Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Writing Bomb: Why I'm Joining Amazon's KDP Select Program

Wow...just when I was getting the hang of the indie pub thing, Amazon throws in something new for me to consider.. I just published my very first novel on Amazon Kindle (Judgment Tramp) and was about to submit it to Smashwords.. , Needless to say, this has me reconsidering.. After reading Jeff's post, my first thought was, what have I got to lose? I have already been wondering how Kindle Fire would affect the market. (By the way, I totally agree with Jeff, libraries really should be doing this.Maybe as a way for them to survive?) I'm thinking the KDP select program might help with the promotion of my book and I have to admit this whole self-marketing thing feels a bit like trying to fix my old Corvair in the dark... What does everybody else think?

The Writing Bomb: Why I'm Joining Amazon's KDP Select Program: Amazon is playing games and they're changing the rules again. They're changing the game, and they're doing it in time for Christmas. Most A...

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Judgment Tramp..."Where did that name come from?"

Everybody asks.

I knew it would happen when I decided to use this name for the second book, and I also know that, in some ways, it is a bad idea to come up with a name for a book that nobody understands. The title comes from this quote:

"And I felt the ground move under my feet, and I thought it was the Judgment Tramp of The Almighty, finally come to visit those who had started this terrible war...."

The quote is from the diary of a Union soldier serving in Virginia (with the 4th Michigan regiment) during the Civil War. General Grant had just been named commander of the Army of the Potomac, and he lead the army into Virginia to find Lee's Army of Northern Virginia. The two armies collided in the wilderness area near Spotsylvania Court house in May, 1864. After a two day battle (The Battle of the Wilderness, May 5-7, 1864) Grant ordered the army to go on the march again.

Previously, under different commanders, the army had fought battles and then disengaged. Nobody in the 4th Michigan was surprised about the order to leave the battlefield and march--it had happened many times before. The 4th Michigan reached a junction of two country roads. They had been there during previous campaigns and they always turned north at the junction to head across the Potomac river to regroup. The same pattern had followed under many different commanders for three long years.
This time the regiment was ordered to go south, and a great cheer came from the men--they knew that this time they would stay in the fight until the war was won. It was the beginning of the end for the Confederacy.

Eb Maclean is, by his own description "an ex-army helicopter pilot who went to the well one too many times."  He's a guy trying to adjust to civilian life, and it isn't easy. Most of us have no idea what they go through, both in theater, and after coming home.  Eb hasn't had the "good" war that the soldier in that long ago 4th Michigan regiment had--and he feels the Judgment Tramp of The Almighty constantly as he deals with the aftermath of his military career.
The title works perfectly to illustrate his struggles to return to normalcy, and I never regret choosing it for the book.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Judgment Tramp is almost ready. I can't believe we are this close, and I'm also humbled by the amount of effort it took. Kristin has done such a wonderful job! 

We also benefited from great advice along the way. Vickie Taylor gave us great advice when she advised us to use the Smashwords style guide:

I would absolutely recommend that anyone read over these guidelines and follow them carefully--it will save a lot of work! The Smashwords style guide is much easier to fathom than Amazon's convoluted instructions. 
Formatting an e-book for release is a lot of work, even with good advice. Be prepared to make changes, and to stay organized (keep track of the source file and rename the file as it is re-saved--it's really easy to start modifying files and end up wondering which one to publish...don't ask me how I know that...).

The work is worth it, though. We are striving to market a professional looking product, a book that will inspire people to have confidence in our work (and hopefully, confidence in the writer's ability to deliver an exciting read).

It won't be long now!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles...and books

Everything changes.

I happen to be the proud owner of a Chevrolet Corvair--you know, the car made famous by Ralph Nader? That's right. I own an "Unsafe at any speed" Corvair. Mr. Nader may know some things, but he was full of crap about the Corvair--and now, almost 50 years later, the Corvair has one of the highest survival rates (relative to overall production) of any car from its era. Part of this is due to a dedicated owners club and a good supply of parts from several suppliers, and a lot of it is due to the durability of the car.

