Friday, December 21, 2012

Steve Dancy Tales -- Kindle Bargain

James D. Best 

                   The Steve Dancy Box Set

Books provide hours upon hours of entertainment. If you're looking for rousing fiction, consider the Steve Dancy Kindle Box Set. The set includes The Shopkeeper, Leadville, and Murder at Thumb Butte, all three for $8.99, which is five dollars less than buying each book individually. Together, the three Western novels have 790 Amazon Customer Reviews for 4.4 stars and 1,878 Goodreads ratings for 4.0 Stars.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bad Review Got You Down—Even the Best Get Dumped On

Huffington Post Books published an article titled "Bad Reviews Of Great Authors." When you get a bad review of your work, it’s comforting to know that supposed experts hated these classics.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
"There is not in the entire dramatis persona, a single character which is not utterly hateful or thoroughly contemptible."  Atlas, 1848

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike
"Mr. Updike’s descriptions of these magical doings are cringe-making in the extreme, not funny or satiric as he perhaps intends."  Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times

fiction writing
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
"... the book is sad stuff, dull and dreary, or ridiculous. Mr. Melville's Quakers are the wretchedest dolts and drivellers, and his Mad Captain ... is a monstrous bore." Charleston Southern Quarterly Review, 1852

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
"no more than a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that... Only Gatsby himself genuinely lives and breathes. The rest are mere marionettes—often astonishingly lifelike, but nevertheless not quite alive." H.L. Mencken, Baltimore Evening Sun, 1925

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
"Unfortunately, it is bad news. There are two equally serious reasons why it isn't worth any adult reader's attention. The first is that it is dull, dull, dull in a pretentious, florid and archly fatuous fashion. The second is that it is repulsive." Orville Prescott, The New York Times, 1958

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
"... it is impossible to imagine how any man's fancy could have conceived such a mass of stupid filth, unless he were possessed of the soul of a sentimental donkey that had died of disappointed love." Rufus Wilmot Griswold, The Criterion, 1855

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
“What other culture could have produced someone like Hemingway and not seen the joke?” Gore Vidal

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Europe's Infatuation with the American Wild West

Django Unchained
Sometimes we forget that American genre fiction is popular overseas—Westerns included. And why not? We might think of the Wild West as uniquely American, but we enjoy King Arthur, Lawrence of Arabia, The Count of Monte Cristo, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, and samurai adventures. If you write genre fiction, don't neglect this market. (The Steve Dancy Tales are popular in foreign counties, especially England and Germany.) 

If you want a feel for Euro-Westerns, visit The Tainted Archive which is based in the United Kingdom. This article is about Sergio Corbucci's spaghetti Westerns. Not as well known as Sergio Leone, Corbucci wrote and directed the original Django, among other Westerns.

It used to be difficult to sell in foreign markets, but not anymore. This is another major change brought about by eBooks. Your book can be decomposed into ones and zeros, bytes can sprint across the globe at the speed of light, and then be instantly reassembled in some far off land. In a small way, Scotty of Star Trek fame has been displaced by a Kindle.

Monday, December 17, 2012

One of the First Mass-Market Bestsellers

The Virginian: A Horseman of the Plains by Owen Wister was one of the first mass-market bestsellers. The 1902 novel received immediate critical acclaim and was hugely popular, eventually spawning five films, a successful play, and a television series. An instant success, it sold over 20 thousand copies in the first month, an astonishing number for the time. It went on to sell over 200,000 thousand copies in the first year, and over a million and a half prior to Wister's death. This Western classic has never been out of print. (You can read my review, "The Virginian, A Classic Western Revisited" at Ezine Articles.)

The Virginian inspired hundreds of stories about the Old West—including the Steve Dancy Tales. After reading The Virginian, I thought it would make an interesting story if the Easterner was the protagonist rather than the narrator. I always enjoyed fish-out-of-water stories.

