Friday, May 31, 2013

Here's a Novel Idea

Novel Posters has created posters from the text of famous novels. This one is for The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is not only decorative, but it includes the entire text of the novel. When you return from seeing the latest Hollywood take on this classic, you can read the book ... probably standing up if you've framed and mounted the poster already. Who said e-books have killed print formats?  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Favorite Western Writer

Virginia City
Mark Twain in Virginia City by Andy Thomas
My favorite Western writer is Mark Twain. Owen Wister is second. These are probably not names that come immediately to mind when thinking about Westerns, but both of these authors actually experienced the American frontier. They were there and they wrote about it so fondly that the Wild West became a cultural icon. The whole world devoured Western stories. The American Western became a staple of fiction, Hollywood, television, and daydreams.

In Roughing It, Twain tells tall tales about his time in Virginia City. It is supposed to be a nonfiction memoir, but is probably about as truthful as The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. I suspect the two men would have admired each other's ability to make a point by telling a story.

Philip Pullman said, "Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever." The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a perfect example of this axiom. Below are a few handwritten pages from this great American classic. 

Handwritten manuscripts fascinate me. I used James Madison's convention notes when I wrote Tempest at Dawn. His notes were over 230,000 words; all recorded by dipping a quill into an inkwell. I marvel that in olden days, authors  maintained continuity without the cut and paste capabilities of a modern computer. Before word processors, writers had to keep future sentences in their head as their hand scrambled to keep up with their thoughts. Tough work that required exceptional mental agility. I thank Bill Gates daily for MS Word. 

handwritten manuscript

Note: the original title does not include the word The. Recent editions have generally added The.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What to give dad this Father’s Day?

father son
The best gift is a vacation … and the least expensive vacation is a book. A novel effortlessly transports the reader to another place and time. With a good book, dad can take a fifteen minute vacation or while away an entire afternoon. Either way, he returns feeling refreshed and more content with life.

father daughter
Gift books don’t have to be fiction. A respite with a nonfiction book about a special interest can also be relaxing. The great thing about books is that there are numerous ones for every interest, hobby, sport, or enthusiasm. If for some reason, your dad can’t get away to fish, golf, or whatever, he can frequently find a few minutes to read about his favorite activity. A good book allows him to indulge himself and possibly pick up a few pointers.

There is another reason I like to give books as gifts: I can write something personal on the flyleaf that won’t get thrown out like an old greeting card.

car enthusiast
The most important thing is to remind your father that you love him. The perfect book is far more personal than most gifts because it’s aimed directly at what you father enjoys. Put some serious thought into the right book to show you really tried to please him.

Here are a couple previous blog postings about Father’s Day.

Father's Day Tribute
What to give for Father's Day?

Friday, May 24, 2013

3:10 to Yuma—Make and Remake

Western classics Glenn ford
Russell Crowe
I bought the original version of 3:10 to Yuma because I wanted to compare it with the Russell Crowe remake. I liked both. Crowe played a great bad guy, but Glenn Ford, normally cast as a good guy, appeared to enjoy playing a rogue. (3:10 to Yuma is now my favorite Glenn Ford movie.)

I won't discuss specifics, but there were several plot or character improvements in the new version, however, I preferred the ending in the 1957 film. In fact, the contrast in endings tells a lot about Hollywood’s reluctance to embrace traditional heroes. (Elmore Leonard's short story has yet another ending.)

Production values were certainly better in the later version. It's also fun to watch the two trailers back-to-back to see how selling movies has advanced in the last fifty years.

If you're a film student, movie enthusiast, or just like Westerns, both versions are great additions to a private library.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Images Does Westerns

western mythology

Images is a great site for film and popular culture. They have a number of articles on Westerns, but I suggest you start with "The Western, An Overview." This seven page article covers the history of Westerns in film. Here are a few Images links.

The Western, An Overview

The Silent Western as Myth Maker
Spaghetti Westerns
Western Weblinks

If these articles have whet your appetite for Westerns, I have a suggestion:
The Steve Dancy Tales

Honest Westerns ... filled with dishonest characters.
The shopkeeper, Leadville, Murder at Thumb Butte

and coming soon...

Steve Dancy Tales
The Return

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

10 Myths of Indie-Publishing

I indie-publish because I like the control and speed. Traditional publishing is far too controlling and works at a glacial pace. I know because I've been traditionally published. Still am. The large print and audio versions of my books are traditionally published with advances. Which brings up a third reason I like indie-publishing—control over the various rights to my work. (Anyone interested in a musical?)

