Post-Holiday Friday Flash Fiction

The Friday Fictioneers took Christmas off, and the break was obviously inspirational for our Flash Fiction guru, Madison Woods. She found an amazing photo to spark our 100-word flash fiction. Here it is:

And here’s my exactly 100-word story–with the bonus that it features one of my regular characters and the espionage organization she works for.
“Fly on the Wall”
Mai Fisher had always been dubious when The Directorate’s R&D Department wanted to show her some new spy gadget. The Subcutaneous Personal Tracking Module, which made her feel like a tagged dog, was the one that had damped her enthusiasm.
The tech held the “Fly on a Wall” on his finger for her to see, his broad smile fading as she gave him the skeptical, raised eyebrow.
“Nanotechnology?” she asked.
“Yes. Cutting edge,” he replied.
“You know, every piece of sci-fi I’ve ever read says nanites are going to take over.”
“That would never… Ouch!”
“It bit me!”

Story Review – “Final Statements”

“Final Statements” by A. J. O’Connell (Independent Ink Magazine, December 20, 2011, 2,286 words) is something of a psychological study. A late-thirties divorcee has moved back in with her mother–no surprise there–but the daughter, Roxanne, has a fascination with a Web site that lists the final words of executed criminals.

Roxanne has taken over her slovenly mother’s house and begun renovating it without her mother’s permission. The only off-limits place is the door to the basement, the site of her long-dead father’s workshop, which Roxanne’s mother still forbids her access.

At first, it’s easy to see Roxanne’s mother’s concern–her adult daughter makes a ritual of reading the words of executed murderers when the Web page gets updated every month. Roxanne curls up on the couch, a pint of Ben and Jerry’s in hand, laptop open, and don’t you dare disturb her. She studies the executed man’s picture and rolls the last words over and over in her mind, noting that the ultimate words are usually, “I’m ready.” Her mother sits at the dining room table playing Solitaire the old fashioned way, with a deck of cards, and tosses barbs over her shoulder about her daughter’s odd obsession. By that point in the story, you begin to wonder just what Roxanne’s issue is with the dying words of the executed.

Then you find out, and I’ll never hear the phrase “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” the same way, ever again.

This is a short, tight story with a good twist at the end–very Hitchcock-esque–and I recommend it.

