The Obolonk Murders was started several years ago (2002, to be exact) and I pulled it. But I loved the concept behind it. So I dusted it off and it became a trilogy.
Just like that universe’s society is tripartite, so are the three novels. So this, the first one, The Obolonk Murders, is devoted to the aliens, and the second work, The Polymer Beat, is dedicated to the semi-sentient and more than semi-sentient robots. Hence the third is all about humans and is called The Badge of Humanity.
The second and third novels also have somewhat punny titles, with both playing off the police props of badges and walking a beat. But the first title is just really straightforward.
The Obolonk Murders started off life as a completely seat of my pants story which put online as postings. I had no plot, no plans, nothing. At the time, I wrote the first three chapters. I then got stuck. I didn’t pick it up again until 12 years had gone by. No lie!
Society breaks into three parts: humans, robots, and Obolonks. An Obolonk is a hermaphrodite alien (a little similar to the Untrustworthy aliens, the Cabossians), orange in color. They are of about equal intelligence to us, but with interstellar space travel. The robots are of varying levels of sophistication. However, the most sophisticated are the creations of Dr. J. Carter Tinerrian. One of these robots is now the new partner to Detective Sergeant Peri Martin, who needs to start solving the mystery of who is killing Obolonks.
The main character is Detective Sergeant Peri Martin. Her main motivations are to find the perpetrators and to work with her new partner, Tommy McFarland. The scenes shift from the New York Megalopolis to the Boston Megalopolis to Callisto and back. Other characters include Tommy (as a robot, he goes by the identity Tommy 2000), Dr. Tinerrian, and the head of the Obolonks, who only name is They Say This is the One.
“Through that door,” motioned the robot.
“Thanks,” Peri smiled the half-smile she usually used when addressing robots.
“Your gratitude is unnecessary. I am merely performing my function,” replied the robot before turning and gliding away.
The door slid open after Peri underwent the same security protocols as at the front door. “Ah, come in, come in! I’m J. Carter Tinerrian. This lovely woman is Selkhet and this is your new partner.” Dr. Tinerrian was a nerdy sort of a fellow. He indicated a man in a suit sitting at a desk. The seated man was maybe 40, 45, seemingly younger than 50-year-old Peri, with a bit of salt to his brown peppery hair, and hazel eyes that varied in shade. He was well-built, too, although his nose looked like it might have been broken some time in his youth.
“Hi, there,” said Peri, shaking hands with the doctor and Selkhet and making her way to the man at the desk. He failed to respond. “Is he deaf? The department’s relaxed almost all physical rules but I don’t think total deafness is one of them.”
“Oh, he’s not deaf. He just needs to be activated,” explained Selkhet. Then, addressing the robot, she commanded sharply, “Tommy 2000, it is time.”
“A robot?” Peri asked. The doctor nodded but said nothing. “What the –?”
The book has a T rating. There are no sex scenes and maybe one or two stray swear words. The real issue is one act of terrorism.
The Obolonk Murders: Upshot
The plot is … okay. I like the idea of cops and robbers in space, and in November 2019 for NaNoWriMo, I’m writing a successor trilogy. There are parts where this book could be better. But I have to admit it. I have come a long, long way since I first started writing it. It could use more beta readers!
But I don’t think I ever truly understood it until now. Lee Odden has taken an almost mysterious concept and made it comprehensible. I definitely liked Optimize.
SEO, According to Lee Odden
Google doesn’t have a lot of options for its spider bots when it comes to reading your content. It can read your text. And that’s about it. While there are, I am sure, plans to try to make it so that Google can better read flash, PDFs, PowerPoint slides, Images, and Videos, the truth is, it’s currently pretty much all letters and numbers. That will eventually change, but right now that’s it.
Hence Google doesn’t know that the picture you added to your blog is an image of, say, Dame Judi Dench. It needs a caption. Sounds obvious, right? But I wasn’t doing that, not with this blog and not with my writing site or anywhere else. Oops. And that caption should be obvious, in order to serve the search bots, and informative and conversational, in order to serve your human readers/audience.
Who or What Should You Optimize For? Bots or People?
Both. And fortunately, they don’t conflict. Hence if you add keywords, tags, or categories to your webpage, blog post, etc., then if you can reiterate the keywords, etc. within the content, you’ve got it made. And you need to look around wherever you are posting, and use every available square inch for your optimization efforts. This does not mean that you cover every single pixel! Rather, it means that, if you have a space for a caption, use it. If you have a space for tags, write them. Blogs have categories. So make them meaningful, and use them. Hence I finally feel I get it. And that is a wonderful feeling.
