Saturday, June 25, 2016

Famous Up and Down the Block

I've been lucky in my career as a writer. I got my first story idea on the way to my first day of college and little more than a couple of decades later I got my first publishing deal. By today's impoverished publishing standards, the money for a paperback original deal was pretty good. By the standards of the time, it was modest at best. I was thrilled anyway.

My first book, "The Concrete Inquisition," would be sold and read all over the United States. I learned from my sister who was vacationing in Mexico that a resale copy was even available south of the border. Great, I thought, I'd reached two out of three of the biggest countries in North America.

My second traditional publishing deal, a two-book deal with a combined advance adding another zero to the payout, put Canada on the list of countries my work had reached. An Italian edition was considered for one of those two books but was never completed. For all I know, though, Italy being Italy, it might still be under discussion.

With my move to indie publishing on Amazon, I went global. Today, I know that my books have sold in the U.K. (my second biggest market), Ireland, France, Germany, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand and even one book in Brazil.

So I have a global brand. With plenty of room to grow, of course.

Even so, I was surprised the other day when I took a morning run. I was on my way to the park near my home when I stopped, while running in place, in front of a neighbor's house. A woman with two small children was enjoying the pleasant weather. Her front porch had a shade/privacy screen that I admired. I said hello and asked where she got the screen.

Without having introduced myself, she nonetheless said, "Oh, you're the writer, aren't you?"

She pointed and added, "You live in that house over there, right?"

Not getting the least impression she intended to burgle me, I said she was right both times.

"What kind of books do you write?"

Her dossier on me was obviously incomplete. I told her mysteries, thrillers, the occasional comedy.

She asked where she could get them and I told her to visit my website:

I thanked her for the information about the screen — she gave me the website for that — and continued on my run, asking myself how she knew about me.

I'm generally friendly with my neighbors, know a handful by name, but I'm not a big socializer. My wife, child, work and siblings take up most of my time. So having been known, somewhat, by a person down the block surprised me.

It became obvious to me almost immediately that one of the neighbors who knows what I do must have spread the word, and the woman I talked to had found it sufficiently interesting that she remembered at least some of the details.

She even said that she'd buy a book, being a mystery fan.

Who knows, someday I might be out for another run and see a front porch book club discussing my newest title. I'll have to stop by and say hello. See how many of them already know me.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keeping Familiar Characters Fresh

One of the great things about writing novels is hearing from readers that they love the characters you create. No, that's the wrong verb. You don't create characters as much as find or discover them.
When I decided to write a private investigator novel, I had to ask myself where I wanted to set it. Many authors will stake a claim to a city or a state as their protagonist's turf. I wanted to do something different. So I thought I'd use a house as my guy's central setting. To make things interesting, I chose the White House.
That's natural for me. I have an interest in politics that started early and remains strong. But I didn't want to echo my own character directly in Jim McGill. So I went a different way. McGill is an unflagging supporter of his wife, President Patricia Grant, because he loves her above all else. Except for his kids.
He's a family man, first and foremost. I liked that because it's not typical for a tough-guy PI. Using that as a starting point, I looked for other things about McGill that would differentiate him from other characters in his genre. One of those traits was a reverence for life and a reluctance to take lives.
Sure, he'd be happy to bust someone's nose, if that's called for, but he doesn't pull his gun and shoot people willy-nilly. And when he gets in a physical confrontation, he doesn't shrug it off. Sometimes he needs the attention of massage therapists and a long soak in a hot bath to ease the pain.
Heck, he's so human he even has to submit to a colonoscopy and has pre-cancerous polyps removed.
All of that is part of discovering just who this guy is. But now we know all that. Along with his wife, McGill is now coming to the end of his time in the White House. Which is good because he's grown tired of it. The relentless pressures are wearing on everyone involved, not just him.
And as much as readers have enjoyed McGill in that context, they (you) might soon think things are getting stale. So McGill, to stay fresh, has to move on. Just as all of us do as we move through life.
He has to assume new roles: the CEO of an international detective agency, not just the head of a one-man shop; the father of children fast becoming adults, and maybe soon the role of being a grandfather; maybe someone who has to deal with an unexpected physical limitation.
I can't say for sure. I'll have to find out as I go along. Make new discoveries. That's what will keep McGill fresh for me and, I hope, enjoyable for you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Please Tip Your Author

No, don't tip him or her over. Don't even dig in your pocket or purse for a few bucks. All we ask is a few moments of your time and as many kind words as you can spare.
When you read a book you like — one of mine or somebody else's — please show your appreciation with a favorable review on Amazon, Goodreads or the on-line forum of your choice.
Every author loves to see that readers have enjoyed what we do. On sites like Amazon, your approval can help spur the Amazon algorithm to give the book greater exposure. That means more sales and page-reads for the author. In other words more income.
Authors who don't have to scramble for every nickel and dime have more time to write. So if you post good reviews for the authors you like, you're helping to make sure the author will write another book.
FYI: I'm doing okay in the nickels-and-dimes department, but I still love to see good reviews for my books.