Monday, May 13, 2013

What You Should Know Before Publishing an Ebook

The  following summary highlights the key points from a major survey by Mark Coker of SW published on his Smashwords blog:

  1. Ebook Sales Conform to a Power Curve
  2. Most books don't sell well, but those that do sell well sell really well. This finding wasn't a surprise. Just as in traditional publishing, very few books become bestsellers.
  3. Viva Long Form Reading: Longer Books Sell Better
  4. For the second year running, we found definitive evidence that ebook readers - voting with their Dollars, Euros, Pounds, Krone, Krona and Koruna - overwhelmingly prefer longer books over shorter books.
  5. Shorter Book Titles Appear to Have Slight Sales Advantage
  6. How Indie Authors are Pricing Their Books: $2.99 is the Most Common Price Point
  7. How Price Impacts Unit Sales Volume: Lower Priced Books (usually) Sell More Copies
  8. The Yield Graph: Is $3.99 the New $2.99?
  9. One surprising finding is that, on average, $3.99 books sold more units than $2.99 books, and more units than any other price except FREE.
Survey taken from 120,000 indie ebooks. 

P.S. Here's my two cents: You've got to SELL your books, NOT give them away. 

The lows and lows of promoting your novel on the internet

So, you've got a book out there. OUT in the vast THERE, floating in cyber, just waiting to be noticed. Only you're getting no results. So you up the ante and get involved - you send out copies for reviews, join writer forums, internet book clubs and blogs and other such useless etceteras, and still detect NO DISCERNIBLE RESULT, right? You feel like you've hit a brick wall. There's just nothing happening and your frustration hits a new low - you start sending mass emails to everybody on the planet you have access to offering your book for a very reasonable price, invent what you feel are very interesting questions for a Q & A session with you and invite the entire universe to that earth-shattering event via your social networks, create a cyber group dedicated just to your books (that nobody has read as yet), and participate in web radio interviews hosted by a person who didn't bother to read the copy you've sent them but has a lot of enthusiasm if not training and uses a faulty microphone which will render the whole session inaudible.
Your frustration by this point should have turned into a raging depression; the mass emails bounce off as spam, the Q & A session is attended by you and your cat, the cyber group bearing your book's title has two entries - you and your cat's and the internet radio interview - you get the picture: the entire book promoting venture is a COLOSSAL failure. Sure, you might get a well-meaning stranger you've asked to friend you thank you for the add on your book's page but they will not buy the book or indeed read your carefully constructed blurb you've put up on your profile. No, the well-meaning stranger is just you wearing a different size of the same shoe - most likely they have something to flog to you. Maybe they're a budding musician promoting their 'single', or an artist trying to unload their home-made jewelry which they're keen to display on your book's page - at any rate, it hardly matters. You're two peas in a pod and there will be no sale for either of you. NO SALE.

Looks pretty grim, doesn't it? Yes, it does. However. There is a bright side. One day you'll wake up and the cobwebs will be gone. You start to feel better, feel like you've shaken off the blues, feel like you, once again, could take on the world - with just a little more work the whole thing is bound to pay off, you tell yourself and decide to give it another try. The reason behind this change? You've discovered a new book blog out in the vast THERE; your hunch is telling you you're onto a good thing - they might just be willing to review.


The Short Story: History and Development


What is a short story?

A short story, as described by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49), is a prose narrative of indeterminate length requiring anything from half an hour to one or two hours to peruse, and is a story that concentrates on a unique or single effect and one in which the totality of effect is the main objective.

Over time the form has shown itself to be so flexible and susceptible of so much variety that its possibilities seem almost endless. For example, it may be concerned with a scene, an episode, an experience, an action, the exhibition of a character or characters, the day's events, a meeting, a conversation, a fantasy or anything else that is an event in the mind of the writer.

When it comes to classification this is one of the most elusive forms. How long (or short) is a short story? If we take the novella as a 'middle-distance' book/story, then the short story comes into the 100/200 metre class. A short story could have anything from about 1,600 words to 20, 000 words, but the vast majority fall somewhere between the two.


Where did the short story begin?

Historically, we find many inset stories or digressions in Classical literature which amount to short stories. In the Bible the accounts of Cain and Abel, the Prodigal Son, Ruth, Judith and Suzannah are all short stories. The forefathers of the short story are myth, legend, parable, fairy tale, fable, anecdote, exemplum, essay, character study and even the ballad. The yarn, the sketch, the tale and the Russian 'skaz' are all short stories.

How did the short story develop?

In the second half of the 18th century the short story was being developed and established in Britain, partly as a result of the popularity of the oriental tale and also the Gothic novel. This new kind of the horror story was becoming increasing popular and by the end of the 18th c. the German 'novella' was firmly established as a term and genre of fiction, a trend which also saw the 'short story' evolve into a highly organized literary form. The popularity of the genre at this stage was mainly due to ghost stories dealing with the supernatural. In the English-speaking world two of the most important pioneers were Sir Walter Scott (1771 - 1832) and the Americans Washington Irving (1783 - 1859) and Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804 - 64).

The development of the short story during the 19th century

The realistic short story became highly developed in Russia. Alexander Pushkin was among the first to exploit it in the 1830s with The Tales of Belkin (1830), the Queen of Spade (1834) and The Captain's Daughter (1836). Gogol's stories were published during the same period. He wrote about everyday things and events and ordinary peoples. Among his most famous works are Nevsky Prospekt (1835), Notes of a Madman (19=835), The Portrait (1835), and Nose (1836) and The Overcoat (1842). Chekhov, who was to have a profound an universal influence on the short story, published several collections, including Motley Stories (1886) and In the Twilight (1888).
In France the short story was established in 1829-31 with the publication of a dozen 'contes' by Prosper Merimee, Balzac and Gautier. The outstanding French writer of short stories in the 19th c. was unquestionably Guy de Maupassant, among whose main collections were La Maison Tellier (1881), Mademoiselle Fifi (1882) and Yvette (1885).

