Friday Fictioneers – Escape

PHOTO PROMPT © C.E.Ayr

Afternoon lay, humid and heavy, on the harbour. Dogs slept in the quayside shadows, and even the air seemed to pant moistly.  

I wanted to escape and, suddenly, buying a boat seemed like a good idea. I dialled the number on the “For Sale” sign.

Oui?”

Je voudrais.” I began fluently, “um … vendre”. No, that was sell, not buy. Already, events had taken the wrong path.

Cutting the line, I collapsed into the wobbly metal chair.

 “Café, s’il vous plait,” I instructed the waiter, one of the few fluent phrases I commanded.

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Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

143. What’s gone wrong with the Amazon “buy” button?

My book, The Tears of Boabdil, was published on 28 September, 2020. A few days later, its Buy button for the paperback disappeared on Amazon and was replaced by an Out-of-Stock notice. A week later, it was available through re-sellers but not direct from Amazon.

Even more bizarre, fluctuations in the Amazon sales rank for the book indicate that orders were still being placed.

But friends who had placed orders received e-mails from Amazon offering to refund the money. Estimated delivery dates for orders placed at the end of September range from November to the beginning of December. The good news is that some people, who pre-ordered in September, have now been told the order is being fulfilled.

I asked my publisher what was going on. They replied

“We have seen reduced ordering from Amazon since they have re-launched their catalogue of ’non-essential’ items after prioritising stock orders for household and medical essentials at the peak of the pandemic. As such, their goods in service has been put under pressure and they appear to be struggling to keep up with the demand for orders. We can expect to see continued reduced stock ordering from Amazon for the short term – which has affected the order times being reflected on Amazon’s website. All other UK book distributors and wholesalers – who supply bookshops – are also functioning as usual, if slowly, and we are running uninterrupted supply for all orders we receive.”

In April this year, Amazon was quoted in the Guardian newspaper denying this claim. Yet Amazon’s own seller central pages said “We continue to prioritize household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers”. An article in The Bookseller in March indicated the same stock-management issue.

A more conspiracy-theory-oriented explanation, having nothing to do with Covid, was offered by Writers Weekly. This article, dated March 16, 2017, alleges that the company has been pressuring print-on-demand publishers to use Amazon’s own print service by removing the Buy button from non-compliant titles. This doesn’t apply to my book which is not P-o-D, but the article notes in passing that “Amazon’s latest shenanigans have been affecting a variety of print on demand (and other) books for quite awhile now.”

I checked the situation of twelve other sample paperbacks. They comprised a mix of large publishers, small houses and self-published books. Four (one third of the total) were listed as out of stock or only available through resellers. Three more showed low stock. The unavailable books included Robert and published by Sphere. Two of the four unavailable titles were self-published books, one was from a small press, and one was published by Sphere—Robert Galbraith’s (pen name of JK Rowling) Troubled Blood, released in September 2020  So, there seems to be no correlation between the absence of the buy button and independent publishing, nor with lesser-known authors.

I’m persuaded that it is, indeed. a problem of stock management.

If you have books in print or have tried to buy a book recently, have you seen this problem?

Friday Fictioneers – Dirt

PHOTO PROMPT © Sandra Crook

“It’s in the wrong place,” he screamed.

Seaweed draped the foreshore like a bad comb-over. I could see this wasn’t pretty, but it skewered Anton’s brain.  Once, when we’d taken up kitchen floor, and he glimpsed the terrible truth of soil beneath the house, he’d bawled that way.

“Just storm waves,” I explained.

But we had to labour all morning, returning every strand to its home in the water before he’d calm.

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 Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – The kiss

PHOTO PROMPT © Rowena Curtin

The kiss was overpowering in its intensity, its delicious wrongness. That much she remembers. She lifts her fingers to swollen lips, feeling the bruise left by the urgency.

Her husband continues to read his newspaper. Will he notice the wound? Does he at already know?