Book Review – WEIMAR VIBES

In his novel Weimar Vibes (228 pp, $0.99 from Amazon) Phil Rowan has written a topical story about a frightening near-future that we, here across the Pond, see reflected in the campaign slogans of politicians who have misappropriated the term “Tea Party.” In the England of Weimar Vibes, rising unemployment and falling economies turn many people away from the usual political parties toward someone who can restore order, address moral failings, and make Britain great again. Sound familiar? It should. Rowan, who knows his history, reflects Weimar Germany in his title on purpose.
Into this power gap comes a neo-Nazi named Oskar Kerner, who exploits peoples’ fears and innate biases. Again, sound familiar? His followers call him “Der Fuhrer,” and instead of being repulsed by his skinhead acolytes, the average Briton begins to think order of any kind may be acceptable.
Kerner’s following in the U.K. piques the interest of the Home Office, who seek some way to discredit him. To do this, they recruit, improbably, a near-alcoholic, down-on-his-luck journalist named Rudi Flynn.
Drink and a failed marriage (his ex-wife is in a mental institution in Alabama) have wrecked Flynn’s career, and the only place he can find employment is on a Murdoch-like tabloid. The Home Office convince him to pretend to espouse Kerner’s beliefs (Flynn and Kerner were college classmates), get into Kerner’s organization, then discredit him. This is the stuff of many an espionage novel, and, since that’s what I write, I was eager to read Weimar Vibes.
However, rather than using Flynn to discredit Kerner, the Home Office people decide Flynn can be a more moderate alternative to Kerner. They begin to dictate his articles, script his appearances on talk shows, write his speeches, and develop his PowerPoint presentations. What doesn’t come across well is why Flynn, who has liberal leanings, agrees to act the part of a reactionary. None of the typical counterintelligence reasons are there—money, blackmail, a cleared criminal record, family held hostage, etc. The only possible reason is that Flynn’s motivation is patriotic, but Flynn’s behavior doesn’t convince me of that.
As a result of the Home Office’s manipulation of him, misadventure follows Flynn everywhere. His house gets fire-bombed. He’s blown-up, but survives, during an appearance on British TV where a trio of lefties do nothing but call him a Nazi. Indeed, the extreme right wingers come across in Weimar Vibes as having more depth than the leftists, who, in Rowan’s tale, are no more than name-calling, establishment toadies.
Flynn also elicits the worst from women—they either seduce him or attack him, sometimes both, which makes the women characters in this story shallow. It seems Flynn believes women universally use false rape charges against men they disagree with. Flynn fears this from almost every woman of opposing views he encounters, and the one woman who articulates the false charge, he did assault, though not sexually, by shoving her head in a toilet. Yet, somehow, we’re supposed to believe her actions were worse than Flynn’s.
Though he claims to still love his mental-case ex, Flynn is in love with a friend’s wife. That doesn’t stop him from having anger sex with a house guest or fantasizing about then sleeping with his Home Office handler. When Flynn finally consummates his lust for his friend’s wife, the language is that of an adolescent male: “I’m on the carpet and Julia’s smiling down at me. [sic] Her glorious breasts descend like archangels from paradise.” Yeah, had to read that a couple of times to make sure that’s what it said.
Up to the point of Flynn’s recruitment and infiltration of Kerner’s inner circle, I found this a mis-punctuated but believable story. Then, all of a sudden, Flynn is in demand, advising Prime Ministers and Presidents. That was too much of a leap. Then, there were a couple of other things that didn’t sit well with me.
For example, Flynn’s therapist is named McVeigh. An American audience won’t be able to accept a therapist whose name is the same as the worst American domestic terrorist in history. I flinched every time I read the name. Also, after the bomb attack at the British TV studio, Flynn is guarded by a “cop with an AK-47.” I wondered about that choice of weapon by the British police, so I Googled “weapons used by the British police.” They prefer H&K carbines and automatic rifles (as do many American and European police forces). All right, I’ll concede, perhaps, Home Office had hired a “security consultant” whose weapon of choice was an AK-47 or Flynn didn’t know a Kalashnikov from a Heckler and Koch. But still.
Rowan wrote Weimar Vibes in first person present, which I find hard to sustain (as a writer or reader) through a novel-length work. Rowan mixes his tenses on occasion, and Flynn’s point of view sometimes becomes too omniscient—especially where women’s lustful thoughts about him are concerned. Also, at times you just can’t tell whether Flynn is thinking or speaking, since Rowan frequently misses an open or close quote.
I eventually got over the missing Oxford commas (aka Harvard commas, aka serial commas) in Weimar Vibesbecause Rowan is British. Oddly enough, the Oxford comma isn’t standard usage in the U.K. However, a comma before the “and” connecting two, independent clauses is. Mr. Rowan leaves that out, also, as he does the periods after Mr. and Mrs. or quotation marks on numerous occasions. Then, there were the single ‘quotes’ instead of the proper double “quotes” around dialogue. For a former editor, such things detract from the appreciation of the story.
All of which is too bad, because Weimar Vibes is, as I said, a story that can serve as a warning to those who think the extreme right wing anywhere has a point. An editor or, at the least, a copyeditor would have made this good story a great one. Rowan’s writing is very visual, and he can incorporate or extrapolate both history and current events into his story seamlessly. His just-in-the-future Britain was spot-on reminiscent of Weimar Germany, and the parallel continues throughout the novel to the very end.
Yet, as England is crumbling around him, Flynn has dinner with his lover Julia, and they talk about whether to go to the Caribbean or India. I wanted to like Rudi Flynn, but, after a while, I couldn’t sympathize with him. Whether it was his narrow-minded view of women or his inability to stand up to his capricious Home Office handlers, I don’t know. I felt he—and Rowan—had something important to say, but I grew tired of supplying the proper punctuation in my head.
Some indie authors think a good story will shine through bad grammar or lack of proper punctuation, but that’s a pipe dream. Even if you’re not a former editor, a reader wants a packaged story—both well-written andaesthetically pleasing. If indie authors want to have their work appreciated by a mainstream audience, then that work has to be in a state where the audience can’t tell whether it was indie or traditionally published.
So, if lack of punctuation or “loosing their jobs” doesn’t bother you (but I hope they do), you’ll probably findWeimar Vibes a less frustrating read than I did.

