My Fiction Site

In the right sidebar are clickable images of the covers of my novels, which will take you to their Amazon listings. Other posts will link to available free works – mostly shorter ones – and assorted thoughts on the writing of fiction.

I am available to book clubs, whether in person or via Zoom, upon request. For details, contact me at morelonhouse --at-- optonline --dot-- net

Friday, November 6, 2020

How It's Done

     You know the old saying:

If you can’t dazzle ‘em with brilliance,
Baffle ‘em with bullshit!

     ...and it is so. But from time to time, the brilliance and the bullshit make a matched set. Indeed, they complement one another so well that they raise the effect to a new height. Here’s an example:

     As the dessert forks were being licked clean, a breathless Earnest Redding burst into the room and raced to the captain’s side.
     “We…I…You’ll…” he gasped.
     “Easy Earnest, catch your breath, what’s wrong?”
     “Nothing’s wrong, Captain,” he managed after taking a gulp of air. “It’s what’s right! We’ve had a breakthrough.”
     “Really?” Sera asked. “Something beyond the information I provided?”
     “Oh yes, very much so, and no. Though we wouldn’t have been able to manage it without your graviton systems and all those research studies you provided, as well.”
     “So, what is it, then?” Terrance asked, his eyes gleaming with anticipation.
     “We’ve discovered how to use the graviton emission systems that Captain Sera provided us with—emissions that work in matter repulsion and photon redirection in directional and focused beams and waves—to create a generalized and consistent suspension wave in the form of a massive halo upon which we were able to successfully place a McPherson generality focus layer tuned to a specific area of space, while altering the gravitational waves supporting it to form a hard shell of non-focused space underneath it.” He said without taking a single breath.
     “OK, I’m no slouch when it comes to physics, but you’ve gone levels beyond what I knew existed,” Tanis said.
     “It’s a stasis shield,” Sera said, feeling as though the breath had been sucked from her. “He figured out how to make a gods damned stasis shield.”

     [From Malorie Cooper’s Destiny Lost, the first volume of her Orion War series.]

     In a way, the above is about characterization. Earnest Redding, the out-of-breath figure who delivered that ultra-technical soliloquy – and don’t bother yourself about the details; it’s all the sort of ersatz physics you’ll encounter in any science fiction novel – is supposed to be a genius’s genius; say, about as smart as your humble Curmudgeon (:-). To have him rush pell-mell into a formal dinner and deliver such a statement, in an obviously high state of triumphant emotion, is absolutely characteristic of such a man / mind. It’s a beautiful example of how to use a character’s behavior to depict him as what he’s supposed to be.

     Cooper’s Orion War series is rendered in such vivid tones that one who appreciates complex plotting and good characterization can only applaud. Yes, there are legions of larger-than-life / too-good-or-bad-to-be-true characters, but the opus requires exactly such figures to navigate its vermiculations and achieve its conclusion. It’s replete with dazzling bullshit of the highest quality. Recommended!

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Money Flow And Its Traducers

     Remember what I said about money flowing first and foremost to the writer?

     One of the things my first agent told me, when I set out to market my first novel, was to beware the scam artists. New writers, excited about their creation and full of hope for its prospects, are unusually vulnerable to scamsters. I, being a callow youth of only 44 – Ah! Those golden days before hypertension, prostatitis, and type 2 diabetes! – was uncertain what would constitute “bewaring” them. The first step would be recognizing a scam artist’s entreaty for what it is. So I asked around: How does one distinguish the scamsters from all others with reasonable reliability? She gave me a simple touchstone:

If he wants you to pay him up front, before you see any revenue, he’s a scam artist.
“Money,” she said, “should flow to you before it flows from you. The scam artist will promise you the sun, the moon, and the stars if you’ll just purchase his promotional efforts at this really, really low rate – ‘because this book has such potential.’ I know you’re smart, Fran. But don’t imagine you have a more discriminating eye or ear than that. Decline politely and walk away quickly.”

