Monthly Archives: October 2011

Hurts so Bad

The appreciation of any art form is highly subjective. Whether it’s novel writing, film making, music, sculpting, painting, or singing, everyone has a different opinion. To borrow a cliché, “One person’s junk is another’s treasure.” As a writer, I painfully understand that not all of my readers will be big fans. In fact, some will absolutely hate everything about my novels. There has never been a writer who has escaped the harsh words of critics. Not one.

I truly appreciate constructive criticism. In fact, I gain more from negative feedback than I do from kudos. I can’t really grow as a writer by reading 5-Star reviews. But when a reader points out a flaw in the plot, a technical fault, or a continuity issue, I can learn from that criticism and improve my writing.

The one thing that puzzles me more than anything is why a critic chooses to be downright malicious. Some of the reader reviews I’ve read for both They Never Die Quietly and Resuscitation just tear my heart out. When an author spends thousands of hours writing a novel, designing a plot, crafting sub-plots, creating interesting characters, and going through a comprehensive editorial process, why would anyone derive pleasure from slamming the author in a brutal way?

If my writing sucks to a particular reader, it sucks. But there are hundreds of ways to convey the same criticism without resorting to personal attacks or mean-spirited comments. Referring to They Never Die Quietly, one reader said, “This has to be one of the worst books I have ever read. It is filled with cliches. The writing is sophomoric at best. The dialogue between the killer and his mother is unoriginal and predictable. The plot is extremely predictable. Overall, the writing is terrible. It is what one would expect from a freshman who is taking his first creative writing class.” Hey Mr. Reviewer, don’t walk on eggshells. Tell me what you really think.

If there is any truth to the adage, “Misery loves company,” then I’m in a really good group because William Shakespeare, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Stephen King, and even J.K. Rowling have gotten their share of crappy reviews. Guess I’ll spend less time licking my wounds and more time writing.

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Scary Books

I don’t scare easily. In fact, if you’ve read either of my two serial-killer novels,They Never Die Quietly or Resuscitation, it’s pretty obvious that I’m no wimp. At the risk of tooting my own horn, I think I’m pretty good at creating larger-than-life villains. That said, there is one book that goes all the way back to a 1977 publication date, and this novel still makes me shudder. I’m talking about The Shining by Stephen King.

King’s ability to make Jack Torrance so real and so utterly frightening is a skill few authors possess. In this novel, King took an average guy, placed him in extraordinary circumstances, and slowly and methodically turned him from loving husband and devoted father to an unimaginable monster. Reading this book, you suspect right from the opening chapter that something isn’t quite right with Jack. However, I don’t believe that many readers could predict the extent of Jack’s madness.

Of course, when the book was made into a movie, and they cast Jack Nicholson to play Jack Torrance, his performance made the book even more terrifying. As far as I’m concerned, The Shining wins the prize for one of the scariest books ever written. What is the scariest book you’ve ever read?

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Getting Published

Early in my writing career—about 20 years ago—I didn’t quite understand the difference between writing as an art and writing as a business. After penning four novels, and accumulating the most impressive file of rejection letters (almost as thick as a NY telephone directory), it finally dawned on me. In order for a first-time novelist to break through the fortress built around the commercial publishing world, an unpublished author has to come up with a different angle: something truly unique. Whether an original plot idea, vivid, lifelike characters, or prose that reads like poetry, the wannabes need an idea to grab a publisher’s attention.

For my first novel, They Never Die Quietly, the hook was the villain. As a religious fanatic with a perverse sense of right and wrong, I created a man whose twisted interpretation of his spiritual beliefs gave him a license to commit the most unimaginable acts of depravity with the unconditional endorsement of his God. This, of course, made it possible for me to create a monster whose evil had no boundaries.

Faced with writing another novel to keep the momentum going, and of course to continue advancing my writing career, I decided to make the next book the second in a series, and to make it another serial killer novel. But I faced a quandary: I had already created a villain so evil and so unmerciful that he pushed the limits of the reader’s imagination. How could I top that?

After kicking a few possibilities around, an idea hit me. Do we all have a price tag on our heads? Are any of us truly incorruptible? If we longed for something so desperately, could we be tempted to abandon all of our principles and moral values to get what we wanted? Whether fame, fortune, beautiful women, or global recognition, what might we do to fulfill a secret desire?  What might it take for a man with integrity, strong moral values, and a career focused on helping people, to step into a dark world from which he could never return?

Resuscitation, my second novel, explores these questions and illustrates how one honorable man struggles with a choice between good and evil.

 

 

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Pinch me!

Every once in a while something happens in your life that feels totally surreal. Sometimes good; other times not so good. Here’s a happy story.

As you know—or maybe you don’t—Thomas-Mercer, a publishing division of Amazon.com, published Resuscitation, my second novel, on October 11. My first novel, They Never Die Quietly, did pretty well, but not well enough for me to earn a down payment for that little villa in Tuscany I’ve had my eyes on. My expectations for Resuscitation were cautiously optimistic, but I never even thought for a moment that something amazing would happen.

The day after Thomas-Mercer released Resuscitation, I got an e-mail from Terry Goodman, my editor at Amazon. The subject line of the e-mail read, “OH! MY! GOD!”  As you might imagine, my curiosity shifted into high gear in a nanosecond. When I read the e-mail, I literally had to pinch myself. Terry wrote, “Resuscitation is #1 in Kindle sales in the UK. They love you there!”

I had to read the e-mail several times to fully grasp what this meant. #1? Of all the e-books sold in the UK, Resuscitation outsold them all? Holy shit! Now I do have to put this statistic in proper perspective. This ranking in no way places me anywhere near the sales volume of the big guns—not even in the same dimension. I’ve got a long, long way to go before I even hit #1000 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Regardless of this windfall, I’m still a bottom feeder trying to make his mark. But #1in any category is still #1.

Needless to say, I must have checked my sales ranking on-line every hour on the hour. I stayed at this #1 spot for eight glorious days. But on October 19, I slipped to the #2 spot. Am I complaining? Not on your life. If I can hang on to a ranking in the top 10 for any length of time, I will be thrilled beyond anything I could have imagined. On second thought, if my ranking plunged to #1,000 tomorrow, I would have no regrets or ill feelings.

The one huge benefit of being #1 in any category offering a product or service is that sales generate sales. The higher your ranking, the more exposure to potential buyers. It’s an amazing cycle.

There’s even more good news. Because sales on Resuscitation have been so brisk, my first novel, They Never Die Quietly, is hitching a ride on its success and doing some great numbers too. So, to say I’m excited is an understatement. There are few adjectives in the English language that can accurately describe my euphoria. After two decades of rejection from nearly every literary agent and publisher in the country, maybe, just maybe, my time has come. Stay tuned for updates.

 

 

 

 

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I’m Back!

Just in case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been quiet for a long time. I know it’s easy to play the 101 excuses game, but I really have a valid excuse. First off, I had surgery 3 ½ weeks ago and I’m finally feeling like a human. Although the surgery was considered successful, I have to deal with a long-term side effect. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty. But let’s just say that my normal lifestyle is somewhat modified.

My wife is also dealing with several medical issues. And no matter how many specialists examine her, the end result seems to be the same: They shrug their shoulders and scratch the back of their heads, puzzled that they cannot figure out what’s going on. It’s one thing to have a medical issue that requires therapy, medication, or some other treatment. But when it appears that your condition is a phantom, where do you go from here?

The icing on the cake has to do with our cat, Benjamin. He just celebrated his 18th birthday and he is in remarkably good health. To look at him and watch his activities, you’d think he was 10 years old. Until last week.

Ben needed extensive dental work, which for an 18 year old cat is not uncommon. No matter how diligently you care for a cat, it ain’t easy to make them floss or brush their teeth. Consequently, many well-cared-for cats suffer from gum disease. Ben made it through the surgery fine—so we thought. It’s a rare situation, but once in a while, a cat will have an unusual reaction to anesthesia. Ben had an extreme reaction. So much so that when we picked him up, he was completely disoriented, crippled and blind. Can you even begin to imagine our shock?

The doctor explained that in his 20 years practicing medicine, he had never seen such a dramatic reaction to anesthesia. This fact gave us no comfort. The vet said it was entirely possible that Ben would fully recover from this condition in 48 hours. When we took him home and witnessed firsthand how utterly pathetic he was, we decided to consult a neurologist. The vet told us flat out that the way Ben was in two weeks is the way he’ll be for the rest of his life.

For five days, my wife and I took turns staying with Ben 24 hours a day. My wife contributed much more than I did.  Her dedication to Ben was incredible. She was literally a zombie. Thus far, Ben has regained his motor skills but still stumbles around and his legs are weak. His sight has not been restored, but amazingly, he negotiates himself around the apartment so well, if you observed him, you’d never believe he was blind. He’s in better spirits and has a decent appetite. But he’s gone from a very affectionate, responsive cat to a beloved pet my wife and I can hardly recognize.

We give him plenty of attention and affection, and do everything possible to comfort him. But we may be faced with a tough decision if he doesn’t bounce back. We had to euthanize his sister two years ago because of kidney failure, and I can tell you without a trace of reservation that it was one of the most difficult decisions of my life. In fact, I was so distraught that I missed three days of work.

If you’re not a cat lover, you may find it hard to understand how a human could grieve so much for an animal. But if you are a cat lover, you know exactly what I mean. I pray every day that Ben fully recovers, but I’m quietly agonizing the countdown to the two-week assessment.

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