Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Jenny's Revenge, A Steve Dancy Tale

western historical fiction
Honest Westerns ... filled with dishonest characters.

At long last, Jenny's Revenge is available ... at least in e-book formats. The fifth in the Steve Dancy series is available on Kindle and Nook and soon in the iBook store for Apple. Unfortunately, the print version is still about six weeks away. This is my first publication where the e-book and print version weren't published simultaneous, but in case you haven't heard, computers move faster than printing presses.

Here's a synopsis:
Jenny Bolton has plans, and they don’t bode well for Steve Dancy. 
Married at fifteen to a Nevada politician, Jenny suffered repeated assaults, witnessed her husband's ghastly murder, buried her vile mother-in-law, and killed a man. Dancy, who had once served as her paladin, rejected her without as much as a goodbye. Abandoned on a raw frontier, she's single-handedly building an empire that spans the state. Despite her triumphs, she feels she never should have been left alone. 
Soon to marry, Steve is eager to begin a new life unaware that Jenny is mad for revenge.
I hope you enjoy the book, and thank you for reading the Steve Dancy Tales.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Actor James Best Died Yesterday

James Best (1926-2015)
This makes me sad. Although I never met the man, I always felt connected with him, especially during the time I lived in Los Angeles. When I called for a reservation at a good restaurant, they often asked if I was the actor. Although tempted to borrow his fame, I always answered no. Fans have written assuming I was the actor, and my books were temporarily listed under his name on IMDB. He's the reason I use my middle initial when I write.

If I'm going to be confused with someone, I'm glad it was Mr. Best. From all accounts, he was a fine human being.

Monday, March 30, 2015

How to become an overnight success!

cute cat humor
Fame is but 70,000 words away

Recently I talked with an aspiring writer who felt unsure about her first novel. She asked how I started. Specifically, she wanted to know if I tried nonfiction, short pieces, or just jumped directly into a novel. She wanted to know if I had help. Did I take classes, use a writing coach, or read books about the craft of writing. The questions came in a torrent. My response, a single syllable.


I always wanted to be a novelist. In fact, I started college as an English major. I could tell a good story, but my grammar and spelling embarrassed me so often, I switched to economics. I never again thought about writing until I had a brilliant idea for a novel. That idea started me on an extended foray into abject disillusionment and rejection. After shoe boxes full of rejections, an agent took the time to tell me that my book was crap, although he did give me credit for an intriguing storyline. The bottom of his short note read, “Writing is a profession, leave it to people who know what they’re doing.”

No more writing for years.

Then an interesting event took place. A professional journal approached me for an article about a technology success I had managed as CIO for a major corporation. That’s when I discovered editors. My piece laid out our technical project as a story about overcoming challenges, but my spelling and grammarafter all these yearsstill needed help. The editor not only fixed my flaws, but showed me every change she had made. I went through each and every one trying to learn how to do a better job next time. There were seven more “next times,” and each journal article improved until I felt I was getting the hang of writing.

Next, I started writing magazine articles. These were still nonfiction, technical pieces, but I branched away from computers to write about other subjects. But not for long. In a fit of optimism, I put together a proposal for a nonfiction book about managing computer professionals.

There’s an old saying in publishing that nonfiction depends on credentials and fiction depends on platform. Like a lot of clichés, this one has some truth to it. Because of my title as CTO of a Fortune 50 company, my book acquired an agent and publisher lickety-split. This endeavor became The Digital Organization, published by Wiley &Sons. The entire experience was a nightmare. Now, I discovered a new kind of editornot one who fixed my transgressions, but one with the power to dictate content. The process was glacial. Not a good attribute for a book about the speed-of-light computer industry. I vowed never again to invest so much time on a book with a shelf-life measured in nano-seconds.

After a few failed nonfiction proposals, I wanted to try my hand at fiction again. I started by reading books that promised to teach the craft of novel writing. Definitely a mixed bag. After I got five chapters of my novel as close to perfect as possible, I hired a writing coach from Gotham Writers' Workshop. I discovered I had underestimated perfect. Despite a manuscript spattered with red ink, the coach was highly encouraging. She believed my book had serious potential and gave me numerous tips on how to get it to a professional level. Upon finishing Tempest at Dawn, I easily acquired an agent with McIntosh & Otis. I was going to be famous.

