Stop The Insanity!

shiningI’m going to take off my writer hat for a moment and put on my reader hat. Indie writers, I need to discuss something with you, something that’s keeping my money out of your pocket.

Ever get one of these things on Twitter? “#[book title here] #mywana #indiepub #thriller #kindle #sjrozanoncetoldmeimtotallyawesome*”

If you’re lucky – and I use the term very loosely – there might be a link to whatever the tweeter is pimping. Or here’s another one: The Facebook invite to like a page three times a day. Let’s see if I’ve figured out your logic correctly. I didn’t take the invite the first time, but maybe after 21 invites in a week, I’ll see the error of my ways and like your fan page, which, incidentally, has zero information. (I know. I neglect my fan page as well. I’m a bad boy.) Did I get that right?

Here’s how I respond to excessive hashtags in my feed: I delete the offending twit. Pester me with an endless stream of invites, and guess what. We’re no longer close personal Facebook friends who likely have never met anyway.

jehovasAgain, I’m speaking as the reader. When you pound on my cyberdoor like a Jehovah’s Witness, you’re going to get the same reaction: I’m not going to answer the door. Fortunately for you, that’s different from the way I used to answer the door: naked. That poor old grandmother just got out of therapy last year. If I see nothing but hashtags, I ignore a tweet. So does everyone else on Twitter. If I’m pelted with invites from the same page several times a day over several days, someone’s getting unfriended, possibly blocked. I’m not a best-selling author or even a moderately successful one. But I am a reader, and I can tell you what turns me off. That’s just as important as what works.

Similarly, just writing an ebook or being an indie writer? How is that a selling point? Why does that warrant me to part company with my hard-earned cash? Sure, you can compare yourself to a band playing clubs and local festivals, but an album takes only forty minutes of my time without demanding my visual attention for more than a minute or two. A song is 3-7 minutes. A book, just a 60,000-word book, is at least three hours out of my life. You need to make a more compelling case.

Kristen Lamb, the social media and self-publishing maven (and finder of fine cat pictures), says that social media is intended to be social. If all you talk about is your book… Hey, I’m watching NASCAR as I type this. I can wait ten minutes if I really need to see some advertising. Google sticks them in places where it doesn’t get in the way with all that Googleness that brings me to their site.

Dean Wesley Smith takes it a step further. He hates social media. He puts a new spin on your mother’s old saw about saying something nice. If you can’t say something interesting, don’t say anything at all.

Ernie Kovacs as a used car salesmanThink about when someone wants to sell you something. I’ll use the local furnace people as an example. About two years ago, we had our furnace tuned up. The technician called me downstairs and showed me a dark spot on the inside of the heat exchanger. “I’m going to have to red tag this. I’ll send my senior tech out with some estimates on a new furnace.” Yes, I was being strong-armed. The year before, another tech from this same company pitched a fit when he could not fit a new thermostat where the old one was and literally complained that we cost him a sale.

We did get our furnace replaced. Who did it? A local independent guy, though we got some nice estimates from some bigger companies whom we almost went with. What made their pitch better, and why did the independent guy get the job? They said, “You likely could squeeze another winter out of this furnace.” Good so far. Then they quoted the price and said, “And for that price, I can do X, Y, and Z.” Two of these companies got a callback. The independent guy could throw in central air. See?

I’ve the odd flyer from one of the companies. I got a free estimate on some electrical work from the other. I haven’t heard from the guy who did my furnace. Why? The job is done. No one from any of those places is going to barge into my house during a tune-up and tell us that the house will blow up any second now!

That’s how you come off when you over hashtag, talk of nothing but your book, and bombard me with invites. Remember, the strong arm doesn’t work. It doesn’t make you a popular author. It makes you an asshole.

*You can’t use that hashtag. I trademarked it. #suckstobeyou

Space Stuff! Almost There

EndorshaftIt’s time to figure out how this thing ends. My original ending is gone, but I know where it’s going now. I just did not map out how to get there. So I finished all the scenes I outlined and began making notes.

I had hoped to be done last weekend, but life often gets in the way of writing. It’s never going to get easier, even if this novel becomes a full-blown business unto itself. But we press on.

One thing I did do was get all but one of my protags together. This may change in the rewrite. After all, Holland Bay now looks nothing like the original draft. I’m good with this. The rewrite is how I’m spending my summer vacation.

Review_DeathStarTrenchRun_stillBAct III is where the writing gets most intense for me. Sometimes, I will neglect other tasks to get it done, though that’s harder these days than it was in previous years.  At the same time, there’s also a weariness to this effort. I started this in August with the intention of finishing before Thanksgiving. Act II woes nearly derailed the project, and the weather actually interfered. I’m ready to be done. I’m ready to turn this over to “Dick.” I’m ready to revise Holland Bay. And I’m ready to work on the next Kepler novel.

