The Complete Writer: The Art of Blogging

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 19. Ars Bloggiendi: The Art of Blogging

The Complete Writer
Part III: Blogging

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.

19
Ars Bloggiendi

As a blogger since 2007, I’m always surprised at the number of would-be writers who say they don’t blog and don’t see why they should. And yet you meet them all the time, at every writer’s group, face-to-face and every online chatfest..

The blog genre started as a kind of online diary or journal: hence the name, web log. An early form of social media, for a time blogging was wildly popular among the techie set. It evolved from a first-person ramble composed of periodic posts to a magazine-like affair dispensing how-to advice, opinion, or information specific to a topic (personal finance blogs, for example, or “mommy blogs” or product reviews) and even to a journalistic genre. Many people monetize their blogs and some have had success in that (Get Rich Slowly and The Simple Dollar much enriched their founders).

There are two reasons writers find blogs attractive:

  1. The blog represents an easy five-finger exercise, a writer’s journal open to readers. As such, it not only helps you to improve your writing skills, it gathers readers.
  2. And, when you have a following, you have.a marketing device.

An active blog allows you to hold forth on subjects related to your scribbling, and it also helps you to build a mailing list. Many writers will tell you their most effective marketing tool is their marketing list. Also in the marketing and publicity department, you can post links to your blog on yeastier social media: Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, FaceBook, LinkedIn, or whatever else is in vogue as you read this. That will call readers to your site, where you can pitch your writings to them.

We’re told the blog is on its way out—maybe it has already been hit in the butt by the door—because humanity so captivates itself with 140-character bursts of “content.” Personally, I like writing blog posts and I like reading them. It’s a lot like writing a Pepysian journal, only with an audience that can talk back.

There’s more to blogging than blurbing. The blog is a perfect platform for various kinds of long-form writing—not only journal-like or epistolary entries,[1] but reportage,[2] investigative journalism,[3] serious essays,[4] even stretches of fiction[5] or poetry.[6] None of these (except possibly haiku) are accomplished in 140 characters.

As for monetizing a website—trying to make it provide a side stream of income or maybe even quitting your day job to become a full-time online writer—that’s questionable and in my opinion largely beside the point. Some people do make a living wage at blogging (or they claim to), but they appear to be the exceptions. For quite a while I sold ad space and affiliate links at my site, Funny about Money.[7] I found that affiliate links for Amazon rarely earned enough to elicit a paycheck—Amazon will not remit payment until you’ve accumulated at least $10, which tells you about how much you earn by peddling Amazon’s products on your website.

Google AdSense did provide a small return—but certainly not enough to quit the day job. Nor, in my opinion, was a hundred bucks a month (when the site was on a roll) worth the amount of effort entailed in setting up AdSense, riding herd on it, and junking up the site with tacky ads. I made a great deal more on Funny by selling handmade jewelry off the site than by letting huge, profitable corporations further enrich themselves by exploiting my readership.

When I say that making money off your blog is beside the point, I mean that the point of writing a blog is to engage your readers in ongoing conversation about something that interests them and to persuade them that what you have to say is worth reading.

From there, it’s a fairly easy leap to persuade them to buy your books.

Funny about Money started as a personal finance blog. At one point, if you believe Alexa,[8] it ranked among the top 100 personal finance blogs in the English language. After a time, it occurred to me that there are only so many ways you can say “get an education or vocational training, get a job, live below your means, get out of debt and stay out of debt, and stash every spare penny into savings.” So, though the site still has a personal finance spin and I do belong to an international group of bloggers on the subject, at this point Funny is largely a lifestyle blog.

My main marketing blog, Plain & Simple Press News,[9] holds forth on topics that range from writing tips to recipes to higher education as I try to sell my literary wares. This site is optimized for Pinterest, under the direction of a marketing specialist[10] who has found that Pinterest is the most effective of the social media at driving traffic toward a blog. Once readers arrive there, of course, they see ads for my products . . . not Amazon’s or Google customers’. And certainly not ads from Scandinavian ladies looking for American “husbands.”

How to start a blog?

The simplest way is to go to one of the blogging platforms such as WordPress.com or Blogger.com. These are free, in exchange for a modicum of advertising, sometimes. I personally prefer WordPress, mostly because if and when you move to a private server, WordPress’s blog templates are readily available or easy to transfer. If you start out at WordPress.com, you get the benefit of WordPress’s Help service and a knowledgeable blogging community. With this assistance, you quickly learn how to use the basic software.

Buy your own domain name. The easiest way to do this is through GoDaddy[11] (again: in my opinion!). There are cheaper services, but GoDaddy has live human beings answering the phone, and if you have a question, these customer service reps are always helpful.

When you’re starting out, owning your site’s domain name makes it possible for you to create a URL that reads

http://yoursitename.com

rather than something like

http://yoursitename.wordpress.com.

The effect is much more professional.

WordPress.com provides a choice of several easy-to-use blog templates. Pick a simple one to get started—bearing in mind that you can easily switch to a new template later on. At WordPress.org, you can download any number of other free and premium templates, some of which are very swell.

As your site establishes itself, you may want to buy server space from a service such as Bluehost or BigScoots, both of which have proven highly satisfactory for my sites. And as your blogging empire grows, you may also consider hiring an IT professional[12] to run the techie back-end details of keeping a larger site or set of sites up and running.

What to write?

Whatever you feel like writing. The topic of your book is a logical subject. From there you can branch out to related topics. How-to topics are perennially popular, as are inspirational subjects, anything to do with money, and specialized topics for identifiable markets—fashion, make-up and the like for young people; recipes and cooking for the gourmet set; travel adventures; pets; kids . . . whatever interests other human beings will find a readership. If you write fiction, book reviews and writing tips always sell.