Three Minutes Back in Time is a sequel of sorts to a fanfiction story I wrote called Crackerjack. It is also a bit of a sequel for a second fan fiction story, Concord. But for this particular short story, I took out all of the fan fiction elements, except for the names of the characters. So it is essentially a wholly original piece.
Background for Three Minutes Back in Time
Science fiction often seems to be in the realm of today or the future. As I was also writing Real Hub of the Universe, the idea of setting sci fi in an unexpected time period became irresistible.
Hence the story takes place in the very beginning of the American involvement in the Second World War.
When Rosemary Parker and James Warren go to a fair outside Washington, DC, they do not expect to find a time machine. And they really don’t expect it to work.
But it can only work for three minutes at a time. So Rosemary decides to go to the one place and date and time she has ever wanted to – just before the death of her beloved brother, Freddie.
The characters are Rosemary Parker, James Warren, and Freddie Parker. Plus there is a carnival ticket taker, who doesn’t get a lot of “screen time”.
Memorable Quotes from Three Minutes Back in Time
At least the fair wasn’t segregated, like so many other places were. Its grounds were open to all, including James and Rosemary. And once they had determined the fair had little to offer, they had sat down on a bench and talked. He had wanted to discuss W.E.B. Du Bois and the recent allied raid on Rome. But Rosemary had wanted to talk about the upcoming premiere of Stormy Weather with Lena Horne and Fats Waller. He didn’t even want to discuss the recent All-Star game.
The story has a K rating.
I think this one stands alone rather well. And I was so happy Three Minutes Back in Time was published by Mythic Magazine.
In particular, I think it evokes something of the mood of the time, not just through music, but also how Rosemary behaves. She’s a woman of color, and she has a decent education, but this is also way before Rosa Parks, who I swear I wasn’t thinking of when I wrote the piece. In fact, it’s even before Jackie Robinson.
As for what originally happened to Freddie, unfortunately, that is all too common these days.
So at the time I wrote the story, I had no idea what had happened to Rich. As it turned out, a mutual friend did some sleuthing. And so, I learned the truth. It was what I had been afraid of; he was dead.
Rich was the first gay man who ever came out to me. And I consider that to be one hell of an honor.
The Plot for The Boy in the Band
So the story is more or less accurate. Hence it wrote itself. And I was merely there to take mental dictation. And the title, of course, comes from the film.
In 1981 or 1982, my friend Rich asked me to the movies. And I had a crush on him and thought – this is great! He chose the films: Cabaret and The Boys in the Band. So I had no idea what I was in for. My innocent nineteen or twenty year old soul thought we were going to see a pair of musicals.
I swear to God this is true.
The characters are the narrator, Rich, and Paul. He was Rich’s boyfriend at the time. But unfortunately, I have no idea if they stayed together. Since I do not know Paul’s last name, I can’t even look him up.
I gamely watched with Richard. Maybe he meant for it to be artsy? I had no idea, but then the Cowboy character showed up – a male prostitute. And so Richard asked, “What do you think of him?”
I replied, “He reminds me a bit of Rocky from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
“Which do you think is cuter?”
“So we will agree to disagree.”
And then I knew.
The story has a K rating.
Upshot for The Boy in the Band
So this one was highly emotional for me. And then when I learned, later, that I had been right, it all hit me rather hard. See, because of when we knew each other, it was the dawn of the age of AIDS. And I knew he was, let’s just say, a bit loose. Since no one really had any idea what was in store, and AIDS was a 100% painful death sentence at the time, being ‘loose’ was being foolish.
Yet it apparently did not kill him. At least, I can tell myself this. I think I’m right. I hope I’m right. But there is only so much the internet can tell me.
He did not even live long enough to see 9/11, President Obama, or even the Red Sox win the World Series (:)). So he is frozen in time, at age 39. And before I knew this much, he was frozen at age 21. Forever young.
John Blossom wrote a rather interesting work. And so for Quinnipiac University’s Social Media Platform’s class (ICM 522), this book was assigned as required reading.
Blossom sharply and compellingly puts forth his case. The Internet has become home to more and more content creators all the time.
And this constitutes a very good thing indeed.
As publishing becomes push-button fast and friendly, publishers stop being gatekeepers. Suddenly, anyone with an idea and a connection can potentially become a publisher.
One of his most interesting takeaways appears on page 136. Here he lays out Content Nation Enterprise Rule #1:
“Social media isn’t about technology; it’s about adapting to more effective patterns of communications being adopted by competitors.”
