Sal Terranova and Camden Templeton are cousins separated by upbringing, the Atlantic Ocean, and a common language. Then fate (with help from a run of bad luck and a dead uncle) throws them together in the least likely of places: Texas. Exiled in this strange land, they must band together in order to save the family bookstore from financial ruin, from its own insane employees, and probably from themselves. This is the story of what happens when The Sopranos meets Fawlty a bookstore.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Patron Saint of Booksellers

It seems only appropriate (given my love of bookstores) that I review the book written by the woman who should be canonized as the Patron Saint of Booksellers. Ninety-five years ago, American Sylvia Beach opened the now-famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, and her memoir of the same name chronicles the roughly 25 years that her shop was the center of the literary world.

Before delving into the particulars of this wonderful book, it is probably best to clear up any confusion over the store itself. In another well known-book, Time was Soft There, Jeremy Mercer chronicles his time at Shakespeare and Company. However, the store Mercer writes about is not the store Sylvia Beach founded, but one that another expatriate American named George Whitman opened in 1951 and renamed Shakespeare and Company after Ms. Beach’s death. In what was either a double homage or a case of grand larceny (depending on your viewpoint), Whitman not only took the name of Sylvia Beach’s bookstore for his shop, he also took her name as well: his only daughter is named Sylvia Beach Whitman, and she now runs his Shakespeare and Company.

The original Sylvia Beach started Shakespeare and Company in 1919 with $3,000 borrowed from her mother. As is the case with independent booksellers to this day, it was never a lucrative enterprise but rather a labor of love. She began the store as a lending library for those looking for books in English, charging a small monthly membership fee; this practice was quite common in the early part of the last century, but has essentially vanished today. As time went on she began selling more books than she loaned, but the shop’s fortunes remained tenuous for its entire existence.

What makes Shakespeare and Company (the memoir) so appealing is the melding of Beach’s light, anecdotal writing style with the monumental people about whom she writes. This is more than a book about a bookstore; it is a chronicle of the writers, artists, publishers, and others who essentially made the shop their second home throughout the 1920s and 1930s. And while anyone writing a memoir likes to drop a name or two, the names in Shakespeare and Company stand out a bit.

One of Sylvia Beach’s best customers was a young, unknown (when she met him) writer named Ernest Hemingway. He was covering sports for a Canadian newspaper at the time, and it was to Sylvia Beach and her longtime partner Adrienne Monnier that Hemingway read his first short story. Hemingway and his wife Hadley later introduced Beach and Monnier to the grand sport of boxing. She knew all of the so-called "Lost Generation" writers, and her memoir contains stories about Hemingway, Ezra Pound, John Dos Passos, T.S. Eliot, Robert McAlmon, Thornton Wilder, Andre Gide, Gertrude Stein, and Alice B. Toklas. It was Sylvia Beach who took F. Scott Fitzgerald to meet James Joyce when Fitzgerald was too nervous to go alone.

Her relationship with James Joyce and his family takes up a good part of the book, and with good reason. By her own admission, Sylvia Beach worshiped James Joyce. Her shop became an office of sorts for him; he met with other writers there, received his mail there (as did many other writers who had no stable address), and read through the inventory of the bookstore. But Sylvia Beach’s greatest contribution to both Joyce and literature was offering to publish his novel Ulysses when it had been rejected as obscene by his publishers in England and America. The trials of publishing and distributing Ulysses are interesting not only as history but as a cautionary tale against censorship even today.

Because she felt that authors deserved to be paid more for their work than the people who published them, she took no royalties from her publication of Ulysses, and nearly sent herself and the bookstore into bankruptcy covering the costs and expenses. It was only the intervention of several writer friends that saved her from having to close her doors permanently, but she seemed not to be concerned about what happened to her as long as Joyce’s novel made it to the readers who clamored for it.

Shakespeare and Company is a quick read, although you may have to look around a bit to find it. I was determined not to buy it online, but rather from a real local bookstore, and it took me about a week to track down a copy. It is a glimpse into an amazing time in the history of American literature, a wonderful chronicle of a bygone era, and a fine portrait of the woman to whom Hemingway gave his highest praise: "No one," he wrote in A Moveable Feast, "was ever nicer to me."

Friday, August 22, 2014

Shop Indie...Buy Local

I'm a big supporter of the "Buy Local" movement, having seen both through research studies and personal experience that supporting merchants within your own town and neighborhood benefits your community far more than buying from a big-box chain store. For obvious reasons, I am especially supportive of local booksellers, though sadly there are few in the part of Texas where I live.

In keeping with this, below is a list of ten websites of indie bookstores around the country where you can order copies of my novel The Last Word. Getting your copy from one of them rather than another online option directly helps your local community, and the more local business that thrive the better off we'll all be.