But make no mistake--the Corvair is a dinosaur. EVERY car from that era is--Mustangs, Camaros, Ramblers, Oldsmobiles, Pontiacs...they are all relics of an age that is gone forever. The 60's are long gone, and cars run for 100,000 miles without a tune-up nowadays. Corvairs were unloved "used cars" for years, but now prices are creeping up. A 1965 Corvair convertible recently sold for almost $40,000 at auction.

Once upon a time, Trans World Airlines relied on a plane known as the "Super-Connie", the Lockheed L-1049G. This was the great passenger airliner of the late 1940's and 1940's, in an era when an airline meal was edible, a female flight attendant was called a "Stewardess", and when air travel was comfortable. The Super-Connie became obsolete when jet-engined airliners came on the scene, but the Super-Connie hung on as a passenger airliner until the late 60's. The jets that replaced the Super-Connie are long gone from passenger air travel themselves.

The Electromotive F7 was the standard freight locomotive of the late 40's and 1950's, and F-units were also used in passenger service. The Santa Fe Super Chief was pulled by F-units (there's a nice shot of that train in the movie "White Christmas", which is hilarious--as the train ran from California to Chicago, IL, not to Vermont), and for many people the Santa Fe F-unit was the face of American railroading, after Lionel made a best-selling model of the Santa Fe locomotive.

These were the iconic machines of the postwar world, along with Edsels, Cadillacs, Alco PA passenger locomotives, and Boeing 707's. They exist now, if at all, in collections, museums, and scrap yards.

I love planes, trains, and autos...but I think they pale in comparison to words. A story lives forever. Tom Sawyer is timeless. Huck Finn is still relevant today, maybe more relevant than ever. Gone With The Wind will still be read when I have turned to dust, and Steinbeck will endure.
Maybe someday the book as a medium will disappear, relegated to the dustbin of history like the Corvair. But people will still read. Rhett will chase Scarlett, Huck and Jim will raft the Mississippi, and Of Mice and Men will still be on student reading lists. We may read with a tablet, but the medium will never be as important as the message. We all have to tell our story, and we will need to read about this experience known as life, as long as humans feel, think, laugh, cry, plot, kill, work, play, and love. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

E-book, part 2

I didn't think it would be such a long gap between posts, but life can get in the way....

Releasing Judgment Tramp as an e-book is proving to be a challenge--like everything in life, the devil is in the details, and the details of formatting a manuscript for an acceptable looking e-book are way beyond this technophobe. I'm lucky because I have a dear friend who is working tirelessly to figure out the process--and Kristin has been able get some help from other talented people along the way ( a big thanks to Vickie Taylor is due, among others...), and Kristin seems to have things figured out--I think.

It's easy in some ways to be a writer in the 21st century--there are resources available to anyone nowadays that make writing (and the necessary research) more feasible for more people. I can do research on a subject in a few hours today, and I can find tidbits of information that would have taken months or even years of searching out in pre-internet days. I can type on my laptop computer and save my work quickly and easily--no carbon paper copies needed, no file cabinets full of completed manuscripts required. 

I can communicate globally, sharing ideas and information effortlessly via a multitude of social networking sites, chat-rooms and forums. It's all good.

I can network with people globally, and I can market my work much more effectively, all because of the internet. But...there's a catch (you KNEW there had to be one somewhere...).

All of this wonderful stuff takes time away from writing, to the point where it seems that it would be very easy to social network and forum-surf the day away, and never have time to write. That's one of the catch-22's of the new age--it is easy to lose the focus of the mission-writing-and it is so easy to be seduced by distractions.

We have to conquer a different form of gravity today to reach the writing mountaintop, and the grade is still steep.  It's a different climb than the one writers were faced with back in the requires an equal amount of dedication, but in some ways it requires a completely different set of skills. I admire the people who can find time to write, and also find the time and energy to market themselves, research new projects, and wade through the minefield of new technology. I'm not one of those people, and my one saving grace is that I'm smart enough to realize that I need help to achieve my goals.

