Moving on…

July 6th, 2017

My publisher Penmore Press and I are still in the throes of PR and marketing for my new book, Rembrandt’s Angel. Like all my books, this will an ongoing effort for years to come. Traditionally or indie published, or any of the combinations in between, this is the average writer’s task now. While most publishers can do a lot to help, it’s increasingly on the author to promote her or his book. Only King and other superstars of the writing world get the VIP treatment—paid trailers on TV, full-page ads in the NY Times, and so forth.

That’s the way of the current writing world. PR and marketing represent the worst part of the job because many writers, myself included, don’t do it well or with much enthusiasm. We’d rather be writing! But, like correcting papers if you’re a teacher, practicing scales and arpeggios if you’re a pianist, or debugging code if you’re a programmer, there are things about the writing life that aren’t nearly as fun as writing.

Editing is another onerous task. It’s usually shorter than the PR and marketing one, though. You don’t have to keep doing it. In fact, you don’t have to do it at all, right? Wrong! Sure, you can hire an editor if you’re indie, and your publisher will pay for one if you’re going the traditional route. But you should always have a clean manuscript for your beta-readers, queries to agents, and editors. You need one to even get your foot in the door with any traditional publisher.

I do these tasks because they’re necessary to have fun writing and entertaining people with what I write. The teacher grades papers to have fun teaching and enjoying the rewards of seeing that look of comprehension among her or his students. The pianist does her or his exercises and warmups to enjoy playing a fine piece of classical music (or jazz, or a Billy Joel song). And the programmer delights in seeing her or his graphics playing on the screen after all that debugging. Some do it all over and over again and move on to the next lesson, piano piece, and code challenge. In my case, the next book.

That’s a long segue to discussing my next writing projects. First up is a post-apocalyptic thriller that’s finished except for the editing (copy editing in my case—I content edit as I go). I hope to send the edited manuscript soon to my beta-readers. I’m also working on a new YA sci-fi novel that greatly expands on an early short story, “Marcello and Me,” found in the speculative fiction collection Pasodobles in a Quantum Stringscape; that story won a prize in one of the few contests I’ve entered (it was free, of course—money spent on entering contests only makes the organizers rich and is better spent on PR and marketing, if spent wisely). I’ve temporarily shelved that, but I’ll eventually get back to it. (I’m also preparing a Pasodobles, Volume Two.)

I’d like to turn the “Mary Jo Melendez Mysteries” into a trilogy. I had a good start on that before Rembrandt’s Angel approached publication and the corresponding PR and marketing began to take more of my time. The project least developed is a sequel to Soldiers of God—I want to explore the character of the priest a wee bit more. I’ll get back to you on both of these.

Read the rest of this entry »

News and Notices from the Writing Trenches #146…

July 5th, 2017

Summer reading. Vacation or staycation, you can get some good R&R by reading a good novel or two. Also short story collections which portion out good tales in bite-size chunks even when your days are full. In fact, even if your days are hectic with different activities related to work or play, a good book can be a rich dessert to top everything off. It’s a good time to catch up on those books you’ve been meaning to read too!

There are many book sales for summer and holidays. Avid readers watch for them, and any reader can take advantage of them. (For the Smashwords site-wide sale, see below.)

Watching for classics. I’ve recently purchased some “classics” (fiction and non-fiction) on sale as ebooks. Some I have in paper version, but I wanted a copy for my Kindle; others are “new” to me—books I missed or originally found to expensive to buy. Take advantage when you see one available for $5 or less. New purchases of these classics will encourage authors and publishers to recycle these great books. Who knows? I might encourage Big Five publishers to drop all their ebook prices!

Literacy. David Baldacci is a great promoter of literacy and takes time to promote it while other writing superstars just count the money rolling in, although they wouldn’t be against it, that’s for sure. While I’ve yet to see an entire book written in social media’s acronyms—Ann w LOL: “OMG! WITW? TACP!”—I worry that internet communication will destroy literacy. When I worked in my high-tech day-job, I found many technical people who struggled to express themselves clearly, but this is becoming generalized. The next decades could be interesting.

“Steve’s Bookshelf”. I’ve always been an avid reader (speed-reading ability helps). Even now, as a full-time writer, I take time for reading and reviewing. The list of books on this webpage are just a few that have impressed me over the years.

