The Stephen King Playboy Interview eBook

My father kept his porno magazines underneath the bathroom sink, which wasn’t the most ideal hiding spot from an angry wife and a hormone-raging teenager in the late 1980’s. The June 1983 issue of Playboy caught my attention with the Stephen King interview, joining my collection of pilfered porno magazines in my closet. I read the interview from beginning to end, backwards and sideways to divine the secrets of being a successful writer. Something I desperately wanted as a teenager but it didn’t happen until 25 years later.

After I became a Christian and moved into a five-bedroom Victorian in downtown San Jose with a dozen campus brothers in 1992, several brothers helped move my stuff out of my parents’ place. When I opened the bedroom closet door, a three-foot stack of Playboy magazines fell forward in slow motion on to the hardwood floor before our feet. Needless to say, my sin was quite obvious. We tossed all those magazines away as they weren’t part of my new life.

The Stephen King interview has never appeared in the hardback collections of “The Playboy Interviews,” or even online after the Internet became popular with the masses. Familiar passages from the interview got quoted directly or indirectly by various biographers. As a published writer, I’ve always wanted a copy for my own personal collection.

Six months ago I bought a mint copy of Playboy, June 1983, for five bucks on eBay. This satisfied my quarter-century desire to re-read the Stephen King interview in its entirety.

While browsing for new releases on Amazon, I discovered “Stephen King: The Playboy Interview” as a 99-cent ebook. One of many interviews published as standalone ebooks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Playboy magazine. An ebook is a more convenient format than reading than a 30-year-old magazine with a slight “under the bathroom sink” smell.

The Mobile Office v2.0 Is Evermore

Car Being Towed AwayAfter I went up to the Mountain Winery to watch Joan Jett play the classic songs of her youth and the new songs from her next album, the coolant system in my 1999 Ford Taurus boiled over from the twists and turns of going up the mountain. The car ran slightly hotter than usual for a month. As I waited for the light to change at Bascom and Moorpark Avenues in San Jose, the engine dropped dead and refused to turn over.

Stranded in the middle of the evening commute for 15 minutes while waiting for the tow truck to arrive, someone at the Mini Gourmet restaurant on the corner saw my plight and sent out the servers to push my car into the parking lot. I thanked the woman and the servers who came over afterward

I told the tow truck driver that I thought the head gasket blew. As the car got loaded up the ramp of the tow truck, the chocolate milk shake—coolant and oil mixed in a frothy mix—dribbled out from the engine block on to the ramp. The driver sprinkled cat litter on and underneath the spill to contain the mess. He dropped me off at my apartment complex before taking my wounded car to John’s Bascom Automotive down the street.

The phone call from Mike the mechanic confirmed that the engine was unrepairable without spending a substantial amount of money that I don’t have. He recommended that I put the non-existent money towards another used car. Although they spent several hours to diagnose my car, he charged me only for a half-hour of time. I took the next day off from my non-writing job to tow my car home, made arrangements with AAA to have a non-car auto insurance policy, and for Pick-N-Pull to pick up my car. After all that, unwinding from the stress of being without car for the next few months.

The bad news didn’t stop there. My boss gave me my two-week notice that my contract wasn’t being renewed as part of a company-wide layoff. The timing wasn’t great. Looking for a job without a car was difficult but not impossible. (I didn’t get my driver license until my middle thirties.) With the government shutdown in full swing, the recruiters were ominously silent after I sent out my resume to the job search websites.

Yesterday, before the tow truck for Pick-N-Pull came for my car, I tried to turn over the engine and got a loud clunk! Something broke inside the engine block, maybe a cam shaft or something else.

The tow truck driver looked familiar. “Didn’t I pick up a car from this parking spot last year?”

Yes, he did. We went through the paperwork to transfer ownership and he gave me a check for $274 USD, which was slightly more than my previous old car. According to a co-worker, Pick-N-Pull will probably make $5,000 USD off the car. That would include $1,200 USD in new brakes and tires from earlier this summer.

