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Friday, August 31, 2012

Optimal Calibre Settings

Calibre is one of the greatest software utilities ever created for book lovers. Even if all you do is read ebooks, you need this program. Want to read an ePub file, and you only have a Kindle? Use Calibre to convert any ebook format to any other ebook format.

But if you make ebooks, you almost have to have this. There are a few other apps out there, of course. I've never used them. Calibre works well for me, and I see no reason to change things now.

But I also don't like to read manuals on how to use things. Consequently, working with Calibre can be a little hit and miss.

Once you've done the easy stuff, written the novel, exported the filtered HTML file, and edited the cover and metadata, you're ready to make your first .mobi file, which can be uploaded directly to Amazon, giving you total control over your ebook's look and feel.  If I don't mention an option, it's because I don't use it.

From top to bottom under the Convert books menu, there are a wealth of options.

The upper leftmost tab is the input format. Leave this as 'zip' if you're turning your manuscript into an ebook. Otherwise, select the format you wish to convert from. Across from it is the output format. For this discussion, we'll just use mobi.

The Metadata contains all of the author information and things like that. I'm not sure if Amazon strips any of this out or not, but it's important to tag your stuff. Go ahead and give it five stars, too. What's the harm?

Look & Feel is where things start to get complicated. I usually disable font size rescaling. That's useful if your chapter headers are in a bigger font size than the body text. Or, conversely, if you don't want them to appear bigger. You can get funny formatting if you upscale fonts, so be careful. Personally, I don't like the table of contents to be broken across the page, but this usually has more to do with the length of the chapter title than anything else.

Watch your hyphens in chapter titles. You can end up with two different type of dashes, and it looks wonky in the TOC.

Remove spacing between paragraphs is very useful, if, for instance, your manuscript is double-spaced. Personally, anymore, I turn this off and hand-adjust my layout. You get more control over the output that way. Smarten punctuation - Never a bad thing, eh?

Heuristic processing is fancy sounding, isn't it? It does all sorts of fuzzily intelligent things. I usually unwrap lines at the default setting.

There's another option for deleting blank lines between paragraphs, but it works differently. If one doesn't work, try the other. Or both. This option exists because there are different ways of making paragraphs, , CSS, etc. It's nice if you have double-spaced manuscript files, and you can get different page counts and looks if you experiment here a little.

Ensure scene breaks are consistently formatted. Here you can replace your ### chapter breaks with something easier on the eyes. I also remove unnecessary hyphens.

Page setup lets you select an output device to optimize for. I use the default input profile, and Kindle Fire output.

Structure detection is for setting up a table of contents, primarily. If you don't name your chapters "Chapter" or "Part" or something, they won't be detected. Change the Xpath expression to "//*[name()='h1']" in both input windows to avoid this. Now you can name your chapters however you want, as long as it's tagged Heading in your source file.

Table of Contents - Click 'force use of auto-generated TOC' if you'd like one of these. They're nice, to me.

Search & Replace - Don't touch this. Edit your document in Word or whatever. I shouldn't have to point out that blindly replacing text is a recipe for disaster.

MOBI output - Title your TOC. I like to put mine at the beginning of the book. It affects your preview on Amazon, so some people prefer to put it at the end. You might want to consider 'ignore margins'. And I always disable file compression, so my images don't degrade.

Anyway, I hope that helps. With these settings, I consistently get great looking mobi files, which can be uploaded directly to Amazon...

Protip: Check your typeface in Word before you publish, and also consider justifying all of your paragraph text. I didn't notice on the Fire because it makes font choices for you, but people reading on other devices may see your default typeface, and it might not be the one that's easiest on the eyes. For more info on typefaces, read some other article by someone else.

Slenderman by Emily Reagan Christie

Slenderman, by Emily Reagan Christie...

News from the Cover Wars

CL Smith of Humble Nations has done it again.

"Look, " he says. "Some of your covers are still a bit naff. Even the ones you didn't manage to ruin entirely still can't compare to my work. Here, let me help you out..."

BAM! My poetry book, the tiniest but most important jewel in my publishing crown, is reborn anew.

           Before                                                              After

Wow. It makes me wonder why I don't follow his lead and not use photographs for the covers. It looks like my mine went through a transforming time machine of hotness.

But wait, you say. Hurricane Regina is a pretty important book of yours. Using all of what you've learned about cover design, did you manage to create something that's maybe, I don't know, half as compelling as what Humble Nation does?

No. What I managed to do was something ten percent better than my first cover, which only the muse and I liked.

             Before                                                         After

An improvement. The cover was one of the reasons cited on "Why is My Book Not Selling?" The color scheme is bad, the text is all wrong, and the image is stolen. Only CL's logo design lends it any credibility at all. What's all that wasted space? It's not artful, it just looks amateurish.


He actually sent two for this one, with a blue and a pink background. Given that it is sort of a female-oriented novella, the pink sort of says 'girl' without being patronizing. A bold look, furthermore. Note the simple and effective use of text. Note the patented subtle shading employed throughout. It's like some sort of unreproducible watermark.

So we see, a skilled cover artist can do more with a single piece of clip art than most of us can do with all of the world's graphic arts resources at our hands. CL Smith of Humble Nations, your image makeover expert.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited about the upcoming holidays...

Fun with Createspace

No. It's not fun with Createspace.

I'm in the middle of publishing my first paperback, Radar Love. I'll tell you right up front, I don't like using Microsoft Word. That app has been dumbed down beyond belief. What was once a sturdy word processor now hides crippled features behind a picture menu. We're wordsmiths. This is not McDonald's.

Did you think formatting for the Kindle was enjoyable? I hope so. There are lots of fun gotchas, the same sort that you might face in formatting for epub or mobi. Except different. Suddenly all the things you used to loathe about desktop publishing come into play. And all the secondary things we love about books, too. Layout, typography, cover design.

But they're not so pleasant when you've submitted your layout file thirty times already.

Now, if you're really meticulous, you probably won't have the problems I had. There's a Word template, and you sort of transfer your book to it chapter by chapter, and get a nice layout.

Except I don't work like that. I had to paste the whole thing at once, make a bunch of changes to the margin settings, and then try and figure out what went wrong. Don't do that.

It can get sort of confusing if you past errant pages into a template like that. You will mostly work in a two page view, which is mirrored to reflect the way pages are arranged in a printed novel. Here's a hint. If the pages seem differently sized in Word, they probably are...

So, make sure all of the pages in the document are the same size. It sounds silly, I know.

And then the margins are funny things. There's a top and a bottom margin. Straightforward, right?

There's an inside and outside, too. But I think they're reversed from what you might think they mean? Probably not, but it feels that way sometimes, when you're tweaking multiple margins at once.

