Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category

The Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection…

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

Survivors of the Chaos, Sing a Zamba Galactica, and Come Dance a Cumbia…with Stars in Your Hand! are the books in my “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy.” Now you can obtain them all in one ebook, The Chaos Chronicles Trilogy Collection, for a price less than all three, and even less than the first book! This bundle is a new experiment for yours truly and represents my continuing efforts to entertain as many readers as possible.

First, what is a bundle? They have become popular, but they’re collections of several books. They might be all by the same author or by different ones writing on the same theme or in the same genre. Every bundle offers readers a lot of good entertainment at the best price they can find in fiction books. My bundle is only an experiment because it’s my first bundle, but modern readers probably see a lot of them offered.

Second, are there economic reasons for publishing a bundle for the author, not just readers? Sure there are. In my case, books #2 and #3 above have never done well because ebook #1 was overpriced and the print book wasn’t competitive either. All too often people understandably didn’t want to read #2 and #3 without reading #1. The latter was published in my POD era by Infinity; I didn’t determine the prices. At that time, ebooks were new to publishing. Of course, Big Five publishers still charge as much for ebooks as print books, but Infinity and other PODs were often worse. That’s nothing against them. Infinity was a lot nicer to me than Xlibris, for example, but being nice doesn’t cut it when outmoded business models are concerned. Publishing is a competitive business. An author has to compete with many good books and good authors these days.

For The Midas Bomb and Soldiers of God, also Infinity books originally, I simply created second edition ebooks; I also did that for Full Medical, an Xlibris print book originally. But for the trilogy I had two goals: create a second ebook edition of Survivors of the Chaos as well as encourage readers to read books #2 and #3, Sing a Zamba Galactica and Come Dance a Cumbia…with Stars in Your Hand! They make the trilogy one continuous and epic story about humanity’s future in the galaxy.


I made this!

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

We have a justifiable pride when we complete a DIY project (that’s “Do It Yourself” for the acronym challenged). I remember putting together several Heathkit electronic devices—that defunct company sold many kits for DIY projects from radio amateur equipment to stereo component and color TVs (my mother’s first color TV was a Heathkit). You have to be careful with DIY, though, when you write a novel. In this month of NaNoWriMo (“National Novel Writing Month”), the ultimate take on DIY in the writing business, watch out!

First, you can’t rip through it from your what-if or plot idea to a finished MS (that’s “manuscript”—acronymese is a disease!). Whether your content editing comes after a rough draft that follows an outline (making you a “plodder”—so why are you participating in NaNoWriMo?), or during your writing (making you a “pantser”—the only way you could possibly be successful in NaNoWriMo), it takes time to get anywhere near a polished MS. You can’t write a novel in a month—at least not one I’d ever want to read!

Second, don’t try 100% DIY after you have that MS. You’ll need copy-editing, formatting, and cover art to turn that MS into a publishable book. The smart indie author pays for that because s/he knows that even though she might be a skillful writer, s/he doesn’t do those three things as well as a pro editor, formatter, or cover artist. Pay for those. Or find a small press that will pay for it. It’s like that Heathkit electronics component—one couldn’t put something so complex together without that little book of instructions that comes with the kit. Pros make it easy for the kit builder; DIY can lead to disaster.

Third, in today’s competitive publishing world, don’t try 100% DIY for PR and marketing. A small press might help some with that, but almost all authors need to add a bit of pro help to the mix. If you’re good at social media, you can do a lot of DIY, and here’s one place your DIY-self can go forth and conquer—in fact, it’s best that you personally do a lot of it with your website, Facebook and Goodreads author pages, and participating in online discussions. But there are groups and websites who’ll promote your book at a reasonable cost, and they’ll reach many more readers than you can. A bit of DIY is required to set that up, of course. Beware, though: higher cost does NOT necessarily mean more effectiveness.

Pride in your book should go far beyond just writing your story. It must include doing your best to offer readers a polished and entertaining product. Whether you have many readers or not, there still should be pride in doing your best. And you don’t have to be 100% DIY to do that–and shouldn’t be. I felt pride in those finished Heathkit projects. I could say “I made this!” even though it was Heathkit that did a lot of the work. So, write your story, whether short fiction or novel length, and finish it correctly by NOT being 100% DIY!


