My Books

Links to sellers of these books, in both digital and paperback formats, can be found below on right-hand side of the page.

Now Available in Paperback and for Kindle

It was only meant to be a few hours of fun.
A lark. On a sunny Saturday morning Lola, Kyle and Maria set sail on Puget Sound to look for a vision that had come to Maria in a dream. Then disaster struck, and the three of them were plunged into a dark adventure in which they would confront good and evil, past lives, and a timeless curse born from a tragic love. What are the hidden secrets of Bridge House and Riesgado Island? Part Gothic romance, part supernatural mystery and part fantastical adventure, The Curse of Septimus Bridge is Scott R. Larson’s homage to the horror and adventure stories of his youth, notably the 1960s television series Dark Shadows. In this new book, the author of The Three Towers of Afranor takes us on an adventure that ranges from 17th-century Ireland to the Pacific Northwest of today. At the heart of it all is the mysterious figure who lives out his endless, solitary days, having been rejected by both heaven and hell.

“This is a sequel to Larson’s earlier novel, ‘Maximilian and Carlotta are Dead’, which was set mostly in Mexico as a buddy adventure and introduced the character of Dallas Green, a young man with wanderlust from a small town in the San Joaquin Valley. ‘Lautaro’s Spear’ takes us on further romantic and political adventures to France, Germany, and Chile, and deeper into Dallas’ psyche which we find to be darker and more complex than in the first novel. An engrossing read by a first class storyteller, it leaves you wanting more.”

“Totally enjoyed the characters lost souls that they are. Life is not always what we would like.”


Excerpts from Readers’ Reviews on Amazon.com


A legendary reclusive filmmaker. An enigmatic cook and restaurant proprietor, who is clearly more than he seems. Two mysterious deliveries to be made behind the Iron Curtain. A desperate search for a long-missing old friend. An unexpected love affair on the coast of Normandy. Dallas Green’s life has only gotten more interesting since his wild youthful adventures recounted in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead.
“I loved this book. It is a rollicking fantasy—youth must pass increasingly difficult tests to attain wisdom and perhaps, just perhaps, win the girl! A pure joy to read. And such a great metaphor for life!”

“It was a great read for young adults as well as adults. Can’t wait for the sequel.”

“A fantasy novel with magic and heart. It’s a quick read that is set up for a sequel. A great story about growing up and learning what you are capable of and it’s clean so it can be recommended to all ages!”


Excerpts from Readers’ Reviews on Amazon.com

What secrets do the three towers hold? For years travelers have avoided the mysterious kingdom of Afranor, but necessity now requires three brothers—the valiant fighting princes of Alinvayl—to pass through Afranor’s dark, forbidding expanse. Not all will survive the journey, but one may succeed in finding his destiny.

“I loved this book! Once I started I couldn’t put it down… What an adventurous way to come-of-age in a place in time that no longer exists. Truly a great read!”

“Larson really captures the sense of a particular time and place. His details of clothes, music, cars, speech, etc. all ring true. Also, the first-person narrator’s voice is pitch-perfect…”

“Scott Larson does a magnificent job of taking his readers on a southern trip with the three young heroes.”

“What a wild and crazy adventure! … The characters were all very well developed; I especially loved Antonio, the star and the hero. Looking forward to the sequel.”


Excerpts from Readers’ Reviews on Amazon.com


It is Summer 1971. With the Vietnam War raging and the draft looming, 18-year-old Dallas and Lonnie look for an escape. Fleeing their hot and dusty farming town in Lonnie’s ’65 Chevy, they head to Mexico. In one last misguided adventure, two lifelong friends blaze a trail to Tijuana and beyond, just to see how much trouble they can get it into.

Monday, December 14, 2015

All the way to eleven

It has been brought to my attention that Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead is, as of this writing anyway, tied for eleventh place on Goodreads’s list of Best 1970s Historical Fiction.

Goodreads, a preeminent web destination for serious book lovers, has lots of lists, which are voted on by its members. (I am one, and I have an author page there.) One could argue that 1970s historical fiction is a rather specific category, bolstered by the fact that there are only 53 books on the list. But 11 out of 53 is pretty good, eh?

While this placement certainly does my ego good, I’m not exactly letting it go to my head. If you check the vote totals, you will see that the numbers of votes are pretty low, so this doesn’t exactly represent widespread acclaim. Still, it’s flattering to be placed on a list that includes such well known works as Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance and Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm (numbers 1 and 2, respectively) and Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia (edging me out at number 10). The fact that I placed ahead of such better known books as Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin (number 25), the late Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries (number 40) and Jerzy Kosinski’s Pinball actually makes me seriously question whether the list is valid at all. But clearly that is the wrong way to think. I should be arguing that I should have been in first place.

I guess that makes this a good excuse to do some huckstering and remind people that, if you are looking a great gift for that 1970s historical fiction aficionado on your list, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead is still available from all fine internet bookstores. Just click on one of the links on this book blog.

As for the next book, editing/polishing/revising continues or, rather, it will once the holidays are over. I know better than to expect much work to get done on it during the last couple of weeks of December. So anticipate having a great choice next year for that sword-and-sorcery aficionado on your list.

