Bookshots: Stories read with the speed of light

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It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.

Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

By Caleb Pirtle III

Several years ago, something happened.

And I don’t know why.

My writing changed.

My style changed.

I began writing short.

Then shorter.

I didn’t sit down one morning, stare down at my keyboard, and say, “Well, I think that sentence would work better if it were shorter.”

But there they were.

Scattered on the page.

Short words.

Short sentences.

Short paragraphs.

Short chapters.

Shorter books.

Jump into the story.

Don’t tarry.

Leave when the story is told.

Now, apparently, the great James Patterson agreed with me.

Patterson launched a whole new line of books.

He called them Bookshots.

They were short, 40,000-word novellas designed to be read quickly and cheaply and at one sitting.

You can race through these, Patterson says.

They’re like reading a movie.

He calls them stories at the speed of light.

Patterson says he wants to tap into a new market: the twenty-seven percent of Americans who have not read a book of any kind in the past year.

Why?

Books, they say, are too long.

Hardcover books, they say, are too expensive.

In reality, Patterson brought back the dime novel.

In today’s hectic, fast-paced, impatient world, there’s no reason to write long when short can do the job much better.

For example, I no longer write a chapter describing the sunset.

I merely write: “The sun fell red like blood beyond the trees and into the river.”

No more.

No less.

I don’t need to write a thousand words to describe the sun going down.

We’ve all seen it go down.

We know how it looks.

We know what it does.

My latest release is Lonely Night to Die, which has three noir thrillers written as novellas.

Each one stars the same character.

He’s CIA.

He’s rogue.

The CIA wants him dead.

Patterson would call them bookshots.

I won’t disagree.

More and more, I am embracing the admonition that’s it’s best to enter a story late and leave early.

Others in the writing profession have been doing it for a long time.

As August Wilson said, “The simpler you say it, the more eloquent it is.”

And Josh Billings pointed out, “There’s great power in words if you don’t hitch too many of them together.”

Even Thomas Jefferson had an opinion: “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

As far as Baltasar Gracian was concerned, “Good things, when short, are twice as good.”

John Rushkin believed, “Say all you have to say in the fewest possible words, or your reader will be sure to skip them, and in the plainest possible words or he will certainly misunderstand them.”

Said Diderot: “Pithy sentences are like sharp nails driving truth into our memory.”

Mark Twain warned, “As to the adjective, when in doubt, strike it out.”

And Friedrich Nietzsche summed it up by writing: “It is my ambition to say in ten sentences what others say in a whole book.”

When it’s all said and done, however, I prefer the insights of Arthur Plotnik and Robert Southey.

Said Plotnik: “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside of you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

Southey then drove the point home: “It is with words as with sunbeams. The more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.”

That says it all.

No need to write anything more.

I’ll quit.

And let Southey’s words burn and be read at James Patterson’s speed of light.

Caleb Pirtle III

began his career writing about history and travel. He learned quickly, however, that what happens is never as important as those who make it happen. Many of those people have made their way into his novels.

He is the author of more than 65 published books, including the new noir suspense thrillers, Golgotha ConnectionSecrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies and Night Side of Dark. His other novels include Back Side of a Blue Moon and Friday Nights Don’t Last Forever

He has written such award winners as “XIT: The American Cowboy,” “Callaway Gardens: the Unending Season,” “The Grandest Day,” “Echoes from Forgotten Streets,” and “Spirit of a Winner.” His nonfiction works include Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk and No Experience Required.

Caleb earned a journalism degree from The University of Texas and became the first student at the university to win the national William Randolph Hearst Award for feature writing. As a reporter for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he received both the Texas Headliner’s and Associated Press Awards.

He served as travel editor for Southern Living Magazine, and his travel writing was given the National Discover America Award three times. For more than two decades, Pirtle was editorial director for a custom publishing company in Dallas.

He has also written teleplays for network television.

Find more about Caleb at his:

BestsellingReads author page    |    Amazon Author Page    |    Website   |   Blog    |  Facebook    |   Twitter

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Book launch: Death Comes Ashore

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A new urban fantasy series

By Corinne O’Flynn

The deepest mysteries lie within… 

When Detective Corey Proctor became a cop, she put her ridiculous family history well behind her. Being the only female descendant of the Proctors and Coreys of Salem Witch Trials fame made her a target at an early age. But there’s no magic here, thank you very much… her kidnappers saw to that.

As she begins investigating a murder on New England’s Nahant Island, Corey’s troubled past comes roaring back like the turbulent waves that carried the victim’s body to the shore. Dark memories stirred up by the victim’s likeness threaten Corey’s ability to remain focused on the job. When a friend calls, worried that her daughter is missing, it’s one more thing to add to the ever-growing list. 

