One Bite at a Time




Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Interviews

I’ve been an intermittent interviewer for six years, doing a couple a year on average. I enjoy the process and try to strike a balance of questions no one else will ask with questions that are asked often because people want to know the answers. (Never “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve never asked that question, and I promise you I never will.) I have kiddingly patted myself on the back several times when an interview is well received, “reminding” everyone the key to a good interview is in the questions.

Turns out I was right.

I never expected anyone to care enough about Wild Bill to want to ask the author about it. Thankfully, I was wrong about that. I’m in the process of replying to my fourth set of questions this week. Each interview has been unlike the others, and each has been fun. The questioners have approached Wild Bill, and me, in unique manners, so the questions have forced me to think about different things, and even to consider things I hadn’t thought of while I was writing the book. The interviews have been even more gratifying than the good reviews, in part due to the give and take, and, I think, because I’m flattered that someone took enough of an interest in the book to want to know more about where it came from. They have been an unadulterated blessing.

Some interviewers can get away with a list of stock questions they ask everyone. These interviewers either A) are well-known in their own right, or B) have a list of kick-ass questions. Anyone can generate a list of five questions off the top of their head, the questions they hope get asked at a book signing. Those are fine to work into a longer interview, but they don’t tell anything about this author and this book the reader couldn't have found elsewhere. They aren’t the way to get thoughtful answers unless the questions are unique and versatile. (Not “Where do you get your ideas?”)

Based on my experience on both sides of the equation, the best way to get a good interview is to make it obvious you read the book, and have generated questions based on things you found in the book. I don’t mean just about the story; many authors are reluctant to reveal spoilers in their own work. (What can you expect from prima donnas?) Ask about the writing, the characters, something unique about how a plot point was handled, the setting, any influences. Sure you can work in a few like “Why do you write in this genre?” or “Can you recommend a few books?” People want to know that and authors are happy to tell them.

If you really want a good interview, pick something from the book that stands out and ask about it. I have been lucky enough to interview Timothy Hallinan and Leighton Gage, who set their books in Thailand and Brazil, respectively. Both are witty, articulate, and fun. I doubt either of them could give a bad interview from inside an iron lung. Pick out something that stood out about either Thailand or Brazil and let them run with it. They’ll do the work for you.

The key to a good interview, like the key to any relationship, is to make the author feel as though you’re doing this interview because you want to interview that author, not just “I do a series of interviews and I couldn’t think of anyone better.” Don’t kiss ass, but don’t be afraid to stroke the author a little. I doubt you’d get good responses if the tone of the interview is, “Your book is a piece of shit, but I wondered how anyone could write something so horrible.” They may not warm to you; authors have egos, too.

And, if you ask “Where do you get your ideas?” you deserve whatever happens to you.

(Many thanks to Charlie Stella, Tim Hallinan, Pat Browning, and Karen Treanor for teaching me how much fun it can be to be the interviewee.)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

E-Book Pricing: A Concisely Compiled Argument

Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays blog is a constant source of information and entertainment. Dec is also a tireless promoter of other writers and the go-to guy for information on Irish crime fiction. Today he touches all the bases on the current controversy of e-book pricing. Well worth a read for both writers and readers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wild Bill Finds His Secret Santa

Steve Weddle--co-editor of the collection Discount Noir* and contributor to many other fine collections--has posted his Christmas shopping recommendations over at the always worth reading Do Some Damage blog, and--it's a Christmas miracle!--Wild Bill has been included. While not even I would recommend reading this aloud to the tykes if Clement Moore can't be found, it might well make a nice gift for a Kindle- or Nook-toting adult who likes a brisk tale and isn't put off by a little sex and violence and foul language.

Mr. Weddle has put me in with some fast company, as he has also recommended books by Alan Heathcock, Bonnie Jo Campbell, John Hornor Jacobs, Benjamin Whitmer, Frank Bill, Lynn Kostoff, Duane Swierczynski, and Dennis Tafoya. Hop on over to DSD to read more about all of the above, as well as links to make your purchases easy.

