Listen to Pilot Light

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Continuation Literature

Emerging trends are slippery things. Some are driven by a demand for whatever is trending, others are an attempt to fill a demand with a substitute. I am reminded that heroine was introduced to the Western world as a substitute of morphine, and I worry that some other unfortunate substitutions might have bad results as well. After all, these things aren't thought out, except my marketers, whose only criteria, by definition, is that it sell.

An article on BBC discusses continuation literature, which is basically the idea that there is no reason a popular writer shouldn't continue producing new books simply because they are dead. In a way, this is a bit like fan fiction. You put known and beloved characters in new situations and enjoy the result. The difficulties I have with this are twofold: first, the books are chained to a static world. The living writer was free to change things, kill off characters or change their nature if that suited them. The best another writer, a good and well-intentioned writer can do, is stick with the establish characters.

The second issue is that it tends to make a mockery of the whole idea of being a writer. If I've never heard of a book, I might buy it based on who wrote it. I love series, but if I am new to Miss Marple, and get hooked, and see there are fifteen in the series, I will be rather pissed if halfway through I find they are written by someone else. And author isn't a brand, folks (I do know it is popular to think so) but a voice. A unique voice and another writer, regardless of skill isn't going to write the same. I love Sherlock Holmes but should point out that the Holmes of Conan Doyle is not the Holmes of Laurie King. Personally I love Laurie King's approach of continuing the saga, extending a character but in a new and different way. And there is no pretense that it has much to do with Doyle.

 If writing books by a dead person is wonderful, why not extend it. I rather like the books of Milan Kundera and Haruki Murakami and wouldn't mind writing one in the style of each. Hell, why don't we swap around? They can write my next two books and I'll write one under each of their names? To keep things fair, seeing as they have a few more fans than I, they'll probably want the royalties collected for the book under their names, so we need to chat. I'm good with that. Milan, Haruki, give me a call.

While I wait for the calls I am starting a new project in which I write books by dead people who never actually wrote any books but would have had a damn good yarn to tell if they had. Watch for my coming novel FATAL ATTRACTION by Mata Hari.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The November Challenge & its aftermath

So I wrote about taking on the challenge to write a 50,000 word draft of a novel in the month of November and it went fairly well. I wound up getting about 62,000 words done. That sounds like a lot, except that as it sits, and ferments, I know it needs a lot of work. It will be a lot longer when I'm done, which ain't bad. (THE SUN ALSO RISES is 68,000 words and it is shortish). I imagine it will come in around 90,000 words by the time I put in all the thoughts that I skipped, skimmed and otherwise didn't get in in their entirety (ever since I finished they've been bugging me to get them in in their entirety, the buggers).

I have lots of notes. Lots to do, and the ideas are still buzzing about like annoying insects (although all insects that buzz are not annoying. In Cambodia I grew very fond of buzzing dragonflies, because they eat other buzzing things). The ideas develop. It's a process, I tell myself (I should listen to myself more than I do). Trust in the process.

So it was an interesting experiment. I succeeded at the ostensible goal of stringing together more than 50,000 words of a story, but it isn't exactly a draft yet. The whole plot is there, but not the whole story.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Holiday Madness and marketing

In the United States the holiday madness has officially begun. Christmas music started playing in stores a while back, but the real sign is the reports about black Friday. Now to me, Black Friday sounds like something that should be listed under "things to avoid" like the Black Plague and the Black Hole of Calcutta and from what I read about it, I'll stick with that assessment.

I know that as an author I am supposed to be doing great hypes for my books and spending hours in seasonal marketing, but I can't bring myself to do any of it. This is a time when I like to hunker down and, gasp, write. If I don't spend hours on social media, I might get the latest book into shape in time to release it early next year. (Not just to finish the rewriting, but for editing and proofreading, to get a cover I truly like and format the book for both ebook and print, and taking the time to ensure it is better than the last ones--always trying to improve things.)

I suppose I am a marketing failure, but then I grew up wanting to be a writer, never a book seller. I'm told (via blogs and emails) that in this day and age my approach is hopeless. I don't really care. Yes, I want to make money from my books, but more than that I want to stay focused on honing my writing and find readers that way.

Just this morning I received emails offering courses that promise me a larger readership.But for the same money I can hire a first class editor and cover designer for the current book, and that is where I'd rather put the money when I can scrape it up. An editor's feedback will teach me more than any generic class, and spending money to learn marketing techniques that I won't follow is absurd.

Yes, I know for a few hundred dollars I can buy ads that promote my free books, but the books that are permafree (I stopped doing Select freebies) are being scooped up nicely, that you very much. And I don't see that they do much for sales anyway. But I'm not worried about that. I hope that some of the people who download those do read them. If they enjoy them and that's the end of it, well good. If they do buy something, then fantastic, but it isn't as if this were part of the business plan.. No, the business plan is to write more books.

So if I fail to send you an email offering a great Christmas deal, this is why. If you need promotions before you buy things, U understand, but I price my books at the lowest price I can all of the time. Call it a year round promotion if you like.