Corey’s always managed to keep her past where it belongs… in the past. But as her investigation progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that all she’s worked so hard to contain is threatening to reveal itself, ready or not.

Available now exclusively on Amazon.

Corinne O’Flynn

is a productivity geek, graphic designer, ghostwriter, and the author of an ever-growing list of fantasy and mystery novels and short stories.

Married, raising four kids, she is the founder and executive director of a non-profit organization, and a professional napper. She also serves on the board for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers (RMFW).

You can check out all of her books on her website or on Amazon.

Anyone interested in staying connected can sign up for her emailsWhether you’re a fan of mystery or fantasy stories, or a fellow busy human looking for ways to build your own productivity systems, Corinne O’Flynn invites you to join her as she shares what she learns on her adventures.

“I believe in doing things with intention, and making sure those intentions are good. :)”

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Memory and dialog

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Monday musing

By Scott Bury

Photo by Max Goncharov on Unsplash

How does memory factor into my writing? Thinking about this brought me to one of my earliest memories: July 31, 1965. 

On that warm, sunny Winnipeg summer day, I was standing on the front steps of my parents’ home. My father was sitting on the top step in front of me, and around me were some other kids from the neighbourhood.

I cannot remember what the conversation was about, but I can remember that at one point, I said, “today is the first day of August.” I remember feeling that I was kind of going out on a limb; I remember not being sure that what I said was true.

“Not quite,” my father said. “Tomorrow is August first.”

And I can remember, strangely enough, feeling pretty good about that—about being close to knowing the date, because I was sure that none of the other four- and five-year olds there had any clue what the date was. I can remember at least one of them being surprised that I was as close as I was. After all, even a grown-up could err on the date by one day, right?

I was four at the time (now you know my age). There were no cell phones to check the date and time on. Phones then were heavy, clunky black things tethered to the wall by stout wires, or screwed to it in the kitchen. Actually, every family I knew had only one phone.

We also all had black-and-white television sets—huge wooden crates with a screen maybe a foot across. I remember how my parents and I used to fiddle with the rabbit-ear antennas on top, or the fine-tuning dial around the channel-changing dial beside the screen to try to clear up the image on the screen.

I remember the white stucco house with the blue wooden trim that we lived in. The front yard seemed as wide as a park, and I remember the oak tree as immense, with a canopy that gave enough shade for family picnics.

I don’t know whether this memory directly informs my writing. But I have always loved blue-and-white houses, and I was immediately taken with Cycladean architecture when I saw pictures of it during high school. 

Unsplash

But there is one lesson I think we can draw from this. Think of your own favourite memories. They’re probably not about big, dramatic events. They’re probably of quieter moments with your families, when you’re not doing anything in particular. No one says anything life-changing.

If there is something about this memory that has any effect in my writing, it’s that. People don’t usually speak in full sentences, and what they say does not seem memorable, at first. And yet, that’s what we do remember. At least, I do. 

This is where I find a lot of fiction writers go wrong. They try to pack so much into dialogue that it sounds false. Listen to some of the everyday conversations around you. People almost never speak in full sentences, they make mistakes all the time, they start sentences, change their mind part-way through, backtrack part way and substitute words. And if you ever tried to re-create the funniest, most enjoyable, laughter-filled conversation you ever had on paper, it probably came out as gibberish. This is why most politicians sound false: they’ve prepared what they say.

I know that stumbling speech with little import makes for bad reading. But still, I remember those quiet times and those gentle conversations, and to me, they’re the most real memories I have.

Scott Bury

can’t stay in one genre. After a 20-year career in journalism, he turned to writing fiction. “Sam, the Strawb Part,” a children’s story, came out in 2011, with all the proceeds going to an autism charity. Next was a paranormal short story for grown-ups, “Dark Clouds.”

The Bones of the Earth, a historical fantasy, came out in 2012. It was followed in 2013 with One Shade of Red, an erotic romance.

Since then, he has published mysteries, thrillers and a three-volume biography, the Eastern Front triology: Army of Worn Soles, Under the Nazi Heel and Walking Out of War, the true story of a Canadian-born man drafted into the Soviet Red Army in World War II.

Scott’s articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

Born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, he grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario. He holds a BA from Carleton University’s School of Journalism. He has two mighty sons, two pesky cats and a loving wife who puts up with a lot.

Learn more about Scott from his:

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Thursday teaser: Rainy Night to Die

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Read on to see how your could WIN a free e-copy of this week’s featured novel, the brand-new espionage thriller

By Caleb Pirtle III

PAULINE SAT IN silence on the sofa as the hours dragged slowly from morning to late afternoon.

The clock might as well have stopped.

It no longer had any meaning.

Just a tick.

Then a tock.

And time, which would outlive them all, stepped off the edge of the earth and would never be recovered again.