I'm very fortunate--I have the most valuable resource of all--I have a friend named Kristin. Kristin allows me to be a writer, and she takes care of so much of the other stuff--she is the reason that I will succeed in the brave new world of writing. I couldn't possibly imagine doing this without her.
A good friend can make the difference--and I have the best friend. She doesn't have all the answers--but she won't stop until she does, and that makes all the difference.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Self publishing and E-books

I'm gradually reaching an accommodation with the 21st century...but it hasn't been easy. Five years ago I would have laughed at you if you told me I would be thinking about publishing an E-book--and I would have swore up and down that I would never, NEVER, read an E-book.

Time marches on, however, and we evolve. I even evolve--more or less. E-books are here to stay, and anyone who writes books needs to educate themselves about the E-book market. In view of that, a few weeks ago I made the decision to release Judgment Tramp as an E-book. I'm not saying I'm comfortable with the idea--not yet anyway, but I know I have to do it in order to reach my goals.

I initially felt the same way about self-publishing. I didn't really start out thinking I would self-publish, but now I don't think I'd be interested in doing it any other way. Don't misunderstand me; there are many pitfalls to self-publishing, but there are also rewards. I guess I'm a bit of a control freak in my old age--and I want my books to reflect my personality, not my agent's idea (or an editor's idea) of what will sell.

I am not a fan of Publishing-On-Demand. I print my books myself, I can sell as many books as I want--and I can sell books at prices that POD authors can't touch. I think POD will stick around for a while, but the E-book levels the playing field more than POD ever did.

I'll be talking more about this over the next several posts--stay tuned.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Arkansas part 2

Well, tomorrow turned out to be further away then I thought! But back to Arkansas--as I said, it is one of the most beautiful states in the nation:

And, unlike some other states, the place isn't overrun with tourists.
The bad? It's hot in the summer, the woods are full of ticks, and there is a certain obdurate hillbilly mentality there at times that makes my teeth grind in frustration(but, to be fair--there are plenty of states in the Midwest and South that share that particular trait).
All in all, it's a great place to go if you want to get away for a few days. I'm going back...soon.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


I've been gone for a few days so I haven't had time to post. One of my favorite areas is The Boston Mountain area of Arkansas, north of Fort Smith, Arkansas, and I just visited there. This is a neat area, with picturesque small towns and great mountain scenery. I wish this part of the country had fall colour similar to Michigan (my boyhood home--and still my favorite state!), but it is still a beautiful place! More tomorrow...

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Strong characters with character...

Strong characters = good book--it's that simple. Too many beginning writers stress out trying to come up with a great plot, while the characters in the book end up being ignored by the writer...and that's a recipe for disaster. Interesting characters will hold the interest of a reader better than an interesting plot. There are writers (Michael Crichton comes to mind) who can create thin, barely fleshed out characters and get away with it, but even those characters have to have enough personality to be interesting.
 Good characters are flawed. Good characters have issues, and they attract other characters with issues. Nobody wants to read about a character who lives a perfect, boring life--unless that perfectly boring life is symptomatic of a deeper problem. Good characters can be good or evil, (ideally they should be some of each) but they all have to be put into a situation that throws them out of their comfort zone--and that's the key to writing interesting stories; plot comes from the problems a character must deal with, whether it involves saving the world, destroying the world, changing the world, or simply learning how to put up with an intrusive mother-in-law.
Plot is the end result of an interesting character dealing with a challenge. An interesting character is going to tell the writer how to write--and the plot will take care of itself. Too often writers forget that, and it is a sure way to turn off a reader.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My friend Jai Joshi told me it would be a good idea. “You should start a blog,” she said. “It would be funny, and I think you could do it.” After all, she told me, all writers should have a blog, and I'd just completed my first book. 
I wasn't so sure—it might be funny, in the sense of actually being a train wreck dramatized in print, or it might be funny...from the standpoint of reading about some poor goober and his quest to reinvent himself at a ripe old age (which begins to harken back to the “train wreck” theme), or even worse, it might be more serious than funny; a written record of ineptitude—the sort of tangible proof that a judge would cite when deciding to dispatch me to the funny farm. 