Avid Bookshop, Athens GA

Book People, Austin TX

Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston TX

Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle WA

Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY

Well Read New and Used Books, Hawthorne NJ

Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor MI

Gibson's Bookstore, Concord NH

Market Block Books, Troy NY

Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, AZ

I will post more indie stores in the days ahead, but even if you are from a different part of the country, or if your area has no indie store, you can still order from one of these shops. Keep on reading..

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Story of Love...and Football

I published a new short story yesterday, just in time for football season. It's called "Romeo and Juliet and America's Team." Here a short description:

Weddings can be stressful. Melding families can be tricky. When the bride is from Dallas, the groom from Pittsburgh and the wedding the day before the Cowboys and Steelers meet in Super Bowl XIII...all bets are off.

It is a story of love...and football, and it's free for the next few days on Kindle. Here's the link:

Hope you enjoy it, and Go Cowboys!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Happy Birthday Harry Potter!

I did not receive a letter from Hogwarts when I was 11 years old; sadly, I ended up in the normal Muggle 5th-grade class of Sister Bernice, a nun who in her youth may have been a Golden Gloves boxing champ and who could certainly have given Voldemort a run for his money. I also didn’t read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as a preteen, having turned 30 the year before it was published. But I have read all of the books multiple times now, and want to share some thoughts about Harry and his creator today on their shared birthday.

The good versus evil storyline has existed since the beginning of time; in fact, it is ultimately the basis of most of the world's religions. Stories of magic have existed almost as long, and the story of the orphan who overcomes great odds was popularized by Charles Dickens more than 150 years ago. Yet J.K. Rowling took these very well-known elements and produced something both familiar and new at the same time.

Harry Potter himself could have easily been a one-dimensional character, the lone hero forced to confront the greatest evil the world has ever known. Frodo in The Lord of the Rings trilogy is such a character, never really growing or maturing during the journey, simply putting one foot in front of the other. But Rowling did something with Harry and the rest of the young characters that hadn't been done before in children's literature: she let them grow up. Harry is 11 years old when we meet him, downtrodden by the Dursely's and unaware of his magical abilities. Over the next seven years he grows in the same way any child does, through trial and error, having goods days and bad (sometimes very, very bad), and discovering who he is as a person, a friend, and a reluctant hero.

Harry is the ultimate underdog, and people love an underdog. He is an orphan whose destiny will have him battle the most powerful dark wizard ever, which is daunting enough, but Rowling goes a step further and throws in enough obstacles to deter Hercules. Having most of the drama take place as Harry is going through puberty helps us relate even more; none of us have ever fought a mountain troll, but we've have fretted over asking someone to a high school dance. We love Harry and his friends first and foremost because they are us.

The other characters, particularly Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, also develop and grow throughout the series, and the romantic tension between them in the later books was yet another twist on "typical" children's literature. Rowling also makes the stories and characters real by having them deal with death in virtually every book. Death is a subject that rarely receives thoughtful consideration even in adult fiction, yet Rowling tackles it from the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.

The way Rowling portrays the adults in the Harry Potter series is yet another surprise. In most children's books, adults are either not present at all or are little more than bumbling idiots for the kids to outwit. The adults in the Harry Potter books are fully formed characters whose stories could stand alone if you removed the kids entirely. Rowling shows us the adults' strengths and flaws, glories and failures, and she does it from the perspective of the students in most cases; what they (and we) learn about Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Lupin, Snape, and others comes out in bits over the course of the narrative. And as in life, sometimes the kids seem more grown up than the adults and sometimes it's the other way around.

As adults, we love Harry Potter because the books (much more so than the films) have enabled many of us to both share a rare bond with our children and briefly relive childhood ourselves. Countless parents around the globe have either read the books to their children or waited patiently for the kids to finish so we could read them. Harry Potter has given us something in common with our children at a time when we might otherwise think they were from a different planet. And the books have transported many of us back to the days of our own childhood when we actually read during our free time rather than sitting in front of a computer or smart phone. They allow us to escape, however briefly, to a time when we had far fewer worries and responsibilities.

None of these things, however, would make the Potter books the best-selling series of all time (400 million copies in over 30 languages and still growing) if Rowling hadn't also written an amazingly compelling page-turner of a series. That it is both a great beach read and truly literature at the same time is all the more remarkable. She has woven the best parts of the hero-quest, magical fantasy, romance, Gothic suspense, social commentary, and even detective fiction into a tapestry that looks like nothing we'd ever seen before.

Furthermore, Rowling and her boy wizard did something many thought impossible: they made reading cool again, for adults as well as children. Prior to 1997, who would have imagined that millions of children would attempt to read an 800-page book in one sitting, or that their parents would be anxiously waiting for them to finish reading so they could start?

