Thursday, May 30, 2013

Guest Blogger Kat Flannery Talks About Promotion

Promotion is the key to success for any writer. You can have the best book in the world, but it won’t get read without promoting it to your readers, reviewers, bloggers and journalists, etc. When I started out writing years ago I knew that marketing was the answer to getting your name out there.

I wrote articles, opinion pieces, lists, and ads all with the plan to get my name recognized. I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer. The road was a long one, and so in between the writing and the editing I wrote for other venues. I strived to keep my name in print.

Now that I’m a published author, I work ten times harder to promote my books. Yes, my publisher Imajin Books does promotion, but its 2013 and you are not only expected to market, it’s also a major credential when sending manuscripts to publishers. They want to know if you’re willing to put your time into marketing your book, and why wouldn’t you?


When I have a new release out I can spend up to five hours a day marketing it. I talk to reviewers, fans, and bloggers. I post things to my facebook page, tweet, blog about the process of writing the book and hold contests. I don’t only want to sell books, but I want my readers to get a sense of who I am. I want to connect with them on a personal level. I love to interact with my readers. When I receive fan mail I always write them back. 
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Kat Flannery has loved writing ever since she was a girl. She is often seen jotting her ideas down in a little black book. When not writing, or researching, Kat enjoys snuggling on her couch with a hot chocolate and a great book. 
Her first novel, CHASING CLOVERS became an Amazon’s bestseller in Historical and Western romance. This is Kat’s second book, and she is currently hard at work on the third. 
When not focusing on her creative passions, Kat is busy with her three boys and doting husband.

Purchase LAKOTA HONOR on AMAZON US /  AMAZON CA / AMAZON UK 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Guest Blogger Jeani Rector: "WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A SUCCESSFUL SHORT STORY WRITER?"


As the editor of The Horror Zine, I receive many emails from people asking me, “What are you looking for? What will make my story stand out from the pack? What will get my story published?”

These are good questions, and I would like to take this time to answer them.

No one simply wakes up one day to find themselves a successful author. To get there is a process. Many famous writers received their start by submitting their work to magazines and small presses.

And as you know, these days the competition for writers is daunting because of online zines, ebooks, and other products of technology. Computers have created a glut: Anyone who wanted to be a writer but who used to be intimidated by the awkwardness of typewriters is now jumping in because of the ease that computer-writing can offer.

So what is a writer to do? How can you, as an author, get your work to stand out and therefore succeed in this highly competitive business? Because as talented and creative as you may be, it is still a business that takes a plan.

The first thing to do is to honestly ask yourself about your motivations to be a writer. Why do you want this?

John Shirley (author of “extreme” works such as Everything is Broken and co-writer of the movie The Crow starring Brandon Lee) says:

“Someone once said you shouldn’t try to be a writer unless you must be a writer. I think this is so, for most people anyway. Of course, if you have a day job and time on your hands between responsibilities, and you have some ideas, why not give it a shot. I’m just saying don’t try to make it career, your big goal, unless writing is a compulsion, is part of your very being and won’t let you alone, because writing is usually too difficult to do unless you must do it.”

I agree with John. For those for whom writing is a compulsion, there is no getting around it. You must do it because the choice is not yours to make. It was born into you. For others, writing is a lark, a hobby…something they will “eventually get around to doing.” For the latter category, I say to find an easier hobby…maybe stamp collecting.

But if you are one of those who must write no matter what, you know who you are, so please keep reading this article. Because for you, it is understood that this is a compulsion, so next we need to explore the how.

From where do you get your ideas? Some of the best writers simply look at their surroundings. The old saying write what you know is true. Authors like Ramsey Campbell and Bentley Little are masters at taking ordinary people and thrusting them into extraordinary situations. This creates the idea that “it could happen to you.” The reader relates to your character and feels personally involved. This is the result that good writers want to achieve.

For example, in Bentley Little’s book The Association, the protagonist is a regular, normal guy with a family who moves into a new home. The guy could be you or me. We have all moved, right? Slowly the character comes to the realization that his new home is involved in a conspiracy by the Homeowner’s Association to force its tenants into conforming to very undesirable things.

So you can see how Bentley took a normal, everyday situation and turned it upside down. The Association is a very effective story in what it sets out to do.

Other writers simply relax and let the ideas come to them. Simon Clark (British Fantasy Society award-winner for Humpty’s Bones and best-selling novelist of the Vampyrrhic series) likes to ask himself “What if” questions, as revealed here:

“…there are times when it’s best to let your mind coast along in a beautifully random way. You can do this by employing something that has been referred to as the Art of Wandering. Here you don’t search for ideas—you let them come to you. The way to do this is simply to walk or ride through the landscape in a relaxed way, and allow your imagination to engage with the sights you see. For example, imagine you find a strange old house on the hill—who lives there? Why do they live there? Why have they painted over the window panes?”

So now you have an idea. What next?

Writing takes work. Conrad Williams (British Fantasy Society award-winner for his novel One) states:

“Keep going. Write every day. It’s a muscle prone to wastage just like the muscles in your body. If you’re stuck, write something else: haiku, a letter to a dead rock star, a horoscope for the mysterious 13th constellation, a serial killer’s shopping list. Anything. It’s a tough job, racking up pages. You have to put the hours in. You have to get so many things right: character, plot, pace, narrative arc…it’s easy to give up. Thousands have.”

Conrad is saying that writing requires discipline. I used to write two pages one day, then the next day I would edit those two pages. Editing is best after a good night’s sleep away from your work, making you more objective. I recommend being ruthless: remove the bad or the excess that distracts from or bogs down the flow of your story. Stay crisp and concise. And then when you are finished editing those two pages, write two more.

Okay, so you must be a writer, you have your great idea for a story, and you are disciplined at your craft. Is that enough?

Absolutely not. Next you need to convince an editor to publish your work. This is where I jump into this article.

