Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A funny thing happened on my way to . . .

Writing the promised new Londergan short. But more on that later.

As noted in this space a few weeks ago, I enrolled all of my ebooks into Amazon’s KDP Select program, meaning they are currently only available in ebook format at Amazon for the Kindle (as always, most are available in paperback format and you should buy one.)

Funny thing is, I hardly ever sold books at Amazon, but did indeed sell them at other outlets, most notably the Apple iTunes store and Barnes and Noble. But it wasn’t a lot, and I figured if the government is going to allow Amazon hegemony in the ebook marketplace, who am I to argue?

And whaddya know, after a few frustrating weeks, there are signs of life. In fact, I’ve sold more books at Amazon this month (all currently at 99 cents, by the way, nudge nudge, wink wink) than I have in years. I even had my first Amazon borrow. I’ve long half-joked I was embedded in Amazon’s “pay this author no mind” algorithm, because no matter what I did, I couldn’t sell books there. Now that I’m exclusive to them, I am. Hmm . . .

Anyway, my contract runs out in early August, and if things continue, I may just remain there and try to grow sales. I’ve had a couple of wonderful reviews lately as well, most notably on my pirate adventure Swash! for which I’m very grateful. To be honest, I’m my own worst critic, and even I think that book’s pretty damn good.

Another thing I’ve done is removed pretty much all the Dick Londergan’s from my catalog, going so far as unpublishing the Londergan novel, Hell City. Much as I like and appreciate my befuddled hard-boiled P.I. (and lots of folks at Apple and Barnes and Noble seemed to like him too!) he has, for whatever reason, never gained traction at Amazon. Maybe because they’re so short, or so different from my other offerings. In hindsight, I should have used a pseudonym. Lesson learned.

However, after unpublishing them all, I did go back and republish The Ghost and Mr. Londergan because, well, there IS a ghost in it, which is kind of in keeping with the rest of my stuff. Also, it’s a novelette of around 13,000 words, so at 99 cents for a few hours entertainment, it’s still a bargain. That too received a wonderful review recently, so maybe, just maybe, things are looking up.

In any event, I did get started on that new Londergan, got a ways in, when somehow, I began work on another novel. I don't even remember why or how or when I segued into it. But it's been going on a few weeks now, and I’d say I’m more than halfway into it and the writing is going well. It has some of the whimsy of Swash! as well as elements of horror from some of my other works.

And for the first time since maybe I wrote Swash!, I’m actually enjoying the writing process and discovering along the way what's going to happen next. Because as always, I’m writing blind, having no idea where things are going till we get there.

In other news, I was delighted to do an Amazon search recently and find the fictional town of Grantham from my vampire novel Applewood merited a mention in the recently published Horror Guide to Massachusetts, a compendium of locations both fictional and non-fictional throughout Massachusetts where horror stories were set. Check it out!

Funny, things like this always seem to happen at just the right time, when I’m feeling down or about to throw in the towel. I’ll sell another book (even one copy) or find someone left a kind review or a nice comment on Facebook. So maybe there is hope, as the last line (or something like it) from my lone attempt at a thriller Hope Town (and even THAT had a kind Amazon review left recently, though she hated the editor. Me too, reviewer. Me too.) put it:

“Above all else, Parker still held out hope.”

Happy reading! And as always, thanks for stopping by.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Happy Fourth of July

While contemplating whether or not to post anything in honor of the holiday, I happened to be perusing my books when it occurred to me that the Fourth plays a prominent role in some of them, going back to my first effort, Sumner Gardens

In that one, twelve-year-old budding thespian Conner O'Neil gets involved in a town production of The Music Man performed over the Fourth of July weekend. The night of the Fourth, he engages in bottle rockets at forty paces in the middle of the street with his future brother-in-law.

