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Shell Out

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Money can buy the world and sell the soul. But can it also buy happiness?

Greg would love to enjoy a prosperous life, filling his apartment with luxuries, going out with friends, and meeting the girl of his dreams. But there’s a problem: He’s poor. Even when he makes the valiant effort to work hard for the money, invisible hands snag his progress away. Is it just how the world works? Or can he still build his ideal life?

Book Details

Story:

Shell Out

Author:

Jeremy Bursey

Type:

Short Story


Genres:

  • Fiction
  • Coming of Age
  • Satire
  • Humorous
  • Literature

Style:

  • 3rd-Person Limited
  • Quirky

Main Characters:

  • Greg
  • Jeff
  • Mandy
  • A College Student’s Personal Economy

Main Locations:

Greg’s Personal Misery + College

Description:

Money can buy the world and sell the soul. But can it also buy happiness?

What is the price of making dreams come true? Can they be bought with money, or do they require something worse?

After spending his childhood living in poverty, Greg decides he’s ready for the American Dream: he’ll furnish his apartment with lavish items, find the perfect girl to share it with, and become a bigger success than his father has ever been. With the right plan, he can make it all happen.

But as Greg enters college, he discovers that life’s nurturing tentacles don’t care about his plans, or his dreams. It just wants his money, all of it, and it will stop at nothing to take everything he owns, even his underwear, if it can help it.

Can Greg survive this financial onslaught? Or will life fry his piggy bank into bacon?

Shell Out is the humorous story of a college student’s battle with those pesky opposing forces that plague us all: life and desire, ambition and contentment, dreams and reality. It’s the story of anyone who’s ever had to fend for himself in the real world but wasn’t sure if he’d ever make it. Greg’s farcical journey to tame his wallet and fulfill his dreams drags him through the common struggles of young adulthood, like figuring out how to survive a Friday night on a ten-dollar bill, taking jobs that only desperate loons would take, and working toward a better life to win the heart of a girl.

The question is, are his efforts worth it, or is he just chasing yesterday’s American Dream?

For those thirty and older who wish to remember their own crazy experiences as a twentysomething, Greg’s strange odyssey of economic survival is a comedy. For those currently living the twentysomething life, or are about to approach it, Greg’s journey is a horror story.

Shell Out is a lot like adulthood: a scary comedy that forces us to question our life’s ambitions.

Format:

This story is sold as an e-book only. It can also be found in the anthology Zippywings 2015: A Short Story Collection (2015), which has e-book and print editions available. It was previously published in the anthology Seven-Sided Dice: The Collection of Junk, Vol. 3 (2006, no longer available).

Price:

  • Free (on this website).
  • $0.99 USD (on Amazon and other retailers).
  • Equivalent to $0.99 in other regions.

Book Stats:

Not including front and back matter pages:

  • 52 Pages
  • 0 – 1 Hours to read
  • 13k Total words

Copyright:

  • ©2015 by Jeremy Bursey (e-book edition)
  • ©2006 by Jeremy Bursey (original print anthology edition, Seven-Sided Dice, The Collection of Junk, Vol. 3)

ISBN and ASIN Information:

  • ISBN: 9781311264060 (e-book, Smashwords Edition)
  • ISBN: 9781393872115 (e-book, Draft2Digital)
  • ASIN: B019SUGOQG (e-book, Amazon)
  • GGKEY: LEGBGCY0FYL (ebook, Google Play Books)

Disclaimer and License Notes:

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite e-book retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Some real-life cities, towns, institutions, or products may appear to lend authenticity to a scene for literary purposes, but this work does not intend to endorse or malign them. There is no catharsis or advertisement happening here. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.

No part of this text may be reproduced in any other work without giving credit to the author. No part of this text may be used for commercial purposes, except by reviewers or critics, without the author’s permission. The complete text is intended for personal use only and may not be used for commercial purposes, or duplicated in any other form for purposes other than personal, noncommercial use, or posted to any other site without the author’s permission.

Exclusive Extras

Shell Out

Exclusive Extras

Want more content than just the story? Then scroll through this section for bonus items, including not one but two series of questions for your readers’ group, because I know you want to talk about my books in your readers’ group.

Readers’ Group Discussion Questions

Thank you for choosing Shell Out as the subject for your reading discussion. The following questions mean to guide readers through the conversation but should in no way limit its direction or focus during its exploration of ideas. If your group has a topic other reading groups should discuss, please e-mail me (via the Contact section), and I may add them to a future edition of the book. Thanks.