Whither to Write?

In the tiny townhouse in Northern Virginia where I lived before I retired, for years I was tethered to a single place to write–an upstairs “bedroom,” which I declared my office, with a chunky, Dell desktop. I think prisoners in SuperMax have a bigger cell than that 10′ x 10′ space, but, boy, was I productive there. With my stereo blasting whatever music I was into at the time, I wrote a trilogy and the somewhat fleshed-out skeletons of three more novels.

When I purchased a laptop, I became rather bohemian–at least what passed for that in the Yuppie Capital of the Free World–and could write in book-store cafes (loved Olssen’s in Old Town) and coffee shops, not to mention any room in the house, on the road for work, on vacation, etc. Re the latter: It helps to have a supportive partner, and I did. He got that I needed space to write and didn’t begrudge it.

I’m happy to say I can write almost anywhere, whether using a laptop, a Moleskine reporter’s notepad, or a spiral notebook. Sometimes a notebook is good, especially when you’re people-watching to get ideas for characters. You could be writing a grocery list and no one knows you’re jotting down what’s being said or how someone acts.

There comes a time, though, in any writer’s life where you need to focus on a particular writing project to the exclusion of all else. When that time comes for me, it can’t be in a coffee shop or working in the gift shop at the R. R. Smith Center in Staunton. I have to be in seclusion. On the Myers-Briggs scale, I’m a very high (as in off-the-scale) E, meaning I’m energized most and best by external stimulus. When I need to focus on a writing project, the latent I, meaning I prefer to do a Greta Garbo, emerges.

I’m lucky in the house I bought after retirement to have a primary and a secondary writing area, which I use alternately depending on how strong the “I” becomes.

The primary area is my home office, which you can see here (above):

It has a lot of advantages–actually, it has the most advantages. You see my bookcase of reference books (U.S. history, world history, writing), which are at hand. (And, yes, you see the odd juxtapositions in my life: my NASCAR collection next to my Star Trek collectibles.) It has my really powerful iMac and my comfy ergonomic chair. Just to the left, out of the picture, is my satellite radio, which can bring me a constant stream of inspirational music. That, too, can be an interesting and eclectic mix–from heavy metal (Rob Zombie and Nine Inch Nails) to Celtic (Irish Rovers and Tommy Makem) to opera.

As many advantages as this wonderful room has, it has a major distraction–this amazing view of the Blue Ridge Mountains (below). And, yes, I took the shot through the window for verisimilitude. I can be in the middle of something and glance out the window and get completely lost in the wonderful place where I chose to live.

Curtains, you suggest? Uh, why would I cover that up? The tiny office in the old townhouse looked out onto the parking area in the cul-de-sac, so that was rarely a distraction. The view above can figuratively or literally pull me out of my chair to go outside.

Which can be good for clearing the cobwebs with a nice walk, but it happens too often.

On many occasions, then, I retire to my secondary writing area, well away from any commanding views.

This area (above) is a nook in my bedroom, where I can’t be distracted by the outdoors. The view is the wall, or the nice artwork above, but that’s hardly as alluring as the Blue Ridge Mountains. There is a television in that room, but my back is to it, and it has a decent selection of music channels. I have to have some background noise–always have, much to the consternation of parents who couldn’t understand that homework could be done while singing along with the Beatles.

