Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Stuff you find on the Internet that takes you back

Around 1977 or so, the fourth grade version of me was a rabid Star Wars fan.

This was before being a rabid Star Wars fan became cliched, mildly pathetic, and vaguely creepy, mind you. (And hey, I was only nine years old.)

During that period of 1977 through 1978, as America suffered through the nadir of the Jimmy Carter years, I was blissfully unaware of the wider problems of the world, thanks to my youth and my Star Wars obsession. 

My bedroom was a virtual shrine to the movie. (There were no mediocre sequels and prequels yet.) My prized possessions were these Burger King posters, which the fast food chain gave away in 1977 to anyone who purchased a sandwich and a soft drink.

I lost these more than thirty years ago. They ended up in the trash when we moved in the summer of 1978. Too bad: I understand that they are prized among collectors now. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Ebook prices falling amid market pressures

While browsing on Amazon.com this week, I noticed that a lot of Kindle fiction titles were cheaper than usual.

As it turns out, publishers have in fact been systematically lowering ebook prices since last year:

"Ebook prices have been on a steadily southward trajectory since the summer of 2012 when Digital Book World started tracking them. The average price of a top-25 best-selling ebook peaked in October of 2012 at just under $12 and has lately hovered at about half that."

As the hyperlinked article notes, the low prices are inconsistent, as publishers are employing loss leader strategies:

"The overall price decline trend is likely driven by retailers competing with each other for customers as well as trying to bring readers in the door with loss-leading deals on top books that are paid for when more profitable ebooks are purchased at higher prices."
The title of the Forbes.com article is "When You Can Buy Current,Best-Selling Books For Under $2.00"

The proposition here is hyperbolic and unrealistic, of course. Nevertheless, the price of ebooks will have to decrease over time in order to make them competitive against other forms of entertainment. 

With the exception of academic/professional/technical nonfiction, there should never really be a reason to price an ebook at more than $9.99--and most titles should be about half that.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Jason Kottke on the death of the blog

From the Nieman Journalism Lab:

"Sometime in the past few years, the blog died. In 2014, people will finally notice. Sure, blogs still exist, many of them are excellent, and they will go on existing and being excellent for many years to come. But the function of the blog, the nebulous informational task we all agreed the blog was fulfilling for the past decade, is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs.
Instead of blogging, people are posting to Tumblr, tweeting, pinning things to their board, posting to Reddit, Snapchatting, updating Facebook statuses, Instagramming, and publishing on Medium. In 1997, wired teens created online diaries, and in 2004 the blog was king. Today, teens are about as likely to start a blog (over Instagramming or Snapchatting) as they are to buy a music CD. Blogs are for 40-somethings with kids."

I both agree and disagree with Jason Kottke's analysis.

Although the term "blog" is uniquely and exclusively associated with the Internet, the blog is actually just another mode of long-form writing. 

And writing takes work--if you're going to do it with any degree of consistency.In order to maintain a blog, you have to write essays--the very thing that so many people hated to do back in high school English class. 

Not everyone has the time, inclination, or discipline to do this. 

Nor should they, by the way. I have a friend who builds his own computers. That simply doesn't interest me--I'd rather buy a finished product from Dell or Apple. 

I don't regard myself as "lazy" or "inferior" because I want to use a computer without actually building my own. Likewise, I don't think less of people who want to maintain an online presence of some sort, but who don't necessarily want to write 300- to 1,500-word essays on a regular basis.

Prior to the appearance of Facebook, Twitter, etc. a great number of people were starting blogs, I suspect, because blogs were the only way to maintain an online presence. Now, as Kottke notes, there are many choices--most of which don't require extensive writing. 

This doesn't mean that "the blog is dead". It simply means that henceforth, blogging will tend to be the domain of people who actually want to write online, whereas all of these other services will provide more convenient ways for everyone else to simply maintain an online presence.

Monday, December 16, 2013

182 years old, and still a good book

Get Frankenstein at Amazon.com

From The Independent: How Mary Shelley's Frankenstein continues to age well

Frankenstein, incidentally, is probably the first work of sci-fi horror to be produced in the English language. 

Unlike most horror novels of that era (as well as our own), Frankenstein doesn't contain supernatural elements like ghosts, witches and demons. The premise of the book is based on a scientific speculation--but a wholly unpleasant on

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Charles Dickens--skeptical of early social engineering?