Note that the following questions may contain spoilers. Think of them as the test questions you look through ahead of time to validate the answers to questions you’ve already attempted (read: bonus test-taking tips!).

There are two series of questions. Choose the series that better fits your group’s style:

Reader Question Series #1:

Why does Greg want money so badly? Why does he struggle to keep it? Is the problem with him or with society?

Which force drives Greg’s desire for financial success the most? Himself? His family? The woman? Society? Some other reason? Explain.

Why does Greg give up on his dream for success? Or does he not give it up? Discuss.

Is Greg’s story outrageous or familiar? Has he missed the “American Dream,” or has he discovered a new American Dream?

If his story were not set in college, would Greg’s financial circumstances change? How? Why or why not?

Which of Greg’s jobs is the best? The worst? Which situation made you laugh? Cringe? Why?

How does Greg’s financial situation affect his relationships? Is this for the better or the worse? How would his life be different if money wasn’t an issue? Explain.

If you could talk to Greg about any of his choices before he makes them, what would you say?

Reader Question Series #2:

Greg’s story represents a hyperreal look at the common teenager’s journey into young adulthood. How does exaggerating this journey help refine his character growth?

What role does the father-son relationship play in Greg’s journey into adulthood? How would his journey change if his father were rich?

In Shell Out, do Greg’s job choices really matter? Why or why not? What about his father’s job choices?

What role does Jeff (Greg’s best friend) play in Greg’s journey? What about Mandy? Whose role is more important to Greg? Why?

Why do Greg’s methods for earning money ultimately fail? What should he have done instead? How do his choices define him as a character?

What’s the real lesson Greg learns by the end of the story? Could he have reached this conclusion a different way? Discuss alternative avenues he could have taken to learn this lesson.

What else about Shell Out spoke to you and warrants discussion?

 

 

Behind the Story

Shell Out

Behind the Story

Author’s Note

Thank you for reading this far. As a reward for sticking with the book, I’ll give some background information on Shell Out in case you’re the type of person who enjoys the “Special Features” selection on Blu-rays and DVDs (or whatever you use to watch movies at the time of this reading). 

A Quick Note: Even though “Shell Out” is a short work, I’ve gone back to it often over the years, trying to decide if this is really how I want it to begin, or if this sequence is strong enough to move the story forward, or if this ending works to resolve the story, and so on. The more I write and the more I study the techniques of storytelling, the more I want to apply what I’ve learned to stories I’ve already finished. And “Shell Out” is one of my test canvases for improvement.

However, now that I’ve done just about all I can do without oversaturating it with ideas or undercutting its theme, I’m officially pushing it out to the public. Doesn’t mean I think it’s ready for the public; I’m never ready to publish anything I’ve written. Like most authors, I keep wondering if there is anything, anything at all, that I could’ve done better. Chances are, a few months or years down the road, I’ll learn yet another storytelling method that’ll convince me I published this thing prematurely. But, like all artistic works, there comes a point when I just have to believe in it and move on to other things. So here you go. Hope you enjoyed it. 

A Brief History: I first conceptualized “Shell Out” in 2002 while I was working at a hospital. I was at my desk, listening to an evening radio show, when the hosts challenged callers to talk about the stuff they had tried selling on eBay. One caller, whom the DJs must’ve thought was a troll–they hung up on him–said he had tried selling his underwear on eBay. Whether it was true or not, I thought it was funny. And it got me thinking about the lengths people might go to earn an extra buck, including selling crap no one wants on eBay. It was then that I had remembered that I’d wanted to write a joke involving the Psychic Friends Hotline (where the psychic predicts catastrophe on the caller, and it comes true, rather than the expected “you’ll find love tomorrow” nonsense they used to advertise on TV) into something, anything, and I realized that a story about making a buck in ridiculous ways was the perfect source to bring that joke into play. And the timing was great because one of my coworkers had a girlfriend who worked for a psychic call center at one time, so he gave me insight about the telephone psychic business, like how smoky the environment could get in those offices and how they use psychology and listening skills to “predict” futures, among other things. With that and the eBay joke, I thought I had a winning combination for writing about the absurdity in alternative moneymaking.

As much as I wanted to see where this could go, however, I didn’t finish drafting the story in one sitting. At the time, I was juggling a number of projects, including an attempt to adjust to emotional instability while patiently waiting for my proper financial window to make returning to college and actually finishing my degree possible (in that regard, Greg, the main character, and I had a lot in common). It took me until 2005, when I buckled down and finished several short stories to complete a self-published collection of works, to finish the first version of “Shell Out.” By that point I was so proud of the story that I didn’t think it needed extensive editing, so in November 2006, I published it in the print version of my third collection of works, called Seven-Sided Dice: The Collection of Junk Volume3, and left it alone, thinking it was great, until years later when I discovered that I could have, in fact, made it better. In 2011, I took it through another edit, and in 2015, after reading an excellent book about openings called Hooked by Les Edgerton, I took it through one more major edit, separated it into seven parts, and now I think it’s done for good.

