Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Return—Now Available in Audio!

The Return, A Steve Dancy Tale is now available in audio. Jim Tedder has done an exceptional job in narrating this fourth book in the Steve Dancy series.
It's the summer of 1880, and Thomas Edison's incandescent bulb is poised to put the gaslight industry out of business. Knowing a good business opportunity, former New York shopkeeper Steve Dancy sets out to obtain a license for Edison's electric lamp. Edison agrees, under one condition: Dancy and his friends must stop the saboteurs who are disrupting his electrification of Wall Street.
After two years of misadventures out West, the assignment appears to be right up his alley. But new troubles await him in New York City. Dancy has brought a woman with him, and his high-society family disapproves. More worrisome, he has also unknowingly dragged along a feud that began out West. The feud could cost him Edison's backing ... and possibly his life.

In the near future, I will receive some promotional codes for free copies of The Return. If you would like a free audio copy of The Return, send me a note at jimbest@jamesdbest.com.

Audio: A whole new way to enjoy the Steve Dancy Tales

Monday, February 1, 2016

Wells Fargo 1880 Rules for Stagecoach Passengers ... And a Few of My Own

Still From John Ford's Stagecoach

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.
  1. Abstinence from liquor is requested, but if you must drink, share the bottle. To do otherwise makes you appear selfish and unneighborly.
  2. If ladies are present, gentlemen are urged to forego smoking cigars and pipes as the odor of same is repugnant to the Gentle Sex. Chewing tobacco is permitted but spit WITH the wind, not against it.
  3. Gentlemen must refrain from the use of rough language in the presence of ladies and children.
  4. Buffalo robes are provided for your comfort during cold weather. Hogging robes will not be tolerated and the offender will be made to ride with the driver.
  5. Don’t snore loudly while sleeping or use your fellow passenger’s shoulder for a pillow; he or she may not understand and friction may result.
  6. Firearms may be kept on your person for use in emergencies. Do not fire them for pleasure or shoot at wild animals as the sound riles the horses.
  7. In the event of runaway horses, remain calm. Leaping from the coach in panic will leave you injured, at the mercy of the elements, hostile Indians and hungry coyotes.
  8. Forbidden topics of discussion are stagecoach robberies and Indian uprisings.
  9. Gents guilty of unchivalrous behavior toward lady passengers will be put off the stage. It’s a long walk back. A word to the wise is sufficient.

In the interest of travelers everywhere, here are a few rules of my own:
  1. Play nice with the flight attendants—the rest of us want them in a good mood
  2. Use drugs and liquor lightly … or so heavily you pass out and leave others alone
  3. Turn off game sounds
  4. If you’re going to hog overhead storage, at least don’t wear a put-upon expression
  5. Armrests are community property—remember what you learned in kindergarten
  6. If you can’t remember the last time you bathed, it was too long ago
  7. Drop the F-word and add please and thank you to your vocabulary
  8. Air travel is not a nesting opportunity—resist the urge to haul along heaps of stuff
  9. Forget Mr. Rogers—you 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.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tell me what you think ...

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. 

1,070 Shopkeeper Reviews

Monday, January 18, 2016

Steve Dancy Wants to be Pals with Jack Reacher

There have been some memorable fictional characters. Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Hercule Poirot, and Harry Potter to name a few. (I’d like Steve Dancy to climb into this group, but I need a few million more sales. A little help, please.) The above names are make-believe people, but known the world over. How does a branded character come about? They must be difficult to create because there are so few of them. Strong characters are not rare. Think of Elizabeth Bennet, Tom Sawyer, Captain Ahab, Rhett Butler, or Hannibal Lecter. But for the most part, these were one-offs, while a branded character returns time and again, frequently leaping from the printed page to screen and stage.

The inventors of Holmes, Bond, Poirot, and Potter didn’t want for material things. Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed on screen more than any other character, and that excludes the House television series. Spanning 54 years, James Bond is the longest running film series with a human protagonist. (Godzilla is the longest and most prolific film series.) Agatha Christie used Poirot to propel herself to the #1 Bestselling author of all time, while Harry Potter is the #1 bestselling book series.

These are worldwide icons. Yet they’re fictional. They sprang from the imagination of authors. How in the world do you do that? One author has told us.

