Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How do you get ideas for your stories?

Image by Amal Manikkath

Authors are often asked where we get our ideas. I get mine from fortune cookies.

Just kidding. 

I got the idea for CANALS after driving over, or next to, yet another irrigation canal in Modesto, California. One day I thought, what if there was a monster in the canals? Man, no one would be safe because those canals are everywhere. Just about everyone who lives in Modesto and has a decent arm could throw a rock into an irrigation canal from somewhere on their property.

I got the idea for THE MIGHTY T from a newspaper article about the O’Shaughnessy Dam and the Tuolumne River. That dam is still a hot topic today. Environmentalists want it torn down so the Hetch Hetchy Valley can be restored... Well, not all environmentalists. The ones in San Francisco don’t because they get their clean, pure drinking water form the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. 

I wrote DEATH OF A MATADOR after attending a Portuguese bloodless bullfight in Stevensen, California. It was one of the craziest things I’d ever seen and I thought it would made a good story.

SUNSET HILL followed MATADOR, but wasn’t inspired by anything other than the fact that Mindy got away at the end of THE MIGHTY T. She was too good a character to just let go like that.

The idea for THE KING OF ROUND VALLEY sprung from a location: the place Grant ended up at at the end of SUNSET HILL. That’s where he was so I began looking into what might be going on in Mendocino County...

Image by Vjeran Lisjak
Then, yesterday morning, I was on the treadmill at the gym listening to a podcast titled Predicting The Future, an episode from the NPR: TED Radio Hour Podcast. (You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, like I do, or download it directly from the site.) 

Because I only walked for 30 minutes, I only made it up to Marc Goodman’s section, What Does The Future Of Crime Look Like? I was particularly struck by Nina Tandon’s and Richard Resnick’s segments. Tandon’s company is growing bones from stem cells and Resnick says sequencing genes will likely change the way we live.

Now, couple this with my recent experiences in ordering a new iPhone and iPad and ... BAM! An idea for a story sprouted. At first it was a short story, but after I’ve a couple of days to play with it, it’s gonna be a novel. And I think it’s gonna be really good.

It’ll be about the way we pick our children in, oh, about a hundred years from now.

Monday, September 29, 2014

eBook Formatting: Ellipsis, Nonbreaking Spaces, Em Dashes

I wrote a couple of posts in September and October, 2011, on formatting for eBooks and print. The first post covered the ellipsis, the second em and en dashes. In summary, for the click-shy, I recommended:


Print Formatting

I recommend the use of space-period-space-period-space-period-space (three periods, each surrounded by a space) when the ellipsis is in the middle of a sentence.

If ellipsis is at the end of a sentence, instead of the last space, insert whatever punctuation mark is appropriate. I don't use a fourth period at the end of a sentence in fiction like I would if I were publishing non-fiction. A close quote mark, question mark, or exclamation mark would immediately follow the last period with no additional space.

You or may not need to use a nonbreaking space between the preceding word and the first period, to keep them on the same line. That's handled in the copy-fitting stage, when you're examining each page of your manuscript in your page layout program.

eBook Formatting

I recommend the use a true ellipsis in eBook formatting. The only downside to this is, the eReader could choose to split a line at the end of the word, making an orphan of the ellipsis. The only way I know to prevent this would be to use an HTML editor and insert a zero width non-breaking space. Editing HTML is outside my skill set. I write my novels in Scrivener and use it to generate my eBook files.

In a comment I made at the end of the ellipsis post, I wrote you could also use the three periods surrounded by spaces recommended in Print Formatting. To make this work, you would need to make each space a nonbreaking space or risk the eReader splitting the periods up if it runs out of space on the line it's working on.

The risk of an orphaned ellipsis (or em dash) is small, especially on larger-screened eReaders like the Kindle Fire, iPad, Nook, and even the Kindle Paperwhite. I recently bought an iPhone 6 Plus so I'll be reading on my phone again, when hauling my iPad along is inconvenient, but I think most people are reading on larger devices now.

