Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Lady in the Gift Shop

The gym where I lift weights in Florence, Italy, is located on the second floor of a century-plus old building. In fact, I think it used to be a library or a bookstore as evidenced by its beautiful hardwood floors and nineteenth century spiral staircase (which is enclosed in glass according to Italy's stringent historical preservation laws).

During the small breaks between sets, I sometimes go to the window for a breath of fresh air. The window looks out onto the busy cobbled street below.

It also looks upon a small gift shop. 

The shop proprietor is an attractive, forty-something brunette woman who always dresses in black, be it a skirt and tights, or slacks. She always wears high heels too. Fashionista. I don't know how many years I've been coming to Italy for my extended writing retreats (I've spent the past 20 years traveling for assignments of one kind or another), but it's been more than a decade. That same woman has been tending to the same shop with the same merchandise for all that time. Everyday her routine is the same. She opens up the glass door, sweeps and mops the wood floor till it's so clean you can eat off of it. She then does something peculiar. She arranges and re-arranges the already perfectly displayed little knickknacks and jewelry that are for sale.

This attention to detail has always perplexed me. When she arrives, the items have already been set in place as well as anyone can set them. They really don't need any attention at all. But she takes the time to shift an item here and an item there, always taking a step back to review and evaluate the move in her head, like an artist would examine a carefully applied brushstroke or maybe a professional chess player thinking and rethinking a move. My workout can sometimes last up to an hour and all during that hour, she will be arranging and rearranging the little gifts. The decorative shot glasses, the bracelets, the necklaces, the little glass trees, and miniature Ponte Vecchios and Duomos.

Her dedication to job and duty...her pride...got me to thinking about my books. All too often, we publish a book and simply forget about it. It's done, finished, published. Not much more can be done to improve upon it other than a little marketing. But marketing doesn't improve the product. It merely pushes the existing product, great, good, or piss poor. And it's tough these days for publishers big and small to market a book, unless you're Lee Child.

The books my publishers put out, God bless them, are untouchable once published. The publishers simply do not have the time nor the resources to correct editorial mistakes. If a word or two is misspelled, well then, suck it up buttercup. But when it comes to the books I indie publish under my own label, Bear Media, I am able to make corrections. I can fix any misspellings, mess with the cover if it isn't right, or work on improving the product description.

Maybe the book has been published for years. Maybe even six or seven years. But that doesn't mean it can't be improved upon. I can bet the woman in the gift shop who is constantly dusting off the merchandise and improving upon its presentation is never satisfied. She can always do better for her customers. I'm no different from the lady in the gift shop. If I can make even a single adjustment in the copy in one of my books, and take a step back to examine it, like a sculptor who's just made the the most delicate of cuts in a statue he carved a decade ago, then it's worth the effort.

Art might be abandoned, but room for improvement is infinite.

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Tuesday, December 4, 2018

One True Sentence


When it came to writer's block, or the prevention thereof, Hemingway once coined the famous dictum, "All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know." Ever since then, scholars have been scratching their heads as to his precise meaning and Papa is no doubt still laughing his balls off even from the grave.

What the hell does that mean? Write one true sentence.

Okay, I get it. You gotta get the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and emotions spot on. Like a reporter would do for a newspaper story (Hemingway started out as a newspaper reporter). He would strive for accuracy in setting and action. But Papa was writing fiction which by definition is a big fat lie masquerading as the truth. Even if you're writing dystopian sci fi, you're going for as believable a book as possible.

But by writing that first true sentence, which in my case is usually a false sentence that should somehow read as something that, theoretically anyway, could have happened (or be happening in the case of the first person POV), I'm creating a kind of truth that would otherwise not have existed. Get my meaning here? I'm creating a whole new world, new characters with real drama, real problems that are at times life threatening. I write thrillers after all.

I just spent the past six weeks writing 70K words for a new book that takes place ten years in the future called Primary Termination. It's about a consumer-centric online company that essentially controls every aspect of your life and the Resistance movement that rebels against it. How did I begin a novel that takes place in a year that hasn't occurred yet, based around a plot that can only be imagined?

I wrote one true sentence.

"She's drowning in her own air." It's the first sentence of the prologue and it's the truth because my protagonist is running for her life. Then I wrote what would happen next and what would happen after that and so on and so forth. All of it is true and all of it is a lie at the same time. A fabrication based on a perceived truth. A sculpture, a painting, a sketch, a video game, a film, a song, an illusion, a book...it's all true and it's all made up.

One true sentence. It's what I have in the place of writer's block.
Thanks Papa.

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Sunday, November 18, 2018

Rich Writer/Poor Writer



Poor writer went to writing school. He was taught to write slowly, by hand if necessary, and to craft his sentences until they were shiny and perfect.

Rich writer might have gone to writing school, but immediately discarded what he was taught there since it became fairly obvious that writing school is for learning how to become a writing teacher, not a professional fiction author. He writes at pulp speed (3,000 words per day on average).

Poor writer writes maybe one book per year and depends entirely upon the traditional method of publishing, be it with a small, medium, or large press.

