Sunday, April 29, 2012

Nothing That Needed Eyes

Here is a bit of flash fiction I'll turn into something longer one of these days. Copyright 2012 by Bob Sanchez, of course.

By Bob Sanchez

No good would come from disturbing this old house, I thought, applying my crowbar to an ancient oak plank. Still, there could be money squirreled away somewhere in this mess. Rusty nails creaked and snapped; the board popped up to expose a shallow dirt cellar crawling with centipedes and roaches.
Nellie Westhaver had lived here alone, at first pitied and then ignored by the townsfolk for the shiftless husband who had held lots of odd jobs and fast women until he and some mini-skirted trash named Luann disappeared for good and good riddance, probably on the Greyhound to Boston. He’d left his rattletrap Buick behind, but Nellie didn’t drive.
I’d recently spent ten years’ worth of medium security in Walpole and didn’t have a dime left to my name. Crazy Nellie had been my next-door neighbor, the type who never answers the door, fills every room with newspapers going back to Genesis, and lets you know she’s dead when she starts to smell. The house dated back to Revolutionary times, with its low ceilings and stone fireplaces in every room and not a single wall or doorway plumb or true. Not having many job prospects as an ex-con, I decided to see if the old bat had hidden any cash.
The stench had finally told her fate last week—masked EMTs carried her body out feet first on a stretcher, and police closed and padlocked the door. Already I hear Seven-Eleven wants to buy the lot.
Evidently, someone had made half an effort to tame the terrible odor, but the place still smelled like air freshener overpowered by death. Rot gnawed at the wood while mold spores and silence filled the air. Old Look magazines and Lowell Sun newspapers sat in dusty stacks. A small TV with rabbit ears looked like it hadn’t been used since Lawrence Welk died. At the window, a fly struggled in a spider web as a daddy-longlegs sidled up to suck out its juices. I knew how the fly felt, an inmate at the mercy of a sadistic prison guard.
Home improvement for this house would have to start with a match, but I’d never torch it because I’d be the number one suspect. This was the first place I’d ever broken into, the first place I’d ever been arrested, back in my juvie days when Nellie and Ashton still held backyard cookouts and enjoyed sipping martinis and electrocuting moths with their luminescent bug zappers.
Nellie’s bed smelled about right for her having died in it. I felt in the stained pillows and covers for hidden cash, knowing perfectly well some cop would already have checked all those obvious places and pocketed the prize. Cabinets and closets and dressers turned up the usual jetsam floating in a sea of dust bunnies as Nellie sailed on to her next life.
I pushed the queen-sized bed aside to rummage through the tattered cardboard boxes underneath and found old letters and bills, a broken telephone, stained Melamine plates, nothing even fit for a yard sale. If this house had anything less than ten years old or worth more than five dollars, I’d have been shocked. Frustrated, I kicked a box. There was no point in looking any more—but wait, this was odd. Several floor boards looked lighter and newer than the rest: pine surrounded by oak, galvanized nails bent but not rusted, hammer-head impressions in the soft wood suggesting slapdash carpentry.
Eagerly I pried another board and looked into the darkness. Some godforsaken life form squeaked and scurried away. I turned my flashlight on a pea-green Army blanket, and a thousand miserable bugs scattered in all directions. Only a fool would disturb that filthy piece of trash, but I was a plain and simple fool.
I went to a closet and found a wire coat hanger that I used to fashion a hook. I tried to catch one edge of the blanket, but the hanger slipped out of my hands and out of reach. Disgusted, I lay on the floor and reached down to pull away the blanket.
A sudden visit from the police couldn’t have brought me closer to cardiac arrest. I didn’t care anymore about money.
A pair of skeletons in rotted clothing lay one on top of the other. A hatchet rested inside the skull it had shattered down the middle. Toadstools grew out of both eye sockets—but there was nothing here that needed eyes.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A modest proposal

Kindle and Nook owners are always on the lookout for good reads, and I have three for you (ahem, cough, cough) -- mine. So here's an offer: Send me an email at, asking for a free e-book from the list below. I will send you one right away. In return, I request that if you like the book, you post a brief review on Amazon.

