Save Kepler!

I know being an independent writer is a struggle. It’s partly why I’m shopping Holland Bay to an agent. But the numbers and the reader feedback seem to favor Northcoast Shakedown and Bad Religion. Road Rules sometimes pokes through the crowd, but it’s normally the Keplers that draw readers. A spike in one novel tends to carry sales of The Compleat Kepler, the collection of Nick Kepler shorts up to and including “Lady Luck.”

But one novel seems to always lag behind. The reviews always seem to be good, but even Kevin Burton Smith, the genius behind Thrilling Detective, seems to have forgotten there was a book between Northcoast Shakedown and Bad Religion. Second Hand Goods is not feeling the love. What to do? What to do?

National Lampoon: Buy this magazine, or we will kill this dog.

And the dog’s name is “Kepler.” Think about it.

Well, I’m stealing a page from National Lampoon. Or rather a cover. Lampoon threatened to kill a dog if you didn’t buy their magazine. (And then PJ O’Rourke ran it into the ground. Come on, PJ. You’re better than that, even after you abandoned your subversive brand of conservatism to become a Tea Bagger.) We don’t have to worry about that because, once the novella Gypsy’s Kiss is done, the Kepler stories are done. Gypsys will be a reboot of the short story, with the setting changed to after the events of Bad Religion and an ending that…

Well, this is where I rip off Tony Hendra and PJ O’Rourke. I haven’t ended Gypsy’s Kiss yet. You’re going to decide how it ends. How?

Simple. I want to sell 50 copies of Second Hand Goods by July 31. This can be any combination of countries and formats. Fifty copies. If, on August 1, 2014, we’ve sold only 49 copies or less of Second Hand Goods, Nick dies at the end of Gypsy’s Kiss.

Yep. I’m holding Nick hostage to sell books. Gimmicky?

Sure is.

In conclusion, mwahahahaha.

And if you like the book, or any of the other books you buy, be a peach and leave an honest review where you bought it.

Whither Kepler?

Quick note: Today, I pinch hit over at Sleuthsayers where I wax philosophical over Greek gods and crime fiction. Check it out.

I started on the fourth Kepler novel this past weekend.

And stopped.

After spending the past year rewriting Holland Bay and writing a science fiction novel, the story just seemed… Small. Kepler was no longer speaking to me, despite my recently finishing a novella featuring him. The novel was even outlined years ago, during the first couple of rounds of revisions on Bad Religion.

Not happening. The setting still beckons, but most of the story just crumbled. It became another excuse for Nick to sleep with one of the characters. Plus, compared to the sprawling story that is Holland Bay and the ensemble piece that became the science fiction novel, it just didn’t have enough to hold my interest.

And so while I have a novella, a complete rewrite of “Gypsy’s Kiss,” due out later this summer, this looks like it’s the end of the line for Nick.

In a way, it’s too bad. I had an entire arc planned out for Nick. This new novel would have cost him Elaine. Its follow-up would have run him out of Cleveland. That follow up would have sent one character, the future Mrs. Kepler, in search of him in a reversal of the traditional knight-princess tale. Yeah, Nick would have been at rock bottom and in need of rescuing.

Who knows? Nick may call to me again. But the story’s gone cold, and for now, I’m content with the trilogy, a remaining short being shopped, and “Gypsy’s Kiss,” which takes place between Northcoast Shakedown and Second Hand Goods. For now, I have new stories to tell.

Update On The Compleat Winter

cover-frontAs I have been resolving cover issues, The Compleat Winter will debut after the New Year. I’m taking a different route this time. The print edition will appear first, followed by the Kindle version. When that happens, all my titles: Road Rules, Northcoast Shakedown, Second Hand Goods, Bad Religion, and The Compleat Kepler will all be available in ebook format for 99 cents. The sale will last until February.

It’s come to my attention that Bad Religion is no longer available in print. This is a glitch with CreateSpace that “retired” the title. I reached my hand through the intrawebs and gave them a stern wag of my finger. Bad Religion is once again available in print.

The next title out of the gate will be the omnibus edition of the first three Kepler novels, The Kepler Casebook. So if you’d like to get your dose of Nick’s adventures in one place, this will be it. Look for The Kepler Casebook in March.

As for the follow-up to Bad Religion, Suicide Solution, I don’t have a time frame on it, but I’d like it to be in the summer of 2014. It depends on how the writing goes, which, as you know, can be unpredictable.

Winter’s Next Project

The votes are in. As usual, Nick Kepler beats everyone hands down.

The next crime project out of me will be Suicide Solution, where a suicide note leads Nick to a real estate swindle involving an abandoned amusement park.

In the meantime, Jochem Vandersteen has released The Shamus Sampler, an anthology of new PI stories with an intro by Reed Farrel Coleman. The anthology contains the latest Nick Kepler story, “Gypsy’s Kiss.”