All photos Lucasfilm

The Compleat Winter: Hazing; Highway 101 & Bad History; Profiled

cover-smallHazing

Much of Holland Bay deals with Jessica Branson, a former Homicide detective who is exiled to the city’s most useless squad after shooting the son of a sitting mayor. Her crime? She was exonerated for the killing.

“Hazing” is the story of that killing. It’s not even central to the case. Branson and her partner, Sarah Ryland, are called out to investigate the drowning death of a fraternity pledge.One of the witnesses is Ray Kozinski, whose father is the mayor. Branson’s sergeant makes it clear: Handle Kozinski with care. When he balks, Branson and Ryland back off.

And yet Kozinski thinks Branson is quite the catch. So when he lures Branson to his parents’ home while they’re out of town, he makes his move. One lesson the mayor has not taught his son is that no means no. Another thing our young college student doesn’t understand is that attacking an armed cop can easily result in a bullet to the chest.

I wrote this story after I finished the original draft of Holland Bay. I wanted to get into Branson’s head and understand why she was where I put her and why she’s hating life at the start of the story.

Highway 101/Bad History

“Highway 101” grew out of a pair of trips I took to San Francisco several years ago. I loved the area and wanted to write a story set there. Over time, I came up with Brian Selkirk, a young convict from Ohio trying to go straight. Unfortunately, one of his former cellmates shows up wanting to know where an old biker from their prison days put a stash of money. His solution to the problem results in wiping out the life he’s built for himself in the Bay Area.

A couple of years later, Brian Thornton asked me to participate in the anthology West Coast Crime Wave. The stories would take place anywhere from San Diego to Seattle and even in Alaska. I immediately decided to revisit Brian Selkirk to find out what happened to him. Since anyone who found his car at the end of that story would think that the driver died in the crash, Selkirk would legally be dead. It’s around that time that I also came up with the idea of Loman from Road Rules taking advantage of his “death.” So Selkirk has invented “Tony Bolin” and begun building a new life, ironically with some of the people who helped him start over in San Francisco. But one person recognizes him. Sam Gouty is a corrupt former prison guard from San Quentin who is out of work and wants a job. Once again, Selkirk/Bolin’s world is shattered.

I wrote a third story that I need to revisit, but it brings closure to this storyline. For now, Selkirk/Bolin is left trying to kill Sam Gouty.

Profiled

Eddie Soroya played a large role in the original draft of Holland Bay. He still makes an appearance in the current version, but I need to trim the exploding cast of characters. Soroya was born in Iran but raised in America. In the post-9/11 era, he has a dilemma. He is Middle Eastern in a nation full of people, including people of Middle Eastern descent, suspicious of Middle Easterners. He is also in a city with a large Mexican population. A quick look in the mirror and frequent exposure to Spanish convinces him that he can “pass.” But as an assignment undercover in the city’s transit system shows, it’s not a fool-proof plan. The city’s monorail goes to the airport, so no amount of swearing in convincing Spanish is going to soothe the nerves of travelers unwilling to end their flights on the top floor of a skyscraper. It goes further than that. At the airport, he is taken down by a brother officer who doesn’t realize he’s undercover. The story is all about prejudice and, sometimes, making it worse.

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Naked And Unafraid

tom-cruise-risky-business-dancing

from Risky Business via tomcruise.com

Last weekend, after the Valentine’s Day festivities fested themselves out, Nita had to go to a family function in Harlan, Kentucky. I would have gone, but I had a Saturday morning class. When I came back, AJ would be gone for the weekend. What did this mean?

Jim’s got the whole place to himself!

Pizza! Beer! Por-… er, um, movies! Loud music!

Um… Sort of.

I realized that, with Valentine’s Day, plus work, doctors appointments, and a visit from the plumber, no one would have time to hit the groceries. No problem. I would do that after class on Saturday.

Except I’d scheduled a writer’s group meeting for that afternoon. So I scrambled to get groceries, get them put away, and over to the meeting in time.

Here’s where the weekend went off the rails. No one showed up except Li’l Sis, who was trapped in a traffic jam in sight of where the meeting took place. We did have snow the night before, but I sat in a crappy Chinese place for an hour before adjourning to a place with a bar and better food. So at least Li’l Sis got a decent lunch and a beer. But that pushed the meeting back late. With all I had planned for the afternoon, I did not get home until 6. And then…

Workout. Order pizza. Pour beer. And hey, I got the house to myself. I could walk around the house naked if I wanted!

Um… That loses its appeal around 30. And I turned 30 during the Clinton administration, so… Oh, well. It made laundry easier to do.

It was supposed to be a big writing night. I drank some beer, wrote a scene, and watched the Beatles Fiftieth Anniversary Special again. Then I fell asleep.

