Wednesday, November 26, 2014

At Swim Tequila Oil

I am sure that this is typical of first-time authors, but I was so excited about and so focused on the milestone of getting my novel finished and published that I was not really prepared for all the work that would come after. Yes, I had heard and read lots of times and in lots of places about the importance of distribution and marketing and how much time it all requires. But I still was not quite prepared.

I have no illusions about the fact that I have not given that phase of the process the attention and effort and time that others do. Even so, for a while there, it seemed as though all I was doing was contacting potential reviewers and sending out copies of the book—as well as trying to post fairly regularly on this blog and on my other ones. My dream of immediately proceeding to (actually returning to, since I had already started) the next book was essentially a mirage.

Well, the mirage has since become reality, as I have gotten back to the writing, which is all I ever wanted to be doing. Yes, the guilt nags at me that there is more I should be doing on behalf of the first book, but I have gotten good at ignoring it. And this time I have the extra motivation of knowing that the second book will be one I can hand to my younger relatives and friends without feeling so sheepish about the language. But more on that anon.

One of the side benefits of the publishing/distribution/marketing phase was that it left my brain free for other literary activities since I wasn’t doing much writing. That included reading other people’s books. And the last couple I read were fascinating for me because they felt like variations on my own opus.

I had long been meaning to read Jamie O’Neill’s 2001 novel At Swim Two Boys, and darned if it didn’t turn out to be the quarterly read for the Irish group on Goodreads—which I had joined as part of my efforts to reach out to readers. Like Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, it is the story of a close friendship between male teenagers set against dramatic historical events. Beyond that, however, O’Neill’s book couldn’t more dissimilar from mine. His heavily researched novel covers events in Dublin leading up to the 1916 Easter Rising. At the center of all this is the friendship (and eventual love affair) between studious middle class lad Jim and political firebrand Doyler.

The strength of the book is the portrait it draws of daily life at the time, as well as the various religious and political strands interweaving through society during a time when Irish boys were participating via the British military in the First World War while nationalist groups were becoming bolder within Ireland. If there is a weakness, it is the way O’Neill occasionally puts words that feel anachronistic into the mouths of certain characters to drive home his historical points. The settings and set pieces are so entertaining that I found myself thinking the story could easily be adapted into a great musical. In fact, in my mind’s eye Jim and Doyler were basically slightly older versions of Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger. And the final section would certainly lend itself to rousing songs on the barricades à la Les Miserables. If you’re wondering about the title, in addition to referring to the boys’ bonding swims at Forty Foot on Dublin Bay it is a play on the title of Flann O’Brien’s seminal 1939 novel At Swim-Two-Birds, which is a translation of an Irish place name on the River Shannon.

As soon as I finished O’Neill’s book, I immediately dove into a memoir by British writer/filmmaker Hugh Thomson called Tequila Oil. I came across the book while researching my novel and immediately bought it—and then locked it away so that I would not be tempted to read it until my own book was done. The similarities between his (true) story and my (completely made up) tale were eerie. In the 1970s, at the age of 18, Thomson undertook a seemingly crazy journey the length of Mexico in a big old GM automobile.

Fortunately, there are enough differences for me to credibly avoid charges of blatant plagiarism. Thomson was English and on his own—unlike my very American characters, Dallas and Lonnie, who also had young Antonio in tow. Moreover, he undertook his journey eight years after the events portrayed in my book. Perhaps most crucially, he was driving an Oldsmobile and not a Chevrolet. But, if anything, Thomson’s true story is more fanciful than my fictional one, but with many of the same elements: dodgy encounters with the locals, much drinking (the title refers to a potent mixed drink), friendships, complications with government paperwork, and at least one experience with gastrointestinal distress.

Thomson’s youthful adventures make for great reading, not only for his entertaining antics but also because the story is being told by a veteran travel writer and documentarian who brings a lot of historical, cultural and literary perspective. At the end of the book, Thomson returns thirty years later to Belize, where his original journey ended, looking for some sort of closure. It leaves a bittersweet taste, perhaps not unlike the titular tequila concoction.

I’m very glad I read Tequila Oil, but I’m even more glad that I only read it after completing my own book—and not before.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Apple of My iBook

If you are someone who would like to read my novel but only if you can purchase it and read it on an Apple device—as opposed to buying it on some other platform and transferring it to your iPhone or iPad—then I have really good news for you. (And, if you actually are such a person and you have found this web site, I would love to hear from you.)

Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead is now available in Apple’s iBookstore, so go knock yourself out.

To find the book in the iBookstore try clicking on this link here. You can also click on the appropriate link to the right side of this web page. If for some reason that does not work for you, then just open the iBooks app on your Apple device and search for the title of the book.

As I have mentioned before, it took longer to get the book into the iBookstore than to get it into other major online e-book stores like the Kindle Store, Nook Store, Kobo and Google Play. For those who are interested, there are two reasons for this. One reason is that I did not use an aggregator which would have distributed the digital book to all the major stores for me. There are pros and cons in using such a service, but I am satisfied that the DIY route in this area is the best one for me.

The other reason for the delay is that the actual submission of a digital book to the iBookstore can only be done with an app called iTunes Producer and that app exists only for Apple computers. As distinct from all other online stores, you cannot submit a book to the iBookstore with only an internet browser.

While I am a satisfied owner of more than one Apple device and have used Apple computers for work in my long-ago checkered employment past, I have myself never owned an Apple computer. To be totally honest, I still hold a bit of a grudge against Apple for a couple decades ago crushing the hapless Amiga, which rightly should have gone on to dominate the desktop computer market.

Okay, I’m getting a bit geeky and fringe-y there. But the fact remains that, for whatever reason I may have, I do not use an Apple computer. And surprisingly, not that many people I know and who live near me use one. But it turned out that one neighbor just a short distance down the road has one and, plied with coffee and a free signed copy of my book, he was willing to let me borrow it for an hour or so.

Since this meant working on a computer that was not my own, I did my best to have all my ducks in a row ahead of time so as not to waste time or hit an unnecessary dead end. Even so, it still was more of a headache than I had expected. I pre-downloaded iTunes Producer, but the version I downloaded was too new for his computer so I ended up downloading an older version to his Mac. The app also turned out to be unexpectedly fussy about the dimensions of the book’s cover image, forcing me to resize it by using a third-party web site. And, as I have come to expect whenever I submit an e-book, the requirements for rights and pricing information seemed calculated to do my head in.

But in the end I was successful and the book now shows up in the U.S. iBookstore. Presumably, it will be available as well for other countries soon if not already.

It has definitely been an interesting experience, and I continue to learn a lot. Of course, the experience will seem even more worthwhile if someone actually buys the book from the iBookstore.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

In the Limelight

I’m thrilled and excited to have been interviewed on the book blog Limelight Literature!

Wales-based L E Fitzpatrick is a fellow author who does a lovely job on Limelight Literature highlighting other authors and particularly in specializing in getting exclusive excerpts from new books for the benefit of her readers.

Clearly a lover of literature as well as a purveyor, she has created a great place to learn about new contributions to literature.

Also, if you haven’t seen it already, check out the interview I did with Book Goodies. They have a great site as well.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Catch Up

Last month I began relating my experiences in getting my book from HTML format, in which it was originally written, into some sort of shape so that it could be printed on a printing press. But I got interrupted in the meantime by the fact that the book actually got printed and went into the book retailer supply chain. And when I got paperback copies into my greedy little hands, that kicked off a whole set of new chores, like distributing them to people who needed to be thanked, to other people who I wanted to have copies and, not insignificantly, to people who I hoped might mention or write about it.

At the same time, my three-month commitment to the Kindle Store ended, meaning I was free to publish a digital version anywhere else I wanted. Since I had made the decision not to publish the EPUB version through an aggregator like Smashwords or Lulu, that meant I had to spend not an inconsiderable amount of time setting up accounts with the Nook Store, Kobo, etc. and then making sure that my EPUB file met the specific requirements of each seller.

I have to admit that it was quite a thrill to see my book’s title (Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, in case you forgot) along with my name gradually pop up on book-selling web sites all over the internet. Initially, I was focused on looking for the paperback on Amazon and on Barnes and Nobel, but since then I have become fascinated with seeing it also turn up on all kinds of sites I have never heard of before, all over the world, even in places like Sweden and Russia. You can click my “Find Other Sellers” link to the right of this post to ask Google to search for all the places listing it.

Anyway, for the sake of completeness, I am resolved to finish the story I started weeks ago, about how I got the book ready for printing…

Most other authors seem to approach this in the other direction from what I did, i.e. from print to digital, but I’m just different and started with the digital book. The others are right and I’m wrong. I’ll know for the next time.