Hence for Blossom, the key benefits are –
Effective social media tools enable people to choose who they want to allow within their circle of communication (although that makes for silos and walled gardens these days!)
Effective social media tools make it easier to collect and organize communications from internal and external sources
and Effective social media tools make it easier to collaborate internally and externally. This is to build and update valuable knowledge more effectively.
And I have to say that I agree with this. So much of what we read about social media centers around the platforms. In addition, the technology seems to overrule everything else, including common sense. And while everyone loves something shiny and new, it matters very little if the content behind it, well, frankly, stinks. Hence Blossom essentially disagrees with Marshall McLuhan. Therefore, the medium isn’t the message any more.
Instead, the message is the message.
And I think that is pretty powerful. Particularly in this day and age of constant content creation, promotion, distribution, and deconstruction. But you make the call, gentle reader. Feel free to contact me if you disagree, okay?
The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott
The New Rules of Marketing & PR by David Meerman Scott was a fascinating book that I had as required reading for Quinnipiac University’s Social Media Platforms course (ICM522).
First of all, the premise is, like a lot of other books about the Internet and social media marketing, that marketing has become less of a one-size-fits-all/push system. Instead, it has instead evolved into a far more balanced bilateral conversation.
And perhaps the most interesting part of the book consists of the rules themselves, which are in Chapter 2, on page 31 and are as follows –
I am published, and one issue that comes up, time and again, concerns how people can go about supporting indie authors. In particular, friends and family far removed from the business of writing or social media or public relations or marketing or the like still want to help out.
And for the writers, who may feel strange suggesting or requesting such support, I hope this little guide can do just that. Instead of asking, perhaps they can simply point to this blog post.
However, authors might get better percentages of the take with a particular format. If that is the case, and you don’t mind which format you purchase, you can always ask your friend the writer. While we always want you to buy the book (and a sale beats out no sale), if we have our druthers and it really makes a difference, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.
The #2 Way To Support Independent Authors
So once you’ve bought the book, a fantastic way of supporting indie authors even more is to provide an honest review. Amazon, Smashwords, and many publisher sites provide a means of reviewing novels and other creative works. Be sure to review where you purchased the book.Why? Because then you can be listed with verified purchase next to your name. This adds considerably more credibility to your review (and some places require it now).
The Sum and Substance of Your Review
What should you say in your review? If you loved the book, say so. If it was a decent read but not your cup of tea, say that as well, as it’s honest, fair, and remains supportive. After all, not everyone loves the same thing. If you’re not in the demographic group the work is aimed at, then no problem. You gave it the old college try and that’s just fantastic. The longer the review then, generally, the better. Specific references to events in the book, without giving away spoilers, really help. E. g. something like: I loved the character of ___. She was believably vulnerable.
What if you hated the book? Should you lie? Absolutely not – and, I might add, don’t lie even if the author has specifically asked for positive reviews only (an unethical request, by the way). However, if the book stinks (I’ve read books that have made me want to burn people’s computers, they were so horrible, so I know exactly where you’re coming from), then you have the following options:
Don’t post the review at all, and say nothing to the author.
Don’t post the review at all, but mention it to the author. However be prepared for, potentially, some negative push-back, in particular if that person specifically requested just positive reviews. You can sweeten the pot by offering some other assistance (see below for other things you can do to help).
Post a short review. Reviews don’t have to be novel-length! You can always write something like Interesting freshman effort from indie author ____ (the writer’s name goes in the blank). There ya go. Short, semi-sweet, and you’re off the hook. Unless the book utterly bored you, the term interesting works. If the book was absolutely the most boring thing you have ever read, then you can go with valiant or unique (so long as the work isn’t plagiarized) instead of interesting. Yes, you have just damned with faint praise. But sometimes faint praise is the only kind you can give out.
Really going negative
Post a negative review. However, be prepared for your friendship to, potentially, end. Yet is that the worst thing, ever? I’m not saying to be mean. Don’t be mean and don’t take potshots at a person’s character or personality. This is about the book and not about your relationship with the person (although it can sometimes turn into that. But keep the review about the creative work only). However, if the friendship means more to you, then seriously consider options #1 or #2 instead.
Furthermore, many sites have star systems. Adding stars (even a single star) is helpful as this signals to readers that there is at least some interest in the piece.