Now’s your chance to read epic sci-fi! The “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy” is now a bundle. You can read all the books in the “Chaos Chronicles Collection,” a $5.99 ebook that costs less than the ebook for the first novel in the trilogy. The novels, Survivors of the Chaos, Sing a Zamba Galactica, and Come Dance a Cumbia…with Stars in Your Hand!, take you from the Chaos years of an Earth dominated by multinationals and controlled by their mercenaries to Humans’ first interstellar colonies and a first encounter. You will meet strange ETs, good and bad, bipeds and collective intelligences, and experience mystery and intrigue, as Humans expand into near-Earth space. Soon available on Amazon and Smashwords.

In libris libertas!

Science in science fiction…

Thursday, November 2nd, 2017

I loved those original Star Trek episodes because the best were based on sci-fi stories written by seasoned sci-fi writers, ones like Theodore Sturgeon and Harlan Ellison. They were often morality plays too, that is, good stories with some important themes mixed in. (Who could forget the message that racial prejudice is just plain stupid in the classic episode about the two black-and-white guys fighting on and on, one black on the left and white on the right, the other just the opposite?) These episodes often contained some sound scientific extrapolation too—your smart phone is a version of the Starfleet’s communicator, for example.

Episodes in the spinoff series, often written by screenwriters who had little training in science and often promoted pseudo-science, were much less entertaining if not downright distasteful. They were also just bad writers of sci-fi, starting a tradition that continues today. Generally speaking, of course, Hollywood fails at putting believable science into sci-fi and often creates pseudo-science in its screenplays. While maybe everyone knows Wiley Coyote can’t go over the cliff in an inverse-L-shaped path and finds it hilarious when he does so, is that any different than the Enterprise coming to a full-stop, thus violating Newton’s First Law? (What maybe that ether drag, created in theory by Maxwell and disproven by Einstein, suddenly reappears?) And Next Generation’s Counselor Cleavage reading minds is pretty farfetched and bordering on fantasy too. Of course, the Star Wars tales are also just fantasy episodes—they even have princes, princesses, and knights who fight with sabers (making them neon-colored with sizzles doesn’t make them more sci-fi-like—it just makes them silly).

So let’s forget about Hollywood and move on to literature.  As a continuation of a previous article, “Does Fiction Have to Seem Real?” let me ask, “Does the science in sci-fi have to seem real?” I’m talking about hard sci-fi. That’s still a broad sub-genre. But consider the sub-sub-genres of apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic. While I enjoyed Christopher’s No Blade of Grass, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and Howey’s Wool, my kneejerk reaction to these books was that there was no real explanation of cause, only the effect. I’ve changed my mind a bit, though. The story in these books is found in the effect—hence the post in post-apocalyptic. My own post-apocalyptic efforts—Survivors of the Chaos and Full Medical are examples—discussed the causes much more than the three books named, but that was a personal choice because I put as much emphasis on the causes as the effects. In my upcoming The Last Humans (see the last pre-publication excerpt in my blog archive), I also focus on the effect, although the cause is mentioned, and I’m satisfied with the result.

Other hard sci-fi genres need a more detailed extrapolation of current science. Of course, the farther the extrapolation goes into the future, the more chance for error. Any scientist knows that extrapolation beyond real data is a dangerous game. Some things like interstellar drives and faster-than-light (FTL) starships or communication systems are far in the future, if they’re even possible. When that happens, the best solution is to get beyond the science and go on with the story. But human variants like the clones and mutants in my “Clones and Mutants Series,” the MECHs in the “Mary Jo Melendez Mysteries,” or Humans 2.0 produced by an ET virus in More than Human: The Mensa Contagion, have to be more plausible if only because they’re easier extrapolations of current science to events in the near future.