There is a lot of misinformation about indie-publishing, so here is my feeble attempt at myth-busting.

1.    Indie-publishing is a path to wealth

Walt Disney

I once owned a tee shirt illustrated with a bum holding a sign that read, “Please help, employed writer.” Except for a select few, writing has never been a lucrative profession. In recent years, there has been a wave of books about how you can sell a gazillion eBooks and soon be doing a Scrooge McDuck dive into a money pool. Not likely … unless you write a book about eBooks being an easy path to wealth. It’s difficult to produce a book thousands want to read, and real wealth won't come until you find hundreds of thousands of fans. However, if you are creative and hardworking, writing can provide a nice supplement to a day job.

2.    Publishing an e-book is free

You can electronically post a book for free, but it would not be published in a professional sense of the word. You need editing and probably professional formatting. The good news is that formatting is relatively inexpensive. The bad news is that editing costs about two cents a word, and proofreading another penny. Do the math. If you choose to proceed without editing and formatting, myth #1 comes into play.

3.    Price your book at 99 cents and you’ll sell a million

The primary marketing task for an indie-author is to stand out from the crowd … and right now the crowd looks bigger than the population of Cairo. For one brief moment you could stand on the shoulders of all the other indie-authors by promoting your book for 99¢ or free. Not anymore. Now low cost books have to figure out how to stand out from the low cost crowd … and if they succeed, they still won’t make serious money. For the most part, this is a yesteryear strategy.

4.    Giving a book away will build a sustaining platform

A free book promotion can generate immediate downloads, but it does not build a sustaining platform. The book will fall back into historic sales patterns soon after the free promotion ends. Free promotions must be done over and over again with each promotion having less impact. And there is no long term advantage. Free book groupies are fans of free books, not specific authors. There is money to be made with free book promotions, but they do not build author platforms.

facebook, twitter, youtube
5.    You can easily use social media to build huge sales

The words easily and huge ruin #5. Promoting a book with social media is hard work, and more important, it must be thoughtful. There is so much hype flying around that whatever you post is quickly dismissed unless the content provides useful information or has an element of cleverness. Huge sales may result from working social media, but only after an extended period of consistent and thoughtful postings. Social media is great, but it is not an easy path to sales.

6.    Amazon needs meAmazon owes me

Amazon is not your servant. Amazon is a marketplace.

In the Amazon marketplace, Amazon makes the rules. Whenever you chafe at the rules, ask yourself where you would sell your book without Amazon. There are a number of alternatives, but all of them combined do not approach the clout of Amazon. Besides, without Amazon, those alternatives would be less accommodating to indie-authors. Amazon is the single biggest reason there is an indie-publishing revolution.

7.    E-book formatting is a piece of cake

Narrative books can be uploaded with very little special handling. It’s still not a good idea. Any little format glitch distracts the reader from being transported to another place and time. It ruins the magic. If your book is worth hours upon hours of someone’s time, it is worth careful formatting for each brand of eReader. Do it right, or have it done by a professional.

8.    Print Books are Dead


Many indie-authors were drawn to eBooks because they grew up in a digital age and believe the physical world is unreal. Not true. Most readers prefer a physical book or read both formats. Even eBook enthusiasts often check to see if there is a print format before buying. Why? Because it means the author is serious and believes in his work. Like it or not, printed books lend credibility to eBooks.

9.    Networking with other indie-publishers will help build sales

There are many reasons to network with indie-authors, but sales is not one of them. Other indie-authors may share tips, but they’re not great buyers of other indie-author books. When you social network, don’t get sucked into spending all of your precious time chatting it up with other writers. Go find readers.

10.  Everyone has a book in them

Most people don’t. Not even one. Every successful writer writes. They don’t think about it, they do it. Just because indie-publishing has become feasible for the masses doesn’t mean everyone should be pounding away on a keyboard. Some people are better off expressing their creativity in another venue. Here is an easy test to see if you’re a writer. Do you enjoy writing? Is it something you can’t wait to get back to? If you think of writing as work, you’re probably not a writer. Writers love to write. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Books are such simple creatures

I’m currently going through the galley proof for The Return, A Steve Dancy Tale. In my supposedly perfect manuscript, I've already found over twenty revisions, errors, and typos. After these changes are incorporated into the text, the final step will be proofreading. Getting close.

