Monday, November 23, 2015

Big Bucks and Big Publishing

The Wall Street Journal published an interesting article in its Thursday edition (HERE).
It is about first time authors, big advances, the literary marketplace, success and more often, failure. To be honest it is all about money – big money.

I write thrillers and occasionally a literary work or two. But to sit down and read a 927 page novel such as City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (published by Alfred A. Knopf) is daunting, no matter how good the reviews. Writers only have so much time. Hallberg’s  advance of nearly $2 million does get the juices (and keyboard fingers) going though and the imagination. The publishing world it is like the lottery – millions play, millions lose. But it also being at the right place, with the right work, at the right time.

Four things must come together to produce a successful book: story, agent, publisher, and reader. Sure there are many other players in the process but these are the most important. Like baseball, it’s a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball.

As an author I know what it takes to write a book, even an award-winning book. As a self-publisher I realize how difficult it is to produce and market a successful book. As a reader I’ve learned over the past half-century what a good story is and what a great story is. All this still doesn’t necessarily produce a “blockbuster.”

Andy Weir’s The Martian is one of those books. I’m sure Andy, when he started out, wanted to tell a simple story. Maybe the modern version of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. He serialized the book, sold it for $.99 on Amazon, got noticed, sold the book to Crown, and the rest is as they say history. The real story is that every book has a history, unique to itself.

For me the writing process is almost more enjoyable than the finish. That may be the reason I’ve not flogged my books in front of agents and publishers. I sent a few queries out, toes in the water thing, but never allowed the publication process to dominate the writing. For me it is all about the story—someday, the great horned-toad willing, someone will wave my book in the air and say this is the greatest thing they’ve read since sliced bread. That will be nice.

More Later . . . . . . .

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Now in Paperback - Chicago Swing

We have been out as an ebook since April, testing the waters, finger in the wind stuff. Great reviews and response, but now time to amp it up. CreateSpace has done a spectacular job making this book from the artwork and interior design we put together. Available 11-12-15

Specs: 5.25" x 8", 61,000 words, 225 pages. 12 pt. Garamond, matte cover, cream interior

I have been very impressed with CreateSpace and their ability to make my work look exceptional (looks can be deceiving - that's why you need good design and a great cover). Want to hear your comments.

The paperback is $14.95, the ebook is $2.99 (but watch for special deals).

The goal for the entire series are stories at 60K words - short fast paced novels that grab you and drag you along. They will be a series of adventures and crimes that take place about one month apart.

For Chicago police detective Tony Alfano, it was not like most mornings: five bombings throughout the Loop, two hundred pounds of missing dynamite, and one dead Serbian in an alley off Washington Street. Is it the Outfit, the Mob, Bolsheviks, or the unions? In the dark speakeasies and nightclubs of Chicago’s underworld, Alfano treads the sharp edge of sanity and delusion, praying that it’s just mob vengeance and not typical Chicago politics.

In Depression racked Chicago, three people crash into each other, each hoping for vengeance, redemption, and salvation. Alfano thought he’d seen it all in his twenty years on the force, but this is brutally and explosively different. Can he stop the killer or will the killer get to him first?

. . . . and to add pressure, the city’s corrupt mayor demands that Alfano catch the killer before the gates to the Century of Progress World’s Fair and Chicago are opened to America and the world.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

On The Shoulders Of The Best

Below are four YouTube videos with some of the best thriller, mystery, legal, detective writers of our day. Between them they have sold almost three quarters of a billion books – yes, a billion (though Stephan King probably has more than half of them). Can you learn anything from these people? Absolutely, they have changed the thriller landscape as much as Agatha Christie (est. 4 billion sales) did with her still viable series’ of Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.

Stephen King’s is long, but worth it – it’s last of the four. Karen Slaughter talks about how she writes (and where – a magical cabin in the woods?). Michael Connelly talks about Harry Bosch and making the Amazon series with Titus Welliver. And John Grisham shills (and discusses) his latest book, “Rouge Lawyer.”

Every mystery writer would kill for these opportunities, but to extrapolate and imagine what these great writers go through to deal with this “fame” is daunting. You have to love what you do to put up with all this fame and fortune.

Karen Slaughter

Michael Connelly

John Grisham

Stephen King

More Later . . . . . . .

Monday, October 12, 2015

Blue Highways - On The Road Again - Part 2

As I said last week, my wife and I have often discussed over the years of traveling the roads of the western United States. Lord knows, I’ve done the LA-San Diego to San Francisco trip maybe thirty times, even the SF to Phoenix interstate dance a few times. Twenty-five years ago we went north to Portland and Bend, Oregon. But the real west, the old west of cowboy lore and Injuns and pioneers and mountains has eluded us – and what about the new West – they were all there to be seen. And we, for forty-five years, had been very remiss.

Leg Three:
Utah and Arizona
Last week’s post followed the Randalls from the Bay Area north to Sun Valley, then Montana, Yellowstone to Jackson Hole, with our midway stop being Park City. After Park City we wound through Salt Lake City. Now, for a Californian (and like most Californians it seems) no one gives Salt Lake much of a lick, but as we drove south on I-15 (one of our few interstate legs) I was stunned by the growth around Salt Lake and Provo. It all reminded me of the Bay Area as it wraps around the southern end of San Francisco Bay. 

