Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Happy Birthday, Dallas

Today marks the 64th birthday of my fictional protagonist, Dallas Green. I have no idea where he is today or how he is doing at this mature age. I have only figured out the trajectory of his life through the end of his 28th year.

I did not know his exact birthday until I began my current writing project. In Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead I had established that he and his friend Lonnie were both born in December 1952. This was necessary for the plot of the book since they both had to be born with that month-long window which would result in both their graduating from high school and being included in the draft lottery in the year 1971. I myself was born that same month, but I did not want either character to have the same birthday as me. That might be fine for wildly successfully authors like J.K. Rowling, but I want to have a bit of distance between me and my fictional creations. As it is, enough people have accused Dallas of being a thinly veiled version of myself. Hopefully, by the time readers have finished the upcoming book, the ones who actually know me will realize that Dallas is a very different person from myself. If they still persist in thinking Dallas and I are one and the same, then I will have to question how well they actually know me—or else how well I know myself.

In the new book I needed to specify the exact day that Dallas would turn 28, so I picked the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It seemed as good a day as any and, as it happened, it kind of fit in thematically with what would be going on in his head at the time.

I have reached a midpoint in the first draft of the new book. Dallas has found himself generally at home with his new life in San Francisco but, as in the first book, events conspire to send him fleeing out of the country. The story this time is more complicated, and more characters come and go in and out of Dallas’s life. Plotting from this point onward becomes more challenging because Dallas’s story interweaves with various things that were happening in various parts of the world at the time. The more I have revisited the year 1980, the more appreciative I have become of what an event-filled tumultuous year it was. For one thing, not unlike the current year we are living through, the end of the year marked a distinct turning point in what the American government looked and acted like.

So if you are imbibing anything nice this evening, try to remember to say a little toast to Mr. Dallas Green, originally of Kern County, California. Wherever he is out there, let us hope that the sometimes ill-advised adventures of his youth were prologue to a satisfactory and happy later life.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Dallas - Part Deux

Here is some poetic justice for you.

As someone who has talked about movies nearly my whole life and who has blogged about them for a couple of decades, I have skewered more than my share of sequels—up to and including the questioning of whether there is any point to sequels at all. So what do I find myself doing these days? Yes, I am writing a sequel.

Let us be clear. There is nothing inherently bad about a sequel. After all a sequel is nothing more than a story not unlike any other story. It is only a sequel because it happens to take place in the same world and uses some or all of the same characters as a previously existing story. That should not necessarily disqualify it from being as good as any other story.

So why do sequels have such a bad reputation with critics and other film snobs? Mainly because sequels to very successful works too often give the impression of having been conceived only as a way to extract more money from people who enjoyed the original book or movie or whatever it was. Readers of my movie blog should be well familiar with the long established role of the sequel. It is to satisfy the fan’s desire to relive the enjoyment of the original (i.e. re-tell the same story) while simultaneously satisfying the fan’s desire to get something brand new (i.e. pretend to tell a different story). Here is another take on the purpose of sequels: to do the same thing over again but bigger and better. This mainly applies to movies, as studios tend to be rather risk averse. They greenlight sequels—and remakes and reboots and spinoffs and thinly disguised plagiarism—because they seem safer, having stories, characters and worlds that have already proven themselves with audiences.

So the fact that I am writing a sequel to Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead means that I am shamlessly cashing in, right? Well, hardly. There is no reason to believe that my third novel—even if it is a sequel—will shift my tax bracket any more than the first two did. So why I am writing it? Mainly because a surprising number of people told me that they really wanted to know what happened next to Dallas Green. I thought I might hear the same thing after The Three Towers of Afranor, but so far I have not had anywhere near the same interest in a follow-up. That kind of surprises me since the second book was really left more open-ended with possibilities for more stories.

To be clear, I really did conceive of Max & Carly (as I am wont to refer to it when rushed) as a one-off self-contained story that needed no further elaboration. I thought Dallas’s trajectory was left pretty clear. It had originally been that of someone who would pretty much follow the same life as his father and who would likely not stray too far from his home town. By the end of the book that trajectory had been changed by his trip to Mexico and his exposure to a wider world and more people and places. He was now going to pursue more education as well as his budding interests in photography and the Spanish language. That seemed a satisfying conclusion to me. Readers, however, still wanted to know what else would happen to him? Would he ever meet Marisol again? Would he ever find out what happened to Antonio? Would he have liver problems from all the drinking he did? Okay, no one actually asked that last question.

As it turned out, the more I got asked about this and the more I thought about it, the more curious I myself got about what life held for Dallas. As a consequence I am now ten chapters and about eighty pages into the first draft of another book about him. I had thought I had had enough of him once I finished the first book, but after a break I am finding him good company again—especially since he is now older and a bit—but only a bit—more mature. For one thing, he does not swear nearly so much. For another, he has gotten somewhat more modern in his thinking.

I will share a secret with you. Some readers guessed a few of the literary influences behind Max & Carly. (Huckleberry Finn was a big one.) But no one guessed one of the main ones. It was Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Sure, the friendship of two young rednecks in rural 1970s America may not seem to have much in common with a tale of posh English lads at Oxford during the reign of George V but, hey, male bonding is male bonding. The tip-off should have been the way Dallas’s growing interest in Antonio’s Catholicism paralleled the role that religion played with the family of young Lord Sebastian Flyte. I bring this up because Dallas’s story now faces a problem similar to that of Waugh’s protagonist Charles Ryder. Once the flamoybant and magnetic Sebastian left the scene, the story lost something. Charles on his own was not necessarily the most interesting character.

Similarly, practically everybody who has read Max & Carly has told me that their favorite character is either Lonnie or Antonio. Unfortunately for them, neither of those two are in the frame of the sequel—at least not in the early going. Will the new characters in Dallas’s life be able to fill the gap adequately?

