Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Nightlife Publishing 2012 Year in Review

Overnight success takes years of patient effort, but after six months of independent publishing, we have definitely made some progress to be proud of in terms of results and feedback. 

The Numbers
I’m clearly not threatening James Patterson for his spot on the best seller list, but everyone has to start somewhere. Here are our numbers so far:

850: The number of times my stories have been downloaded by people who obviously have superior taste.

55: The number of witty, insightful and compelling blog posts I have produced.

12: The number of short stories and novellas I have out in the world through various platforms including Amazon, Smashwords and Kobo.

3: The number of author interviews I’ve done in print and audio

1: The number of magazines my work have been featured in.

The Words
In addition to the cold, hard numbers, my writing has generated a lot of positive responses from others in the industry. Not all of the reviews have been good of course, but here are some of the highlights:

Afraid of the Dark: “Don't try to out-think this one, I guarantee you won't win! The ending is perfect for the story, but the dark is not what you think it is...” 
Doreen Mulryan Marts, author of the Frankly Fannie Series

Asset Management: “Every time I thought I knew what was about to happen next, I was wrong, and every time I loved it. It’s a fantastic read. It really keeps you on your toes.” 
Matt Blank, author

Broken Glass: “Although it is very brief, it packs a powerful punch and covers many bases: lust, betrayal, false heroics, greed and the almost brutal reality of urban life at its coldest core.” 
Conrad Johnson Author of Crying Bullets

Dead on Arrival: “5 stars! 4 dead bodies! 3 laugh-out-louds! 2 great characters! And one long, satisfying pee in the bushes!” 
Kim Chamberlain, Publisher Espionage Magazine

Family Affair: “It reads a little like some of Andrew Vachs “Burke” novels though it far less politically correct. The territory is similar and the dark ambiance aims for the same targets.” 
Tom Vater, author of The Cambodian Book of the Dead

The Replacements: This short story reads like an episode of Law and Order SVU. It is thriller with both sex and violence and an interesting ending.  
Kari Gibson, owner Gibson Books

So far, the world of independent publishing has been alternatively frustrating and fulfilling. I’d like to thank everyone who took the time to meet me and my characters. We have plans to offer you even more in 2013.

Have fun.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bloody Inspiration Part III (My top 12 books for 2012)

One of the main benefits of being an independent publisher is that your reading takes on a whole new dimension. Every book you consume feeds your creativity; suggesting new ideas, new insights and new concepts.

I don’t know how many books, short stories and graphic novels I’ve read in the past year, but this list comprises the better material that has come across my Kindle. Unfortunately, I haven’t written reviews for all of them (I’ve been kind of busy) but I’ve provided a link for the ones I did. My tastes seem to focus on a particular subject this year. Can you tell what that could be?
  1. Erotic Capital (non-fiction): This is an intriguing redefinition of personal motivation and gender relations that has changed the way I look at social dynamics. If you only read one book on this list, read this one.
  2. Facing Violence (non-fiction): This is a well written treatise on avoiding and coping with violence that every martial artist, gun owner and self-defense enthusiast should read to calibrate their world view to reality
  3. Why Women Have Sex (non-fiction) Using a combination of anonymous surveys, lab experiments and multi-discipline research, two psychologists attempt to answer the most complicated question of all time.
  4. La Seduction: How the French Play the Game of Life (non-fiction): A case study of the seductive process on a national scale. It’s great for students of seduction and Francophiles alike.
  5. Venus in Furs (erotic fiction): A classic BDSM romance that was an interesting introduction into the psyche of bottoms.
  6. The Art of Intelligence (non-fiction): The author has a unique and authoritative view of espionage from the end of the Cold War to the beginning of the Iraq War and this is one of the better books on the subject that I have read.
  7. The Art of Love (erotic fiction): A short and amusing version of the Art of Seduction that was written more than 2,000 years before Robert Greene was born.  It’s a nice historical look at the seductive process.
  8. The Honourable Schoolboy (crime fiction): The follow up to the classic Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. It’s good, but not as engrossing as the first novel.
  9. The Lost Diary of Don Juan (historic fiction) Douglas Abrams has added to the universal legend by imaging a character that is part spy, part seducer and part honey trap.
  10. Henry and June (erotic fiction): Anias Nin’s autobiographical story of her polyamorous Parisian affair with Henry Miller is alluring and liberating, but it is also frustrating and incomplete. I think that was what she lived and what she wanted to describe.
  11. The Khmer Kill: A Dox Short Story (crime fiction): One of my favorite author’s gave one of his supporting characters a little time in the limelight. The result was good, but it wasn’t as strong as his other short stories.
  12. Simply Irresistible (non-fiction): This book takes one archetype in the Art of Seduction and expands it out into a full blown process of its own. It doesn’t pack the same punch as the original, even though it uses the same formula.
  13. Exit to Eden (erotic fiction): It was supposed to be a modern classic in BDSM romance, but I probably cheated myself by listening to the abridged version.