That’s why a scientist might feel more comfortable reading speculative fiction that doesn’t go far beyond current science and technology. For example, s/he might prefer Hogan’s Code of the Lifemaker to his Giants series, although the first book in that series sticks pretty close to current science and technology. Your opinion on how believable the futuristic science is might depend on your background too. When I read Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon the Deep, I felt insulted that a sci-fi writer violated current physics (his solution to FTL was a varying speed of light, slower the farther away you are from galactic center, as if those central black holes did a lot more than expected). Obviously not enough sci-fi readers cared about that—he received a Hugo—but I think there’s a warning there: some readers will not tolerate a violation of known laws of physics, chemistry, or biology. But they might not have a problem with the unknown.


Why not a memoir?

Thursday, October 26th, 2017

I’ll admit I’ve had an interesting life full of adventure in the modern sense of that word. Not everyone spends over ten years living abroad and immersed in another culture (I came to understand jokes, songs, and dreamed in Spanish—I’ve only read Garcia Marquez in the original Castellano). Not everyone spends a night sleeping in a Sibundoy Indian chief’s house next to two girls (don’t get any lecherous ideas there—it was too cold for hanky-panky, and two anthropologists were in the next room). I’ve traveled enough for business or pleasure that I’m certain human beings’ strengths can be found in celebrating their diversity and culture, yet still work together as a consequence of a shared humanity.

Denise Laidler asked me at the Indie Author Day event (Saturday, October 14, in Montclair, NJ) why I didn’t write a memoir about all this. This charming lady is the author of Journey to the Land of Look Behind, and we chatted about our pasts. We both have interesting and unusual ones. The conversation took off because her book is set for the most part in New Orleans, and I used to be in a Dixieland band in high school (trombone) and maybe rode on that streetcar named Desire at a conference I attended there. (I’m planning on reading her book and subsequently reviewing it.) Here are my reasons for NOT writing a memoir (I discussed some of them with Denise):

First, I’m not a celeb. Readers normally peruse memoirs when they recognize the names of the celebs who wrote them. My life might be unusual, but plenty of people have unusual lives (Ms. Laidler included). Agents and publishers are more interested in publishing a celeb’s memoir, not so much some unknown Jill or Jack. That celeb could be famous or infamous, but having the name recognition already is at least half the author’s and publisher’s battle. HRC had a book signing in a local bookstore in Montclair, for example, and sold 1000 books (OK, the book was only partially a memoir). That number is far greater than the number of attendees at the Indie Author Day in Montclair, counting both readers and writers and visitors just after the free cookies. (I don’t read celeb’s books, so guess which books I’ll read, though.)

Second, I’m a private person. In many ways, I’m the typical introverted author who values his quiet time. I’m active on Facebook and Goodreads more because it’s a safe way to meet people and make friends, “safe” in the sense that I don’t have to hit a nightclub or bar (I might be that lonely man in the bar nursing my Jameson, although I could also be there with my best friend, my wife). Science and technology (both academic and R&D) allowed me that lonely creativity just like writing does.

Third, I’m NOT a narcissist. I write books to entertain my readers, not to become some public figure marketing her or his own image. Some personal experiences make it into my novels, and I suppose many characters are amalgams of many people, including yours truly (maybe where the mantra “write what you know” might actually apply?). The last thing I want to do is pound my chest on the public stage.

Fourth, there are genres that I can’t write in. Rogue Planet was the closest I’ve come to writing fantasy—there are some “Game of Thrones” fantasy elements in this hard sci-fi novel, but it all fits in one particular sci-fi universe I’ve created. Comedy is hard for me too. I do better with some short stories, but not an entire novel, although one Good Reads’ reviewer (there are reviews there that don’t appear anywhere else, by the way—members review for the benefit of other members a lot) mentioned tongue-in-cheek elements in Rembrandt’s Angel—guilty as charged. Memoir and biography (when is a memoir not an autobiography?) have to be added to this list; so does poetry (I apologize to those readers who’ve suffered through a few poems in my stories).

So, good readers and fellow authors, don’t expect a memoir from me. Or pure fantasy, romance, erotica, comedy, or poetry. I read in a lot of genres, even non-fiction, but as a writer I’ll stick to my genres: mysteries, thrillers, and sci-fi.