The Mobile Office v2.0 is evermore.

Have You Written Your Best Work Years Ago?

The Present Sign PostWhile watching Joan Jett at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga three weeks ago, she announced that she will play songs from her new album, “Unvarnished,” and, with some hesitation, the classic songs we all know and love. I saw the bittersweet moment on her face that she knew that her fans will always remember her for the songs she wrote years ago. A dilemma many creative people will face sooner or later.

Jett could have joined many other classic bands in touring around the nation to play the hit songs from her early career without ever writing a new song or recording another album. That’s not her style. After 37 record labels rejected her first solo album in 1980, she created her own record label and pushed the boundaries for what a female musician can do. She writes new songs and makes new albums that may never ever earn the same level of fan appreciation as her earlier hits.

So many fans regarded Stephen King’s “The Stand” as his magnun opus that he could have died after its publication in 1978 and be content with that, ignoring his many other novels and “The Dark Tower” series and that came afterward. J.K. Rowlings may never write anything that surpasses the Harry Potter novels, but she keeps writing new novels under her name and a pen name. The easy way out would be to pull a JD Salinger by not publishing anything more and cashing in the royalty checks.

If my ebook sales are any indication, I’ve written my best work years ago.

Okay, maybe not. I haven’t written a magnun opus for my fans to declare their undying devotion. My earliest short story ebooks sell better than my recent short story ebooks, leaving my “mid-list” ebooks to sag in the middle. I’ve had nagging doubts about the quality of my writing over the last few years, a constant tug of war between double checking the old stuff and writing the new stuff. The only way to side-step the doubts is to plunge myself into writing something new, get into the creative moment and go with the flow. The mobile office has been a great help in writing a handful of new flash stories for the summer. With renewed confidence, my best work is yet to come.

On a related musical note, Victor Willis, the original police officer in the 1970’s Village People disco band (which played at the Mountain Winery the following week after Joan Jett), regains the copyrights to his classic songs like “YMCA” and “In The Navy” after signing them away years ago by invoking an obscure provision of the 1978 copyright law. That’s heartening. Since I’m signing away my copyrights into an intellectual properties holding company (IPHC) to keep them separate from my publishing business and myself as an individual, I might run into this situation if I ever lose control of the IPHC.

The Zombie Hunters Book Two

The Zombie Hunters Kickstarter ProjectMy favorite web comic, “The Zombie Hunters,” has a Kickstarter project to fund the production of the second print book. Kickstarter has become a popular way for web comic artists to publish their content into a print book and offering fans little extras for their support. I selected the Books One and Book Two combo for $55 USD, as I didn’t get Book One when it first came out several years ago.

After exceeding the minimum funding goal of $16,000 with a week to spare, Jenny, the artist, explains how she and her husband, Greg, are putting the book together. All the web comic pages are printed out and placed into a binder to find various errors, especially the balloon dialog font with an inconsistent capital “l” that requires attention. Two passes have used three toner cartridges to print out the pages. A third pass will go to the copy editor to find more errors. Meanwhile, she will touch up the artwork before placing them into the InDesign file that will go to the printer.

This is a similar process I’m going through to assemble my speculative short story collection for publication as a full-length ebook next year.

I bought a new Brother HL-5470DW printer that was on sale during the Labor Day weekend to replace my seven-year-old Brother HL-5250DN printer with less than 1,500 pages left on the drum. With the cost of a replacement drum being more than a new printer, buying a new printer with updated features (i.e., faster printing, more memory and AirPrint to print directly from the iPad) during a holiday sale was a no brainer. I’m printing on the old printer until the drum fails so I can dump it into the recycling bin.

I’ve printed, stapled or butterfly clipped, and hole punched each story before placing into a binder. I’ll be reviewing, removing/adding and revising 40 stories in the next six months. The hardest part will be deciding what order to arrange the stories in, as flash stories, short stories and a novella each takes up one-third of the collection. Assembling a collection is no easy task, which I’ve done several times for contests in the past.

