Wednesday, December 28, 2011

E-book Formatting 101

First off, I hope everyone had a great holiday. I know I did. And my baby daughter sure enjoyed herself. She's a little young to understand exactly what's happening, but she likes looking at all the pretty lights all over the place and she loved opening up gifts. Of course, she was more fascinated by the wrapping paper than the actual presents, but I guess that's just how it goes at fourteen months old.

So we moved a week before the holiday, and I had a few days without Internet. Of course I had plenty to do otherwise, with all the packing, lugging, dragging, cursing the heavens, hauling, sobbing, unpacking, screaming "When will it end?!", and all the things that go into moving into a new place. But at the same time my prose productivity shot up. I wrote 1K words on a brand new short story, 1.5K on another, and 3K on another. This is great output for me. Sadly, none are yet finished, but two are close. Soon. Very soon. The two nearing completion are horror tales, my first venture into this genre. One is psychological horror, and the other is sci-fi/horror. The third is a science fiction comedy with absurd science. But it's fun, short, and sweet, so I don't think the wonky technical aspects (of which there are few, and which are a joke more than anything else) are too important.

I also tweaked Fountain's description and learned how to format e-books. That's right, with a couple of nights of work, in a matter of hours, I taught myself how to create a professional-looking e-book. Two days ago I re-uploaded new, improved versions of Fountain to Amazon and B&N, with a nicer-looking title page. I also corrected a few typos, a couple of paragraph issues in the early chapters, and added some pretty cool effects to the formatting.

A mere week ago, I had no clue how to format e-books. But I think it's an essential skill for an indie author--especially one just starting out--to have. And it's easy to learn. I started with Guido Henkel's guide to e-book formatting, which I suggest reading in full before you try writing any HTML code. (Did that last sentence intimidate you? HTML code--gasp! Just a week ago, it would have scared the Hades out of me, but now I scoff at it.) The most telling phrase from Guido: "You're smart enough to write a book, you're smart enough to learn to format you're own e-books." Guido really lays it down in easy-to-grasp language, with only the occasional bit of technical jargon. I skimmed over the spots I didn't understand my first pass through the Guide. After that, I dove in and wrote some HTML code and went back numerous times for reference. By the end, I understood in full everything he was talking about. You'll need two programs: Calibre, which is an ebook converter, and an HTML editor. I chose Notepad++ as my editor. It's interface was easiest to navigate. For me. That doesn't mean it will be for you, though. Look around; there's a few options out there. Here's a couple hundred at Another useful item to keep on hand is a list of HTML code for special characters. Here's one.

Start with trial and error. If you save your file as an .html file in your editor, you can click on that file on your computer and it will open up in your web browser, looking almost exactly as it will when someone fires it up on an e-reader. (Note: Your chapter breaks will not be visible in the browser, but if you put them in place properly, they will be there in the e-book.) If something didn't work or doesn't look right, just go back to your HTML editor, change it, and click your file again. Play around with it. Just make sure you save your clean .doc file before copying and pasting it into your HTML editor so you can go back and start over if need be.

The only major issue I had was getting line-breaks to appear in my EPUB file. When converting from HTML to EPUB in Calibre, they refused to show themselves. But with a little ingenuity I fixed the problem. If you run into the same issue, drop me a line and I'll tell you what I did. It's a simple fix.

By no means do I now consider myself an expert at e-book formatting. But I know the basics. And it didn't take long to learn them. And now, anything I choose to publish, I can do all the formatting myself. And next time around, now that I've learned a few things, it will take far less time to create that e-book, and maybe I'll have picked up a few more cool tricks by then. In the end, it's time and money, saved.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday 12/18 - From "The Fountain of Eden"

He breathed the swamp-gas into his lungs, and it settled onto his skin and was absorbed into his pores to be sweat out, spat out, breathed out, shat out. The miasma seared into his guts like hot steam, branding his innards with its foul sigil. It amalgamated itself to his organs and began devouring, taking over cells like a cancer, becoming his blood, his guts, his heart, his flesh, his bones, his soul. 

Sorrow, hatred, fire, lamentation.

His soul in a nutshell.