Chekhov and Maupassant are generally accounted the masters of the genre in this period. Their combined influence has been immeasurable.
By the middle of the 19th c. the ghost story and the horror story were very well established. Many hundreds of short stories during the second half of the century were one or the other, or both combined. There were also hundreds of short stories with supernatural or supranormal themes; often tales of suspense and mystery. This popularity was to continue in the 20th century and beyond.

The short story in America

In America, during the second half of the 19th c., eight writers made a considerable name for themselves in the short story form: Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Ambrose Bierce, O. Henry, Stephen Crane, Jack London and Sherwood Anderson.Herman Melville's three most famous are Brtleby the Scrivener, Benito Cereno and The Encantadas. These were published in his collection The Piazza Tales (1856).

Twain's main collection is The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calveras County and Other Sketches (1867). This is an example of the tall tale or tall story, a kind of fiction which was popular in America in the 19th century.

Francis Bret Harte was a prolific writer of short stories and helped to popularize the Western. One of his best collections is The Luck of Roaring Camp and Other Sketches (1870).

Ambrose Bierce is still well remembered for his collection Tales of Soldiers and Civilians (1891).

Stephen Crane published two distinguished collections - The open Boat and Other Tales of Adventure (1898) and The Monster and Other Stories (1899).

O. Henry, especially, was very prolific and, like many of his here mentioned contemporaries, wrote tight, well-crafted stories, almost slick in their adroit contrivance, and was a master of the surprise ending or 'twist in the tail'. Among his main collections are Cabbage and Kings (1904), The Four Million (1906), The Trimmed Lamp (1907), and The Road of Destiny (1909).

Jack London was equally prolific. Two of his main collections are The Son of the Wolf (1900) and Tales of the Far North (1900). His Two Thousand Dozen is one of the best of all tall stories.

Sherwood Anderson's collections include The Triumph of the Egg (1921) and Horses and Men (1923).

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Dilemma of the Unhappy Adventurer

Dear reader,

I find myself in a peculiar personal situation which is so far out of my realm of experience that I'm using this channel to ask for advice as I feel there must be other people around in my position. I truly don't know what to do and would appreciate any advice anybody out there has to offer. Here's the problem.

I am a person of independent means, which means that I can do as I like with my time and this, until a year ago, suited me to perfection. I traveled, I indulged; indeed I did not shy away from any experience life had to offer and I wanted for nothing. Then, on a whim, I suddenly married twelve months ago and that’s when the trouble started.

At first I enjoyed being a husband, the simplicity of domestic bliss had briefly enslaved me but eventually, three months later, the novelty wore off and I found myself craving freedom. Once again I yearned to expect the unexpected, to embrace life’s pleasures unfettered and so, in keeping with my newly found zest, I began an affair with a woman. The excitement I felt every time I presented my wife and my mistress with yet another lie to account for my whereabouts is hard to put to words. To put it simply I felt alive and if it wasn’t for my falling in love, I would be feeling it still.

It's only recently that I've come to understand that love hurts. It's certainly turned my world upside down, I can tell you. I used to be so carefree, so beautifully callous in my romantic pursuits, which were numerous. Those were wonderful times, when visions of exhilarating adventures, piles of them, delightfully uncomplicated and brief, galloped through my head, just after lunch when I’d sit back nursing a cognac; for hours I was lost in reflection and the planning of my next affair. I had the best time of my life, I admit, when I was about to make a new conquest, all without feeling the least bit of guilt.

Alas, those days have now sadly come to an end. Since I fell in love I only mope and furrow my brow as I sit contemplating life without my angel because divorce, due to an iron-clad prenup is out of the question. Not only would my wife fleece me of every last cent but, to add insult to injury, she's concerned over my well-being. Of course, I take into account that the stupid woman is blissfully unaware about my situation but when she plies me with her never-ending inquiries as to why I seem so forlorn, I feel like putting my head in a bucket. I can't bear to look at her, and not just because she's frightfully ugly. It's all that and more. I am in a pretty pickle, I realize as I gaze at her long ovine face which her worried expression makes only longer and more ovine, and I wish I had not gotten that rotten drunk that night at the casino when I woke up in that cheap motel with her by my side waving the marriage certificate at me in that triumphant manner. We're married, darling! She bleated and she had my signature to prove it.

Well, what could I do? Tell her my heart wasn't in it? I should have but I didn't. I've been a gentleman all my life and it's been my undoing. As a result, my life today is full of regrets. Well, I try to make the best of the situation; as I juggle my two lives, heaping lies upon lies in both directions, I seem to be sinking deeper into deception and there’s no end to it.

So this is my story, dear reader, and I am hoping that you will be able to offer some insight into this peculiar situation and tell me what to do.

Yours truly
Unhappy Adventurer

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

What is satire?

Satire has been variously defined, throughout centuries, as 'a poem in which wickedness or folly is censured', 'the amendment of vices', 'reformation' or as 'a sort of glass wherein beholders do generally discover everybody's face but their own, which is the chief reason for that kind of reception it meets in the world, and that so very few are offended with it.' In other words - satire enables people to laugh at their fellow man's foolishness while blissfully unaware that they're being fools themselves.

Is satire art? 