Many thanks to Steve Weddle for putting his hard-earned cred on the line and vouching for me.

(* - Steve wrote what, to me, is one of the handful of greatest opening lines ever in his story, "Code Adam." "You just don't have the kind of day I was having and not kill someone.")

Happy Holidays From OBAAT


Another pass around the sun
Is ending for us all
And I confess, the year that ebbs
Has held us all in thrall
With ups and downs and downs and ups,
Our heads we could but shake.
A hurricane was not enough;
We had our own earthquake.

The Sole Heir’s news is only good,
Her options she surveyed,
And changed her school from U of M
To down St. Mary’s way
At southern tip of Maryland,
A place she much prefers,
So strongly that, two hours away,
We still can hear her purr.

Her next year may be better still:
In May she’s off to France
Where studies medical will get
Their first prolonged glance.
She’ll stay six weeks in sunny Nice,
A Riviera clime,
She’ll learn, she’ll work, she’ll play, she’ll tour,
The time should be sublime.

The Spouse Beloved had a year
‘Twould rattle lesser souls
Her craft room’s devastation set
Her back on several goals.
The water of her discontent
Has seen its flow abate,
Its renovation’s tardiness
Is gone, no more she waits
For closet and for storage space,
More room to work her crafts,
It’s coming all together now
Despite some minor gaffes.

My year, it had a couple downs,
Though ups will far outlast,
Like surgery on both my eyes
Means they’re no longer glassed.
Twin cataracts their view had dimmed
Until both were removed,
Bionic lenses took their place;
My vision’s much improved.

A book has been produced, my first
To place in public view,
And though the sales have not been brisk,
I’ve good reviews in lieu.
Kind words from several writing peers
Describe success to me,
Wild Bill was first, two more next year,
How well they’ll do, we’ll see.

A lot of other stuff occurred
But, frankly, little good.
And mighty bored you all would be
If tell it all I would,
So I will pass, because we know
That bad times always fade
There’s no point to remember them,
To rest they should be laid.

Now once again a year will end
And all will celebrate
The winter solstice holidays
Of any faith you fete,
We hope you have a happy time,
Kick back or tie one on
That’s all for now, we’re signing off,
Till Twenty-Twelve is gone.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Discipline

The end of the basement project is in sight. Much still remains to be done, but most of my work consists of carrying boxes downstairs so The Beloved Spouse can put things into their new homes. It’s time to get back to some semblance of normal life. That means my writing schedule has to ramp up.

That’s not the easiest thing to do. Getting back to work after taking off the summer is easy. I know going in I need to get busy again on the day after Labor Day. (Labor Day in the States is the first Monday in September.) It’s a clear-cut, binary decision.

This time the re-start is not so easily defined. Other habits that don’t require so much concentration have eased into what had been small pockets of time between tasks. Those pockets of time have grown, and the other habits have grown to fit the space available. An hour of 30 Rock reruns on Comedy Central now must be accommodated, as well as regular viewing of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Now it’s time to re-acquaint myself with a regular writing schedule.

Writing is not inspiration; neither is it patience. Writing is the discipline of finding something inside yourself that can pass as inspiration while forcing yourself to be patient at the same time you’re ignoring the siren song of something enjoyable that requires a lot less effort. (In my case, any televised hockey game.) To help with this, I have tasked myself with writing a blog post—either here or at From the Home Office—every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Inspiration is not required. Find a topic, sit my ass down and write about it.

This blog post is a example of what results when such a schedule has been set, self-discipline sits my ass down, and I got nothing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Formatting Frustration

Now that sales of Wild Bill are firmly into double digits (36 and the last-minute Christmas shoppers haven’t been heard from yet), it’s time to turn my attention to what comes next. Sure, a lot of writers would see three dozen sales and kick back, figuring the mountain has been climbed. Not me. The public is fickle. Staying out of sight for too long can be death to a fledgling author. Sure, 36 is an impressive number, but drop off the radar and sales plummet. There’s no guarantee the next book would even break the prestigious 30 mark.

Fortunately, I have several novels on the hard drive (“in the drawer,” in traditional terms) that are ready to go, thanks to a myriad of gatekeepers who have for years been not just willing, but eager to tell me I was a fine writer, they liked the book a lot, and were sure I’d have no trouble finding someone (else) to publish it. The plan is to launch one every six months or so until the backlog has been worked down. Target date for Worst Enemies is March 1.

Of course, the book must be formatted for Kindle first. (I have learned the double O in Nook stands for total sales expected, at least in my case. Little time will be spent in that sales channel.) E-Book Architects did a great job with Wild Bill, and I’d go to them again in a heartbeat, but I wondered how hard it would be to do it myself. I work on computers all say. I’m no HTML programmer, but I was curious to see what was involved. I still had a plenty of time to involve E-Book Architects if I got in over my head.

Amazon has an easy to follow checklist with everything that needs to be done, including a free, downloadable program that will do the heavy lifting. I format Word documents well, having done several for POD books put out by my writers group in the past, and have learned to keep things tidy as I go.

I got the list, downloaded the software, and spent a few minutes each night for a week or so following the directions. I loaded what I had onto my Kindle and it looked great, with two exceptions. Chapters did not start on new pages, and all paragraphs had first-line indents, which I didn’t want.

The page breaks were easy. I’d fallen into the shorthand method of using Ctrl-Enter to start a new page. This doesn’t convert properly; I had to use the menu commands, Insert > Page Break. Easy fix. Took no more than fifteen minutes to correct all sixty-plus chapters.

The paragraph indents were made of sterner stuff. (I want the first paragraph of each chapter, as well as the acknowledgements, to be left aligned. The rest can be indented.) I tried a few things, even looked at the underlying HTML and experimented. No dice. Internet research showed those “we know what’s best for everyone” bastards at Amazon have Kindles set up to indent all new paragraphs by default.

(Note: I am using the slang definition of the term “bastard” to describe the powers that be at Amazon. Per Dictionary.com: a vicious, despicable, or thoroughly disliked person. I would never imply, and have no reason to suspect, that Jeff Bezos or any of his minions were conceived under other than honorable circumstances. I think the definition I have chosen is commonly accepted enough to negate any libel issues.)

More research turned me on to a procedure that should work, though it involved downloading two programs (both free), formatting the book in one, saving it as an EPUB file, then opening it in the other program to convert it to MOBI. It doesn’t strike me as being as hard as it looks here, and I have some time off coming up for the holidays.

I also have E-Book Architects’ address already entered in a draft email.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Wild Bill Gets Some Cross-Genre Love

Pat Browning, tireless owner and proprietor of the blog Morning’s at Noon (I wonder if she is a Tom Waits fan*), and author of Absinthe of Malice, has posted a review of Wild Bill to Amazon. Pat writes:

Dana King's debut novel, WILD BILL, is an attention grabber. The title character, FBI Special Agent Will Hickox, engages in a determined pursuit of organized crime, building his case over a period of two years, as crime leaders jockey back and forth for top positions.

Law enforcement does its own juggling act, with the beat cops, the FBI and the Department of Justice jockeying for position, until the DOJ demands that the case be wrapped up pronto.


This superbly written book goes on my personal "Best Of" list for 2011.

Pat also wrote a more thoroughgoing review for the DorothyL list serve. It’s just as flattering, but when a writer who doesn’t normally deal in the level of grit where Wild Bill lives says your book is “superbly written and goes on [her] personal”Best Of” list, there’s no point in gilding the lily.

Pat has also invited me to participate in a virtual conversation with her and Timothy Hallinan (The Queen of Patpong) next month. More details on that as they become available.

Many thanks, Pat. Absinthe of Malice is on my Kindle, ready to go.

