Thursday, April 17, 2014

On What's Next

So, I find myself in between things at the moment, doing my best to pump my latest book (my New York zombie apocalypse novel SINCERELY DEAD which is really, really good and you should buy it) and also wondering what (if anything) I should write next.

I’ve long been a few chapters into a follow-up to HOPE TOWN, with an eye toward turning that (perhaps!) into a series. Thus far in the follow-up, Parker’s life is going downhill fast, but Nate has a life preserver to toss him – if only Parker will grab hold.

I’m more than a few chapters into the next volume of the APPLEWOOD saga, which I’d very much like to continue, except that stopped selling a long time ago, not to mention hardly anybody read the follow-up (FLEDGE) anyway, so that seems a non-starter and probably a waste of time.

And though this one hardly sells either, I think my pirate adventure SWASH! would make an excellent candidate for a sequel. In my mind, it would pick things up a few years later, with Chris graduated from college and running the zoo on Sully’s Rump, when Captain Hornblossom and his merry men return. I have an idea I’d like to flip things on its head, with Chris and Sarah returning to the eighteenth-century – to save Barney from something? Who knows!

I guess I’ve been fortunate in that I have lots of ideas, some written down, others still flitting around inside my head. I’ve never had to worry about “writer’s block” or where the next idea would come from. No, the problem with me has always been simply putting my ass in that chair and getting down to business, but once I’ve made the decision to do that, I know the writing will come.

However, it makes no sense to write sequels to books that don’t sell, so unless they get miraculously discovered and embraced by the public, I’m not going to write any of those. Besides, writing novels is (for me, anyway) extremely time-consuming and (lately) very injurious to my health. Seriously. The last one almost killed me. BUY IT!

And writing novels that hardly anybody (short of family, friends, and only the occasional kind stranger) buys or reads is simply soul-crushing. I just can't do it anymore.

Therefore, I’ve decided my next (and unless I'M miraculously discovered and embraced by the public, no doubt last) bit of writing will be another entry in THE DICK LONDERGAN CHRONICLES. Yeah, hardly anyone buys them either. But at least they’re fun to write! Plus, being short, they don’t take it out of me the way a full-blown novel does.

So stay tuned to this space, where Dick Londergan will no doubt once again find himself in the midst of his most vexing case yet . . .

And as always, thanks for reading.

Monday, April 7, 2014

In Praise of Philip Wylie

A number of years ago, in conjunction with the transition to the new millennium, Modern Library came out with a list of the Hundred Best Novels of the 20th Century. Of course, any list like that is bound to be controversial, and this one certainly was. What I remember most about it was that a long-held pet theory of mine at least now had (perhaps!) some basis in truth, that is that 1934 was the greatest year for American literature in the past century (and maybe, ever?)

No fewer than seven novels published in 1934 ended up being honored on the Modern Library list, and coincidentally or not, a number of those books also happen to be among my all-time favorites, including Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (no. 28), Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara (no. 22), and The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (no. 98).

Other books published in 1934 that the editors of Modern Library deemed worthy of being called “the best” of the past century were I, Claudius by Robert Graves (no. 14), A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh (no. 34), and Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (no. 50).

Now, it would take someone a lot smarter than me to posit a theory about what it was about 1934 that sparked such genius. The country was in the fifth year of the Great Depression. We were between two great world wars. It also happened to be the golden age of magazine fiction, providing lots of outlets for young writers to sharpen their skills before coming out with their masterworks. Who knows?

But even before the list came out, I found it curious that so many of my favorite books were published that year, and it was only later I'd discover another author who published a book that year that deserves every bit the acclaim of the ones mentioned on the Modern Library list, and that book was Finnley Wren by a writer named Philip Wylie.

The first time I remember even hearing the name Philip Wylie was when the University of Nebraska put out their wonderful edition of the science fiction classic When Worlds Collide (which also contains its sequel, After Worlds Collide). I stumbled upon it in a Barnes and Noble one day, drawn to the no doubt excellent cover, and decided to give it a shot.

