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Sunday, August 29, 2021

The Evening Commute: A Short Story

 Dwight worked second shift as a forklift operator at a warehouse in the township of Minooka, Illinois. The pay wasn’t all that great at a salary of $35,000 per year, but he had just gotten through his ninety-day probation period and had favor with his bosses. He had been out of work for over a year and getting this job was a blessing because he had a two-year old daughter with one in the oven. It was almost quitting time, and the end of a long and grueling week.

“See you next week, Dwight,” his boss said. “Great job today.”

“Thanks, Wayne,” he said. “See you on Monday.”

He said goodbye to the rest of his coworkers that were sprinkled throughout the warehouse and headed in the direction of the parking lot. It was the start of the weekend, and he didn’t have any plans other than going home and spending some time with his wife Joanne before retiring to bed. They were college sweethearts who met on Southern University’s campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and became a couple shortly afterwards. They graduated together and got married a year later, and Joanne gave birth to their daughter Kayla a year after that.

It was a warm and breezy summer night, so he rode with the windows down to soak in the fresh air. He clocked out with his ID at the security booth before exiting the parking lot and cruised down East Minooka Road until he reached the light at Ridge Road. He then made a left turn and headed toward Interstate 80 and hopped on the expressway in the eastward direction of home. They rented a two-bedroom apartment right off Sibley Boulevard in the Ginger Ridge Apartments in Calumet City, Illinois. It was roughly a forty-five minute and fifty-mile drive on I-80, and no sooner than he hit the expressway, his engine began to smoke. He had problems with the transmission shifting gears for the last two weeks, and he was trying to get to payday before he put his 2006 Hyundai Santa Fe in the shop. It was the SUV that he had since college and their only means of transportation.

“God dammit!” he shouted to himself. “What the hell am I gonna do now!”

The car’s engine had died, so he slowly pulled over to the shoulder on the right side of the highway. He let the car sit for a minute and tried to restart it, but the engine wouldn’t turn over. He sat about a half-block in front of mile-marker 122 and called his wife to let her know what was going on.

“Hey baby, what’s up?” she asked.

“The truck’s engine just died, and I’m stuck on I-80 right now,” he answered.

“Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m alright. I think I’m gonna catch an Uber home and deal with the truck next week when I get paid.”

“How far are you from the job?”

“Not far…I’m right off the Minooka exit, so the Uber driver shouldn’t have a problem finding me.”

“You be careful out there, Dwight. I need you to stay safe and come home to me and our daughter.”

“I will, sweetheart. Don’t worry.”

“Okay.”

There was brief silence, and he asked, “What’s wrong, Jo?”

“Nothing,” she answered. “I was just hoping that you could bring home some White Castle…I’m craving some chicken rings right about now.”

“I got you. I’ll have the driver stop off at the one around the corner.”

“I love you, Dwight. See you when you get here.”

“I love you, too. Bye.”

He disconnected the call and requested an Uber. A driver in Joliet picked up the fare and headed in his direction. He also left the driver a note in the app stating that his truck was a half-block from the eastbound Minooka ramp and that he’d have his hazard lights on. He tried to shut his eyes for a brief moment, but a truck would zoom by and shake the entire frame of his vehicle every two minutes until the Uber driver arrived twenty minutes later and parked behind him. He then grabbed his book bag and stepped out the truck after he turned off his hazard lights.

“Hi, Dwight,” the Uber driver said after Dwight hopped in the back seat on the passenger side.

“Hey, Rick,” Dwight was weary.

“Long day, huh?”

“Yeah, you can say that.”

Rick was an older black man in his late forties or early fifties. He kept his late-model, black Ford Explorer clean and smelling fresh.

“What’s wrong with your truck?” Rick asked.

“I think it’s the transmission,” Dwight answered. “I’ve been having problems for the last two weeks.”

“Yeah? You might as well junk it.”

“I know, but I have to figure out how I’m gonna get it back home.”

“A tow will cost you at least five hundred bucks to haul it back to Cal City from here.”

“Yeah, five hundred bucks that I don’t have…we’re living off my salary alone right now.”

“Married?”

“Yeah, three years. And you?”

“Divorced, ten years.”

“Kids?”

“Two daughters and a son…all three of them are grown.”

“I have a two-year old daughter with one on the way.”

Interstate 80

“You happy?”

“Yeah, my wife and I have a great relationship.”

“That’s great. My wife and I were good at first, but we grew apart over time.”

“Do you have any advice for a young couple?”

“Yeah, never stop working at your relationship. Once you lose that connection, it’s almost impossible to get it back.”

Rick then sighed and asked, “So, what do you do for a living, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“No, not at all,” Dwight answered. “I’m a forklift operator at the Grainger warehouse.”

“That’s cool.”

“Yeah, I’ve been there a little over three months.”

“You like it?”

“It’s okay…pays the bills, you know.”

“I hear you.”

“Do you like driving?”

“It’s cool. I have my good days and bad days.”

“Rude customers?”

“Yeah, sometimes, and the traffic gets on my nerves, too.”

“You drive out here mostly?”

“Nah, I usually stay in the Loop…my last fare brought me out here.”

“Well, I’m thankful that it did because I just knew I’d be waiting at least an hour for somebody to pick me up.”

“Me too, two big fares in a row. I’m gonna call it the night after I drop you off.”

There was momentary silence before Dwight asked, “How long have you been driving for Uber?”

“Not long…about six months.”

“Do you make good money?”

“Yeah, on the weekends. It’s usually dry at the beginning of the week for me except during rush hour, but I prefer to work evenings while I search for a job in the mornings.”

“Makes sense.”

“Yeah, I used to work in banking, but I got laid off a year ago.”

“I was just in your shoes…it took me a year to find this job. It’s rough out here.”

“Yes, it truly is.”

They arrived at the Sibley exit in a little under an hour, and Dwight asked, “Do you mind stopping at the White Castle on the corner? My wife is craving for some chicken rings.”

“Sure, no problem,” Rick answered.

“You want anything?”

“Nah, I’m good. White Castle doesn’t agree with my stomach.”

“I hear you,” Dwight laughed.

Dwight ordered his food after a ten-minute wait to reach the menu. There was usually a long line of cars in the drive thru on Friday nights. Rick then pulled up in front of Dwight’s apartment and said, “It was good talking to you, Dwight. Thanks for keeping me awake.”

“Likewise, Rick, and you’re welcome. Take care.”

“Goodnight, Dwight.”

Dwight exited the back seat and slowly walked up the stairs to his front door on the second level of his complex. He rated Rick a five and left him a ten-dollar tip in the app, and Rick subsequently drove off. Joanne was waiting patiently in the living room when Dwight opened the door.

“Hey, baby, you got here so fast!” she jumped off the sofa and kissed him passionately.

“Missed me, huh?” he asked after they let go of their embrace.

“Of course,” she kissed him again on the lips.

“Hear you go,” he said proudly as he handed her the bag of chicken rings and fries. “It’s still hot.”

“Thank you for remembering me…I know that you had a long day.”

“Yes, I did, and I can’t wait to tell you all about it,” he plopped down on the sofa while she grabbed one of their tray tables from the dining room and some water to drink from the fridge in the kitchen.

“Tell me all about it, baby,” she said before she unfolded the table and placed her food and bottle of water on top of it.

“Well, my day started off great with an excellent written evaluation from my boss…”

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Book Review: To Kill For by A.J. Carella

    Jamie McKay belongs to the most prestigious family in Brecon Point, a town in the southern part of the United States. She's dating the son of the second most prestigious family in the town, Ted Coleman, and he surprises Jamie by proposing to her at her 21st birthday party. Everyone is thrilled that the couple's engagement solidified a powerful merger of the two families, or so it seemed.

    To Kill For is a story of murder, lies, and intrigue; and the book in many ways reminded me of the television show Dallas that I enjoyed watching years ago. I was enthralled by this book to the very end, but I was slightly disappointed with the ending because one important detail was never fully explained. Overall, I recommend others to read it. Next

     My Rating: ★★★★☆

 To Kill For (The McKays Book 1) by [A.J. Carella]

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Do Analytics Help Authors Sell More Books?

 Ever since the inception of Amazon Advertising for authors back in 2016, many authors have seen a dramatic increase in their book sales. But the key to a successful advertising campaign is simple―don’t go into it blind or else you’ll lose your shirt. Analytics are a very important aspect of book sales because like Google ads, it’s easy to rack up advertising costs quickly if an author doesn’t have a firm grasp of marketing on these platforms.

I started my first advertising campaign on Amazon in June of 2018, and book sales were slow in the beginning because I had a huge learning curve on how to navigate my way around Amazon’s advertising platform and only two books to market at the time. I didn’t start to see a profit until 2019 when I started to build up my book catalog, and when I began to study the analytics of keywords, sales per click (SPC), and cost per click (CPC).

Analytical Chart

Keywords.

I compiled a list of three hundred keywords that I inserted manually for each ad campaign I created, and I studied how each word or phrase did in terms of CPC and SPC for an entire year. What I learned was that 90% of the keywords used for each ad campaign were ineffective, so I eliminated the bad keywords by archiving them on Amazon’s platform. If a keyword doesn’t yield any type of return on investment in a year’s time, get rid of it so that you maintain a healthy profit margin.

Sales Per Click (SPC).

My best sales month was during March of 2019, when I almost made $800 in gross sales. However, my sales per click percentage was very low hovering around 6%. I learned much later that many keywords were costing me a hefty sum of money without garnering me any book sales. Trimming the fat more than doubled my SPC, and in turn, increased my profit margin significantly.

Cost Per Click (CPC).

A solid default bid for each keyword in the beginning of my advertising campaigns were $0.25 per click―it was low enough so that it didn’t eat up my profits and high enough to gain a good number of impressions on Amazon’s marketplace. Unfortunately, sales became stagnant, so I increased the default bid to $0.50 per click. This increased ad impressions greatly, but it didn’t increase sales at the same rate. I soon discovered that increasing the bids of my best-performing keywords to $0.50 per click was much more effective than merely raising the default bid to $0.50 per click all across the board.

