.

She could kick him in the face while he was kneeling by her foot…better not, though. Better not.

They followed him up to a set of offices on the building’s second floor, where they were parked in a waiting room.

“This will take awhile,” Bhotil said. “We have to fill out a lot of forms and then listen to enough lectures to fill your ears for the next week.”

“Fine. As long as it gets us to the door sooner or later.”

He smiled. “That it will.”

“That guy looked like you’d made his day,” she remarked after a moment of silence.

“Well, yeah. He gets a commission on whatever sales he makes.”

“Oh.” Follows. I’m a “sale” now. Well, she’d been a “sale” before…but that, she hoped, did not appear in her record. She imagined she’d find out soon enough…surely the blacksuits would go over all her sins with the prospective new master. Those they knew about.

The two sat in the silence for a more minutes, he staring into the distance and she covertly studying him. He must have been a handsome man in his younger years…she guessed he was pushing 60. Still good enough looking, his features distinctively masculine and his gray eyes thoughtful-looking, if absent with boredom. She wondered how often he’d been through this slave-purchasing process.

He spoke: “You look a little tired.”

Understatement. “It’s not easy to sleep here.”

“No. I’m sure not.” She having nothing to add to that, he continued, “When we get back to the ship, you can have a warm bath and something to eat, if you’re hungry. Then you can go to bed and sleep as long as you like. You’ll have your own quarters there, while we’re in transit.”

Ship? Transit? What “transit”? “What ‘ship,’ Mr. Bhotil?” she asked.

“They didn’t tell you? I’m sorry, I thought they had. We’re based on Zaitaf. We’ll be going back there tomorrow morning…that would be in about eighteen hours.”

Her breath stopped. Her chest wouldn’t pull in any air. “Zai… You mean the moon?”

“Well, the larger one. There are two.”

“No!” She couldn’t breathe. She jumped to her feet and managed to gasp in enough air to yell another NO! “I’m not going! You can’t take me there! No!” She stumbled away from him.

“Ella! Calm down!”

“No! No, I’m not going! No way!

He stood and reached for her. She dodged out of his grasp. “No! Leave me alone! You can’t take me there!” She started to sob, still trying to catch enough air.

A blacksuit approached, brandishing a billy club.

Bhotil glared him down. “Back off! She’s mine. I paid for her. I’ll handle this.”

The man paused, uncertain.

Now Ella was weeping uncontrollably. What was that he said? He already owned her? They already owned her? “No!”

In the instant she was distracted, Bhotil reached out and set his hands on her shoulders, exactly as the woman blacksuit had a few days before. He pulled her toward him.

“Ella,” he said. “Ella, will you please stop? Be quiet. No one’s going to hurt you.”

Sobs came in waves. She was beyond stopping them. All the fear and pain and anger and despair poured over her like a river of lava.

He held onto her and spoke something; what, she couldn’t make out over her own weeping, but he kept talking to her, low and gentle. How long this went on, she did not know. She felt the blacksuit nearby. She felt the eyes on her, other people in the waiting room staring. She felt Bhotil speaking. But what all that meant escaped her.

Then she was in his arms, weeping into the jacket covering his chest. He held her, for how long she couldn’t say. Finally, when she couldn’t draw another breath to sob, she stopped. He held her for a few seconds, a few minutes longer, she didn’t know.

“What in the Gods’ heavens is the matter, Ella?” he said. “Why are you carrying on like this?” He held her by the shoulders again, stroking the muscles between her shoulderblades.

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life breaking rocks,” she wailed.

“What?”

“Don’t send me to the mines. I haven’t done anything to deserve that.”

“Oh!” The light dawned across his face. “Is that what you think is happening?”

She tried to seek shelter against his chest again, but he held her in place. “No. Ella, woman. That’s not what’s going to happen at all.”

“What else would people do on some godforsaken moon?”

“Ella. Will you please pay attention to me?”

She nodded, but the tears flowing down her face gainsaid her.

He held her back away from him and then lifted her chin. “Listen to me.” She shook her head. “Yes.” He tightened his grip on her shoulders. “You’re not going to any mines. Are you an engineer? Is there anything you could do for us there?

“Mining is just a small part of what the colony does. Ethra…it has so many other jobs. Hardly any of us work at the mines.”

“What else is there to do?” If she choked out the words, still she could not help gainsaying him.

“Well… Freighting, for one. None of those big deepspace ships can land on the planet. They dock at Ethra, where they offload their cargo. Because the gravity’s lower. And we ship it all to the surface. Don’t you remember? That’s how you got here.”

“What?”

“You were offloaded on Zaitaf and loaded onto a local surface lander.”

“I don’t think so. They just dumped us into some sort of…garage. Here. On the planet.”

“Well, you would have been in a pod. You couldn’t see out, could you?” She shook her head, no. “Your pod would have been moved over to a surface-bound ship – like the one that will carry us back to Ethra Port. You probably didn’t even know it. From Ethra Port you would have been carried down to Varnis, and from Cinorra Port they would have brought you here.

“Everything – and everyone, free or slave – that comes into the Varn system by deepspace carrier is laid off on Zaitaf and reloaded onto vessels that carry cargo to the surface. Same is true for whatever and whoever leaves the planet.”

“Oh.” She looked at him, amazed. With his fingers, he wiped the hot tears from her cheeks.

“And we have a research station there. More scientists and mathematicians than you can count. And a communications station. And a power station. And an agriculture pod that raises fresh fruits and vegetables and grain to feed us all. And a survey system studying the planet. And there’s a big, fancy resort. Believe it or not, rich people think it’s a fine place to go for vacations.”

