Archive for month: August, 2011

The unnoticed benefits of the ePublishing revolution

31 Aug

It’s not hard to convince modern readers of the benefits of ePublishing. The popularity of the Kindle and Nook has given book lovers an unparalleled level of freedom akin to the invention of digital music players. The first iPod was released way back in late 2001 — ten years later and how many people do you know who don’t own an MP3 player?

But it’s not just bibliophiles who will benefit from new reading technology; savvy authors are in line to take advantage of the changing publishing landscape too. In fact, I would go so far as to say that we are actually benefiting more from this reading revolution than readers themselves.Think about this for a moment: all that has really changed for readers is how they purchase, store and read their books, but the act of reading hasn’t changed one bit,it has just become far more convenient.

The digital age has unleashed a new publishing paradigm on the world, but the true revolution isn’t happening for the reader, its happening for us, the authors. The equivalent of a tsunami is slowly sweeping its way across every aspect of publishing, and when the waters of change finally subside, the landscape will be unrecognizable, with few of the old establishments left intact.

The benefits for authors extend far beyond being able to publish one’s novel without the help of an agent or publishing house. It even exceeds the unprecedented commission payments and our ability to retain complete control over our work. This new business model forces indie authors to become socially active to succeed. We now have to reach out from wherever we write and actually talk to our readers, and our peers. As an author, I have an opportunity few writers in history have had: I can interact directly with my target market (fans of the post-apocalyptic genre and Science Fiction buffs) and ask them what they enjoy or dislike about the genre.

You’ve probably heard of Goodreads, it’s a site that brings readers and authors of every imaginable genre together, and that’s where I decided to put my theory to the test. I already had an outline for my new novel; I know how it starts and ends and the majority of what happens in-between, but I wanted to speak to lovers of post-apocalyptic stories and see exactly what it was they would like included.

I joined Apocalypse Whenever, a Goodreads group with over 1600 members from around the world interested in reading post-apocalyptic fiction. The group’s moderator, Gertie, was kind enough to allow me to post a request asking for their opinion on what makes a good end-of-the-world novel. The response I got from the members was absolutely phenomenal.  I had well over 100 replies; each gave me invaluable insight into what readers look for from a post-apocalyptic storyline.

I now know they want believable but flawed protagonists; they don’t want the clichéd macho-soldier type who can overcome any obstacle or situation thrown at him, or the professor who’ll save the day with a miracle solution from out of thin air. They want intelligent characters they can care about who are involved in situations situations that require ingenuity to overcome. They want normal people, just like you and me; ordinary people who are forced to overcome extraordinary situations that none of us, as readers, hope we will ever have to encounter other than between the pages of a good book.

There was also a consensus that post-apocalyptic novels lacked strong female leads: so my new book’s protagonist will be female. She wont be an unbelievable characterture of what seems to pass for a strong woman in today’s TV and movies, instead I hope to create a true heroine, someone just like my female  readers who (fingers crossed) they’ll associate with, but one with character traits my male readers will also recognize in women in their lives.

You may be asking whether this is a wise decision, letting go of some of the creative process involved in the development of my novel. Will this stifle creativity? Could this kind of writing-by-committee cause authors to abandon traditional development in favor of a narrowly targeted development process aimed directly at a particular stratum of readers? Could it kill organic story development and creativity?

Maybe. But it’s doubtful.

John Locke, in his recently released book “How I sold 1 Million e-books in 6 Months”, basically admitted that this process is the secret-sauce for his phenomenal success. Locke has found a niche readership that he caters to. He listens to them and writes exclusively for that audience, everyone else can go pound salt as far as he is concerned. He expects to get negative reviews from people outside of the narrow band of readers he has identified as being fans of his stories, but that doesn’t matter to Locke. He’s gone out of his way to cultivate a relationship with his readers and gives them exactly what they want. It’s hard to argue with the kind of success he has had, no matter what you think of his ability as a writer.

Am I advocating authors give up creative control of their next novel? No, of course not, but as writers we are lucky enough to be at the forefront of a revolutionary period that gives us greater access to the people we write for than at any other time in history. It would be a crying shame if we missed this opportunity to reach out and connect with our readers, because, in the end, that is who we are really writing for.

 A quick plug: My new novel is called Extinction Point. It’s due out this December. You can sign up to be notified when I release it by using the form in the top-right hand side of this page


Another 5-star review for Towards Yesterday. This time from Sift Books Review

19 Aug

Kevin Glowacz just posted a great 5-star review of Towards Yesterday. You can find it by visiting the Sift Book Reviews site here

Dogs, life and other great mysteries

15 Aug

It was obvious someone loved the stray mutt because when I found her in the front yard of my Los Angeles home, back in 1997, she still had a collar with a leash attached. It took me a good three hours to coax her to me; she’d get to within 5 feet, her tail nervously sweeping the air before fear got the better of her and she’d scoot off to hide behind a parked car.

It took several treats and a whole lot of cooing and sweet-talking before she finally trusted me to edge close enough to sniff my offered hand. The second I picked up her leash it was as though I was dealing with a different dog. She trotted alongside me like we had been best buddies for years, playfully leaping at my hand, her tail wagging back and forth fifteen to the dozen.