My name is Jeani Rector, and I am the editor of the ezine titled The Horror Zine. I founded this online magazine in July of 2009 as a response to the fact that, probably due to the economic crisis, many of the online magazines that new writers depended upon for exposure either went on hiatus or folded completely. That is why I stepped in to try to fill the void by creating The Horror Zine.

These are my credentials for writing this article for Suspense Magazine: I have over three years of experience working with both new and professional writers every day. The Horror Zine enjoys over 30,000 hits per week world-wide. We are an award-winning ezine that also produces anthology books containing the works of contributors. The Horror Zine consists of myself, Dean H. Wild as Assistant Editor, Christian A. Larsen as Media Director, Bruce Memblatt as Kindle Coordinator, and of course all of our contributors.

The Horror Zine is not just about horror; we welcome other genres such as mystery, suspense, thriller, “Twilight Zone,” and some sci-fi. We do not accept themes that include abuse of women or children, gore for gore’s sake, splatter-punk, erotica, or spree or serial killers.

We are a “4theluv” market, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t extremely choosy. We are. One of the reasons why we are choosy in the material we accept is, of course, because we demand quality content.

The other reason we are choosy is because we can afford to be. Did I mention there is a glut of writers out there? Of course I did.

Which means that you need all the advantages you can get to make your work stand out from the pack and get the attention of editors such as myself.

First things first. When getting ready to submit to an editor, remember that it is similar to a job interview. Appearances matter. Read the Submissions Guidelines carefully. If it says to single space at Times New Roman font 12, do what it says!

Never submit your work with typos or misspellings or grammatical errors. Have a second set of eyes read your work before you ever submit it to an editor. Right or wrong, if your work contains errors, the editor will assume you don’t care about your story, so why should she care either? All editors expect your best so give your best.

All stories need a “hook” in the first three paragraphs. That is usually the length of time a reader will “try out” your work. If he/she is not grabbed and absorbed within the first three paragraphs, he/she will simply stop reading and go elsewhere. Did I mention the glut in writers?

From there, I can only tell you what I look for personally when I receive submissions for possible publication. First and foremost, if the first paragraph is devoted to descriptions or (horrors!) a rambling account of history (the why the story is being told), I immediately reject it without reading any further.

I recommend starting the first paragraph smack in the middle of the story, in the middle of the action, and then gradually weave the descriptions and history into the body of the story. That sort of thing takes talent to achieve.

Here is what, in my opinion, makes for a successful short story:

1)     start with action
2) familiarize the reader with your protagonist; make him/her likeable
3) provide an obstacle for your protagonist
4) describe how your protagonist overcomes, or at least deals with, the obstacle
5) provide an exciting chase scene
6) give the reader hints as to the ending
7) provide a completely different ending than your hints
2)      
It is also important to balance the amount of dialogue to the amount of action. Too much dialogue and you are “telling” the story instead of “showing” the story.

I automatically reject any story that is told in the form of a diary or someone recounting an event that occurred previously through lots of dialogue. That sort of story is told in a passive voice. There is no suspense to an event that has already occurred. I want stories that are “in the moment;” that are occurring as we speak.

Graham Masterton (Edgar award-winner and best-selling author of numerous novels since 1978) says:

“Don’t lecture—show, don’t tell. Even if you’ve done some really amazing research, don’t pound your readers’ ears about it. It’s enough that you know…you knowledge will come across in the confidence with which you tell your story.”

Now I will discuss “style.” What is your voice?

Joe R. Lansdale (Stoker award-winner for Lifetime Achievement and best-selling author of the Hap and Leonard series) tells us how southern writer Ardath Mayhar helped him find his own voice:

“I read a story of hers in an Alfred Hitchcock anthology, and it took place in East Texas and was written in East Texas vernacular, and at that point my life changed. I was already writing, but I was trying to write like a New Yorker or someone from Los Angles, and in that moment, when I read [Ardath’s story] “Crawfish,” my brain switched and went South where I belonged. I’ve always thought career-wise that there were some major turning points for me, and my reading of “Crawfish” was in some ways the second most important.

“I had been trying to write about things I didn’t know and people who lived in places I had never been, and about things I had never experienced.

“And then I read that story, “Crawfish” by Ardath Mayhar, and things changed. Hers was an East Texas voice, at least in that story, and it was not too unlike my own real voice, and from then on, I knew what to do.

“So here is my advice for new and upcoming writers: write what you know, write what you are, and write where you are. The authenticity will come out, and the heart of your story will show.”

Now you are done with your story: you have a finished product that has been polished and is free from errors. You just know that all the editors to whom you submit will be thrilled to have it and your story will be automatically published.

Right?

Not always.

I try to stress to contributors that opinions are subjective. Different editors have different tastes.
What I suggest is that if you get a rejection, query the editor as to why. A real writer, the one with the compulsion to write, wants to do what it takes to better his/her craft. The goal is to produce the best product possible. And for that, the real writer needs to not only seek advice, but to listen to it.

Tim Lebbon (Stoker award-winner and screenwriter for the coming film The Secret Journeys of Jack London) tells us:

Everyone gets rejection letters. They should make you stronger––I wrote dozens of stories trying to get into the magazine The Third Alternative, and eventually got there, and I think I improved immensely doing so. Take positive comment from rejections, and don’t let them grind you down. They’re as much a part of the learning process as anything, and a good writer never stops learning.”

So there you have it. I will close this article with one more quote about the challenges of being a writer.

Joe McKinney (Stoker award-winner and author of the four-part Dead World series), says:

“Basically, being a writer, being a slave to that muse, can turn you into a mean son of a bitch. Doing this writing thing, on top of the day job and the family and all the other responsibilities, is stressful, and it takes a lot of hard work. There’s no way to varnish that truth.”

Are you up to it? If so, you might be a real writer!