The satirist is a kind of self-appointed guardian of standards, ideals and truth; of morals as well as aesthetic values. Satirists are people who take it upon themselves to correct, censure and ridicule the follies and vices of society and thus to bring contempt and derision upon aberrations from a desirable and civilized norm. Thus satire is a kind of protest, a sublimation and refinement of anger and indignation.

As Ian Jack once so adroitly put it: 'Satire is born of the instinct to protest; it is protest become art.'


What is the role of a satirist? 


In Essays in Satire (1928) Ronald Knox likened the satirist to a small boy who goes about with a water pistol charged with vitriol. He also suggests that the satirist is a kind of spiritual therapist whose function is to destroy the root causes of the major diseases of the spirit, like hypocrisy, pride and greed.


Satire during the last century 

During the 20th century satire was rare. Two of the main reasons for this lack are that the 20th century was a period of much instability and violent change, and the humour industry grew to such an extent that the satirist could hardly make himself felt except in the caricature and the cartoon. Sustained verbal satire of merit was very unusual, and verse satire almost nonexistent.

21st century satire 

Cabbage, Strudel and Trams 

An almost biographical and definitely riotous tale of adolescence begun behind the Iron Curtain, continued in a West German refugee camp and coming to a glorious end in the land Down Under.

Cabbage, Strudel & Trams tells the story of a young girl's turbulent journey from childhood to adulthood, of adolescence begun behind the Iron Curtain, continued in a West German refugee camp and coming to a glorious end in the land Down Under. Narrated by Franta, an imaginary friend inhabiting the inner world of our young heroine Vendula, this satirical coming-of-age tale depicts the trials and tribulations of an ordinary Czech family living in a small mining town in communist Czechoslovakia in the early 1980s, their escape to West Germany and their resettlement in Australia.

The story begins when the combined household of Zhvuk & Dribbler is thrown into chaos by the untimely defection of Uncle Stan to West Germany. With nothing but their damaged political profile to lose, the family decides to eventually follow in Uncle Stan's footsteps but not before puberty, free enterprise, unrequited love and things that only happen to other people shred our young heroine's heart. With charm, poise and a little grace, Franta navigates Vendula through the pitfalls of her teenage years, guiding her to discover her own identity. As shenanigans gather momentum, Franta's humorous insights into Vendula's loopy family: the assertive mother, the henpecked father, the enterprising granddad, the blissful grandma, the dissenting uncle and his circle of "freedom fighting" friends build a picture of the life of ordinary folk surviving the oppressive communist regime.

Well, even straw will eventually break the camel's back. Following a trip to the almighty Soviet "Onion" where rows of empty shop windows reveal the future all too clearly, the family escapes to West Germany. Unexpectedly, the refugee camp, a colourless shapeless blur on the edge of a dark, dark forest where only goblins live, is a "happy" kind of place in which tobacco chewing, nose picking, throat clearing, the occasional riot, and plentiful and uninhibited sexual exploits are the order of the day. Of course, life is not all beer and crackers for our heroes; having carved out some sort of an existence in the camp, new challenges arise when the family arrives in Australia.

Why You Should Read To Your Child

The Benefits of Reading to Your Child

Reading to and with your child is one of the most important and enjoyable experiences you can share with your child to promote learning and instill the love of learning in your child. There are simple steps you can take to ensure your child is getting the most out of reading.

What is reading? 

Reading is the recognition and interpretation of the meanings of a printed word or symbol and of groups of words or symbols. Reading is about making meanings from print, recognizing groups of printed words and images in the book and then interpreting their meanings. Reading to your child involves you speaking the written word, your child hearing the sounds you make and then interpreting them. This involves your child in a process of constructing meaning from printed words or symbols.

How language develops between three and six years of age

Between the ages of three and six years, pronunciation improves markedly. Word coinage forms expand. Metaphors appear based on concrete, sensory comparisons. Sentences reflect an appreciation of adult grammatical categories. Grammatical skills expand and develop, and grammatical structures are added. Conversational strategies appear that help sustain interaction, such as taking turns. At school entry, children usually possess a vocabulary of about 10 000 words. Meanings are grasped on the basis of how words are used. There is also the beginning of an appreciation of multiple meaning attached to words. This leads to an expanded understanding of metaphors and humor.

From six to ten years of age there is a mastering of pronunciations signaling subtle differences in meaning. A few complex grammatical structures such as the passive voice continue to be refined. Advanced conversational strategies appear like shades of meaning. There is an expansion of the understanding of illocutionary intent, and an improvement in referential communication. Metalinguistic awareness develops rapidly and is enhanced by and contributes to mastery of literacy.

Terms explained:

illocutionary intent - what the speaker intends to say, regardless of whether what he or she actually says is consistent with the intention

referential communication - the ability to produce clear verbal messages and to recognize when the meaning of others' messages is unclear

metalinguistic awareness - the ability to think about language as a system

Why is reading to children important?

As a teaching technique, reading to or with children is used to help them construct meanings about the world around them. Reading for enjoyment - reading books and stories is one of the most common ways in which you read to or with your child to facilitate learning at any age. Babies and toddlers will enjoy the experience, too.

The story method of reading is really a form of word and picture play and is an immediately pleasurable activity to engage your child in and to share a meaningful exchange of ideas.


How do you read to your  child?

The following tips will help you facilitate a high quality reading experience with your child:

The books you read to or with your child should:
  • match your child's interest - short adventures with lots of images are particularly well suited to the young child as they often feature characters and storylines young children relate to
  • not frighten your child
  • feature familiar situations to help young children interpret the world around them
  • explore feelings children can understand
  • have pictures and appropriate language to match your child's age.



How to help your child develop a love of books and reading?

Knowing how to read to, or with, your child is a vital skill so that learning can actually take place.

Before you share a story with your child, make sure that:
  • your child is sitting or lying comfortably - children concentrate best when they're comfortable and settled
  • you read to your child in a clear voice and in ways that enable them to readily see any pictures related to the words being read
  • you show enthusiasm for reading and enjoyment in the story to immerse your child in the experience.

Motivate your children to learn 

The years from five to eight are significant in the development of the motivation to learn. Emerging cognitive abilities help young children to evaluate whether they are successful or unsuccessful in school. Children become very aware of their progress and their ability to control success. This can be very confusing. When a five to six year old child has his or her picture praised, others will copy it in the hope and expectation of receiving equal praise. They are very puzzled and hurt when copying is not valued as highly as originality and the praise wanes with the level of mass production.

One of the significant cognitive achievements in the over-five age group is the acquisition of the ability to think about and solve problems in their heads. As this mental ability (known as metacognition) grows, children develop their own systems for organizing and remembering things. Once they master metacognition, they plan strategies for games, understand jokes and riddles, and address how others might think and feel. The opportunity to engage in hands-on materials helps them to have concrete reference points in their encounter with new information. When children can write, they should be encouraged to record findings to supplement concrete materials.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Do you want to have a clever child? Teach your baby to solve problems.

Babies and problem-solving

Problem-solving is the foundation of a young child's learning. As soon as young children begin to ask 'Why?' and 'How?' they show an interest in learning through problem-solving. But problem-solving strategies can be taught to children long before they start speaking. Very young babies can be encouraged to develop problem solving thinking, and here's how to do it.

How problem-solving can help stimulate intelligence

Healthy babies will be puzzled by many things in the world about them. The problems babies will be trying to solve for themselves are going to be simple puzzles about how the world works and how to make their body works in the world. By about 4 months of age, babies reach a stage in their cognitive development where they can intentionally begin to make things happen. For example, they will use their hands to hit a mobile or cry for their mother. Once babies reach this stage of cognitive development, you can present your baby with simple puzzles they can solve. For example, moving a mobile that a baby can reach to a slightly different location so that baby has to work out again how to use their hands to reach it. Or, you can offer your baby a new toy so that your baby has to work out what to do with it and how to work it. Babies concentration span is very short and their frustration and distress can build up quickly so do not be too ambitious when trying to stimulate your baby to try new things. You need to choose puzzles that are within the baby's grasp and do not cause distress or frustration. Learning to enjoy problem-solving at this age relies on having problems that are fun and of interest to the baby.

Children's confidence in problem-solving begins to be shaped in infancy. When boys are distressed parents will often direct them into doing activities while distressed baby girls will get cuddles and soothing talk to settle them down. This provides boys with strong messages that they are doers and solvers of problems and girls that they should be passive rather than active.

What you need to do to help your baby develop their problem-solving strategies early 

You need to match the use of problem-solving to enhance children's learning with their developmental abilities. The older the children the more they are likely to have sustained, focused attention on the problems they encounter. You also need to match the types of problems you want to encourage your children to solve with your children's developmental interests.

Very young children respond to simple narrative structure, colorful visual appeal and storylines that are suited to their limited understanding of the world around them. Let’s Read A Story will help your children understand simple concepts from everyday life while engaging them in a question & answer responses and acting out simple instructions.

Available to download from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords and everywhere else where good books are sold.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Decision, a short story by Ivana Hruba