Then there's the gutter. I suspect it's named that because it's led many a desktop publisher to become alcoholics. It's the space closest to the spine of the book. The gutter and the inside margin work together. Against you. The thicker your book is, the wider your gutter and inside margin need to be, robbing you of valuable paper real estate.

Don't bother much with tweaking the look as far as what pages things fall on, or details like that. Every time you change a margin, the entire layout of the book shifts to reflect it. Get it approved on Createspace before you starting fancying it up.

I'm making this sound easier than it might be, for some.

When you upload it to the site, the fun really begins. There's a very nice virtual book that shows your text exactly as it will appear when printed. The paper is even sort of shaded, and turns very realistically.

Hey, this is an Amazon site. Why aren't the Kindles more like this?

But the preview will show you the forbidden areas of doom. If a pixel (called a dot, I guess, when printed) extends into the boxed-in areas set aside by Createspace, your document is rejected.

This is when it's important to stay calm and work methodically. Tweak just one margin at a time until you maximize the space on each page. It can be done, but it can also be frustrating.

It's really worth it when you make it past their input filters and see your words there on the page.

Once you get the overall layout approved, you can go back and tweak things like removing chapter break symbols where they aren't needed to where they fall on a page. Or, turn those triple hash marks we all know and love into something a bit more suited to your work.

Much like a house of cards, or, well, almost any house, I guess, it's important to have a solid foundation in order to save a lot of work for yourself later on. The page numbers constantly change until you nail the layout., so you can't finish your table of contents before this step is completed. The cover layout is also determined by the number of pages in the book, so you don't want to get ahead of yourself there, either.

Here's a real pitfall: Createspace says you need certain margins. As long as your text doesn't exceed their margins, it doesn't really matter what the numbers are. So don't fall into a trap of "My margins are all at the recommended settings for my size book and it still gets rejected." That doesn't matter.

At one point, the acknowledgements page was the only one giving me an issue. One page. I deleted it...

Once you have the margins properly set so that your text remains in the safe areas, you can actually get away with your own custom settings. I guarantee you'll be excited when you finally get it mostly right. Then you'll want to play around with it. Mess it up. Fix it again.

So Createspace is a great example of how you have to know the rules before you can break them. But if you have a free weekend, why not turn one of those ebook-only novels of yours into something that can be put on a shelf, or wrapped in colorful paper?

All I know is that, despite the headache, I have a paperback that I wrote being shipped to my house. It's like an early Christmas.

Blue Moon

So bright 
It hurts my eyes
And sets my heart to ache
Just like
Every time
I look
At you

Monday, August 27, 2012

Hurricane Regina Audiobook in Production

I found Ken Lee through ACX, the Audiobook Creation Exchange. Not only did he agree to record Hurricane Regina, he said I could share the audio file with everyone. I uploaded it to my nerd rap persona's music site for ease of listening. I'm not sure of the time frame, but it'll definitely be out before the holidays are upon us. Time to give it one last editing pass...

Hurricane Regina audiobook excerpt read by Ken Lee.

I'd also like to point out that all of my artwork of late is to the credit of John Christie, III and Jesse Pitre, who inadvertently left his notebook at my house and gave me the above drawings for a new title page I'm working on.


I wish I could heal you with my touch
Like you have often healed me
Because you really mean so much
I know it's plain to see
My little sexy loving nurse
It really is insane
Every time that we play doctor
You end up in pain

Princess In Training

You've granted me serenity
And intelligence
If not wisdom
Now save me from being a fuck-up
And teach me self-control
I play Polish roulette
With a single empty chamber
I'd sooner lose my eyes
Than see the pain on your face
I don't want to be the flaw
In the oinkment
The clot
Clogging up the hourglass
I'll give you babies
And meals to cook
You give me warning signals
Before I cross the line, please
And not after
You're far too kind
And that's too cruel for me
Be a princess
Stamp your foot
Stick out your lip
And say "No"
I tried to relieve your worries
And instead gave you new ones
So I'm working even harder
Over here
On my end
It's lonely
And I worry about you
My love

Expanded Universe

I could enumerate the stars
Before I could quantify my love for you
Imagine every grain of sand
A universe of its own
In each, a tiny planet Earth
And on every Earth is me
Each loves you
More than he can count

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Tom Robbins-inspired Poetry

Radar Love uses Tom Robbins' Still Life with Woodpecker as a major theme. I'm working on a poetry book whereby each poem is derived from the words on a single, double-sided page from his novel. It will be about 150 poems in all.

Here are a few:

Jiggling princess
Feminine heart and soul
Soft sugar and leather
Romantic ecstasy
Connecting in Paradise

Innocent fellatio
A true princess
Kissing the gardener

Lunar playfulness
Telepathic redheads
Romantic universe
A nameless faith

Queen of the redheads
Close to my imagination
My persistent love
Enveloped in your charms
Wonderful, your essence
Secret revolution
As we arrange to marry

In bayan shadow, Leigh with me
My essential insanity
Make tragic tears
The moon exposed
Flesh amalgamation
Dreams immersed
Desired princess
Romantic invocation

Intro to Superlove...

Superlove was supposed to be the last novel in the Ultimate Hustle series. Instead, it's the last sane one. And that's also questionable, as it sort of documents the insanity of Chris and Janique, who have gone mad from too much money and power. And boredom.

Janique's latest video series was sweeping the nation.

Hollywood Handjobs was a study in barebones production value. A close-up of a manicured hand gripping Chris's neatly-trimmed cock against a backdrop of a bottom dollar motel bed. Women with names like Demi Whore, Jessica Handy, and Mary Kate and Ashley Wholesome put in Olympic-caliber efforts at tugging him off to a photo finish.

Unbeknownst to them, he was on one of Janique's custom chemical concoctions designed specifically to prevent just that.

Almost all of the actresses wore wedding rings.

One of the reasons it was their best seller of late was because it was their first-ever Chris Turner solo series. The hand was anonymous, and there were enough variances in the hand models to insure that all women were represented. There were even videos with models named "Fat Oprah" and "Skinny Oprah".

Overwhelmingly, the purchasers of the series were female.

There was no audio save for Chris's intermittent moans and groans, and the sounds of his eventual orgasm. The only other thing that could be heard was the labored breathing of the hand model as she earned every dollar of her pay the hard way.

Another reason it was so popular was because they were somehow very compelling. It was a three-part drama enacted without words. The introduction was always very hot, as the new hand met the celebrity cock for the first time. Some girls spat, some used lube. Some went rawdog on him for the entire session, leaving him battered and bleeding. Turnaround being fair play whenever possible.