When to write?

I try to post at least once a day on at least one of my sites. The more content your site has, the higher up in Google’s search ratings it rises. Content, they say, is king. By that, “they” mean that the more original, fresh content you post, the more readers you attract and the better Google’s bots regard you.

How to write?

Typically, a blog post is similar to a short feature article or brite. Some are essentially personal essays or opinion pieces. Posts are usually nonfiction, although occasionally you’ll find sites where people post fiction and poetry.

Brevity is desirable, at least so we’re told. A classic blog post runs about as long as a newspaper column—maybe 800 words, give or take.

One technicality to bear in mind while building a blog post is something called SEO: search engine optimization. There are ways to get Google to notice your posts; they’re fairly simple and fairly rigid.

Pick a key word or phrase that describes the content of your post. Put that key word in the title, and then be sure it appears in the first paragraph, preferably the first sentence of your post. Hence, for a post on keeping cool on a hot summer day:

Living Life in a Hot New World

Hot where you’re at, is it? Ninety degrees and you think you’re gunna die before the sun goes down?

On the fiasco that evolved out of Costco’s decision to dump American Express in favor of Citigroup’s Visa card:

Thank You, Costco and Citigroup!

Costco’s move to annoying CitiGroup is going to cut my monthly Costco budget at least in half, and maybe by as much as three-fourths!

On an element of long-term money management:

Pay Off a Mortgage or Invest the Money Instead?

Yesterday at the weekly Scottsdale Business Association meeting, the assertion was again made that you should never pay off a mortgage in advance. If you have the money to do so, we’re told, you’ll come out ahead if you invest the money in securities and keep making those mortgage payments.

Your blogging software will ask you to enter “tags” or keywords before you publish your post. Be sure to include your keywords as “tags,” which helps to bring your post to the attention of people searching for those terms.

Any number of small programs called “plug-ins” will allow you to do various convenient things with your website.

The most indispensable of these, in my humble opinion, is Akismet, a piece of software that blocks about 98% of incoming spam comments. It comes with the package at WordPress.com; if you’re setting up a site on another server, be sure to install this program.

FeedBurner makes it easy for people to subscribe to your site. You want subscribers. A lot of subscribers.

All-in-One SEO Pack or Yoast SEO is convenient—guides you through and simplifies SEO tricks.

Any plug-in that will put links on the major social networking sites: good.

The writing part is not at all difficult. The back-end stuff is pretty simple as long as you’re hosted on WordPress.com or a similar service. If you decide you’d rather be self-hosted (i.e., have your site on a server such as Bluehost), it’s fairly easy to manage if you’re techie; if you’re not, it’s worth hiring some help at a nominal cost.

In any event, if you hope to be a Writer with a Capital W, don’t neglect blogging. It’s a key tool in your writing and your marketing.

[1] Example: Donna Freedman, “Are You Eating Your House”? Surviving and Thriving, April 2, 2015, http://donnafreedman.com/2015/04/02/are-you-eating-your-house/

[2] Kim Brooks, “What a ‘Horrible Mother’: How a How a Call from a ‘Good Samaritan’ derailed these mothers’ lives,” Salon, Aril 19, 2015. http://www.salon.com/2015/04/19/what_a_horrible_mother_moms_arrested_for_leaving_their_kids_in_the_car/

[3] Example: Center for Public Integrity, “How Kicking a Trash Can Became Criminal for a Sixth-Grader,” April 10, 2015, PRI, http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-04-10/how-kicking-trash-can-became-criminal-6th-grader?src=longreads

[4] The Big Roundtable: http://www.thebigroundtable.com/

[5] Jane Friedman, “The Best Literary Fiction Blogs and Websites,”November 22, 2011. Jane Friedman. https://janefriedman.com/best-literary-fiction-blogs-websites-2/

[6] sarahblake, “The Best Poetry Blogs in Town (We Think),” September 9, 2014, Picador, https://janefriedman.com/best-literary-fiction-blogs-websites-2/

[7] http://funny-about-money.com

[8] http://www.alexa.com/; for some idea of what it does, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexa_Internet

[9] http://www.plainandsimplepress.com/news/

[10] http://www.pinterestforbloggers.net/

[11] https://www.godaddy.com/; go here to see if the name you’d like to use for your site is available: https://www.godaddy.com/domains/domain-name-search

[12] My present Web guru is Grayson Bell at iMark Interactive
(imarkinteractive.com). Not being the techie type myself, I’ve found the savings in stress and frustration is well worth the modest cost of contracting with an expert. www.imarkinteractive.com

If You’d Asked Me: Long Wait at the ER

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

23.

Why doesn’t anybody coming to the “emergency room” seem to understand that an emergency means urgent?

Understood that ER workers are stressed to the max and that they have to make quick decisions about who needs care and when. But . . .

Back in the day before ACA, poor people here in the American Southwest used the ERs for medical care whenever their kids had a bad cold or flu and for conditions adults and children should have had treated in their GP’s office. Phoenix has a large population of working poor and unemployed, many of whom live, shall we say, very close to the bone. And in those days, if you didn’t have insurance, you couldn’t even get in to see most doctors. An ER, on the other hand, is not allowed to turn you away. So, when someone without insurance or cash needed to see a doctor, they would go to the ER and sit there until they could finally get in. This meant waits for everyone that extended for many hours.

It was Christmas time. A flu epidemic was raging. And conveniently, my body chose that moment to develop appendicitis.