Silent amidst a sea of sound, fury, and fire, Team Myth sailed on through the Stygian Marsh, guided by the Ferryman of the Dead.
The scene above takes place as four of my characters make their way across the ancient Greek Underworld to the Palace of Hades in search of a "mythnapped" friend. It is from the POV of Jack Whiskey, the novel's Trickster protagonist. You can probably guess who the Ferryman of the Dead is.

The Stygian Marsh is depicted in Greek and Roman mythology as a hellish amalgamation the Underworld rivers. The Styx, the River of Hatred. The Phlegethon, the River of Fire. The Cocytus, the River of Lamentation. The Acheron, the River of Sorrow. I did my utmost to be true to these olden depictions but at the same time gave them a twist of my own.

And sure, this book is a comical fantasy. But the best of those I've read have a little darkness in them, too.

As a holidaze special, you can purchase the e-book for 99 cents for the rest of the month at Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble. Also, I am doing a Goodreads giveaway for the novel. Enter today! Thanks for reading, and come back for more next Sunday!

 And don't forget to head over to Six Sunday to check out the short, sweet posts from all the great authors.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Review Time! Christopher Bunn's "The Mike Murphy Files and Other Stories"

I'm a writer. And I read a lot. So I think I'm gonna start reviewing the works of fellow indie authors on the blog. Books I come across in one way or another and enjoy. Like should help like, and pay it forward, and all that cliched karmic crap. But I'm gonna keep these things as simple and informal as possible (notice the "gonnas"). No psychoanalyzing, no soapbox tirades.

And no, I do not know the author personally. And no, I took no handouts to write this review. I just really liked this book. And dude's an indie.

So here goes it:

A fan of humorous fiction, I stumbled across this collection of shorts and gave it a download. And I was not disappointed. Christopher Bunn has put together a great little compilation of quirky, hilarious tales.

I enjoyed the pair of Mike Murphy stories, especially the second. The repartee between Mike, a hard-headed ex-cop detective with an anti-noir streak, and his selkie girlfriend Maura, who is Irish, had me chuckling aloud. That's one crazy universe they live in. I hope Bunn revisits it.

“Planning Problems” is a cool take on nursery rhymes and fairy tales from the notes of a new employee of the weirdest Planning Department in America. “The Inheritance of Polly Inch” was a sweet little story with a final twist that left an ironic grin on my face.

“Fire and Ice” was different from the others, and my second favorite in the collection—just a smidgen short of tops. A pure fairy tale. A straight-up, in-your-face myth with a great ending. This prose in this story evokes and freezes and sizzles. I'm-a-gonna read this one to my daughter when she is old enough to appreciate it. Yes, it's that good.

“The Christmas Caper” was my favorite. I liked the explanation behind Santa's never-ending sack of toys: “something to do with some extremely good sewing and the fifth dimension.” Those elves know their knitting—and their Supreme Santa Sack Version 3.0s. And the fat, jolly one's sleigh runs on a cold-fusion reactor that powers a matter-displacement drive, cooked up in the Research & Development division of Santa's workshop, which is filled with boxing-loving, reverse-bungee-gun wielding elves who fly around in a fire-engine red '69 Camaro equipped with a jet engine, radar cloaking device, and quintessential espresso machine. Tell me . . . what's not to love about that?

Bunn has a wild imagination and a gift for compelling prose that rolls right along. Every last one of these stories are fantastic and fun. And well worth the read.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Six Sentence Sunday - From "The Fountain of Eden: A Myth of Birth, Death, and Beer"

All the beings that made up Trickstertron laughed at the top of their lungs. The cacophony of hilarity was deafening, and everyone in the universe could hear the insane hooting, giggling, cackling, snickering. The sound gave one the urge to laugh in the face of destruction, and made one realize that concepts such as birth and death were illusions. There were no such things as beginning and end, real and unreal, good and evil, order and chaos, creation and destruction.

These dual concepts did not exist, for Trickstertron was all of Creation.

And Creation was Trickster.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Misrepresentation of Johnny Appleseed

What do you know about Johnny Appleseed? Is it something like this?

A quote from one of the characters in my novel, wherein I scratch the surface of this misconstrued legend through fiction: "All I ever heard of you was that you would travel the American wilderness and plant apple orchards to feed the hungry colonists that came behind you because you were some kind of benevolent nature-spirit come down to Earth in the shape of a human being, or something like that.”