3,700 Miles

The last time I drove through Salt Lake City was in 1969; sure I’d dropped in at the airport a time or two while in transit, but never directly through the town or the region. Today it is not a town but a huge and thriving metropolis. Since the 1950s the population of the region has grown 308% from 500,000 to now over two million. Its growth fills the valley from north of Salt Lake City south to beyond Provo. A couple of reasons why: good jobs (highest rate of growth in U.S.), average home price of $204,756, condos in the $160,000 range, and two bedroom apartments rent for $1200. It’s a two and three story urban complex, and with little imagination it reminded me of San Jose. It is, like portions of Idaho (Twin Falls, Idaho Falls), something to watch – homes are affordable, good air, spectacular scenery, and stable economies can lead to great things.

We headed south down US 191, through Price, Utah and to Moab. Spectacular red stone bluffs, deep canyons, and high open desert led to some of the most bizarre rock formation around Moab – a decidedly touristy spot that straddles 191 south of I-70. Well worth the trip. It’s here, in this geologically wonderful region, where many of the National Parks are located: Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Upper Cathedral Valley, Capitol Reef National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and dozens of study areas, and national forests. We stopped in a small town on a high plateau, Blanding, for the night. The country surprised me; this was ranch and cattle country, great fields of alfalfa and grazing land—no desert here. Actually quite beautiful.

My goal for the trip was Monument Valley and its incredible red sandstone buttes. This is not a National Park but lies totally within the Navajo Nation reservation. These buttes and adjacent formations reach over a 1,000 feet above the valley floor and were one of film director John Ford’s favorite movie sets (Stagecoach, My Darling Clementine, She wore a Yellow Ribbon, to name a few).

From there we headed to Page, Arizona. A relatively new city built to support the construction of the Glen Canyon Dam (1957). This is the gateway to the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Lake Powell. Strange but interesting town of 7,000 that sits on a mesa above the surrounding Arizona desert at 4,300 feet above sea level. A few films were made in the area, most notably the disastrous Edgar Rice Burroughs Mars movie, John Carter. We spent one night, found a good Italian restaurant, relatively cheap gas, a Denny’s breakfast (sorry, no Barsoom Martians), and then on to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

A left-turn at Jacobs Lake and then a 45 mile drive down a 2 lane cul de sac (longest I’ve driven) takes you to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. This drive, surprisingly quiet and picturesque, passed an area that, like Yellowstone in 1988, experienced a forest fire in 2006 that has changed thousands of acres of fir and pine forests. Significant regrowth is occurring.

Not much can be said about the Grand Canyon. Its your usual mile deep hole in the ground, ten to twenty miles wide, and layers of rock that can take you back a billion years. As I said—not unusual—but spectacularly fantastic nonetheless. At North Rim your view of the canyon is a thousand feet higher than the south side. There are fewer crowds and there is a sense of intimacy with this wonder, where on the south there are far more crowds. This is a must on anyone’s visit to the region.

Leg Four:
Arizona, Nevada, and California
One of the stranger places we ran into was on a stretch of I-15 (the interstate between Salt Lake and Las Vegas). What the devil is St. George, Utah? Wikipedia says there are more than 150,000 people in the metropolitan region, mostly white, mostly Mormon. It sits in the middle of nowhere (with spectacular scenery though). Why it is one of the fastest growing urban areas in the United States makes you scratch your head. It is hot and very dry. Its leading industry is tourism (or the flow through of tourists), why else live here, not sure. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed near here. The chunk of I-15 heading south into Arizona and Nevada is one of the most incredible pieces of highway engineering I’ve ever seen (and scariest).

It was about this time we made a change in plans; after Las Vegas (another mile deep canyon in the middle of the desert), for a day of R&R we were then on to Mammoth and Yosemite in California. We changed our minds and after two weeks of mountains and desert we wanted to see water—so after stopping for a day in Vegas we headed almost due west to Carmel and Monterey, California. Just one note about Las Vegas, it is as much a state of mind as a place. To be honest, after what we had seen the previous two weeks, we were bored with the place. 

We’ve driven north and south in California many times, Highway 99, I-5, and Highway 101, but never directly east to west from Barstow to Bakersfield to Paso Robles. While the physical geology is not as impressive as Idaho, Wyoming, and Utah, it does have some of the greatest agricultural lands in the west. But even here you could tell the drought was taking its toll. The land, even for September, looked drier and stressed. We took state Highway 46; if you have a chance take this road. It is quintessentially California: farm land, cotton, nut crops and what I assumed was more than twenty square miles of pistachios – now that is a lot of nuts. Then on through the mountains and down into the “other” vineyard region of California – Paso Robles. In many ways even more dramatic than Napa and Sonoma. 

We turned north and almost finished our trip in Monterey (it is 510 miles from Las Vegas - a very long but interesting day). Two days later we were home in the East Bay.

Last Night of Trip - Monterey, California
I hope I haven’t bored you too much with this travelogue, but I recommend this trip. The western United States is a spectacular country with amazing things to see (it will test your knowledge and creative use of superlatives – we often just settled on WOW), to experience, and most of all appreciate. Take the time and just do it.

Stay Tuned . . . . . . . .