In my vampire saga Applewood, fourteen-year-old hero Scott Dugan uses the Fourth to have his first date with a girl who has moved in across the street. The two ride their bikes to a New England downtown rich in history to enjoy the festivities. When the city girl finds it a little cornpone, Dugan sets her straight:
Puzzled by the question, Dugan had to think a moment about
his answer. “Well, first of all, you better start using ‘us guys’ when
you talk about this stuff now, remember?” Her smile took some of
the sting off. “But I guess you’re right, it is a big deal around here,
probably ‘cause there’s so much history. You can’t turn around in
this town without bumping into some of it.
“Coupla years ago, there was this high school teacher shot
himself out in the woods over by the school. They never did figure
out just why he done it, shot himself I mean, but to close the case,
the cops needed to find the bullet. They looked for weeks out in
those woods, and recovered seventy-eight bullets. Some of the bullets
they found went all the way back to Revolutionary War days.
But they never did find his bullet.”
She looked thoughtful as Dugan went on.
“The place you’re sittin’ right now is the same place that the
volunteers came when the Revolution broke out, and after that the
Civil War. I’ll bet if we went back far enough, we’d find out that
some kinda Indian thing happened right there too, long before the
white man set foot on these shores.”
He looked over at her and smiled. “Like I said, you can’t get
away from it.”
I suppose that's true of most everywhere, but it is absolutely true for those of us who grew up in New England. There is no getting away from it.

Finally, in my pirate adventure Swash!, in which eighteenth-century pirates find themselves trapped in our time, another Fourth finds young protagonist Chris Duggan at the town parade. For their sake (and his own sanity) Chris has tried to keep the pirates under wraps, however, at the parade, Chris finds the pirates are about to make a very public debut:
Another marching band followed, and Chris knew the short parade was almost over. He began to hear cheering and whistles from down the street. Everyone stood on tiptoes trying to get a glimpse of what it was. He couldn’t see anything except the cab of a truck slowly making its way up the street, but a moment later he recognized the white haired man waving from the passenger seat and smiled to see Barney Zimmerman. Whatever it was, his float was getting the most effusive cheers. Then, through gaps opened by crowds of people rushing toward it, he saw it.
Rising majestically from the back of the flatbed was a pirate ship made entirely of living things. Its palm tree masts were festooned with purple lilacs. The billowing sails were made of sheets of green sod. As it moved closer, like he knew he would, Chris saw the crew of the Lady Grace, all manning their stations while waving and throwing beads to the crowd. But their appearance had changed. They looked different somehow. It took more than a moment for him to realize it was their clothes. Gone were the silly hand-me-downs taken from the giveaway bin at the church. They were now dressed in proper pirate costumes, though costume wasn’t the right word, for Chris knew this was how they should be dressed. And the captain was the best dressed of all.
I don't know what it means (if it means anything at all) that I'd return to the Fourth at least three times in my books. I was a bit of a history nut growing up. It is that most American of holidays. For myself, I have mostly good memories of Fourths of July past, though some bad. As in most things, I prefer to remember the good.

At any rate, may your own Fourth of July find you safe and happy and among those you love. And as always, thanks for reading!

"Not only won't I play it, but if Robert Preston doesn't, I won't go see it." - Danny Kaye turning down the lead in the film version of The Music Man.

Monday, June 23, 2014

News from the Cover Department

I'm delighted to report I've freshened up the cover to Swash!, my tale of eighteenth-century pirates let loose in the modern world:

Isn't it wonderful? The image itself comes from the public domain and is titled "Who Shall Be Captain?" by a man named Howard Pyle, who did a series of pirate illustrations as well as many others. You can read all about him on Wikipedia.

I'm doubly pleased to report that Swash! has it's first Amazon review! It is extraordinarily kind. A snippet:
In all honesty, this book is one of the most enjoyable surprises I've come across in a long time, and I am an avid reader. From the moment I started this delightful tale, I felt like I was transported directly into what was happening. I was drawn right in and didn't want to leave. 
To read more of the review (and more importantly, to pick up your own copy in either paperback or Kindle edition) click this link to go to its Amazon page.

By way of refresher, the plot of Swash! goes something . . . like this:
When a late winter storm unearths an ancient shipwreck, the sleepy seaside town of Sully's Rump is turned upside-down, first by the media, then by the resurrected pirates who come back to reclaim their ship. 
Local historian Arthur Cobb wants the ship for himself, but so does his nemesis, gazillionaire businessman Barney Zimmerman. Caught between the two is young Chris Duggan, the boy who found the wreck, who just wants to help the pirates get home. 
He realizes the only way to do that is to rebuild the ship and fulfill the pirate curse, but soon learns dislodging the pirates from the Rump may prove more difficult than was deciphering the curse that brought them there. 
Give it a shot! You'll like it. I promise.

And as always, thanks for visiting.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Fun with Text Analysis

As promised (or threatened, depending on your point of view) in this post a few weeks ago, I've been puttering away on a new Dick Londergan tale.