I recently reread Killing Floor by Lee Child. In a new introduction, Child describes how he developed the Jack Reacher character, who was introduced in this novel back in 1997.
“I liked some things, and disliked other things. I had always been drawn to outlaws. I liked cleverness and ingenuity. I liked the promise of intriguing revelations. I disliked a hero who was generally smart but did something stupid three-quarters of the way through the book, merely to set up the last part of the action.  Detectives on the trail who walked into rooms and got hit over the head from behind didn’t do it for me. And I liked winners. I was vaguely uneasy with the normal story arc that has a guy lose, lose before he wins in the end. I liked to see something done spectacularly well. In sports, I liked crushing victories rather than ninth-inning nail-biters. 
To me, entertainment was a transaction. You do it, they watch it, then it exists … for me the audience mattered from the start.
G. K. Chesterton once said of Charles Dickens, 'Dickens didn’t write what people wanted. Dickens wanted what people wanted.'"
Child sat down and came up with three specific conclusions.
"First: Character is king. There are probably fewer than six books every century remembered specifically for their plots. People remember characters … so my main character had to carry the whole weight.
Second conclusion: If you can see a bandwagon, it’s too late to get on … it’s a crowded field. Why do what everyone else is doing? … The series that were well under way … lead characters were primus inter pares in a repertory cast, locations were fixed and significant employment was fixed and significant. I was going to have to avoid all that stuff.
But the third conclusion, and the most confounding conclusion: You can’t design a character too specifically … a laundry list of imagined qualities and virtues would result in a flat, boring, cardboard character … I decided to relax and see what would come along. Jack Reacher came along.”
Child goes on to explain that Reacher has the following characteristics:
  • Fish-out-of-water because he had previously only known military life
  • He’s huge, utterly sure of himself, with intimidating presence (opposite of flawed protagonist)
  • Old-fashioned hero: no problems, no navel-gazing
  • Owns nothing but the clothes on his backliterally
  • No ties to family, friends or location
  • Ex-military cop to give him plausibility with investigative techniques
  • Rootless and alienated in a giant country (Child is British)
  • Reacher as Medieval knight-errant
  • First name is simple, ordinary, blunt, and straightforward
  • Certain nobility based on rank of major in military

Child wrote: “I wanted the kind of vicarious satisfaction that comes from seeing bad guys getting their heads handed to them by a wrong-righter even bigger and harder than them … so Reacher always wins.”

I started by asking, “How does a branded character come about?” It appears by creating a character unlike all the other series protagonists. Not a unique trait, but opposite in every detail. At least it worked for Reacher. A Forbes study discovered that Jack Reacher is the strongest branded character in fiction, and Lee Child has the strongest reader loyalty of any bestselling author.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Fastest Growing Book Format?

Audio is now the fastest growing format for books. Most people walk around with a smart phone, tablet, or e-book reader, all of which can present audio. Amazon now offers Whispersync, which allows readers to seamlessly switch between electronic book formats. You can read on a Kindle at home and pick up exactly where you left off when you jump in the car.

  • The first three books of the Steve Dancy Tales are in audio, and the fourth is in production.
  • The Shopkeeper audio  has 43 ratings for 4.1 stars. The non-audio versions have 280 reviews for 4.3 stars.
  • Leadville has 17 ratings for 4.5 stars. The non-audio versions have 98 reviews for 4.6 stars.
  • The non-audio version of Murder at Thumb Butte has 77 reviews for 4.5 stars. The audio format has only 2 ratings to date, but I would love to have you add your ratings to this audio version.
  • The Return should be available sometime in February.
  • Amazon and Audible.com offer a steep discount if you have previously bought the Kindle version. (Hint: this true for many Kindle books, not just the Steve Dancy Tales.)
  • Visit with friends while you drive, run, or walk. Steve Dancy, Jeff Sharp, and Joseph McAllen would love to hear from you.
  • A few free copies of Murder at Thumb Butte are still available if you email me at jimbest@jamesdbest.com

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Clint Eastwood Saves a Genre for a Mere $12,000

Hollywood, Historical, Westerns, Spaghetti
The Wholesome and the Good

Hollywood overdoes things. If something works, they just keep doing it until it doesn’t. There were 26 Western series on television in 1959, and most daytime programming used old Western B movies to fill airtime. A good thing taken to saturation. By 1964, the Western genre was waning due to overexposure in pulp, movies, and television. In case you believe Hollywood learned its lesson, think about the permutations of CSI and reality shows.
One of the remaining Western television series in 1964 was Rawhide, an endless cattle drive under the watchful eye of Rowdy Yates, played by a young Clint Eastwood. Despite the prominence of Eastwood’s image on the covers of newly released DVDs, the series starred Eric Fleming as Gil Favor, with Yates as the trusty sidekick.

By 1964, Eastwood saw that Rawhide was winding down. What to do? His Rawhide contract would not allow him to film any other movie or television shows in the United States. Then he heard about an Italian director named Sergio Leone who wanted to make a Western. Leone's low budget project had already been turned down by Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, and probably others. Eastwood accepted the role for $12,000, which even in 1964 represented a pittance in tinseltown. Eastwood didn’t have an inkling of the upcoming significance of this odd film shot in Almería, Spain.