The second act was a study in fatigue and desperation. The girls weren't even allowed to use two hands. Each started out confident that they, unlike the others, could get him off quickly and easily. You could see the realization set in after the first third or so of the hour-long production.

The final third was always intense, as they worked through the pain that accumulated in their
hands and wrists, wracking their brains for the technique that would grant them both release. Chris's orgasms were eye-popping. A full week's worth of semen would launch high into the air, erupting onto their aching and red fingers. They were some of the most intense climaxes in the entire Ultimate Hustle catalog.

The company has also quietly, nay secretly rolled out Brad and Leo's new encryption tech, which confounded even the most elite cracking crews. You simply could not watch Hollywood Handjobs in any format without paying for a copy. Even legitimate versions dumped to videotape mysteriously went black just before any person-to-person contact was made.

Janique had a backdoor deal with the electronics industry, in some cases literally, to insure that all video hardware would obey commands her studio embedded into their audio and video signals. The codes, however, were seemingly random, and had yet to be reverse-engineered.

This added a boost to sales as many eager pirates were forced to purchase a copy before they could even attempt to crack the PRM, Ultimate Hustle's unpatented Porn Rights Management system. It took hardware hackers several months to successfully copy even a single movie, Helen Cunt, the least popular title in the series. Even then, their copy went blank just before Chris came.

The video went viral, heralded as a triumph of hacking by the undernet of seedy geek sites like Slashdot and 4chan, media conglomerates she'd acquired years earlier. Downloaders who made the understandable mistake of watching the pirated video twice, the majority, found the video attached to their outgoing email messages, along with a personal message from Janique.

She appeared half-dressed in pirate garb, and mocked and taunted the amateur software thieves who were also some her best customers, and a big part of her marketing strategy. Other times, their computers would simply play the video at inopportune moments, flashing a link to

It was this aspect that landed her in court, charged with malicious hacking and engineering a trojan horse virus.

Janique arrived for the trial sponsored by Trojan brand condoms, and railed against the disgusting, disease-filled court system. Chris had written her an excellent rant.

The judge, a longtime fan, threw the case out after her opening arguments.

"You stole her video, and in doing so, infected your own computer?" the judge asked the plaintiff.

"Yes, sir."

"And now you're suing the company you stole from?"

"Yes, sir."

"Have this man arrested for copyright infringement. Case dismissed."

It was the most powerful marketing campaign of all time. Hollywood lined up to purchase technology that wasn't for sale at any price. The entire scheme was enormously complicated, and involved lots of corporate espionage, which had become her new favorite form of intercourse.

Janique fucked them for all they were worth. The real genius move was when she leaked the rumor that real Hollywood actresses were performing as their own x-rated doppelgangers.

Because it wasn't a rumor.

Her personal copies of the videos had full audio of the country's top stars saying scandalously filthy things to Chris in an effort to make him cum. Then the camera panned around to a full head shot as Janique the cameragirl told them to lick it off of their hands, starting with their wedding rings, most of which had been moved to their right in her one concession to comfort. Her early tests were conducted with their left hands, which was too agonizing for the girls to even finish.

Then she made them beg both her and Chris for his cock. Her versions ended with the two of them tenderly destroying the hand model in question.

Janique played extreme hardball to acquire her talent, stopping just short of the most reprehensible sort of villainy to get what she wanted. And perhaps things occurred that she didn't want to know about.

She laid back on the couch and touched her pussy. The room's lights dimmed, and her favorite Marilyn Monroe montage began to play on the 3D set.  It was a series of cumshots leading up to a full video of Marilyn dying at the hands of Jack and Bobby Kennedy.

Everyone who had ever seen or possessed the tapes before her had quietly vanished, replaced with body doubles in a few cases.

Read more Chris, Janique, and Ultimate Hustle in Radar Love, Cure for Sanity, and Penultimate Hustle: Japan.

Penultimate Hustle: Japan is free all week long. Radar Love. the first in the series, is now $.99. That is way too cheap, if you ask me.

More Star Hustle

President Gorlax was hustling nameplates. He didn't need the money, a social lubricant his planet lacked. Blood lubricated things nicely. But he had a vision.

As usual, the essence of what he was trying to achieve was lost. He wanted to bring back fat gold chains and medallions. But most of his hip-hop knowledge came from the Fat Boys' films Disorderlies and Krush Groove. For instance, he thought LL Cool J's arm length was perfectly  normal, so he attached cinderblocks to his wrists in an effort to lengthen his own. This made his sales pitches that much more difficult, and it was already an uphill climb.

His medallions were usually Franklin Mint collector plates with vinyl letters charmingly misapplied. Gold was just a color on Gortician, so he used yellow nylon rope or light-weight plastic chains that he spray-painted gold. He usually ended up with half of the paint around his mouth and nose. The combined effect hampered his sales to a large degree.

The other hitch in his plans was High-C and O.D. DrugWar's sideline hobby of killing off rappers, and stealing not only their estates, but their identities themselves.

Not that either of them rapped. But they figured they'd get them all out of the way beforehand, in case they decided to later. Consequently, they were the only people left he could sell them to.

He had managed to sell one to O.D., a Gone with the Wind collector's edition with "Odie Durgwah" written on it in red Sharpie. The kid really wanted a Wizard of Oz one, but President Gorlax wouldn't part with it.

Now he was running a similarly lame hustle on High-C, never realizing that they only wanted them as a joke, and took great delight in making him work extra hard at trying to convince them to buy.

For High, he had constructed a Star Wars chessboard out of a disc of interwoven strips of black and white construction paper, to which he had glued a Monkees album he'd cut off of a box of Life cereal. It was the only copy of Last Train to Clarkesville in existence. High-C wanted to hear it at sixty-six  and sixty-six ninety-ninths RPM.

"That's an actual working record," President Gorlax was saying.

"At least it was," High countered.

"Scarcity increases value," PG said.

He had really mellowed that much. You could actually refer to him as PG. With the Space Olympics coming up, he was trying to rebrand himself as a kinder, gentler tyrant.

A homey despot.

It should be noted that punning was punishable by multi-death on Gortician. That fact that that was in itself a pun bothered him. He also usually broke the fingers of anyone who said "It is what it is." Or killed their wives.

"Check yo' premise, bitch-ass muhfukkin' Anton Lavey wannabe, Ayn Rand in a devil suit fucktard," High said.

He and Ode had a running contest to see just how far the could push him and get away with it. It was a little too easy, seeing how lonely he was. Decades of accelerated evilution had left him susceptible to the slightest unexpected kindness. Being nice was sort of the ultimate taboo on Gortician, and so even the tiniest friendly gesture sent him into spasms of delight. He was MC Serch to their Beastie Boys.

