I blame the internet for corrupting me with its pervasive and insidious LOLcats and ridiculously cute cat memes. The cover is a bit silly, but no sillier than the cover I did for Cat Zen.
Meow Right Now will be the second cat story the internets have talked me into writing. Out of 70ish short stories, I’m running at almost 3% cat content. That seems like a little much, but what can I say… I do like cats.
Oh, clever internet. Look how you’ve warped me.
This is what I published 2 years ago (plus a couple of days). You can click through and read it, it’s a short-short and it’s free. It was my 26th; my 1st was published in January 2012.
Looking back, it hasn’t been that long. A bit more than 2 1/2 years I’ve been self-publishing. A few thousand of my free titles have ‘sold’ in that time, and probably a tenth or twentieth as many paid copies have sold.
Not too shabby, my practical side says. As long as I keep it up, keep writing and publishing, people will keep reading. Eventually, I hope, many more people. Persistence is the first thing pretty much anyone needs in getting their work out there, written or otherwise.
My impatient side, however, thinks that kind of thinking is for, appropriately for this post, dumbasses.
I don’t like waiting. Does anyone like waiting? I’m pretty sure nobody likes waiting. Hey, I bought Product X yesterday, and the commercials clearly state that if you buy Product X all your dreams will come true in mere days, like a fairy tale. I’m impatiently waiting for my instant gratification.
Hmm, that gives me an idea.
Read Dumbass, and all of your dreams will come true in mere days. Promise.
The license below does NOT refer to the image above, which is a free use image from Morguefile. The license below refers ONLY to the written work below IT: the text of README by S.A. Barton.
by S.A. Barton
“In the beginning, was the Gates…” X intoned. It was a party, they’d all had a few zots to the pleasure-reward complex. Why not preach to a random stranger?
“Why is it ‘was the Gates’, and not ‘is the Gate’, have you ever thought of that?” asked Y.
“The language has changed, duh,” X said, making a face like someone bluescreening. “It’s been like eight thousand years and a lot of translations and modernizations. But they’re all inspired by the Gates to carry the true meaning of the original.”
“How do you know that?”
“It says so in the book, of course,” X said, eyescreens translating the roll of the meat eyes underneath to rolling pixels. “The Gates gave it all to us: the touchscreen, the tablet, the brainmouse, the HUD. We crucified his AVI for it, and he forgave us and revealed the hyperdrive as his last gift. Surely you’ve heard the holy README before.”
“I’ve heard it,” Y said, holding a zotstick next to the autodownloader under the skin of his temple. He sucked in breath through clenched teeth and his eyescreens went spaz with bright cyan static for a few seconds. “Good shit. Dude, people made computers. Finds on Earth proved it centuries ago. I was just reading the other day divers think they’ve found the Silicon Valley. It was just a place.”
“The Silicon Valley was a spiritual paradise in which the Gates delivered his gifts to all mankind. If someone thinks they’ve found it, they’ve either fooled themselves or they’re trolling. The Gates removed it from the physical realm after we defiled it with his AVI’s blood. It’s all in the…”
“Yeah, it’s in the holy README, I know, I know,” Y said, waving the zotstick under X’s nose.
“Lol about it if you want, but there’s no way a human could build even a crude computer on his own. Not from nothing. Ever see a docu about regressed civilizations?”
“So? A planet gets cut off from galactic civilization, it degenerates. They can’t get any new…”
“Any new what, smartass?” X says with a smirk plastered across his face.
“Computers…” Y says, voice trailing off weakly. He lifts his zotstick up to his temple again. It fizzles, there’s no rush. “Shit, I’m out of zot.”
X hands his stick over; it’s still half full. “Go ahead, hit that. But now that you’re thinking, now that you realize that humans can’t have invented the computer, why don’t you sit and listen…”
I’ve had my ebooks out there, waiting to be purchased (sometimes for free) for a couple of years now. From time to time, I look in at the various outlets that carry them, seeing if I can find any information on how well they’re doing. Some outlets give me more information than others. Apple just ranks them in the order that the header of their page proclaims to be ‘Top Books’. I guess they’re in order of sales… maybe recent sales…or…I don’t know. But they’re in order of something or other. B&N gives a sitewide sales rank.