From the BBC: Why Charles Dickens endures.

"Dickens didn't seem to share the idea, common among reformers in his day and our own, that there is a more reasonable and better-natured human species hidden away somewhere inside us, waiting to be let out…. Dickens enjoyed human beings as he found them, unregenerate, peculiar and incorrigibly themselves."

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Horror fiction and uncertainty

The Walking Dead is the top cable series of 2013, as measured by total number of viewers.

Why is horror so popular of late--especially zombie-related horror?

Certainly not because anyone really believes that a mysterious virus is going to result in a worldwide outbreak of the undead anytime soon.

Horror is most effective when it functions as a metaphor.  

The zombie apocalypse is a metaphor for the disintegration of society, the downfall of the world as we know it.

Over roughly the last ten years, the Western world has been rocked by uncertainty--starting with 9/11, and continuing with the terrorist incidents in London and Madrid. 

Then came the global financial meltdown of 2007-2009. 

In the U.S., the economy remains sluggish, and there is not much confidence in either of the country's two major political parties. Europe, likewise, is in political and fiscal disarray. 

It is worth noting that horror was much less popular in the 1990s, when the world (at least the Western, English-speaking world) was generally much more stable and prosperous. 

Horror fiction is the fiction uncertain times.

Ernest Hemingway and the art of creative pacing

Via FastCompany:

"To Ernest Hemingway, writers are like wells: "The important thing is to have good water in the well," he told the Paris Review, "and it is better to take a regular amount out than to pump the well dry and wait for it to refill."  
In this way, Hemingway coined the phrase leaving water in the well: instead of spending all your creative juices all at once, you leave a little bit of inspiration so that you can return to the same momentum that you left it with. Hemingway, whose habits of badass productivity we've talked about before, said to never stop writing without knowing how you are going to start again, to, in other words, never end a day's work without knowing how you are going to start the next day.  
But why does this help a workflow work so well? Leaving a task with an intention of how you'll resume it is the compositional equivalent to packing your gym bag the night before--you reduce the friction of getting back into writing your novel, designing your webpage, or building that game-changing presentation deck, thus making it easier to do the difficult, deep work and giving you one less reason to procrastinate."

As noted above, these are points to consider not only for writers--but for anyone whose work requires a constant reservoir of creativity.

Writers,Twitter, and book marketing

It seems that Stephen King--a prolific novelist by any assessment--is far from prolific on Twitter, even though he has an account, and there are (no surprise) plenty of people on Twitter who are more than willing to read whatever he might have to say.

"The prolific novelist, who has penned something like 29 million words in his lifetime, has managed only four little missives thus far: two on the launch of his account (“no longer a virgin. Be gentle!”) and two on things he is reading and watching (Benjamin Percy’s “Red Moon,” and the French zombie drama “The Returned”). That lack of output hasn’t stopped @StephenKing from running up nearly 190,000 followers within its first days online and earning hundreds of retweets and replies to every little dribble of thought he allows out."

It isn't particularly surprising to me that a novelist like King would be struck mum by the fragmented format of Twitter, based as it on 140-character messages. Twitter is great for celebrities, political pundits, and business gurus, who think in buzzwords and catchphrases. 

For novelists--who think in paragraphs and chapters--not so much.

If you're a novelist and reading this, I'm not trying to tell you that you shouldn't have a Twitter account. But you shouldn't view Twitter as all-important, or as a magic bullet for marketing your books.

The same goes for other social media platforms. Social media is an important part of marketing almost everything nowadays, so every author should probably have some sort of a social media presence.

That having been said, not every author has to file hourly dispatches on every social media platform. Moreover, some social media platforms are intrinsically of questionable benefit to authors (especially authors of fiction).

Take YouTube: Video-holics aren't necessarily voracious readers. Moreover, around 70% of YouTube's traffic now comes from outside the U.S., and (based on my experiences on YouTube) from outside the English-speaking world. 

This isn't to say that people who reside outside the English-speaking world never read English-language novels; most certainly they do. But English-language books are significantly harder to market to readers whose first language is French, Japanese, Russian or Urdu. And as an author, devoting a lot of time and energy to courting these (potential) readers may not be the best use of your time, resources, and energy.