With the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling opened up a world of imagination to a generation of kids who thought for anything to be entertaining it had to have a plug, a screen, or an Internet connection. And these kids (and hopefully their parents as well) will keep reading, if only in the hope of finding another book or series that grabs them the way Harry Potter did. Even if Rowling had never written another word, people everywhere who love books would owe her a debt of gratitude for making reading a novel something we, and more importantly our children, look forward to again.

In the end, each person who has read the books loves Harry Potter for their own individual reasons, which is as it should be. But the reasons discussed above are the communal reasons, the things that draw us together as fans of the series. That shared experience in a disconnected and fractured world may be the best magic of all.

Happy Birthday Harry, and Happy Birthday Jo Rowling.

Friday, July 25, 2014

A Short Q & A

The following is a short Q & A about me and my novel The Last Word.

Sum up "The Last Word" in one sentence.
It's the story of what happens when "The Sopranos" meets "Fawlty Towers" a bookstore.

Why did you write book?
Because I simply couldn't get away from it. It actually started as an idea my best friend and I had for a TV series, but that never got off the ground. Then it expanded into a screenplay, and finally became a novel. Sal is who I would be if I could be a fictional character from Jersey. If I could be a real person from Jersey, I'd be Springsteen.

What makes this book different from everything else coming out right now?
As one agent told me: "There are no zombie vampires seeking BDSM-love in a dystopian future society here! No one will buy this!" It's true: my novel has no sex-crazed zombies. Maybe I'll put some in the sequel.

Who are your favorite authors?
That's a hard one to narrow down. I'm particularly fond of Jasper Fforde's "Thursday Next" series and John Dunning's "Bookman" series (I tend to like books about books, which is probably why I wrote one about a bookstore). But if pressed, my Top 5 today would be Ernest Hemingway, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Robert B. Parker, Jasper Fforde, and W. Somerset Maugham. And J.K. Rowling of course. She's a genius.

What is the capital of Slovenia?
Ljubljana (and you were probably looking for Wikipedia, by the way).

What am I working on?
At the moment I’m working on a series of interconnected short stories. I’ve also been writing scenes for the sequel to my novel The Last Word. Whichever character screams the loudest (in my head) is the one that gets attention on any particular day.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?
According to the agents I’ve queried I don’t have a genre, which is a problem for them. Apparently the current acceptable genres are BDSM, Vampires, Zombies, Dystopian Future, Teens Hunting Each Other, and Paranormal Romance. My stuff tends to be more in the humorous vein, with the occasional magical realism thrown in.

Why do I write what I do?
I write the world as I see it, then spin it around a bit so it’s more like I want it to be. Either way, it’s a shade left of reality. A lot of the time I write what the voices tell me to, and I don’t mean voices in a serial killer or delusional prophet kind of way. These are good voices. Except when they’re pissed about something.

How does my writing process work?
Process? Man, I wish I had a process; life would be easier with a process. With a novel I like to set a 30-day goal and write like crazy during that 30 days; the pressure of a deadline seems to help. With short stories and flash fiction it’s less planned; when an idea presents itself I try to grab it before it goes away. My muse has a sense of humor though (she’s Scottish and listens to Russian Death Metal, of all things): my best writing time is 6 am to noon…which is when I’m at my day job. Muses can be mean.

What's the last book you read?
The last new book I read was The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, an excellent novel I highly recommend, especially if you like books about books and bookstores as I do. I finished my most recent book (a re-read) this morning: High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Somehow, in my overly strong devotion to the movie version, I had forgotten how much better the novel is. If you have never read it (especially if you are a guy born between, say, 1960 and 1970) stop reading this and go buy it now. Seriously, go now...I'll wait.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

"The Last Word" is here!

I am thrilled to announce that The Last Word is now available. The editing and formatting wasn't nearly as fun as writing the thing, but the dream has become reality. Here's a short synopsis:

Sal Terranova and Camden Templeton are cousins separated by upbringing, the Atlantic Ocean, and a common language. But fate, a run of bad luck, and a dead uncle have thrown them together, and together they must save the family bookstore from financial ruin, from its own insane employees, and probably from themselves. This is the story of what happens when The Sopranos meets Fawlty a bookstore.

To check out the book you can click the banner at the right, or you can choose one of the links below. The paperback is currently available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and will soon be available at other bookstore in the near future:

Paperback (Amazon):


Paperback (B&N):

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Last Word and the World Cup

With the World Cup in full swing, I have written a new short story featuring some of the characters from my upcoming novel The Last Word. Here's a short description:

Camden Templeton is a Brit trapped in soccer-ignorant Texas. But she is determined to dodge baseball and NASCAR in order to watch the infamous World Cup 2006 final...the match with the head-butt seen round the world. This short story is a stand-alone vignette from the world of the upcoming novel "The Last Word."