Incidentally, if you are interested in my reviews of the screen adaptations of The Ice Storm (by Ang Lee) or The Buddha of Suburbia (by Roger Michell), you can check them out on my movie blog.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is the Future Already Over?

The news reports were more than a bit surprising. Sales of ebooks peaked in 2011? Who knew?

That’s four whole years ago—and only three years after ebooks even started taking off.

Everything I had been hearing for years suggested that, as far as books were concerned, print was dying and digital was the future. I had been surprised that it was happening so fast, but I wasn’t at all surprised that it was happening. Digital was inexorably supplanting analogue in every area. So it was only a matter of time until print disappeared completely or became a niche market, like vinyl records, right?

Then I read a week or two ago that The New York Times was reporting that, according to the Association of American Publishers, ebook sales were down by 10 percent in the first five months of 2015. Various hypotheses have been offered to try to explain this. The most interesting ones are economic. Is it because ebook prices went up after three of the biggest publishers got control of their own pricing in the wake of a deal reached with Amazon? Did the market just reach a natural peak? Is it possible that sales aren’t actually down and that a portion of ebook sales have simply shifted to small boutique or self-publishers, which wouldn’t be included in the AAP figures? Of course, self-publishers like me would prefer the latter explanation. And it could make sense, if consumers are finding ebooks from big publishers too pricy, as self-published ebooks tend to cost quite a bit less.

A report last month on National Public Radio quoted experts as suggesting that readers prefer different media for different books and for different times and that the publishing world was simply settling into an equilibrium that provided the various formats they wanted—from hardcover to paperback and digital and audio. AAP CEO Michael Cader noted that sales of hardcover books were also down in the same period this year and that it had more to do with a lack of big blockbuster books, like The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey, which tend to drive big book sales.

It is the pseudonymous analyst (and author) Data Guy who is quoted by NPR as suggesting that the way the AAP reports sales now misses a whole lot of self-published books. His report, published with “self-publishing phenomenon” Hugh Howey, is called Author Earnings.

“According to Author Earnings,” said NPR’s Lynn Neary in the piece, “the ebook market is thriving, but traditional publishers’ share of it has slipped to about one-third. And Data Guy believes the ebook market will continue to grow well into the future.”

So we can be pretty sure that digital books are not some mere fad that will fade with time—and neither are paper books. Of course, we don’t know what new technological changes (digital receivers in eyeball lens implants, anyone?) might come along to confuse us all again and shake up things anew.

I just wish I had thought to give myself a really cool pseudonym like Data Guy.

Monday, October 12, 2015

That Dodgy Galwegian

This blog post will conclude the official Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead apology tour.

To my friends in Ireland: I apologize for including a dodgy Irish character. I know you will pick apart the way he speaks and find him inauthentic. My excuse—and I’m sticking with it—is that we are seeing him only as he appears and sounds through the narrator’s young, inexperienced American eyes and ears.

It’s a funny story how the character called Séamus came to be part of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. Well, funny to me anyway.

I had always promised myself that I would never write a novel in the first person. Maybe I’m just lazy, but it always seemed like too much work to have to write constantly in the voice of a particular character for hundreds of pages. But as I finalized my ideas for my first novel, I realized that I wanted it to be—among other things—something of an homage to Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And that meant that it really needed to be narrated by its main character in his own regional voice.

But, I figured, that would be a piece of cake because the story takes place in the time and place where I myself came of age, so this would be a voice that I should know well—or so I thought. When reading over what I had written, I kept finding usages that sounded more like 21st century Ireland than 1970s San Joaquin Valley. Even when I thought I had fixed all of them, my indispensable friend Dayle found more. We went around and around for a long time over the verb “to bring” versus “to take” when applied to a person (as in “he took her shopping”). It turns out “to bring” a person somewhere is a particularly Irish usage of English—and one that I had not even realized I had adopted wholeheartedly. In short, my use of English had been hopelessly affected by all of these years living on the Emerald Isle.

This made the writing a lot more work—and a lot more frustrating—than I had anticipated. So, to amuse myself, I decided to include an Irish character. This was an entirely plausible story detail because you cannot go anywhere in the world without meeting the Irish. They turn up everywhere—even, presumably, in 1970s Mexico. And, in my deluded thinking, I figured that the exercise of actually trying to make a character sound authentically Irish would somehow, by contrast, make it easier to maintain the American sound of my other characters. At least that was theory. In practice, however, it was even more work to make Séamus sound authentically Irish than to keep Dallas and his friend Lonnie sounding like they were from Kern County.

To make it worse, there was the added pressure from the fact that the Irish tend to be extemely critical of Irish characters who do not come off as authentic to them. Not only do American and English actors get roundly slated for bad Irish accents in movie and television roles, but my wife has been known to roast perfectly competent Dublin actors for doing inadequate Connacht accents. Fortunately, it wasn’t as though I had to somehow get vowel sounds just right. After all, you cannot actually hear the accent of a character who exists only on a printed page. But the usage and tone certainly have to be right.

