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The Plot to Kill King #BookReview

The Plot to Kill King by William F. Pepper, Esq – a powerful and disturbing look at one of our country’s darkest events.

The Plot to Kill King: The Truth Behind the Assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. by [Pepper Esq, William F]

I began The Plot to Kill King with a certain amount of skepticism but heard the author interviewed on the radio and thought it worth reading. By the midpoint of the book the depth of research and investigative reporting swayed me to think otherwise and by the end of TPTKK, although I was not utterly convinced as to every aspect of the conspiracy (the St. Joseph’s Hospital section was not as well supported IMO) there was no doubt in my mind that MLK’s murder was not the effort of the hapless James Earl Ray, but a plotted assassination by multiple levels of government, the military, organized crime, and various law enforcement agencies. I shudder to think of how many people were involved that we don’t know about. Also disturbing are the implications of Jesse Jackson in the MLK murder, and connections of the one of the characters to Jack Ruby.

Next time you take comfort in the fact that you don’t live in some third world country where threats to the powers that be are dealt with by death squads, read this book. Why the MLK assassination has not been reinvestigated is mystifying and shameful to a country that claims to be a leader in democracy and free speech. Every American should read this book.

 

The Ghosts of Belfast – #BookReview

The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville

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A reader might be forgiven for thinking that an ex-IRA assassin with twelve kills to his name would not make a sympathetic protagonist but that’s not the case with Gerry Fagen. Out of The Maze prison after a long stretch as a terrorist, the novel opens with Gerry attempting to drink his demons away. Literally. Gerry is haunted by the ghosts of his victims who now follow him everywhere, until he realizes what they require in order to leave him in peace: an eye for an eye. Gerry has to even the score by killing his old comrades.

And so it goes. Every time Gerry disposes of one of his old cronies, a ghost slips away, bringing momentary relief. But only momentary. In order to find true release, Gerry needs twelve. (The British title for this book is The Twelve.)

The plotting in Ghosts of Belfast is masterful. The way the author puts the reader on Gerry’s side is to make him not only a victim of circumstance, recruited into the IRA as a boy by men who manipulate teenagers hungry for identity and purpose, but the fact that the people he is assassinating in order to appease his ghosts are such reprehensible scum that we have no qualms whatsoever in seeing them dispensed with. No soft-focus romantic portrayals of the IRA here. These are sadistic men who have found an outlet they quite enjoy.

Add to the story a woman and child who fall afoul of the old guard, and whom Gerry must protect, and it’s clear who the reader is rooting for.

This was quite a novel, one of the best and grittiest crime thrillers I think I’ve ever read. A true literary thriller, delivering on both counts.

The violence in The Ghosts of Belfast will not be for everyone. But, like the characters, it’s not glamorized, not your typical action-packed mayhem found in many thrillers; it’s grim and awful. And it feels very real.

If any flaw exists with The Ghosts of Belfast, it might be the very end, which leans just a bit too much toward the paranormal, after the author has done such a good job to avoid that trope. But it fits the story well, and lives up to the title.

 

The Cain File – release week!

1/26 is the official release date for THE CAIN FILE – a Kindle Scout Selection . . .

Many thanks to all of those who nominated THE CAIN FILE and helped get the book noticed. I’m very thankful and excited.I look forward to your comments.

Looking for the truth was the first mistake …

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The Quito assignment was meant to be a milk run for Special Forensic Accounting Agent Maggie de la Cruz: just hand over the two-million-dollar payoff and get the signatures of a corrupt oil minister and two oil-company bigwigs. Then stand back while the arrests are made.

But that’s not quite how things play out. When the sting is sabotaged and Minister Beltran wants the two million anyway, Maggie says no.

Bullets fly. And Maggie has to run.

Back home in the U.S., licking her wounds, Maggie learns that Minister Beltran has just been kidnapped by a deadly eco-terrorist group protecting the Amazon jungle from oil drilling.

The Agency’s covert-operations section needs to send Maggie back to South America, along with Field Agent John Rae Hutchens, to rescue Beltran for, ironically, another two million.

Another milk run? Maybe—if everyone involved doesn’t have a secret agenda.

Events continue to go off-kilter: the suspicious detainment of a field agent at Bogotá International, leaving Maggie on her own; terrorists who seem more interested in the payoff money than the cause; case handlers with shadowy links that can’t be easily explained; and worse.

And agent de la Cruz must deal with it.

Any way she can.


 

The paperback version of The Cain File can be found here.

 

Talk to the Head – Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia

They say you have the best conversations with yourself.

How about with the severed head of your hooker girlfriend’s former lover?

When the object of desire in a story is a head in a bag you know you’re onto something.

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Warren Oates plays Bennie, a man who sees an opportunity to get a head. (Sorry)

When it’s the head of a man who impregnated the daughter of a Mexican gangster you know immediately why it’s worth a million dollars.

When the man who longs for it the most is a down-at-the-heel gringo piano player in a Mexican brothel grabbing for one last score, you know all you need to know about the protagonist.

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The happy couple. Mexican actress Isela Vega plays Elita. She also wrote one of the songs for the film.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) is Sam Peckinpah’s finest film. Made during the director’s  alcoholic decline, the movie has a tragicomic power that is relentless, that drives it like a drunk coming home in the middle of the night. He knows the way–or did when he was sober; he’s running on autopilot now and is likely to inflict untold harm on himself and others getting to his destination. But he’s determined to get there. The movie is a parable for Peckinpah’s life. Warren Oates, who plays Bennie, understood this, and wore Peckinpah’s sunglasses throughout the movie, even in bed, channeling his mentor.

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Bennie buying his soulmate a bag of ice to keep it from decomposing.

Despite the cheesy ‘70s film-making, the signature slow-motion Peckinpah death scenes, the gratuitous boob shots, all of that and more, the strength of the story and distinctiveness of the two leading characters prevail, making us root for a sleazy crook who carries his treasure across the barren Mexican desert in a gunny sack, talking to it, coddling it with ice as it becomes blanketed with flies, even giving it a shower at one point. It’s a journey of self-discovery. Not a happy one. But you probably guessed that.

Kris Kristofferson plays a rapist biker. He's probably more picky about roles these days.

In an early role, Kris Kristofferson plays a rapist biker. He’s probably more picky these days.

Bennie defending his nest egg. The white suit is the first of many bad decisions.

Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia remains a cult classic. It’s sucks you in with its dark genius. It’s the kind of film that makes you stop channel-surfing when you happen upon it late at night, and compels you to watch, matter how many times you’ve seen it, no matter how late it is. And next day you’ll be savoring the movie all over again, wishing there were more like it. But there aren’t.

The Cain File – On Dangerous Ground

The Cain File

The Crying Ground
The Quito assignment was supposed to be a milk run for Special Forensic Accounting Agent Maggie de la Cruz: just hand over the two-million-dollar payoff and get the signatures of a corrupt oil minister and two oil-company bigwigs. Then stand back while the arrests are made.

But that’s not quite how things play out. When the sting is sabotaged and Minister Beltran wants the two million anyway, Maggie says no.

Bullets start to fly. And Maggie has to run.

Back home in the U.S., licking her wounds, Maggie learns that Minister Beltran has just been kidnapped by a deadly eco-terrorist group protecting the Amazon jungle from oil drilling.

The Agency’s covert-operations section needs to send Maggie back to South America, along with Field Agent John Rae Hutchens, to rescue Beltran for, ironically, another two million.

Another milk run? Perhaps—if everyone involved doesn’t have a secret agenda.

Events continue to go off-kilter: the suspicious detainment of a field agent at Bogotá International, leaving Maggie on her own; terrorists who seem more interested in the payoff money than the cause; case handlers with shadowy links that can’t be easily explained; and worse.

And agent de la Cruz must deal with it.

Any way she can.


The Cain File is not yet available  … stay posted.

Are you a literary agent looking for a fast-paced international thriller that will appeal to readers of Ludlum and John le Carré and fans of Homeland? Let’s talk!

Email: Max Tomlinson

Silent Scream – Angela Marsons #BookReview

This is a thoroughly engaging, well-crafted police procedural set in the UK that will appeal to fans of Prime Suspect and the like. Kim Stone, the protagonist DI, is sort of a young jaded Jane Tennison with issues, and a gruff person as a result but, as one might expect, her heart is in the right place. She gets the job done, brandishing her acerbic wit (and temper).
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When an employee connected to a state run institution is found drowned in her bathtub, DI Stone begins to investigate the murders of three unfortunate girls who are found buried in a shallow grave outside a former orphanage from hell. More bodies pile up. And maybe one or two more. The story itself might stretch the reader’s belief system a bit but it’s a well-told one, with excellent investigation details, nuanced supporting characters (I love Bryant, especially when he – [mini spoiler] – adopts the dogs), terrific descriptions of the Black Country locale and a genuine commentary on institutional systems that create monsters and misfits out of their inhabitants and administrators.

I would easily have given this book five stars if not for…

*** SPOILER AHEAD ***

Multiple murderers. Come on! For those of us who enjoy trying to piece the clues together and ‘solve the crime’, this is such a disappointment. The author is in good company here (Gillian Flynn, anyone?) but it’s not playing fair with the reader. A writer who works this hard can surely tell a compelling mystery without obfuscating the story with over-complicated plot lines and pulling the wool over our eyes the easy way.

Having said that, I would recommend Silent Scream to fans of crime fiction, and personally look forward to more in this series.

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Spenser Version 2.0: Wonderland by Ace Atkins #BookReview

Back in the dark ages before Kindle, one of my favorite authors was Robert B. Parker. His Spenser PI books were enormously readable: entertaining, witty, with literary allusions for the college grads who read pulp, not to mention some pretty decent plots. Spenser was the updated wise-cracking detective, tough and tender, the lone gunman who could jump through windows or whip up a gourmet meal with one hand while drinking an imported beer with the other. Spenser’s sidekick Hawk introduced the American reading public to perhaps their first minority mystery character, and Spenser’s main squeeze, Susan Silverman (Spenser is monogamous, despite the efforts of many persistent females), added some pop psychology and sophisticated banter. I remember reading my first ‘F’ word in a mystery novel ever in a Spenser book back in the 70s—what a shock. In close to forty books Parker took a tired format and punched it up to become one of the most popular PI series ever. There was even a television show: Spenser for Hire.

0-ABC-SpenserWhen Robert Parker passed away in 2010 I assumed that was the end of Spenser as well, who was perhaps getting to be a little old to be jumping through any more windows (even though Spenser, the man with no first name, never ages). Times were moving on and we had a new cast of grittier, darker, more urban detectives to read.

So when Ace Atkins (author of the acclaimed Quinn Colson ‘Ranger’ series) took on the Spenser books in 2011, I held off. I have never found a book continuation that ever truly worked under a different author (not even Parker’s Chandler). The smudges on the copy were always too evident for my liking.

Well, I was wrong.

I started with Wonderland, simply because it had the highest Amazon ratings, and was more than pleasantly surprised. Spenser is back, version 2.0, with upgraded smart-aleck remarks and current themes. Spenser’s signature humor is even punchier than I remembered. The settings and PI tone are just about perfect to the original. There’s a new sidekick, a Cree Indian named Z, who is kind of a junior Hawk in training, but one with personal issues he must deal with. And the usual cast of good and bad guys. A cross-country airplane flight whizzed right by.

Wonderland opens with some thugs pushing Spenser’s boxing pal Henry Cimoli and his neighbors around, trying to muscle them out of their condo building. Spenser and Z get involved, thinking they’ll shoo off the bad guys and be back to drinking beer and trading one-liners in no time. But the toughs don’t scare easily. Then Spenser finds a disused, broken-down dog track by the name of Wonderland near Henry’s condo complex to be the center of interest for some Vegas hoods and a local Boston politician. When a moneyed real estate developer a la Donald Trump loses his head—literally—Spenser realizes he’s onto something big. Then come the fisticuffs, gunfights and a beautiful unclothed female, along with the usual Spenser fare. But most of all there is Spenser’s classic wit, extremely well-handled by Atkins. Maybe even better than Parker’s. I read an interview with Robert B. Parker (way back before there were Kindles) and recall him saying he essentially wrote one draft of each Spenser book. That was it. Well, towards the end of Spenser version 1.0, it showed. Not so with Atkins, however, who has polished Spenser’s dialog to a shine that dazzles. I found myself rereading much of it for sheer pleasure.

The plot in Wonderland gets a little elaborate past the half-way mark, with an ever-growing cast of bad guys and some questionable motives by the lead suspects, but it doesn’t really matter by then. When the last page came, I was ready for more Spenser version 2.0.

Two Faces of January – Dead Bodies and Love Triangles – Book Review

Patricia Highsmith’s wonderfully deviant, amoral characters set her books apart in a genre where sociopaths are the norm and just about essential for any psychological thriller worth its salt. No other suspense author drills down into the inner workings of their players quite like Highsmith did. Much of the reason is that she took her time to build her characters, letting small details work their tension, blending the mundane with the immoral so that we as readers identify with some fairly reprehensible people before we can be repelled by them. A saved letter about an unattended funeral speaks volumes about a young man’s feelings towards his father, allowing us to comprehend his later actions. A man’s love for his young wife makes us overlook a good deal of his criminal behavior. In Highsmith’s novels it’s not easy to discern the hero from the villain and often, as in her popular Ripley books, it’s the criminal (usually murderer) we end up rooting for. The same forces are at work in The Two Faces of January but to a subtler degree. You won’t find a truly good person in these pages but it doesn’t matter. In this story of three expat Americans who cross paths in early 1960s Athens, you’ll want at least one of them to get away with breaking the law.

Dead bodies and love triangles tend not to go together well. (Photo from the motion picture adaptation of Two Faces of January.)

Rydel is a wandering Peter Pan living off his grandmother’s money, putting off the inevitable trip back to the US to face responsibility and tedium, when he encounters Chester, a crooked stockbroker on the run, who accidentally kills a Greek policeman who is onto him. For no other reason than Chester reminds Rydel of his father, Rydel helps Chester hide the body and acquires forged passports for him and his comely wife, Colette. Chester then invites Rydel to accompany him and Colette to Crete to help the couple navigate their way out of Greece, beyond the reach of the authorities (Rydel speaks Greek and has shady connections). But Colette’s infatuation for Rydel upsets the applecart, and Chester sees red. No one seems to think twice about the death of a policeman, let alone marital vows. It may even feel like love–for two of the three anyway–but it doesn’t end well.

Rydel is one of Highsmith’s better creations, quite affable as he keeps veering away from doing the right thing. He just can’t seem to. The reader understands. Chester is a perfect villain, because he knows who he is. Colette is a well-nuanced temptress, made of real flesh and blood, with a heart and soul. The secondary characters in this novel are all Highsmith quality as well.

I’m not sure why this book is trending towards three stars in the ratings—it’s one of Highsmith’s better ones, with its simple tale of three people who think they can do no wrong but end up doing an awful lot of it.

My only minor disappointment came in the final few pages, where I was hoping for one final twist that didn’t come. The ending I envisioned seemed glaringly obvious to me but Patricia Highsmith clearly wasn’t thinking what I was thinking when she penned this book—or maybe she didn’t want to be predictable. But it works, and redeems one of the characters.

Regardless, by the time Two Faces is rolling, the plot feels inevitable. And that’s the mark of a master.

Looking for the Dead Boys: Now on a Kindle near you

Dredge thought Spider said they were going to buy the kilo from the Mexicans. 

Not pull a fast one…

Looking for the Dead Boys Web

It’s 1977, California. Once blissed-out hippies have taken a liking to crystal meth. Punk rock is on the turntable.

More than anything, misfit Dredge wants to be one of the Dead Boys, a motorcycle gang bent on controlling Santa Cruz’ growing methamphetamine market. But first he has to impress Spider.

Spider isn’t going to let anyone take over his lucrative dealing action. A drug deal with a Latino gang trying to move into Dead Boys’ turf turns into a killing spree.

With long red hair, an oil-burner dope habit and a pair of earrings that look like little silver birds, Eva Braun—not her real name, of course—is Spider’s old lady. Her self-destructive streak leads her to tell the cops about the murder of four Latin gang members. Dredge would love to save Eva, but maybe he better find a way to save himself.

Colleen Hayes did ten years in prison for killing her ex. With a gun in her pocket, she’s heading to Santa Cruz on a mission: to rescue her glassy-eyed daughter from the Dead Boys.

Nobody crosses Spider. Not the Latinos. Not the Chinese Tong waiting to make their move. Not Dredge. Or Eva. Or Colleen. And not the little girl who lives next to the Dead Boys’ house and watches everything, especially the pretty lady with the red hair and bird earrings.

Their lives are on a collision course and time is running out.