In terrible pain and throwing up, I persuaded my ex-husband to take me to the ER at a large regional medical center called St. Joseph’s. It was late at night.

The ER was packed. The receptionist, overworked and miserable, was rude to me and gave me a dirty look when I threw up into the bucket I’d brought.

There was no place to sit down. The floor was truly filthy, so I didn’t feel I could sit or lay down on the floor. Three hours later, I found myself sitting outside on a concrete bench, in the cold, next to a woman who was miscarrying and who had been waiting over four hours. We waited another couple of hours without anyone caring whether we lived or died.

Finally, I gave up. I figured if I was going to die, I’d rather die at home in my bed than in that place. I called a friend, waking her out of a sound sleep, and persuaded her to come get me.

At dawn I was in agony. I called the Mayo Clinic, where my old doctor was practicing. They told me to call 911 and have them bring me there. I said I thought they would take me back to St. Joe’s and I couldn’t withstand another fruitless, endless wait. She said no, they have to take you where you ask them to take you.

That, as it developed, was wrong. They would not take me to the Mayo —the twenty-minute drive would take them out of their area. I sent them away and called another friend, who kindly took me to the Mayo.

The Mayo, being in a more upscale part of town, was not crowded with people who couldn’t afford to see a doctor. Within minutes after I walked in, they had me headed for surgery. By then I’d been suffering from acute appendicitis for over 13 hours. In the elderly, this may be life-threatening. Afterwards, the surgeons said the appendix was “a mess,” one of the worst they’d seen.

On the one hand, my feeling is that I wouldn’t be in the ER if I didn’t have an emergency. Obviously, I needed to be seen in less than four hours. Obviously, I needed to be seen when I came in.

On the other hand, I surely understand that when everybody and his little brother and sister use the ER for routine medical care and show up when they have a bad cold or flu, the staff is overwhelmed and the likelihood that they will fail to recognize a true emergency is high. I also understand that an inner-city ER staff sees not only the routine heart attacks, strokes, accident, and appendicitis cases, but a steady flow of knifings, gunshot wounds, and drug overdoses, and so of course they do not have time to deal with people’s colds and tummyaches.

With the ACA, this problem was somewhat relieved because more poor people could get insured. Once that goes away, though, we can expect those conditions to return. When people can’t get insurance and doctors turn the poor away because they’re uninsured and can’t pay, then ERs will fill up again with folks who need routine medical care. And the next time you have a serious condition that really does need immediate attention, you may not be able to get it.

Ella’s Story, Chapter 21. *FREE READS*

Ella’s Story follows 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

21

Much to be hoped it was, she thought, that this one would not remain a pain in the butt as long as she herself had.

The morning after Ella and Lohkeh’s visit to the mine and its hive of offices, Vighdi summoned her. Still feeling a bit dreamy after the satisfying encounter with her handsome co-conspirator, she entered Vighdi’s place in a good mood.

“Sit down.” Vighdi gestured toward a stool near the worktable that ran along one wall. “We need to talk.”

“Yes, ma’am?” No clue: so used to being congratulated on her good work was she.

Vighdi, her elbows on her desk, leaned forward and focused her attention on Ella.

“Where were you and Lohkeh yesterday?”

“Takrai, ma’am?” Puzzled, she realized the answer came out sounding like a guess. “I had a pass. You set it for me. And I’m sure Lohkeh had one, too.”

“Obviously. That’s not what I’m asking. Where did you go while you were there?”

Uh oh. Ella wondered: what did she know? People often said you were watched wherever you went. Maybe even on the toilet. But she’d never seen much proof of it. The car no doubt was connected. But…every wall? Really? “Uhm…we went to the mine offices first, ma’am. He left me with Chief Haidar while he delivered something to some other office. She showed me around the place and introduced me to staff in receiving and accounts.”

“And then where did you go?”

“Well, after Lohkeh came back, we…got some supper.”

“At the mess hall?”

“I guess.”

“You don’t know?”

Ella stayed quiet and aimed a steady gaze at her. In fact, they had paused briefly to pick up a couple of sweets at the company cafeteria as they headed back to Ethra compound.

“All right,” Vighdi said. “Let’s go over this more closely.” She passed her right hand across a hotspot embedded in the desk, and a diagram of the road system between Ethra Port and Takrai flashed up on a blank wall behind the work table.

“You went to the transit depot after first-meal, and you met Lohkeh there, right?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“You got into an aircar and headed toward Takrai, which is the only way you can head. But you didn’t go there directly.” A lighted dot traced the car’s path over the map.

Oh, hell. “No, ma’am.”

“Here, you take the spur tunnel to Lake Jesiah. Correct?

“Yes’m. But…”

Vighdi gave her a look that silenced her.

“You stop there for awhile.”

“Yes.” Did the booze cabinet have eyes?

“And?”

“Well. We were just sight-seeing, ma’am. There was no big hurry to get to Takrai.”

“Uh-huh. Did you get to see the geyser go off?”

Ella couldn’t help smiling. “We did, ma’am!”

Vighdi’s tone softened for an instant. “It’s an amazing thing to watch, isn’t it?”

“It surely is, boss. I never saw anything like that.”

“Well, I’m glad you got the opportunity. So…now you get back in the vehicle and continue on to the mines.”

“Yes.”

“When you get there, you go straight to the business compound.”

“Yes’m.”

“You go into a storage area, where you spend a short time.”

“Yes. We unloaded the stuff in the car. And helped Haidar and her assistant stack boxes where she wanted them.”

“Now Lokeh goes off in the vehicle, but you stay at the building.”

“Was I supposed to stick with him the whole time?”

Vighdi shot her a sharp look. “Yes or no?”

