Ebooking

Check out the sidebar. I just made my first short story, “A Walk in the Rain,” available as a Kindle download. It’ll be available for Sony, Nook, and iPad via Smashwords soon.

So will this work?

Maybe.  Part of the problem with self-pubbing in the brave new world of ebooks is promotion. I’ve had a couple of authors voice doubt, saying their ebooks never sold. I politely declined to point out that I didn’t even know about their ebooks. Or in one case, I did, but aside from the initial email, I heard nothing from the author in question.

People have to know you’re out there before they’ll buy your work. So after a prolonged absence, I returned to some of the forums I used to haunt: Short Mystery, Crimespace.  Didn’t go back to Rara Avis.  There’s only so many times I can stand reading the “noir vs. hardboiled” argument. I’ll jump on the Kindle boards and Smashwords groups soon enough.

I also have to realize the shorts aren’t going to sell right away. I’m selling them for 99 cents, about what too many novelists are selling their full-length work for.  Personally, I think they should follow JA Konrath’s lead and charge $2.99.  You get a 70% royalty from Amazon at that rate, but the book is still cheaper than a used paperback.

While this post is about ebooks, I don’t want to spend a lot of time pointing out that my short work and the first three Kepler novels are FREAKING EBOOKS!  CHEAP!  COME BUY MY CHEAP, CHEAP EBOOKS OR YOU’RE A LUDDITE!

Yeah, that shrill song is getting old.  But I think it makes sense to re-release Northcoast Shakedown as an ebook, which I will do shortly.  And when I do, I will talk about the book, not the format.  The format stopped being news about six months ago. Sure, it rattles cages that Amanda Hocking is going to print while Barry Eisler turned down a cool half mil to self-publish. All that means is there is no sure thing. If Northcoast Shakedown and the paid version of Road Rules sell enough copies, they’ll fund a re-edit of Second Hand Goods, the second Kepler novel that made it to within a month of publication in 2006.  What’s the threshold?

They have to bring in enough for that re-edit.  If that happens, and Second Hand combines with the other books to pay for it, I’ll rewrite and have edited the third Kepler novel, Bad Religion.  After that?

Well, I haven’t written off print.  There are two novels I would dearly love to finish and see in print, one of them Holland Bay.  The only question is whether print will be the first rights or subsidiary rights when they hit the streets.

Good question.

As for my first ebook release, how’d it go?

Not bad. Smashwords prefers a Word doc to convert. Kindle wants a .mobi or .epub file.  I also had to republish the Kindle edition to fix an annoying indent problem. What did I learn?  I learned Amazon moves a lot faster than Smashwords, but then Smashwords has over half a dozen formats to support.  Amazon just has Kindle to worry about.  So next time, I upload to Smashwords and wait for it to filter out to the premium catalog before publishing on Amazon.  Why? I think it’s best to publish to all possible formats as close to simultaneously as possible.

What else?

I’ve started a Jim Winter Fiction page on Facebook. It’s a lot easier than the old Yahoo Groups to manage. Drop by, check it out, like it.  It’ll be the first place you read about new fiction and returning stories by me.

One of the things that dragged me away from the crime fiction scene was academic demands. Well, this coming quarter, I have one class on the weekend, an online class I can do on my lunch hour, and a third class that essentially is a project for my day job.  Which opens up at least part of my evenings. Which in turn means I can actually pay attention to writing again.

Finally.

So Bouchercon 2011 is out, thanks to job upheaval and the need to focus on academics.  But 2012 is a go.  Nita will be there with me, which means I get to watch her and Ken Bruen charm each other. (Ken, she likes her Jamie mixed with Coke. And we need to close the Warehouse District together.) I’d like to be able to say I’m an active writer once again.

This will help.

The Grapes of Wrath By John Steinbeck

This is one of those books I’ve wanted to read for years. It gets on high school reading lists, but we instead opted for Huckleberry Finn and (regrettably) The Scarlet Letter. Steinbeck’s tale of the Joad family’s migration to California puts in perspective much of our modern life. For those who think the current Great Recession is worse than the Great Depression need to read this book. In Steinbeck’s California, Americans were treated far worse than Mexican migrants here illegally are treated today, and by the very same people. Large farms in Southern California lured Okies, displaced by the Dust Bowl in the Midwest, to California not to give them a better life, but to drive labor prices down to starvation wages.