It fell into yesterday.

It would never see tomorrow.

It was lost, gone on a one-way street that ran forever and might run into a dead end before dark, and time had taken Pauline with it.

She had the guilt of murder hanging heavy on her conscience.

She had watched his face as he moved toward her, a red mask of rage, his veins pulsating on the side of his head, his pupils dilating, eyes turning from dark to a deeper shade of black.

His hands were huge, his fingernails torn ragged, packed with blood and dirt.

His naked and bloated body was awash with sweat.

Pauline could not forget the grin that tore across his face as though it had been scarred by a hacksaw.

His pale lips wrapped themselves around a mouthful of yellowed teeth, each filed sharply to a point.

On more than one occasion, Petrov had bragged about biting the nipples off a woman’s breast before throwing her broken body back out on the street.

Pauline did not doubt his story for a moment.

The first bullet had staggered him.

He rocked back and forth on the balls of his feet.

Maybe if the slug had only erased that sick and wicked grin off his face, she would not have fired again.

Petrov’s death was self-defense, she told herself.

She had no choice.

It was a law as old as the first light to touch a barren earth.

Kill.

Or be killed.

She had borne the brunt of Nikolay’s anger for the final time.

He would never touch her again.

She would no longer bear the bruises delivered by his fists.

But did it really matter?

Who would believe her?

A judge?

Pauline knew she would never see a judge.

Her trial would take place in either a back alley some night while a splinter of moonlight touched her face or on the cold, winter shores of the Ukraine River while a bitter rain tried to wash the demons from her tortured soul.

One bullet.

Her skull would crack.

Would she see death before death found her?

Spies did not die with honor.

They just died.

Were buried.

And soon forgotten.

It was as if they had never left their footprints upon the same dirt that would hold their graves.

Pauline felt isolated.

She was alone.

She couldn’t run.

There was no place to go.

They would find her.

The Russians had eyes in every corner of the city.

They were watching.

Always watching.

They were watching her.

Her life began in one flicker of firelight and would end in another.

About Rainy Night to Die

Roland Sand is the quiet assassin. His missions for intelligence agencies are those no one else wants to tackle. The reason is simple. Sand is expendable. If he doesn’t return, he won’t be missed. His name is erased. It’s as though he never existed.

Sand is sent to Ukraine to smuggle out a beautiful lounge jazz singer who, for years, has been smuggling Russian secrets back to MI-6’s home office in Great Britain. Her contact in London has been compromised. He is found floating in the Thames River. Sand must extricate Pauline Bellerose before the Russians trace the stolen secrets back to her and place a noose around her neck.

He has twenty-four hours to find the singer and remove her to safety. If she is caught, he dies.

A ship is waiting in the fog off the coast of Odessa. Time is running out. He must reach the ship at the appointed hour, or it will leave without them. In the secret world of espionage, the window of escape is narrow and closing all the time. The midnight storm is the only place to hide.

The Russians are waiting on the road to sea. Sand can’t outrun them. He can’t outfight them. He must outwit them. Otherwise, he’s trapped, and it’s a rainy night to die.

Find it on Amazon.

Win a free copy

Caleb Pirtle will give a free e-copy of Rainy Night to Die to one person who can identify Roland Sand’s identifying feature. Leave your answer in the Comments below.

Caleb Pirtle III

began his career writing about history and travel. He learned quickly, however, that what happens is never as important as those who make it happen. Many of those people have made their way into his novels.

Pirtle is the author of more than 80 published books, including the noir suspense thrillers, Secrets of the Dead, Conspiracy of Lies, Place of Skulls, and Night Side of Dark. He has also written two noir thrillers, Lovely Night to Die and Rainy Night to Die.

Other historical novels include Back Side of a Blue Moon, winner of the Beverly Hills Book Award and Best of Texas Book Award, and Bad Side of a Wicked Moon. He has written such nonfiction award winners as XIT: The American Cowboy, Callaway Gardens: the Unending Season, The Grandest Day, Echoes from Forgotten Streets, Spirit of a Winner, and Gamble in the Devil’s Chalk.

Pirtle lives at Hideaway Lake in East Texas with his wife, Linda, who is the author of three cozy mysteries.

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Winning Wednesday

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Please join BestSelling Reads’ authors in congratulating the winners of our first book giveaway for 2014.

Martha L. Of Mississippi takes home the won an iPad Mini and five ebooks by BestSelling authors.FirstPrize winner Martha L. of Mississippi

Lisa M. of Arizona (far right) has won a $50 Amazon gift card.

SecondPrize

And Carol Ann U. gets a $25 gift card from Amazon.

Keep coming back to BestSellingReads.com for more giveaways, and of course the best in new fiction and non-fiction!