So I accepted the fact that I would need to use Microsoft Word to turn my HTML file into a Word document that could then output a PDF file, as required by the printer.

Happily, you can simply open an HTML file with Word. (In fact, it is entirely possible to use Word as an HTML editor. I can’t understand why anyone would actually want to do that, but to each his own.) And once you have your file open in Word, you can then save it in Word format. Simple.

When I tried it with my HTML file, however, there was some problem that I have not since been able to duplicate. And if I had simply let Word convert my HTML to DOCX, things would have been a little bit easier for me. Instead, I converted my EPUB file into RTF. I was able to do this with Calibre, a very handy program that I have become quite fond of. It is a great tool for organizing one’s e-book collection, and it can even convert e-books from one of numerous formats to other numerous formats, including RTF (rich text format), which is a mark-up language that Microsoft particularly likes. Word opened the RTF file with no problem, although for some reason a few instances of my italics formatting were lost. That meant careful checking of every page—something that needed to happen anyway.

Beyond dealing with the italics annoyance, working with Word was surprisingly similar to how it had been two decades earlier—when I last used it to prep a book for the printing press. Styles had to be modified, margins had to be set, and I found that setting up odd and even headers and footers section by section in Word still does my head in. It brought back long-suppressed memories of working under deadline and finding to my frustration that fixing one problem could easily result in some other unforeseen problem that affected a chapter or even the whole book.

Still, the book was extremely simple, formatting-wise. Apart from front and back matter, the whole thing mostly used only two styles, one for general text and one for chapter titles. The formatting took some time but not huge amounts.

When it came to generating PDF files, this is something Word can do with a “Save As” command or, if you have Adobe Acrobat installed, with the “Print” command or the special Adobe tool bar. But creating the PDFs in a way that will be acceptable to the printing company (in my case, IngramSpark which is by all accounts more finicky than Amazon’s CreateSpace) requires using the “Print” command with all the proper (and not always obvious or intuitive) settings followed by subsequent massaging in Acrobat. There are all kinds of things to check for in the PDF file, including making sure fonts are embedded and images use CMYK (color spec used by printing presses) as opposed to RGB (color spec used by computer monitors).

All this info is on the IngramSpark web site, although you have to do some hunting for different bits of it. I was fortunate in having a friend—who was in the trenches with me back in my Word-and-PDF-battling days—who had already published a book with Ingram and could give me incredibly helpful advice and pointers. As I moved from one challenge to another, I was filled with awe for those authors who had successfully gone this route before me and not necessarily with the same technical experience I had. (Let’s face it. We’re talking about people who are not only younger than me but who have higher IQs.)

The PDF file for the book cover was complicated in different ways. IngramSpark helpfully provided a template in PDF format that I could simply drop text and images into using Acrobat. It even came with the right spine width for my page count and included a bar code using my book’s ISBN. Getting my cover image from RGB to CMYK was a problem until I found that Word had done the conversion just fine in my original mock-up. So I solved that problem simply by copying the image from Word and pasting it into Acrobat. Another problem: when you insert text into Acrobat, it doesn’t embed the fonts. Solution: Acrobat will embed them from your computer’s system—if you can find the well-hidden sub-menu that does this.

So I eventually finished my PDF files and uploaded them to IngramSpark. Happily, my previous work experience did pay off and I had none of the problems in getting my files accepted that I had heard about from other authors.

But I was then confronted with a whole set of questions from the web site. What retail price was I going to put on my book in the U.S.? And in Canada? And in the UK? And in Australia? And in the Euro Zone? And in the rest of the world? At what percentage did I want to set the wholesale discount? Would I accept (and refund) returns? Did I want the returns destroyed or posted to me (for a charge)? Say what? With Kindle Direct Publishing, I mainly only had to worry about setting a price for the book. The challenge posed by all these new questions, I quickly learned, was to answer them in such a way that I would be making at least a little money on each book sold—as opposed to selling each book at a loss.

The bottom line: the paperback necessarily has to cost quite a bit more than the e-book.

As Barbie the doll once said, math is hard!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Multiplying Choices!

You will note there are some changes to the right of this blog post. There are now more links there that will lead you to my book.

My three-month exclusivity commitment to Amazon’s Kindle Store has run its course and there are now several other ways to read Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead besides using a Kindle device or app.