And if that’s not enough, then behold! The new cover for Second Hand Goods. SHG will be available in print by the end of October, followed by The Compleat Kepler, and then my non-Kepler collection, The Compleat Winter, coming out in… Um… winter.

You’re welcome.



Bad Religion: The Shakeup

BadReligion-ebook600The mark of a good series is that it doesn’t leave the protagonist sitting in one place for too long. Sue Grafton uprooted Kinsey Milhonne both at her office and domestically (blowing up her apartment) and all within a matter of months. VI Warshawski has had to move her offices. Spenser, at least in his classic period, had a personal life in flux for years before settling into domestic bliss with Susan Silverman.

With the first two Nick Kepler stories, I had him in an apartment in North Olmsted (based on a real building on that corner that was torn down about six or seven years ago) and space in the offices of his former employers at TTG Insurance. In Northcoast Shakedown, I had to establish the character’s work routine and support network. It did not make sense to destroy all that in Second Hand Goods, since it was the second book in the series. In this story, his deal with TTG is threatened, Elaine’s marriage is disintegrating before she and Nick ever give in to any suppressed feelings, and Nick has already had to send a sidekick to prison for his own good.

If I do go ahead with Suicide Solution, the follow-up to Bad Religion, Nick’s office is going to be gone, his home will probably be at risk, and even his relationship – professional and personal – with Elaine will be on shaky ground.

No one wants to read about a character in his or her comfort zone. Why do you think Captain Kirk went on so many landing parties (to the fatal detriment of many red-shirted underlings)? Why does James Bond spend so little time on screen in London? Kirk is comfortable on the bridge, and unless he’s having to stare down an angry Klingon commander, he’s pretty satisfied with the give and take with the rest of the crew (who are also pretty comfortable with the deck of the Enterprise beneath their feet.) We don’t see James Bond in London much, despite having seen his office once in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, because no one wants to see Bond filling out forms, reading reports from other 00’s, or going to Tesco’s to pick up some beanies and weenies and a bottle of Coke. Boring.

Staying on the Bond theme for a moment, the whole reboot has been about keeping Bond in flux. In Casino Royale, he’s thrust into the role of “blunt instrument.” In Quantum of Solace, he has to learn on the fly how to wield that license to kill without overreaching. In Skyfall, he’s given a partner, gadgets, and a new boss, losing M in the process.

This is what Kepler needs. A character kept off balance is infinitely more interesting than one who does the same thing over and over again.

Bad Religion: The Sidekicks

BadReligion-ebook600If you’ve read The Compleat Kepler and the first two Kepler novels, you know Nick Kepler doesn’t go it alone, even if he feels like it sometimes. He has friends in police departments, in the prosecutor’s office, and with his client/former employer, TTG Insurance.

But he also has part-time ops as well. Most are cops working off-duty. One is a PI who seems to have learned all he knows from reruns of The Rockford Files. None of them are the psycho sidekick, though one likes to play at that.

Who are they?

ELAINE HASKELL – By Bad Religion, it’s pretty clear that Elaine and Nick can’t keep their hands off each other. Over the course of the novel, we not only learn why, but we witness them giving up the pretense that what happened in Second Hand Goods was a one-time thing. But Nick Kepler, PI, exists partly because Elaine willed it so. When Nick was downsized out of TTG Insurance, she and her boss convinced the company to give him office space in exchange for cheap, freelance claims work. And it’s this situation that leads to the events of Northcoast Shakedown. It’s pretty clear that Elaine, married with two children, has been pretty sweet on Nick for a long time, but there’s something else driving her to become his partner. Years earlier, when she was blonde, she was also a cheerleader for the Cleveland Cavaliers. That was fine for a partying college girl who liked to hangout with basketball players, not fine for the wife of an accountant and an executive assistant to some of the managers at a large insurance company. Working with Nick gives her a sense of purpose.

RICK REESE – Reese first appeared in “Race Card” as a harassed deputy sheriff whose wife once worked with Nick. Like any cop, Nick recruits him to be a part-time op. For Reese, it’s more interesting than his job with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff. In Cleveland, which exists in a county where every square inch is developed or part of a municipality, the sheriff’s department is largely confined to the county jail and government buildings. Reese is a family man who sometimes has to remind Nick when he’s crossing a legal line.

TY WOLVERSON, AKA “WOLF” – Wolf comes closest to being the psycho sidekick. Muscular, with a buzz cut, Wolf likes to intimidate and is not above flashing his badge to get his point across. He first appeared in “Race Card” as Nick’s fellow gym rat and an antagonist to Reese. Divorced, he drives a restored 1971 Plymouth Duster called “Black Beauty.” The car and his daughter are the two things he cares about most in life.