So what were the best books you read for 2012?

What new trends and themes do you see when you look back on your year in reading?

Let me know with a comment.

Have fun.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

My New Novella Date with a Devil is Now Available for Free!

I’m currently offering a new crime thriller novella for free on Smashwords.

Ria Marlen is a vigilante who preys on the predators of urban society. Warren Baker is a spy with influence in the shadows. He has arranged a meeting between the two of them. He wants to find out her secrets and bend her to his will. He wants to succeed where every other man has failed. Can he win her trust, or will she crush him like so many men who came before?

If you decide to read it, please let me know what you think by writing me a review. Every opinion helps, whether it’s good or bad.

Have fun.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Secret Struggle for the Magic It (How to Write Spy Fiction)

According to Robert McKee’s excellent book on screenwriting, you can’t write in a particular genre until you understand the conventions and elements that it demands. This is one of the reasons that writers who strive to improve their craft benefit from reading the work of others who have mastered a specific genre.

In developing the script for my own novel, I also created my own understanding of the elements of the spy fiction genre. I’d like to share this concept here (along with pertinent examples where I can find them) in the hopes that it will help increase your appreciation of both the spy fiction specifically and the creation of genre fiction in general.

The Elements of Spy Fiction
Based on my exposure to classic and modern spy fiction, there are three fundamental elements that can be described simply as the secret struggle for the magic it. I’ll break down these concepts to make them more understandable:
  1. The “Magic It”: There is a person, object or piece of information that drives the story. Whatever this “it” happens to be, it is so important that people are willing to kill and risk their lives for it. For example, in Skyfall the “magic it” starts off as a list of undercover agents (information). In Spy Game, the “magic it” is the spy held in the Chinese prison that is scheduled to be executed (person). In The Hunt for Red October, the “magic it” is a rouge nuclear submarine (very large object).
  2. The Opposing Groups: There are at least two people, agencies, or countries struggling to acquire whatever the “magic it” happens to be. For example, in Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy the opposing groups are the British Circus and Moscow Center. In La Femme Nikita the opposing groups are Covert One and Red Cell, while The Bourne Identity pits rival factions within the CIA itself as the opposing groups.
  3. The Secret Struggle: For reasons that are inherently logical to the story, the opposing groups need to keep their conflict hidden from the outside world. This is what separates spy fiction from most mysteries, thrillers and legal or police suspense novels. Both the protagonist and the antagonist work from the shadows, employing similar techniques of stealth and deception. In many spy classics, it is often difficult to tell who the “good” and “bad” guys are based purely on what they do. This gray area is one of the elements that make stories like The Gentleman’s Game, Rain Fall and Ronin so compelling. The definitions of right and wrong often boil down to malleable issues of money, ideology, coercion and excitement.

Applying the Elements to My Own Work

The premise of the book I am writing now involves a young spy who is forced to infiltrate an international smuggling ring by seducing the leader of the group. The “Magic It” here is information. The protagonist has to find proof that her lover is tied to arms smuggling. There are two opposing groups; the mercenary spies sent to infiltrate the smugglers and the smugglers themselves. Both groups need to use secrecy and deception, either to illegally ship weapons around the world or get into a position to stop those shipments. By creating a story that satisfies the elements of spy fiction, I can build a stronger narrative that can hopefully appeal to the millions of people who devour this genre every year in books, TV shows and movies.

