Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I’m in Good Company



Thomas Sowell also recommends giving books for Christmas. Here is an excerpt from today's column.
Christmas Books, by Thomas Sowell
Perhaps more than in other years, shopping malls can become shopping mauls. One of the ways to make Christmas shopping less stressful is to give books as presents -- after ordering them on the Internet. There is a good crop of new books to choose from this year, as well as some old favorites that can make good gifts...
For some people, a subscription to a high quality magazine would be a better gift than a book.
If you'd like to review his list of recommended books, follow the link above.

Friday, December 5, 2014

10 Tips for Holiday Book Giving




Books are a perfect gift ... and a great way to avoid the crowds. 

At times, friends and relatives can be hard to buy for. Some seem to have everything. Due to age or illness, others may be less mobile than in years past. Some don’t really want much. Families scatter across this huge country and selecting a gift, packaging, and shipping can be a chore.


A book, however, is always a great gift … especially if you take the time to match their taste in fiction or nonfiction special interest. Suddenly, your thoughtfulness becomes part of the gift. Whether your relatives or friends are interested in the Civil War, literature, romance novels, Westerns, paranormal fiction, railroads, guns, cooking, collecting old comic books, antique automobiles, or anything else, there's always a book that will bring a smile to their face. 
  1. Shop or search online for a book specific to the interests of your relative or friend—Goodreads is a good source for ideas
  2. Write a personal message on the flyleaf that won't get tossed out like last year's Christmas card
  3. Give a bookseller gift card for e-book and audio book enthusiasts
  4. Search out an author signing for your recipient’s favorite author or give a collector’s version of the recipient’s favorite book
  5. If you need professional help or want something unique, shop at an independent book store, or specialty bookstore (like the Poison Pen in Scottsdale that specializes in mysteries)
  6. Remember, if you subscribe to Amazon Prime then shipping is free, or mail books early to take advantage of media class at the Post Office.
  7. Give a book as a piece of art, like a fine print book, unique coffee table book, favorite book as a child, or collectable cover art (I collect early 20th century Western pulp fiction books for the cover illustrations)
  8. Make a highly personal photo book with ShutterFly or Apple iPhoto or Apple Aperture
  9. If you’re giving a gift to a student—or me, for that matter—tuck a crisp $100 bill into the book as a bookmark
  10. Finally, if your  friend or relative already owns piles of books, give a unique set of book ends to hold them in their proper place

One final tip that comes close to re-giftingfind an Amazon hardcopy and that includes a “Match Book” deal with the simultaneous purchase of the e-book format. Gift the printed version and get an e-book for yourself.

Books are the best entertainment value. They provide hour after hour of personal pleasure, and then they can be passed on to another person.

Children's books are also great gifts. We search for autographed storybooks for our grandkids. Bookstores always have children book signings around the holidays, and this is one area where we join the crowd. The icing on the cake is that we get to read them a story from one of these books when we visit.

Here are Amazon links to bestselling books in a few categories. There are many more categories a click away. Topic searches also work with Barnes & Noble and other online booksellers.


If you choose to gift one of my books, thank you.  I appreciate it.

Merry Christmas and happy holidays. And have a great 2015.




Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Fox & Sons Books—Revenge at Last

Hollywood, movies, film, blockbuster
Fictional Bookstore From You've Got Mail

We just returned from New York City. My son’s family lives on the Upper West side with his wife and three of my grandchildren. Our daughter, her husband, and our other three grandchildren joined us to make this a family get-together and special Thanksgiving celebration. We did it all … or at least some of us did it all. Others, like myself, sometimes hung back watching televised football.
I did join everyone on a jaunt to Times Square on Monday, but declined to return on Black Friday. 

times square
Toys R Us Times Square
On Monday, the weather was perfect, which meant that Toy R Us and other stores were sweltering without air conditioning. It didn't help that the shops were packed tighter than a sardine can. Jack Frost made a visit on Black Friday, so stale air and heat were less of an issue. The crush of the crowds, however, overwhelmed all other sensations. There are over eight million people in New York City. Half went to Macy’s and the other half traipsed down to Times Square … and they brought all of their relatives visiting for the holiday. All this is hearsay, of course. I stayed at my son’s apartment to watch Nebraska barely beat Iowa.

