My Books

“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 
Afranor Books
All books available in paperback from Afranor Books on Bookshop.org.
See below on the right-hand side of this page for links to other sellers.

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 you 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.