Most notably, the paperback version is now available. I realize I have done this totally backwards, i.e. releasing the “real” book a whole three months after the e-book has been out. But there it is. You can click on the appropriate links to purchase physical books from either Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

And for people who like e-books but just don’t want to use the Kindle, the digital version in EPUB format is now available at three other online bookstores:

  • Barnes and Noble’s NOOK Store
  • Google Play
  • Kobo Books.

    If your prohibitively preferred online digital book retailer happens to be Apple’s iBooks, well, you will have a bit longer wait—unless you have an Apple computer you can lend me for a few minutes. Apparently, the only way to submit an e-book to iBooks involves using an official app that runs only on Apple computers—or else to use an aggregator (a sort of middle man service for getting books out to various retailers) which, for a number of reasons, I have opted not to do. I want and expect to have my glorious opus on iBooks at some point, but given the hassle and the likely sales potential through that outlet, it’s not a particularly high priority.

    Sorry to go all strategic businessman on you. The bottom line is that I’m pleased as punch about finally having my book out there on real paper as well as in EPUB format.

    And now, all those people who kept telling me that the only way they would read my book was if it were on real paper… it’s now over to you.
  • Thursday, September 4, 2014

    Making It Real

    Yes, that’s a new book cover for Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead near the top of this page.

    And, yes, I know I was in the middle of a story about the process of migrating my novel from e-book form, for which it was targeted, to paperback format. And I will continue it anon.

    In fact, that new cover was made for the paperback edition, which should be available Real Soon Now. It just goes to show that it makes more sense to finish the paperback version before publishing the e-book version. Not only is this the traditional way of doing it, but also the print format has more rigid requirements than the digital version. In other words, whatever works for the print version will undoubtedly work for the e-book as well. The reverse is not necessarily true. So if you want the two formats consistent, do the paperback first—even though it’s more work.

    My own story illustrates this pretty well. I came up with a cover for the e-book that I liked okay. I had a couple of other covers before that one which I liked okay too, but I didn’t use them because they used photographs that I had not taken myself. One of them appeared to be in the public domain, but it wasn’t certain enough for my comfort level and I could find no way to contact the photographer. That was a hard decision because I really liked the photo, which was of the actual highway that Dallas and Lonnie would have been driving down through the state of Sonora. A bit of the Gulf of California could even been seen in the distance.

    So I resolved to use photographs I had shot myself to avoid any possible rights issues. For the original e-book cover I used a photo that I had taken back in the early 1970s in Santiago, Chile. It was of the entrance to the Cerro Santa Lucía, which is actually mentioned in the novel. In fact, by a happy coincidence my photo could well have been the post card that my protagonist Dallas Green receives from Chile in the final pages of the book.

    Unfortunately, when I decided that I would go ahead with the paperback version and went to make the requisite PDF files, I found that the art was not suitable for the printing press that would be used—something about color densities or some such. I tried to re-work it so that it would make the printing company happy, but I wasn’t happy with any of the results I was getting. So I accepted that I would have to come up with a simpler cover design.

    As you can see, that turned out to consist of nothing more than text (title, byline, blurbs) on top of a desert photograph that covers and bleeds off front and back covers and the spine. Unfortunately, I had no photos of Mexico at all and very few of the California locations mentioned in the book. So I cheated. I used another photo I had taken in Chile in the early 1970s. This one was of the Atacama Desert. It is not a perfectly sharp and clear photo. It was actually taken through the window of a bus, so it hopefully gives an impression of how Dallas and Lonnie’s desert travels might have appeared to them through the window of Lonnie’s 1965 Chevy.

    Just yesterday I received my proof from the printer. Nowadays such a proof is basically an actual copy of the book since this, after all, print on demand. I’m pretty happy with it. It actually looks like a real book. I have to concede that there is an element of excitement in having an actual physical copy of your own book in your hands that you can actually thumb through—as compared to the experience of scrolling through pages on a computer or a Kindle or other device. Perhaps the most impressive thing about it is being able to see clearly exactly just how much I have written. In digital form, my 294 pages of text always seemed kind of small.

    Seeing all those pages in the form of actual paper, they look absolutely substantial. It looks, well, it looks real.

    Wednesday, August 20, 2014

    Pressing Matters

    The time between the decision to produce a paperback version of my novel and the hand-off of PDF files to the printer turned out to be surprisingly brief.