The Virginian is credited with inventing the literary Western, and many people are familiar with the book. Less is generally known about Owen Wister. In 2002, Harvard Magazine published a short biography of Wister: oddly titled "Owen Wister, Brief life of a Western mythmaker:1860-1938." (By my math he lived to be 78 years old.) Thousands of Westerns have been written, but The Virginian set the benchmark for excellence in the genre.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah

This is my favorite time of year. How could it not be? We not only celebrate Christmas with my daughter and her family, but each year on the 27th we all fly to some fun destination and meet up with our son and his family. We get to see our kids and all six grandchildren together. It's a great way to ring in the New Year because it reminds us of what is really important in life. May all of you have a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2013.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Leonard's ten rules for writing

Owen Wister
Elmore Leonard

In 2009, The Western Writers of America presented Elmore Leonard with their prestigious Owen Wister Award for lifetime achievement. Leonard wrote 3:10 to Yuma, Hombre, Last Stand at Saber River, and many other Westerns. He also wrote novels outside the Western genre, including Get Shorty, Jackie Brown, and Out of Sight.

Leonard published his 10 Rules of Writing, which was actually a padded version of his New York Times article. The book may be panned for its brevity, but the advice is sound.

Leonard's ten rules for writing

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said."
5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke out."
7. Use regional dialects, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Polish your manuscript

It is the superfluous things for which men sweat.
Seneca (c. 5 BC-AD c. 65), Roman writer

A friend of mine unintentionally changed my attitude toward revisions. He restores antique cars and starts each project with barely more than a chassis and some rusted sheet metal. With utmost care, he painstakingly replaces every single part until his recreation is better than the shiny piece of the American dream that was driven off the showroom. When he finishes, we go on a ride and I can tell he enjoys the envious looks and honks from other car enthusiasts.

After these inaugural rides, I always assumed the cars were finished, but every time I visited, he would be in the garage replacing this piece or that piece. If he wasn't installing a newly acquired part, he would be polishing nooks and crannies that no one in a standing position would ever see. Sometimes I'd come over to find that he had painted the car a different color or replaced perfectly good upholstery.

One day I asked him if he ever tired of constantly changing an already beautiful car.

"Hell no," he said. "Building the car is work. This is the fun part."

"The fun part?"

"Whenever I start a new project car, I look forward to the day when the basic restoration is done so I can perfect it . My joy is in making it flawless. I fix the little details so people love to spend time with my creation."

"But you keep working on it. How do you know when it's perfect?"

"One day I'll walk all around it, open the doors, lift the hood, examine the truck and there won't be any more changes I want to make." He shrugged. "Then I sell it and start all over again."

Now I look forward to completing a manuscript so I can tighten and polish it until there are no more changes I want to make. Then I sell it and start all over again.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Future of Large Print

The popularity of eReaders has decimated the mass paperback market, and several publishers have even abandoned the format. An eReader can display font in any size, so I assumed the next casualty of eBooks would be large print. Not so. Or, at least, not yet. When I received my statement from my large print publisher, I was pleasantly surprised. How is it that large print holds its own against the ebook revolution?

I think it has to do with the market for large print books. Whether it’s libraries or direct purchase, the market is seniors. Seniors are not gadget prone and remain attached to the feel and simplicity of a real book. No buttons, no touch screens, no hot links. Books are what seniors have read their entire life and only their children prod them to change. Seniors can’t see the point. They get lost in the story and turn the page without conscious thought, just a motor reflex learned through decades of practice. 

The boomers will probably carry their eReaders into old age, but most of their parents will remain loyal to the printed book.

If you're looking for a senior gift, you might consider one of these large print books.

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

All of the Steve Dancy Tales have been published in large print, library binding editions by Center Point. Some have sold out, but are still available through used book dealers.

Monday, December 10, 2012

If you do nothing, nothing happens!

A few days ago, I posted an article titled “How do you pick your next book to read?” I received a couple questions on a throwaway comment that “sales can occur a considerable time after a promotional event.”