A devout follower of the fundamental Christian teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg, John Chapman was an eccentric, to say the least. Rejecting the idea of the Trinity and believing the threefold god was found in Jesus alone, Swedenborg also believed that faith alone was not enough to save one's soul, and that one must also perform charitable acts to attain true salvation. Chapman followed this Swedenborgian doctrine to the letter, refusing to eat meat or harm even the tiniest of God's creatures. He befriended usually hostile Indians and was said to be quite fond of children. Preferring to go around barefoot at all times, he would entertain adoring audiences by walking over hot coals or sticking needles through the thick, leathery calluses on his feet.

Surely John Chapman did not intend or expect to be mythologized. But by the end of his life, he had become much more than man: Johnny Appleseed, one of the first homespun American folk heroes. A living legend.

So far, so good, right? Everything on par with what you remember? But about that thing with the apples...

In modern depictions, Johnny Appleseed usually shares the spotlight with seeds. Sackfuls of apple seeds. Apple seeds pouring from his hands into piles at his bare feet, often wearing nothing but a burlap sack and a tin cooking pot on his head (this attire is based on fact).

John Chapman did bring relief in the form of the apple to colonists, but not in the way you were taught in elementary school. He was known for carrying around apple seeds. Let me reemphasize: apple seeds. And the apples that grow on the branches of apple trees grown from directly from seeds are almost always inedible. In order to ensure an apple tree's fruit will taste good, it is necessary to graft the tree.

Grafting is a means of domesticating fruit trees where a shoot of the desired tree is fused into the trunk of the undesirable tree; basically a form of cloning plants. But John Chapman, habitual wanderer, did not stay in one place long enough to graft trees and cultivate orchards to their full, edible fruition. He dropped seeds, ensured the orchard would survive, and moved on down the line to the next plot of land. He often sold off the new orchards to colonists.

But if these orchards were filled with trees that produce only inedible apples, why would ol' Johnny even bother with them? And why would colonists be willing to pay for a bunch of worthless trees?

But that's the whole thing. The apple trees filled with uneatable fruit were far from worthless. In fact they were quite valuable. But for a different reason than eating, though these apples were consumed.

At that time in colonial America, what was there to do? Not much, you would think, and you would be right. And when there's not much to do, what do people do (besides reproduce like rabbits)?

They drink.

And where would they get their alcohol in this far-gone age of Manifest Destiny? From the corner liquor store? From the local brewery? Wish it into existence? No. Of course not.

The early American colonists' alcohol came from about the only place to get it: seedling apples. When pressed and allowed to ferment, seedling apples produce a hard cider about half the potency of wine. If frozen, voila!, you've got 70-proof applejack.

So, yeah, Johnny Appleseed brought relief to the colonists. In the form of drink.

Am I advocating the altering of the inspirational, "feel-good" legend of Johnny Appleseed? Am I proposing the complete stripping of myth from our childrens' minds? No. But perhaps the time has come for us adults to wrest the Appleseed banner from our youngest generation and hoist it as our own.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

How I indie published my novel: An eight-step guide to get your book "out there!"

"The Fountain of Eden" is now available in the Kindle store for the low price of $2.99. For those thinking about indie publishing their own work, these are the steps I took to get my novel "out there." I would suggest doing more research than reading just this one blog post before publishing, but it should give you a nudge in the right direction.

1) I wrote the novel.

This took some time.

2) I revised and I rewrote.

I did a lot of this. In fact step 2 took longer than step 1. The first draft was a monster at 250K words. I had it scrubbed down to a still quite daunting 130K when I sent it to the editor. For the type of story I was trying to tell, this was way too many words. Revise, revise, revise. Rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. You can always use the stuff you cut later (look at me: I've got material for two complete novel from the cuts I made, though I doubt I'll reuse even a quarter of it). Your first draft, no matter how great you and your mom think it is, just ain't gonna cut it.

3) I hired a freelance editor.

Kathleen Dale did a great job helping me weed out superfluous parts of the novel, tighten up the language, fill in all those little plot holes, and correct those slight inconsistencies it's so easy to miss because you're so in love with the sleekness of your prose. After we went over the novel three times (one content editing pass, one copyedit pass, and one final proofread) it had been polished to a brisk 85K. She's not going to do all the work for you; it's up to you to revise and rewrite. But she will help you improve your novel. And man, she's got snark. Which is what you need.