Which brings us back to Twitter: People who enjoy reading random 140-character fragments may or may not be interested in your 400-page novel, or your 500-page nonfiction book about the history of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. 

For attracting those readers, a more book-like format--such as a blog or even a static web page--might be be far more effective.

Friday, December 13, 2013

What I'm reading: "Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire" by Simon Baker

Several of my readers have asked me to recommend a good book that gives an overview of the history Ancient Rome.

This is somewhat of a tall order, since the history of Ancient Rome covers so much time and so much diversity. However, Simon Baker's book rises to the task. It is highly readable, and reasonably thorough, all things considered.

The book is slightly more than 400 pages long; and it covers all of the major phases of Ancient Rome--from the Roman Republic through the fall of the Christian Roman Empire. 

I emphasize that this book is an overview. The vast amount of time and events included in Baker's book means that relatively major characters--like Emperors Tiberius and Julian the Apostate--are given only a few pages or paragraphs. Readers who already know the fundamentals of Roman history will probably prefer to focus on texts that deal with specific lives and periods. 

Still, if you are brand new to Ancient Roman history (or need a good review of the basics), then Ancient Rome should serve you well.

The book is slightly more than 400 pages long; and it covers all of the major phases of Ancient Rome--from the Roman Republic through the fall of the Christian Roman Empire. 

I emphasize that this book is an overview. The vast amount of time and events included in Baker's book means that relatively major characters--like Emperors Tiberius and Julian the Apostate--are given only a few pages or paragraphs. Readers who already know the fundamentals of Roman history will probably prefer to focus on texts that deal with specific lives and periods. 

Still, if you are brand new to Ancient Roman history (or need a good review of the basics), then Ancient Rome should serve you well.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Science fiction and philosophy

An interesting essay on this topic from the Huffington Post:

"By proposing possible visions of the future, science fiction asks questions of us--of humanity, of Earth, of individuals--that we wouldn't ordinarily ask ourselves. Who are we? Where are we going? Does what we do today matter? Real science fiction is as close to an intense discussion of philosophy as you can get while still reading fast-paced, page-turning fiction. And it doesn't always give us the answers. Sometimes it leaves us to answer those questions ourselves, and that discussion is one readers of all stripes relish."

YouTube, Popular Science, and the backlash against anonymous comments

Is it time for a fundamental reevaluation of the idea that reader comments intrinsically enrich blogs, online news articles, and videos?

Popular Science recently decided to shut off all comments on its site, while YouTube is taking steps to make commenters more accountable.

The heyday of unfettered anonymous commenting might be on the wane. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Young people and reading

It isn't all bad news, as the popular notion that young people are reading less than they were a generation ago may be exaggerated:

"The clamor for young adult reading programs to “save reading” seems to indicate that kids were reading much more twenty years ago but have recently given it up. This is, of course, not true."

How paperbacks rescued publishing in the twentieth century

In the mid-1930s, book sales were in slump due to a.) competition from radio and cinema and b.) the high prices of hardcover books. 

The solution? The invention of the paperback book in 1935 .

Saturday, November 30, 2013

The idea behind the novel "Termination Man"

Several of you have asked me recently where the idea for the novel Termination Man came from. 

This is a topic that I address at some length in the novel's afterward section. 

So without further ado, the "Afterward" of Termination Man.