The publishing process made me think that a book appears deceptively simple. Mental_floss recently published “10 Terms to Describe the Anatomy of a Book.” All of these words describe myriad parts of a book. Not such simple creatures after all.

steve dancy

Wire lines and chain lines

Physical books are being shoved to the side by eBooks, so these terms will become increasingly important as books are collected for their aesthetic value. If you interested in the meaning of these terms, you can follow this link to mental_floss.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Touchy, Touchy, Touchy

Snobs come in every variety

At Booktrust, Matt Haig started a cross-pond rhubarb with a post belittling literary snobs. Haig's article was less interesting than the responses. Dozens of people who wouldn't think twice about disparaging writers of popular fiction took umbrage that someone might criticize them. To prove elitism is not restricted to the U.K., Andrew E.M. Baumann in Georgia responded to Haig’s post with a 7,446 word diatribe of his own.

Personally, I define a book snob as someone who dismisses a work merely because it's popular. My definition would put Andrew E.M. Baumann in the snob camp because he wrote, “The demonstrated truth is that “popular” equals mediocre, or worse.” Mark Twain, Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Ben Franklin, Owen Wister, and many others would disagree that popular equals mediocre. Raymond Chandler wrote, “It might reasonably be said that all art at some time and in some manner becomes mass entertainment, and that if it does not it dies and is forgotten.” Every book that is popular is not literature, but it’s snobbery to assume that anything popular is unworthy of admiration.

So what qualifies as literature? Again, Chandler’s definition. “When a book, any sort of book, reaches a certain intensity of artistic performance it becomes literature. That intensity may be a matter of style, situation, character, emotional tone, or idea, or half a dozen other things. It may also be a perfection of control over the movement of a story similar to the control a great pitcher has over a ball.” That pretty much does it for me.

If this debate interests you, here are the links to the two referenced postings.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Junior Bonner—A Classic Western

I recently watched Junior Bonner again and it is an exceptional film. Great script, superb acting, and as they say in the commentary, "not just good editing, perfect editing." Like many contemporary Westerns, the script laments a lost era, but more important to the genre, Bonner reflects the ethos of the pioneering West.

Peckinpah was a great director. My favorite Peckinpah films were Junior Bonner and The Ballad of Cable Hogue. Both are great character studies. The films showed that Peckinpah didn't need slow motion violence to tell a good story.

It occurred to me that Junior Bonner shares similarities with Downhill Racer, which starred Robert Redford. The films show how a good story can sometimes present a more realistic picture than a documentary. Both movies revealed the nature of lone athletes compelled to compete against themselves. There are many great team-sport movies, but these films captured the primal culture of individual sports. Redford and McQueen also have never acted with more subtlety.  Even if you don't care about rodeo or skiing, these movies bring you into a fascinating world very unlike the way most of us live.

One last note: The Junior Bonner DVD also has an excellent commentary that ought to be listened to by every film student or film enthusiast.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mistakes Aplenty

Hi, I'm looking for a Bible for my mother but I'm not quite sure who the author is

Here are three sites that allow us to laugh at other people's mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. I know I've made more than a few. Although it's great therapy to be reminded that other witless people abound, I fear one day I'll open an article to find my own mistakes broadcast to amuse the world. So far, I've escaped this humiliation but it remains a fearsome nightmare.

Witless Questions Customers Ask in Bookshops 
(The comments outdo the article examples)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Off to Omaha

In the morning, I'll catch a flight to Omaha. Some of you may have read that I am moving from Arizona to Omaha. Not this trip. I'm going to Nebraska to close on our new house, but unfortunately our home in Arizona has not yet sold. Soon ... we hope.

We have gotten ready to move. The Salvation Army truck driver knows our address by heart, the trash barrel is jam packed every pick-up, and our stuff has never been so neat. All we need is a solid offer and we are gone.

There is one thing I need to take care of before we can go. In a prior life, I ran corporate data centers. For novelty, I had an IBM 083 Card Sorter in my office. It worked perfectly and everyone who came in felt compelled to run a deck of cards through this ancient machine.

It still works. And it is in my garage. When I moved on to another career, my staff gave it to me as a going-away present. That was kinda cool. Except movers charge by the pound, and this baby weights a ton. It is 1950s construction and appears to be solid steel. Anyway, I threw it up on Graig's List. No bites yet, but sooner or later someone will spot it and say, hell, I always wanted one of those. I've got a Fortan program on a stack of cards around here some place. It'd be fun to watch those cards fly through that sorter. Yep, someone will lust after this miracle of early computing technology ... or maybe not.