The Dark Side

While understanding the conventions of any fictional genre can satisfy the expectations of the audience, writers must, at the same time, be very aware of the clichés that are particular to their genre. Avoiding these pitfalls is the difference between creating a classic story and a half-baked mess. Next week, I’ll try to define what the differences are between conventions and clichés and explain how my novel will try to rise above the ordinary.

So what are the elements of your favorite fictional genre? How do your favorite books capture or transcend the conventions of the genre and redefine them? Let me know what you think in the comments...

Have fun.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Lost Diary of Don Juan: The Seducer as Historical Spy

There are few literary figures as well-known as Don Juan. His character has become synonymous with seduction, womanizing and hedonism. While his story has been retold in stories, plays and operas for more than two hundred years, Douglas Abrams has added to the legend by imaging a character that is part spy, part seducer and part honey trap.

The Lost Diary follows Don Juan’s last great seduction, the pursuit of the unattainable Dona Ana. As the story unfolds, we are introduced not only to Don Juan’s past as an orphan, thief, spy, and libertine noble. We get an insight into the intrigue and manipulations of the Spanish court that resembled many of the honey trap operations of the Cold War. These historical parallels add a unique pleasure to the story, especially for anyone who is a fan of spy fiction.

The Lost Diary also has elements of erotic romance and hedonistic philosophy. In creating empathy for the title character, Abrams illuminates a sensuality and a secular wisdom that liberates the reader as well as Don Juan. I am not a fan of historical fiction, but I am inspired by Don Juan as a concept and I recommend this version of the story to anyone who enjoys stories of sex, lies and spies.

Have fun.

The Detachment: The Avengers of Assassination

Barry Eisler is one of my favorite thriller writers. I aspire to create characters and mood the way he does. He is one of the few modern authors that has mastered everything that is attractive about the spy thriller while avoiding all of the clichés. The Detachment is a climax of various storylines, but it stand up as a compelling thriller in its own right.

As I was reading the last few stories in Mr. Eisler's universe (Lost Coast, Paris is a Bitch and Inside Out) the parallels between his mega plot and a trend in popular films became very clear. In the current spate of summer blockbusters from the company I used to work for (Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Hulk) each had films that will culminate in the composite Avengers film. Eisler works a similar concept in his universe. The only difference is that he's writing about assassins instead of Avengers.

The best part of the story is that you see each main character from the external view of the other characters and from their own internal perspective. Each one appears as an antagonist in relation to the others when seen from the outside and a struggling protagonist in their own head. No one's motives seem artificial or far-fetched. It is these dual perspectives, when added to the elaborate tactics, high level of detail and engrossing dialogue that has always been a part of the Rain series makes for a very enjoyable listen. By the middle of the book, you'll be sure they will all kill each other and you might not be able to decide who's side you're on.

I don't know if these all four of these characters should ever be in a book together again, but I hope they are.

Have fun.

Jesus Told Me to Kill Her: The Fantasy of Failed Writer

“You don’t understand. He can’t be bargained with. He can’t be reasoned with. He doesn’t know pity or fear or remorse, and he absolutely will not stop…ever, until you are dead.” Kyle Resse: The Terminator

The premise of this novella is simple enough. It is also something that can easily resonate with anyone who has attempted to have a book published. A struggling writer, beaten down by months and years of rejection, snaps and decides to kill the literary agent who personifies everything that is wrong with the publishing industry. This crisis decision leads this author on a long strange trip into madness and murder.

There is a similarity between the iconic, unstoppable cyborg and the protagonist in Mr. Johnson’s book; relentless perseverance.  There is a darkly comedic quality to the prose that is engaging, even if it doesn’t quite create empathy between the reader and the protagonist. There is also a tragic unsettled character to the ending that might be more disturbing than the story itself. If you are a writer (or ever wanted to be one), this is a cautionary tale of obsession. You have been warned.

Have fun.

Facing Violence: A Book Review

“War is a matter of vital importance to the state; a matter of life or death, the road either to survival or to ruin. Hence, it is imperative that it be studied thoroughly.” Sun Tzu: The Art of War 

Rory Miller takes the very first sentence in the Chinese military classic and expands upon it in lucid detail. Facing Violence draws readers into a world and a state of mind that most people in a civilized society imagine but do not really understand.