“Yes. Haidar gave me a tour of the whole business operation. And she introduced me to people I’ve been working with remotely.”

“That’s good. So now you can put faces to sign-offs, no?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Looks like you roam all over the building.”

“Pretty much, we did.”

“Eventually Lohkeh comes back. The two of you get into the car and drive off. And yeah, before you leave the mine, you do stop by the mess hall.”

“Yes’m. We picked up some sweet toasts and kekel tea. Hot.”

“All right. Then you came back here? To Ethra?”

“Well, yes…”

“See, the problem is, between here,” Vighdi stood and placed her finger on the map at the office buildings, “and here…” her hand moved to the site of the chow line, “you drop out of sight. You seem to stop about here,” her finger came to rest at a midway point, “and then you both evaporate. Where were you?”

So they were inaudible and invisible while they were enjoying each others’ company? This was good news, Ella thought. But how in the five goddesses’ creation had he pulled that off?

“We…had dinner, Boss Vighdi. It was delivered to the room.”

“The room?”

“Yes, ma’am. In that building. Right there.” She indicated the structure to which Vighdi had traced their passage.

Vighdi closed her eyes and, with the fingers of one hand, massaged her temple as though her head hurt.

“Mmm-hmm,” she murmured after a moment. “So you go off-grid, off-track, off-everything to go to this…room? Why?”

“To eat dinner, ma’am.”

“Ella…” Vighdi’s voice took on an edge.

“I didn’t…”

“Don’t ever do that again.”

“But…”

“You do understand that I can make life very uncomfortable for you here, don’t you?”

“Yes, ma’am. But I didn’t know…”

“I don’t give a damn what you knew or didn’t know. It’s your responsibility to be where you’re supposed to be. And to see to it that the company knows where you are. All the time.”

“But…maybe something happened to the equipment. I had no idea – how would I know if it just went off?”

“It didn’t ‘just go off.’ If a contact goes dead an alarm will signal you. So you can call in to your boss or whoever you’re supposed be working for and let them know where you are and what you’re doing.”

“Vighdi, ma’am… Honestly, I didn’t know.”

“All the rooms in that building were and still are off-limits. The place is for the use of free staff and guests.”

“How would I have known that?”

Ask. You let this guy take you into a luxury suite in a building obviously not meant as slave quarters and it never occurred to you to inquire as to whether you were supposed to be there?”

“Well…was there any problem with our going into that salon at Lake Jesiah?”

“Of course not. The indentured property work there all the time. Don’t be disingenuous.”

“What?”

“Don’t act dumb with me.”

“Oh. No, ma’am.”

Vighdi subsided into annoyed silence.

After what felt like endless minutes but probably was just a few seconds, Ella offered: “I’m sorry.”

At this, Vighdi emitted half a chuckle. “I’ll bet you are.” A skeptical smile broke through the shadow of her mood.

Sensing détente in the air, Ella added, “I’ll try to be more careful.”

“Do, please. Use some common sense.”

“I will, ma’am.”

Guessing the conversation had come to its natural end, Ella moved to rise and leave.

“Wait a minute,” Vighdi stopped her. “I have something else to tell you.”

Goddess, no! “Yes, ma’am?” She perched on the edge of the seat, hoping whatever was coming would get over soon.

“Look, sweet.” Vighdi’s voice mellowed. “If you want someplace quiet and private to spend time with your friend, all you have to do is tell me. I can arrange that for you.”

“You can?” Ella felt heat rise into her face. If she was turning red, was it obvious? For that matter, did these dust-gray Varns even know what that meant?

“Of course.”

“Would you?”

“I can find you a place that’s just as nice as Takrai’s guest hostel. Only not clinging to the side of a mine shaft. And I will – but you need to ask, that’s all.”

Ella suppressed a giggle. “Thank you. That’s…” astonishing, she thought, “…awfully nice.”

“Go on back to work now, please.” Vighdi waved her toward the door. “And don’t fail me, dear.”

“No, ma’am.”

Right.

There’s Been Some Changes Made Today…

So…the bright idea I had to post individual chapters of The Complete Writer here at the Plain & Simple Press blog and then consolidate them in a single web page dedicated to the book…how’d that go?

Fairly hilariously. As it develops, WordPress has its limits. One of them is book-length documents. About the time we got to chapter 19 — all told, only about 33,000 words, a mere third the length of a typical nonfiction book — WordPress set its digital heels in the sand and refused to proceed further. It would not accept any more links to chapters. And it slowed to the speed of a stampeding snail.

Being an experienced Cox customer, of course I assumed this was a connectivity issue. Cox does a number on you every time you turn around, unless you’re a multi-zillion-dollar corporation. Usually, in time these antics pass.

Not so, the Resistance. Finally I had recourse to our Web Guru, Grayson Bell. Aghast at what he found on the TCW page, he explained that there IS, after all, a limit.

So we had to dream up a workaround.

How’s about I post the stuff as a PDF? said I.

As one PDF? Not so much! said he.

Fortunately, the book falls into not one, not two, not three, but nine sections comprising 48 chapters. So, I proposed posting nine PDFs, one after another as each is completed, each PDF to contain one section of the magnum opus.

This seems to work. So far, anyhow. We now have three PDFs online at The Complete Writer‘s page, containing all the copy that had been published as 19 consecutive chapters. The page is un-choked, de-stalled, fully operative once again. Whether it will stay that way remains to be seen. But for the nonce: it works.

You could cause angels to sing, Dear Reader, if you would please go to the Complete Writer work-in-progress page, download one or more of the PDFs linked to the first three sections, and then let me know if they come over to you all right and if they look OK when you open them.