Book piracy. I hope you read my blog post on this topic. Authors and publishers are discouraged from writing and publishing more books because of this prevalent practice. Support your favorite authors and publishers by buying their books. Reading for free shouldn’t be some vicarious turn-on (free copies in return for honest reviews are exceptions, of course).

First five-star Amazon review for Rembrandt’s Angel. I receive some reviews for my books, but this is the earliest I’ve ever received. Here are excerpts:

“If you lean toward mysteries that entertain as well as intrigue, this title is for you. …successfully couples history’s fascination with the still-missing master artworks that disappeared under the Third Reich with a pair of intercontinental sleuths who are more than a match for the cast of neo-Nazis they choose to tangle with. I say choose because 60-something Esther Brookstone of Scotland Yard and her somewhat younger partner and paramour Bastiann van Coevorden (Interpol) are clearly in command as they pursue a missing Rembrandt canvas across borders….”
“As the story unfolds, the pair maintain a delightful banter centered as much around their sex life as their pursuit of artworks and the crooks who would trade them for enough cash to finance a new and even more nefarious Nazi regime. Read it to find out which side triumphs and how they do it. Then join me in hoping there are more stories ahead starring this clever pair.”—Amazon Customer

Read the rest of this entry »

Review of A. H. Richardson’s Murder in Little Shendon…

July 5th, 2017

[A. H. Richardson, Murder in Little Shendon, 978-1-5152-8397-3, Serano Press, 2015. A free copy was sent to this reviewer in exchange for an honest review.]

Oh, those British mysteries! How I love them! From Agatha Christie to Ian Rankin (OK, he’s Scottish, and I go for the Irish stories too), the Inspectors, DCIs, and detectives, pros and aficionados, have always entertained me (so much so that my new book is an homage to Christie). This one’s a who-done-it a la Christie, mostly taking part in a rural village where everybody knows everybody, and everybody seems to be a suspect!

The cast of characters—it takes a village—features Inspector Stanley Burgess, the local constable, Sir Victor Hazlitt, nephew (really cousin) of Lady Armstrong, the richest woman in the village, and almost-famous actor Beresford Brandon. The latter two men go to Little Shendon to help Burgess find the murderer of the hated Mr. Fynche who seems to have had everyone in the village mad at him for one thing or the other and not regretting his demise.

There are twists and turns and an entire collection of English characters who are delightful in their eccentricities. Who did the dirty deed? The dirty deed seems associated with other ones. What connects them all? I’ll not go into details to avoid spoilers. Suffice to say that I had two candidates among the many but wasn’t sure until the end—I was right with one, but I suppose as an author I have an unfair advantage.

This author shows her British roots even though she now lives in Tennessee. Like many of us, she had a very interesting life before she became an author and before she came to the U.S., presumably most of that interesting life in Britain. I found this to be an entertaining mystery with all the key ingredients—good plot, characterization, description, dialogue, and a wee bit of dry British humor that follows the Goldilocks Principle. I read the print version for this review, but there’s also a reasonably priced e-book version. Definitely worth a summer read if you’re a fan of this genre.

The only negative for me were the residual editing errors, particularly those associated with quotation marks. Those can be a bit confusing at times, so readers will have to get past them—it’s easy enough to do if you’re an avid reader. Perhaps my eagle-like editing eye did me no favors! If you get past them, you’re bound to have an enjoyable read.

***

In libris libertas…

2018…

July 4th, 2017

Georgia 6 showed the problems Dems have to face if they want to win the House in 2018. As Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local,” and congressional districts are more obsessed with local issues and less with state and national ones (or the national ones become local—here in my NJ district, our rep, Mr. Frelinghuysen, voted for the House healthcare bill, incurring the wrath of many in the district and endangering his re-election). That means a Dem or GOP House candidate has to appeal to a microcosm of the nation’s voters. The implication that follows is that the party that controls the House must offer the biggest tent—for Dems, the far left to center must be represented; for the GOP, the far right to center have to be.

To a lesser extent, the same goes for the Senate, where gerrymandered districts are mitigated a wee bit by entire states becoming involved—some huge, like CA, with a wide variety of voters, and some small, like Rhode Island (and still with a wide variety).

Congressional races serve as the foundation for presidential ones. But a presidential candidate must also construct that big tent to be successful. Obama did it; HRC did it too if you only consider the popular vote. Trump didn’t, but he managed to squeeze through with a victory using the Electoral College, an institution whose usefulness has long been questionable and existence from the beginning only due to an aristocratic-leaning bunch of Founding Fathers.

