Woo!

In a brief and hurriedly-typed blog post, I am happy to announce that The Antidote, my Aurian and Jin side novelette is live. You should totally check it out if you like mobs of angry villagers, mobs of relatively collected villagers, sticking branches through cows, or, of course, drunks. Woo! Celebrate with me for a very affordable .99, which is less than the cost of pretty much everything except a pack of ramen noodles.

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HOLY SHIT HERE IT IS.

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EXCERPT: Balancer, Pt. II

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Soooo hey, you guys. The Antidote comes out tomorrow, and I am, of course, losing my shit trying to get stuff ready. As a result, I’m here telling you to fricking buy it if you liked Aurian and Jin. I’d say something more entertaining, but I’m a little tired. So: buy my book.

Also, to distract you from how tired and boring I am today, here’s more Balancer. Poor Habbi. It’s tough when the High Mother of the village is actually your mother. You get held to a higher standard.

Here’s the first part of Habbi’s story, if you didn’t catch it. The Balancer, Pt I.

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Habbi spent as many days as he could in his wada on the foremost peak of Mount Farsight, fiddling with the arrangement of his dreamstones and trimming the goat. The goat proved rather resistant to the concept of trimming: every time Habbi got near him with the shears he would bleat piteously, lower his horns, and threaten a last-stand charge. Habbi was not a herder–was, in fact, one of only four boys in the village whom the Mother had decreed unfit for a future with livestock.

Chasing Stew from one end of the yard to the other with the shears and a horsehair brush, Habbi reflected that the Mother, as in all things, had been entirely correct.

But try as he might, he couldn’t bring himself to kill the goat. Yes, it would mean stew for weeks–and, at the end of those weeks, another trip to the ur-village, another sight of Mikki and her clever red beads. But he rather liked the goat, cursed though it was. He’d been destined for a life of Balancing from his tenth birthday, cut off from the day-to-day activities of the Stone Nation. This goat was the only goat he’d ever really gotten to know. He liked its ugly chipped horns and its monotone bleat.

He liked its company.

The life of a Balancer, he reflected, was a life of loneliness. It was the life of the fulcrum point, lived in this little stone shack on a mountain peak not so different in appearance from a fulcrum point itself. But there were different types of loneliness, and just because this path had been chosen for him did not mean he had to live its most extreme manifestation.

He could keep a goat. Even Ostil, the Balancer Before, had kept his hawks.

He just couldn’t keep a woman.

He couldn’t keep Mikki.

“No,” Habbi told himself, scowling. “Stop that.”

The goat, who had been watching him trim up his cooking herbs from the pen, baaaed at him.

Habbit made a new path through the herbs, laying smooth stones from the village stream in between their rows. He scrubbed the soot from his wada walls and hung bunches of herb trimmings from the rafters to sweeten the place’s smell. He rearranged his dream stones around the shallow hole by the campfire in which he slept, wrapped some of them up in the curly yak skin under which he slept at night. He consulted the stars at night, Balanced his mind and listened to their singing. He placed the dreamstones around himself, chose locations analagous to those stars that spoke to him most sweetly in the sky. It did not increase his harvest particularly, and most mornings he woke with only one stone filled, two if he was lucky. He weighed each one, decanted it carefully into a crystal storage vial of proper warding strength.

His was an important job, he reminded himself. If it were not for the Balancer–if it were not for The One Whose Dreams Are Communal, whose nightly wanderings were the best currency in the Nations–the stones would not hold the dreams of his people. The dreams would wander the world and cause mischief, as they had in the beginning of things. And the Stone Nations would have nothing of value to trade with at the Great Gathering–only tough mountain goats and yak’s milk, shards of obsidian found deep in the mountain caves. Like they had, indeed, before the First Balancer. Before the dreams had been captured, and the world had been righted.

Habbi had not forgotten the anger dream, its mewling and its distended little belly. And there were worse things. There were much, much worse.

Unfortunately, he had also not forgotten Mikki.

Habbi lasted, in the contemplative solitude prescribed for him, for precisely three days. After three days, he was out of corn–and that, he told himself, was a perfectly logical reason to go to the ur-village. Without corn, he couldn’t make his morning mush. And it was coincidental–entirely coincidental–that Algar Farmer’s booth at market was only three booths away from Wolef Herdsman’s.

He wouldn’t even look to see if she was there.

That was the proper way of things.

Yes.

Habbi had, with the force of will that came only to the truly Balanced, managed to entirely forget about the half-sack of corn he kept in the loft.

On the third day, he took up his staff and his traveling sack, tied on his warm fur boots and the cloak of skins his mother had sewed him before his going-away. He selected three crystal vials, full of the green glow of harmless laughing-dreams. He told the goat he was going away for the day: the goat, being a goat and therefore unconcerned, threw up its cud and ate some of it.

Habbi took the sloping twisted path down the mountainside to the ur-village. He nodded, with proper ceremonial sternness, to the guards at the wooden gate.

He wound his way through the market, which was small but lively. He basked in the sound of other human voices, the sight of maidens almost as pretty as Mikki on stone benches in the Great School for Women, dutifully repeating the lessons of their teachers. He waved hello to the folk who waved at him.

He was displeased, but not entirely surprised, to find the Mother standing in front of the Farmer’s booth, arms crossed, face severe under the tattoos of leadership that covered it. She was carrying her carved ivory staff, which she only carried when she was out to teach someone a lesson. Habbi had the rather unfortunate idea this lesson might be taught to him.

“Hello, High Mother,” he said, covering his eyes and bowing in the traditional greeting for a High Mother of the Nations.

“Hello yourself,” the Mother said, scowling most untraditionally. “Habbi. You and I need to talk.”

Habbi had thought of this situation, back in his wada while he decanted the dreams. He had debated what he would say, what he would do, if caught by the Mother.

Of course, he reflected wryly. The very fact that he considered it being caught said something about his state of mind. The phrase he had prepared: “hello, High Mother, I was just picking up some corn for my morning mush”–died on his lips as he looked at her.

It made a child out of you, being caught with your hand in the honey-pot by the Mother. It was even worse when Habbi’s particular set of circumstances applied: when you were the Balancer of your ur-village, responsible for the flow of its dreams. Longing was an imbalance, lust and love more specific than a warm detached glow were imbalances. It led you to do things like leave dreams in dreamstones.

And, of course, it didn’t help when the High Mother was your mother.

“Habbi,” Mother said. “I’ve let this go on long enough. I’ve let you cast eyes on Mikki for long enough. I’ve let Mikki cast eyes on you for long enough. It ends now.”