Rich writer goes hybrid. He not only publishes traditionally, but he starts his own press too. He writes upwards of one book or novella per month, sometimes in genres and/or with plots that no traditional publishing house would ever consider buying for their list.

Poor writer must either teach and/or maintain a day job in order to make ends meet, even if he has published many novels traditionally.

Rich writer views his many indie books as assets, sort of like real estate. Every book, every short story, and novella become another piece of intellectual property that will make him a fair return on investment (ROI) for years to come.

Poor writer believes entirely on mega upfront advances, even if there's no hope in earning said advance out.

Rich writer also believes in mega advances. But he doesn't discount minimal advances with a generous royalty back-end for his traditional titles (the sooner one earns out the better), and consistent passive income and steady growth for his indie titles. 

Poor writer is too proud to write anything that isn't considered high-brow or literary.

Rich writer pens in all sorts of genres...genres he loves to read. And his prose can compete with any literary writer.

Poor writer lives a solitary sometimes sad life, and rarely engages with other writers since he is jealous of their success.

Rich writer not only engages frequently with other writers, he props them and their new books up whenever he can. He is constantly amazed at the success of his fellow authors. It gives him hope for his own future.

Poor writer doesn't learn anything new after writing school. He's too good for that.

Rich writer is constantly learning, and constantly striving to educate and reeducate himself not only on how to be a better writer, but also a better seller of his books.

Poor writer never markets his work. It's beneath him.

Rich writer markets like crazy, and/or or hires a marketing professional to "move units."

Poor writer looks at the decline in the number of independent bookstores in recent years, and with what looks like the eventual demise of Barnes and Noble, doesn't see much hope for books in the 21st century.

Rich writer gazes at the stats on how many smartphones are being sold per year to just about every soul on the planet, and sees a barely tapped goldmine.

(to be continued...)

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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Get a tour of my Italy apartment...


...where the magic happens.
Or hell, I don't know if it's magic, but I do recall an interview with Tom Petty before the good Lord pulled the guitar plug: "I think I'm just a conduit."

That's the way I feel sometimes. Because God knows, the way I was raised, it wasn't to be a writer, that's for sure. But that's my life. Anyway, I spend a good portion of it here in Italy, and this is a video of my apartment where I write and contemplate the life, the losses the gains, the loves the, the not to be loves.

I hope it inspires you to do the same.




One quick correction when I say "I stay here anywhere from 6 to 2 months." Huh? That's supposed to be six weeks to two months. Must be the Chianti with lunch....

Write and write with passion. And do it from anywhere in the world. You not only live once. Your life is super short. Don't blow it in the suburbs in a most unhappy way.

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Sunday, November 4, 2018

Sucker Punched in Paradise



The other night...I think it was Monday...I stopped in at one of my local Florence pubs that's no different from the local I head out to most nights back in New York after work. Since I've been frequenting the place for over ten years consistently, lots of people know me there and it's a nice atmosphere. Anyway, after speaking to a few folks whom I haven't seen in some months, I turned to reading the new texts on my phone when I feel a locomotive slam into the side of my head.

Next thing I know, I'm on the floor on my back, and I'm watching this dude stomp out of the bar. Stomp is literal since he stomped on my eyeglasses just to add insult to injury. I wish I could say I did the heroic thing and bounded right back up and went after his cowardly ass, but things being the way they were, I could hardly see straight I was so stunned (also, my head hit the back of a solid wood bench on the way down). My guess is I passed out for a second or two.

CCTV vid shows proof positive that the psycho dude who did this was waiting for me. What beef he had with me is anyone's guess since I'd never met him before, although I believe I might have seen him a few days before and even briefly exchanged some small talk while I ordered a drink and then proceeded to speak with some friends. Word about this man surfaced later, and apparently he's been drifting through Europe, bragging about getting into fights. If that's the way he fights--sneaking up on people while they are reading their texts--I imagine he wins a bunch of them.

I did the right thing and reported the incident to the police who picked him up the next day when he stupidly showed back up at the bar. I'm told there will be a trial at some point. I also shared the CCTV footage with the state department who are monitoring his actions since his face has no doubt been recognized by now along with his ID. I'd show you the footage here now, but I made promises to certain professionals that I would keep it under wraps until the time is right. When the time comes, I'll spring it here. It's creepy.

The point of all this is not to lick my wounds in front of my readers, but to send out a word of caution to all those who, like me, live to travel. Even in a place like Florence, Italy, an artist's paradise, significant dangers exist. You must be vigilant at all times. If I had eyes in the back of my head, I might have seen this creep closing in on me. But I don't and he got the best of me. But it won't happen a second time, believe me. That's why I keep lifting all those heavy weights everyday, day in and day out. It's why I do the cardio. It's why I engage in target practice at the range consistently. 

Traveling at present? Be safe and watch your back...always.

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Monday, October 29, 2018

A new existentialism...



This dawned on the author while traveling from Newark to Rome the other day: despite the hordes of fellow travelers within elbow distance, actual human contact need not be applied in this post-post modern world.

