Saturday, June 15, 2013

What scares me, you ask?

After yesterday's post about my new novel, Eleven Miles of Night, a reader asked:

"Ed, what are your favorite horror movies and books? Were there any that particularly frightened you?"

To answer the first question: There are plenty that I've enjoyed over the years. 

In high school, I was a big fan of Stephen King's early novels: Carrie, The Dead Zone, The Shining, etc. During my college years, I went through an H.P. Lovecraft phase, in which I read practically everything that he wrote. More recently, I've read several novels by Brian Keene that were page-turners (especially The Rising and City of the Dead.) 

I haven't been quite as impressed with horror movies. The sad fact of the matter is that most horror films (especially those of recent vintage) are just plain bad. There are exceptions, of course: I was an addict of the AMC series The Walking Dead during the first few seasons.  I won't deny that The Walking Dead has lost some of its charm for me since it debuted in 2010. The first few seasons were pure gold, though.

While I've derived pleasure from the above horror novels and films, I can't say that any of them really "scared" me--as in keeping me awake at night. This was true even of the scariest horror film of them all: The Exorcist.

When The Exorcist was released in 1973, it disturbed a lot of people who saw it in theaters. I've talked to more than a few Baby Boomers who've told me that The Exorcist gave them sleepless nights.

I was a bit too young for horror films in 1973, but I finally got around to watching The Exorcist on DVD about ten years ago. The film did eventually give me one nightmare, but I slept like a baby the night I watched it. 

(I think that The Exorcist has lost some of its punch because its tricks and conventions have been imitated by so many other filmmakers over the years. In 1973 The Exorcist was groundbreaking; by today's standards it is relatively standard, as horror films go. But that's another blog post.)

What does scare me, then? The answer might surprise you: Nothing creeps me out like those "true ghost stories"--especially the ones that have an air of realism.

As chance would have it, I live in a relatively haunted part of the world (if you believe the ghost-hunters, that is.) My hometown of Cincinnati is home to an above-average number of buildings, graveyards, and bridges that are reputed to be haunted.

I live only a few miles from "Dead Man's Curve" on the old Ohio Turnpike (now Ohio State Route 125). This stretch of roadway has been called, "one of the most haunted spots in the U.S.". Numerous fatal accidents have occurred there, including a particularly nasty one in 1969. The area is rumored to be the site of an old Native American burial ground. 

Travelers have reported seeing a "faceless hitchhiker" on this section of highway between the hours of midnight and one a.m. I've never driven over the Dead Man's Curve during the supposed "haunting time", but one of these days, I might. (For more information about this reputedly haunted location, watch the YouTube clip below.) 

Every now and then I do get creeped out, thinking about a genuinely haunted spot so close to my front door. Yes, I know that faceless hitchhikers and ghosts don't really exist; but I still haven't driven over the Dead Man's Curve between the hours of midnight and one a.m. I see no advantage in tempting fate.

So it is the "true" ghost stories that keep me awake at night, because they might just be true after allNo one claims that The Walking Dead is real. But I've met at least two people who claimed to have seen something along the Dead Man's Curve late at night.

(Eleven Miles of Night is a novel about a roadway in Ohio, though it isn't modeled on the Dead Man's Curve of State Route 125. I'll discuss the inspiration for Eleven Miles of Night in a subsequent post.) 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Summer Sizzle Ebook sale: "Eleven Miles of Night": only $0.99 June 14 through June 21

My latest horror novel, Eleven Miles of Night, will be on sale for just $0.99 (Kindle version) from Friday, June 14 through Friday, June 21. description:

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.

This is a novel that has it all, folks: demonic children, a horrific witch that haunts a covered bridge, and even hell hounds....all set in the bucolic Ohio countryside. 

To read the first seven chapters of Eleven Miles of Night, click here

To buy the Kindle version at, click here.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What I'm reading: "I'd Know You Anywhere," by Laura Lippman

I picked this one up on a trip to the library yesterday, and so far I have found it to be a page-turner.

The setup: Eliza Benedict, a thirtysomething stay-at-home mother, has just received a letter in the mail. It is from one Walter Bowman, a man who abducted her in 1985, when she was 15 years old. Bowman is now on death row (for killing several other girls) and is scheduled to die soon by lethal injection. 

There are hints of Eliza's guilt at being the Girl Who Got Away, plus foreshadowings that a meeting between the former kidnapper and his victim is imminent. 

This is the first book I've read from this author. My initial, knee-jerk assessment of Lippman is that she is a less formulaic, more skillful version of Harlan Coben. 

Monday, June 10, 2013

"Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak

Today is the birthday of Maurice Sendak (1928-2012), who wrote and illustrated the classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are (1963).

Yes, this thing is actually older than I am (though not by much), so it was a part of my childhood, too. 

I don't know that I ever owned a copy of Where the Wild Things Are; but it was a favorite in the children's section of the library during my childhood years of the 1970s. 

I can still recall the first time I opened this book. I was likely about eight years old. I was completely captivated, completely blown away. I reread it every time I could get my hands on a copy. 

Where the Wild Things Are is just dark enough to be edgy from an 8-year-old's perspective, but not disturbing enough to give kids nightmares. It plays into a lot of themes that universally appeal to children: being misunderstood by adults, rising above the limited scope of being a kid, etc. 

And then there are all the cool monsters!

I'm not surprised that children continue to be fascinated by the product of Sendak's imagination, even though the book now has to compete with much more television, not to mention the Internet and video games. 

Self-published books take 12% of the digital market

Per the blog, from Michael Kozlowski:

"Bowker Market Research is reporting today that  self-published eBooks now account for 12% of the entire digital publishing market. In some cases, the number actually rises to a very respectable 20%, but is fairly genre specific to crime, science fiction and fantasy, romance and humor.
Indie authors, much like the entire book industry is all about market data and trends to determine what the hot segments are. If you live in New York, you would be very hard pressed to have a new Paranormal Romance book approved, because the whole genre is cold. For example, self-published authors are struggling with  graphic novels, food and drink, and children’s non-fiction eBooks. All of these segments combined only account for 5% of volume sales.
The figures also show that heavy readers are more likely to buy self-published books, with 61% of people who buy self-published books likely to read every day compared to 37% of all book buyers. 36% of self-published book buyers are females over 45, who make up 24% of all book buyers.
Bowker reports can be taken with a grain of salt, as they are not indicative to the entire eBook industry. They tend to only talk to 3,000 companies and authors for their research and many of the leading eBook sellers do not publicly divulge their eBook sales.  So reports like this, aren’t the snapshot of the industry that everyone hopes they are. Barnes and Noble continuously hypes that their self-published titles via Nook Press account for 25% of their overall digital sales, while Amazon is thought to be around 15-30% and finally, Kobo Writing Life titles account for 10%."

As the last paragraph notes, the percentage on Amazon Kindle is probably a lot higher--perhaps as high as 30%. 

When you take the print market into account, the Big Six publishers still sell a lot more books, and this will likely be the case for some time to come. Nevertheless, gone are the days when self-publishing was regarded as "vanity publishing". By any estimation, independent publishers now have a double-digit share of the ebook market. 

This is a number that no one can ignore.

What I'm reading: The Black Box, by Michael Connelly

I discovered Michael Connelly about 8 years ago; and since then, I've been reading his novels as quickly as he can crank them out.  Although I've enjoyed some of Connelly's books more than others, he has yet to produce a real clunker, in my opinion. This book is no exception.

The setup for The Black Box is as follows: Detective Harry Bosch is working on a cold case that involves the 1992 murder of Anneke Jesperson, a Danish journalist. The murder took place during the May, 1992 LA riots. 

The Black Box involves the standard elements of a Harry Bosch novel, including many twists and turns, and Harry's battles with the LAPD bureaucracy. If you've read Connelly's previous Harry Bosch novels, then you'll find The Black Box to be as tension-filled and engrossing as the past ones.

One thing I've noticed in this book is that Connelly is developing the character of Maddie, Bosch's teenage daughter. I think that the author has some long-term plans in mind here. 

Harry Bosch, a Vietnam vet, is now in his mid-60s. He is currently working for the LAPD on a post-retirement contract; but he can only chase the bad guys for so many more years. At some point, Bosch has to retire and take up golf.

My guess is that Maddie will take over the Bosch family crimefighting practice just as Harry hangs up his badge for good. A young female detective won't appeal to all the old Bosch fans, of course; but this departure will also enable Connelly to attract some new readers. 

Moreover, Connelly can keep Harry Bosch around in the background, as an "advisor" to his more vibrant, active daughter. This would potentially give Connelly the ability to retain a base of his older readers while drawing in millions of new ones.

I don't know what is Michael Connelly is thinking, needless to say; but I consider this to be a fair guess regarding the future direction of the Harry Bosch series.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ebook "flash sales" and indie competition

From the New York Times:

"Finding a book used to mean scouring the shelves at a bookstore, asking a bookseller for guidance or relying on recommendations from friends.  
But bookstores are dwindling, leaving publishers with a deep worry about the future of the business: with fewer brick-and-mortar options, how will readers discover books?  
One-day discounts are part of the answer. Promotions like the Kindle Daily Deal from Amazon and the Nook Daily Find from Barnes & Noble have produced extraordinary sales bumps for e-books, the kind that usually happen as a result of glowing book reviews or an author’s prominent television appearances."

Another important factor (not noted in the NYT article) is that traditional publishers now regard independent publishers as more serious competition than they did a few years ago. Indie publishers usually price fiction lower than their Big Six counterparts. 

This drives prices down overall for readers. No, the price of the latest Dan Brown thriller, Inferno, is not going to be impacted by the pricing schemes of independent publishers and self-publishers. But for an older title like Dennis Lehane's Gone, Baby Gone (mentioned in the above article), the pressure to lower the price of the ebook is definitely a factor.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The publishing industry and economics

As someone who derives significant income from writing, I am not a fan of the "information wants to be free" argument. (While information wants to be free, someone still has to have an economic incentive to create it.)

At the same time, though, I believe that the skewed economics of the publishing industry make most books far more expensive than they should be--or need to be. As this article from PCMag argues, all books for the popular market should be priced under $10, with $7.99 as the starting point for new releases. As a reader and a writer, I can't disagree with this (though I'd make an exception for technical nonfiction, which has no mass market).

Epublishing was supposed to rescue the American pastime of reading. It was supposed to make books more affordable as digital files, and thereby take readers back from the mindless dead zones of gaming, television, Facebook, and online videos. 

That is difficult to do, though, when publishers often price ebooks at higher price points than their print editions. (Look at the prices below. Sometimes the ebook price is 10~20% higher.)

So epublishing has not--at least as far as the big publishers are concerned--made books cheaper. What's the problem?

The root cause of  the problem is the sorts of people who run publishing companies: Generally, they are people who majored in English literature and liberal arts in college--not people who majored in economics and business administration. Publishing types (including literary agents) certainly love books. But they don't know how to efficiently deliver books as products to the marketplace.

And they've been scared senseless by epublishing, which does completely change the economic model on which publishing has long relied:

"The ebook model is so different that it is almost impossible to make the transition to the new economics without starting from scratch. Worse, it completely screws up the royalty arrangements publishers have with top authors who get the big money. Fifteen percent of $24 is twice what you'd make at $12 using the same old system. You have to move the royalty to 30 percent, which is not uncommon in some ebook scenarios. 

All of this is correctible of course, but not without slimming down the operations, like getting out of high-cost office spaces in Manhattan and moving the operations to Brooklyn or Utah."

This last paragraph is crucial: There is no reason for the publishing industry to be concentrated in New York in 2013. There might have been a reason in 1953 or 1973...maybe 1983 or 1993. But in 2013, the publishing industry should be located in low-cost locales like Tennessee and Arkansas. There is simply no reason to include Manhattan rents and New York taxes in the overhead anymore. 

This makes perfect sense if you majored in business administration. If you majored in English literature, well...not so much. 

The publishing industry also has a certain image of itself; and many of the blue-staters who staff literary agencies and publishing houses may not like the idea of rubbing elbows with the unwashed hoi polloi of the Southeast and the Midwest. Publish books from Tennessee? You've got to be crazy!

However, the economics of the new digital business model (and competition from independent and startup publishers) will inevitably push the New York publishers out of New York. It's not a question of if--it's a question of when. And my guess is: very soon--if the big publishing houses want to survive.

Compared to automakers and computer manufacturers, publishers may not know a lot about economics. But this ignorance does not provide immunity. Economics, if ignored, will destroy those who fail to adapt.

Saturday, June 1, 2013