“I was, um,” said the Balancer. “Corn.”

“You’ve half a sack left in your wada,” Mother said, scowling. “You think I don’t keep track of what you buy? Onegod, it’s not like you’ve been eating anything but goat stew lately anyways.”

“Erm,” said the Balancer. The Mother whacked her ivory staff against poor Algar Farmer’s  booth in a manner that suggested, very plainly, that she would rather be whacking Habbi.

“This is difficult for me,” the Mother said. “I hope you know that, Habbi. The Rule of the Nations says I should treat you one way, my heart as your mother says something entirely different. You’re lucky: nothing’s come of it so far. The Balance hasn’t been upset, no laws have been broken. But should there be one sign–one single physical sign–that all is not right with you, and your little fastness up on Mount Farsight is less than perfectly Balanced, I’ll be forced to take measures. And that’ll hurt me, Habbi. That’ll hurt me very much.”

And Habbi, who never had known when enough was enough, said: “hurt you? Imagine how I’ll feel about it.”

And his reward for this statement was a single admonitory whack from the ivory staff. Which wasn’t too bad–the punishment for his crime was, by strictest interpretation of the painted caves, ten whacks and one night in the wilderness. And a man of Habbi’s slight build and poor wilderness skills would last precisely thirty minutes in the wilderness after ten whacks from that staff.

So it was a kindness the Mother did him. He tried very hard to remind himself of this as the stinging of his cheek turned into a steady burn. As he explored the bruised flesh with his fingers, touched the impressions the staff carvings had made on his face, he told himself: you had this coming. You are lucky it wasn’t anything more.

“I blame myself, really,” the Mother said. She sighed. “It was foolish, maybe, to put you up on the mountain so young. Onegod knows, I’ve coddled you and let you get away with far too much for far too long. But what were we to do? Ostil died so quickly, and you were the only one in the village who showed proper talent for Balancing. Great talent, shining in the depths of your mind like a white lamp. And please believe me, my son. I felt sorry for you. Few Balancers ascend Farsight before their fiftieth year is out–they have lived among people, had women and sired children. They have been prepared for the contemplative life for years.” She touched his cheek, tears brimming in her kohl-painted eyes.

“Don’t cry, Mama,” Habbi said uncomfortably. For a moment, tattoos and war paint and ivory staff and all, she was just his mother again, just the squat plump woman who had herded goats and hunted yaks and cooked stew for her brood in the family wada before Onegod had called her to the position of leadership she now inhabited.

Mother was young, too, he realized suddenly. Young, for the High Mother position. He was her eldest, and he was only nineteen–though it was forbidden for a male to know his mother’s precise age, she couldn’t have been more than forty. There was no white in her hair, and only recently had he begun to notice wrinkles under the circular tattoos that covered her face.

They would have to help each other. Their positions, after all, were related–a young Balancer balanced by a young Mother. Habbi kissed his mother’s cheek, surprised, as he always was when he saw her these days, by how far down he had to bend to do so.

“I’m sorry, Mother,” he said. “You’re right, of course. You always are. I’ll stay away from Mikki–I’ll try and come to market when the women are all at the Great School. I’ll try not to come so often.”

He pressed one of his crystal vials into his mother’s palm. “For you,” he said. “I was going to spend them on corn, but I suppose that’s immaterial now. Laughing dreams. Good ones. May they help you find a little laughter.”

His mother smiled, tucked the vial into her kirtle. “A balanced gift,” she said. “Perhaps all isn’t lost with you yet, my son. I’ll use them tonight. I’ll think of you laughing.”

As he climbed the twisting path back to his own wada, he tried not to think about the fact that, from here on out, there would be very little laughter left in the world for him.

It was not so bad. He enjoyed the Balancing, didn’t he? Enjoyed the sense of floating it gave him, the sense of suspension. He enjoyed looking up to the pinprick quilt of the stars, enjoyed mining them for answers.

He just wished he could experience his own dreams, sometimes. Even that–even the turnings of his subconscious mind–would be company of a sort. Better company than a stupid goat. Better company than the dreams he had to destroy, their twisting shapes making a sickness in his heart.

He knew what the Mother would say he could almost hear it: you are young, Habbi. Your training was incomplete. These longings will pass.

But it was not the High Mother’s face he saw when he imagined this, that visage made impersonal and mythical with tattoos and paint, but his own mother’s, her eyes worried and her lips turned down at the corners.

This train of thought was why, upon returning to his quiet wada on top of Mount Farsight, he did not immediately notice the cloaked figure hunched by the goat pen, petting the goat. He only became aware, in fact, because Stew let out a particularly pleased bleat–the cloaked figure had apparently found the spot behind his left ear which, Habbi had found through trial and error, it liked to have scratched best.

“I’m glad to see you’ve kept at least one of them,” the cloaked figure said, straightening. “I mean, I suppose even you would get tired of stewed goat after a while. You and I need to talk, Habbi. It’s urgent.”

The figure pushed back its hood.

“Stones and nightmares,” Habbi swore. “Black dreams and a turned knife, I can’t catch a break today, can I?”

It was Mikki.

WRITING: Why I Read One Star Reviews

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WRITING: Why I Read One Star Reviews

A note: this is me talking to y’all as a reader and not a writer. I’ve had some awakenings lately as to what actually DOES make me buy a book on Amazon.

A second note: I’m probably not a good example of the majority. I have, for a while now, stubbornly bought indies with low review-numbers because their samples and blurbs are well written, and I don’t give six fucks and a half dozen dry humps whether the rest of the world liked it or not. But I’m not the only person more or less like me I know, so. There you go. Encouragement onward!

I was paging through Goodreads yesterday, looking through books for something new to spend my time on. I’ve been stuck in this fantasy/sci-fi loop for like a month, and it’s time for something different.

I found a book, mentioned several times in my feeds, called Slammerkin. Don’t ask me how it is; I haven’t read it yet. But I sure as hell bought it.

No, I’m not just telling you how my day went. What made this blogworthy–what made it worthy of discussion–is the reason why I bought it.

It wasn’t the numerous high reviews, the critical ratings, the sample (though that did help persuade me–the lady can write). It certainly wasn’t some bookspamming yahoo on Twitter. No, no. It was the numerous negative reviews.

Did you read me right there? It was the negative reviews.

Some people–not all, but some–passionately hated every character in there. They hated the premise. They hated the vapid and superficial main character. They hated the raunchiness, the depressing view of the world, attributed misandry, greed, and formless ambition to the author (!!) as well as her main character.