More importantly, will it really just be the same story again—only bigger and better?

When the time comes, you can decide.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Poet and the Figment

I am still catching up from everything that accumulated while I was in the holidaying/non-routine/non-scheduled mode of late summer. (And, yes, I know it is now October and that it has not been late summer for some time now.) It seems as though I spend a lot of my time catching up on blogs that get neglected and feeling guilty about not spending more time on promoting The Three Towers of Afranor. Now, however, it is time to put all that aside (well, most of that aside) and get focused on the next book, the one that continues the story of young Dallas Green, which began in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead.

Something else that distracts me from getting more writing done is the fact that I always want to do more reading. So many books and so little time.

I did finish reading a book just lately, and it was quite an intriguing read. Penned by Juan Gómez Bárcena, a thirtysomething Spaniard, it takes its title, The Sky Over Lima, from an early 20th century poem written by the Nobel Prize-winning Spanish poet Juan Ramón Jiménez. He had a long and prolific career until his death in 1958, but a fascinating footnote is that in his twenties he fell victim to an epistolary hoax. He received a letter from a Georgina Hübner in Lima, Peru, praising his poetry and asking him if he might send her some of his books. He complied, and the two carried on a correspondence that led Ramón Jiménez to become infatuated with his long-distance pen pal to the point that he actually made plans to travel 6,000 miles to visit her.

It turned out, however, that Georgina never existed. She was the creation of two young men whose initial aim was to acquire the poet’s books, which were not available in Peru. When they saw that Ramón Jiménez was smitten with her, they carried on the charade.

Gómez Bárcena tells the story from the point of view of the two young Limeños, José and (mainly) Carlos. He explores the social and artistic milieu of the time and what may have been going through their minds as they carried on their deception. In his telling, these aspiring but artistically hopeless poets find themselves in the improbable position of forming an actual work of art, i.e. a compelling narrative, out of reality. They have done nothing less than create a virtual novel in which both their imaginary Limeña and the real-life poet are characters. As Gómez Bárcena describes the reality within his book becoming a novel, his own narration becomes a commentary on itself. It’s all very meta.

As someone who has written my own book about young male friends getting into trouble while negotiating the treacherous shoals of adulthood (and who has carried on my own long-distance correspondence with a beloved Limeño), I found the book great fun. Not only is it about getting caught up in one’s own youthful fantasies, but it is also about the inexorable process of maturing and submitting to banal reality.

Because I am lazy, I did not read the book in Spanish. So I must give kudos to Andrea Rosenberg for her artful English translation. Her interpretation felt very faithful and reliable.

Now that I am properly inspired by someone else’s writing, it is high time to get back to my own authoring.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Book Bearing Fruit

If the only thing keeping you from reading The Three Towers of Afranor has been the fact that you absolutely had to read it on an Apple iOS device (iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch), then I have great news for you!

My second novel is now available in digital form on Apple’s iBooks Store. If happen to be reading this with an iOS device, then you can find it online, read a sample and/or purchase the whole book by clicking on this here link right here. There is also a link over on the right side of this page, if you prefer to click over there for some reason.

And my first book Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead continues to be on sale on the iBooks Store. There is still a link for that over in the right-hand column. Or you can click here on this string of words, if that is easier for you.

I should note that the links on this page are for the iBooks Store for the United States. If your iTunes account is for a different country, hopefully the app on your device will forward you to the right place without too much fuss. If not, just do a search on the titles. Both titles are pretty unique search-wise. Since the books are on sale in iBooks Stores for 51 different countries, so it would be a bit unwieldy to try to list all of them for you.

You might wonder why The Three Towers of Afranor is only now showing up in the iBooks Store when it has been available on Amazon, B&N Nook, Google Play and Kobo for well over three months. Well, that is quite a story—if you want to stick around and read it.

A lot of authors use aggregators (third-party businesses) to get their digital books to the various online sellers. I don’t. I prefer to upload them myself. On the whole, this is surprisingly easy—at least compared to the writing, editing, formatting and press prep that has to be done before you get to that point. Once you have all your work done, you just go to a web site and click a few buttons and fill in a bit of information and—presto—your e-book is magically published. The exception is the iBooks Store. You cannot upload your book to Apple via your browser. You have to use an app called iTunes Producer, which is available only for Mac computers. I don’t happen to have a Mac, and it’s not really worth it to me to buy one just to upload a few files every year or two or whenever I have a new book. My neighbor Brendan, who does have a Mac, bailed me out with Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, which was really nice of him, but it wasn’t exactly ideal. I don’t want to have to bother him every time I need to make a correction or an update.

Then recently I discovered that there is another tool for uploading files to iBooks. It can be run on non-Apple computers but only by using a command line console. (Kids, ask your grandparents about MS-DOS.) This was good news because command line stuff is not a problem for someone like me who cut his teeth on UNIX in the 1980s. It did, however, require that I install Java, a programming language that I had banished from my computer sometime ago. Not only that, but it had to be an outdated version of Java, which meant registering as a software developer with Oracle to be able to download the old Java. Then followed a whole lot of trial and error since the available documentation was not the most user-friendly. Particularly tricky was creating an XML (Extensible Markup Language) file with all the book’s info, including some things I hadn’t heard about in decades, like checksums.

To make a long story slightly less long, I eventually figured it all out and got The Three Towers of Afranor uploaded successfully and on sale in 51 countries. And, if I need to make any changes or updates (or if I ever finish another book), I am all set up to handle them from my very own laptop. For me this is huge.

So if you have any interest in reading my humble little book on your iPhone or your iPad, I heartily encourage you to go to the iBooks Store right now and download it. And tell all your iOS-using friends to go download it too. Don’t just do it for me. Do it for Tim Cook and the gang at Apple. They need the money. As you may have heard, they have a pretty hefty back tax bill to pay to Ireland.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Roiling the Market

At a family event on Saturday, my wife’s Scottish brother-in-law cut to the chase.