No doubt there are typos and weirdnesses in them. It took two and a half-hours to convert 48 chapters into nine PDFs, and of course during the process Word decided to get weird (as usual), adding still more hassle to a ditzy process of the type I truly hate doing. How any human being can make a living as a computer tech without being driven straight to the bourbon bottle or the meth pipe escapes me.

Presumably, the same thing will have to be done with If You’d Asked and Ella’s Story. But not now. Totally not now…

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.

If You’d Asked Me: How to Treat a Swollen Lip

22. What is the treatment for when you have a swollen lip?

Just for you: a chapter from a book in progress. You can buy a copy of the whole book, right now, in PDF format, or, if you like, as a paperback. See the collected chapters so far, FREE online at If You’d Asked Me… For details, visit our home page or send a request through our Contact form.

How to treat a swollen lip? Depends on what caused your lip to get swollen.

Got a whack on the mouth, but no busted teeth? Make an ice pack (wrap it in a clean dishtowel or several layers of paper towels) and gently chill the injured area.

Ingested something you’re allergic to? Tongue showing signs of swelling? Betake yourself to an emergency room, now not later.

Got a cold sore? Too bad, so sorry: not much you can do about it. Refrain from kissing people, please. You’ll just have to wait till it passes, which it will in a week or ten days.

If you don’t know what caused it or if some other circumstance that you don’t understand well caused it, consider that it could be a herpes infection. Call your doctor.

Ella’s Story, Chapter 20 **FREE READS**

Ella’s Story follows 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

20

The yellow sun was dropping toward the distant Sky Hills that, blueing in the afternoon shadows, marked the estate’s west and north borders. Workers contracted out to the village or city were beginning to straggle back in. Children, their studies done and the teacher having left the grounds an hour or two before, were playing games under Fihr’s supervision. A couple of the women field workers came in a little early, checked in with Ella, and headed to the showers.

Another while yet, she reckoned, before the Kaïna returned from the Empire’s core, hovering over the government sector in the center of E’o Cinorra. Rysha would be tired, she expected, and probably irritable after a day spent dickering with a dozen self-important diplomats from almost as many far-flung planetary governments. She called Shaben, the front door porter, on her personal intercom and reminded him to be sure her Splendor’s private lounge was adequately stored with calming beverages.

Better look in on the new boy, she thought, before the dust started to rise again. Pretty quick the whole off-campus crew would show up and she’d be busy again, checking them in, listening to their reports and complaints and gossip, and generally riding herd.

The corridor down the men’s quarters was quiet. That was good, she supposed. She announced herself: “Woman in the hall!” And hit a button to turn on a small green light over the two doorways at either end of the hall. Some men from some cultures did not like to be surprised in the altogether.

Seven doors down from Dorin’s space, she came to Darl’s quarters. She knocked lightly on the wall and pushed the drape aside.

He was awake but quiet, seemed even to be resting. Apparently he’d learned to control the pain by staying still. That was something, she supposed. His eyes glanced her way and followed her as she stepped inside and parked her ample frame on the small chair near the bed.

She spoke softly, remembering that a turn through the cooker made every part of your body hurt, including whatever is inside the ears. “Hello, there. How are you doing now?”

Silly question. Good enough to sound like someone cared, though.

“Still alive, I think.” He tried to smile, weakly. “Unless I’ve died and this is Hell.”

Ella chuckled, a little surprised to hear a quip. “Not quite. To the contrary, come to think of it.” She pulled the edge of the blanket around his shoulders and saw that it covered his legs and feet. “Keep yourself warm, brother. You don’t want to get chilled. Because that makes it worse.”

“I know.” He winced when he tried to reach for the covering’s edge. “What did you say your name is?”

“Ella.”

“Ah. Yes: Eliyeh’llya,”

He spoke with a distinct South Hemisphere accent. His enunciation was that of an educated man. That would make him a privileged man. Things were better in the south, at least for those with some tribe or some money. Chances are, she thought, this one had never gone hungry.

“No one here can pronounce it.” She shrugged. “So the Varns say ‘Ella.’ And so does everyone else.”

“Not many Samdi here, then?”

“Oh, there are a few. Dorin and me. Dita is Samdi – though she was born on Varnis. But we’ve got people from all over the Empire. Kanats and Tamehali and Gathrani. A Kraen. And a couple of men from Aravla. Even a Michaian guy. That’s why we speak mostly Varn. In fact, it’s kind of rude to speak your own language in front of someone who doesn’t know it.”

“Well. That makes sense.”

Also means I don’t have to listen to your snooty tone, she thought unkindly. Then corrected herself: Not his fault. Probably. If he could be persuaded to use Varn all the time, he’d be a lot less likely to get on the wrong side of the usual Samdi types who found themselves in service. At least, not the instant he opened his mouth. She made a mental note to encourage this…later.

He fell silent and closed his eyes. She let him rest briefly and then asked, “Would you like something to eat?”

“No.” His eyes stayed shut. “Thank you. I don’t think I can get any food down.”

“I could bring you a fruit or vegetable drink.”

“That’s kind. Thank you. But no, not just now.”

“Well. All right, then. Try to get some sleep.” She moved to get up and leave.

“Wish I could.”

“Did you not sleep during the night?” She settled back onto the seat.

“Not so as I could tell.”

How long had he been on the market floor? At least a day, maybe two. And this was his second day at Skyhill. Not good: he should have recovered enough to sleep at least a few hours. And had he eaten nothing?

