Friday, July 31, 2015


“That is a brilliant disguise.”

I glanced down and met the bright blue gaze of a girl. She was about my age, or maybe a little older. Twenty-three? Twenty-four? Masses of curly platinum hair, a fierce nose that was too big for her thin face, a wide mouth painted tangerine.

I smiled. I didn’t know what she was talking about, but something about her reminded me of Amy, if Amy hadn’t been…Amy.

No, that wasn’t fair because Amy was pretty and this girl really wasn’t, although she definitely had something. She looked at me with bright expectation, and that was confusing because girls like her did not expect much from boys—men—like me.

That’s not a complaint, by the way.

Anyway, we were standing in the middle of Heathrow Airport, and I was trying to figure out where I was. I mean, I was in London, obviously. England. But it was like I’d stepped off the plane into a different world. Onto a different planet. A very busy, very noisy planet. Where the natives did not speak my language. That’s because people in England do not speak English. Or at least, not the same English that you and I speak.

Of course, in fairness, no one can ever understand anything being said over airport loudspeakers.

“A bowtie would have been even better,” the girl offered. Her smile was sly, knowing. “A bowtie would suit you.”

Okay, so now I knew she was making fun of me. I smiled again, to show I could take a joke, tugged down the brim of my hat—which I was already feeling a little self-conscious about; I’m not really the kind of guy who wears hats—and started walking. She walked with me.

People passed us, coming and going, lugging guitars and backpacks or wheeling luggage and children. Heathrow is one of the busiest airports in the world.

“Where are we going?” The blonde girl asked.

“I’m improvising.”

As a matter of fact, I did have a list. A partial list which included, in no particular order:

The British Museum


The Victoria and Albert Museum

Ministry of Sound


The Savoy

The London Eye

The Tower of London

The Globe Theatre

Since I only had four days in England, there was no way I was going to get to everything. But that was okay. The idea was to explore, investigate, broaden my horizons. Or at least get the hell out of Dodge for a while.

She put a hand on my arm. “I think we should go somewhere quiet. Don’t you?”

I paused. Looked at her in alarm.

Surely not? Her makeup was kind of dramatic, and her lacey black top was pretty sheer, but no. No, she was not professional. Just persistent.

“Actually, I’m meeting some people,” I said apologetically, though I’m not sure what I was apologizing for.

She laughed outright. “I should think so!”

This was getting strange. ER. Stranger. I said, “I’m sorry. Do I know you?”

Her brows drew together. “What are you…” I missed the rest of it as, overhead, a blurred female voice delivered some vital piece of information that no one could make out. There was no mistaking my new friend’s expression though. She looked alarmed and then increasingly angry.

“…suitcase, you’ve got the hat,” she said as the voice above us cut off. “If you’re planning to…” Another overhead announcement. This time the voice was male, but the message remained garbled.

I thought it might be a good idea to bounce, and I smiled, nodded, and turned away. Tightly clutching my suitcase, I hurriedly resumed my search for the Underground.

According to the Heathrow website, the Piccadilly Line provided the most cost-effective rail route between Heathrow Airport and the capital. The capital being…Central London? The trip was supposed to be less than an hour, with trains showing up every ten minutes or so even off-season. And July was not off-season. According to legend—and the website—there were three London Underground stations, but it took me a while to find even one because I kept looking over my shoulder for the girl who sort of looked like, but was definitely not, Amy.

Once or twice I thought I spotted her a few yards behind me, hair like a white bush and a look of fierce concentration on her pale face. Each time she was lost to view.

Assuming she was there at all and not busily accosting some other international traveler.

Finally I found a station, boarded the “Tube” seconds before the doors whooshed shut, and staggered to a seat. I sighed and wiped my forehead, knocking off the hat that had drawn so much unwanted attention. I looked around uneasily, but there was no sign of pursuit. People had out maps and brochures and electronic devices and snacks. No one was paying me any attention.

I picked up my hat, brushed it off, and set it on the seat beside me.

It was just an ordinary hat. Your basic Peter Grimm paper fedora. The kind of thing a lot of guys wore. Not guys like me, maybe. Or not like the old me. But I wanted to be the kind of guy who wore a hat if he felt like wearing a hat. And where better to test the look than on another continent where you wouldn’t have to face anyone again if it didn’t work out?

And then there was that half-heard reference to my suitcase. What was that about? I looked over at my suitcase. It was old, it was battered. That was kind of what I liked about it. It had belonged to my grandfather. Like the book, that tweed, striped suitcase had traveled with him to Europe in the 1960s. It was starting to show its age, sure, and more so after the trip across the Atlantic and down a couple of conveyor belts…so, come to think of it, maybe it hadn’t been the wisest choice.

Especially if it was going to trigger outbursts from crazy English girls.

I looked cautiously around once more.

All clear.

Relax. It hadn’t been the greatest start to my trip, but it was already in the past.

Speaking of the past…

I fumbled around in my backpack and took shelter behind The Book. Esquire’s Europe in Style.

My grandfather had regarded this book as a kind of talisman when he’d made his grand tour fifty years ago. It had been his idea—after the thing with Amy—that I should go abroad for a couple of weeks. He claimed his trip had been a turning point in his life, and there was no question that I was at a crossroads.

I studied the battered cover, decorated with cheeky orange and purple cartoons. I opened to my bookmark.

To be able really to dig Britain, you must be the sort of person who prefers the quiet and subdued to the noisy and strident, and who’s more comfortable with old leather, varnished wood and polished brass than with chrome and plastic. It helps to have a slight allergy to bright colors, loud talk and high-pressure operations in general…

Due out this November. Preorder now:


Barnes and Noble


Friday, July 24, 2015

Checkpoint, Please Pull to the Left

Today’s blog is sort of a where are they now blog.

No, not really. It’s more of a…it’s Friday, I probably need to do some kind of update.

This has been the weirdest year -- starting with my sudden decision that me and the SO should pick up and move. But now that the move is mostly complete (meaning I think we will be shoveling out Christmas ornaments and pails of old paint from the soon-to-be-rental-property for the foreseeable future, but OTHERWISE…) and we are pretty much settled.

I have accepted that everything cannot be accomplished in the first two months, especially when I am writing another book. And I will be writing something for the rest of the year. That’s just the way it goes when you don’t write anything at the beginning of the year.

Interior and exterior, the house is beautiful. Well, okay, it's perfect for us. And I hope to show some of our “final” photos maybe next week (when my desktop comes back from the repair shop).

I’m having trouble working in my office though. I’m not sure why exactly, because I wrote most of Winter Kill in the new office, but for some reason Jefferson Blythe, Esquire is driving me to my old bad habits of slouching in comfy chairs and playing the TV in the background. Maybe because I’m channeling my inner New Adult. I’m not sure, but I decided this was not the time to fight that battle, and I’m currently holed up in the giant chair in front of the fireplace in the master bedroom.

I hasten to say that the fireplace is not in use. It’s probably 80 degrees out there right now, despite a pleasant breeze drifting in from the large, picture windows.

I love this house. I love the direction my life is taking…although I’m not exactly sure what that direction is. I know I was ready for some changes, and I’m driving that transition, and while I’m not sure of my ultimate destination, I’m happy.

From a creative standpoint, there’s a lot going on. A numberof title are going into audio this year. I’m producing six of them myself, including a six-novella box set, so that’s a lot of audio for those of you who love to listen. This is going to be a real experiment because I’ve only done one project since ACX/Audible changed the royalty structure. If these books do not earn out, then that’s probably the end of putting the backlist into audio. I’ll leave it to my publishers. But I’m optimistic. You seem to really enjoy the added dimension audio brings.

There are a couple of projects coming for sure this year. One, of course, is Jefferson Blythe, Esquire and the other is a previously published work which I’ll talk more about later. The PPW is one of my all time personal favorites, so I’m hoping you’ll enjoy it too. But then what? A short story for the Trevor Project, a possible essay on Joseph Hansen… I’m not sure what else there will be time for.
There’s the trip to Scotland at the end of September. Two weeks of a musical, magical mystery tour.

The Mermaid Murders is planned for January 1st so that will take up most of what’s left of the autumn. Is anything left of the autumn? And I’m working on a non-fiction project (again, too early to discuss).

So as updates go, I guess this is kind of vague.

It is a very productive time, but as I look over the list there’s a lot of experimental or simply very different stuff happening. There were a lot of projects I had originally planned for this year, but they just didn’t happen. And, as I begin to plan out next year, I find myself wondering if it’s realistic to schedule them for next year either?

There’s just so much going on, so much in flux. Every day feels different. Is this the way to run a writing career? I honestly am not sure. I continue to make it up as I go along.

So that’s me. What about you? We’re more than halfway through the year now. Is 2015 turning out as planned?  What has been the biggest surprise this year? 

Monday, July 20, 2015

Why Do You Write?

No. Stop. Wrong question. We all know why we write, even if we can’t explain it to anyone else.

The real question -- the tough question -- is Why Do You Choose to Publish?

Publishing -- whether you do it yourself or sign on with someone else -- is an enormous endeavor.

This is where I think many of us start to waffle with our answers. Sometimes we’ve never even stopped to consider what we really hope to achieve from publishing our writing.


Creative validation?



Change the world?

It Was All A BIG Misunderstanding?

And there are probably other reasons.

There is no wrong reason, by the way.  And there’s probably no one single reason. I suspect most of us decide to publish our creative outpourings out of mixed motives. And the reasons change as we go along. When I was eleven I wanted to be a writer because I wanted to be rich and live in a castle by the sea. Nice and simple! :-D

I no longer need to be rich. I just want to earn my living doing what I love and am good at. That’s one reason. I have others.

Money does figure into the decision to publish for most of us, and I think this is where a lot of the anxiety, frustration and dissatisfaction stems from. There’s such a dearth of any real information. We hear tales of fabulous success, especially through indie publishing, but according to one of the recent updates from the Author’s Guild, median earnings for a fulltime author are about 17K.

Now if you’re only bringing home 20K at your day job, going fulltime writing is an easy jump. Being able to work in your pajamas is well worth that hit to the bank account. But if you’re earning 70K…uh oh.

So the money thing. It’s real. It’s an obvious, tangible marker of success. It’s quantifiable. And we all need cold, hard cash to survive now that it's so damned difficult to find a rich, agreeable patron to sponsor us for the next twenty years.

But it’s probably the least important reason for most of us. I mean, if you’re smart enough to write a book and get it published, you’re probably smart enough to earn a decent living in other more secure and lucrative fields.

I don’t have any answers here. I’ve been seeing a lot of posts from writer friends feeling discouraged and/or frustrated. I see a lot of…sometimes I wonder why I put myself through this…

To which I think YES. Yes, that is exactly the question you should and need to ask yourself. Why are you doing this?

And while you're figuring that one out, ask yourself this:

Is what you want realistic and attainable?

Is the cost higher than the reward?

Is this even what you signed on for?

 No one can answer those questions for you. But this much I can tell you: what we want changes through the years. And that’s actually a good thing. The kid who wanted to be rich and live in a castle by the sea? I’m not that kid anymore. But the one constant in my life has been the words -- sharing the words is now part of who I am.

Be honest about what you want and what you need -- and pursue that. I guarantee you will be happier for it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Amazon vs The Volcano

I woke up late today, so my post is snitched from comments I made on Goodreads -- irony which I hope is not lost on The Watchers. :-P

I am admittedly bad about dealing with reviews. I don't pursue them, half the time I don't forward the requests so that my assistant can pursue them, I don't read them...but that's not to say I'm not grateful to reviewers or that I don't think they are important. I am and I do. I'm just conscious of the fact that reviews are for readers and my participation in the process should be non-existent or as close to as possible.

That said, even I am a little perturbed by Amazon's latest Big Brother tactics over who can review what. Not only can they not explain their criteria, their reasoning is pretty antiquated in this day and age of intense reader/author interaction.

Didn't Amazon buy Goodreads? Did they not understand what they were buying?

Readers and authors are SUPPOSED to interact now days. We're supposed to mingle and socialize online. We're supposed to offer readers free copies of our books and encourage them to review.

And if you're online for any length of time, of course you're going to "know" some of your readers and reviewers. The more passionate people are about your work, the more likely it is you will begin to interact with them online because that's how this Brave New Publishing world of ours works now.

Readers now have access to authors (and vice versa) in ways that are unprecedented. This is no accident. This reader/author social network is what we're building through sites like Goodreads and even Facebook. Amazon is the great grand-pappy of these sites, so for Amazon to suddenly demand a hands-off policy is truly bizarre.

It's also counter-intuitive to Amazon's own self-interest given that gifting readers full-priced books in exchange for reviews (as opposed to just sending a free ARC) is one of the oldest means of hitting Amazon's bestseller lists with surprising sales and glowing reviews.

So on one hand, I'd like to see that shut down. NO CUTS IN THIS LINE.

But on the other hand, I also look at how many of us interact on social media here and on twitter and on FB. The more we interact, the more likely it is that you take the time and trouble to help me by posting reviews.

That's what loyal readers do.

Which is why Amazon's clamping down on this feels really peculiar.

The other problem with this crackdown is if you're an unknown author, you HAVE to resort to asking friends and family to review your work. Given the proliferation of crap cheap-and-free self-published books (and thank you, Amazon for creating the monster you're now ham-handedly trying to stuff back in the box) offering a free book to readers is no longer the treat it once was. I can see why newbie authors still have to play the acquaintance card.

I say "still" because that's how it ALWAYS worked on Amazon.

All this crackdown does is encourage people to turn to those pay-for-review sites where no possible connection can be found between reviewer and author. Is that really preferable?

I don't think so. It is desirable to have reviews from genuinely enthusiastic readers -- whether they hate or love a book, whether they interact online or have never "met" the author. Passion about books, however misguided, is a good thing.

And the rest of it is, frankly, not Amazon's business.

In fact, I would suggest Amazon stop worrying about fake reviews for $2.99 books and concentrate on fake reviews for big dollar items like TVs and so forth, which really IS a problem on the site --speaking as a consumer trying to sort through that plethora of products and all those bullshit reviews.

Anyway, I encourage you to sign this petition. At the very least Amazon needs to be accountable for their business practices. Enough with pulling the "proprietary business practices" card. Translation: consumers would be VERY angry if they knew what we were doing with their information.   

Friday, July 3, 2015

Happy Fourth of July!

Ah, the Fourth of July. The great American holiday whereupon all indie entrepreneurs try and give away stuff and promote themselves in the name of INDEPENDENCE.


So for my readers who do not hail from the U.S. of A., here's what the day is actually about...

It's generally celebrated with fireworks and family get-togethers (sometimes this is the same thing), in particular picnics and BBQs. My sibs and I take turns trading off with holidays. I usually get Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, and we do indeed celebrate with a family barbecue. This year the menu is hot dogs, hamburgers, leftover lobster tails, cupcakes, watermelon, root beer floats, stuffed baked potatoes, corn on the cob...the food just keeps coming.

There will be swimming and there will often be some kind of -- yes, believe it or not -- sing-a-long. (I bet most of you didn't know that about me!) ;-D  We probably won't be able to see fireworks at the new house, but who knows?

I must be feeling fairly settled because I actually bought a flag this year. One of those big Betsy Ross 13 Colony things. We've never put a flag out before! But our friends at Chase Bank gave us a flag pole when we signed our loan docs, and it seems only fitting to put it to work.

So Happy 4th of July to my fellow Americans. And to the rest of you, Happy Weekend!

And in keeping with the latest traditions of the holiday, I am running a brief sale on my short stories over at Smashwords. All short stories are .99 a piece today and tomorrow (Friday and Saturday). You need a code -- they're listed below. It's been quite a while since I've run any sales and I'm just feeling kind of generous right now. So enjoy.

A Limited Engagement - YY78R
Baby, it's Cold - KQ26N
In Sunshine or In Shadow - FQ37Y
In a Dark Wood - WC35z
Heart Trouble - HL34S
In Plain Sight - QQ42C
Merry Christmas, Darling - GS79L
Perfect Day - WP86D
The French Have a Word for it - AQ24Q
Until We Meet Once More - ZA32Q
Wedding Favors - LV76P
Wizard's Moon - XL23Y