The negative reviews were eloquent, glowing in their expressive contempt for this novel, its characters, and even its author. Which would make you think this is a book to avoid, right?

Right?

Hell no. Hell to the no. What those reviews tell me is that a lot of people read it through–and apparently cared enough to remember quite a bit in the way of detail–and formed some very passionate opinions. If they hated it, holy shit, they had fun on the way. This book made them think. It made them care enough to hate.

And that–that caring–is more important to me in choosing a book than whether or not some assistant football coach in Choochaneechee, Iowa liked it.

These negative reviews, I have to admit, said things I liked about this book. Grungy? Count me in. Not a sentimental, gibbering bunch of pastoral holier-than-thou garbage? Sweet. Unlikeable main character? Big deal, I don’t like people anyway. And even the negative reviews admitted, the book is well written and well researched. And those two matter a lot more to me than this liking the main character garbage.

A note–if a book has several one-star reviews complaining about writing quality, plot continuity, or editing, it’s a little different. Even I’m not going to revenge-buy a bad book. But when it’s personal–oh buddy. I don’t care what some random person thought of the book, when I’m debating whether or not to buy. I care whether or not they cared. And if they passionately disliked several things that sound like things I’d like, well, one star be damned.

I’d say, as a reader, I actually look for groupings of one and five star reviews. If there are a lot of those, and few three and four star reviews, I’m happy. If, on the other hand, there are a lot of three and four stars–if, in essence, people didn’t feel strongly about it, but didn’t super duper love it, either–I avoid. Like everybody, I’ll read a book with a large percentage of five star reviews. At least, unless those reviews are badly spelled or obviously fake. Or something.

I’ll be honest, I don’t put too much stock in a negative review that cites its main reason for negativity as dislike of the main character. I mean, this is a novel, not a tea party. Nobody said you had to like everyone in it. And, to be honest again–I don’t much trust the truth of one-star reviews anyway. If you hated it that much, you probably liked it a little, deep down inside.

You liked it enough to devote about thirty minutes to ranting over it. Anyway.

I wanted to share this for you sad-face indie folks who just got your first nasty review on Amazon. Some of us DO check the one-stars, and we check them to buy, not to avoid. So, when that crazy mouth-foamer posts a one-star review with MY CATS ALL HATED IT in all caps as the title, don’t despair. It might destroy your average a little bit, but most sensible people aren’t going to let a bunch of personal (purrsonal) opinions they may or may not share shadow their view of how good something might be.

When I want to know what a book is about, what it says to people, I check the one-star reviews. When I want to know if it’s well-written, I check the sample. People give different star-values to things they like–a book with one bad typo which a reviewer otherwise considers perfect might get three stars, where another person might take pity on an author and give a steaming pile of garbage five. However, the stuff you hate only gets one rating, and that’s one star. MAYBE two. Usually one. And me, I want to know what you felt strongly enough about to hate.

Hopefully this cheers somebody up. I know it certainly did me, when I realized what I’d been doing. Like I said, no one star reviews yet, but I know that day is coming. I hope somebody one day hates my book as dramatically as these folks hated Slammerkin. That would tickle me almost as pink as someone loving it–I mean, at least they noticed, right?

Excerpt: Balancer

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I’ve been experimenting with storystuff lately, as you’ve probably noticed. Nothing too serious. Just a couple of spring flings.

This might be the one, though. Cue songs about summer love. I need a new fantasy, since I’m getting pretty close to buttoning up Aurian and Jin, and I want to do something out of the norm for me–out, that is, of that comfortable high middle ages ladies n’ lords norm. I need to get better at worldbuilding, honestly–much as I hate even saying that, because it implies worldbuilding is somehow a separate thing from writing a good story, and it’s not. Frankly, the most fabulous thing about this so far is that first line, but I can roll with it. Paying for things with dreams? Yes, awesome. Goats? Always awesome. Paying for goats with dreams? Fucking perfect. Right. Yes.

I’ll be coherent tomorrow, when I’ve gotten some sleep and I’m not feeling quite as sick. Until then, here’s some Balancer for you. What d’you guys think, could this be The One? And if it is–where should I propose? Should there be a moonlit garden, those floating lantern thingies? Or is this just another cheap beginning, and it’s bound to break my heart somewhere along the line with its loose ways and shallow disposition? In which case, I can at least glean a country song from it.

BALANCER

ONE
Stew Before The Week’s Out

It was market-day in the ur-village of Sivit, and Habbi the Balancer bought a goat with his last vial of daydreams.

It was a fabulous price. Habbi had been expecting to spend the vial, two vials of nightmares, and at least one of his hoarded flying dreams, but the goats had produced plentifully last season, and the ur-village was filled with more of them than herders could possibly market.

This goat was old, also. His fur was matted and rank, turned by a season’s foraging into a mass of brown dreadlocks almost as long as Habbi’s own. His horns were yellowed, chipped from rummaging on the mountain peaks for grass. He regarded Habbi now from the stone pen in back where Habbi had put him, his sideways goat-eyes unblinking.

Habbi did not care that the goat was old, was male, that his mating days were long past. He didn’t need to produce more goats or milk. He hadn’t, in fact, really needed a goat at all.

He regarded the goat for a while with both arms crossed.

“All right, Goat,” he said at last. “You’ll be stew before the week’s out. I shan’t get attached.”

The goat bleated mournfully, shaking his bearded chin.

“Nope,” Habbi said. “Not going to happen.”

He stepped back into his wada and tacked the skins that served as a door closed. He laid out his dreamstones and began polishing them with an old hide, buffing the stones until they shone. One of them glowed sullenly, its belly churning as though there were a war inside of it.

It was not a war, of course. Not yet. It was a dream.

Surprised, Habbi held the stone up to the sunlight filtering in from the wada smokehole–had he been so careless, truly? The dream inside the stone pulsed faintly, sensing the touch of its maker. It was deep red, fringed with oranges and livid pinks. Probably an anger dream, judging by the color and the faint sulphur stench of the stone.

Not good for much, unless he wanted to get into the darker aspects of his trade. Dangerous to leave untended.

Outside, the goat bleated again.

“Hold on, Goat,” Habbi murmured. He turned the stone around in his hands. A bad business for a cursed day–leaving dreams trapped for this long was careless. He’d been in too great a hurry to get to market, too focused on the acquisition of the goat. Dreams tended to feed on themselves, and the bigger they got, the more likely they were to break the dreamstone’s wards. This one was hungry and big, and its stony prison shook with the effort of retaining it.