Not so much. The agent shopped the book around and received enough positive feedback to keep the effort up for a couple of years, but in the end, everyone decided to “pass” on my novel about the Constitutional Convention. In the meantime, I wrote a western titled The Shopkeeper, and a series was born.

I have now written seven novels, two nonfiction books, and ghostwritten books for celebrities. All of them have done respectable, but it was the Steve Dancy character who caught readers’ attention. The enthusiasm for the series surprised me, especially among women readers. I thought Westerns were dead. Instead, I discovered an eager audience for traditional heroes who dispatch bad men. 

And the best part: Westerns have a looong shelf life. Just ask Louis L’Amour. 

action adventure bestselling fiction
Coming soon: Jenny's Revenge, A Steve Dancy Tale

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Idle Away!

Okay, this is what I do while waiting for other people to put the finishing touches on Jenny's Revenge. The new Steve Dancy is coming soon, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy my amateur filmmaking.

Western fiction action adventure historic novels
Honest Westerns ... filled with dishonest characters.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Surfing, editing, and sipping umbrella drinks

western fiction action adventure travel
Kailua Beach and The Mokolua Islands

The Jenny's Revenge manuscript arrived back from my editor. I happen to be in Hawaii visiting family, surfing gentle Waikiki waves, and sipping umbrella drinks. My brother and his wife have graciously hosted us in their home in Kailua. Our visit to paradise was been slightly marred by a quick trip to a discount store to buy blankets because the weather is unusually cold. I've never shivered on any of my previous trips to Hawaii.

Since we mostly laze about, I've had time to make some progress on the edits to my manuscript. This is my eighth book working with the same editor, and I always delude myself that this time the manuscript is near perfect. Nothing doing. Red scars every page. Rather than just accept all the edits, I go through them one at a time. I find that I reject only about one in twenty, but every once in a while my editor makes a mistake and I revel in it. Speaking of mistakes, my first editor is my wife. She's supposed to catch all of my mistakes, which allows me to blame her for the red ink. She claims she is no more successful correcting my writing errors than fixing my personality flaws. They're both just too numerous. Oh well, c'est le vie.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Cover Up!

We finally decided on a cover for Jenny’s Revenge, A Steve Dancy Tale. I won’t show it to you because it would dilute the book launch. (In truth, the designer has to do a few nips and tucks before we have a final product.)

During the course of our selection, I found an interesting article titled: What Makes for a Brilliant Book Cover? A Master Explains. The master is Peter Mendelsund, who designed the book cover for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo among many other titles. (You can see some of the rejected Girl covers by following the link.)

Here are quotes I like from the article:
historical fiction action adventure
“On one level, dust jackets are billboards. They’re meant to lure in potential readers.”
“A truly great jacket is one that captures the book inside it in some fundamental and perhaps unforeseen way.”
“If this author got a big advance, then you’re going to have to jump through some flaming hoops.”
The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: It had to have what designers refer to as ‘the Big Book Look.’ In other words: really, really big text … Mendelsund did what he describes as the ‘dumbass thing’ of echoing the title visually on the cover itself, putting the text on top of an image of… a dragon tattoo. It was the rare case in which a novel had so much momentum that the best thing a designer could do was stay out of the way … The design featured at least one small victory against the obvious: the bright yellow backdrop … ‘Up until that point, I would defy you to find a dark gothic thriller with a day-glow cover,’ he says.”
I’ve written a number of articles about book cover because they are important. People really do judge a book by its cover. Something to keep in mind, however, is that until an author breaks into the NYT Bestseller List, the spine is the most important because that is all that will show on the shelf of a brick and mortar bookstore.

Western historical fiction series
Honest Westerns ...
filled with dishonest characters

When we selected the cover for the first Steve Dancy Tale, we used an L. A. Huffman Montana Territory portrait from around 1880. Most genre Westerns displayed an illustrated action cover in eye-catching colors. We went with black and white photography to signal that The Shopkeeper was a different kind of Western. We've stuck with black and white period photography ever since.