After the book was published, I was on tenterhooks every time I heard from anyone who had read the book and who was Irish. Strangely, to date no one has actually said they found Séamus inauthentic as a globe-trotting Galwegian. To be clear, no one has praised the character as a masterful creation either. Irish readers, at least in my limited sampling, seem to have little reaction to him at all. I would be tempted to attribute this lack of criticism to politeness, but I have never known the Irish to be polite about this sort of thing in any other situation. Even my wife—who I expected to excoriate me over the character because, well, that’s just what she does—had virtually nothing to say about him.

Yes, I would prefer that lots of people were heartily congratulating my on getting the nuances of my Irish character exactly right. But, realistically, I am actually ecstatic to be hearing nothing at all. I have convinced myself that that is actually the highest praise of all.

To everyone I know: I apologize one more time for all the bad words. It won’t happen again.

Hmmm. I may have lied about that one. I really can’t promise I will never again have any sweary characters in anything I ever write again. But I can promise that there will be virtually no expletives in my next book of which, I am happy to note, the first draft was completed over the weekend! And yes, it is written in the third person. And no, there are no Irish characters (or American ones for that matter), although there are characters with Irish names.

And I do not plan to make any apologies about any of it.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Still Aboard the Apology Train

The official Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead apology tour continues.

To my friends in Seattle: I apologize for the misogyny, racism, homophobia, casual acceptance of economic inequality and irresponsible gun use. The characters are most definitely not meant to be role models. Please focus on their character growth, not on their myriad character flaws.

This particular apology was really tongue in cheek. After all, the offenses I enumerated above are, after all, well entrenched features of our popular entertainment. And yet…

I did regret that there are no great female characters in the book. Marisol features somewhat prominently, but mainly as an idealized fantasy in Dallas’s feverish teenage mind. The Pérez family includes some nice women, especially Mama Marta, but they are pretty minor in the grand scheme of things. No, this is a guy story told by a guy and about guys. I’m sorry. I’ll make it up in my other writing.

Also, it did concern me that the two main characters’ attitudes toward Mexicans (not even bothering to distinguish between actual Mexicans and Mexican-Americans) could be offensive. But the attitude was true to the characters and to the time and place. And the whole point of the book is how the narrator Dallas has his world view enlarged by actually getting to know Mexicans and Mexican culture, so I’m not sure that an apology is really called for.

Then there is the question of gay characters.

I do not consider myself—or any author of fiction, for that matter—responsible for presenting balanced or positive portrayals of any demographic group. (That’s the job of non-fiction writers and propagandists.) Having said that, however, it did bother me that this particular story resulted in all its portrayals and/or references to gay people being associated with pedophilia. But frankly, in that time and place, that was the only context in which I—and other guys my age that I knew—had any awareness of homosexuality. In the end, I hope that Dallas’s growth on the issue—partly from learning more of the world and partly from dealing with his own instances of sexual confusion—mitigate the thin portrayals.

Anyway, if you want a more deeply diverse set of characters, just wait until I finish my epic novel about 1980s Seattle. None of them will be role models either, but at least they won’t all be seen through the prism of badly behaving rural teenage boys.

Actually, you may not have to wait that long. Now that the end of the first draft of my sword and sorcery tale is actually in sight, I have lately been leaning toward going ahead and taking on a sequel to Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. For a long time all the ideas I worked on in my head for a sequel never seemed quite right. But then I literally had a dream about something I experienced while traveling around in my twenties, and something clicked. I have to believe it is fate because the dream involved a train. And it was a dream about a young woman on a train that inspired Dan Curtis to create the classic 1960s TV show Dark Shadows.

Part of the interest in the sequel for me—and hopefully the reader—will be to see how Dallas has grown and changed in the several years since the first book. One thing will be for sure. He will definitely meet and know a more diverse set of characters.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Grapes of Minor Irritation

When I first announced the publication of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on my movie website, I made a point of issuing a trio of apologies to my friends in various geographical locations.

While the apologies were mostly tongue in cheek, there was an element of sincerity in all of them. And, in fact, it occurs to me that they could all do with a bit of elaboration. So with this post I hereby kick off the official Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead apology tour.

To my friends in and from California: I apologize for the characters’ bad attitude toward the place where they live.

I actually did agonize over the fear that the book would make the southern San Joaquin Valley sound like a very grim place to live. After all, a lot of people there are still trying to get over the impression left by John Steinbeck when he wrote The Grapes of Wrath. My home town got mentioned in that book twice. There is a famous photo, taken in 1939, of three men ceremonially burning a copy of The Grapes of Wrath in downtown Bakersfield. Two of the men are farmers from my local area.

Growing up, I remember hearing whispers about Steinbeck’s book and how it was “banned.” But the fact was that I had no trouble whatsoever finding a copy in the school library and checking it out and reading it. The book was never banned. Those three men in the photo (the third was an actual migrant farmworker) were burning a single copy as a protest. It was not an attempt to destroy every copy and to make the book unavailable for curious readers. But the act of burning a book carries unfortunate sinister resonances, and so it probably did not help the case they were trying to make—that farmers were victims of character assassination.