    I attribute this in equal measure to years of apparently still-relevant experience in press prep and production and unfettered heedlessness. But the road to the PDF hand-off was not without its bumps and potholes.

    As I have mentioned, I wrote Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead in a way that was targeted to the e-book format. The paperback format was an afterthought. This raised some issues. While most authors—to judge from a non-random sampling of their blogs anyway—seem to do their writing with Microsoft Word or other full-featured word processor, I prefer Notepad++. Yes, I use a fancy text editor—something programmers use to write code—to produce my prose works. Rather than select text and make it bold or italic or whatever, I do my formatting by typing tags right in my file along with the text. I write in Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML, the same language that is the source of web pages on the internet—including the one you are reading right this minute. It turns out that the EPUB format (used by most e-book readers) is based on HTML. And once you have an EPUB file, it is fairly simple to convert it to Kindle format, the one used by Amazon and which kind of dominates the e-book market.

    Having some experience with HTML definitely helps. Years ago when I volunteered to help my friend Caroline with the web site for an Irish film festival in Seattle, I asked her what program she used to author her web pages—expecting her to name some fancy professional slick web publishing product. She delighted me by replying “Visual Notepad”—a take-off of Microsoft’s line of graphically based programming products. In other words, she was doing the same thing I was—writing all the code with a basic text editor.

    So it made total sense to write my book in HTML. Doing that in Notepad++ is not WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) but it’s a simple matter to preview my work by simply loading it into my web browser. When the time came to turn it into an EPUB file, I only had to load it into a nifty tool called Sigil, which allowed me to clean up the EPUB and make it acceptable for online e-book sellers. Relatively speaking, a piece of cake.

    I should point out that I am by no means the first one to figure all this out. Lots of other authors have trod this ground long before me. In particular, I found a blogger who calls himself Notjohn very helpful in publicly sharing his own experience and knowledge when it comes to self-publishing, thereby saving people like me lots of time. And lots of other authors have also done the same. Members of the author/self-publishing community are nothing if not supportive of their potential competitors. To their credit they clearly understand that making a living from writing is not a zero sum game and everyone benefits from their mutual support.

    So from a technical point of view, publishing my novel as an e-book was relatively straightforward. But when I realized that I needed to publish it as a paperback, it was less so. Unlike an e-book, a printed book needs to have headers and footers and a definite page size and hard page breaks and all kinds of stuff like that. You can’t do all of that with HTML code and, moreover, the printer requires PDF files.

    There was no way around it. I was going to have to haul out Microsoft Word. With that realization I found myself immersed in a strange state of déjà vu. You see, that particular software product and I go back a long ways. A quarter-century ago I was tasked by my then-employer with turning that word processor into some kind of viable desktop publishing tool for the purpose of printing books—something that had not been in the minds of the software developers who had written it. I had seen this movie before.

    But surely in the ensuing two decades all the hassles of trying to do typesetting, paste-up and press prep with a PC word processor and interfacing with Adobe’s industry-standard software for press jobs had long since been resolved. Right? Right?

    This is definitely to be continued…

    Wednesday, August 6, 2014

    Forward to the Past

    Clearly, the demise of the paper book—the one you can hold in your hands and turn the pages and even dog-ear the corners of the pages—is not at hand.

    That may not be news to you, but it was to me.

    I had read somewhere that most books now purchased are ebooks—specifically ebooks in the Kindle format, that is, ebooks sold by Amazon.

    Not being a Luddite, I was willing to go along with this. To be clear, I was not wishing for the death of the hard copy tome. For years I made my living preparing pages for the printing press. I started at it long enough ago that the first shop I worked in—my hometown weekly newspaper—was still using hot metal type for some jobs. But the technology which, at that point, had barely changed since the days of Johannes Gutenberg was entering an era of change that would dwarf all the innovations of the previous four centuries. I learned to typeset with cold type, i.e. on a machine not unlike an electric typewriter which printed text directly on a galley. Later I would work on a machine that would print on a galley by exposing the text on photographic paper which then had to be developed with chemicals. The Seattle design company I later worked for would have a booming business in preparing its clients’ pages for the printing press. Just as quickly, though, that business dried up when the clients realized that they could do their own press prep on Apple Macintoshes using PageMaker.