The title of the book suggests a guide about fighting, but that is misleading. Mr. Miller explores the entire continuum of close combat including:
  • your personal beliefs and ethics
  • the social and resourced based motivations of violent people
  • to the legal criteria for self-defense
  • the psychology of criminal violence
  • your biological and physiological responses
  • the mechanics of realistic combat
  • the legal, social, and psychological aftermath of a violent encounter

Miller writes in a style that is simultaneously sobering, enlightening, depressing and insistent. It isn’t really a guide about how to react to potential violence. It is a well written treatise on avoiding and coping with violence that every martial artist, gun owner and self-defense enthusiast should read to calibrate their training to reality

As a writer, I read this book was to give a more realistic flavor to the characters and situations in my stories that dealt with concepts of violence. As a former, martial artist I highly recommend this book because it help people who have that kind of training adapt the lessons from the dojo into the real world.

Have fun.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

On Champions, Tastemakers and True Fans (The Options of Modern Marketing)

“The way I see it, in this multi-channel, micro market, infinite sub culture world that we live in, everybody is fighting for a chance to tell their story, no matter how stupid that story might be.” 
Gamal Hennessy: Afraid of the Dark 

Last week I wrote a piece on the quality of indie books vs. traditionally published books. Much of the feedback that I got about that post focused on marketing more than editing or cover design. More than a few readers held the opinion that a poorly produced book with strong marketing will be much more successful than a book that is well produced with no marketing behind it.

While I might agree with this concept, it’s not directly applicable to my situation (or to the situation of most independent publishers). I don’t have the time or the resources to launch a major ad campaign and book tour, so what are the alternatives? At this point, I’ve identified three viable options: true fans, tastemakers and champions.

True Fans is a concept developed by Kevin Kelly. Basically, a true fan is someone who will buy anything and everything you produce. As an independent publisher, I take the concept one step further. To me, a true fan is someone who will buy all your work, review it online and enthusiastically tell their friends about you. They might not be influential individually, but they love you and they are the core of any viral, word of mouth message.

Tastemakers are the people we rely on to connect us to new information. When we’re talking about books, we are talking about those people who we trust to tell us what we should be reading because they know books and because they know what we like. Malcolm Gladwell refers to this group as Mavens in his book the Tipping Point. Traditionally, influential book critics and best seller lists were the main arbiters of taste. Now, there are more tastemaker opportunities created by social media and niche markets. Anyone from a book club organizer to a blogger to a group moderator on Good Reads can be a tastemaker and they can have a wider reach than a true fan, even if their passion for any particular author might not run as deep.

Champions are highly influential individuals who make it their mission to get exposure for your book. It could be the literary agent who believes you are the next J.K. Rowling. It could be the small book store owner who pushes your book to everyone who walks through her door. Oprah is probably the ultimate example of a book champion. When she puts her sticker on your book, a million people will buy it without having any idea what it’s about. Champions often have a financial stake in your success, but that investment is often powerful motivation for them to help you.

I know that these concepts are amorphous and interrelated. I understand that defining a true fan, getting the attention of a tastemaker or finding a champion is about as easy as finding a veggie burger in a steakhouse. But I don’t think the process of reaching these people is mysterious. It boils down to perfecting my craft as a writer, producing the best product possible, engaging with my potential audience on a personal level and having more than a little luck. The tools are out there. It is up to me as an independent publisher to make the most of them.

What do you think? Are these options really viable or am I missing something? Is there another alternative that I’ve overlooked? I don’t pretend to have all the answers. If you have the keys to success, please share them. I am more than willing to steal (or at least borrow) them from you.

Have fun.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

My New Novella Broken Glass is Now Available for Free!

I’m currently offering a new crime thriller novella for free on Smashwords.

Russ Warner works as a bartender to the bankers and brokers on Wall Street. He has to deal with arrogant wealthy customers every night, but Alex is the worst of them.

One night, the two men argue over a woman and storm out of the bar. The next morning, one of them is dead. Who’s the killer and how is this common disagreement tied to a much larger conspiracy?

If you decide to read it, please let me know what you think by writing me a review. Every opinion helps, whether it’s good or bad.