“How many of those books have you actually sold?” he wanted to know.

I actually didn’t have a clue. I am not very good at keeping track of what’s happening with all the various sellers who carry my two titles. Their web pages are equipped to generate whatever reports I might like about books sales, whenever I might like them, but I always seem to have more pressing things to do. Counting up my sales always feels like time I should be spending on marketing my books. Marketing my books always feels like time I should be spending on writing the next book. It’s an endless cycle.

I wish I was as good at marketing my books as Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams is at marketing his. He has had a book out for the past twenty months or so called How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life. He also has a blog, where he posts something just about everyday. These days he usually blogs about Donald Trump. I do not blog as often as he does but, on the positive side, I put my comments about Donald Trump on my other blog because I like to think that people interested in my books already know as much (or more) as they want to about Donald Trump or, for that matter, Hillary Clinton.

The clever thing that Adams does is that, at the end of every blog post, no matter what he happens to be writing about, he always adds a random-sounding non-sequitur line pitching his book. They are usually quite humorous, like this one: “Everyone is talking about my book. I hope we don’t run out of Kindle versions before you get yours.”

That is funny because I don’t think anyone has ever ordered a Kindle book from Amazon only to get an email saying, “This title is temporarily out of stock. We will ship your Kindle book as soon as it becomes available.” Adams’s line about the Kindle book made me smile because it reminded me of one of the reasons I like e-books. If they are for sale, they are in stock—always.

Another reason I like Kindle books is that is the format apparently preferred by most of my readers. No less than 68 percent of my books’ sales revenues are through the U.S. Kindle store. (After my weekend conversation, I went home and checked.) Another 12.5 percent are from Kindle sales through Amazon’s non-U.S. sites. Four percent are from other e-book formats. The remaining 15.5 percent come from books distributed on good old-fashioned paper.

I wonder if that is typical. I have no idea and, apparently, it is difficult to count e-book sales as compared to paper book sales. Earlier this year an article in The Guardian estimated that 26 percent of e-books sold on Amazon in the UK were by self-published authors. By comparison 31 percent were sold by the UK’s five biggest publishers (Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Pan Macmillan and Simon & Schuster). So my guess is that my statistics may not be atypical for many independent authors.

Many self-published authors sell exclusively through the Kindle store and do not even bother with paper books. When I first started, I was not sure if I would release paperback versions of my books. Now I would not consider doing a book release that did not include a paperback version. People who prefer that format really do prefer it. And, if nothing else, paperback books make handy birthday and Christmas gifts for my relatives.

Okay, now’s the time to try a clever Scott Adams-style kicker. Here goes. If you like eating sushi in September, then you might like my book. It has no Japanese words.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

La Profecía

Escuche esta profecía
Para salavarse algún día.
Un hombre moreno traerá
Ruina a la casa regia
Durante la noche.

Cuando hace mal tiempo,
El mundo está en mucho peligro
Durante la noche.

Use la maza y espere
Al héroe de una tierra
Que está lejos y hace frío.
Tendrá el pelo amarillo.
Sueños traerán peligro,
Y tristeza vendrá con matrimonio
Durante la noche.


Yes, this is a poem in Spanish. At least it is an attempt at one.

I was going through my oldest surviving draft of the story that eventually became The Three Towers of Afranor and, as I have previously explained, it was in Spanish. Specifically, it was in the Spanish that high school students learned in the California school system. Back then the story was called simply Las Tres Torres. I thought for fun I would share the poem that I wrote as a preface. It is meant to be the prophecy referred to by Lady Aigneis (originally la señora Inés) in the early chapters. Needless to say, it was a rip-off of, I mean an homage to, J.R.R. Tolkien’s famous “One Ring to rule them all” verse from The Lord of the Rings.

This poem is kind of embarrassing for me to read now. The only good thing about it is that people who have no understanding of Spanish may not realize just how lame it is.

It seemed appropriate to post this embarrassment from my teenage years since one of the main themes in The Three Towers of Afranor is courage. It took a lot of courage for me to post it. If I can get up even more courage, I might post other extracts from the old drafts.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Still the Same Old Story

Here’s something good about my second book, The Three Towers of Afranor.

After my first book Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead came out, I was surprised that people kept asking me if the book was a true story. “Did all that really happen to you?” “Is that what you were really like as a teenager?” Or worse: “I never realized you had such an interesting background!” and “Wow! I will never think of you the same way again!”

I should not have been surprised. I was well aware that readers love to look for parallels in authors’ personal lives and their stories. I do it myself—especially if the author happens to be a well known public figure. We want to make every novel a roman à clef. It probably doesn’t help that writers actually do, quite reasonably, borrow from their own experiences or those they have observed. So turnabout was fair play when the speculation came my way.

The good news is that no one, absolutely no one has asked me if The Three Towers is a true story. Well, no one who has actually begun reading it or even flipped through a few pages. The joke, of course, is on them, as every single thing in the book really did happen. (Just kidding.)

Interestingly, even though it is still early days since the book was released into its natural habitat, no one has come back to me and said, “Hey, isn’t this the same book you wrote the first time?” Because it kind of is.

A lot of The Three Towers was written to amuse myself while I was still editing and polishing and correcting Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. And it did not escape me that the long-ago-conceived tale of the cursed kingdom of Afranor and its three towers was essentially a hero-and-quest story, not unlike the story of Dallas and Lonnie and their quixotic journey in search of the long missing Tommy Dowd. Since the Afranor story in its original high school Spanish version, even after being re-written and expanded, only stretched to a mere 46 pages, it was clear that I needed to beef it up a bit if I was going to get a whole book out of it. The old characters were fleshed out, some new characters were added, and the story took some new turns not foreseen in the original. Despite the fanciful setting and situations, I did want the characters to feel as real as possible, and so the themes of being young and insecure and passionate and male and having to confront dangerous situations in a foreign country all leaked from one book into the other.