    Through all these changes, I prided myself on being nothing if not adaptable. So I was not fazed when ebooks appeared. In fact, for me they were a godsend. Not only was I running out of room on my shelves for physical books but traditional books were steadily becoming unreadable for me. I was developing cataracts, and I was having to resort to extremely bright lights and sometimes magnifying glasses to be able to read. But using apps to read books on an iPad solved the problem. I could make the text as large as necessary, and the backlighting ensured that the text was clear. Also, I could read in bed without any other light. And I could take a huge number of books with me conveniently wherever I went.

    So I wasn’t shocked when I read that most new books being sold were ebooks. Yes, I would still have paper books that I had had for years and would keep and continue to cherish. But I wasn’t going to be reactionary about it. Yes, I felt bad about the quaint and attentive small bookstores that were already under assault by huge chain stores and now had to contend with a shift to online book shopping. But the future is the future. I wasn’t going to be the last guy driving a horse and buggy down the urban expressway.

    So when I published Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, I did so in Kindle format. It was always in the plan to also put out an epub version to make it available as well to ebook readers other than the Kindle. But I considered a paperback version optional.

    I knew that there would be some people who hadn’t made the transition to ebooks, but I wasn’t prepared for the number of people who contacted me and said that they would like to read my novel but that they would not be reading it until it was available as a physical book. More than one person posed a question that, frankly, hadn’t really occurred to me: How can one get an author’s autograph on an ebook?

    So I have already begun working on a paperback edition of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. Technically, the ebook was relatively easy to produce. The end product there was merely a computer file that could be viewed by Kindle devices and apps. My deliverable for a paperback book is somewhat more complicated. That will consist of PostScript files suitable for physical printing.

    Suddenly those skills I had to develop for various employers and clients two or more decades ago have become newly relevant. And, yes, for all my embracing of the future, there will be no small amount satisfaction in finally holding in my own hands a physical book that I have written myself.

    Monday, July 21, 2014

    The Easy Part

    An old friend of mine, who currently lives in the Washington D.C. area, was recently touring around Ireland with her husband and they stopped by to visit us. When I told her that I had published a book, she was very impressed.

    “You’re the first of my friends to get their book published!” she exclaimed.

    The fact that I had published it myself did not dim her enthusiasm.

    One of her friends has been stuck forever in the writing—and re-writing—stage and finding it difficult to finish a manuscript. Another friend has no problem finishing manuscripts and even has a literary agent and has worked with a “book doctor,” but she has not been able to convince her agent that anything she has written will sell.

    So, in light of those experiences, my friend thought that I had achieved something great by publishing Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead.

    But self-publishing is easy, I told her. In fact, it is amazingly easy if you are publishing a Kindle book. Just register with Amazon, answer a few questions online, and upload a file. That’s pretty much it.

    Having said that, I suppose self-publishing is—at least technically—easier for me than it might be for a lot of writers because I happen to have the practical skills to look after my own typography, formatting, and tech support needs. Not to be too nerdy about it, but I actually write my books in HTML with a text editor rather than relying on Microsoft Word or any other word processor. That is second nature to me after years of coding things in various mark-up languages. (Extra points to you if the names troff and TeX mean anything to you.) But obviously those skills aren’t a requirement for every author. There are various ways to get help with formatting and file generation or to have someone else do it for you.

    I guess the main reason I tend to think that publishing is easy is because there are so many books out there. Sometimes it seems like so many that I figure that everybody in the developed world must have published one by now. But that math only works if you ignore the fact that nearly half of all books published seem to have been written or co-written by James Patterson.

    But my friend’s story about the writer who can’t get her agent to take on anything she’s written illustrates for me the real challenge in writing these days. There seems to be more writers than ever and there seems to be more readers than ever. And generally speaking that’s a good thing. But it also means that books are more of a consumer product than they have ever been. Publishers, agents, booksellers and readers themselves seem to want their books to fit neatly into pre-packaged, strictly defined genres. Selling books is apparently about giving readers what they expect and want.

    When I was getting ready to upload my book, I was stymied when confronted with the multiple-choice question about its genre. My book didn’t seem to fit easily into any niche. Maybe it is a YA book, but I didn’t feel comfortable with that label because of all the bad language spewed by the characters. (Probably just showing how old-fashioned I am.) Other categories didn’t really fit, although “adventure” kind of came close. In the end I went with “literary fiction.” Does that make me sound pretentious?

    Yes, self-publishing is easy. But that doesn’t mean that it is necessarily simple.