Looking for the Dead Boys: Peace, love and vengeance.

~~~

Take equal parts Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith and Cormac McCarthy, add a dash of Quentin Tarantino and stir in a stolen kilo of methamphetamine. Blend it with what Henning Mankell calls “my own language” and you have LOOKING FOR THE DEAD BOYS.

Do you want to order Dead Boys? Of course you do! –> Order Dead Boys <–

¡Vivan los escritores!

Don’t read Sendero

That’s correct. Don’t read Sendero, an edgy thriller set in Peru, a country still haunted by the dirty war of twenty years ago.

Listen to it!

Sendero is now available as an audio book.

Downloadable from Audible or iTunes,  you can listen to the book that Kirkus rated as one of the top 100 Indie novels of 2012, as narrated by the incomparable Sarah Van Sweden. Sarah is a terrific reader and a woman of many voices. I found myself caught up in her rendition of Sendero and believe me, I’ve read this book myself more than a few times. I know what happens. The lady can read the phone book and make it suspenseful. Check out the audio sample and see if you don’t agree.

Sendero Audio Book

Click the image to check out the Audible audio sample

If you’re new to Audible and sign up, you can get the audio book for free. If you’re more of an iTunes type, you may click here,

Ten books that made me want to be a writer

Who doesn’t read ‘top ten’ lists? There’s one going round at the moment where people rate their ten favorite books, and I was inspired to list the ones that influenced me as a writer. Here are ten by authors at the top of their game, whose stories reverberated, whose voices made me want to find one of my own. Books that made me say ‘I want to do that.’

10. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Hunter S. Thompson) – Many a true word written in jest. Wins the opening line award: ‘We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold.’

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the_postman_always_rings_twice-cover9 The Postman Always Rings Twice (James M. Cain) – Cain was master of the breakneck-paced novel with scummy characters you love to root for.

8. The Stranger (Albert Camus) – Another terrific opener: ‘Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday.’ Who says you can’t tell vs. show? Fun Fact: Camus was influenced by James M. Cain.

7. The Dancer Upstairs (Nicholas Shakespeare) – The story of a South American detective trying to do the right thing in a country beset by corruption and civil war. And then he falls in love.

6. Strangers on a Train (Patricia Highsmith) – Anything Highsmith wrote is steeped in psychological turmoil. This was her first. Hitchcock was compelled to make it into an equally excellent film.

"My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people." - Patricia Highsmith

“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.” – Patricia Highsmith

5. God’s Pocket (Peter Dexter) – An orgy of wonderfully low rent characters, including one who drives around with a body in the back of a refrigeration truck and you just hope he gets away with it.

4 Killshot (Elmore Leonard) – Leonard pioneered the modern crime novel. This is his darkest and most powerful.Unknown

3. Of Human Bondage (W. Somerset Maugham) – 50,000 words too long but what words. Daring stuff for its time about a lost soul who falls for a woman of questionable morals. There’s a reason Maugham was one of the most popular writers of his era.

2. The Road (Cormac McCarthy) – I dare you not to be moved by this haunting tale of love between father and son during the apocalypse.

1. The Ginger Man (JP Donleavy) – One man’s battle against sobriety, decency and sanity. Hysterically funny and tragic at the same time. A masterpiece.

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Those are my ten. Did I miss a must-read gem? Feel free to let me know.

Viven los escritores!

Sendero – an international thriller – 0 cents for a limited time

“A vividly described journey through Peru’s underbelly as the narrative gains momentum, hurtling toward a dramatic climax.”

Read the book that Kirkus listed as one of the top 100 Indie novels of 2012 – for 0 cents. Free. Nothing. How can I do it, you ask? Volume, that’s how. So avail yourself to the wonder of the world wide internet and download Sendero from Amazon,  Smashwords, iTunes, B&N. For Free.

Sendero!

[Click image for more …]

Watch the trailer. Read a sample.

Out by the Trees – Short Dark Fiction – Free

My short story collection is now free from most online retailers …
 
OutByTheTrees min 100

Red Badge of Courage – the ultimate anti-war novel? (#BookReview)

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I finally read this classic and was immediately swept away by the tale of young Henry Fleming (often referred to as ‘the youth’ in Red Badge of Courage), who itches to go to war, despite his mother’s wishes.

Stephen Crane’s writing has aged gracefully since the novel was first published in 1893. The forbidding atmosphere of war is ideally suited to a style that might be considered florid by today’s standards. The potent tone fits the story but the writing still feels current, authentic and devoid of sentimentality.

Henry’s character is laid bare as he experiences both cowardice and bravery in battle. Both emotions are seen as almost uncontrollable responses in times of war and the author doesn’t pass judgment, letting subtle ironies prevail instead. Red Badge of Courage is as much a psychological novel as a war story. And faced with what Henry and many of his comrades confronted, the reader might well have turned and headed for the trees as well.

Images of war are lightly rendered in comparison to modern novels but just as jarring. In one scene the wounded trudge to their impending deaths (as anyone injured in battle during the Civil War frequently had mere hours to live), and young Henry describes a soldier he encounters who has two wounds, ‘one in the head, bound with a blood-soaked rag, and the other in the arm, making that member dangle like a broken bough.’

Hemingway said that Red Badge of Courage was ‘one of the finest books of American literature.’ Reading Crane’s prose, it’s easy to see precursors of Hemingway’s own style:

‘It rained. The procession of weary soldiers became a bedraggled train, despondent and muttering, marching with churning effort in a trough of liquid brown mud under a low, wretched sky.’

Stephen Crane modestly stated that he wanted to write a war story reminiscent of the books he read as a boy, and ended up penning an adventure story that doubles as fine literature and perhaps the ultimate anti-war novel.

The Literary Chain Letter – aka ‘My Writing Process’

I’ve been tagged to tell you how I do what I do when it comes to doing what I love best to do: writing. Specifically, my writing process – or lack of one. But I’m happy to make something up. Well, I am a fiction writer.

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My writing process (high level view)

For the trail of this writing process request chain see Mark Miller, who referred me, and whose entry you may read by clicking said link. You will discover that Mark can really write, not only because he’s good, but also because he writes non-fiction, which requires sticking to the facts.

I truly admire anyone who can turn the truth into something readable as I find it a little – er – restrictive. I’m like the Irishman who had such a respect for the truth that he was known to use it in emergencies. Anyway, I digress. Which is part of my writing process actually: digression. Call it exploration. Research. But, back to the truth – briefly – to quote my old writing teacher, the stalwart Jim Frey. (No, not that Jim Frey, who committed a disgracia on Oprah. Talk about not sticking to the truth.) I mean the Jim Frey of ‘How to Write a Damn Good Novel’, who said ‘if your story needs a BART station in Golden Gate Park, then there’s a BART station in Golden Gate Park.’ (There isn’t, by the way, for those of you who don’t live in the People’s Republic of San Francisco.) The point is, it’s FICTION. It doesn’t have to be true, just believable. And sometimes, the more outlandish, the more believable.

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There are many approaches to effective writing.

I’m work-shopping a Noir novel at the moment, channeling the demons of Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, Graham Greene and Patricia Highsmith and corralling them into a ’70s biker novel with a woman bent on revenge, and I can’t believe my fellow work-shoppers are buying some of the things Colleen Hayes, who gets out of prison and goes hunting for her wayward teenage daughter, gets up to. They don’t seem to have issue with the ‘fact’ that a bascially nice person goes nuts with a shotgun, but more with the very basic aspects of character – motivation, capacity, growth – that affect all characters in all novels under development. Like they say, if you can make a reader (or viewer) believe a man can fly, they must want to believe it.

But I digress.

Like the man said, who wants to read about people who never really existed, doing things that never really happened? I do. And so do a lot of you. And I want to write about it, too. What an arrogant thought, really, thinking that someone wants to read something you just made up. But they do. If it connects. And, to do that, it has to connect with the author. So that’s part of the reason my writing process might seem so fluid. Because looking for inspiration, that little nugget, requires a lot of wild casting and hoping the line doesn’t get snagged in a tree. Or around your neck. But if it does – so what? Print is cheap. You’re not shooting a movie. Go big.

what-i-really-do-writer

In my other life, the one where I make money, I’m a computer programmer, and one of the tenets of modern software development is to iterate. Start with something and keep refactoring it, until it works. Don’t shoot for perfection right off. To me, writing fiction and code have much in common that way. All programmers write code their own way too.

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I like to write women protagonists. Why? I find them a great contrast to most of my bad guys (who tend to be guys) and I think that women characters can have a wider emotional range. They get away with a lot of things men can’t. I admire writers who can write dark sympathetic male characters. Case in point: Stephen King. In ‘The Shining’ his protagonist breaks his five-year-old son’s arm and the reader still identifies with him.

Some rules I follow but not always:

1. Don’t keep going back to the beginning of your draft every time you sit down in front of your computer (or pen and paper). Push ahead.

2. But do sit down at your computer (or pen and paper) as much as possible. Some people say every day but if you work for a living this may not be doable. But half an hour writing is better than half an hour not writing.

3. Be prepared to throw away most of what you write. Keith Richards jammed for hours – months, in many cases – to come up with a riff for one of those three minute gems. It was worth it. Segovia practiced for five hours per day. Write a lot and be prepared to write a lot of sh*t. It’s good enough for Henning Mankell.

bigfoot-erotica

One of the tamer Sasquatch Erotica titles out there.

4. Read as much as you can. Read what you want to write. For me, those are my heroes (Elmore Leonard, Patricia Highsmith) but I also read the odd classic and I even read some junk. I’m an American author and popular fiction (and culture) is ingrained in me. I draw the line at Sasquatch erotica however.

5. Work-shop your work. If you don’t, you’re an amateur. Listen to the critiques. If more than two critiquers make the same comment, they’re right. Sorry, Hemingway, you got to kill your darlings.

6. There is no rule six.

7. I like to write early in the morning, mostly because that’s when I have time but also because my mind isn’t clogged with mundane garbage yet. I don’t check my stocks before I write, read email, or do anything that pulls me out of the ‘fictive dream.’

8. I read my work out loud.

9. I listen to all the critique but in the end it’s my story. I need to decide what happens. This is so hard but for me was the breakthrough that made my work better (IMHO). Trust your instincts. ‘Write from the fingertips’ Jim Frey says.

10. I write thrillers and mysteries. It’s important to stay within the genre, whatever genre you choose. Literary fiction is a genre, by the way. But by the same token, you need to break the genre, just a little, to make your story fresh.

11. I try to have fun and remember why I write. I get disappointed and frustrated just like everyone else but if the entire world isn’t in love with my books, that’s their problem. And it’s a first world problem to be wallowing in writer’s angst.

"My imagination functions much better when I don't have to speak to people." - Patricia Highsmith

“My imagination functions much better when I don’t have to speak to people.” – Patricia Highsmith

12. I do quite a lot of research (hasn’t Google made research easier, everyone?) For my biker Noir novel, I read more than I wanted on the history of Meth in this country and all I can tell you is that fiction ain’t got nothin’ on the truth. I’m still trying to get some of those images out of my mind. Much of my research is on the page in early drafts but eliminated as I rewrite. Tip of the iceberg is what I aim for. Elmore Leonard is a master at including that one detail that brings a scene or character to life.

13. There is no such thing as writer’s block. As Jim Frey said, what would you say to a plumber who said that he (or she) had ‘plumber’s block?’ You’re a plumber. Get to work. If you can’t be wonderfully creative today, do some low-level self-editing. There’s always something to do to make your novel better.

So there you have it.

I want to call out three fellow authors I think are innovative and pass the baton, and hope they follow suit and tell us how they write. (It’s a chain letter. If we all do this the entire world will be inundated with blog posts about writing. And then what? A few million authors at the end of the chain will be stuck and the internet will probably break. But if my three chosen authors wish to participate I look forward to their secrets for success.)

Tess Collins – author of Appalachian fiction and more
Anne-Rae Vasquez – paranormal, fantasy, dystopian (and more)
Jill Nojack – queen of the fae (and more!)

If you write, I hope my humble thoughts have encouraged you in some way. We all do it differently but we all do a lot of it the same. What an arrogant thing to think that someone will want to read something you made up.

But I digress.

¡vivan los escritores!

The Glass Cell – Move Over Ripley (Book Review)

If you read suspense and have not read Patricia Highsmith, first of all, shame on you and second, you have some weird and wonderful (and terrifying) books ahead. No one wrote like Highsmith. Her novels deliver in the classic thriller/mystery/suspense department for those simply looking for an edgy ride but they’re also literate and truly unique. Her characters are odd, not in the quirky sense, but disturbed and wretched. And real.

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Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith wasn’t afraid to take time to get a story rolling, as many authors are (especially nowadays) and although that may fail her from time to time, the reader has time to soak in the world she creates with those deviant but everyday characters. She’s written a dog or two (IMHO) but every great author has. It’s part of reaching for the kind of stories that, more often than not, leave a mark.

About a third of the way through The Glass Cell, I thought I was reading one of Highsmith’s dogs. I’ve already read all her well-known work (Strangers on a Train is a must-read. If you don’t believe me, believe Hitchcock who made Highsmith’s first novel into an excellent movie) and thought I was scraping the bottom of the Highsmith barrel.

There are real flaws with the first third of Glass Cell, the story of a man who goes to prison for six years on a fraudulent charge. Key events happen off camera, important characters are not physically described, and Highsmith’s slow-burn prose feels like it’s meandering.

But then Philip Carter, our ill-fated anti-hero, gets out of prison, physically and mentally damaged, craving morphine, and learns that his beautiful wife has most likely been having a six-year-long affair with his lawyer. Then the people who set Carter up come back into the picture. It seems inevitable that Carter does some of the things he does.

And the reader ends up rooting for a milquetoast turned drug-addled psychopath. I was never a huge fan of Ripley, one of Highsmith’s more fantastic characters, but Carter had my complete sympathy no matter what he did to those who treated him so poorly. Highsmith is famous for her Ripley books (and the first one should be on everyone’s to-read list) but whereas Ripley is prickly and frightening, Carter is your unstable friend who just can’t catch a break.

Stay inside The Glass Cell and you won’t be disappointed.

Behind the Page – Author Tom Garrison

¿Quién es más macho?

Tom and Dave the Wonder Cat - 2011

Author Tom Garrison and Dave the Wonder Cat

Fans of the original Saturday Night Live may remember a skit in which contestants were asked by Bill Murray, speaking Semester II Spanish, to select the most macho of actors: David Janssen, Lloyd Bridges or Jack (‘Yack’) Lord.

Although this month’s guest is a writer, he is definitely a contender. Not because he wore cool suits and uttered such iconic phrases as ‘Book ‘em, Dano.’ But because he has honed a writing style that is both analytical and provocative, regardless of your politics.

And also because he used to water-ski on agricultural canals.

Tom Garrison, welcome to Behind the Page.


Q:  Water-skiing on agricultural canals? Hemingway would surely be envious.

While not quite the 10,000 degree temperature of the sun’s photosphere, summer in California’s southern Central Valley was hot. You and your teenage buddies needed a break.

The Central Valley is crisscrossed by several major irrigation canals. The canals run 20 to 25 feet across, up to ten feet deep, and, best of all, have dirt roads on each bank. Upon someone getting their driver’s license, we would all pile into the wreck of a car they finagled from their parents and go canal water-skiing.

Here is how it goes: position the skier on the far side of the canal, tie a tow line to the car bumper, throw the line to the skier, yell at the idiot, excuse me-skier-to get ready, then take off and drive as fast as possible on a narrow dirt road that has a four feet embankment on one side and a canal full of water on the other. Note that every mile or so a large standpipe juts a few feet above the water line.

masmacho

Add alcohol and now you have true water-skiing, not some sissy sport on a peaceful lake.

To begin with, it’s not legal.

Possible outcomes: the car veers off the dirt road, or the skier falls, or the skier weaves back and forth, kicking up huge rooster tails before smashing into a standpipe.

OR the skier completes the run, releases the tow line, cruises to the dirt bank, and steps out of the skis onto dry land without anything other than their lower legs getting wet.

That is a “ten” run.

Canal water-skiing was a rite of passage.

Q:  “Show me a young Conservative and I’ll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I’ll show you someone with no brains.” Thoughts?

I use a similar quote in my book Why We Left the Left: Personal Stories by Leftists/Liberals Who Evolved to Embrace Libertarianism.

Youth is a time of rebellion, when actions are often dictated by emotions. Action and slogans take precedent over reasoned analysis. Young people generally have little at stake in “the system” and a lot of free time. I saw this repeatedly when I was an active socialist in Santa Barbara. Younger “fellow travelers” would drop into our Socialist Party group, hang around for a few months then drop out when the emotional high receded.

As people age, many begin to question their former views, especially when they see concomitant big government solutions (e.g. Obamacare or crony capitalism) become complex and fraught with unanticipated consequences. This realization tends to make one more cautious in advocating radical solutions. (And who, besides Warren Buffet, advocates “taxing the hell out of the rich” when they have a job that may put them in the “rich” category?)

I believe this saying applies primarily to “normal” people. Political ideologues, Right or Left, seldom change their stripes. For an intense political person to change politically later in life takes self-confidence, introspection, and guts. And most of your former “comrades” will disown you. I know.

Q: Beatles or Stones? Or …?

I turned 18 in 1970. My teens were dominated by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. The early work for both groups was simple rock and roll. However, the Beatles evolved a slicker, “prettier” sound while the Stones wallowed in the energy of unadulterated rock.

Listening to the Beatles after the mid-60s was like taking a hike in a coastal wooded area—lots of green, eroded smooth mountains, cool temperatures, little danger. Listening to the Stones belt out “Sympathy for the Devil” was like a desert hike—jagged mountains, the earth sans the makeup of vegetation, potential danger from flash floods in slot canyons (which I love to explore), poisonous critters, and raw vistas.

The Stones at Altamont

The Stones at Altamont

Since I prefer desert hiking my obvious choice is the Stones. As I write this and silently sing the lyrics to “Street Fighting Man,” the hairs on my arms stand to attention. That song was important in my prepping for speeches in the mid-1980s.

But since the end of the New Wave era (Devo, Talking Heads, B-52s, Clash, Eurythmics, and others) I haven’t paid much attention to music. I mean, who the hell is Miley Cyrus?

Q: What made you realize you were a writer? When?

From 1982 to 2000 I was editor, managing editor, and finally, editorial director of a political science journal based in Santa Barbara. Professors of the social sciences, in particular political science, tend to be fairly inept writers. (Try reading the American Political Science Review.) I ended up not just editing, but often rewriting many scholarly articles. I also had essays and letters published in leftist/progressive newsletters, local newspapers, and journals.

Was I writer? Not yet.

In December 2010 I had two political essays published: one in the Salt Lake Tribune, another in The Spectrum (the St. George Utah daily newspaper). A beginning.

My wife Deb and I love to hike. My first paid hiking story was published in The Spectrum in May 2011. Since then my stories have appeared every month. That made me consider myself a writer.

The author and his wife on the left (politically and photographically), 1985

Since then I have had political and humorous essays published, have entered and won several writing contests, and published two books.

But being an author/writer is only one facet of my identity. Being retired I am fortunate that I do not have to depend upon writing for income. If I did, I would  be living in a cardboard box under a bridge with Dave the Wonder Cat.

Q:  Author(s) who inspire you? 