Since hiring an outside editor is like hiring a private contractor, you do not have to take every single one of that editor's suggestions and follow them to the letter. Nevertheless I took about 80% of Kathleen's (but don't tell her that percentage, because her figures will probably be lower). Sometimes I didn't like what she had to say ("You're changing my . . . art! You're asking me to eff up my . . . my masterpiece!"). But usually, after I mulled things over for a day or four, I would realize in a moment of insight: she's flippin' right. She's not effing up my art, she's making me think in new ways about my art. And that would make the narrative stronger.

As an indie author, you can't slack off, or your novel will drown in the sea of "dollar dreadfuls" available in the Kindle store and elsewhere. Even if you do it right, it still might flounder in that sea of sloppy sentences. But at least you did it right. Hire a professional to double-check your work before you publish. Get an extra set of eyes on that manuscript. Objective eyes (this means not your mom). This is very important. It doesn't matter what kind, type, or genre of story you tell. Hire an editor. Or at the very least, hire an effing proofreader.

4) I hired a cover artist: Rich DiSilvio.

I, in my newbie ignorance, did steps 3 and 4 in reverse order. DO NOT DO WHAT I DID. Have your manuscript finalized BEFORE you contact your cover artist, or your cover artist is going to be waiting around for weeks while you put the final grammatical touches on your baby and then wait for Createspace to finish designing your book's interior so you can get the final page count and figure out your book's exact spine width (sorry, Rich). Rich can also do other graphic design stuff for you. Seriously, check him out. He's very, very good.

I would recommend hiring a professional to create your cover. That is unless you have a graphic artist in the family, and if so you should at least buy them a case of beer and/or take them out to an excellent dinner for all that work they put in designing you a bad-ass cover! Go ahead and do it yourself on Photoshop if you want to, but beware the consequences. A book's cover is a draw, and if yours is ugly some potential buyers won't go any farther. Even if you've written the best book the world has never-ever seen. Ugly cover, and the world will forever remain in ignorance of your prolific writing skills and paradigmatic storytelling ability.

5) I chose Createspace to design the book's interior for the print version.

This is far from the only option available, but I thought they did a great job. If you're just trying to hawk e-books, it is not even necessary to publish in print--but it is cool to be able to hand a friend or a family member a signed copy of your book, even if they are just going to go home and use its printed-on-demand pages as backup toilet paper. I recommend going both digital and print. Print isn't dead yet. Zombified? Perhaps.

6) Createspace also converted the manuscript to Kindle format for me.

And they did a phenomenal job, but . . .There are plenty of independent digital contractors across the web who would be happy to convert your manuscript to Kindle format, and this will enable you to get the Kindle version out weeks before the print version is available. Usually they can do it in a matter of days, if not hours, if you don't require complex formatting.

And you could always learn to format your own e-books, if you have the time and patience. There is oodles of information about it out there on the web. Go look for it.

7) I published my novel on Smashwords.

Smashwords is an independent e-book retailer and distributor. The "Smashwords Style Guide" will help you with the arduous process of formatting your manuscript to meet their standards. Upon first viewing the "guide," I thought the formatting might take weeks. But if you set your pace and get to work, it's not so bad. I did it in an evening (I was up past 4AM, but maybe I shouldn't start projects like that at midnight). After a couple weeks, if your file passes through their "Meatgrinder" without a problem, your book should make it into their premium catalog, which makes the e-book appear for sale on B&, the iBookstore, and elsewhere.

8) I started up this blog.

Not many people have been reading it, but hell, it's better than doing nothing.

During all of these steps, I researched indie publishing. There is a wealth of information about it on the Internet, and thousands of books on it available for free or a minimal fee in the Kindle store and elsewhere. J.A. Konrath's blog is a good place to start your research.

And check out the Fountain of Eden. It's a lot of fun.

And please, let me know how your indie publishing adventure goes.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"The Fountain of Eden" paperback now available on!

"The Fountain of Eden" is now available on in paperback!

If you want to wait for the Kindle version, it will be out in a week or two for $2.99. Once again, here's the link for "The Fountain of Eden." And thanks for your support!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Zen in the Debacle of Grammar: It's killing me with its obviousness . . .