Paul? Paul? Are you listening?
Yes, of course, I’m listening.
Yes, of course, you are. What was the last thing I said?
Umm… You said you wanted to…
I did. But now I don’t!
She walks out, leaving the room like a ghost, without touching a thing. She won’t even bang the door shut. It wouldn’t make any difference if she did. A year and a half into the marriage and this is their regular weekend. She talks while he reads the paper. Occasionally, he nods. She nods too, though for a different reason; to punctuate the way she feels. She wants him to know how she feels ‘cause that’s important to her, but no so much to him she’s noticed, lately. Lately, things have been changing between them. A gulf is developing, perceptibly, steadily, and it’s bothering her. She’s puzzled over it, for a while now, trying to find the cause.
It could be that they are just too different, she’s been thinking lately. Too opposite, it seems, in everything they do. And they say that opposites attract. She used to believe it, when they first met, when she used to enjoy watching him play footy, soccer, golf, even squash. In return, she got Paul’s attention, undivided, when it was her turn. But those days are gone; they’ve been replaced by these days and these days things are way different. These days she doesn’t enjoy watching Paul, do anything, anymore and Paul doesn’t mind, is definitely less attentive, to her, to anything other than his needs. She’s had to face it: their attraction is wearing off and everyone is going back to who they are, despite their best intentions, despite their I dos and despite all the promises they’ve made.
He and she are in trouble, she knows this, thinking she might have figured out what’s causing it. They’re asserting their own selves; that’s what’s causing the friction. They need different things, it’s that simple, but it doesn’t make things any easier. In fact, things are going downhill pretty fast, this weekend, anyway. She needs a listener but he doesn’t want to be one. She needs attention but he wants to watch tv, alone, lounging on the couch in his underpants. She looks forward to going out, to a café, a movie, the beach; he looks forward to making a mess on the couch with his cheese and crackers, and his lager. Every weekend, he looks forward to this, and every weekend the gulf grows. And lately he’s been getting vocal about it. He wants to watch the footy, the cricket, the soccer, even baseball, now that they’ve got pay tv. He just wants to relax ‘cause it’s the weekend, for God’s sakes. Why don’t you just stop whining for a while? He says. That would be nice.
She stops whining, exists the room. She takes her coat, her handbag and her car keys. She’s going out, alone, today, again. She heads for the beach, for that nice little café just off the main drag where it’s nice and cozy and warm but you can see the ocean clearly; on a day like this, you can see the waves crashing down on the boardwalk, and it makes one feel good. Witnessing all that destruction makes her feel good; as good as a chat with an understanding friend would do but she’s done that to death lately so today she’ll be doing something different, something new and unexpected even if it is totally planned, calculated and premeditated, to the umpteenth degree.
Today, she’s going to get laid. She’s thought about it, long and hard, and she’s doing it. She has someone in mind, and he’s a honey, a dude with a ‘tude, drop dead gorgeous and up for it, she knows. They’ve been exchanging glances. It’s gonna be hot and heavy, she so knows, and hopes that he does too. And today is the day.
She enters the café. It’s busy, noisy as she knew it would be on a day like this, with the howling wind and the rain driving the ocean over the wall to smash the boardwalk, to pieces, and it’s exactly how she’s been feeling, how she wants to feel and hopefully soon, ‘cause she’s getting impatient and she wants to see Him now. Ah, there He is, setting up his guitar stand. He’s looking good, all dark and brooding and so like in her dreams, she has to look away. Too late, He’s seen her. He nods, smiles, she melts, on the inside. On the outside, she smiles, nods, like a proper acquaintance. Cause they’re not friends. Not yet and who knows if they ever will be? She hasn’t planned that far. She’s only planned today. So far everything’s going swimmingly, which is rare so she’s enjoying the sensation. She’s going to talk to Him and soon.
She orders a coffee, pours herself a glass of water. The urn is just next to the stage where He’s sitting on a stool, tuning up his guitar. He’s looking scrumptious, looking right at her, says hi, says it’s good to see you again. She feels herself blushing, and loving every minute of it. Conversation begins, then flows and she finds herself standing there for a good while, while her coffee grows cold on the counter. She didn’t hear them call her number, but they did, several times, then moved on ‘cause it’s busy and time is money.
The afternoon flies, though there are several moments in it that seem like they would never end; He comes over between sets, to sit at her table, and he’s making her feel like she’s the most interesting, beautiful woman in the world. He’s a good listener, a good responder and there’s a great deal of mystery about Him ‘cause he hasn’t said that much about himself. But He’s interested in everything she’s had to say. She tells him a lot about herself, her dreams, her aspirations, favourite movies and all about the novel she’s reading right now. It’s a love story, a thing of rare beauty and it’s been making her cry. He seems to want to know a lot more about it, but not right now ‘cause right now it’s time to pack. So maybe, He suggests, they could discuss it over at his ‘cause he only lives around the corner and he’s got a great red wine collection so… What do you think?
The invitation is there, she knows, she’s been working towards it since she’s laid eyes on Him three weeks ago, and now the moment is here. She had always imagined the moment would feel different, that she would back out at the last minute, feel guilt or a surge of love for Paul, or some new emotion, one she’s never felt before, that would compel her to stop, rewind, go back to her marriage determined to try harder, but none of this happens. She nods, says great, we’ll go to yours. His smile gives her butterflies. This hasn’t happened in a… while, anyway. She’s onto a good thing here. And she’s gonna make sure He’s too.
Several hours later she’s in his bed, in his arms, feeling alive. It’s going down well, just like she’s imagined it would. His touch is electric. He’s attentive, passionate, knows all the right moves. It’s heaven and it only gets better. Afterwards, they talk and drink red wine. In bed. She’s keen for another round but He’s in the mood to talk, so they talk.
He’s recently divorced. Just moved in to this beachside cottage a few weeks ago. He’s still getting over his marriage, which he had thought (foolishly) would last forever or else he’d never have made the commitment. But she cheated (multiple times) and it finally got too much. But he had tried, tried so hard, to fix it, to keep it going but it didn’t work out. She left one day and never came back. Texted him that it was over, that she moved in with a new guy and filed for divorce. And why? Why did this happen? He never did figure it out but she eventually told him they were simply too different. They were opposites in every way, two different people with different dreams and aspirations and it was best to end it while they were still civil. It’s been four months since the decree was signed and this — wait for it — is the first time he’s taken a girl home. You’re very special, He whispers to her, snuggling up close. He smells like the beach, looks divine but she’s not having as much fun anymore. She’s thinking it’s late and she should be going home.
But He’s not finished yet. He’s telling her he would really like to see her again, has liked her the moment he laid eyes on her, and would like to get to know her better. She nods; of course, she’d like to see more of him. She’ll come by next week. Same time, same place. Then they’ll come here, to do what needs to be done. Deep down, she knows it won’t be possible, but now is not the time to say it. It would spoil this otherwise perfect experience, this much looked for release she’s needed for so long. She can’t bear to tell him but He’s not the one for her. And He’s not; not with his baggage, the emotional scars and the inflexible, old-fashioned attitude; it just wouldn’t work. It’s a pity but she’s determined to leave on a high so they go another round.
She gets home just after midnight. Paul’s on the couch, snoring. It looks like he hasn’t missed her. The television is on and there are signs, all over this room, of the bacchanalia that took place here while she made love to another man. Empty bottles of lager (6) attest to the good times that were had here, in her absence. There’s plenty of litter; bits of cheese and bits of crackers, some on the carpet, some on and under the coffee table. A half-eaten chocolate bar and an ice cream wrapper and the stick, sticky side down, sticking to the glass top, right next to a crumbly smudge of something spilled which had dribbled off the edge onto the new carpet where it pooled, then dried into a solid blob. It’ll be a bitch to clean; that much is obvious ‘cause the carpet’s light and the stain is dark. But the cleaning can wait. Right now, she just wants to go to sleep.
She turns in for the night, going upstairs, alone but happy. She’s thinking of the lovely day she’s had. Of all the lovely days she will have. She’s thinking that maybe this marriage will last.

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Planet of Dreams: Go West

Shackled to a dangerous man, a young boy fights for survival in the desert.


A day in the dungeon begins with a sound. It is a distinct and quite unpleasant sound, of footsteps coming closer. From inside the dungeon these footsteps sound like slaps; sometimes I imagine slabs of raw beef are falling on the flagstones. One, two, three, four, five, six chunks of moist sirloin lying on the ground in a bloody mess. Then silence. Hopeful on my side of the dungeon door, indifferent, I imagine, in the corridor. The silence lasts three seconds, at the most. On the other side of the door a key is inserted into the lock, turned, then a chain is pulled and the small metal tray in the door falls open towards you like a drawbridge. In the next instance, your provisions for the day, a jug of water and a bowl of something, a stew or soup, appear. You have exactly ten seconds to take the food off the tray before the tray draws up, closing the opening. The chain rattles, the key turns, leaves the lock. The sound of footsteps resumes. This time the sound has an entirely different tone; this time, sand is squeaking underfoot, on a beach somewhere, in an open, sunny place. One, two, three, four, five, six sandy squeaks, squeaking away until nothing but the sound of your own breathing remains. The entire exercise lasts exactly two minutes. Then it’s just you. To do with yourself as you see fit. And what do you do with yourself for the rest of your dark, quiet day?
You eat. You drink. You sleep. You exercise, walk, stretch — your body and your mind. You pee creatively in your bucket; you’re making patterns, percussive and melodic both, just to hear a sound, a something other than the voice in your head. When you’re done peeing, you daydream. Day and night, you let your imagination run wild ‘cause you’re stuck in this very dark, quiet place with only your thoughts, your bladder and three plastic utensils to entertain yourself with.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Dead Husbands Club

‘By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken and to dust you shall return. Amen.’ Father Smogg makes the sign of the cross over the coffin and throws a handful of dust into the grave. The service is over.
The congregation gathered here to pay respects to the recently deceased looks relieved. Thanks God this was short, Lucinda reads in the mourners’ faces. They’re filing past her, shaking her hand, telling her how sorry they are, wishing her luck, then quietly leaving with a kind word or two about her husband she’s sure nobody really means. Soon only the front row, the neighbours and the business associates who owed the dearly departed money, are left. There’s a wake to go to.