So I did what a man does when his freedom, ego, and dignity are at stake; I quit writing for a while. 
It was a handy little way to avoid blogging—and it had become apparent to me that the first book of mine that I'd been so proud of was a “typical” first book for a beginning writer—it was an all-in-one example of every novel-writing mistake that could possibly be made...and it was virtually unsellable. 
Not the end of the world—successful writers often write two or three “drawer novels” (books so bad that they end up behind the underwear in the bedroom dresser) before they write that first successful, commercially viable book. No big deal.

I'd gone another route—I kept the drawer in the bedroom for underwear pristine and I went ahead and self-published the book (actually, I self-printed the book—more on that later). My friend Jai was a successful self-published writer. Her superbly written book, Follow the Cowherd Boy, had done pretty darned well, so why couldn't I do the same?

I couldn't do the same...because I wasn't Jai. I didn't have her drive, her enthusiasm, and most of all, my product wasn't as good. I was a fledgling writer, still learning the basics, but Jai was (and is) a pro. 
My book, A Fortress of Lies, didn't sell worth a darn. I sold around 550 copies, and I gave away another 50 or sixty copies, but I never took the necessary steps to market the book; I never gave the book an ISBN number, I never did a book tour, and I never printed and distributed any promotional material. Jai did all of these things, and she succeeded. 

And that was least for a while. Then people started telling me things about the first book. (Which they eventually will do—but not right away. They always tell you the book was wonderful at first...but after a while they begin to tell the truth.) The book was too long. It was a bit confusing to read, because I'd introduced all of the characters (and there were so many characters...a classic rookie mistake) haphazardly at the very beginning of the book. The plot was too convoluted. The story rambled. 

But...most people still liked the book, even with all of it's faults. They liked the protagonist, and they found some of the supporting characters interesting. More importantly, they kept asking me if I was going to write another book, and would it be about Eb Maclean (the protagonist in A Fortress of Lies). 
I decided to write another book. This one would be perfect. I would be lean, mean, and spare with my witty, wry prose. I wouldn't make those mistakes that plagued the first book. 

Judgment Tramp, the second book in the Eb Maclean series, was finished in early 2010. I loved it—and I really believed it was a book that could get me an agent. This time I would go the traditional route—and I wouldn't stop until Judgment Tramp was in every book store in America! 

But fate intervened. My friend Frank Hackney was diagnosed with terminal cancer in April, 2009. It became apparent that he wouldn't live very long. Frank was a professional musician, and we were in a band together. A benefit concert-jam session was planned to help raise money for him. 
I was going through a rough patch financially. I didn't have any money to donate to the cause—and that really bothered me. Frank was more then a friend—he was like a brother. I had nothing to give, but I wanted so badly to give something. 

But I did have something—I could sell my book. I decided to print up some copies of Judgment Tramp and sell them at the benefit. It wouldn't be much, but it was the best I could do. 
We lost Frank on June 13, 2010. The benefit had been scheduled for the following Saturday, June 19. Now the benefit became a wake, and there was still a reason to raise money, because I wanted to donate what I could to help Frank's family. 

Frankfest was held on June 19, and I was able to donate $700.00 to the cause. I hadn't wanted to self-publish Judgment Tramp, but that's the way it worked out. I don't regret it one bit. 

But now I had another book to sell, I had more writing to do, and all of those necessary steps needed to be taken again to market Judgment Tramp; the ISBN number, the book tour, the printing of the material.... 

It was overwhelming. I wasn't ready. I missed my friend, and I didn't have the heart to do any of those things—in a way the book reminded me of losing him. So I did what I'd often done in my life—I quit. Reinventing myself would just have to wait. 

The waiting would either last forever, or it wouldn't—and I'm finally done waiting. Reinventing one's self is hard. I have days when I think I can't do it. I have days where the “train wreck” allusion is apt. But in the end, there isn't anything special about what I'm doing—we all have to reinvent ourselves periodically, and we can focus our mind on the process or it will happen without our input...because we constantly adapt to each new day. Reinvention is part of life—and without it we die. I'm not ready to die. 

So this is my blog. It might be funny, it might be serious, and let's face it—it very well could be a bit of a train wreck, but it will be real. I'm not a beginning author anymore, and I have writing to do, and a book to sell. I would love it if you took this journey with me.