The #3 Way to Support an Independent Author
Post and/or share the links to either the creative work or the author’s website, blog, Facebook Author page, or Amazon Author page, onto social media. This method is free and anyone can do it. This means tweets, Facebook shares, Pinterest repinnings, or Tumblr rebloggings. Plus it’s clicking ‘like’ on Instagram, voting up a book trailer on YouTube or adding it to a playlist, mentioning the book in your status on LinkedIn, or sharing the details with your circles on Google+, and more. Every time you provide these sorts of social signals to social media sites, the content goes to more people and you are supporting indie authors. Without spending a dime, and barely lifting a finger, you can provide a great deal of help.
The #4 Way to Support Independent Authors
Be sure to follow your friends’ Amazon Author pages, and their blogs. Hit ‘like’ on their Facebook Author pages and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. There are agents who give more weight to indies with larger social media followings. You can hate the book but still follow the author.
You can also work some magic in person. Show up to any signings or discussions, even if you just drink coffee and don’t participate. Ask for the book at your local library or bookstore. Read the paper version in public (train stations are really great for that sort of thing). And you can also talk to your friends, or email them about the work. Consider your audience, and don’t just spam your friends. However if your writer pal has written, say, a Christian-themed love story, then how about sending the link to your friend who has a son studying to be a pastor?
If your friend is local, try contacting your local paper and asking if they’d do a profile on the writer. They can always say no, but sometimes reporters are hunting around for short feel-good locally-specific blurbs. It never hurts to ask.
The #5 Way to Support an Independent Author
Here’s where it gets to be a time investment. Help them. A lot of serious authors ask questions about all manner of things, in order to perform proper research. Can you help with that? Do you have personal experience, or are you good at Googling?
You can also act as a beta reader when you’re supporting indie authors. Beta readers read either the entire draft or a portion of it or sometimes just the first chapter or even character bios. Here’s where you can be a lot freer with criticism, as this is all private. Is the mystery too easy to solve? The character names are confusing? Or the protagonist isn’t described clearly? The scenario is improbable? Then tell the writer. This isn’t correcting their grammar or their spelling (although it sometimes can be). Instead, this is giving them valuable feedback which will help them become better.
As always, be kind. This is your friend’s baby, after all. But if you can’t tell the difference between Susan and Suzanne in the story, then other readers probably wouldn’t be able to, either. Better that that is fixed before the book is released, than afterwords.
Final Thoughts on Supporting Indie Authors
The life of a writer can be a rather topsy-turvy one. You’re high on good reviews, and then you get one bad one and it depresses you. You write like the wind for weeks, and then you edit it and it feels like it’s garbage. Or you get writer’s block, or life gets in the way.
Sometimes the best thing you can do, as a friend, is to just listen, and be there.
Shama Hyder Kabani’s prose style is engaging and direct. Furthermore, if you go to her own website, the way she writes represents an obvious reflection of the way she really speaks. Major points for authenticity.
Shama says that the three main social media areas/sites you should focus on are LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Forget most others. However, this part has changed and is out of date, for I would argue to swap out Instagram or even Snapchat (depends on demographics) for LinkedIn.
In addition, your should present your company (and, by extension, yourself) on all three with a kind of what I like to call professional intimacy. That might sound like an oxymoron. However, the idea is, be genuine and sincere but also hang back in terms of too much sharing and togetherness. Your customers want to know about your company and your product, to be sure, but a little personalization works (and, in fact, can help to build trust). But too much personalization does not work. Your prospects and customers really do not wish to hear that you’re going in to have a root canal.
So Shama’s three points come under the ACT acronym:
Attract – bring the prospects and customers in with good, lively (and up to date) content
Convert – turn your prospects into customers (and this may take several visits by them before this happens) and
Transform – turn successes into magnetic forces of attraction
Attraction is your brand, your outcomes, your differentiators. And Social Media marketing is extremely good for this. Clarity of communications is key.
However, Social Media remains a less optimal tool for converting strangers (prospects) into clients (paying customers). However, it is good for converting strangers into information consumers, which can often be a major step in moving them along the path from prospect to client.
Transformation involves social proof, e. g. we’re more inclined to do something if we see others doing it.
Therefore, you have to do a good job, and use your success in order to attract more successes. That is, ask your clients if you can retell their success stories. Make it easy to buy and pick your tactics (means of marketing) last — you need to get the essentials (such as theory) in place first.
Strategy is the big picture. Tactics are the when, the where and the how.
Blogging is also key. The idea behind blogging is three things:
Educate – use your blog to add value by giving away good information.
Market – make it attractive to buy and
Sell – make it possible to buy.