As a reader, I appreciated Steinbeck’s literary prowess and even his socio-political passion but, as someone who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, I did not recognize the picture he painted of the region. In particular, Tom Joad’s climactic speech (immortalized in John Ford’s 1940 film adaptation by Henry Fonda: “wherever there’s a fight, so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there”) was stirring but I never saw any connection between it and where I grew up. I had definitely heard stories of tough times during the migrations of the Depression and the Dust Bowl era, but much more often than not those stories ended with people’s lives improving and even prospering. Between farming and oil drilling, a lot of people—at all levels of the economic ladder—made a lot of money in the years following the migrant influx.

In writing my own novel, I was very conscious of Kern County’s place in literary history, and I made a point of referring to it by having my narrator, Dallas Green, recall that his own parents and grandparents had migrated to California and now were doing so well that they had left the field work to newer migrants from Mexico.

Dallas complains a lot about where he lives but not so much because it is truly a terrible place but because he is a teenager. He does go on a lot about how hot it is in the summer, and that is definitely true. It is very hot there in the summer. And in those days a lot of us lived in homes that didn’t have adequate cooling. But, leaving the climate aside, there were a lot of good people. And I hope that comes through in my book—even though Dallas doesn’t particularly dwell on it.

What really doesn’t get reflected by the book—and, in fairness, it was meant to be a work of literature and not a chamber of commerce brochure—is the diversity of the area. Dallas and Lonnie are from a sort of redneck subset of the population, but my community also had people from all over the rest of America. My mother grew up as part of a German-speaking community of Mennonites. There was a well-established Mexican-American community that had lived in the area since the days of the Mexican Revolution. Other towns had their Italian-American community or their Armenian-American community or their African-American community. Out in the country there were families of Basque sheepherders.

Even though it has been many decades since I lived in the San Joaquin Valley, I have never ceased to think that it was a very good place to be from. In fact, the next Speaker of the House of Representatives could quite likely be from there as well. Kevin McCarthy started a business in Bakersfield at the age of 18 with the winnings from a lottery ticket he bought while visiting San Diego. As he recounted in a speech in February, “True story. $5,000 was the most money you could win. But if you put yourself back in 1984, you’re 18 years old, you just won $5,000 and you’re 10 minutes away from Tijuana, where would you end up?”

Sounds to me like Representative McCarthy just missed his chance to be the next generation’s Dallas Green.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mockingbird’s Song

By far the biggest book news to hit the world in recent times is the publication of a previously unknown novel by Harper Lee. It is the rare kind of literary event that not only gets discussed on arts programs but also on serious TV news programs. And it has been fascinating to hear all the various reactions.

On my movie web site, I like to say that a film review really tells us more about the reviewer than it does about the film. The same is almost certainly true about book reviews and book discussions. The appearance of Go Set a Watchman has been an interesting opportunity to hear many people on TV, radio and in print tell us what To Kill a Mockingbird has meant to them.

Clearly, for a lot of people over the past half-century it is a work that was huge in helping to form their literary, social and political consciousness. In hindsight, the book’s provenance and its reception seem like something magical. It was Lee’s first—and presumedly only—published work (at the age of 34), and it garnered all kinds of praise and awards. It was soon adapted into an award-winning motion picture that not only did justice to the book but further immortalized its story.

If all of that seems too fortunate to be true, what are the odds that 55 years later another novel would turn up and would overlap with the events and characters of the first? We soon learned that it was an earlier draft of Mockingbird but, because it was set years later, it turned out to be the sequel that many readers would have longed for—or thought they did. If this had been a sequel written by someone else, say, commissioned by the author’s estate like Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett, which continued the story of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, it could be ignored or dismissed. But Watchman was written by Harper Lee herself and in her prime. On the other hand, it was a draft that was not originally accepted by her publisher.

From an academic point of view, it is great to have. We get a better picture of what was in Lee’s head in forming the story and that leads to a deeper understanding of her work. For sentimentalists, however, it disrupts the effect of Mockingbird. Just as the effect of a photograph is dramatically affected by the way it is cropped, a story such as that of Atticus Finch and his family is defined by where the storyteller begins and ends the narrative. Many people have been distressed to learn that, in the original version, Atticus aged into someone less noble and less admirable than the man so memorably portrayed by Gregory Peck. As Lee’s editor may have understood all those years ago, such a story may be more reflective of real life but it isn’t nearly as satisfying emotionally.

Strangely, my own words about Atticus, written just six months ago after having re-watched the movie, are out there now on my movie site haunting me: “No matter the effect this movie had on people’s feelings on race relations, it definitely made lots of people wish that Gregory Peck was their dad.”

Oddly, Atticus’s story may now parallel what has gone on in America over the past half-century. After all, the story of the Civil Rights movement is much more satisfying when the narrative stops with the triumphs of the 1960s.

As for me personally, the appearance of Lee’s long-delayed “sequel” has given me some food for thought as I continue to wrestle with the question of whether or when to do a sequel to Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. The fact is that I am happy with the story as it is. Would it become richer if we learn what happens to Dallas Green in later life? Or would I regret not leaving things as they were?

Either way, the stakes are not nearly so high as with To Kill a Mockingbird. After all, I am the first to admit that Dallas Green is no Atticus Finch.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Next Book

When is the best time to start talking about the next book?