My background is direct marketing , so I understood why this statement was troubling. The mantra in direct marketing is measure and react. If you can’t measure due to an extended time delay, how can you react by adjusting or amplifying your marketing actions? 

I don’t know.

I do know personal appearances like signings, club presentations, and book festivals work because even if I don’t sell many books at the event, I see Amazon sales improve the following week. But what about greater delays? Most people take a long time to read a book, and prolific readers always have a queue. How do you know what specific event caused a reader to download a sample of your book onto an eReader? How long does it take for a reader to get around to a free sample they downloaded? Another question: do sample chapters at the end of your book generate follow-on sales?

One time I sat down and made a list of all the marketing things I was doing and then separated them into three groups: 1) actions that didn't work, 2) actions that did work, 3) actions I didn't know if they worked or not. You guessed it; the third category was by far the longer list. 

The real issue isn't whether something works or not, but which actions are the most productive. I know the #1 most productive marketing action. Write a darn good book—one that will generate word-of-mouth. Beyond that, I’m at a loss.

I may not know which other actions are productive, but I have learned the cardinal rule of book marketing.

If you do nothing ... nothing happens!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Mythology of the Old West

For me, there are three major elements of good western. The first is the romance of a new beginning, the second is the battle of good versus evil, and the third is the lone warrior who sets things right.

Hopalong Cassidy
 as illustrated by Frank Earle Schoonover, 1905 

  • The old west represents a fresh beginning in a new place away from home - the shrugging off of disappointments and a chance to start all over again. Emigrating to a frontier means you get a do-over in a land with no rules, no referees, and no fences. 
  • The mythical old west is a black and white world. Good fights evil and good usually triumphs. In stories of the Old West, ordinary people are capable of extraordinary heroism. 
  • But raw frontiers are dangerous, so even courageous pioneers need help. No civilization means no restraints on bad people doing bad things. Help comes in the shape of an idealized hero, a paladin who risks his life to save the day and asks nothing in return.

These themes have been a part of storytelling in every society since the first cave drawings. You'll also find these elements dominate fantasy and science fiction. The frontier in these genres can be the future, outer space, or a make-believe land. The gunfighter has a simple solution on his hip, while Frodo has the ring and Harry Potter the magic wand.

You can read my article "Is the Mythology of the Old West Dead?" by following this link.

western storytelling
Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Friday, December 7, 2012

How do you pick your next book to read?

shredded wheat
I'm a compulsive reader. I read everything and I read all the time. I suspect it started when I was in the fifth grade and I spent my breakfast reading the shredded wheat box. I even read the dividers that separated the rows of three biscuits. Nabisco sponsored the television program Sargent Preston of the Yukon and my hero was all over the box and dividers. That's how I ended up owning one square inch in the Klondike. Darn, I wish I still had my deed.

alaskaYou'll be pleased to know I've graduated from cereal boxes to books. First the Hardy Boys, and then mass paperbacks. I was a junior in high school when I discover nonfiction with Theodore White's The Making of the President 1960. College introduced me to classics.

In adulthood, I wandered books stores and paperback racks looking for my next read. Bestsellers lists had already down-selected which books got prominent display, and I usually picked by author or back cover copy.

The publishing world has changed. Bookstores are becoming rarer, yet there are tens of thousands of more books available. The shelf-life of a book has been extended well beyond presence on a bestseller list. Electronic books are increasingly taking over fiction and narrative prose. Old book selection tools like magazines and newspapers are withering. Literary reviews are being displaced by reader reviews.

So how does a person pick their next book to read? For me, it's easy. I carry my Kindle with me almost everywhere. Writing has crowded out my reading time, so I read in line at the airport, in my doctor's lobby, in the car as my wife runs into a store, or while eating breakfast or lunch. I also have my Kindle with me when I watch television. It's always around when I use my computer. Why? It has to do with how I pick my next book to read. Whenever I hear or read about a book that sounds interesting, I immediately download a sample onto my kindle. I do this while talking to friends, watching television, surfing the Internet, attending book events, or when reading a periodical. After I finish a book, I metaphorically thumb through my samples, usually reading a chapter or two, then select my next book. At any point in time, I probably have twenty books queued up.