There will be no Kickstarter project to turn my first short story collection into a printed book. A successful Kickstarter project requires an established fan base to achieve the minimum funding goal. Web comic artists who spent years building up their archives and fan base can sometimes exceed their minimum funding goals by unbelievable multiples. Based on my web traffic and ebook sales numbers, I don’t have much of a fan base. I’ll be implementing many changes over the next year to turn that around.

Are You Interviewing Yourself At Smashwords?

Interview In Progress Sign

A new marketing feature available to Smashwords authors is creating your own ten question interview that will appear on the interviews page, your author profile page and cross linked to your ebook pages. Log into your Smashwords account, click on Account in the navigation bar, and click on “Create or edit your interview” to start the guided process. You can answer any of the pre-written questions or write your own.

Having gone through the growing pains and technical glitches since signing up with Smashwords in 2010, I was quite surprised by how polished the whole interface was for creating the interview. As a writer, I tend to jump around and come back to difficult passages later. The interface accommodated me as I went back and forth in writing, revising and polishing each answer, and then rearranging each question into a logical order. I spent three days putting my interview together.

Here are the pre-written questions that I answered for my interview.

  • What motivated you to become an indie author?
  • Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
  • When did you first start writing?
  • When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
  • Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
  • What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
  • What do you read for pleasure?
  • Describe your desk?
  • What are you working on next?

I’m planning to republish my interview on my author website in the near future and include it as an appendix to the annual blog posting ebook. (I specifically asked Mark Coker at Smashwords about republishing the interview and he said it was okay.) Over time I’ll remove old questions and add new questions on Smashwords, while keeping old questions and adding new questions to my republished interview.

I’m hoping that the interview will help spur ebook sales on the Smashwords website. All my ebooks sales on Smashwords come from the distribution catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Kobo, Sony, etc.). Unless I make my ebooks available for FREE during the Read-An-eBook week in March and the Smashwords July Summer/Winter sale promotions, I rarely get any direct sales through the website.

If you have any questions you would like me to answer, please ask in the comments.

Have Typewriter, Will Travel

Portable TypewriterAfter I finished packing my suitcase for a week-long trip to Las Vegas, I noticed that I had enough room left over for my portable typewriter and a ream of paper. My roommate gave me a funny look when I mentioned that. If the TSA didn’t flag me as a terrorist, having a typewriter in checked luggage would. I ended up taking a notebook, my iPad and Bluetooth keyboard in my carry-on bag.

The funny thing is that I stopped using a typewriter for writing several years ago. With the mobile office back in action this year, I’m using a clipboard to write rough drafts on notepads in black ink at lunch, enter those pages into the computer at night, and edit the printouts in red ink the next day. The idea of pecking away a typewriter and using whiteout ink seems antiquated.

The moment I walked into the hotel room and saw the desk sitting sideways to the floor-to-ceiling window, I wished I have brought my portable typewriter with me. Sitting at the desk, I would have blank pages to my left, the typewriter in the middle, and finished pages to my right. The next morning I woke up before dawn to see the sun rising over Sunrise Mountain as a beautiful yellow orb through the silt of the curtains before a beam of sunlight stabbed my eyeballs with a fiery pitchfork. I had a gorgeous view of the eastern mountains outside of Las Vegas in the afternoon. That was so perfect for writing.

My roommate took out his iPad on the first night, connected to cellular to found the speed rate lousy and the wifi connection was no better. He had a bazillion Facebook friends who were attending the Star Trek convention that he needed to stay in touch with and keep up with all the updates. (He met only two of his Facebook friends in person.) Since he registered his iPad to the hotel room, and I didn’t want to pay $13 USD per day to register my wifi-only iPad as a second device, I went without Internet access and left my iPad in the carry-on bag.

For the first time in my life, I was on a real vacation.