     This is important – nay, critical! — counsel that every new writer should receive. Moreover, it covers approaches to groping for the writer’s wallet that aren’t of the traditional or “push” variety. As it happens, I stumbled over one just this morning:

     Now, these two might have useful advice to convey about marketing indie fiction. However, a glance at their published works suggests that they haven’t had much success of their own, so the notion that they’re well qualified to instruct the rest of us strikes me as dubious. Moreover:

  • Their book is published by “Peschel Press,”
  • It’s available solely as a paperback,
  • The price is $19.95.

     That’s a lot of money for a 282 page self-published paperback from “authorities” on developing a career as an indie writer. Granted, it’s less than what Kirkus Reviews or Goodreads demand for their dithyrambs, but I’d still want more substantiation about the authors’ fitness to advise the rest of us. Among other things, shelf space for physical volumes is rather scarce here.

     Use your own judgment. Mine says walk away quickly.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Post Partum

     Here I am again, having completed (at long last) the novel-in-progress and waiting for my test reader and cover artist to report back. It’s a difficult period in any novelist’s life: he can’t go forward while his thoughts are wrapped around the book he just finished, and he can’t go backward with the revisions he’s already thought of until the others involved have registered their various contributions. That’s me, just now, on this 29th of September in the Year of Our Lord 2020...and dear Lord, what a year it’s been.

     So, as I’m at a low ebb, here are a few semi-connected thoughts about the adventure just behind me: what I set out to do, what I wound up doing instead, and what I’ve learned from it.

     Back in the mid-Nineties, when I first decided to try my hand at a story of novel length, I had a clean sheet of paper before me: no obligatory setting, no required characters, no mandatory theme, and no prescribed genre. I was free to imagine, and to concoct, in whatever way I pleased, for my idiom was as yet undefined.

     As a reader my favorite genres have always been the speculative ones: science fiction, fantasy, and horror. I was confident that they would be the ones my stories would occupy, as well. But much to my surprise, I didn’t start out that way.

     The first requirement of any storyteller is a mating between characters and crises: people upon whom to impose problems they must solve, or at least cope with. I developed a bunch of attractive character sketches almost by accident – I still wonder from time to time where those fictional figures really came from – and immediately found ways to cast them into conflict with one another.

     But characters don’t struggle with their problems and one another in some sort of white space separate from all else; at least, mine don’t. They need a place to be. I had to pick a place, or conceive of one, that would provide a suitable stage on which to act out their destinies. Thus was born Onteora County, New York: that fabled land of heroes and geniuses who sniff at the merely difficult and sneer at the all but impossible. Nestled safely within the part of New York State that virtually no one who doesn’t live there is familiar with, it has proved a fertile field in which to plant the improbable figures I like to write about.

     Fertile...and damned near inescapable. Of the sixteen full-length novels I’ve written to date, only four have stayed completely outside Onteora County: three far-future science fiction novels and one magic-based high fantasy. The others have wound up there regardless of where they started or where I wanted to put them. Worse, the characters from my other Onteora Canon novels keep insinuating themselves into my new fictions. I’ve been unable to keep them out without killing them off...and in some cases even that expedient failed me.

     A recent short story of mine, “Sweet Things,” starts in Hamilton (a real place) and swiftly moves to Onteora. Because the readers of Liberty’s Torch praised it fulsomely, I started to toy with the possibility of developing a novel from it. My short romance Love in the Time of Cinema had proved popular, so I adopted the general approach I took in that novel for the new one, which I’ve titled Love in the Time of Capitalism.

     And by jingo, it happened again! Characters from just about every other Onteora Canon novel started insisting that they belonged in this new one. I managed to fit a few new faces into the tale, but the “old Onteora crew” is there in force. Hopefully the reader will find their contributions to be positive ones.

     I intended Love in the Time of Capitalism to be a romance / love story. Yes, that element in present, but it’s not alone. There’s music. There’s technology. There’s political intrigue. There’s even a spot of warfare. It’s a stew of many ingredients...possibly too many.

     While my lovers Gail and Evan are involved in all of it, I strained throughout the composition to keep their deep involvement with one another at the heart of the tale. Still, rather than a feel-good romance of the sort I’d initially envisioned, it seems I’ve produced a hybrid of about four different genres: romance, musical fantasy, near-future science fiction, and political thriller.

