"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, April 30, 2012

It's almost here

Freezer Burn is almost back in circulation. I've re-edited, re-covered, and am in process of re-doing all my website information. I do wish it could all happen at the same time, but Kindle and Createspace don't exactly synchronize their watches.

You take what you can get.

I did, however, update my book trailer. It still makes me laugh.

Freezer Burn will be available for sale soon, very soon, for $2.99 on Kindle and $13.99 in paperback. Stay tuned, Peeps.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Learning from all art forms

I just returned from a weekend of showing my horse and attending a jazz festival. The horse show will be discussed on Snoopy's blog as soon as I can, but I wanted to talk about what I learned at the jazz festival here.

Dale and I got to Mira Costa College in Oceanside just in time to see Marcus perform with Jazz N Tonic, then Marcus' old high school group, Valencia High School. We wanted to hear the other CSULB jazz group, Pacific Standard Time, who were performing after the clinic held by the evening's performers, Sixth Wave.

At the clinic, the six singers discussed where they got their early training and how they make their living today. The students had a lot of questions, from how they continue to train their "instruments" (their voices), to how they broke into session work.

As music and writing are both creative careers, I heard a couple of things from these professionals that really resonated with me.

1. If you don't have a fire in your belly to pursue your art as a career, don't do it. Music is a long hard road. Unless you are one of the VERY select who become a superstar, you will spend your life getting gigs where you can.

Writing is exactly the same. Unless you break out with that book or book series (think Harry Potter), you are going to scrap for every sale and dollar. If you're unwilling to get out and work the audience because you love writing so much, don't do it. Write for yourself and be content.

2. Your art is not all about you. One of the singers spoke about the detachment of her ego from the work. She doesn't sing so people will love her. She sings because she loves to do the work, then give the results as a gift to the audience.

As a professional writer, you develop your tools, you use them to craft stories, and you give those stories to the public (well, for a price). That they like what you've done or don't like what you've done is no reflection on you.

It was amazing to go to a music festival and be inspired about writing. And of course, it was great to hear my son sing. Here's a sample of what we heard (Marcus is the second solo):

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Robert is back!

It was almost a year ago when I met Robert Stermscheg, a lovely man whose last name I live in eternal fear of misspelling. When we last met Robert in a guest post, he had completed and released his father's memoir, POW#74324, and treated us to a sample of the prologue. It was truly an exciting start to his tale of surviving in a German POW camp, only to be released after the war to a life in politically corrupt Yugoslavia.

At the time, Robert had also translated two of Karl May's books from German into English. A year later, he's finally completed and published his third translation, Buried Secrets. He asked if he could be my guest again and I was more than happy to oblige. Nice guy that he is, he even provided a list of questions and answers, as my little brain has been ping-ponging around my skull for the past few weeks and shows no signs of settling on any one task for longer than a millisecond.

So, without further ado (what does that even mean?) let's learn about what Robert's been up to:

Q. I believe this is your third translation project. Can you briefly describe the process of not only translating a work into English, but taking a story written in the last century and bringing it to today's reader?

Robert: Process is aptly put. First, you need to have an understanding of the time period. In my case, 19th century France and Germany. Second, there are elements of romance in the story, which the original author handled discreetly and with subtlety. As a translator, I have to be aware of that and not gloss over it. Karl May also employed idioms from his time (1880s), that not only stemmed from German tradition and folklore but also presented a challenge in conveying them into modern English. That was perhaps the most difficult. I chose to retain the idioms, as they added ‘colour’, and provided explanation notes at the end. Also, the German language is structured quite differently than English. Karl May often employed long paragraphs and run-on sentences that had to be broken up and reworked into a more coherent format. That was certainly time consuming.

Q. Why did you choose Karl May as an author to translate and share with North American readers?

Robert: Easy. I “grew up” with Karl May. As a boy, I was naturally drawn to his thrilling stories, many taking place in North America, often in the “Wild West”. They depicted the Indian tribes as noble savages, clearly the victims of the “White Man’s” insatiable thirst for land. As much as I enjoyed stories about cowboys and Indians, I also delved into his other works, some of which took place in the old Ottoman Empire, dealing with conflict between the French and the Germans.