Read more President Gorlax, High-C and O.D. Drug war in Perfect Me, Cure for Sanity and Zombie Killa.

Get Rich Quick off of Ebook Authors

There's a lot of potential reward for being an author, but it's a gamble. Even if you're the best writer in the world, like I am, you have no guarantee of financial gain.

But if you're a smart predator, you can just make money off of us authors, instead.

Book covers. Every writer needs 'em. That latest trend seems to be make your own generic, great looking covers, and let people pick them out and pay for them. So basically, study book covers and start making them, using filler text. Bam. Even if you're getting $25 an image, as some people are now low-balling, that's about $25 an hour, if you're good. $100 is the minimum, in my consideration.

And I suspect at some point in the future, cover artists will start to ask for royalties instead of a flat fee. That could be very lucrative.

But, hey, you say. I can't write, and I can't do Photoshop. I'm just a reader.

Hey, would you like to narrate an audiobook? ACX hooks up authors and narrators, and lets them split the profits from subsequent audiobooks. It's a great side market, and one less heavily infested, for sure. Most crap books don't make it to audio.

Six Stories Short & Sweet is only thirty minutes long. It would make a great test recording to see if you're good at it and enjoy it. There's money to be made in the ebook market. It's just not necessarily there for authors. But with an audiobook, it's win/win. You get an income from sales, and I get an audiobook recorded. And income from sales. ; )

If you read this, you know my books are pretty hot. Grab life by the lapels and start working for yourself for a change. An hour's worth of reading could translate into royalties in perpetuity. That is always a good investment.

Many thanks to Jacqueline Druga for urging me to submit my titles for audition...

Free Porn

Just kidding. Sort of. Penultimate Hustle: Japan has gone free on Amazon. It's a for-real novel, one of my best yet, and the sequel to Radar Love. But it's about the porn and sex industry, and it's super explicit.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Radar Love - Updated Cover, Price

In honor of the pending release of the sequel, Radar Love is $.99 at Amazon. Possibly forever. Here's the final cover:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I'm almost there...

Radar Love is going free from the 23rd to the 27th, and it should finally get some significant downloads. Freebooksy has already picked it up. Yay! Not only that, but the books are selling. At least today they are.


I'm a featured author at Freebooksy

Penultimate Hustle: Japan - Cover Preview

I'm seriously considering splitting this 600 page monster up into two books. Partly because I'm at the halfway point of typing it up and editing it. Book three will be Penultimate Hustle: L.A. Not sure about the font color yet, but other than that, this is more or less what I expected it to look like.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Download Cure for Sanity for Free All Week Long

Prail thought making a little brother for herself would be a good idea. Her equal. Someone she could trust. Instead, she got Pex.

Sent to Earth to overthrow it as a game, he's nothing but trouble. Instead of religion and politics, he pursues cigarettes and fish sandwiches, pop culture and poetic justice. Worse yet, he criticizes the sim itself.

Join Prail and Pex, Janique, High-C, President Gorlax, and a few other notable characters from history as they try to win the game of life against a cheating computer.

Volume Two of the Perfection Labs Series. Check out Perfect Me, Volume One, if you haven't already.

Contains explicit language and situations. Just so you know.

Free until Friday the 17th.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Cure For Sanity Released at Amazon

This marks the second book in a series, a first for me. I have another sequel coming out next week, though, the long-sought follow-up to Radar Love, Penultimate Hustle.

Sorry if you were reading CFS on the blog. Contact me and I'll send you a copy, if you want. Otherwise, it'll be free this week, starting Monday...

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cure for Sanity Cover

Strangely appropriate crayon drawing by Emily Reagan Christie...

Semi-Advanced Editing Techniques

Let me get this out of the way first: do as I say, not as I do. I'll be the first to tell you, I don't spend as much time editing and reediting my books as I should. Oh, I'll pick yours apart to no end. But I seem to have this aversion to going over my work again and again. Because each time I do, I find new problems.

Anyway, I thought I'd share a few editing techniques that work for me and others. Of course, I am of the belief that every book should be 100% typo-free. It's a good goal, and obtainable.

Now, I'm a huge snob. The first thing I would say to you is, "Write it correctly the first time." And that really works for me. After ten novels or so, I can pretty much get it down on paper the way it should more or less read on the first try. I guess that just comes with experience.

But it really helps a lot. Do your best editing as you're writing.

Yes, get the words out there fast. No, don't get hung up on typos, etc. If you can. I can't. If I'm typing, things don't get overlooked, if I can help it.

1. Try Handwriting Your Books

But let me back things up a bit. I hand write all of my books before typing them up. I realize most of you type things up directly, but I am a firm believer in writing things long-hand, first. You sort of get a free edit when you type it up, that way.

One problem I think many of us encounter is ego. I generally refuse to bow down to small type, and so typed up my latest book at the default browser font size. Stupid. Blogger was actually a decent word processor, for me, this time around. It has an immediacy that Word lacks, and almost no disctracting features. It doesn't even have a good spelling checker, honestly.

But it's quick, and it works. Plus you can let people preview your new novel as it's put online. Bonus.

However, I let a lot of small typos through. Mostly punctuation, which can be hard to see, at times.

2. Zoom and Enhance

Protip: "CTRL + Plus Sign" on your PC Keyboard, or "Apple Key + Plus Sign" on your Macbook will make the text in your browser bigger. Don't be too proud to use it. You will see all sorts of new mistakes.

For that matter, make sure you're working at a magnified view in Word or whatever, if you're using that. I find that the double-pane view is a double pain, as you have to jump around to the top of page two, which is annoying and mucks up the workflow. A single page displayed in Word at 150% magnification or so is the way to go, in that case.

3. Kindle Fire

I really, really hope you have a Kindle if you plan on writing for Amazon. That's just eating your own dogfood, as we say in the software biz. You can't expect other people to buy Kindles to read your work if you yourself haven't bought one.

The emulator is good, the Kindle software, whatever you call it. But nothing beats displaying your work on an actual Kindle for editing and getting a general feel for the book. Any Kindle will work, unless you're making advanced textbooks or ebooks. In which case, you probably aren't reading this article.

But a Kindle Fire will make your life that much easier and nicer. It is a joy to read books on it.

But I'm going somewhere with this. will send daily blog posts to your Kindle. There are other sites like this, of course, but it's fast, free and easy to set up. Blogspot posts run through this service come out mostly formatted already, with indented paragraphs, etc.

Read these on your Kindle, and suddenly you're editing. See a typo? A phrase that needs changing? Bad wording? Major plot point missing? Select the problem area and hit 'Highlight'. Bam. Move on to the next typo.