Em Dash

Print Formatting

My recommendations are unchanged from my earlier post for the use of em dashes in print formatting.

eBook Formatting

I've softened on my recommendation to use a soft space before and after em dashes when they appear in the middle of sentences. I think it makes for a more visually appealing line on an eReader, but I don't see it used much.

eReader software can add space between the em dash and surrounding words when justifying a line, which, in my opinion, is more visually appealing.

When em dashes appear at the end of a line, we have the same dilemma we had with the ellipsis: the eReader may orphan the em dash, like this:

Awkward looking, no?

But, is this any better?

I inserted a nonbreaking space after "shoulda" to prevent the eReader from making an orphan of the em dash and close quote. If you choose this option, you'll have to do the same for every em dash that appears at the end of a line, to be consistent. 

I for one, since I don't edit HTML, will stick with option one and take my chances that the eReader will have mercy on my eBook and orphan few or no ellipses and em dashes.

Thanks for stopping by. While you're here, you could check out my novel The Mighty T for only 99 cents. It's a great introduction to my Grant Starr novels. Available at Amazon or anywhere fine eBooks are sold.

Friday, September 26, 2014

The King of Round Valley eBook Released

The eBook version of my new novel, The King of Round Valley, was released on Kindle, Smashwords, and Nook today. Smashwords will distribute to the iBooks store and a few other small retailers. The paperback version will be available in about two weeks.

(At the time of this posting, Smashwords is the only retailer where the book is live. I'll update this page and my blog when the other sites go live.)

The King of Round Valley was a fairly easy book to write, but fairly difficult to edit. The entire editing and pre-publishing process too four months—way too long. I blame my wife because, hey, isn't that what wives are for? (Joking, of course.) It just was a difficult book to edit.

As usual, I came to like many of my characters. In past books, some of my favorite characters were bad guys. Take Death of a Matador. I really liked Manny, the murderous, greedy mayor. Perry Dillard, not so much. I liked writing Mindy in The Mighty T and Sunset Hill. Lightfoot was far too cruel to like.

I can't say that I liked Johnny Pipe, the main bad guy in The King of Round Valley, but I sympathized with him having to work with so many dimwitted people. That's gotta wear on you eventually. I enjoyed writing Acorn and Bear because they were so dumb they were fun, but I could never empathize with them. They were too brutal.

I hope you enjoy the novel.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Acorn and Bear and Worms

Here’s one of my favorite scenes from The King of Round Valley, my most recent and about-to-be-released novel. (I’m currently going through the paperback proof.) It features two of five bad guys in the story, Acorn and Bear. I like it because it demonstrates a couple of things:

One, the life of the criminal can be soooo boring. Acorn and Bear are sitting in front of Hopper Rigo’s house, waiting for Hopper to come out. Sitting around and watching a house is boring, and the time has to be filled with something. How about some idle chatter?

Two, the scene shows that these guys are dimwits. Violent and vicious, but dimwits nonetheless.

The setup: Hopper has been selling meth for Joe Pina at his school in Covelo. Hopper’s in middle school. Joe was selling meth without permission, got beat up by the main bad guy, Sergeant Johnny Pipe, then was told he had until the end of the day to get out of town. Joe wanted his cash and leftover meth from Hopper because all he had was a hundred forty bucks and change. How far would that get him?

Pipe sends Acorn and Bear to Joe’s trailer to make sure Joe leaves town on time. They get there a little early, and because they’re not real bright and didn’t quite understand their instructions, they beat Joe to death with baseball bats and bury him in the foothills surrounding the reservation.

Acorn and Bear set up this meeting with Hopper under the pretense that they’re going to score some meth from him. What they’re really planning on doing is recovering Joe Pina’s cash and leftover meth for their boss, Pipe.