If the holiday madness is your cup of tea (what is the attraction of standing in lines?) then enjoy it. If you enjoy the media blitz, then it is there for you. In odd moments you might spare a kind thought in passing for those of us who just write.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Music and fun

A while back John Michael Pocock and I, aka IndieKline, put up a song and video on yourtube that is closing in on 100,000 hits. It's a song John wrote about Pearl Harbor and the sinking of the USS Arizona.
There is nothing new about this now, just wanted to give it a mention along with the idea that the song is available from CD Baby.

What is new is a book that John and I put together and is now going through an Amazon countdown. It's a collection of photos and poems related to Cambodia. It's called Canadian in a Cambodian Mindfield; American with a Suitcase Full of Sutras.

This is a strange and different kind of book and the kindle version is only $2.99 for a limited time. It's also available in paperback, and is in the matchbook program, which means if you buy the paperback, the ebook is free.

Friday, November 8, 2013

"A Human Touch" continues

I'm not sure how long this novel will be when it is done. At the moment my guess is that 50,000 words won't do the trick, but whatever it is, I think the draft is moving along nicely. I've hit a few sticking points as the story develops and had to stop, think over and do some minor rewrites, but overall it seems to be going well. The characters are evolving (always a concern) and I am enjoying the process.

Given that I am working on another project at the same time this month, I am pleased with the way things are going. Now back to writing.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


This month I am busy writing a novel for the Nanowrimo competition, which is about writing a 50,000 word draft in a month. It has started well.

I am writing a novel called A HUMAN TOUCH and it would be hard to describe what it is truly about at this point, except to say that it is about a movie star, a writer, and a bit of madness, if all goes well.

Before the month started, I did a cover for inspiration. It will probably change a bit, except for the photo, taken by Frank Milan at Oros Studio in Portland Oregon.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Las Cruces Booksigning

Yesterday, Jim Beckett and I drove to COAS Books in Las Cruces, NM for a book signing. The focus was on THE INVENTION OF CLAY MCKENZIE, but we had copies of UNDER LOW SKIES and Jim's two science fiction short stories as well (MURPHY'S LOSS and Proton: Heroine of Chem). We had a nice time, sold a few books, and Mike Beckett (no relation to Jim) who owns the store took a few copies to have on hand (in case you missed the signing but don't want to miss the book). It always feels good to be in a bookstore (among old friends, as it were).

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Kudos for Clay McKenzie

We recently got a review for THE INVENTION OF CLAY MCKENZIE that I want to share. Glenda Bixler at GABixler Reviews really "got the book" as we say. It is always exciting to get such a positive and thorough review from people who love books.

Here is a brief teaser from the review(it's a long one!)

This is both a fun and uniquely different romp into book publishing. An ambitious individual who can look at an issue and figure out how to get things done is A future entrepreneur if...  But when it turns into one scam after another... For the reader, we sit back and laugh because of the "dumb" people who were involved. Well, no, not dumb--rather, the "trusting" people who get involved and don't immediately realize that if something does not sound right, there is, indeed, probably something that is not right. There's not too much mystery involved for readers; it's more an adventure watching to see how far this will go!

The key issue are the characters. The author, reclusive, remains true to himself. Stephanie is the main character and before long, you will be wanting to help her, maybe even slap her into recognition! Still, even if nobody slapped her, it is a wonderful and fitting ending that totally satisfies, even if it certainly is a surprising one! A totally enjoyable tale in the ever-changing world of today's publishing! Check it out!

Naturally I hope you will read the entire review and it will encourage you to buy a copy and read it if you haven't yet. It is available in both ebook and print formats. It is available everywhere, but here are some links to make life easier.

Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Standing up for literature

Back sometime around the time of Charlemagne, I remember reading a bio of Hemingway and being struck by the idea that he wrote standing up. That, I thought, was about the dumbest thing a person could do. After all, being comfortable let the mind flow around in all that creative space.

Somewhere along the line, that idea went out along with the one that smoking a pipe and wearing jackets with leather elbow patches improved my writing. Not that I snub anything that would improve my writing, but I had come to realize that looking like I thought a writer should look didn't really help me get better prose on paper.

I came, somehow (I really don't recall) to embrace the idea of writing standing up, at least part of the time. In Cambodia, Dagny made me a standing desk and a local carpenter made a stool exactly to my dimensions. (I do wish I could have brought that stool back -- I modeled it after one I saw in a bar in Koh Kong). So my writing station looked like this.

The motorcyle didn't improve my writing either, but this was Cambodia, and the office was in what had been a bar (and a church and a brothel) before we rented it.

This set up worked pretty well, although standing on concrete limited my stints at the computer. And yes, the little notebook was all I had for quite some time. Worked okay, but slow.

Then, coming back to the US, I knew I wanted something different. Dagny and I both spent a lot of time looking at office designs that were aesthetically pleasing and ergonomic (and finding out what that meant to various folks). We found lots of high-tech solutions like the one below but that seemed too expensive and overkill. I am not that high tech anymore.

Then we found a nice solution. And it looks like this.
It's an adjustable stand up desk (Focal Upright Furniture) and works better than the one in Cambodia. This is just a recent incarnation of the setup and I am getting used it, but I think it is working great. The light (optional) is fantastic. Good friend and coauthor, Jim Beckett, loaned me a monitor and printer and keyboard so that my laptop thinks its a tower. Life is good.