Sci-fi book sale: More than Human: The Mensa Contagion and Rogue Planet are now on sale at Smashwords from October 1 through October 31. Their prices are reduced to $1.99—that’s one-third off. In the first novel, an ET virus changes the world, but in a good way, and leads to the colonization of Mars. In the second, there’s a wee bit of “Game of Thrones” fantasy mixed into the hard sci-fi as Prince Kaushal leads his Second Tribe in their fight against the First Tribe’s brutal theocracy. Both books are stand-alone, not part of a series. Use the Smashwords coupon numbers when you check out. Note that the second book is also available in paper format at Amazon. Lots of exciting fall entertainment for a reasonable price!

In libris libertas.

Amazon: one size fits all…

Thursday, October 19th, 2017

This giant retailer has expanded so far beyond books that now books are only a small part of Bezo’s business. The company can no longer be considered a friend of readers and writers as a consequence.

Let’s start by listing some recent sins: they offer only one format for ebooks—theirs, of course. While they compensate for that by offering the Kindle app, available for most devices, readers with older ereaders can’t be too happy with the situation because the app isn’t universal.

In fact, Amazon has destroyed the competition as far as ereaders go. They’re putting a lot of print-on-demand companies out of business too with their Create Space print-book publishing option. Bookstores almost universally refuse to stock Create Space books for a multitude of reasons; that affects readers who might like to read an author’s book in a print version, and it obviously diminishes an author’s distribution options.

The borrowing option with Prime is potentially a source of income for authors, but they’d make more selling the entire ebook; even when a reader reads the full book, it’s a way for Amazon to pay writers fewer royalties. Another negative for authors is that to offer a book at a sale price on Amazon, the book must only be available on Amazon! That is detrimental for an author’s marketing options.

There are other pros and cons. One positive point is that Amazon is the largest retailer in the world. Unfortunately books are only a small part of that retail business now. And people can often find better deals at a mom&pop bookstore or even a B&N book barn, as well as other online book retailers like Smashwords. The latter retailer offers almost every ebook format, including Amazon’s .mobi. It also has affiliates, both retailers and book lenders. It allows authors a variety of marketing options, including special sales on ebooks. And it allows an author to set a lower price for public library purchasers. Best of all, it’s all about books, just like any bookstore in your neighborhood. Amazon fails to compete in most of these venues. In fact, in shuns them with despicable snobbery.

For once I agree with Douglas Preston. He’s rather famous for his on-going feud with indie authors, Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath, in particular, and his blatant rants in support of Big Five publishing conglomerates—forget those small presses, of course. But in his recent (Thursday, October 12) op-ed in the NY Times, “Publishing’s Unfair Gray Market,” his title is a wee bit misstated and certainly unexplained. “White market” refers to legit booksellers and distributors who do NOT scam the reading public; “black market” presumably refers to book piracy (see my previous article about that subject). “Gray market” refers to the ambivalent—perhaps legit but most certainly unethical.

Some of what Preston describes has been going on a long time, but a lot of what he says focuses on Amazon. The retailer has sneakily changed its book merchandising policy to match their policies for other products it sells, where third party vendors can actually compete with Amazon and sell used and returned items as new. Their review process has always treated books as products like shoes and hairdryers (I received one negative review from a person who mainly reviews women’s apparel!). Now they’ve gone too far. And you wonder why my books are no longer exclusive to Amazon and I only offer sales on Smashwords? Any author who’s exclusive to Amazon is shooting her- or himself in the foot!


Mixing facts and fiction…

Thursday, October 12th, 2017

No, I’m not talking about Trump’s moaning about “fake news,” much of which he or his Russian friends create (Trump’s lies total 1145 at last count). My title relates to the idea that good fiction mixes in facts with the fiction in such a way that the reader either thinks the fiction is real or at least seems to be real.

One thing that impressed me about Forsyth’s novel The Day of the Jackal was that events surrounding the Algerian War (the facts) smoothly became an assassination plot against De Gaulle (the fiction). Forsyth, an excellent journalist, obviously could report facts, but he made his fiction seem just as real.

