The Mesmerist

The Close and Holy Darkness

What a year. It looks like I’m celebrating Christmas tonight. Denise’s mom has been gravely ill and been in the hospital for the last few weeks. She’s  home at last, and we’re finally getting around to sharing presents under the tree and cooking a big meal.

The year 2014 started with news of mom’s diagnosis, and that horror has been running in the background through all our professional successes. The year started with me meeting a new client who wanted to write a book about his business. I wrote the proposal in January, and our agent sold it. The rest of the year was consumed with interviews, research, reading and writing. Publishers keep talking about how they want to be more nimble, right? Well, look: the year’s not yet out and that book is already available for pre-order on Amazon, slated to pub in April 2015, with a couple of Amazon Vine reviews to boot.

I wrote a second proposal for another client this year, late in Autumn. My agent sold that book for an enormous sum. But I ended up walking away from that deal, mostly because I wanted to focus on my own writing. It’s about time I did. I turned 50 in the fall and that has had a bigger impact on my psyche than I’ve been prepared to admit.

I love fiction; it’s why I got into this business in the first place. Ghostwriting aside, I managed to sell or place three short stories this year, and finish a first draft of the second book in my Mesmerist series. I hope to get that out in 2015 if the revisions go well. I’ve also been messing with revisions of a historical fantasy that I wrote in 2013. I may end up scrapping that book and writing an entirely new book with the same premise; deciding that will be the first order of business in 2015.

This is the time of year when we talk about the ones we lost. I don’t really have the time to get into all of them, but I will say I was saddened by the passing of P.D. James. I came to her work at the same time in my life as I discovered Elmore Leonard’s books. Such different writers. I’m amazed I loved them both. To lose them both a year apart grips me. Another writer who passed away was Mary Stewart, a British contemporary of James’s, who is perhaps best known for her Arthurian books set in Roman Britain. I came to those books in high school and they so strongly influenced me that they are probably the guiding force behind my WIP.

But hey, I’m pretty emotional tonight, acutely aware of the passage of time and the aging process, as one of my pals likes to say. I am hugely grateful for those of you who have stopped by this blog to check out what’s going on with me. Thanks especially to Stu, Jack, Kush, Rob, Loren, Hunter, and Candice. I wish I could more properly get down on paper what you all mean to me, but I’ve probably said enough.

I love this line by Dylan Thomas. It’s been running in my head since Christmas Eve.

I turned the gas down, I got into bed. I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.

A Happy New Year to you all.

My Paperbacks Are Out!

My Paperbacks Are Out!   Took me long enough, but paperback copies are finally available of my three fiction titles. For now, you can snag them via  my Amazon page . If you buy a paperback via Amazon, you’ll get the ebook for free.  If you’d rather not deal with Amazon, or you don’t want a paperback, well, have I got a celebratory deal for you:  I  can  offer you a free e-book of any of these titles. Snag the correct file for your device via  my Smashwords page , using one or all of these coupons, which expire April 1, 2014. You’ll need to enter the coupon codes when you checkout, then download the file that’s right for your e-reader. And don’t forget: A mobi or epub file will work with whatever reading device you have, whether a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or Kobo. If you don’t have a device at all, you can still read ‘em with the right app on your computer. Ask me if you need help.   Arm of Darkness  (short stories): CM87N   The Mesmerist  (novel): MJ34Q   Jersey Heat  (novel): KH57T  I’m told that these paperbacks will migrate eventually to Ingram and thus be available to indie bookstores. I have no experience in that arena, but I’m curious to see if that actually happens.  If you’d like a signed copy of any of these titles, just  contact me via my website , and we’ll make shipping and payment arrangements as soon as my first shipment comes in.  My thanks to those of you who reviewed these books in the past. A belated thank-you gift is on its way.   * * *   Other news: Denise is on the road for three weeks doing talks and conferences, and I’m home alone listening to the creaks of a settling house. Her paperback and audio book are out March 11. If you think you’d like a signed copy of either of these, contact our local bookstore,  Malaprop’s ,  by phone  and they’ll take of you.

My Paperbacks Are Out!

Took me long enough, but paperback copies are finally available of my three fiction titles. For now, you can snag them via my Amazon page. If you buy a paperback via Amazon, you’ll get the ebook for free.

If you’d rather not deal with Amazon, or you don’t want a paperback, well, have I got a celebratory deal for you:

I can offer you a free e-book of any of these titles. Snag the correct file for your device via my Smashwords page, using one or all of these coupons, which expire April 1, 2014. You’ll need to enter the coupon codes when you checkout, then download the file that’s right for your e-reader. And don’t forget: A mobi or epub file will work with whatever reading device you have, whether a Kindle, Nook, iPad, or Kobo. If you don’t have a device at all, you can still read ‘em with the right app on your computer. Ask me if you need help.

Arm of Darkness (short stories): CM87N

The Mesmerist (novel): MJ34Q

Jersey Heat (novel): KH57T

I’m told that these paperbacks will migrate eventually to Ingram and thus be available to indie bookstores. I have no experience in that arena, but I’m curious to see if that actually happens.

If you’d like a signed copy of any of these titles, just contact me via my website, and we’ll make shipping and payment arrangements as soon as my first shipment comes in.

My thanks to those of you who reviewed these books in the past. A belated thank-you gift is on its way.

* * *

Other news: Denise is on the road for three weeks doing talks and conferences, and I’m home alone listening to the creaks of a settling house. Her paperback and audio book are out March 11. If you think you’d like a signed copy of either of these, contact our local bookstore, Malaprop’s, by phone and they’ll take of you.

Coming soon: paperbacks!

Coming soon: paperbacks!

This never happens, but it just did. The postman came by with a proof copy of my book, The Mesmerist, and UPS dropped off copies of Denise’s paperback as well.

As usual, I have no idea when my book will be available, but paperbacks of The Girls of Atomic City will hit stores March 11. Which gives me a chance to post Denise’s tour schedule. It’s subject to change, of course, but you can always double-check the dates, times, and places on the official Girls of Atomic City website.

Monday, February 24, 2014

New York, NY

Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism

*Event Closed

***

Saturday, March 1, 2014, 9:15 AM

Long Beach, CA

Long Beach Festival of Authors

Long Beach Convention Center, 110 Pine Ave.

***

Monday, March 3, 2014, 11:15 AM

Denver, CO

American Physical Society - Annual Meeting

Colorado Convention Center, 700 14th Street

*Registration Required

***

Tuesday, March 11, 2014, 7:00 PM

South Hadley, MA

Odyssey Books, 9 College Street

***

Thursday, March 13, 2014, 7:30 PM

Fredericksburg, VA

University of Mary Washington

Dodd Auditorium, George Washington Hall

1301 College Avenue

*Ticketed Event

***

Tuesday, March 18, 2014, Noon

Oak Ridge, TN

ALTRUSA Literacy Luncheon

Oak Ridge High School

1450 Oak Ridge Turnpike

*Ticketed Event

***

Friday and Saturday, March 21 - 22, 2014, 2:00 PM

Charlottesville, VA

Virginia Festival of the Book

***

Monday, March 24, 2014, 7:00 PM

Austin, TX

Book People

603 N Lamar Boulevard

***

Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 7:00 PM

Houston, TX

Brazos Bookstore

2421 Bissonnet Street

***

Wednesday, March 26, 2014, 3:00 PM

Oxford, MS

Oxford Conference for the Book

Journalism Panel moderated by Curtis Wilkie

Overby Center at the University of Mississippi

555 Grove Loop, Suite 247

***

Tuesday, April 1, 2014, 7:00 PM

Ann Arbor, MI

Nicola’s Books

2513 Jackson Ave. (in Westgate Shopping Center)

***

Wednesday, April 2, 7:00 PM

Cincinnati, OH

Joseph-Beth Booksellers

2692 Madison Road

***

Monday, April 7, 2014, 7:00 PM

Naperville, IL

Anderson’s Book Shop

123 W. Jefferson Avenue

***

Tuesday, April 8, 2014, 6:00 PM

Wichita, KS

Watermark Books

4701 E. Douglas Avenue

***

Thursday and Friday, April 10 - 11, 2014

Boone and Hudson, NC 

Caldwell Community College

Details forthcoming

Making Up for Zero Days

Since March I’ve been writing sporadically, and it’s been killing me. I keep a journal of my daily output and for much of spring and early summer it’s looked like this:

Since March I’ve been on the road a lot with Denise. I accompanied her on her book tour throughout the east and southeast, and while I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, I’m forced to admit that I wasn’t very productive at all. I’ve never gotten good at writing for myself while on the road.

In contrast, I’ve always been able to force myself to crank out client work and meet their deadlines while on the road. When it comes to my own stuff, I just tell myself I can skip a day. So while my ghostwriting clients can happily say their projects have moved forward—the scientists, the business dudes, the diet docs all got their proposals done this spring, yay for them—but on the Joe-fiction-writing front, this is the result: a long line of zeroes.

I started off great in January and managed to get about 75,000 words done on the new project before things went haywire. And when Denise hit the road solo in mid-June, I locked myself in the house and managed to write 35,000 words—Joe words, not client words—in a week. I now have a good rough draft on that book. It’s big, sloppy, and longwinded, but I’m ecstatic. It means I’ll be able to march through the next draft solidly knowing where I’m headed.

I’ve also decided to share this book with my agent and not automatically self-publish it. You can read that as a sign of how excited I am about this project. But bear in mind that I’m still at least one good draft away from sharing it with anyone. Since this is historical fiction, there’s a lot more research ahead.

If you think you might be interested in being a beta reader on this work, please let me know. The genre is historical fantasy, by which I mean that an element of magic has been inserted into a real-life historical setting. I’ll post again when I’m ready to share it.

By the way, here’s what I can say about any kind of historical fiction: don’t. Just don’t. You can barely write a sentence of your book unless you’ve researched a ton of stuff. Knowing how much I procrastinate, it’s a wonder I’ve gotten this far with this book.

I managed to write a decent short story this week, so I think I may have broken through the logjam. This week I’ll be starting the next book in The Mesmerist series while revising the historical fantasy. Should be good. Just don’t tell my ghosting clients, whose work may or may not be due this week.

* * *

In other news:

* It’s Fourth of July week here in the States. My most best-selling nonfiction book, Signing Their Lives Away, tells the story of the men who signed the Declaration of Independence. That book and its sequels have sold pretty well in historic site and museum gift shops. Learn more about them here. Follow the Facebook page here.

*  Back when we had more time on our hands, we did a line of Signer-themed Fourth of July T-shirts. Check them out here.

* Lastly, Google Reader was discontinued July 1. If you’ve been following this blog via that service, it’s time to migrate over to something like Feedly or what-have-you. All I ask is that you take me along with you. It’s been fun, hasn’t it? I haven’t been excessively annoying or needy, have I? Please take a moment to bookmark this page to your new reader, whatever it is.

Surprise Review of "The Mesmerist"

Also today, Loren Eaton has a zesty review of my book, The Mesmerist, up at his blog I Saw Lightning Fall.

I first read Loren’s work in the Winter 2012 issue of Needle, and started following his blog shortly after. I participated in his Christmas flash fiction event this past Christmas, and I’ve been enjoying his march through the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

Simply put, Eaton’s a master at saying a lot in 100 words, so I’m touched he would deign to lavish four, unexpected grafs on my cheese-fest masterpiece. If nothing else, I guarantee you that you will come away with more books (not mine) for your wish list after reading Loren’s review.

BTW: I was telling a baker friend the other day that I first wrote a draft of The Mesmerist in 1981, which may freak out some people. I keep meaning to do a post on my unusual writing experiences during those years, and maybe I will soon.

Cover reveal: The Marshal of the Borgo

Here’s the cover of one of my next books. Hope to get it out before the end of the year. It will feature a character that will first appear in a short story of mine next year in  Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.   The book’s an urban fantasy. (Some would even call it a paranormal whodunnit — a mash-up of a straight mystery with elements of witchcraft and ghosts.)  As always if anyone would like to review the book,  contact me  and I’ll send you a free copy when I’m ready to release it. I don’t ask for anything more than an honest review.  Here’s the pitch:   ***    In an ancient chapel in an ancient land, an old woman screeches a warning:    “Beware the touch of Job—he’s cursed!”   Matteo Scarpone is a man more sinned against than sinning.  Once a cool-headed logician and the pride of Rome’s carabinieri, he’s devastated when disaster rocks his world.  He is a lost man. Beaten. Shaken.   HAUNTED.   Shunned as an embarrassment, he is exiled to a tiny village in the sticks—a hamlet, a burg, a  borgo .  But in this land of vineyards and olive groves, life is far from idyllic. Murder, witchcraft and hate taint the soil once tread by the Etruscans.  Now the young captain must unravel a series of murders that pit him against a cynical evil and force him to use a power   —A GIFT    — A CURSE   that he has long denied.  * * *   THE MARSHAL OF THE BORGO   A full-length urban fantasy by the author of   The Mesmerist.    Cover by   Jeroen ten Berge

Here’s the cover of one of my next books. Hope to get it out before the end of the year. It will feature a character that will first appear in a short story of mine next year in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine.

The book’s an urban fantasy. (Some would even call it a paranormal whodunnit — a mash-up of a straight mystery with elements of witchcraft and ghosts.)

As always if anyone would like to review the book, contact me and I’ll send you a free copy when I’m ready to release it. I don’t ask for anything more than an honest review.

Here’s the pitch:

***

In an ancient chapel in an ancient land, an old woman screeches a warning:

“Beware the touch of Job—he’s cursed!”

Matteo Scarpone is a man more sinned against than sinning.

Once a cool-headed logician and the pride of Rome’s carabinieri, he’s devastated when disaster rocks his world.

He is a lost man. Beaten. Shaken.

HAUNTED.

Shunned as an embarrassment, he is exiled to a tiny village in the sticks—a hamlet, a burg, a borgo.

But in this land of vineyards and olive groves, life is far from idyllic. Murder, witchcraft and hate taint the soil once tread by the Etruscans.

Now the young captain must unravel a series of murders that pit him against a cynical evil and force him to use a power

—A GIFT

— A CURSE

that he has long denied.

* * *

THE MARSHAL OF THE BORGO

A full-length urban fantasy by the author of The Mesmerist.

Cover by Jeroen ten Berge

My next book: The Great Gatsby

You’d have to have colossal stones to name your book after a famous one like The Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, or The Great Gatsby. Technically, you could. While authors can copyright the content of their books, they can’t prevent someone from using their exact title, a title that is like theirs or close to theirs. Hence the rip-offs you’re seeing right now that are capitalizing on the success of 50 Shades of Grey.

How important is to an author to choose a book title that is highly original? I guess, these days, it’s becoming more and more important. The more distinctive the title, the more likely that an online search will turn up that book and that book alone. Recently my book Jersey Heat got its first review. I was excited to see that it was a four-star review:

Not the most descriptive review, but still nice. Only thing is, my book isn’t about the city streets. It’s about corruption and endangered wildlife in a small town in rural New Jersey. Judging from the previous reviews this reviewer has left, I’m pretty sure he or she meant to review this sexy-looking book, which is also entitled Jersey Heat. 

It’s easy to screw this up on Amazon, I guess. You type in the name of the book you just read, intending to give it a review. A bunch of candidate books pop up in your search. You click one without thinking carefully, and you—what?—scroll past the cover art that doesn’t match the product you bought, but then leave a review for that product anyway?

This sort of thing makes me want to resolve to come up with better, more distinctive titles. It’s a particularly sore point with me because I’ve always had trouble dreaming up good titles. When I had to come up with magazine headlines back in the day, I was terrible at it. And I think I’ve brought some of that awkwardness into my fiction writing. Jersey Heat is an okay title, but heat is an overused word in the crime genre, especially crime film dramas. Ideally, going forward, I’ll more carefully research whether a title has been used—and how—before I commit to it.

As much as I’d like to turn over a new leaf, I think I’m going to have to live with my decisions for a while. One of my indie titles is called The Mesmerist. It’s the story of a charismatic madman who’s killing people in an alt-1970s New York. Here’s the cover:

Yet I fully expect readers who like my book to leave reviews for these products instead:


Going open kimono...

A couple of my writer friends have asked me recently how my ebook sales are doing. Rather than hem and haw, I thought I’d post the figures. For the sake of simplicity I’m going to just deal with the Kindle sales figures since sales on the other outlets are pretty insignificant at this point. 

In 2011, I earned about $70 on my ebook sales. Not monthly. Not weekly. That’s the whole thing. $70 from May 2011, when I uploaded my first book, to the end of Dec. 2011.

Thus far in 2012, with a total of three books for sale, I’ve earned about $122. I’m still a long way from paying off my costs—of covers, editing, copyrights—but I could care less. My monthly figures look like this…

To explain my shorthand here: SS is code for the title of my book The Scientist & the Sociopath, JH is Jersey Heat, and M is The Mesmerist.

I suppose you could say that there is some improvement here but honestly I don’t think I’m selling enough to make any sweeping statements like that. I thought I’d share some of the 6-week sales data as well, so you can get a sense of the sales frequency. (Click to embiggen.)

I’m not being coy about showing the dollar amounts. Both of these shots amount to about $54-$55.

By far my best-selling self-pubbed book is The Scientist & the Sociopath, probably because it’s really discoverable in the sparsely populated ghetto of nonfiction science collections, readers and anthologies.

My novels have fared less well. For three whole months I didn’t have a single sale of my novel Jersey Heat, then sales seemed to start up again in August. My other novel, The Mesmerist, is also doing better; no clue why.

I do know that Amazon was sending emails touting my most recent trad-pub book (Stuff Every American Should Know) beginning in June, so maybe that had something to do with the uptick in sales. I’ve also gotten smarter about using keywords. I have blogged more frequently on a more accessible platform. And I did a lot of publicity for Stuff in June/July.

For the sake of comparison, here’s how my Bookscan numbers look for the last year. Bear in mind that Bookscan only tracks traditionally published books, and only at certain retailers.

One of the things you can see from this graph is that my trad-pub sales tend to spike twice a year—around Christmas and around Fourth of July. That makes sense, since sales of everything on the planet go up when Americans start shopping for Christmas, and since one of my books is pegged to Fourth of July. Two of my others are also history titles with a patriotic U.S. slant, so I expect that sales of those books will continue to spike midyear. My history titles do exceptionally well at museum and historic site gift shops, but since Bookscan doesn’t track those bookstores, those sales are not reflected here. They are nothing to sneeze at.

So where does that leave us? Yes, the bulk of my royalty income is still coming from trad-pub sales. But just because my self-pubbed sales are truly unremarkable doesn’t mean I’m not excited about them. A book like The Scientist & the Sociopath represents years of writing for science magazines. Until the world of ebooks came along, those articles, once run, would never again see the light of day. Now they’re earning income.  Unless you’ve had an experience with newspaper and magazine journalism you cannot appreciate what a revolution that is.

I have no idea where my fiction will lead. Maybe it’ll lead nowhere. It’s been a long time since I’ve written fiction on a regular basis. I might very well suck. I only know that 20 or so years ago I made a decision to focus on journalism because I was just too timorous about my ability to write compelling fiction. That decision cost me time I’ll never get back. This is my chance to do the thing I believe I was meant to do: tell stories. I can’t give up this soon.

So I continue to be optimistic. I have a book of short stories coming later this year, and a third novel. I know I could be doing more to promote but I prefer to focus on writing and getting at least one series launched before doing much more promotion than I am doing. I am truly enjoying getting to know some of my fellow indie authors; they’ve offered advice, wisdom and camaraderie that I have found strangely lacking in the trad-pub world.