When you're done, you have an easy-to-read list of all of your edits. Transfer your blog posts to Word and start fixing them. Make your .mobi file or whatever. You're done. Good luck with your new novel.

4. Full-On Insanity

Check this thread on the Kindleboards:,121816.msg1811018.html#msg1811018

These guys use this to edit, and sort of swear by it:

It's a programmable game pad, and it stores sixteen different macros. So, if you have common editing problems that you find yourself correcting over and over again, this could be the way to go. I know I mostly type 'signed' when I mean 'sighed'. Problems like that can be fixed with a single button press. And at less than $60, not exactly cost-prohibitive.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and edit something...

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bloody Tears

Massages and bubble baths
And big Coke floats
Itty bitty bite marks
On the side of your throat
Sweating and laughing
And gasping for air
Crying together
That life isn't fair
Into each life
A little rain must fall

You are my umbrella

Friday, August 3, 2012

New Moon

I view each full moon away from you as a failure
And each new moon as an opportunity to get you back

Thursday, August 2, 2012


I want to be your strength again
Your pillow
Your light in the gloom
And have some poems stay private
Not public broadcasts
But simple words
From a boy to a girl
To remind her
He loves her more than all the world

Sleeping Beauty, Disturbed

Sugar-coated winter angel
Had too much to dream last night
Went to bed with a tummy ache
And slept a fitful sleep
Visions of ponies fleeing
And a circus erupting in flames
She escaped to outer space
Her prince considered waking her
Then elected to let her be
But in the morning
Hugs and breakfast
Kisses and smiles
We'll blame it on the ice cream

There Is No Time Any Longer

A day without you
Is like a year
A week?
A decade
It's the new math
But the bottom line
Is that I miss you
Each second apart
A tiny forever

Preview of 'Reduction of Forces'

My construction/romance/murder novel. I spent twenty years researching this one. It features Renee Hollander from "Hurricane Regina".

Sixteen year-old Renee Hollander sat in a waiting room outside of a construction office, resume and references in hand. There were old magazines, empty styrofoam cups with dried coffee remnants in them, and a thick layer of dust over everything. She eyed the discarded monogoggles, hardhats, and various bits of fastener hardware with distaste.

It seemed like such a disorganized mess, and no way to build a hospital. But she knew men worked differently than women, and construction was a man's world.

Renee intended to change that.

The hand that was in the office with the superintendent, a welder, walked out and regarded her with curious interest.

"Hey, girl," he said. "You sellin' Girl Scout cookies or some shit?"

"Fuck off," Renee said.

The welder, Tokio according to the nametag sewn to his blue workshirt, raised his eyebrows at this, but said nothing in response, instead exiting the trailer, presumably to return to work.

Renee walked into the office.

"Yeah, waddya want?" the superintendent sneered. "You sellin' Girl Scout cookies or sumptin'?"

He laughed at his own wit.

"No, sir," she said respectfully. "I'd like a job."

The man laughed.

"I'd like a job, too," he said. "Why don't you get under my desk?"

"Sure," Renee said calmly. "But before I do, can I get representatives from OSHA and the Labor Board to come and watch?"

The color drained out of the man's face.

"I'm just kiddin', little darlin'," he said, shuffling papers on his desk. "What can you do?"

She handed him her resume' and letters of reference.

"I'm of legal working age, intelligent, strong, meticulous with an eye for detail. I'd say I'm easily suited to be a laborer, or a helper for a craftsman. An expeditor, if you need one of those."

The super sighed, defeated.

"I can give you sixteen dollars an hour to start. I need a pipefitter helper. Work starts tomorrow at six."

"Thank you, sir. You won't regret it."

Renee didn't go home, but instead went to the library, where she researched pipefitting in depth. She learned it was a study in level, plumb and square, with an emphasis on brains as well as brawn. After that, she went to the hardware store and spent her last one hundred and twenty-five dollars on levels, squares, a toolbox, and a four-pound maul.

Finally, she went home for dinner.

Her mom, Gladys, tried to get her to open up.

"How was your day, dear?" she asked her.

"Gotta job," Renee said. "I'm qutting school."

"Quitting school?" her mother asked, horrified. "You can't!"

"I can and I will. I already make double what you do, and almost what pop did before he died."

An uneasy silence befell the room. Gladys didn't like to speak of the circumstances of her father's death. Renee knew it was a construction accident, but that was all. Repeated pressings at her mother yielded no new information, only angry tears.

"You won't leave me, will you?" her mother asked, fear dominating her voice. "Please say you won't, Renee."

"No, ma. I'm not leaving."

Gladys's biggest fear was losing her daughter. But she had always assumed it would be to some boy, or man, even. This was an unexpected twist.

"Well, I suppose the extra money will be nice. Will you help with the bills?"

Renee's mother was perennially short of cash, leaving her in a constant state of worry.

"Of course, mom. I love you. I did it for you, in part."

"You're a good girl, Renee. Thank you."

"Do you love me, too?"

"Of course I do! What a silly thing to ask your own mother. If I ever don't say it, it's because it's a given. Mothers love their children. Even bad mothers love bad children. And you're a good child."

"Thank you, ma. You're a good mother."

"How sweet of you to say. Let's eat, okay? I made your favorite."

Fishsticks and macaroni weren't really her favorite foods, but she pretended they were. Her mother worked so hard.

After a dinner eaten mostly in silence, and quickly, Renee showered. The steaming water beat down on her young body, and as she soaped herself, her nipples grew erect. Instead of watching "Love Boat" and "Fantasy Island", she excused herself from her mother's presence and went to her room to masturbate furiously.


Twenty-two year old Alex Wright sat across from the piping superintendent, sweating hands clutching his rather sparse resume'. She sat on the phone, not acknowledging him, but engrossed in a conversation regarding a federal act that required her major components, pipe and fittings, be manufactured in the U.S.A.

"These fucking prices are outrageous!" she yelled into the phone.

Perhaps she shouldn't care so much, the project being time and materials, but her costs were running four times what they ordinarily would. She had made it to the top of her profession in part by keeping costs down for her clients. The high cost of American-made components were part of her projections, in theory.

In reality, the big numbers were irking her. If she entrusted things to an assistant, she'd order them to reduce the figures by seventy-five percent, just to ease her mind. She decided to take it out on her newest applicant, instead.

"Call you back," she said into the receiver.

"What the fuck do you want?" she asked the already intimidated Alex. 

Renee Hollander was the biggest piping mogul in the world, and Grand Coulee II Dam project was an unprecedented endeavor. They were going to dam the Mississippi river.

Alex had done his research. Over a six year span, an enormous expanse of earth would be excavated, creating a giant flood plain. Hundreds of thousands of Dakotans and residents of Illinois lost their property to eminent domain, receiving only market value for their homes, at best.

The houses weren't torn down, but rather all utility services were disbanded. People were allowed to stay or leave as they desired, and so a new class of society developed, formed of people who refused to abandon their childhood homes, and people who moved in to live in relative peace and freedom without expenses.

It was a massive free zone, unpoliced, without electricity or running water. But the residents there were happy and resourceful, and didn't want to be flooded out of their homes.

Her words drew Alex from his reverie.

"Uh, I'd like a job, ma'am."

"A job, eh? What are your qualifications?"

"Well, I have a degree in construction management, I'm industrious-"

"Hold it right there, homey. A degree in construction management don't mean shit. But I'll hire you. Sixteen dollars an hour."

"Sixteen dollars? The going rate is twenty-six!"

Jobs, however, were extremely scarce.

"Sixteen bucks. Take it or leave it."

Alex exhaled roughly. 

"I'll take it," he said. "What's the position?"

She looked at him levelly. "You're my bitch."

His faced turned as red as an apple. Renee slid a packet of papers from her desk drawer.

"Sign these," she said.

It was a W-2 form, and a waiver releasing her company, Zen Construction, from all liability. He filled out the W-2, scrawled his name across them and slid them back to her.

"When do I start?" he asked meekly.

She glanced at the clock behind her. Renee never wore a watch, but had uncanny timing.

"It's one o'clock. I'll start your time at two. Let's go."

They rose to leave, and Alex said, "Don't I need a hardhat?"

"That's what the waiver is for. I have a deal with OSHA. Come on."

At the door, she paused and said, "Grab my belt-loop with your left hand."

He looked at her with confusion in his eyes.

"," she said again.

Reluctantly, he did so. He might have been a college boy, but he knew what it signified. She was really serious about this bitch thing, he thought.

She led him into the current area of excavation. Great earth-moving machines, skip loaders, dump trucks and graders danced an intricate ballet, seemingly operated by remote control. In the midst of the chaos, there was a lone stick of pipe, a single elbow, a welding machine, and a little Asian man.

Alex watched the man drop his welding hood and tack a bead, joining the pipe and ninety. He then raised his head, flipped up his hood, and produced a level from his back pocket. He scrutinized the instrument, made no adjustment, dropped the hood back down, and tacked the other side.

"This is Cho," Renee said. "You're his helper. Just do what he tells you to do. I'll be back at six to pick you up."

Just like that, she was gone.

"Sir," Alex said, bowing deferentially. 

Cho was about to make a third tack when he was interrupted. He spoke to Alex with an uncharacteristic mid-western accident.

"Look here, charity case. Piping on this project doesn't even start for another three months, and it's largely prefabbed.  Realize you're just padding on the payroll, and keep your mouth shut."

"Then what are we doing here?" Alex asked, unable to contain his question.

"I'm making forty-eight dollars an hour, seventy-two after eight hours. You're ruining my concentration."

But Cho could see the desperation on his face and relented.

"Look, kid. We're here because the fedgoveral won't pay out four point six million per quarter if she doesn't have at least a skeleton crew on the payroll. The sun is shining, the air is clean. My advice? Try to do what I do."

"How can I help?"

"I don't work with most helpers. If you're a good boy, I'll let you work with me in the future. For now..."


"See that shovel and wheelbarrow? Dig me a two-foot square hole where that stake is."

"How deep?"

"Good question! A two cubic-foot hole, then."

"Yes, sir," Alex said with enthusiasm.

Alex, who had lifted little more than a spoon or a pen in his past four years of bookwork, struck the earth with the shovel, and received a shock that he felt all the the way up to his teeth. The densely-packed dirt was nearly as hard as rock. No sooner had he removed the stake to dig than a man walked angrily up to him, a look of consternation on his face.

"What the fuck did you move that stake for?" he demanded of Alex.

"My boss told me to."

"The fuck-"

In a flash, Cho was there, hand on his shoulder.

"Easy, pard. It's a little character building exercise.  I need a hold to form up this pipe. It's four feet long, and I only have two pipe jacks."

Alex watched realization dawn across the face of the man. Walt, he would later learn the head of the civil department's name was. 

"Okay, then, Cho-Cho. As long as he's with you."

Without another word, he left, presumably to check the status of his other stakes. Realizing he was only estimating, Alex went to Cho, who wordlessly handed him a Craftsman twenty-foot tape measure. Despite his discipline in college, math really wasn't his forte. Nevertheless, he understood what a two cubic-foot hole entailed. He used the shovel's edge to draw the outlines, allowing four inches of play on the inside, so he didn't go over two feet.

Then he set his teeth and went to work. The sun was beating down on him, and sweat drenched his long-sleeved shirt. The hardpan dirt did not yield to him easily. After an hour's hard digging, he was still several inches short of his target.

Cho walked over to him.

"Dollar waitin' on a dime," he said.

"What does that mean?" Alex asked, perturbed.

"It means I'm being held up by a peon," Cho said sternly. "Move."

He took the shovel from his hands, and in five minutes, had the hole completed. It was rough and jagged, the depth uneven, but more or less two feet deep and wide. He handed the shovel back to Alex.

"It's just a hole," he told him, shrugging his shoulders.

Cho walked over to the pipe, the ninety now fully welded to it, and calmly kicked it over. It fell with a resounding thud, barely heard over the earth-moving equipment that encircled them.

"Let's go get a drink," Cho said. "You've earned it."

He followed him to Renee's trailer, which now seemed a hundred miles away. The cool, still air inside was now like an alien environment. They drank from paper cups, imbibing water from an orange Igloo cooler. Water, which Alex has always taken for granted, even somewhat disdained, now tasted like ambrosia.

Renee was on the phone, yelling, and as they left the relative comfort of the trailer they heard her saying, "No, fuck you!", and they laughed together.

Chapter Two

Young Renee's first day on the job was a study of opposites. She dressed down, Levi's and a flannel workshirt, no make-up, her hair drawn in a tight ponytail. Even so, the men fell all over her. 

She was given the job of firewatch, which upset her to no end. She wanted to learn to be a pipe fitter. Instead, she sat on a bucket and watched the men work all day, knowing full well that the only chance of fire was from the cigarettes and weed the men smoked, carelessly tossing their butts and roaches over the edge of the scaffolds they worked from.

In retaliation, he did nothing to prevent any fires that day, laughing as some plastic sheeting actually caught fire once, and a few concerned scaffold builders moved in to stamp out the rising flames. 

Renee decided that day that she liked the construction game. 


"Move that pipe and jackstands so the ninety looks down into the center of the hole you dug," Cho said.

