Monday, October 28, 2013

Travel Day

In 1937 the young journalist Martha Gellhorn traveled to Spain to to observe the Spanish Civil War and to get a little private face-time with Ernest Hemingway. She carried only a knapsack, a portable typewriter, and fifty dollars in her pocket. I think for Martha, or Marty as Ernest would call her, it wasn't what she brought along on her travels that bore importance, it was more about what she left behind. There's nothing romantic in packing up your entire apartment and dragging it along with you on your travels. Far more romantic to leave it all behind. Everything.

Martha would become a life-long traveler, never staying in one place for very long. She would go on to have homes in Cuba, Mexico, Rome, East Africa, and eventually London. Her homes were always small if not humble and in terms of mod cons, sparsely equipped. Instead the layover-homes contained the essentials for a writer who spent most of her time on the move: books, a typewriter, booze, and an ashtray for her never ending cigarette. Even into her late eighties she was always ready to travel at a moment's notice and often found herself making difficult journeys on her own dime in order to research a new novel she was writing or to find the truth behind an armed conflict or the resulting carnage of that conflict.

She had a son, Sandy (adopted), but she would claim herself to be the worst mother in the world. She had several husbands (including Hemingway), but she would claim to not only be a poor wife, but also very bad in bed. Once, she spent a couple of years playing the house-frau to the then editor and chief of Time Magazine, complete with weekend house parties in the suburbs and she nearly committed suicide from the boredom and despair. I think it safe to say that Martha Gellhorn was not the domestic type.

I've just packed my knapsack. I have considerably more than fifty bucks stuffed in my pocket, but given the more than three quarters of a century that's lapsed in between 1937 and now, I'm not carrying much more than its 2013 equivalent. I'm heading back to Italy for two months and then onto France for the New Years. When I'm gone I will be rewriting two books, MOONLIGHT WEEPS and THE BREAKUP. I'll also be mapping out another new standalone that at present has no title. I'll be taking care of my normal journalistic duties for some magazines I work for (I have a deadline tomorrow which I'll make as a soon as I land in Rome). It will be a busy time that will also include some four-wheeling in the Tuscan Mountains and short trips to other countries. Traveling light without the burden of possessions is important. Traveling without regret is essential.

I'm not sure who pointed out to me that if sharks don't move forward they die. Probably some dude in a bar. But no one wants to be that dead shark laid out on the couch watching the flat screen in his living room whispering shoulda, coulda, woulda. Not me anyway.

Boarding pass...check.
Wallet and euros...check.

I'm off to the airport.
So long and farewell.




Thursday, October 24, 2013

Gaming the System Goes Bye-Bye

Computers and the way they process metadata is a big topic these days. Not the least of which is the train wreck that is Obamacare and its cursed, half a billion dollar website. Then there's the NSA which it turns out, is spying on everyone from you and me to the Presidents of Germany and France. When those unmanned drones fly to Pakistan and blow people up, it's done via video-game-like computer. When Oliver Stone comes out of the woodwork demanding an end to the President's NSA policy, you know times are changing.

In my own little world of words, it appears that both Amazon and Google are no longer entertaining labels or "tags" that link lesser known authors up to far bigger names in order to game the system and trick potential book buyers into purchasing a book they would otherwise not buy. You with me here?

Let give you an example. Until recently, it was possible to write a novel and publish it with a tag such as James Patterson and/or Stephen King. By utilizing these tags your title could potentially be found listed apart from a vast sea of titles along with the relatively few titles of the more famous author. It was a cool way to get noticed. I certainly used these tags when I could, as have many of my colleagues. At one point, your publisher could even design a cover that resembled a more famous author's book. Some authors have even adopted pen names that resemble a more famous author. You put together the tags, along with the book cover, and the new pen name, and it's fairly easy to fool a customer into buying your book. Thanks metadata.

But do you really want to trick someone into buying your title?

I know I don't.