Ice Skating in Central Park

I also declined an ice skating excursion in Central Park. These days I’m not about to get on the ice, and stomping my feet on the sidelines to keep warm didn’t sound like much fun. My son texted live video of my grandkids skating, which gave me a rare appreciation for modern gadgetry.

I did do many other things, however. I watched my grandson score several touchdowns in the Yorksvilles Turkey Bowl on Randall’s Island, attended Mass at my granddaughter’s school, enjoyed my granddaughter’s performance in the Nutcracker Suite, celebrated my twin grandsons’ birthday, viewed balloons staged for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, watched the parade from a precarious perch on a Central Park wall, consumed a traditional Thanksgiving dinner surrounded by family, and even found time to write.

independent bookstores
bookculture Bookstore in NYC
movies, film, hollywood
Shop Around the Corner from You've Got Mail
One of my favorite experiences was a new bookstore on Columbus and 82nd. The opening, rather than a closing, of an independent bookstore warranted a piece in the New York Times. The newness lured me in, but after my initial visit, I’m sure bookculture will be one of my regular haunts when I visit the city.

Borders is gone and Barnes & Noble closed several of their NYC stores. The Shop Around The Corner in the movie You’ve Got Mail was located close to the bookculture location. Perhaps the Fox & Sons Books model is growing thin. It’s ironic to see the behemoth boxes run out of business by Amazon, only to make room once again for intimate bookstores with a bookish atmosphere. In the end, I bet knowledgeable and friendly staff who understand local tastes will elbow themselves enough room to prosper.I hope so. 

When I visited bookculture, it was packed with people, many of them buying armloads of books. Granted, it was Black Friday, but sale pricing seemed limited. It was hard to tell if shoppers were buying for themselves or for Christmas. Whichever, I hope the store remains busy … and I hope books become the favorite gift for the coming holidays. 

bestselling fiction action adventure mystery
Gift Suggestions for Your Favorite People 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Interview with Author’s Academy



The Author’s Academy is a subscription website dedicated to teaching “authors how to write, produce, and market their books successfully.” On Wednesday, Grael Norton interviewed me in a teleconference titled "How to Sell 1,000Books this Holiday Season." The title of the talk comes from a few seasons ago when I sold over 1,000 print copies in December. Today, this is not a large number for me, but my holiday sales are now heavily weighted toward e-books.


You can also read a summary of the interview at Writ3r Addiction.

Despite the popularity of e-books, print books still make outstanding gifts. You can choose a fiction or nonfiction book that precisely targets the interests of the recipient. A book in their favorite genre or about their hobby can make them happy, plus it shows you cared enough to pick a gift just for them. For a reasonable price, a book gives hours upon hours of enjoyment and can even be revisited in years to come, and unlike a Christmas card that gets discarded or thrown in a box, a personal inscription on the flyleaf of your gift book lasts forever.

This holiday season, give a book to someone you love … preferably one of these, of course.


Sunday, November 16, 2014

Was Annie Oakley the Real Katniss Everdeen?












Doing research for Jenny's Revenge, A Steve Dancy Tale, I had reason to read up on Annie Oakley. It struck me that she had a strong resemblance to the fictional Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games.

Katniss is an exceptional marksman with bow and arrow who honed her skill by hunting to feed her fatherless family. In fact, she was so good at hunting, she traded her excess kills for other essentials needed by her family to survive. At 16 years old, Katniss becomes a celebrated hero due her unprecedented display of skill in a national show. To add spice to the story, she has romantic relationships with another contestant and her hunting partner.

At age 8, Annie Oakley started shooting game to feed her fatherless family. She sold her excess kills to a grocery store, and her hunting was so prolific that by 15 years of age, she paid off the family mortgage. Oakley became the first female superstar, famed all over the world for her shooting exhibitions in the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show. At age 16, she married a fellow contestant in a shooting contest, and her husband performed with Oakley throughout her career.

In 1875 on Thanksgiving Day, Frank E. Butler placed a $100 bet that he could beat any local sharp shooter. Annie Oakley beat Butler on the twenty-fifth shot. Some trick shootists might have resented losing to a five foot tall, fifteen year old girl, but Butler invited Oakley to join his act and they were married a year later. (There is some doubt about the actual year, but I’m going with the famous quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”)

Oakley shot almost every gun known to nineteenth century man ... or woman. At ninety feet, she could hit a playing card set on edge, and then hit it repeatedly before it touched the ground. She hit dimes tossed in the air. She regularly shot the tip off a cigarette held between her husband’s lips. I’ve heard of never going to bed angry, but I bet this couple had a different motto.

I have never read that Suzanne Collins said Annie Oakley inspired Katniss, but as Mark Twain opined, truth is stranger than fiction.


western fiction
Coming soon: Jenny's Revenge




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Home on the Range in Nebraska

Oh, give me a home where the buffalo roam,
Where the deer and the antelope play;
There seldom is heard a discouraging word
And the sky is not cloudy all day.

I woke up this morning in my new home to discover the silent night had painted the landscape white. That’s the thing about snow, it’s sneaky.

I grew up on the beach in Southern California when the state deserved to be called golden. I thought snow was something you drove to so you could slide down a hill on a sled, skis, a piece of cardboard. For a couple years in the distant past, I lived in Ohio. This was my introduction to weather that forgets to announce its arrival. When I threw up the garage door to find my driveway covered in snow, an expletive escaped my lips. It meant I had to shovel the driveway and sidewalk before I could leave for work. Bummer.

Thunder storm
Heavy rain gives you fair warning
Quest Center, Omaha, Nebraska

Nowadays, I’m retired except for writing, so I enjoy snow. I’m also enjoying Nebraska far more than I expected. I knew I’d like seeing the grandchildren nearly every day, but the state itself has been pleasantly surprising. There are great people in Nebraska and far more geographic diversity than I80 would lead you to believe. Coming from Arizona with its deserts, mountains, and everything in between including a canyon of grand proportionsI expected dull flatness. Not so. Omaha, my new home, rambles gently through pleasant rolling hills.  In fact, my home looks out over knolls that show off fresh snow like a dandy might flaunt a newly purchased wardrobe.

But you don’t have to believe me. Monty McCord posted this video about Nebraska on Facebook. Stunning images. My only question is: where is all that white stuff?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Jenny's Revenge at The Fictional Cafe

Western fiction

The Fictional Café has previewed the first chapter of Jenny’s Revenge, the fifth novel in the Steve Dancy series

If you enjoy fiction, bounce around the Fictional café. You’ll find author interviews, sample writings, book reviews, and pod casts. Membership is free.








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


Monday, November 3, 2014

Expert Advice, Anyone?




In a Barnes & Noble Book Blog, Stephen King presents 20 writing tips. Most famous writers offer ten or perhaps a dozen tips, but as you may have noticed, King is prolific. I like Stephen King, and he’s a great storyteller. His memoir, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft contains a wealth of wisdom about writing. This list is much shorter, but all writers can benefit from following his guidelines. 

That said, I would quibble with a couple of his points. First, #10 is too strict. King can write a first draft in less than three months, but mortals need more timeespecially those who have to pay the mortgage, put food on the table, and run a couple errands each day. Don’t hurry yourself … but never stop for an extended period. It’s too easy to put off writing one more day when you've been on a long hiatus.

Until you make a living by writing, I disagree with #13. Few of us have the luxury of erecting a force field around us when we write. Learn to write with distractions … otherwise you may never complete an entire novel. Looking for the perfect writing environment is a sure route to writers-block.