Electronic reading devices have changed the publishing industry and reading habits. It has also changed the way we chose books.
  1. Back copy is less important than the opening of the book 
  2. Bestseller lists mean less than frequent mention on broadcast and cable outlets
  3. Social media builds name recognition
  4. Word-of-mouth is even more powerful
This means emerging authors have tools to compete with famous authors. More important  sales can occur a considerable time after a promotional event. Book sales are now a long-haul business. Someone might download a book sample weeks, or even months before they make a purchase decision.

In fact, you might consider downloading samples for these books.

Happy reading.

action adventure
Click to download samples.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Western Heritage in Literature

Western fiction is frequently disparaged as illegitimate literature. This myth is perpetuated by classifying literary stories that occur in the West as something other than a Western. Many of the smart people believe Westerns are dime novels, pulp fiction, and straight-to-paperback formula bunkum. But the Western has a long and valid history in literature.

James Fenimore Cooper may have been the first Western author of note. The Last of the Mohicans and the rest of the Leatherstocking Tales were in the Western tradition. Written in 1826 about events that supposedly occurred nearly seventy-five years prior, The Last of the Mohicans incorporates all of the characteristics of a modern Western.

Mark Twain is universally acknowledged as one of the great American literary figures, but is seldom referred to as a Western writer. Yet, Roughing It is a first-hand description of the Wild West of Virginia City during the heyday of the Comstock Lode. Granted, Roughing It is Twain-enriched non-fiction, but The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are coming-of-age novels set on the American frontier.

When Owen Wister published The Virginian in 1902, the novel received critical acclaim and was a huge bestseller, eventually spawning five films, a successful play, and a television series. An instant success, it sold over 20 thousand copies in the first month, an astonishing number for the time. It went on to sell over 200,000 thousand copies in the first year, and over a million and a half copies prior to Wister's death. This classic has never been out of print.

Max Brand, Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Jack Schaefer, Elmer Kelton, Larry McMurtry, and Cormac McCarthy continued the Western tradition and all of them have been highly successful. Recently Nancy E. Turner (These is my Words) and Patrick deWitt (The Sisters Brothers) have penned praiseworthy Westerns that are popular with readers.

Western literature has a grand heritage and will continue to appeal to readers all over the world.   Good writing, sound plots that move with assurance, and great characterization will elevate the genre back the top of the bestseller charts.

Here are the bestselling Westerns.
The Steve Dancy Tales

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Authors Acting Badly Toward Other Authors

Jack Kerouac
Truman Capote

Writing as contact sport.

"That's not writing, that's typing."—Truman Capote to Jack Kerouac

"The world is rid of him, but the deadly slime of his touch remains."—John Constable about the death of Lord Byron

"Every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the.'"—Mary McCarthy about Lillian Hellman

"If he really meant what he writes, he would not write at all."Gore Vidal about Henry Miller

"I am fairly unrepentant about her poetry. I really think that three quarters of it is gibberish. However, I must crush down these thoughts, otherwise the dove of peace will shit on me."—Noel Coward about Dame Edith Sitwell

"He had a mind so fine that no idea could violate it."—T. S. Eliot about Henry James

"She was a master at making nothing happen very slowly."—Clifton Fadiman about Gertrude Stein

"The stupid person's idea of the clever person."—Elizabeth Bowen about Aldous Huxley

"To those she did not like she was a stiletto made of sugar."—John Mason Brown about Dorothy Parker

"To me Pound remains the exquisite showman without the show."—Ben Hecht about Ezra Pound

"His verse is the beads without the string."—Gerard Manley Hopkins about Robert Browning

