And So It Goes

“Just for a break, we’re going to play something different.”

“C’mon, Johnno. I thought we come here to play poker.”

“We do, but it’s my house, my game and I say we play something different. Just one hand, so don’t get you panties in a twist.”

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that this was a smoke-filled room full of tired, semi-drunk businessmen with more money than sense — it wasn’t.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been in one — too many to mention.

What we had here was something entirely different — almost refined.

John Jackson, ‘Johnno’ to his friends, lived on the edge of town — the old part, built in the 1910s. The houses were and still are, owned by the people who make decisions. This area escaped the rampant demolition and redevelopment of the 1960s.

‘Money’ does not like to be disturbed.

John Jackson’s games room was big enough to stage a large party but intimate enough to make you feel cosseted. You lost track of time, as all gambling establishments encourage.

“So, what are we going to play?” I asked. It was evident that Johnno was going to get his way, so we might as well get on with it, then we could get back to Poker.

“MOTHER.”

“Have to say that I have not had the pleasure.”

“Bugger that for a game of soldiers. I’m getting a drink. Billy, you want to join me,” said Matt Johnson.

Johnson stood about three inches under six foot but weighed about the same as someone eight inches taller. He came to these games because he was in construction and it was good for business. Billy Mitchell liked sandwiches and beer and women — which did not include his wife.

“Where did you get the tucker from Johnno?” said Billy, rising from his seat, issuing the grunt of a man who had sat in the same place for too long.

“Preston’s on Miller Street. Best Deli on the westside.”

“Better than Louie’s?”

“You tell me?”

By this time, Billy had a sandwich in each hand, and he grunted his assent. Matt Jackson poured them both a beer and they headed for the plush armchairs lining the wall. 

The wallpaper was from another era. Dark and extravagant. The two men sank into their chairs, and the standard lamps that were well placed around the room shone a light on them both. They munched away and looked across at the card table.

The light behind the bar, illuminating every liquor known to mankind, was dim whereas the stained glass lightshade above us was bright enough for even the most imperfect eyesight.

I prefer green baize, but Johnno’s table was covered in a rich burgundy.

“So, how do we play this game?” I said.

“Before you get started, I’m off to the ‘ladies room’. Deal me out.” Michelle was one of three women who regularly attended. She ran three ‘female’ business in our town. Her divorce made her very wealthy, and while her husband drifted away from the regular monthly games night, she stayed. She rarely lost, and her winnings were modest. I think she was lonely, but what would I know? She pressed up against me one night when we met in the hallway leading to the toilets. She didn’t say anything, just didn’t get out of the way to let me pass. She smelled sweet, and her body was soft and inviting. I still don’t know why I didn’t fuck her — one of life’s great mysteries. She didn’t hold it against me if you know what I mean.

Johnno had one of the bedrooms on this floor made into two generous sized toilets. This old house was not built with such amenities. The area wasn’t sewered until the 1920s, so, the toilet was outside — away from the house. It’s still there though not used for that purpose. I think the pool cleaner keeps his stuff in there.

With Michelle gone, it left me, Johnno and Danielle.

I have to admit to wanting to do all sorts of intimate things to and with Danielle. At the time, I hadn’t figured out if the feeling was mutual.

Life was a game to Danielle.

Winning was not only important — it was the manner of winning that was paramount.

Johnno explained the rules and produced a deck of cards. Basically, it was a kids game, and you could win in one of two ways.

If you picked up the designated card from the deck, you won, or if you got down to your last card, you won. Pretty simple, but fun none the less.

“Clockwise around the table,” said Johnno.

Michelle had returned to the room. She poured herself a drink and sat in one of the comfortable chairs.

The deck had elaborate illustrations and a single word printed across the bottom of the card in a font that matched the style of the picture.

“So, what’s the designated card?” said Danielle.

“MOTHER,” said Johnno.

We started with five cards.

If we did not guess the name of the card that the player on our left was trying to get rid of, we had to pick up a card.