Not long ago, my friend and former Delacorte colleague Harlan Coben said that to rely on trickery or sketchy social media tactics in order to game the system, is at best, an ill-advised practice. Sure, go ahead and Facebook news of your new book or news of a sale, but to constantly be harassing people to purchase your books, is a big no-no (take it from me, I'm as guilty of this as anyone...) What he advised is this: The best way for a book to get noticed and talked about is for that book to be really something special. Something special means making your book not good or passable, but great.

As recently reported on this blog, I've managed to sell more than 40,000 copies of my novel The Remains over the past six weeks (currently I've sold around 43K). That's a lot of books. Now, in truth, I have the benefits of a major publisher working behind the scenes with a state-of-the-art marketing team. But the team isn't always pushing the book. In fact, no one is pushing the book at present and it's still selling more than one hundred copies per day in several different countries at a fairly high cost.

Why is this title selling so well when other titles aren't?
I really can't say because, well, I just don't know.

What I do know is this: I work really hard on my novels and I think it shows. Writing a really good book is the only thing I truly have control over. Everything else is pretty much a gamble. Talent and hard work are essentials in this business, but luck is the common denominator.

Want to have more luck and increase your chances of nailing a bestseller?
Work harder.

In the end, tags, labels, and metadata that we once relied upon on for selling books will be forgotten. As authors (surviving authors) we can only adapt to the current publishing climate, taking into account both publishing and marketing trends. One thing that is never trendy: writing as well as you can.

Write a great book. The kind of book that will get people talking. The kind of book that will raise up the fine hairs on a reader's neck. Sooner or later you'll have your bestseller. And you won't have earned it through trickery. You'll have earned it the old fashioned way: through sheer talent and hard work.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Scary "Full Moonlight" Halloween Sale!

I sometimes like to think that if Stephen King were to write about a detective with a piece of .22 caliber bullet lodged in his brain making his sudden and unexpected death from stroke not only a real possibility but a distinct reality, he'd have come up with the Dick Moonlight series. The Moonlights have gained in popularity over the years and maintain a quasi-cult following.   

Years ago I was (and still am) a big X-Files fan, and I even wrote an X-Files novel for Amazon Publishing this past April (I wrote it in three brain bursting weeks!!). Although I've been paid handsomely for the project, Fox Studios is blocking the publication of the novel for now due to some licensing issues. However, in the X-Files, anything-can-happen vein, I also wrote Full Moonlight, a novella that could easily pass as one of those creepy stand-alone episodes that Fox Mulder and Dana Scully would often find themselves enveloped in, thanks to the inventive mind of series creator/producer, Chris Carter, and series lead actor/writer/director, David Duchovony.

So, in the spirit of Halloween (which is my son Jack's birthday by the way), I give you Full Moonlight for just a buck. You can read it under a full moon, or you can read it in bed, under the covers on your Kindle. But just remember that it's make believe, or else you might have a difficult time falling asleep.

Happy Halloween all!!!

Buy Full Moonlight. Get real freakin' scared!!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Turning a Bad Thing into Gold

I'm by no means a Midas type of guy. Meaning, not everything I touch or write, for that matter, turns into gold. But I have become a survivor. Case and point: Eight years ago this week, my second wife and I split up. I packed up my stuff along with my then thirteen and nine year old son's stuff, and moved from a huge four bedroom, three bath house to a two bedroom, one bath apartment. My youngest son was forced to leave his school and his friends while my oldest son became quite angry and at the same time, withdrawn over what to him, seemed like yet another life rejection. Both boys also had to leave behind their little sister. 

But here's the hard truth of the matter: I had no one to blame other than myself. I'd become a frustrated and unhappy young man. Having achieved some major success just a few years before in the form of quarter million dollar two book deal with Delacorte Press, I felt that I was entitled to more success. When that deal eventually went sour due to the publisher's corporate problems and I was left high and dry, I fell into a tailspin of despair that made life with Vince pretty unlivable.