I wonder how much it would bring at a Goodwill store.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Judging a Movie by Its Opening Credits

They tell us to never judge a book by its cover ... but we do. Likewise, we probably shouldn't judge a movie by the title design. The Film Before a Film is a short Vimeo documentary on movie credits. I like filming family movies and editing them with Final Cut. It's a great break from writing. Besides I have exceptionally cute grandchildren. At least, I think so. Anyway, film credits have always been an interest of mine. Television credits, as well. Two of my favorite TV credits are CSI  and Modern Family.

I found this short entertaining, as well as instructional. Someone should do a similar documentary on book cover design. (Here are a few pulp fiction covers I like.)

THE FILM before THE FILM on Vimeo.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Book Cover ... by Design

Book cover design is an art ...and I am not an artist. At least, not a visual artist. Previously, I posted a mock-up of the book cover for The Return, A Steve Dancy Tale. The cover I chose was one of twenty-two different mock-ups. Here are a few of these rough prototypes.

The prototype we choose is on the left below, with the final cover to the right.

The cropping, typeface, and coloration were refined. This is a famous 1887 New York City photograph by Jacob Riis, titled Bandits Roost. I especially like Steve Dancy's shadow in the foreground.

Here are the covers for The Steve Dancy Tales. As with any series, there is a consistency in the design. Among other things, all of them use vintage photographs from the period. I'm a little disappointed in the size of my name, but I've been advised that when the author's name becomes larger than the book title, it's a signal that the writing is on a downward slide. We'll keep the name small for the time being. 

Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Wandering the Internet During a Writing Hiatus

When The Return was at the publishers for book design and proofreading, I had a rare opportunity to wander around the internet for no purpose other than entertainment. When writing, my online time is consumed with email, research, fact checking, and social networking. One of my favorite sites is The Atlantic. This online repository has all kinds of interesting archival material.

(In previous posts, I have referenced Atlantic articles written by Raymond Chandler. You can find his “Oscar Night Ramblings” and “Writers in Hollywood” by following this link.)

This morning I ran across this 1947 Coronet Educational Film. Coronet was a division of Esquire, a precursor of Playboy Magazine. This short really makes you think about the cultural changes in the last sixty years.

Bad girls

Friday, May 3, 2013

There is no life east of Pacific Coast Highway

A few posts ago, I described meeting an old high school friend at his mountain retreat in the Sierras.

When we were freshmen and sophomores, we rode bikes to the beach towing our surfboards behind us using jerry-rigged trailers we had cobbled together out of two-by-fours, carpet pieces, and old wagon wheels. It was a great time of life. The good news is that we knew it. We had lots of fun and many friends. We really did believe that no life existed east of Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).

Best of the batch of yours truly
On rare occasions, my friend would bring a twin-reflex camera to the beach and try to capture moments of surfing prowess. He had a darkroom in his garage and I can remember spending hours trying to finesse a recognizable image. No such luck. Without a telephoto, we only got  grainy pictures of neophyte surfers riding tiny waves. In other words, nothing we could pass around the school cafeteria to secure a date or a couple moments of fame.

On my visit last month, my friend gave me an envelope of black and white negatives. His idea was that in the big city, I might find a lab that could still process two-inch, fifty year old negatives. With a few phone calls, I succeeded. However, modern technology still can’t out-perform an enlarger in a garage. In fact, back in those days, we may have had the edge in technology for this ancient medium. Despite not finding Surfer Magazine-worthy material, we did have fun seeing these photographs once again. They brought back pleasant memories of long-ago summers. Unfortunately, they also reminded us how much time had gone by. Darn. Nostalgia just isn't what it used to be.

Me and an impolite friend

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Get a Spine!

The spine is the most undervalued aspect of book design. This is especially true today, when so many indie-books only publish electronically. Writers are doing themselves a disservice by restricting the market for their books. Granted, the majority of my sales are eBooks, but I also sell a respectable number of print books. I do well with libraries, and despite not pursuing bookstores, I've found my novels carried in the big chains and independent stores. Additionally, some readers who prefer electronic books still look to see if there is a print version to strengthen their purchase decision. My recommendation is that authors insist on a printed version. 

If a print format is produced, then a book becomes a three-dimensional object and must have a back cover and spine. The spine is the most important.

Unless you’re a bestselling author, your books will not be stacked on tables at the front of the store, so only the spine will be seen when your book is on a shelf. The same is true for a library. If you want to sell your next book to a library, people must find and check-out your previous books. So pay attention to the spine. Getting sales is tough enough without your book disappearing in a maze of other books screaming for attention.