“He works with a substance that makes him sound like he’s rich,” said Johnno.

“Dough. So that would be BAKER!” said Danielle triumphantly.

Johnno had to draw a card.

He was not doing well.

Danielle and I, on the other hand, were neck and neck.

“Bugger this,” said Johnno. “I give up (he had fifteen cards in his hand at that moment). “You two can fight it out.”

“It was your idea, Johnno,” said Matt. Johnno shot him a look.

Danielle and I stared at each other. Everything and everyone faded into the background — there was only us and our insatiable desire to win.

“Want to make it interesting?” said Danielle.

“How much?”

“Five thousand and a packet of Juicy Fruits.”

“What is it with you and chewing gum?”

She didn’t answer.

I’d put five thousand down on a hand before, but this felt different. It felt like a dream I often had — standing naked in front of a room full of people.

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind seeing Danielle naked, but that was a whole other dream.

“Okay.”

We had both worked out that the trick to this game was the way you asked your question.

If your question was too obscure, you got jumped on by the other players and had to pick up a card.

If you could justify your question, you would win that round, and they would have to take a card.

We battled it out evenly until we each had two cards left.

No sign of the MOTHER card, so it would probably come down to who got down to their last card.

I don’t remember it happening, but somehow the four non-players were now surrounding our table. They stood silently and waited.

“This person can be two people. This person is in every country and every town. Age does not define this person. This person can lead and follow. Without this person, psychiatrists would go out of business. You know this person.”

I thought about what she had said, and my mind went straight to ‘mother’. But that could not be. If she had the MOTHER card, she had already won. It had to be a trick. She was playing with me. Then again, maybe she wasn’t. No, no-one is that crazy. But she might be. I have to say something soon or pick up a card.

“I know this sounds crazy, but MOTHER.”

I looked at Danielle, who did not have a ‘tell’, not as far as I knew. She looked down at her face down cards. She picked up the top card and held it up for me to see.

MOTHER.

Our hardened audience gasped, ever so softly.

“What were you thinking?” said Michelle, “You had the game won. You had the MOTHER card. Are you crazy?”

“No. I’m not crazy. I wanted to rub his nose in it. I wanted to get down to my last card and wave it in his face. His smug know-all face.”

Her tirade took me by surprise.

Here I was imagining her naked, and here she was imagining dancing on my grave. Boy, did I judge her all wrong.

Danielle reluctantly took five thousand dollars out of her purse and put it on the table.

“Don’t forget the Juicy Fruits sweetheart, and I guess a fuck is out of the question?”

Why I Won’t Be Entering The Ned Kelly Awards This Year

I’m currently a member of the Australian Crime Writer’s Association and as expected, I received notification that entries are open for the Ned Kelly Awards. This is the top award for Crime and Spy novels in Australia. This is one of the genres that I write in so I enter most years. The idea was to get shortlisted (winning was a long shot as some awesomely talented writers have won this award and I’m not quite in that category just yet). Being shortlisted would give me a bit of exposure and hopefully lead to a few sales.

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The Genre I write in — crime.

I began to feel like I was wasting my time when I entered my most recent novel (at that time) and didn’t get a sniff. Naturally, I was disappointed (the book is very good). I did a bit of research and read all of the shortlisted books and found (naturally I’m a bit biased) that none of them was any better than my book — a bit strange I thought. I was expecting writing that blew my work away — not so.

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The shortlisted books didn’t blow me away — none were better than mine.

Then this article came out and I did a bit more research and discovered that publishers don’t see any boost in sales when a book wins an award (the Miles Franklin and the Stella are exceptions). So why was I knocking myself out?

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Why was I knocking myself out?

I did a bit more research and found that self-published works have NEVER been shortlisted. There is an obvious bias towards big publishers as you can see in this quote:

“Asked how the system could be improved, publishers suggested lowering the fees, or removing them for small presses; reducing the number of categories to focus attention and cut fees; accepting digital copies, possibly without the author’s or publisher’s name to reduce a perceived bias towards big publishers; announcing shortlists and winners earlier so books are still in shops, and promoting those lists better.”

Then there is the question of cost. I have to pay a fee each year to be a member of the ACWA so I can enter, and then there is an entry fee. Things have improved a bit because they accept electronic entries which cuts out the cost of postage and the cost of supplying paperbacks.

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Then there is the question of cost.

Let’s face it, I’m a very small fish in a huge pond. I’m doing all the things the hip little articles tell me about ‘promoting my work’ and ‘marketing my books’, but the reality is that I will probably have to live another hundred years before my books are seen by more than a few hardy fans (love you guys).

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A recent shot of all of my readers in one spot — love you guys.

So, for now, I’m not going to be lining any pockets associated with awards — it’s just not cost effective, especially as there is a sneaking suspicion that the major publishers are all that the judges look at.

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Let’s face it, I’m a very small fish in a huge pond.

Here are a few quotes from the article I mentioned, just in case you cannot be bothered reading the whole thing:

“The returns from our very substantial investment every year in shortlisted and winning entries and the minimal sales results from our winning entries tell us something about the way awards and prizes operate these days.”

Terri-ann White, the director of University of Western Australia Publishing.

“When Geoffrey Lehmann’s Poems 1957-2013won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for poetry in 2015, the author received a generous $80,000 but White says, “We saw no results whatsoever [in sales].”

“Publishers agree that in Australia only the Miles Franklin Literary Award for a novel ($60,000 prize money), the well-promoted four-year-old Stella Prize for women writers ($50,000), and the Children’s Book Council of Australia awards significantly affect sales. As well as an $80 entry fee ($60 for early-birds), the Stella asks publishers to pay $500 for each shortlisted title to support the marketing that increases sales.”

“Asked how the system could be improved, publishers suggested lowering the fees, or removing them for small presses; reducing the number of categories to focus attention and cut fees; accepting digital copies, possibly without the author’s or publisher’s name to reduce a perceived bias towards big publishers; announcing shortlists and winners earlier so books are still in shops, and promoting those lists better.”

“In short, you don’t do it for sales, you do it for your authors, and for the reputation of the publishing house. Since we do it for our authors, we can hardly ask them to pay for it – they are less likely to be able to afford the fees than we are, and statistically speaking, it is most likely to be a waste of money for them. So that is where I disagree with Terri-ann. The prize organisers and sponsors should allow free entry for small publishers.”

Ivor Indyk, publisher at Giramondo Publishing.

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I’m feeling a bit discouraged — I need a hug.

Some links worth following:

http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/the-hidden-costs-that-threaten-australian-literary-awards-20161202-gt32wc.html

https://www.bookdesignmadesimple.com/book-award-contests-are-they-worthwhile/

http://publishing.artshub.com.au/news-article/news/writing-and-publishing/brooke-boland/small-publishers-get-a-prized-break-253084

Everyone Loves Pasta.

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This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.

Everyone loves pasta.
So when the challenge went out, Javier Wafford knew what he had to do.
The newly minted millionaire Reyes Armillei had offered a prize of half a million dollars to the person who could develop a food that would feed large populations, would not take up a lot of space and be cheap and easy to manufacture.
Reyes had been sitting on the idea since he was in high school and now was the time to turn it into a small fortune and help the world all at the same time.
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The idea was simple as all great ideas are but there were a few bugs to iron out and that’s where his cousin Eric came in. Eric’s skill was turning great ideas into concrete objects.
The breakthrough came when Eric suggested blotting paper.
They embedded the blotting paper with uncooked pasta and dried it at a certain temperature which they would not disclose.
The precise temperature was necessary to make the sheets almost flat thereby making them easy to store and to transport.
Drop them into boiling salty water and the pasta grew and cooked all in the one process.
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It was delicious as well.
All of the entrants in the competition were amazing but pasta you could shove under a door was always going to win.
Javier Wafford gave some of the money to his cousin Eric and the rest he invested in a blotting paper factory.
He doubled his money in just over a year.