The Joads are a family who lose their farm when the companies that bought out all the land decide it’s cheaper to hire a man on a tractor to farm large swaths of land instead of allowing tenants (the former owners) to continue. The Joads, including Tom, recently released from prison, see only one way out.  They have a flyer promising work in California. Saving up what little money they have, they buy and convert an old Hudson into a truck, load up all their belongings, and head west.

The trip is arduous.  They are stopped by cops at the borders of Arizona and California. Grandpa and Grandma die. At one point, Tom and little brother Al replace a loose connecting rod in another car’s motor – something we simply assume today is a signal to scrap a car. There are no motels along the way. The Joads have to camp.

When they arrive, the wages are poor, and when they aren’t living in refugee camps, they live in Hoovervilles. By the end of the story, Tom, former preacher Casy, Grandpa, Grandma, and son-in-law Connie are gone – either left or, in the case of the grandparents and Casy, dead.

Perhaps the most poignant of how dire the situation is the scene near the end of the book where Rose, who recently miscarried, breast feeds a man dying of starvation while the family huddles in a barn during a flood.

Reading The Grapes of Wrath puts our current situation in perspective. These days, we have unemployment to cover the loss of a job. Wages are regulated to some degree, and we take for granted that a clunker that clunk’s too much goes straight to the scrapyard. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be concerned, but if you want to see how bad things could have been, this book spells it out, all without getting on a soapbox. The Californians are scared of all these newcomers and scared when they push back wanting a decent wage. The Okies are desperate, just looking for a way to survive. It’s a witchy time with the faint rumble of World War II looming over the horizon.

Steinbeck seems to think that, had World War II not ended the Depression, we might have been headed for a revolution. When people get desperate just to survive, it’s a strong possibility.

My Town Monday Cincinnati: Meet The President

Cincinnati has its share of late presidents: Taft, Grant, Benjamin Harrison. Aside from Taft, though, only one is buried in Cincinnati. William Henry Harrison.

Harrison, our ninth president, died of pneumonia barely a month into his term, so we never will know what his legacy would have been. He did, however, live long enough to shoo perennial presidential bridesmaid Henry Clay from the White House, explaining that the president does not report to the senior senator from Kentucky.

Harrison is buried in the village of North Bend, the site of the former Harrison family estate. Also buried at his tomb are his wife and son, John Scott Harrison.  Grandson Benjamin Harrison, who later became president himself, moved to Indianapolis when his law career began. The tomb is the site of the Harrison Memorial, which overlooks the Ohio River. Harrison, son of leading Virginia statesman Benjamin Harrison V, moved to Ohio after his early military service and often returned to North Bend between stints in the army and a term as governor of the Indiana Territory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More at the My Town Monday blog.

Hey, Look! I’m Just Like JA Konrath Now!

My first short story, 2001’s “A Walk in the Rain,” is now available for download for Kindle for only 99 cents. For less than you’d spend at Starbucks or the corner bar or even for a candy bar, you can have the story that started it all.

All of what, I still haven’t figured out, but you can have the story that started it all. Best of all, original editor Neil Smith of Plots With Guns fame writes a short intro.

About “A Walk in the Rain”:

One night, on a stretch of rural highway on the fringes of Cleveland, part-time musician and private investigator Nick Kepler is walking along the side of the road as the rain pours. Why? A childhood friend has found a violent solution to her abusive relationship, and she wants Nick to “make it all go away.”

Coming soon to Sony, Nook, and iBooks.

The End Of My Reviewing Career (For Now)

Back in 2003 or so, I started writing reviews, first on spec for places like Plots With Guns, then semi-regularly for a now-defunct print magazine. Eventually, this led to in invite to write for the Private Eye Writers of America newsletter, a monthly gig I held for about four years or so. In turn, this led to regular reviews in January Magazine, then Mystery Scene. Not a bad progression and certainly a damn sight better than writing crappy screeds on Amazon. (Some of those make me wonder if the reviewer could even read the book they’re talking about, since English appears to be a third language in some of them.)

But a writer friend once told me reviews are the worst sort of gigs to get as a writer. They don’t pay well, and in my case, most of the gigs didn’t pay at all. But you have to put in 4-6 hours reading a book, then write the review. In the case of my one paying gig, that was 4-6 hours where I’d read an assigned book and write a review that might not get published.