Have fun.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Is the Self-Published Book Always Inferior to Traditionally Published Book?

The Publishing Snob

I have come across a fairly persistent bias in my brief cybernetic wandering through the self-publishing world. There seems to be an idea that a self-published book can’t be as good as a similar book coming from an established publishing house. As a self-publisher, my first instinct is to reject this idea as propaganda from a desperate publishing industry and feigned elitism from those writers who can’t let go of the old 20th century model. But the more I think about it, the more I think that they might be right, for now.

What Does “Inferior” Mean?
Keep in mind, when I talk about the difference between an inferior and a superior book, I am not talking about the quality of the story. I have read quite a few books from prominent authors and released by prestigious publishing houses that were simply horrible when it came to the actual story. We have all read plenty of mainstream books with two dimensional characters, plots riddled with clichés and created as pure money grabs. There are also brilliant writers who are crafting beautiful stories and releasing the books independently. The quality of the story is not determined by who does or doesn’t publish it.

I’m also not sure that sales can be a definite indicator of a book’s superiority. It is a highly touted concept that most self-published books don’t recoup their costs. I think that is true, but I think it is also true that most books that come out of traditional publishing don’t make back the money spent on them. So if the majority of books on both sides fail financially, the potential profit of a book might not have any connection to how it got published.

The Publisher’s Advantage
I have dipped my toes in e-book publishing for six months now. At this point, I can see that there are clear advantages that a publisher brings to the table. The secret is expertise and division of labor. Here are some likely facts about a book that has been released by a publishing house:
  • It has been vetted by a series of professionals for its market potential
  • It has been professionally edited, proofread, re-written and positioned in the market
  • It has been professionally packaged in terms of cover design, copy writing and formatting
  • Someone was willing to take a financial risk in releasing that book

Self-published books can be released without any of these factors coming into play. With today’s technology and distribution channels, a passionate and inspired writer (or anyone for that matter) can release a book without doing anything to create a polished product. We can to everything ourselves, even if we shouldn’t. The result is hundreds of thousands of books that don’t look or read as well as a traditionally published book. That is where the bias comes from. The ability that we have to circumvent the old system has robbed us of the benefits of that system.

Change My Title to Change the Game
I have no interest in going the traditional publishing route because I believe artistic freedom and innovation are greater in self-publishing. But I do think there is something to learn and even steal from the old guard. I haven’t given up on being independent. I have given up on being just a writer. I have expanded my focus from the story to the book.

A writer has a limited set of concerns and skills. We deal in plot, character, subtext and all the literary building blocks of our craft. But the story is only the first step in the book. It has to be refined, polished and packaged for consumption. It has to go through the same process as it would in a traditional publishing scenario. The only difference now is that I have to be more than the writer. I have to be the publisher.

That means I have to create the publishing process. I have to test the market to make sure the concept is viable. I have to hire the team of experts to create the polish. I have to manage the process. I have to position the book and build the audience. I have to take the financial risk. I can’t just write the story. I have to publish the books.

Remembering the Goal
I don’t read books based on whether they are self-published or not. I pick them up when they catch my attention and make me curious. I read them because they hold my interest. I remember them because they made me think and feel something. That is what I want to create for you in the end. I want to create the stories that will stick with you. If I do my job as a publisher properly, you’ll appreciate my effort as a writer much more. You won’t be able to tell the difference between my books and the ones coming out of Random House. Then you can focus on the story, which is all that really matters in the end.

Have fun.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bloody Inspiration: Part 2 (My Inspirational Comics)

Many people don’t associate comics with dark themes, strong characters and compelling stories. I’m not one of those people. Comics are as important to me as movies or TV. As a child I learned to read through comics and as an adult I worked for Marvel Comics in a corporate capacity. If you avoid comics, you’re missing out.

Last week I wrote about the movies that inspire me, but my writing has been influenced by comics as much as any other medium. I don’t write stories about guys running around in leather and spandex, but a lot of my favorite comics don’t fit into the traditional superhero formula. If you like the following comics as much as I do, then you have a pretty good insight into the characters I create and the stories I write.