I must have done a good enough job of making it seem like a different story, though, since no one yet has called me on it. On the other hand, didn’t someone once study all the books and movies and TV show plots ever produced and come to the conclusion that there were only about three or four basic stories anyway? So when it comes down to it, isn’t writing really only about making the same old stories seem fresh and new?

There is, however, one question I did often get about Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead that I am now getting about The Three Towers of Afranor. People want to know if there will be sequel. I can answer the question about both books with a single reply. Yes, if my brain and my fingers keep working long enough, there will be sequels to both books.

And the stories in those books will be completely new with plots that no one has ever thought of before. (Wink, wink.)

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Another Interview

One more brief post to point those interested to another interview I did online. This one is on the website called, self-descriptively enough, Interviews with Authors. It is part of the BookGoodies Network, an outfit that supports independent authors and the readers who like to read them.

You can read the interview by clicking on this sentence.

You can read my books by clicking somewhere over to the right side of this page.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Awesome

Just a quick post to note that the awesome gang at the website called Awesomegang (“where awesome readers meet awesome writers”) have posted an interview with me on the occasion of the release of The Three Towers of Afranor. You can read it at this link.

Many thanks to the Awesome gang for doing their bit to support struggling novelists—as well as the non-struggling kind—and making it easier for writers and readers to find each other.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Sample

I am trying something I haven’t done before. I have posted a sample excerpt of The Three Towers of Afranor so that people who think they might be interested in the book can get a better idea of what the book is like without having to plonk down some money first.

Some of the various sites that sell the book allow you to view or even download a sample, but I thought I would make my own sample available to the readers of my various blogs. This excerpt is essentially the first five or so pages of the first chapter, so you can read the very beginning of the book and get acquainted with some of the characters. I might try putting up another excerpt at some point—if I can settle on one that does not unduly risk spoiling the story.

You can read the excerpt by clicking on this link.

Enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dedicated

Do most readers skip right past the dedications at the front of a book? Surely, some percentage read them and ponder the names mentioned. Often they come with an explanation, such as “my parents…” or “my husband…” or “my wife…” or “my children…"—or at least an implied explanation.

Despite having read countless dedications in books over the years, when it comes to my own books I find it somewhat tricky to settle on exactly whom to so honor and how to word it. The easy way out is simply to dedicate all of one’s books to one’s significant other—and perhaps also to one’s offspring. I have observed that many authors consistently do just that. There is something satisfying, however, about acknowledging people who directly or indirectly influenced the particular book in question.

For my first book, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, the content of the dedication was never in much doubt. In addition to my wife and daughter, I had to acknowledge two of my closest friends. One was a major (albeit partial) inspiration for the character of Lonnie McKay. The other was a significant (but again partial) basis for the Mexican street kid Antonio. The latter friend has lived in France for years and was delighted to find his name in the front of the book. “I was moved to tears,” he wrote me in Spanish. Sadly, my other friend did not live to read the book—which I know would have amused him no end—let alone to see his name in the dedication. He passed away after a interesting and challenging and all-too-short life, nine months before the first (Kindle) version of the book appeared. It has fallen to people who knew him during his teenage years to read the book and be amused in his stead.

When it came to The Three Towers of Afranor, since it was a product of purely fanciful imagination, it seemed appropriate to honor the influences that had caused my creative juices to flow at the time I came up with the original story. There were many, but I settled on three. J.R.R. Tolkien is obvious. What reader with any interest at all in fantasy has not been influenced or inspired by that titan of the genre? The day I discovered The Fellowship of the Ring in my school library was a major turning point. I recall greedily holding on to each volume of The Lord of the Rings until the last possible day before penalties were incurred.

Stan Lee is another well-known name—much better known now than it was when I was reading Marvel comic books back in the 1960s. I identified with him because he was the writer of the comic books. For a long time he was seemingly the only writer Marvel had. In fact much of the creative work in The Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Mighty Thor (the comic that most influenced my tale of Afranor) and all the other titles was done by the illustrators. By rights I should have included Jack Kirby’s name along with Lee’s. For simplicity’s sake, though, I let Lee’s name stand in for Kirby and all the other talent at Marvel that turned out such an amazing and consistent torrent of adventures.

The name that may not be familiar to you is that of Dan Curtis. Like Stan Lee, he is a stand-in for many talented, imaginative people. He was the impressario who created and produced the 1966-71 daytime serial Dark Shadows. But he did not write any of the screenplays and directed only a handful of its 1,225 episodes. Helming chores were led by television pioneer Lela Swift along with contributions from directors like Henry Kaplan and John Sedwick. The cumulatively massive job of day-to-day writing of the saga fell to scribes like Art Wallace in the early days and later Gordon Russell and Sam Hall. You can credit my years of watching Dark Shadows for any of the gothic touches you find in The Three Towers of Afranor.

I also included my high school Spanish teacher in the dedication. She gave the assignment that provided me a pretext for dreaming up the original story and writing it down—in Spanish. I have not been in contact with her for decades, and I am sure she would be very amused to find her name in the book. Like the other dedicatees she is really a placeholder for all of the great teachers I have had in the language arts.

And once again I had to include my kid in the dedication. She not only provided the pretext for keeping the old tale alive as a bedtime story but she is the one who firmly encouraged me to finally put it down on paper—in English.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Shout Out for B&N

I see that the Barnes & Noble website now has both the paperback and Nook versions of The Three Towers of Afranor live on their pages.

Click on this link for the paperback.

Click on this link for a digital copy for your Nook device or app.

The Printed Page

Well, the paperback version of The Three Towers of Afranor is definitely out there now. All you paper-clingers, go knock yourself out.