To win in 2018, the Dems must develop new leadership too, ones who tend to the needs of the people in their constituencies. This is a huge challenge, as Georgia 6 showed. While that special election is no omen for the future—indeed, in 2009, Dems won all their special elections too, and lost the House in the following year—Georgia 6 showed that no amount of money can sway voters who think the Dem candidate doesn’t pay attention to their needs. Ossoff failed to push their buttons when many voters were worried about the GOP’s plans for healthcare. He also followed the middle of the road, which matched his district, but he became a bland candidate in the process. And he made the big mistake of not even living in the 6th District.

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday words of wisdom…

July 3rd, 2017

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.—Thomas Watson, IBM chairman, 1943.

To all Americans, have a safe and happy 4th of July!

***

There’s a big book Summer/Winter Smashwords sitewide promo from July 1 – 31. You have be a member to receive the email catalog. Join Smashwords—it’s free, and it provides a large universe of reading entertainment. Almost of my ebooks are sale with price reductions from 25 – 50 %. That includes the first four books in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series.” Load your ereader up for summer (northern hemisphere) or winter (southern hemisphere).

In libris libertas!

Writers’ quirks…

June 29th, 2017

Some writers eschew semicolons. Others split infinitives, use dangling participles, or mix past and present tenses in one sentence. Some will use a comma before “and” ending in series—the Oxford comma—while others adamantly refuse to do so. Some writers are strict followers of the rules about point of view (POV); others mangle them.

Following rules is neither a sufficient nor necessary condition for having a successful fiction book. Telling a good story isn’t a sufficient one, but it’s absolutely necessary. Any reader might raise her or his eyebrows when a critic says, “This novel is great because the author followed all the rules.” (I’ve only seen that opinion expressed by some high school English teachers.) Good fiction writers tell good stories. They might follow all the rules; they might not. They might not be successful writers—that depends on an increasingly fickle market—but no reader will finish a book if it doesn’t seem like a good story.

I’m currently rereading Frank Herbert’s Dune. It’s a very good story, and it shared the first Hugo. Maybe Herbert improved as he wrote the other books in the series, but his handling of POV in Dune is abysmal. He jumps from one character’s POV to another’s within paragraphs. Somehow it works, though, and he spins a great futuristic yarn (and it’s a bit current too, as the main character, Paul, struggles to avoid creating a movement that could become a jihad).

Some authors carefully research the names of their characters. Joe Smith, if not an alias, sounds American or English; it hardly sounds Greek or Hispanic. Herbert went to great lengths to create Arabic-sounding names (the ancestors of the Fremen of the story were Sunnis), but one secondary character is called Duncan Idaho. (I smiled at that because it immediately called to mind Indiana Jones). Paul Atreides is the messianic protagonist, and his last name sounds Greek. The Arabic-sounding names were probably suggested by the desert environment on the planet Arrakis where most of the action takes place. There’s no consistency with the names, though, but Herbert doesn’t care—he just tells a great sci-fi story.

Given two writers, each one will have different quirks. Do they make a difference? Not much if the story is good. Sensitivity to quirks is all correlated to the experiences of the reader. When I first read Dune in my first year of college, I didn’t even notice the quirks. Now I notice, but I don’t care. This sci-fi novel is a classic for that reason.

I know some authors will disagree with me. But they should always follow this guideline: just tell the story in your own voice, no one else’s. If you break a few rules along the way, who cares? (Well, maybe high school English teachers!)

***

Rembrandt’s Angel. To what lengths would you go to recover a stolen masterpiece? Scotland Yard’s Arts and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone goes the extra mile. She and paramour/sidekick Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, set out to outwit the dealers of stolen art and recover “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a Rembrandt painting stolen by the Nazis in World War Two. Their efforts lead to much more, as they uncover an international conspiracy that threatens Europe. During their dangerous adventures, their relationship solidifies and becomes a full-blown romance. Published by Penmore Press, this novel is available in ebook format at Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and in print through Amazon, B&N, or your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask them to order it). Great summer reading!