Acorn and Bear sat in Acorn’s pickup, across from the Rigo’s house, down a bit on Lovell.
Bear said, “How long do you think it’ll take Joe’s body to become, you know, all filled with worms and shit?”
Acorn said, “I bet a couple of days.”
“That quick?”
“We didn’t put him in no casket or nothing. We just stuck him in the ground and threw dirt on him. The worms don’t have to chew through anything so they can get to him faster.”
“I thought it would take more like a week, maybe two. The worms gotta find him first, then dig down to where he is.”
“Don’t you know worms are everywhere in the ground? They don’t gotta dig down to Joe, they’re already down there with him. We probably cut some up when we were digging Joe’s grave.”
“I don’t think so. There would be too much, you know, weight on top of them. From all the dirt. It would smash them.”
“Then how could they dig through it if it smashed them?” Acorn turned and looked at Bear. “Huh?”
“Because when you dig through dirt, you make a hole for yourself. So you don’t get smashed.”
“Man, you don’t know what you’re—”
Someone exited the Rigo’s house through the front door, a slender youth with hair down to his shoulders.
Acorn said, “About time.”

In my next post I’ll relate the story I found online that gave me the names Acorn and Bear.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Pumps Gotta Go

Modern Picture Jones Pumping Plant
Scale: See the vehicles on opposite side of canal?

“There’re two sets of pumps drawing water from the Delta. One’s run by the feds and sends water to Southern California. The state runs the other one, the one blown up last night. It sends water to farms on the west side of the valley.”
Jackson stretched his legs and continued. “The pumps are huge, like 25,000 volts. They suck water out of the Delta and pump it up a hill to a canal, where it flows down the valley by gravity. They put them in back in the 50s and right away knew they had a problem. Fish that got sucked into the pumps were chopped to pieces. So they dug canals to take water to the pumps and put up screens so the fish couldn’t get in the canals.”
“Sounds like it would work,” Grant said. “What’s the problem?”
“Lots of controversy.” Jackson said, wagging a finger in the air. “Fish get caught in the screens and have to be pulled out of the water and trucked back to the Delta, far away from the canals. A lot of the fish die in the truck, plus bigger fish hang around the dump sites and gobble up the smaller ones. This has been going on for more than fifty years and they say it’s drastically affected some fish counts, particularly the little ones. And now that the Delta smelt is on the Endangered Species list, environmentalists are calling for the pumps to be shut off.”
“But if the pumps are shut off, where will L.A. get their water?” Grant asked.
“Exactly. No judge would ever go along with it, which is why they’re going after the farmers’ water first. They figure it’ll be easier to take water from a few farmers than twenty million people.”

* * * * *

Continuing from my last post about certain fish species in the San Joaquin Delta and the Tuolumne River, central to the controversy are two sets of huge siphon pumps. Both draw significant amounts of water from the Delta and ship it south.

What Officer Jackson told Grant in this scene, and what Lightfoot told the gang while sermonizing on the riverbank, is mostly true. I’ll admit I made some stuff up to further the story along (it is a work of fiction) and likely got some other stuff wrong (again: fiction).

But here’s an update to the novel: a federal judge began restricting water deliveries from the pumps in 2007. Restrictions became so severe that much of the west side of Central California has reverted back to desert, unemployment hit 45% in some counties, and billions of ag revenue has been lost.

All because the Delta smelt was put on the Endangered Species List. Here is one of the little buggers5 to 7 cm (2.0 to 2.8 in) long:

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Sacramento

Even if this had happened in the novel, it wouldn’t have been enough for John Lightfoot. Yes, the pumps have chopped up over 20 million baby salmon (that part’s true), but the pumps aren’t the whole picture. What he’s really after are the dams that control river flow.

That was the deal he’d struck with the two old Paiutes.

The pumps were for him, for fun. Because he couldn’t stand to let them be.

Monday, September 15, 2014

THE MIGHTY T eBook available everywhere, again

I enrolled the eBook version my first Grant Starr novel, The Mighty T, in Amazon's Select program a year ago to see it would help boost sales. That means I had to take it off sale at Nook, Apple, and Smashwords (and all the other sellers they distribute to).

Select didn't do much for sales so I pulled the book out and have priced it at 99 cents. I'll leave it there indefinitely as an entry point into the Grant Starr books.

