Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas to All

Have a wonderful Merry Christmas
and a Happy New Year from
Greg Randall and all the folks
at Windsor Hill Publishing

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 . . . . . . . .

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Blue Highways – A Road Trip – Part 1

Blue Highway
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.

A favorite high school author (and still to be sure) was John Steinbeck and when his book Travels with Charley was published in 1962--it became a favorite. It teased me as a teenager about America and the places that were beyond the prairies of the Chicago and Midwest which eventually lead to a solo cross-country jaunt in 1969 to LA and San Francisco. Two years later my bride and I moved from Chicago to San Francisco taking the still, under construction in places, interstate system using I-70 to Denver, south on I-25 to Albuquerque, west on I-40 (some of the old Route 66), and eventually stopping at the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and finally San Francisco. That was April 1971.

In 1982 another American highway travelogue was published, and like Steinbeck, William Least Heat-Moon in his Blue Highways, tried to find the true American—who ever they are—by traveling the two lane highways of America, not the high speed interstates. His book, remarkable for its insight, clarity, and humor, again struck a cord in my traveling soul. But for the past twenty-five years Europe and other exotic places called and we answered. The western trip seemed to elude us, “Maybe next year.” Well this was finally the year.

Our goal was a simple clockwise loop, from Walnut Creek to Walnut Creek. This was not to be a camping trip, no sleeping under the stars. My idea of camping includes marble countertops in the bathroom (call me a retired boy scout). At my age crawling out of a sleeping bag is not a pretty sight. But it was also not going to ultra-first class, economy is good if there’s legroom.

Steinbeck along with his traveling companion, Charley the poodle, towed a trailer (now in his Salinas museum) behind a new pickup truck. Heat-Moon drove a green van with a camp stove and portable toilet. Sorry guys – AARP approved hotels were our base line and certainly anything above that was more than acceptable. Our horse was a red Ford Escape with 3000 miles on it when we rolled down the driveway. Our goal was to see as much as we could in seventeen days. The route is posted below.

First Leg:
Nevada and Idaho and Montana 
I worked as a consultant to a mining company back in the late 1970s designing a work camp and support housing near a town called Challis, Idaho. I wanted to see what had changed. 
We went east through Reno onto Wells, Nevada then north into Idaho and through Twin Falls. The last time I’d been in Twin Falls was the late 70s. The population then was about 25,000 people and agricultural based – the shock of driving through this now very modern upsized town of more than 46,000 was stunning (I’m sure the population was well above that in the surrounding county). Construction and new growth was everywhere – and as we were to find out almost everywhere - there has been tremendous growth in the west during the last twenty-five years. After spending a few days in Ketchum and Sun Valley (where Hemmingway lived from 1935 to 1947 and later died) we headed north into Challis and discovered almost nothing had changed in forty years. It is still a simple main street town, spectacular surrounding mountains, and verdant fields and cattle lands below, all flanking the Salmon River. Its population had gained about 200 people since 1980, now about 1,000 people call Challis home (the Village Inn where our base camp had been set up, was exactly the same).

We headed north into Montana then east to Virginia City, Montana. Montana is Big-Sky country. It’s as open as a when a very young Sacagawea lead Lewis and Clark through the region in 1805, now cattle populates the great expanses of the country and not the Shoshone and buffalo. We stayed south of Butte and west of Bozeman on two lane highways that were in finer shape than California’s and headed south to the old mining town of Virginia City. What we did find were small and seemingly prosperous towns and ranches. The country was, to use an overworked term, awesome. Then on to Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone is worth the visit. I took some good photos of the usual suspects: buffalo and elk, the Old Faithful geyser, mud boils and the forest recovering from the massive fires of 1988. The most traffic we ran into (on the whole trip) was at the entry gate to Yellowstone. One of the funniest incidents were the cars backed up behind a bull buffalo ambling down the main entry road. He was in no hurry and his slow ponderous gate proved it. The town (just outside the entry) is like a cowboy version of Fisherman’s Wharf; I still cringe when I think of it. The scenery and the underlying geology of Yellowstone is very exciting, but for drama and great photo opportunities take your time as you travel fifty miles south to the Grand Tetons and Jackson, Wyoming.

Leg Two:
Wyoming and Utah
While Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho seem a tad artificial and pretentious, Jackson (also referred to as Jackson Hole), Wyoming exhibited a warmth and what, to us, felt more like what the modern American west is like. Compact, free parking, good to great restaurants, and high quality galleries, modern conveniences, and an airport that takes in Delta and United flights. Fly fishing is a short drive away, a call will get you guides and float trips to some of the best cutthroat trout fishing in the world (as well as brown, rainbow, and brook trout). These are the drainages of the Madison and the Gallatin and Firehole rivers made famous in a hundred books and movies about trout fishing in the western United States. We will be back, in many ways the trip was worth the discovery of Jackson Hole.

From Jackson we headed to Park City, Utah. While Jackson retained some of the character of the Old West, Park City has all the character of a modern resort subdivision built outside Salt Lake City. But wait, Park City is a modern resort subdivision built 35 miles east of Salt Lake City. The 2002 Olympics made the place and even though there were good winter activities (fueled by Salt Lake and Provo) it was the post Olympic growth of townhome complexes, modern hotels, and professional in-migration that has fueled it’s substantial growth. At over 6,000 feet the air is crisp and dry. The old town is one street (and a hefty climb from one end to the other as well) of the usual shops, restaurants, and even a brewery. It’s no longer mining that drive the economy it’s the tourist and second homes. I think, in time, it will be a big retirement draw as well. Two days was more then enough. But it is the rest of Utah that can take your breath away – for better or worse. 

Stay Tuned . . . . . . . .

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Backbeat to Beatlemania

If there is one thing that Tony Broadbent brings to the written page, it is the colloquial perverseness that can be found in the jargon of the home turf of the English language, England. His new novel/thriller, THE ONE AFTER 9:09, does it and does it well. I discovered Mr. Broadbent a few years back at the Mystery Writers conference at Book Passage in Corte Madera, California where he brought an engaging wit and style to the discussions. After reading his three book ‘SMOKE’ series about Jethro, a burglar with more on his plate than nipping some rich dowager’s jewels, Broadbent turns to what could be his second loves, rock-and-roll and the Beatles.

Now I ask you, would you write a thriller about the most famous and most fantabulous rock and roll group since, like, forever? Would you even think of trying? The Beatles are chronicled in a thousand books and stories, videos, posters, handbills, and even some of the earliest bobble-head dolls. Gutsy work on the part of Mr. Broadbent, damn gutsy—and, to write a thriller, damn cheeky too.

We’ve moved from Jethro’s ruined post-World War Two London of the late 1940s to Liverpool 1961. Social disruption is the norm; the economy is in tatters, the kids—all products of the war itself, are searching for something, something they can call their own—and its rock and roll. In the cellars of Hamburg and Liverpool a new sound rises, a sound that slams you in the gut, makes the boys jump, and the girls get all excited and I mean, really, really excited.

Mr. Broadbent’s tale is of money, promoters, ambition, culture, rival rock and roll clubs, and men bent on causing as much trouble as possible. It is the story of Brian Epstein and his desperate desire to manage these mop-heads to their fame and his fortune. It is a story of deals, double-dealing, failures and success. A book very hard to set down. Well recommended.