Alex decided he wasn't being sarcastic, but he knew he didn't really dig much of the hole himself. He carried the jackstands gingerly. one at a time, positioning them so that the pipe would rest comfortably in place, and the ninety would more or less be centered where Cho wanted it. But when he tried to lift the pipe, twenty feet of schedule forty carbon steel, he found he couldn't manage to lift it.

 Cho watched him struggle for a bit, and then disgustedly told him to get out of the way. He easily lifted one end of the pipe, moved it closer to the jacks, then the other, until it was positioned next to them. Then he pointedly looked at Alex, lifted one end of the pipe with one hand, and placed it easily on the jackstands. He repeated the process on the other end, and then bowed slightly to Alex.

"Lesson one," he said. "You have to be smarter than the pipe."

Alex felt flushed, and foolish.

"I like you, kid. I think you have potential. I'll let you be my 'prentice."

Now he felt strangely pleased.

"Lift this pipe for me," Cho said.

Alex did so, and Cho slid the jackstand back five feet. Then he pulled out a black tube of rubber and unrolled it, wrapping it around the pipe.

"Can I have my tape back?" Cho asked him.

Alex handed him his tape, and he made a small mark with a flat piece of white chalk, four feet from the end of the pipe.

"Soapstone," Cho said. "Pipe wrap."

Then he positioned the wrap's edge on the mark he had made, pulling both ends taut until the leading edge was aligned with it to his satisfaction. Finally, he drew the soapstone around the pipe wrap at the four foot mark.

"Go to the trailer and get the torch," he told Alex, with no further instruction.

Alex trudged off the seemingly incalculable distance in search of something resembling a torch. After twenty minutes of nosing around the pipeyard in vain, he went into the office and asked Renee if she knew where the torch was. She was of course on the phone, cursing.

She put her hand over the mouthpiece and said, "In the backroom, sweetie. Torch, hose, and gauges. Connect them to the bottles outside."

Them she went back to yelling and cursing into the phone.


Renee's second day was much like the first, initially. But she firewatched for a welder-fitter-helper combo, so she got to observe the process firsthand. The welder sat around most of the day, the fitter barked orders to the beleaguered helper, and the helper did his best to make things come together.

I could do that, she thought. The fitter seemed to be there mainly to supply tools and experience. The welder welded, but only almost after the fact. Ninety percent of it seemed be in the preparation. Aside from fetching power tools as needed, he seemed to spend most of his time grinding. Since they were working on the ground, she paid a lot of attention to the details of what he was doing. 

The fitter pulled some measurements, relayed a number to the helper, and went back to bullshitting with the welder. The helper marked the pipe, then disappeared for twenty minutes. He came back with a bandsaw that was too small for the six-inch pipe they needed to cut, so it took what felt like forever.

Renee couldn't hold her tongue any longer. She approached the welder and fitter, interrupting their conversation about sports.

"Why don't you have the helper get all the tools first thing in the morning?" she asked him. "And a wide-mouth bandsaw instead of that crummy Porter Cable one?"

The fitter considered this for a moment, and then said, "Why don't you suck my dick?"

He and the welder laughed uproariously at this display of verve. Renee walked off, red-faced. Twenty minutes later, the fitter and welder were summarily fired. Both they and their tools were brought to the front gate. 

The foreman came by.

"I'm really sorry about that, Ms. Hollander. I can assure you that it won't happen again."

He turned to the helper. James was his name,

"You're the fitter now, kid. I hope you know your shit."

"I don't work without blueprints," he told told the foreman squarely.

He grew angry for a moment, then realized James was a true pipefitter, and was pleased.

Then James said, "How much is my raise?"

Caught off guard for a moment, the foreman, Bobby, stumbled with the words and caught himself before he gave away the store.

"Three bucks," he said.

"That piece of shit who just left was making six dollars more than me, and I did all the work."

"Alright, asshole. Four bucks. Take it or leave it."

James ignored him and went back to work.

"You're his helper now," the foreman told Renee. "Try not to let him get hurt or start any fires."

Then he whispered to her, "Five dollar raise."


Alex wheeled the cart, with its heavy oxygen and acetylene bottles, back to Cho, who was waiting impatiently.

"What took so long, kid?"

"I didn't know what a torch was," Alex admitted.

"You're kidding me," Cho said.

"No, sir," Alex said. "Renee had to help me."

Alex had a real honesty problem.

"You have a real honesty problem, don't you?" 

"Is it a problem, sir? I have the ability to lie. I just prefer not to."

"Don't get all Herman Melville on me, sonny," Cho said.

Alex was stunned.  The elderly Asian pipefitter had just referenced what is largely considered the first American existentialist novel, Bartleby the Scrivner.

"Don't look so shocked, boy. Do you think because I work construction, I'm uneducated?"

"No, it's just, I-" Alex stammered.

"Let me put it this way. I know what you know, and then some. For example, what do you make an hour?"

"Sixteen," he admitted.

"You're fucking joking," Cho said.

It was, Alex would later recall, the only time he ever heard him utter a vulgarity. 

"No, sir. That's all she offered me."

"Come on," Cho said angrily. 

They walked back to Renee's office trailer and barged in. She was on the phone, naturally. Cho looked her in the eyes and disconnected her. Alex expected her to be angry, outraged, even. But she folded her arms across her chest and listened.

"Sixteen dollars?" was all Cho said.

"What? I was fucking with him. I expected him to blink. He didn't blink. Look."

She turned her ledger toward him. 

"See? Twenty-eight dollars an hour."

Satisfied, but still angry, Cho said, "Don't mess with my helper," and walked out, Alex in tow.

"He's still my bitch!" Renee called out to them, laughing. 

She resumed her work on the phone, trying to source cheaper materials. 


Alex began trying to connect the pressure gauges to the oxy-acetylene rig, and had to admit his ignorance once again. One of the gauges wouldn't screw on. Cho let him struggle for a while, then stepped in and said, "Forget what you know about 'Righty-Tighty'."

Alex turned the brass bonnet counterclockwise and it screwed right on.

"Reverse threaded," Cho said. "See the marks here? That indicates a reverse threaded coupling. Don't over-tighten because brass is a soft metal and you'll ruin the threads. Then you'll have to tighten them more each time. But get a good seal on each."

Alex tightened them both down with a crescent wrench, and then Cho opened the acetylene valve.

"Watch," he said.

He produced a lighter and lit it near the connector. A small blue flame leapt to the brass and hovered there. Alex panicked and cringed. Cho jokingly swatted him and said, "Relax."

As he did so, Cho said, "The oxygen is just as dangerous. It won't ignite. On its own, but if you spray the gauges with WD-40, then they'll explode when the oil atomizes and mixes with the pure oxygen."