  1. 100 Bullets: A nationwide mafia style drama wrapped around one of the most inventive premises ever.
  2. Batman (Dark Knight Returns):  Redefined an icon and started a multi-billion dollar comics to movie success story
  3. Daredevil (The Elektra Saga): Combined tragic romance with deranged killers and the desperate need for redemption
  4. Grendel (Devil by the Deed, Devil Child & Black White and Red): The story of a gifted child twisted into an assassin, a crime lord and ultimately an icon of evil
  5. Lone Wolf and Cub: a classic revenge manga that is sparse and beautiful in its brutality
  6. Master of Kung Fu (1984-1989): a reimagining of a pulp series complete with betrayal, intrigue and of course…kung fu.
  7. Queen and Country: A spy series that is part Jason Bourne, part George Smiley with a female lead that is more than a match for Bond
  8. Sin City: The quintessential noir comic of the modern era, dragged down by an uninspired movie adaptation
  9. Shi: A warrior priest fights with her own heritage and the yakuza in this modern interpretation of the Lone Wolf formula
  10. Wolverine (The First Graphic Novel): A Japanese noir story that put this famous character on the map (and might be the plot for the next Wolverine movie…)

So what comics do you read (or have read) that have the same flavor as these? I don’t read comics as much as I want to anymore, but I’m always looking for new inspiration.

Have fun.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

You're First Look at My "Last" Erotic Story

I’m offering my last erotic novella on Amazon this week.

A young couple visits New Orleans to sample the local strip clubs. Their travels take them to several unappealing spots that drain them of their enthusiasm and their desire. But the last spot on Bourbon Street promises to be different, blurring the lines between a simple dance and a memorable seduction.

Now that I have five pure erotic pieces available for your enjoyment, I'm going to proceed with my master plan to alter the landscape of modern fiction. Don't say I didn't warn you. 

If you decide to read it, please let me know what you think by writing me a review. Every opinion helps, whether it’s good or bad.

Have fun.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Skyfall’s Downfall: A Film Review

To say that the James Bond franchise hasn't influenced me or my writing would be a lie of monumental proportions. Like most people born in the last 50 years, Bond has been a staple of my entertainment for as long as I can remember. It wasn't just the iconic image of the super spy that inspired me. It was the relationship between his frivolous, womanizing characterization in contrast with the single minded dedication of his true character. It was also the way that the concept of Bond evolved with each new actor to take the role. Unlike other movie franchises that get stuck in a particular time period, Bond relates to new audiences by re imagining the character to fit the times.

Daniel Craig’s run as Bond has met, if not exceeded, previous Bond’s in its ability to stay current. Terrorists and corporations replaced Russians and world destroying villains. Brutal violence replaced elegant gadgets. Most profound was the nature of the change in the main characters. Bond became less of a playboy lounge lizard and more of a pure assassin. M became less of a random old man in a leather office to a tough fiery woman who was just as ruthless, in her own way, as Bond was.  The new series was well suited for the 21st century.

Having said all that, Skyfall drops the ball in terms of evolution. The first three acts are an impressive interpretation of the classic formula. It has intrigue, exotic locations, beautiful women and a good combination of both chase and combat choreography. It also manages to include the development (or decline) of the major characters and their relationship with each other. The rising complexity of the film fit in nicely with the underlying message about the continued need for espionage services. Judi Dench stole the show as M and is clearly the best head of MI6 in the history of the franchise (I can’t even remember who the other guys were who played M in the past).  If the film ended with the close of act three, Skyfall could stand confidently as a classic Bond film.

Unfortunately, the movie wasn't done. The last act was a self-indulgent, overly nostalgic attack on the franchise. It was like watching an episode the A-Team meets Dr. Phil on a field trip to Scotland. It had all the trappings of a multi-million dollar reboot or sequel set up that was tacked on at the last minute to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Bond. And the last three minutes were the worst. It was painful to watch the director try to erase all the progress and evolution of the Bond character by dragging him back into the trappings of the 1970’s. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next film reintroduced the cliché of having sharks with laser beams on their heads trying to kill Bond as the master villain explains his entire evil plan.

Craig and Dench have done very well with Bond. The fact that the franchise is so intent on looking backward instead of forward is the downfall of an otherwise very good film.