Sony Reader Store presents you with lists of titles with really tiny thumbnails that defy almost any cover art to be discerned, which you can sort by ‘relevancy’ or ‘bestselling’ or by price or date published. Fairly user friendly as these things go.
Here’s the weird bit: sometimes I go to the Sony Reader Store and find a title somewhere vaguely near the top of a list, and it’s not one of my free ones. Oh, boy, I must have made a sale of PAID COPY! Woo-hoo!
There’s one I saw a few minutes ago. #178, probably just sold one fairly recently. It’ll go back down soon, sigh. Sony lists seem to have a lot of ‘churn’, titles moving up and down in rank quickly. That’s a good thing and a bad thing. It makes it a little easier to get noticed, but harder to stay up once you’re up. Mixed bag. That’s fine, it has to work some way or other.
Well, you say, maybe you didn’t sell one and it’s just way down on the bottom of the list arbitrarily ranked with other things that haven’t sold.
But it wasn’t there yesterday.
And it’s not way down on the bottom.
There are over 5500 titles on that list. You don’t make it to number 178 out of 5500 by selling nothing, right?
But in two years, I’ve never gotten a cent from Sony for paid copy. Sony reports that every title of mine they’ve sold has been a free ebook.
It’s been that way for two years now. It’s weirding me out, man. I don’t want to say that Sony’s not reporting paid sales of Smashwords ebooks, but…
…how do my non-free stories keep making it up near the top of their listings if nobody’s buying them?
Anyone have any insight into this?
One of the things I’ve been working on as a side project along with all the writing has been working out collections so I can publish all of the ebook singles I’ve published in print form. And, as a side effect, have ebook collections available that contain ALL of my stories for those who prefer just to pick up a few collections instead of having 50 individual short stories on their ereaders.
I’m not quite at 50 individual short stories, but I’m getting close. Probably 40 published separately — though I have around 60 actual stories. Some are bundled in ebook form, like ‘Looks Like God’ which is bundled with ‘Bullets For Buddha’ and the five stories in the ‘Isolation and Other Stories’ collection which are not published individually. But anyways: new collection on the way, in print and ebook. ‘Ice Age, Space Age’ contains 13 stories previously only available as singles or as part of the ‘Visions of Odd’ ebook-only mini-collection.
I’ll be setting up the collection page for ‘Ice Age, Space Age’ in a few days, for now it’s available at Smashwords as an ebook, and I’m waiting for Createspace to send me an email telling me (I hope) that the files are all approved so I can release the print edition. From Smashwords, the ebook version will take about two weeks to reach all of the various distributors like Apple and Kobo. If past experience is a guide, Barnes & Noble should have the paperback available within a week of it being approved by Createspace.
How do I keep track of all this? Mostly I just boggle at it and thank goodness that I keep track of it on my blog and at the distributor websites for frequent reminders. One day maybe I’ll be successful enough to pay someone else to keep track.
So, Prairie and Stars, my latest novelette, is out. It should be in all of the retail locations in the sidebar to your right.
It started with an idea made for SciFi — humans find grass everywhere they go in the galaxy, and the protagonist finds out why.
It turned into something much more along the way. And that’s good, in my book. A good story is a good story, but it’s better when it means something to the author. That helps it mean something more to the reader, I think.
Evan, the protagonist, has something in common with me. Evan lived a largely unconsidered life for a long time, just going with the flow, letting things happen. As the plot advances, Evan finds something that excites him like nothing else has before, something meaningful to do with his life. It wakes him up, makes him a new man. The story ended up being about that as much or more than it is about the origin of the grass.
It took Evan 7,000 years to find out what he really wants out of life. I suppose I should feel pretty good– it only took me a little less than 40 years to do the same.
I just finished publishing my 44th and 45th titles on Smashwords. I shared the covers with you two posts ago… so if you haven’t seen them, go look!
Or look here, in the list of my titles on Smashwords, where you can get them if you’d like. Spoken Wood is free, Blood on the Corn is 99 cents.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’ve actually designed 45 ebook covers, much less that I’ve written all these stories. If I’m counting right, including the stories in the Hunger and Isolation and Other Stories collections that aren’t published separately, I’ve now finished and published 57 distinct stories, from flash fiction to novellas.