In conclusion, analytics play an important role in making a profit as an independent author on Amazon. One should only use the 10% of keywords that are most effective and discard the dead-weight keywords, and this small adjustment will not only increase the SPC but allow the author to increase the default bid in order to gain more ad impressions and increase sales even more.

Friday, August 13, 2021

How to Use Google Maps to Describe a Place or Setting in a Story

 The details of a story are crucial and describing the opening chapter of a book is one of the most important aspects of writing. An author needs to be on point in setting the tone in the beginning of a story and should never try to describe it in detail without having a clear-cut image to go on. Relying on one’s memory to paint a picture is fine, but how do you describe a place that you’ve never visited? The main character of a story might be from a small town in middle America who moved to the big city, but in order to give a complete background of this character, the author needs to know a little bit about the town that he or she is from.

This is where Google Maps can come into play because it will give you an exact visual of a place that you want to search. For example, a side character in one of my books is a Harvard Law School student who goes to Roxbury to get a haircut from a good friend of his. I’ve never visited Roxbury, Massachusetts, so I had no landmarks or streets to describe the setting and would’ve had to completely make something up. The reader would’ve seen right through this, and the scene would’ve fallen flat.

Grant Park in Chicago

I used Google to find a barbershop in Roxbury by typing in the phrase barbershops in Roxbury Ma in the search box. The next thing that I did was log into my Google account in the upper right-hand corner of the page because it’s very difficult to get a street view of a place without being signed in. The next step was to click on Maps so that I could see a list of barbershops in the Roxbury area. I then clicked on one of the barbershops on Washington and School Street and used it as a backdrop only without the name in my story. After that, I clicked on a small box on the lower left-hand corner of the map called Satellite, and to the right of that box was another box titled More. Once I clicked on that box, it gave me a list of map details. I then clicked Street View, and it gave me a row of images to choose from. I picked an image that showed me the street view of the barbershop, and Google allowed me to scan the entire area so that I could get a feel of the neighborhood.

Using Google Maps brings a particular scene or setting to life, especially if you’ve never visited a place or haven’t been there in a long time. It gives me a sense of being in the midst of a place while I’m describing it in great detail, and I’ll always use the maps feature in the future when writing my novels and short stories on Amazon and my blog.

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Book Review: Schooling Carmen by Kathleen Cross

    Carmen DuPre is a beautiful but arrogant guidance counselor at one of the roughest high schools in East Los Angeles, and her one and only mission in life is to garner a position to mentor gifted students at a more prestigious school. She hated her current job and circumstances because she had recently broken up with her long-time boyfriend, and as the name of the book implies, she simply had a lot to learn about life and people.

    Ms. DuPre would eventually come to a crossroad when she is humbled by a health issue that forces her to choose between her looks or her life. I enjoyed reading this book mainly because it points out that the most important aspects of life aren't superficial things like money, prestige or vanity. Next

    My Rating: ★★★★★

 Schooling Carmen by [Kathleen Cross]

Monday, August 2, 2021

Is There a Market for Short Story Paperback Books?

 I had written a short story back in 2019 titled Night in the Underworld, and it’s about an Uber driver who reaches a crossroad in his life and has to decide on whether or not to continue driving. The book is only fifty pages long, so I published it in eBook format only at first. My coworker, who works in the IT department and is a fellow writer and musician, gave me the idea to write this story because I used to drive for Uber from 2016 to the middle of 2018. He said that people would want to know my story―a sort of Taxicab Confessions if you will―which was a popular show on HBO in the mid-nineties up to the early 2000s. So, I decided to create a fiction novel that was loosely based on some of my experiences as an Uber driver.

Uber Driver

 I shared with him that I had finally completed the story, and that the eBook was available for purchase on Amazon. He asked me if the book was also available in paperback, and I said no because the book was too short. He then suggested that I sell a paperback version because a lot of readers like himself read short fiction, and that there’s definitely a market for it. I decided to take his advice and sell the book in paperback, but it took some time to gain traction because I didn’t know how to price it at first. I believe that it didn’t sell too many copies in the beginning due to the fact that it was priced too high―I initially priced it at $6.95, but a couple of customers complained in the review section that the book cost too much for the length of it. I subsequently dropped the price a dollar, and the sales took off from there.

I wrote another fiction short story titled Sins of the Father, and I used the same formula as I did previously with the first one. Sales exploded in the beginning but tapered off somewhat after a year in spite of a steady dose of marketing. I realized that there was a market for short story fiction books and will continue to write them, but I will have to figure out a way to sustain the momentum because I haven’t figured out why some of my books continue to sell at a high clip while others fizzle out even though all of my books have good ratings.

Five Ways Authors Can Perfect Their Craft in Writing

     The only experience that I had in writing before I wrote my first book was a creative writing course taken in my first year of college ...