"He is mad, bad and dangerous to know."—Lady Caroline Lamb about Lord Byron

"Nothing but old fags and cabbage-stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest, stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness."—D. H. Lawrence about James Joyce

"He writes his plays for the ages - the ages between five and twelve."—George Nathan about George Bernard Shaw

"Virginia Woolf's writing is no more than glamorous knitting. I believe she must have a pattern somewhere."—Dame Edith Sitwell about Virginia Woolf

"A great zircon in the diadem of American literature."—Gore Vidal about Truman Capote

"The only genius with an IQ of 60."—Gore Vidal about Andy Warhol

"He is able to turn an unplotted, unworkable manuscript into an unplotted and unworkable manuscript with a lot of sex."—Tom Volpe about Harold Robbins

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tempest at Dawn: The real story of our nation's founding

The following is excerpt from my essay on the 27th Amendment for Constituting America.
"We often hear laments that our politicians no longer honor their pledge to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.  This is backward.  The Constitution was not written for politicians.  Our political leaders have no motivation to abide by a two hundred year old restraining order.  Americans must enforce the supreme law of the land.  The first outsized words of the Constitution read We the People.  It’s our document. It was always meant to be ours, not the government’s.  It is each and every American’s obligation to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States."
Most popular Constitution Books
Constituting America

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Looking for a gift?

Selling Books During the Holidays

Books are popular gifts, and the Christmas buying season has traditionally been the best month of the year for book sales. It still is ... for print sales. With the explosion in eBooks, post-Christmas is becoming another hot selling season. Not only are empty Kindles popular gifts, but Amazon gift cards frequently fill stockings and email in-boxes. These two trends are causing a flurry of eBook buying from December 25 through January.

(Please excuse my focus on Kindle. For some reason B&N and other booksellers have not been able to market gift cards with near the intensity of Amazon.)

The question for publishers is how to adjust their marketing plans to meet this shift in book sales. The simple answer is that pre-holiday marketing should focus on print format, and after Christmas marketing should transition to eBooks, preferably starting a bit prior to Christmas.

Gift givers prefer to wrap a physical item in shinny paper to be opened on Christmas, and many readers still like to hold a physical book in their hand. There is still good demand for print books, especially trade paperback and hardbound books. Publishers should focus their attention on print sales before the holiday buying season.

Sales of eBooks seem to get an up-tick as early as Christmas afternoon. My guess is that these are new Kindle owners who are playing with their new toy. To affect this market, eBook promotion needs to start before the 25th of December.

How do you change the marketing focus? One thing I do is set all my hot links on my various web pages to my print formats, and then the 22nd change the links to my eBooks formats. Not very clever, I know. But if I had this nailed down, I wouldn’t be posting this article in the throes of holiday shopping.

I’ll do better next year.

Related posts:
eBooks Changing More Than Just Formats
The eReader Revolution is Accelerating
Books Are The Perfect Gift

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Meet Author James D. Best

Free Kindle Books and Tips

"Continuing the guest blog posts by independent authors, best-selling author James D. Best tells us the background of his novel, Tempest at Dawn, plus some other interesting facts about him I didn't know prior to reading this post. A friend of mine at work has read it and said it was great, and I have added it to my Kindle."

Monday, November 26, 2012

11/22/63 by Stephen King

I haven't read a Stephen King book in a couple decades. 11/22/63 reminded me why I used to read King’s books as soon as they were published ... and why I quit reading them. King is a good writer, has a great imagination, knows how to pen an engrossing story, but is exhaustingly verbose. I wanted to make a little circling motion with my finger to tell him to hurry up, but of course he wasn't in the room to see it.

Fiction writers have the unique ability to bend time. We can do what we want because it’s our world. We make it up. The premise of 11/22/63 is that our intrepid hero discovers a time portal that takes him back to 1958. After a quick touristic holiday, he decides to go back to 1958 and wait until November 22, 1963 in order to save John F. Kennedy. King proceeds to tell us everything that happens in the intervening five years. Why? It was King’s decision to have the portal go to 1958. He could have chosen 1961 or 1962. I think he just loves to write.