The disadvantage of this writing area is that if I need something from one of the reference books, that means a trek across the house (oh, horrors) to obtain it. Of course, there’s always The Google. (What toys were popular among pre-teens in 1989? Why, I’ll Google it.)

Wow, what a dilemma, you say, voice torqued by sarcasm. I know. But the secondary writing area, where I am, as I write this, is the least distracting. I often end up here, like a troglodyte in a dim cave, but the productivity is welcome.

Keeping track of versions of the same work on two computers? That’s a whole, other issue.

In the meantime, find your writing place, the one where you’re most productive, where the words come unbidden, and live there.

(Note: I used my two favorite words ever in this post. Can you find them?)

My Book Review List

Last week I guest-posted on Madison Woods’ blog about reviewing books, as in, I would like to review more. Three people contacted me right away, and I’ve purchased their books to review.

As other writers follow me on Twitter, I’ve identified several of their works I’d like to read and review. Then, a high school friend of mine pops up on Facebook with a link to her series of books, and I decided I wanted to read and review that as well.

So, I’ve managed to commit myself to review seven books by mid-February. What was I thinking?

However, just the other day, I blogged about establishing a writing/reading schedule for myself in the new year, and I hope that structure will help me keep my promises.

And, in the order I’m supposed to read them, here are the seven books:

Weimar Vibes by Phil Rowan, a thriller (love the thrillers)
Linkage: The Narrows of Time Series, by Jay J. Falconer, sci-fi (love the sci-fi)
The Lucky Boy by Caroline Gerardo, literary fiction
Admissions by Michael Ribisi, a romance (not so into the romance genre, but this intrigued me because it’s a romance written by a man)
Loki and Sigyn: A Love Story, by J.L. Butler, fantasy (again, not a big fantasy fan, but if it’s unique, I’ll give it a try)
Red Mojo Mama by Kathy Lynn Hall (a mashed genre of romance, thriller, and paranormal)
Scorpio Rising by Monique Domovitch, a romance

Some of these–I’m not sure which yet–I’ll review and submit the review to eFiction Magazine, which publishes indie fiction and likes book reviews of indie-published books (or self-published books, if you prefer; to me, six of one, half dozen of another). Others I’ll review in my blog on a separate page.

Yes, I’ve always been an over-achiever, or, better put, a take-on-more-than-I-can-chew achiever.

Wish me luck.

Versatile Blogger Award

Madison Woods, whose blog for me is a must-read, nominated my blog for the Versatile Blogger Award. This was delightful and surprising, and I’m grateful.

What’s the award, you ask? Well, the award is being nominated by a fellow blogger. Once you’re nominated, you pay it forward by nominating fifteen more bloggers–ones who entertain or support you. When you’re nominated, you do the following:

Nominate fifteen fellow bloggers.
Inform the bloggers of their nomination.
Share seven random things about yourself.
Thank the blogger who nominated you.
Add the Versatile Blogger Award logo to your blog post.

I think I’ll go from the bottom up.

Here’s the logo (above).

Thank you, Madison!

Seven random things about me–ack, I hate these, but here goes. 1. I’m a knee-jerk, bleeding-heart, foaming-mouth liberal. What? You didn’t know that? 2. Even six and a half years later, I still struggle with being single. 3. I’m hopelessly, ridiculously in love with Brandon, Ollie, and Emory, my grandkids. 4. I drive a Mercedes E320 with the license plate “SPYWRTR.” 5. I love airplanes. They’re the one thing that’ll stop me in my tracks to watch until I can’t see them anymore. It’s been that way since I was four. 6. I live in the best small city in Virginia. 7. If I couldn’t write, there’d just be no point to existence.

You’ll just have to trust me that I’ll notify everyone of their nominations.

