Category archive: Writing

White Metal

My short story, White Metal, took the cover of the Storyteller Magazine’s fall 2006 edition, but this is not that cover.  Because I can’t get the rights to the cover from Storyteller, even though it’s gone out of business, I had to do up my own cover.  It’s actually better.

I now have all six of the Sioux Rock Falls stories up on Amazon.  I’m working on two more shorts and I’ll launch the whole series as anthology in a couple of weeks.  What do you think of the title: Reckless in Sioux Rock?

Will Authors Start Using the F-word to Generate Buzz?

For Marketing.  It seems the Charlie Sheen school of publicity has hit the indie publishing scene in a big way.  Author Jacqueline Howett took great exception to book blogger Big Al’s review of her indie novel.  Big Al’s crime?  He complained that the typos and grammar errors made the novel unreadable, although he apparently read all the way through and said that the story was actually good.

Keep in mind that this critique came from a man who reviews indie-published e-books as a preference, so he’s probably seen some typos and grammar errors in the past.  Even Amanda Hocking admits that she needs better editors, which is one of the reasons she signed that seven-figure deal with St. Martins.

But Howett’s response was scripted out of a road rage incident with a drunk driver.  She says Big Al didn’t download the re-formatted novel AS SHE ORDERED!  Wow! Who orders around a reviewer who does this job for free?

But the crazy part is that big Al wasn’t complaining about the formatting, but the grammar and the sentence structure.  He gave examples that she didn’t refute; in fact, she claimed there was nothing wrong with her writing.

Now here’s the scary part: after this exchange began her sales spiked.  I guess people were curious to see the train wreck.  I wonder if it was intentional that she dropped the f-bomb in the comments of Big Al’s blog after that.  Twice she stated, “F–k You!” in response to comments.

I checked her Amazon ranking and it’s actually at 41,000.  Way down from the top 1000, yes, but higher than it apparently deserves.  Given the multiple bad reviews, I’m guessing it should be down around the 100,000 level.

So I have to decide: would I go rude and ballistic to make a name for myself?  No.  I just can’t do it.  I was raised to be polite and respectful–especially to people who are doing me a favor.  I’d rather be known as courteous by a few than as an asshole by many.  Oops.  That just slipped out.

 

Who Would Walk Away From a Seven Figure Book Deal?

Not Amanda Hocking.

Less than a week after Barry Eilser walked away from a $500,000 dollar contract with St Martin’s Press so that he could self-publish his next novel, Amanda Hocking, the self-publishing star who has sold over 2 million copies of her e-books, has signed a seven figure deal with St. Martin’s for her next four novels.

It will be fascinating to watch Eisler’s and Hocking’s careers to see which route will be more successful in the long run.  I know it’s not a very scientific study since Eisler writes thrillers and Hocking writes teen paranormal romances.  As the recent Twilight saga proves, that’s a very hot market.

I’m ready for the purists to roar in outrage that she has gone over to the dark side, but I’m with her when she says that she wants her novels to be available in every Walmart, Target and airport book kiosk.

Wide print distribution is one thing the traditional publishers can still give an author, although I am doubtful about how important that will be ten years from now.  Prominent placement on the front of Amazon’s website may be the ticket in 2021.  But right now, this year, wide print distribution is still the fast lane to big bucks.

A band was once accused of selling out to the big record labels. (The Offspring?  Green Day? I can’t remember) One of the band members replied to the journalist, “Dude!  That was always the plan.”  So I don’t judge Amanda Hocking for inking this deal.

Don’t get me wrong.  I still believe that self-publishing is the way to go for most authors since we won’t all be internet superstars.  That’s why I love self-publishing: the mid-list author can finally earn a living again.

But if I was offered a seven-figure book deal?  In the bank–as bloody fast as I can arrange the funds transfer.  It’s like winning the book lottery!

So who would walk away from a seven-figure book deal?  Not me, baby.

A Warning for Self-e-published Authors

I prefer not to simply publish links to other people’s content on this blog, but this warning from Amanda Hocking was aimed right at me.

She’s done what I want to do: e-self-published through Amazon and Smashwords, and she’s making thousands a month doing it.  She’s snagged an agent.  She’s making a good living as an author.

But she warns here that she knows another author, J. L. Bryan, who doesn’t sell as well even though he is a good writer and performs the same marketing moves that she does.

The warning is clear.  Even if the writing, promotion and cover are all great, your book might languish simply because you didn’t strike a cord, hit the right topic or simply didn’t appeal to the reading public.

It’s all a big gamble.  Just ask a traditional publisher.  Luckily with e-books, the upfront costs aren’t as huge as print books.

Rebecca Senese Seizes the Day

Rebecca Senese and I shared a strange place in the history of Storyteller Magazine before we even met. I’d finally snagged the cover of Storyteller in the winter 2006 edition after many attempts, so my mother proudly purchased a subscription for every member of the family, including my aunt.