The Fountain of Eden's release has been delayed for a week.

I discovered a . . . mistake. On the back cover blurb, no less. After the proof copy of the novel was shipped to me and approved—by me. Most of those who might have glanced over the back cover probably wouldn't even have noticed it.

But the blurb is a draw. Misuse a word there, and some readers won't even crack open the book.

Someone would have noticed.

Oh yes, it's sure someone would have.

It is, oh yes . . . it's?

So that you may learn from my follies and avoid them in your own endeavors . . . welcome to the first installment of Zen in the Debacle of Grammar, a series I will periodically run as I come across interesting grammar issues and other writer's quandaries.

It's” is a contraction that combines the words “it” and “is”, or "it" and "has". It is used in no other way.

The letter “s” with a leading apostrophe is used to show possession everywhere else throughout the English language. The phrase “Jack's toy” indicates that, well, the toy belongs to Jack. The phrase "the idiot's miscue" indicates the miscue was the idiot's.

But the possessive for the word “it” is “its”. No apostrophe. “Its toy” is correct. “It's toy" gets you a big fat X on the grammar quiz.

What happened (i.e. my excuse): Two sentences of the blurb, as it reads ("The beer is called Hoppy Heaven Ale. It's main ingredient: the Water of Life."), were originally one sentence ("Hoppy Heaven Ale's main ingredient: the Water of Life."). When revising the blurb I made the one sentence into two and left the apostrophe behind the word "ale" in there without noticing. 

"The beer is called Hoppy Heaven Ale. Its main ingredient: the Water of Life." Correct! You get a check-mark!

Indie writers, learn from my mistake. Check your work. Then double-check it. Triple-check it. Quadruple-check it. Check, check, check it hard into the boards of infinity. Step back, meditate on everything else in the universe for a while, and then check it again. Until your prose sings and your eyes bleed. You still might miss something. Actually, it's a good damn bet that you will miss something. But the more you look, the more likely you are to catch those aggravating little bastard somethings.

And don't just gloss over the obvious stuff, like the back cover blurb. Most times its the obvious stuff—like that simple, overlooked misuse of “it's”—that you're gonna miss.

As writers, we have . . . selective vision . . . when it comes to our own work. You must drop this subjective mindset--especially when you're rewriting or revising your novel, or your eyes are glancing over your back cover blurb, distracted by all the pretty artwork everywhere. Let go of your writer's ego. Place yourself outside of yourself, and rip yourself a new one. Leave no word uninspected.

Apostrophe, translated from the Greek, means "to turn away".

Damn. It sorta all makes sense now, huh?

(By the way, did you catch the misuse of "its" in this post?)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Coming soon: "The Fountain of Eden: A Myth of Birth, Death, and Beer"

I love mythology. Myth, and story in all its formats tugs at something intrinsic and true lodged deep in my mind that cannot be seen directly or grasped or fully explained but is alive and pulsing and there.

I love beer too. Who in the sixteen lesser hells doesn't?

I plead the Fifth on the whole "birth and death" issue, though I doubt the Fifth helped me on the way in and I know it won't on the way out.

"The Fountain of Eden: A Myth of Birth, Death, and Beer" brims over with creatures and characters drawn from world mythology and folklore who converge on a modern-day Virginia tourist town when a local brewery concocts a beer called Hoppy Heaven Ale.

Hoppy Heaven Ale's main ingredient: the Water of Life.

In the "flashback scene" below, the novel's protagonist, Jack Whiskey (aka Wesakaychak), realizes that he is a mythological being who has been pretending to be human for so long that he has forgotten his mythical origins. The "earth-diver" and "World Turtle" motifs found in the segment can also be found in various American Indian Creation myths.