And, last, but not least, here are the fifteen bloggers who entertain, inspire, and encourage me, in no particular order of preference–this is how they show up in my Bookmarks list:

1. Perpetual Folly
2. Welcome to Exeter
3. Lindsay’s List
4. Transition Voice
5. Addicting Info
6. Left Leaning Liberal Lady
7. Melissa’s Life–Answering to 42
8. Women’s Literary Cafe
9. Arthur Dobrin’s Weblog
10. Legal Lacuna
11. The Weird, the Wild, and the Wicked
12. Thoughts Over Coffee
13. Six Sentences
14. Michael Moore
15. Madison Woods

I hope you’ll take a look at each and follow them. You’ll be inspired, entertained, and encouraged.

Resolved–to Write

When I retired two-plus years ago, my main goal was to write full time—to produce more short stories, polish the novels I have in various stages of completion, blog more—and to get published. The good news is I can say, with accuracy, that all of that has happened. Just not with the consistency and frequency I expected. And that’s my fault.

I’m most happy when I’m writing, when I go into the world I’ve created in my novels, when I carve out little bits of reality (or fantasy) in a short story. I just don’t do that often enough. I have made a conscious effort to consider and call myself a writer, to get validation from my local writers group and critique group, and to be inspired by the circle of writer friends I’ve cultivated. Again, I can say that, too, has happened.

The problem is, I don’t write enough. I don’t focus myself as well as I should, mainly because I wanted a complete separation from the world of work. Writing is work, and it should be; otherwise, I’d just write cute little stories for my friends and family to read in the annual holiday letter.

A writer friend of mine, Cliff Garstang, has hit the mark for me with a recent blog post. Cliff periodically posts “Tips for Writers,” and his December 9, 2011, post, “Finding the Time to Write,” made me sit up and take notice of how I approach my writing. It wasn’t a pleasant sight.

About the only advice from that post I can’t take is “Get up earlier.” The “Work later” part is easy—I am often most inspired when the day is done. Why can’t I get up earlier? Too many years of rising at oh-dark-hundred for a variety of reasons, but I can work back into it. Gradually. Cliff makes the time to write, and his writing work ethic is inspiring—he shuts away all external distractions and just creates. Though Cliff often goes to writing retreats (something I need to try), he works to re-create that atmosphere at home, which he describes in his December 7, 2011, post, “Bring the Retreat Home.”

Another writer friend of mine, Jennie Coughlin, is in a writing frenzy right now, working on a series of novels about her fictional New England town, Exeter, and its denizens. (Take a look at her blog Welcome to Exeter and marvel at this ambitious schedule she’s set for herself.) She works a full-time job and a part-time job and gives up what free time she has to writing, including publishing the occasional short story as well as character sketches on her blog. Her word output is amazing, and she’s considering a challenge to write a half a million words next year. I’m sure she’ll make it.

You can see I have a lot to live up to. And the pressure on me is mine. I need to do what I said I was going to do when I retired. As Stephen King once said, writing is my job, and I need to stop being a part-timer.

So, I’ve done the dreaded thing, and set up a [shudder] work schedule for writing starting January 1, 2012. It’s a modest start to organizing my free time around what I’ve said is my profession. Right now, it needs to be flexible so I don’t rebel and to accommodate spending time with family and friends and my exercise regimen. It could be a colossal failure—wouldn’t be my first—but it could get me back on track.

Here we go:

Monday            0800 – 1000: Blog about writing or publish a book review on my blog

1400 – 1700: Edit/revise a novel WIP

Tuesday            0800 – 1100: Edit/revise a short story WIP or identify a publication to submit to

1400 – 1700: Edit/revise a novel WIP

Wednesday       0900 – 1100: Blog about politics

1400 – 1700: Edit/revise a novel WIP

Thursday           0800 – 1100: Edit/revise a short story WIP or identify a publication to submit to

1400 – 1700: Something new—a short story or a novel idea

Friday                 0800 – 1000: Blog about writing, publish a book review on my blog, and/or 100-word

flash fiction

1300 – 1500: Submissions—the actual act of doing so—or developing a query letter

Saturday and Sunday: Two to three hours of reading and/or writing reviews

Your job, dear readers, is to point out that I’m not doing what I said I would do. Just think of the possibilities—getting to tell me to get my ass moving. 😉