I have more in the works, and a whole bunch of one-line jotted ideas that may or may not become new stories in the future. I’m grateful to have a fertile imagination.
I’m grateful when others get to share that imagination and enjoy it. If you choose to read some of my stories, good! …and I’d love to hear from you.
This is still in rough draft, so this excerpt could change by the time I finish this story.
I also don’t know when I’m going to finish this, because of my oddball writing process. I’m not sure how odd it is, I don’t know enough other writers that well. But it seems odd to me.
I had this idea about a year and a half ago. It started as a scribbled note: ‘humans explore galaxy, and there’s grass everywhere there’s life. Why?’ I added a few exploratory notes over the next few days, brainstorming random ideas for a plotline. I started the story, wrote a thousand words, and there it sat for a few months. I came back later, discarded the last five hundred, and wrote a new thousand.
Then I ran up against a point where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the idea, and I put the notebook that contained it in a stack of notebooks with half-started ideas, and wrote other things. Last week, looking through notebooks, I ran across it again. Some new ideas about it had congealed by then; the concept is an interesting one and it had come to mind occasionally over the months I left it fallow.
I started writing again. I really want to know where the grass came from, and what the protagonist’s story is. I’ve added four thousand words to it over the last week, and it’s shaping up into a story. I have an idea about the people behind the spread of grass throughout the galaxy. Actually, I have several. The ideas are fighting it out as I approach the point where I’ll have to explain. I don’t know what will emerge. Will it be one idea, the other, a new idea I haven’t had yet, or a synthesis of the thoughts I’ve already had?
I’m not sure. I don’t think this one will go back into the pile of half-finished stories to marinate again, but it might. It has the feeling of a story I’m going to finish to me now, though. We’ll see.
In the meantime, here’s an excerpt of my rough work on Prairie and Stars. I hope I can finish it soon. I really love that title and I want to see it on a cover.
…the approach to the star system is a typical blur. Days of tasteless food, tasteless exercise, tasteless waiting for Ship to catalog and name the various planetary bodies. Periodically, I have taken over the naming in the past, but I have had no taste for the task in the last dozen centuries or so. I don’t even look at the names. I do look at the habitability indices. There’s a 108, minimal variability from the ancestral conditions of Earth. The range of 80-120 is considered habitable over at least 50% of land surface, 90-110 without special equipment. These things change, given enough time or human intervention. When I left Earth, it would have been considered a 105. At one point, in my second millennium, it reached as high as a 118, warming and pollution rendering the Equatorial third of the planet largely useless to humans outside of refrigerated habitats. Today, it is a scrupulously maintained 100, supporting a population of 100 million licensed ancestral aboriginals and 10 to 20 billion tourists at any given time.
This planet, this 108, is a little dry and sports a Pangaeaic continent with heavy mountain formation near the coast facing approaching prevailing winds. This creates a rain-shadow desert the size of Asia.
Aside from that, it is hospitable compared to the average planet. There are a lot of gas giants, of superheated Venuses, of high-gravity colossi and thin-atmosphered wastes. As Ship approaches orbit, I know already what I will see as telescopic sensors examine the surface closely. There is, of course, no obvious intelligent life. None has been found anywhere in seven thousand years of exploration, and I am not expecting it here. Humans being what they are, we still look for it. But one thing is everywhere humans have found, on every planet with soil and free water and a biosphere even close to what humans could possibly inhabit.
Grass. The viewscreen shows me a waving expanse of tall grass, purple tassels with curved scarlet tails depending from the top of each grain head. A little different than the last planet or the one before, but grass. It is the one constant in the known universe.
I have seen grass so fine I thought it was moss until I examined it under a microviewer. I have seen grass that covered near-boiling oceans like a yellow mosquito net. I have seen grass so enormous I mistook it for a mountain range, huge colonial slabs of fused stalks spreading roots out to absorb the streams and rivers it spawned from its own scored and gnarled slopes. If grass holds any slightest surprise for me in the future, I cannot imagine how it could.
I let Ship pick its own orbit, slowly precessing to cover the entire surface of the world as we survey it. The images flow through my mind, processed but essentially untouched, considered but only automatically in the expected patterns, filed and stored and forgotten. There is grass in a hundred variations, and something like a fern in a dozen forms, and a slow amoebic thing like a flowing moss. The oceans hold something like trilobites, jellyfish blobs and tiny translucent undulating ribbons that seem related to the blobs, and even a tiny clumsy amphibian-thing that raises a lush featherlike gill high over its stumpy sensory stalk and ventures onto the damp beach on its belly when it’s sufficiently foggy out, to nibble at the vegetation there that no other animal can reach.
Fairly advanced, as life goes. Not one Earthlike world in ten thousand has gotten as far as animals that can live entirely on land. This one is almost there. Maybe in another million years, or ten million, the feather-gill-amphibian-thing will evolve into something with a proper enclosed lung and begin to eat the ferns and grass inland.
Or maybe it will die, go extinct, vanish. As old as I am, I cannot imagine living long enough to see which happens. I cannot imagine wanting to. I… cannot imagine at all, I think.
Survey completed, I call the probes home and wait for them to arrive and complete their self-checks and decontamination routines.
“There is a contact at the edge of the system,” Ship says as I wait. “Under power. Another survey ship.”
“Tell it that I’ve already surveyed here. Squirt it a copy of our results,” I tell Ship. I have no interest in keeping the information to myself; the entire point of surveying is to spread knowledge. I think back—how long has it been since I’ve discovered anything worth keeping to myself? I can’t remember. Back in the early days, certainly; the first thousand years when First Contact was surely right around the corner and governance was uncertain, still in the hands of men first and AIs second instead of the other way around.
Instead, an image forms in front of my eyes. Politely, I keep the annoyance—a tiny whiff of genuine feeling, of real annoyance?—out of my expression.
“Survey has been completed,” I say. “My Ship has shared results with your Ship.”
“I have been surveying the Oort cloud of the neighboring system, and observed your arrival,” she says. “I have shared an interesting finding with your Ship as well. I would like to share it with you, also.”
“I’m sure my Ship will pass it along,” I say, dismissive, flat, unengaged.
“I have located an artifact. It is not of human manufacture…
When I need a break and want to play with GIMP for a while, indulging my somewhat neglected visual-arts side, I look back over past ebook cover design adventures and pick out something to redesign.
Even though I’m sitting on two finished short stories and am making good progress on a third… technically I’m backlogged by three covers. But never mind that. This old cover has been bugging me for a while. See if you can guess why:
That’s so much better for so many reasons. I’ll leave you to contemplate the difference.
I’ve just added the new cover on Smashwords, it should take anywhere from 1-3 weeks to reach the various retailers that carry my stories listed conveniently in the sidebar to the right.
As of now, I have 43 distinct titles out there and several are free. There are more on the way; apparently I haven’t squeezed my imagination dry quite yet. With any luck, I never will. I like this writing thing too much to give it up.
I’ve finally managed to finish my Isolation And Other Stories collection. 2 novellas, 1 novelette, 2 short stories. About 52,000 words of alternately enjoying the process of creation and considering laying off shaving my head for a while in order to grow hair to pull out. I hope you enjoy it. Right now it’s available on Smashwords, and should make its way through the distribution pipeline to other ebook retailers over the next couple of weeks. I’ll be putting it on Amazon shortly, and will also begin working on reformatting it for Createspace so it can be purchased in paperback as well.
As it works out, Isolation And Other Stories is the 42nd title I’ve published with Smashwords. If you’re a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you know the significance of the number 42. You’d better pick up a copy just to be safe.
Drop on over to Isolation‘s page to take a look at blurbs for all five stories contained within.
And now the teaser part: here’s the cover for the short story I’m working on now, The Unfettered Dream. Dream is a tale of speculative history, and I’m not going to tell you anything else about it… other than to show you the cover I’ve concocted for it.
Okay, I’ll tell you one more thing about it: I’ve referred to it as “the secret origin of Buddha” in a couple of tweets. Writing it, so far, has been both interesting and a bit haunting. I should be ready to share it with you in a couple of weeks.