And there go my excuses for not writing.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Traveling and writing

Travel and writing seem to go hand in hand for me. Maybe that is simply because I seem to travel all the time and write all time and so they are a forced fit and I could just as well say that traveling and breathing go hand in hand. True, but a rather useless connection to make.

But I don't think so. I get inspired by travel. We just drove a few hundred miles along the Old West Highway in Arizona, turning up to Pumpkin Junction and down to Scottsdale and then back. There is a lot of beautiful country along that route and it ranges from desert to mountainous. We've made the trip quite a few times and I can't help but imagine crossing the country I am seeing in a Conestoga wagon or on horse. I shudder when I see how far away the next bit of green is or the arroyos that need crossing. It's the kind of thing I want to have in mind if I ever write a Western, or even a story about someone crossing beautiful but rather inhospitable terrain.

None of that has much to do with the current works in progress, but that's okay. I took photos and my memories are synched to the sights and sounds and smells (the dog coaches me on the last two). It is all good stuff to store away.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A weekend at a writing festival

This weekend is the Southwest Festival of the Written Word here in Silver City, NM. It is the first time this has been tried and I returned just in time. I hope it becomes a regular event. It is still on, but already I have had a chance to hear, and talk with, people in the business of getting words sold. Peter Riva, a literary agent, gave an information-packed talk on the state of the market. I wish he had been given twice the time, as he had much to say. Mark Medoff talked about screen and play writing from both conceptual and lifestyle perspectives. His talk was both entertaining and informative.

I also spent some valuable time with Diana and Jaime Andrade, the owners of Brook Forest Voices in Colorado, who make audio books and enhanced ebooks. You can learn a great deal online, but it is more fun when you can interact, asking questions and watching body language. Besides, they are likeable people and it was an enjoyable talk. Like most of the people I've been encountering, they seem to get excited about what they do. 

As I look at the things I want to accomplish this year and into the next, all this information provides food for thought, as well as ballpark ideas for the cost of doing things. And it is fun to see the other authors who are at the festival trying to do exactly what I want to do -- sell books.

The organizers have done a great job with this inaugural event and my hat is off to them.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A single focus for an eclectic person

I read the blogs of other writers and I am often impressed that they seem able to write a book, just one book, and stay with it to the end before starting another. If that is the sign of a writing discipline, then it is one I lack.

Not that I lack focus, exactly. I can sit down at my desk and work on a story, one story, until I look up and notice that the say disappeared somewhere (days do that to me a lot). I can even be interrupted, stopping to answer the door or make lunch or play with the dog, and get back to the task.

What I am talking about is lacking the kind of focus that means every day I sit down and work on the same story. I can go days in that mode, but then wake from a lucid dream (or something) with another idea in my head. It could be an idea on how to fix a story I previously shelved, or a new story altogether.

And I, of course, feel compelled to get it down. Some of it, at least.

It isn't that I think this is the best way to work, but it seems to be part of me. And not an occasional part, either. I almost always have several stories in the works. So when people ask, "What are you writing?" my answer tends to be more of a catalog than it ought to be.

I have no idea if this tendency makes my writing better or worse, but I do know that it plays hell with my "to-do" list. It ebbs and flows like some erratic tidal system. But the writing is enjoyable, and that is the important thing.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Book stores and readers

We are in the process of scheduling some book signings and readings (aka "events") for THE INVENTION OF CLAY MCKENZIE. The people who have read it are few, but have been enthusiastic and we are determined to help it find more readers.
 This is the story of a reclusive New Mexican author (whose name is not Clay McKenzie) and a brilliant first novel. It is about an ambitious (and young) New York editor who wants to prove herself; and mostly of her well-intended attempt to make things appear as they are not, and the consequences of putting that in motion.

As an avid reader and a fan of bookstores (real bookstores, where the people who work in them know and love books), logic dictated working through bookstores to encounter the elusive reader. 

The attitudes of stores toward author events prooved mixed... some enjoy them and see their value (authors and readers in the same place and maybe some sales), and some do not. Fair enough. We work with the willing.

COAS Books in Las Cruces, New Mexico is one that does work with authors willingly, and we have scheduled a book signing there on Saturday October 26th from 10 am to noon (during the Farmer's Market!). Jim Beckett and I will be there to chat with readers and sign books. It should be fun.

On January 4th we will travel to Albuquerque's North Valley, north of Griegos, in the Flying Star Plaza, for an 3pm event at Bookworks.

We hope to do a few more, perhaps in Tucson or elsewhere in the Eastern part of Arizona.  Our intent is to try and convey some of our excitement about the book and meet readers. If you are in the area, we'd love to meet you. If your favorite bookstore is open to such things and not too far from New Mexico, let us know and we will see what is possible.

Monday, August 26, 2013

A Day at the (Duck) Races

I finally made it to the Deming (New Mexico) annual duck races this weekend. We writer types have to immerse ourselves in all sorts of things to have material to put into our books, right? Well, this has been going on for 34 years and I had never made it.

So we went. As you can see in the picture they actually do race ducks there. Live, quacking ducks. There is lots of enthusisasm. What there wasn't a lot of was duck iconography. There were no duck hats. No duck balloons. No windup ducks (that I saw, at least--I might have missed them).