"Have you ever seen a bottle explode?" Alex asked breathlessly.

"Nope," Cho said. "Not on my watch. But I've seen pictures. These tanks are milled from a single disc of steel that's stretched into a bottle shape and then threaded at the top. It eliminates any other possible point of failure. But," he continued, "I have seen what happens if a bottle falls over and the gauges break off."

"Really? What?"

"They turn into torpedoes. A kid knocked one over once, and the gauges hit a fab table. That bottle took off in the opposite direction and went through six walls before it stopped. It traveled over a thousand feet. We actually measured the distance, we were so awestruck."

Alex took the lesson to heart.

"That's why you ordinarily tie bottles down to a column or something, or rack them in a cart like this one."

Cho kicked the bottles over and Alex felt his heart leap out of his chest momentarily.

"See?" Cho said calmly. "The design of the cart prevents such an accident. Um, I don't recommend you teach your own helper using such radical methods."


Renee was determined to live up to her new role as fitter-helper. She approached James, who was attacking the end of the freshly-cut pipe with an angle grinder.

"Can I help, sir?" she asked him.

"No," he said tersely. "Stay back ten feet unless you have the same P.P.E. on as I have."

"Personal protective equipment," she laughed. "What a joke."

He dropped the grinder and threw his faceshield on the ground. 

"Let me tell you somethin'," he said. "My first helper job, I was clueless like you. All they gave me was a fuckin' pair of safety glasses. I didn't even know to keep my hair covered. I used that piece of shit grinder all day like a good monkey. 

"When I got home to my wife and kids, I was so tired, I took a nap, something I ordinarily never did. When I woke up, I felt like I had sand in my eyes. So I did what you would normally do, I rubbed them. Twenty minutes later, I was crawlin' around on the carpet bawlin' like a fuckin' baby. Scratched corneas. Your eyes are precious. Protect them at all costs."

Finished with his lecture, James put his faceshield back on and picked up his grinder again, resuming his work. Renee went and found monogoggles and a faceshield of her own and rejoined him.

"Thank you," she said when he had stopped grinding in order to rotate the piece of pipe he was working on.

"No problem," he said.

Now protected to James's satisfaction, she was free to put her face close to where he was working and observe more closely. He playfully shot sparks in her face, and she marveled at the display of orange-red lights rapidly flying at her and falling away. It was like being in the middle of a fireworks display.

"Can I help?" she asked again over the din of the grinder.

He stopped what he was doing.


"Aww, why not?"

His face grew stern and serious again.

"Look, I don't know what your game is, Ms.-"

"Ms. Renee. But in my opinion, helpers suck, and they don't."

"Don't what?"

"Don't help."

"That's silly," she said. "Helpers have to help. It's axiomatic."

"In my experience, helpers that actually help you are as rare as hen's teeth. If you place your trust in them, they usually let you down."

"But you were a helper an hour ago!"

"And I was a good one. But a good helper is a fitter. And you have a ways to go before you're a pipefitter."

"Will you teach me?"

He considered this for a moment.

"If you're serious."

"I am," she said earnestly.

"Then be here everyday, rain or shine. Come early. Ask questions. A good helper learns, assists, and, honestly, does most of the work. The fitter takes responsibility and teaches. And sometimes, learns. But don't think you're gonna walk onto my job site and shake your ass for a free pass."

"No sir, I won't."

"You are pretty sexy, though," James added.

"I know," she said, smiling.


As soon as she walked in the door, Renee's mother was doting on her, taking her coat, hugging her. She even attempted to wipe her nose. 

"Mom, stop," Renee said. "I'm a grown woman."

"Not to your mom, you're not. You'll always, always be my little girl."

Renee rolled her eyes at her.

"Your face is going to get stuck like that someday," her mother said.

Renee rolled her eyes harder and stuck her tongue out.

"What's for dinner?"

"I made your favorite. Chicken and dumplings."

"Mom, last night you said macaroni and fish sticks were my favorite."

"You have to admit, I make a hell of a macaroni."

"My point is, you can't decide what my favorite food is. I'm-"

"A grown woman. I know. But you're not a woman just because you have a job."

"Okay, I'm a young adult with a job. So how do you define womanhood, mom?"

"Well, married with kids, I guess."
"So if I never marry or have kids, I'll never be a woman?"

"No," he mom said, "I guess not."

"That's preposterous, mom. I might not ever do either, just to prove a point."

"I meant I guess those things don't make someone a woman, after all."

"Oh, okay. Let's eat, I'm starving."

When they walked into the kitchen, Renee saw a dirty dishtowel on the kitchen table."

"Ooh, poop or chocolate!" Renee said, snatching it up and licking it.


"Fuck!" she said, running to the sink.

"Poop. Mitzi had a little accident. I dropped it on the table when I heard you at the door."

"Thanth a lot!" Renee said with her tongue under the running water.

"See, Renee? You're still a kid. Grown women," she said, making finger quotes in the air, "don't play games like 'Ooh, floor candy!' or 'Poop or chocolate?'"

"Lesson learned," Renee said. "I've lost my taste for that game."

"Tuesday already, Renee?"

"It's always Pun Tuesday with me, mom. But you'd probably know what day it is more often if you ever left the house."

Her mom served up bowls of soup.

"More," Renee said. "I really have an appetite since I started my job."

"You don't want to get fat," her mother said.

"No, I don't," Renee said. "But if I want to, I will. I'm not getting married anyway, remember?"

This time, her mother rolled her eyes.

"When the soaps go off, I know it's the weekend."

They lived off of her father's death benefits and social security fund, but it was a tight budget. Her mother generally left the house twice a week. Once on Saturdays for groceries, and again for church on Sunday. Renee avoided both, if she could help it.

She still had to pop into the market during the week, occasionally, but had reduced her church visits to Easter and Christmas, which her mother absolutely insisted upon.

"That's not healthy," Renee said. "You need a job or a boyfriend. Or both."

"Renee, I could never remarry."

"Why not?"

"I love your father too much."

"Ma, he's dead. It's okay. Seriously."

"No man will ever compare favorably to your father. So why bother?"

"How about sex?"

"Renee Audrey Hollander, don't you dare go there!"

"For real, mom. If you ask me, that's when girls become women. You're a woman. You need sex."

"Some of them are still girls, Renee. Some of them stay girls."

"We're talking about you, not me, or some theoretical case study."

"Not at the table, please," her mom said, closing the subject. "Besides, I'd lose my food stamps and health benefits."

"You don't need them anymore. I make plenty."

Her mother said nothing.

"Maybe when I'm ready."

"You need to live a little," Renee said, putting her plate in the sink.