My own first response to that question would tend to be: the day it goes on sale.

But common sense—and everything I have read about publishing and marketing—says that an author should start talking about an upcoming book somewhat sooner than that. After all, how can readers build up interest in a book if they do not know that it is on its way?

Fair enough. So be advised that, even though I cannot tell you the exact date on which it will be published, my second novel will be released sometime in the hopefully not-too-awfully-distant future. Is that vague enough for you?

So what can I tell you about it? Well, I suppose the main thing to know is that, if you read and enjoyed my first book Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, well, the next book will be nothing like that.

I could list all the differences for you. For example, Max & Carly was written in the first person. The new book will be in the third person. The first book was set in a distinct real time and place in recent history. The new book is a fantasy tale in a completely made-up world. The first book had some (actually, a lot of) very bad language in it, not too mention some sex and drug use, and my own daughter is not allowed to read it until she has reached her fifteenth birthday. The new book is suitable for most ages, although it does have some incidences of kind of brutal fantasy world violence.

In other words, the two books are like chalk and cheese. Except that, in a strange way, they both actually kind of tell the same story. The fact is that both are about quests undertaken by lovesick male teenagers who come to experience some pretty strong male bonding. But if you were hoping for the further adventures of Dallas Green, well, sorry. (I’m still going back and forth in my head as to when or whether to write a sequel to Max & Carly.)

Underlining that comparison for you is probably not the best way to drum up interest in the new book. But then I think I have been pretty up-front all along that I am not really great at this marketing stuff. It probably also will not help to confess that I am looking forward very much to writing about something other than lovesick male teenagers on quests. Subsequent books—yes, I have them largely worked out in my head already—will be about the concerns of more mature individuals, and I cannot wait to get inside those heads instead.

Having now drastically lowered expectations for the second book, let me say that it is a story that is pretty close to my heart. I first conceived it when I was, yes, a lovesick male teenager. It was inspired by things I was reading and watching at the time, which strongly featured J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous trilogy, the TV series Dark Shadows and the full range of Marvel comic books. The first version was written in Spanish as a school assignment. To this day there are people I knew in high school who remember the story and occasionally mention it to me. In subsequent years, I rewrote it and expanded it once or twice it on my own time for my own self-entertainment. Then I put it away for many years—until I finally reworked it again, this time in English, as a bedtime story for my daughter.

Of course, in the new iteration I have accumulated additional influences since the days when I was a lovesick male teenager. For example, now I think I detect a dash of J.J. Abrams and George R.R. Martin in there as well. At least saying that should generate more interest than just saying it’s basically the same book I wrote before.

I am now in the final stretch of my first draft. Come back here—or better yet, subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed—for future occasional progress updates. There is a button to do this over to the right side of this page.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Through the Internet Rabbit Hole

One of the habits I have gotten into since Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead was released, is searching for my book on the web. I am clearly not alone in this. From what I gather, most working authors do it. Checking on one’s book’s web presence is part of the job of marketing and selling your work.

I have learned some interesting things from doing these searches. For one, I have found that my book can be ordered from any number of online book sellers in any number of countries around the world. It is kind of fun seeing your book (written in English) being listed on a site in, say, Sweden or Russia.

Sometimes the title shows up in a way that is totally a surprise—like when it was mentioned on the Spanish language Facebook page of a South American writer based in Paris. It turns out that he is an acquaintance of my friend Mañuco, one of the people to whom I dedicated the novel.

The strangest search result, however, was the one I came across a couple of weeks ago. The excerpt that Google highlighted read like this: “The typical story Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead of the Gingerbread Boy. Not everyone will love this modern version…” Whoa. Apparently, somebody was doing some interesting analysis of my little tale of wayward youth. Naturally, I had to read the whole thing.

But when I clicked through to the link, which was on a site called socialistorganizer.org, I found a discussion board for comic books and ebooks. There was no mention of the Gingerbread Boy. Instead there was discussion, apparently among students, about an English assignment.

“I have to read 3 books over the summer for AP English,” wrote someone called Enmenre. “My parents can’t afford to buy them and they said I’ll have to read them online. Is there a website that I can download books from as documents? I want to read Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead by Scott R. Larson.”

My heart was all aflutter. Some young person had somehow heard of my book and wanted to read it! And it didn’t even seem to be a friend or relative. This was a great. Someone else responded to say that a great place to get it was a site called Booklibrary. Enmenre replied, “Guess what just happened? haha, I found the book I was looking for, all thanks to BookLibrary. YES! I’m so stocked right now, been looking like forever for this old book, and finally I found it! Loving it!”

Very cool that Enmenre was loving the novel. But “this old book”? Hey, give me a break. It was only released last June. Other commenters chimed in with feedback on the book. “This book is a fate,” said Rinbeydo (whatever that might mean). “Interesting and easy to read,” said Iculob, inserting a “WINNAH!!!” emoticon. “Don’t waste your time reading it. Nothing interesting,” wrote a spoilsport called Primourco.