He awoke on the shell of a turtle, surrounded by water.
Finally awake, I see,” said the turtle.
Y-yes.” He sat up, still with no clue as to who—much less what, where, when, why, or how—he was. “The last thing I remember was this giant wave washing over me, and then . . . nothing.” He looked around. “Where am I?”
You’re lying on my shell,” said the turtle.
I know that.” He waved his arms around and about at the endless expanse of blue-green water. “What I meant was, where are we?”
We’re drifting upon the Great Ocean, which now covers the entirety of the Earth. The Great Wave sent by Earthmaker has destroyed the First World and the First People—except for you and me, that is. But perhaps there’s someone else around here somewhere or other.”
He looked around. There was still nothing in sight but sea.
And who are you?”
My name is Turtle,” said Turtle.
So, Turtle, do you know who I am?”
You’re Wesakaychak, or Wisagatcak, or Wisakedjak, or Weesack-kachack. From what I understand, you go by many names.” A mischievous twinkle flared up in Turtle's eye. “What—you don’t remember?”
Wesakaychak shook his head. “No. I feel as though I’ve just woken up from a long, confusing dream.”
Turtle smiled. “Well, perhaps it will all come back to you in time.”
The conversation dried up not long after this exchange. Throughout the passing days there was really nothing to say except: “Hey, do you see that massive whitecap over there?” or “Oh, wow, there’s a big fluffy cloud in the sky!” or “Man, is that sun hot today, or what?”
So Turtle floated on, Wesakaychak upon his shell, and let the ocean currents take them wherever they might. They drifted for days on end, which turned into weeks on end, which turned into months on end, without sighting the merest pinch of land.
Just when Wesakaychak was beginning to consider flinging himself overboard and going through a quick death by drowning rather than drifting forever upon the endless ocean on the back of an uncommunicative turtle, he spied a speck of something in the distance, floating above the waves.
Hey, do you see that?”
Indeed,” said Turtle. “I wonder what it could be?”
Let’s go check it out.”
Turtle swam towards the speck, which turned out to be a beaver, swimming atop the crests, splashing and playing and slapping his big fat tail on the water.
Hey,” said Wesakaychak, “what’s going on?”
Just chilling out, having a swim,” said the beaver.
What’s your name?”
Name’s Beaver.”
A fitting name.”
Thanks, dude.”
Say, Beaver, do you want to come with us? I’m Wesakaychak and this is Turtle, and we’re looking for land.”
I guess so. But I don’t think there’s any land anymore. I think it’s all just ocean now.”
Well, you never know,” said Wesakaychak. “There might be some somewhere. Keep hope alive, my toothy little brother. So are you coming?”
Beaver shrugged and scrabbled up onto Turtle’s shell.
A week or nine later, long after Wesakaychak had grown bored with Beaver’s company, Turtle spied another speck in the distance. The speck soon formed into an otter, another creature who had survived the Great Flood. The furry one floated with its back on the sea, taking a nap on the blue-green water.
Ahoy there,” said Wesakaychak. “What’s up with you?”
Nada, broseph,” said the otter, wiping sleep from his eyes. “What’s up with you kids?”
We’re drifting on the Great Ocean looking for land. What’s your name?”
Otter,” said Otter.
Well, I guess I should’ve seen that one coming,” said Wesakaychak. “Do you want to come with us, Otter? We could use the company; perhaps it will enliven the conversation a bit.”
Otter shrugged and scrambled up onto Turtle’s shell with Wesakaychak and Beaver.
After another spell of aimless floating, Wesakaychak was again growing bored with his present company. But just as he was again contemplating willingly walking the shell, he spotted another distant speck. It soon formed into a small green duck with an orange bill, floating upon the swell of the sea.
Hey there, little buddy,” said Wesakaychak. “What’s shaking at this end of the pond?”
Not a thing. Isn’t it obvious?” said the duck, looking around at the endless ocean. “What are you jokers doing?”
We’re searching for land. Wait, wait, let me guess. Your name is Duck.”
Wrong, friend. My name is Bill.”
Well, I didn’t see that one coming,” said Wesakaychak, rolling his eyes. “Anyways . . . Bill . . . do you want to kick it on the shell with us?”
Bill shrugged and flapped up onto the shell.
