fiction

E.L. Doctorow (1931-2015)

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I was (and still am) a huge fan of E.L. Doctorow. One of the first “adult” books I ever read was his. I picked up a paperback copy of Ragtime at a library book sale back when I was a kid, and was blown away—more by the novel’s narrative technique than by the story. Doctorow did things in that book that I didn’t know you could do in fiction. He eschewed quotation marks. He blended fictional characters with real-life figures doing fictional things. He presumed to speak as narrator for an entire period in history in a fearless manner.

I was never in love with history class at school, but I probably learned more about America and Americans by marching my way through Doctorow's bibliography. He was clearly fascinated with U.S. history, and how a writer could exploit and subvert the expectations of using historical material. In every book, you could almost feel him saying, “Yeah, I know this is supposed to be history, but it’s fiction first. Get out of the way—I’m writing here."

One of the best profiles of him I’ve ever read appeared in the New York Times Magazine back in 1985. You can read the whole thing here, but I’ve always liked this quote:

"Henry James has a parable about what writing is,'' Doctorow says. ''He posits a situation where a young woman who has led a sheltered life walks past an army barracks, and she hears a fragment of soldiers' conversation coming through a window. And she can, if she's a novelist, then go home and write a true novel about life in the army. You see the idea? The immense, penetrative power of the imagination and the intuition."

 

Celebrating F. Scott Fitzgerald's Birthday in Asheville, NC

Every year in the week of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s birthday, the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, opens his former lodgings to the public. Here are some pics I took on my visit last Saturday.

Fitzgerald stayed here in 1935 and ‘36, both for lengthy stays to visit Zelda when she was recovering in a nearby sanitarium—the same one where she later lost her life. These weren’t happy visits for Fitzgerald. He was always destitute, trying to write, and trying to avoid hard drinking. (To stay off liquor, Fitzgerald drank as many as thirty bottles of beer a day. People then had the notion that beer wasn’t really alcohol. The same assertion crops up in the works of Norman Maclean.)

I’d like to say I’m “proud” of my town’s connection to great writers, such as Thomas Wolfe, Fitzgerald, and Zelda Fitzgerald, but sadness and tragedy dogged all three while they were here that it doesn’t seem like much to celebrate.

Look for my short story "Nighthawks" in Hitchcock’s Mystery Mag!

Look for my short story in Hitchcock’s Mystery Mag!   Almost forgot. One of those short stories I was telling you about appears in the April 2014 issue of  Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (AHMM) , on newsstands now.  The story is called “Nighthawks,” after  Edward Hopper’s famous 1942 painting  of the same name. It’s probably the most parodied painting on the planet after the Mona Lisa. Four people sit in an oddly shaped diner in the middle of the night. What’s going on there? Well, my story offers just one scenario.  The artist Hopper said the painting was inspired by a diner on Greenwich Avenue in New York, but no one has ever located the original site. Some years ago, blogger Jeremiah Moss investigated the mystery, and has written about his search in the   New York Times  , the   Financial Times  , and on his  blog . Great reading, if you’re fascinated by the painting.  You can find a hard-copy version of   AHMM   wherever magazines are sold. (My local B&N tends to carry it.) Failing that, in a few days you can download a single digital issue via  Amazon ,  Barnes & Noble ,  Apple iTunes ,  Zinio ,  Magzter ,  Sony , and  Google Play . Just make sure you are downloading the April 2014 issue shown above.

Look for my short story in Hitchcock’s Mystery Mag!

Almost forgot. One of those short stories I was telling you about appears in the April 2014 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (AHMM), on newsstands now.

The story is called “Nighthawks,” after Edward Hopper’s famous 1942 painting of the same name. It’s probably the most parodied painting on the planet after the Mona Lisa. Four people sit in an oddly shaped diner in the middle of the night. What’s going on there? Well, my story offers just one scenario.

The artist Hopper said the painting was inspired by a diner on Greenwich Avenue in New York, but no one has ever located the original site. Some years ago, blogger Jeremiah Moss investigated the mystery, and has written about his search in the New York Times, the Financial Times, and on his blog. Great reading, if you’re fascinated by the painting.

You can find a hard-copy version of AHMM wherever magazines are sold. (My local B&N tends to carry it.) Failing that, in a few days you can download a single digital issue via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Zinio, Magzter, Sony, and Google Play. Just make sure you are downloading the April 2014 issue shown above.

Free Writing Tracker by W. Bradford Swift

Free Writing Tracker

Back in July I talked about how I track my writing progress using a handwritten ledger. It’s served me pretty well but on January 1 I’ll be switching to a digital system.

I have never learned how to create my own spreadsheets, but thankfully a writer friend and colleague, W. Bradford Swift, has done the heavy lifting already. His writing tracker template lets you input the number of words written daily, and will also calculate your hourly output, if you care about such details. When you get to the bottom of Swift’s existing spreadsheet, you can just cut-and-paste the cells to extend the sheet. You can download the writing tracker free at Swift’s website. If you’re inclined to thank him, check out his sci-fi/fantasy books. If you’re looking for a way into his fiction, check out his short story, "Hunt Along the Iron River," which I enjoyed.