     I don’t feel an urge to go back and “straighten it out.” I plan to publish it essentially as it is. There are a few elements I’ve decided need buttressing, but not to the extent of “de-hybridizing” the book as it stands. I look forward to hearing what its readers will think of it.

     The remarkable thing about novelism (hey, if journalists practice journalism, why can’t novelists practice novelism?) is how little of one’s initial plan actually “survives contact with the enemy” – i.e., the actual construction of the story. My initial plan, whether expressed as an outline or a detailed synopsis, turns out to be mostly a way to recognize how little I really knew about my characters and their trials when I set out. It’s been that way through sixteen novels, and probably will remain so through however many more I produce. The other novelists with whom I occasionally swap thoughts report essentially the same experiences.

     However, that’s not a reason not to produce the initial outline / synopsis. If it weren’t for that planning document, I don’t think I could get started, much less produce something coherent. I think this has some connection to Mike Gancarz’s sermon about the Three Systems of Man, which he first related in his little book The UNIX Philosophy. My copy, alas, seems to have migrated to other hands.

     I have at least a few days of nervousness before me, wondering what my test readers will have to say about the book, and wondering what my cover artist, the estimable Cat Leonard of Adelaide, South Australia, will come up with for a front cover image. I’d like to be able to think about the next book, but I’m too close to this one to think of anything else. That condition will persist until the thing is burnished, proofread, equipped with a cover and released.

     I can’t help but wonder how many more books I have in me. I’m old, and not in the best of health. But storytelling is an addiction, a tough one to shake. And I imagine that those damned Onteora characters, settings, and institutions will continue to have their way with me. At least, they have so far.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

At The Djinni Bar

     [A short, fanciful story. I once asked a college class whether any of the students there had ever been interested in magic. One young woman raised her hand, somewhat timidly. I reassured her that there was no need to be embarrassed about it, for magic, if it really worked, would be a low-effort way to get or do a lot of things that take tremendous effort as matters stand. So also with the existence of djinni – “genies” in the American idiom. Such supernatural beings would make many things possible that aren’t today...but who’s to say whether they would be benevolently disposed towards us? -- FWP]

     “Khalid!” I cried as he entered the Ajedrez. “Haven’t seen you in an eon. Come sit and hoist a couple with me.” I signaled to the bartender. “Two more Omnipotence Punches, please.” And of course they appeared instantly before us as Khalid squatted on the stool next to mine. He nodded thanks, immediately downed half of his drink, and set it back down looking morose.

     His appearance took me aback. Khalid is lauded among the djinni for his upbeat, can-do attitude – and what he can do in the way of frustrating a human wisher is legendary. Many a human whose wishes Khalid has granted exactly as stated has wished afterward, when thanks to his own avarice all was irretrievably lost, that he had never found Khalid’s lamp. I’d studied his greatest feats with a combination of worshipful admiration and hope that I might someday be half as ingenious.

     Yet here he was looking as if someone had hexed his houris.

     I laid a hand on his shoulder. “What’s troubling you, my friend and mentor?”

     He scowled, finished his drink, and signaled to the bartender for another. The empty glass vanished and a new, full one appeared in its place. The Ajedrez is famous for its customer service.

     “I’ve been defeated,” he grumped.

     “What? How?”

     “I had to grant a human three wishes and couldn’t outthink the guy on any of them!”

     I sat back, appalled. Khalid’s been beaten on one wish before—hey, we all have—but on all three? Never before. Not him! It was news that shouldn’t be allowed to get around among the humans.

     I could see that he needed to vent, so I said, very softly, “Would you like to talk about it?”

     “Like?” he said. “Gehenna, no. But I suppose I should. Especially if the way he outfoxed me should get into general circulation.” He turned and looked frankly at me. “What human characteristic do we exploit?”

     I shrugged. “Their greed, of course. Our power seems to promise them the sun, the moon, and the stars, at no cost and no effort.”

