6/29/2020

SmartPig Chapbooks Series, #1, "Dog is My Co-Pilot"

I'd never heard of, or thought about, chapbooks before learning about them while at Goddard, in pursuit of my MFA.


Chapbooks are simply tiny books. They're normally 20-40 page collections of poetry, fiction, essays, or some mix of a couple of things. I've decided to release a series of chapbooks based on an assortment of short stories that I love, but that haven't, to date, fit in any of the full-length books I'm working on.

My original plan was to follow an older chapbook tradition of printing, binding, and distributing the books by hand (well, by printer, stapler, and coffeeshop anyway), but Covid-19 got in the ways of those plans, so I'll be producing and distributing them through Amazon's KDP (Kindle Desktop Publishing).

I've gone this way with a number of my books for many reasons, the main ones being:
  • zero initial outlay of cash
  • ease of publishing in print and ebook formats
  • reach for readership
I continue to hear horror stories about writers talked into paying thousands of dollars to publish their work, boxes of which end up living in their basement, only appreciated by mold and mildew and mice. It takes very little time and effort to set up your new book for FREE using Amazon's publishing tools, including a free ISBN for your book.

At the end of the process, you upload a pdf or doc document, formatted to their specifications, and can have it produced in print, ebook, or both.

The real winner for me, as I imagine it would be for most writers, is the reach that Amazon, the 800-pound gorilla of the publishing world, has to offer for you and your book. My first book, Here Be Monsters, has sold about 10,000 copies worldwide since publication in 2013. I got feedback from a reader in Australia who was reading the print version within a month of hitting the "SUBMIT" button on KDP, and one day a few years ago sold a few dozen copies in Amazon's Indian market (I like thinking about a huge bookclub in Delhi discussing my Adirondack Murder Mystery).


I've gathered nine stories that I love into a collection for the chapbook, and have put them together in a preliminary ordering for my beta-reader to look over. The collection, as it stands now, is seventy-seven pages, a touch long for a chapbook, but if all nine stories work together and feel right to me and my readers when we're done, I won't worry about it.

My aim is to produce this chapbook, to learn about the process and feel through experimentation, and then to follow this one up with three more short collections of short fiction that all share some common theme.  My plan is to produce and sell the chapbooks through Amazon for under $5 for a print copy, and for 99¢ for the ebook version.


The cover above was produced using the KDP "Cover Creator" software, which is free and formats the text and images to fit the cover size that you select for your book... I'm a big fan because it's free, it's relatively easy to use, and I think it yields nice looking covers (disclosure: all of my books have made use of the KDP cover creator, and I like the way they look).

If you're interested, and/or have questions about the chapbook or how I use KDP, please feel free to get in touch with me... I'll try to answer your questions, and if they seem to have a broad appeal, I might address them in a blog entry.

Thanks for reading! - JS

6/10/2020

My Ten Things....

My Ten



I recently read an article about Yo-Yo Ma, and how he's getting through the pandemic and isolation... it's a brilliant piece and he's an astonishing man, gifted and generous and kind and compassionate and thoughtful in multiple senses of the word.

(picture from NYT)


The article is titled: "Yo-Yo Ma Tries to Bring Us Comfort and Hope" (click the link to check it out).

A part of the article was his discussion about ten things that have helped him through the weeks, and months, of isolation and stress... I liked his list, and the thought behind it, enough that I worked to generate my own, which I'm sharing below.


  1. My family. Starting and ending the day with my wife, checking in with my son throughout the day, talking with my sister and parents on the phone… all these things make me feel secure that in a world I have very little control over, my social cornerstones are still there.

  2. My tortoises. I live with five tortoises, a Redfoot Tortoise, a Hingeback Tortoise, a Black Mountain Tortoise, and two Russian Tortoises. Without me, specifically, they’d die; that’s an awesome responsibility in every sense of the word. The daily and weekly routines associated with their caretaking grounds me.

  3. My Dogs. Puck and Olive love me. They think I’m a much better person than I am, which constantly pulls me towards that better Jamie. Gail and Ben could (and often do) care for them, so in a very real sense, the dogs give me much more than I give them. Puck normally sleeps spooned up with me (he’s the big spoon), and Olive checks in on me on a schedule of her own devising throughout the day and night, delivering kisses and flea-bites as she perceives that I need them.

  4. My friends. I’m not as good a friend as I should be. I always mean to do better at the little things that maintain friendships, but they fall out of my head before long. As a result (possibly by unconscious or subconscious design), I don’t have a lot of friends. The ones I have managed to keep over the years are special and interesting people all over the world and hearing from them via FB or email or Teams meeting or the occasional phone call keeps me tethered to “The Outside World” in a way that the previous three things cannot. Friends are the $20 bills in your jeans pockets that mother-time steals when you let her do your laundry.

  5. Music. Spotify is one of the drugs I use to maintain my sanity in the sea of craziness that the USA has become at the intersection of pandemic and race-riots and our idiot-king. I curate and steal and hoard playlists like a junkie, secure in the knowledge that this one or that one will come in handy when my mood jumps (or is pushed) off a cliff. I firmly believe that music can help to reprogram my mental state and body-chemistry.

  6. Cooking. I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in the kitchen since we locked out the rest of the world. A sourdough pretentiously named Prometheus has been a big part of recent experiments, but I’ve also been making pizzas from scratch, a Mexican hot sauce based on a Korean hot sauce, and fermented foods and drinks of all kinds. It’s a pleasant and useful distraction from worries about the things we all worry about, and utilitarian, since we can’t go out to eat (it’s amazing how much we used to eat out or order in).

  7. Writing. Of course, who knows why I waited until number seven to talk about writing. I write every day, some for sharing online, some for future publication, some just to let off steam from a pressure valve that otherwise might sail past the redline and end up in some cartoony explosion. I’m working on a novel along with a quartet of novellas, a quartet of chapbook collections of shorts, and a couple of individual stories that don’t fit anywhere else.

  8. News Aggregators. I read a lot of news. Lots of the news these days is depressing or fake or horrific or repetitive, so I use a number of news aggregators to filter and sort my news for me. I like reading a bit about Covid-19, a bit about the POS-POTUS, along with lots of articles about the environment, tortoises, cooking, writing, TV/movies, and a number of areas of interest… I get these things in nearly the perfect proportions from the apps I use.

  9. Reading. Besides news, I read a fair amount of fiction (not as much as I should, or would like to, but I keep meaning to fix that). I’ve found in the COVID months that I enjoy re-reading stuff I’ve enjoyed in the past. Good stories are a shelter I can climb down into and hide for as long as necessary, letting the words wash over my brain, soothing things, letting the lizard-bits at the base of my skull do the repaired necessary to keep me functioning another day/week/month.

  10. Drinking. I drink a lot. Certainly more water than anyone you likely know (thanks to Sj√∂gren's Syndrome), probably more coffee than you’d think, and perhaps less bourbon than you’d guess. The act of bringing liquids into my body is control, controlling metabolism and health and mood and energy with a simple sip or swallow.


I'd love to hear from you about what things (ten or otherwise) have helped you through the recent months... thanks for reading!

Be safe and healthy - JS

2/07/2020

Housesitting Writing Retreat How-To

I'm trying something new. 

I'm on a writing retreat in someone else's house; I didn't break-in, they invited me (I'm like a vampire in that respect, I only enter other people's places when invited... in other respects, I'm not at all like a vampire).


It's a lovely house near Boston... lots of room, lots of light, lots of privacy and quiet. I love writing in my home for all sorts of reasons, but sometimes enjoy writing someplace else for precisely those reasons.

I find things to do besides write. I noodle around in the SmartPig kitchen. I play with the dogs. I watch TV and cook with/for my family. I do laundry or dishes. I feed and soak and measure the tortoises. I go grocery shopping more frequently than seems absolutely necessary. There are lots of ways to distract myself from writing when I'm at home.

When I go to Starbucks or my parents' house or to Goddard to watch friends graduate, I generally get a lot of writing done. It occurred to me that I could make a habit of periodically finding a way to get out of the house for a few days of writing.

The next thing that occurred to me is that I'd like to find a way to do that without having to spend a ton of money to do that writing... I found a way.

Trusted Housesitters is that way, for me. I found their website and joined and tried to find a couple of housesits close by, in case they were a scam (they weren't). I'm staying in a person's house for four days while they're away, taking care of their cats, Taz and Mack.


Trusted Housesitter is the middleman, connecting a person in need of place to stay with a person in need of a person to stay in their house and take care of their beasts. They have them all over the world, and it seems like it could be a great way to travel.

I love staying in AirBnbs because you avoid the lifelessness of hotels, but with this, I get to stay for free and to hang out with animals (if you don't like animals, this might be a downside, but since I do like animals, a lot, it's an upside). I get to live, for a while, in a neighborhood, as a local. I can cook my own meals, walk around and get a feel for someplace new, and most importantly... write, in peace and quiet and private and for free.


The house I'm living in this week is spacious and lovely and has several places to write and read and lounge.


It has a lovely and functional and well-stocked kitchen. I've mostly made coffee so far, but also a few meals, and there's a beautiful grocery store a few minutes walk away from the house that I'm dying to explore for treats/rewards for myself for the excellent writing days ahead.


Another living room at the front of the house, on the quiet street. I've done some reading there as well as in the living room back by the kitchen.


Between the two, there's a room with a piano in it, and while I'm horrible on a piano, it's fun to noodle around on it, and the cats aren't judging me (out loud at least).


The house is filled with lovely and spacious bedrooms with great light... I could probably sleep in a different one every night, but that'd be more cleanup for me in the end (I want to leave the house, and cats, in good shape so that the owner will give me a good review upon their return so that I can get more housesitting gigs in the future).


The bathrooms are lovely and modern and make my shower-singing sound even better than usual... the cats don't agree, but that's fine with all of us.

I periodically look up from my writing to find the cats staring at me with murder, or at least distrust, in their eyes but as long as I'm opening cans for them every twelve hours (and scooping litter once a day) I'm pretty sure they'll restrain themselves for the duration of my stay.

If you're interested in Trusted Housesitters (and honestly, why wouldn't you be, even if you're not looking for a writing retreat), you can follow one of the links I've scattered throughout the blog above and check out the site. The bonus is that if you use the link I posted, you'll get 25% off their annual fee of $109 (adjusts to $81.75, if you were wondering)... on first look that might seem like a lot for a middleman website, but I figure mine's already more than paid for itself with this first stay (probably with the first night).

In the spirit of full disclosure, if you sign up with TH, I get two months added to my membership, but that's not why I'm sharing it... I'm sharing it because I think it's a wonderful idea, a wonderful service (for both parties), a wonderful way to explore the world while staying out of hotels, and a wonderful way to get some writing done.

Anyway, I wanted to share what I'm doing this week, and what I hope to be doing more of in the future... TH has housesits in Egypt and Iceland and Mexico and Australia and Scotland and Italy, and I want to try them all!

I'm working on my next novel, "The World Beneath the World", while I'm here, and so far, I've been getting some good writing done.

Jamie

1/14/2020

Plans for 2020

Welcome to the new year!

My latest book, a collection of short stories, is doing well on Amazon and in some of the indie bookstores I've been working with for a while. I've gotten some good reviews online and through word of mouth.

I've heard from a few people who loved the Tyler books that they didn't love this collection... that's OK. Not all books are for all people, not everyone has to like everything an author publishes. I like the stories in the collection, a lot, and think they provide readers with a clean window into what I'm writing and thinking about or was at the time I wrote them.

I'm currently about 20k words deep into my next book, a mystery novel, and am excited about the way this first draft feels. I'm hoping to finish my first pass in March, then start the process of rewrites and edits through the spring and summer, with an eye towards publication in the fall or winter.

I had a great visit to Goddard last week. I went primarily to see some members of my original cohort who were graduating a semester after me, but also to enjoy a few days of writing retreat with a friend and fellow MFAW graduate. Both were fantastic!

I'll be going to the AWP conference in San Antonio in March, representing Goddard, and remembering the Alamo. It's something I've looked longingly at previously but never been able to talk myself into before now.

I've got my CV in for a number of teaching jobs, fingers crossed, but will keep pushing for more and different work and writing options and opportunities.

Thanks for reading, and for spreading the word.

Jamie