She laid the back of her hand against his face. He winced a little, opened his dark brown eyes, but didn’t seem to be fevered. He must have gotten chilled, she speculated, when they put him out on the selling floor almost direct from the cooker. Theoretically that violated the rules – they were supposed to keep you in a heat-regulated berth for several days, until you could stand up, sleep, and eat. But the blacksuits warped the rules to fit their purposes.

Crime wave, indeed. Had there been another revolt? Michaia perennially incubated unrest. And she’d heard that Krae and Ilaema had a few nests of the dissatisfied and the disgruntled. Nice thing about working for a criminal syndicate: it didn’t leave you much time to raise rebellions.

The outcome was about the same, though…on an individual level.

“I’m going to bring you something warm to eat,” she said, not as a suggestion but as a fact. “You need to build your strength back up.”

“But…”

“Hush. I’ll be back shortly.”

She left without giving him a chance to argue.

Down in the kitchen, she found Cook Lior’s wife Tabit supervising a clean-up of the freezers and cold boxes while she also tended a couple of large, steaming kettles.

“Do we have any comfort food?” Ella asked. Probably a pointless question: Tabit seemed to find all food comforting.

Tabit glanced up from her labors. “I expect we can find something. Feeling a little harried, are we?”

“No more than usual.” Ella chuckled. “It’s not for me. It’s for our new boy.”

“Oh.” As though morning’s light dawned. “Heard he was in a bad way.”

“Some. He’ll be all right – it’ll take some time, though.”

“Well. Take the weight off, sister,” she wiped her hands and waved a towel toward an empty stool at the work bench. “And I’ll see what I can hustle up. It’ll take a minute or two.”

Ella sat down, happy enough for an excuse to take a moment’s break, and watched Tabit rummage in a pantry. Quick enough, a pot went over a stove burner, filled with frozen stew, or, Ella thought, maybe a rich soup, and a generous dollop of hlann cream was added.

Tabit and Lior had all sorts of ethnic theories about the feeding and nourishment of slaves. One of them was that Samdi, all Samdi, loved the various flavors of hlann, a manufactured treat the creatures used as a condiment, a thickener, or a flavoring, depending on the context. Accordingly, a pitcher of hlann cream and a pottle of hot-spiced hlann sauce always appeared on the meal table. Ella thought she could take or leave it. But she usually took it.

“Tea?” Tabit lifted a pot to pour a mugful for herself.

“Sure. If you’re having some.”

Tabit set two full mugs and a pitcher of cream on the table, stirred the warming pot, and settled onto the seat opposite Ella.

“How’s your day going?” she asked. Her broad Gathran features made her look cheerful, even when she wasn’t. And like most of her kind, she was stoutly built.

Ella sipped enough of the tea to drop its level below the cup’s rim, then poured in cream to take up the slack.

“No crazier than usual, I suppose.”

“That’s not saying much.” Tabit chuckled empathetically. “That girl of yours was in here earlier today,” she remarked after some small talk.

“Bintje? That would explain where she was when she was supposed to be cleaning.”

“No doubt.”

“What did she want?”

“To get out of cleaning, I expect.”

Ella laughed. “We were never that young, right?”

“Not that I can recall.” Tabit got up to stir the rapidly defrosting soup. “I wonder if she’s all right – with the baby, that is. She was complaining that she didn’t feel good.”

“She has morning, noon, and afternoon sickness.” Ella took an appreciative sip of Tabit’s tea, always a league or two better than Dorin’s. “Besides, she complains all the time. If she didn’t complain, that’s when I’d worry about her.”

“Life’s a stage play, after all.”

“In some corners of the galaxy.”

Tabit set a napkin, spoon, and bowl on a tray she’d pulled down from an overhead cupboard.

“This new brother,” she asked, “what’s his name again?”

“Dorin says he’s called Darl.”

“He’s supposed to be a healer?”

“That’s what we’re told. Not by lore but by training.”

Tabit fell silent while she dished up the hot chowder. She snapped a lid onto the one-serving bowl and placed it on the tray.

“So… Why did they put him out for sale when he’s still in such bad shape?”

Love that gossip mill, Ella thought. “Apparently ran out of room.”

“Michaians had another bellyful, did they?”

Ella raised an eyebrow and brushed her left earlobe with a finger. “Sister, I have no idea.” She picked up the loaded tray. “It has nothing to do with us, hm?”

“No, ma’am. I expect not.” Tabit looked chastened enough to give Ella a brief twinge of guilt. Very brief: some things were unsafe to talk about. Especially inside a set of walls.

She took her leave and carried the light meal back toward the men’s quarters, there to try to coax it down Dorin’s new charge.

What a pain in the butt it was, she thought, to have to take on and train up a green new slave. Especially one in no shape to work. One who is, for godsake, still too hurt to drag himself off a cot.

The Complete Writer: Research Blues *FREE READS*

The Complete Writer
Part III

Writing Nonfiction: Magazines, Newspapers, Books, Blogs
Chapter 17. Research Blues

You do not want to have to explain yourself to these folks…

So you want to be a nonfiction writer. You think you’d like to be the next John McPhee, flying into the national consciousness astride a copy of The New Yorker. Or maybe you think you want to be a great investigative journalist, to see your byline on the cover of The Rolling Stone.

In that case, you need to contemplate the story of the Philadelphia writer who told The Rolling Stone a sensational tale of rape and mayhem on a college campus.[1] And while we’re at it, take a look at NPR’s report of the incident. [2]

Lest you’ve had your head under a bucket: that notorious journalistic scandal involved an investigative report in Rolling Stone that accused seven young men of committing a brutal rape during a drunken fraternity party at the University of Virginia. A great flap arose—the story quickly spread nationwide and around the globe, aided and abetted by the present widespread concern over sexual harassment and assault.