Interview with an Indie Author – Jennie Coughlin

To coincide with my review of Thrown Out: Stories from Exeter by Indie author Jennie Coughlin, which appears in the December 2011 issue of eFiction Magazine, I interviewed Ms. Coughlin about her works, in print and in progress. To get a better understanding of the interview you might want to read the review. Better yet, buy the book. (Thrown Out is available to download at and Smashwords and as a paperback, also from Amazon.)

DuncanIn a way you haven’t used in other interviews, tell me how the concept of Thrown Out came about.
CoughlinThrown Out started as some writing exercises to dig more deeply into the characters and help my editor get a better sense of them. I was posting the exercises on my blog, and, based on the feedback, we decided to go ahead with the collection while I was working on the novels. Once I had “Bones” and “Thrown Out,” the first two stories in the collection, we decided to take another look at the character Joe and his family, which led to “End Run.” Since at this point, the collection had themed itself as an introduction to the characters, Becca and Riordan were the logical choice for the final story. Although at least one of them had appeared in each of the other three stories, neither really was the focus of any of them. Thus, “Intricate Dance” was born.
DuncanThe title story, “Thrown Out,” touches on a timely issue, gay rights, one of which is to be able to live your life without fear. I confess when I saw the title, I was certain the ending wouldn’t be a happy one, but I was glad to be wrong. The fictional town of Exeter seems remarkably progressive in this area. Was that a conscious decision, or did Exeter “reveal” its nature to you in the writing?
CoughlinInteresting take on it, and I think there are a couple of pieces to that answer. First, the title story “Thrown Out” is set in 2001, after Vermont had approved civil unions and shortly after the court case was filed that would lead to gay marriage in Massachusetts. So in that time and that place, it’s certainly a more open climate than in many other states then or now. But really, a theme that came out as I was writing “Thrown Out” was that we accept things in people we know that we might not in people we don’t know.
That cuts both ways — the Exeter residents know Dan as a friend, a neighbor, the star running back on the high school football team, the guy who fixed their front steps, Kevin and Eileen’s son. He happens to be gay. Likewise, Joe is the local insurance agent, the kid who rang up their bread and milk at his dad’s store, somebody active on the Parish Council, a member of the Rotary Club, dad to their kids’ friends. He happens to be homophobic. You can’t exclude either one of them without big ripple effects. And if you already know somebody, already have them in your life, you’re likely to be more accepting of something than if you’ve just met the person. In “Thrown Out,” Dan’s partner Chris has a much different reaction to Joe than Dan, Evan, and Liz, who grew up with him. Likewise, Chris gets a measure of acceptance from the town just because he’s with Dan.
DuncanAs an Irish-American, I can “see” your characters so vividly. I suspect some people without the cultural background might not “get it.” Do you agree or disagree? Why?
Coughlin: Well, I’ve heard the same thing from readers who aren’t Irish-American, so I’m going to generally disagree. I suspect some things might not resonate as much, but that’s also true of the Catholic elements and the New England elements. The character Chris, who’s not from Exeter, serves as the bridge for readers who aren’t familiar with some regional terms, such as jimmies (chocolate sprinkles on ice cream), but there probably are pieces that are less accessible or read differently to people who don’t have some element of those backgrounds.
DuncanYou also touch on a taboo subject among Irish-Americans—the Irish Mob. Why was that important to you? I mean, Irish-Americans will talk easily about the IRA but not the Irish Mob.
Coughlin: I grew up in a town that was heavily settled by Italians, and I’ve heard stories all my life about Mafia ties in the town. The first newspaper where I worked even had a two-inch-thick file on the former police chief, later a Town Council member, who was jailed for perjury when he alibied a mobster back in the 1960s. The Irish mob was further afield, but Whitey Bulger fled when I was in high school, and periodically I’d get stories from home of FBI agents going around questioning people trying to find him. The story that touches on the Irish Mob, “Bones,” I drafted the week after the FBI caught Whitey in Santa Monica earlier this year, so that’s probably why my plot bunnies headed that direction.
DuncanYou went the Indie route for publication, but you used some traditional publishing aspects, e.g., an editor whose input you considered and incorporated. Do you think Indie publishing is at the point where it needs standards? Or would that miss the point of Indie publishing?
Coughlin: I’ve been pretty outspoken about the need for Indie authors to make sure their work is up to traditional publishing standards. I think the opportunities Indie publishing present are amazing, but it’s not a path without pitfalls. If we put out work that’s substandard, it hurts both the overall Indie reputation and the reputation of that author. Once we publish something, we can’t take it back. For those authors who do good work that the publishing industry just deems unsalable, Indie publishing gives a chance to prove that wrong. For those authors who see it as a shortcut to honing their craft, Indie publishing gives us lots of chances to torpedo our career.
That said, I don’t think there’s a way for the Indie community to set and enforce standards. Any mechanism like that becomes a new form of traditional publishing, which some people are doing in new types of small presses.