The last runaway dream he’d heard of had been in Starek, on the other side of Sivit. It had been a flying dream–some amateur Balancer had doubtless been trying to save it up and stored it in a stone with inadequate warding. The whole village had floated a foot from the ground for a month, and the Stareki had resorted to tying rocks to their ankles for simple acts such as walking and bathing.

It had been bad business. Yes. But this business could have been much worse. Habbi cursed himself for an idiot as he readied the dreamstone for discharge, readied his bone blade for the kill that would follow: such carelessness was for the elderly, folks whose dreams were weak and almost used up. A young man’s anger dream–especially a Balancer’s anger dream–Onegod, that could start chaos.

No more, Habbi told himself firmly. No more getting so excited about market. You would’ve wrecked the Stone Nations, and for what? For a mangy old goat? For a few moments chatting about the weather with Wolef the Herdsman? For a taste of Mikka Wolef-Daughter’s cinnamon tea?

(Or, he reflected, for a sight of Mikka Wolef-Daughter? Her hair had been braided and the braids had looked new. There were red clay beads in them, clever clay beads. Her kirtle had been perfectly clean, the skins fragrant and rubbed with fresh oil, gleaming the same rich brown as her almond eyes. And there had been something in the way she had delivered the ritual greeting. She had almost met his eyes. It had been bold and familiar. It had thrilled him, a little–)

“No,” Habbi said, shaking his head. Even this–even Mikka Wolef-Daughter, with her bold eyes–was not worth the forgetting of a dream. He wiped down the blade of his bone knife one last time and dropped the stone onto the ground he crouched over.

“Come out,” he snapped, forgoing the singsong tone proper to the ritual for expediency. “Come out, dream thing. Your maker is calling.”

In the oval belly of the stone, the dream trembled. Habbi glanced down, ascertaining its condition with practiced ease: the dream boiled and flexed, making the stone shake and the entire sleeping section of his wada smell like a rotten egg. He raised his knife.

The stone was listing to the left. Its dream was nearly full-grown. It would move left when it escaped the stone, and quickly. His knife arm might not be fast enough on its own.

He would need to be Balanced. He would need to be prepared.

He closed his eyes and allowed his mind to blossom, to expand in the familiar spiral of the Balancing. He let the cold of the mountain air wash over him, the faint peaty smell of the bog some four hundred feet below. He filed these things, along with the rotten-egg smell of the dream and the faint warmth of his cookfire, into their proper places across from each other in his consciousness.

Outside, the goat was bleating.

He Balanced it with a soft hum.

The fire cracked and popped.

He Balanced it with the back and forth scraping of his boot against the ground.

When it was all Balanced–when each thing had its opposite, when, as his old teacher would have said, each hand had its foot, he spoke the final words of the ceremony, soft and low so as not to disturb the world he had righted.

“I release you, dream thing.”

And it was fast, as he knew it would be. As he knew it would, it moved left. It blurred for a few seconds, red and orange and plasmic and formless, before it took on a form he’d seen them take too often: a humanoid fetus, limbs still echoing the curve of the womb, lashless and hairless, huge head crowned in blood and afterbirth.

“Mama,” the thing burbled. “Mamama. Ma. Mama.”

They tried to appeal to their makers, did the dreams.

A less powerful Balancer might have even hesitated.

Habbi’s knife flew true, and his arm was strong. The thing cried out once, disappeared in a flash of red light.

Its blood on his knife did not.

He wiped it off with his polishing cloth, keeping his movements slow and calm as the world around him returned to its usual state of Unbalance. This was the part he hated–the blood on the blade. He had made the thing, in a way–it had been his dream. A part of him.

No more Mikka, he told himself firmly. No more goats. It was getting foolish, these market trips.

Outside, the goat bleated mournfully. Habbi ripped the skins from the doorway and shouted at it:

“BE QUIET, GOAT!”

And the goat, he saw, had escaped its pen, as goats were wont to do. It was standing right outside the wada, chewing patiently on a handful of Habbi’s hard-grown cooking herbs. Its sideways eyes regarded him clinically.

“Gah,” said Habbi. “Goat! I’ll turn you into stew!”

He snatched the axe from its hook by the wada door and advanced a few threatening steps, hefting it above his head and scowling.

The goat continued to chew. With a liquid hrrukhkk, it spat up its herbs.

Habbi shook the axe.

The goat began to eat what it had regurgitated.

Sighing, Habbi returned the axe to its hook. “Onegod,” he groaned. “Even you can see I’m hopeless. How can I just sit up here on this peak all day? What do they expect me to do, commune with the wind? I need company, Goat. I’ll go mad without it. But when I get it, I can’t concentrate.”

“Baaa,” said the goat.

“Fine,” said Habbi. “If that’s how you want it to be, I suppose I’ll have to keep you. Your name is Stew. And stew, mind you, is precisely what you’ll become if you prove too much trouble.”

“Baaa,” Stew said, and headbutted him gently.

“None of that,” said Habbi. “Not until we get you cleaned up.”

The Antidote: Cover Reveal

Oh, man. I had a whole witty and insightful post for today, and instead you get THIS self-promotional bull puckey. I could cry for you. But I won’t: too busy promoting myself. (Don’t worry, you’ll get witty and insightful later on).

The reason we’re interrupting our normal psuedo-intellectual programming is simple: I wanted to show you guys the cover for The Antidote, the Aurian and Jin novelette that’s coming out in less than two weeks (!!!!!) on 4/30/15. Be happy with me. Gush with me. And thank my talented cover artist and designer, known to many as Cissy Russell but to me as Mom, who, when I went off the deep end a wrote a novelette, helped me get ready to release it in record time.

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THE STORY:

After the death of Morda Bonemaker, Aurian and Jin Koch are left gathering up the pieces of society and sweeping them, as only an innkeeper and his slovenly wife can, under the rug. Though they’ve quelled international disaster a few times already, a new personal disaster is looming–Jin Koch, renegade Bonedancer, retribution dancer, mysterious one-eyed soldier and lowborn pain in the ass, is pregnant.

Now, Aurian and Jin have to seek out the quiet life Aurian’s always wanted–with, hopefully, a bigger and better inn somewhere in it. However, Jin doesn’t know how to do quiet, and Aurian’s more or less forgotten. Can they find happiness in the Gold Band farming village of Pretty-on-Picture? Or will Jin’s history of violence and mayhem destroy even the purest of intentions?

A fun Aurian and Jin short of roughly 70 pages, featuring joyful funeral processions, mobs, putting branches through cows, dammed rivers, villagers burdened by a lack apostrophe placement skills, and, of course, drunks. Availiable 4/30/15 for .99 for Amazon Kindle.