The plot of the book (and later movie) is probably well-known by now. Earth finds itself in the path of two rogue planets, one of them on a collision course with Earth. Some scientists believe the other planet might just be hospitable enough to allow human habitation, the problem being how to get from here to there. Though both the language and the science in the book are dated, there's a lot about it that still rings true.

What most delighted me about stumbling upon this book was that it introduced me to Philip Wylie, and after reading it (as is my wont when I discover a new author) I hunted down most everything else by him I could find. Seemingly almost forgotten today, Wylie was a working writer for more than half a century, who distinguished himself in a number of genres, including science fiction, crime, and social criticism.

Among many other things, he wrote the screenplay to the Claude Rains classic, The Invisible Man. His 1930 novel Gladiator is often credited with inspiring the character of Superman. The aforementioned 1934 novel Finnley Wren is a tour de force and an English language masterpiece. Later, during the Cold War, Wylie wrote a number of books featuring a post-nuclear war America, most notably in Tomorrow! Wylie himself became personally involved in Civil Defense initiatives.

Not content with simply writing fiction in a variety of genres, in the nineteen-forties Wylie began delving into social criticism with his books Generation of Vipers and An Essay on Morals. His social criticism extended into the sixties with, among his last published works, The Magic Animal, the animal in question of course, being man.

But what I find to be the most approachable Wylie are the "Crunch and Des" stories he wrote, mostly for the Saturday Evening Post, that you can now find in a number of modern editions. Telling the tales of a pair of commercial fishermen in Florida, they are guaranteed to bring a smile.

So, in a nutshell, if you're ever at a yard sale and see a dog-eared and yellowing book by a guy named Philip Wylie, pick it up. You'll be glad you did.

(Wylie's Wiki entry here, if curious:

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Another Taste of Sincerity

(Here's another excerpt from SINCERELY DEAD, the best New York zombie apocalypse "Poseidon Adventure"-style (except instead of an ocean liner it's New York City and oh, there are zombies) novel you're not reading . . . yet.)

From our rooftop perch, it appeared as if fire still smoldered in some parts of the city, but the blackish plumes I’d witnessed earlier rising up from neighborhoods to the west and east seemed more subdued now; weakish puffs of whitish smoke revealing, perhaps, that whatever fires had been raging only hours earlier had burned themselves out.

Still, the air remained redolent of whatever still smoldered in those isolated pockets, along with other things: some kind of coppery tang blended with a hint of raw sewage and the overwhelming stench of what could only be rotting flesh.

The roof itself was gravel and mostly barren, its flat features broken only occasionally by a set of pipes sticking up here and there, and pieces of long abandoned machinery that once did who knows what.

Off to the right, I saw Edwin on his knees at the edge of the building peering down at the street. To Paresh, I said, “Keep everyone together. I’ll be right back.” After he nodded, I bent low and scurried over to join Edwin.

Getting down on my knees, I raised my head to peer over, and like a physical blow was struck immediately by the overwhelming stench that had only been hinted at by the stairway. I started to reach toward my breast pocket for my handkerchief before remembering it wasn’t there.

“Fuck,” Edwin said beneath his breath, nervously twisting his long umbrella. “Fuck fuck fuck,” he added for good measure.

I found no flaw in his logic.

There were tens of thousands of them now gathered in front of our building, maybe more. Sneaking a glance up Ninth and then down along 42nd Street, I saw more were arriving by the minute. It appeared that if you were undead, all roads led to the Camelot.

Leaving Edwin alone, I half stood and then scurried to the western end of the building just off 42nd Street, where I dared raise my head and glance directly down at the entrance to the Camelot itself. The stench brought tears to my eyes, but there was no doubt about it. The crush of bodies down there was even more intense, with thousands of them pressing up the famed twenty-nine steps. More were arriving every second to press in from behind.