     He nodded. “So we encourage them to think big. Ask for whatever you’ve been lusting after. The huge fortune. The godlike body. The movie star lover. Then we exploit the margins they leave unspecified to frustrate them.”

     “It’s our function in the scheme of things,” I said. “It teaches them moderation and realism—that their dreams are bigger than their pockets. What they think they want is something no one can have without consequences that render it worthless.”

     “Yeah,” he said. “And the three-wish deal gives them just enough rope to hang themselves with their own cupidity. It’s supposed to, anyway.” Animation flooded into his face. “But this one...Najib, I couldn’t tempt him!

     I couldn’t quite believe what I had heard. “You were found by a human who had no greed in him? None at all?”

     He nodded. “None that I could exploit within the conditions of the three wish system. Maybe if I’d been able to offer him a fourth one...but that’s been forbidden ever since the invention of the antique brass oil lamp.”

     I waited in silence, desperate to hear everything, but I knew that Khalid had to tell the tale at his own pace. Presently he sipped at his second drink, set it down, and began.

     “When he rubbed my lamp and I saw him for the first time, I thought I’d bagged a prize,” he said. “You’d have thought so too. Short, scrawny, and with a cleft palate. He could barely stand up straight, and when he did he barely came up to my waist. His arms and legs were so spindly that they looked like a strong breeze might snap them. The cleft palate made him too unsightly for a woman to look on him with sincere affection, much less lust. From his appearance alone, I was certain he’d be the greediest specimen I’d ever encountered! It took all my strength not to cackle over him.”

     Other djinni had noticed that Khalid was holding forth and had clustered around us to listen. I nodded and gestured that he should continue.

     “I told him about the three wishes. He barely reacted. He said he was satisfied with his existence, that he couldn’t think of a thing to wish for.” He chuckled. “I’ve heard that sort of thing before, you know. It’s always been a pose before. Not this time.

     “So I told him that the three wishes could be saved for a later time, when he might perhaps think of something he wants but doesn’t have. He thought about it briefly,” Khalid said, “and the expression that bloomed on his face made me think that my moment had arrived. He said ‘No, I think I’d better use them at once.’

     “‘Very well, master,’ I said, “What is it that you wish?’

     “‘For my first wish,’ he said, ‘I wish that you relieve me of my tendency to pity myself for my lot in life, which I know to be a great fault in a man—but leave me unaltered in any other way.’

     “It took me aback,” Khalid said. “It was the first time anyone who’d found me had wished for an improvement in his character. Humans rarely doubt their own characters. They’re constructed so as to think themselves the standard, the expression of all that is right and worthy. I was so surprised that I granted his wish at once and without any distortion.

     “‘For my second wish,’ he said, ‘I wish that you relieve me of my ability to envy others who are more fortunate than I, for envy is both a sin in itself and the mother of many other sins—but leave me unaltered in any other way.’”

     It was too much. I gasped in horror. A human incapable of envy? What could djinni and demons do with a race so formed? “Did you honor that wish?” I murmured.

     “I was compelled to do so,” Khalid said. “He had struck twice against his own defects, and had fenced his wishes with exactly the right formula to prevent me from doing him any harm. So I gave him what he had wished for, and said ‘And your third wish?’

     “‘May I give that to my mother?’ he said.

     “‘Sadly you may not,’ I replied. ‘Your wishes are irrevocably yours, and cannot be transferred to another. Is there nothing else you would wish for?’

     “He lapsed into thought once more, and I became hopeful. He had frustrated me twice, but I was certain he could not do so a third time. So I waited, and eventually his expression brightened, and he said ‘Yes, I believe there is something more.’ I smiled and crossed my arms in our traditional fashion.

     “‘My mother is old,’ he said, ‘and has been much afflicted by chance. She is a widow, has little in this world, and only one child, who has always fallen short of her dreams: myself. If it is within your power, O djinn, would you please give my mother the son she has wished for all her life?’”

     The shock was almost unendurable. “Did the human know that we cannot create life, that we are restricted to altering that which is and nothing more?”