But there were the races. Two days of them. The outhouse race, however, was unfortunately cancelled for unknown reasons. You can't have everything.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The dark side of writing

Now that we've made the transition back to New Mexico and I am settling in to a work routine, I am confronting that demon all writers face. No, not writer's block. I love the act of writing and seldom have trouble getting into a writing mode. I speak of the unspeakable--marketing.

I know some people who work in marketing, and I will confess that all of them are not demonic villains. Some are nice people. The ones who have been doing it a long time are all competent. I even know how they spend their days. It gives me shivers.

Oh, I have done it, will do it (and wash my hands after), but it is an excruciatingly difficult task for me to wax eloquent on or to drum up enthusiasm for. The problem is that marketing reminds me of busking. I was never that good at busking. I liked performing too much. Sometimes I forgot to put out the tip jar.

Yes. Pathetic.

So I look for the less embarrassing ways to beg (and isn't that what the "please buy my book" line boils down to?). I look for ways that project my books. Ways to make it seem cool to own and read (God forbid) them.

Not many come to mind. A few lovely reviews have appeared for UNDER LOW SKIES and THE INVENTION OF CLAY MCKENZIE on Amazon, and I am happy for that. I'd love to get more. For all the books. But it takes a certain kind of person to be willing to buy the book, read it and then comment on it publicly. And it takes all three steps for a review to matter.

Meantime I can dream of hiring a publicist who does it all, while I sit writing the next book.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Travel in the modern age

Change comes to all things, and these days change comes at increasingly rapid rates. As a lifelong traveler, I have seen quite a shift in the entire travel experience over my lifetime. The most obvious shift, especially in terms of international travel, is that it has become far more efficient. Going from country A to country B, even changing continents, happens far more quickly. That is essentially an improvement. But it has a cost.

In making travel better for business travelers, saving them time and effort, we have lost the travel experience. When I first started globe trotting, the trip itself was a major part of the adventure. It wasn't always fun, but it always held surprises well beyond the miracle of your flight being on time. It could be wonderfully chaotic. You were thrown in with a mix of people, some of whom were interesting, for indeterminate periods of time. Now things are precise and calculated. The airlines tell you when to arrive and what you can bring and what you cannot. The sterile airports that they all travel to provide little social interaction (or even seldom anything more interesting than chain restaurant food). It is all predictable. And boring.

We've lost modes of travel as well. My early international travels were by steamship. I was fortunate enough to cross both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans by sea. Not in a cruise ship, with casinos and lounge acts, but in passenger ships that afforded nice food and a deck chair where you could sit and watch the sea or read a book. I loved the smells and sounds of being at sea. Even a typhoon in the Pacific and a winter storm in the Atlantic did nothing to dispel that joy.

It seems you can't do that anymore. You can book random trips, but regular passenger travel by sea isn't cost effective. Insurance companies don't like it. Government agencies apparently don't like passenger ships either. In preparing for our most recent move to Asia (Cambodia) I tried to book passage on a ship. I contacted every broker, every ship company that even sounded like they went in that direction. Two companies responded. The first offered me a week-long cruise around SE Asia. Of course you had to fly to Bangkok and catch the boat. When I mentioned that detail, they didn't understand why I would want to sail there. To get there, maybe?

 The second was more promising. It was a freighter company with a few cabins. Lovely. But they could get us from Seattle to Taiwan, but not further. Well, they could take us to Singapore, but we weren't going there. They suggested that we could find something in Taiwan. But to be allowed into Taiwan you have to have a return ticket or onward transportation booked. We were going one way. Besides, flying on from Taiwan defeated the point of taking a ship (one reason was to take more luggage than airlines allow, to be fair), especially since we could fly the entire route for almost as much as the Taiwan to Phnom Pehn flight.

Ultimately, I realized that I had to wave a sad goodbye to yet one more of my illusions of travel in the whirl of modernity, as it had gone the way of other dinosaurs, such as Cadillac convertibles with tail fins, TWA seaplanes and regional cooking along American highways.

I mourn them all, even though I never wanted a Cadillac.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Authors instead of writers

Call me slow, but I have come to understand why I've never gotten along too well with traditional publishing ventures. Oh, I have tried the route and published books through established publishers, but it has never been (ultimately) a happy experience on either side. Now, don't misunderstand me--the people were largely nice and mostly honest (with notable exceptions). Sometimes we shared failures, as in the time I got my book all ready through editing and galleys and approved the cover and the publisher went under because of disputes with distributors. Not the publishers fault, and nothing to do with me or my book, except for being in the wrong house at the wrong time.

Since that time (long ago) the world of publishing has changed. Yes, even a traveling writer pops his head up long enough to notice sometimes. What I have noticed, and digested and now determined is that publishers of the larger-than-life type don't want writers at all anymore. Nope. Not one. They have no use for writers at all.

They want authors. And I am a writer.

Okay, so what is the difference? Sometimes people use the terms to distinguish between published and unpublished writers, but that isn't it. The difference today is that writers write... books, articles, recipes, whatever. Authors promote, try their best to become celebrities and agonize over their sales figures. Both want to make money, and you might argue that being an author is the professional approach, geared to earning money and a place in the sun. That is certainly the view publishers take. But you'll have to admit that writing is a lot more fun. Writing and getting out and doing things, gaining experiences and insights worth writing about.