ERIC TEASDALE – Teasdale is the most questionably qualified of Nick’s sidekicks. He became a PI after taking one of those correspondence courses Sally Struthers used to hawk.  What is so inexplicable to Nick is how Teasdale gets any surveillance done in his 1968 Ford Thunderbird. The car is large enough, as Nick says, “to launch bombing sorties off the hood.” Some time before we meet him in Second Hand Goods, Teasdale helped Nick out with a murder case involving two strippers. He wound up in a relationship with one of the strippers, who turned out to be the killer, and Nick fired him over it. In the interim, Teasdale snagged himself a gig as a part-time investigator for a nearby township. Unlike Elaine, Reese, and Wolf, who all live in nice suburban homes, Teasdale lives in a house trailer in rural Valley City, which is neither a city nor in a valley. (True story. I used to play basketball against Valley City’s high school.)

Print | Kindle | Nook | Smashwords

Bad Religion: Nick Kepler So Far

BadReligion-ebook600So far, I have managed to put Nick Kepler through the wringer. I’ve taken away the love of his life (“Flight of the Rat”). I had him cover up a murder through blackmail (Northcoast Shakedown). I killed off his best friend. (Second Hand Goods) And I put him in an untenable love triangle while another friend is killed. (Bad Religion) My goal in this series was to send him to hell slowly. Then, eventually, I would slowly bring him back. I had an entire arc mapped out for him, including an ambiguous last scene in the last novel.

The question remains as to whether to continue Nick. I have a new short coming out and a second one awaiting revision. The real question is whether to continue with the novels. A fourth remains outlined, the story of a friend’s husband committing suicide after losing their retirement money in a phoney scheme to develop an abandoned amusement park. Following that, Nick would end up in a confrontation with one of Nikolai Karpov’s enemies that sends him fleeing Cleveland. Then I would send one of the characters, the future Mrs. Kepler, actually (who hasn’t played a major role yet) to go bring him back.

But the question remains whether to do it or not. I’ve just spent the first six months of the year rewriting Holland Bay from scratch. I’m currently working on the SF novel (more on that tomorrow). So what do we do with Nick?

I’ll probably know when Holland Bay goes off to its destination.

Bad Religion: Now In Print!

BadReligion-ebook600Finally, at long last, Bad Religion is in print. Actually, all my novels will be going to print soon. Why didn’t I do this years ago?

When my original publisher folded in 2006, you didn’t have any options, really. There was iUniverse and XLibris, who told you up front that you’d be paying a lot of money to get books printed. What they did not tell you was that the bookstores wanted nothing to do with them. And bookstores were your only real option, despite what my now-defunct publisher insisted, to sell any books.

Then along came Kindle. And Nook. And Smashwords. Suddenly, not only did authors have an ebook option, but it took away some of the stench of self-publishing. You didn’t pay to play. You published. And if you published, the only money you might spend was paying for a cover and possibly formatting. Even formatting has become simple. If you can master Smashwords’ Meatgrinder – it is very unforgiving of poorly formatted Word docs – you then have a viable source document that can be tweaked for Nook and Kindle. (I still prefer to do those channels separately. More control, more royalties.) Covers…

Road Rules doesn’t look bad. Northcoast Shakedown doesn’t look bad. The Compleat Kepler actually looks professional. Never mind that it was done by an idiot* in his basement on PaintShop Pro. “A Walk in the Rain”? Um… Second Hand Goods? Meh. Thanks to some back-and-forth with Li’l Sis, we came up with not only a bad ass cover for Bad Religion, but a theme we could easily use on the first two Kepler novels. We’re still mulling a “keyhole” image for Second Hand Goods, which has been the runt of the Kepler litter for some reason.

So how did I go to print without going bankrupt? Simple. Amazon has offered CreateSpace for a while now. Take that ebook Word doc you made, add a header and footer for page numbers, and upload. It also has a tool for creating book covers, though in the case of Bad Religion, Li’l Sis came to the rescue again. You can digitally proof the book, which I did, but most authors I know recommend ordering a print proof. It costs very little. Mine would have been about $5 and some change. That’s it. Author copies are also inexpensive, less than 2/3 the retail price of the book (unless you set your price ridiculously high, like $12.99, which is stupid for a paperback. Nobody’s that good, and I know Ken Bruen. So I don’t say that lightly.)

Is it worth it? I’m out some time spent on formatting in Microsoft Word, and I owe Li’l Sis a detailed beta. When you’re not selling hundreds of copies a week, barter is your friend. Your best friend. Other than that, I’m not out anything. Yes, I’d like to sell it in bookstores, but bookstores and Amazon do not get along. Too bad. Because, speaking as a customer, that really limits my choices.

Which, indie bookstores and Jeff Bezos, is a major fail on your part. Fix it. Now.

Print | Kindle | Nook | Smashwords

*To quote Howard Wolowitz, that would be me.