I followed the link that had allegedly led the happy Enmenre to my book. It turned out to be something called download-genius.com, and it did list several servers around the world from which Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead could be purportedly downloaded. It even offered the choice of paperback, ebook and audio versions—which was interesting since, as far as I know (and, as the author, I should know) there is no audio version. Of course, before you could actually do any downloading, you had to “sign up.” I had come across sites like this before. They promise you all kinds of free digital stuff, i.e. games, movies, books, etc. In exchange, they want (at the least) your name and email address and maybe more personal information or even a credit card for the “membership fee.”

Did this site really have my book available for download? Something I had prepared myself for since uploading the Kindle version of Maximilian and Carlotta to Amazon was that at some point I might come across it on a pirate web site. Just about every book ever published seems to show up on these sites, as many authors will readily attest. In a strange and perverse way, the fact that someone would go to the trouble to pirate your book is actually some kind of a cockeyed compliment. At least it means that there is a demand for your work out there.

One of the strangest stories I have heard in this regard was in an interview on public radio’s On the Media program with Peter Mountford about his novel A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism. I paid attention when the interview came on because I had read and enjoyed Mountford’s book. Set in Bolivia, it has a very passing similarity to mine in that it deals with a young American getting to know something of Latin American culture. Mountford recounted how he got an email out of the blue from a Russian asking him to explain the nuances of various passages in his book. In pursuing this, Mountford learned that his correspondent had been hired to do a Russian translation of the book—one that was in no way authorized. In the end, the author decided to help the Russian come up with the best translation possible. His reasoning was that, if there was going to be a pirated Russian version out there, he would prefer that it be of the best quality.

But back to my question. Did that site really have my book for download? My guess is that it didn’t. I would guess that the site is a scam looking to rip off naive and/or dishonest consumers of digital stuff. Strangely, when I went back to the original URL, it was no longer a comic book/ebook discussion. It was now a more literary site purporting to do book reviews, but still mentioning Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead in vaguely non-sequitur kinds of ways. As far as I could tell, the web page was dynamically taking my search query and intelligently weaving it into something that appeared like a real discussion—all with the aim of directing the gullible to the scam download site.

The internet is truly a strange and bizarre (and sometimes risky) place.

So Enmenre almost certainly doesn’t exist and didn’t hear about and want to read my “old” book. So were the owners of the socialistorganizer.org domain part of the scam or were they victims as well? When I went back to the URL more recently (not through a Google search), it led me to a page that looked just as you would expect something called socialistorganizer.org to look. “For A Labor party. For A Workers’ International,” it intones next to a clinched black fist in front of a red star. It gives every indication of legitimately being the web site of a leftist labor organization. Its only similarity to download-genius.com is that it too offers to take your payment details.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bad Buzz

A couple of posts ago I proudly announced that Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead had made the list of finalists in the historical fiction category of the Prize Writer Competition of BookBzz.com. When I submitted my novel, I had no illusions about my chances of making that list. So when I exceeded my own expectations, I was delighted. I had no expectation of actually getting a prize—especially since the process favored those who could best exploit legions of fans through social media. I’m the first to admit that the whole “social media” thing is not my strong suit. Thus, there was no real disappointment at not picking up a prize.

What I did get, though, was the entitlement to put a Prize Writer Competition 2015 BookBzz.com Finalist sticker on my blog. What I did not expect was that I would also get a genuinely and intriguing story out of the experience.

Bookbzz.com was one of a number of web sites I discovered in the inevitable process of marketing my book. I learned that there are numerous such sites out there—ranging from straightforward blogs, curated by writing and/or reading enthusiasts, to more elaborate web sites that are run as businesses and therefore aim to make money. What they all have in common is the purpose of being of mutual benefit to writers, readers and, not least, the web site proprietor. Bookbzz.com belonged to a subcategory of sites that essentially want to be a destination akin to the granddaddy of book web sites, Goodreads but with a more in-your-face approach about providing services for which they can charge. Fair enough. Everybody is entitled to make a buck if they can. The truth is, though, I didn’t really know much about Bookbzz.com aside from what I’ve just recounted and the fact that it is based in London.

I know more now. While I was visiting the U.S. over the recent Easter school break, an email landed in my inbox. It was from Conrad Murray, Bookbzz.com’s publisher, and it apparently went out to everyone on the site’s mailing list. It can also be read on the site’s home page, accompanied by a photo of a forlorn-looking Murray and his dog. That is how I learned that the writers who did get selected as winners in the site’s competition had not received their promised cash prizes. It turns out that Bookbzz.com has ceased to function—although the web site is still up with its many book listings, including my own. As explained by Murray, it had been a joint project with Susannah, his partner of a quarter-century, and it all went pear-shaped earlier this year when that relationship broke down. And here’s where it gets really interesting.

He blamed Susannah’s 39-year-old daughter Charlotte who, it turns out, is rather notorious in the British press. Murray linked to a Daily Mail article from a year-and-a-half ago that details Charlotte’s somewhat spotted history and her attempts to lay claim to the estate of her father, a Scottish baronet whose relationship with Susannah years ago was, as they say, without the benefit of clergy. While Sir Malcolm supported Charlotte financially through her childhood and beyond, he apparently drew the line when she began advertising herself to well-heeled clients on escort web sites under the name of Charlie Foxtrot.