In the meantime, the old bugaboo of academic demands reared its ugly head, and real life tossed a period of unemployment my way. Contrary to what you might believe, unemployment does not give you more time to write or to read. You’re too busy job hunting, and most of my unemployed period was spent job-hunting while doing contract work.

Something had to give, and if you’ve read this space regularly for anything besides the boob posts, you know I very nearly stopped writing altogether last November.

But if I am to write, to graduate, and to keep my now-shifting IT career on track, reviewing has to go. So it has. As of today, I’m reading solely for pleasure again. Not that I reviewing didn’t have its pleasures. In fact, I was told by Mystery Scene‘s Teri Duerr not to waste time on books I didn’t like.

There are some reviewers who take special pride in writing negative reviews. Personally, I’ve always believed those reviewers should never have been allowed to write. It’s not negative reviews I dislike. It’s the perverse joy some people take in writing them. They seem to secretly harbor ambitions of being political pundits: Long on venom and bullshit, short on any sort of worthiness of the very oxygen they steal from more deserving human beings. Like murderers, con artists, and that person you picked up a rash from after hooking up one night clubbing. I never did. It’s like when people spend long screeds complaining about TV shows or music they don’t like. My response is usually, “Well stop watching/listening and shut the hell up, dumbass!”

Nor did I ever aspire to literary criticism. I’ve done it. Academically. But it’s like opera to me. There are people who enjoy it, but while I can appreciate the skill and structure of opera, it sounds like a lot of noise to me. Same with literary criticism. I don’t want to read the implications and cultural relevance of The Great Gatsby. I just want to read Gatsby. Period.

So I reviewed. I said why I liked it and what didn’t work for me.  But after a while, even that got to be a chore. I like just picking up a book, reading it, and moving on to the next.

I don’t miss reviewing, but I don’t regret it, either. I got to read books I normally wouldn’t have read.

But I need to get back to writing.

Adventures in Reimaging: Part 1 – Windows 7

Not too long ago, the newly purchased tower did something it should not have done: it started giving the Blue Screen o’ Death.  For the uninitiated, the blue screen (BSOD) is a quick flash of a memory dump when a PC suddenly goes south and crashes. It is slightly more useful than the Macintosh version, which is the Sad Mac. There are a handful of nerds out there who can correctly interpret the hieroglyphics blue screens throw at you. They can determine if it’s a driver, bad sectors on the hard drive, or your computer needs a shot of canned air inside the case. For 95% of us, including those of us in the IT field, BSOD’s mean it’s time to reimage.

But it only did it once or twice.  Maybe I just needed to do a malware scan.

Then the latest college term began, and my Database Administration instructor mentioned that we should never run Visual Studio or SQL Server on Windows 7 Home Edition.  What ran on my new laptop? Windows 7 Pro. What ran on my tower?

Windows 7 Home Premium.

What was I running on Windows Home?

SQL Server and Visual Studio.  Along with a couple of questionable freeware apps.

Zap!

I backed up my files, ran the migration wizard, and wiped out my hard drive to start fresh with Windows Pro. Went pretty smooth, until…

Uh-oh.  I forgot to store my Office 2010 license key.  No prob.  Call Microsoft.  Except the Department That Handles That closed about five minutes before the last Windows update finished installing.

OK, I had my laptop.  Wait 24 hours, and call The Department That Handles That next evening.  Except the Department That Handles That for Microsoft doesn’t handle that. A department ominously called “Customer Salvage” does.

Except they didn’t handle that either. It turned out I received my key via my school, but the email somehow disappeared. So after an hour talking to three different Indian call centers, I finally got my activation key (which I printed out and stuffed into my Office DVD sleeve) and proceeded to finish up.

I will say that Windows 7 is a huge improvement over previous Windows versions. While I had to get a touchpad driver for my laptop, I haven’t had to install any other drivers on either the laptop or the tower.  And Pro runs like a dream. It’s as close to running a PC directly out of the box as you’ll ever find.

Next week, I take the old tower, the one this machine replaced last summer, and reimage it with Linux.  I’m using Ubuntu, which is a fairly painless version of Linux.

Stay tuned.

Remember When Mail Came In A Truck?

