Monthly Archives: March 2010

White Collar Crime

The new technology overwhelms me. Just a few years ago, who would have predicted the amazing depth of the Internet, or iPhones, or iPods capable of storing your entire audio collection, or 32GB flash drives half the size of a pack of gum? How about our ability to download music and videos? It is truly amazing—amazing when these devices don’t fail and totally frustrating when they do. 

So spoiled am I to be able to fire up my computer and immediately connect to a blazing fast Internet connection, I often take it for granted. For the last few days, I’ve had great difficulty connecting and staying connected. And frankly, I feel crippled. I rely on my Internet service to access important e-mails from my agent and editor. In an instant, I am able to check my sales ranking on Amazon. When I’m knee-deep in writing the sequel to my recently released novel, I can research an unlimited database of technical information that helps make my story more credible and believable. 

Fortunately for me, one of my neighbors set up their modem and router without security. So, I am able to connect to the Internet through their connection. As much as I appreciate this option, and even though my connection has no impact on my neighbor’s service or bill, nor does it inconvenience him or her, still, I feel like I’m stealing something that’s not mine. I have no way of knowing from  whom I am accessing this connection, and the only way for me to find out would be to knock on every door in a three block perimeter, which I’m not about to do. If I knew who this person was, I would gladly fork over a fifty dollar bill and offer a sincere thank you. But that’s just not going to happen. 

So, until the cable guy visits me tomorrow morning and figures out why my modem isn’t working, I guess I’m faced with a moral dilemma. Do I stop “high jacking” my neighbor’s connection and disconnect from the world, or do I continue with this white collar crime? Considering that I just posted this essay on my blog, I think I just answered my own question. Shame on me.

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Twist of Fate

I apologize for not updating my blog recently, but unlike in the past, I actually have a good reason. I am convinced that this past weekend someone created a little “Daniel Doll” and stuck pins in it voodoo-style. I don’t really believe in curses or bad karma or astrology, but sometimes there are certain events that make you go, “Hmm”. Such was the case this past weekend. 

The prelude to the weekend extravaganza began last Tuesday. I had been experiencing some chest discomfort so I went to see a cardiologist. After a thorough examination, he decided to perform a stress test. So, I cranked on a treadmill for 10 minutes and then the doctor studied my EKG. He noticed some irregularities that are often associated with reduced blood flow to the heart, so he thought it wise for me to undergo a Nuclear Scan, which more accurately shows blood flow. That’s when the real fun began. 

Without expectation or insight, I checked into the Scripps Mercy Outpatient Radiology Department. The staff treated me with compassion and did their best to make me feel comfortable. Unfortunately, I have stubborn veins and it took three technicians 5 sticks to find a suitable vein for the IV. Needless to say, I felt like a pin cushion. 

The procedure involves injecting the patient with radioactive material and then imaging their heart function through a special camera. First, they scan your heart at rest, and then they inject you with a drug that makes your body feel like you just worked out on a cardio machine for an hour. Then, they scan you again. It is a terrible feeling. If you’ve ever had an anxiety attack, this is what it feels like. 

So, Friday afternoon—only a few hours after I underwent the nuclear scan—my cardiologist’s assistant calls me to let me know that the nuclear scan was positive. Now generally speaking, “positive” means good, right? But not in the world of medicine. The assistant goes on to tell me that the scan showed reduced blood flow to my heart under stress, and the only way to absolutely, positively confirm if there were any blockages in my heart would be to perform an angiogram. While I was still catching my breath and processing this information, the assistant said that the doctor wanted to do the angiogram on Monday

It goes without saying that this little bit of information and the anticipation of what awaited me Monday morning ruined my weekend. But wait; it gets better. Late Sunday afternoon, I decided to make a pot of potato-broccoli soup. While chopping away at the potatoes, a bit preoccupied with my fate, I sliced my ring finger on my left hand. After numerous attempts to stop the bleeding, I realized that I needed stitches. So, my wife chauffeured me to an Urgent Care facility, conveniently located a few blocks away from our apartment. We arrive there at 5:00 and are greeted by a pair of locked doors. They close at 4:00 pm on weekends. Are you kidding me? 

We scurry back home and scan the Yellow Pages for another Urgent Care close by. Fortunately, we found one only 10 minutes away. Three stitches and 2 hours later I walk out of the place with a heavily-bandaged finger.

After a restless night of tossing and turning, I check in to Scripps Mercy hospital a second time. The staff in the cardiology department swarmed around me like busy bees. Everyone had a specific function and whisked me through the process and prepped me for the procedure quickly and efficiently. 

They delivered me to the surgery room and the pampering continued.  Once completed, the doctor made his grand entrance. They administered some drugs to relax me, and 30 minutes later the procedure was completed. I’m happy to say, the doctor informed me that my arteries were clean and blockage free. I felt like the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders. 

