Fame

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I’m in stores!

The One Who Got Away

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This is out, by the way. The opening story, Homecoming, is from the pen of yours truly. Do check it out.

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Life necessitated I drop off the face of the earth for a while. I’m back now, and what’s more, The One Who Got Away is being released February 9th, 2016, and is available for pre-order right now. My short story, Homecoming, a tale of love, lust, nostalgia, and punk rock, is in the lead-off position.

I’m pretty fucking excited.

Next Up..

I’m writing. I swear I’m writing.

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Please Hold

In case you’ve been wondering why I haven’t been updating or writing, here’s a thing. The pen name is primarily for writing things I’d rather my mother not know about, but I guess it’s pretty good for intensely personal essays, too…

“Please hold,” says the automated voice.

We’ve been on said hold for six or seven minutes at this point. The message repeats itself about once every thirty seconds, devoid of inflection, each announcement a quarter-turn of a dial in my guts that squeezes out bile and makes me clench my jaw. It’s an improvement over our previous transfer, where the hold music was like listening to somebody being force-fed a harmonica on a transistor radio, but really, that isn’t saying much.

“We” is me and my sort of ex-wife. “Sort of” because she’s the mother of my child, but– while we’ve been separated a couple of years now – we’ve never quite managed to get around to the divorce thing. Too much paperwork, not enough money. Without the toddler we share custody of, I’d likely have stumbled from the wreckage of our marriage, packed my meager possessions, and gone north. I’d likely never have spoken to her again.

Yet here we are.

“Please hold.”

“I just want to go home,” she says, a shivering, crying mess beside me in a small room in the backstage area of an addiction and mental health facility. “I can take care of myself.”

I take a couple of deep, deep breaths. I imagine throwing the phone as hard as I can at the wall.

It started with a DUI last year, the kid’s car seat illegally strapped in alongside his mom. She got belligerent with the police at the scene and bought herself a short stay in the county jail and probation conditions that don’t allow her to drink or drive. She told me it was a couple of glasses of wine with a new anti-depressant medication, that she hadn’t eaten. I had no real reason to disbelieve her; she was never a drinker when we were together.

Everything seemed okay after that, until it wasn’t. I got a call from her parents last month about how she was in a bad place, and suddenly I was in the middle of the mess that is someone pouring hard liquor over an emotional breakdown.

In the last month, I’ve taken her to the emergency room, spent an inordinate amount of time talking to the county mental health crisis team, visited this facility on multiple occasions, shielded my son from the debris that was suddenly flying in all directions, and fielded enquiries and pleas from family in another state. We had it under control for a short while, a week-long inpatient stay followed by a thorough outpatient program that seemed to be working, but then the insurance from the job she’d lost for showing up to work drunk expired, and instead of telling anyone, she went right back to Dr. Vodka and his constant insinuations that the right prescription might well be a hot bath, a razor blade, and whatever she needed to make it not hurt.

“Please hold.”

I am on the phone with some kind of healthcare advocacy group or the people who administrate COBRA or United Healthcare or the third party that administrates my sort of ex-wife’s ex-employer’s insurance. I don’t fucking know anymore. All I know is that I’m not getting anywhere. I arrived at this facility with my sort of ex-wife in tow at nine this morning. It is closing on three in the afternoon.

Finally, somebody picks up. His name is Isaac, and he’s very sorry, but when you sign up for COBRA, it takes a week for your first bill to generate. Only then can you pay your premium, and only then (after a few more days) will your insurance exist as a real and tangible thing again. I tell Isaac I know how much the premium is and have the ability to pay it right now. He tells me I cannot pay a bill that doesn’t yet exist.

While this is happening, various people from the facility, counsellors and nurses and administrators, poke their heads around the door. They have the strained smiles of people who have seen this scenario go horribly wrong, who have seen the phone shatter against the wall.

With impossible politeness, I tell Isaac I’m aware this situation is not his fault, but that I am dealing with a medical emergency. I ask him if there’s anything at all he can do for me. Isaac tells me my sort of ex-wife has to wait a week.

“And try not to slit her wrists in the meantime,” I say.

I don’t know if all the people we’ve been transferred from who said they would stay on the line to make sure we were helped are still listening, but it’s satisfying to imagine injecting a little dose of shitty reality into the owners of those smiling voices.

“They’re not going to help me,” my sort of ex-wife says.

“Yes, they are.”

They fucking are.

I go to the adminstrator’s office and explain the various phone conversations. I explain that the insurance, when it does kick in, will be backdated so that this admission is covered. I ask if there’s anything we can do now, make a part-payment or set up a plan or something. Finally, I simply tell them they can’t send her away.

They take her. For two thousand non-refundable dollars paid over the phone by her mother, they take her.

I want to find a shitty bar somewhere and ease my stress with a ironic glass of bourbon, but it’s time to collect my son from daycare. Besides that, I’m almost as estranged from alcohol as I am from my sort of ex-wife these days.

Later, my friends will ask me why I don’t just let her family deal with it, why I keep answering the calls and showing up. They know about the cheating, about the lies and the betrayals, about the things she did to our marriage and the things she’s done since. I don’t have a real answer for them, except to say it’s the right thing to do, whatever that may mean, that – as much as I’ve become harder and more pragmatic as I’ve grown older – I measure my morality by what I’d feel okay teaching my boy, and I’d like to teach him that it’s never okay to turn your back on somebody that needs help, even if they may have harmed you. I’d like to teach him that being surrounded by unfeeling assholes doesn’t make it okay to be an unfeeling asshole. Most of all, I’d like to teach him that when I say we’re the good guys, I say it as a thing with weight and meaning, and I want him to look at me and see that it’s true.

The Border Kingdom – Part 1: The Warrior

Part 1 of The Border Kingdom is now live on the Kindle Store at a price of $2.99. You can also borrow it using Kindle Unlimited. If you’re interested in a review copy, drop me a line at tobinwords@gmail.com.

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A Couple Of Announcements

Firstly, I’m pleased to be able to announce that one of my stories, Homecoming, will be the lead-off in The One Who Got Away, an upcoming Cleiss Press anthology edited by Kristina Wright. The release date isn’t confirmed yet, but I’ll be sure to update when it is.

Needless to say, I’m very excited to be working with Kristina and with Cleiss, and I’m stoked that they like the story. I hope you do, too.

Secondly, the first part of The Border Kingdom, an erotic fantasy series I’ve been working on, should go live on the Kindle Store sometime on Friday. I’ll post a synopsis a little closer to the time, but for now, here’s the cover.

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Rules Of Writing

I believe that writing is, above all else, an art. I believe this because nothing moves me like words do, because the grand epiphany of my creative life came back in 1994 when, on the same weekend my father died, I finished reading Orwell’s 1984.

“He loved Big Brother.”

I had grown up believing in a particularly American kind of hero, losing myself in stories of good versus evil. On the playground, we had always fought to be the devil-may-care outlaw character, to be Han Solo or Wolverine, to overcome adversity and beat the bad guys with a smirk and a waved middle finger.

“He loved Big Brother.”

I truly believed Winston and Julia would win. At fourteen, I didn’t understand the size of Winston’s betrayal in Room 101, and didn’t truly know how broken he was until that final paragraph. I remember being confused, flipping back through the pages as if I’d missed something, and then slowly, finally realizing that this was the end of the story, that love had not overcome, and that what had happened to the hero was more than mere defeat.

That feeling, a feeling that changed the way I write and the stories I share, has very little to do with the Elements Of Style, with the horror of adverbs, omitting needless words, or never using a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. Sure, there’s a basic science behind the way we put words together so that others can understand them, but this relentless desire we have to standardize fiction, to make sure everybody writes to the same aesthetically pleasing standard, is a trend that bothers me almost as much as the NaNoWriMo-driven obsession with word count.

It seems we’re back at that place where art meets marketing. My Idiocracy is a future where everybody has the same voice, we can’t differentiate between fifty-thousand words and a novel, and you can’t make a living at this without working on your brand.

Next update will be less curmudgeonly. I’ve taken my previous stories down from the Kindle Store for some re-working and re…branding (argh!), and something entirely new will be popping up shortly.

Holiday Update

Good news this morning on an upcoming print anthology appearance for yours truly (of which more when it’s all official). I’m really excited about this because I see it as a way of getting my name and work out there without having to grind 30 or 50 stories out in the Kindle Store, which isn’t and never will be my style. It’s a story I’m really happy with, too, so it’s fantastic to see it find a home so quickly.

I was, I have to confess, getting a little jaded. I threw some words around during NaNoWriMo (perhaps 15k altogether), and I’ve been working on a Swords And Sorcery (And Fucking) series specifically for the Kindle Store, but my day job and my family commitments are at their peak through November and December, so seeing my lack of traction at the same time as I was reading multiple success stories from quantity-over-quality merchants was disheartening.

This, though, this feels good. If I can tie a consistent print presence associated with quality publishers into what I’m doing at the Kindle Store, I may have found a way forward for this adventure that doesn’t require me to publish first draft stuff at a rate of knots. Yes, I procrastinate, and yes, I’m lazy, but I also believe that there’s no substitute for considered, quality, well-edited work.

I also appreciate the likes and follows. As I get a bit more free time, I definitely aim to browse other pages more often and make this a two-way thing.

80% Writing, 20% Marketing

I’m somewhat lost when it comes to marketing my work in this brave new world of self-publishing. I’ve read what you’re supposed to do, and I’ve spent a great deal of time looking at successful examples of it. The problem, I think, is that the examples of “great” marketing a) wouldn’t work on me, and b) rub me the wrong way.

Come to think of it, that’s my issue with this whole erotic adventure. If I may be blunt, I got into this because I see a way of potentially being able to finally escape the rat race by means of my One True Talent in this life, which is writing. My aim is to take a more mercenary approach to this gig than I have previously, put the work in to make it a stable income, then have it replace my day job while replacing it in turn with stories a little more literary.

Cynical? A little. But compared to what’s out there, to the advice that’s being given and the approach taken by what seems to be a majority of erotica writers in this market, I’m practically a stubborn artist. Quantity is the battle cry of the Kindle Store Commandos – the more prolific you are, the more you’ll sell. Know your niches, your keywords, your pricing, your cover design strategy. It’s all about bang for your buck, about profit.

It makes me uncomfortable.

I thought my biggest roadblock would be my creative output, which can best be described as one part production to ninety-nine parts procrastination, but I can see now that this is going to take a radical change in mindset as well as approach.