That’s something to emulate. I try to do so in every story, even in my sci-fi stories. The reader knows the latter aren’t real, of course, but if s/he reacts to the prose as if it were real or could be, s/he will have a more entertaining experience.

Forsyth’s theme was the bitterness surrounding the Algerian War. Disgruntled French soldiers were mad at De Gaulle for giving Algeria its independence, if I remember correctly. Themes in fiction are what makes fiction seem fact—in other words, real-world themes make fiction seem real. That might be obvious for near-current stories like Angels Need Not Apply (drug trafficking), Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder (illegal arms trafficking), and The Collector (sex trafficking), to name a few of my mystery and thriller books, but it’s also true for sci-fi books More than Human: The Mensa Contagion (exploration of and colonies on Mars) and Rogue Planet (brutal theocracies).

I’ve written about “themes” in my many posts about writing. Stephen King implied in his book On Writing that themes aren’t important—I guess that’s why I can’t enjoy many of his books. I’ll be blunt: novelists who avoid themes so as not to offend anyone are cowardly. Sure, you can write a mystery, thriller, or sci-fi story without any serious themes, but I probably won’t like it very much as an avid reader, I’ll be reluctant to review it even more, and I’ll certainly won’t emulate it as a writer.

Fiction must be a blend of serious themes and a great story about seemingly real characters who react and relate to those interwoven themes. The themes cannot be trivial either. Ones in most romances and horror stories are if they exist. I don’t object to a wee bit of X meets Y and they have an affair, but if that’s it, my reactions are ho-hums and yawns. Same for blood and gore and nothing more (King’s oeuvre).

I respect an author who takes a theme and writes a great story to surround it. Yeah, that takes courage—the writer is sure to offend some readers who treat fiction as escapist pablum to turn off their minds. I’m not that kind of reader, and I don’t write for that kind of reader. Maybe many readers are looking for that mind-numbing escape. Fine. To each her or his own. Reading tastes are subjective anyway, and readers have a wide variety of books to choose from. For every writer like me, there are probably ten (maybe more?) who don’t have any themes at all in their books so they don’t run the risk of offending anyone. My writing is an example of the following Cyril Connolly quote: “Better to write for yourself and have no public, than write for the public and have no self.”

Yes, reading tastes are subjective, but I’m one avid reader who reads to turn my mind on, not off. Of course, I also want to be entertained. It might seem I’m asking for a lot. Maybe so in today’s publishing world, but I don’t think I’m the only reader who feels this way. And authors can reach such readers by including interesting themes to make their fiction seem like fact.


Rembrandt’s Angel (Penmore Press). How far would you go to recover a missing masterpiece? Have great fun this fall reading about the adventures of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiques Inspector Esther Brookstone and her paramour/sidekick, Interpol agent Bastiann van Coevorden. Esther becomes obsessed with recovering Rembrandt’s “An Angel with Titus’ Features,” a painting stolen by the Nazis for Hitler’s museum. The crime-fighting duo goes after the painting and those currently possessing the painting, but the whole caper becomes much more dangerous as they uncover a conspiracy that threatens the security of Europe. With all the danger, their budding romance becomes full-blown. This book is available as an ebook on Amazon, Smashwords, Kobo, B&N, and Apple, and also as a print book from Amazon and your local bookstore (if they don’t have it, ask for them to order it). Check out the review and interview at Feathered Quill.

In libris libertas!

Californian memories…

Thursday, October 5th, 2017

The state is big—in size, scenery, population, and history. As a native Californian, it’s odd that not many of my stories have a Californian setting. Silicon Slummin’…and Just Getting’ By, the second Mary Jo Melendez mystery, take place there, but mostly in Silicon Valley, the one place in the state I don’t know very well because it wasn’t there when I was growing up! (Millennials might not realize that we actually could survive without so much technology back then.)

When I started writing my post-apocalyptic thriller The Last Humans, I realized how little of my Californian soul is in my books. That’s odd, like I said, but even more so when considering that ubiquitous advice “write what you know.” Of course that advice is wrong, but one can easily correct it to “write what you know or can imagine.”  The Last Humans contains bits and pieces of my Californian soul, though, so in a sense I’ve made up for lost time. Let’s consider some settings in the book.

