Monday, April 22, 2013

Blood Flats FREE from 4/23 through 4/27 (Kindle version)

The Kindle version of my novel Blood Flats will be free on from 4/23 through 4/27.  If you have been interested in my fiction but have been hesitant to take the purchase plunge for whatever reason, here is your chance to try out one of my books for free. 

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

***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.

How to make exercise less boring: for writers, bookworms, and other non-athlete types

This post is a bit unusual for this blog—which is normally focused on current events, writing, foreign languages, and history. But one of the regular commenters here happened to ask an exercise-related question that I’ve always wanted to work into a post.

“My biggest problem is that I find exercise terribly boring. Ed, do you do anything like writing or reading while working out? If yes, any special equipment you use? (i.e. ebooks instead of paperbacks? tablets or a certain kind of laptop tray?) 

Actually I'd probably be bone thin if I could perfect my pedal power computer.”

I do have some suggestions, based on the roughly thirty years that I’ve spent working out. These might help you, they might not. But here they are, in no particular order.

Realize that exercise will make everything else in your life easier. 

As I mentioned in an earlier thread, I used to be overweight. I had far less energy and drive than I do now, even though I was much, much younger back then.

Unless you carry it to extremes, the time you spend exercising will give you additional time to do the things that are really important to you, because you will have more energy, and you will need less sleep.

As an added time bonus, you will probably be able to extend your productive years of life. This may seem like an abstraction to younger readers, but it should be significant for anyone old enough to realize his/her own mortality. We all have to die someday. But most people can positively influence the number of productive, energetic years they have at their disposal. Exercise (along with proper diet and avoiding the obvious bad habits) is one way to extend your productive years.

Follow the path(s) of least resistance. 

There are many ways to exercise and stay in shape. You will find (through a process of trial and error) that you enjoy some more than others. Unless you have to train for a specific sport (which involves a totally different agenda, anyway) do what you enjoy. Don’t do what you don’t enjoy.

For example, swimming is great exercise—one of the best all-body workouts there is. Swimming gives you a zero-impact aerobic workout, and it develops many of your muscles.
And I hate to swim. For one thing, I don’t like waiting for a lane at the pool (especially during the winter, when the indoor heated pool at my gym becomes more crowded). I also don’t like to get wet, and I dislike the smell of chlorine. So I don’t swim.

I have never enjoyed team sports that are played with balls. Therefore, I don’t play basketball or indoor soccer.

I do like running and aerobic machines (stationary bike, stairmaster, etc.). I also enjoy one-one-one racquet sports like tennis and racquetball. I enjoy going for long walks. I enjoy weightlifting. Therefore, these activities have always formed the bulk of my exercise routine.

Spend as much money as you reasonably can in order to make exercise fun. 

In 2002 I spent $1,000 on a stationary bike. This was the best thousand bucks I’ve ever spent. This bike, which lives in my basement, enables me to descend a single flight of stairs and work out comfortably. I also belong to somewhat expensive gym ($80 per month).

You may spend more than me, you may spend less. In either case, it will almost certainly cost you a bit of money to exercise. (Even if you only walk, you’ll need to buy a good pair of athletic shoes.)

However much you spend, you’ll spend far less than you’ll spend if you don’t stay in shape, and end up with the inevitable health problems: diabetes, heart trouble, etc. Think of the money you spend exercising as money that you can deduct from future doctor bills.

Find a way to entertain yourself while you do aerobic exercise. 

Most people can concentrate on weightlifting, because it involves short bursts of concentrated effort. However, you hear a lot of people say things like, “I hate cardio—it’s so boring!” and “How do spend thirty minutes doing nothing but pedaling a bike?”

The answer is: You have to find a way to keep yourself entertained. One great way is to have a person or group that you run/walk/bike with. This worked for me during my high school track days and during my early twenties, when I always had a group of guys to run with.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve needed to rely more on solitary exercise. I therefore use my exercise time to read, listen to audiobooks, and study languages.

Two of the most useful innovations for exercisers are the Kindle and the iPod. (You really appreciate an iPod if you’re old enough to remember the Walkman.) The Kindle facilitates reading on an exercise bike or a stair machine. The iPod enables you to listen to books, music, foreign language instruction, etc. while you do almost anything—such as pedal an exercise bike.

Cardio is not boring if you simply keep your mind otherwise engaged while you are doing it. I multitask and use almost all of my cardio time productively.
Some people also like to watch movies on an iPad or other tablet. The possibilities are many.

If you’re forty-something, don’t try to exercise like you’re still in high school.

As you get older, you must change the way you exercise. This doesn't mean that you can’t exercise intensely when you’re older, but you do have to be smarter about it. People over thirty-five or so break more easily than the younger folks do. This is simply a fact of life.

At forty-five, my strength and endurance haven’t changed much since I was nineteen. However, my joints and connective tissues are not what they used to be. I ran all through my late teens, twenties and thirties without any significant injuries. I seldom stretched, and I ran on concrete—the most high-impact running you can do.

Then, as soon as I turned forty, everything went to hell. Within the space of one year, I was troubled by plantar fasciitis, tendonitis in one ankle, and lower back problems when I ran. The end result was that I had to basically give up running. Now all of my aerobic workouts are done on exercise machines. I also go for long walks.

I really miss long-distance running. But I simply can’t do that anymore without getting hurt.
If you do get hurt, you will have lay off the exercise for a while, and that will set you back. Be careful, so you don’t get hurt—especially if you aren’t a college kid anymore.

Mix up your routine. 

I vary my routine constantly. Some weeks I use the stairmaster exclusively. Some weeks I only bike. Some weeks I do both. I also vary the content, duration, and frequency of my weight workouts.

This has two benefits. For one thing, it prevents your body from getting accustomed to a single routine (in which case that routine ceases to be effective). Constant variation also keeps the boredom away.

*       *      *

So there you have it. My motivational/practical exercise suggestions for non-athletes.

You don’t have to be a “jock” by nature (I am certainly not) in order to stay in shape. You do have to develop consistent habits.

It turns out that most introverted types (writers, bookworms, etc.) are creatures of habit. Use that to your advantage.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Of publishers and pirates

A reader asked me for my take on the publishers-vs.-pirates war, citing the recent campaign of Scott Turow to highlight the challenges that the publishing industry currently faces:

"And there are many e-books on which authors and publishers, big and small, earn nothing at all. Numerous pirate sites, supported by advertising or subscription fees, have grown up offshore, offering new and old e-books free. 
The pirates would be a limited menace were it not for search engines that point users to these rogue sites with no fear of legal consequence, thanks to a provision inserted into the 1998 copyright laws. A search for “Scott Turow free e-books” brought up 10 pirate sites out of the first 10 results on Yahoo, 8 of 8 on Bing and 6 of 10 on Google, with paid ads decorating the margins of all three pages. 
If I stood on a corner telling people who asked where they could buy stolen goods and collected a small fee for it, I’d be on my way to jail. And yet even while search engines sail under mottos like “Don’t be evil,” they do the same thing."

I should first note that it has become very trendy of late for writers, à la Cory Doctorow, to wax trendy and nonchalant on the subject of piracy, asserting that the whole thing is really no big deal, and information wants to be free, and isn't it cool that people care enough about books to pirate them, etc. etc. 

I don't fall into this camp. Piracy is still piracy, even if it is dressed up in the faux cool language of the Internet. Make no mistake about it--Google and other ad-serving companies make billions of dollars from the so-called "free" content on the Internet. Online piracy--whether it is of music, movies, or books--is really a transfer of wealth from content creators to content servers. 

That having been said, there are realistic limits to what can be done to stop piracy. Efforts like SOPA will always be framed in the public square in the screeching "They're trying to shut down the Internet!" meme. For this reason, legal steps against piracy will likely always be imperfect half-steps.

For publishers and writers, however, I believe that the effects of piracy are neither so devastating nor so inevitable as Scot Turow contends. To begin with, the typical reader is older, more affluent, and better educated than the average 15-year-old who wants to get a free download of the latest  caterwauling rap music release from Jam Dose Monkeys or Slap Dem Bitches. 

This doesn't mean that readers don't like free or discounted books, mind you. I personally buy a lot of used books, and I utilize the library on a weekly basis. However, I am not willing to visit some warez site based in Russia or Pakistan, which--legal and moral issues aside--will in all likelihood infect my computer with something nasty. I would rather just pay a few bucks to acquire a book honestly, or wait to get it at the library. 

I think I am the "typical" reader in this regard: I don't get majorly jazzed from the idea of cheating publishers and other writers out of their just recompense. I think that publishers can capitalize on the innate honest of the typical reader, first and foremost by keeping prices down. 

It is not uncommon for new hardcover titles to sticker at $25 to $35 nowadays. Books simply shouldn't be that expensive--not when books are competing with movies, the Internet, and music for consumer attention and entertainment dollars. 

Likewise, I get sick of all the online kvetching about ebook pricing. (Some readers now routinely give books a 1-star rating if they believe the book's Kindle price to be too high.) Nevertheless, the kvetchers do have a point: The Internet and digital methods of distribution have reduced the cost of almost everything, from real estate transactions to movie rentals. At least a portion of these cost reductions have, in other industries, been passed on to consumers in the form of lower pricing. Why should publishing be any different?

The problem is the mismanagement of the publishing industry. No--this is not an ad for self-publishing. Although self-publishing has opened up a wide array of new choices for readers and writers alike, it is not the most appropriate option for every writer or every book. Institutional, corporate-level publishing still has a role and function to perform in the marketplace. 

However, publishing--like education--is inefficient compared to more "mainstream" industries. The average executive in the automotive industry has an engineering degree or an MBA (or both). The average publishing industry decision-maker majored in English literature, and is far more concerned with promoting leftwing ideology than with reducing costs and passing the savings on to readers. 

Also--must the publishing industry be based in New York--one of the most expensive cities on earth? New York might have made sense thirty, fifty, or one hundred years ago. It doesn't today. But you seldom hear of a publishing firm moving to the Midwest or to the Southeast in order to save costs. That would be so gauche

Online piracy won't, by itself, destroy the publishing industry. Nevertheless, the business model of publishing is under assault from various forces--piracy being only one among them.

These are not insurmountable challenges; and the digital world also offers publishers new opportunities, let's not forget. But the current generation of decision-makers in publishing seem incapable of genuine adaptation to new economic realities. What we have is first and foremost an MBA-level strategy problem--and English literature majors, unfortunately, make poor business managers.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Shameless promo for "Eleven Miles of Night"

Eleven Miles of Night has started selling on You don't want to miss out on the party.

What? You don't want to take the $2.99 plunge on faith? No problem.  If you'd like to read the first seven chapters of the book here for free, I've posted them here

You can also preview my other books on the online fiction page.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Eleven Miles of Night: new Kindle novel available on tomorrow

Amazon promotional blurb:

"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."

I have always been fascinated by the idea of a haunted roadway, and so here one is Eleven Miles of Night. But there is a lot more going on here, too. Jason Kelley is a young man struggling with inner demons as well: the legacy of his alcoholic father, a girlfriend whom he just can't commit to, and more. 

I'll post sample chapters here tomorrow sometime.