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Do Readers Need Publishers?- by Scott Bury

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Bones Cover Last month, Forbes asserted that 25 percent of the top-selling books on Amazon, the world’s biggest book retailer, were from independent or self-published authors. The latest self-publishing phenom, Hugh Howey, sold just the print rights for Wool to St. Martin’s Press for six figures, but retained the e-publishing rights for himself, because his book was already a million-plus seller.

This story shows that there is a possibility for a new kind of relationship between the author and publisher. But it also raises a bigger question:

In an age where authors can reach millions of readers by themselves, is there a role for a  big commercial publisher?

When readers choose good books without the intermediation of a publisher, is there a market for the gigantic, multinational Big Six publishers?

Or is it the Big Five, now? Whatever, I suggest a short form: “Bix.”

E-books are the driving force of publishing these days. Amazon reported that more than half of its sales are of e-books. And David Gaughran estimates that 25 percent of the e-book market is by independent authors.

When the numbers of independent authors self-publishing e-books started climbing, the commercial publishers said that the self-published just weren’t good enough to get published by a commercial publisher.

The Bix claim that they provide an essential gatekeeping function. The story they tell goes like this:

  • Wannabe authors submit manuscripts into a “slush pile.” Most of them are terrible, but a very few might be turned into examples of great literature.
  • The Bix editors read through the slush pile and select the few gems.
  • They pay the author an advance on their royalties, which allows the author to live while working on turning that raw manuscript into something an audience will read.
  • The Bix subject the raw manuscript to rigourous development, involving several iterations or review, critique, re-writing by the author, close work with different editors and finally line-by-line, word-by-word editing.
  • During this process, the publisher and its editing staff do all the work, while (as we have seen in countless movies and TV shows), the author drags out the process, whiling away the days in substance abuse, sexual excess and drinking espresso in smoky cafés instead of working on the re-write.
  • Finally, the book comes out and the publisher pays for a big launch in the most prestigious bookstore in Manhattan, then a book launch tour across the country, and interviews on TV talk shows and readings in universities.

All those manuscripts that didn’t make it out of the slush pile? The publisher sent their authors polite rejection letters, saying not that the manuscript is crap, but that it “didn’t meet their needs at this time.”

Here’s the reality of the Bix “quality gatekeeping” function which I’ve learned in my years in the publishing industry:

·         Acquisitions editors and agents choose manuscripts to publish based on sellability, not quality. Because they cannot tell the future any better than you or me, they look at whether an author has been published before, or whether the story is like a current best-seller from another publisher, to make decisions. Getting selected from the slush pile is due either to blind luck or connections within the industry.

·         The quality of editing varies widely. Most copy-editors and proofreaders are right out of university and so badly underpaid that most seek more rewarding employment.

·         Authors work very hard. Most have other jobs, and I don’t know any who spend endless hours drinking espresso in cafés. And thankfully, you cannot smoke in most cafés, anymore.

In reality, authors today do most of the work that publishers did 20 years ago: research, check facts, write, edit, copy-edit and proofread. Word processing programs automate most interior design or layout. Hugh Howey and any number of other authors concur that most authors published by big companies still have to do their own promotion. The days of book launch tours are long gone.

What about gatekeeping?

Some of the best-sellers today are from self-published authors. Hugh Howey, Amanda Hocking and others making theirBones Cover livings selling books without the intermediation of a big company. Joe Konrath and Barry Eisler famously rejected commercial publishing offers.

On the other side of this argument are the truly awful books from the commercial publishers. Dan Brown’s latest novel is set to become the biggest book on the beaches this summer, and almost every critic has said it’s terrible. The Daily Telegraph even published the “Dan Brown’s Top 20 Worst Sentences.”

Like generals who fight the previous war, the Bix publish new versions of last year’s bestsellers. Rip-offs, in other words. How many sexy vampire series are there? Friendly zombies? Books about women who take long trips to eat good food, have great sex and find themselves?

Readers themselves are replacing the quality gatekeeper role of the publisher. Sites like Goodreads, the Kindle Book Review, Amazon’s discussion boards (although you need a thick skin to participate on these) — and of course, BestSelling Reads.

Every time communications technology reduces the cost of producing and distributing content, it brings content creators closer to audiences. That means there is less room and less of a role for intermediaries.

Do audiences need commercial publishers? There is still room for Bix. They have deep pockets (despite their protestations otherwise and despite the skimpy amounts they pay authors and their own employees), and have the infrastructure for distributing paper books.

But readers are by-passing them. If the Bix want to stay viable over the long term, they’re going to have to respond to what readers are telling the market — they’re paying for the greater variety in all books that the new, independent writers are producing today.

§ § § § § § §

Scott2011Scott Bury is a journalist and editor based in Ottawa, Canada. He is the author of The Bones of the Earth and One Shade of Red.

 

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