“Fuck,” Edwin said quietly. I jumped, not having heard him sidle up beside me. But I knew what he meant, and what he meant was that if the mass of bodies hadn’t already broken down the steel doorway in the second floor lobby, perhaps by weakening the ancient plaster the otherwise sturdy door had been built into, or maybe forgoing the door altogether and using the press of flesh to eventually bust through the plaster and Sheetrock and two-by-fours in the wall itself, sooner or later, physics alone meant it was certain they’d be in the building; that is, if they weren’t already.

“What the fuck do they want?” Edwin asked in a strained whisper.

Turning in his direction, I saw he wasn’t looking at me. He was unable to take his eyes off the freakish sideshow going on down below.

“What do they want?” he asked again.

I took the questions as rhetorical, though I admit I was starting to have my own theories. But he did ask it twice.

“Well, you’re the expert,” I said, “but isn’t the answer usually . . . brains?”

It got a smile out of him. Eventually.

"Sincerely Dead." The zombie book . . . for the rest of us. Available now in ebook and paperback from Amazon.Com and everywhere fine New York zombie apocalypse novels are sold.

Monday, March 24, 2014

So I Raised All My Prices

Aggressively, even. And you know what? I might raise them even more. But it’s not why you think . . .

Long story short, it’s because I’ve tried everything else. But it seems no matter what I do, or what I try, I simply can't sell books. And I’m left wondering if, because I’ve waded in the .99 cent to $2.99 seas for so long, people aren’t even finding me anymore. I’m postulating if I raise my prices closer to what, you know, real publishers charge, and what people who buy books from, you know, real publishers expect to pay, then maybe, people will at least have a chance to find me.

By way of background, my short stories have been priced at .99 cents (that is, when I haven’t just been giving them away) for years. They're not selling. The novels I have control over have been priced at $2.99 (and in two cases, $3.99) in all that time too. They’re not selling either. And at the low, low price of $2.99, even my most recent book isn’t selling, and I mean, c’mon! It’s got zombies, and New York City, and a mob hitman, and a “Poseidon Adventure”-style feel to it. WHAT'S NOT TO LIKE?

And no, it’s not because they suck, either. Seriously. I mean, one or two may be kind of “meh” (and you’ll have to read them to discover for yourself!) but I’m quite sure they don’t suck; believe me, I’ve thought long and hard and been brutally honest with myself before grudgingly reaching that conclusion.

I do recognize the DICK LONDERGAN CHRONICLES were a departure for me, that they're offbeat and not for everyone. Yet oddly enough, they’ve been my bestsellers this year (by "bestsellers" I mean maybe a half-dozen or so, at .99 cents a pop.) So I do think when the right people read them, they indeed get a kick out of them.

I recognize too that I probably write in too many genres (humor, horror, etc.) and people might just be confused about what I write. If they like a Dick Londergan Chronicle, they might think, “Yeah, but I don’t read zombie or vampire stuff.” But know what? If I like a writer, I like a writer, and will read whatever they write. If that makes me guilty of thinking there are other people out there like me, so be it.

Basically, it’s about discoverability. Maybe people simply dismiss ebooks that are priced so cheaply. Or maybe, because my “Customers Also Bought Items By” list on Amazon is filled with people nobody ever heard of, who also either give their books away or sell their books very cheaply, they’re not finding me that way either.

So, want to get to know hard-boiled P.I. Dick Londergan? It’ll cost you $2.99. Want to read a terrific New York zombie adventure? That’ll cost you $4.99 (or try out the prequel for $2.99 and see if it’s for you.) Want to read a fun Red Sox tale that’s fit for the whole family? It’ll cost you $3.99.

However, you CAN currently read my pirate adventure SWASH! for the low, low price of just .99 cents! Limited time only, I’m afraid. That one might go up to $5.99 at some point, because you know why? It’s worth every penny.

If you’ve made it this far (and recent studies of users web habits reveal that most of you haven't) thanks (as always) for your forbearance, for your continued support of my writing, and for just being you! And hey, if this new pricing scheme doesn't work, if people don't buy my books at higher prices the same way they weren't buying them at lower prices, then I've lost nothing because . . . well. I think Mr. Preston said it best: