Category Archives: Uncategorized

Chuck Caruso Has a New Web Address

Howdy, folks, if you’re following my WordPress blog at jcdarkly, thank you!  I really appreciate your readership.

But I wanted to let you know I’ve got a brand new website with my very own URL:

The site will look familiar since I’ve just ported all the contents of this site over to the new one, but I hope you’ll take a moment to “follow” me over to this new site.


“Hell Fire” Online at The Big Adios

I’m proud to have my new western noir tale “Hell Fire” published as the feature story this week on the new all-western e-zine The Big Adios.  The zine just launched earlier this month and it looks great!  The design and artwork are nicely done.  I’m joining some good company with the other authors there.  The very first story was a dilly called “Missing” by Edward A. Grainger (aka, David Cranmer), author of the highly regarded series featuring outlaw marshall Cash Laramie.  If it’s your first encounter with Cash, it probably won’t be your last.

My own story, “Hell Fire” is another western noir piece in a growing collection of tales set in and around Perseverance, Oregon.  I’m writing these stories in such a way that the inter-connect in various ways, small and large.  The idea is that major characters in one story appear as walk-on players in another character’s tale.  Events that drive one story have echoes or unforeseen implications in another.  The short story collection I’m working on here won’t be a novel exactly because it won’t have a single over-arching plot, but I’m hoping it will have a novelistic effect so that all the stories together can have an impact greater than the sum of the individual parts.

“Hell Fire” starts with a stranger at a campfire asking, “You ever have a woman get you in the God way?”

I hope you’ll take a few moments to stop on by The Big Adios and read the rest of this new story.  Your readership is appreciated and your comments are always welcome.

“A Lady’s Pistol” at Fires on the Plain

My latest western noir tale, “A Lady’s Pistol” is now available online at Fires on the Plain, a new e-zine dedicated to publishing the best of independent western crime fiction.

This publication is definitely right up my alley.  I was beside myself when I heard it was going live in late February, and I haven’t been disappointed since.  Editor Cullen Gallagher is doing a bang-up job getting this fledgling project off the ground.  The e-zine started strong with three really great stories in the first three weeks — “The Serpent Box” by Jake Hinkson, “Pox” by Patti Abbott, and “Jingle Bob” by Ron Scheer.  I’m thrilled to be joining their ranks with this week’s featured story.

Please step on over to Fires on the Plain.  I’d appreciate your comments on this hardboiled tale of murder and mayhem.

“Whistlin Pete” Published Online

I’m thrilled to be back in the saddle over at the Flash Fiction Offensive with a nasty little tale called “They’ll Call Me Whistlin Pete.”  My latest piece of “western noir” went live last Friday and remains the featured story for the duration while they go through some minor transitions.  If you haven’t had a chance yet, mosey on over and check it out:

“They’ll Call Me Whistlin Pete” at Flash Fiction Offensive

David Barber does a hell of a job as editor there, and I’m very grateful that my stories can find homes at his wonderful publication.

For those of you who keeping score at home, this is the second story to see light of day from my forthcoming Tales of Perseverance collection.  A series of interlinked western noir tales set in and around Perseverance, Oregon, in the 1880’s.  Founded at the end of a wrong turn off the Oregon Trail, Perseverance is in the words of one resident, “A town named after the dubious virtue of steadfastly moving in the wrong direction.”

Watch for more Tales of Perseverance in the coming weeks and months!

The Perils of Self-Publishing

Now that electronic publishing is cheap and easy, and places like Amazon make online sales as simple as one-two-three, a lot of early-career writers are thumbing their noses at established agents and publishing houses as they surrender to the blandishments of self-publishing; however, before anyone rushes headlong into this utopian paradise of 21st-century authorship, prudence dictates first examining some of the rather treacherous perils along the way.

Scrutinize the Pros:

Avoiding Editors – Finding a publisher for your novel can be a daunting, soul-taxing task.  Editors seeming to love to say no, and you hear the statistic batted around that only 1 in 2,000 novels written is ever published.  I know, as the gate-keepers of the literary marketplace, editors can seem like the enemy of writers – after all, they’re the ones keeping you outside the gates.  But editors are trained professional with a highly acute sense of the readership they serve, and that vast readership (which writers eye so eagerly) rely on those gate-keepers to ensure they don’t spend time and hard-earned money on books that don’t meet their expectation.  For all the faults you can find with many a published book (and there are often faults), books that pass through an editorial process tend to be well-crafted and entertaining in the right ways.  Those books are also coherent, free of typos and grammar problems, and generally, well, better than the original manuscript our hopeful writer sent to the editor.  This is an important, even vital process for readers.  I’d also suggest it’s important for writers.  (See “No Rejection” under Consider the Cons).