    Thursday, July 10, 2014

    Lend Me Your Eyeballs

    Yes, it’s true.

    I only wrote and published a novel because I wanted an excuse to start a new blog.

    Seriously, it hadn’t even occurred to me that, once the book—which by the way is called Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead—was finished, I should start blogging about it. But once the writing and editing parts were done and I realized that I had to get serious about the publishing bit, every source of information and advice was telling me that I needed to blog about the book and about writing.

    So here I am blogging.

    But here’s the rub. Isn’t every minute that I spend writing words for a blog one less minute that’s available for writing the next book? Isn’t that kind of counter-productive?

    Technically, the answer is yes, since there are only so many minutes in the day. But, less technically, the answer is no, because it is a given that every author needs to spend a certain amount of time publicizing and marketing his or her work anyway and, if you have to spend time on that stuff, you might as well spend it doing something a writer is presumably good at, which is after all writing. Besides, the writing you do on a blog is different than the writing you do in a novel. It’s sort of like clearing the palate in between tasting different wines.

    My problem when it comes to creative writing is that I easily get distracted by technical matters. This comes from many years spent in jobs that have involved formatting, production, pre-press prep, and various forms of computer support. So when I am working on a book, it’s always tempting to spend lots of time fiddling with the formatting, the layout, the structure, and just general generation of the best quality HTML and/or Epub files I can manage.

    The same thing applies to the blog. There are so many layout/design decisions to get out of the way before you can even starting writing anything. And, as an inveterate technical problem solver, I had the additional challenge with this blog of using the custom domain name I had acquired ( and making it point successfully to the blog on Blogger or Blogspot or whatever is the right name for this hosting site real estate I am borrowing from Google. It turned out that the web host I used to acquire the domain address—and which hosts my film blog—does not play nice with Google’s method of working with third-party domain names. Next thing you know, I have A Project on my hands trying to make something work that common sense says should be a piece of cake because lots of people have obviously been doing this for years already.

    If you are reading this, then it is probably a good indication that I successfully solved the problem and that trying to connect to this blog is not putting your browser in an endless loop between one hosting site and the other. (That’s not just a theoretical worst case scenario. It was actually happening at more than one point during this ordeal.) Or you might just be reading this on Goodreads, where it is mirrored.

    And furthermore, if you are indeed succeeding at reading this, then thank you very, very much. It is always an honor and a privilege to have the attention of somebody else’s eyeballs, even if just for a few minutes.

    Tuesday, July 1, 2014

    Max and Carly Live!

    As the saying goes… hello, world!

    It’s been a while since I’ve started a new blog. Five years since I started ranting and raving about world events, and an astounding nineteen years since I began writing about movies and related stuff. I don’t think the word “blog” even existed back then. And I could argue that the movie blog started even earlier than that—twenty-seven years ago, if you count the movie reviews I was writing and posting on the wall of my place of employment for the benefit of co-workers before the birth of the World Wide Web.

    If all these years of blogging demonstrates anything, it’s that I’ve always had a need to be writing something. But like probably most people driven to write, I always had it in mind to write a novel. In fact, I’ve written many in my head and even started keyboarding several of them. But the blogs were a handy way to fulfill the writing need and still have time for work and family. But eventually a funny thing happened. The daughter for whom I felt it was so important to make time and not estrange myself from by locking myself away for hours every day writing started pressuring me to finish one of my books. And lo and behold, I finally did. It’s called Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. Why is it called that? You’ll just have to read it.

    For the moment it is available exclusively for Kindle and on the right side of this page you can find links to various Amazon sites where you can preview it, borrow it (if you have such privileges with Amazon) or even purchase it for download. Also to the right are links to my other blogs where I have already been discussing the book and what it’s about. I will henceforth carry on that discussion here.

    For now, though, I will just give the briefest of summaries of what the book is about. In my usual humble way, I wanted it to be The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for my generation, those of us who came of age at the beginning of the 1970s in the American Southwest. I wanted to explore the clash and mutual attraction of Anglo and Latin culture. I wanted to revisit the confusion of the events and politics of the time. I wanted to celebrate the friendship and bonds that young men form in the transition from boyhood to manhood. And I just wanted to enjoy the excitement and fun of being young, having bad judgment and exploring the big, wide world.

    And, no, it’s not all that autobiographical. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it.

    Thanks for reading this and sharing a part of the journey.