About a week ago, I had to mail some photographs. Normally, this is a set-it-and-forget-it deal. Slap a stamp on the envelope and off it goes. I don’t even know what a stamp costs anymore. They just say “Forever” on them. Normally, this is not a big deal.

This past week, it was. I was sending photos, as I said. The envelope was a bit heavier than usual, so I checked the weight at the Post Office. It came up 78 cents. I put my last two stamps on the envelope, but was it enough? All the stamps said was “Forever.” Did I have enough postage?

Nowhere in the Post Office was there anything that said what the price of stamps were. There were a lot of listings for Priority Mail, media mail, and so on, but apparently, they assume you already know what a First Class stamp costs.  It was Sunday morning, so no one was around to tell me what the price was. I was out of stamps. What to do?

I pulled out the Droid and Googled it. Yeah. There’s an app for that.  Turns out I’d put 84 cents on the envelope, more than enough to send the photos off. The strange thing is I have to think about using the mail now. I have to travel more than a few blocks to find a mailbox where once they sat on every other corner. And to find out how much my stamps were worth, I had to use my phone to get on the Internet where I usually send email, which is why I don’t mail things much anymore.

Remember when the phone was just for making calls and stamps still had the price on them?

I read about that once.

On my Kindle.

My Annual Ritual

Every year for the past five years, I’ve embarked on a trek to walk or ride the entire Little Miami Scenic Bike Trail. It started in 2006, when the Newtown trail head opened. The first year, I made it as far as Morrow. The next year, I got further, up to Corwin, a little town halfway to Dayton. In 2007, I made it to Spring Valley, a town that’s off any major highway and still stuck in the 1930’s. 2008 and 2009, I came up short, but in 2010, I finally made it all the way to Xenia, where the Ohio Trail System hub is located.

I do this every year, walking the trail in sections, including some sections that haven’t been built yet. Last year, I started along the Ohio River Trail at Newport, Kentucky, crossing the bridge and walking up to Berry Park just east of downtown.  Last year’s walk included a little trespassing on railroad property and through a few fields as part of the Ohio River and Little Miami Trails have not been built or laid out yet.

This year, I had to start at Berry Park as I began my trek the same morning as the Heart Mini-Marathon, which cut off the Purple People Bridge and Newport-on-the-Levee.  Not a problem as the areas along Riverside Drive are now designated as a bike route. Sunday morning found me walking along a newly completed section of trail from Schmidt Field, a park along the Ohio River about a mile up Riverside Drive from Berry Park, to Lunken Airfield, where a walking trail already circles the airport.

Hamilton County is about to approve the final plans for linking the Ohio River Trail to the Little Miami Trail. So unlike last year, where I trudged through a muddy wildlife preserve where part of the trail will eventually be built, I’m going to walk a park across the Beechmont Levee from Lunken instead.

The tricky part is the section between Beechmont Avenue at the foot of Mt. Washington to the actual trail start in Newtown. This part of the trail has been laid out, but until it’s finished, it’s essentially part of Turpin Farms and several people’s backyards. So while I’m walking a section that hasn’t actually been built yet, I’m actually having to walk along the edge of State Route 32, through a field, along a railroad track, to a town park and across part of a public golf course.

Once I’ve walked that, it’s time to get the old battered Huffy out of the basement and start riding. That begins at Avacoa Park, also near Newtown.  I plan to ride to my favorite part of the trail and my favorite suburb in Cincinnati: Loveland.  Every year when I walk or ride in Loveland, I stop at the Paxton Grill for breakfast or for beer and a bowl of chili.

Once I reach Newtown, I’m on the old rail bed of the former Little Miami Railroad, which I’ve blogged about before. You can still see bits and pieces of the old railroad along the trail.

But the trail is more than that. It’s quiet. The only noise comes from my seldom-ringing cell phone. During my ride last year between Morrow and Corwin, I stopped at one of the benches you find at odd spots far from any intersection with any road. It was a late summer afternoon, and I just stopped and sat and listened. For a mile in every direction was nothing but corn. The only noise came from the wind in the leaves, the odd car off in the distance, and an airplane buzzing overhead. I just sat and listened and thought about nothing.

There are more challenging trails. I used to enjoy walking the Old Man’s Cave Trail in Hocking Hills in a former life, six miles of hills and rocks. But the Little Miami is a place to unplug, unwind, and reset.

I do this every year over about eight or nine weekends every year. It’s become my meditation.