Last, #19 is balderdash. Just because you have driven a car for your entire life doesn't mean you can join the NASCAR circuit and race at near 200 MPH in bumper to bumper traffic. Maybe some can learn writing from reading fiction, but I needed help. I read dozens of books on writing, participated in workshops, and used a writing coach early on. I still read at least one book a year on the craft of writing. On Writing by Stephen King is a good place to start.

Here are King’s tip headlines. You can read his explanations for each one at the Barnes & Noble Book Blog.


memoir
10th Anniversary Edition
1. First write for yourself, and then worry about the audience.
2. Don’t use passive voice.
3. Avoid adverbs.
4. Avoid adverbs, especially after “he said” and “she said.”
5. But don’t obsess over perfect grammar.
6. The magic is in you.
7. Read, read, read.
8. Don’t worry about making other people happy.
9. Turn off the TV.
10. You have three months.
11. There are two secrets to success.
12. Write one word at a time.
13. Eliminate distraction.
14. Stick to your own style.
15. Dig.
16. Take a break.
17. Leave out the boring parts and kill your darlings.
18. The research shouldn’t overshadow the story.
19. You become a writer simply by reading and writing.
20. Writing is about getting happy.


Good advice. I especially like his comment in this interview that a writer’s goal is “to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mobridge, South Dakota … Sitting Bull, Fry Bread Tacos, and Pheasants

Mobridge, South Dakota

Mobridge, South Dakota takes it name from the first railroad bridge to cross the Missouri. The town draws tourists in October like Times Square draws merrymakers on New Year’s Eve. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but there were a lot of people in Mobridge this past week dressed in see-me-now-orange. I was one of those revelers. I drove up from Nebraska to visit friends, hunt pheasants, and eat fry bread tacos.

Hunting pheasants in South Dakota is a team sport. A couple of blockers sit at one end of a field as an orange-clad army chases the birds toward them. When one or more of the birds take flight, everybody becomes sex obsessed. A license allows you to hunt roosters, so the first order of business is to determine the sex of a bird flying as fast as its wings will carry it. This is why everybody upon seeing a bird shouts out the gender. The more nebulous cry of “Bird up,” puts the onus on the shooter. If this isn’t difficult enough, sometimes a rooster takes flight with his entire harem. You could call him cowardly for hiding behind hens, but it’s not exactly a bird-brained tactic.

Fry Bread Taco

The scent of fry bread tacos makes your mouth water as soon as you enter Mobridge. These gigacalorie indulgences possess every unhealthy food group known to man. Woof them down with a sugary soda and you taste heaven … except I’m told that in heaven, fry bread tacos are not sinful.

Our hunting party took up six cabins along the bank of the Missouri. All good friends and relatives. Each cabin included a tiny cooking space generously called a kitchen in the glossy brochure. The stove top tilted, the refrigerator squealed all night long, and microwave had enough power to boil a cup of water in under ten minutes. We crammed twenty people into an already overheated cabin to eat homemade meals on mismatched dishes. I’ve never had so much fun.

I also found time to visit Sitting Bull’s gravesite … or perhaps not. In 1953, a bunch of drunks crept up to Fort Yates, North Dakota, and mistakenly liberated the wrong bones, or an upright historical organization brought the right remains to Mobridge to rest near Sitting Bull’s birthplace. I guess it doesn’t matter. Today, a stately bust honoring Sitting Bull gazes out over the Missouri River. Since I’ve written about Sitting Bull’s tragic death, I found the memorial interesting. So did others. We ran into a father and son from Munich visiting the supposed grave site. You could say the stealthy grave robbers achieved their purpose by creating a tourist attraction, except over the course of a week, we never saw anyone else at the memorial.

Now, I'm back in Omaha, unpacked, and ready to write. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Damn Research Anyway


I write historical novels. Most of my books are Westerns, and I strive to properly reflect the lifestyle, technology, and politics of the era. Tempest at Dawn, my big historic novel, is a dramatization of the Constitutional Convention. Even The Shut Mouth Society, my contemporary chase-thriller has strong historical content centered on Abraham Lincoln.


faceoff
Joseph Finder

When I’m busy and I discover an interesting web article, I bookmark it to read later. This morning, I read Joseph Finder’s article Research: A Writers Best Friend and a Writer’s Worst Enemy.