The book is a brisk read. Of particular interest are the testimonials in the back. As you go along, you realize that Shama practices what she preaches on every page of the book. And, it worked, didn’t it? Because if she got you to buy her book and check out her website, then she’s already converted you to a client. And all she needs to do is sell you her services and she hits 100% of her target. Finally, the most amazing thing is, even after you realize how much you are being marketed to, you just don’t seem to mind any more.
So for the social media writing class at Quinnipiac, we were required to purchase Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury. However, the book proved to be optional.
Yet I read it from cover to cover, and I just plain devoured that thing.
So as a fiction writer, I particularly loved his ideas about how to, well, get ideas. On Page 33, he wrote –
“… in a lifetime, we stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells, tastes, and textures of people, animals, landscapes, events, large and small. We stuff ourselves with these impressions and experiences and our reaction to them. Into our subconscious go not only factual data but reactive data, or movement toward or away from the sense of events.
“These are the stuffs, the foods, on which the Muse grows.”
Spoiler Alert: I Loved It
First of all, that is just a great way of looking at things. Because what Bradbury is doing is essentially giving the aspiring writer permission to get inspiration from everywhere, and from everything. Since the smallest memories can do it. So don’t give up on your weirdness. And don’t suppress it. I love this concept.
Furthermore, on Page 50, he writes about praise. And as writers, we might aspire to everyone loving us, and buying our works or at least reading them or, at minimum, being aware of them. However, Bradbury offers a rather different definition of success –
“We all need someone higher, wiser, older to tell us we’re not crazy after all, that what we’re doing is all right. All right, hell, fine!”
Therefore, really, it is okay to want to be loved. And it is okay to be weird.
Book Review – Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen
Dave Kerpen has a rather interesting book here.
Likeable Social Media
This book was required reading, as a part of my Community Management class at Quinnipiac University.
And it made for an excellent read.
For Kerpen, a lot of social media success comes from listening to, and then surprising and delighting customers and potential customers. Are your posts what they are interested in? If you received this post, would you bother clicking on it?
Case in point for surprise and delight
In May of 2015, my husband, parents, and I went to a Mexican restaurant in my parents’ town. We have eaten there before, but not so much that they know our names or our usual orders or the like. My husband and I don’t visit my parents too often. And he visits them even less than I am. To the restaurant, even if my parents are repeat customers, my husband and I surely don’t look like repeats.
There was a short wait until we got our food. Without prompting, we received a little appetizer, which mainly consisted of little breaded and fried mashed potatoes, configured a bit like sticks. There were three bits of sauce in different colors. The potatoes and sauce, most likely, were leftover odds and ends. It may have taken the chef all of ten minutes to make the dish. I didn’t see anyone else getting the appetizer. We thanked the server. The appetizer tasted good.
We were served our food, and you’d think that would be the end of it. But it wasn’t. We didn’t order dessert. But we received a plate of flan and four spoons anyway. No one asked us; we just got the flan (it tasted really good). We weren’t charged for either little extra.
These twin activities impressed us, so much so that I’ve even linked back to the restaurant. Win-win!
Surprise and delight your customers. Or, as I’d like to say, where’s their flan?
By no coincidence, Kerpen named his company Likeable Media. From its positive name to its obvious association with Facebook, the book and the company are all about creating positive and meaningful experiences for customers and potential customers. Kerpen begins with listening and with careful, accurate, and specific targeting. E. g. not all women in their 50s have the same interests. He strongly urges marketers to dig deeper. He also encourages them to have empathy for their customers. Is a post interesting? Would it be welcome to the customer base? The first fans should be preexisting customers, with perks for the really rabid fans. Another skill to master: engaging in a true dialog. This means not just accepting praise, but also effectively and expeditiously responding to complaints. It also means owning up to your mistakes when you make them.
Kerpen advocates authenticity, honesty and transparency in dealings, and promoting an exchange by asking questions, which goes right back to listening. From listening, comes the surprise and delight. Did the restaurant hear us complaining about slower than normal service? Possibly. The appetizer and the flan certainly helped to quell those complaints and win us over.
Because he’s talking about social media (and not restaurant service), Kerpen’s flan moment doesn’t just cover coupons and offers. It’s also the sharing of stories as social capital. Some of this includes stories of the company (e. g. how a product was invented that spawned an industry). But it also encompasses the stories of the customers themselves. Imagine being a soft drink company and asking customers who drank your soft drink during their first date to share their love stories?
Finally, rather than hard selling, Kerpen exhorts marketers to simply make it easy to buy. Good products and services will always have customers. Generally, you don’t need to massage demand. But you do need to make it easier for customers to open their wallets.