In honor of the US Men's National Team's first match, this story is free on Kindle through Monday. Here's the link: "Camden and the World Cup."

Go USA! Vamos Espana!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Update on "The Last Word" and a New Story Collection

Things are heating up on The Last Word front; my editor has sent back edits for roughly half of the novel, and I have been wading through them. My reaction is split pretty evenly between agonizing over a suggested change and wondering how I could have so many typos and still be considered literate. In any case, we are still on target for a Fall 2014 release, with the only question being whether it will be early or late fall.

On a different publishing note, last week I published The Collector: Stories, a short book of flash fiction, short stories, and the first three chapters of The Last Word as a preview of what's coming. Some of the stories have appeared in online journals before, and one in a print anthology, but this is the first time you can get them all in one place. You can find the Kindle version here, and the paperback version here.

Putting the story collection together has been a valuable experience as I move forward with publishing The Last Word. I have learned a few things that will make that process, and hopefully the end product, much better.

Now back to working on the edits...writing is re-writing, and all that drivel.

The Last Word is coming...stay tuned.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Goal!!!!!!! (said in the voice of a Spanish soccer announcer). The campaign for "The Last Word" just hit 103% of goal! Thanks to everyone who has joined me on the journey to make this crazy dream a reality. The manuscript goes to the editor on May 12.

There are still 3 days left in the campaign, so you can still support the project and get some cool rewards, including the signed, limited edition hardcover edition that will be created specifically for this project. Be part of the story.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

One Week to Go!

Time for an update on the Pubslush project as we head into the final week of the campaign. With 7 days to go we are at 81% of goal. The project will wrap up on May 1, and whatever has been raised will go toward editing, cover design, and all the other stuff necessary to bring to novel to the world.

There is still time to pick up some one of a kind rewards (like a signed, very limited edition hardcover copy of the book) and be part of the story. Here's the link:

In a week this blog will move to chronicling the next phase of The Last Word: pre-publication.

It continues to be a wacky, wonderful ride.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

At 70% of Goal...and I've Found an Editor

It's been a busy week since my last update, and a lot has happened...all of it good.

Campaign midpoint update: with 15 days remaining we have hit 70% of goal! My gratitude to everyone who has supported the project goes beyond words (and I'm rarely speechless).

Book-coming-to-life update: I have found an editor. She will start work on May 12; in a stroke of good fortune her schedule opens up not long after the campaign ends. This is a tremendous relief, as sometimes editors are booked months in advance.

There's still plenty of time for you to be part of the story. Rewards include signed copies of the novel and a limited edition hardcover version. Check out the project here:

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"The Last Word" Project Reaches 55% Funded

It's been a great few days. The Last Word project is at 55% of goal 9 days in! Thanks to all who have partnered with me so far.

As I have written before, this crowdfunding campaign will cover things like editing, cover design, and printing...all of which will help bring the novel to the world. The most popular reward so far remains the signed, limited edition hardcover version of the novel, though the signed paperback is gaining some momentum.

You can be part of the story at It is certified 100% zombie-free.

Please check out the page and support indie publishing. I will post more updates as the campaign progresses.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Pubslush Project Update

The Last Word project is at 27% of goal 6 days in! Thanks to all who have partnered with me so far.

As I have written before, this crowdfunding campaign will cover things like editing, cover design, and printing...all of which will help bring the novel to the world. The most popular reward so far is the signed, limited edition hardcover version of the novel.

You can be part of the story at

Please check out the page and support indie publishing and indie authors. I will post more updates as the campaign progresses.

Monday, March 31, 2014

"The Last Word" on Pubslush

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, I am launching a crowdfunding campaign on for my novel The Last Word. This will help cover things like editing, interior and cover design, printing, and marketing. In return, supporters not only get to be part of the story of the book's creation, they also get rewards ranging from an e-book version of the novel to a limited edition signed copy and much more. All of the details are at the link below:

Please check out the page and support indie publishing. I will be posting updates as the campaign progresses.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Fortunate Discovery

Serendipitous -(adj) found by accident; a fortuitous or beneficial discovery

Serendipity is not a word I use often (except when talking about the John Cusack/Kate Beckinsale film), but it perfectly describes what happened about ten days ago. While researching various aspects of the publishing process for my novel The Last Word, I accidently typed "publish" wrong in a Google search. The top results: Pubslush.
I would normally just retype the word, but the second entry caught my eye. It was a Forbes article titled "Pubslush: Crowdfunding Just for Books." Considering that I was near the end of an unsuccessful crowdfunding campaign that had gotten lost in the crowd (pun intended) of film, music, and video game projects (books aren't as sexy to some people), this looked very interesting.
As it turned out, interesting didn't even scratch the surface. Pubslush is indeed a crowdfunding platform dedicated solely to books and authors. No Zach Braff or Veronica Mars movie projects, no indie bands that really aren't indie anymore, no latest knockoff of World of Warcraft. Just books.
The site is clearly designed with books in mind. In addition to the standard video and contributor level/rewards sections, the landing page of a project includes things like a short blurb of the book, a longer synopsis, a 5-10 page sample of the book, and an author Q&A section.
They also grasp that in most cases you don't need to raise the same amount of funds to bring out a book as you do to produce a feature film. Books can now be produced very cost-effectively (something I learned a great deal about through contacts I've made in the past month or so), and Pubslush encourages realistic funding goals.
Even better, unlike other sites they allow both a minimum goal and a higher target goal. For example, you can set a minimum goal of $500 with a higher target of $2500, and as long as you reach the $500 level, the project will be funded. The fee they charge is a flat percentage regardless of whether you reach the minimum or higher goal and is among the lowest out there; no other site offers this flexibility.
If you need assistance with any part of your project, Pubslush has an Author Relations Coordinator that you can contact. And this is not some automated chat feature; I have emailed them several times and always received a response the same day, usually within an hour or two. Try that with any other crowdfunding site.
Finally, and maybe most impressive of all, is their commitment to literacy. Through their Pubslush Foundation they aid in the fight against illiteracy by providing books to children with limited access to literature. All campaigners have the option to donate a portion of their proceeds to The Pubslush Foundation.
After looking over the Pubslush site itself and the volume of positive reviews it has received on other sites (like Forbes), there is no doubt this is the route any author looking for a crowdfunding platform for their book should take. And because I try to follow my own advice as much as possible, that's exactly what I'm going to do. Look for the Pubslush project for The Last Word on April 1...or maybe even March 31. Like I said, their Author Relations Coordinator is very responsive. I will post the link here as soon as it's available.

The Last Word is coming...stay tuned.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Great Books for Writers

Countless books claim to give indispensable advice to writers on everything from how to create three-dimensional characters to how to get published, and more come out every year. Writer's Digest devotes an entire book club to these books, many of which are not worth the money or the time, because their "inside information" is nothing more than you learned in 9th grade English class.

However, there are a few books that every writer should read. Some contain useful nuts-and-bolts information on the craft of writing, and some are more memoir in nature, giving an insight into the writing life itself. Here is a list of must-have books:

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. An amazing book, even if you're not a Stephen King fan. Part memoir and part instruction, King excels at both, creating a book that is impossible to put down. He also uses one of his own short stories to demonstrate his process for the thing writers hate most: editing. It's a rare look into the mind of one of the most prolific writers of our times.

Writing Fiction by the Gotham Writer's Workshop. This book packs a lot of great information into its 300 pages. Each chapter tackles a specific aspect of fiction writing (plot, character, etc), and each is written by published authors who are members of the Gotham Writer's Workshop, New York's acclaimed creative writing school. There are points within each chapter at which you are given exercises that allow you immediately put what you've just learned into practice. This interactive approach is much more valuable than the simple lecture format of most books on writing.

Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. This book is so much a part of the culture of writing that most of the time it is simply referred to as "Strunk and White." It's the one most people never opened in college, but for the serious writer, no single book will be more helpful, especially when you begin the editing process. Interestingly, this is also a book highly recommended by Stephen King in his book, On Writing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. By far the best book on the least-favorite part of the writing process. Editing your own work is extremely difficult, but the advice these two professional editors give will make your editing more effective, if not more fun. There are numerous illustrations for each point they make, all drawn from the hundreds of books Browne and King have edited.

Letters to a Young Novelist by Mario Vargas Llosa. This is an excellent book, especially for novice writers. Peruvian novelist Llosa gives instruction to the young novelist of the title in the form of twelve letters. The book is wonderfully written, so well in fact that you learn things about the craft of writing without even realizing it at first. Llosa also does something few writing instructors have the guts to: he tells writers to break the "rules." All in all, much more fun than a stuffy textbook. And if you’ve never read Mario Vargas Llosa’s work, but his name seems familiar for some reason, it’s probably because he just won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

There are other books on writing that are very good, but you cannot go wrong starting with these five. They cover the full spectrum of the writing life and writing process, and won't take up much space on your bookshelf either.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Print Still Matters

A few questions sometimes come up when I tell people about my plans for publishing The Last Word: “Why bother releasing a print copy? Isn't it easier to just release an e-book? Do we really still even need printed books?” In most cases this is a reaction to media stories on the death of print, all of which have proven to be completely inaccurate. Over the past year or more, sales of e-books have leveled off, while sales of printed books have remained fairly consistent. In other words, the two formats are coexisting quite nicely, thank you very much.