So that’s some background on “Shell Out.” I admit I had shallow reasons for starting it in 2002, but with real-life economy breaking down in the season since I’d first published it in my print volume, and with my own experiences of financial distress persisting throughout its development, it’s become one of my most valuable works (no pun or sense of irony intended).

Is this the end of “Shell Out” then? Hard to say. Although I have no plans to update it further, I would like to someday include it in a new volume of short stories geared entirely around the theme of “economic survival.” We’ll see how that goes. 

Update April 2020: This new edition comes up on the five-year anniversary of the original e-book release, and given the current coronavirus crisis gripping the world and endangering the global economy, now couldn’t be a better time to reintroduce the story. And it comes with a new opening chapter to help readers orient to Greg’s conflict better. As I said in the original author’s note, I’ve always struggled with how this story opened. I still don’t know if this is the right place to tell Greg’s story, so I have another alternate in the waiting (about Greg getting in a car accident) if I ever decide to rewrite this story from scratch (a real possibility). But for this version of “Shell Out,” I think it works.

Anyway, if you’re reading this during the global quarantine, stay safe. If you’re reading this long after COVID-19 has made the history books, then congratulations on living during a time of economic prosperity, assuming that’s how life is at the time of your reading. It’s certainly not that way at the time of this writing.

Revision Notes

Shell Out

Revision History

The following is a list of milestones during Shell Out’s development.

September 2005: Completed first edition of “Shell Out.”

November 2006: Revised and included into my CafePress exclusive paperback anthology Seven-Sided Dice: The Collection of Junk, Volume 3.

November 2011: Made a few story changes and created a new manuscript version.

May 2015: Created a new scene to begin the story. Minor revisions to existing text. Story split into seven parts. New version converted to e-book format.

December 2015: Included in my electronic and paperback anthology Zippywings 2015.

April 2016: Minor revisions and updated back matter information.

August 2019: Added new back matter, including a “Readers’ Group Discussion Questions” section. Improved interior formatting. Removed bonus materials to eliminate e-book bloat (most of the represented works are still unreleased, anyway).

April 2020: Added another new opening scene to establish conflict and character goal. Story is now told in eight parts. Changed the final chapter title from “Finale” to “The Nice Guy.” ProWritingAid edit. Removed some adverbs, fixed some style issues, and strengthened story context where needed. Added fire to the cover image (maybe temporarily).

Released: May 2015

Genre: Coming-of-Age

Length: Short Story

Formats: E-book only

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If you need to know why you should review my books (or any author’s books for that matter), please read my August 2019 article “The Case for Leaving a Product Review” on my sister blog site, Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, for enlightenment. It’s short but important, and I hope you take a moment to understand why your public feedback is of vital importance.

But in case you don’t read it, the straightforward and unglamorous version is that it helps everyone improve, but it also gives authors a career. Authors with few or no reviews can’t really have a career because our trust rating is too low, so the more reviews or ratings we have, the easier we can focus on writing and less on waiting tables for a living.

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If you’re not sure what to say, you can use my “How to Review” guide as a starting point.

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How To Review

If you would like to post a review, but you’re not sure how to start, you could always begin with your star rating in mind and explain how you calculated that value. Inspiration may take over from there. But please don’t feel obligated if you don’t know what to say. The fact that you’ve read the book is awesome enough. A review simply helps others identify whether this book is worth reading and the author about what he or she has done right (or horribly, horribly wrong). That said, we all have a voice, and I hope to hear yours soon. If you prefer to read in silence, that’s fine; I often read in silence myself. But I will generally let others know if I’ve read something awesome. Hopefully, you thought my book is awesome, and I hope you’ll let me know if you did.

That said, if you still need more help coming up with something to say, try answering these questions and use your answers as a basis for forming your review:

 

Will your review contain spoilers? If yes, warn the reader. Note that readers are smart. If you say the book has a twist ending (but you don’t say what), it’s a spoiler! 

I figured out the ending to The Sixth Sense five minutes in because people kept telling me, “You’ll never guess the ending.” Yeah, actually I will.

 

Did you enjoy the book? If yes, what did it leave you thinking about the most? If no, what about it bothered you the most? Elaborate if you can, but keep it short and sweet if the feeling is hard to articulate. 

For me, I watched The Breakfast Club over 40 times because it leaves me feeling like I’m part of the group. This was true when I first saw it edited for television as a 10-year-old. It’s still true as a grown man in my 40s. I also love the music and the tension between characters. I can still quote most of it. It’s the kind of movie that sticks with me.

 

If you liked the book: Who’s your favorite character and why? If you didn’t: Who caused you the most grief and why? 

Because the cast of The Breakfast Club is so well rounded, I don’t have a favorite character. I think each one is important to the story and removing any one of them would make the whole thing crumble.

 

For a good book, what was one thing you didn’t like about it? For a bad book, what was one thing you did like about it? 

Regarding The Breakfast Club, I still think the “smoking scene” is strange. How does the principal not smell the smoke or hear the rock music if the library is “right outside his office”? Definitely my least favorite part of the movie. But in fairness, I think this sequence takes place when the principal is hanging out with the janitor, so how would he even be aware?

 

What did you think of the ending? Is it satisfying or a letdown? Does it even matter? 

I once thought I hated The War of the Worlds (2005, Tom Cruise version) because that ending is among the worst in cinematic history. But darn it if the ride getting to that crappy ending isn’t among the best, and I can’t watch it today without feeling kind of into it. Sometimes the ending can ruin the story, but not always. A better question is does the ending support the point of the story or nullify it? In the case of The War of the Worlds, the ending sucks because it’s a “happy” copout, not a rebellion to the story’s premise, which is to survive an alien attack long enough for our world to figure out how to fight back (or outlast the aliens’ own survival rates).

 

Who is this book for?

I’m sure The Bridges of Madison County is a great book. It somehow managed to land Clint Eastwood in the lead role when it was made into a movie. But it looks soooo boring. At the time the movie was released, I was in my late teens or early 20s, eagerly awaiting the next Arnold Schwarzenegger action film, or really anything with decent character development, a pulse-pounding soundtrack, and explosions, lots of explosions. I liked Clint Eastwood in those days, but I liked him more as Dirty Harry. The Bridges of Madison County seemed more like the kind of movie my mom or grandmother would watch than I would. I might enjoy it more today, but back then, I couldn’t be bothered with it, even if it was good.

 

Finally:

Hopefully, that’ll give you something to work with. If you’re still stuck, though, then check out Amazon’s “Top Reviewers” for some ideas. Can’t go wrong learning from the best.

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In other words, please be fair. If you disliked the book because the characters are poorly developed, the scenes make no sense, or the plot is absurd, then it’s not a good book, and your review should say so. But, if you disliked it because you were in the mood for a dark, depressing horror story and you got a comedy instead (and the book has the markings or description of a comedy all over its product page), then maybe don’t review it.

Likewise, if the book hasn’t yet gotten any reviews, and the review you plan to give is negative, maybe wait until more positive reviews come in before posting yours. You should definitely post yours, but remember that if your review is more subjective than objective, and yours is the only one that potential readers will see, then even if they’d normally love the book, they won’t buy it because your standalone bad review turned them off, and that can not only unjustly kill the book’s chances to succeed (as well as the author’s), but it can rob a positive experience for other readers who might see something entertaining in the book that you didn’t. That’s unfair for everyone.

So, please think it through before you post your review. I can’t rightly tell you how to review or when, but as a writer who lives by the success or failure of each book, I hope you’ll “read the room” and examine your reasons for the negative review before submitting, and maybe consider holding off until a time when your single review won’t destroy the book’s (or the author’s) chance to find the right audience. Again, a bad book deserves to fail, but a good book in the hands of the wrong reader or the wrong time and place needs a bit more grace. On behalf of all writers and authors who live and die by your reviews, thanks for being fair.

Cover for "Shell Out"

Hope You Enjoy the Story!

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Shell Out

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Available wherever books are sold online.

Money can buy the world and sell the soul. But can it also buy happiness?

Greg would love to enjoy a prosperous life, filling his apartment with luxuries, going out with friends, and meeting the girl of his dreams. But there’s a problem: He’s poor. Even when he makes the valiant effort to work hard for the money, invisible hands snag his progress away. Is it just how the world works? Or can he still build his ideal life?

Released: May 2015

Genre: Coming-of-Age

Length: Short Story

Formats: E-book only

Book Details

Story:

Shell Out

Author:

Jeremy Bursey

Type:

Short Story

Genres:

  • Fiction
  • Coming of Age
  • Satire
  • Humorous
  • Literature

Style:

  • 3rd-Person Limited
  • Quirky

Main Characters:

  • Greg
  • Jeff
  • Mandy
  • A College Student’s Personal Economy

Main Locations:

Greg’s Personal Misery + College

Description:

Money can buy the world and sell the soul. But can it also buy happiness?

