Last spring, I began experimenting with Amazon’s new serial format, Kindle Vella, trying to see how it might work for a young adult novella that I had completed. The work in question wasn’t really publishable in a traditional format because of its short word count, but I wondered how it might do in bite-size formats. So, I published Magecraft and Murder in 32 installments under the pen name of T.A. Rollins.

Did it work? I’m not sure. Because the story wasn’t really written with the serial format in mind, I don’t know that it maintained tension the way an ideal serial story would do. You really need to master the art of the cliff hanger when you’re writing serials, and I don’t think I captured that in this work. Ultimately, I’m not sure that Vella is the right format for me, and I may stick to writing traditional novels in the future.

But, success or failure, the novella is now complete on Kindle Vella, so you can follow the mystery through to its end!


October Wedding

Note: This is my entry for the 2021 Fall Writing Frenzy. Check out the contest page to read other fabulous stories!

The sun set over the little church in the woods. At last, the bridesmaids could begin to decorate. Cobwebs, autumn leaves, and withered daises festooned the walls.

The organ began to play “The Dead March.” The doors to the church flew open, and in floated the bride, her tattered white dress flying behind her in the breeze. A veil covered her from head to toe.

Where was the groom? A groan ran through the congregation. Heads turned. Eyes peered. Would the wedding be canceled? The mother of the groom rattled her bones nervously.

But wait! Col. Hampton’s carriage rattled up to church, surrounded by a cloud of grave dust.

“Sorry we’re late,” the coachman gasped. Col. Hampton tipped his tricorn hat at the congregation and strode towards the altar, as confident in death as he had been in life.

“By the power invested in me,” creaked the clergyman. “I now pronounce you ghost and fright. You may kiss.”

When the groom lifted his bride’s veil, some of the audience fainted at the sight, but the colonel just smiled. “As gruesome as the day we met!” he said, as he beheld his bride. And they all (un)lived happily ever after.

Fall- Credit: Julia Solonina / Unsplash


Experiments in Serialization

This spring, Amazon announced that it would be launching a new service: Kindle Vella. It’s a format that sells stories by episode or chapter rather than selling the whole book. There are advantages to this format: you can start a book and give up on it without having to pay for the whole thing. And there are disadvantages, too: buying each chapter for a few cents often adds up to more than the price of a normal book, especially compared to inexpensive ebooks.

But that’s not the real thrill of Kindle Vella. The thrill of a serialized book is waiting each week for the next installment. It’s like the way watching a television episode worked back before shows became immediately available and bingeable, or like following a comic or manga one episode at a time.

What’s more, the weekly episode is easy to fit into a busy schedule. Even if one can’t spare a couple of hours of solid booktime, one can probably spare ten minutes to catch up on this week’s episode.

I know all about the thrill of serialization, because I’ve been reading serialized webcomics for the last couple of years. I still look forward to Fridays each week, because three of my favorite series drop their new episode on Friday . . . but that’s beside the point. The point is, this format has worked very well for some platforms. Whether Amazon can make their platform work is an open question; the audience for serial fictions may not overlap with the audience for Amazon’s existing self published works.

I admit that I have a vested interest in seeing if Vella can work: I have a young adult novella publishing on Vella for new. But the bigger question for me is not whether my story will work, but whether Vella will succeed in bringing serialized online fiction to a more mainstream audience. Are readers going to discover and populate Vella? Right now, it’s too early to tell, but I’ll be watching to see.

In the meantime, if you’re reading this, go ahead and give Vella a try. The first three episodes of every story are free, and there are lots of genres to pick from!


Life Lesson: Use it or Lose it!

Let’s start with a picture that I drew back in 1999 or thereabouts. I was in college then, studying a mixture of science and humanities. I dabbled with art just for fun. Sometimes I drew doodles of animals and mailed them (in an envelope with a STAMP, can you imagine?!) to my sister. One time I sent her a cartoon about “Dangerous Alley Rabbits.”

No photo description available.

Now, I’m not going to claim that this is great art. I was never great at art. But I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t sketch a scene with alley rabbits that’s even as “good” as that now. See, I quit drawing for fun. In the last few years I’ve done a bit of painting, but I am not in the habit of sketching or doodling anymore.

And it shows, as you can see from this 2019 doodle:

That little bird has personality, but it also has . . . problems? It’s not like I can draw from my memories of holding a pencil twenty years ago; I’ve forgotten how to do it.

That’s my lesson for February: if you don’t lose your skills, you may lose them. I think this is the flip side of the saying that “practice makes perfect.” You need to practice not just so you progress, but so that you don’t regress. This applies to music, to art, and (I think) to writing.

So keep writing! (Or drawing, or stitching, or otherwise making.) Use it or lose it!