It is readily available from Amazon’s US site. At the moment Amazon’s Canadian site, however, directs you to some of Amazon’s third-party sellers for purchase. And Amazon’s UK site lists it as “temporarily out of stock” but will allow you to order it. Based on experience, I expect all these sites will before too long show the book in stock and available for ordering.

Barnes & Noble’s site is now listing the book but has it “out of stock” and not available for ordering. When I find that it can be ordered there, I will add a link to this book blog page.

As with Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, I have learned a lot in the process of getting the various versions of the new book released. And I have accumulated a ton of notes to myself (again) about what to do differently next time. I guess I just have to keep writing books until I finally get the release process exactly right.

This is probably a good time to acknowledge here (as I do in the introductory pages of the book) my great friends Dayle and Michael, who were extremely generous with their moral and practical support as I finished up the writing and editing. Many heartfelt thanks to both.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Worldly Wise

Don’t you just hate it when you live outside the United States and every web site you go to seems to assume that you do live in the United States? I know I do.

So that makes it kind of odd that, in my excitement in posting links to places where you can buy The Three Towers of Afranor, I neglected to include links for people who don’t happen to live in the Land of the Free and the Brave. That’s a bit of a slight to literally billions of people, not least of all my very own neighbors. Oh well, they are probably used to it—as I am—and know how to find their local sellers.

Anyway, I have updated the links on this book blog to include Amazon’s sites for Canada, the UK and Australia. Getting to the right geographical site does not seem to be so much of a problem with Google Play and Kobo Books customer since they do a pretty good job of detecting where you are and dealing with you accordingly.

If none of the above links get you to where you need for finding a digital version of The Three Towers of Afranor in your market, your best bet would be to go to your usual book-selling website and do a search for the book’s title or International Standard Book Number (ISBN), which is 978-0-9904865-5-8. If you are trying to find the Kindle version on an Amazon site, you can search for its Amazon Standard Identification Number (ASIN), which is B01GVT149E.

I am still waiting for the Nook version to show up as well as for the paperback to get to sellers. As they say, watch this space.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Birthing the Book

Just a quick update to note the official release date of The Three Towers of Afranor. It is also my daughter’s birthday. Coincidence or design? You decide.

As I mentioned, my aim was to have all versions of the book come out more or less simultaneously. On that score, I haven’t done too badly—in spite of birthday celebrations and, more problematically, serious interruptions of internet service.

As I write this, digital editions are available online. This includes Amazon’s Kindle Store, Kobo Books and the Google Play site. Barnes & Noble’s Nook Store should have it for sale very, very soon—if not already. As for Apple’s iBooks, it’s more of a case of, yeah, whenever.

The print version is taking longer than I had hoped to make its way into distribution channels, but hopefully it will start showing up among online sellers this coming week. You can check back to this page to see if the links have appeared.

Obviously, you will choose your own preferred seller based on how you like to read your books and where you like to buy them. I can, however, offer the following tip for those readers who like to have both the print version and a digital version. The cheapest way to do that is to wait for the paperback to be available from Amazon and buy it on that site. Once you have done that, you can purchase the Kindle version for next to nothing.

Enough huckstering for now. Where’s that birthday cake?

Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Tale of Two Quests

Before he was able to say or do anything, he was thrown to the ground by a terrible shaking of the earth beneath his feet. It was the most powerful jolt he had ever felt. A rumbling roar rose up from the sea below. A blast of fire shot up from beneath the cliff’s edge and far into the inky sky. The heat from it was hot enough to inflict on his face a painful sensation of being singed. He shut his eyes to protect them. When he opened them again, he saw billows of smoke rising, obscuring the remaining light from the terrible flame.

So what is my new book about?

The book’s name, by the way, is The Three Towers of Afranor. I keep finding that I am very bad at mentioning the title when communicating about it online. I suppose it’s not so important on this page since there is a nice image of the cover (which includes the title) prominently displayed off to the right. On the other hand, these blog posts get replicated in other places where readers do not have the benefit of the various images and links on my book blog, so I should do a better job of keeping that in mind.

So what is The Three Towers of Afranor about?

When talking about it, I have been joking that it’s basically the same story as my first book, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. What is supposed to make that humorous is that the first book takes place in a very real time and place and is meant to have a certain degree of realism, while the second book is a sword-and-sorcery tale set in a totally-made-up world that has monsters and a sorcerer. On the other hand, my “joke” is not completely off the mark. You see, I did most of the plotting and a fair amount of the writing of The Three Towers of Afranor while finishing up Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, and the two stories definitely had an impact on each other. For example, they both have young male protagonists and involve seemingly hopeless quests in foreign countries. Astute and interested readers are free to identify additional parallels.

When it comes down to it, I find I am hesitant to go into too much detail about the new book’s story. I am not trying to be overly cute. It is just that I put in a few twists—or at least I attempted to—early in the book and it is probably more enjoyable to discover them in the reading. Yes, I am trying to avoid spoilers. So probably the best summary (and an admittedly vague one) is the one I wrote in this space a couple of days ago: It has action, adventure, swashbuckling heroes, a warrior princess, an evil sorcerer, monsters—and even a bit of romance. The book is mainly meant to be fun and entertaining, which is not to say that I didn’t try to slip a few serious themes into the story. As with Max and Carly, there are some obversations on what it is like and what it means to be young and male. At the same time, because this story is more epic in scale, there is a bit more variety in the characters, including some female ones, a demographic all too under-represented in Max and Carly.

Indeed, the story of the three towers is one that has been with me for an awfully long time. Remind me to tell you how it was born and how it has evolved over many years.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Towers Looming

That just left the black-haired man. He raised his sword as he saw Chrysteffor running toward him. The prince hoped he would be as lucky wounding him as he was with the other two, but this man seemed faster than the others and much more skilled at fighting. With one quick motion of his sword, he knocked Chrysteffor’s weapon from his hand. Chrysteffor was so determined that he did not stop running and, before his adversary could do anything else, the prince had tackled him to the ground.

I have a chance, thought Chrysteffor, as he saw the other man’s sword fall from his hand. It is just the two of us now, with no weapons.

Boy, time sure does fly when you’re having fun.

It was just a mere two years ago that my first and (until now) only novel, Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, was released. For the first several weeks it was available only as a Kindle book. At that point I didn’t even know if there would be a paperback edition. I had been convinced that people didn’t read on paper anymore. But, like Humphrey Bogart looking for the waters in Casablanca, I was misinformed. People did want a paperback. Not everyone, but quite a few. To be sure, the vast majority of copies sold were and continue to be for the Kindle platform. But people who wanted a paper book really wanted a paper book.

So this time I am approaching things differently. I am doing my best to make all or most versions of the book available simultaneously. I get to say when the official release date is, and it is this Saturday (June 11). What I have no control over is how soon physical copies make their way into the distribution channels and start showing up on the pages of the various booksellers’ websites. Ditto the various digital versions, although my experience is that they show up on the online sellers’ sites pretty darn quickly after I click the right buttons. So I am fairly confident that, if you are determined to do so, you will be able to start reading The Three Towers of Afranor on your e-reader device by the end of the weekend. As I said before, I will add links on this page to each of the major sellers once I see the book is available there.

The one laggard, as before, will be iBooks. Apple’s ebook platform is problematic for those of us who don’t happen to have a late model Apple computer to hand, and it’s hard to justify making that seller a priority anyway since, at least as far as I know, I have yet to sell a single copy of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead through iBooks.

For those who read their books on paper, I would love nothing more than to recommend you to your favorite local independent bookshop. Sadly, the economics of book selling make that scenario pretty impossible. Instead, if you want a paperback you will have to order it from an online seller who delivers to your location. The obvious place to go, from a worldwide perspective, is Amazon, but other sellers are available, notably Barnes & Noble in the U.S. What if you absolutely prefer to get your copy from Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle or Powell’s Books in Portland or some smaller shop? Can you have them order it for you? I don’t know. Try it and see. (The book’s ISBN, which will simplify ordering, is 978-0-9904865-3-4.) If they do, I would be interested in hearing about it. My guess is that, if they have a website, they will just tell you to order it on your computer or phone instead, as someone at Barnes & Noble told a friend of mine.

This time around I am also trying to up my social media game. You can see those links off to the right as well. In addition to my Goodreads page and my Twitter feed, I now have an author’s Facebook page and even a Tumblr(!) blog—for those who prefer to visit those places. I will do my best to keep them all up-to-date, but the best and most current place for info will undoubtedly continue to be this blog.

Maybe, before shelling out your hard earned shekels, you would like to know a bit more about the book? That seems reasonable. Give me time to come up with another post.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Swords, Sorcery, Adventure!

What mainly drew the three men’s attention—and struck fear in their hearts—were the faces. The creatures’ skin barely clung to their skulls, and there were black holes where their eyes should have been. Were there truly no eyes in their sockets or was it an illusion conjured by the darkness? The princes had little time to wonder. The creatures were making straight for them with wooden clubs raised. There was no question but that this was an attack.

Adryan raised his sword and shouted, “Defend yourselves, princes of Alinvayl!”

And so it begins.

The fighting princes have ventured into the dreaded land of Afranor. And there they immediately find themselves beset by dangers and challenges. Who or what is responsible for the terrors that plague this land, and what do the kingdom’s mysterious three towers have to do with it all?

Yes, the moment is nearly upon us. My new book is a reality. It has a cover. (Look over to the right.) And it has a title. It is called The Three Towers of Afranor. How can you not want to read a book wiwth a title like that? Right?

While there are admittedly some thematic similarities with my first book, this one is a whole different beast that is aimed at a much different audience. It has action, adventure, swashbuckling heroes, a warrior princess, an evil sorcerer, monsters—and even a bit of romance. Who is it aimed at? Anyone who enjoys fantasy and wants to have a bit of fun. And, unlike the first book, I will feel safe in recommending it to my friends’ children. While there is a certain level of fantasy violence, there is none of the bad language with which Maximilian and Carlotta was laced.

When and how can you get a hold of this new opus? I’ll go into my customary obsessive nitty-gritty details about all of that in my next post, but the short version is that the official release date is June 11. All going well, on or soon after that date you should be able to order the paperback and/or download the ebook from the usual places. As I find the book’s pages going live on the various online sellers’ sites, I will add links to them in the usual place over on the right-hand side of this page. And don’t worry. Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead will still be available as well.

Expect a torrent of additional information—or at least words—in the coming days. Because the only thing I enjoy more than writing a book is writing about a book I wrote.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

¡Feliz Cinco de Mayo!

Today is the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Puebla in which 4,000 Mexican soldiers scored a major victory over the 8,000-strong occupying French army. Cinco de Mayo is an annual regional celebration in the state of Puebla and has become widely celebrated in the United States, even though it is not really Mexico’s independence day. That date would be September 16, which is the anniversary of the Grito de Dolores (Cry of Dolores) in 1810, which kicked off the war of independence against Spain. Dolores (full name: Dolores Hidalgo Cuna de la Independencia Nacional, or Dolores Hidalgo Cradle of National Independence) is a small town in the state of Guanajuato. September 16 is the major annual celebration within Mexico.

The original Cinco de Mayo, i.e. May 5, 1862, was followed by more battles and eventual French victory. A little over a year later there was a Second Battle of Puebla, which the invaders won and which was quickly followed by the fall of Mexico City. France then installed the Habsburg archduke Ferdinand Maximilian Joseph as emperor of Mexico. His wife was Charlotte of Belgium, whose name in Spanish would be Carlota, or Carlotta as I learned it in high school. Hmmm. Maximilian and Carlotta. Wouldn’t those names fit nicely in the title of a novel…

Yes, I’m exploiting another country’s holiday to make yet one more pitch for my book.

If you don’t think you have enough—or, for that matter, any—copies yet, time is running out for buying them while Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead is still my most recent novel. With any luck, before long, it will merely be my second most recent novel. So hurry and act before that psychologically significant deadline gets any nearer.

In case you are a Scott Adams fan and are wondering, yes, I am trying out the persuasion techniques that the brilliant Dilbert cartoonist keeps using on his blog to motivate people to buy his book but, unfortunately, I think I am doing it wrong.

Have a happy Cinco de Mayo anyway.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Climbing the Wall

Reading Clae Johansen’s book turned out to be a good start for immersing myself in World War II and, by extension, the Cold War. During the extended combined St. Patrick’s Day and Easter school break, we took a few days to visit Berlin.

There were a number of reasons we settled on that particular city. It is a relatively short and easy journey from Ireland. We had heard great things about the place from our neighbors. It gave my kid a chance to practice the German language, which she is studing in school. And, for me personally, it was an opportunity to do a bit of research. You see, I can divulge that in my third book, which will be a sequel to Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead, my protagonist Dallas Green will venture off on another daft quest in a foreign country. Among the places he will wind up will be Berlin in the year 1980.

While the Berlin of today is a very different place from the divided city of the Cold War era, the place is brimming with museums, memorials and reminders of what that time was like. In fact, Berlin has done an excellent job of preserving and educating about its often difficult history. The German Historical Museum, in particular, does a great job of teaching the entire breadth of German history via art and artifacts. The Topography of Terror museum provides an exhaustive and stunning chronicle of the Nazi era. And, of most literary use to me, the Checkpoint Charlie Museum shows and teaches one anything one might want to know about Berlin during its divided period.

Berlin Wall
My kid and me behind a remnant of the Berlin Wall

Strangely, this was the first visit to Germany for any of us. I say strangely because I grew up thinking of myself as “German,” in the way Americans often tend to embrace a second or previous nationality. This was because my mother’s parents’ first language was German, but I eventually learned that my mother’s people were more accurately described as German-speaking Dutch nomads with little actual connection to Germany itself. There were never any ancestral places for us to go visit in Germany as there were in Sweden for my father’s family.

By a happy accident, while in the German capital we made two new friends—Berlin-dwelling friends of Irish friends—and, before bringing us to a concert at the Komische Oper Berlin, they brought us to a fun and bustling Bavarian-themed restaurant (complete with lederhosen-wearing waiters) for dinner. I had to laugh when I saw the name of the place. It was Maximilian’s! So, of course, I had to explain to our new friends that I had wanted to come to Berlin for inspiration for a follow-up to a book which featured the name Maximilian prominently in the title.

Talking about that book then and there was very strange because one of the people to whom I was describing it was a woman who—at an age only slightly younger than my own daughter is now—had to abandon her native Vietnam in the wake of the American withdrawal and fall of Saigon. She now has—or will soon have—a copy of the book, and I wonder what she will make of how that painful period is portrayed from the point of view of young men facing the prospect of fighting in that war.

Now that the school break is nearly over, I am more than ready to make use of my Berlin experiences as I continue writing book number three. But first there is the not-so-small matter of book number two. I have been getting useful feedback on the draft I sent out and, with hopefully not too much more delay, I will be getting that book finished and into the hands of readers.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

A Nation Surviving Between Two Devils

As promised in my previous post I have gotten the chance to read and review Claes Johansen’s new book on Finland’s experiences during World War II. It is currently available for ordering on Amazon.co.uk and for pre-ordering on Amazon.com.

Claes Johansen has given us as thorough and as considered an overview of Finland’s experience in World War II as any student of the subject could want. Johansen is an author who has written many books, both fiction and non-fiction and in both Danish and English. Until now I have mainly known him for his books on the seminal English musical groups of the 1960s, Procol Harum and the Zombies. Clearly, they were merely the tip of the literary iceberg. War has been a particular focus of his writing, and Hitler’s Nordic Ally?: Finland and the Total War 1939-45 is an English language account that follows Johansen’s Finland og den totale krig published in Danish in 2013.

While I have no doubt that serious scholars will find this 310-page tome (plus appendices and index) quite useful, it is entirely accessible and readable for those of us who are mere history buffs or who simply want to know more about an extremely interesting time and place in recent history. Many of us—especially Americans, such as myself, born after the war—have always tended to see the Second World War as a single continuous conflict between two sides—with numerous participating countries arrayed on either one side or the other. By chronicling Finland’s experience during this period, Johansen brings home the fact that the experience of each individual country was not only particular to that country but that not every nation self-identified as either a member of the Axis or as a teammate of the Allies. Smaller countries like Finland were mainly striving to survive with their independent nationhood intact. Finland, we learn, did not so much participate in what we think of as World War II as fight three separate and successive wars while other wars were raging simultaneously in Europe and in the Pacific.

Johansen lays out Finland’s complicated story by dividing it clearly into four distinct sections, corresponding to each of the three different Finnish wars and to the 15-month Interim Peace between the first two wars. The narrative alternates between detailed descriptions of the political debates and maneuverings that preceded and followed each of the wars and blow-by-blow accounts of the military actions that shifted the Finnish-Soviet border westward and then eastward and then westward again. The battle narratives are brought to life by generous excerpts from journals and first-hand accounts by participants on the ground and by many photographs of stunning quality from the war zones. The author highlights in particular the participation and accounts of his Danish countrymen—as well as other international volunteers from Norway, Sweden and the Baltic countries. Some photos—like that of a dead child being carried by a soldier or of the skeletal cadaver of a Russian prisoner of war—are terrible to see and serve to remind us how horrific things were for so many people in Europe—and during a period that was not that many years ago.