In libris libertas…

Irish Stew #63…

June 28th, 2017

International

Trump’s Saudi policies. Saudi Arabia wasn’t on Trump’s list of countries whose Muslim immigrants, many escaping horrible situations in their home countries, are the targets of his bans in his executive orders, contradicting his belief that all Muslims are terrorists. And Mr. Trump negotiated a weapons deal with the duplicitous Saudis to make the military-industrial complex happy during his whirlwind tour in the Mideast.

The Saudis aren’t our friends. They’re not even the enemies of our enemies. They are the enemy. The majority of the 9/11 terrorists came from Saudi Arabia because the Saudi royal family’s state-sponsored religious schools have a continuing policy of brainwashing young boys and men to hate the West. And they have continuously attacked Yemen where they are responsible for mass murders of innocents. They probably support ISIS too, because ISIS hates Shi’ites, and they’re the Saudis’ enemies.

Sad! Trump is supporting duplicity and murder. Guess he believes in that.

National

Malthusian politics? The CBO hasn’t published its financial analysis yet, but the Senate’s proposed healthcare bill is meaner than the House’s. They’re both an attack on the middle class and poor, especially those who don’t have any financial means and depend on Medicaid as a life preserver—elderly in nursing homes, people with serious disabilities, and very sick children. Too many without any other coverage.

Not just sad but doing the Grim Reaper’s work so the GOP can give tax breaks to the rich elites. These aren’t healthcare bills—they’re thinly disguised tax breaks. And Rand Paul thinks they don’t go far enough? This guy has no compassion at all. No wonder he was a failed doctor! Next thing we’ll see from the GOP? Maybe death ovens for the sick and infirm with Dr. Death running them?

Is Obama to blame? Not as much as the GOP and American media are saying! They’re still supporting the attack on the ex-president for not divulging what he knew about Putin’s personally directed attack on our electoral system. Why? It’s not “fake news” if they hide the real truth that Obama’s desire to secure bipartisan support to inform the American public was rejected by the GOP members of congress Obama approached. OK, maybe Obama was stupid to believe that HRC was a shoo-in, but Trump had been yammering all during the campaign that the system was rigged. What if Obama had decided to divulge all he knew? They’d have said he was unfairly supporting HRC! Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

For eight years the GOP practiced obstructionism against the Obama administration. And Trump dares to accuse the Dems and Obama of being obstructionists? Of course, I’m waiting for HRC to say Obama was responsible for her losing. Sad! You can’t trust politicians or the media these days.

Wild weather. Last Saturday morning NJ received a taste of Midwest weather. I saw my first tornado in Kansas when I was thirteen visiting my grandfather—an awesome sight even if it was off in the distance. Now we had two in Howell, NJ. A smack across the face from Mother Nature to wake us up to the problems of climate change? She should concentrate on Trump who believes it’s all a hoax. Hey Mother Nature, why don’t you go after Mar al Lago or one of his many golf courses—Bedminster would be a good start? Just give the innocents a warning.

Sports etc.

Cosby and Hernandez. I never bought into the theory that the ex-Patriot tight end committed suicide. He had just won acquittal for one charge and was going to appeal the conviction that put him in jail. Why would he be suicidal?

MA law says a conviction that is being appealed must be vacated. Sleazebag prosecutors want to change that law. They must be related to the DA prosecuting Bill Cosby.

DAs who are running for office or have nefarious agendas shouldn’t be allowed to prosecute anyone because they are just trying to win points for being “tough on crime.” Political campaigns interfere with objectivity. So do many careers in general. Of course, most lawyers, prosecutors or defense attorneys, aren’t known for objectivity or a commitment to the truth—they’ve sold their souls to the Devil for their clients.

***

There’s a big book Summer/Winter Smashwords sitewide promo from July 1 – 31. You have be a member to receive the email catalog. Join Smashwords—it’s free, and it provides a large universe of reading entertainment. Almost of my ebooks are sale with price reductions from 25 – 50 %. That includes the first six books in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series.” Load your e-reader up for summer (northern hemisphere) or winter (southern hemisphere). And for additional great reading, don’t forget my new novels, Gaia and the Goliaths (#7 in the detective series) and Rembrandt’s Angel, both mystery/thriller novels. Enjoy!

And so it goes…

China Inc….

June 27th, 2017

[This is the second installment about our two main enemies, China and Russia. If you disagree, write a comment.]