I read just about anything: books, cereal boxes, the more interesting stuff on paper place mats at diners. The author I try to emulate the most is Hunter S. Thompson. I’d like to think at least some of my writing is similar to gonzo journalism. Gonzo journalism, according to Wikipedia  “…has been defined in academic literature as an energetic first-person participatory writing style in which the author is a protagonist, and which draws its power from a combination of both social critique and self-satire.”

hunter

I write in the first person, love social critique, and have plenty of foibles of which to make fun.

And so far I have been successful in avoiding the drunken, lunatic nature of Thompson’s last couple of decades. And I have no plans to go out by shooting myself in the head.

Q: What makes it worth eleven and a half US dollars to sit in a theater behind someone who shouts at the screen? 

Hey, don’t be too hard on the screen shouters. I was one of the original audience participants for The Rocky Horror Picture Show. “There’s a light…” (film dialogue) was followed by the entire audience flicking their Bics. The Rocky Horror Picture Show has be the best science fiction/horror/musical film ever produced.

But that was decades ago. I don’t mind someone making a quiet, clever comment about a film in a theater but unfortunately, that is seldom the case anymore.

We very much enjoy a few series on TV. Who doesn’t love Dexter, the likeable and troubled serial killer? Or The Walking Dead? What is better than smashing a few zombies all the while dealing with some moral dilemma in your survivor group? Or watching Billy Bob Thorton do his weird thing in Fargo?

Q:. The hardest part of writing a book is …

Getting started. Once I’ve opened the correct file, the keyboard beg for a pounding. (My typing style is more touch pounding than touch typing.) I quickly enter a sort of Zen state and the words flow.

Unfortunately none of this happens until all other potential work is completed—dishes washed, Amazon Author Central checked for the eight time, every weed pulled from our garden, research completed on the most minor point in the story/chapter, and so on.

Q: ‘Writing is a mental disorder’. What say you?

Not at all. Reading what I write may be a sign of an unbalanced individual. But nonfiction writing is simply communicating something the writer believes is important to an audience.

I put a lot of myself into each story and book. I know sometimes it will be slammed for political reasons. Perhaps that’s a sign of some mental disorder.

On the other hand, this helps develop a thick skin and I’m pleased to say the majority of comments about my work have been positive.

Q:  How do you prevent from becoming old and decrepit like the rest of us?

I can’t do much about the old part, but I refuse to be decrepit.

Think of all the interesting looking places you pass on the road while traveling. The world’s best checker-playing chicken (there’s more than one, apparently). A national park you don’t have the time to explore. Deb and I used to say, “someday we will check out the chicken.” Well, with retirement, “someday” has arrived. No more passing up checker-playing chickens.

Deb and I love to play in the dirt and have become gardeners extraordinaire. Desert gardening is a challenge. Another outdoor activity is occasional target shooting. Gotta keep those self-defense skills sharp.

I love cats and dogs (we currently have two animal companions, Dave the Wonder Cat and Molly the cat) and regularly volunteer at PAWS (Providing Animals With Support)—a non-governmental rescue/shelter organization.

I devour books, especially mystery/thrillers and science fiction. I currently serve as the vice president of my local writers group.

I also still consider myself politically active.

And most days I find time to write.

Q:  ‘Why We Left the Left’? Why did you leave the Left?

I was a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party (SP) for more than a dozen years. Deb and I helped found the Santa Barbara SP Chapter in 1983. From the early 1980s to the mid-1990s I was intensely active in leftist causes. I was arrested for civil disobedience, a board member of the local tenants union, twice ran openly as a socialist for Santa Barbara City Council, revitalized a moribund Santa Barbara County Peace and Freedom Party, worked closely with the local Gay and Lesbian Resource Center, gave dozens of speeches promoting socialism, and organized public events, all while holding down a full-time job editing a political science journal.


Why We Left the Left cover, version 2 - USE
But by the mid-90s I became disenchanted with the Left.

Basically there are four characteristics of the Left that made it impossible to continue my affiliation:  (1) a lack of respect for and understanding of the concept of personal responsibility for one’s own actions, (2) habitual dishonesty, which undermines the democratic process, (3) a slavish adherence to “affirmative action” preferences, identity politics, and multicultural “diversity”, (4) and a strong intolerance for real diversity of ideas.

Lying about one’s principal political affiliation has a long tradition on the Left. There may have been justification for underground political work in Czarist Russia or 1980s El Salvador. But in 1980s America?

In the late 80s I twice ran for Santa Barbara City Council as a socialist. Keep in mind that this was the apogee of the Reagan-Bush years and I was running in Ronald Reagan’s adopted home town. As a member of the California Peace and Freedom Party and the Socialist Party, USA, I never had a hassle from the public for promoting socialism. I think my campaigns and other political work in our local socialist group greatly benefited from our directness about what we represented. I was treated with respect by moderates and conservatives and the local media. And I had many intense (yet civil) discussions with capitalists and other “running dogs”. The only real problem came from liberals who wanted me to say I was simply another “progressive” Democrat. I was not a Democrat and was not about to lie concerning my basic political affiliations, even though I surely would have received more votes if I did.  It would have been a betrayal of the public trust and my own values.

How can voters make an informed choice without all relevant knowledge?

Bottom line: any decent Marxist should also be some sort of libertarian. Marx’s vision included a withering away of the state and voluntary cooperation among free acting individuals and groups. What is more libertarian than that?

Q:  What can you tell us about your recent memoir?

I am part of a vast group known as the Baby Boomers (estimated at 75 million) who became politically active in the 1960s and 1970s. The sheer size of this human tsunami rolled through American society, fueling the Civil Rights, Gay Rights, and Women’s movements. We fought against war. The Baby Boomers also coincided with (caused?) loosening social mores, the sexual revolution, widespread recreational drug use, political correctness, identity politics, diminished personal responsibility, and excesses in many areas.

The 1960s mantra of “Challenge Authority” was the basis of my political activism and the title of my memoir. What exactly does “challenge authority” mean? More than disobeying your parents as a kid. Or calling the police “pigs.” Those are juvenile acts of rebellion. A key component is resisting the temptation to act impulsively. It’s okay to break certain rules. But know why the rule exists, and have a good reason for breaking them.

Challenge Authority ebook cover - 40%

I firmly believe challenging authority should involve nonviolent direct action.

Actively challenging the status quo has always been the first step in important societal change.

My life has been punctuated by episodes of challenging authority. In the early 1970s I battled The Draft. I was a conscientious objector willing to do non-military service. The Selective Service System disagreed.

Challenging the authority of my first wife’s parents by marrying their daughter was not such a good idea. They, and others, said it would not work. Damn, they were right!

There are many other aspects of this topic that I cover in my book. I hope that readers will check it out and am excited to hear their comments.

Q: Latest work in progress?

The local daily newspaper, The Spectrum, has published a hiking story of mine every month since May 2011. I’m compiling these stories together into a hiking book tentatively titled Hiking Southwest Utah and Adjacent Areas.

Q: On one of your hikes, you find a crumpled paper bag with a million dollars in it. You try to return it but no one will take it. Now what?

Since I don’t do drugs anymore (nothing is worse that the downside of a Bolivian marching powder binge), one can only play so much casino video poker, and Deb and I don’t need any expensive material goodies.

First, use a chunk of the money for a new facility for PAWS (Providing Animal With Support) where I volunteer.

Secondly, give some healthy donations to non-governmental organizations I support such as The Nature Conservancy and The Wildlife Federation.

Finally, provide the maximum legal contribution to two or three libertarian candidates who have a chance of winning.

Q:  Sorry, there was only a five dollar bill and some crumpled ones. Now what happens?

To hell with philanthropy. I’m off to Vegas!

Q: “Why We Left the Right?” Any plans for a follow-up to your collection of personal essays?

Nope. I came from the New Left and understand leftists pretty well.  Few leftists become libertarians, so a book on why they did so has value. Conservative/rightists becoming libertarians is pretty common. Once they understand that the state has no business in who marries whom, what you put in your body, and give up crony capitalism, they often make the shift.

Q: If you could only do one thing, what would it be?

Sounds like a question for a beauty pageant: “Max, if I could only do one thing I would bring about world pizza. Tee, hee, I mean world peace.”

But if I could do one thing I would magically (I am a very amateur magician) make everyone pay heed to Oliver Cromwell’s 1650 warning to the Church of Scotland:

“I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”

Cromwell’s advice might go a long way in creating world pizza/peace.

Tom, I want to thank you for taking this time to let us get to know you. And for being so dang macho.

Want to get into contact with Tom Garrison?

You can email him at: ‘tomgarrison98 at yahoo dot com’ (replace ‘at’ with ‘@’ and ‘dot’ with ‘.’ and strip spaces e.g. name@yahoo.com – this is to prevent spam engines)

OR check out Tom’s Facebook page.

 

 

Walk in a Rifleman’s boots … Riflemen (Book Review)

riflemen

‘Riflemen: On the Cutting Edge of World War II’ by Earl A. Reitan with a forward by Russell F. Weigley.

This fascinating account of one man’s service as a US Army infantryman (a ‘Rifleman’) in WW II Europe is a memoir that reads like a novel. The author, a retired history professor, documents his experiences meticulously with footnotes, communication transcripts and photographs but it’s the story of ordinary men slogging their way into Nazi Germany to defeat Hitler that truly captures the reader.

In RIFLEMEN the banal and bureaucratic rub shoulders with the horrors of war: fresh socks and showers delivered by truck once a week to troops in the field contrast trench foot and comrades suddenly vanishing with the blast of a mortar shell. Minesweeper tanks do a less thorough job when they aren’t supporting their own units, and men pay with their legs and lives. In one street battle, French armored units arrive, the soldiers half drunk, only to quickly leave when things turn ominous. The dual chain of command prevents anyone from telling them otherwise.

There are also tender moments: Riflemen deliberately saving scraps from their meals to give to hungry Italian children waiting on the edge of camp, a French-trained cook who whips up a gourmet meal using K-Rations for weary US infantrymen standing guard at a token roadblock where villagers not wishing to be stopped take the next street over. These details make RIFLEMEN as real as spending the night in a freezing foxhole while not far away US Army mail clerks read paperbacks in their cots by electric light. The author’s final brush with death is as ironic as fine fiction and, in his modest, factual recounting of the day-to-day service of an unsung hero, makes RIFLEMEN an excellent book for the casual reader and history buff alike.

¡viven los escritores!

Behind the Page – Author Tess Collins

tess_collinsBack in the old days, when all books were still printed on paper, I was fortunate enough to be a member of a writers’ workshop in Berkeley run by the infamous Jim Frey, who pulled zero punches when it came to manuscript critique. I, along with others, got ‘Freyed’ on more than one occasion and although it was painful and traumatic and I still wake up weeping from time to time, if I am a better writer today, much of it is due to Jim’s workshop and the enthusiasm of the other members who not only took their writing seriously and wrote well, but also gave excellent feedback.

One of those members is this month’s guest on Behind the Page.

While the rest of us were struggling to put in paragraph breaks and trying to cut the nine pages of description we thought essential to the beginning of every scene, Tess Collins was already publishing mysteries, writing plays and managing a theater in San Francisco. Plus she looked fabulous so you might have thought we all hated her. But she was just too nice and her feedback was top notch and thoughtful to boot.

Her latest novel – NOTOWN – has just won the ‘Crime Fiction and Regional’ categories in the Beverly Hills Book Awards.

Tess Collins, welcome to our humble forum.

  • Middlesboro, Kentucky … all the way to the People’s Republic of San Francisco?

I stopped in San Francisco thinking that a boyfriend would be following me out here, and we’d have a fantastical and charmed life living in the city by the bay. He never showed up, and for a while, I shivered, broken-hearted, on a street corner. His not showing up was the best thing that ever happened to me. I put all that angst to work in novels and such. The rest is history—or should I say her-story.

  •  A little bit country or a little bit Rock’n’Roll? I know you had a thing at one time for Davy Jones of the Monkees.

davyjonesOMG, I am out-ed! I not only thought I was going to marry Davy Jones, but also Mark Lindsay, Sajid Kahn, Bobby Sherman—the list goes on. Not sure how I would marry all of them, but somehow it was going to work out. Today, I am still single. Music—anything ballad, from Madonna to Garth Brooks. I think because ballads tell a story. Started with Billie Joe McAllister. What’d they throw off that that darn bridge anyway? And why’d he jump? Had my butt swaying in that southern fried kind of way. But the story questions nagged in my mind, maybe encouraged a storyteller’s perception.

  • The Slanted Door restaurant or Drive-Thru?

I’m big on popcorn and watching a movie. The trick is coconut oil and lots of pink salt. I’ve become a better cook as I’ve gotten older, and my perfect date is to make dinner together at home and watch the MMA fights. 

  • You work, write AND run BearCat Press, an Indie publishing company you founded. Are you just showing off?

BearCatPressLogofile(Web)Showing off—pfffff. If I want to show off, I put on a tight pair of jeans and sashay through a lobby of my hated enemies. I have a nice ass in my old age. But on to the stuff you really want to know about—I’d always thought I might like to start a small press when I retired. Something to keep the ole brain cells from deteriorating. I knew so many people that had good books molding on their computers, including me, and one day I woke up and said to meself, “What in piss’s name are you waiting for?”  So, even though I’m overworked, I added ‘starting a small press’ to the list of things to do that day. I try to keep it manageable by only doing a couple books now and then, but probably will grow the company once I retire from my day job. 

  • What made you realize you were a writer? When?

700dpiHOT-cover-NookCan’t say that I really think of myself as a writer as much as I do a storyteller. I come from a long line of kin who could sit out on the front porch and tell you the life story of every ancestor they ever had—the rousers, the lovers, the misunderstood, and the ambitious. No boring people in my ancestry! My mother tells me that when I was a toddler, I’d make up stories about being a fairy princess and that I had to protect my brother from an evil witch—a part she kindly played. When I was cornered, I put a magical circle around us so she couldn’t get us. I’ve always had an imagination.

  • Author(s) who inspire you? One who doesn’t?

Grimm’s fairytales, anything by Thomas Hardy, who inspired me as a young author; I think John Irving spins a good tale; Dennis Lehane gives his stories depth beyond the typical crime drama.  The BearCat authors are fantastic—Yves Fey, Richard Anderson, Beth Tashery Shannon; AND I was able to twist James N. Frey’s arm to give me a book of short stories that he did with his mentor Lester Gorn called ‘The Art of the Traditional Short Story’. I was so thrilled to be able to publish that book that I nearly fainted. While I don’t think it’s helpful to dish writers who you don’t get because let’s face it, writing is subjective and even the worse written novel in the world took a lot of work, I tend to put down any book that bores me in the first five chapters. 

tessIphone

  • What makes it worth eleven and a half US dollars to sit in a movie theater behind someone who is texting?

Geesh, you got me admitting all this stuff I’d never say out loud. I’ve watched the Harry Potter movies so many times I’ve got certain scenes memorized. Now, I’d never write anything like Harry Potter, maybe that’s why I like watching the movies. I don’t like to think too much when I watch a movie, maybe because I live so dangerously inside my head. So movies for me tend to be the ones that take me out of the mundane world and throw me in with hobbits and wizards and witches and all manner of magical creatures. I can stand some time in history too. I’m obsessed with the Tudors, the Rivers/Woodville family (that might have included a few witches on the mother’s side), and any time period that changed the tempo of the world. 

  • The hardest part of writing a novel is …  ?

The middle. Let’s face it, the middle sucks. I know A. I know Z. I just have to make sure getting to Z makes sense. Sometimes when the middle changes Z, the only thing you can do is bang your head against the nearest wall. Head bruises, that’s the hardest part of writing—the head bruises. 

  • ‘Writing is a mental disorder’ says one of my (and your) writing mentors (Jim Frey). What say you?

Jim Frey – “Writing is a mental disorder”.

I don’t know who said, “if you don’t have to write, then don’t,” but no truer words have ever been spoken. So many people have come up to me with their idea for a novel and they’ve never taken a writing class, but they’re really sure they can write a novel. Well, we all know the ending to that story. I spent eight years in James N. Frey’s workshops before my first novel was published, not to mention the mentorship with Kentucky Poets laureate, James Baker Hall and Gurney Norman; and classes with novelist and essayist, Ed McClanahan while in college. You have to more than want to be a writer, you have to know that storytelling is in your soul, and to not give expression to those tales will send you to hell faster than a newbie on the Hogwarts Express. Then, once you know that, you have to learn the craft of making a story work: how to plot a scene, raise a conflict, exploit an objective correlative.

  • Have you jumped to anything more than a conclusion?

If I’m stressed I like floating in an isolation tank. It takes away the sense of responsibility for that one hour. I keep trying to think of what I do for fun, and nothing is popping into my head. Mostly I feel like I’m just behind in writing all the books that are piling up on my ‘to do’ list. Finishing off my growing list of books is a responsibility I take seriously, even if it is pisses me off that I’m so far behind.

  • Your brush with greatness?

I got my photo taken once with Hugh Jackman—take that femme-enemies. See his arm around my shoulder? Jealous much?

TessCollinsHughJackman

Tess Collins and one of her fans

  • You’re a busy person. How do you find time to write? How much do you write?

I’m an organized alpha female. Need I say more. Sigh. Get out of my way.

  •  ‘Notown’? Like, why? Latest work in progress?

I grew up in a neighborhood called Noetown. It was known as the rough part of town. My granny, whom I lived with, slept with a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson under her pillow. Now growing up in a place like that, you know there were stories to tell. I knew I had to give voice to that place, and once the decision was made, Noetown spoke to me like a goddess telling her tale of the heroic and the tragic. NOTOWN is the first of a quartet of books that take place in Midnight Valley. I’m working on the second one now that I think will come out in 2015.

  • William Morris just bought BearCat Press for one million dollars. Now what?

Dude, I’m gonna sleep. Have to say the administrative work is more than I like to do, so a great company buying me out whom I know will support the BCP books the way they should be supported—that would be great! Gives me more time to write.  Here’s the thing—I often hear best-selling writers say they’d be destitute if they didn’t write because it’s the only thing they know how to do. I always think—losers.  I’m good at a lot of stuff, including operating businesses, adding numbers, keeping track of things. Not gonna scare me with a P&L. Hey, where’s my list of things to do?

  • Sorry, William Morris changed their mind but they did send you a ten dollar gift certificate because they felt bad. What happens next?

I call up Mr. Morris and say ‘thank you’ because my mother taught me to be polite when plotting vengeance.

  • The rest of us got old and married. Not you. Care to comment on that, even though it’s really none of our business?

NotownI guess if I really wanted to get married, I would have found a way to do it. I think at some point in my youth, I decided that I’d rather have a lot of lovers then one husband. As for “Old”—I prefer “Wise”. Women in my family don’t wrinkle, so as I age, I plan to be the wise crone whose magic you wished you had a piece of back in the day.

  • Ever wanted to just quit and watch TV and eat bonbons?

Quit, no, but I do watch TV between writing chapters. My current favorites are: Revenge, Once Upon a Time, The Good Wife, Justified, The Walking Dead and I’ve watched The Young and Restless and The Bold and the Beautiful for over thirty years. I watch a lot of TV between chapters. It’s a weakness, I know, but there are worse addictions.

  • If you could only do one thing, what would it be?

Live with snow leopards.

Tess, I and my many readers want to thank you for taking this time to let us get to know you better when you could have been accepting another book award, or opening a film studio or an orphanage.

Visit Tess Collins’ website.

¡viven los escritores!

-Check out last month’s guest: Indie Author Anne-Rae Vasquez

Be Kind – Don’t Rewind (or ‘Don’t go back to page 1 every time you edit your draft’)

keep-calm-and-edit-laterOK, so it’s an analogy that dates me. But in olden times, when you took your rental tapes[*] back to the video store[*], the clerk with the nose ring would get annoyed if you didn’t rewind them. That was because the next renter would have to rewind the VHS[*] tape and this could take several minutes and wear out his/her VCR[*]. Sometimes you were charged a five dollar fee if you didn’t rewind. Hence the phrase: Be Kind-Rewind.