Chapter 1

The death of Lucinda’s husband brought joy into Lucinda’s life. She herself would later say that Tony’s demise was the beginning of the life she was meant to have, the life she had always secretly wanted but never told anyone about ‘cause there was no point in bringing it up while she was married to Tony. Tony himself would not have disputed her claim, had it ever been made, ‘cause essentially, Lucinda’s opinions didn’t matter. At the time of his death, Lucinda’s feelings, desires, needs and wants were the furthest thing on his mind as Lucinda had long ceased to interest him in any tangible, material way; after fifteen years of marriage he simply viewed her as a handy household pet, well trained and with predictable responses, and he’d have been much surprised to know that Lucinda was unhappy in their relationship. The idea to ask her had never even entered his mind.
Tony was a man of simple desires. Set in his ways, he saw his life as a chain of meticulously planned and well executed orderly events designed to keep him happy. In this scheme of things, his marriage was nothing but a well-oiled cog in the clockwork.
Tony’s idea of marriage was straight forward. An old-fashioned kind of husband, Tony expected an obedient wife, a home-cooked meal and a clean house. He worked hard for what he got, Tony did, and what he got he deserved — a clean house, a home-cooked meal and an obedient wife. Apart from this, his one desire was to be left alone on the weekends.
Tony’s weekends were spent watching footy. Lucindaah! Tony would shout from the living room where he lay on the couch cracking nuts. Bring me a beer, will you? And Lucinda jumped to it ‘cause that’s how it was from the day they got married to the day Tony died.
The day Tony died was a Sunday. Traditionally, Sunday in Tony’s household was a day of rest. For Tony, who spent it on the couch in the same manner he spent his Saturday — watching footy. For Lucinda, Sunday traditionally was a busy and aggravating day ‘cause there were Tony’s shirts to iron and his favourite dinner to cook — a tedious, drawn out affair with piles of food made just the way Tony liked it and starring homemade sausages, which Tony insisted Lucinda cook from scratch.
The day Tony carked it was no different, for either of them.
‘Lucindaah!’ Tony shouted from the living room where he lay on the couch cracking nuts. ‘Bring me a beer, will you?’
In the kitchen, Lucinda, emitting a sigh, rolled her eyes heavenwards. Elbows deep in sausage meat, she’s busy, busy kneading these stinking sausages Tony insists they have every Sunday.
‘Lucindaah!’ shouts Tony. There’s an intensity to his tone, this time. ‘The beer! NOW!’
Lucinda closes her eyes briefly, gathering herself, gathering her determination to grin and bear it for the good of the afternoon, herself, Tony and their wretched existence together, and all these Sundays she has endured for so long. Only a few hours and it’ll be over, she tells herself; only the footy, the dinner and the evening movie to get through, she thinks projecting herself into the future, into Monday, when she will be alone, cleaning the house and making a home-cooked meal on her own in the welcome, luxurious peace and quiet of Tony’s absence.
Next door, in the living room where the curtains are drawn against the afternoon sun, Tony’s lying on the couch, watching footy on television and precariously balancing a bowl of peanuts on his beer gut. It isn’t an easy task; Tony’s bulging belly button is seriously in the way and may soon cause the bowl to topple and the peanuts to spill. So Tony’s being careful; he wouldn’t want to have Lucinda sweeping up the mess in the middle of the first half, just as it’s getting exciting. So he’s being careful, hardly daring to breathe, waiting for his beer to arrive. The game goes into a commercial, a beer ad of all things, which reminds him.
‘What are you doing in there, woman?’ Tony shouts, grabbing onto the bowl of peanuts just in time. His massive belly button, obscenely huge and almost translucent but for the few grey hairs — yeah, Tony’s getting on — sprouting there on the sides and down his belly, moves, propelling the bowl upwards and to the side. So Tony catches it and puts the bowl down on the coffee table. He sinks back into the couch, and fumes, steaming with anger and vapor ‘cause he is annoyed and ‘cause it is hot in the room.
Tony’s sweating like a hog though he’s not wearing much, just a pair of old Y-fronts which, due to their age and Tony’s reclining pose, are tightly drawn over his tiny small penis but sagging under his great big ass, right under the stain that just won’t go, no matter what Lucinda does with it in the wash. She’s long wanted to replace these unsightly undergarments but Tony won’t have it, is sentimental about them ‘cause they’re his favourite undies to watch footy in, so what’s your problem, woman? asks Tony whenever this topic arises between them, which is often, nearly every time it’s hot. Even today, though Lucinda has said nothing, Tony knows she’s thinking about his underpants ‘cause she’s got that grimace on, those pinched nostrils, which disapprove of him. And the beer is still nowhere to be seen.
Tony gets up, determined to get some answers. She’d better have a good excuse, fumes Tony, ambling towards the kitchen. Maybe she’s dead. She’s awfully quiet in there… thinks Tony, calculating the chances in all seriousness ‘cause it’s really the only thing that would go some way towards explaining why his beer has not arrived.
The kitchen door is ajar. He gives it a shove with his foot and pokes his head tentatively into the interior, expecting to see a calamity of some kind. But nothing out of the ordinary has happened in the kitchen; Lucinda’s carrying on as she always does on Sundays, making sausages.
She has a nerve, Tony thinks, flaring his nostrils into his own disapproving grimace. He could give her a piece of his mind, he could, but he’s determined to rise above it this time ‘cause it’s Sunday and he doesn’t want to spoil his mood; after all, it’s his favourite day — the footy’s on, he’s wearing his favourite undies and he’s gonna have those yummy sausages for dinner. Just thinking about the sausages makes him happy; Tony’s tension is easing and he’s taking a deep breath to savour the kitchen aroma.
To Tony, the sausage meat Lucinda’s making smells delicious; it’s raw and pungent, it smells like a fart — which reminds him… Tony recognizes an opportunity here and decides to get his beer himself. He waddles over to the fridge, opens it, peers in, farts (audibly), takes a bottle out, shuts the fridge door, farts (louder this time), twists the bottle top open and takes a swig. Farts again, a long and drawn one with a stink so strong and unpleasant even Tony’s surprised. He didn’t realize he had it in him, this early in the day, and he looks over his shoulder at Lucinda to see her reaction. She’s busy with her meat grinder, looking like death warmed up.
‘What’s your problem?’ he asks, annoyed at her silence. Stupid cow, has no sense of humour. God, she’s getting on, thinks Tony, noting the lines around Lucinda’s tightly closed mouth, the slight sag in her jaw, the crow’s feet around her eyes. She’s putting it on, too. Tony lets out a sigh of disappointment. And she used to be so bonny, thinks Tony, remembering a much younger, much bonnier Lucinda when she was a perky-breasted young thing who used to make him laugh. Ah, but she’s long gone, thinks Tony, looking at Lucinda’s closed, disapproving face.