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While most people go to Disneyland while in Southern California, Jeani Rector went to the Fangoria Weekend of Horror there instead.  She grew up watching the Bob Wilkins Creature Feature on television and lived in a house that had the walls covered with framed Universal Monsters posters.  It is all in good fun and actually, most people who know Jeani personally are of the opinion that she is a very normal person. She just writes abnormal stories. Doesn’t everybody?

Jeani Rector is the founder and editor of The Horror Zine and has had her stories featured in magazines such as Aphelion, Midnight Street, Strange Weird and Wonderful, Dark River Press, Macabre Cadaver, Ax Wound, Horrormasters, Morbid Outlook, Horror in Words, Black Petals, 63Channels, Death Head Grin, Hackwriters, Bewildering Stories, Ultraverse, and others.


Purchase SHADOW MASTERS from Amazon (paperback) and on Kindle.

Monday, May 27, 2013

PUYB Blog Tour: Interview with Alana Terry, author of 'The Beloved Daughter'



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Alana Terry is a homeschooling mother of three. “The Beloved Daughter” is her debut Christian novel and won second place in the Women of Faith writing contest. Alana is also the author of “A Boy Named Silas,” the story of her son’s complicated medical history and “What, No Sushi?” a children’s chapter book about the Japanese-American internment.
Visit her website at www.alanaterry.com or connect with her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/aboynamedsilas.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

I knew for a while that I wanted to write a novel that focused on religious persecution in North Korea. I researched quite a bit, read numerous statements from real defectors, and finally came up with the entire plot for The Beloved Daughter one day as I was trying to take a nap, of all things!

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

The hardest part about writing The Beloved Daughter was how emotionally draining the research was. I learned about all kinds of horrific things that are happening today to real people. I feel like I’m a better, more compassionate, more aware individual than I was before, but the process was very difficult. I would advise authors researching difficult subjects to have a few people to vent to. When I felt overwhelmed by my researching, I had a good friend I could call and she would help me decompress.

Q: Who is your publisher and how did you find them or did you self-publish?

I ended up self-publishing The Beloved Daughter. It was always my goal to donate a large percentage of my novel’s proceeds to a specific organization that helps victims of religious persecution. I finally decided that self-publishing would give me more financial freedom to make something like that a reality. Still, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to market it, but once The Beloved Daughter was named a winner in the Women of Faith writing contest, I took the plunge and published it myself.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

The Beloved Daughter isn’t actually my first book, but it is my first novel. I think what surprised me was seeing which of my acquaintances actually bought a copy. There were some great, close (and rich) friends who could have easily purchased a book and didn’t, and other people who weren’t as close or weren’t as well-off who were scrambling to show their support by ordering a copy (or five!). I’ve decided to compartmentalize and not worry about which friends I sell to and which I don’t, but this was an interesting observation I made.

Q: Can you describe the feeling when you saw your published book for the first time?

I think the thought process went something like, Thank the Lord I’m finally done with all those edits!

Q: What other books (if any) are you working on and when will they be published?

I am under contract to publish at least three books in My Solar-Powered History series for kids. Book 1 in the series, What, No Sushi? was published in April, 2013, the same month that The Beloved Daughter came out. The next two books will come out over during the next year. There is no publication date as of now, but we’re already working on edits and illustrations for book two.

Q: Fun question: How does your book contribute to making this world a better place?

First of all, there’s the financial aspect I already mentioned. A significant portion of book sales from my website go directly towards helping victims of religious persecution. I also hope that The Beloved Daughter raises awareness about what people in North Korea are suffering. In a broader sense, my goal is to stretch my readers until they have an even deeper empathy and compassion for the oppressed worldwide.

Q: Finally, what message (if any) are you trying to get across with your book?

I want people – comfortable people like me who live day to day without significant hardships – to realize how deeply some people suffer. I try to do this without being preachy or condescending, which is one thing that probably sets The Beloved Daughter apart from other books that tackle similar subjects. That’s my hope, at least.
  
Q: Thank you again for this interview!  Do you have any final words?

You’re very welcome, and that you for helping me spread the word about The Beloved Daughter. If you’re interested in ordering The Beloved Daughter and having your purchase help Christians in countries like North Korea, please visit alanaterry.com for more information.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Guest Blogger Rosemary McCracken: "It’s All a Matter of Point of View"

Before keyboarding in the opening sentence, a writer needs to decide what point of view that novel or story will take. I didn’t do this when I started to write Safe Harbor, the first book in my Pat Tierney series. I plunged into the story, telling it from the POV of a third-person narrator. For some vague reason, I felt the first person narrator was too common in mystery novels, especially those by North American writers. The
late Robert B. Parker used it in his Spenser series. Janet Evanovich, Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky use it. I enjoy the works of Parker, Evanovich, Grafton and Paretsky, but for some vague reason I was determined to be different.

I completed the first drafts of Safe Harbor in the limited third person, the form of narration that lets the reader see the events from the POV of a single character or a few characters at the most. Early in 2009 I entered the manuscript in Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger competition, a contest open to English-language writers around the world who haven’t had a novel published. The CWA didn’t get back to me, which meant, in a competition that attracts hundreds of entries, often more than a thousand, that the manuscript hadn’t made its shortlist.

I went back to Safe Harbor and applied more polish. Later that year, veteran Canadian crime writer Gail Bowen had a stint as writer-in-residence at the Toronto Reference Library and she read the first few chapters of the manuscript. “This book needs to be written in the first person,” she said when we met. “We need to know what Pat Tierney is thinking and feeling every step of the way.”

I felt like a light had been switched on in my head. Safe Harbor is a murder mystery, but it’s also the story of Pat’s personal journey. She learns about her husband Michael’s infidelity and starts to get on with her life. The story’s events—Jude’s murder and the danger little Tommy faces—affect Pat deeply because of her personal involvement in them. Jude was the mother of Michael’s child. Tommy is Michael’s son and a reminder to Pat of her husband’s affair. I realized I needed to get deeper into Pat’s head. And the best way to do that was to let her tell the story.