([*]: younger readers may have to Google these terms.)


This rule happens to be the reverse when it comes to writing a long piece, however – particularly an early draft of a novel.

So you’ve got thirty gifted—but rough—pages and you’ve submitted them to your critique group. They love your quirky Southern novel with its ensemble cast but there are clarity errors (it’s a first draft). And they bring up stuff that simply doesn’t work. And they have a few suggestions for improvements. Great! With their feedback, you’ve even got a few new ideas of your own. So back you go to page 1, to get it all right before you move on. It makes sense. You need a good foundation[**].

Before you know it, revision becomes rewrite.
But you get it all down and resubmit to your workgroup. Or your friends. If you have any left.

And so it goes.

Six months later you find yourself still working your first thirty pages. You need to get them right. It’s important (and it is—eventually). But for some reason you never reach the end of the first draft. The members of your critique group display forced smiles when you resubmit.

What happens when you rewind you manuscript too often.

What happens when you ‘rewind’ your manuscript too often.

If this sounds familiar, you are in good company.

The risks of over-editing the beginning of an early draft are many:

1. You never get to page thirty-one. Or it takes you forever (and you end up changing the first thirty pages anyway, once you finally complete the drafts, now that you’ve driven the entire journey).

2. Your work suffers from workshop bloat. Each subsequent submission adds a layer of earnest explanation to your fiery prose and loses power with the reader, even trained readers like your stalwart writer friends.

3. Suggestions for improvement are sometimes not as valid as they could be as a result of seeing the work too often.

4. Key elements get left out because you cut them. But they are still locked in the minds of you and your critiquers. I had a pair of earrings in a work-in–progress that are essential to the plot yet they somehow disappeared from a scene and a new reader was confused. Previous readers had no issue–the earrings were still on camera because they had been seen before. They were in the first draft. But now they’re gone, thanks to my over-zealous rewriting.

5. The vibrancy fades. The Thrill is Gone, as BB King so bluntly put it. That’s because it suffocated due to premature over-editing, which sounds like something you might take little blue pills for. Remember that Southern novel? I was referring to a dear friend whose book opened with a terrific, wonderful, quirky scene set in a small town square. But there were a lot of characters and it was a little confusing. (It was a first draft.) But subsequent rapid edits without moving forward completely diminished this scene and it got chopped and buried in a lot of narrative that tried to clarify. The magic was gone, unbeknownst to the author.

“I honestly believe that the first draft—your instinctive, heartfelt product—is the best.” Lee Child said this, and he has sold a few (million) books. Make that tens of millions.

You MUST edit—like mad—eventually.

Under-edited books are the bane of the self-publishing world. IMO Indie authors must work even harder to combat the stigma of sloppy self-pubbers. As number two, we have to try harder.
James M. Cain said anyone who wasn’t prepared to rewrite a book fourteen times had no business writing it in the first place, but he was talking about an entire (i.e. completed) book. If the manuscript isn’t finished, don’t do it.

Don’t do it.

writers_blockSuggestions:

I view submissions like gold and try not to resubmit a section more than twice to my group, and twice only after a period of time has passed.

If you leave off at page thirty, start the next writing session on page twenty-nine (no earlier) and press on, until the draft is finished. If I have group feedback on earlier sections I leave myself a bullet list of notes before the offending section and forge ahead without any immediate revision until I am done and ready for the next draft.

Baby steps. In my other life I am a software engineer. People think I’m crazy when I say this but there are many similarities to writing a novel and writing a computer program. In software engineering there is the concept of ‘iterative development’, which boils down to ‘don’t try to do it all at once’. Write small improvements to the program with each successive iteration, making sure each ‘draft’ works until it all functions efficiently. Try to do it in one or two passes and most mortals will fail–or write a crappy program. I apply the same methodology to my fiction writing after my first drafts—(usually two). Sometimes I do temporal adjustment, getting all the dates and times in sync. Sometimes I just do dialog tags. A draft like that can take mere hours. Sometimes I flesh out a single character’s POV over a specific topic in a single draft and not bother with other themes or characters just yet. I do a lot of drafts but they feel manageable.

Be prepared to fail. Be prepared to write an entire novel that isn’t worth a second draft. I’ve done it, more than once, I’m sorry to say. But so have many successful authors. I once wrote a horror novel (I thought I wanted to write a horror novel and thought I could) but it simply didn’t work. It’s sitting somewhere on my hard drive collecting digital dust. But I don’t regret it (too much) and I didn’t spend a year on the first thirty pages. Henning Mankell said you have to write a lot of crap if you want to write something good. The Rolling Stones used to spend months in the studio just to come up with one three-minute gem. Be prepared to fail.

You’re not the first author to have the OCD early editing problem. The temptation to go back and revise is huge. It’s natural.

Back on p1 - again.

Back on P1 – again.

Page 31.

I finished my first draft first and P31 was a breeze.

“The first draft is just you telling yourself the story,” said Terry Pratchett. They made him a knight so I guess he knows what he’s talking about. There’s no need to get your story right for everyone until you tell it to yourself. That can take a draft. Or even two.


In the age of word processors it’s too easy to over-revise, and risk not finishing, or wind up with some brown sludge that doesn’t do anything for anyone. Shakespeare and Hemingway did not have the physical capability to rewrite that you and I do. I’m going to bet they probably didn’t keep going back to page one as often as we did because they didn’t have the technology. Seems like they didn’t need it.

¡viven los escritores!

** – not always – see my post first draft jitters and driving at night

Behind the Page – Interview with Author Anne-Rae Vasquez

This month I am beginning a new series called “Behind the Page” where I interview up-and-coming authors who deserve attention.

arv

Anne-Rae Vasquez is an Indie author and filmmaker from Vancouver, BC. She has published half a dozen books and novels which include YA fiction, poetry, web design and cooking. She wrote AND directed Almost a Turkish Soap Opera, which won a slew of Indie film awards. She also blogs, reviews books, cooks, raises a family and … well, you get the idea – she generally puts most people’s work schedules to shame. I had the pleasure to first make Anne-Rae’s acquaintance on fiverr.com when she graciously agreed to put together a very cool book trailer for my latest novel (which, if you feel so inclined, you can see here). When I suggested that perhaps she might not have charged me sufficiently for all the terrific work she did, she replied ‘Oh no, you paid me enough’. She obviously has talent to spare and is generous to a fault with her fellow Indie authors. Let’s find out more about Anne-Rae Vasquez.

1. What’s it like to live in a communist country?

Actually Canada is a democracy although the political structure is quite different than the United States. Canada has far too many political parties, which makes the election process somewhat ineffectual. We do have a government administered health care system but it is NOT free, with the exception, I think, of a handful of provinces.

Your question highlights what many people don’t understand: the differences between Communism, Socialism, and what-have-you, thus labeling all of this under Communism.

2. Beatles or Rolling Stones? Or is it more like Partridge Family vs. Monkees?

Beatles. Can’t believe you had to ask! Although for a brief period of my youth, I did have a thing for The Monkees, probably because they were on TV every day.

3. Almost a Turkish Soap Opera? You raised money to write and film this fascinating movie (which readers can watch on Anne-Rae’s site here), and filmed the dang thing yourself. You’re a ‘regular’ person, meaning you don’t own a film company and you work for a living and raise a family. What drove you to undertake such an effort?

Anne-Rae directing

Directing with a smile

I did not film “Almost a Turkish Soap Opera” by myself. I wrote the screenplay and directed but the production was handled by Joseph Khalil (Sababa Productions) and the wonderful cast and crew made the film something I’m proud of. I have been working behind the scenes in film production since high school and always dreamed of one day making and directing my own movie. The experience was a springboard to other creative projects.

4. Cupcakes or Cheetos?

Oatmeal chocolate chip, big top cupcakes. Love baking and eating them!

5. Doubt. Cristal. Resist. All are single word titles of yours that pack a punch. What’s in a title? How important is title to you as a writer? Do you agonize over them?

A good title that people can remember is essential. It needs to be catchy but also reflective of the story. It’s easier for people to search “Doubt” on Goodreads than “Doubting the Reality of It All”, don’t you think?

6. What made you realize you were a writer? And when?

I knew I was a writer in grade school, when my teacher asked the class to submit one paragraph to describe what we did on the weekend. I submitted a novella.

7. Author(s) who inspire you? One who doesn’t?

Anita Daimant, author of the “Red Tent” (a story told in the eyes of the women of Biblical times). Malka Marom, who wrote “Sulha” (which means “forgiveness” in both Hebrew and Arabic) and Khaled Hosseini (“The Kite Runner”). These writers craft culturally rich stories that show the reality of life from the perspective of people the mainstream media tends to ignore.

8. What makes it worth eleven dollars (US) for you to sit in a theater (theatre to you) with your shoes cemented to the floor with nacho cheese?

What doesn’t, you mean? ZERO movies in a theatre (theater:)). I prefer to watch at home on my 55″ flat screen TV with my family, eating popcorn I pop with real butter. Actually I’d rather watch an entire TV series in a marathon sitting, which you can do now. Stories told in an hour or two just don’t do anything for me anymore. There is so much more creativity in many TV shows these days and they are visually equal to what you’d see in the theatre.

9. The hardest part of writing a novel is … [fill in the blank]

Marketing it.

10. ‘Writing is a mental disorder’ says one of my writing mentors (Jim Frey). What say you?

Writing is where my nightmares and dreams find immortality.

11. Do you water ski much?

For me water and ski don’t mix. For fun and relaxation, I go on film shoots.

12. Social media? How important in promoting your work? How much is too much?

I actually hate promoting anything. I prefer to share with others as much as I can which is why I did the fiverr gig. My editor (who doubles as my promotional manager) advised me to raise money for Doubt via kickstarter but I balked at the idea of begging people to fund my book. So I decided to leverage my film making experience to assist others and finance projects that way. An author acquaintance paid over $700 for her book trailer! When I saw the video, I couldn’t believe it. It looked like a high school student put it together. My fiverr gig costs a fraction of what my friend could have paid and provides an affordable alternative for authors.

13. You’re a techie by day. It’s no coincidence how many successful Indie authors are technically savvy. How important is this? Or does your day job just get in the way of creative stuff, like watching cat videos?

Techie means I can produce all my own work from A to Z. I don’t need to outsource book formatting or worry about who is going to make my promo videos. I often create my own book covers and it means more power to me and less expense.

14. How do you find time to write? How much do you write?

I only have a few hours a week but still manage to write two to three chapters. Then I meet with my editor and we do a rewrite together. She’s a tough Latina and sometimes we butt heads. But in the end the process feels great – magical.
Doubt
15. ‘Doubt’ and the ‘Among Us’ series has just been picked up by Knopf Doubleday and you are now a multi-millionaire. What happens next?

I go and make a bunch of movies and at least one TV series, that’s what!

16. Sorry, I lied — trick question. But you have just won just *ten dollars* in a scratcher that you bought at a gas (petrol) station. What happens next?

I buy gas.

17. Most thrilling moment as a writer?

Every time a new fan writes a review. They don’t have to like everything about the book but knowing that they immersed themselves in my world and then took the time to write a review, well … that makes it worthwhile.

18. Least thrilling?

The final editing …

19. If you were put in charge of Canada, what’s the first thing you would change?

People in charge are frequently puppets of the rich and powerful. The world of politics is not a place I want to be.

20. I’m enjoying “Doubt”, even though I have to move my lips when I read. What inspired you to write a YA book about video gamers?

One day one of my kids came up and asked me: “Mom, why do you write books that we can’t read?” That’s when I decided to write a book that my kids could share with their friends. They all love playing video games. Personally I wondered about the benefits of being a gamer. Were there any? But after sitting with my kids and their friends and watching them play, I saw a LOT of skills that can be used for the greater good. Then I asked myself: could gamers save the world? And the answer was … well, you’ll just have to read the book.

Anne-Rae, I and my millions of readers want to thank you for taking this time to let us get to know you a little better when you could have been baking baklava.

Thank you for inviting me … I actually made some baklava this morning … enjoy! baklava

Rafflecopter Giveaway!

click to enter the rafflecopter giveaway


This month I’m participating in a promotional book giveaway with some excellent fellow authors …

If you like edgy YA fiction check it out – there are quite a few cool books to win (including mine!) and you’ll be helping feed my dog, who is (always) hungry.

So enter the giveaway and win a book! What could be easier? Besides doing nothing. But then you won’t win a book.

Check out these featured books …





plagueofangels


LETHAL DISPATCH



smokescreen


the exile


cristal


Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway …

Who was Maria Maggi? The long unsettled interment of Eva (Evita) Perón

Eva Perón travelled to Italy twice: once in life and once in death.

The first time was in 1947 when, as Argentina’s first lady, Eva Perón (Evita to much of the world) embarked on a European tour as ambassador for a country hoping to preserve goodwill and pave the way for badly needed foreign loans. Eva’s husband, the infamous General Juan Perón, was persona non grata in a post-war world reeling from fascism. But his wife had the celebrity status and glamor credentials of an international film star. Called the ‘Eleanor Roosevelt of Latin America’ she travelled with a separate DC3 just for her luggage.

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In Spain, plazas were mobbed as people fought to catch a glimpse of Eva waving magnanimously from balconies. She handed out coins to children in flower-strewn streets. On one occasion she removed the hood ornament from the limo she was riding in and gave it to a little boy. She snubbed the UK for a visit at the last minute when informed that the Royal family would have her to the palace for tea but not let her stay over. In Rome Pope Pius XII granted her a private audience.

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The world just couldn’t get enough of Evita in 1947.

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But no one saw Eva when she returned to Italy ten years later, as the fictitious Maria Maggi.

Maria was dead you see.

Maria Maggi’s body arrived in Milan on May 17, 1957, some five years after Eva’s death from cervical cancer in Buenos Aires. Escorted by a nun, the coffin was believed to contain the body of an Italian woman who had died in Argentina. “Maria Maggi” was buried in Lot 86, Garden 41, in Milan’s Monumentale Cemetery.

Upon her death in 1952, Eva Perón’s body attracted millions of mourners paying their respects, lining up for days to kiss the glass-topped coffin. After two weeks, authorities ended the public viewing and the Argentine government spent $100,000 (in 1952 dollars) and more than one year embalming Eva, pumping her full of chemicals and sealing her skin. Even in death, Eva commanded considerable respect.

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Post-Peronists lurking in the wings didn’t want that.

After General Juan Perón’s overthrow in 1955, Eva’s body disappeared from where it had been on display in her former office. It is generally believed that the new government couldn’t just get rid of Eva (this was Latin America after all, where death carries the utmost deference, even when it concerns one’s enemies) so the body was moved to Italy, where it would receive a proper burial but be well removed from any cult level worship. A ban was issued on Peronism.

In 1971 a man named Carlos Maggi submitted papers for the exhumation of Maria Maggi’s remains in Milan. Underneath the damaged plain wooden coffin was one of silver with a glass window revealing a preserved Eva Perón “so natural it looked like Evita was asleep”. “Carlos Maggi” escorted his “sister’s” remains to a house in Madrid owned by Juan Perón. The coffin was then sent on to Buenos Aires where Eva was finally laid to rest in the family tomb in La Recoleta Cemetery, reportedly the most exclusive neighborhood in South America.

Despite  claims that it was anti-Peronists who had initially moved Eva to Italy, one can’t help but wonder if Juan Perón, fearing the worst, had a hand in having his wife’s remains sent to Milan for safe-keeping, to be returned to Argentina when she could be securely interred forever. Although Perón was in exile until 1973, he spent much of his time in Spain. He was planning a return to power in Argentina, which he succeeded at in 1973. Did he play a part in returning Eva to what he would surely have considered her former rightful place among her people? Why were Eva’s remains brought to his house in Madrid prior to their departure back to Buenos Aires in 1971?

Today a steady stream of admirers continue to line up in La Recoleta to pay their respects to a woman born the humble, illegitimate daughter of a cattle rancher who, despite a controversial life, inspired millions, and would have been the first female president of Argentina.

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Want to learn more about Eva Perón? – check out my earlier post on her biography.

[Are you a reader of mysteries and thrillers? Check out my novel LETHAL DISPATCH – set in Buenos Aires.]

Winter’s Bone – Love and Meth – Book Review

Rae Dolly struggles to keep her family together after her father disappears, in the film adaptation of Winter's Bone.

Sixteen-year-old Rae Dolly is in a serious bind: her meth-dealing father has disappeared and missed an important court date. If Jessup Dolly isn’t located soon, then the family that Rae holds together through sheer will-power will lose their humble Ozark cabin. Although a mountain code binds the Dolly clan in some ways, a brutal undercurrent of reprisal makes it near impossible for Rae to learn the whereabouts of her father. There are some things people just don’t talk about in a community where speed has replaced moonshine as the economic engine and drug of choice. Rae’s father is one of them.

After sustaining a ferocious beating, Rae finally sways her criminal uncle Teardrop over to her side and the novel takes an even darker turn as we head into the mountains in the middle of winter to learn the truth about Rae’s father.

The plot of Winter’s Bone is straightforward and economic, with all the tension of a thriller, as Rae goes from one grim haunt to another asking questions no one wants to answer. In less than two hundred pages Daniel Woodrell’s rich yet gritty prose builds a momentum that is part suspense, part parable. The writing is stripped down and minimalist in places but also functions on a literary level, leaving powerful images rippling in the reader’s mind without getting in the way of Woodrell’s noir narrative. This is no run-of-the-mill page turner. The characters are tough but tender, sympathetic without being sentimental. Rae’s two little brothers and emotionally damaged mother are only two examples of people confined to a world who aren’t stereotypes.

If there’s any criticism of this book, it’s that the storyline is possibly too direct in places, almost predictable, like a mystery where the protagonist is taken through required confrontations and scenes, and readers of the genre might see this as somewhat underdeveloped. But the originality of the writing, authenticity of setting, and the story questions raised more than make up for that. In Winter’s Bone, less is more. Life is unforgiving in Rae’s world but love for family is just as strong, if not stronger.

Lethal Dispatch – Nine Days in the City of Fury

Nine Days in the City of Fury
When the soldiers shoot her father, a sixteen-year-old girl takes an oath – along with the name the rebels give her.

‘Inez’ avenges her father. Then she’s ready to move on.

But it’s not that simple. They say she can’t just walk away.

‘Inez’ has one final mission: to deliver a package to a mysterious contact in the City of Fury – Buenos Aires.

What can possibly go wrong?

Murder. Kidnapping. Betrayal.

Everything.
 

This all ages mystery/suspense/thriller takes the reader on a treacherous journey across a continent to the end of the world, with twists and turns to keep anyone guessing.  Read the first chapters at Amazon.

Waiting for the Man – Goodbye Lou Reed

lou-reedThis is my second post in a row dealing with the passing of one of my heroes. I must be getting to that age. But I remember when I first heard the Velvet Underground churning their way through ‘Waiting for the Man’, a song about scoring heroin on the streets of New York. Nothing romantic about it, just waiting for a dealer who was never early, always late, in a place where you didn’t belong. I loved the low-fi attack, the monotone vocal, the simple, chunking chords, the lack of a guitar solo. It was dark and powerful and refreshing because it was so counter to the psychedelic confection the record companies were putting out, the dishonest fluff we were listening to. While we thought we might be part of something that didn’t exist.

The Velvet Underground weren’t pretending at peace and love.