What is the price of making dreams come true? Can they be bought with money, or do they require something worse?

After spending his childhood living in poverty, Greg decides he’s ready for the American Dream: he’ll furnish his apartment with lavish items, find the perfect girl to share it with, and become a bigger success than his father has ever been. With the right plan, he can make it all happen.

But as Greg enters college, he discovers that life’s nurturing tentacles don’t care about his plans, or his dreams. It just wants his money, all of it, and it will stop at nothing to take everything he owns, even his underwear, if it can help it.

Can Greg survive this financial onslaught? Or will life fry his piggy bank into bacon?

Shell Out is the humorous story of a college student’s battle with those pesky opposing forces that plague us all: life and desire, ambition and contentment, dreams and reality. It’s the story of anyone who’s ever had to fend for himself in the real world but wasn’t sure if he’d ever make it. Greg’s farcical journey to tame his wallet and fulfill his dreams drags him through the common struggles of young adulthood, like figuring out how to survive a Friday night on a ten-dollar bill, taking jobs that only desperate loons would take, and working toward a better life to win the heart of a girl.

The question is, are his efforts worth it, or is he just chasing yesterday’s American Dream?

For those thirty and older who wish to remember their own crazy experiences as a twentysomething, Greg’s strange odyssey of economic survival is a comedy. For those currently living the twentysomething life, or are about to approach it, Greg’s journey is a horror story.

Shell Out is a lot like adulthood: a scary comedy that forces us to question our life’s ambitions.

Format:

This story is sold as an e-book only. It can also be found in the anthology Zippywings 2015: A Short Story Collection (2015), which has e-book and print editions available. It was previously published in the anthology Seven-Sided Dice: The Collection of Junk, Vol. 3 (2006, no longer available).

Price:

  • Free (on this website).
  • $0.99 USD (on Amazon and other retailers).
  • Equivalent to $0.99 in other regions.

Book Stats:

Not including front and back matter pages:

  • 52 Pages
  • 0 – 1 Hours to read
  • 13k Total words

Copyright:

  • ©2015 by Jeremy Bursey (e-book edition)
  • ©2006 by Jeremy Bursey (original print anthology edition, Seven-Sided Dice, The Collection of Junk, Vol. 3)

ISBN and ASIN Information:

  • ISBN: 9781311264060 (e-book, Smashwords Edition)
  • ISBN: 9781393872115 (e-book, Draft2Digital)
  • ASIN: B019SUGOQG (e-book, Amazon)
  • GGKEY: LEGBGCY0FYL (ebook, Google Play Books)

Disclaimer and License Notes:

This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This e-book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite e-book retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Some real-life cities, towns, institutions, or products may appear to lend authenticity to a scene for literary purposes, but this work does not intend to endorse or malign them. There is no catharsis or advertisement happening here. All other trademarks and copyrights are the property of their respective owners.

No part of this text may be reproduced in any other work without giving credit to the author. No part of this text may be used for commercial purposes, except by reviewers or critics, without the author’s permission. The complete text is intended for personal use only and may not be used for commercial purposes, or duplicated in any other form for purposes other than personal, noncommercial use, or posted to any other site without the author’s permission.

Exclusive Extras

Shell Out

Exclusive Extras

Want more content than just the story? Then scroll through this section for bonus items, including not one but two series of questions for your readers’ group, because I know you want to talk about my books in your readers’ group.

Readers’ Group Discussion Questions

Thank you for choosing Shell Out as the subject for your reading discussion. The following questions mean to guide readers through the conversation but should in no way limit its direction or focus during its exploration of ideas. If your group has a topic other reading groups should discuss, please e-mail me (via the Contact section), and I may add them to a future edition of the book. Thanks.

Note that the following questions may contain spoilers. Think of them as the test questions you look through ahead of time to validate the answers to questions you’ve already attempted (read: bonus test-taking tips!).

There are two series of questions. Choose the series that better fits your group’s style:

Reader Question Series #1:

Why does Greg want money so badly? Why does he struggle to keep it? Is the problem with him or with society?

Which force drives Greg’s desire for financial success the most? Himself? His family? The woman? Society? Some other reason? Explain.

Why does Greg give up on his dream for success? Or does he not give it up? Discuss.

Is Greg’s story outrageous or familiar? Has he missed the “American Dream,” or has he discovered a new American Dream?

If his story were not set in college, would Greg’s financial circumstances change? How? Why or why not?

Which of Greg’s jobs is the best? The worst? Which situation made you laugh? Cringe? Why?

How does Greg’s financial situation affect his relationships? Is this for the better or the worse? How would his life be different if money wasn’t an issue? Explain.

If you could talk to Greg about any of his choices before he makes them, what would you say?

Reader Question Series #2:

Greg’s story represents a hyperreal look at the common teenager’s journey into young adulthood. How does exaggerating this journey help refine his character growth?

What role does the father-son relationship play in Greg’s journey into adulthood? How would his journey change if his father were rich?

In Shell Out, do Greg’s job choices really matter? Why or why not? What about his father’s job choices?

What role does Jeff (Greg’s best friend) play in Greg’s journey? What about Mandy? Whose role is more important to Greg? Why?

Why do Greg’s methods for earning money ultimately fail? What should he have done instead? How do his choices define him as a character?

What’s the real lesson Greg learns by the end of the story? Could he have reached this conclusion a different way? Discuss alternative avenues he could have taken to learn this lesson.

What else about Shell Out spoke to you and warrants discussion?

 

 

Behind the Story

Shell Out

Behind the Story

Author’s Note

Thank you for reading this far. As a reward for sticking with the book, I’ll give some background information on Shell Out in case you’re the type of person who enjoys the “Special Features” selection on Blu-rays and DVDs (or whatever you use to watch movies at the time of this reading). 

A Quick Note: Even though “Shell Out” is a short work, I’ve gone back to it often over the years, trying to decide if this is really how I want it to begin, or if this sequence is strong enough to move the story forward, or if this ending works to resolve the story, and so on. The more I write and the more I study the techniques of storytelling, the more I want to apply what I’ve learned to stories I’ve already finished. And “Shell Out” is one of my test canvases for improvement.

However, now that I’ve done just about all I can do without oversaturating it with ideas or undercutting its theme, I’m officially pushing it out to the public. Doesn’t mean I think it’s ready for the public; I’m never ready to publish anything I’ve written. Like most authors, I keep wondering if there is anything, anything at all, that I could’ve done better. Chances are, a few months or years down the road, I’ll learn yet another storytelling method that’ll convince me I published this thing prematurely. But, like all artistic works, there comes a point when I just have to believe in it and move on to other things. So here you go. Hope you enjoyed it. 

A Brief History: I first conceptualized “Shell Out” in 2002 while I was working at a hospital. I was at my desk, listening to an evening radio show, when the hosts challenged callers to talk about the stuff they had tried selling on eBay. One caller, whom the DJs must’ve thought was a troll–they hung up on him–said he had tried selling his underwear on eBay. Whether it was true or not, I thought it was funny. And it got me thinking about the lengths people might go to earn an extra buck, including selling crap no one wants on eBay. It was then that I had remembered that I’d wanted to write a joke involving the Psychic Friends Hotline (where the psychic predicts catastrophe on the caller, and it comes true, rather than the expected “you’ll find love tomorrow” nonsense they used to advertise on TV) into something, anything, and I realized that a story about making a buck in ridiculous ways was the perfect source to bring that joke into play. And the timing was great because one of my coworkers had a girlfriend who worked for a psychic call center at one time, so he gave me insight about the telephone psychic business, like how smoky the environment could get in those offices and how they use psychology and listening skills to “predict” futures, among other things. With that and the eBay joke, I thought I had a winning combination for writing about the absurdity in alternative moneymaking.

As much as I wanted to see where this could go, however, I didn’t finish drafting the story in one sitting. At the time, I was juggling a number of projects, including an attempt to adjust to emotional instability while patiently waiting for my proper financial window to make returning to college and actually finishing my degree possible (in that regard, Greg, the main character, and I had a lot in common). It took me until 2005, when I buckled down and finished several short stories to complete a self-published collection of works, to finish the first version of “Shell Out.” By that point I was so proud of the story that I didn’t think it needed extensive editing, so in November 2006, I published it in the print version of my third collection of works, called Seven-Sided Dice: The Collection of Junk Volume3, and left it alone, thinking it was great, until years later when I discovered that I could have, in fact, made it better. In 2011, I took it through another edit, and in 2015, after reading an excellent book about openings called Hooked by Les Edgerton, I took it through one more major edit, separated it into seven parts, and now I think it’s done for good.

So that’s some background on “Shell Out.” I admit I had shallow reasons for starting it in 2002, but with real-life economy breaking down in the season since I’d first published it in my print volume, and with my own experiences of financial distress persisting throughout its development, it’s become one of my most valuable works (no pun or sense of irony intended).