The Mighty T was my second novel, after Canals. Canals is a horror/sci-fi novel that didn't garner much attention from traditional publishers. I blamed that on the genre, which I still believe is somewhat true. I read this in a post by Chuck Wendig titled 25 Things You Should About Writing Horror:
"Horror’s once again a difficult genre. It had a heyday in the 80s and 90s, evidenced by the fact it had its very own shelf at most bookstores. That’s no longer the case at Barnes & Noble, and Borders broke its leg in the woods and was eaten by hungry possums. I’ve heard that some self-published authors have pulled away from marketing their books as horror because they sell better when labeled as other genres."
Sounds reasonable to me, based on my own experience.

So I thought, "Hey, I'll write a thriller! I like thrillers and there are tons of them in the bookstores." And The Mighty T was born.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


Just six months after posting the eBook cover for my last novel, Sunset Hill, I'm posting the eBook cover for my upcoming novel, The King of Round Valley. Let me show you the cover, then I'll tell you a little about it.

the king of round valley ebook cover

The cover was created using Swift Publisher 3 on my iMac. It's not Photoshop but it suits my purposes, and talent, fine. I applied a light shadow around the title text, but didn't feel it enhanced the rest of the text so I left them plain.

Here's the image before cropping:

Back property of Pacific Star Winery

It was taken on an iPhone 3Gs by Ned Raggett. I found it on his Flickr stream. I ran it through DxO 8.0 to improve the lighting and contrast and to increase it to 300 dpi. Ned graciously permitted me to use the photo for the cover, provided I remembered the second 't' in his last name.

The picture is of the back of the Pacific Star Winery, which I renamed Pacific Point Winery in the book. I like the moody atmosphere of Ned's picture. I felt it suited the novel.

I used two Emigre typefaces for the cover. The King of Round Valley was set in Dead History Bold and the rest of the text in Arbitrary Regular and Bold. I've owned these typefaces since the mid-1990s but feel they're still fresh.

This will be the subject of another post, but I enjoy setting my novels in real places as opposed to imaginary places, and I enjoy using pictures of those places when possible. I used my own pictures on the covers of The Mighty T and Death of a Matador, but I've never been to the Pacific Star Winery so I had to find one. I think readers who live locally enjoy reading books set in familiar settings; I know I do.

I'm waiting to get the paperback proof from Creatspace before I publish the eBook. It seems there is always one or two more tweeks before I feel a book is ready to be released.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sunset Hill eBook Cover

I finished the cover for the eBook version of Sunset Hill today. Here's what it looks like:

It's a little different than the cover for the paperback in that I used more of the ridged top of the knife, to make it look more like a knife.

The typeface is Kingthings Typewriter 2, a shareware face. The creator, Kevin King, allows free use of the typeface. It's one of my favorite old typewriter faces.

The file has been uploaded to Kindle, awaiting my click on the Publish button. I've just ordered my second proof of the paperback and should receive it next week. When the paperback looks good, I'll publish them both.

After uploading the book file, Amazon's spellchecker found two errors. I hadn't capitalized "Adirondack" and I spelled "wimps" as "whimps". I was impressed Amazon caught the.

I'm looking for readers who'd like to receive a free eBook in exchange for an honest review. I can send the book in Kindle, ePub, or PDF formats. Use the Contact Me page or send me an email to ep (at) everettpowers (dot) com

Monday, February 17, 2014

Cover for Sunset Hill Paperback

After significant delay, I'm finalizing my new novel, Sunset Hill. In the past I've published my eBooks first, then the paperback. Most of my sales are of eBooks.

However, I found I caught a few more mistakes (aren't there always a few?) when proofing the paperback and had to edit both the eBook and paperback versions; such a hassle. This time I'm publishing the paperback first.

Here's the current version of the cover:

I'll see how the proof looks and make changes if necessary.

P.S.  It might appear a little blurry because it was a screen shot. Pages doesn't allow exporting to image formats.

Friday, February 7, 2014

How to Wrestle a Bull, Part 1

Forcados in action

In April, 2011, I attended my first "bloodless" bullfight in Stevinson, CA. I blogged about it here. The bullfight was part of the research for my second Grand Starr novel, Death of a Matador. It was about this time I conceived of another novel with the forcado group as main characters. I'm now in the process of writing that novel, working title The Young Bull Wrestlers.

I'm only about 8,000 words in and have begun writing a scene where the team is practicing at the main character's house in Hilmar, CA. This scene, and a similar scene in Death of a Matador, was inspired by an actual (man I hate that word) experience I had. A patient of mine was well known in the Portuguese (Azorean) community in the Hilmar-Stevinson area and arranged for me to have "back stage" access to the Amadores de Merced team of forcados, or bull wrestlers. I didn't know I'd have this kind of access and so wasn't prepared. I probably could have made more of it than I did.

As I've blogged before, it's important to me that my books be as "real" as possible, meaning I don't want to give a reader an opportunity to say "No way that could happen!" (Canals excepted; it's a horror/sci-fi novel). With this in mind, I've done some research on the basic technique or approach used by a team of forcados.

What Forcados Do

Forcados are called on to wrestle a bull into submission after it's been run around the arena for 15-20 minutes by a matador either on foot or on a horse, so the bull has been worn out to a degree. (Mind you, it still has plenty of energy and fury to run one of its horn through your gut!) At the two bullfights I attended, the horse and foot matadors did not whip up much excitement from the crowd, despite their great skill and artistry. People were talking and eating, trying to stay warm, texting or talking on a cell phone, drinking and laughing with friends, etc. My feeling is they've been to so many bullfights that the novelty is long gone.

But when the horns blow and the chosen eight leap over the wall and strut into the arena, the crowd comes alive. Cell phones drop into laps, children crowd the front of the stands to get a better view, and people quit yapping. (I never saw anyone set a beer down, though.)

The forcado's goal is to wrestle the bull into submission on the first try. From what I've gathered this means their front guy needs to have stayed on the bull's head until the bull has been subdued. If they fail they keep trying until they get it right. It took one team three tries to wrestle the last bull of the evening at one of my two bullfights. (The biggest and meanest bulls are, generally, saved for last.)


Eight members are chosen to fight each bull. (Some teams have over 20 members.) They are assigned specific positions that have specific tasks. They are as follows:

Position #1: Cara or Caras - "Faces the bull"

This is the guy that leads the team into the arena. His is the position of greatest risk and skill. His one goal is to jump on top of the bull's head, preferably between the horns, wrap his arms around the bull's neck, and hang on until the bull has been subdued.

When you watch my YouTube video I've linked to, you'll notice that #1 is backpedaling when the bull hits him. Obviously, this takes some of the oomph! out of bull's charge.

You should also notice that the #1 position requires some style and grace. He must show the bull that he's not afraid of it by his posturing and verbal taunting (which you can't hear on the video). He doesn't just run into the arena and start yelling at the bull.

#1 is aided by junior matadors who stand outside the wall and distract the bull with their brightly colored capas, or capes. The distraction allows #1 to get closer to the bull. Why? So the bull doesn't hit #1 after charging halfway across the arena. The closer #1 is to the bull, the less inertia the bull will have gained when they collide.

Observe the guy in the #1 position in the following three photos:

#1 is out there in front, by himself.

He jumps on the bull's head. #2 is right behind him.

He is hanging on for dear life.
The last picture is a good segue into...

Position #2: Contra Caras - "First helper"

#2's main job is to see that #1 stays on the bull's head. If #1 is slipping off the front of the head, #2 tries to push him back up. If #1 is about to go over the bull's head onto his back, #2 tries to pull him forward. His roll is one of timing: he's got to get to #1 while the bull's head is down.

This #2 has moved to the opposite side of the bull.
You'll see in this picture that #2 moved to the side of the bull and has grabbed the bull around the neck. His #1 is securely on the top and front of the bull's head. This position can be dangerous because he doesn't get to backpedal like #1 does.

Numbers 3, 4, and 5 have entered the frame. 2 and 3 are there to...

We'll pick this up in my next post.