Writing: Five Quick Editing Fixes

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Writing: Five Simple Questions For Better Prose
I’m not usually a fan of these enumerated listy things. Of course, I say that every time I do them–I suppose knowledge is half the battle. The other half of the battle is something else, something I’m too damn lazy to deal with. I’ll tell you what it is when I (eventually) get to it.

A note about these–there is no magical twinkly teehee fairy wand you can wave over your writing and just MAKE IT BETTER. There truly isn’t. With or without adverbs, said or no said, if your writing blows it’s going to blow, and only time (and attention) will cure that. So this isn’t the sort of doubtful panacea you find the snake-oil salesman offering you, if you ACT NOW!, for $5.99 plus fifty dollars shipping and handling. These are a few practical questions to help you help yourself when editing. They’re simple brain-fart style mistakes, akin to mental typos, that few people self-publishing bother to ferret out.

Because they don’t THINK to ferret them out. And this is sad. Stubbly clown in the rain type sad.

1) Does This Make Sense?
Seems simple, no? But boy, is this a helpful homing beacon on your purple proseometer. That sentence you just wrote, about sleeping werewolves curled like ketchup in the bottom of the fry box–what the fuck does it mean? How are werewolves like ketchup? Is this apparent to the reader? No? Don’t explain your puissant metaphor, sir. Hit delete.

Because
if you have to explain your metaphors and similes, they have failed in their initial purpose. A metaphor or a simile should be deployed, with great caution, to the purpose of better explaining what something is or seems like through comparison. It is not a way to flex your Proustian deltoids. If it doesn’t perform its function, get it out of there. Which brings us, in a way, to:

2) Didn’t I Just Say That?
You don’t need to say it more than once, at least, not in the same sentence. There are some things–visual cues, clue reveals, key phrases–that should be repeated. I’m not a fan of the popular ‘don’t ever repeat yourself ever’ advice for writers: there are times when something needs to be driven home, and that is precisely what repetition is for throughout an entire chapter or novel. However:

When you’re going through your draft, check and make sure you haven’t used ‘patience’ three times in that paragraph, or bookended it with descriptions of your character’s sigh. These are simple mechanical mistakes that can clot the hell out of good prose, and leave even a non lip-moving reader scowling at the awkwardness of something you wrote. This is one of the things I’m bad at–I type pretty quickly, and sometimes ‘quickly’ winds up in a sentence like three times, and it’s quickly a shitty sentence, you know? Which brings me to:

3) How Many Modifiers Do I Really Need?
If everything is happening very soon, or nearly right now, or almost presently, you might want to take another look at your verb or noun and consider a change. Modifiers such as very, always, nearly, almost, or (in a different linguistic category, but the same deal) seems to be are wishy-washy and weak, and they destroy, I repeat, destroy most writing when used too often. I mean, think about it–if her hair is almost brown, why can’t you just tell me what it is? (Five bucks and a lot of indie romances tells me it’s auburn). If it’s nearly midnight, why can’t it just be 11:55? If it seems to be popular, then what the hell is it really?

Don’t get me wrong: modifiers (especially in humor) have their place. And that’s usually when a stronger word is required, but ‘almost ______’ is understatement and therefore funny. But if you reread and find your page cluttered with them, it’s a problem. This is another one I have issues with, especially that old bastard ‘seems to be’, and trust me, modifiers are like cockroaches, if you notice one it means there are ten more just lurking somewhere, waiting for you to turn out the light. Which, hey, reminds me:

4) Are My Metaphors a Mixed Bag?
Did you just party like a rock star until the cows came home? What are you, some sort of hybridized celebrity farmer?

I don’t have the hatred of cliches a lot of folks do. Like adverbs, colliquialisms are useful in the right time and place, and I don’t find them terribly irritating (though I imagine they wouldn’t translate too well). After all, if you spent all your time trying to find new ways to say things, your novel would be rather difficult to understand, and by God, you’d never get around to advancing your plot.

However, when you combine them, the results are unintentionally hilarious. And, unless your main character really IS a black sheep who just had a close shave, you might want to deploy them with care and tact. Again, just read back over your work with your brain working and you can avoid this. (See how this last sentence was a great example of rule two? I’m leaving it in just for that).

5) Has Her Dress Always Been Green?
Continuity, while often unimportant to the writer when hammering out a first draft, is everything. Is it spring in the first chapter? Good. But is it also spring in the second? If it isn’t, have you mention that time actually passed?

In my first draft of Aurian and Jin, Aurian’s eye color went from brown in the first chapter to grey in the fifth to brown again in the final chapters. Jin’s lost eye was both her right and her left, alternatively. This is the sort of stuff that, should your reader be paying particular attention, can ruin the realism of your story. If you want folks to suspend disbelief, you have to at least give them consistency. Think of the movies you’ve watched where, if you pay attention in that big Roman battle scene, you can see the gaffer’s shadow in a rain puddle while he eats a sandwich and scratches his crotch. Ruins things, doesn’t it? Don’t scratch your literary crotch in a rain puddle. Make sure your details are tidy.

My advice: keep a notebook near you when you write. When you mention a specific detail: her eyes are grey, the river Darking flows to the right of the city–write it down. That way, even in your first draft, this shit won’t be wrong. And one less error made is one less error you have to find.

There y’go, kids. Five simple things that’ll help you edit. Because I love you. And I don’t have too much else to do.

EFR

Writing: The Production End of Your Business Plan

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WRITING: Writing as a Business

So, obviously, I don’t have enough to do today. You’re getting two blogs, you KNOW I don’t have enough to do today.
As a result of my laziness, I’ve been online googling and Pintresting things related to writing as a business. My sales are down, I’ve got a mini-launch coming up. I need to be thinking more about the business side of things.

I’m not the best person at businessing (yes, I just turned that noun STRAIGHT UP into a verb), but I try. When I DON’T sell, I generally know why–I’m not putting enough effort into advertising my wares. I can say this, of course, until I’m purple, but the fact remains: I have a full time job, a long transit time. I have people in my life who want to see me periodically. And…

And.

I HAVE SHIT TO WRITE.

The reason this is in all caps is simple. Paging through suggested business plans for indie authors, I saw a lot of what you’d expect–use social media x number of times daily, make  number of public appearances, set advertising budgets and goals, take the business side of this seriously, save your goddamn receipts. All the stuff you’d expect. And, then, some stuff you wouldn’t: spend a few minutes each day clearing off your desk. Give thanks to the Lord for your successes every night. Once, memorably: don’t forget about your family.