That aside, this is a well told story. I like time travel because they are basically fish-out-of-water tales. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur'sCourt by Mark Twain is the apex of the genre. 11/22/63 may have been overly long (880 pages in paperback), but it was still a fun read with some creative twists on time travel. I didn't agree with his speculations about altered history, but they didn't interfere with the story. If you like to be immersed in Stephen King’s world, you can have an extended stay with 11/22/63.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The eReader Cafe: Author Interview with James D. Best

Interview with James D. Best at eReader Cafe Novemebr 11, 2012
Good Sunday morning, everyone! I have the great pleasure of introducing you to Historical author, James D. Best. Let's start off with The eReader Cafe's signature first question: 
Coffee or tea?

The Black Hills by Rod Thompson

As a writer of a western series, I don’t read a lot of Western fiction. In the past, I devoured Owen Wister, Zane Grey, Louis L’Amour, Larry McMurtry, and even Max Brand. Nowadays, I find myself mostly reading western nonfiction to help me put accurate color in my books. The Black Hills by Rod Thompson is an exception. I read and enjoyed this book enormously. This is skillful fiction that should appeal to people of any age, gender, or interest. In other words, this is great storytelling that just happens to take place in the American Wild West. It’s a coming of age saga with characters you end up befriending by the end of the book. The Black Hills is the type of book that will help revive the Western genre—good storytelling with a solid plot, realistic dialogue, and characters the reader cares about.

This is a great Christmas gift or stocking stuffer for a Western enthusiast or picky reader. The Black Hills has 23 Amazon customer reviews for 5.0 stars and at the time of this writing is heavily discounted to $6 for the paperback edition. How's that for an entertainment bargain. And when you finish, you can pass the book along to someone else.

The Black Hills is touted as the first book in a trilogy. Let’s hope Thompson is feverishly working on the second in the series.

Friday, November 23, 2012

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.

Books are the best entertainment value. They provide hour after hour of personal pleasure, and then they can be passed on to another person. When I give a book as a gift, I  write a personal note inside that won't get tossed out like last year's Christmas card.

Children's books are great gifts. We search for autographed storybooks for our grandkids. Local bookstores always have children book promotions around the holidays, and this is one area where we actually like to join the crowd. A great find is when the author and the illustrator both sign the book. We've done this for several years, so now our grandkids' bedrooms have dedicated shelves for signed books. The icing on the cake is we get to read them a story from one of these books whenever we visit.

Here are Amazon links to bestselling books in a few categories. There are many more categories a click away, but you can also search for books on a specific subject.

If you have a Western enthusiast in the family, giving one or more of these books can bring a smile to their face … mine as well.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone

"I do not think of all the misery, but of the glory that remains. Go outside into the fields, nature and the sun, go out and seek happiness in yourself and in God. Think of the beauty that again and again discharges itself within and without you and be happy."-- Anne Frank

I would add to Anne Frank's exhortation that we should also go to family. Thanksgiving is fun and a pleasant day to share with our families. There’s not near the commercialization that afflicts Christmas, and conversation is easier than on a boisterous Fourth of July. It’s a great time to catch up as we take a day off from our busy lives. Stay in the moment and enjoy the day … after all, the very next day is frantic Black Friday.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Is Pinterest Good For Anything?

When I get stuck writing, I find myself wandering over to Pinterest. What is it about this site that's so fascinating?  First, it's visual, so it gives me a welcome mental break from words, words, words. Compared to other social sites, it's easier to tidy up and tinker with so it looks the way I want. 

Although I've heard some get addicted, I find Pinterest a quick sojourner that refreshes my mental state for writing. Pinterest is like a shoe box where I collect odd things that interest me. It  accommodates some of my quirky interests, like Great American Tacky, Slightly Ill Humor, or surfing.  

For example, I think villains are a key element of storytelling. Heroics can be uplifting, but heroes need someone or something to fight against. Nasty villains, allow heroes to be heroic.

If you'd like, you can check out my rogues gallery on Pinterest by clicking over to Bad to the Bone.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Writers in Hollywood ... Has anything changed?

Famous authors
Raymond Chandler is one of my favorite writers. To this day, he is well known for his novels and screenplays, but many don’t realize he also wrote magazine articles on writing and the popular culture. The following two links lead to prior posts referencing Chandler’s articles.

Here are a few excerpts from an article he wrote in 1945, titled, “Writers in Hollywood.”

Raymond Chandler
“Hollywood is easy to hate, easy to sneer at, easy to lampoon. Some of the best lampooning has been done by people who have never been through a studio gate, some of the best sneering by egocentric geniuses who departed huffily - not forgetting to collect their last pay check – leaving behind them nothing but the exquisite aroma of their personalities and a botched job for the tired hacks to clean up.”

“…writers are employed to write screenplays on the theory that, being writers, they have a particular gift and training for the job, and are then prevented from doing it with any independence or finality whatsoever, on the theory that, being merely writers, they know nothing about making pictures, and of course if they don't know how to make pictures, they couldn't possibly know how to write them. It takes a producer to tell them that.”

“I hold no brief for Hollywood. I have worked there a little over two years, which is far from enough to make me an authority, but more than enough to make me feel pretty thoroughly bored. That should not be so. An industry with such vast resources and such magic techniques should not become dull so soon … The making of a picture ought surely to be a rather fascinating adventure. It is not; it is an endless contention of tawdry egos, some of them powerful, almost all of them vociferous, and almost none of them capable of anything much more creative than credit-stealing and self-promotion.”

If you’re interested in writing or movies, you’ll find this article fascinating. Although written sixty-five years ago, it still rings true.

This link will take you to the full article in the Atlantic Monthly archives.

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Big Thanks -- 50,000 Copies Sold

Last Friday, I received my annual statement from my large-print publisher. When I entered the sales into my ledger, the total copies of my books sold went over 50,000. Whoa! That may not be a number that would impress a New York Times bestseller, but it's a big number for someone like me who didn't start gifted, famous, or notorious. The best part is that my sales keep improving. It seems I'm gathering a bigger audience all the time.

When I started writing fiction, I was just an ordinary business guy who had written lots of technical nonfiction. I started writing fiction to escape the tensions of the day. Ten minutes at my keyboard and I was transported to another time and place. That was a reward in and of itself, but people I don't know have joined me in my stories. That is the greatest reward of all. Writers may love to write, but they really love to be read. So, thank you. I appreciate the company.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Our Constitution Rocks by Juliette Turner

I spent five years researching my novel on the Constitutional Convention, Tempest at Dawn. I wish I had made things as clear as Juliette Turner has done in Our Constitution Rocks. I should have known. My wife taught me that when I needed a quick, clear perspective on a subject, I should start with a book aimed at middle-schoolers. She was right. When they're done right, they are educational, concise, clear, and fun. Juliette Turner has hit all of these targets.

"This is an important book," is a cliche of the publishing industry. Nonetheless, Our Constitution Rocks is an important book. Understanding our constitution is important for every citizen, but crucially important for the young who will lead our nation in the decades ahead. If you're an adult, you can also take my wife's advice and start your own study of the Constitution right here with this book. In fact, there's probably few better ways to spend some time with your child. The Constitution is every American's birthright. We should take it out from under glass and examine it at every opportunity. Juliette Turner has done our nation a service.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was on a Glenn Beck program with Janine Turner and met Juliette at the taping. Since then, I have written articles for Constituting America, which was founded by Janine Turner and Cathy Gillespie. You can watch Juliette Turner read one of my essays below. Despite a distant professional relationship, I highly recommend this book and hope that many parents give a copy to their kids for Christmas.

Tempest at Dawn is a novelization of the 1787 Federal Convention that we now call the Constitutional Convention.