More information is available on a very useful web site that I cannot believe I had not found earlier. It is called Writer Beware and is a volunteer service sponsored by various writers’ organizations. It provides advice and information for writers with the aim of shining a light on “the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.” It reports that, not surprisingly, the competition winners are pretty unhappy about not receiving their prizes. It also provides additional background information on the web site and Conrad Murray. Clearly, many writers believe that the web site was a scam from start to finish.

Murray says that the business’s accounts “all were systematically emptied” by Susannah, but he has promised to eventually pay the prize winners from his own personal resources—after “legal complications” have been overcome. He says he hopes to have this completed by the end of April.

Frankly, I don’t know what to make of it all. I don’t feel personally aggrieved since I never expected to get any money out of the experience. I will leave my Finalist sticker on this page for now—until such time as I become convinced that the honor is utterly bogus. But I am upset for the entrants who entered in good faith and then were promised prizes. Time will tell if Murray is some kind of con artist or just a very unfortunate businessman.

In the meantime, the best way to profit from the situation might be to write about it. The story has everything—mystery, money, aristocracy, bad behavior and more than a whiff of sex. Indeed, it has all the makings of a very interesting article—or even a book.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Imagining the Possibilities

Nearly ten months after Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead was first released, I continue to have thrilling vicarious experiences of re-discovering it—through the eyes of other people.

It is a heck of a lot of fun to hear reactions from people who are only now reading it for the first time.

I think my favorite reaction so far was from the person who wrote a review on Amazon that said, “I could not finish this book. After about 3 or 4 chapters I was done. It felt like a very immature drunk teenager wrote the book. Sorry, didn’t like at all.” No, I’m not being facetious. I was actually delighted to read this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the voice of a very immature drunk teenager was exactly what I was shooting for. Believe me, it is not easy to write convincingly like a drunk teenager when you are my age and (mostly) sober. For another thing, the fact that I got a one-star review meant that it is not only my personal friends who are reading the book.

What has been particularly interesting has been the questions I get from people after reading the book. Probably the most frequent query is, is it a true story? Did the things recounted in the book actually happen to you personally? That is a reasonable enough question coming from people know nothing about me other than what it says in my author bio. Or even from people who only met me years after I ceased to 18 years old—the age of my narrator/protagonist Dallas Green. But it does seem a bit strange when it comes from people who actually did know me when I was 18 or even from those who have known me since I was born. But then, why not? We all have stories that many of our own friends and families do not know about—especially from the years around our 18th birthdays. And a number of people who did know me then thought they perceived some definite similarities between Dallas’s wild best friend Lonnie and my own childhood best pal.

The answer to the question is that the story in the book is a work of fiction that I created in my own head. But I did include elements—and even some incidents—from my own life at the time, so it is not surprising that people who knew me then might have certain glimmers of recognition.

The other really common question that I get—and, frankly, one that at first surprised me—is whether there will be a sequel. Every time I get that question, I am pleased because it means that the reader got sufficiently invested in the characters to want to see their stories continued. I conceived the story as something complete and self-contained and never thought of it as the first of a series. I already had too many other books started and, honestly, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead 2 wasn’t one of them. Besides, after years of making snide jokes about sequels on my movie blog, I wasn’t particularly inclined to keep going back to the same well creatively. For one thing, I had promised myself that I would never again write a novel in the first person—especially when the narrator was an very immature drunk teenager.

But people wanted to know what happened to Dallas afterwards. And they wanted to know what happened to a couple of the other characters who disappeared from the story and whose fates were left a mystery—you know, like happens in real life. One friend even came up with a great idea for an opening scene for the sequel, which picks up Dallas’s story five years later. In fact, it was such a good scene that I immediately wanted to use it, if not in a novel, then in a movie or a TV series.

The funny thing is that the same thing happened to me as I was writing the last chapter of the book. I found myself wanting to know what would happen to the various characters. But, unlike my readers, I had the luxury of knowing what would happen to them. I could plot out their destinies and see where they would wind up. But my initial instinct that, for the reader, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead was actually a better story for not having those questions answered by me. After all, each reader could imagine the characters’ destinies for themselves, just as I had. Besides, while having one’s curiosity satisfied is a nice feeling, it can also be satisfying to leave characters frozen in a moment for all time—never to go grow old or, worse, to grow boring.

Given the way my brain is, though, I found I couldn’t stop thinking of plots for a possible sequel. Could I come up with a story that would not disappoint people who liked the first book but would be a worthwhile literary endeavor in its own right. I still do not have a definitive answer. Any time I have for plotting and writing has been used for the last while on another book, a fantasy story that is light years away from Max & Carly and yet is, in some ways, the same basic story reworked. And after that, the plan was to complete what was supposed to be my opus major, a sprawling story about people in Seattle in the 1980s. And my dozen years in Ireland have also caused me to come up with a story set in this country as well. And, as if that is not enough, I have lately become consumed with the idea of revising a gothic supernatural story, which I originally wrote in my teens, as a cockeyed homage to my beloved Dark Shadows. Both that one and the one I am currently finishing could easily be the first entries in their own series of books.

