Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Temporarily Out of Stock

Wikipedia's definition of Print on Demand is as follows:
"Print on demand (POD) is a printing technology and business process in which new copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received, which means books can be printed one at a time."

I don't hold Wikipedia out as the greatest source for a definition, but this pretty much meshes with my understanding of the concept of POD, that there is no stock, someone orders a book, they print it and send it to you. It gives a sort of personal feel to the whole book buying experience, this book was created just for me.

So, how can a book that is being printed just for me be "Temporarily out of stock"? It turns out that Temporarily Out of Stock means that Amazon is waiting for Ingram to send them more books. It also means that Ingram is waiting for Amazon to order more books before they send any. The impasse is broken only if a customer orders a book. Most customers will not order an item listed as Temporarily Out of Stock so this situation could potentially last forever.

This is a problem that I spent way too much time battling last week. I had a request for 20 copies of Adventure at Brimstone Hill. They were being ordered for a specific purpose and I only had four or five days in which to deliver them. No problem, right? Amazon two-day shipping to the rescue, right? Not this time. The book was listed as temporarily out of stock. I made the order anyway and contacted Amazon about it.

"Please contact Ingram Book Group directly about your title's availability on"

I contacted Ingram and they shifted the blame back to Amazon. I made several phone calls at the end of which my head was spinning from being shoved back and forth. I tried not to scream "It's Christmas, my books MUST be in stock!"

Ingram put through the order but it did not arrive on time, so I cancelled. As a result, the book's status changed from "Temporarily Out of Stock" to "19 in Stock, More on the way" and now it finally says "In Stock".

The experience was frustrating, to say the least, and it is not over as other books have the same issue but now I know the trick, make an order and then cancel it after Ingram prints but before Amazon ships them. Sounds tricky, I know, but hopefully it will work.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Setting the scene

Pigeon Point Tobago, setting of a scene in Cafe au Lait
Settings, both in my reading and writing, are often as important to me as character and plot. I treasure writers
who can bring a location, time and social context so vividly to life that I feel I've not just read about a place but actually spent time there. What is setting precisely? It's the overall atmosphere (place, time, society) and the particular physical setting of each scene.

Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Miami, from Give Me the Night
When I think of alluring settings, Gerald Durrell's Corfu stories come to mind. His stories which are set in Africa, Argentina, Guyana and other places are equally compelling setting-wise. If I ever make it to his zoo on Jersey Island, I'm sure I'll recognize the place. I can even recall the smell of animal droppings in his backyard in England when it used to be cluttered with animals in cages--though I've never visited that island. I can hear his neighbors quarreling over the fence about the squawking of the exotic birds and screeches of the primates, just as I'm painfully familiar with the colonial India of E.M. Forster, the dust-clogged Canadian prairies of Farley Mowat, and the blistering near-mystical Australian outback of Arthur Upfield. Yes, I'm a setting whore of sorts.

The settings in my books are usually places I know intimately, such as the Caribbean and South Florida, or that I've imagined intimately, such as the post-apocalyptic barren permafrost wastes in my speculative short story, Bird. Whether the scene is a placid
Arctic tundra, similar to the landscape in Bird
beach or a tropical swamp, a Miami metropolis of highways and metrorails or a lichen-covered polar wasteland, I labor over the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, textures and rhythms that create that elusive element, setting. To me, these are as important as the speech patterns, personal tics, actions and psychological journeys of the characters. As such, I prize highly the review of an Amazon UK reader who said she was on Google Maps the entire time she was reading one of my stories, following the characters around. This, to me, is proof that the setting came alive and excited the reader to the point where she was living the story, an immersion that's essential to my reading experience, and which I try to create for my readers.

How important is setting to your writing? Do you labor over it, or is it a mere backdrop to that all-important element--the plot?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Fictive World of the Lazy Sociopath

I have to admit that I have a fascination with the lazy sociopath. I think anyone who has read The Sociopath Next Door also is. These are people who have figured out that what they really want out of life is to get by doing as little as humanly possible, and they will tell any lie, commit any crime as long as it get them to that goal. When they have accomplished that goal, they will hurt you just to hurt you.

So many writers understand this kind of evil so well. When these characters are done well, they give us a clear insight into the kind of selfish thought process that produces petty evil. For grand evil, you have to read fantasy -- I mean Stalin and Hitler levels of brutality.

I don’t like evil characters who know they’re evil and keep going anyway because they’re turned on by it. That might be realistic, and it might not be, but that character is too easy to hate and adds no complexity to the story. And so many great writers have captured that self-serving impulse that allows them to ignore the fact that they’re doing bad things.

Here’s a list of some of the best.

Lawrence Block’s Keller from the Hitman series has such a low-key charm that we forget that what he’s doing -- killing people for money -- is a really terrible thing to do. But Keller doesn’t see it that way. He has techniques that allow him to stop thinking about his crimes, and as he does, we do too. And anyway, the people he’s killing all seem bad. And just as we’re settling in comfortably with the logic of his crimes, just as we are all right with his bad because he’s not so bad, Keller kills a nice couple just living their lives so their heir can get the insurance, or he kills a completely innocent woman because he’s been hired by her husband. And we realize that Keller’s just in it for a little bit of money, and that we too have been bamboozled by his logic. A brilliant character.

I think I am the only person in the world who believes that Jack Ryan from Elmore Leonard’s The Big Bounce is Leonard’s best. What I like about it is the way Jack is portrayed. He sees himself as a kind of lovable loser who is just stealing from rich, evil people anyway. Once again, we kind of agree, but he’s conning people, he’s hurting people, and he’s stealing from people just for the “bounce,” the thrill of it. It’s a great way to explore the pettiness that goes into petty theft.

James Cain understood the petty evil of selfishness about as well as anyone. The Postman Always Rings Twice is possibly the best look at this face of evil that anyone has ever done. All the characters are focused on themselves. They are all sociopathic. It is a revelation about how poisonous that kind of self-centeredness can be. It is interesting too that Cain never makes evil fun or alluring, at least not to me. He paints it with all the pointless pain and humiliation as these kinds of people bring to themselves and those around them.
What is memorable about Sue Grafton’s novels isn’t the petty evil surrounding her, but the beauty of Kinsey Milhone’s life. Her small circle of friends is wonderful, and we all want to return to that place again and again. Her friends are her refuge, but that refuge is such a relief because Kinsey is surrounded outside of it by people who will commit unspeakable acts for a little bit of gain. They hurt others for a little money or just because hurting people is fun. Grafton captures this idea so very well. My favorite? I’m not sure. To me these are all equally strong, and I’ve read most many times.

My favorite moment of dumb, stupid evil however is the pointless selfishness of Terry Lennox in the Raymond Chandler’s masterpiece The Long Goodbye. There is seemingly no good sense to what Lennox does. He puts Philip Marlowe in the worst possible situation just because it’s easier for him. He’ll do anything he can to avoid a little work, and sometimes, he seems to hurt people for sport. Chandler captures people well here and in all of his work.

What these writers are telling us, as so many great writers do, is that this kind of petty evil is everywhere. The author of The Sociopath Next Door makes the claim that one out of every twenty-five people is sociopathic after all. They are telling us we are likely to run into this brand of evil over and over, and the way to push our way through it is to maintain our own sense of moral courage. They are saying rising above all of that is the way to be heroic in this world.

I guess that’s one of the big reasons I love this genre so much.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Staying Positive About Negative Reviews

This came up earlier in the week and prompted a conversation of sorts on my Facebook page, and I thought it also might serve to get something going over here.
Long story short: I received an e-Mail from a reader of one of my books, who had taken the time to write so that they could tell me how very much they were disliking said book. The note was very formal and polite, and offered a few backhanded compliments before diving into the meat of the matter, which is that the reader just wasn’t enjoying the book. They hadn’t yet abandoned the effort of reading the rest of the story, but it was proving to be a chore for them. The reader then closed out the note by apologizing for its bluntness and thanked me for my time.
Now, I’ve read my share of reviews—good, bad, or indifferent—on Amazon’s or Barnes & Noble’s websites or on message boards or Goodreads or whatever. Still, receiving an e-Mail like this is a bit different. It’s a more personal form of communication, with the individual on the other end of the correspondence attempting a direct dialogue, in this case to tell me how much they didn’t like something I did. I’ve never really understood what motivates people to do that sort of thing. Are they hoping to elicit some kind of defensive reaction? Could be, but I’ve already babbled before how a writer looking to engage a reader in response to a negative review, generally speaking, is a monumentally bad idea.
Normally, such reviews don’t bother me. As a writer, you learn (or, if you haven’t you should) that not everything you write is going to rub everyone the same way. Indeed, my e-Mailer even told me that they had enjoyed other books of mine, but this one just wasn’t doing it for them. Such is the way it goes, sometimes.
Bad reviews come with the territory, and at least this one had the virtue of being thoughtful and courteous. While I might experience a momentary sting, I usually don’t dwell on such things. In truth, I tend not to get too excited one way or another with reviews, be they good or bad. What fascinates me about reviews in general, and negative reviews in particular, is how one person can find little to like in a book I’ve written, and another person will tell me it was a rollicking read. Review on sites like Amazon and Goodreads can be all over the map. Much to my amusement, I’ve been called a bleeding heart liberal and a rightwing warmonger from different people reading the same book. Who’s right?
The answer, of course, is that they all are, in their own way. So be it.
Though I spent a few moments longer than normal pondering the e-Mail review I’d received, I finally snapped back and reacquainted myself with my standing self-imposed policy of not letting reviews distract me. I certainly can’t let the bad ones get me down, just as I can’t let the good ones go to my head. All a writer can do is shrug off such things, and get back to work.
What about you? Do you fret over reviews, totally ignore them, or do you fall somewhere in between?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Image Is Everything!

As authors, we are often on display and therefore it's important to consider the IMAGE we are showing to the public. In the interest of all who are interested, I offer words of wisdom and advice sifted from my own life and questionable habits.

DO NOT stay home in your muu muu—I mean leisure wear—all day, even though you do work at home, need freedom of expression (underclothing optional) and spend time on the couch thinking of plot points.

EXERCISE EVERY DAY so you won't use inactivity as an excuse to spend more time building brain cells, which is more important to your writing. Also, you don't want it to appear that you sit home slugging down Diet Dr Pepper and eating Red Whips by the handful all day. In a muu muu.

NEVER EAT small, high sugar snacks every 20 minutes (like donut holes, gummy bears, Baby Ruths, spoonfuls of peanut butter) to keep your energy level up.

DRINK energizing green tea, not expresso, Rock Star and Diet Dr Pepper.

GOOD GROOMING HABITS are important, so female writers, remember to shave your legs at least every two and a half weeks. Use deodorant everyday instead of just when you need to go out in public. Remember you own perfume and lipstick. Men, just put on something classier than shorts and flip flops.

REMEMBER, YOU DO OWN A KITCHEN, not just a cookie jar, bread bin, candy dish, refrigerator with the light out, freezer and shelves storing raisin bran, Top Raman, stale graham crackers and cornbread mix more than three years past the expiration date.

YOUR ENVIRONMENT IS IMPORTANT! Your environment should not include two months of mail stacked on the coffee table, the unused vacuum cleaner in the middle of the room, a mop in the corner for no apparent reason or and books falling willy nilly out of bookshelves.

Our fans expect us to meet their image of what a writer should look and act like. They get these ideas from movies, which we all know is based on reality. We must try our best not to burst their delusions. Remember, you are a glamorous, elusive artist, a wordsmith who lives in a literary ivory tower. Never disappoint!  

Monday, November 11, 2013

The real audience?

I wrote my first young adult novel this year. A young adult (YA) novel is a book that will most likely be enjoyed by children 12-18 years old. Since all of my previous books had been written for a younger audience, I did a lot of research before getting started.

Some of this research involved reading books about how to write the novel. I read tips like - include a teenage protagonist, write in the present tense and in the first person, keep the pace fast, and don't be afraid to touch on risky topics like sex and drugs.

Most of my research involved reading other young adult novels.This was, of course, most valuable. I passed some of them to my children for their opinions and I quickly came to the conclusion that YA novels could be divided into three categories: books the parents like, books the teens like, and those books that meet the approval of both sides.

Of course, both audiences are important, as you really want teens to love your book, but you have also want the parents to be willing buyers. Some books for younger readers have been wildly successful despite being embraced reluctantly by many parents, for example, the Captain Underpants Collection. And I've read a few award-winning YA books that I am quite sure would not appeal to most teens.

I aimed at getting Another Day smack in the middle of these two interest groups and if I stray off center, I should be a little to the right!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Guest Author - John Daniel

My good friend, the fine writer John Daniel, has a new novel, and if it's anything like his last one, you won't want to miss it.  I'm going to turn it over now to John:


From 1970 to 1971, I worked for Kepler’s Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, California. It was a big and exciting store, by far the best bookstore on the Peninsula south of San Francisco. It was also a gathering place for the counter-culture: peaceniks, hippies, rock musicians, and radical free-thinkers. The seventies were a decade with issues: the anti-war movement, black power, women’s liberation, gay pride, the human potential movement, not to mention the sexual revolution.

Surprisingly, the 1970s also saw an upsurge in book theft. Maybe it wasn’t surprising, given the rebellious spirit of the times; but it was ironic that the hip thieves, perhaps inspired by Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book, were ripping off a counter-cultural center that supported free thought.

Anyway, Roy Kepler, the pacifist bookseller who owned the store, took it personally and decided to catch these bibliokleptos in the act. He hired a series of “bookstore cops,” guys who patrolled the aisle, pretending to browse the shelves, but in fact keeping an eye out for anyone slipping a book into a backpack or under a shirt. Roy acknowledged that these cops cost him more money than they saved by catching one or two thieves a week, but at least he was fighting back against an unruly tide.

My new novel, Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery, set in Palo Alto in 1972, takes place in a fictitious store called Maxwell’s Books and is inspired by this crime wave. The hero, Hoop Johnson, hires on as a bookstore cop whose mission is to catch book snatchers in the act. He’s wrong for the job for a number of reasons: he basically trusts people, he pays more attention to the books than the browsers, and he has a crippling stammer, which makes him no good at confronting strangers. But he needs the job. Before long the job gets him in big trouble.…

Here’s Hooperman doing his job:

Meanwhile, Hoop became more and more a hunter. Tuesday afternoon he saw a tall, attractive middle-aged woman in the Human Sexuality section slip a copy of Open Marriage into her large straw purse and head toward the front of the store. Hoop took another copy of the same book from the shelf and followed her to the front, past the cash register, and out the door. Before she reached the corner, he caught up with her and said, “Meh,meh,mem…am?”
She whirled around. “Yes? What do you want?”
“I think you fuh,fuh,forgot something.” He showed her his copy of Open Marriage.
The woman shook her head. “I didn’t forget it,” she said. She reached in her bag and produced the copy she had swiped. “See?”
“You fuh,forgot to peh,peh,pep—”
The woman’s hand flew to her flushed face. “Oh, hell! You’re right. I did forget! No, that’s a lie. I was embarrassed. But you’re right. I’ll go back in and pay for my book. Thank you, sir.”
They walked side-by-side back to the store. After paying Bill Harper at the register for her purchase, she approached Hoop with a nervous smile. She gave him a hug, breathed deeply into his bearded cheek, and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I’m so embarrassed. You’re a sweetheart. Are you…available?”
At a loss for words, Hoop stepped backwards, bumping the shelving trolley against a cardboard dump of Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which tipped over and landed in a heap on the store floor. He stooped to pick up a handful of books, and when he turned back, the woman, her book, her handbag, and her wedding band had left the store.

“Pleasant and unusually good-natured, this novel from Daniel harkens back to a time when printed books mattered and an independent bookstore could be a social club for passionately eccentric bibliophiles.” 
--Publishers Weekly, starred review for Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery

photo by Clark Lohr

John M. Daniel is a lifelong bibliophile, having worked in eight bookstores. He’s also the author of fourteen published books, including the well-reviewed Guy Mallon Mystery Series. He lives among the redwoods in Humboldt County, California, with Susan Daniel, his wife and partner. They publish mystery fiction under the imprint Perseverance Press (Daniel & Daniel).

Buy or order Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery from your local bookstore, from Amazon, or direct from the publisher:
Oak Tree Press 
1820 W. Lacey Blvd. #220
Hanford, CA 93230 

For more info about Hooperman: A Bookstore Mystery:

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Counting Words

Happy Sunday! Today's post is more of a question, than my opinion (imagine that, lol), and it's about word count. As you write, are you focused on accomplishing knocking out a certain number of words per sitting, or do you concentrate on completing a chapter or editing certain scenes, adding in movement and dialogue tags, etc., regardless of word count, writing until the word flow subsides?
Many new writers ask me about word count, and I suggest that they don't worry about that as much as focusing on completing the journey of their characters in a first draft. Of course if a publisher requires a certain numbers of words for submission, definitely meet those requirements in the end, but as you go along, are you constantly aware of that?

Of course, NaNoWriMo and others are great for encouraging writers to get the words out quickly, but I'm not necessarily talking about those ways of purging words. I'm more interested in writers who sit down to write, and chip away at completing the story over a period of time (more than one month). For the most part, are you someone who counts words as you write, seeing that meeting that number as a successful goal for the day?

Write on!

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Savagery of Bone

I went to see an old friend’s book launch last night. Tim Perez has just released his first poetry collection, The Savagery of Bone, Moon Tide Press. Back in the late 1990s, we were at Cal State Long Beach’s MFA with about 10 other people who hung out together and formed a fairly tight social group. 6 graduate units was considered a full-time load, and we all were required to take 15 a semester, literature and writing. The hours were intense, and we’d go out afterwards to eat and drink and laugh as hard as we could.

We were learning craft then. That’s what any good MFA teaches. I was learning different ways to put together my novels and short stories. I began to become enamored of post-modern techniques of structuring novels. I dreamed of creating overly-complicated non-linear stories that jumped time and place. For what purpose? Well I hadn’t figured that out. I just wanted to be complicated.

I suppose I might be embarrassed about that now. I’m not. I was doing exactly what good students do. I was trying new things out, testing the limits of what I could do in my craft. What I ended up with wasn’t good, but I developed a great deal during that time, and so did everyone around me. Tim certainly did.

When I graduated, we promised to keep in touch, but of course we didn’t. Graduation night was the last time I would see him for a very long time.

Last night as he was reading, a lot of us from the old days came to support him. He’s turned into a great poet. What he’s developed is the experience to write about something interesting. I’ve seen so many of my friends develop.

Tim’s poetry has been informed by a life of having children and teaching high school and losing parents. Life knocks us all around more than we think it will. He’s put so much of that into his writing. Looking around last night at part of our old group of friends, Jeff Epley, Tony Starros, Marco Vasquez, and Tim Perez, I realized how much we have grown as writers. Anything I’ve heard from any of those writers has knocked me over, has surprised me in the best possible way.

But I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that they’ve grown as writers. They’ve all lived well. And living well is the best teacher a writer can have.

By the way, if you’re interested, Tim’s collection of poetry is biographical and brilliant. It deals with his growing understanding of what it means to be an adult and the responsibilities that he’s taken on as a man in his community. It’s one of those books that teaches people how to be good human beings.