Is this the end of “Shell Out” then? Hard to say. Although I have no plans to update it further, I would like to someday include it in a new volume of short stories geared entirely around the theme of “economic survival.” We’ll see how that goes. 

Update April 2020: This new edition comes up on the five-year anniversary of the original e-book release, and given the current coronavirus crisis gripping the world and endangering the global economy, now couldn’t be a better time to reintroduce the story. And it comes with a new opening chapter to help readers orient to Greg’s conflict better. As I said in the original author’s note, I’ve always struggled with how this story opened. I still don’t know if this is the right place to tell Greg’s story, so I have another alternate in the waiting (about Greg getting in a car accident) if I ever decide to rewrite this story from scratch (a real possibility). But for this version of “Shell Out,” I think it works.

Anyway, if you’re reading this during the global quarantine, stay safe. If you’re reading this long after COVID-19 has made the history books, then congratulations on living during a time of economic prosperity, assuming that’s how life is at the time of your reading. It’s certainly not that way at the time of this writing.

Revision Notes

Shell Out

Revision History

The following is a list of milestones during Shell Out’s development.

September 2005: Completed first edition of “Shell Out.”

November 2006: Revised and included into my CafePress exclusive paperback anthology Seven-Sided Dice: The Collection of Junk, Volume 3.

November 2011: Made a few story changes and created a new manuscript version.

May 2015: Created a new scene to begin the story. Minor revisions to existing text. Story split into seven parts. New version converted to e-book format.

December 2015: Included in my electronic and paperback anthology Zippywings 2015.

April 2016: Minor revisions and updated back matter information.

August 2019: Added new back matter, including a “Readers’ Group Discussion Questions” section. Improved interior formatting. Removed bonus materials to eliminate e-book bloat (most of the represented works are still unreleased, anyway).

April 2020: Added another new opening scene to establish conflict and character goal. Story is now told in eight parts. Changed the final chapter title from “Finale” to “The Nice Guy.” ProWritingAid edit. Removed some adverbs, fixed some style issues, and strengthened story context where needed. Added fire to the cover image (maybe temporarily).

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Leave a Review

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Why Review?

Thank you for taking the time to review my books. Any word you write and every star you rate is appreciated, positive or negative, short and sweet, or long and brooding.

If you need to know why you should review my books (or any author’s books for that matter), please read my August 2019 article “The Case for Leaving a Product Review” on my sister blog site, Drinking Café Latte at 1pm, for enlightenment. It’s short but important, and I hope you take a moment to understand why your public feedback is of vital importance.

But in case you don’t read it, the straightforward and unglamorous version is that it helps everyone improve, but it also gives authors a career. Authors with few or no reviews can’t really have a career because our trust rating is too low, so the more reviews or ratings we have, the easier we can focus on writing and less on waiting tables for a living.

If you like my books and want to read more of them, then please leave a review for the books you’ve read so that more readers will trust me, and I can afford to spend more time writing them.

You can review each book wherever you bought them, but you can also review them on Amazon, Goodreads, and BookBub, which, as long as you’ve read their specific reviewer requirements, you can do regardless where you’ve bought your copy. Do make sure you know the rules for leaving Amazon, Goodreads, or BookBub reviews before you leave them. This will make the difference on whether they accept your review.

Please remember that reviews must be honest. In other words, don’t rate me five stars if the book sucks or one star if you don’t like my author photo. How do you really feel?

Finally, remember to disclose whether you’ve been gifted the book or if you’ve read it for free.

If you’re not sure what to say, you can use my “How to Review” guide as a starting point.

With that, thanks again for your thoughts. By clicking the review buttons, you’ll find each book’s Amazon, Goodreads, or BookBub direct links. Remember that clicking the buttons will take you outside of this site (in a new window) and subject you to new privacy and cookie policies, as well as new terms and conditions that you’ll have to agree to before using those sites. All standard stuff you’re probably already aware of if you’ve used the Internet for more than an hour.

How To Review

If you would like to post a review, but you’re not sure how to start, you could always begin with your star rating in mind and explain how you calculated that value. Inspiration may take over from there. But please don’t feel obligated if you don’t know what to say. The fact that you’ve read the book is awesome enough. A review simply helps others identify whether this book is worth reading and the author about what he or she has done right (or horribly, horribly wrong). That said, we all have a voice, and I hope to hear yours soon. If you prefer to read in silence, that’s fine; I often read in silence myself. But I will generally let others know if I’ve read something awesome. Hopefully, you thought my book is awesome, and I hope you’ll let me know if you did.