The source for this story was an unnamed young woman, discreetly given a pseudonym (“Jackie”) and otherwise left unidentified. At the woman’s request, the reporter, Sabrina Erdely, never attempted to contact any of the alleged offenders.[3] People “Jackie” claimed as witnesses were not named, nor (evidently) did Erdely speak with them.[4] In the ensuing uproar, the university suspended all fraternity and sorority activities, and the university came under intense federal scrutiny for its policies.

As it develops, it’s highly unlikely “Jackie” was attacked in the Phi Kappa Psi house on the night of the supposed party, because no party took place at Phi Kappa Psi that night. Reporting at Slate,[5] Atlantic writer Hanna Rosin reveals that the fraternity did not host a party on the evening of September 28, 2012, and that “Drew,” who allegedly took the victim to the party and joined in the assault, told a Washington Post reporter that he had never met “Jackie”—a statement that, if untrue, would be easy to disprove within the gossipy community that is a college campus.

This is serious stuff. You can see, even on the surface, the harm caused by inaccurate, careless reporting. Evidently Ms. Erdely was misled by a source who deliberately perpetrated a hoax. However, she—Erdely—made that possible by failing to do her job properly.

Whenever you do any kind of nonfiction writing, even if it’s reporting on a meeting of the town garden club, a single, overriding imperative dictates your actions:

Every time you encounter a fact that is in any way controversial, questionable, incendiary, or even just mildly odd, you MUST follow up on it by contacting all of the people involved and asking for comment.

This is not an option.

People dispense factoids to reporters all the time. Some of the information you get from sources you think are reliable is true. Some of it, alas, is not: it’s either mistaken or an outright lie.

I have had both of these happen to me in the course of a fifteen-year career. It’s not as easy to identify accuracy as you think. And, given an apparently reliable source, it’s unnervingly easy to get complacent.

Your job, as a writer of nonfiction, is to get the facts right. It means your job is always to question authority!

There’s no leeway in that.

Yes, I do know that one school of thought teaches undergraduate scribblers that “creative nonfiction,” also known as “literary journalism,” allows one to tweak the facts to fit the “plot,” “theme,” and characterization one is playing with. But, my friends, that school of thought is dead wrong.

There is never, ever a time that you are allowed to tweak the facts, to get the facts wrong, to withhold some facts to create an impression you wish to inflict on your readers, to rearrange facts, or to invent facts. That is not what creative nonfiction or literary journalism is.

It’s a firing offense to play fast and loose with the facts in pursuit of a lively story. I happen to know a reporter who was fired from The Arizona Republic for exactly that cause. And yes: he went on to teach “creative nonfiction” at the local university, where he persuaded students and at least one of his colleagues that adjusting facts was part of the technique of writing an entertaining story.

If anyone ever tells you this practice is acceptable, run away.

A journalist’s pen (or keyboard) is enormously powerful. You hold in your fingers the ability to destroy lives, to drive companies out of business, and to bring down governments. And so you are called upon to abide by ethical demands that far exceed the standard applied to most mere mortals.

Consider the potential harm the University of Virginia story could do:

  • You may be sure that within hours after Rolling Stone went to press, everyone on that campus knew the names of the seven alleged rapists. Their reputations were permanently compromised. Some probably left the university. But whatever they did, they may never outrun the calumny: their future careers may affected by what is evidently an untruth.
  • The university’s reputation was compromised and placed under a cloud. Would you send your daughter there?
  • The fraternity’s reputation, already a bit suspect,[6] was further compromised. Would you let your son pledge this outfit? My kid would be paying his own way through school if he made that decision.
  • Rolling Stone’s reputation was hopelessly compromised. If you ever believed anything that rag published before this happened, will you believe anything they publish in the future?
  • In a lawsuit, Rolling Stone was found liable for an enormous figure. The claims that were published, because they were false, are libelous. While a reporter’s duty is to check facts and confirm the truth of negative reports, the final responsibility to protect against libel rests with the editor. Because the reporter did not bother to track down the accused perps and ask for their side of the story—or even to confirm that a party actually occurred—the first thing a plaintiff’s lawyer would do is claim the story was concocted out of malice. And that is very much, very expensively a matter of libel. So, this put Rolling Stone at risk of huge financial penalties. Erdely, depending on her contract and whether she is an employee or a freelancer for Rolling Stone, may also be separately liable for huge claims. Each of those seven guys could bring separate suits, and so can the fraternity itself. We are contemplating more dollars than the human mind can conceive.

So, how can you protect yourself, as a reporter, from being taken in as Ms. Erdely apparently was? No reporter is 100 percent safe from our own errors and others’ deception. However, you can develop a few habits that will help:

  • Always confirm fact. Everything a source tells you should be double-checked through your own research.
  • When a claim is made about a person, call that person and ask for comment. If the person will not return calls or emails or accept visits, state in your article: “Boxankle did not return calls from a reporter from Rolling Stone.”
  • When a claim is made about a company or an agency, call the PR people or someone in authority at the company or agency and ask for comment. Again, if they refuse to speak to you, in your article explicitly state who you tried to contact, how you tried to contact them, and that they would not speak to you or they declined to comment.
  • Record every interview. If you write from your handwritten notes, listen to the interview to be sure your notes are correct.
  • Keep every recorded interview for at least six months. That is every interview, even those feeding some fluffy cheery little piece of froth. If anything even faintly controversial or technical is said, keep the interview permanently.
  • Unless your publication explicitly prohibits it, run the copy past people you interviewed and ask them to check it for accuracy. Do not accept editorial corrections; tell them you are asking only for confirmation of accuracy.
  • Never rely on an editor to check facts. Some publications do not hire fact-checkers.
  • Understand the law on libel and defamation; see chapter 31 for more on this.