All right, that’s all well and good. Very thoughtful. But there is one thing–ONE THING–almost every single one of the ‘plans’ I checked out neglected.

Can you guess what it is? I bet you can.

It’s the production plan. You know, your manufacturing end of the business spectrum. You know. WRITING.

Not a SINGLE ONE of these plans (and I looked at five or six before throwing up my hands) allotted time, or even SUGGESTED time, for WRITING A BOOK.

Once I realized, I was horrified. Have we gotten so involved in social media, patting ourselves on the back and looking like internet-educated professionals, that we’ve forgotten how important it is to ACTUALLY WRITE A BOOK?

Don’t get me wrong. If you want to sell copies, you absolutely DO need to treat your writing endeavor as a business. You need to have selling goals and ideas. You need to advertise. You need to tweet your little heart out.

But before all of that, you need to sit down and write something.

And if you want that thing to sell, you need to not be thinking about how many social media likes you’re going to get, what suit you need to wear to your book signing, whether or not you’ve given thanks for your successes today, whatever. You need to be thinking about your story, your characters. You need to be writing, at least a few words a day. And you need to enjoy it. Because otherwise, why are you doing it? For fame? Gosh, good luck getting famous with a self published novel on the internet. I know, I know, some people have done it, but they’re few and far between.

And their books were good. Because they took the time to make them good.

I promise you, before they started coming up with elite social media strategies, these people wrote. And they enjoyed it. Because they’re writers, and that’s what they do.

A lot of ‘writing as business’ blogs tend to shame writers a little for ‘not treating their writing venture as a business’, and this, frankly, is toxic and unwise, and IMO part of what kills indie quality. It isn’t a damned business. It’s a book. What happens AFTER is the business, and yes it’s part of your business plan, but so’s production. Can you imagine a toothbrush-making company’s business plan without x number of toothbrushes required for success? No? Of course you can’t. Because in order to sell, they need a PRODUCT. So do you.

I’m begging you guys. Don’t lose sight of your writing for the sake of ‘business’. Selling copies is important if you want to make a living, yes–but it’s a means to an end. It comes after the product. And, while it should be respected, your writing deserves the first respect.

Because, as a retail veteran and not as a writer at all, I will tell you–if the product’s no good, or just plain isn’t there, no one will come back for seconds.

So, when you’re coming up with your business plan, please take a few seconds and allot some time to creating the product you plan on selling. Because, if you’re really busy, that’s the thing that should come first. You might want to consider adding a ‘production plan’ section to your business plan, detailing roughly how much and when you need to write to stay on track. You might not stick to it, I know–but this way, at least you’ll know when you haven’t. And just having it in there will remind you, in all of this mess, about what’s really important.

Because you aren’t writing to get famous (and most of us aren’t doing it to pay the bills). You’re writing to write. Because you have to write. Because you’re a writer.

Thanks,
EFR

EXCERPT: Night Shift, Part Deux

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A little more of this story, since you guys said you liked it. Nothing too exciting happens. Lesbians and Vietnam, you know how it is. Just a day in the life of the fucktarded townspeople of Bully, NC. This is a little more telling than I usually like to do, but it’s coupled with showing later on, I promise.

If you missed the first part of the story, here it is. Though, you know, it’s the next post down, so you probably could’ve managed on your own, but whatever, convenience.

*****

The thing about Tinker was–well, there were a lot of things about Tinker. Riley thought through them, in conscripted order, whenever she heard a siren start, or a dog bark, or someone shouting outside. She thought about them whenever she ran the garbage disposal and heard something break inside it. She thought about them when she was up late at night, all the bills were paid, and she needed something comfortable to worry about.

But the main thing about Tinker–the most surprising thing–was simply this. She was sane.

Riley had spent the last few years of their friendship thinking that certainly–certainly–this wasn’t the case. Every time Tinker tried to order live scorpions from Amazon, or drink Skittles dissolved in whiskey, or, most common, dump rotting meat products on someone’s luxury vehicle, she thought certainly, certainly, Tinker had finally gone off the deep end, had become an alcoholic, taken a dose of LSD.

But Tinker didn’t do drugs. She was a light drinker. And, as far as Riley’s somewhat unreliable experience could suggest, she was sound of mind and body. She always knew the date, her address, who was president. And that was how you checked these things. Wasn’t it?

It was perplexing, to say the least.

The miracle of her friend’s birth and raising–a scrawny child of the nineties in the tiny town of Bully, NC, learning through the magic of the internet how to dye her hair with Kool-Aid and think in the fashion most opposite everybody else–had somehow resulted in her continued existence. Somehow, some way, Tinker Tonkin continued to both toss rotten meat on police cars AND rent apartments, go to the drugstore, work part time at Caveat Coffee.

It was as though she led a double life. Double lives–both of them charmed.

“It’s not that odd, really,” Tinker had explained to her one night as they mined the Piggly Wiggly dumpster for old sausage. “I don’t hurt anybody. I don’t hold grudges. And this town–well, it’s never had an artist before. It’s inclined to forgive me a lot just for that.”

And Tinker was an artist. Bully’s own artist. Though her exhibits might boast nose cones and sachets of potpurri at the door, and most of her paycheck must have gone to property damage fees, there was something about her rotting meat tableaux that drew people, even the people who’d gotten caught in the middle of them. The texture, the raw reds and browns, the sense that, in the grainy photographs and boxed-in rotting masses, you were seeing something obscene, something private, something not so different, in sheer wrongness, from pornography or horror movie gore.

The livid colors and unconscionable stench reminded Riley of the photographs her grandfather had taken in Vietnam, kept buried for most of her childhood under the leatherette photo albums in the family room. They reminded her, specifically, of the moment she had first realized the people smiling in those photos were now mostly dead. Had died in a ditch somewhere, young guys with shy grins and stupid jug ears: victims of the Viet Cong in the jungle, quiet and softfooted and sure.

It was an uneasy feeling. Sickness, darkness, childhood lost. Almost a feeling of rape. Riley didn’t like the meat pieces, but she had to admit: they worked. They unsettled.

Which was what Tinker, being Tinker, thought art should do.

Tinker had found a terrycloth robe somewhere in the apartment’s reeking bowels and had donned it. It was covered in khaki splotches, which Riley thought of subconsciously as ‘Tonkin Camo’. The robe’s ratty bottom left a few inches of her acid green ass visible, but it was better than nothing.

Tinker fished in her pocket, came up with a flattened pack of Djarum Blacks. She lit one, draped herself equally over the couch, a pile of laundry nearly as high as the couch, and Riley’s lap.