As to why I am taking the more difficult path of releasing The Last Word in print (there will be an e-book version as well), here are a few reasons:

1. Printed books provide a tactile experience. Music is heard, and films are both seen and heard, but books are experienced both visually and by touch. There is an aspect to the feel of books (the smooth glossy cover, the roughness and even smell of the paper) that provides a physical sensation that is both separate from and intimately linked to the story you are reading. We bond not only with the author (novels being the only art form that requires many hours of commitment on the part of the audience) but with the book itself.

2. Great novels, from War and Peace to The Shadow of the Wind were not meant to be read on a digital screen, no matter how much “like paper” they try to make that screen. Most of us spend our entire workday staring at a computer screen, plus additional hours in front of a computer, television, or iPhone after we get home; in fact, you're looking at screen right now. The last thing many readers want to do is spend even more time staring at a screen to read a book.

3. Books can be written in, dog-eared, loaned to friends, stuffed in your back pocket, browsed for on rainy afternoons, and then sold to a used bookshop for cash to buy yet more books. Try that with a Kindle.

4. Most readers (and we have always been remarkably few as percentage of the total population) like having a personal library. It may or may not contain highly collectible items like a signed Hemingway or first-edition Faulkner, but a bookcase loaded with books can be much more than a simple collection. It can serve as a timeline of our lives: the copy of Homer you read in the same college class as your future wife, that Robert Parker Spenser novel you read in the hospital waiting for your son to be born, that copy of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets you read to your daughters over a snowy weekend, or the biography of Somerset Maugham you discovered in a cool little shop in London. These are books you pass down through generations, even though they may have value only within the context of your own family. 

 5. Finally, on a more self-centered note I like the idea of holding the book I wrote in my hands, and putting it into other people's hands. I see my name on a screen every single day, from e-mails to work presentations to this blog. But seeing it on an actual book is something special. On a bookstore shelf I would fall somewhere between Wilkie Collins and Joseph Conrad...bookshelves make strange bedfellows.

I was initially against the very idea of e-books; like others I saw them as a threat to printed books, and as you can see I have a fondness for printed books. But in reality, e-books have been more blessing than curse. More people are reading, and more books are affordable to them. So I have buried the hatchet with e-books, but I still love printed books more. Which is why I'll go through the added work and expense to publish mine both ways.

The Last Word is coming...stay tuned.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Opening Lines

As I undertake the seemingly never-ending task of editing my novel, I keep going back to the opening line. The opening line of a novel can set the tone for the whole book, and there are many that have become as famous as the book that contains them. This got me to thinking about some of the iconic first fines in literature.

What follows is by no means an exhaustive list of these great first lines; it is simply a few of my favorite opening sentences, almost all from novels I have actually read (this means leaving out classics like "Call me Ishmael" from Moby Dick...saw the movie, though). I have added the first line from my own novel at the end simply because I mentioned it above (and because I like the idea of being in the same list as some of these other authors). Feel free to add your own favorites in the comments section:
"I still remember the day my father took me to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books for the first time." - Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Shadow of the Wind
"All children mythologize their birth." - Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale
"Boog warned me about Washington, but until I saw the rich lady set her pugs on the dinner table, I didn’t take him seriously." – Larry McMurtry, Cadillac Jack
"Robert Cohn was once middleweight boxing champion of Princeton. Do not think that I am very much impressed by that as a boxing title, but it meant a lot to Cohn." – Ernest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises
"People are afraid to merge on freeways in Los Angeles." – Bret Easton Ellis, Less Than Zero
"I guess by now there can't be too many people anywhere who haven't heard about Billy Clyde Puckett, the humminest sumbitch that ever carried a football." – Dan Jenkins, Semi-Tough
"I have never begun a novel with more misgiving." - W. Somerset Maugham, The Razor’s Edge

"My father had a face that could stop a clock." - Jasper Fforde, The Eyre Affair

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair." – Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

"Jude had a private collection." – Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box

"Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, for the right path had been lost." – Dante, Inferno (yes, I know this wasn't a novel)

"Samuel Spade’s jaw was long and bony, his chin a jutting V under the more flexible V of his mouth." – Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

"A writer never forgets the first time he accepted a few coins or a word of praise in exchange for a story." – Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Angel’s Game

"Mr. Sherlock Holmes, who was usually very late in the mornings, save upon those not infrequent occasions when he stayed up all night, was seated at the breakfast table." – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles

"It was a pleasure to burn." - Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

"I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up." – Jack Kerouac, On The Road

"Salvatore Terranova hates to sweat, but not as much as he hates the idea of getting fat like every other man in his family." - Paul Combs, The Last Word

The Last Word is coming...stay tuned.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Ortiz Almighty

I was working on a follow-up to my post on indie publishing, thinking I would go into a little more detail about the path I'm taking, when I was rudely interrupted of my characters, and he is insisting that my next entry be an interview with him. Let's go ahead and get this out of the way: sometimes my characters talk to me. No, I don't actually see them, and it's not voices-in-my-head-loony-bin stuff (at least I hope not). But when you spend months, sometimes years, with even fictional people, they have a way of becoming part of your life.

This particular character is one that's been around for a while, but who plays a fairly small yet entertaining role in The Last Word. He has a bigger part in the sequel, but don't tell him that; his ego is too big already. So without further ado, allow me to introduce the one, the only: Luis Ortiz.

Me: Good morning, Luis.

Ortiz: Good morning, bro.

Me: So what exactly are you so eager to talk about?

Ortiz: My new novel, of course.

Me: I think you mean my new novel.

Ortiz: You are merely a scribe. I am the star.

Me: Actually, you're a fairly minor character in the book.

I can see that saying this was a huge mistake. Ortiz is indignant, and rises from his chair (at least in my mind I see him rise from a chair).

Me: Where are you going?

Ortiz: Ortiz is never a minor character. Remove me from your plot and watch everything fall apart. I am the straw that stirs the drink.

Me: Fine. Sit down and we'll discuss it. Wait, is that a turkey leg?

Ortiz: It is indeed. Delicious.

Me: It's 9:00 a.m.

Ortiz: I am not constrained by insignificant matters such as time and space. I will feast like the kings of old whenever the mood strikes me, bro.

Me: Uh, right. So why don't you tell our readers what you think of the book.

Ortiz: It goes without saying that any scene in which I am present is on a level with Shakespeare, Dante, Dickens, or any of my countrymen from Puerto Rico (we are natural storytellers). The rest is quite good as well; how can you go wrong with mobsters, books, and the lovely Camden?

Me: That would be Camden Templeton.

Ortiz: Si.

Me: Now she's a major character, along with Sal.

Ortiz: Mira, you are starting to anger me Paco.

Me: Calm down.

Ortiz: No, I will not continue to take this abuse. You could have just as easily made me the male protagonist instead of Sal. A guy from New Jersey over one from Puerto Rico? A travesty!

Me: You'll get your turn. You just have to wait a while, like Michael Corleone had to wait in The Godfather.

This slows him down; he has a near-religious reverence for The Godfather films.

Ortiz: I will accept this for now, out of respect for Don Vito, but if you do not keep your word...

Me: I'll sleep with the fishes?

Ortiz: Nothing so painless.

Me: You do realize that I could just delete you, right? After all, I created you.

At this Ortiz laughs so hard I'm afraid he'll choke on his turkey leg.

Ortiz: Silly Paco, you did not create me, I simply allowed you to find me. As with all "characters," I have always existed and always will exist. And sometimes I allow you to confine me to a fixed time and place with paper and ink.

Me: You seriously believe that? This conversation isn't even real, you know. It's all happening in my head.

Ortiz: To quote Albus Dumbledore...

Me: From the Harry Potter books?

Ortiz: Yes, and do not interrupt. To quote Albus Dumbledore: "Of course this is all happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it's not real?" A great man, Dumbledore. We're playing racquetball when I tire of talking to you. In fact, I really should be going.

Me: You barely talked about the book at all.

Ortiz: Further proof that you are not the puppet master you fancy yourself. I said what I wanted to say.

Me: You're not even going to tell people to be sure to read it when it comes out?

Ortiz: Everyone should definitely read it when it is published (and you really should hurry up with that, Paco). It not only prominently features me, Luis Ortiz, as well as some of my very best friends, I also came up with the title.

Me: You did not. You wanted to call it Ortiz Almighty.

Ortiz: Is that not the title you chose?

Me: No, Luis. The title is The Last Word.

Ortiz: I see. I like mine better. Well, I must be off; not good to keep a wizard waiting.

Me: Thanks for dropping by. See you soon.

There you have it, dear reader. This is what I deal with on a semi-regular basis, and what you can be a part of when The Last Word debuts later this year. Ortiz is right about one thing: I really should hurry up with that.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Indie Publishing

Independent (or indie) publishing isn't a term you hear very often; usually the phrase that is attached to authors who don't go through one of the Big Six publishing houses or one of the many small presses is “self-published.” That term has a certain validity, but if we call self-starters in other fields indie filmmakers or indie bands or indie bookstores, then why shouldn't it be applied to authors as well? I believe it should, and in this post I will explain some of the reasons I have chosen this path for my novel, The Last Word. 