Avoiding Agents – Getting an agent seems impossible.  Here’s why, as I see it: if finding an editor who wants to publish your novel is like trying to date a high school cheerleader, then finding an agent who wants to represent you is like trying to date the friend of a high school cheerleader.  The high school cheerleader won’t go out with you unless she really likes you or you’re the captain of the football team or your dad is the mayor or something along those lines, but the friend of the high school cheerleader won’t go out with you even if she does like you unless she also believes the high school cheerleader would approve.  But, like editors, agents provide a valuable step along the way to publication because they also act as a way to filter out things that (they believe editors would find are) not ready for presentation to mass reading audiences.  But agents are also important because they know the ways to help writers ramp up their careers – selling movie rights, tackling foreign markets, etc.  These are all things that most writers will have no clue how to do on their own.  Self-publish and you lose out on all that expertise.

Better Royalties – Self-publishing advocates like to cite the vastly improved royalty rates they expect.  Selling your own e-book on Amazon nets you seventy-percent of the sales price.  That’s great until you start doing the math.  For the first thousand copies at $2.99, you could expect to make about $2000.  Subtract from that your initial publishing and preparation costs and you just might break even.  Except that very few self-publishers have enough friends and family to sell that first thousand copies, which means you’re probably looking at more like 300 copies if all your Facebook friends come through to buy a copy.  300 copies nets you a little over $600.  You can’t rent an apartment for that any more.  And meanwhile all the time and energy you’ve put into the publishing efforts is time and energy you have not spent writing that next book your little readership are (perhaps) eagerly awaiting.  Okay, okay, no need to beat this dead horse.  You’re not doing this for the money anyway, right?  Then why did you bring up better royalties?

Success Stories – At the last Willamette Writer’s conference, one of the early sessions presented the success story of a writer who self-published her first three novels electronically and sold them through Amazon.  She not only spent over $50,000 of her own money getting this undertaking off the ground, but she really worked her ass off – personally emailing every person who bought her book and asking them to give the book a rating and write a brief review.  And over the course of several years, she broke into the list of top-sellers on Amazon.  Her reward?  Her success attracted the attention of a fancy NY agent who was able to get her a three-book deal with a major NY publishing house.  Am I the only one who finds this story sadly ironic?  And stories of big-fish authors who were originally published by major houses and then jumped ship to self-publish and rake in the profits are an entirely different kettle of fish than the newbie minnows who will be struggling to keep from starving or being eaten by the other bigger minnows.

Consider the Cons:

No Rejection – Believe me, I dislike a rejection notice as much as the next guy.  But I’ve learned to appreciate them.  Not form rejections – nobody appreciates those – but a personal rejection can provide you with valuable information and can spur you to do better and better work.  When you get personal rejection from an editor, that’s code to try them again.  They noticed you.  It’s also a way to learn how to revise your manuscript or at least adjust your pitch before you submit your work to the next editor.  Literary history is rich with stories of rejected authors who tried and tried again.  James M. Cain’s first novel was supposedly rejected so many times that he titled it The Postman Always Rings Twice in reference to the code ring his mailman gave when he was returning the damn thing yet again.  But eventually Cain did get that novel published, along with many more novels.  But ask yourself if it would be considered an American masterpiece if he’d self-published it as print-on-demand and sold 300 copies to his friends and family.

No Market Placement – Publishing through a reputable house generally automatically gets you in the loop as far as market placement.  The publisher will send out Advance Reading Copies (ARCs in the biz) to bookstores and newspaper reviewers.  Do this on your own and you’re cutting even further in to that $600 you made.  And you’re wasting your time as well because (fairly or not) most bookstores and newspaper reviewers can’t be bothered with self-published works.  Okay, maybe they haven’t gotten the word that self-publishing no longer has the same stigma attached to it.  You go ahead and have that discussion with them.  While you’re at it, think of yourself as an overwhelmed reader trying to find a good book to read in a world where instead of only 1 in 2,000 novels being published, all 2,000 of those un-edit manuscripts are available to you.  Not to be an elitist fuddy-duddy, but yikes!  Where does the democratization of the process end and where do the virtues of a juried meritocracy start?  Maybe it’s just because as an English teacher I’ve read too many badly written papers in freshman comp classes, but I don’t want to wade through everything that everybody writes ever in order to find something decent to read during a weekend at the beach.  Do you?

No Publicity – Okay, sadly, very few first time authors get much out and out publicity from their publishers any more.  Gone are the days of the full page add in the New York Times for someone’s debut novel.  But by going through a publishing house you still get all sorts of indirect publicity.  You show up in their catalogs for one thing.  That means you’re also automatically available through Ingram Books, etc.  Don’t know who Ingram is and you’re still set on self-publishing?  Well, you better stop reading this and get cracking.  You’ve got a lot of work to do.

