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. 


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, iPad, or ebook 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.
Honest westerns filled with dishonest characters.

  • The first five books of the Steve Dancy Tales are in audio.
  • The Shopkeeper audio  has 74 ratings for 4.2 stars. The non-audio versions have 524 reviews for 4.4 stars.
  • Leadville has 35 ratings for 4.6 stars. The non-audio versions have 158 reviews for 4.5 stars.
  • Murder at Thumb Butte has 26 ratings for 4.4 stars. The non-audio versions have 106 reviews for 4.4 stars.
  • The Return has 18 ratings for 4.3 stars. The non-audio versions have 111 reviews for 4.5 stars.
  • Jenny's Revenge has 9 ratings for 4.3 stars. The non-audio versions have 79 reviews for 4.5 stars.
Amazon and offer a steep discount if you have previously bought the Kindle version. (Hint: this is 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.

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 after filming. 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 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
And now for something completely different ...