There's the drop off at the Newark United Terminal No. 3. From there one has a choice to approach the counter where a human being will assist one with check in. But utilizing the more robotic "kiosks" are strongly encouraged. All one has to do is present the machine with one's passport and it automatically spits out one's boarding pass.

From there one makes one's way to security, which still uses real flesh and bone TSA, although these people are being phased out as new x-ray tech becomes the new norm.

Once security is completed, today's modern day traveler can enjoy oneself at any one of the many bistros and restaurants that fill the terminal. Only, a human being doesn't take one's order. An iPad does. Sure, a person delivers one's food, but perhaps this is only a temporary measure in what's still considered a beta automated food service system. When paying for one's food and drink, one uses a debit/credit card that is attached to an online banking service because after all, one enjoys direct deposit.

Then it comes time to fly. Pilots are at the helm, but the computer flies the plane from take-off to landing. From what the author is told, today's pilot is required to land a plane manually every 20 or so landings to stay sharp. This is disconcerting.

Used to be a time when upon landing after a long haul transatlantic flight, the passengers would clap. It was heartwarming display of collective humanity. No one claps anymore. One immediately turns on one's smartphone instead.

One enters into the airport and another robotic kiosk scans one's passport. It's a silent, if not nerve racking process. What if the robot doesn't recognize the traveler? Is said traveler then turned away by a machine?

But once accepted by the robot (one is literally given a green or red light), the human being manning the immigration counter is a welcome sight. One wishes him or her a good morning and does so with a smile. But one receives only stoic, stone-faced silence in return. Perhaps the immigration personnel are not human after all.

One takes the taxi into the city. Not much is said between driver and passenger since the former is concentrating on GPS (soon the taxi will be driverless) and the latter on one's email. Once the traveler arrives at the hotel, automated check-in is an option. One chooses to do it the old fashioned way--by consulting with a concierge.

One gets right to work, typing out a piece about a new existentialism. It's writing that won't be passed on to an editor, or to publisher, or to a graphic arts department. It will be published on one's own blog site. The income derived will be indirect and passive.

One writes the many chapters that make up a new novel. One has a choice here. It's all about one's idea of controlling one's own destiny. One can bypass human beings altogether and edit the book via an editing program like Grammarly Chrome. One can choose cover art online. One can auto upload the book onto the KDP platform or D2D, which will automatically format the book. One can then advertise and promote the book with online social media ad services (the author, who is a hybrid, chooses to work with publishers, and real editors and artists. It's all about individual choice).

If there is any hope for the book selling well, it no longer has anything to do with (human) word of mouth, but instead, a generous automated push by the algorithmic gods. In other words, when it comes to post-post modern day publishing, human beings need not apply (there's that turn of phrase again).  

There's nearly 7 billion people on planet earth as of this writing. Each and everyone of them connected not by human sensory perception, but by wires, circuits, applications, programming, and artificial intelligence.

It's a time of new existentialism.

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Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Do you still need an Agent in 2018?

You need to ask yourself that very question these days as publishing becomes more and more democratized. Indeed all of media for that matter (if someone told me ten years ago I'd be watching my favorite "news" programs on my cell phone and/or via YouTube or FB, I would have said, 'Take another sip.').

One of my good pals in writing and publishing, Ben Sobieck, has sold the film rights to one of his stories not through an agent, but instead, Wattpad. You know, that web portal that allows fans to read your work for free. Who'd a thunk it? In fact, he wrote a book on the subject. You should check it out right HERE.

More and more of my indie books I publish through Bear Media are far outselling anything my publishers own, save a few titles that Thomas & Mercer own (and they know how to sell books, even old books, believe me. One of my bestselling titles, The Remains, is currently being promoted by the house and get this, it's six years old). What this means is, I am placing as much importance, if not more importance, on the indie books as I am my traditionally published products. Lots of crime writers are doing the same thing. Check out this article written for Publishers Weekly in 2016 by Nicole Audrey Spector and you'll see why.

This is not good news for agents. As the one-time frequenters of the New York City steakhouse-acquisition-editor-wet-lunch circuit, many have now ceased to exist. Errr, their businesses have ceased to exist, I should say. Some of the agents I have signed with over the years have either died, or quit the business to enter into something far more lucrative and a million miles away from professional publishing. My agent from the late 1990s, and who sold my first novel for $250K, is now a professional magician. You can't make this shit up, I tell you. Some agents are downsizing, and certainly most of them are weeding out the clients who don't earn or sell at all. Who can blame them?

So then, do I still need an agent in 2018? My answer is yes. Agents aren't only there to get you lucrative deals (this is not a knock, but I think half the deals I've ever made I brought to my agent and not the other way around), they are there to deal with contracts and subsidiary rights. They push your books at book fairs and when possible, try to nab movie/TV rights. In theory anyway. But one of the biggest reasons for having an agent is to help out during times of crisis. You can be damn sure that is Amazon KDP were to challenge my ownership of a certain property or if someone accused me of plagiarism, the first man/woman I'm going to look to for help will be my agent.

I go in more detail to discuss the necessity of agents in my new short book The Hybrid Mindset. I hope you check it out. You can nab the book in eBook or paperback. Or you can read for FREE in KU. 

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