Let me know whether you own a Kindle or a Nook so I can send a file in the right format. Here are the titles:

When Pigs Fly (Funny. Silly, even. Not for kids)
Getting Lucky (Semi-serious P.I. fare)
Little Mountain (Serious crime novel)

You can find descriptions and current reviews at, which is my Amazon author page.

You want a good read. I want your feedback. Can we make a deal?

Monday, April 23, 2012

A jumbled mess

My desk is a jumbled mess. Fourteen books, a stack of papers that my cat Gracie nibbles on (she does love her paperwork, a calendar, my laptop and monitor, a rarely used lamp... What's in that stack of paper? I haven't seen the bottom of it in months. There are books to read, books to assign to reviewers, duplicate books to donate to the library. I owe two reviews to Kirkus and plan to write one for the Internet Review of Books. One novel needs polishing, one needs a first draft to be completed, and one short-story collection is all ready except for the cover art. And of course there are the guest blogs I've been delinquent in writing.

What's a writer to do? Well, one could toss out some of those papers. Prioritize tasks. Or hop into the old RV and go flower-peeping. That's what my bride and I did last week, visiting Wildseed Farms and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Texas Hill Country. I didn't write a lick during that time, but enjoyed taking photos.

Wildseed Farms is a nursery on steroids. If you're ever in the Fredericksburg, Texas area in springtime, it's a must-see.

Poppies, Wildseed Farms

We just missed the bluebonnets at the Lady Bird Wildflower Center in Austin, but the displays we saw were gorgeous.

Lady Bird Wildflower Center

Meanwhile, my paperwork and writing projects await. 

Monday, April 09, 2012

Nitpicker's delight

The first time I ever heard of a concordance was in a public library in the 1960s, when I saw one for the Bible--the King James version, probably. It listed the number of occurrences of every single word and indicated the context. What an odd project, I thought. Did some monk undertake this task in an isolated monastery after finishing his morning prayers? Or was it the work of a theologian who, having finally solved the angels-on-a-pin question, realized he still had spare time?

Between then and the late '80s the word "concordance" couldn't have escaped my lips more than once or twice, except perhaps to question the reason for their existence. If memory serves, the first version of Microsoft Word I encountered allowed the creation of such a curiosity.

The other day, though, I got to wondering. Does Word have such a function now? No. So I Googled the word and found a free third-party tool that does the job. I downloaded it and found it easy to  use.

So why should you care?  It turns out to be a nice proofreading tool. You can see if you may have overused a certain word, and it can help you find typos and inconsistencies. (Yeah, I know. Bo-o-o-oring! So all the more reason to have a tool that does the job quickly.) For example, did you hyphenate a word only part of the time?  One of my current projects is editing a person's novel, and I am making one final pass through it. TextSTAT helps me find some of those annoying nits I might otherwise miss until the book goes into print.

Here is part of a sample output. Notice the sorting options on the right:

Sunday, April 01, 2012

How to maintain sales?

My first just-for-me splurge with money from my Kindle sales: a copy of Rosetta Stone for Latin American Spanish. Is it too late in life to master another language? It's not too late to try. That first royalty check hasn't arrived yet, but it should be here soon.

Meanwhile, the big question is how to maintain a level of sales that had been so strong for a month or two and then dropped off? Perhaps one way is to keep new products coming. At the moment there are three in the pipeline--two novels and a short e-book. Of course, no two of my projects have any logical link, which goes against what everyone seems to think a writer should do. You take someone like Sue Grafton. She has a whole alphabet full of novels tightly linked with the same main character. And Janet Evanovich. And Ed McBain, rest his soul, writing 87th Precinct novels by the dozens.

Me? No sequels here. ADD, maybe.

Do any other writers have this problem, that your head gets turned by every new shiny object of an idea?

Oh wait, I was talking about sales. If you haven't tried Twitter, give it a go. It's time-consuming but free, and I think the time has been well spent.