Because the angiogram requires that the doctor cut a major artery in the groin area, recovery takes awhile. You lie on your back for several hours and a nurse periodically checks the dressing to monitor any bleeding. Once they’re confident that everything is fine, you are discharged with a list of do’s and don’ts and warnings. They told me I could return to work the next day depending how I feel.  I, of course, want to go to work on Tuesday, because my colleagues organized a retirement party for me. But guess what? I awoke Tuesday morning and felt really crappy—crampy stomach, woozy—I just didn’t feel like I could shower, get dressed and go to work. So, I was forced to call my boss and cancel my retirement party. 

And that’s how my weekend ended. Now if I can just find the evil-doer who is sticking pins in that little Daniel-Doll . . .

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Emotional Roller Coaster

Needless to say, I have been sitting on pins and needles since Amazon Encore launched my novel on February 16th. No matter how diligent or comprehensive the marketing plan, there is no way to predict how the reading public will receive your book, particularly when you’re a newbie. You might only sell 10 books or you could sell 10 million. It’s a lot easier for established authors because they at least have a reference based on past performance. 

When the February sales numbers came out, I was pleasantly surprised. My novel did better than I had expected. But then March rolled around and I found myself back to square one. Selling books is a monthly game, and every month the slate is wiped clean and it’s a new ballgame. It’s not that the past sales numbers are insignificant; it’s merely that the past is the past. It’s not what you did yesterday; it’s what you did today. 

Now I can monitor my sales ranking on Amazon 100 times a day. And make no mistake about it, ranking is important.  However, it doesn’t give me the whole picture. So as I anxiously wait for this month to come to an end—for more than one reason; I’m retiring on March 31—I can only hope that the wave of good news continues. 

For those who have already purchased my book, I thank you. For those who haven’t, what are you waiting for? My blood pressure needs your help. 🙂

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Cell Phone Ettiquette

It goes without saying that the invention of cellular communication is one of the most significant advances in technology over the last 50 years. What started out as a cumbersome, brick-like device has been trimmed down to the size of a pocket calculator. And the functions a sophisticated cell phone can perform are almost space age. But there is a downside to all this technology because people don’t always evolve to keep pace with technology. 

You can’t walk into a grocery store, bank, drug store or restaurant without encountering someone talking on his or her cell phone at the most inconvenient and inappropriate times. How often have you stood behind some nitwit chatting away in a  grocery store check-out line while at the same time trying to pay for their bag full of groceries? Or how about the pea-brain driving 80 miles per hour on the freeway, cell phone pressed to their head with no respect for safety or the law? 

I could almost understand and tolerate the rudeness of this behavior if the “talker” was negotiating a two-million dollar real estate deal. But the conversations I’ve overheard were not of this nature; they were merely idle chit-chat.  Aside from an emergency or a consequential business deal, what could possibly be so important that one needs to talk on the cell phone while shopping or banking or dining in a restaurant? 

While sitting in a restaurant one day trying to enjoy lunch, I noticed four people in the booth across from me. All four were talking on their cell phones simultaneously as they awkwardly tried to stuff food in their faces. When you dine with friends or business associates, aren’t you supposed to talk to them? Whatever happened to common courtesy? 

In the scheme of things, I realize that my little cell phone rant may seem petty. But the same people who disregard cell phone etiquette are likely to be the same people who take up two parking spaces, or cut you off when you’re merging onto the freeway. Rudeness and lack of etiquette do not limit themselves to cell phones. If you don’t believe me, try to make a left hand turn out of a driveway during rush hour. But be sure you have plenty of bottled water and a burrito with you just in case. It might take awhile.

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Glowing in the Dark

Stressed out to the max back in early December, I ended up in the emergency department of a local hospital with Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib for short). Basically, when you go into A-Fib, your heart goes nuts and pounds at a rapid rate. Instead of a normal rhythm, it actually flutters uncontrollably, and if not treated, this event could cause blood clots and even cardiac arrest. Like so many afflictions, this condition is age related, but stress plays a key role. 

Most people experience minor A-Fib events from time to time—that little flutter you feel in your chest for a few seconds, or the extra beat you notice when you’re lying on your left side. This is perfectly normal. But when your heart goes whacko like mine did, beating out of control, it requires aggressive treatment. For me, medication helps. And so does exercise. I drag my butt to the gym 6 days a week and crank for 35 minutes on a cardio machine. But more than any other factor, I have to find ways to minimize the stress in my life. Are you kidding me? 

Let’s see. I’m retiring on April 1st of this year. My employer’s retirement center misquoted the cost for my health insurance after retirement and it’s nearly double what they originally told me. My wife and I are planning to move back to New York and we have to sell most of our furniture. We have to find a suitable place to live in NY. Our high-strung, 16 year old cat will never survive a 5 hour plane ride to NY, so we have no idea how we’ll get him there. There are all kinds of things going on with the marketing and promotion of my novel. I am under contract to write a sequel and it has to be completed by November 30th. Want me to continue? 

Last week everything came to a head, and although I didn’t go into A-Fib, I felt really crappy, so I went to see my cardiologist. He did an EKG and a stress test. Everything looked normal except that he noticed at an accelerated heart rate, there were some irregularities that could mean nothing or could suggest reduced blood flow to my heart. So, just to be sure there are no deeper issues, next Friday I am going for a Nuclear Heart Scan and stress test. Basically, the doctor will inject a radioactive material in my veins, and I’ll crank on a treadmill until my heart reaches its maximum rate. Then, he will scan my heart to observe its blood flow. 

Sound like fun? Isn’t that what everybody wants at some point in his or her lives; to be injected with radioactive material? Personally, I’m stoked. I can’t wait until nighttime, so I can walk outside and see if I glow in the dark. This whole aging thing must be God’s ultimate practical joke.

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The Book of the Year Club

If you pay close attention to reader reviews on Amazon.com, you might notice an interesting phenomenon. Because I write thrillers, I study reader reviews very carefully for my particular genre. I won’t mention any names, but if you name any popular thriller or mystery novelist, more than likely, I pay very close attention to what readers are saying.

Naturally, you can’t take everything at face value. If you read a 5-Star review that’s dripping with compliments and lofty adjectives, it was probably written by the author’s spouse. On the other hand, when you read a vicious 1-Star review that chastises the author in every possible way, there is probably more to the story. These situations aside, when you notice some consistencies or patterns from one review to another, more than likely these observations carry some credibility.

I noticed something quite thought provoking the other day while surfing some reader reviews. It seems that in many instances, the newer the book, the less complimentary the reviews. A popular author’s debut book may earn off-the-charts reviews. But as time goes by and the author releases the second, third, or fourth novel, the kudos are less and the criticism more. Now this is not always the case, of course, but I do find some consistency with this observation. And what’s even more interesting is a shared conclusion by many of these readers that the author spent years carefully crafting his or her first novel, but did not devote as much time to the follow-up books. Hence, they’re not as good.

Consider this. When a writer goes platinum, he or she will generally sign a multi-book contract with a major publisher. To fulfill this contractual obligation, the author must guarantee delivery of each completed manuscript based on a negotiated timeline. Although every deal is a little different, it is not uncommon for a well-known author to write one book a year.  So, hypothetically, if an author worked diligently for two or three years writing his or her debut novel, spending countless hours crafting it to perfection, what do you suppose happens when he or she has to rush through the follow-up books to meet a deadline? You guessed it. The quality goes down. Not in all cases, of course, but in many.

So, put yourself in the author’s shoes for a moment. You’ve spent the last decade writing your little heart out, trying desperately to get some recognition for your writing. You’ve written three novels, submitted them to every agent and acquisition editor in the free world, and the only reward for your efforts is a truckload of form rejection letters and a huge copying and postage bill. Then one day, your manuscript catches the eye of an agent and she agrees to represent you. The next thing you know, you’re signing a publishing contract. Now suddenly, your book takes off and you are transformed from obscurity to stardom; every publisher in the country wants to buy your next three books.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that every writer strives to write the best they possibly can, and they want every word in every book to be worthy of their reader’s admiration. But when you’re faced with tough deadlines, and millions of dollars are on the line, money, unfortunately, trumps literary excellence every time.

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Please Pinch Me

Since the end of February, I’ve been anxiously waiting for Amazon Encore to release the book sales figures for my novel’s debut. Since my novel was released on February 16, these figures represent only 12 selling days, so needless to say, although cautiously optimistic, I have no wild expectations. In fact, most of the promotional and marketing campaigns are still in the early stages of development, so the impact on sales would likely be minimal. It’s going to take several weeks—even months—to gain a little selling momentum. From my perspective, I anticipated that book sales would likely be in the low hundreds. And frankly, as much as I want sales to be in the millions, I have to remain realistic. A few hundred sales for the first 12 days would be modest, but respectable. 

I expected that I’d see sales figures shortly after the month ended. But as is the case with many major corporations, it takes time to crunch numbers. So, I did the most logical thing I could think of and checked my e-mail every 15 minutes since midnight of February 28th. When Friday morning hit, I couldn’t tolerate the suspense any longer, so I called my editor from Amazon, hoping that he could share some numbers with me. 

Wow! Did he ever share! 

Hoping to hear him say that the book sales hit the low hundreds, imagine my shock and amazement when he told me the sales were in the low thousands. Now this information might not dazzle James Patterson or Stephen King, but I’m here to tell you, it dazzled the stuffing out of me. I did a little quick math to calculate the amount of my first royalty check, and although I’m not going to dash out the door and buy a new Lexus IS 250, it will help ease the angst I feel regarding my April 1st retirement. 

So, stay tuned for future updates. And keep that positive energy flowing!

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