(* – Possibly my favorite Tom Waits song is “Better Off Without a Wife,”** which contains the line “I can sleep until the crack of noon.”)

(** - This Humble Correspondent With Much to be Humble About is in no way better off without The Beloved Spouse.)

Friday, December 9, 2011

Up the Amazon Without a Paddle


I own a Kindle and do most of my reading on it. It’s a great way to keep up with authors whose books are hard to find or out of print and beats hell out of loading up a suitcase with multiple books when taking a trip.

I published Wild Bill to Kindle last August and have several more books in the pipeline. (Wild Bill was also published for Nook, but I have since learned the middle two characters in “Nook” describe my first three months’ sales there.) The 70% royalty is a good deal, and it was easy to do. I’m in the process of formatting my next book, and it’s not rocket science, either.

As you can see, I’m tied to Amazon both as a customer, and as an author. Now I feel a little icky about the whole thing.

It started last summer, when word got out about the inhuman conditions workers at Amazon’s Lehigh Valley (PA) had to endure or face dismissal. (Note to too many journalists: the word is “inhuman.” “Inhumane” is how animals are treated.) Earlier this week I learned of Amazon’s efforts to evade California’s attempt to get them to pay sales taxes like every other retailer, which included paying a company three dollars per signature to get a referendum on the ballot. (Amazon has since come to an agreement with California pending the resolution of federal legislation. I wonder how many campaign contributions will be made each way on that issue?) Yesterday’s bombshell was my learning of The Evil Empire’s newest campaign to undermine brick-and-mortar stores by offering shoppers discounts for reporting competitors’ prices back to Amazon via smart phones.

It’s not like Amazon is just trying to level the playing field. They already have dramatic advantages over traditional sales outlets due to lower overhead (which is fine, a direct result of not providing personal assistance, a choice retailers make for themselves) and not paying sales taxes (which is, frankly, an unfair competitive advantage for Amazon). Isn’t making money hand over fist enough? Do they have to subscribe to the Michael Corleone School of Business and crush everyone else? And, when they do, what can we expect from them when we really have no place else to buy or sell?

This kind of decision has been easy for me in the past. I don’t care for Wal-Mart’s business practices, so I don’t shop there. I think the economy in this allegedly Christian nation will not be brought to its knees if the families of retail and manufacturing workers can have one day a week to spend together, so I don’t shop on Sundays unless there is no way around it.

Now Amazon has proven the old saying is true: I laid down with a pig and got dirty. I feel like I joined up with the Imperial Fleet to see the galaxy and found out I'm working for Darth Vader, The question is, what do I do about it? Doing nothing is the same as saying I’m okay with Amazon’s rapacious business practices. Doing too much will hurt only me; Amazon won’t care if I set myself on fire on the roof of the Library of Congress.

  • Here’s where I am today (I mean “today” as I write this. I’ve already changed my mind on this half a dozen times, so this is a fluid position):
  •  I’ll continue to publish to Kindle. I make more money per sale than they do, and no one has to work in triple-digit heat to ship my books.
  • I' ll pick a short list—ten, maybe—of writers whose books I’ll have a hard time getting elsewhere and buy them for my Kindle. See warehouse note above.
  •  I’ll buy the books of other authors who are in much the same boat as I am, on the premise that I’ll hurt them more than I’ll hurt Amazon by boycotting the site altogether.
  •  Other books will be read either after purchase from a brick-and-mortar store or from my public library.
  • I’ll bust Amazon’s balls at every opportunity.

Am I fooling myself into thinking this will making a difference? No. It might if enough people do it, and someone has to go first.

Here’s my question: is my level of rationalization/hypocrisy too great to overlook? I freely admit there some in here, but I have to make my peace with the world as I find it, not how it would be if I were In Charge.

Please comment, and solicit comments from others if you’re so inclined. I’m genuinely curious about this. What do you plan to do, if anything? Why, or why not? Am I making too much of this? Not enough?