The desk was also perfect for writing in the notebook. I wrote about getting through airport security without incident, flying on an airplane for the first time, attending four days of Star Trek panels, signings and parties, the various restaurants and hotels we visited, going out to Hoover dam and seeing a David Copperfield show. I even started a new short story about my albino demoness who protects the prostitutes on the Las Vegas strip, using the Voodoo Rooftop night club as a backdrop. A very busy week filled one-third of the notebook.

Someday I’ll get on an airplane with my manual typewriter, lock myself in a hotel room for a month and write the rough draft of the Great American novel. I would have breakfast, read the newspaper and gamble in the mornings (the best time to avoid the crowds, semi-naked cocktail waitresses and second-hand cigarette smoke). Have lunch in my hotel room, re-read the previous day’s work, and bang away at the typewriter for the rest of the day. After having dinner I would attend an evening show or conk out early.

The Snail Mail Slush Pile Rises Again

When editor Perry Terrell informed me via emailOld Snail Mail Box that my short story, “A Stockton Wedding Reception,” will appear in The Ultimate Writer (September 2013) next month, I didn’t know anything about it. Neither the short story nor the magazine sounded familiar to me. The first thing that came to mind that this was a very old snail mail submission that sat in a slush pile for years before the editor got around to reading.

A virtual search of the old manuscripts—I’ve shredded the paper files months ago—turned up the short story. The opening line for the first paragraph was a writing prompt from The First Line magazine.

Paul and Miriam Kaufman met the old-fashioned way. They arrived in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall in Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the heavy scent of cow manure hung in the air. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their best clothes. The loud buzz in air was from people talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over a cow pie. Paul and Miriam greeted each other when introduced by their dates, Jacob and Verde, who left them alone at their table to get some refreshments.

This particular short story was probably the last snail mail submission I made before switching over to email submissions two years ago. One short story, “The Unfaithful Camera,” was out of circulation when an editor accepted it for publication a year after submission. Several rejection slips arrived 18 months late since a putsch against the editor at a university magazine delayed sending out responses.

I’ve since rewritten and published “A Stockton Wedding Reception” as an original ebook, “Let Me Be Your Spook,” making the original version unavailable for first serial publication and the ebook version available as a reprint. I altered the writing prompt by replacing the period with a comma to extend the sentence and changing the names to make the story a prequel to my short story, “The Uninvited Spook,” about retiring old spies.

George and Gracie met the old-fashioned way in the mid-1950’s, arriving in separate cars with their dates for a wedding reception at a community hall outside of Stockton, California, on a hot summer day where the smell of cow manure hung heavily in the sweltering heat. The cavernous hall was cool inside despite being crowded with people dressed in their finest wedding clothes. The loud buzzing came from everyone talking about the wedding and not the horseflies fussing over the cow pies in the surrounding fields. They shook hands when introduced by their respective dates, Verde and Jacob, who left them sitting together at a back table to get refreshments.

Although the opening paragraphs are quite similar, the differences between the two stories are in the slant. Both have two people meeting for the first time because their dates were more interested in seeing each other in defiance of church rules on dating. The original version has the couple discussing church gossip and the theological implications. The ebook version has the couple discussing church politics in terms of a Cold War conspiracy, as both will become a future husband-and-wife spy team.

After trading emails with the editor, and reading both versions of short story side-by-side, I decided to let the original version be published after some minor editing. The editor has previously published my earlier flash story, “The Forgotten Sinner,” in Conceit Magazine (December 2009). The original version of the short story has the same spirit as that early flash story. Since the editor gave me a break, I’m willing to extend the same professional courtesy.

The Megatokyo Visual Novel Game

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Most webcomic artists use Kickstarter to sell pre-orders for a printed collection of their work. Not Fred Gallagher of Megatokyo. His non-Japanese manga webcomic about two American fanboys stuck in Tokyo is already available in six print volumes. He turned to Kickstarter to fund the creation of the Megatokyo visual novel game for the PC, Mac and Linux, using the open source visual novel game engine, Ren’Py.