Unfortunately, I had decided that for my story White Metal I’d let construction workers speak like construction workers.  The F-bomb fell more than a few times, and Storyteller chose to stick it right in one of the teaser lines.  My aunt, horrified by the profanity, refused to even read her nephew’s story and instead carried on to read the next story in the issue, Brother’s Under the Skin by Rebecca Senese.

It was like pouring gasoline on fire.  My aunt, the very committed Catholic anti-abortion activist, read a story about parents who clone their murdered son and try to relive his childhood through the clone.  Boom!

Terry Tyo, the owner of Storyteller, got a nasty phone call demanding that he cancel my aunt’s subscription and never send her a copy of his sick magazine again.  Terry was gun shy of controversial stories for months.  Between us, Rebecca and I had rocked Storyteller’s world.

Now Rebecca is out to rock your world.  She read my first post about planning to e-publish all my out of print short stories, but she ran where I walked.  I’m still trying to pull together the other stories, get them up with Smashwords for the Sony and Nook, and put together my anthology.  But in the last two months, while I was off in another world, Rebecca’s done it.

I’d better hurry.  A year ago I was in the middle of the e-book revolution, now I’m playing catch up.  So watch here for more announcements and e-publishing.  First my Storyteller stories, then my contest winners, then my novel and then…write till I die.  I finally have a market, however humble.  It’s there for the bold.

So Two Guys Walk Into Afghanistan…

The trouble with this is that one of them doesn’t have a compelling enough reason to walk into Afghanistan.  Author Michael Blair pointed this out to me when he was critiquing my novel, In a Country Burning,  three years ago at the Bloody Words Mystery Convention.  He also suggested I “pump it up a notch” for the first chapter and also speculated that I was too close to this novel and should just give it up and write something new.

Bummer.  I hate it when people are right, and I often wish I’d paid attention to all three of his comments.  I did pump up the first chapter quite a bit, and comments from Fogel and other readers now describe it with words like “relentless, dizzying and confusing.”  Oh well, I can pump it down.

But the motivations: Jackson is a lousy freelance journalist with not much of a career until he gets approached by the CIA, not to spy but just to come in for interviews every time he returns from Afghanistan to tell them what he’s seen.  It’s illegal for the CIA to use American journalists for intelligence gathering, but Jackson is a Canadian.  In return the CIA co-ordinate with the mujahideen parties to ensure Jackson gets to all the right places in Afghanistan at the right time to ensure he gets the stories he needs to be a successful freelance journalist.

The problem for Jackson is that he has stepped on a slippery slope.  He finds himself passing on CIA advice to the muj, and soon pushing them into CIA agenda assaults.  He is no longer a journalist but is now a combatant.

Okay, now for the protagonist: Thomas Sutton.  His motivation is much weaker.  He was a paramedic in the Rochester Fire Department, a committed Christian, and engaged to be married when all that fell apart.  He made a surprise visit to his fiance and caught her in bed with another man, a no good loser who’d gone to the same high school.

Sutton is later accused of negligent homicide in the loser’s death.  After escaping a guilty verdict, Sutton decides he is guilty and goes to the most dangerous country in the world at the time, Soviet-occupied Afghanistan, seeking God’s punishment for his crime.

Susan summed up the biggest problem with this motivation: whine, whine, whine.  Get a gun.  Shoot yourself and we’re all done.  Get it over with and save us the time.

Which brings me back to Michael Blair.  He said, “Look, he needs a better reason to go to Afghanistan.  I mean, come on!  You didn’t go there just to research this novel.”

Uhm, actually I did.  To which Blair replied without skipping a beat, “You’re crazier than I thought.”

Maybe that’s why I have trouble finding a suitable motivation for Sutton: I didn’t need much motivation myself to seek out adventure.

Want to Write a Novel With Me?

I like writing because it’s a solitary task.  I’m the complete dictator of an entire world when I sit in front of my keyboard.  I decide who lives and who dies, who get’s laid and who joins the priesthood.

Of course this dictatorship ends when I present my work to others to read, whether an editor, a writers group or friends.  Then I have to listen to opinions, weigh reputations and compromise.

So Fogel, my editor, has serious concerns about my novel, In a Country Burning, and I have some big decisions to make.  Because it’s my first novel, written and rewritten dozens of times over twenty years–yes, you heard me–twenty years, I’ve lost all perspective.

So I thought, why not make it a public effort?  I’ll tell you where I am in the novel and the problems I’m having.  People are welcome to e-mail suggestions.

Just remember: I’m still the dictator in the end.  All opinions are just that: opinions.  If you send me a suggestion, you’re sending it for free and will receive no compensation.  If I use one of your suggestions it doesn’t mean you own part of my novel.  I retained all rights, copyrights  and ownership.  This is my baby.