I rewrote the book in the first person. I knew Pat well, so I felt completely comfortable jumping into her shoes. And right from the start, I knew I’d made right choice. I felt an energy emanating from the story that hadn’t been there before. I showed several chapters to members of my writers’ group, and they agreed.

Early the following year, I entered the rewrite in the 2010 Debut Dagger competition. Same title, same storyline as my previous submission, but this time it was told in the first person. That year Safe Harbor emerged as one of 11 novels—out of about 1,100 submissions from around the world—that were shortlisted for the award. I was astonished…and thrilled. Being on that shortlist has been one of the highlights of my writing life.

I’m sure that the intimacy created by the first-person narration made all the difference in attracting the judges’ attention, and I went on to write Black Water. The second book in the Pat Tierney series explores Pat’s relationship with her daughter Tracy. It’s also in first person. The Pat Tierney books will all be written in first person, at least the sections that deal with Pat.

Will I always use a first-person narrator? Not necessarily. Every standalone novel, every series and every short story demands a certain point of view, depending how far the writer needs to get inside certain characters’ heads. Here’s a useful strategy if you’re uncertain what POV to use at the outset. Try writing opening chapters from different points of view, and settle on the one that is most comfortable for you as a writer and is the most effective for the story you want to tell.

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RosemaryMcCracken’s first mystery novel, Safe Harbor, was shortlisted for Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger in 2010. It was published by Imajin Books in 2012. Its sequel, Black Water, has just been released.

Visit Rosemary’s website at http://www.rosemarymccracken.com/.

Follow Rosemary on http://rosemarymccracken.wordpress.com/. And on Twitter at https://twitter.com/RCMcCracken and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rosemarymccracken?ref=tn_tnmn


Friday, May 24, 2013

First Chapter Reveal - The Idiot of Funkyville by Ash Hoden


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The Idiot of FunkyvilleABOUT THE IDIOT OF FUNKYVILLE

What is travel? Asking this question is like asking, “What is life?” or, “Who are you?” (or, as I’ve frequently been asked, “Who are you?”). The answers to such questions are as numerous as the people asking. The Idiot of Funkyville: Becoming an Everywhere Citizen takes a chronological snapshot of actual personal experiences as a young and less-than-young man living and playing abroad; exploring each of the above questions in the context of a displaced American piecing himself together on foreign turf.
Contained therein: perhaps an excess of sex, more than a healthy dose of drugs, and all the rock ‘n’ roll one can ask for. Balance is achieved as the vignettes build one on top of the next.
Pondering the course of my life from the confines of a Qatari jail cell, reminiscence begins with teenage confusion at a Mexican bar and concludes with grown confusion as an expat in the Middle East. In progression, the narrowing spiral of personal growth leaves finer grained finger prints as the tales evolve through destinations and age. In theory, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But that’s for the experts to decide.
Having dismounted a train, plane, boat, or rickshaw in nearly forty countries (including Canada), The Idiot of Funkyville documents a life of travel as a point-blank portrayal of my life through travel. And who doesn’t love life and travel both? Whether you’ve already gone or have no intention of ever, ever going near the place, wonder is universal. We all have questions. A good majority of my questions just happened to be pondered abroad.