That said, if you still need more help coming up with something to say, try answering these questions and use your answers as a basis for forming your review:

 

Will your review contain spoilers? If yes, warn the reader. Note that readers are smart. If you say the book has a twist ending (but you don’t say what), it’s a spoiler! 

I figured out the ending to The Sixth Sense five minutes in because people kept telling me, “You’ll never guess the ending.” Yeah, actually I will.

 

Did you enjoy the book? If yes, what did it leave you thinking about the most? If no, what about it bothered you the most? Elaborate if you can, but keep it short and sweet if the feeling is hard to articulate. 

For me, I watched The Breakfast Club over 40 times because it leaves me feeling like I’m part of the group. This was true when I first saw it edited for television as a 10-year-old. It’s still true as a grown man in my 40s. I also love the music and the tension between characters. I can still quote most of it. It’s the kind of movie that sticks with me.

 

If you liked the book: Who’s your favorite character and why? If you didn’t: Who caused you the most grief and why? 

Because the cast of The Breakfast Club is so well rounded, I don’t have a favorite character. I think each one is important to the story and removing any one of them would make the whole thing crumble.

 

For a good book, what was one thing you didn’t like about it? For a bad book, what was one thing you did like about it? 

Regarding The Breakfast Club, I still think the “smoking scene” is strange. How does the principal not smell the smoke or hear the rock music if the library is “right outside his office”? Definitely my least favorite part of the movie. But in fairness, I think this sequence takes place when the principal is hanging out with the janitor, so how would he even be aware?

 

What did you think of the ending? Is it satisfying or a letdown? Does it even matter? 

I once thought I hated The War of the Worlds (2005, Tom Cruise version) because that ending is among the worst in cinematic history. But darn it if the ride getting to that crappy ending isn’t among the best, and I can’t watch it today without feeling kind of into it. Sometimes the ending can ruin the story, but not always. A better question is does the ending support the point of the story or nullify it? In the case of The War of the Worlds, the ending sucks because it’s a “happy” copout, not a rebellion to the story’s premise, which is to survive an alien attack long enough for our world to figure out how to fight back (or outlast the aliens’ own survival rates).

 

Who is this book for?

I’m sure The Bridges of Madison County is a great book. It somehow managed to land Clint Eastwood in the lead role when it was made into a movie. But it looks soooo boring. At the time the movie was released, I was in my late teens or early 20s, eagerly awaiting the next Arnold Schwarzenegger action film, or really anything with decent character development, a pulse-pounding soundtrack, and explosions, lots of explosions. I liked Clint Eastwood in those days, but I liked him more as Dirty Harry. The Bridges of Madison County seemed more like the kind of movie my mom or grandmother would watch than I would. I might enjoy it more today, but back then, I couldn’t be bothered with it, even if it was good.

 

Finally:

Hopefully, that’ll give you something to work with. If you’re still stuck, though, then check out Amazon’s “Top Reviewers” for some ideas. Can’t go wrong learning from the best.

How to Be Negative

An important note about negative reviews (for my books or for anyone else’s): Please be civil in your reviews. A review should focus on the book, not the author’s condition as a human being. They should focus on your experience with the story, not the coffee shop where you read the story.

In other words, please be fair. If you disliked the book because the characters are poorly developed, the scenes make no sense, or the plot is absurd, then it’s not a good book, and your review should say so. But, if you disliked it because you were in the mood for a dark, depressing horror story and you got a comedy instead (and the book has the markings or description of a comedy all over its product page), then maybe don’t review it.

Likewise, if the book hasn’t yet gotten any reviews, and the review you plan to give is negative, maybe wait until more positive reviews come in before posting yours. You should definitely post yours, but remember that if your review is more subjective than objective, and yours is the only one that potential readers will see, then even if they’d normally love the book, they won’t buy it because your standalone bad review turned them off, and that can not only unjustly kill the book’s chances to succeed (as well as the author’s), but it can rob a positive experience for other readers who might see something entertaining in the book that you didn’t. That’s unfair for everyone.

So, please think it through before you post your review. I can’t rightly tell you how to review or when, but as a writer who lives by the success or failure of each book, I hope you’ll “read the room” and examine your reasons for the negative review before submitting, and maybe consider holding off until a time when your single review won’t destroy the book’s (or the author’s) chance to find the right audience. Again, a bad book deserves to fail, but a good book in the hands of the wrong reader or the wrong time and place needs a bit more grace. On behalf of all writers and authors who live and die by your reviews, thanks for being fair.

Cover for "Shell Out"

Hope You Enjoy the Story!