‘Waiting for the Man’ came right after ‘Sunday Morning’, a pretty, sad little song, on an album that dealt with drugs, taboo sexuality, loneliness, the other side of life. The Velvets had more than one way of saying the things our parents didn’t want us to hear. Their thumping dirges drove a battered poetry deep into our ears, words we would take with us until we found our own voices. More than hypnotic, the Velvets put into words the thoughts that were brewing in our heads. Even if we didn’t quite understand them at the time. And because we didn’t quite understand them.

Lou Reed was the voice we heard on that record, whose world-weary snarl emanated from the electroshock his parents subjected him to in order to ‘cure’ him of his bisexuality. Yes, there was Nico as well, channeling a damaged Marlene Dietrich, but the Velvet Underground was really about Lou Reed. He wrote almost all of that album, a lot of it when he was fifteen. He didn’t run scared like he was supposed to; he came back and yelled—well, droned—about how it was for a lot of kids in the 60s and 70s.

More than a few us of us went on our own dark journeys in those days. Some of us didn’t make it.

But Lou Reed made it. Long enough to put a stamp on our sullen rebellion.

Long enough to be called a survivor.

And don’t his songs stand the test of time?

Somewhere, right now, there’s a bunch of kids doing things they shouldn’t be doing and screwing things up royally, but they have a voice. They just don’t know it yet.

Maybe they’ll find it before it’s too late.

Like Lou Reed helped me find mine.

I suspect Lou Reed lived longer than he deserved to.

But he still seemed to leave too soon.

Maybe he just slipped off somewhere, and is waiting for the man.

Farewell Elmore

elmore

The man who pioneered the modern crime novel has passed on to that great Detroit in the sky.

Many good things are going to be said about Elmore Leonard in the days and weeks to come. And they’re all true.

So I’m just going to post a modest word of thanks to the author who influenced me the most. If I’m a better writer today, it’s in part because I discovered a copy of Killshot in a secondhand bookstore many years ago and was immediately carried away by the tough and tender prose and gritty, quirky, terrifying characters. Twenty years ago I didn’t know that fiction could be as original and literary as what Mr. Leonard made look so easy. His use of close third person is only one of his many masterful techniques in creating a world where the reader finds him or herself rooting for killers and drug dealers. Elmore Leonard once said that his bad guys get up in the morning, go to the closet, and decide what pants to wear.

When I was starting out, I had the very good luck to meet Elmore Leonard at a book signing. It was a Kidney Foundation thing that I’m sure he got roped into by his publisher and, unbelievably, no one else was lining up to talk to the man who brought us Hombre and Chili Palmer. They were all too busy hovering around Amy Tan (who has three kidneys as it turns out). So I got to spend a good twenty minutes chatting with ‘Dutch’ Leonard and, as banal as it sounds, he was the nicest guy. I told him, sheepishly (I’m sure he would have edited out the ‘sheepishly’) that I was writing a crime novel and looking for an agent. What advice did he have?

“Don’t send it out until you think it can be published as it stands,” I remember him saying.

Good advice.

I still have the book he signed for me that day, along with his other fine, funny, chilling works.

Here then, are ten rules for good writing from the Dostoevsky of Detroit. My favorite is to “leave out the parts readers tend to skip”. Follow any one of Elmore’s rules, or even a few, and watch your writing improve.

Farewell, Elmore.

elmoreleonard10rules

How to Write a Crappy Novel: 12 Rules

Too much ink has been spilled on how to write the great American novel. Let me show you how to write a crap one.

Here are twelve ways:

boredbookdog1. Descriptive passages (long). This is key. At least thirty percent of your novel should be pondering, descriptive prose. Details. Lovingly described. And remember—don’t tie your details to a telling character trait, like the evil prince’s amulet. Describe the trees outside the prince’s house for a paragraph (two is better) before he utters a word of dialog. Set the scene. Warm up those engines. Describe the engines. You are an artist. Weave that wandering tale. Forget what Elmore Leonard said about leaving out the parts people skip over. What did he know?  Long descriptive passages.

2. Open your novel with a character waking up. The best way to do this is to have your character wake up, describe everything he or she sees, then do a lot of reflecting, and then have another short descriptive passage. Especially if you’re writing a thriller. This way your readers can really get to know your character before anything happens. Then:

3. Backstory! Lots of backstory. Flashbacks. Flashbacks within flashbacks if you’re a pro. Do not trust your readers to pick things up on the fly. Is your novel about some man in the throes of alcoholism? Then, as a reader, I probably need to know where his parents went to school. And what they like to eat. Same if your protagonist is the first female astronaut about to take off on her maiden flight.

4. Cross Genres. One thing that keeps readers on their toes is when they’re never quite sure what kind of book they’re reading. Confining your novel to one genre won’t accomplish that. The crappiest novels have elements of mystery/paranormal/sci fi/literary/young adult/romance and vampires all thrown in. And erotica. And memoir, even if your memoir would put your mother to sleep. And more vampires.

boredbooktwo5. Growth. Don’t do it. Who wants to read about characters who change through adversity all the time? Or reach some epiphany by the end of the novel? Hasn’t that been done before? And please, don’t have minor character growth either, where characters display subtle levels of change from the beginning to the end of each scene.

6. Conflict. Another no-no. Ties in with Growth. Who wants a character in terrible trouble, on the brink of failure, only to have them in constant conflict with other characters too? It only creates tension. Lots of eating scenes where characters ruminate on mildly amusing anecdotes (backstory), with *description* are best. If you somehow do manage to accidentally slip some growth or conflict into your novel, under no circumstances have it escalate into a series of events where your protagonist must meet ever-increasing challenges to achieve their goal.

7. Don’t workshop your novel. Those amateurs who think they know how to write? Think they know what your novel needs? Just because it’s got description and backstory they don’t get, they have the audacity to suggest you might consider trimming it. Perhaps they don’t feel engaged by your 800 page memoir with vampires. Why are you showing them your work in the first place? Do you want your ideas stolen? I’m going to say it again because you need to tell readers the same thing multiple times: don’t workshop.

8. Use lots of colorful dialog tags. Forget the ‘he said/she said’ rule. Much better to treat the reader to ‘he interjected angrily’ or ‘she shouted demonstratively’.

9. Tell, don’t show. Why use a bunch of words to build up a scene, appealing to at least two senses at all times, where the character’s emotional state is revealed through action and situation? Much easier to simply say ‘Fred went to primary school when he was six’. Especially if Fred is the captain of a ship that is sinking.

pretentious - moi?10. Be cryptic. It’s not your job to hold the reader’s hand. They need to work for it. Art is never easy. You may not even be trying to tell the reader anything in the first place. The point is, it’s their responsibility to unearth the gem(s) in your description-laden prose. Great authors may not even ever know what their own novel is about. That’s just the way art works.

11. Vague protagonist. You know what your protagonist is thinking; if your readers are paying attention, so should they. No need to spell it out and spoil the magic.

12. Length. Since you are a great writer, the more the better. Lots of words. Lots! Who wants John Lennon for three minutes when you can have Yoko Ono screeching for an entire album side? See how long this piece is? I could have edited it down and made it shorter. But why? I’m an artist.

¡vivan los autores!

Argentina’s Stolen Ones – children of the disappeared

falcon_weapons It sounds like the plot from a thriller: babies stolen from women about to be executed, then given to childless couples.

But, unfortunately, it’s true.

After an epidemic of terrorism, Argentina’s dirty war began and a military junta ran the country from 1976-1983. And the junta did put a stop to much of the terrorism. People could now go back into downtown Buenos Aires without fearing bank explosions and kidnappings. But the generals in power didn’t stop there. To be on the safe side, they decided to clean house. If you were a leftist, knew a leftist, went to a party meeting in college, were a university teacher, had long hair, or someone gave up your name-often as a result of torture where fifteen names were required-then a government-issue Ford Falcon might just be waiting outside your front door on your birthday.

The National Intelligence System (SIDE) liked to arrest people on their birthday—another touch that might fare well in a late-night thriller.

The stories are too horrific to detail. They’re available for anyone who wants to do a search. But an organized network of garages and detention centers, right in the middle of Buenos Aires, one of the most modern, cosmopolitan cities in the world—the Paris of South America—swallowed up the desaparecidos (disappeared ones). While porteños went to see Saturday Night Fever or sipped cappuccinos, twenty to thirty thousand of their countrymen vanished. Of those that did return, most were silenced by systematic torture on an industrial scale.

If the arrestee was a young mother, there were plenty of childless military couples waiting for her soon-to-be orphaned child. And if she was pregnant, after a caesarian operation, she might be executed. Or allowed to live long enough to nurse the infant before it was given up. Then the mother might be given a sedative and taken for a late night flight over the Rio de la Plata. Where she and others were tossed out.

Argentina is finally coming to grips with this dark episode in their recent history. Today many of those responsible have been sentenced as the country moves forward.

Meanwhile an entire generation has had to come to terms with what their government did to them.

Before we smugly condemn what happened in Argentina we might look at ourselves. The United States and Argentina have much in common. We are very similar countries: made up of immigrants who cherish opportunity, a way of life, liberty. We both abhor terrorism. We share similar political frameworks. And we are also people who might let go of freedoms in order to reestablish order. Have we not already done some of that here? Who says we won’t do more-if pushed?

About five hundred Argentines are said to be “adopted” children of the disappeared ones. They are in their mid-thirties today.

Some don’t want to know their origins.

Who can blame them?


FYI: My latest novel – Lethal Dispatch – features Argentina’s stolen children as a theme.

To KDP or not KDP? That is the question …

kdp Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of no promotion …

When the Amazon KDP Select program first came out towards the end of 2011, people couldn’t say enough good things about it. Some authors were making a killing and getting their books widely read. It seemed that KDP Select was going to be the savior of indie authors everywhere.

Now, just over a year and a half later, things have changed.

For those who want to know the details of Amazon’s KDP Select program, please go here.

Basically, the way KDP Select works is that an author agrees to limit a Kindle ebook (print books do not apply) to Amazon for 90 days at a time.

In exchange for exclusivity, Amazon KDP Select provides the author with a couple of real advantages:

a) Paid borrows. You book becomes available for the Kindle Prime lending program. Kindle Prime members can borrow one title a month. If they borrow one of yours, you get paid, somewhere between 1-2 dollars. With my books priced around three bucks, I consider a borrow a sale. Not bad.

b) Promotions. This is the biggie—or used to be. For up to five days per 90 day period, you can promote by making your Kindle ebook free. The advantages of doing this are that your book is downloaded (hopefully) by thousands (possibly tens of thousands) of new readers and you will rise up the Amazon free lists, to have your book displayed alongside heavy hitters. Your book may also appear in the coveted ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought …’ section at the bottom of Amazon book listings. Although Amazon guards their algorithms closely, you are credited about 1/10 of a sale for each free download (as of this post). So, if you give away 5K books, that’s 500 sales, and you (hopefully) will enjoy a post-promotional sales bounce. This bump can last for several weeks after the promo, increasing visibility. Another benefit is that you are reaching new readers and some will write a (hopefully positive) review and, God willing, buy your other work.

The grim truth though is that, since its inception, the KDP Select program has become less effective as more authors use (abuse?) it and readers troll for free ebooks, leaving the paid ones on the digital shelf.

A little over a year ago, when I ran a two-day freebie for my thriller Sendero, I gave away over 7K copies and enjoyed a post-promo bounce of about 100 extra sales and borrows in the two weeks that followed. I also sold more paperbacks. For me this was a significant bump because my book was pushed well past the 100 sales mark (most indie authors sell less than 100 copies of their book) and these were new readers–not friends and family. Some of them were in the UK, a market I had not broken into. Pretty exciting for a new author.  Total strangers around the globe were reading and buying my book.

Now, just over a year later, a similar freebie for Sendero generated about half those numbers all around. BUT it did sell copies of my new book (Who Sings to the Dead). Having multiple books is considered key to using the KDP Select program effectively and I personally wouldn’t run a KDP promo without it. Running a promo with only one book in your arsenal may not be a smart strategy.

Today, on any given day, it is estimated that there are over 4K free ebooks available. There are websites dedicated to promoting them. If you want to run an effective promotion, you really need to advertise it. That costs money. With my last promo I didn’t break even with my advertising costs.

Also, very few freebie downloads actually get read. Empty Kindles are getting filled. The estimated number of reads is around 1 per cent. There may be a lot of truth that something for free is not highly valued.

And, as readers become accustomed to free ebooks, many simply wait for a promo and don’t buy. Like the Internet in general, we all expect free content.

If you’re a small indie author, it’s a tough call. Your book can languish, unnoticed, amongst the other two million (a number that is rapidly growing) ebooks on Amazon. In the big scheme of things, with all the millions of Kindles out there, a few thousand free books are nothing, especially if you are reaching new readers.

So, if your book isn’t moving, why not give it a push with KDP? If you do, and you’re a small indie author, best to expect modest results.

Things to consider if you are running your first KDP Select promo:

a) A promo that generates less than 5K downloads is believed to be ineffective with very little post-promo bounce. You may have to run yours for several days to achieve this.

b) Avoid running promos on the weekend and don’t have them finish on a Friday or on the weekend. I know, I thought people would be buying books on Saturdays and Sundays too, when they are relaxing and ready to read, but just the opposite appears to be the case. Readers tend to buy ebooks mid-week—when they’re at work! At lunchtime.

c) Run promos towards the end of the month. This will help Kindle Prime borrowers “see” your book at the beginning of the next month.

d) Important! If your ebook is listed for sale elsewhere, it needs to be taken down. This process can take a few weeks so, if you are planning a KDP promo, allow enough time to notify other etailers. I know one indie author whose promo flopped because she didn’t. She had already notified many sites that her book would be free on Amazon and it wasn’t. Ouch.

e) Don’t over-promote. If you run freebies too often, people won’t buy and will simply wait for the next promo.

f) Advertise: sites like KindeNationDaily and Bookbub (and there are many others) have promo ads you can take out. Without them, it can be tough to get the kind of traction you want.

g) Promote only one book (e.g. first in a series). If readers want to read your other work, they have to loosen the purse strings. Personally, I lean towards this.

h) Use a promo book. I have a collection of short stories I have run for free. Although this doesn’t generate a lot of free downloads, readers can sample my work and I do see sales and exposure on my other two books. If I were a supermarket, I would be loss-leading.

Another strategy, and one I’m going to use in future, is to feature a book at rare intervals for a promotional price of 99 cents. Although this will not generate the number of downloads a free promo will, each sale will be an actual sale and the book will go to a genuine reader.

Who knows what the next phase of indie book promotion will be? We are writing in a time of such rapid technological change that what was a hit a year ago is now collecting dust. But it’s not getting any easier getting your book noticed.

I forgot to mention the best sales strategy of all: write a great book that people want to read.

Good luck!

frustrated

 

¡viven los escritores!

indie to the core – Amber Alert the Movie

Indie to the core!

I don’t normally post movie reviews but this taut indie thriller is done with such verve and spirit, despite its low budget. Probably, in part, because of it’s low budget. It gets to break rules that big movies can’t. There is so much that an aspiring author can learn from a story like Amber Alert the Movie.

A resourceful villain confronts a reluctant pursuer.

A resourceful villain confronts a reluctant pursuer.

Director Kerry Bellessa makes expert use of a single handheld camera in this flick reminiscent of other movies in the ‘found footage’ mold such as Blair Witch Project (which would have benefited from a plot and a script), and the infamous Cannibal Holocaust, a ‘70s sexploitive gorefest that’s impossible to watch and still feel human.

Summer Bellessa (from the credits it appears a lot of the Bellessa family were involved in the making of this movie) is Samantha Green, the extremely annoying – initially – friend of Nate (Chris Hill). Their relentless bickering, as they set off with Samantha’s younger brother manning the video camera on an indie filmmaking project of their own, almost made me stop watching. But the squabbling soon turns serious when they spot a Honda that’s just been flagged in an Amber Alert. They follow at a safe distance. At first. While Nate constantly comes up with reasons to drop the chase, Samantha keeps pushing. This conflict escalates nicely in a gas station where we watch the mysterious Honda driver tank up. When he goes to the restroom, Samantha – despite Nate’s pleading – takes a look in the car and, lo and behold, there IS a little girl in the back. Samantha manages to slip a microphone in the locked car and we soon learn that the driver is not just some disgruntled ex returning his daughter a day late.

The stakes rise yet again when our group is stopped by the police.

Then we learn that the Amber Alert has been called off.

Called off?

What choice do our hunters have now except to follow the supposed pedophile to his house? And, when the cops fail to show up – AGAIN – go inside the house – themselves? It’s menacing AND inevitable – a great situation for your story to be in.

I found myself riveted to Amber Alert once I got past the beginning. The pacing is fast, and the acting is really quite good, in particular Chris Hill, who plays a sort of cherubic Mickey Dolenz (I’m showing my age here) who would rather put his arm around Samantha than hunt down dangerous perverts. The single handheld camera is not overused as it is in some movies of this ilk and doesn’t draw attention to itself. The low budget film-making actually enhances the movie, giving it a gritty, real feel. The ending knocked me out, along with the snippet of a pre-amber alert Nate and Samantha during the credits, taken from more ‘lost footage’. The storytelling is beautifully simple and just shows that you don’t need $100 million and a special-effects crew to pull off a nail-biting thriller.

Indie authors can learn a lot from a movie like Amber Alert: an uncomplicated, straight-forward, lean story with rising conflicts and stakes. There are sympathetic, but not sentimental, nuanced characters with opposing passions that constantly put them at odds with each other. There is a first-rate villain. A terrific ending that blindsides you (it did me, anyway), and overall, a story appropriate to the genre but also contrary to what a big budget flick might have done.

I think that’s important.

They say that the trick of genre writing is to stay within the genre but, at the same time, bring something fresh to it. Not easy, but key if you want to tell a story people will remember. And get noticed.

I hope to see more indie thrillers as good as this and look forward to more work from the crew who put together Amber Alert the Movie.

¡viven los indies!

first draft jitters and driving at night

panick

You put together a step sheet.

Perhaps you used tools to help organize your characters and plot [1].

You wrote key scenes to see if it flew. Maybe even a short story or two.

Researched.

You read: other works that did what you wanted to do. Authors who influence you.

You kept it fluid but did enough ‘real-time editing’ so it didn’t turn into some formless sprawl.

Even so, as you get to where the end of that first draft might be in sight, it all starts to feel, well, just a little bit daunting. And improbable. It’s gotten away from you. Then, in a moment of darkness, you think: what the hell am I doing?

What was I thinking?

That sense of story that you felt so strongly before, that you were so sure of, that instinct, is nowhere to be found. Gone.

Relax.

It’s all a part of the process.

Make a note in your manuscript and move on. (I use three asterisks *** and something like ‘Fred needs more nuancing’, ‘cut this scene?’), hit ‘ctrl-enter’ and keep going.

E L Doctorow said: “Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

And the second time around, you have a much better idea where you’re going. You can eliminate some of those unnecessary side trips. And run a few stop signs.

I’m a software developer by day and one of the modern rules of programming is ‘iteration’. Don’t try to do it all at once. Get something down that kind of does what you want it to. Then fix it. Or get rid of it. Or redo it. Then build upon it. Iterate. People think I’m crazy when I say that writing fiction is a lot like writing code but both have much in common. Both are creative processes. And both can be iterated until you have something that works.

“With every book, around two-thirds of the way through the first draft, absolute panic sets in.”