“No.”

“Yes. You want to see some famous Great One? Sooner or later they all show up on Zaitaf.”

“Seriously? Like the Kaïna?”

“I’ve seen the Kai and the Kaïna myself. In person.”

“She goes there?”

“She does. They all do.”

§

The Kaïna Djitti. No, Ella never saw her on Zaitaf, not in all the years she spent there. Who would have thought she’d end up in her service?

No one. Least of all Ella.

Chapters 5 & 6

The Complete Writer: Overcapitalization *FREE READ*

The Complete Writer is a work in progress, published a chapter or two at a time here at Plain & Simple Press. To read all the chapters online so far, go to the Complete Writer page. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

To follow the progress online, click on the little orange icon beside the P&S Press feed, over there in the right-hand sidebar. ⇒ ⇒ ⇒

The Complete Writer:
The Ultimate Guide to Writing, Publishing, and Leading the Writer’s Life

Chapter 4
Overcapitalization

Not the corporate kind of overcapitalization! The writerly kind of overcapitalization.

This happens every time we at The Copyeditor’s Desk have to edit a set of author bios for an issue of one of our client scholarly journals. The journal’s senior editors ask contributors to toot their own horns in short squibs that are collected at the back of the book. And my, they do toot. In majuscule!

Olivia Boxankle is an Associate Professor of Cultural and Linguistic Studies in the Department of English at the Great Desert University. She earned her PhD in Postmodern Babble at Erewhon College, after which she spent ten years as Adjunct Instructor of Early Unemployability Studies at Podunk Community College, before joining GDU in 1999 as an Assistant Professor.

The tenure track does not confer divinity upon its members. Therefore, titles such as assistant professor, associate professor, or even full professor are not capitalized unless they are used as part of the person’s name.

  • Olivia Boxankle is an associate professor.
  • We saw Professor Olivia Boxankle’s outstanding presentation at last winter’s Modern Language Association conference.

Now let’s consider Prof. Harvey Wallbanger, who is president of the Great Desert University:

  • The newspaper mentioned the university President’s salary in an article reporting next semester’s 25 percent tuition increase.

Nope.

The only person who gets to have his or her title as president capitalized is the President of the United States. Period. Well . . . unless you’re writing in and for some other country, in which case the title is lower-cased like those of other mortals.

  • Barack Obama was President of the United States.

Back to the bios: The name of an academic subject is lower-cased, unless it happens to be a proper name or place name.

  • She is a professor of geology.
  • She is a professor of ethnic studies.
  • She is a professor of Spanish.
  • She is a professor of English.

However, if we cite the name of an academic subject as part of a department’s name, it may be capitalized in that context:

  • She is a professor in the Department of Cultural and Linguistic Studies.
  • She teaches cultural and linguistic studies.
  • She teaches in the Ethnic Studies Department.
  • She teaches ethnic studies.

It seems so self-evident, no? Then why do people write things like a Professor of Ethnic Studies?

Because . . . in the corporate world, people’s titles are often capitalized because the boss said so. Or because the marketing department said so. Companies, like journals, magazines, and newspapers, have their own in-house style based on a standard style manual (Associated Press style, in the case of businesses) but with its own embellishments. One such embellishment is capitalization of the Honored Leaders’ titles, even though in the real world that would be . . . well, wrong:

  • Joe Blow is Chief Executive Officer of the Blowhard Corporation.

But books and scholarly journals generally follow Chicago style or the style manual appropriate to research articles for their discipline (such as the American Psychological Association or the Modern Language Association manuals). These tend to inveigh against pointless capitalization. You may have to glorify your current boss with capital letters. But once you’re no longer working at that company, knock it off!

And don’t do it at all for faculty members and their generic academic disciplines. It peeves the editor.

There’ll Be Some Changes Made Today: FREE Changes!

Here at Plain & Simple Press, we’re making some major changes. The biggest major change? We’re going to be giving away books…yes…for free.

Amazon urges us to give our books away for free — this, we’re told, will make us loved and rich. Or possibly loved, if not rich.

Well. You know…if anyone is going to distribute our work for free, it oughta be no one other than us.

So, here’s the plan. We have three works in progress, each a book-length magnum opus. One is a work of nonfiction, a 21st-century guide to the craft of writing. Another is a collection of short and often feisty essays. And the third is a novel set on worlds far, far away in another culture and in another time.

On a regular basis with no particular schedule — several times a week — P&S Press will publish a chapter from one or another of these books, beginning at the beginning. We will post these at our blog, News and Chat. You can subscribe to News and Chat by clicking on the little orange icon in the title line of its feed, right over there in the right-hand side of this page. ⇒⇒⇒

Each book will also have its own page, which you can find in the menu at the top of this page.

We’ll collect each book’s content in its web page, as the chapters appear in the blog. So, you can read any or all of three books in progress for absolutely FREE.

No ads in your face
No demands that you disable your ad-blocker
No wheedling to get you to pay to subscribe
Just…FREE!

You can read each work in progress — The Complete Writer, If You’d Asked Me, and Ella’s Story, collected a chapter at a time on its own page, or you can follow each book’s progress here at the News & Chat blog. We will first publish a chapter here; then collect it on book’s dedicated page.

If you’d like to have your own copy — physical or digital — we can do that, too. You can order a PDF of the entire book for just $4.99, or a handsomely produced paperback for $15.99. Get in touch through our Contacts page, and we will make it so.

We will not be able to extend this offer to our existing books, since they’re already cast in stone, emitted in flying electrons, and set in little black characters. But from this time forward, the works we have in progress will be made available to all our readers: free from the Web; cheap in hand.