Sunday morning turned out better. I had the entire house to myself, no distractions but classical music. I divided my time between writing a scene in Dick’s science fiction project, the blog, and reading the second volume of Mark Twain’s autobiography. Yeah, I lead an exciting life.

At least Nita didn’t come home to find out I’ve been pimping Rebecca De Mornay out of our bedroom. And I didn’t have to resort to Looney Toons tactics to scare off burglars.

Water Water Everywhere…

flooded basement

Photo: Rae Allen, used under Creative Commons

The recent cold weather has done bad things to us this year. It had me outside with a AAA mechanic replacing a battery. It flattened Nita’s tire. Twice.

To make matters worse, the roads in Cincinnati have absolutely sucked this winter. Normally, we get a storm warning, salt the living bejesus out of the main roads, and just wait a day. Most of the winter, we have dry or somewhat wet pavement, and that’s it. Snow means one or two PTO days. Oh, not this winter. This winter is like those I grew up with in Cleveland. Wait a minute! I left Cleveland in 1990. I’m done with Great Lakes winters. This is not fair! Damn you, Kyoto Protocol! Damn you!

To make matters worse, I got stuck at home when the cold took out a sensor in my engine. That got fixed, only the next morning…

I’m half way to work when my phone buzzes. “Hello?”

“Honey, the entire basement floor is wet.”

Um… My tower PC is down there. My Mac is down there. My STUFF is down there. “So, do you need me to…”

“I called the plumber.”

I could feel the cash draining from our bank accounts immediately. Now, Nita lived on her own for four years before she met me. And she’s lived at Chateau Nita for about twenty years. So, even when she was previously married, this postwar cottage has schooled her on DIY home improvement. Unfortunately, she married me, a man who lived almost all his adult life in apartments. How did home improvement work for me? “Hey, Alan? (My last landlord.) The kitchen sink’s backed up, and the toilet’s acting funny. Can you call a plumber?” Go shower at the company gym, then come home. Problem solved.

When I bought the condo, the former Rancho Winter, I had to do very little to it other than replace the central air. But we moved back to Nita’s place after two months in the wilds of Eastgate, Ohio. There were some things I could do if I thought about it. I could paint. I could jerry-rig extension cords without risking a fire. I could caulk the bathtub. Plumbing and real electrical work? I did the deck light on the condo, and that was about as far as I was willing to go.

So we called a plumber. Then, as he fixed the leaky valve (ironically one I’d planned to take a day off to have him fix, and last week to boot), he did a quick check on the water heater. “Hear that?” he told my wife as he knocked on it with a wrench. “That’s supposed to sound hollow.”

Yikes! I knew enough about the systems to know we were not being bullshitted. I wish I could say that about auto mechanics. One national chain took me for $600 for a $200 job my current mechanic did in half the time. And they did not use lube when they bent me over that barrel.

His suggestion: “Buy your own overflow tank. Then it’s just a service call.”

Sure enough, it was a $40 part as opposed to the $60 one his boss sent out with him. (Mind you, if I’d have gotten the wrong part, I’d gladly pay the $60 for the other one.) After he installed it, he said, “And let me show you something so you don’t have to take a day off and pay me for another service call.”

I learned how to blow out the lines. I also learned how to replace that tank if it goes bad again. He said, “I’d rather you know how to do the easy stuff and save some money. Then you’ll call me when you really need me, and you don’t have to spend a lot of money cleaning up a flooded basement.”

scotty-duct tapeNita and I talked. We still have some plumbing problems to be fixed. But it will be cheaper for me to take a class at Lowe’s, then replace a couple of ancient water faucets myself than to pay for two more visits on top of the new faucets.

Until then, I’m sticking to painting and anything with hammer and nails.

Anything that goes wrong with those can be fixed. With bandaids and ice.

The Compleat Winter: Missing Sarah, Joey Tran, Annie

cover-smallMissing Sarah

This one was born of anger and frustration. My niece, who has always been like a daughter to me and Nita, found herself targeted by bullies at school. Back in our day, you fought back, avoided bullies, or, unfortunately, sometimes became the bully yourself, all moves to protect yourself. Back in our day, we did not have Facebook and Twitter. The phones, even the cordless ones, were connected by a wire into the wall. (I really miss those days.) Today, you can’t just avoid a bully or even fight back. They can get you in cyberspace. They can get your phone number, and while you can not answer your phone, texts still get through.

My niece took a year off from school, taking advantage of a home schooling program the state instituted for kids who, for whatever reason, cannot be on campus. However, catching the bullies proved more difficult. Once again, it’s different now than when I was a kid. If you got caught picking on a kid and making him miserable, our principal was well within his rights to box your ears, and most parents wouldn’t have batted an eyelash. But even now, when we don’t lay hands on students, there are ways to deal with offenders: Suspension, police charges, community service, all of which can humiliate an arrogant little snot for being an arrogant little snot. The school and the local police (usually pretty good for a small suburban force) sat on their hands even when presented with irrefutable proof that one boy and his friends were stalking and harassing my niece. Eventually, my brother-in-law, confronted the parents of the ringleader and his friends, which made life very difficult for what turned out to be a jilted suitor. (Hint, boys: No means no. Get over it.)