I decided to name her Floella.

Flo (as I inevitably wound up calling her) was a yellow Labrador. She was around nine or ten years old at the time she wandered into my life and, despite our best efforts to find her owner, no one ever claimed her. So with us she stayed.

If you’ve read my earlier blog (available here), you’ll know that in 2003 my family’s fortunes took a turn for the worst. We lost everything and faced abandoning our animals (we had another dog and four cats at the time) so we could stay in LA or taking a chance and moving to Nevada where we could at least rent a place that would let us keep our pets. We chose Nevada.

In 2005 Flo suddenly stopped eating. She had a thing for potato chips and I’d occasionally reward her with one. When she refused even that treat, my wife and I knew something was wrong. The next day, a veterinarian friend of ours took her into Las Vegas for a check-up. The news wasn’t good; Flo had colon cancer and we should come in to the clinic and pick her up.

It’s about 60 miles from where I live to Las Vegas. The trip involves traveling over the Mount Charleston mountain range, the peak at Mountain Springs is approximately halfway to Vegas and it was here that completely out of the blue I sensed Flo’s presence in the car with me. Since the first day I found her, she had a habit of expressing her love by gently head-butting me in the chest like a cat, encouraging me to scratch up and down her back. As we reached Mountain Springs, with Las Vegas laid out in the distance, I felt Flo’s familiar gentle bump against my chest, sensed her head leaning against me. I saw her looking up at me with her beautiful sad eyes … and then she was gone.

An intense sense of loss immediately reduced me to tears (yeah, I know, I’m a big softy). I turned to my wife and said, “Flo’s gone.”

“What do you mean she’s gone?”

I repeated that I knew Flo had died because she had just paid me a visit… in a Dodge Durango … at the top of a mountain range … doing 70 MPH. Trust me, I know how ridiculous it sounds but I realized that I had just witnessed  something totally outside the normal realms of experience: my dog had just said goodbye to me.

I have a wonderful wife who puts up with my many quirks and eccentricities. Humoring me, she called our vet friend who confirmed the worst; Flo had just died peacefully and without pain, her systems had simply shut down and she was gone.

This wasn’t the first time I’d experienced an event this strange and emotionally moving. A few years earlier my wife and I had helped our same vet friend with a particularly sad case involving a sick puppy. This young St. Bernard (who must have weighed 80 pounds) was so sick that he couldn’t even stand and needed to be carried everywhere, far too heavy for our vet friend to be able to move on her own. His illness was terminal and it was time for my veterinarian friend to ease his passing. He was a beautiful dog and as the vet, her husband, my wife and I carried him on a blanket and placed him on the floor, I looked into his pained eyes and immediately felt a connection. For the next few minutes, his eyes never left my own. He gently licked my hand as the vet prepared and administered the shot that would end his suffering and put him gently to sleep.

As the life left the pup’s eyes and he exhaled his final breath, I experienced something so incredibly moving that I still have a problem categorizing it within my own world view today. I felt a sudden electric rush of energy pass through me; a swell of ecstatic vitality so fantastic and powerful it rocked me off my haunches as though I had been physically struck. Imagine the joy of a dog that had spent its entire life chained up in a back yard suddenly let loose in an open meadow, that’s as close as I can come to describing the incredible sense of freedom that passed through me.

I was stunned. I’m not a religious man or prone to over sentimentality, but I can only describe this event as a spiritual experience. I was left with a definite feeling that this dog had just passed onto somewhere very different from our own little world and that he was thankful for the release.

I know what you’re thinking: he’s delusional; his memory is faulty; his emotions got in the way of his rationale. If you are thinking any of those things, you’re quite simply wrong. Of course, there could be some sensible explanation for both of these events but those who know me would tell you that I am more prone to err on the side of science than the metaphysical — I have this annoying habit of questioning everything.

So, why am I sharing these two events with you?

If you’ve read any of my work you’ll notice a recurring theme running through every story and book: this universe is a far stranger place than any of us can ever claim to comprehend. Religion and science both tell us they hold the answers and both compete for our attention to the exclusion of the other. In spite of what both schools of thought would have you believe, there is still mystery in this world, and as an author I believe it’s my job to remind you that  “The Truth” is not a wholly owned subsidiary of religion or science.  We are all adventurers on a journey, and all equally likely to witness the strange and inexplicable vastness that surrounds us.

Hamlet pretty much sums up my thoughts when talking with his trusted friend: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”.

I’m going to do my best to keep reminding you of that.


21st Century Man — a short story

09 Aug

Nevermet Press published one of my short stories earlier this week.

21st Century Man borrows the main characters from both H.G. Wells’ The Time Time Machine and a song by the Electric Light Orchestra entitled, oddly enough, 21st Century Man (thank you Jeff Lynne). I’ve mixed the two themes together to create a short on what really happened to the worlds first chrononaut.

The story will also be published in book form as part of the Nevermet Press’ Stories from the Ether anthology in early  2012, but you can read it for  free on their website by clicking here.