What happened after the kiss, she’s not sure. There were drinks, many drinks. Perhaps the story playing in her head is only something she’d read.

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Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – The Limits of Spells

PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson

When you have caught your bear, let her be sequestered in a cave. It is important she see no sunlight. Also, that she eat only garlic and mugwort. After twenty one days and nights, the bear will transform into a woman.

Take heed—she will be sad and lonely as the sole human. You will likely have to take her to wife, and, in this way, you will father a people.  The tending of nations is a topic beyond the scope of this spell.

This story is based on a Korean creation myth. Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

142. On the launch pad

My literary thriller, The Tears of Boabdil, is in the final weeks before publication, and my focus now is on publicity. With bookshop distribution successfully underway, thanks to my publisher, I’m concentrating on reviews, as described in a previous post.

Here’s a flavour of the reviews so far, by which I’m delighted.

“Neil MacDonald has skilfully fitted a complex plot and a diverse ensemble of characters, likeable and otherwise, into a space from which they almost, but don’t quite, burst out. The Tears of Boabdil is an ambitious, assured, and gripping debut novel.”

Mandy Macdonald (no relation)

“Having been given its time to breathe as recommended in the book, a story needs a satisfying and convincing conclusion. Neil MacDonald has achieved this, not by magic, but by enviably able writing.”

Jilly Funnell

In other wonderful news, one of my stories was longlisted for the BBC Short Story Award.

The book is out on 28 September and has its press launch on 2 November. You can get it here

Friday Fictioneers – Keep America Beautiful

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_20200801_121107.jpg
PHOTO PROMPT © Roger Bultot

As you can imagine, I was outraged. Finger pointing at the pile of trash dumped on the sidewalk, I tried to summon words: “Who? Who? Who?”

Henry, who liked to think of himself as something of a wit, jibed “What are you? An owl?”

I tried again. “What? What kind,” my lip curled, “… of person  … does this?”

“Pretty ugly,” he agreed. “A real eyesore.”

And then it came to me, a chance to out-Henry Henry. “Help keep America beautiful. Throw away something lovely today.”

We strolled on, laughing.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Off

PHOTO PROMPT © Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Everything about the place was just slightly wrong. It strove for gentility and a sense of timelessness—etched glass and dark wood, old casks and dim lighting. But the scent of madeira and cigar smoke had been sprayed from a bottle or applied with a cloth. The waiters’ cravats weren’t tied quite right, and the mournful music was recorded. You can’t really have a fado salon anywhere but Portugal. And, behind the bar, a sign that read “Please do not ask for credit as a punch in the mouth often offends.”

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Illusion

PHOTO PROMPT © CEAyr

Beyond the edge of the world, did you create anything? Here, the illusion is perfect, even hyperreal. The colour is unusually sharp, the light pellucid as the laughter that gurgles from happy children and thronging crowds. And your gifts keep coming. Here, nothing could make me want to ever leave.

But, if I dash round the corner fast enough, will I find the street ends on a yawning chasm? Or will you fill-in detail faster than my eye can catch your making?

Once, I thought I spotted empty grid lines before the flats zoomed skywards. And I was terrified.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here

Friday Fictioneers – Jacob’s Ladder

PHOTO PROMPT © J Hardy Carrol

Sparks arc, zigzagging up between the conductors. Mr. Henderson thinks he’s demonstrating properties of electricity. In fact, he has opened a door.

I peer closer. But I’m not learning about short circuits. The air crackles with brimstone and I see tiny angels ascending the ladder to heaven. For a moment, the heavenly kingdom becomes visible.

The seraphim, in high voices that only I and dogs can hear, chant “holy, holy, holy.”

Their Lord is angry. They issue my instructions and, with grim determination, I steel myself for the task.

Friday fictioneers is a weekly challenge set by Rochelle Wisoff Fields to write a 100-word story in response to a photo prompt. You can find other stories here