The designer is my son by the way. I’m getting back his tuition from that pricey art school one book cover at a time.  When we did the cover for The Return, the fourth book in the series, I asked if my name could be larger. He informed me that when my name became bigger than the title, I’d be toast.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Birthdays Used to be Fun

Arthur: “Do you want anything?”
Hobson: “I want to be younger.”

Today is my birthday. My present is a trip to Hawaii to surf in calm waves in warm water and visit my brother and his wife. It will be fun. The trip, that is, not necessarily my birthday. When I was a kid, I wanted birthdays to come sooner because with enough of them I could become a freewheeling adult. I discovered adulthood didn't include as many privileges as I expected, but birthdays remained great fun. At least for a few decades. Now ... not so much. Instead of blowing a party horn, I catalogue my aches and pains. In truth, I’m grateful to be relatively fit, with a great family and loving wife. 

My biggest problem is remembering to get up from my writing chair to get some exercise. I become so engrossed with my characters, I sometimes have to cause a distasteful dispute so I can leave them to their own devices. When I return from a long walk or an hour of surfing, my characters’ tempers have abated enough that I can get on with the story. I know you think I’m kidding, but …

I'll leave you with my life’s goal. I want to be the first person over one hundred years old to break the four-minute mile. This may sound tough, but I intend to train for an entire decade to achieve this goal. It will be hard and consuming work. Thank goodness my ninetieth birthday is still far off in the future. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Ski Slopes and Ghosts Galore

I just returned from a week of skiing at Heavenly overlooking Lake Tahoe. Judging by the price of lift tickets, there’s gold on them thar hills. Warren Miller used to say your knees had only so many bends, so you might as well spend them skiing. I agree, but we needed a day to rest up after racing down slope after slope to get our money’s worth, so we took a day trip to the ghost town of Bodie, California.

western fiction
Bodie, California

If you really want to feel a ghost town, I suggest you visit one in the dead of winter. We had the fortune of exploring Bodie on a clear day, with no snow on the ground, and temperatures in the mid-sixties. We had the unearthly emptiness all to ourselves. Eerie.

wild west, old west, mining history
Bodie General Store
Western ghost town
Bodie General Store

Waterman S. Body discovered gold at this remote location in 1859, but the real heyday for the  Bodie mining camp occurred in the late 1870s and early 1880s. According to the guidebook, “By 1879 Bodie boasted a population of about 10,000 and was second to none for wickedness, badmen, and ‘the worst climate out of doors.’ One little girl, whose family was taking her to the remote and infamous town, wrote in her diary: ‘Goodbye God, I’m going to Bodie.’”

Restrooms closed for the winter,
so we had to go native

I like ghost towns, especially when allowed to explore on my own. You can learn a lot about how people lived in bygone days. Bodie has fairly intact homes, churches, a general store, school, barber’s shop, fire house, a hotel with restaurant, and saloons aplenty. The gymnasium equipment includes a punching bag, pull-up bar, weights, and other paraphernalia. One of the biggest and most impressive buildings is a miner’s union hall. All this with nary a ranger in sight ... at least not one away from the comfort of his vehicle in the parking lot.

The next day we returned to Heavenly. Unfortunately, we didn’t have this particular mountain to ourselves. Lots of people, loads of people, all zipping around unaware of the poor ghosts eager for callers just a couple of hours down the road.

My favorite ghost town is Candelaria, Nevada, the opening location for The Shopkeeper. In the book, I called the town Pickhandle Gulch, which was actually a suburb of Caldelaria.

Western fiction, action, adventure
Candelaria, Nevada
(aka Pickhandle Gulch)
bestselling western fiction
Author photo of Candelaria

Monday, February 16, 2015

To Each His Own

Some author’s dread poor reviews from readers. I like to hear what readers think and find I learn more from critical reviews. Besides, what some readers find objectionable, other readers enjoy. I never had a better example than today when I received two Amazon reviews that had exactly opposite takes on a major plot element of The Return.