The Electronic Tides of Change

A couple months ago, news sources reported that for the first time ever monthly sales figures for electronic books (or ebooks) had outpaced sales of hardbacks.  Of course, most books are sold in paperback and sales of these continue to far surpass both ebooks and hardbacks.  At least for the moment, but some say that ebooks beating hardbacks signals once and for all that the future of reading is ultimately digital.  This reversal had been building for some time so it didn’t come as a surprise, but the significance of the change stimulated a lot of discussion among publishers and retailers, who for the most part had already been heatedly discussing this and related topics for quite some time.

This tipping-point shift in the media market caused much less excitement among those more intimately (and perhaps somewhat less fiscally) involved with the stuff being bought and sold.  That is to say, readers and writers.  Part of that lack of excitement stems from the fact we’ve been hearing about the death of the paperback for so long that we’ve become jaded to the idea and don’t really take it very seriously anymore, but part of the writerly and readerly disinterest in the changing media would seem to come from the underlying truth that we don’t really care that much about the mechanics of delivery.  Writers gotta write.  Readers gotta read.  Whether that business happens via paper or an electronic screen is ultimately irrelevant.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  For now, it would seem that most of us write electronically but still read physical books.

As a writer, although I was born in the dark ages before the advent of the personal computer, I’ve still done the majority of my writing on an electronic device of some sort or other for most of my life.  At first, yes, it was weird getting used to the idea that my stories existed first as virtual files on the 40MB hard drive of my Macintosh rather than as sheets of paper stacking up next to my old Smith-Corona manual typewriter.  But I got used to this fairly quickly.  And I learned to appreciate – indeed, to rely upon – the absolute ease with which I could edit drafts in all sorts of large and small ways.  Want to rewrite the opening paragraph without having to retype the whole story?  Done.  Want to change the name of a character everywhere it appears?  Done.  Want to share a draft of something with your writing group without having to go to a copy shop and pay for a dozen copies?  Done and done.  I know we take these things for granted these days, but I’m here to tell you, it wasn’t always so.  And there were a lot of annoying missteps along the way.  I’ve lost lots of my earlier stories because of abandoned technology.  How could I ever find a machine capable of reading my old floppy discs?  I can’t – those drafts are gone forever.  Ironically, my stories from the Smith-Corona days are the ones I still have in a desk drawer.  It’s the ones from the early days of word processing that are lost.  Thing is, the conveniences are great, but they came at a price and we shouldn’t forget that.  Going electronic puts us at the mercy of the medium and subject to the whims of the corporate giants selling us hardware and software.  That said, most of the writer-editor interaction seems to take place electronically these days.  Most publishers want things emailed to them as an attachment.  It’s easier all the way around.  And that means most writers compose on the computer rather than any other way – it saves time and headache.  Ultimately, I don’t know hardly anybody who writes in longhand anymore.

By the same token, I still don’t know hardly anybody who does more than a very small amount of their reading on an e-reader.  Personally, I don’t own one yet.  In fact, four out of the five members of Portland Mayhem Company still read books made out of paper and ink.  That’s not to say I won’t someday switch over to an e-reader, but I’m not there yet.  And it’s not that I’m a luddite.  Far from it, but I’ve shifted to a place where I don’t want to be an early adopter anymore.  The growing pains along the way are too great.  I can’t bear the thought of taking the plunge and expanding my personal library into the electronic realm only to have to re-purchase the same works four and five times over the next couple decades while the media continues to evolve.  Seriously, I have music on my iPod now that I’ve purchased four times – first on vinyl, then on cassette tape, then on CD, and finally in a purely digital format.  I’m not doing this with my books.  Not until they solve some of the remaining issues with e-readers.

First off, I don’t want a device that limits me to buying all my books from a single source.  So the Kindle is out.  Amazon is fine for some things, like tracking down rare and out-of-print books, but I won’t buy newer titles from them because I prefer to support small, independent booksellers.

Secondly, I want a device that supports multiple reading formats and allows me to borrow books from public and academic libraries.  I’d also like to be able to exchange books with friends.

Thirdly, I need to be able to mark up the books I’m reading, making marginal notes, underlining key passages, marking pages, and copying excerpts for quotation into word processing documents.

So, for me, the e-readers haven’t arrived yet.  Old fashioned paper-and-ink books are still better and more convenient for the type of reading I do.  That doesn’t mean I won’t ever change, it just means that I can’t make the transition until I’m completely satisfied I’ll gain more than I lose.  Yes, I know some houses are shifting entirely to electronic publishing, but so far I haven’t run across any titles I need to read that I can’t still obtain in hard copy.  We can talk again when that changes.  For now I’m sticking with paper and ink.