All of these things are part of your job.

[1]Samantha Melamed, “Phila. Writer at Center of Controversy over Rape Article,” The Philadelphia Inquirer December 7, 2014. http://articles.philly.com/2014-12-07/news/56783207_1_philadelphia-magazine-rolling-stone-jackie

[2] David Folkenflik, “Defining Narrative Questioned in Rolling Stone UVA Rape Story,” National Public Radio, December 5, 2014. http://www.npr.org/2014/12/05/368768514/defining-narrative-questioned-in-rolling-stone-uva-rape-story

[3] Paul Farhi, “Author of Rolling Stone Article on Alleged U-Va. Rape Didn’t Talk to Accused Perpetrators,” The Washington Post, December 1, 2014. https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/author-of-rolling-stone-story-on-alleged-u-va-rape-didnt-talk-to-accused-perpetrators/2014/12/01/e4c19408-7999-11e4-84d4-7c896b90abdc_story.html

[4] Hannah Rosin, “Key Player in UVA Rape Story: “Rolling Stone Never Talked to Me.” Slate, December 6, 2014. http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/12/06/rolling_stone_uva_rape_story_continues_to_unravel_jackie_s_friend_andy_speaks.html

[5] Hannah Rosin, “Blame Rolling Stone,” Slate, December 5, 2014. http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2014/12/rolling_stone_backs_away_from_its_uva_gang_rape_story.html

[6] Wikipedia, s.v. “Phi Kappa Psi,” n.d. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phi_Kappa_Psi#Controversy

If You Asked Me: Squeamish about Insulin Shots?

21. My coworker administers his insulin injections at his desk or at the lunch table in front of everyone. Is it appropriate?

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a) He is not harming anyone by taking a few seconds or a few minutes and administering a dose of life-sustaining medication to himself. If you don’t like it you can get up and go to the bathroom, where maybe you can comb your eyebrows until you figure he’s finished.

b) It’s none of your business.

c) Your remark reveals a great deal about you, and none of it is flattering. It is hard not to feel sorry for you.

I’ll say this, though I’ll bet it doesn’t apply to your case: When I was a little girl, my family and I lived in a Third-World country. We had to take about a half-dozen shots, and some of them were pretty painful—about every six months my parents dragged me, literally kicking and screaming, down to the clinic for another hurtful episode. In those days, cholera, typhoid, and typhus shots were very painful, and the rest were just not any fun.

One time a nurse threw me flat on the floor and put her foot on my chest to hold me down so she could jab me with one of those ferocious shots.

That experience along with all the lesser events left me phobic about injections. Whenever I have to have a shot or have blood drawn, I cannot look at the equipment or watch the procedure, or else I will have a panic attack or even faint.

Okay . . . so maybe you’ve had some traumatic experience that left you with the heeby-jeebies about injections. In that case, I take back my implication that you’re kinda pathetic. But even if that is the case, all you’ve got to do is say, “Excuse me, gotta go to the men’s,” stand up, and walk out of the room for a couple of minutes. How hard is that?

Ella’s Story, Chapter 19 *FREE READS*

Ella’s Story follows 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

19

The dinner he had ordered up was pure Samdi: foods she hadn’t tasted since the blacksuits had hauled her off a good two years before, foods she didn’t realize she’d missed so much.

“Where did you find this, brother?” She picked up a crisp-coated leaf of a richly flavored succulent, one of her favorites among the grilled and boiled and deep-fried treats sold in a market thoroughfare.

He lifted a piece out of the serving bowl and examined it skeptically, as though he suspected it was unripe or not cooked properly. Or maybe counterfeit. “You can get pretty much anything you want. If you ask right.”

“I didn’t even know the Varns had this stuff here, on their godforsaken moon.” She’d never seen the leaf, which rotted quickly off the vine, in the resort restaurant where she’d labored away her first months at Ethra.

“Oh, sure. Some of the tourists are Samdi bigshots.”

That was so. Samdi bigshots liked street-market food, too. Of course. Who wouldn’t?

She ate until she couldn’t stuff another bite into her face, so delighted was she with the spread that graced the table. After Lohkeh finished his meal – well before she did – he watched her sate herself, barely hidden amusement showing in his face.

When she succeeded in clearing her plate and every other dish in front of her, she sighed, leaned back in her chair, and looked up into Lohkeh’s deep blue eyes, so dark as to appear black most of the time. The garnet in his ear sparkled like a sly wink. And she realized she was hungry for something more than food from home.

She rose from the seat, stepped over to his side of the table, and stood over him, silent. She knew she wouldn’t have to say a word.

Beautiful. That he was, she reflected now, from the distance of many years.

He smiled, let her pull him to his feet, and then slid his arms around her. She felt his desire harden against her belly, and felt her own heart beat faster as his lips found hers and then followed the line of the jaw to her ear and downward. He drew her to the bed, settled on it, and nuzzled her belly while he tugged smooth fabric seams apart.

She sat beside him on the bed to pull his shirt open, slipped it off his back and arms, then paused to gaze. His muscled chest and arms, highlighted in the golden light from glow panels set to mimic the Varn sun’s colors, stood out as smooth and perfect as a sculptured figure.

This one, she wanted. She moved to kiss him again. His tongue danced in her mouth, and he tugged off first her leggings, then his own.

He lay back against a pile of pillows. “Come here,” he whispered. “Come on up here.”