I can promote but don't do it very much. I started this blog to promote my writing and books but don't get around to blogging as often as I am told I should. I get inspired to promote and then get distracted by the ideas piling up in my undisciplined brain. Ah well. I have learned to live with it.

If you want a fun take on the problems this situation can create in the world of publishing (not for writers, but for the whole system), Jim Beckett and I wrote a novel about it (writers write, right?) called THE INVENTION OF CLAY MCKENZIE. It's available as an ebook at iTunes, and in ebook and paperback formats at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

Okay, that is my promotional effort for the week and hey, I feel more like an author already. Pass me a corduroy jacket with leather patches on the elbows and a pipe. I'm ready.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Fiction in a consumer world

Being contemporary ain't what it used to be. Especially for a writer.

Fiction, the kind of fiction that I enjoy, attempts to capture some facet of life, to discuss an issue or, as Milan Kundera says, deal with some existential question. (Not answer it, mind you... just explore it). That doesn't mean that the stories are necessarily realistic, but making that facet of life or existential question relevant to the reader does require a certain one-to-one correspondence with the world that readers know.For it to be true, it has to fit in with what else they know to be true, or at least appear to.

Given that premise, the job of writing fiction is growing increasingly difficult and the reason is consumerism. The continuous introduction of new products and technologies and the (eager) desire to interact with the world in new ways means that the world itself changes significantly in increasingly short spans of time. Much science fiction from the past twenty years seems childishly simple in today's world. Some futuristic predictions considered extreme when they were written are rather bland compared to the real changes that have taken place. Tweeting is one. Social media an important tool of big business? Who woulda thunk it?

The rapid rate of change is old news but the implications continue to manifest. Here is a simple example of how these changes confound a writer. I ran across a story idea I had filed away a few years back, intending to write the story when I had a better idea of what to do with it. I liked the idea, but it has a problem--it hinges on a character sitting at home waiting for a phone call and yet having an urgent need to leave the house. What young reader would understand that now? I can hear them mutter: "Take your phone with you, jerk!"

Even if I established that this took back in ancient times, say the 1980s, would today's readers really understand the situation? Would the tension it creates be felt? I don't think so. They might accept it, but that dilemma is not visceral enough to grip. Better to toss that one. The shelf life of ideas is shrinking. I will need to date stamp them--"Best written before..."

It is an era of rampant consumerism. You can love it or hate it, but a writer cannot ignore it. It even changes our vocabulary at a frantic pace, leaving the writer the concern that having one character text another might be a totally archaic action in a few years. People still use Skype, but with rising competition and new technologies emerging, is it safe to have characters do it?

What is a bit maddening about this is that these things seldom have much to do with the story. But they do involve the telling, and the telling affects the reader's enjoyment. Most writers want to entertain at least somewhat. Regardless of the "point of my novel" I want readers to enjoy the experience, even if it is darker.

Unfortunately (in terms of being aware of these changes) I am not an ardent consumer, nor an early adopter. Many years working in the vanguard of technology as a journalist made me rather bored by change for its own sake, yet that sort of thing is at the heart of the consumer world and drives this writing problem.  So I will have to work harder.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Overlooked and unloved

I have a number of books published and I am proud of them all. Their fates are important to me.

Now writers tend to have a favorite among their literary children and I am also well aware that readers often disagree with writers concerning which is their best book. But one book of mine that I have a fondness for doesn't suffer from readers not liking it. It suffers the angst of loneliness. Although my other books do sell this one hasn't. Never.

 Here is is, just to the left. Nameless Mountain. See the book with the nice cover, with a great photo by Guy Prentice.

I think that the book's invisibility is a shame, because I honestly think it is a fun book and that readers would enjoy it and want to read my other books.

What's a kid to do?

Part of the problem is that this story doesn't fit into any genre that I am aware of; it has no home in a niche. It is just a story. It is humorous (in my dark and weird manner) but not a book to be read for laughs. The universe the characters live in is a bit off kilter, but not in a science fiction sense. It is just that it is filtered through my own perverse way of seeing things.The relationships of the characters, the narrators happiness in finding a place with no name, are factors. No one dies in the book. It lacks any exciting car chases, however there is a humor attack and sex and gambling. And lots of traveling about.

The book evolved through several incarnations. It actually first came into my life, via my computer, back in the 80s. It was rewritten, scrapped, revised, salvaged, and finally redrafted entirely. I thought I had it nailed, finally. The story that needed telling was stripped of the story that I was trying to layer on it. My efforts to be creative had been getting in the way of my being creative. That happens. So I got out of the way (stood sort of to the side--an uncomfortable posture to hold for any length of time) and let the story tell itself. Even about the brainy Vegas hooker named Denise (she's a Scorpio) and the agony of a wine snob. There is high drama when Ted pukes on a Corvette. All the ingredients are there.

But online selling hinges on categorization. And what is it? To my mind it is a story about people sorting out who they are. Sort of Kerouac with a sense of humor and a pinch of belief in the overall right working of things. In short, a novel.