A few weeks later, Wesakaychak was growing sore and stiff because he no longer had room to stretch his legs. He had tried to do so on multiple occasions. On one attempt he had tripped over Bill and fallen into the ocean, and had to be rescued from drowning by his shellmates. Afterwards, everybody had a good long laugh at his inability to swim.
Hey, move over a little,” he said to Beaver, laying across his legs.
Hey, get off me,” he said to Otter, leaning on his arm.
Hey, get out of my hair,” he said to Bill, taking a nap atop his cranium.
The three creatures shrugged and dived into the sea for a swim, and Wesakaychak sighed. He stretched out on Turtle's shell, stared up at the bluer-than-blue sky, and thought bluer-than-blue thoughts. He hoped they would find land soon, because he wasn’t sure how much longer he could go on pointlessly drifting on the Great Ocean before he went insane with boredom.
Turtle noticed his friend's moroseness and said, “Wesakaychak, you do know that you can make land, don't you? If that’s what you really want to do.”
What’s that?” said Wesakaychak, only half-listening. “How can I make land?”
Well, you can’t create something out of nothing—only Earthmaker has that power. But you do have the power to expand something that’s already been created—make it bigger, you know.”
Is that so?”
Turtle nodded. “It is.”
Wesakaychak thought for a moment. “The problem with your theory is that we’ve been drifting across this Great Ocean for months on end without seeing the merest speck of dirt or twig of olive. And if there is no land to expand, there is no way to expand the land.”
Turtle chuckled. “Sure, there’s no land on top of the water, but what about beneath it? What about the ocean floor? Why, if you could find some sand and some seaweed, you could create a new land and new vegetation in one go!”
Wesakaychak watched the lazy clouds drift across the sky and pondered Turtle's statements.
An hour later, when Beaver, Otter, and Bill clambered back onto the shell, a thought struck him. “Hey fellas, I’ve got an idea.”
What is it, Wesakaychak?” intoned Beaver, Otter, and Bill in unison.
Well, Beaver, you’re a beaver. So that means you’re pretty good swimmer, right? And you have webbed feet, and you can hold your breath for a long time, right?”
I’m the best swimmer in the world,” said Beaver, to a small smile from Bill and a guffaw from Otter.
Well, if you can dive down to the ocean floor and get me some dirt and some seaweed, I could possibly”—Wesakaychak raised his eyebrows and glanced at Turtle, who ignored him—“create a new land where we all could live.”
All right,” said Beaver. “I think I could pull that off.” And without another word he dived into the ocean and swam downwards.
He was gone for a long time, so long that Wesakaychak began to worry that the kind, dam-building creature wouldn’t be coming back.
But then Beaver floated up to the surface of the sea, unconscious. Otter and Bill jumped into the water and dragged him aboard the shell. Otter pounded on his chest, and Beaver coughed up a gallon of sea-water.
I couldn’t . . . I couldn't make it,” groaned Beaver. “It was just . . . too far down.”
That’s okay,” said Wesakaychak. “You did your best, and that’s all we could have asked for. Get some rest and you’ll feel better tomorrow.”
The next day, Wesakaychak turned to the other mammal. “Hey Otter, you’re a good swimmer too, right? That’s what you do, isn’t it? Well, that and fish, but you know what I'm saying.”
Otter preened at the praise, while Bill watched with a twinkle in his ducky eye. “Yeah, I didn’t want to say anything about it yesterday to avoid hurting the poor guy’s feelings,” said Otter, “but I’m a much better swimmer than any beaver could ever hope to be.”
Well,” said Wesakaychak, “why don’t you give it a shot, then?”
No problemo,” said Otter, and dived into the Great Ocean.
Otter was also gone for a long time, much longer than Beaver, and Wesakaychak began to wonder if they would ever see the poor furry creature again.
But then Otter resurfaced, dead to the Worlds. Beaver and Bill dived into the sea and hauled him aboard Turtle. Otter hacked up a keg’s worth of saltwater.
I tried, Wesakaychak,” mumbled Otter. “But it’s just . . . I’m sorry.”
Don't apologize. If anything, I should apologize to you for asking you to undertake this impossible task. I’m just glad to see you’re okay. Now rest up so you can regain your strength.”
The next day, Wesakaychak glanced at Bill, who was peering at him with a wide smile on his feathered face. “I already know what you’re going to say,” said the duck. “And the answer is . . . sure, I’ll give it a whirl. Third time's the charm, eh?” And he dived into the Great Ocean.