I would love to know the source of that quote. Sounds like another Doctorow. But Google failed me. It’s a great quote, all the same:

With every book, around two-thirds of the way through the first draft, absolute panic sets in.

That means I’m right on track.

If you’re jittery towards the end of that first draft, then you probably are as well.

¡viva los autores! 


[1] This time around I used yWriter5  – freeware that helps you flesh out characters, organize locations, scenes and details. People poo-poo these tools but I found it pretty nice to have quotes, songs and memories that apply to a particular character, their ‘below the iceberg’ info, right at hand. (back to post)

Publishers Weekly Select for Indie Authors? Save your money.

pw

My advice to Indie authors considering Publishers Weekly Select to promote their books:

Don’t bother.

Like most Indies, I am always on the lookout for effective, budget-conscious ways to reach readers. And bookstore owners. And agents.

So I took the bait and sent $149 to Publishers Weekly Select, the PW program exclusively for Indie publishers. According to their website, they are “just the kind of people who can take a book and make it a bestseller.”

Well, alright!

The way the program “works”:

“When you register, your book receives an announcement listing in PW Select–which is bound into issues of Publishers Weekly and appears online at publishersweekly.com. Every announcement listing includes bibliographic, marketing, and editorial information about your book–so you can promote it to booksellers, publishers, agents, and industry insiders. Additionally, every book listed in PW Select is automatically eligible for a review from Publishers Weekly. From the hundreds of books listed in each PW Select, approximately 25 percent are selected by our editors for a review. And, all authors registering with PW Select receive a six-month digital subscription to Publishers Weekly.”

That sounds great!

But, despite sending two copies of my latest book – Who Sings to the Dead – to their ‘reader’, I did not receive a review. OK, only 25% of submitters receive a review. I can live with that, although what I did get was pretty feeble. By the way, the review ratio, from eyeballing the magazine, is a lot less than 25%.

I didn’t even get my cover listed in the mag or on their web site. Most Indie submitters don’t get their covers listed. Not one little ragged jpeg. Just a sentence or two of listing information.

Not much for your money.

So what did I get?

An “announcement” that eerily resembled my own book blurb, but that had been run through PW’s Limited English Skills Translator and converted into some clunky language. They even added a typo. Free of charge. Here it is:

“Police fficer (sic) Nina Flores is hunting for a kidnapped Indian beggar girl in modern-day Peru. The suspected kidnapper resembles what locals call a ghost who hunts children. Or is this case connected to one 20 years earlier, during the country’s dirty war?”

That’s kind of awful.

I requested that PW fix the typo, at least. No response.

So I asked for a refund.

You can probably imagine what kind of response that got.

The same.

It’s pretty obvious no one at PW Select read the book. Or opened it. Or even copyedited their own blurb.

I’m supposed to forward this ‘listing’ to agents and bookstores. And industry insiders.

So I can be the next bestseller.

I would be ashamed to send this ‘announcement’ to anyone remotely interested in my book.

Which is OK as it’s near impossible to find the listing anyway.

As mentioned, this meager snippet is posted on PW’s website but good luck unearthing it, unless you know exactly what you’re looking for. None of their new release info is indexed to facilitate search. Searching on my book title returns nothing. Searching my name returns all of the ‘listings’. From there on you have to dig. Makes it a little hard to forward to those industry insiders.

The ‘bound’ issue of Publisher’s Weekly that included my announcement (along with 202 other hopefuls) was published in the April 2013 issue, in a skimpy magazine that resembles the kind of thing you toss out with the ads in your Sunday newspaper. And good luck finding your listing there too. Kind of like the classified ads but wedged together into one article. Or whatever it is. With typos.

So far, no calls from New York agents.

Or industry insiders.

Why am I not surprised?

I fell for it. Buyer beware.

Publishers Weekly used to have a good rep.

What I have received, however, are unsolicited phone calls and emails from various book promotional web sites and services (that no one has ever heard of) offering me even more services. For a fee.

OK,  what else can you, the Indie author, get out of my PW Select experience?

If you have $149 to promote your book here are two suggestions:

1. Sign up for Goodreads (if you are not already a member) and use the $149 to purchase copies of your book and send them to winners after you enroll your book in a Goodreads giveaway. You’ll probably get a few reviews out of it. I did. And some nice connections with readers.

2. Buy gift copies of your ebook and send to readers/friends/potential reviewers. This will also provide you a small ‘sales’ bump if done in a short period of time.

¡viva los escritores!

Evita: The Real Life of Eva Peron – with an emphasis on ‘Real’

Evita: The Real Life of Eva Perón – Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro

Eva Peron

If you have any interest whatsoever in one of the most famous Argentines – make that women – who ever lived, then this book is highly recommended. In less than 200 pages authors Nicholas Fraser and Marysa Navarro sum up the life of a complex person driven to greatness despite her humble birth. At the same time they provide a succinct history of twentieth century Argentina.

But beware, myths are dispelled.

The young starlet

The young starlet

If, like millions, you held flawless visions of Eva Perón (née Duarte), the illegitimate daughter of a rancher left high and dry with her mother and siblings in a dusty rural cattle town, who went on to champion the rights of her fellow underprivileged and downtrodden Argentines, then you might just be disillusioned at the corruption and egotism that also marked much of her life.

And if, like many others, you believe that Evita was little more than a stylish fascist, a shill for her husband, the infamous General Perón, pioneer of the Argentine police state of later years, and was obsessed only with bars of gold, French gowns and adulation, then you will probably be disappointed as well.

Eva and the general

Eva and the general

Because Eva Perón’s short life, before she died at thirty-three after a lengthy battle with ovarian cancer (ironically the same illness that would strike down Juan Perón’s first wife), was one of contradictions, demonstrated by grand gestures in the Latin style (she proposed a monument the size of a building to her beloved decamisados – the ‘shirtless’ workers who brought the Peróns to power), as well as tireless efforts to reach out to the poor, whom she never lost touch with. The Eva Perón Foundation, a massive charity not without its share of fraud and politicking, handed out countless fifty peso notes to anyone who lined up outside Eva’s office, and built state-of-the-art clinics and hospitals still in use today.

She organized the Female Peronist Party and raised political awareness for Argentine women. She was instrumental in getting them the right to vote – an effort that would help her husband win a crucial election, despite his many enemies.

Female Peronists

Winning over Female Peronists

Not bad for a woman who escaped a windblown cow town with a cardboard suitcase and embarked on an acting career as a fifteen year old in 1930s Buenos Aires. Falling prey to more than one man willing to exploit her, in one instance Eva was publicly humiliated by an industry insider outside his office after she slept with him in the hopes of getting a part in a play. She didn’t get the part. And rumors of her more sordid activities to get by abound. But she kept acting. And she got better, becoming the highest paid radio actress at a time when radio was king in Argentina, and meeting the influential Juan Perón at a charity function. Even as a young starlet bent on fame she showed fervent support for charities.

Foundation Eva

Foundation Eva

Becoming his mistress, the strong-willed Evita became Sra. Perón, when the public demanded respectability. And she was arguably his better half, bringing a new look to the outdated uniforms and stiff-armed style of the classic Latin American dictator and crafting an image that would serve him well. Juan Perón soon donned Italian suits and a softer bearing as Eva became his front ‘man’, winning over a postwar world no longer enamored with fascists. After WWII, when Juan Perón became persona non grata, it was Evita who travelled to Spain, Italy and the rest of the Europe (but shunning the UK when the Queen would not personally meet with her), spreading the kind of PR reserved for American movie stars and paving the way for Argentina to secure badly needed loans. All the while handing out coins and bills to the poor. She was called the ‘South American Eleanor Roosevelt’ only Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t travel with a separate DC3 for her luggage. Or have 25,000 well-wishers standing outside her hospital for close to a year, or a million and a half citizens trooping in from every part of the country to show their respect as death approached.

The letters back and forth from Eva to her husband during the European trip were the stuff of romance. She clearly loved the man who arrested and imprisoned his enemies and who allegedly had a predilection for young girls—warts and all.

Dior Eva

Dior Eva

She delivered the ‘shirtless ones’, the workers who were the backbone of the Peronist Party, with huge, dramatically-staged gatherings that preceded the 1946 elections and saved her husband from defeat. And again in 1951, now bringing along half a million female votes as well, in the new age of women’s suffrage, despite being unable to stand (and often unable to speak), afflicted with the cancer that would take her life in 1952.

They couldn't take their eyes off of her

They couldn’t take their eyes off of her

Contradictions: the woman who hosted Argentina’s politicos and her husband’s powerful associates at their home in her pajamas when she couldn’t be bothered to put on one of her many ‘scandalous’ gowns, who would offer to ‘open a few tins’ if they suggested dinner, was the same woman who worked tirelessly at her foundation all day, every day, until she was confined to a hospital bed.

And once Eva was gone, in spite of being embalmed in a glass-topped coffin that millions of followers would file by and reverently touch, Juan Perón’s magic too vanished. By 1955 he was exiled in a military coup after his country fell into financial ruin. Coincidence perhaps, but Perón’s enemies understood the power of Eva’s ghoulishly preserved eighty pound corpse, and went to great lengths to conceal it after her husband’s fall. That’s another story, of how Eva’s body was rediscovered many years later in a grave in Milan under the name ‘Maria Maggi’. Her enemies needed to get rid of her image but were afraid of destroying her body. She held that much power — even in death.

Embalming Eva

Embalming Eva

Had she lived, Eva Perón would have eventually been elected President of Argentina. She had already been put forward for vice president at a time when women went to the beauty parlor.

Lining up to pay their respects

Lining up to pay their respects

Eva was brought back from Italy to Argentina to lie in state in the Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires (called the most exclusive neighborhood in Latin America). Anyone visiting today will continue to see a line of people at her crypt.

The cult of Eva? Without a doubt. But an Argentine associate of mine tells me of his parents, who read Eva’s inspirational quotes in their school textbooks as children, and still feel a sense of pride in the woman who put their country on the twentieth century world map.

How many women who once lived in a single room with their mother and four siblings, who worked as a child in the kitchens of the estancias, helping their family scrape by, end up being played by Madonna in films named after them?

The woman every Argentine knows

The woman every Argentine knows

[Are you a reader of mysteries and thrillers? Check out my novel LETHAL DISPATCH – set in Buenos Aires.]

Big Oil, Little Amazon

Sunset in the Amazon

Sunset in the Amazon – Yasuni National Park, Ecuador

Oil companies have recently discovered more than 900 million barrels of crude oil under this pristine rainforest.

If this post makes me sound like a San Francisco tree hugger, I can live with it. It’s not just that my tourist sensibilities were disturbed by reminders that we live in a world dependent on oil on a recent trip to Ecuador where I wanted to observe exotic animals and lush tropical rainforest and not the encroachment of big oil. It’s that, with a little more care, things don’t have to be the way they are.

Because, if big oil isn’t checked, another kind of sunset is coming for the Amazon.

ecuador_2012 026

I was more than dismayed to witness the ongoing devastation caused by oil exploration in one of the last primeval areas of rainforest that once covered much of a continent.

Not even capped, natural gas from oil drilling is simply left to burn off. This flare, along the Napo River, has been burning for eight YEARS. Millions of insects perish every night, drawn to flames like these, of which there are many, impacting the delicate balance of the rainforest.

Where to start? Open natural gas flares? The illegal hunting of monkeys and other endangered animals to feed the tastes of imported oil workers flush with cash? Illegal logging? Or the legal oil road cutting a swath through once-unspoiled jungle and spreading erosion and internal combustion where they have no business being?

I know I’m not the first to point out environmental threats to the Amazon. And others have said it much better. But if you’ve been to the Amazon then you know how beautiful and stunning the jungle is—what’s left of it.

oil_barge

The view as you head upriver – oil trucks on their way deep into the Amazon. Jobs for the boys—and gas at a buck and a half a gallon in Ecuador. Diesel around a dollar.

Bus rides are dirt cheap in Ecuador – in Quito about one US quarter, a couple of dollars from Quito to the mountain town of Otavalo. So everyone benefits from big oil — in the short term.

Ecuador-rainforest-Chevro-007

Just one example of the devastation in Ecuador’s rainforest. Chevron alone has dumped 50 times more oil in the Amazon than the entire BP spillage in the Gulf of Mexico. Fifty times. Damage from 1993 still hasn’t been cleaned up, despite court orders.

One solution prompted by Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is that the developed world contribute 3.6 billion dollars to invest in clean energy for Ecuador and “keep the Yasuni’s oil in the soil.”

Unfortunately, that amount is only up to a few hundred million dollars at this time.

So it’s really up to us.

Right, I hear you say – what exactly are you doing about this — besides blogging?

Good question. I patronized one of the jungle lodges in Yasuni National Park, where local tribes are employed and supported by eco-tourism. At Napo, where I stayed, the Kichwa observe strict rules: no hunting, no motor-powered boats, use of green detergents etc. Everything is paddled in and out by canoe. You’re not going to find anything resembling that kind of restraint a few miles downriver in the oil boom town of Coca. Quite the opposite. This was my second trip to the Amazon, another trip of a lifetime, but this time an eye-opener as to how fast these precious lands are disappearing. If you can afford to go, it’s still the most enjoyable way to support preservation of the Amazon rainforest. You won’t regret it.

Back home: use less energy. We all know what we need to do. Our household just bought a hybrid. If you watch South Park, you know San Franciscans live in a cloud of Smug anyway.

I signed a petition to let Ecuador’s President Correa know that I, along with many others, want to ‘keep the Yasuni’s oil in the soil’. Correa is not a bad guy, considering what it means to take on Big Oil in a country dependent on its production—politicians who try are frequently ousted. But oil revenues are a quarter of Ecuador’s GNP so he’s under serious pressure to let Big Oil have their way. The more of us he hears from, the more he knows what the Amazon means to us. You can sign the petition too. Some of it’s in Spanish but trust me, it gets the message across: Email President Correa

I decided to support the http://www.greengrants.org/ who will humbly accept your tax deductible donations to preserve the Yasuni National Park and other endangered places around the globe. A few bucks goes a long, long way.

Maybe we can all live in a cloud of Smug.

ecuador_2012 022 ecuador_2012 050 DSC00284

RIP Wild Thing

Farewell Reg Presley (born Reginald Maurice Ball), former lead singer of the Troggs (Andover’s finest) who left us on February 4th of this year.

A down-to-earth man in many ways, Mr. Presley – married to the same woman for 49 years – returned to laying bricks when the Troggs fell out of the music charts decades back. When one of his songs – Love Is All Around – won three Ivor Novello awards after being featured in the 1994 movie Four Weddings and a Funeral, Reg did the only sensible thing and spent much of his newfound wealth on one of his many passions: UFO and crop circle research.

So it’s goodbye to the man who watched the skies above for visitors from afar, who had the artistic foresight to add the oddball ocarina solo to the world’s most famous garage anthem – the song that defined garage anthems – that gave early punk the green light – and launched hundreds of cover versions.

RIP WILD THING. My ears are still ringing …

This flash fiction piece is dedicated to Reg Presley.

Peru’s Defensoras

In 1999, a handful of Quechua-speaking women in Cusco, Peru banded together to support victims of domestic violence and those in dire need. Las Defensoras (defenders) handled complaints of domestic abuse and sexual harassment, offered counseling, helped file legal paperwork, and sought out whatever assistance was available for those living in extreme poverty. Most of the victims were (and continue to be) poor indigenous women and children trapped in the pueblos jóvenes (shantytowns) around the city. It is here that the defensoras do battle on a daily basis, walking the dirt streets the tourists never see.

 

Prior to 2000 it was estimated that a third of Cusco’s residents lived in the slums and that up to 70% of the female Quechua population were sufferers of domestic abuse who never came forward. Many simply did not know they had the option.

at work in Cusco's pueblos jovenes (shantytowns)

At work in the pueblos jovenes (shantytowns) of Cusco

Today, Peru’s Defensorías Comunitarias (community defense) number over 35,000 women who have grown their volunteer organization to a national level. These remarkable ladies continue to provide a first line of defense, reaching out to those who do not yet know how to take that initial step in controlling their own lives.

 

first line of defense

Women of distinction

SENDERO nominated one of the top 100 Indie books by Kirkus Reviews for 2012

I am pleased to announce that SENDERO has been nominated as one of the top 100 Indie books by Kirkus Reviews for 2012.

You can find the review here. Sendero is third row from the bottom, on the right.

The Shining Path – Then and Now

“What a frightening thirst for vengeance devours me.”  Osmán Morote (Comrade Nicolas)

Abimael Guzmán dressed as he was when paraded through the streets of Lima in 1992

During the 80s, after an unknown philosophy professor by the name of Abimael Guzmán founded the Shining Path (“Marxism–Leninism is the shining path of the future”), there was a period when it seemed that the Maoist revolutionary movement might well take control of Peru.Inflation was rampant, as was corruption, and the indigenous Quechua population, along with many demoralized Peruvians, were more than ready for change.

But at what price?

Somehow Chairman Gonzalo (one of Guzman’s noms de guerre) was able to take that deep discontent and turn it into a full-fledged insurgency that lasted twelve years and killed, by modest estimates, 30,000 Peruvians. (Some estimates go as high as 70,000.)


The Cult of Shining Path

The Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) were matched only by their Cambodian counterparts The Khmer Rouge for creative brutality and out-and-out atrocities. Stories of dogs hanging from lampposts in Lima, beheadings for civilian infractions such as adultery, and random bombings with explosives strapped to farm animals only touch upon what the Senderitsas were capable of.

Cult-like activities including free love (but absolutely not ‘love’) and members taking oaths (the cuota) agreeing to their own death once they had killed their share of soldiers and capitalists, only helped raise the Shining Path to a level of notoriety well above your average South American revolutionary group.

Bear in mind that Peruvian government forces battling the insurgents weren’t much better. Accounts of disparados (disappeared ones), political prisons, torture and the wholesale attack on the Quechua people in the Red Zone of the Andes are abundant and many Peruvians regarded the Shining Path as Robin Hoods in ski masks.

Somehow the Peruvian people lived through it all and on September 12, 1992, Abimael Guzmán, a man few people had ever actually seen, was arrested in a Shining Path safe house in Lima. And thus began the decline of the Shining Path.

President Alberto Fujimori (currently in prison for human rights abuses and bribery scandals) was given much of the credit for ending the dirty war. Many Peruvians are willing to forgive the methods he used.

Ironically both men on either side of the struggle are still in prison today.

 

In recent years the Shining Path’s numbers have dwindled to 100-300. The odd military-style attack has been carried out against soldiers and political leaders but the main effort has been to provide security for Peru’s drug cartels. It is said that a five percent fee is charged for ‘protecting’ cocaine shipments through the Huallaga Valley, where half the world’s cocaine comes from.

 

Last December Comrade Artemio, one of the last infamous old school terrucos, said the Shining Path were defeated. He requested the Peruvian government grant amnesty to imprisoned members and open talks with the remaining holdouts.

 

But on February 12 of this year Comrade Artemio was captured in a jungle basecamp. After two bullets were removed from his stomach, he too, is in prison.

So, finally—the end of the Shining Path?

Unfortunately, not yet. Just last April, Shining Path rebel leader Martin Palomino (Comrade Gabriel) took responsibility for the kidnapping of three dozen natural gas workers in the coca growing region.

The workers were ultimately set free but only after six soldiers were killed in a shootout.

On the Block! No reading required – listen to my interview on Writer’s Block …

Listen to my interview with Writer’s Block critic extraordinaire Jason Stewart as we delve into topics literary and more: Sendero, Peru, The Drug Trade and its Consequences, Influences, Making it Real, Craft and, as I just said, more …  Jason has a real gift for organizing questions and material and making what we writers do actually sound interesting.