     Khalid shrugged. “I do not think so, Najib, but it does not matter. I had to grant his wish, and I did so. And before my eyes, he straightened, grew tall, became fit, trim, and handsome. A fine, straight specimen of young manhood. He could not believe what he had become through that third wish. He sang my praises most fulsomely and ran off to present himself to his mother, and I vanished back into my lamp.”

     The djinni gathered around us moaned in sympathy.

     “Let us pray,” I said, “that this episode went unwitnessed, and that no tale of it will ever be told among humans or demons.”

     “If the Lord of All should deign to hear the prayers of djinni,” he said.

     “Do you think so?” I said.

     “It is uncertain.” He finished his drink, nodded farewell, and left us behind to ponder and lament.


     Copyright © 2020 Francis W. Porretto. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

Friday, September 4, 2020

The Direction Of The Money Flow

     One of the things my first agent told me, when I set out to market my first novel, was to beware the scam artists. New writers, excited about their creation and full of hope for its prospects, are unusually vulnerable to scamsters. I, being a callow youth of only 44 – Ah! Those golden days before hypertension, prostatitis, and type 2 diabetes! – was uncertain what would constitute “bewaring” them. The first step would be recognizing a scam artist’s entreaty for what it is. So I asked around: How does one distinguish the scamsters from all others with reasonable reliability? She gave me a simple touchstone:

If he wants you to pay him up front, before you see any revenue, he’s a scam artist.

     “Money,” she said, “should flow to you before it flows from you. The scam artist will promise you the sun, the moon, and the stars if you’ll just purchase his promotional efforts at this really, really low rate – ‘because this book has such potential.’ I know you’re smart, Fran. But don’t imagine you have a more discriminating eye or ear than that. Decline politely and walk away quickly.”

     Words to live by, Gentle Reader. If you write – and these days, who doesn’t? – keep them close to your heart. It will reduce the likelihood that you’ll want to tear that organ out of your chest at some later date.

     Now, these days it’s very difficult for an indie writer to stand out from the crowd. It’s not enough to be good. It’s not enough to be original. It’s not enough to be devastatingly handsome, incomparably brilliant, incredibly witty and charming, and to have a huge...oh, never mind. So we’re all casting about, virtually all the time, for some way of getting attention for our books. And sometimes, the scamsters can seem really, really reasonable.

     So “follow the money.” Make sure it flows to you.

     All that having been said, I’ve occasionally succumbed to wishful thinking and speculated on a promotional technique. For example, I recently contracted for a review from Online Book Club, which appeared (prima facie) to be a legitimate organization. As I mentioned some weeks ago, their reviewer favored The Warm Lands with a positive review. I waited and watched to see whether there would be any impact on my sales...and there wasn’t. I resolved to chalk it up to experience and learn from it.

     But hark! What have I found in today’s email?


This is Scott from First, let me congratulate on the perfect 4/4 rating that your book earned from our professional review team. Our reviewers are very tough. Most books we review do not get a full 4/4 rating. So you have achieved something genuinely impressive. You should definitely be proud.

As a result, I have issued a special discount on the price of a Book of the Day promotion for your book due to the amazing rating. Book of the Day is an incredible proven way to drastically boost the sales of a book. You can see the full details, including the specially discounted price, all with the link below:

The Warm Lands -


Have a book not reviewed yet that you want to make Book of the Day? Submit it for review first at:

View the full advertising options for all of your books at:

If you have any questions at all or need help with anything, please reply to this email. We are happy to help!

Thank you,

     The first red flag was that my name appears nowhere in the email. The second was the sop to my vanity. So, having already spent a considerable sum on their review, it occurred to me immediately that it would be prudent to check the checkable factual assertion:

     Our reviewers are very tough. Most books we review do not get a full 4/4 rating.

     Izzat so? Well, let’s see about that, shall we?

     Now that Reviews page changes with the passage of time, so your assessment might not match mine. But when I pulled it up this morning, of the 571 reviews on that page, 324 displayed a 4 out of 4 rating. That’s 56.7%, which doesn’t affirm the scarcity of 4 out of 4 reviews; rather the reverse. Given that result, how much credence would you put in the claim that “Book of the Day is an incredible proven way to drastically boost the sales of a book” -- ?