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May 2011: Wakra, Qatar
            The phone, resting innocently on the kitchen counter, came to life in a spree of vibrational spasms. I was startled, more likely due to this being an expected call rather than it being unusual for my phone to vibrate at all. I receive few phone calls, particularly on a pre-work Saturday evening. When my phone does shimmy, the calls are almost exclusively work-related and rarely answered with a smile. I was waiting for this one, but didn't have to wait long.
            Moments earlier, I received a warning vibration from the Indian man at the car rental agency. I drove a rented car. "The police station is calling me. They are saying your vehicle is parked in the most illegal of circumstances." Grey storm clouds swirled in ever narrowing spirals toward the epicenter of my quiet apartment.
            "I don't understand. The car is parked in the basement of my building. I parked it there myself."
            "Will you kindly go and looking just to make for certain it is there? They are telling me the vehicle is in Wakra blocking all the other cars from coming and going. I am giving them your number."
            "I know the car is here. My apartment has a private parking garage. I parked it here just an hour ago. It's not on a public road."
            "But they are saying... Will you just check?"
            At the mention of Wakra the ominous grey storm rattled the doors and windows. It eliminated the possibility of this being some sort of misunderstanding. I drove through Wakra that afternoon, a continuous strip mall built upon ancient fishing village dust particles that blow through air conditioners of fast food chicken restaurants like imported labor. I even stopped in Wakra, parking on the beach for five minutes on my way back from the sand dunes in the south. It couldn't be that. Illegal parking is like a sport here, with bonus points for creativity. Parking on the beach isn't illegal anyhow. The odds of the police spending an afternoon sniffing out the owner of an illegally parked car were laughable. Bona fide crime does not exist in Qatar. Obviously the police were lying to my Indian friend. They just needed my phone number. But why? I looked at the phone, rumbling like thunder on the counter. It was time to find out.
            "Hello?" I said.
            "Hello," he said. I'm still not aware of the etiquette when receiving a call. I only know not to expect the callers to identify themselves.
            "Hello." Me again.
            "Hello." Him again. Moment of silence. "I am, ah, Officer Mohammed with Wakra police."
            "Hi."
            "Ah, do you have rental car...Honda Civic?"
            "I do."
            "Is car, ah, number eight six double-five three one?"
            "It is."
            "Did you drive in Wakra today? 4pm?"
            "Yes."
            "Oh-kay. We need you come to Wakra police station."
            "Is something wrong?"
            "Please come Wakra station. We, ah, ah, talk then."
            "I don't understand. Is there a problem?"
            "Just come Wakra station."
            "Right now? It's 9pm."
            "Yes, ah, my captain says for you come now."
            "Will you tell me what's wrong?"
            "You know Wakra station? You must come now."
            "No, I don't know where it is." I failed to mark that one on my map. "I don't understand why you can't tell me what's happened."
            "Just come Wakra station. Five minutes and you go."
            "Please, can you tell me if I'm in trouble?"
            "Big problem. Ah, my English no good. You know Wakra station?"
            In Qatar there are no addresses. No building numbers. Giving directions is like taking the GED, you either can or you can't. One must know the city, all the insignificant landmarks scattered haphazardly along outdated roads. My apartment was off Ahmed Bin Mohammed Bin Thani Street near Jaidah Tower. That was my address. A taxi driver at the airport shared that bit of info three months after I moved there, when he didn't understand my instructions. Mail? I refrain from commenting. And without an address Google is little help. "Do you happen to know the coordinates?"
            Driving was a task I did my best to avoid. My apartment was within walking distance of my office and Souk Waqif, the two places I frequented most. Traffic was minimal compared to most capital cities, if only because Doha was such an undesirable locale. Sitting through three red light cycles was standard during busy hours, but the city was small enough to navigate relatively easily. Most of the frustration, for me at least, came from the demeanor of the roads. It was a passive aggressive war zone drawn along class divisions, both domestic and imported. Locals in luxury automobiles commonly sped down the streets, flashing headlights at any car in the way. Never mind that all lanes were full. In contrast, nearly 80% of the population was a foreign, predominantly male labor force. Foreigners with cars habitually and excessively obeyed certain laws of the road for fear of extreme repercussions. Roadside cameras monitored speed. Red light cameras issued 10,000 riyal tickets (approximately $2740). Other common regulations were ignored by all. People frequently turned from outside lanes, cutting off one or two lanes of traffic in the process. Double parking was commonplace. So was parking on the curbs. If there was a code of conduct it remained a mystery to me.
            Officer Mohammed caught me just as I was sitting down for a late dinner. Tomorrow, Sunday, was the beginning of another work week. I wanted to handle this quickly, soon enough to get much needed rest. I left my dinner on the counter, right there next to that vibrating harbinger of doom, and took a quick shower. I dressed like an accountant, combed my hair like an accountant, and removed the rings from my ears. Whatever the trouble, I knew enough to recognize their decisions would be based less on due process and more on an emotional response to me as a person. My appearance was critical. With several degrees of reluctance, I turned the key in the ignition and made the trek to Wakra.
            On average, the summer temperatures were in the range of 43 to 50 °C (110 to 122°F). For young and old alike, the city came to life at night. Shops, restaurants, parks, and playgrounds were at their busiest after 9pm. As were the roads. My frustration with traffic and circumstances in general increased as I crept closer to the destination; a destination I still needed to find. In Wakra I made a few pointless loops through a neighborhood with an official air about it, banking on blind luck to guide me there. I then asked directions from a Filipino waitress at a fast food joint. The station was three buildings down on the opposite side of the main road, a busy six lane affair dissecting Wakra in two. Driving a couple kilometers down the road, I reversed directions in one of the countless roundabouts (the most frequent perpetuators of traffic skirmishes), drove the two kilometers back, and pulled up in front of the station. Two parking places were available, the two spots nearest the front door. One was a designated handicapped spot. The other was marked by a sign in Arabic, blatantly (even to non-Arabic speakers) reserving the space for the head honcho. Now 10pm, I parked in the reserved spot, guessing no senior level Qatari worked past 4pm. Especially not a senior level government employee. I would just be in and out anyhow. Sometimes it's easier to believe in myths.