Bill was gone for an eternity, much longer than Beaver or Otter, and Wesakaychak was almost certain the brave little duck had not survived the dive.
But then Bill floated up to the surface of the sea, just as insensible as the other two had been. Beaver and Otter jumped into the ocean and dragged Bill onto Turtle’s shell. Beaver pumped on the duck’s stomach, and Bill vomited up his weight in seawater.
Then Bill opened his eyes. He unclenched his feet—and clutched within one webbed foot were a few bits of sand! And held within the other was a thin strand of seaweed!
I . . . did it, Wesakaychak . . . didn’t I?” asked Bill, his eyes half-closed.
Yes, Bill, you did it,” said Wesakaychak. “Today, you have helped create the world.”
Bill smiled at this, then passed out from exhaustion.
Later on, when Otter, Beaver, and Bill were sleeping, Wesakaychak looked wistfully across the Great Ocean and said to Turtle, “You know, in a way, I think I’ll miss the sea.”
You don’t have to make the new land if you don’t want to, Wesakaychak. Personally, I wouldn’t mind if it stayed like this for a few more millenniums. Of course, I'm a turtle. You’re the one who can't swim.”
Wesakaychak sighed. “Yeah, I guess you’re right. I do miss having solid ground under my feet. So I’ve got the mud and I’ve got the seaweed. How do I do this whole ‘expanding-the-land-and-creating-the-vegetation’ thingamajig?”
Turtle shrugged. “Try wishing it into existence. Try bringing your dreams to life. Create by expansion.”
A sudden thought smacked Wesakaychak upside the brain. “Say, Turtle, how do you know all this stuff about me? You knew my name, and you know all about my supposed powers. If it wasn’t for you, I never would’ve known what to do!”
Turtle's eyes sparkled. “You haven’t figured it out yet?”
And then it hit Wesakaychak like a ton of buffalo dung had fallen from the sky and landed on his head, and he knew that Turtle was Earthmaker, here to supervise construction of the New World.
B-but w-why are you h-helping m-me?”
Turtle's face grew stern. “I was very angry with you, Wesakaychak. You were supposed to help the First People and show them the correct paths to take in their lives. Instead, you thought only of yourself and filling your belly and satisfying your . . . baser urges. But after I sent the Great Wave, I got over this anger. Plus, I heard your prayer when the water washed over you.” The sternness faded, and Turtle smiled like an ever-forgiving father. “Just don’t blow it this time.”
I . . . I won’t,” said Wesakaychak—and meant it.
Good. Now go ahead and make the world already.”
Wesakaychak closed his eyes. He thought of the land and the gritty, wonderful feeling of the dirt between his toes. He thought of trees, shrubs, bushes, vines, flowers, and herbs, and of how this flora, down to the lowliest grasses and weeds, had in various ways helped the First People, be it by giving the gift of good medicine, filling people's bellies and helping them stave off hunger and famine, or blooming colorful, sweet-smelling flowers that mesmerized the senses.
What seemed an aeon later, Wesakaychak heard Bill’s voice. “Well, I’ll be damned.”
Wesakaychak opened his eyes—and he was no longer on Turtle's back, but stood on solid ground! The countryside stretched off into the distance—wild, untamed, and brand-spanking new. Full-grown, flowering vegetation covered the Earth in all directions.
It had worked.
Trickster, with a little help from Beaver, Otter, Bill, and Turtle, had made the world.
Damn, Wesakaychak!” said Otter. “And I didn't think you had it in you!” He glanced at Bill and whispered, “I'll get you your fiver tomorrow, duck—no cash on me now.”
It's a very good-looking land,” said Beaver, looking around in approval. “But do you think there’s a stream somewhere where I could build a nice dam?”
Hey, where’s Turtle?” asked Bill.
They searched the area, but Turtle was nowhere to be found. It was as if the shelled one had vanished into thin air.
Well, I guess he’s gone,” said Beaver.
It’s a shame,” said Bill. “He was a real nice dude. Kind of quiet, but . . . nice.”
Yeah, I just hope he’s all right,” said Otter.
Wesakaychak looked at the thriving Earth, then back at his friends, and grinned like the Trickster he was. “Well, wherever he is, I think Earthma . . . I mean, Turtle . . . will be just fine.”

Cover art by Rich DiSilvio.

Just remember, like in the old Hindu tale: "It's turtles all the way down!" The paperback and e-book will be available on Amazon and elsewhere in a couple of weeks.