What are you wearing? Getting the details right

This post was inspired by Emily Wheeler’s post on dreaming about her characters.  (See Emily’s tea leaves)

They say that if your characters talk to you in dreams, you are doing something great. I’m lucky to have had that happen once or twice.

omg

But I usually have to start off on the physical. One of my protagonists is a Peruvian woman in her mid-thirties, lower economic bracket. Being male, I have to do extra homework to get her right.

A book club had me as a guest once and loved my first book but one woman wanted to know what kind of shoes Nina wore. What? She wears boots with her uniform, sneakers when she is solving crimes and pumps if going out. Yes, but what kind of shoes? I was caught off-guard.

Never again.

So now I start off scenes (internally) with a checklist. Most of the details won’t make it to the final draft (most of them, in fact) but I know they are there. It helps center  my character. Tip of the iceberg is what I show.

What is she wearing? How has she done her hair? In a ponytail because she is running a quick errand and it’s windy? What kind of shoes is she wearing? What brand? How many pairs does she own? No more than a few pair. One good pair of black heels to wear on special occasions. She keeps them in the box and wipes them off when she puts them away. Can she afford nail polish? What does she think of nail polish? Jeans? What kind of jeans would she wear if money were no object? Does she have an opinion on spending a fortune on jeans when a third of her country goes hungry?

I thought I was doing this but I wasn’t doing it enough.

The physical leads to the psychological.

Lipstick? The lipstick question got me on a Google search of Peruvian department stores.  No, I’m not weird. Well, not too much. I settled for a brand of lipstick a woman Nina’s age on a budget like hers might think was OK without being cheap or flashy. But she is Latina with a sense of style North American women might not share. All of this helps me get into her head. Physical leads to psychological.

I find the physical is a great place to start.  Elmore Leonard once said his criminals go to the closet every morning and ponder what pants to put on.

¡viven los escritores!

Reviewgate: Book Reviews for Sale and What it Really Means

You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

A recent article in the New York Times brought to light the process of buying reviews to promote books online. I’m not going to mention the author’s name because he doesn’t need any more publicity. But as an Indie author struggling for attention, it disgusts me that some authors game the system and cheapen the review process by buying fake reviews.

But it’s not the end of the world.

What bothers me about the article is the implication that somehow this is a symptom of Indie publishing. I suspect reviewers for hire have been around a lot longer than the Indie publishing boom. The New York Times has been remarkably slow in picking up on the Indie/eBook trend and like many established gatekeepers of the publishing industry shun Indie books, many of which are eBooks. Does the NYT have an ax to grind? Maybe they don’t want to lose their exulted status as key book reviewers.

A book with many good reviews will attract eyeballs (and search engines) but ultimately an author still has to write a good book. And as more than one person has said, a book with too many good reviews looks like a plant. Lipstick on a pig. As a reader, I can spot a fake review from a genuine one. I won’t buy a book that has shills promoting it. And if I buy a book simply because a bunch of strangers are talking it up, what does that make me?

Buyers have the option to preview an eBook first or return a book that doesn’t satisfy.

There are other ways to sway you into book-buying: web ads, promotions, ‘blog tours’, Twitter, Facebook. As savvy consumers, we know that. Do I buy a product simply because a celebrity endorses it? If I do, shame on me. It’s the American way to oversell. Don’t we almost expect it?

It’s called Buyer Beware.

It means that you have to use your own brain and not someone else’s to decide if a book is any good.

It has always been that way really.

Out by the Trees – Short Dark Fiction – Cover preview

The cover for my upcoming collection of short dark fiction: Out by The Trees.

…due out on Kindle in September ’12.

Out by the Trees - Short Dark Fiction

Out by the Trees – Short Dark Fiction

 

Shining Path: Then and Now

Check out this brief history of Peru’s infamous Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) in my guest post on Murder is Everywhere

Hunger Games (Book Review)

What more can be said about a book that has close to 100,000 reviews on Goodreads?

The book that spawned a genre?

The book that spawned a genre?

Over 900,000 readers have rated The Hunger Games an average of 4.5 stars. They say that 5 star reviews are from the author’s friends and family in which case Suzanne Collins must have a lot of friends or a very large family. But the ratings are high for good reason: the story of an apocalyptic future in which teenagers are selected through a national lottery to battle others to the death is believable and compelling.

The first act of the book is the strongest, with characters who have depth and are very well nuanced as they navigate their daily lives to forage, hunt and trade for food in a police state that is the America of the future. It’s here that we are introduced to Katniss Everdeen of District 12 (‘The Seam’), the coal producing region. The irony of her being ‘chosen’ to play in the Hunger Games is a good twist in a book full of twists. Peeta, her male counterpart who works in his father’s bakery, is a nice kid when you get right down to it and has always had a soft spot for Katniss. Or does he? Remember—only one can survive the Hunger Games.

The theme of how one communicates and carries oneself in a world where no one can really trust another and love is manufactured is very well done and possibly one of the reasons this book appeals as it does to young adults. I found the relationship between Katniss and Peeta dynamic, full of tension and tenderness.

The book is not without its faults however. The second act, dealing with the games themselves—the heart of the story—is often told through long narrative passages in which the pace tends to sag. Many key events are taken off camera and the reader has to work at remembering the many contestants who were briefly introduced. At times the action writing tends toward the generic and lacks the wonderful detail seen in the first act. This is a surprise when you consider that this is primarily an action story. But wait, there is another twist. Just as we think we know how it’s going to end we are turned around.

All in all, this is a very satisfying book that sets the standard in a crowded genre. The Hunger Games won’t disappoint readers of any age.

may the odds be forever in your favor

Viven los escritores!

Did you like Hunger Games? You might like my YA Thriller: LETHAL DISPATCH.

Heart of Protest Runs Deep in Peru

Recent protests in Peru’s northern Cajamarca region over the development of the $5 billion Conga gold mining project have left three people dead and more than twenty wounded.

Despite police and military backlashes, and jeopardizing badly-needed jobs, protests are common in a country where mining is a major economic force.

Peru’s mining history is plagued with environmental wreckage, more than a few examples under the supervision of US mining companies. In 2009, the highland city of La Oroya was listed as one of the world’s ten most polluted places. Over 35,000 people were forced to breathe toxic waste from Missouri-based Doe Run’s smokestacks and drink lead-laced water from its smelting operations. Doe Run pleaded financial insolvency and had to be bailed out by Peruvian banks, despite having posted record profits only a few years earlier.

La Oroya After Doe Run

La Oroya after Doe Run

But the size of Doe Run’s operations pale in comparison to the Conga mine project, a joint venture involving US based Newmont Mining Corp, which will be the largest investment EVER in Peru.

Leading German environmental engineer Reinhard Seifert has called the Conga mine project an ‘environmental disaster’.

Peruvians are not shy to stand up and take to the streets when they see a threat to their environment and way of life—even with the economic and physical risks involved.

They should be commended for this.

Attention budding book reviewers: SENDERO needs your deep insights

Call for reviews:

Want to be a big shot book reviewer? Here’s your chance to embark on a potentially non-lucrative career:

Have you read SENDERO? Hopefully you enjoyed it…

If so, please consider leaving a review on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006466CCE

It doesn’t have to be a book report; a couple of sentences work perfectly.

And while you’re there, please ‘like’ the book.

You can even ‘like’ the author!

If you’re feeling ambitious, leave the same review on goodreads.

These reviews really do help sell books and get an author noticed.

viven los escritores!

 

Quiet Lightning – War on words with words! 07/02/12 at 7:30

Quiet Lightning’s next literary extravaganza in San Francisco: next Monday 7/2 @ 7:30. If you live in the Bay Area drop by and hear some cool, edgy and fun stuff.  Oh yeah, I’ll be reading a new short story as well. Hope to see you there.

How to Critique Your Early Novel Draft Without Reading It

“There’s too much description, not enough conflict and your protagonist is vague.”

As authors, we are all guilty…

Kill your darlings!

This week I am channeling Jim Frey, writing mentor and friend (not to be confused with the James Frey of Oprah fame). If my work has any of the ingredients required of a damn good novel (a Jim Frey term) i.e. conflict, drama, plot, then it is because Jim kindly showed me the error of my ways when I turned out page after page of over-descriptive, confusing, navel-contemplating prose  (which I, of course, knew to be brilliant at the time).

1.    There’s too much description:
As you write your draft, the tendency will be to write long passages of description leading up to the actual scene (hopefully there is a scene coming and not just more long beautiful descriptive passages, but we’ve all done that too). This is known as ‘warming up your engines’, the need for a writer to set the scene for himself and immerse himself in the story which will one day be a fantastic novel. The answer? As you rewrite (remember: anyone can write but only a writer can rewrite) target these sections brutally and cut. If something is just too precious, even more so. “Kill your darlings,” as William Faulkner said. Elmore Leonard put it more directly: “Leave out the parts people skip over”. More often than not, that means long chunks of description.

2.    Not enough conflict:
Conflict is the key to good drama and we, as writers, tend to avoid it, especially during early drafts. We’re sitting in our little caves with the lights down low, banging out a masterpiece. For us the work is superb as is—unlike other novel drafts. As humans, we shy away from conflict. But conflict is what defines character and drives your plot. Every line of your novel should in some way be contributing to the conflict of the story. Scenes where your protagonist remembers a pleasant time from her youth (with lots of description) when the main story is a mystery are to be heavily considered for the chopping block. If your writing does not create conflict (and also create meaningful conflict) chop and reread. Also, when searching for scenes that sag, look for the dreaded flashback.

3.    Your protagonist is vague:
Hard to believe that this wonderful character you have created is, well, kind of blah and hard to fathom for others. She’s not nuanced, has no real physical characteristics, no sharp inner turmoil (wound) that drives her to seek justice. Why is that—especially when your secondary characters might be the opposite? Because as authors we tend to live in our protagonist’s head. We know exactly what she is thinking, feeling, and about to do next. It’s painfully obvious—to us. It’s so obvious we don’t even put it down on the page. Maybe we should.

viva los escritores!

SENDERO Sequel wins 1st Place – Eat your heart out, Stephen King!

WHO SINGS TO THE DEAD wins first place in the ‘I’m Dying To Tell You’ Mystery contest sponsored by the San Mateo County Fair.

Pig Lit rules!

Image

Mad Men’s best days have come and gone

What was once the best show on TV is now a very good soap opera.

Why? Because great writing can’t go on forever and, as a time period, the big changes of the 60s have come and gone on Mad Men.
Here’s why (IMHO) MM is heading the way of Dallas per the season finale (spoilers ahead):

• Don has a toothache – another not-so-subtle metaphor that the man of the early 60s is losing his edge, with some imagined glimpses of DD’s half-brother Adam. When a story relies this heavily on dream sequence type devices to pump up suspense, it’s running out of ideas. There’s been a fair amount of this in Season 5 (Don strangling an old flame in a dream to name one).
• Pete gets beat up—AGAIN. We know Pete is the mad man everyone loves to hate but Lane just kicked his butt a few episodes ago. This repeat smacked not only of ROI (running out of ideas) but of blatant audience pandering through BBG (beat up the bad guy). What’s next? WWF?
• Don just happens to run into Peggy at the movies. How convenient. And they have nothing but wonderful things to say to each other. Isn’t Peggy still a little pissed that Don treated her like the bottom of a bird cage for so long? I hope this isn’t a prelude to a romantic interlude.
• Heavy-handed dialog – ‘Are You Alone’. Groan.
• The ‘blah’ season ending. I haven’t felt this burned since the Sopranos ended. After caving in and getting Megan the commercial spot she wanted so badly Don is that easily disappointed and enticed to philander? Again? That’s it? DD’s about to chase more tail.
• Oh, the partners standing in an arty pose. Looking out at what? An era with a war in Indochina? Civil rights? Women’s rights? Student demonstrations? Psychedelic movement? It’s not clear, is it? Probably because Matthew Weiner doesn’t know yet.
Not to say there weren’t some nifty developments (as always): Megan grabbing the commercial spot for herself (showing us a side of her we’ve not seen before), Don delivering the payoff check to Lane Pryce’s widow and getting shown the door, the irony of the sudden success of SCDP on the heels of Lane’s suicide, Megan’s mother’s terrific dialog. But all of the interesting things revolved around the secondary characters. The arc of the main story and characters are…?
It was nice while it lasted.

Pig Lit Quiz

Pig Lit Quiz

What do the following Literary works have in common?

a)      Charlotte’s Web

b)      Animal Farm

c)       The Three Little Pigs

If you answered ‘they are all books and you can read them by turning the pages’, you may be excused.

But if you answered ‘they all have pigs as primary or secondary characters’, you are correct!

It’s no coincidence that some of our most enduring literary works feature pigs.

And this is why the San Mateo Country Fair, which features pigs AND a literary arts section, is not to be missed.

I will be at the following events (but you are also allowed to come to the others as well).

Sunday, June 10th: 4:30-6:30 – Carry The Light Anthology launch party—followed by readings

Friday, June 15: 3PM—Sendero – readings, discussions + more!

Saturday, June 16: 2-4 PM—Author Day book signings.

https://www.sanmateocountyfair.com/contests/departments/literary-arts/175

Pigs and Prose

You may know by now that the San Mateo Country Fair is open from June 9th – June 17th. What you may NOT know is that the San Mateo Country Fair has a thriving literary arts section with contests featuring local authors.

Three guesses who one of those featured local authors might be…

No, not Ernest Hemingway. But I’m sure he would if he could.

Stephen King has an allergy to corn dogs and can’t be within 500 yards of their consumption (County Fair joke) so he won’t make it either.

I, however, will be at several events at the SMCF and hope you can join one of them.

Here’s the first one: Sunday June 10th  6 PM –             

The first chapter of WHO SINGS TO THE DEAD, the second book in the SENDERO series, won first place in the “I’M DYING TO TELL YOU” mystery contest sponsored by the San Mateo Country Fair! Yep, there’s gonna be a picture of a ribbon on the book cover when the book comes out (end of the year, start saving your money). There might even be a picture of a pig somewhere too! I’ll have to see how much the rights to a good pig picture cost when I talk to the cover designer.  

I will be reading a selection of the winning entry. Paperback copies of SENDERO will be available for $12.

Link

Peru still haunted by the dirty war, decades later

An article in the NY Times regarding the legacy of Peru’s dirty war: Wounds of War – even today, much of the country is still deeply affected by atrocities committed by both the military and the Shining Path. Today the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso) exists primarily as a mercenary force for the drug cartels, although small groups periodically take on government forces.

Of Human Bondage – Looking for love in all the wrong places (Book Review)

Looking for love in all the wrong places – in Edwardian England

Leslie Howard, Bette Davis - Of Human Bondage (1934 Film Adaptation)

Leslie Howard, Bette Davis – Of Human Bondage (1934 Film Adaptation)

W. Somerset Maugham’s saga of one young man’s search for love in Edwardian England is considered by many to be his masterpiece and one of the 100 best English language novels of the 20th Century. Of Human Bondage takes the reader from Philip Carey’s youth under the cold supervision of an emotionally stunted uncle, a vicar in a small English town that is wonderfully rendered, to his travels throughout the Europe of pre-World War 1 and ultimately Carey’s adulthood. Carey embarks on a series of failed and often disastrous relationships. Maugham’s restrained, precise style may seem slow to deliver at times but throughout the novel he drills down mercilessly to a core of human emotion often left unexamined in novels of this period. We see Carey at his worst much of the time: petty, weak, despairing in his obsessive longing for one particular woman, to a point where he becomes servile and pathetic (he willingly funds the tryst between her and a ‘friend’— entirely by his own design). At another low point Carey longs for the death of a relative so that he can inherit enough money to continue his studies. (The relative does take an excruciatingly long time to die though!) But even so, the reader ends up siding with Carey, even though his choices often make one want to scream. We keep turning the many pages because Philip Carey, with his club foot symbolizing our frailties made humiliatingly public, is an awful lot like us. To keep the reader this engaged is the sign of a great writer.

Despite the page count, Maugham covers a lot of ground in Of Human Bondage, much of it through territory one might have considered taboo for 1915: premarital sex, venereal disease, abortion, homosexuality (yes, it’s there, albeit well-veiled). The side-trips into the working class health care system of England at that time (Maugham trained as a doctor prior to becoming a writer) are simply fascinating. The characters, in particular Carey’s lovers and would-be lovers, are expertly depicted and completely devoid of sentimentality that might have reduced this novel to melodrama otherwise.  And throughout, the prose is controlled yet powerful as it deftly delivers the odd detail that make even the most contemptible character poignant: the garish out-of-place dress of a woman desperately trying to mask her age, the dirty brown hem of another woman’s skirt, the deplorable eating habits of one potential paramour as she wipes a plate with a scrap of bread, Mildred’s skeletal frame as she strives to keep attracting the opposite sex despite her ominous condition.

Ultimately it’s Philip Carey who is the most well drawn.  Far from heroic in the conventional sense, our opinion of him continues to reach new lows, yet Maugham subtly shows us a man trying to conceal his limp as he steadfastly searches for any kind of work while sleeping on the streets.

This book is not without its shortcomings: as said before, it’s simply too long—by a good fifty thousand words. There are diversions that could have easily been cut. Discussions on art between Carey and his friends in Paris read like essays; Carey’s time in Germany and Paris feel like detours that would have benefitted from major edits. And there are simply too many women in Carey’s life until he gets to Mildred, his femme fatale, the core of Carey’s emotional struggle as he reaches adulthood. Do we really need such a large cast of others, no matter how well portrayed? All of this tends to give the book an episodic feel in places.

But Of Human Bondage is a masterpiece nonetheless. Not only is the tension palpable and gripping as Philip Carey makes one disastrous decision after another, but the reader is taken to a place lost in the willing fog of our own painful memory.

murder and mayhem in the Andes – ‘Who Sings to the Dead’

This just in: ‘Who Sings to the Dead’, the second in the Sendero series, won first place in this year’s San Mateo County Fair’s ‘I’m Dying to Tell You’ mystery contest. I’ll be reading the first chapter on Sunday June 16th, 2PM, at the SM County Fair Author Day event – the novel will be available in December…

QuietLightening tonight (05/07) at Alley Cat books in SF @ 7:30

I’ll be reading a new short story tonight with the QuietLightening Literary Series – tonight QL is hosted at Alley Cat books on 3036 24th St in SF – Show starts at 7:30 – $5 suggested donation – more info here – hope to see you there! QL is a terrific out-on-the-edge reading series even if they say they aren’t hip anymore!

California Writer’s Club Peninsula hosts Sendero – 1st chapter

many thanks to CWC-Peninsula branch for putting up the 1st Chapter of SENDERO – you can read it here

Promoting Your Indie Book: 13+1 Things You Might Want To Know

Promoting Your Indie Book: 13+1 Things You Might Want to Know

Last year, when I began promoting SENDERO, I read a terrific piece on what steps to take or, more importantly, what to expect as an Indie author starting out on the road to getting my book in the hands and on the e-readers of others. I WISH I had kept that link because the author had some wonderful insights. (So if you think you’re out there and reading this, please ping me and I’ll display your link in all its glory.)

Here then is my own list of rules, some seeded from that piece, some from others, plus my own observations. Much of this is common knowledge amongst Indie authors but it may help newcomers and possibly amuse you. And it will probably change in six months. Viva los escritores!

1. Talk it up. Not easy. Most writers are introverts who sit in dark little rooms and bang out unpublishable prose*. We are, by nature, introverted and modest. Now some writers should be modest. But not you. You wrote a book the world needs to know about. So tell people. If not you, then who? Carry business cards promoting your book in your wallet or, if you prefer, purse. I prefer a wallet. Hand out cards when you talk about your book. What—you don’t have business cards promoting your book? Automatic disqualification. See the business card step. For authors who have a physical book, keep a box of books in the trunk of your car (this tip from JA Konrath.) Sell them cheap, at cost, give them out (to the right people).

