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.