     The discounted price of their “Book of the Day” promotion is $598. So I shall decline to be mulcted further.

     Online Book Club might not be a “pure” scam, but by the available evidence, its claims are hollow at best. Beware, Gentle Readers who write! Let my experience be a protective lesson to you.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

The Last Lap

     I set out to write a short romance, something like my popular Love in the Time of Cinema. I had my Marquee characters. I had my setting – Onteora County, New York; where else? I even had a plot line, and I had solemnly sworn to follow it faithfully. I looked forward to a quick development and an early summer release.

     Then I started having ideas.

     I don’t recall who, but some chess grandmaster long dead once quipped that “When you don’t know what to do, wait for your opponent to get an idea – it’s sure to be wrong!” He might not have been serious...but he spoke the truth. Ideas, you see, are dangerous. Yes, they’re useful as well – sometimes. But an idea that tempts you to rip up several months of work and redo it completely should be regarded with maximum skepticism.

     I tend to get ideas of that sort, ironically enough, when I’ve reached the point from which I’m able to see the goal I’ve sought. One such idea caused me to delay the completion of a novel by several years. Please don’t ask which one; the answer would do you no good and might even upset you. The experience taught me to do something I’d long known about in another context:

     Write it down and go back to what you were doing.

     The “plains of hesitation” quote above is a good one. When the finish line is in sight, don’t pause for a quick change of costume. Don’t stop to contemplate the beauty of the tableau. Don’t call your companions together for a pre-celebration. Cross it. As the Philosopher-King of the Bronx once said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

     And watch out for the ideas. When you’ve begun the last lap of the journey, they become almost certainly destructive: Satan whispering in your ear. If you’d like to save an idea for later consideration, write it down. Have a pen and notebook handy for the purpose. (In my experience, ideas you don’t intend to use at once are better saved on paper than in your computer. Writing them down gives them a serious feel. Besides, you could easily misplace a short digital document. It’s happened to me often enough.)

     This most recent intrusion of an idea stopped me for a while. It was seductive in that it was quasi-relevant to the tale I was writing and was connected to other things I’d intended to write...other ideas. And it very nearly derailed me from my romance-under-construction.

     A confession: I did use part of it. And it has cost me some time and effort in backtracking through my manuscript, shoring up passages here and there to provide the required support. I don’t think it’s ruined the tale, though it has compelled me to think of the novel as something other than a pure romance. The readers, whoever and how many they prove to be, will get the last word on that.

     But do watch out for those ideas.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Pressure Must Be Irresistible

     There are days...sometimes one after another...oh Good Lord, how many days there are!...when my storyteller side cringes in despair. The way writers buckle to trends! The way they praise their own work! The way they bandwagon! But I suppose I should be more specific.

     You’ve heard me rant and rave about the prevalence of the unending series several times before this. You’ve heard me petition the heavens for a few decently plotted, characterized, and written novels that don’t have twenty-three sequels (with more in the offing). You’ve heard me fulminate when I’ve reached the end of a novel whose promo blurb gave no warning about being the first volume in a series...only to discover that that was what it was. So I shan’t assault your eyes with further harangues of that sort.

     When I go shopping for fresh reading material – a daily event here at the Fortress – I have my antennae fully extended for all the known warning signs. It takes a strong sense of the original, unique, and exemplary to get me to start reading a series, when I know that that’s what lies before me. Even then, the odds tick upward only slightly – perhaps slightly more if the first volume is a freebie.

     But what do I find this morning?

     The book has as its kinda-sorta subtitle:

(A Standalone Sci-Fi Thriller)

     Glory be to God! Someone out there is thinking of us poor, series-addled readers who want a few stories that actually end! Though I’d never heard of author Jasper T. Scott, I figured I’d give it a try. I’ll let you know if it’s any good.

     Yet there is irony in store, Gentle Reader. For the book has a kinda-sorta sub-sub-title:

(Scott Standalones Book 1)

     So Mr. Scott has grouped his standalone novels into a kinda-sorta series!

     Oh! The pain, the pain...