Click to enlarge

Marilyn says, "Not as good the previous books in the series. Get Steve Dancy back to the West where he seems at home."

While another Amazon Customer wrote, "Enjoyed the Western theme, along with the Edison involvement. New York gangs added flavor that made this a great read."

No author can please every reader and it's career suicide to try. Don't ignore poor reviews because they can help  you become  a better writer, but keep your focus on the total weight of  all of  your reviews.  Every writer will get a few bad reviews, so take them with a grain of salt. 

BTW, Jenny’s Revenge went to editor last Friday. Yea! Now I have time to play, so … I’m off for a week ski vacation at Lake Tahoe. How’s that for timing: I finished Jenny’s Revenge at the same time California finally gets a decent dump of snow. Heavenly, here I come.

western fiction action adventure suspense
Honest Westerns ... filled with dishonest characters.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Too much information

western fiction action adventure suspense

Speed bumps take readers out of the story.

The final throes of revising Jenny’s Revenge reminded me that too much information doesn't help a story. Nothing bores a reader more than needless explanations about trivial matters the reader can fill in for themselves. Pointless factoids, excessive description, and extraneous words make an otherwise good novel clunky and laborious. 

This old lesson has special application to my writing because I have a need to neatly tie up every little thing. My brain somehow requires an explanation for every action by every character. This is important for the main plot, but can be distracting when it comes to tributaries. In fact, some tributaries can turn the plotline into a muddy mess. I also have a habit of siring orphans. In an initial draft, I'll launch a subplot, never to return to it. Most readers may not remember the distraction, but the dead end will irritate those that do. More often than not, I find a simple solution: send the orphan to the bit bucket. 

My goal during revision is to cut everything that doesn’t move the story forward. Goals aren’t always achieved, so it helps to have trusted critics that will give you honest feedback. Revision is not an event, but a process that encompasses several iterations.

This is why I believe good novels are not written, they’re rewritten. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Wells Fargo Rules for Stage Travelers—Updated

In the Old West, stage travel took patience and stamina. Wells Fargo published a set of rules for passengers meant to make an unpleasant experience at least tolerable. Deadwood Magazine suggests these same rules might make modern travel more civil. We'd have to throw out Wells Fargo's Rule #6, but the other 8 rules would make air travel more agreeable.

So, in the interest of travelers everywhere, here are a few rules of my own:
  • Play nice with the flight attendantsthe rest of us want them in a good mood
  • Use drugs and liquor lightly … or so heavily you pass out and leave others alone
  • Turn off game sounds
  • If you’re going to hog overhead storage, at least don’t wear a put-upon expression
  • Armrests are community propertyremember what you learned in kindergarten
  • If you can’t remember the last time you bathed, it was too long ago
  • Drop the F-word and add please and thank you to your vocabulary
  • Air travel is not a nesting opportunityresist the urge to haul along heaps of stuff
  • Forget Mr. Rogersyou really aren’t special

Now that I’m on the subject, I’ll tell you about my most memorable airplane incident. I was stuck in a middle seat, which always makes me cranky. The man in the aisle seat came aboard and stowed his briefcase in the overhead. Suddenly, the woman in the window seat shoved me and ordered me to let her out. Before I could move, the woman yelled at the man that he had laid his briefcase on top of her fur coat. He appeared startled at her assault but politely said she couldn’t take up the whole bin by laying her coat length ways.  She immediately shoved me again and demanded to get out. I struggled to get into the aisle, but now the man blocked my exit. Yelling went back and forth and all I could think about was that I had to spend five hours crushed between two warring parties.

Just before the flight attendant worked her way to our row, the man yelled, “Lady, I can tell you what you can do with that fur. You can

“Don’t you say it,” she yelled back.

It looked like nothing could defuse the situation, and then a passenger about three rows back yelled, “Hey lady, the last time that fur was on an animal, it was laying in the dirt.”

The whole plane burst out in laughter. The chagrined woman retook her seat and never uttered another peep for the entire flight. I read in blissful silence.