Failing anything else, I have it listed under Literature & Fiction > Humor and Literature & Fiction > Literary. That last one sounds a bit snooty to me, but the books like it are listed that way, so what to do? I think most readers of literary fiction have a plateful of established authors to choose from and the discovery process for a lesser known (okay, unknown) is about like waiting for a bus in the middle of the Gobi desert. Both can happen, but what are the odds?

So categories fail me and if I can't label it, readers cannot find it. Oh me, oh my!

Then, this morning, I thought of a label that might work, at least for a time. It is accurate, to the point, motivates a buyer to consider it, and captures the mood (that I want it to be read). That label is FREE. Until July 31, the novel is free in any ebook format at Smashwords.(It is also available in paperback, not free, if you are so inclined.)

My hope is that this way it will get read. And maybe you will download a copy, read it and let me know what category you'd expect to find it in. A honest review would be appreciated too.

Happy summertime.

Traveling Ed

Sunday, June 30, 2013

July Book Sale!

During the month of July a number of my ebooks are on sale to make your summer reading more fun--many are half price. This is offer is only through Smashwords, but the good news is that they have about every ebook format available. Just enter the coupon that will be at the top of each book page and enter it for the discount. Then download mobi, epub or even PDF or plain text--whatever floats your boat.

All the links you'll ever need to load your favorite e-reader with discounted books are here:

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Writer's Conundrum

As a writer, my main love is creating fiction and poetry. As a creator of books, I want to reach readers. As a human who would like to earn a living, I want to sell those books. This is nothing new in my life and nothing that came with the changes that are sweeping through the world of publishing. Dave Farland expressed this beautifully in his blog David Farland’s Daily Kick in the Pants—Waiting to Be Discovered. Here is a short bit (read his blog).
I’m a firm believer that if I “get it right,” if I create a beautiful work, I’ll find an audience. A story that is unique, engrossing, and powerful will attract attention. People will talk about it. If enough people get excited, it will be like a bolt of lightning that electrifies everyone that it touches, and then reaches out to touch others.

So your goal for today is to get it right.

Once you do that, you still have to market your works, let enough people—the right people—know what you’ve done.
For writers, it is the last bit that sucks. But, okay. I am a tough guy and I just need to man up and get 'er done, right?


Fortunately, there is a ton of advice on the web on how to do exactly that. Unfortunately it is often couched in general, rather vague and useless terms.

One writer recently suggested that when you use your five Kindle Select free days (allowed with a 90 day period), you "pick them wisely." Good advice, assuming you know what are wise days for poems that are not topical, for instance. The same writer suggests promoting your book before the free days, so people will know about it. Which is fine, except that the free days are the promotion, which means that you are promoting your promotion (somehow) in the hopes the promotion will work. That leads me to wonder if the wise author should promote the promotion, promoting the promotion (of the free books)? Time well spent, I'd think. Except that somewhere you have to consider that eventually the actually promotion must go on.

Or must it? The returns writers get on the free day promotions are an exceedingly mixed bag. Some writers suggest that they do free days to get reviews. I've heard that you can often get one review for every 1,000 downloads. Hmmm. Of course, I've also been told that having reviews (assuming they are good) will make your promotion more successful. Well, if you are getting reviews, then the point of the free days is what, exactly.

I admit that I get easily confused.

I see writers using promotional services. One well-known one will promote my book as soon as it is successful (in terms of x number of 4-star reviews). Yes, I and I know of a mechanic who will guarantee that he can fix anything as long as nothing is broke. Maybe they can ride off in the sunset together.

Ah, but there are reviewers, people who love books and review them. Did you know that the vast number of them charge for that? I didn't. I used to review books myself. I had reviews in MidWest Review of Books. I did a monthly column online where I reviewed books a couple of short years ago and I was paid, let me think--no I wasn't paid. I got to keep the book. Silly me.

I will be the first to say that all of these obstacles or frustrations (or whatever) are surmountable with the right attitude, plenty of cheeky optimism and some time and cash. I can be cheeky and even optimistic. I can sell something or borrow for the cash. But if I put my time into becoming a social media expert (another routine bit of well-intentioned advice for writers) and build my reader base, then I won't be writing. Even doing this blog means I didn't write a couple of thousand words on the current novel in the works.

So I cancelled my Facebook account. It was meaningless and a time sink (sorry Mark). I still have twitter, but I am not quite sure why, other that it tickles me that I can go to my Amazon author central page and see there, that I tweeted about posting a blog here. It is all appallingly and bizarrely appealingly self referential.

And that leave me down to my minimalist marketing strategy. I am investing in a soap box. (A wooden one, not a cardboard laundry detergent box. This is big time.) Every Sunday I will go to a different park, stand on my soap box, shout something controversial, and when the crowd appears, instead of waiting to be discovered, I will touch them with my book. I will have a print copy in my hand and touch them, thus selling possibly tens of copies of my book.

This innovative strategy will seem a bit retro in this era of flash stuff, of course, but retro is the new leading edge in our self-referential, recycled culture.