In other news:

I recently completed a good draft of my historical fantasy WIP, which I’m cryptically calling TIMoNY for the moment, and am taking some time off to catch up on the blog and write some other material. While we’re on the subject of tracking your writing progress, I can say that it took me about 60 days to write the first draft, 50 days to do the second draft, 20 to do the third. I’m happy with the results, but that’s not the same as saying I’m done, or even satisfied. I’m asking Denise to read it first, and I’ll revise with her input in mind. I already have a batch of changes I’d like to make, but I need the distance right now. So I’m working on some revisions to another book in the meantime.

"Bloody Signorina" in Hitchcock's!

Look for my short story in Hitchcock’s Mystery Mag!   I have a short story in the September 2013 issue of  Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (AHMM) , on newsstands now. Can’t believe I got a cover mention!  Truth is, I’m a little surprised how this story, “Bloody Signorina,” turned out. I’d call it an experiment. It doesn’t sound like my voice at all. It sounds like me pretending to be Jane Austen, an Italian Jane Austen, or something. Anyway, check it out and let me know. The detective who makes a brief appearance in this short goes on to bigger and more horrifying things in my next book,  The Marshal of the Borgo.  More on that book soon, I hope.  You can find a hard copy version of   AHMM   wherever magazines are sold. (My local B&N tends to carry it.) Failing that, in a few days you can download a single digital issue via  Amazon ,  Barnes & Noble ,  Apple iTunes ,  Zinio ,  Magzter ,  Sony , and  Google Play . Just make sure you are downloading the September 2013 issue.  (BTW: I’ve been reading and downloading these magazines via the Magzter app on my iPad, and it’s been great. Good customer service, too. Highly recommended.)  * * *  Speaking of magazines, my  piece for Plots With Guns  got a  little mention on a blog by Andy Henion , who is always “searching for the perfect sentence.” I hope the other sentences in the story added up to something equally enjoyable!

Look for my short story in Hitchcock’s Mystery Mag!

I have a short story in the September 2013 issue of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine (AHMM), on newsstands now. Can’t believe I got a cover mention!

Truth is, I’m a little surprised how this story, “Bloody Signorina,” turned out. I’d call it an experiment. It doesn’t sound like my voice at all. It sounds like me pretending to be Jane Austen, an Italian Jane Austen, or something. Anyway, check it out and let me know. The detective who makes a brief appearance in this short goes on to bigger and more horrifying things in my next book, The Marshal of the Borgo. More on that book soon, I hope.

You can find a hard copy version of AHMM wherever magazines are sold. (My local B&N tends to carry it.) Failing that, in a few days you can download a single digital issue via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Zinio, Magzter, Sony, and Google Play. Just make sure you are downloading the September 2013 issue.

(BTW: I’ve been reading and downloading these magazines via the Magzter app on my iPad, and it’s been great. Good customer service, too. Highly recommended.)

* * *

Speaking of magazines, my piece for Plots With Guns got a little mention on a blog by Andy Henion, who is always “searching for the perfect sentence.” I hope the other sentences in the story added up to something equally enjoyable!

ARM OF DARKNESS is out now!

ARM OF DARKNESS.  A mysterious demonic stranger intrudes upon the lives of unsuspecting people, forcing them to make choices with horrific consequences. Six short stories.  * * *  His hand is fashioned from the night sky.  It is powerful, dark, deadly.  He dwells in the world’s oldest mountains and always comes bearing gifts.  Truth is, he cares nothing for you. He is a trickster, a prankster, a demonic being who desires only to wreak casual violence on every human he meets.  He’s about to offer you a bargain.   Piece of advice? Don’t trust him.   * * *    ARM OF DARKNESS  contains six short stories— Skullworm, Roadhouse, Glow, Kin, Sunshine Lady  and the origin story,  Arm of Darkness —for a total of 30,000 words. Three novel excerpts are also included in this e-book.   Available:    Kindle (US)     Kindle (UK)    Nook    iPad    Kobo    Smashwords    Paperback

ARM OF DARKNESS. A mysterious demonic stranger intrudes upon the lives of unsuspecting people, forcing them to make choices with horrific consequences. Six short stories.

* * *

His hand is fashioned from the night sky.

It is powerful, dark, deadly.

He dwells in the world’s oldest mountains and always comes bearing gifts.

Truth is, he cares nothing for you. He is a trickster, a prankster, a demonic being who desires only to wreak casual violence on every human he meets.

He’s about to offer you a bargain.

Piece of advice? Don’t trust him.

* * *

ARM OF DARKNESS contains six short stories—Skullworm, Roadhouse, Glow, Kin, Sunshine Lady and the origin story, Arm of Darkness—for a total of 30,000 words. Three novel excerpts are also included in this e-book.