            Inside, I was directed to a room where a team of five or six junior staff filed papers and typed at computer relics. I arrived in the midst of a heated discussion between several officers, three Arabic men, and a Nepalese laborer with a bruised face. The one mid-level officer, a Sudanese man in his mid-40's, directed me to the waiting area in front of the counter. I sat, analyzing each cop with an eye for the most sympathetic to my cause, whatever that cause may be. Without doubt it was Omar, the Sudanese man. The younger police were basically clerks, all in their mid-twenties. Not only were they unable to make judgments of value, their lack of authority among the ranks contributed to an exaggerated sense of authority towards those outside the ranks. When my time came, 30 minutes later, a younger Sudanese clerk sat in front of me at the counter, slouching in preparation for the next story to be told by the next pest. By this time I would talk with anyone who would have me.
            "Yes?"
            "I was called to come here."
            "For traffic accident?"
            "No. I don't know why. They just called and said I needed to come in."
            "Give me your ID card."
            "I don't have one."
            "No ID?"
            "Only my passport. I'm on a tourist visa."
            "Who called?"
            "Mohammed."
            "Mohammed Abu al Rahman?"
            "I don't know." He turned me over to Omar, who asked the same questions. I gave the same answers. "Wait one minute, I will find out who called." He left the room. Ten minutes later he returned. "I can't find anyone who called you." Hope peeked in on my thoughts, as it often does, the instant before it's washed away by the changing tides. A pencil thin officer sitting at a desk in the back of the room overheard the discussion. He burst from his chair and pointed at me while speaking frantically to Omar in Arabic. Not good. His superior turned to me, "Did you drive through Wakra today?" I confirmed that I had. He typed my license plate number into the system. "Ah. Oh-kay. Were you in Wakra at 4pm?"
            "Ahhh, yeah. I think it was around four." I knew damn well it was four.
            "Did you...show, ah, the middle finger to another driver?" Everything fell into place like a row of dominoes tumbling upwards in rewind.
            "Ohhhh...yeah. I did," stated with as much false shame as I could muster.
            "Why would you go and do such a thing as show the middle finger?"
            Still with utmost shame, "Because I'm stupid. I got angry."
            "What did the driver do to cause such anger?"
            "I was driving in the left lane and a car raced up behind me." Using both hands like a hula dancer, I portrayed how close he came to my rear bumper. "There were too many cars to switch lanes and I was already going 120."
            "What happened next?"
            "When I was able to get over, he raced by. That's when I...." How do you say flipped the stupid fucker off while sounding penitent?
            "That's when you showed the, ah middle finger?" He halfway performed the bird, being careful to keep his ring and index fingers close to the offensive one.
            "Yes. Am I in trouble?"
            "Please, come around the counter and take a seat. I will talk with the captain." He led me to a chair before the desk of the skinny lad who had ratted me out. At my arrival the kid sat upright, authoritarian.
            "Give me your ID card," said the youngster.
            "I don't have an ID card."
            "No ID?"
            "Here's my passport." He thumbed through the stamps like an archeologist sifting through history. "You went to Oman?!"
            "Yes. I loved it too. Oman's a beautiful country."
            "Where did you go?"
            "Only Muscat."
            "Did you see the forts?"
            "Yeah, the ones on the hilltops." Turned out he was Omani. Then we were buddies. He let down his swagger and recounted the glory of his home country. With that settled he pointed to a phone near the front counter and asked if I wanted to call someone. A revelation, perhaps a bit slow in coming, struck my brain like a bucket of water. I was now in their custody. From the moment I walked past the counter I was no longer a free man. Nobody else knew I was there. I was the only person in the country from my company. The people I worked with on a daily basis were not fellow co-workers. I would not call at 11pm to let them know I was in jail. This was a situation I would resolve on my own.
            "Can I go and move my car? It's not in a good parking spot. I'll leave my passport with you." My question served the practical dilemma of needing to find a legal parking space while testing my limits of freedom.
            "Wait. I will go with you in a few minutes." Not very free.
            I continued to sit, watching the young officers flopping around in unzipped black boots. Any degree of polish inferred by the cut of their uniforms -- dark blue trousers and light blue collared shirts with black braids at the shoulders -- was lost to the floppy boots. Particularly in the context of a junior policeman's mentality. Regardless of how hard I tried to take these guys seriously, and I'll be honest, I didn't try that hard, the floppy boots negated each attempt. It was like watching The Stooges carry the one nearly functioning stapler from desk to desk.
            A few minutes passed. All but the young Sudanese officer were called to another room. By the way they straightened their shirts and fixed their little beret-like caps, I assumed they were meeting with superiors. In the absence of police I glanced around the room at the other criminals -- a Qatari who looked to be about twenty, the battered Nepalese guy with dirty, tattered clothes, a bulky man in a pin-striped suit, and another Arab man, roughly the same age as me, looking angry and aggressive. We all avoided eye contact. A Western accountant in his thirties was clearly an anomaly, to all parties including me. This was just bizarre.
            The officers returned. Omar followed behind. He gave some orders in Arabic and pointed to me before turning to explain. "You will stay here tonight. In the morning you will get to see the public prosecutor at 7am."
            "What? I have to stay here?!" I freaked out.
            "Yes," said in an of-course-you-are-staying tone of voice.
            "Please, is there no other way to settle this? I am from a crude country. It's different here and I'm trying to learn, but it's hard." All sense of dignity went out the window.
            "Hold on, I will see what I can do." He left the room again.
            After my performance, the man in the pin-striped suit nodded and asked, "What did you do?"
            "I showed my middle finger." He nodded again, knowingly.
            Time ticked onward. Every fifteen or twenty minutes Omar returned to the room to give orders to the underlings. An hour passed before he had the verdict. He instructed the officers to check me in. By this time I accepted my fate. The Omani followed me outside to re-park my car. Inside, he took my belt, phone, and car keys, but let me keep my passport and money. He wrote my name and passport number on a special form and ran a metal detector wand over my body. He then led me around the metal detector framing the hallway to the jail, and unlocked a metal door with a square portal and bars set just below eye level.
            The jail was roughly ten meter by ten meter square with rows of fluorescent light ensuring every grain of dirt was visible day and night. Four cells lined the wall to my left; all were unlocked and served as semi-private rooms. Towels, clothes, blankets, and strips of cardboard were jammed in the bars of each cell to obstruct the ever present artificial light. A quick scan was enough to see that all cells were occupied. Three Nepalese shared one. Two older Arabs, the presiding alphas, each had a cell to themselves. Two other Arab men shared the last cell. A woven mat filled the center of the room. The bathroom was a small rectangular closet built into the far wall, opposite the rear cell. A basin, like a tile cattle trough with four metal taps, lined the wall between the bathroom and the back cell. A pile of sleeping pads and blankets were stacked in the corner to the right of the door at the base of the only vacant wall. A radio blasted 1990s American R&B. I couldn't decide if it was someone's idea of a mix tape or someone's idea of a radio station.
            I stood just inside the door and stared blankly at the surroundings, no longer freaked, just stunned. I was in jail for extending my middle finger. The others did their best not to stare back. Now midnight, sleep seemed like the best thing going. The pads and blankets resembled a pile of debris gathered from one of Qatar's many condemned buildings after the residents abandoned ship. I removed my accountant's shoes, lay down on a discolored sleeping pad, and covered my eyes with a blanket that smelled of cigarettes and 500 previous occupants.
            Sleep might have been an option, even with a brain spinning tales of what was yet to come. A simple fine? Deportation? More time in jail? Would I lose my job if they kicked me out of the country or held me for too long? Did I care if they kicked me out of the country and I lost my job? None of the officers gave a hint of the possible repercussions. Sleep might have been an option. I was exhausted and R Kelly could have been singing an excessively loud lullaby -- but the two alphas were playing cards, slapping them down on the mat while hee-ing and haw-ing Arabic style. I looked up from my blanket and glared. The one with the potbelly and crooked smile looked back. "Hey, why you here? For drinking?" He motioned an imaginary bottle to his mouth.
            "No. I did this," and showed him my middle finger.
            "Ahhhh, oh-kay."
            "Why are you here?"
            "For fucking the lady. I fuck the ladies, the ladyboys...no problem."
            "How long do they make you stay for that?"
            "I stay for one month." Pointing to his friend, a darker skinned Arab with a shaved head, "He stays for six months."
            "Why would you go and show your finger?" asked the man with the longer sentence.
            "I don't know." Asking about his crime did not seem like the thing to do. I just pondered the fact that the man with a six-month sentence was questioning my ethics.
            Pot-belly retrieved a Coke from his styrofoam cooler. "You want soda?" he asked.
            "No thanks."
            Club Nouveau replaced R Kelly on the radio, singing Lean On Me over a synthesized beat. Then it was Annie Lennox.
            Through the night, when not kept awake by card playing or music, it was the shower, or tooth-brushing, or nose-blowing, or someone pacing back and forth in the room and talking to himself. The fan in the bathroom sounded jet-propelled. Every time the door opened, mechanical screams reverberated off the masonry walls. At 4am, just as things began to wind down, the call to prayer wept in from the one little window above the basin, far beyond head height. One by one the Muslims climbed up from their cells and performed ritual ablutions in the basin, washing their faces, hands and feet, and clearing their noses once again. One by one they took turns doing prayers on a rug unfurled over the mat. Standing, bowing, kneeling, and touching their foreheads to the ground.
            An hour later I was called from the cell. I stood, wondering if I had slept during any portion of the night. If so, it was thin and vaporous, barely recognizable as true sleep. Omar extended an open palm toward the seat in front of his desk. I sat. He typed the important details from my passport into the system, pecking away at the keyboard with one finger.
            "Oh-kay, so tell me what happened yesterday."
            "I was driving in the left lane at 120--"
            "On Wakra Road?"
            "Yes, I was going from Wakra to Doha."
            "Oh-kay. You were driving north in the fast lane. Wakra Road is three lanes and you were here." He drew the three lanes on a sheet of paper and pointed to the far left lane.
            "Yes, the fast lane. A speeding car came up behind me and pulled to within a meter of my bumper."
            "Was it a big car?"
            "No, maybe a medium-sized sedan. Not big and not small."
            "And you were frightened because he was so close?" I saw where he was going and I liked it. A lot.
            "Yes, very frightened." Quivering.
            "And he was flashing his lights?"
            "No. No flashing." He pecked the details into the computer as we spoke. "There were too many cars for me to switch lanes so I turned on my headlights so he could see the taillights come on."
            "You turned on the lights?"
            "Yes, so he could see my taillights."
            He read the report from the plaintiff. "Did you touch the brakes?"
            "No, I only turned on my lights so the taillights would come on." I wasn't going to admit to tapping the brakes just to fuck with the guy.
            "Ah, so it was a warning?"
            "Yes, he was too close for me to use the brakes."
            "Oh-kay."
            "So when I was able to switch lanes he raced by, and I showed my middle finger." I held up my left hand, without extending that special finger, to depict how it was done.
            "You showed the, ah, middle finger when he overtook you?"
            "Yes."
            "And it was with the, left hand?" His look suggested it was odd, maybe even a little sinister, to use the left.
            "Yes."
            He pecked the tale into his report, stopping to count out the Arabic name of each finger. He couldn't recall the proper name for that special digit. This was not a common case. "What is the name of the middle finger?" he asked one of his subordinates in Arabic. Turning back to me. "Now why would you show the middle finger?"
            "I just lost my temper."
            "Is that a nice thing to do? In America, is showing the middle finger a nice thing?"
            "No, it's not." This is really what it all boiled down to. I couldn't argue that, whether it was nice or not, showing the middle finger in America is like using sign language. Vulgar sign language, yes, but legal nonetheless. We have the right to speak freely. In strict regions of the Arabic world, middle fingers are obscene and obscenity is illegal; much worse than driving like a madman. I was guilty, plain and simple.
            "Even people drive that way around me. Sometimes when I am with my family even. They honk and wave and flash the lights, but never show the middle finger. You are a grown man." Chastised elementary style, Omar led me back to the cell with the other dunces. "Have some breakfast," he said. "This will all be handled today and you will be free to go, inshallah." I could have done without the inshallah part of his statement.
            Now that it was morning and I was close to leaving, the jail was silent. With the lights on 24 hours and the majority of jail activity occurring at night, I was the only person operating on outsider's time. For the tried and true, sleep came during the quiet hours of the day, when the sun was up for the rest of the country. My cellmates ate breakfast in silence on the mat. The dark-skinned man paced back and forth, talking to himself while thumbing prayer beads between his fingers. I sat, waiting.
            At 8am, the officers hauled in three Filipino and two Nepalese construction workers. A third Nepalese motorcycle delivery driver was with them. The twenty year-old Qatari kid, guilty of driving without a license, was brought from the office he was allowed to sleep in. Two by two we were handcuffed to a partner (The Finger remained free) and led to a van outside by three underling Stooges. One drove, one sat in the passenger's seat and smoked cigarettes with all the windows closed, barred, and covered in black, and the third took a seat in the back with us, reserving a bench seat to himself in order to lay down for a snooze. The driver raced off, hanging g's through the roundabouts and throwing us side to side. Halfway to Doha, dashing my assumption that the prosecutor’s office was near Wakra station and this would be a quick mission, Sleepy Stooge bolted upright. He had left something at the station. The driver raced back.