I do think that for Indie publishing to become a long-term, viable part of the publishing ecosystem, something will have to arise through book bloggers and review sites to provide readers with a place they can go and trust that the books recommended there will, in fact, be quality publications. Not all will be something any given person would want to read, but all meet the standards of good writing and good storytelling.

DuncanYou’ve said writing a short story is the opposite of writing a news story. What’s the journalistic opposite of writing a novel, which you’re now doing?
Coughlin: I don’t know that it’s the form so much as fiction vs. journalism. Whether it’s a short story or a novel, the process I go through is basically the same. That’s what, for me, is reversed from my reporting days. Because I’m not a visual thinker, when I covered events where the scene was integral to the story, I would record lots of details while I was there to help myself re-create it back at the office—this was in the days before mobile reporting was common. All those details painted a picture for me that went beyond what people were saying.
Now, when I sit down to write, I know what the final picture is, and then figure out what it is the readers would need to see to draw that same conclusion. Some scenes flow easily, and it’s an unconscious effort on my part. Others I really have to slow it down to step by step interactions for it to feel real to me.
DuncanThumbnail the Exeter novels for us and give us an idea of how long we need to wait for each installment.
Coughlin: I have at least six in mind, but I’ve been finding that the original first novel keeps getting pushed back—it’s now on track to be novel four of six—because earlier stories bubble up as I dig into the characters. So I’ll give you the first four, but I do plan to do others after those four are done, and others might join the mix as I go.
All That Is Necessary is the novel I’m revising right now, with a plan to release it in late March. While it starts and ends in present time, the bulk of the story starts right before Dan and Evan find the bodies in the marsh as kids [The story “Bones” in Thrown Out.] and goes through the fallout from that, which changes many of the characters in the town. Dan has to stand up to a lot of adults when almost everybody else around him is afraid to rock the boat.
The second novel, as yet untitled, follows from that story. Liz’s nemesis returned in All That Is Necessary, and that causes a lot of problems for her and those around her.
Fate’s Arrow pulls back from Exeter a bit to focus on Ellie, who’s still living in DC. After her annual holiday visit to Becca, she realizes her life has some holes and must figure out how to plug them.
Better The Devil continues some developments from Fate’s Arrow and puts Dan, Liz, and Ellie together for a big project that could alter Exeter’s future forever—if they can figure out who wants to stop them and why.
I have two others beyond that, but last week at the first book club discussion on Thrown Out, several of the members wanted to know what happens with Joe, Annabelle, and their family in more detail, so that’s now higher on my radar than it had been before.
I’d like to release a new novel every six months, but since I have a full-time job as well as a part-time one, some of it depends on those not going too nuts, as well as on my editor’s other commitments. There also will be periodic short stories. Some of the small ones will be posted on my blog, either as Rory’s Story Cubes Challenge entries or just as flash fiction like last week’s “Now What?” Thanksgiving short. Longer ones probably will be released as 99-cent eBooks, and I’m not ruling out future short-story collections.
DuncanDo you see Exeter and its wealth of characters as a story well that is unending? Or do you have plans for non-Exeter stories or novels?
Coughlin: Yes. The beauty of the small town setting is you have a limitless cast of characters and developments with those characters. In present day, I have characters who range from middle school age into their early seventies, so the multiple generations allow me to move forward and backward in time to tell all sorts of stories.
I might branch out from Exeter at some point, but right now I have more stories than I have time to tell in that world.
DuncanWhat’s your advice for people who opt for Indie publishing, i.e., how to go about it as a professional writer, how to deal with flak from fellow writers who don’t see Indie publishing as a viable option?
Coughlin: The biggest advice I can give is to get a good developmental editor who can provide feedback. If you can’t find one, a good critique group also can be invaluable, as well as beta readers. But an editor is the best of the available options if you can find a good one. Also, honestly evaluate your skill set and available time. I’m fortunate that I have a lot of design, graphics, copy editing, web design/HTML, social media, and formatting experience from my journalism background. With all that, plus a group of beta readers, I’m able to produce a quality product.