But while we tried to sort all this out, I got frustrated. I even saw one of the kids harassing my niece at the local UDF (kind of like a 7-11 here in Cincy, only cleaner.) I wanted to clock him upside the head, only 1.) I’m not a violent person, and 2.) even if I was, he was sixteen, which would most certainly mean a prison sentence. (So would an adult, but the police are going to assume both parties are guilty, giving one a possible out. I don’t recommend it without a very compelling reason.) I am, however, a writer. And writers love revenge fic.

So I amped things up a notch. What if the daughter killed herself without telling her parents why? What if the father found out after the fact who drove her to kill herself? What if, like my brother-in-law, the parents are stymied by the school and police sitting on their hands? What if the boy who caused all the trouble picks the wrong time to walk behind the father’s car?

My niece read this and got a certain ghoulish satisfaction out of it. By the time Aldo Colcagno, a high school principal who has probably had to deal with this from the school’s end, published it, my niece had moved on. She returned to school the following year and is now preparing to become a nurse. She didn’t need Uncle Jim to put the fear of God into those boys. (Her dad did a pretty good job of it without even raising his voice. He’s my favorite brother-in-law.) But she loved the fictional revenge I inflicted for her.

Yes, there’s a reason the site’s address contains the name “eviljwinter.” Mwahahahaha.

Joey Tran

Snakes on a Plane could have been the Rocky Horror of the 2000’s, but we don’t do midnight movies much anymore, except at art house theaters and on cable. Too bad, because, even though Snakes was an obviously bad movie, it did leave me with a story germ from one of its biggest plot holes.

If you try to take down a plane at any point after 9/11, aren’t you going to be branded a terrorist? They never say what happens to Eddie Kim, the gangster in the movie. So I invented Joey Tran, a Vietnamese gangster from Los Angeles who does something similar. I never say what he does to bring down a plane over the Pacific, only that the people he runs to when it fails think he was very stupid to do it.

The city of Monticello, under a different name, has been in this all along. Originally, I was going to have Tran run to Nick Kepler’s unwanted ally Nikolai Karpov for help. However, the Monticello concept was growing, so I changed the name of the Russian and moved the setting. I did not like the way it turned out. Russian gangsters are old hat in crime fiction, and I don’t look forward to having to bring back Nikolai Karpov at some point.

Then I wrote “We Be Cool” as a way to get back into Holland Bay, the still-under revision novel set in Monticello. Like “We Be Cool,” “Joey Tran” makes the relationship between drug lord Ralph Smithers and his money man, Rufus King, central to the story. Then it became easy to define Joey Tran and the anonymous men in suits who take him away for Ralph and Rufus. And suddenly, the story is no longer Snakes on a Plane fanfic. It becomes backstory for Holland Bay and its sequels. And you and I, as reader and author, know a lot more about Ralph and Rufus.

You’re welcome.

Annie

This originally was a much longer story, centering on lawyer Anne Ripley (“Standoff”). Anne I envisioned as a cynically idealistic young attorney who abandoned a career as an assistant prosecutor when the office became too toxic in that office. I wanted her to come across as tough but sexy. The original story just would not come together. I threw most of it out, but kept the predatory cop in the nearby Cincinnati suburb of Hillside.

Then I began writing from my unnamed predator’s point-of-view. He has a habit of tossing out tickets in exchange for sex. Sometimes, he just wants sex. And he thinks nothing of using his badge to get it. So when he decides to pull this on Anne Ripley, he learns to late that one of his victims has set him up. Near the end of this story, he mentions Mt. Washington, the town where Ed Morgan from “Righteous Kill” is sergeant. At this point, I had abandoned the idea of an Anne Ripley series and made her and her new nemesis characters in proposed series in that town.

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Happy Singles Awareness Day

jimnnitaI totally get why a lot of people hate Valentine’s Day. I really do. Every year, there’s an entire holiday devoted to love. The advertising surrounding it (is there any other reason for a holiday? It’$ the rea$on for the $ea$on.) also serves to remind those who are alone that they’re alone.

Gee, thanks. Some of us probably would have never figured that one out on our own.

But Valentine’s Day will always be special to me because, in 2008, it was my first date with Nita. We went from first date to wedding in four months, something neither of us could ever have predicted. On Valentine’s Day, I found the love of my life, started down the road to becoming a parent, gained a best friend, and met my business partner. Even after six years, I am head over heels in love with this woman.

So I don’t mind the hype around Valentine’s Day.

Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweet Rose. I love you.