Still recovering from the ill effects of a very expensive first divorce, my finances were in a shambles, my debt was enormous, and I had no real cash coming in. To make matters worse, I had no publisher and even my then agent was no longer returning my calls. That Christmas morning I was so depressed, I woke up, went straight for the refrigerator and cracked open a beer. I had reached rock bottom. As I stood there with the beer in hand and a tear running down my cheek, I knew I had two choices. I could either keep sliding south, which of course means six feet under. Or I could pull up my bootstraps and start climbing out of the hole I'd dug for myself. Luckily I tossed out the beer and got digging.

It was around this time I started writing THE REMAINS, a story about twin girls who were abducted back in the 1970s when they were only twelve by a madman who lived in a house in the woods behind their home. In part, the story was based upon my breakup with my second wife and I was able to utilize some of our relationship as the basis for the main characters. In this case, my protagonist, the artist and art teacher Rebecca, still maintains a friendly if not loving relationship with her ex, Michael. Michael is a writer who, having once before hit it very big, fell into a trap of partying like a rock star until one day he woke up in a hospital only to realize that everything he worked so hard for had turned to shit. And like me, he had only himself to blame.

Michael still loves Rebecca and since she is his muse, he insists on writing inside her apartment. When Rebecca begins to receive strange paintings with messages hidden inside them from an autistic savant who is her student, she comes to realize the paintings are warnings. The man who abducted her all those years ago has been released from prison and he's out to finish the job he started with she and her twin sister all those years ago. Only this time, he plans on doing it right. That said, Michael and Rebecca team up not only to solve the mystery, but also to rekindle their love.

Just the other day it dawned on me that if I hadn't broken up with my second wife whom I loved very much, I might never have written THE REMAINS. In fact, I'm quite sure I would not have written the story at all. if I hadn't reached rock bottom and survived it all, I never would have written the character of Michael. Nor would I have nailed the desperate-need-to-survive-at-all-costs that Rebecca experiences when she's being hunted down in the woods by the same man who abducted her many year ago. In a word, I had taken a very bad thing like a breakup, and turned it into gold.

Last month, THE REMAINS sold over 30,000 copies in paper, ebook, and audio. It reached the Top 10 in the UK and the US. It was also, or so my agent tells me, Thomas & Mercer's No. 1 seller for the month of September. Not bad considering the hundreds of books they publish. But the point here is not how well something sells. The point is that I was able to turn a bad situation entirely onto its back, and write something that I am entirely proud of. Something that can stand up in both the literary and suspense genres (since September 1, the book has earned more than forty new 4 and 5 star reviews). 

Today, I'm sitting at my writing desk in my studio and reflecting on all that has changed in the eight years since my wife and I split up. I've published hundreds of articles and photographs for some major news outlets like RT and magazines like Living Ready. I've traveled to from Moscow to the Amazon Basin, and from Shanghai to West Africa. I enjoy extended one and two month writing retreats in Italy. I've written more than half a dozen new short stories and two novellas. More importantly, I've written thirteen new books and have recently completed the first draft of my seventeenth. My debt is gone, and I even have enough money to invest. I don't enjoy the benefits of one publisher. But several.

A number of years ago a prominent local bookseller looked me in the eye and said, "You will never score another major book deal again." Since then I've published (and re-published) seven novels with perhaps the hottest major publisher in the business today. I will be publishing more with them to be sure.

I love proving naysayers wrong. But more than that, I love proving myself wrong. Eight years ago I felt like there was nothing to live for anymore if I couldn't be a working writer, and do so on my own terms. What I had to grow up and realize is that this is a business full of ups and downs and the work ethic must be adhered to like a priest and his daily Our Fathers. But if there is one thing I've learned more than anything else, it's this: Happiness is a choice. It's not something that arrives and departs like the cavalry. Happy people seem to attract other happy people. They also attract success. They are healthy and hopeful. Their dreams are vivid and real. Conversely, the miserable attract misery. They are physically and mentally incapacitated and they are the perpetually plagued. Avoid them at all costs.

Just like Rebecca and Michael from THE REMAINS, my ex and I are giving our relationship another try. Why shouldn't we? We've both changed and managed to ride out our separate storms. We've grown up in the process and learned a whole lot about life. We're survivors.

Want to read THE REMAINS?

Get it at!