So: these two guys walk into Afghanistan in 1983…

A Monster Ate My Life

I’ve turned into one of those bloggers.  You know the kind: they start up, blog excitedly every day for a few weeks, then slip to twice a week, once a week, and stop all together.   I guess they thought a massive following would be instantaneous, or was deserved.

Believe it or not, I’m not one of those bloggers.  But a monster did eat my life.  I’d tell you all about it, but I learned from a wise man in the film industry that I don’t have to.

His name is Frank Polyak.  I was his camera trainee back in the early 90s on a show called Top Cops.  After I’d upgraded to Second Assistant Camera, he called to see if I could come out on Forever Knight.  I couldn’t make it and babbled my excuses.  He called me again a different night and I joined them for some fun film making.  He called me over to the camera during a break in shooting and said, “You know when I called you last time and you couldn’t make it?  Well, I don’t give a damn about your girlfriend or your promises or anything like that.  When people call you and you’re busy, you should just tell them you’re not available.  Excuses are boring and it’s none of our business as to why you’re not available.”

So here it is: I’m not available until January 7th.  This blog will be idle until then.

But I’m not one of those bloggers who fades away.  I like my writing too much.

Okay, if your dying of curiosity here it is: MY DOG ATE MY BLOG!

Happy New Year!

The Last Meeting of The Crime Writers of Canada

I went to the Crime Writers of Canada Christmas/Holiday Party last night, a buzzing affair of food, drink, raffles and most importantly, chatting with dozens of published mystery and true crime writers.

I enjoyed the evening despite the headaches I endured organizing the party.  I somehow got drafted this year to be the CWC’s regional vice-president for Toronto, a position they asked me to fill since I’m a relative newbie.

The CWC swept me into their association five years ago because I wrote a murder mystery short story by accident.  When I went to the first meeting of this group of crime writers, I was surprised that I was pretty much the youngest person at the meeting.  I wasn’t surprised that there were no twenty-somethings, but I figured that thirty-somethings should be there.

It’s five years later, and I was struck last night by the fact that I’m still one of the youngest members in the room.  I know that there are one or two members who are younger, but for the most part it’s the same people as five years ago, and the new members who are joining are the opposite of young: they’re retirees looking to write and publish that book they never got around to during their working life.

This concerns me.  While membership in the CWC may be on the rise as the baby boomers retire and seek a creative outlet, it doesn’t bode well for the health of the organization.  Some members have already succumbed early to the inevitable.  Demographics could take a nasty toll on this merry band of writers.

If I’m lucky enough to live my full lifespan, it could be that twenty years from now I will preside over the last meeting of the Crime Writers of Canada.  The four of us will toast the boomers who started the organization and then shuffled off this mortal coil, even as we prepare for our own end.

Of course it doesn’t have to end that way.  But the demographics of the country are changing, not just in numbers, but ethnicity.  Perhaps we need some young Muslims who write murder mysteries? Is that likely?

Truth is that I wonder about the publishing industry as a whole in this demographic regard because I sense a sea change coming, and I frankly I want to know how to use this to further my goal of selling lots of novels.

And I better start thinking about where to find young CWC members, or that last meeting in 2030 will be more like a wake than a Christmas party.

I Saw the Future — Yesterday

I chose physics as my major in university because it was my best subject in high school thanks to an excellent teacher, it seemed like an interesting field of study and I wanted to be a science fiction author and I thought it would help.

But by the time I graduated with a specialist in geophysics, I had stopped reading SF and was more interested in geo-politics than geophysics.

I think what turned me off SF was that as the moon launches faded and the baby boomers realized that they weren’t going to go to space, SF went distant, very distant.  Novels like Dune took us eons into the future and our planet had nothing to do with it anymore.  I loved Dune, but I missed the immediacy of Heinlein and the sense that this was all going to happen and very soon.

So I watched with fascination yesterday as history imitated fiction.  Elon Musk is the real life version of Heinlein’s D.D. Harriman, the fictional entrepreneur who started a rocket program to get people cheaply into orbit, not just to make money, but because he believed it was humanity’s destiny to go forth from this planet and explore.

Yesterday Musk’s company, SpaceX, became the first private company to launch a space capsule into orbit and return it safely to Earth, a feat previously accomplished only by countries, not companies.  Better yet, SpaceX intends to human rate their Dragon capsule.  Musk’s stated intention is to provide cheap access to space for anyone.

He’s the absolute opposite of the evil Hollywood capitalist.  He took the billion he made from Paypal to start a company to build electric cars and sunk everything else into SpaceX.  He wants to do things to make life better for humans, and he wants to make money doing it.  What a great combination!

So maybe I will write some sci-fi again one day, but my characters will be riding to space on SpaceX’s Falcon rockets, and they won’t be traveling through worm holes, or black holes.  I suspect I’ll be accused of having little imagination, but what I really see is the future.  I saw it yesterday.