“So,” she said, belching out a curl of clove-scented smoke. “What brings you to mein humble abode? I don’t see you much any more.” Her eyes narrowed. “Not unless you want something.”

“I don’t want anything. I had something to tell you.”

“You couldn’t call?”

“Your phone’s been dead for a year, Tink.”

“Hmm,” Tink said, acknowledging the truth of this with a neutral nod. “Well played.”

RIley wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to have been playing, or how she had done whatever it was well. She shifted a little, Tinker’s half-shaven head itching her thighs. That damn smoke–Riley had never been able to stand the sweet-heavy smoke of her friend’s cigarettes. When they were in high school, her mother had only needed to sniff her to know who she had been hanging out with.

“I just came by to tell you,” Riley said. “Ashford Mims is dead. Remember him?”

“Mhmm.” Tinker’s eyes were fixed on the popcorn swirl of the ceiling. “He was a senior when we were juniors. Football star. What happened to him?”

“Car wreck. They found his Buick wrapped around a tree on the side of old 86. Nasty mess. They’re not sure if it was a hit and run or if it was suicide–doesn’t seem like anything another driver could’ve driven away from, though.” Riley found herself intrigued by the ceiling too–cracking and peeling, galaxies of little white stars. “Funeral’s on Wednesday. His mom said to tell you you should come.”

“I never knew him that well.”

“Yeah, neither did I. But you remember how Mrs. Mims is, right? She wants the whole school there. Even ten years after we’ve graduated. A bunch of people talking about how nice Ash was, how kind and good with animals and all that.”

“He wasn’t.”

“I figure it wouldn’t be the worst thing to do, might comfort–what?”

“He wasn’t good with animals. I saw him kick a dog out on the tennis courts once.” Tinker scowled. “The dog didn’t deserve it, either.”

Riley realized she was staring. “Tinker,” she said. “The guy died.”

“I know that. But he wasn’t good with animals.” Tinker put her cigarette out on the coffee table, not even bothering to wipe the embers away. Riley watched them fizzle and darken, looked across at the patchwork of ashen squares where Tinker had done this a hundred times before.

“The best way to remember the dead,” Tinker intoned, in the manner of someone quoting a hallowed source, “is to tell the truth.”

“Okay, okay. Fine. Just don’t tell too much truth at the funeral.” Riley frowned. “You are going, right? I’ll give you a lift. Don’t make me do this alone, Tink. That wake’s going to be like a high school reunion.”

“Why would that bother you?” She shrugged. “Okay, fine. Whatever. I’ll go. I think I’ve got black clothing lying somewhere around here, I can find it by Wednesday.”

“Great. I’ll come pick you up.”

They sat for a little while in uncomfortable silence. They had been so close in high school–had spent every day together, walked home from school together, had hung out in Caveat Coffee and talked on the phone late at night when Riley couldn’t sleep, which was almost every night. They had gone to prom together, causing a minor commotion in both the Prom Committee and the parking lot of Bully Southern Baptist after church. They had gotten drunk for the first time that night in the Tonkin family basement, splitting a twelve pack of Pabst Tinker’s older brother had gotten for them at the corner stab n’ grab. Riley had told Tinker she liked girls. Tinker had told Riley she didn’t like much of anybody. The next morning, they had gone on like it had never happened. Like friends do. Good friends.

What had happened to all that? Age, Riley guessed. Responsibilities. Bills. Riley’s world was night shift at a convenience store, a bare apartment, visiting with Mom on the weekends. Tinker’s world, though it couldn’t have contained much more–Bully was only so big, after all–seemed alien. A rotting meat world, a child’s make-believe world.
The world of a fugitive from life.

The apartment felt even closer and danker than usual, somehow. The smell of Tinker’s ashed cigarette, hot and sharp and sweet. Riley felt her throat constrict. The ceiling seemed to swell, bulge, though it must have just been her imagination.

“I gotta go,” Riley said, swallowing. “I gotta get ready for work.”

“You haven’t even had a beer,” said Tinker.

“I know. I’ll catch you next time.” And then, for reasons she didn’t entirely understand, Riley added: “sorry, Tink.”

She noticed, on her way out, that the parking lot was once again quiet. The BMW, now boasting a meaty topcoat and a cracked windshield, had been moved across the lot. No one had called the police. No one had even bothered hosing off the meat–the BMW owner had probably been proud to find his car so afflicted. People often were, sometimes even to the point of refusing Tinker’s repair money. The town had never had art before, particularly abstract art, and if there was one thing Bully liked as a whole it was feeling included.

Riley didn’t get it, but then again, she didn’t have to. Her car was off limits. Tinker had pinky-sworn it when they were seventeen.

All in all, it was a typical night.

EXCERPT: Night Shift

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I just started writing this. It’s fun, and it’s very weird. Don’t ask me where I’m going with it because I’m not sure. Just tell me: d’you think it’s worth me going on and finding out?

Good. I love an audience.

ONE

As Riley approached, the sound grew louder.

Schlorp. Schlorp. Thwk. Schlorp.

It was a terrible sound. Half squishy and wet, half metallic and hard. It was, in fact, precisely the sort of sound Riley had grown used to, issuing as it did from Tinker Tonkin’s third story balcony.

Schlorp. Shhwk. Schlorp.

“Tinker,” Riley called. Then, when there was no response from the open French doors: “TINK.”

The schlorping paused. As she edged through the moldy gloom of Tinker’s apartment, Riley could only imagine the sight that awaited her on the other side of the French doors–what would it be today? Year old beefaroni? Liquidized vienna sausage?

Schlorp. Thwk. Thw-w-w-wkkkk.

And the cry, proud and primal over the half-empty parking lot:

“I AM AN ARTIST. I AM A MOTHERFUCKING ARTIST.”

Schhhthump.

From below, a car alarm went off.

“Jesus,” Riley muttered, stepping in and freeing herself from an unidentifiable pile of brown goo on the linoleum. “Hang on, Tink,” she called. “I’m coming.”

She picked up speed, moving at a half-jog through the islands of dirty laundry and regretworthy former comestibles that covered the floor. She edged through the doors with care, however–Tinker wasn’t violent, not really at least, but it still paid to move slowly around her. There was always the danger, when one came up on Tinker Tonkin unaware, of catching salmonella, botulism, or that one with a T that came from raw pork (which Riley couldn’t for the life of her remember the name of, even though, knowing Tinker, she should have them all memorized by now, as well as their symptoms and treatments).