Although I also read Edgar Rice Burroughs and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I seemed to gravitate back to Karl May. I suppose I was attracted to his keen sense of adventure, portrayal of humanity, and his rendering of history through his novels.

Q. Now that you've translated several Karl May books, will you continue with this author or are there other authors that you want to translate?

Robert: Actually, I’ve completed three translations, which have been published thus far. The fourth book, POW #74324, is my father’s memoir and deals with his experiences during WWII and then post-war Yugoslavia. I’ve committed myself to doing the Hussar’s Love series, spanning five novels. I may do more in the future, but I also want to expand my writing in other areas, exploring other interests, such as historical fiction from the WWII era.

Q. No doubt you've grown a great deal as a writer through this process. Can you share what you've learned, and has this helped you to develop your style and honed your craft?

Robert: That is an understatement. If truth be known, I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting into (laughs). In my former career as a police officer, I naturally wrote a great deal. However, much of it was very structured and concise, leaving little room to express my thoughts outside the confines of the police report. The funniest thing about writing, and writing to be published is that everything takes on a new importance. All of a sudden you’re forced to pay attention to previously overlooked things like spelling, syntax, and of course grammar. In short, I took the whole thing more seriously and endeavoured to put out the best effort that I could. Secondly, I started paying a lot more attention to other writers: how they developed their storyline, pacing, character development, even the use of dialogue. I wasn’t shy about getting advice from other writers, and willingly applied many of their suggestions. Becoming a writer is the start to the learning process.

Q. Has this experience influenced you to venture away from translation and into writing a novel of a different genre?

Robert: My initial drive was to translate this series so that family and friends could appreciate the works of Karl May. But as so often happens, (perhaps it was just me) we get inundated with all sorts of ideas. I’ve actually had people come up to me at book signings and comment on their bizarre ideas, and one lady in particular told me I needed to, no, I had to, write a certain story (laughs). During the process, I did however have inspiration to write my father’s memoir. He was a WWII veteran, and this was quite the departure from writing fiction. So, yes, it did inspire me to venture into other areas, including writing short stories for magazine publication. I’m currently working on a WWII thriller, entitled Stealth. It deals with an experimental jet fighter the Nazis were developing. The novel delves into human conflict, pitting a few ‘good’ Germans against Hermann Goering’s war machine. It promises intrigue, adventure, even a little romance.

Q. I noticed that you’ve self-published the books in this series. Please share the best and the most challenging parts of that process?

Robert: As with many new authors, the challenge is to find a publisher who will take on your project and then walk you through the maze of the publishing industry. What I quickly learned was that few are willing to take on new authors, and fewer still if their initial work exceeds 100,000 words. My first novel (translation) had just over 150,000 words. Further, what complicated my entry into the world of publishing is that my first work was a translation. In my search, I ran into all sorts of vanity presses, that for a high price promised all sorts of things, including marketing, but delivered little in the way of real promotion, and certainly virtually nothing in terms of distribution. For any author, particularly in the early stages, you need to be available for book signings, and that means distribution into book stores. It was a real learning process. My advice to current writers and aspiring authors, is to seek out established authors and ask lots of questions. Also, keep reading (expand your repertoire), and of course continue writing. And perhaps most important, be prepared for the long haul and the many rejection letters (emails) that are sure to come.

One of my first highlights was to see my first novel prominently displayed in a local bookstore. The thrill of signing those fist few copies was a wonderful experience and made all the work worthwhile.

* * * * *

Thanks, Robert, for sharing your enthusiasm and passion for your work. People who write translations have my utmost respect, not to mention a little awe. It's not just that I'm amazed at anyone who can translate from one language to another and maintain the voice of the original author - I'm agog that anyone is brave enough to tackle it.

Robert has offered up a free e-book copy of his latest, Buried Secrets, to one of my blog followers. He didn't give me any directions on how to choose someone, so I made up my own rules, which are as follows: Leave a comment, either here or on my Facebook page, about why you are the best person to receive this e-book.

The contest will be open for a week, mostly because I will be at a horse show on Thursday and Friday, then a jazz festival on Saturday, so I will not be able to read and respond until next Tuesday.

In case you're waffling about whether you might want a free e-book, here's the jacket cover for Buried Secrets:

In the spring of 1870, France is preparing for an imminent war with Germany. A French cavalry officer, Bernard de Lemarch, has been given the delicate task of approaching a high-ranking Prussian officer, hoping to glean vital military information. But what he doesn’t know is that the Prussian High Command has been forewarned…. and is expecting him. Posing as a painter, the disguised officer meets up with a bungling landscape painter forming an unlikely friendship, one that unwittingly propels both men headfirst into unexpected danger, while resurrecting a secret from Lemarch’s own past.

Richard von Löwenklau, aided by Franz Schneeberg, finds himself in the heart of enemy territory, tasked with trying to stop the build-up of arms and uncover the establishment of a new para-military presence, the franctireurs... headed up by none other than the irrepressible Captain Albin Richemonte. His task is further complicated by the arrival of a new enemy, Colonel Rallion, who’s bent on supporting Richemonte’s war efforts, while hampering Löwenklau’s plans.

Admit it. You know you want it. Come in and tell me why Robert should give it to you.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A fractionated Friday the 13th

This is a quick post with different parts, which is why it's fractionated and not fractious, which believe me, it could be.

First, here's the new cover for Freezer Burn. It should be available in e-book and paperback within the next couple of weeks. Trust me, I'll be letting you all know when it is.

When Freezer Burn was first released, I loved the cover, and truly had a hard time thinking of anything else when I set my cover designer, Joe Felipe, to work on it. But I trust Joe, and he did a great job. The dark cover with that swoosh of red makes the bold image of the fridge stand out, and I like the stark white lettering of the title. I also like the fridge door open a little, as if to beckon you in to see what you might find. Oh - and the martini glass? It's become Peri's signature - she likes clean houses and dirty martinis. The whole thing is very similar to Hit or Missus and really helps me brand my Peri Minneopa Mysteries.

Now I gotta get that third one finished and quit telling myself, gee, if you write 1,000 words a day you'll be done within the month. Good plan, but which 1,000 words?

Secondly, before I go off to write those words, my son entered a song in a contest held by this very popular interactive webcomic, Homestuck. I've never looked at the comic, as I fear I might be hunted down and terminated for not being cool or young enough to read it. But apparently, because it is so interactive and incredibly fan-based, they hold contests for people to submit songs that serve as a soundtrack to the comic and its characters. If you win and get a song on one of their albums, you get bragging rights (while retaining your song's rights), plus something like 6/100 of a cent in royalties per sale.

Marcus entered, won, and has a song floating out there for the listening. Here's the YouTube posting of the song:

If you're interested in the album, here's where you go to purchase it for $8: Homestuck ColoUrs and mayhem.

Now, excuse me, I've got some writing to do.

Friday, April 6, 2012

What price e-books?

I promised you all a report of what Left Coast Crime was like, but truthfully, I'm still sorting it out and I'll get to it eventually. It was, as Jean Jenkins told me, very casual and relaxed, and I met a lot of very fun writers who wanted to talk about their books and my books and the future of publishing. And I met some engaging readers who wanted to talk about everything. I'm a little afraid that if I start naming names, I'll miss someone and they'll get their nose out of joint, but you know how it is when you're running through a weekend at warp speed, right?

What I've been mulling over today is a conversation a group of us had at lunch on Friday. Seven or eight of us sat around a table at PF Chang's and we were talking about the prices of e-books and the lawsuit against Apple and all the publishers who are "suspected of colluding to raise e-book prices."

As a former engineer, I made my usual whine about how e-books are uploaded once by the publisher and then sold over and over and over without any more cost to the publisher's wallet. Not to mention the fact that e-books are not actually "sold" - you are sold a license to have them on your device. You don't own your Kindle books, or your Nook books, or your name-your-reader books.

(Didn't you know that? It's all well and good until the publisher starts a fight with the e-reader company and forces them to remove their books from the site and the book you've "bought" disappears. Yes, you get credited the money - I think - but still.)

At any rate, one of the authors says, "But you're paying for the intellectual property rights." I admit, this sounded like a So What argument to me. But it planted a seed.

Days later, I begin thinking about the way we who embrace e-readers compare their advent to the changes in the way our music is delivered. "The content is the same. It's just the delivery method that changed."

When I was young, I bought vinyl records. If I recall, in the late 60's you could get a 45-rpm for about 80 cents and an album (33 1/3-rpm) for less than 5 bucks. I know this because my weekly allowance was $5 and I could get the latest Monkees album with it. I nearly died of shock the day I went into to Sears to get their latest album and the price had risen to $6.99.

8-tracks were cool.
As the years passed, album prices rose. At their peak, most of them were, I think, around $15. Then the media changed and everyone was going to either cassette or 8-track tapes. It seems that 8-tracks came first and didn't last. The prices stayed about the same for vinyl or tape and we accepted this, because there were still materials and labor involved in pressing a record or winding a strip of magnetic tape.

Then Compact Discs came along. They were priced about the same, which is shocking when you consider how much time had passed without inflating the price of music. There were still materials and labor to produce a CD, so it was still worth the $15.

Enter MP3 World. The iPod and other players let us have instant access to music from our computer. I did a little recon in iTunes and found that most albums go for anywhere between $9.99 and $15.99. The song/album is downloaded to the store once, where it is sold over and over and over. There are no more materials involved.

We are all okay with this. Not only are we okay with it, some of us have bought the same album in each format as it comes out.

I'm slowly beginning to change my mind about the price of e-books, although I haven't quite reached the point of some publishers, who think they should be priced higher than the paperback. I started out thinking that everything should just be 99 cents, because you're selling the same damn thing over and over.

Now I'm in a struggle - I've raised the price of my books a little (I kept my short story at 99 cents), but not nearly as much as others. It's hard to know what to do, since there is really no model to follow. Traditional books can't be used as a reference, because the publishers are using a standard that includes the cost of their doing business. Self-published books can't be used because they're just all over the map and there's plenty of swill out there I don't want to compare myself to.

So what is my intellectual property worth? Does it come with mineral rights? And can I install a jacuzzi?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Who can I turn to?

Why, all y'all, of course. Remember when I had to pick a cover for Hit or Missus and I was feeling woefully indecisive and lacked confidence? Who helped me? You did. You gave me your opinions and I ended up picking a killer cover.

Now I've got to pick a new cover for Freezer Burn, because I'm re-releasing it myself. It's harder this time than the last, because I've got the old cover stuck in my head. I loved my old cover, but not only do I think I don't get the rights to use that, but I want my covers to look like they go together. I want a "brand." And as much as I love my old cover, people tend to gravitate toward the Hit or Missus cover, so clearly the public has an opinion.

After working with my cover designer, whom I adore, I've got four choices. I suppose I could just put a voting poll at the side, but I never get any votes when I do that. All people ever do is leave comments, either here or on Facebook. So take a look and tell me what you think.





I'm actually partial to one of these, but I won't tell you which. Instead, you pick one and tell me why.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

A few thoughts while I'm semi-conscious

I just returned home from a weekend at Left Coast Crime (a mystery lovers convention) in Sacramento. I drove up and back, which is exactly 416 miles. Each way. This is what I can tell you about the road trip:

Interstate 5 between Los Angeles and Stockton is two lanes.

The speed limit is 70 mph.

It is impossible to drive 70 miles per hour in either lane.

This is because the right lane is occupied by large trucks that go 60-65 miles per hour. The left lane is occupied by everyone else who is driving about 80 miles per hour. Any attempt to drive 70 in this lane results in more tailgating than a Superbowl party.

Sometimes a large truck going 64 miles per hour wants to pass a large truck going 63 mph. This backs up traffic in both lanes while the truck passes... eventually.

There is no way to plan ahead for an accident in the Gorman Pass through the mountains. It is amusing, however, to watch a single car leap from non-moving lane to non-moving lane in an attempt to actually move.

Nothing focuses you while driving through Los Angeles traffic on a Sunday evening like trying to see the road through a bug-smeared windshield and a foggy-cataract right eye. It also helps to avoid thinking of your vehicle, and all the vehicles around you, as metal-and-plastic projectile missiles that could crash and explode around any corner.

Thank God for my iPod.

Later in the week I'll be actually talking about the convention.

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