Not everyone is interested in the experiences and insights that form the basis of a novel. (Hint: You can feel free to skip this part if you want to; my feelings won’t be hurt.) However, as a reader, I have always found that this sort of background information interests me; I therefore assume that it might be of interest to others as well. So here goes.
One axiom of novel writing is that autobiography makes for poor fiction; and Termination Man is in no way autobiographical. However, autobiography can usefully inform fiction. Prior to writing this novel, I spent the better part of twenty years working in various salaried positions within the automotive industry. My first “real” (i.e., post-college) job was in the purchasing department of an automotive components company that shares many superficial similarities with UP&S. The history, management, (and yes, conflicts) of that workplace were very different from the ones that appear in this novel. However, many details—like tedious inventory reports, blue-collar workers who call you College Boy, and high-pressure monthly meetings—come directly from my own experiences and observations.
For many years I had wanted to write a novel about that first job; but I lacked a central theme or conflict that could bring it to life. My own work experience was instructive, in minor ways; but I had no narrative that could begin to approach something like Michael Lewis’s Liar’s Poker. In real life, the average day in the automotive industry is about as exciting as a trip to the dentist—and often about as painful.
Nor did I want to write yet another book decrying the Soul-Crushing Force of the Toxic Workplace. Everyone knows that corporate environments can be characterized by arbitrary bosses, backstabbing coworkers, and scheming management factions. I didn’t see these subjects as “novel worthy,” in and of themselves.
Then one day I read a book that gave me the missing link that I needed. In an effort to improve my own abilities at corporate politicking (an endeavor that was never my strong suit, I’ll readily admit) I purchased a copy of Cynthia Shapiro’s book, Corporate Confidential: 50 Secrets Your Company Doesn't Want You to Know—and What to Do About Them.
As the name implies, Shapiro’s book is a politically incorrect, no-holds-barred manual of the cold realities that exist in many (if not most) workplaces. For example, Shapiro points out that “there is no right to free speech in the workplace,” and “age discrimination exists.” Over the years, I had read many “career advice” books; but most of them struck me as far too Pollyannaish regarding the factors that drive some people up the corporate ladder, and push others down. Shapiro, I could tell, was giving readers the straight truth—and some of that truth wasn’t pretty.
While Corporate Confidential was fascinating reading throughout, not all of its content was necessarily news to me. By the time I read this book, I was already well into my forties; and I was already aware that conformity is just as important as excellence if you want to land a corner office at the Fortune 500. For me, the real revelation was a practice that Shapiro refers to as “managing out.” This is a practice whereby companies use subtle (and not so subtle) means to deliberately and methodically speed the departures of employees who have fallen from grace. In essence, the companies convince unwanted employees that quitting is “in their best interest.”
At the time, I worked for one of the large automakers; and I recognized many HR practices in my own workplace that could fairly be called tactics of “managing out.” Suffice it to say that I had one of those “ah-hah” moments that you’ve heard about. My ah-hah moment led to a series of what-if questions; and these questions eventually led to this novel.
While the “managing out” that Shapiro describes generally stays within legal and ethical lines, what if some employers were willing to step outside those lines? And what if a consulting firm specialized in managing out employees, using a variety of undercover operations and entrapment? What if such a consulting firm was also willing to skirt the law, dangling sex, drugs, and easy money in front of its clients’ human targets?
Once I had this key idea, the main elements of the plot came together fairly quickly. I threw in (with substantial embellishments, of course) a few other misdeeds and scandals that I had witnessed during my years on the job. For example, what you’ve heard about nepotism in the Fortune 500 boardroom isn’t fiction. Shawn Myers’s undeserved boost up the corporate ladder of TP Automotive is loosely based on an actual case of blatant father-son nepotism that I saw at another point in my career (though neither the father nor the son were anything like their fictional counterparts). I must also report that embezzlement schemes like the one carried out by Nick King and Michael O’Rourke are not uncommon. Sad but true.
This is how a fundamentally dull day job becomes the plot for a novel that contains corporate conspiracies, illicit sex, and violence. I hope that you, Dear Reader, have enjoyed this altered journey through my resume. And remember: You should think twice before you divulge too many personal details to that new coworker who shows up one day in the adjacent cubicle. He (or she) might be more than meets the eye.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mini-book review: "The Son" by Philipp Meyer

I recently finished Philipp Meyer's latest novel--a literary Western entitled The Son.. Below is the Amazon.com promotional blurb/review, which includes a reasonable synopsis:

“In 1859, Eli McCullough, the 13-year-old son of Texas pioneers, is captured in a brutal Comanche raid on his family's homestead. First taken as a slave along with his less intrepid brother, Eli assimilates himself into Comanche culture, learning their arts of riding, hunting, and total warfare.  
When the tribe succumbs to waves of disease and settlers, Eli's only option is a return to Texas, where his acquired thirsts for freedom and self-determination set a course for his family's inexorable rise through the industries of cattle and oil. 
The Son is Philipp Meyer's epic tale of more than 150 years of money, family, and power, told through the memories of three unforgettable narrators: Eli, now 100 and known simply as "the Colonel"; Eli's son Peter, called "the great disappointment" for his failure to meet the family’s vision of itself; and Eli's great-granddaughter Jeanne Anne, who struggles to maintain the McCullough empire in the economic frontier of modern Texas. 
The book is long but never dull—Meyer's gift (and obsession) for historical detail and vernacular is revelatory, and the distinct voices of his fully fleshed-and-blooded characters drive the story. 
And let there be blood: some readers will flinch at Meyer's blunt (and often mesmerizing) portrayal of violence in mid-19th century Texas, but it’s never gratuitous. His first novel, 2009's American Rust, drew praise for its stark and original characterization of post-industrial America, but Meyer has outdone himself with The Son, as ambitious a book as any you’ll read this year--or any year. Early reviewers call it a masterpiece, and while it's easy to dismiss so many raves as hyperbole, The Son is an extraordinary achievement. - John Foro”
My review:

I basically agree with the sentiments of the Amazon.com reviewer. The Son is a fine novel, a multilayered work that far surpasses Meyer's earlier American Rust both in scope and quality.  

It has been said that all books are influenced by other books, and I believe that was the case here, at least to a certain degree. While reading The Son, I definitely detected shades of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, and Larry McMurtry's main literary Westerns, Lonesome Dove and Comanche Moon

That having been said, The Son avoids the mind-numbing perversity and excessive violence of Blood Meridian. Philipp Meyer has written a novel for a wide audience. (The same couldn't be said of Cormac McCarthy's efforts in Blood Meridian.)

I'd have to give The Son a solid 4 out of 5 stars. Below are some of the book's strong points and weak points, as I saw them.

Strong points:

Historical accuracy: Meyer did an excellent job of learning about Comanche culture and integrating that into the story. 

As chance would have it, I recently finished reading a nonfiction book about the Comanches, Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne. 

Based on my reading of Gwynne's book, Meyer seems to have nailed all of the important details about the Comanches in The Son. This gives The Son a level of authenticity that makes the story even more believable.

A fast-moving plot: For a fairly long book, this is a tale that doesn't slow down in too many places (more on this shortly). I read The Son while I was in the middle of reading several other books. I found myself setting those books aside so I could finish The Son.

There is lots of conflict--both internal and external. That almost always makes for a fast-moving story.

Complex, dynamic characters: Eli McCullough, his son Peter, and his great-granddaughter Jeanne Anne are real people with humanlike mixtures of flaws and virtue. The three main characters are very different types; and obviously one of them is a woman. 

Weak points: 

Somewhat bleak: The larger theme of this book is the taming of the American West. Philipp Meyer seems to be attempting to say something profound about this part of American history, and I'm not sure that he has entirely succeeded. 

While Eli McCullough has built an empire (first of cattle, later of oil) out of the wilderness, neither he nor his descendants seem to take much pleasure from it. 

The Son is a novel that Ayn Rand (author of Atlas Shrugged) would hate. It depicts the march of American capitalism as almost completely negative. While Meyer is honest about the brutality of Comanche culture, one gets the feeling that he romanticizes it somewhat--perhaps more than an objective student of history should. 

One of the elements that makes a great novel is redemption. I'm not sure that I found anything genuinely redemptive in the journeys of Eli, Peter, or Jeanne Anne. The book ends on a very pessimistic note.

Nonlinear narrative: The Son alternates between the stories of Eli, Peter, and Jeanne Anne, which are of course interconnected. The book also jumps around temporally. One chapter is set in the 1850s, the next in the 1930s, etc.

From a technical perspective, Meyer smoothly manages the transitions between the separate story lines; and a reasonably attentive reader should not be confused by the overall flow of the narrative. 

However, the story line of Eli is far more interesting than the story lines of either Peter or Jeanne Anne. (Several Amazon.com reader-reviewers also made this observation.) While I wouldn't necessarily describe the Peter and Jeanne Anne chapters as "boring", I did find myself saying, "Great--another Eli chapter!" when I came to those.

The Eli chapters were reliably filled with gunfights and the always interesting forays into Comanche culture. The Peter and Jeanne Anne chapters sometimes dwelled a bit too much on comparatively mundane romantic affairs, etc.

*       *       *
This isn't a perfect book; but it is still a very good one. I especially recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Larry McMurty's novels, or the family sagas of either James Michener or John Jakes.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Latin, the Catholic Church, and Western Civilization

A reader inquires:

"Dear Ed: You're a Roman Catholic. What do you think of the movement to restore the Latin (Tridentine mass) in the Catholic Church?"