2. Try everything (within reason and the confines of the law and it doesn’t involve spending a load of money on web advertising). More than one reader thought Penelope Cruz should play Nina Flores, the protagonist of SENDERO, in the motion picture. I found Ms. Cruz’s US agent and sent him a copy of my book, suggesting she might consider it. This is an example of trying everything. I’m still waiting to hear back, BTW.

3. The steps you take that you are absolutely sure will pay off will OFTEN not pay off. So you thought all your family and friends were going to go wild when you released the efforts of your life’s ambition and help you out by buying your book and talking it up to everyone they know. Some will. But many won’t, including family and close friends. This hurts. They are bad. They keep saying they are going to buy your book (if someone says this more than once, don’t waste any more time on them and don’t buy Girl Scout cookies next time their kid comes around). Some will tell you they always wanted to write a book and will tell you all about it and want to know who to contact. Some will tell you they bought your book but didn’t buy it. Ask them what they thought of the ending. “Oh, I haven’t actually started it yet.” Some will ask you for a freebie or want to borrow a copy. You learn who your friends are, a sad, but necessary by-product of promoting your book. Get over it. And move onto another step that MIGHT sell your book.

4. The steps you take that you least expect to pay off will sometimes pay off. I went to dinner at a neighbor’s house when I first released SENDERO. I am a software developer by day and so is my neighbor. I fully expected an evening of unbridled geekery discussing hash table search algorithms but beforehand I dutifully handed out my business card (note: I had business cards in my wallet) promoting the novel because that is what I was told to do. “I wrote a novel,” I said meekly. To my surprise, my neighbor, who never reads anything other than programming manuals and sci-fi, invested 99 cents and downloaded my thriller to his PC using Kindle software. And he liked it. And he told people. He blogged it. Promoted it on the neighborhood web site, generating much chatter and quite a few sales. Who woulda thunk? So try everything, at least once (again, within reason and the confines of the law and it doesn’t involve spending a load of money on web advertising).

5. The green-eyed monster. Those fellow writers you’ve been networking with and work-shopping with? The same ones who told you (but not others) how great your work is? You’ve read their rough drafts and gone to their readings and book-signings. Now they are remarkably silent when you’ve got a book to promote. They don’t tell their friends, mention it on their Facebook pages, call their agent, twitter, blog, send smoke signals, nothing—even if you ask them to (and you shouldn’t have to—they know how it works). But you did ask them because you are ‘talking it up’ and ‘trying everything’. The same people still have 90 illegible pages they’d like you to critique for them. Or hand you a business card for their book when it comes out. It’s an eye-opener. Don’t burn their houses down. But don’t waste any more time on them. As they say in AA, ‘stick with the winners’. Move on to people who are cool and deserving of your friendship. And keep doing things that MIGHT yield results.

6. Promote others. No one is asking you to promote crap. But if you see good work from your peers, say so, and tell others. They deserve it and someone MIGHT do the same for you.

7. The people who buy your book and help promote you are special people. Thank them. Help them in their endeavors. If they write, buy their books. Write reviews of their books.

8. Avoid expensive web advertising. The few sales it generates won’t warrant the money you spend (and it can be a LOT of money). SENDERO received a starred Kirkus review. Wahoo, I thought: I’ll just sit back and wait for the flood of Amazon orders once the review goes live on the Kirkus web site. I got a few (and I mean FEW) sales out of it. Spending five thousand dollars on a custom Kirkus advertising campaign targeting book industry people would have been insanity. I could send each one of those people a copy of SENDERO for a few hundred. Web ads rarely return their investment.

9. Business cards. Bookmarks don’t work. No one uses them. If you’re selling an eBook, even more so. Those snazzy postcards you see cost way too much and get tossed. Business cards are affordable, fit in your wallet or purse, and fit nicely in other people’s wallets and purses. There are plenty of online business card sites. Use an eye-catching pic of your cover (make sure you spend time and money on the cover), with a catch line, and a link your blog. (What? No blog? Easily remedied.) Hand out your business cards when you talk about your novel and put them in your correspondence (Christmas cards) and the covers of your book when you have a physical book to sell so that the person who bought your book can give them to the next person who will buy your book when he/she hears how great your book is.

10. Social networking. Yes, yes, get on Facebook, create an author page, blog, twitter, use a mainframe, but you know what? There’s a lot of noise out there. And it’s getting worse. A LOT of people are plugging their book while you try to plug yours. Do you really want to sit through someone’s ‘interview’ or read some canned blurb? Neither do I. It’s just plain sad, not to mention, ineffective. Blogs. Get one. There are plenty of freebies. I like wordpress. Put stuff not always about your book on your blog. Link to stuff you like (like my book—IF you like it). Promote people who deserve to be promoted. But don’t think any of this is going to sell a lot of your books. Do it but don’t overdo it. Get out to readings and open mikes. You also need time to write your next book. And you need to get past the other authors, multiplying like rabbits, and out to the READERS. If you crack this last step, please let me know how you did it.

11. Promote but don’t constantly bleat on about your book. There is the 1/5 rule (1 self-promotion for every 4 ‘fun’ posts) but that feels kind of arbitrary to me. If you’ve got something new to say about your book, say it, but find other things to say too. Books your colleagues wrote. Interesting articles about writing. Jokes. Whatever. People don’t want to just hear about your book. They don’t want to buy life insurance from you either.

12. Money. If you thought you were going to make money, then I just feel sorry for you. Maybe you will eventually—maybe—but for now, if you sold some books, particularly to strangers, then you scored a tremendous victory as an Indie author. Someone actually invested in your story about people who never really existed doing things that never really happened. How cool is that?

13. Email signature. Put a simple catchy hook to your book in your email signature. Stick your blog address in there or the link to your trailer (trailer optional—one of the things you might try but don’t spend too much).

14. Write a good—or great—book. Pretty obvious but it should be the first step really. Is your book properly edited? Formatted? Is the cover eye-catching? There is a LOT of competition out there—by some accounts up to 150 indie books are being released PER DAY. Why should people pay money and invest precious time in your creation?

* Unpublishable prose: I’m sorry if you thought I meant your prose was unpublishable. But most of it is. Do you know how many hours of jamming it took for the Stones to come up with the riff for ‘Paint It Black’? I don’t either but it was a lot: many, many hours for that one little gem. That’s why the Stones used to be one of the greatest bands in the world. In the early days the Stones lived and breathed their music and boiled months of sweat down to three minutes. But I digress. I have one five-page short story that came out of a 300 page novel. The other 295 pages sit on my hard drive, where they deserve to be. The short story is the riff that was worth saving (maybe).

Compadre Christopher Wachlin gets a mention in the New Yorker for innovative rejection generator

Compadre Christopher Wachlin (Stoneslide Corrective) got a mention in the New Yorker Book Bench for his automated rejection letter generator – Nice! – check it out http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2012/04/in-the-news-rejected-prizes-rejected-authors.html

 

Book Review: DATING MY VIBRATOR (and other true fiction) – Suzanne Tyrpak

datingmyvibrator

DATING MY VIBRATOR (and other true fiction) – Suzanne Tyrpak

These nine short stories document one woman’s woeful re-entrance into the dating world after a failed marriage. ‘Other true fiction’ couldn’t be more accurate. We just know that the emotional misfits the author meets are out there in real life, lurking in the shadows. And we see what the author is thinking when a date pays for an expensive meal (dig in!) or when a new acquaintance starts calling her ‘babe’ after two introductory phone calls. And don’t you dare use her towel.

I am not in this book’s target audience. I am not female, up to speed with Chick Lit, and I tend to veer away from books with words like ‘vibrator’ in the title. But I still found Dating My Vibrator very engaging. The author showcases her short-story writing skills with quick, succinct observations and a range of styles. From the literary Phantom Love, with its well-executed mood of distant longing, to the hilarious Dharma Dan, which chronicles an encounter with a pretentious buffoon, we are led through the twilight zone dating world of women of a certain age. The stories lean towards humor which Tyrpak is very good at as she introduces us to her would-be beaus. Men aiming to impress an older woman might even learn a thing or two from this book. Don’t go home thinking you’ve necessarily wowed her—especially if you espouse daily workouts but eat potato salad by the bowl. That vibrator in her handbag doesn’t have a paunch and doesn’t BS.

Not all of the stories work. Rock Bottom, for example, a pre divorce meeting with the author’s ex, feels unfinished and would benefit from some nuance in the husband’s character. But Tyrpak takes risks and that’s a good thing. Not everything is going to work. Most of these stories do work and are a treat. There are enough sharp insights and plenty of bite to make Dating My Vibrator satisfy. The cover alone is enough to justify a further look.

Peru Police Capture Shining Path Leader’s Successor

Readers of SENDERO frequently ask whether the Shining Path is still active or did I simply make all of this up. Well, it is called fiction but I believe I portrayed Sendero Luminoso as they are today–a small group of  holdouts involved primarily in narcoterrorism. And there have indeed been a resurgence of Shining Path attacks in Peru over the last couple of years although they are a far cry from the 80s and 90s during the height of the dirty war. This article shows recent activity over the arrest of the last known member of the central committee–Comrade Artemio–whose real name is Flores. Sound familiar readers?

Book Review: The Mill River Recluse

millriverrecluse
Warning–spoilers ahead!

Darcie Chan is the poster child for struggling indie writers. Her debut novel, The Mill River Recluse, has logged a staggering half million downloads and maintains a four plus star rating on Amazon with close to nine hundred reviews.

So it was with eagerness that I began The Mill River Recluse.

The first part of the novel reads well. The writing doesn’t take many chances but that’s fine—a good story well told is a great thing. The characters are introduced in a revolving manner that keeps the reader turning pages and the narrative moves back and forth from past to present without that jarring clumsiness that frequently trips up many promising novels. Story questions grow around Mary, the damaged protagonist. I was hooked. I even gifted a copy of the novel to a friend of mine at this point.

Then, somewhere around the second act, it all starts to sag. The writing grows deliberate and uninspired —or perhaps it had always been that way but the pacing and story questions up until now compensated. The dialog is painfully direct and frequently mundane. A date at Pizza Hut reads like a teenager’s diary: no irony, no witty repartee, no real danger for a woman trying desperately to watch her weight—just pizza between two adults who act like they’ve never been out to dinner before. Is this what a leading man who wants to snare an attractive woman does on a first date—take her to Pizza Hut?

The biggest problem of the novel by this point is structural: Mary has had her main threat removed and is now continually rescued by a series of benefactors. People build her houses, leave her piles of money, and tend to her ongoing seclusion that borders on mental illness. We want to see Mary overcome her past—or at least fail valiantly. But the Mary we see doesn’t have much to do except withdraw from life and give away wealth to her supposedly beloved town members in a clandestine manner. We don’t see the inner workings of her pathological reclusiveness, just the symptoms, and not enough of them at that. She reads like a secondary character.

In the third act, the story is hijacked by a subplot where one citizen of Mill River tries to attract the attention of the woman who loves Pizza Hut by setting houses on fire. Meanwhile Mary dies. It’s supposed to be heart-wrenching but it’s a relief for a character who has done little but suffer amidst secluded wealth while the rest of Mill River toils. They say that every novel can get away with one coincidence but the one between Mary and the local crazy person smacks so much of author intervention it’s simply not believable. And the local priest’s little foible—meant to be endearing and quirky—comes across as silly and contrived. Are we really expected to believe he had the sleeves of his garments altered so he could steal spoons?

On a technical note I also have to say that the Kindle formatting of this book is atrocious. There are many sections that are indented incorrectly. Throughout the book the reader is treated to paragraph after paragraph of offset, misaligned text. As an indie author I know how trying the process can be but one afternoon with a word editor could fix this. Or hire someone to do it. Half a million readers might appreciate it.

But they seem to love this book anyway. So Darcie Chan must be doing something right.

I’m sure my friend I gifted the copy to must be wondering about me.

check out the stoneslide corrective e-magazine. . .

check out this cool new e-magazine: http://stoneslidecorrective.com/

 

Suspected Guerrilla Leader Captured in Peru

In SENDERO, rogue Shining Path members in the jungles of Peru take matters into their own hands. This recent article shows that Sendero Luminoso are still alive and well, functioning primarily as security for Peru’s narco traffickers. Suspected-Guerrilla-Leader-Captured-in-Peru

Authors using CreateSpace to format Kindle eBooks beware!

A heads up for those of you using CreateSpace (CS) to have your printed book formatted to a Kindle ebook:

I initially published my novel SENDERO as a Kindle eBook myself, using the book’s MS word files and mobipocket creator. Although functional, the formatting was correct and works just fine.

Then I published the novel through CS as a paperback. The CS team put together the book and the end product came out well and I am quite happy with the result.

Then I saw that for only $69 I could have the paperback equivalent pushed to a Kindle eBook—with many of the paperback print features carried over: professional spacing, chapter headings with nifty underlines, snazzy fleuron section breaks. For me, it was a no-brainer.  They say that professionally formatted eBooks sell better too.

A month later, I get my .prc file for review. Looked OK at first glance on the mobi viewer but I now knew as a mobipocket veteran that all is not necessarily correct so I copy the .prc file to my Kindle 3G and start to page through the eBook.

And that’s when I saw problems.

A third of the chapter headings had the correct underlines, with the length of the underline running the length of the chapter title, the rest of them run the width of the page. Inconsistent. So I email CS. They were quite quick to respond, saying they can fix this, but please make sure the rest of the manuscript is good first.

I had assumed it would be—the same as the final printed book was–right?

As I start to proof the novel (for the umpteenth time now) I notice, right off the bat, five mangled words and punctuation errors. Seems whatever program CS is using to convert the files used for the printed copy is pretty damn clumsy and makes your content look very unprofessional as a result. Typo City. (Or is it typocity? a characteristic of poorly formatted books?)

So for any of you following the step of having CS build your Kindle file—beware. You will need to proof the final file again. Maybe more than once.

I don’t know why CS can’t simply give me the final word files and let me wordsmith them and re-create the .prc file. It’s not that difficult to do. Also, I’m not crazy about the table of contents with chapter titles at the front of the book either.

Link

Poetry Festival Santa Cruz on litseen (yours truly is no. 7)

video from the Poetry Festival Santa Cruz on litseen

From the February 12, 2012 Poetry Festival Santa Cruz – this is the Quiet Lightning section – Quiet lightning is a SF based reading series – thanks QL!

Sendero in paperback is now available…

Sendero paperback is now available from Amazon: buy Sendero paperback

Sendero in paperback due out any day now – end of the week?

The final proofs were sent in last week – I am told 5-7 days before the book is available. Sendero the book will be available on amazon or for order through your local bookstore.  The Kindle version is currently available on amazon.  Thanks to all you good people for your support and interest.

Poetry Festival Santa Cruz a *Success*

I read at the Poetry Festival Santa Cruz last night as part of the SF QuietLightning reading series. What a terrific event: many great readings, lots of good music and enthusiastic support from a large audience. After a 30 year hiatus will the Poetry Festival SC become a regular feature once again? Judging by yesterday’s attendance I would say ‘yes’.
Many thanks to the good people of quietlightning who organized an SF contingent of writers and poets to perform – they did a great job of supporting the readers and our work.

 

Today’s writing tip: simple is frequently better

Kurt Vonnegut is but one example:

“In the mid-1950s, Vonnegut worked very briefly for Sports Illustrated magazine, where he was assigned to write a piece on a racehorse that had jumped a fence and attempted to run away. After staring at the blank piece of paper on his typewriter all morning, he typed, “The horse jumped over the fucking fence,” and left.

Sendero in print will be available early February 2012

Final proofs were submitted last week (there was an error on the cover) and Sendero will be available in paperback in early February 2012. Books can be ordered on Amazon or through your local Indie bookstore. Thanks for waiting!

Sendero made the Kirkus new-and-notable-indie-books list January 2012

Sendero made the Kirkus Reviews indie new and notable list for January 2012.

Kirkus new and Notable

Amazon Select and the future of eBooks

Libby Fischer Hellmann wrote an interesting post today on some of the potential repercussions of Amazon’s new Select program–where Amazon Select members can borrow up to one book a month and authors have the option of making the book free for certain periods in order to (hopefully) boost sales. The big downside seems to be that readers might be waiting for freebies rather than buying when books are not free.

Read Libby Fischer Hellmann’s post

As a newly self-published author with one book on Amazon and modest downloads (yet!) my mouth waters at Ms. Hellmann’s numbers. However, it is ominous so see what the trend might be. I myself have downloaded free books I would not pay for. And I have not yet read one that has changed my mind about buying more by the author–but perhaps that, too, will change. And the rest of the world might be different.

My approach is to keep the book cheap—but legacy publishers are not going to do that. And established authors shouldn’t have to. A lot of time, work and expense has gone into most of the books you see on Amazon, and the cost does not always reflect the value. The author is frequently trying to make the work affordable in order to attract readers.

I hope that eBooks are not taking the same route as content on news sites. Originally news sites tried to charge but people simply wouldn’t pay. So news sites gave content away free with the hopes that people would subscribe. Now that many people get their news from the web, more news sites try are trying to charge again but the expectation has been set that information should be free. Hence the quality of some of our news.

You do indeed get what you pay for.

Indiereader.com just posted my Kirkus Review for Sendero

Click here to read the review.

Thanks Indiereader!

Kirkus Review for SENDERO

After a few technical glitches, Kirkus now has the review of my novel SENDERO on their website. They even gave it the coveted star!

Kirkus Review for SENDERO

Pints and Prose

Peri’s Bar in Fairfax, CA hosts a great literary event every two months: Pints and Prose. There are featured readers plus slots for 5 minute readings by drop-in authors. I went to last night’s and signed up. Heard some good stuff, including a great short story by Susanna Solomon, and got to read Chapter 3 of my novel SENDERO (edited to fit in 5 minutes–otherwise you get the dreaded horn). A great crowd and some very supportive people.

Pints and Prose

Kirkus *Star* Review for Sendero

Hot off the digital presses: the Kirkus Review for Sendero.

Looking for indie books with little exposure to feature on my blog:

Hi fellow indie authors:
I’m looking for indie books with little exposure to feature on my blog:
• The idea is to preview books that have less than 100 downloads so that indie authors and hopefully get a bump and I can likewise promote my own
• I won’t be passing judgment or making a full review — just previewing the sample chapters and introducing the book
• KDP books preferred as I can easily preview the sample and link

Good Word to Kindle resource:

After a lot of searching, I found a great resource for formatting Word to Kindle (thanks Aaron Shepard) – Word to Kindle

Sendero proofs have been sent to the publisher…

Hi all
I sent in the final proofs for Sendero last weekend so the paperback should be available (hoping) by the end of the month on Amazon…

Sendero is now part of the Kindle KDP Select program

Sendero has been added to the KDP Select program. This means that Kindle Prime Members can borrow Sendero for free. So, if you are struggling with the 99 cent introductory price, KDP Select is for you!

the latest…

Sendero Kindle eBook is *now* available for the introductory price of 99 cents.

To read a sample and/or order your copy, go to amazon.com and enter ‘max tomlinson sendero’ in the search options.

Don’t have a kindle but want to read Sendero and other kindle books on your PC or smartphone? It’s easy!

–> google –> type ‘kindle for pc’ OR:

http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000426311&tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=7893047648&ref=pd_sl_3ies3d4yuc_b

thanks!

Max