I think Finder has it just about right. He alludes to my worst habit: using research to procrastinate, but couches it far too narrowly. When I’m on a roll, I never let research get in the way of getting the story down in black and white. On the other hand, when I don’t really want to write, I bounce around the web and tell myself I’m making progress through research. Somehow, I convince myself of this even when I’m watching the GoPro video of the week.



A few years ago, I wrote an article on the hazards of web-based research. I even put together a Powerpoint presentation for a writer’s group. Today, I use the web more frequently for research. One reason is the proliferation of primary source documents. The second reason is that reputable institutions have digitized their content. The web has grown up. Except for odds and ends, I rarely use Wikipedia. There are many more authoritative sources if you know how to find them.





Research can also be in the real  world. For instance, I need to walk the ground of my novels. I’m not a visual person, so I take gigabytes of pictures to look at as a write descriptive prose. Walking the ground has another purpose. Every locale has a distinct feel to it. When I deplane in Phoenix or Honolulu, I know where I’m at as soon as I feel and smell the air. Some writers are geniuses when it comes to descriptive prose, but to describe ambiance, I need to experience it. Besides, this is the fun part of research. Wandering around Virginia City or Old Denver sure beats trying to verify the exact time Virgil Earp lived in Prescott, Arizona.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Sojourn in New York City

My wife and I just returned home from seeing our son’s family in New York City. He and his wife have three young kids and because they grow so fast we try to visit at least once every three months. This was a great trip. We like Manhattan and we love my son and his family. What could be better than that? Here are some random thoughts on our trip.

  • It’s difficult to write in airports, especially LaGuardia. Before retirement, I wrote all the time in airports, but nowadays it seems much more crowded. It’s even difficult to find an unoccupied seat at LaGuardia. Maybe it’s me. I’m getting older and perhaps I’m finding it more difficult to focus. Naw … it’s everybody else’s fault. 


Ellen DeGeneres

  • It’s impossible to write on airplanes. I used to whip out my laptop all the time, but now I find it difficult to find room for myself, no less a supposed portable device that must have been designed to watch movies from twelve feet away. When I fly, I read my trusty Kindle. 
  • Why do electronic components keep getting tinier and tinier, but electronic devices keep getting bigger and bigger? I took my grandson to the Apple store to shop for his birthday present. This was my first encounter with the iPhone 6. The big model will hardly fit in a teenage girl’s hip pocket. My new laptop has a 16’ inch screen with Dolby sound and myriad other bells and whistles. I wanted one like my old 14’ model, but my preferred manufacturer no longer made this petite version. I’m a writer. I don’t need all this fancy stuff. Give me light weight, reasonable size, and MS Word. They can even make it black and white and I’ll be happy. I don’t want to sound like a curmudgeon, but I lament the demise of the Motorola Razr. Now that was a mobile phone. It was so light and thin you never knew you carried it until it buzzed with an incoming call.

action adventure fiction
Hurricane Sandy about to get unruly

  • Although I had floated around it many times, I had never been to Statue of Liberty Island. We took our granddaughter and her friend. We discovered Disney World lines managed with government efficiency. Next time, if there is one, I’ll pick inclement weather. At least, that’s what I thought until I found this picture of the island with Hurricane Sandy looming on the horizon. Still lots of people. Maybe next time I’ll just float around it again. 
  • I was walking the dog with my son when he pointed out a townhouse with narrow, one-car garage. He thought it would be wonderful to have a private garage in the city. I told him I owned three of them in Omaha. He asked if they were in front or behind the chicken coop. 
  • All bookstore have small Western sections, but NYC stores have relegated Westerns to a single shelf in the most obscure corner of the stacks. Since New York is my third largest sales region, I think they are missing a bet.