So where would Max & Carly 2 fit into all that, given that I am not exactly the fastest producer of prose on the planet? Who knows? So many ideas for books and so little time.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Short-listed!

Well, so far, so good.

BookBzz Finalist

I am informed that Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead has been short-listed (I’ve always wanted to use that term in relation to a book I wrote!) for BookBzz.com’s Prize Writer Competition. The competition now goes to a public vote, which runs during the entire month of February. Prize winners will be announced on March 5.

Strangely, the thought that most prominently comes to mind is a sentence that I have mocked many times on my movie web site. But darn it, it is actually true. It’s an honor just to be nominated!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Some Bzz

The web site BookBzz.com has been coming on strong in making itself a place for authors to promote themselves. I’m still working out whether it’s meant to be an alternative or a competitor or a supplement to GoodReads, which seems to be the main place for authors and readers to meet one another.

As I continue trying to figure out this whole marketing part of writing and publishing a book, I have entered Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead into BookBzz’s Prize Writer Competition. You can see my book’s listing by clicking this link. There will be 33 winners in 11 categories, which will be announced on World Book Day, March 5.

Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Amazon’s Reign Forest

One of the interesting side effects of writing and publishing a book is that you end up learning a fair amount about certain people’s reading preferences and habits. And you get disabused of certain things you thought you knew.

For example, before publishing I had completely bought into what I was reading and hearing seemingly everywhere: that digital books had largely supplanted print books. And maybe that is actually still true. After all, what I had been led to understand is that J.K. Rowling single-handedly converted new young generations into ravenous readers. And there is certainly evidence of that. Look at the endless numbers of titles published in the young adult and fantasy categories. Surely, somebody is reading a lot of those books and those somebodies must logically fit into age categories corresponding to readers who were young when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (or Sorcerer’s Stone, as Rowling consented to for American versions, to her eternal regret) first came out.

And why wouldn’t those ravenous young readers prefer to be reading on digital devices? After all, young people are about nothing if not about their electronic devices. So it made sense that digital books would have caught on—just as music downloading and streaming had caught on. And surprising numbers of older people whom I knew were into their Kindles as well. And why wouldn’t they be? They are easier to read in terms of being able to enlarge text if necessary. I myself was a quick and unassailable convert to ebooks when they first appeared—although, strangely, I have never owned a Kindle. That was kind of an accident since I was hot to get an ebook reader before the Kindle was available in Europe, so my only choice was a Sony device. By the time Kindles arrived in the nearest Tesco, I was already addicted to reading books on my iPad. (Reading app of choice: Marvin by Appstafarian.)

So when it came time for me to publish I was convinced that there would quite likely not be a print version. After all, print was dead. Lots of niche authors were eschewing hardbacks and paperbacks and, in many cases, any format other than the Kindle’s. So I published for the Kindle with the plan to follow up with other digital formats after three months. As for a paperback version, I kept an open mind but did not make it a priority.

What I was not expecting was the number of people who informed me that they would wait until a paper version came out to read the book. Furthermore, I was surprised at how many people—in many cases younger than myself—were not familiar with ebooks and not interested in them. This includes people with whom I worked on the cutting edge of the software industry in the 1980s and 1990s—the very people you would think would embrace new technology. (A surprising number of them are pretty retro in their personal lives.) So I prepared a paperback version to be released at the same time as the non-Kindle digital versions. And the reaction was pretty much universal that the release of the paperback was the “real” release of the “real” book.

Something else I encountered, to a lesser degree, was that a number of people would have nothing at all to do with Amazon. That wasn’t exactly a shock. After all, Amazon is a huge corporation which has a competitive advantage over the small neighborhood bookstores and funky quaint book shops where lots of us book lovers would love to spend all our time hanging out. Amazon is the kind of business that is always portrayed as evil in the movies.

My own attitude toward Jeff Bezos’s operation has always been fond. After all I was living in Seattle when it was founded and I loved the idea of making every book available to everybody. I like it even better now that I live “in the back of beyond” where the nearest mom-and-pop book shop is a significant drive away. But I respect people who consciously choose to give all their book buying business to small shops. Some people I know will not even frequent chain bookstores like Eason’s or Waterstone’s.

The economic reality, though, is that my book will almost certainly never be stocked in a small shop. At best a determined customer might be able to ask the staff to special order my book—if the staff are even willing. A friend tried this at a Barnes & Noble in Bakersfield, California (where my book is partly set) and was told to go home and order it on B&N’s web site.

This creates an interesting paradox. Amazon has made self-publishing an attainable reality for multitudes of authors who otherwise would likely remain unpublished. But it is also endangering the quaint and traditional book shops that so many of us cherish. This is because the economics of those traditional bookshops always meant that a self-supporting author was necessarily a member of a relatively exclusive club.

Amazon’s business model is definitely more democratic and inclusive for authors and readers. But it also forces change that is not always comfortable. Thus it has ever been—at least as far back as the time Johannes Gutenberg put an unknown number of calligraphers out of business.

A final note: despite all the feedback about paperbacks and mega-bookstores, the vast majority of sales for my book to date have been for the Amazon Kindle. Despite this, when my next book comes out, it will be released in paperback first.