For those of you who aren't Roman Catholic (or aren't familiar with Roman Catholicism): The so-called "Latin mass" used to be the standard mass for Roman Catholics throughout the world. 

But the 1960s--which changed so much of Western Civilization for the worse--also altered the Catholic Church for the worse. The Second Vatican Council (commonly called "Vatican II") was actually a series of councils held throughout the 1960s. 

The overall effect of the Vatican II was to "modernize" the Catholic Church. One of these changes was the jettisoning of Latin, the language that the Church had used for 2,000 years. 

However, Latin has gradually crept back into the Catholic Church. When I attended Catholic schools (1974-1986), no Latin was taught. By the mid-1990s, however, the same Catholic high school that I attended was once again teaching Latin. Interestingly enough, non-Catholic schools and home-schoolers rediscovered Latin around the same time.

There is also a movement to restore the Catholic Latin mass. However, a genuine Latin mass is still the exception rather than the rule. In my hometown of Cincinnati, there are perhaps two or three Catholic Churches who celebrate the Tridentine mass.

I am in favor of the rediscovery of Latin--and not just for Catholics. 

Latin is, first and foremost, the universal language of the Catholic Church, and its exclusion in the 1960s was ill-considered, in my opinion. (But again, so much went wrong in the 1960s.)

Latin is the language of civilization. It is was the language of the Roman Empire, and was for years the academic language of Christendom. Latin is the basis of--or a major contributor to--most Western European languages.

It is Latin--and not English--that is the natural, organic lingua franca of Western Civilization.

The world that spoke Latin was a better world, on the whole; and the return of Latin is perhaps a harbinger of Western Civilization rediscovering its roots.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The $1.59 fall blowout sale continues...for a limited time

For a limited amount of time, the prices of the following book-length works will be available on Amazon Kindle for an extra-special-low price: $1.59


Jason Kelley is a young, struggling filmmaker looking for his first big break. When the semi-famous cable television ghost hunter Simon Rose approaches him about a freelance project, Jason is understandably thrilled.

He isn’t fazed by the fact that his assignment is a walk down the Shaman’s Highway, an eleven-mile stretch of rural Ohio roadway that is reputed to be haunted by malevolent spirits, hellhounds, and demonic forces. Jason is an agnostic in regard to the supernatural.

He isn’t prepared for the reality that awaits him on his walk through eleven miles of night—nor the more human violence and heartbreak that he will face along the way.

A long forgotten double murder of two young women in Ohio. A struggling corporation in turmoil. Two powerful men, two bitter rivals, each one hiding his own secrets. One driven by lust and rage, the other driven by a conflicted sense of right and wrong.


“The novel that takes an unflinching look at the dark underside of the 21st century workplace.”

CRAIG WALKER is a hotshot young MBA with his own consulting firm. He’s handsome, rich, and in demand. His Fortune 500 clients—the most powerful men and women in industry—call him “The Termination Man.”

Craig Walker is no ordinary management consultant. He’s a spook, a workplace spy. Assuming false identities, Craig works undercover, building the evidence that will allow his corporate clients to terminate unwanted employees without legal repercussions. His targets are the troublemakers, the agitators, the employees whom management believes are no longer “good fits” for their hyper-competitive organizations.

Craig Walker believes that he serves the cause of economic efficiency, and in a way, the greater good. Most of his targets don’t like their jobs anyway. In a free market, “a firing isn’t the worst thing that can happen to a person. Sometimes an employee needs to leave a bad a situation.”

SHAWN MYERS is a manager at TP Automotive, a global giant in the automotive industry. Shawn struggles to control his lust and rage, and to escape a hideous past that might catch up with him at any moment. His forbidden desire for a girl young enough to be his daughter threatens to drive him over the edge.

When TP Automotive hires the Termination Man to remove two innocent employees from its payroll, Craig Walker is forced to reexamine his notions of justice and morality. But these questions are soon overwhelmed by the dangers that he faces from the TP Automotive management team. After Shawn Myers commits a heinous act in Craig’s presence, the Termination Man discovers that his new clients will resort to any means in order to protect one of their own.

“Meth, murder, and the mafia---a vast tapestry of a southern gothic crime novel with a Dickensian cast of characters.”

Available for the first time on Amazon Kindle.

***Lee McCabe is home from Iraq, but home has changed.***

Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and recently discharged U.S. marine Lee McCabe never imagined the dangers awaiting him in Hawkins County, Kentucky. While Lee has been in the Middle East, a network of violent methamphetamine traffickers have established a foothold in the county, corrupting, intimidating, or murdering anyone who stands in their way.

***Charged with murder and marked for death***

Lee quickly discovers that his neighbor, Tim Fitzsimmons is a meth dealer. When Fitzsimmons and his girlfriend are killed in a drug-related hit, Lee attempts to intervene. The law and the community blame Lee for the murder. The meth traffickers target Lee for death, knowing him to be a witness to the crime.

***Enemies motivated by passion, greed, and desperation ***

Sheriff Steven Phelps has his own personal reasons for hating Lee: Twenty-five years ago, Lee’s now deceased mother had a youthful affair with the sheriff. The sheriff planned to marry her--until she jilted him to be with the man who became Lee’s father. Phelps is torn by his duty to justice, and his obsession with the doomed love of his adolescence.

Lester Finn is a classics-quoting, self-aggrandizing local hoodlum and meth dealer. He is caught between the law and the Chicago-based mafia, which wants a greater share of the southern methamphetamine trade. From his bar, the Boar’s Head, Lester controls a sordid regional enterprise that consists of gambling, drug trafficking, and prostitution. Lester is torn by his grudging respect for Lee---and his need to see the ex-marine dead.

Paulie Sarzo is a Chicago mobster, a rising star in the Coscollino crime family. He despises Kentucky, Lee McCabe, and most of all, Lester Finn. But Paulie has an important mission to accomplish in Hawkins County: If he fails to eliminate Lee, he risks the ultimate punishment for failure in la cosa nostra.

***A journey toward death or redemption***

Dawn Hardin is a former golden girl, honor student, and premed whose life has fallen into a downward spiral of meth addiction and prostitution. Dawn had a tumultuous relationship with Lee before he went to Iraq. Now she tries to help him wage war against the mafia, even as she struggles with her own inner demons, and a family that wants to deny her existence.

The Hunter is a mysterious figure who compels Lee to go on the offensive against the forces pursuing him. But will the Hunter offer any concrete assistance, or only advice?

Brett St. Croix is a journalist who offers to tell Lee’s version of events. But Lee suspects that St. Croix has a contrary, private agenda of his own.

Ben Chamberlain lost his wife to a meth-related murder. Will he assist Lee; or will Ben’s desire for revenge destroy them both?

***A battle in Blood Flats***

Pursued from all directions, Lee embarks on a cross-country journey toward the town of Blood Flats. There he faces a showdown---in which he must pit his wits and determination against the ruthlessness and superior resources of his enemies on both sides of the law.

- During the Great Depression, a young boy confronts zombies

- In the present day, a software salesperson discovers that he can commune with the dead at airports.

- A business trip is cut short when three corporate colleagues stray into a den of vampires near a major interstate.

- A Russian gangster makes a killing in America---murdering romantic rivals for hire.

These are just a few of the bizarre scenarios that you will find in the pages of Hay Moon and Other Stories…

Sixteen modern tales of horror and suspense. 270+ pages in print.

***Hay Moon***

In the summer of 1932, the undead invaded a corner of rural Ohio. Nearly eight decades later, one man still lives with the nightmares, and a horrible promise left unfulfilled.

***Giants in the Trees***

Jim knew that his older coworker, Paul Taulbee, had a checkered past. But he was unprepared for the horror he discovered on the night he gave Paul a ride home from the office.

***The Vampires of Wallachia***

Three corporate employees on a business trip stop at the wrong place for a late-night dinner: a restaurant in central Ohio that hides a terrifying secret.

***Bitter Hearts***

Have you been wronged in love? An Internet company promises to make things right for you---for a price.

***Gate Time***

Traveling software salesman Josh Gardner had never been afraid of airports---until he discovered that some of his fellow travelers were not what they appeared to be.

***By the River***

The old man who lived on the houseboat warned people about the shadows lurking beneath the waters of the Ohio River. But some failed to heed his warnings.

***The Girl She Used to Be***

Thirty years ago Allison disappeared on the night that her college boyfriend was planning to give her an engagement ring. Now Allison is back--- but she’s not the girl she used to be.

***The Caliphate***

When a terrorist organization stages a bloody takeover of a Canadian city, two friends are forced to confront their innermost demons---and each other.

***The Wasp***

Leo had always been afraid of wasps---especially wasps that learn to assume human form.

***The Red Devil***

A security guard at a car dealership learns that death lurks in the nocturnal hours in a city torn by gang warfare.

***The Robots of Jericho***

Pete Greer suspected that the industrial robots purchased by his company were more than mere machines. Alone in a West Virginia factory with them over an extended summer weekend, the robots threaten his sanity---and his life.

***Last Dance with Emma***

University of Minnesota graduate students Eric and Randy travel back in time for hedonistic purposes. But when they visit New Year’s Eve 1978, Randy unexpectedly falls in love. Determined to secure an impossible future with a doomed young woman named Emma, Randy battles his friend, and the cruelty of a random universe.

***Gaia Cried Out***

When Kara Teller met Nicholas Naretti in the student union of her university, she believed that she had found the ideal man. But there is something horribly wrong with Nicholas’s friends…And Kara reluctantly discovers that Nicholas harbors sinister intentions of his own.


Robert and Susan Craig discover that the politics of the twenty-second century in America can be deadly. A leisurely time travel voyage lands them in a cell in the bloodiest days of the French Revolution. Condemned to the guillotine by the Jacobins’ Committee of Public Safety, they suspect the hand of the rising American demagogue, Senator Barry Olsen.


Corporate middle manager Greg Hensley simultaneously desires and loathes his new subordinate, Jessica Tanner. A bit of research into Jessica’s past reveals that Jessica may be dangerous. But Jessica may not be the only one who is hiding evil secrets.

***The Dreams of Lord Satu***

Rapid GeoWorks salesperson Marc Jonas is ordered to visit the remote planet of Kelphi, where his customer is a spiderlike alien that preys on human flesh.

Writers and the globalized Twitter/YouTube

One of you recently asked for my opinion regarding Twitter and YouTube as self-promotional platforms for writers. 

I'll write a longer post about this topic in the future. But here are two important aspects to consider: the globalization of these services, and the percentages of non-English-speaking users on both sites.

Consider the following:

  • 75% of all Twitter users come from outside the U.S.
  • 70% of all YouTube traffic comes from outside the U.S.
To be sure, some of these users/viewers are from other English-speaking countries. 

I tend to find, though, (especially on YouTube), that the audience is increasingly international and non-English-speaking (or quasi-English-speaking). I have 1,200+ subscribers on YouTube. Over half of them are from non-English-speaking corners of the world.

This is a factor to consider if your primary reason for being on social media is the marketing of your books. Certain kinds of content (like fiction, for example) are extremely difficult to sell to readers whose primary language is not English.

On Blogger, by contrast, 90%+ of my traffic comes from the USA, Canada, or the UK.

I think that the language barrier is the reason behind this difference. If you have a minimal grasp of English, you can still utilize YouTube or Twitter. However, an advanced reading level is required to read a blog.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Real men read

Stephen King on the topic of "manfiction":

"If you catch publishing types in a ''don't quote me'' mood, they'll tell you the male audience for fiction is disappearing. Agents and editors are constantly on the lookout for the next hot female writer, and why not? At the end of August, 7 of the 10 New York Times hardcover fiction bestsellers were by women, and that doesn't even include Stephenie Meyer's mega-selling Breaking Dawn (which the Times considers kid lit, thus not meriting a place on the adult list). 

But, to misquote Mark Twain, reports of the male reader's death have been greatly exaggerated. Women have chick lit; guys have what my son Joe (as in Joe Hill) calls ''manfiction.'' And publishers sell it by the ton. Here's a concept so simple it's easy to miss: What men want from an Elmore Leonard novel is exactly what women want from a Nora Roberts novel — escape and entertainment." 
Some readers will of course object to the very idea that there is "men's fiction" and "women's fiction". Oh, the sexism of it all! 

We all know, though, that very few men read Danielle Steel, and very few women read Clive Cussler. (However, it is probably accurate to say that Cussler has more female readers than Steel has male readers--women being more avid readers in general.)

Just because these categories exist, though, doesn't mean that every fictional work has to be shunted into a "gender-specific" category, and labeled either a "boy book" or a "girl book".

The vast majority of fiction has cross-gender appeal. And while manfiction and chicklit both have their places, the best books can be enjoyed equally by either sex.