‘You got something to say?’ Tony asks. He might just be spoiling for a wee little fight to enliven the afternoon. Tony likes to argue with Lucinda; it gives him the opportunity to tell her a few home truths, to really let her know how he’s feeling about her these days, and for good reason too. But today Tony is feeling a wee bit tired. Maybe later, thinks Tony, multitasking in the middle of this contemplation; he’s glugging his beer and scratching his ass — right on the stain — and managing all this time to scrutinize his wife who, he knows, is quite aware how he feels about her these days. ‘I thought so,’ he mutters when Lucinda declines to comment; instead she opens the pantry, turning her back on him, defiantly it seems to Tony who’s filing this gesture of disrespect for later. He knows Lucinda’s transgression, her turning her back on him, will cost her dearly later on this evening when they finish their Sunday with a wee little argument. Tony will triumph of course; poor old charmless Lucinda will cry. Tony’s quite looking forward to it but right now he has other diversions on his mind so he leaves and returns to the living room, to his sanctuary where the curtains are drawn, the couch is still warm and the second half is about to start.
In the pantry, Lucinda breathes a sigh of relief. The sight of Tony makes her literally sick and the sound of his voice makes her want to drown herself. But Lucinda has developed a coping mechanism over the years; a moment of silence in the pantry is all she needs. A transient thought of a life lived long ago and left behind flits through her consciousness; she sees herself as a young girl, pretty, carefree, laughing on the arm of a handsome young man (not Tony), going out to spend the day in the company of people she likes. But it is a transient thought and it stays true to its nature. Lucinda wipes her hands on her apron, grabs her good luck charm necklace and begins the ritual. She fingers her charms, one by one: the heart, the unicorn, the book, the star, the clock, the bicycle, the seahorse, the thimble… Lucinda’s fingers are looking for the thimble, her most recent acquisition, the newest and biggest charm she’s had but it’s gone. Oh dear, I’ve lost the thimble, but what can I do about it now? I’m gonna have to look for it later, sighs Lucinda and goes on with the ritual, fingering the next charm, a tiny pair of ballet slippers — for the baby girl she used to wish for — and taking deep breaths. She’s feeling okay now; even the feel of those ballet slippers doesn’t upset her; she’s grown out of that desire. In fact, Lucinda’s grateful there’s been no children born to her out of this marriage, and she counts it as a blessing. It would have been awful bringing up children in this household, Lucinda thinks every time her fingers touch the tiny silver shoes, and it gives her comfort. She’s calm now and quite determined to get through the afternoon. Lucinda gathers the few remaining ingredients to finish her sausage mixture and leaves the pantry.
A few hours later, the Sunday dinner is taking place. Tony and Lucinda sit in the dining room — at opposite ends of the long dining table acquired long ago right after their wedding when things were good and children (lots) were on the cards — eating their dinner. The room is filled with the setting sun and the background noise of the Sunday night news. Tony’s chewing is front of house — unmissable, unpleasant and crucial to the proceedings; the intensity of Tony’s chewing indicates his level of enjoyment of the much anticipated Sunday dinner. A lot depends on this and Lucinda knows it. She’s eating her sausage though she’d rather stick to the mashed potatoes and the Brussels sprouts; she loathes these sausages but it would be unwise to let it show so she doesn’t. Lucinda has wised up over the years and for that reason Tony does not suspect a thing; he’s chewing furiously, wolfing down his eight’s sausage and his third helping of mashed potatoes, and a pile of Brussels sprouts saturated with gravy, and he’s doing all right; he’s in heaven, things couldn’t get any better except he’d like another beer. He gives Lucinda the nod and bangs his fist on the table to get her going. His mouth, his stomach and his lungs are full to bursting; Tony’s unable to speak as usual at this point, but nothing needs to be said. He wants his beer. Lucinda knows, is quite aware of the routine so she puts down her cutlery and leaves the table.
Lucinda enters the kitchen. The room is ablaze with light. The setting sun had snuck in through the open window while she was gone and worked its magic to surprise her. And Lucinda is surprised; the space looks so pretty, so warm and inviting, so full of light, Lucinda feels so… she doesn’t know what she’s feeling but knows it’s good and she wants to keep on feeling it. She takes a couple of steps and now she’s in the middle of the room, feeling good. A gust of wind shuts the door behind her, not loudly, only just so. It would be an easy sound to miss if one were not listening.
Lucinda didn’t hear it. She stands in the middle of her kitchen — that drab, dreaded room in which she spends most of her time — thinking how pretty the orange glow, thinking she’d like to look out the window for a bit ‘cause the sunrays dancing about the walls are making her dizzy. But Tony wants his beer, the little voice inside her head whispers, is tugging on her conscience, so Lucinda takes a reluctant step towards the fridge. Just then, she hears something.
She hears music and it’s coming from the window. It’s pipes and drums and trumpets; A marching band! Lucinda exclaims and rushes to the window to look. It is a marching band, complete with pipes and drums and trumpets, playing a familiar tune. Oh, when the saints go marching in … Oh, when the saints go marching in …
There’s red uniforms and silly hats; How pretty! Lucinda exclaims. There’s children running alongside the band; a crowd has gathered and it seems the whole street is out in full force. Lucinda is intrigued; she sticks her head out the window and forgets, for the moment, everything else that’s going on in her life right now.
In her life right now Tony is getting hot under the collar, back in the living room where his Sunday dinner is in progress. He’s down to his tenth’s sausage and getting low on the gravy. The Brussels sprouts are few and far in between, and Tony’s throat is dry. Very dry. Tony’s Sunday is not going according to plan.
Where is that hag with my beer? fumes Tony, chewing furiously, wolfing down his tenth’s sausage. What does a man have to do to get a drink in his own house? Tony grumbles, feeling dry, full to bursting, thirsty and disrespected, on top of everything else. I’m really gonna have to sort her out; Tony bangs his fist on the table with a tremendous force. The gravy boat jumps, falls off the edge of the dining room table, and shatters to bits on the polished parquetry. A small but dense stain is spreading towards the carpet’s edge; dear Lord, it’s reached the fringe! The carpet is officially stained.
‘Lucindaah!’ Tony roars just as the marching band passes by his front lawn. The din is deafening. Tony shoves the last piece of sausage and potato mash into his gob. ‘Lucin—’ Tony chokes. He chokes on the word, the sausage, the potato, the gravy that’s run out and the beer he never got. It’s the real deal, Tony is dying and it’s going down like they show it in the movies. First, he grips the table with both hands, bends over, tries to cough it out. No sound comes. Next, he lets go of the table, grasps his throat with both hands. Nothing happens. He keeps on choking. He’s choking on the sausage, the potatoes, the gravy that’s run out, the beer he never got and every single thing that’s ever made him angry and hateful, and it all comes down to one thing: Lucinda!
Tony’s eyes begin to bulge; it really looks like he’s in awe of the objects surrounding him; the plate, the cutlery thrown carelessly over his napkin, the bowl of potatoes, the bowl of sausages… The veins on Tony’s forehead are pulsating; his head is swimming and his last thought is about to occur. Sausages… thinks Tony, sadly but without regret, who would have thought? He keels over, pulling down the table cloth. The man crashes to the ground like a sack of beans, sags like a bag of wet clothes and lies still, blue-faced, slack-jawed and with eyes wide open, at the foot of his dining table, wearing nothing but a pair of threadbare, stained undies.

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