It starts north of LA on the coast where Penny Castro, a diver for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, is on a dive to recover the body of a murder victim. I know that whole coast well, from San Diego to San Francisco. Every third week my father covered part of that coast on a sales route, he painted the rugged ocean scenery, and died at UCSF medical center. I often went with him during the summer. I went to college in Santa Barbara and partied in LA and San Diego, but when he passed away I was a continent away so I couldn’t even go to his funeral. Yet I still love that coast, and Frisco is my favorite city in the world.

Penny also ventures into the Big Valley where I was born. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Whitney from my home town, and the latter can be considered the gateway to Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, so it was natural that one high school was named Mt. Whitney and the other Redwood. The local junior college is the College of the Sequoias; my brother went there for two years before going on to UC Santa Barbara, where I went for four.


Old, but…

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

For those familiar with my Facebook author’s page, on Thursdays I usually choose to feature a book from the list you’ll find on the “Steve’s Bookshelf” page of this website. I read many books, of course, but this list includes those that struck me as special for one reason or another. To make this brief, a while ago I chose Ken Follett’s novel Eye of the Needle. While he has a new book out—James Bond in a very old historical sitting—Eye of the Needle is his best by far and the one I remember the most. It’s a wee bit historical too—World War Two setting—but it has a John Le Carré flavor and is a great read and excellent example of minimalist writing.

This book is also a perfect example of what I mean by the title. I read an ebook reprint; the original has a 1978 copyright. But this book will never grow old unless some future world dictator bans all books a la Fahrenheit 451. You can read it today and enjoy it as much as anyone could in 1978. Readers shouldn’t overlook “old books” because they can still be current, interesting, and entertaining.

Another example is even older: Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities. Most of his novels are droll period pieces that have seen better days as movies or Broadway shows where all the extra verbiage can be minimized. But A Tale of Two Cities is a timeless portrayal of a revolution run amok and how friends react to it. And it’s really old!

Reading Paula Margulies’s new Tao of Book Publicity about book PR and marketing (definitely a good summary for new writers) motivated an email exchange with her in which I offered my main criticism against all book publicists and marketers: there’s an over-emphasis on “the new” and a neglect of “the old”—older books, series of books, and authors’ entire oeuvre are neglected and the author relegated to some bookish trash bin if s/he hasn’t written a recent book. I want to preserve the privacy of our email exchange, so I’ll only indicate that she confirmed my position and added that marketing gurus don’t like to promote books that have been on the market for a year or more. In her book, she actually implies it’s more like the first six to eight weeks after publication.

Unfortunately retailers follow this practice too, from mom & pop bookstores to online giants like Amazon and Smashwords. The dedicated reader can find “the old books,” but s/he has to work to do it. S/he might have better luck in used bookstores, but it’s still more effort s/he’ll spend than on those “what everyone is reading now” books. The NY Times pretends to be the medium for determining “what everyone is reading now,” but their obscure bestseller lists are only guides for me to determine what NOT to read.

I’m really irked by this emphasis on “the new.” I can add my own examples to those already mentioned (not that I put them in the same category). My first novel Full Medical (2006) is every bit as current today as when it was first published, if not more so. It’s a sci-fi thriller, but one of its themes is the health care crisis, a problem that seems unsolvable at the time of the book, barely thirty years from now. It’s part of the “Clones and Mutants Trilogy” (all three books are on sale now at SmashwordsFull Medical is an ebook second edition). My extrapolation might be a bit off too because health care is already in crisis!

Soldiers of God, my second book, is a bridge between the trilogy above and the “Chaos Chronicles Trilogy” (see below). It’s about religious fanaticism being manipulated by a greedy businessperson. I also resurrected this with an ebook second edition; the first edition (2008) was an overpriced POD from Infinity (maybe part of the reason it never took off), but even the second edition is taken to be “old,” I suppose.