            In Doha's West Bay district we entered one of the brand new office towers built in a clusterfuck of individually goofy-looking high-rises. We took the slow, busy elevator, stopping at each floor on our way to the 8th. The Three Stooges, flopping in their boots down the faux wood-floored hallway, motioned us to a small waiting room with just enough seats for eight handcuff buddies to sit side-by-side. They closed the door. We waited.
            Occasionally Sleepy Stooge checked in on us, smirking with exaggerated authority. He leered around the room at the Filipino and Nepalese prisoners, just looking for a reason. "Put your feet down! Sit up!" His gaze never landed on the Qatari or me. Satisfied with himself, he left. We waited.
            A senior Qatari officer with a clean shave, crisp uniform, and tight boots opened the door. He was Officer Wahib. The Three Stooges stood behind. "So, you guys are the fighters? You, you, you, you, and you? Is he with you? No? Oh-kay. You guys...we will let you work it out on your own. It's between you so handle it yourselves. If you can't work it out then we will have to get involved. But, if you do it again...” A silent pause for emphasis. “It will be big trouble. Why are you fighting anyways? You are here to work and make money for your families. You are not here to fight."
            "Oh-kay. Who's the guy with the motorcycle? You? Oh-kay, you will see the prosecutor." He then spoke buddy-buddy in Arabic to the young Qatari. "You," pointing at me. "Why did you show the middle finger? You are an adult. Even my youngest boy knows not to show the middle finger. Is it oh-kay to do that in America? No, I know it's not oh-kay. We have training programs with the police in the US and UK. In those countries it is much worse. I know. You will see the prosecutor and it will be 500 riyal ($137) for the bail. I suggest you go back to Wakra station and you get the phone number of the man who made the complaint. Call him tomorrow and apologize. Say that you have a family or something and see if he will drop the charges. That way you can avoid going to court and spending more time with this."
            "Okay, thank you," I replied. He closed the door. Relief swept over me. He was the first to give any indication of what I faced. We continued to wait.
            The fighters worked out their dispute. Filipinos versus Nepalese. 
            "Why you punch him?”
            “He say fuck you to me.”
            “His brother say fuck you, not him.”
            “I try stop it and he hit me.”
            “You hit him first.” The volume and intensity of their argument grew.
            “He say fuck you to me!”
            “Who say fuck you?"
            "Maybe we fight again to end it?" one suggested. They laughed and agreed to squash it.
            The Stooges returned to un-handcuff and escort the motorcycle driver, the Qatari, and me to another room. We waited for the elevator as it stopped on every floor before arriving at ours. We loaded and descended to the 4th. Again, the elevator laboriously stopped at each floor en route. On the 4th we stood in a row outside an office. And waited. Wahib occasionally motioned to one of the Stooges, pointing at his watch. He was getting impatient with their performance. Fifteen minutes ticked by before the unlicensed Qatari driver went in. Thirty seconds later he was done; a minimal fine and he was free. Another five minutes and the Nepalese motorbike driver entered to explain his accident. On his second stab at driving a motorbike, he swerved across a lane and ran into a car. He was released with no fine. My turn. Wahib joined me. He pointed to a worn spot on the carpet as though it was an ‘X’ taped to a stage floor. Appropriately positioned before an elder Qatari man sitting at a large wooden desk three meters away, Wahib asked me, "Did you show the middle finger?"
            "Yes, yes I did," bowing my head in shame. The prosecutor shuffled papers. Wahib said, "Oh-kay," and motioned for me to leave. It was done.
            The Stooges and the officer went with us back to the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th floors. Sleepy Stooge put us in handcuffs. Wahib then told him to release the Qatari and me. Sleepy Stooge followed orders, albeit reluctantly. "Next time, don't go showing the middle finger. Just call and make a complaint. We make no special cases.” He continued, ignoring the fact that he had just given us special treatment, “Qatari, Indian, Filipino, American... All get the same punishment.”
            With the events drawing to a close, I thought of the one persistent question I was asked. Why did I do it? Who knows really? Simple frustration or an accumulation of many frustrations? Maybe it was like the idea of peeking under an abaya or bringing a special lady friend back to my room. Inappropriate use of the finger had the added joy of being forbidden. In a place where the native stalk frequently behave like sacred beings from a dusty, stiflingly hot Eden, common human pleasures were a wicked intrusion; original sins to be purged lest the fantasy crumble. Though few live up to the fantasy and most are rarely, if ever enforced, drinking, inappropriately socializing with the opposite sex, wearing revealing clothes, cursing, and, yes, making certain gestures towards the wrong person, all are punishable offenses.
            Odd things happen when extreme wealth and extreme piety collide. Especially in petro-economies where wealth is a gigantic straw jammed in the earth. The straw also withdraws talent and depth of culture; a boots-on-the-ground awareness of our shared humanity. With no need to work, struggle, or create, a sense of entitlement readily fills the void. In Qatar the roads made this idea most apparent, and for me, most annoying.
            We piled into the Stoogemobile – three Official Stooges and a slipshod band of Unofficials. Relief swept through the unofficial ranks. Driver Stooge cranked up the engine. Passenger Stooge was already smoking. Sleepy Stooge was fully reclined. As the van wheels rolled forward, Sleepy Stooge jumped up nervously. He left his cell phone on the 8th floor and needed to go back to retrieve it. We sat in the hot van and waited.
            Sitting there, already sweating as the sun baked the idling van, I contemplated all the places I had seen up to that point. All the different countries and cultures; all the ways in which I was now different; how the places changed me or how I changed between places. Had I known from that first solitary step on foreign turf that the path would ultimately lead to where it led, would I have continued down that path? I like to think so. But I will never know. The decisions were made and there's no going back. Ever.

ABOUT ASH HODEN

Ash Hoden is a writer, foreign correspondent for a California-based design studio, and architect currently living, working, and writing about living and working in Qatar. His pursuits have always involved creation. He firmly believes social contribution is a fundamental requirement for a happy existence. He attended Colorado State University where he received the American Society of Landscape Architect’s Honor Award for exceptional academic design work. In addition to ongoing contributions in the business world, he previously founded an independent design firm and organized CambodiaFund, a method of providing basic school supplies to Cambodian children in need.
The Idiot of Funkyville is his first published book. You can visit Ash Hoden’s website atwww.ashhoden.com.