If you don’t have skills in a particular area, be prepared to hire somebody to handle various elements of each project for you. And if you do have the skills, be prepared to spend the time. In the six months since I started production on Thrown Out (three pre-release, three post-release), probably fifty to sixty percent of my time has been spent on non-writing elements, and that’s including most of the revisions on Thrown Out and all the writing to date on All That Is Necessary.

As for the current debates about the validity of indies, both online and from fellow writers you may know in person, my best advice is to think through why you’re taking this path before you choose it. My two main reasons were the chaos in the publishing industry right now and a concern that my series doesn’t fit neatly enough in a single genre/category to convince a publishing house’s marketing department that it’s salable.
The industry chaos is something I’ve been fairly outspoken on, especially in its parallel to newspapers’ struggles in the past decade. Publishers aren’t learning any lessons from what newspapers went through, and I prefer to stay out of the arena while they’re figuring all of this out the hard way. The salability is something I would disagree with the marketing folks on. By going Indie, I’m betting my career on my being right, not them. And if I’m right, when the industry has finished this eBook-driven shakeout, I’ll be able to pitch to traditional publishers, or whatever the closest approximation to those entities is, with a fan base and solid sales—assuming I want to. It’s possible I could decide that staying Indie is the best bet, and I won’t know that for a few years yet.
As I hope I just demonstrated, I have a reasonable, logical answer for people who hear “Indie” and think “vanity press.” Most people—in the industry and not—who hear my reasons agree with my approach, given my perspective and circumstances. Those who still scoff, I just tune out. As long as each of us taking the Indie path has a reasoned-out approach that can be backed up by facts, I think those who want to denigrate our individual choice can be safely tuned out.
DuncanWho is the one author (non-screenwriter) who inspires you to write? Who is the author (non-screenwriter) you’d like to be compared to, favorably, of course?
Coughlin: Sneaky, to take out my usual answer. 🙂 Once that answer is excluded, the answer to both questions is actually the same—Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird is my favorite book and has been since the first day my freshman English teacher assigned it in high school. I stayed up until midnight that night to finish it, and I’ve read it a couple of dozen times since then. Atticus Finch is one of three lawyers—the other two are real people—who inspire Riordan Boyle’s (from Thrown Out) approach to law.
The other author I would mention is Natalie Goldberg. I’ve never been able to read more than a few pages in herThunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft without having to put the book down and starting to write. In terms of inspiration, she’s the non-screenwriter who has the strongest effect.
Lee inspires me to tell great stories, but Goldberg inspires me to put pen to paper and make the words flow.
To visit Exeter while Jennie Coughlin works on her novels, go to her blog: