Friday, March 25, 2016

We Rock the Fox

We had a great “Death in Shorts” mystery short story panel at the Fox Library in Arlington, MA, for Level Best Books.
We were representing the latest anthology Best New England Crime Stories 2016: Red Dawn.

With me were Mark Ammons (moderator and co-editor at Level Best Books), Christine Eskilson, Rae Padilla Francoeur, Cheryl Marceau, and Gary Braver. Standing is Leslie Wheeler, another co-editor, and who helped put this together.

Even had snacks available


The crowd got into the discussions, and had some great questions for us.

 Mark gets down to business

Scott from the library (on right) helped get this all set up. Thanks to him and the library staff for making the night possible!

Monday, March 21, 2016

It's a Wonderful Life- in Publishing

Saw an online discussion recently that made me think of a comparison, of how publishing is a bit like the movie It's A Wonderful Life.

Say what? Well, let's take a look. The Big Five traditional publishing companies often act like a group of Mr. Potters, the richest, greediest, and meanest men in town. Note that this whole comparison thing is a generalization, and not all of the people and groups are exactly representative, but as a whole, group efforts certainly do invite the comparison.

The Big Five sit on an excess of wealth, while many authors are scrabbling for enough money to pay a few bills. The Big Five engage in "sharp practice," refuse to pay all but a few authors a fair wage, and have an arrogance and a sneering contempt for the riff-raff and "garlic eaters" (authors and readers). For a prime example, look at Don Maass' public remarks about publishers "culling the prize cattle from the herd" ( There are many other utterances from people in the publishing industry expressing similar derision and scorn for writers, who are the very people that supply them with a comfortable living.

For a long time, crawling to the Potters was the only practical way to get published and read. Then along comes George Bailey, in the form of Jeff Bezos. He creates Amazon, which serves as the Bailey Building and Loan. It allowed authors to get published, distributed, and read, at such low cost all can afford it. And the world changed. Like owning your own home in Bailey Park, you can now publish your own book and forego being subservient to the Potters and whatever scraps they decide to toss your way. The Potters of the industry want the suckers to continue paying them rent forever, but many of the riff-raff authors have wised up, and are flocking to the Bailey Building and Loan, to strike out on their own. Maybe they won't have the biggest mansion in town, but they'll have something good- which most didn't have a chance at before.

And it drives the Potters absolutely insane. The Big Five and their cohorts publish hundreds of screechy, non-factual articles trashing Amazon for one thing or another, to the point where people amusedly call it "Amazon Derangement Syndrome," or ADS for short. There's one particular lapdog of the Potters at the New York Times who suffers from ADS in the extreme, and who writes a non-stop series of shrill screeds against Amazon, enough so that his name on a piece is enough to induce chuckles in those who follow industry news, because they know all the false arguments that will follow. No fact-checking or true journalism required- apparently, hating the most successful retailer and writing hit pieces on them is enough to get one a nice gig at the NYT.

If you ask the Potters why authors cannot get paid a little more equitably, say like 50% on ebook revenue instead of the measly 25% they now receive, you get a song-and-dance about how they're suffering. Oh, the poor Potters with their plush Manhattan offices, expense accounts, bonuses, and six-figure salaries are enduring such misery because they're dedicated to Art. Meanwhile, the Bailey Building and Loan gives authors 70%, and still makes money. You'd think there's a lesson there, but it's one the Potters don't want to learn, even though they're losing customers in droves.

I had an online discussion with one of the Potters, and he insisted they couldn't pay authors more, because everyone else in the publishing industry had to get paid, and did I want all those other people to go without? I told him that authors were not responsible for the salary of everyone else but themselves, and he might not want to keep saying that the only people that shouldn't get fairly paid are the content providers, without who, no one else in that field would be getting paid anything. It's a weird, inverted-pyramid style of thinking.

The Potters got rich because they had no competition for many years but each other. With the rise of ebooks and Amazon and other media, they now have a rapidly-shrinking market share, and it scares the daylights out of them. Then successful independent author (Bailey customer) Hugh Howey comes along, and with the help of a data guru, puts out quarterly reports that show most people would be better off with the Bailey Building and Loan route than with the Potters. And the Potters go bananas, calling the reports a pack of filthy lies, even though the reports painstakingly show how the data is gathered. To date, no one has offered better data- the Potters simply insist it cannot be true, because they don't want it to be.

The Potters say that authors shouldn't support the Bailey Building and Loan, because someday the BB&L will turn on its loyal customers, and give them less money. Well, that may be (or more likely not), but for now, all those authors are getting their books published and getting paid something for them. Some are even doing rather well.

The Potters are greedy, and so they charge too much for their ebooks in many cases, driving people to the Baileys in greater numbers. The Potter authors themselves know they'd sell more if the prices were lower, but the Potters don't care about stuff like that.

And with the Bailey Building and Loan, an author doesn't need a Potter contract, a devilish device designed to put most authors at a major disadvantage in publishing. And an author can get the cover they want, because many Potter authors get stuck with crappy stock art, or a cover that has nothing to do with the contents of the book.

Some people want to deal with the Potters, thinking it makes them better. Less than five years ago, I got an account with the Bailey Building and Loan, and have been doing great since. I'm happy about not having to deal with any Potters. I just don't care for their business methods, and their snotty attitude toward writers. I'm publishing and selling quality books in all formats and platforms, and gaining new fans all the time.

So just like the movie, It's a Wonderful Life- in Publishing. Thanks, George. Maybe, like Clarence, you'll get your wings.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Keeping Chelmsford in Suspense- a One Book Panel

Had a great time at the author panel at the Chelmsford Library- as the title says, "Keeping Chelmsford in Suspense- a One Book Panel".
Thanks to the library staff, notably Christine Sharbrough, who brought us another fine program.

Speaking were authors Arlene Kay, Gary Braver, and Sarah Smith. Some of my fellow Sisters In Crime.

Gary Braver will be on another panel with me, on Wednesday, March 23, at the Fox Library in Arlington, MA, at  7 P.M.

And he'll be appearing here in an upcoming interview, so stay tuned!

Arlene has already done an interview on this blog (it's the happening place, doncha know!)

Here they are with Christine Sharbrough from the library, who set things up and made it all happen.

All writers of mystery & suspense, they spoke for over an hour, and then took questions from the audience. Good crowd, who were all interested in the work and the process of writing.

And then they all met at the back of the room to buy books and get them signed. 

Here's Arlene with a new fan.

 Gary meets the audience


And signs a copy

Sarah puts her name to a new book

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Interview With Chris Irvin

Another great interview today, with crime writer Chris Irvin.

One thing he doesn't mention here is that he works hard to help promote other authors at the local Noir at the Bar events. Here's a link to the one I read at.

And check out the offer at the end, with a chance to win!

This is his collection of short stories, which we'll be discussing here. But he's got more, so check it out.

Q: So how did this collection come to be? Was it envisioned from the start as a bigger canvas, or did it expand organically out of an idea? Please tell us a bit about the origin.

A: Since around the time I began writing short fiction (~2010) I wanted to eventually put together a collection. This was before I'd attempted anything longer, and so it was the first book I really envisioned with my name on the spine.  It wasn't until sometime in 2014 that I put together a running list of stories that I wanted to include. There wasn't much of a theme at the time – more so my favorites or pieces I thought were good enough to make the cut. In the end I chose eleven stories, which were cut to nine after two were deemed to be published too recently elsewhere, and wrote four new stories last spring to round it out. I wrote the new stories in a period of about five weeks (deadlines!). Without a doubt it was my most exhausting time writing, but I think they are some of my best work.

Q: Did you start with the germ of an idea and start writing to see where it went, or did you map a good deal out in your head (or even outline) before crafting?

A: I'll do a rough outline (at best) for short stories. I more often think about a story a lot before putting pen to paper. I also almost always begin a story longhand. It helps me feel a story out and get down the tone, and – most importantly – stops me from editing. I have a tendency to heavily edit while typing, especially the first couple of paragraphs. I can spend/waste (depending on how you look at it) an entire morning this way. I've fully embraced this now, to the point where I'm writing the first draft of my WIP novel entirely long hand. I lose too much momentum if I switch to typing midway through a story.

Q: What do you feel is the main theme(s)?

A: I ended up building the collection around family when I realized so many stories centered on it in one form or another. When I finished writing the new stories, I noticed a strong sense of anxiety running throughout, as well. Readers also picked up on melancholia and regret, with the book straddling a bit of crime and literary fiction. It's been fun to see what readers take away from the book.

Q: Why do you feel this is important, and what would you want a reader to take away from reading this book?

A: Family is very important to me and my identity. I think that's why I keep returning to the well, so to speak. I was pretty anxious as a young kid, and those memories really stuck with me. I can't get enough of melancholia – I'm on a huge nostalgic kick right now. I hope readers see some of these aspects, but having a story or moment in the book stick with them after putting it down is the best compliment.

Q: What makes a good book or engaging story?

A: It has to make me care, and that, for me, comes down to characters. It can be the greatest plot in the world, but if I don't empathize with the character(s) and want to stick with them for the ride (likeable or not) it will be hard for me to continue.

Q: Are there writers with similar themes to yours? Who are your influences (can be writers, or even artists, musicians, or others) and what is it about their work that attracts you?

A: I don't know about similar themes, but I really admire writers who straddle literary and genre lines. That's not to knock "pure genre," but the focus on character in the former really has my attention as of late. Writers like Richard Lange, William Boyle and Megan Abbott on the crime side, or T.E. Grau, Nathan Ballingrud, and Paul Tremblay on the horror side. I could go on and on. I read someone compare the stories in SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE to Tom Perrotta's short fiction, so if you enjoy him take it for a spin.

Q: Is storytelling mostly entertainment, or does it serve other functions? Do you have particular goals other than telling a good story?

A: Storytellers should entertain, but stories can absolutely be more – from providing escape, to coping, to the ability to explore the world from other perspectives. They can help people learn about themselves and others, and grow from the experience. I want to tell a good story, but I hope there is something underneath that the reader can walk away with.

Q: Any other goals you've set for yourself, professionally or personally?

A: I plan to write one novel a year, plus short stories and comics. I'd love to see some success on the comic side of things, and try my hand at a screenplay eventually. Baby steps. It's a marathon.

Q: Some writers write fast and claim not to rewrite much. Do you do this, or painstakingly revise? When you send the book off to the publisher, are you happy with it, or just tired of it?

A: I do a great deal of revision, adding more than taking away. I'm an underwriter as opposed to someone who writes 100k+ words and cuts to ~80k. Regarding my state when I hand off a project… it depends. I was exhausted with SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE, but very happy with how it turned out. Maybe the best of both worlds with that one – believing you've done everything you can do and being happy with it.

Q: Do you have good editors, and if so, how do they help you? Do they look for particular things? Do you have different people for different editing levels?

A: I've been very fortunate to have had excellent critique partners – and a wonderful wife who gives my first drafts the third degree. I honestly believe I'd be nowhere if it weren't for them. You need feedback – honest feedback – in order to grow as a writer.

Q: If a writer came to you for advice, how would you help?

A: You need to love to write. Be honest with yourself because it takes a strong commitment with potentially years of little money or recognition. To that end – write, finish as much as you can. Proving to yourself you can finish a piece is very important. And read as much as possible – especially outside of your style/genre/comfort zone.

Q: What's the next step in your writing world?

A: Selling my first novel and/or finding an agent.

Q: Tell us a fun fact about yourself.

A: I'm a huge fan of foreign films, especially those from Korea.

Q: Any other information you'd like to impart?

A: One of the most rewarding aspects of the release of SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE is the wide audience it seems to have found. I'm not sure why – perhaps because it's my third release, or just the largest of the three. But I hope both crime and literary fans continue to give it a shot.


Web page:

Where to buy: Your local bookstore! Or Amazon – where the paperback is currently 35% off.

Okay- here's the offer-  review SAFE INSIDE THE VIOLENCE by 3/31 on Amazon or Goodreads, and you'll be in the running to win one of five copies of Chris' cool novella, BURN CARDS.

Here's a link with more

Hmmm- doesn't look like a hardened criminal type of guy...