The NY Times Book Review…

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

They use some arcane and secret formula to determine their bestsellers list. They pander to the Big Five (most located in NYC, of course) and gladly accept their ad money for those ostentatious slap-in-your-face ads. (A new first for me occurred on September 3: a double-page ad for Le Carré‘s new book. Oops! They just did it again for Follett’s.) They exhibit a smugness that matches many mom & pop bookstore’s that are simply more arms belonging to the Big Five octopi.

There was a time when I stopped reading the NY Times Book Review. If I had owned a canary or a parakeet at the time, I would have made good use of it by lining the bottom of the cage, but I didn’t have a bird, so it just went into the recycling bin. Now I’m reading it again, but probably not for the reasons the Times would like. I focus on the ads, asking myself why the Big Five’s superstars need them, and on the bestsellers list to decide what NOT to read. The last book on the list I read was Shattered, the story about HRC’s failed campaign, and I was reading that before it became a Times bestseller.

Yes, I don’t use the NY Times Book Review in the way it was intended to be used, I’m sure. First, I just don’t generally find the books found in it that interesting. There are a lot of good books and good authors out there—from indies to traditional small presses—and the Times usually ignores all the ones I’d like to read.

Second, the Times is the official mouthpiece for those snarky people who tell me that everybody is reading X, so I must read X too. Huh? Everybody isn’t a reader, but I’m an avid reader who pretty much ignores what “everybody is reading,” even if that statement were true. One thing about my reading experience I really enjoy is that it’s MY experience. Reading choices are personal choices, but no reader should jump on a fanwagon, especially when the NY Times or any other publication tells him to do so.

Third, the NY Times publicizes books and authors who really don’t need more publicity. Their determination of quality is what the Big Five tell them it is. Correction: it’s determined by anyone who wants to pay the Times’ exorbitant ad fees. Traditional publishings’ Big Five and the Times are just flip sides of the same tarnished coin.


Writers’ blogs and op-ed…

Thursday, September 14th, 2017

Recently (Sat, 8/26), the N.Y. Times published an op-ed about how to write an op-ed. My definition of op-ed is a bit more general than theirs. (I wrote a previous post about op-eds. I swear, sometimes I think someone at the Times is reading my blog. The other day they used my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde metaphor to describe Trump, which I’m sure I used a while ago—maybe on Facebook?).

I consider my posts commenting on current events op-eds; I also consider many of my posts on writing and the publishing business op-eds. Some of the Times’ op-ed about writing them applies to blog posts. Most of it doesn’t. For example, one of their columnist’s points was that the op-ed writer has to always bow to an editor’s wishes—the editor is always right. My blog is a personal blog, so there are no editors. Better said, I’m the editor, so I’m always right.

Another point was not to use long sentences. My sentences sometimes stretch on a bit. Unlike a journalist only reporting on facts, a blog writer has to pack a lot into a single sentence because a blog post has to be short yet much pithier than any op-ed column in a newspaper.

And that leads me to the main point (which the Times’ columnist, who obviously doesn’t believe in segues, says I should have already made): op-ed or blog writers differ from journalists. They wear different hats. While I try to verify the facts, my main purpose is to comment on them. (And that’s why the pundits at Fox News and MSNBC aren’t really journalists.)

While I recommend a journalism degree over an MFA if you think you need academic prep to be a novel writer, precisely because the former better prepares a person to be a minimalist writer, a collection of really short sentences in prose can be as boring as one with very long sentences. A mix between short and long maintains a more interesting pace.

There are many news websites that are really blogs and the posts are more newsy and written in a journalistic style. That’s fine, but it doesn’t work for writers’ blogs. So, dear author, let me give you my list of suggestions for writing your blog:

Don’t focus on writing per se. Most readers of your blog won’t care about POV, characterization, and so forth—the techniques of writing fiction. They care about writers and their stories—that means you and your stories too.

Don’t focus only on your stories. Your articles shouldn’t appear to be an ad orgy. Actually, this also holds true for discussion groups you contribute to. I’m reluctant to post a comment on Goodreads, for example, that mentions my books, although I know them well and they often provide good examples. There I use the subtopics allotted for marketing and promotion that almost every Goodreads discussion group has. Harping about your books can be tiring for readers who already experience a deluge of marketing every time they go online.