A preface helpfully sets the stage by setting out the intertwined history of Finland and the Soviet Union leading up to the Winter War. We learn that from 1809 to 1917 Finland was a grand duchy of Russia and that it gained its independence after a civil war that paralleled the one in Russia but which had a very different result. That set the stage for two decades of tensions as the Soviets worried about the security of their second largest city, Leningrad (the once and future Saint Petersburg), whose suburbs lay only 30 kilometers from the Finnish border. By the end of the book, we are appreciative of the near-miraculous fact that Finland avoided being absorbed into the Soviet Union like nearby Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. At the back of the book are six pages of maps to help the reader situate the various battle zones and the shifting border, but avid perusers not familiar with the geography may want their own detailed map at hand to glance at frequently during their reading.

What comes through clearly in Johansen’s telling is his deep admiration for the Finnish people (if not always for each and every one of their political and military leaders) and their determination to survive as an independent people. (The author clarifies at the outset that, while Finland is not a Scandinavian country, it is a Nordic one.) In an introduction he asserts that the “Finnish Army was probably the most effective fighting force in all of the Second World War. Despite being made up of conscripts, small and poorly armed, it managed with practically no outside help to keep the mighty Red Army at bay for more than three months during the Winter War of 1939-40.” For all that, his tone is generally detached and non-judgmental and he leaves no stone unturned in examining every angle of the choices made by Finnish leaders when it came to cooperating with Nazi Germany in its war against the Soviets.

His ambivalence about judging probably explains why the title ends with a question mark. It would be fair for readers to wonder why the question mark is actually there. After all, as an unoccupied country that coordinated with Berlin in advance of Operation Barbarossa (the Axis invasion the Soviet Union), Finland surely qualified as a German ally—even if Finland was never a formal member of the Axis. Yet, as Johansen is at pains to demonstrate, as non-Aryans (in the Nazi world view) the Finns were operating out of practicality and were not invested in Hitler’s ideology. Finland during this period just may be one of the best examples we have of the old expression: the enemy of my enemy is my friend. And while the Winter War and the Continuation War were both fought against the Soviets, the seven-month Lapland War of 1944-45, which followed an armistice with the Soviets, was fought against the Germans. Having said that, however, we do learn that there was a current in Finnish society that aspired to a Greater Finland which would encompass the adjacent Soviet territory of East Karelia and possibly even parts of the Baltic countries, so things are never completely black and white. In the end, the Finns’ motivations and actions were complex and not always morally comfortable and, in fact, War-Responsibility Trials were held in the post-war period in an attempt to sort out some measure of accountability.

Of all the complexities and seeming paradoxes that come to light in exploring Finland’s history, probably the biggest conundrum is the one highlighted by Johansen at the very outset in his introduction: “Finland was the only nation with an elected and democratic government to fight on the German side in the Second World War.” As the author makes clear, this was largely out of necessity. The Finns would have gladly accepted support and aid from the Allies, but it was never going to be forthcoming. At every turn the Finns were thwarted by other countries caught up in their own uncomfortable necessities and their own shifting allegiances.

As is no doubt amply clear by this point, I can highly recommend the book to anyone with even the slightest interest in the topic.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Full Finnish Circle

A quick update on my writing progress. With the holidays over (Christmas in Ireland pretty much runs for 30 days and requires another fortnight for me to recover and catch up), I am happily back at it. To my surprise, I have found myself suddenly making a pretty good start on a first draft of a sequel to Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead. After much idea-chewing over a long period of time, the story and the characters have at last settled into something I can get really interested in, and I’m now pretty movitated to put it all down on virtual paper. So, in answer to the question that I get most often about Max & Carly, yes, the next (actually third) book will be a sequel to the youthful exploits of Dallas Green. Of course, before I get too caught up in that writing project, I really need to go back to editing and polishing the second book (the sword and sorcery one). Anyway, this is definitely the time of year to try to get these things done.

During this seemingly interminable period between the actual publishing of books, I take vicarious satisfaction in the publishing being done by other people—like my friend Claes.

My acquaintance with Claes was born out of the moment I entered the Egyptian Theatre in Seattle in 1987 for one of 68 screenings I attended during the twelth Seattle International Film Festival. I didn’t actually meet Claes way back then. But I wrote something that would eventually find its way onto the world wide web (once the world wide web had finally been invented) and would consequently draw him to me. It was a three-hour Finnish war movie called Tuntematon Sotilas (The Unknown Soldier, in English), and I took on a typical (for me) tongue-in-cheek tone in reviewing it. Thirteen years after I had written that review, Claes emailed me to take me to task. And he was in a good position to do so because he wrote the book on Finland during World War II. And I mean that literally.

His 272-page hardcover book Hitler’s Nordic Ally?: Finland and the Total War 1939-1945 will be released on February 28 and is available for pre-order on Amazon. The book is in English, which is worth mentioning because Claes has written quite a few books (both fiction and non-fiction), and not all of them are in English. Some of them are in Danish. Two of his English-language books, which I have read and enjoyed, were fairly definitive biographies of two seminal 1960s English rock bands: The Zombies: Hung Up on a Dream and Procol Harum: Beyond The Pale. Something else he wrote in English was a very good radio drama called Sam and the Animal Man, which was aired two years ago on RTÉ, Ireland’s national broadcaster, and which can be streamed from RTÉ’s web site.

When Claes and I first began corresponding, he thought (logically enough) that I was in the U.S. and I assumed that he was in Denmark. Imagine our mutual surprise when we finally realized that we were both in Ireland and that fewer than 300 kilometers separated us.

It sounds as though I might get the chance to read and write about his book in advance of its release. (Stay tuned.) Already being familiar with Claes’s writing, I am sure it will be a good read. Moreover, it will bring my very glancing acquaintance with Finland’s World War II experience full circle—more 28 years after I wandered into a Seattle cinema to see a three-hour Finnish war movie.