Or so I am told.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Book reviews, sales and other confusions

Float Street Press has been experimenting with things, trying to figure out how to reach readers. We'd like our books to be read (seeing as that is the point of publishing them) and especially find readers who like a particular author. Javaid Qazi writes strange and wonderful short stories, but his two collections (UNLIKELY STORIES and THE JEWELED WEB) have not sent tremors through the publishing world. Still, when UNLIKELY STORIES came out, it got good reviews. Someone giving it a five star review wrote:
Excellent stories from Pakistan to Silicon Valley 
By A Customer
Javaid Qazi's first collection of short stories is notable both for their insightful nature and amazing variety. A country-western barfly, Silicon Valley office workers, a doctor and his family in Pakistan, a lustful maid in Portugal, and a German 'stripteuse' populate these tales. Throughout the world Qazi finds interesting people in interesting dilemmas. His language is as original as it too is varied. A highly recommended first book by an upcoming writer who measures up internationally.
 That was lovely, but it doesn't seem that it encouraged shoppers to avail themselves of the book.
Okay, I get it that short story collections, especially when they lurk in a strange limbo between experimental and mainstream fiction, sometimes encroaching on one, sometimes the other, isn't the easiest sell. How do you tell people what it is? Our thought was to publish some stories individually and let people know they were from a large collection of such stories.

So we published two stories and made them available at 99cents and used the Kindle free days to let the world know.

 Both received an encouraging number of downloads, both free and paid. And one reviewer (the only reviewer) of President Sahib's Blue Period gave it:

5.0 out of 5 stars Wise, metaphorical, entertaining May 16, 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Amazon Verified Purchase
This short story contains many allegories and metaphors for our age, at the same time containing irony and humor. The writing style reminds me of Marquez' "One Hundred Years of Solitude." 
We've seen no reviews for Berlin Danse Macabre yet, but it is a challenging story.
Understanding what this anecdotal evidence means is difficult. I don't know what inspires people to write reviews, or how other people relate to reviews. I take them along with salt tablets myself, as single grains are usually inadequate, but the reviews of Javaid's books suggest that they struck a lovely chord with some readers.Now we are hoping that the interest this generated is enough to get readers to go for the collections. We could publish all of the stories individually and we will if that is what readers prefer. Given that the least we can charge for a story is 99 cents and the collection of 11 stories in UNLIKELY STORIES is $3.99 and THE JEWELED WEB has 18 for $4,99, I am not sure why readers would prefer single stories, but I know that I am not a typical reader. (We have both in paperback as well, for those who are not addicted to ereaders and like the touch and feel of books.)

It's a fun experiment and the results are sketchy. If you have any thoughts on the idea or value of individual stories versus collections, or how to let people taste a collection in another way, I'd love to hear them.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Music From the Story

My good friend Edward Null, who is a wonderful songwriter and folksinger, took the time to read a draft of my new novel, UNDER LOW SKIES and claimed he enjoyed it. When I asked him if he liked it well enough to write some songs based on it, he said yes. I think he actually said "Hell yes" but then that is what I wanted to hear, and I think I'll stick to that version of the history.

Things never go exactly as intended, and of course, the album that got finished isn't exactly about the story I wrote. The story is a murder mystery/suspense story that takes place in Venezuela, where I lived for seven years. As things developed, we wound up with songs were inspired by the kind of life of the main character Martin Billings, who captains an inter-island freighter in the Caribbean, leads. As we worked on it, I decided that was probably a better result (more fun, more interesting), as it doesn't contain any spoilers or any contrived lyrics stuffed in to sell the book. It's just good music that relates to life on a boat in the Caribbean. Hey, what more could you want?

In putting together the material, Ed decided to re-rerecord a couple of my tunes that fit the theme, as well as write some new ones of his own, including the title song. I got to tweak the lyrics a bit, even enough to get a co-writing credit in one case, and play a harp fill on one song. I couldn't talk him into using another song of his that is excellent as he didn't think it fit.

It was a fun collaboration and seeing as Ed is in Missouri and I am in Cambodia, we were tickled with how well it came together. I am trying to get enough photos and video material to do a trailer for the book that will feature the song UNDER LOW SKIES. Don't hold your breath though. When it comes to visual stuff, I work kinda slow (and painfully).

I've posted the album cover below. The music should be available for download soon, if not already, at Edward Null's CD Baby site. If it isn't there yet, well Hurricane Rosie is a damn good listen too.

Under Low Skies Now those of you with a nautical bent  are going to notice that the boat in the graphic to port isn't an inter-island freighter, but a sailboat. Yes, sharp eyes there, mate. But then, as a I said, the songs are the right feeling for the book, not actually the story, and well, the sailboat wound up fitting the songs better than a freighter would.
Below is a little another graphic I did that pushes the album and book into one space. That is sort of an advertising gimmick--inserting gratuitously and then pointing it out provides a convenient excuse for me to stick a link to Amazon where you can buy the book (print or kindle) online. But it is also available from iTunes Bookstore, Kobo and Barnes & Noble.

So this is the latest push from Float Street Press. We have some other exciting books and miscellany in the works and I will be talking a bit about our intention to publish our first romance novel. If things stay more or less on what passes for schedules around here, we will be releasing it in November of this year. But it is a rather large book, so there is much to do.

Friday, April 19, 2013


It seems odd to be wishing for rain in SE Asia. It is the tropics after all, but it has been hot. Even the breeze, when there is any, was hot. And it was humid. The sky hung heavy. It needed to rain. Rain cools things.