Have fun.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The International Spy Museum: A Blend of Fact and Fiction

Most of my crime thrillers contain a healthy dose of espionage because it is one of my favorite subjects. When I graduated law school, I seriously considered joining the State Department, the FBI and the CIA for the chance to be a part of that world. After I decided not to pursue those careers, it still fascinated me from both a real world and a fictional perspective. The interest I have in intelligence made me eager to visit the International Spy Museum in Washington DC for several years. I finally had a chance to go a few weeks ago. While I was a little apprehensive in the beginning of the tour, I can confirm that it is a great place for anyone who is interested in any type of spying.

When we first walked in, I thought the trip would be a complete waste of time. The elevator lit up like something out of an episode of Get Smart. The first display consisted of artifacts connected to the new Argo movie and lists of “cover identities” that you were supposed to choose and memorize. The worst part was that small children outnumbered adults by about 2 to 1. It all seemed quite simplistic to me and not at all what I was looking for.

The next room is a small theater. We sat there and watched a short film narrated by Dame Judi Dentch (for obvious reasons) about the personal motivations of spying. They didn’t specifically refer to the MICE acronym, but that was the thrust of the film. When that was over, I felt the presentation had more substance and I started to relax a bit.

The main exhibit is broken into two parts. The first part looks at various aspects of collecting intelligence. HUMINT, SIGINT and flaps and seals are all covered with an emphasis on the Cold War. The second part of the exhibit looks at the worldwide historical impact of spying from Sun Tzu to Casanova to Mata Hari to Josephine Baker to the D-Day disinformation campaign. This was easily the most interesting part of the museum and not geared towards children at all.

The last part of the museum we saw was the gift shop which also tried to balance real world espionage with more light hearted items. While the front of the store had silly things like spy t-shirts, key chains and posters, the rear of the store had books on foreign policy, special operations and major intelligence analyses from Napoleon to 9/11. I bought several items there, but if I told you what they were, I’d have to kill you.

The only thing that ISM was missing was an exhibit on intelligence after 9/11. The historical exhibit ended with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, so there was no discussion of intelligence relating to modern terrorism or the rise of corporate intelligence over the past 10 years. Keep in mind that when we went, part of the museum was closed for a new exhibit based on the new Bond film; Skyfall They might have left out modern spying because they were making space for Bond  or they have skipped it because they can’t get useful material for an era that is still current. Either way, it is a glaring oversight.

It might start out a little silly, but anyone interested in intelligence or espionage will enjoy the International Spy Museum. It was an inspiration to me and my writing and I think it has something for everyone who wanted to know more about the subject.

Have fun.

Monday, November 5, 2012

We Are Not United States

Our states are not, nor have they ever been, united. 

We are constantly at odds with each other over race, class, education, income, gender, health, sexual preference, sexual identity, sexual expression, religion, ethics, morals and culture. We do not share the same dreams, the same goals or the same fundamental perspectives on reality. 

The political alliances or connections we do make are often temporary and motivated primarily by our own self-interest. We have used this reality as both a collective strength and contentious weakness. But we are not together. We never have been together. 

The United States of America is not an honest name for our country. The Divided States of Discord is a much more accurate description.

Have fun voting (or not)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

My New Novella Dead on Arrival is Now Available for Free

I’m offering a new crime thriller novella for free on Smashwords.

It was supposed to be a simple job. All Hamilton Chu had to do was pick up a VIP at the airport and bring him to the safe house. How hard could that be for a veteran covert operator? The simple job gets a lot more complicated, when he finds out that assassins, deception and murder are all included in the assignment. In the end, if Chu can’t find the killer and stop him, this simple job could be his last job.

If you decide to read it, please let me know what you think by writing me a review. Every opinion helps, whether it’s good or bad.

Have fun.

Should E-books Be Free (and have ads in them?)

I’ve got a lot of responses from last week’s article on using free books now to attract fans that will pay for books later. I started thinking more about the concept after the post and realized that in a lot of ways mediums like TV, radio and apps already have a model that makes money while giving the product away for free; ad supported content. Maybe this concept can work for e-books as well.

As a reader and an author, what is your position on ads in e-books? Do you think the business model of free books supported by ads is a viable? I know Amazon and Microsoft have explored this option on a corporate level, but do any of you have experience doing it on the self-published level?

Also, does anyone have any companies or advertising networks they could recommend if someone did want to explore the e-book advertising option?

Thanks in advance.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Selling Books Like a Drug Dealer: Free vs. Almost Free

How much would you pay for an e-Book?
In 2012, price is an amorphous concept in digital publishing. I read more than a few books for free. I have rejected a book priced at $4.99 because I didn’t think it was worth it. I have paid more than $10 for a book I really wanted. You can’t nail it down. It all comes back to a concept that I learned in Economics 101; as a seller, the “right” price is highest price that the market will bear for any particular item.
So how much will the market bear to read my short stories? This question has plagued me since I started publishing. At first, I thought that $2.99 would work, then I tried free on Kindle Direct Publishing, then I tried $1.99 and so on. After six months, these experiments have led me to a conclusion; the price of the story doesn’t really matter at this point.
Why? Because I haven’t found the audience interested in my style of crime thrillers and I haven’t proven to those readers that my work is worth reading. With so many self published writers competing with the publishing houses and other forms of entertainment, I can’t try to compete with everyone. I have to find my niche and focus on appealing to them. And since people only have a limited amount of time and attention, I have to prove that my work is worth the effort before my audience will read my stories consistently.
So I have come up with a new plan; I am going to target a very narrow segment of the reading population and offer them several of my stories for free. My theory is that once I find the right readers and expose them to my work without any financial risk, they will be more willing to pay for other books later. My hope is that readers become addicted to my style, like a crackhead who can’t get off the pipe. I don’t think people should spend their rent money to pay me or start stealing TV’s to buy my e-books, but I will take the royalty payment without asking a lot of questions.
I currently have three urban horror stories available for free on Smashwords for Halloween. Other stories will go online for free in the coming months on Try them and let me know what you think. The first ones are free. After that we’re going to have to work something out…
Have fun.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Bloody Inspiration: The 21 Films That Have Influenced My Writing

Every artists and writer is influenced by their background, environment and what they are exposed to. I’m sure that there are hundreds of things that I have seen, heard and read that have shaped the way I write. I grew up in a movie culture, so there are probably dozens of movies that guide the way I envision character and create dialogue. I’m sticking with 21 for this list because they match the tone and genre that I enjoy the most and because I can’t spend days on this blog post. In any event, if you enjoy these 21 films, I think you will enjoy my writing.
  1. The American (2010): a minimalistic spy thriller; one of the few times the movie was better than the book.
  2. Basic Instinct (1992): the most well known example of the erotic thriller
  3. Blade Runner (1982): an amazing blend of noir and sci-fi that defined cyberpunk 
  4. Brick (2005): a well done noir detective story set in high school 
  5. Chinatown (1974): defined noir drama for an entire generation
  6. Enter the Dragon (1973): its never considered a espionage film due to the excessive ass kicking, but that’s what it is at it’s core
  7. Fight Club (1999): we don’t talk about fight club… 
  8. Heat (1995): a very stylish example of the heist film
  9. Inception (2010): a beautifully structured combination of sci-fi and espionage
  10. La Femme Nikita (1990): a classic European espionage film that spawned a good TV show, a bad TV show and an awful American remake 
  11. Layer Cake (2004): a British crime drama with a good plot and a good cast
  12. Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998): strong characters and stronger dialogue 
  13. Memento (2000): the crime drama that redefined the use of the flashback 
  14. Miami Vice (2006): a spy thriller pretending to be a remake of an 80’s cop movie
  15. Reservoir Dogs (1992): I wish all the dialogue in my writing was this good
  16. Ronin (1998): a crime drama that manages to be both subtle and over the top
  17. Seven (1995): easily one of the best film endings of the past 20 years
  18. Spy Game (2001): an excellent example of the career of a master spy
  19. The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999): nice film adaptation of a classic book
  20. The Usual Suspects (1995): a great cast a great script and the best villain in years
  21. Way of the Gun (2000): a systematically brutal with a twisted pessimism and questionable motives all around
What are your favorite crime dramas or spy thrillers? I’m always looking for good material. Let me know what I should add to my Netflix queue.
Have fun.