Tinker Tonkin, clad only in a pair of acid green underpants, was leaning over the balcony, predatory grin etched into her sunken cheeks. She was holding a child’s plastic bucket in one arm. Her other arm, clad in a rubber kitchen glove, was buried up to the elbow in the substance inside, which was simply the nastiest fucking mess Riley had ever seen, or smelled, or heard. As Riley watched, she scooped up a fistful of it and dropped it neatly on the BMW in the parking lot below.

Schlorp.

Tinker’s abstract-line chest tattoo, all too visible in the sere complex lighting, heaved with her laughter.

“Um,” Riley said. “Tink, I think it’s about time you came inside.”

“Oh,” said Tinker, waving. “Hey, Riley.”

She dumped the rest of the bucket over the railing. The sound it made–hell, the smell–was so awful Riley instantly blacked it out.

The car alarm below was a frenzied screeching.

“I’m doing an installation piece,” Tinker continued conversationally, as though it were the most normal thing in the world to be on your balcony in your underpants at one in the morning, dumping rotten meat products on someone’s BMW. “Mobile installation. Transistor Decay IV. It’ll go with the moving truck you helped me do last month.”

“That’s nice,” Riley lied. She tried to forget about the moving truck. “We should go back inside now.”

“It’s so nice out here, though!” Tinker said, wriggling her bottom in what, had she been something other than a human toothpick covered in skin, would have been a lasvicious fashion. “C’mon, Ri-Ri. You never want to just hang out any more. We can make mimosas, drop SPAM on convertibles…it’ll be like old times.”

“I never dropped SPAM on anything,” Riley said, taking one of Tinker’s wasted arms and tugging. For someone who must’ve weighed about ninety pounds, she was difficult to move. “C’mon. Hup. Before somebody calls the cops.”

Tinker waved an airy gloved hand. “Nobody’ll do that,” she said. “I’m the local artist. Who’s going to call the cops on artistry?”

To punctuate this concept, she threw the bucket over the ledge as well. There was a loud crunch, and the tinkle of shattered glass.

It was only then, when a dog started barking and lights came on in the first floor apartment, that Tinker deigned to stroll back inside.

“Have it your way,” she said, as though she’d simply decided to retreat. “Let me take down the camera and I’ll grab you a beer.”

Writing: Five Tips to Funny

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Writing: Five Tips To Funny

You’ve all read that scene. Someone’s snot-nosed character says something lame and the whole damn gaggle of them start chuckling like it’s the funniest thing in the goddamn world. You grit your teeth. You instantly suspect the veracity of every character in that grouping, because that shit wasn’t funny, and if you know it so should they. Otherwise they’re just sad little puppets being yanked to the strings of author ego, yes?

And nobody wants that. If you want people to laugh at your jokes so desperately you’re willing to make them up yourself, you’ve got larger problems than I can handle. If, however, you just aren’t doing it right–well. I’m here for you, baby.

1) NO LAUGHING.
Jokes are instantly 200% less funny if all these motherfuckers are standing around laughing at them. I’m sorry, but they are. Think of the late Sir Terry–how many times does somebody laugh in a Discworld novel, when alcohol isn’t involved? Pretty rarely. Because the shit that’s funny to you isn’t funny to them. Either they don’t recognize the references they’re making–not being members of 21st century Earth, why would they?–or the stakes are too high and, not realizing they’re characters in a story, they’re not likely to take a break from policing/barbarianing/barely wizarding to appreciate the humor.

Now, the one exception here is: when your character is actually, point blank, telling a joke. In which case, a giggle or two will suffice, just like it would if your buddy Travis on the bar stool next to you told it.

2) RESIST THE URGE TO EXPLAIN
The more detail you go into, in an attempt to turn why this shit is funny into your senior thesis, the less funny it will actually be. Repeat it with me, so I know you’ve got it:

The more detail you go into, the less funny it will actually be.

You don’t need to explain why Mordak the Mordblorter wearing a severed head as a hat is funny. If it is, it is, and people will laugh. If it isn’t, it isn’t. By all means, explain how he got the hat. Explain what the hell a Mordblorter is. Or: do this as long as it is important to the story. People might forgive you a joke or two falling flat. They won’t forgive you a joke or two falling flat as your plot crashes and burns around you while you try to resuscitate it. Which is why:

3) DON’T LINGER.
Your joke does not need its own separate subplot. Humor should work in the confines of your original plot–in other words, if a joke changes your story or some element of your scene-building, ditch it. I repeat: folks’ll forgive you a dead joke. They won’t forgive you a stumbling, lurching, club-footed Igor of a plot.

4) THINK ONCE.
Don’t second guess yourself. Some of the worst jokes I’ve made in the course of a story have happened because I looked at the original and my stoopid brain parts were all like ‘OH WAIT I CAN DO BETTER THAN THAT.’ The result is convoluted, overexplained, worthless. Or, worse, censored–I took out the ‘shit’ or the ‘damn’ and the joke lost the little punch of crudity that made it work.

4) TIMING IS EVERYTHING.
Here’s my favorite talking muffin joke, done two ways. Which is funnier?

1) There’re these two muffins in an oven. One muffin turns to the other muffin and says, “is it hot in here, or is it just me?” To which the other muffin says:
“HOLY SHIT IT’S A TALKING MUFFIN.”

2) There are two muffins in an oven. One is strawberry and one is blueberry and they’re next to each other. The strawberry muffin turns to the blueberry muffin and says: “is it hot in here, or is it just me?” And the blueberry muffin gasps and says:
“Woah! You can talk! That’s crazy!”
And they have a conversation about being muffins in an oven.

D’you get my point here? The second joke fails for a lot of the reasons I’ve described here–it’s too wordy, there’s too much detail, someone’s censored my motherfucking muffins. Blueberry muffmuff’s overstated dramatic reaction takes too much away from the actual punchline. These are all fail reasons, yes. But the biggest reason the second one fails, and the reason we’re talking about here, is:

THERE’S JOKE AFTER THE PUNCHLINE.

Let me make this into a little italicized blurble blurb for you.

A joke is not a story. Humor doesn’t need a denoument and a fifth act. After the punchline happens, get out of it. Because, after the punchline, IT WILL NOT BE FUNNY ANY MORE.

You’re beating a dead horse. A redheaded stepchild. Furthermore: you’re beating a dead redheaded stepchild found in the woods gently rotting amidst the remains of an escaped racehorse.

So don’t do that shit.

There you go. Love in the time of cholera,
EFR

PS–As always, I am here bound to promote myself mindlessly. If you want to witness some pretty funny stuff, you might enjoy my novel, Aurian and Jin.