After the six-week filming of The Magnificent Stranger, Eastwood returned to Southern California to make two more years of Rawhide episodes. He seldom thought about his European sojourn and heard nothing further about the film.

Due to legal hassles, the movie didn’t debut in the U.S. until almost three years later. Eastwood didn’t initially recognize the renamed A Fist Full of Dollars as the Western he had made with Sergio Leone. It was a hit. A huge hit. Made for a paltry $200,000, the film grossed over $134,000,000 worldwide. The Leone/Eastwood partnership would continue with For a Few Dollars More, and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Eastwood persona and Leone’s idiosyncratic cinematography created huge appeal worldwide. (It wasn’t sound or film editing, as any quick perusal of IMDb Goofs will show.) After the success of the Dollar Trilogy, Henry Fonda and Charles Bronson succumbed to Leone’s entreaties and agreed to star in Once Upon a Time in the West, a box office dud, but a classic nonetheless.

From this $12,000 gig, Eastwood went on to become a Hollywood icon with a reported net worth of $375 million. (A bit more than a fistful of dollars.) This kind of puts into perspective the manufactured row over the disparity in pay between Harrison Ford and Daisy Ridley in the latest Star Wars episode. Only a few weeks after the release of The Force Awakens, IMDb reports, “Daisy Jazz Isobel Ridley is an English actress. She is best known for her breakthrough role as Rey in the 2015 film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” I hope this low paid role in a groundbreaking film works as well for Ridley as it did for Eastwood.

Daisy Ridley, Clint Eastwood
Tip of the hat, Ridley

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

In Production—Audio Version of The Return

Coming Soon in Audio

Jim Tedder has agreed to narrate The Return, A Steve Dancy Tale and has already completed 6 chapters. This is exciting news because Tedder did a great job on Murder at Thumb Butte. He has a long career in broadcasting and brings a great storytelling voice to the series.

In answer to some queries, I've completed ten chapters of Crossing the Animas, A Steve Dancy Tale. Darn, I sure wish I could write as fast as Jim Tedder can narrate.

Here is the first chapter of The Return.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Best Selling Novelist of All Time?

Agatha Christie as a Young Woman

Agatha Christie is often listed as the bestselling novelist of all time. If the list is for fiction writers instead of just novelists, then Shakespeare takes the top spot. Even with a four hundred year head start, Christie may be catching up with The Bard because royalties from her books are estimated to still exceed £5m a year. In a 2002 relaunch of the 1939 And Then There Were None, the book became a surprise bestseller.

Christie wrote 85 books and sold well over two billion copies. And Then There Were None sold 100 million all by itself. The success of the 1965 Hollywood remake of the story caused subsequent editions of the book to be retitled Ten Little Indians. Her works have been translated into every major language and UNESCO named her the most translated author in the world. (Lest you think Ms. Christie wrote Pablum, her language is measurably better than the texts recommended in the Common Core curriculum.)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became annoyed with Sherlock Holmes so he killed him. Never fear, he used a novelist's magic powers to bring the famous detective back to life. Similarly, Dame Agatha Christie grew tired of Poirot, once describing him as "insufferable" and "an egocentric creep".

Christie invented the classic murder mystery structure. A murder is committed with multiple suspects and secrets are gradually revealed with a surprise twist at the end. Murder mysteries are active reading, with the reader knowing all the clues uncovered by the investigator. The fun is guessing the guilty party. There have been truckloads of murder mystery written but few compare with "The Queen of Crime."

I studied Agatha Christie and other mystery writers before I started Murder at Thumb Butte. I wanted to use the Steve Dancy characters in a traditional murder mystery, albeit in the Wild West with gun play, horses, rowdy saloons, and celebrity frontiersmen like Doc Holiday and Vergil Earp.

I haven’t sold nearly as many copies as Christie, but I’m happy that the novel has found a large audience. 77 Amazon readers rated the book 4.5 stars, and 155 Goodreads fans gave the book an average score of 4.02. C. K. Crigger in Roundup Magazine wrote, "This is a well-plotted mystery, as well as a terrific Old West story. Best has a great character in Steve Dancy, and has created an excellent cast of secondary characters." If you like murder mysteries, westerns, or historical novels, Murder at Thumb Butte should be your next book.

Until recently, the novel was available in print, ebook, and large print. Recently Jim Tedder narrated an audiobook version. Any of these formats would be a great Christmas gift. 

As Tedder says, “Go on now, get to it.”