For those that don't know, Londergan is my version of homage to the iconic private detectives of the past, except in Londergan's case, he's a detective from the past who happens to be caught in the modern world.

Meanwhile, one of the things I like to do while writing is to run my stuff through a text analyzer, mostly to make sure I'm not falling into the trap of repeating crutch words over and over (as is my habit) and also with an eye toward the Flesh-Kincaid grade level and reading ease scale, just to make sure I'm not overwriting.*

I mentioned in a post years ago this was one of the silly things I do (along with reading aloud) to make sure the words flow smoothly. I remember noting in that post a couple of the habits of Raymond Chandler, one of my favorite writers.

Chandler came to writing late in life, sharpening his skills writing short stories for Black Mask and other pulp magazines before setting off to write his first novel, The Big Sleep, and the rest of the Philip Marlowe canon.

I remember reading somewhere that Chandler used to write his stories on index cards, just to make sure SOMETHING HAPPENED on each and every card that would move the plot or the story along. Otherwise, he just tossed the card.

So recently, just to get myself into “hard-boiled mode” in preparation for writing the new Londergan, I read a few chapters of Chandler, then had the bright idea to run some of his prose through the online text analyzer I've been using lately.

Here's what it had to say about the first two chapters of The Big Sleep:

Number of words:   4051
Number of sentences:   374
Average number of characters per word:   4.16
Average number of syllables per word:   1.36
Average number of words per sentence:   10.83

Small, short words, as you'd expect from the machine-gun cadence of the hard-boiled patois. Sentences were longer than I'd have guessed, though. Now, to the "reading ease" portion:

Flesch Kincaid Grade level:   4.69
SMOG:   7.52
Flesch Reading Ease:   80.71

(The "SMOG" index is ostensibly how many years of formal education a person needs to understand the text upon first reading.)

Just for fun, here are the results from the first Dick Londergan short, Telegraph Hill:

Number of words:   4446
Number of sentences:   405
Average number of characters per word:   4.04
Average number of syllables per word:   1.34
Average number of words per sentence:   10.98

I'm actually kind of blown away by the similarity, but in a good way. Then again, I do remember being in the zone when I wrote that one. I was so flinty, you coulda lit a match off me.

And "reading ease":

Flesch Kincaid Grade level:   4.54
SMOG : 7.55
Flesch Reading Ease:   82.06

And . . . I'm blown away again. I don't think I've ever written anything before or since that low on Flesh-Kincaid, including the rest of the Londergans. Plus, I'm usually lucky to be around 77 or 78 on reading ease.

Finally, the text analyzer provides Helpful Hints! on how to make your writing clearer. Here are some of the suggestions it made about Mr. Chandler's masterpiece:

List of sentences which we suggest you should consider to rewrite to improve readability of the text:

Here, in a space of hexagonal flags, an old red Turkish rug was laid down and on the rug was a wheel chair, and in the wheel chair an old and obviously dying man watched us come with black eyes from which all fire had died long ago, but which still had the coal-black directness of the eyes in the portrait that hung above the mantel in the hail.

Over the entrance doors, which would have let in a troop of Indian elephants, there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn't have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair.

There were French doors at the back of the hall, beyond them a wide sweep of emerald grass to a white garage, in front of which a slim dark young chauffeur in shiny black leggings was dusting a maroon Packard convertible.

I stood up and lifted my coat off the back of the damp wicker chair and went off with it among the orchids, opened the two doors and stood outside in the brisk October air getting myself some oxygen. Then the butler came pushing back through the jungle with a teawagon, mixed me a brandy and soda, swathed the copper ice bucket with a damp napkin, and went away softly among the orchids.

The old man licked his lips watching me, over and over again, drawing one lip slowly across the other with a funereal absorption, like an undertaker dry-washing his hands.

The butler did his best to get me through without being smacked in the face by the sodden leaves, and after a while we came to a clearing in the middle of the jungle, under the domed roof.

It goes on like that for pages.

And yes, Mr. Chandler will get right on that.

* The most cursory Google search on Flesh-Kincaid reveals lots of discussion and debate among writers about just what it means and how important it is. The answer is, and should be, not at all. For example, you'll find children's books that rate a 10th grade reading level, and adult literary masterpieces (some Hemingway shorts, for example) that rate a fourth-grade level. Like anything else, it's just a tool. Your mileage may vary.