From an interview with GameZone, Gallagher states:

The Megatokyo Visual Novel Game is a game based on my long-running webcomic Megatokyo. A Visual Novel is a form of interactive fiction with static graphics, background music, sound effects and a story with multiple paths and numerous possible endings. You play these games by clicking to advance the dialogue and graphics and making choices that cumulatively determine your story path. The game will be in three parts – the first part cover the content in the first three volumes of Megatokyo books, the second part covers the content in volumes 4, 5 and 6, while part 3 will be entirely new content with all the good, the bad, the neutral, the really bad and the awesome endings for the various story paths.

The response from fans was phenomenal. With a funding goal of $20,000 USD and stretch goals to $75,000 USD, nearly 5,000 fans gave under $300,000 USD in pledges. (I’ve pledged at the $35 USD level to receive all the digital downloads when they become available.) The visual novel will happen over the next 18 months, with part one due in February 2014.

According to Publishers Weekly, this kind of success isn’t unusual:

There are many more examples of successful comics projects on Kickstarter. Indeed this year comics projects on Kickstarter have a success rate of 48% (general publishing has a 32% success rate) and have raised more than $19 million funding 2805 projects so far this year.

The official website for the Megatokyo visual novel can be found here.

As a child I loved reading the classic “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, which is technically possible to do with ebooks. Creating an interactive visual novel is something that intrigues me. I have the writing and programming skills to make that happen. Alas, I’m not an artist. If I ever got serious about learning how to do black-and-white ink drawings, I might do a visual novel someday.

A Summer of Flash Stories 2013

Children Letters

After my family rented a house within walking distance of a public library, I visited the children department and signed up for the summer reading program to read a dozen books in three months. I would get a gold star for every book I read from the recommended fourth-grade reading list and a diploma at the end of summer. Things didn’t work out that way. I read a dozen books in a single day.

The children librarian wasn’t happy about my rapid progress and accused me of cheating. I took the accusation in stride. After being misdiagnosed as mentally retarded as a young child, and shuffled around the county in little yellow buses to the Special Ed classes, I got used to adults underestimating my abilities.

Besides being a fast reader, I had a photographic memory for what I read. (I later graduated from the eighth grade with a college-level reading comprehension.) The librarian made me recite line-by-line several of the picture books. When that proved too easy, I described what picture was on each page for each book. She reluctantly gave me my gold stars. My diploma arrived in the mail at the end of summer.

I didn’t bother to sign up the following year.

With the content pipeline broken and nothing fresh to submit for publication, I’m going to publish 13 flash stories on Fictionaut this summer. Unlike the summer reading program of my misbegotten childhood, I’m not giving out any gold stars or diplomas. You can read and comment on each weekly flash story for FREE.

  1. Golem Got The Beach Balls (6/27/2013)
  2. Terror From Above (7/3/2013)
  3. Falling Earthward (7/10/2013)
  4. Trillion Dollar Odds (7/17/2013)
  5. A Butterfly For A Married Woman (7/24/2013)
  6. Flash’em Tag’em Bag’em (8/1/2013)
  7. Killed Twice Over (8/21/2013)
  8. Ultra Menoetius (9/4/2013)
  9. Circling The Drain (9/19/2013)
  10. The Editor Is Always Right (9/25/2013)
  11. Zombies At The Movies (9/29/2013)

The flash stories in this series are those previously slated for publication in a flash anthology before Pill Hill Press went under earlier this year and the rights reverted back to me, and newly written content based on a flash story idea list from a failed NaNoWriMo project. All the flash stories will come out in forthcoming flash stories ebook.

Updated 29 September 2013: A Summer of Flash Stories 2013 came to a close with a few flash stories short of a baker’s dozen, as two of the flash stories became short stories that are now circulating in the slush piles to face a cruel world of rejections.