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.