I could, of course, follow the standard practice and send out query letters to literary agents. Most would never get past the interns that cull through slush piles seeking gems for the agent. Perhaps one or two of these readers would recommend requesting the entire manuscript, but once the agent read it he would exclaim: “There are no zombie vampires seeking BDSM-love in a dystopian future society here! No one will buy this!” Even the best-case scenario would require paying said agent 15% of my earnings for the life of the book just for getting it accepted by a Big Six publisher. Pass. 

I am also (sadly) not getting any younger, and time matters. If and when a publishing house “buys” your book, it takes 18 to 24 months from that point before the thing sees the light of day. I have no clue why the traditional publishing industry remains so unbelievably slow; Gutenberg himself printed books faster than this, and he had to set the type by hand. I calculate that even with editing, cover design, file creation and upload, reviews, marketing, printing, and shipping (plus a 30-day Kickstarter project to pay for all of the aforementioned items) I can have The Last Word on store shelves no later than mid-September, and possibly much sooner. 

Part of the knock against indie authors/publishers is that the quality is low; this is very often true, but should not be. Low quality (typos, grammar issues, book covers that look like a kindergarten class drew them) is due completely to the laziness of the individual author. Far too many would-be writers are content to slap together a story and publish the first draft through Create Space for free, only to be shocked when they never sell a single copy. It takes a good deal more effort to publish the right way, but it’s worth it in the long run. After all, your name is on the thing. 

With the resources available, every indie author/publisher can and should have their manuscript reviewed by a freelance editor, the cover professionally designed (not made from some cookie-cutter template), and the final proof checked by a proofreader. And always have a group of “first readers” that will be completely honest with you about whether the thing is any good or not. Finally, if your goal is to see your book sold in bookstores (rather than just online), you cannot use one of the many Print-On-Demand services that offer neither wholesale discounts to booksellers nor the ability to return unsold books for credit. No store, from your local indie to Barnes and Noble. will touch your book if those two things aren’t in place. This is why I will be using Ingram: they offer wholesale discounts to booksellers, returns, worldwide distribution, and have the industry’s largest active book inventory. 

Finally, there is the issue of marketing. Whether you are traditionally published or indie published, unless your name is John Grisham or Janet Evanovich or Dan Brown (good lord, Dan Brown) you will be doing every bit of the marketing on your own. The margins are too thin for even the Big Six publishers to spend marketing dollars on a mid-list author, let alone a rookie. If I’m going to have to do this critical task on my own, I might as well do the rest as well. 

So after six long paragraphs, I can sum up why I am taking this route in a single word: control. I will have final say on everything from the title and the cover art (two things big publishers love to tinker with) to the marketing to what the final price will be. Having total control can be a little scary, but again, it’s my name on the thing.  

I predicted the likelihood of rants in this blog’s opening post…apparently this was the first. 

The Last Word is coming…stay tuned.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Runnin' Down a Dream

If you're reading this (and I hope you are, especially now that the Super Bowl is over...what a beat down that was) then you likely have some questions. These questions will range from "who is this guy?" to "what the heck is The Last Word?" to "what is the capital of Slovenia?" I'll knock out the last question first: Ljubljana (and you were probably looking for Wikipedia, by the way). Now on to the important stuff.

As to who I am, you can see most of what you need to know about me in The Bottom Line sidebar to the right, but to make it easy I'll repeat it here. I am a writer living in the not always literary state of Texas, and my ultimate goal (besides being a roadie for the E Street Band) is to make reading, writing, and books in general as popular in Texas as high school football. It may take me a while.

As to what The Last Word is, well, it's a novel. I would sum it up thusly: "Sal Terranova and Camden Templeton are cousins separated by upbringing, the Atlantic Ocean, and a common language. Then fate (with help from a run of bad luck and a dead uncle) throws them together in the least likely of places: Texas. Exiled in this strange land, they must band together in order to save the family bookstore from financial ruin, from its own insane employees, and probably from themselves. This is the story of what happens when The Sopranos meets Fawlty a bookstore."

It's actually a lot more than that, but that's my best summary as of today. The novel has been revised multiple times, and is ready to go to an editor to clean up all the typos I can't see because I've looked at the damn thing every day for months and all I see is the way it's supposed to look. But more on that in the next post. I hope to use this blog to chronicle the journey from completing the manuscript (done) to publication (obviously not done), and will probably throw in more than a few rants as well.

The Last Word is coming...stay tuned.