Like many countries, China is one of contrasts. Chinese dynasties and empires predate most European history. Great Chinese fleets of mighty ship[s roamed the Pacific long before the Spanish Armada’s and Admiral Nelson’s tiny vessels were even imagined. Those Viking ships which conquered the seas and sowed destruction and fear in the North Atlantic are also gnats in comparison, although that’s a wee bit closer to China’s ancient domination of the Pacific.

From beautiful landscapes and grand bridges crossing mighty rivers, to slums and nauseous pollution, you now have a government that can best be described as fascist capitalism controlling things. It’s what capitalism can become when there are no controls exercised by the people (a warning to all in the U.S.). That government gives a wink and a nod to communism, but the very existence of this corrupt and despotic regime shows why communism is a debunked ideology with absolutely no relevance. Workers are exploited in China to enrich the lucky and often unscrupulous few. Human rights take a back seat to capitalistic profit and greed.

At the beginning of my sci-fi novel Survivors of the Chaos, the Chinese model has swept across the world. There’s no longer any pretense—corporations control the world, even in China. This change even reaches Mars where the first Chinese colony there succumbs. As in today’s China, corporate leaders wield all the power. Communism is no more, and the world has been reduced to small, feuding national tribes loosely stitched together by a UN controlled by the worldwide corporations. Is this the future awaiting all human beings?

Read the rest of this entry »

Monday words of wisdom…

June 26th, 2017

A Buddhist monk approaches a hotdog stand and says, “Make me one with everything.”  (Apologies to my Detective Castilblanco, who became a Buddhist.)

***

Speaking of Castilblanco, there’s a big book Summer/Winter Smashwords site-wide promo from July 1 – 31. You have be a member to receive the email catalog. Join Smashwords—it’s free, and it provides a large universe of reading entertainment. Almost of my ebooks are sale with price reductions from 25 – 50 %. That includes the first six books in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series.” Load your ereader up for summer (northern hemisphere) or winter (southern hemisphere).

In libris libertas!

Book piracy…

June 22nd, 2017

Book piracy is a major problem that’s frustrating and discouraging for authors and publishers alike. It’s also a crime. Both pirated ebooks and print books are sold on illegal websites and illegally in many foreign countries. Almost every author is affected by this. Smashwords thinks this is no problem. Paulo Coelho thinks this is no problem. I do. So do many others.

Ebooks are just computer files and can be easily hacked—almost any software can be hacked! While DRM (Digital Rights Management) shouldn’t even be needed for ebooks, it exists. But it can be hacked, so scofflaws do that for illegal enterprises that sell stolen ebooks. Print books shouldn’t be copied and sold illegally, but they are, especially outside of the U.S.

You think U.S. readers aren’t involved in piracy? Dream on! While the average reader will pay to have his own copy of a book (if s/he doesn’t borrow it from a library), a significant number gleefully get off on reading something for free. I’m not speaking about book promos that offer books for free (you can have as much glee you want by participating in a free promo, but I wish authors wouldn’t) or take advantage of sales (I recently bought an ebook version of Dune for $1.99 on sale, just to have it on my Kindle). I’m speaking about readers who get their reading material illegally at whatever price, effectively supporting the pirates.

Here are the main types of book piracy: (1) Criminals who hack authors’ ebooks and illegally copy print versions. .mobi files (Kindles) and .epub files are the most common ebook formats. The first, if purchased on Amazon, have DRM; the second uses Adobe’s software. Both can be hacked. PDFs, so prevalent on the web, can be hacked. The worst case scenario is when the hacker provides material to someone else who puts their name on a book and sells it as their own. (2) Readers who download illegal ebook copies from an illegal website or purchase illegal print versions. They provide the market that criminals exploit, but these readers are willing recipients of stolen merchandise, so they’re just as guilty. (3) Readers who pass copies around to friends and family. We all do it, especially with print versions. One can argue that a purchased print version can have ownership reassigned, just like a car or some other physical object, but ebooks are software, so by purchasing one, you, the user, only have a license. DRM even tries to limit the usage to one device—not a single user, but a single device, which is a flaw that makes it less useful than the usual software license with its built-in protections. And while print books have a legitimate used book market, ebooks really don’t. But when you pass copies around to friends and family, you are pirating. Every time your Uncle Ned shares an ebook file or hands you a print book he’s already read, you’re both being book pirates. Bottom line: buy your own legal version. Otherwise, you’re committing piracy.

Read the rest of this entry »