Finally it did rain. Several times. We found new holes in the roof and the gutter had backed up so a wall was running water. Who cares? Things cooled down. Life became more energetic. The moo frogs were happy. The tokay gekos were shouting "oh oh!" (that means they are happy).

Now it's hot. The breeze is hot. It is overcast. I hope it will rain.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

New Video

I've been playing with videos to promote my books. Okay this post is kinda self serving, but making little videos is fun and there are some cool shots of strange places.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Lasagne and Publishers

Sometimes there are things in life that elude you. The two things I notice that I am never able to nail down are lasagne and publishers. I wonder if there is a connection?

I love lasagne. With meat. (Note to chefs, lasagne has meat. Meatless lasagne should be condemned to the same hell as light beer) Throughout my life I have had great difficulty getting lasagne in restaurants. I have walked into restaurants that specialize in lasagne and not been able to get it. They are out. I have ordered it ahead of time, going into the restaurant and saying, "I am coming in on Wednesday. The only thing I am coming for is lasagne. With meat. I don't care if you have running water, but promise you will have lasagne." They write down my name and my order.

When I arrive they don't have it.Or they made a mistake and saved some meatless thing that vaguely resembles what I ordered. Even if the waiter says yes they have it and takes my order, I won't get it (once a group of 24 people came into a restaurant and ordered all the lasagne about three minutes before they took my order.)

This has nothing to do with where I live. It has happened:
In the United States. (Boston, Austin, New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland OR...)

In Italy (for crying out loud!).

And now in Cambodia.

A neighbor, out of pity for my plight, went to the same damn place that I struck out the last time and called to ask if I wanted her to bring me some as she was there and they had lasagne coming out of their ears. So sometimes I actually get some, but not when I go out to eat.

It has been this way all my life and isn't likely to change now. My wife laughed when I told her about. Now, lo these many years later she has seen this in operation too many times and always hints nicely that I might consider the lovely ravioli.

I've been writing for many years now. Magazine articles, nonfiction books, poetry, short stories and novels.
My luck with publishers, at least with fiction, follows a path reminiscent of my search for lasagne. I write a book, and after a great deal of effort, find a publisher who loves it. Hurrah, I cry.

But just because the waiter took the order, it doesn't mean you get the lasagne.

So the publisher loves the book. Contract is signed. Celebrate! The publisher gets to work (we are not talking cons here) and spends eons working on the book. Me too. Back in the old days I wrote a lot of science fiction and Ermine Publishing was excited about bringing out a double novella of mine. That was in the days of physical galleys. They hired someone to do the cover art. They edited the text. They typeset it. Lots of work.

Then they went out of business.

A few years later I sold a book to a publisher I won't name, but the editor got fired a week later and it turned out he didn't have the authority to sign the contract and anyway, they were changing their focus to cook books.

Then I sold a humorous novel (THE LEGEND OF RON ANEJO) to NovelBooks. They actually published it. A lot of angst and chaos later, they were out of business and, fortunately, the rights returned to me. (Lucky you can get it through the link on the right.)

A little bit ago, I announced that Glass Page Books was going to publish my murder mystery novel, based in Venezuela, called UNDER LOW SKIES. They did a nice cover. And then... went out of business.

So I will publish the book myself, along with the sequel, BANDIDO, that is almost done.

Fortunately, I've worked in publishing a lot of my adult life as a magazine editor, book editor (freelance) and sometimes publisher. I can see why the publishers I worked with failed. Float Street Press, my imprint, is a more cautious toe in those waters. I publish myself and a few others. We will try to develop the process and have fun with it.

Meantime, I have to remember not to expect to get lasagne or a publisher. And interestingly enough, I can actually do fine without either. It turns out that neither is particularly healthy.

Sunday, February 17, 2013



Recently my agent, Rebecca Pratt, contacted me with the news that a publisher in the US was interested in my mystery novel UNDER LOW SKIES. We negotiated and I am happy to say that Glass Page Books will be publishing the book later this year.

This is the story of Martin Billings, an exSeal who is captain of an inter-island freighter. It is a tough life and requires an independent spirit. In this story, his younger brother is accused of murdering a Venezuelan fisherman. Martin goes to Cumana, Venezuela to try and sort things out and finds that the mess his brother has stepped into is a lot bigger than he could have imagined.

The publisher did this cover, which I think is great, and my good friend Derek Marabol√≠ corrected both my Spanish and a few errors I made in place names in Venezuela. 

Needless to say I am looking forward to its release.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Colds and construction

The terrible onslaught of colds and flu hit here in Asia just as it has in so many places. It seemed odd at first, that we were sitting in weather that was 90F and snorting away with winter colds, but there it was. I thought it a poor choice of ways to begin the new year, but on the other hand maybe it gets all the being sick out of the way for a good long time. There ought to be some sort of karmic value to it -- short term, I mean. I suppose everything factors in karmically if you look at a long enough span of time.

It doesn't help that Dr. Philippe, our landlord, started putting up a new old house next door. He bought it standing out the jungle or someplace, had it taken down and brought here. It looks like a nice house, but with the crew working it was hard to sit around and take it easy and get over being sick. Below are photos of the ritual blessing on site, and two photos of the first wall going up. Reconstruction, Cambodian style.

Now the house is mostly done, at least that is what we are told. It seems to us like there is a lot left to do.