Available:

Kindle (US)

Kindle (UK)

Nook

iPad

Kobo

Smashwords

Paperback

Amazon's emailing my friends and readers

The Mesmerist by Joseph D'Agnese

This week I got four emails from readers and friends who reported that they’d gotten an email from Amazon alerting them that I had a new book coming out. This is the first time I’ve ever experienced this from Amazon, so I thought it was worth trying to analyze what’s going on.

First, the book in question is a small, stocking-stuffer-sized book published by Quirk Books, entitled Stuff Every American Should Know.

The Stuff Every…Should Know series sells well for Quirk, and they asked my wife/co-author and me to contribute a book of U.S. history trivia, as a result of our series for Quirk on the signers of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration. The signers books sell well in historic site gift shops, and Quirk thought it might be smart to do a “Stuff” history title. The book is really short—10,000 words—and lists for $9.99. The print edition is out June 5; the Kindle edition is already out. 

But look at what Amazon’s been sending to my readers. All of these emails were sent between 6:30 AM and 7:00 AM of the days in question.

On May 22, Reader #1, who has only bought my (traditionally published) children’s book—in other words, none of my history titles are in this person’s purchasing history—received this:

Amazon promo for Stuff Every American Should Know

Notice that the ad features the new book but also has room for four more titles, in this case my book for freelancers (Random House); a history title (Quirk); my children’s history title (Scholastic); and my weeks-old, self-published novel, The Mesmerist. (Bang drums, blow trumpets here.)

On May 24, Reader #2, who has only ever bought one of my self-published books, The Scientist and the Sociopath, reported receiving this email:

Amazon promo for Stuff Every American Should Know

In this case, Amazon dropped The Mesmerist and added my children’s book about the mathematician Fibonacci, traditionally published by Holt.

On May 25, Reader #3, who has bought my signer titles in the past as gifts, reported receiving this ad. Notice that it displays yet a different permutation of my titles. Clearly, the system omits from the ad any book which it knows the person has already has bought.

Amazon promo for Stuff Every American Should Know

My wife heard from a fourth reader who has only bought our freelancer title. Reader #4’s ad promotes the same Stuff title but touts it as my wife’s book. This makes sense; my wife’s byline comes first on our freelancer title in Amazon’s system. 

I have no idea how many of these ads went out this week. My contact at the publisher confirms that this is a “new” thing Amazon is trying, but she didn’t know if it’s only for certain titles or authors. It’s also not clear if this ad went out to people who had bought books similar to the Stuff” title.

I was excited to get some attention for not one, but two of my most recent books. The big question here is what impact have all these ads had on sales of all of my titles? I’d say, Meh. Judging from the ranks of the “older” books that have appeared in the ad, I’d say not much. I can tell you that the ads had virtually no impact on The Mesmerist, which is the title I was most curious about. 

For about two seconds I wondered if they’d ever send out something like this to announce the arrival of one of my self-pubbed titles, but I think it’s clear that this is aimed at drumming up pre-orders and self-pubbed titles don’t get logged into the system the same way as traditionally published titles, which have on-sale dates. But the system does use sales data from self-pubbed books and isn’t above promoting self-pubbed books in the “more” section.

As for Stuff Americans Should Know, it is now solidly in the five-figure rank range, a far cry from the deep six-figures it was a week ago. In fact, on May 23, when I checked the hardcover book’s rank, I saw that it had hit three lists:

Screen Shot 2012-05-23 at 7.08.33 PM.jpg

I just checked the title and the rank is slightly better and it’s still on the same three lists—all without racking up any reviews. I don’t expect this bounce to last long without the reviews.

So I guess we can say that the ad did its intended job, which was to drive sales and pre-orders for Stuff. I intend to check the sales figures of all the books that have appeared in this ad this week and report back if/when I learn anything interesting.

Some other news:

I’m looking into some other blog options because it’s becoming apparent that people actually do stop by to read this and I’d like the chance to interact with you in a manner better than this iWeb blog will allow. More on that as soon as I make a decision on platform.

I was surprised/delighted that The Mesmerist has picked up some reviews already from people I don’t actually know, which is gratifying. The most substantive review is here.

Both of my novels could still use some reviews, so I’m continuing my offer: If you’d like a free copy of either Jersey Heat or The Mesmerist in exchange for your honest review on Amazon and anywhere else you’d like to post, kindly contact me via my contact page and I’ll send you a file for your device. If you want to participate but don’t “do” devices, write me anyway and I’ll hook you up with a tidy PDF version. (Paperbacks coming soon; I promise.) And no, I’m not afraid that you might hate the books. I need reviews of all kinds, good and bad.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!

The Mesmerist is live! (Sort of.)

The Mesmerist by Joseph D'Agnese

My new e-book, The Mesmerist, is live on Amazon. It’s been published to B&N and Smashwords as well, but will take a while to filter through to those stores. 

Both of my novels could use some reviews, so I’m making a limited-time offer: If you’d like a free copy of either Jersey Heat or The Mesmerist in exchange for your honest review on Amazon and Goodreads, kindly contact me via my contact page and I’ll send you a file for your device. If you want to participate but don’t “do” devices, write me anyway and I’ll hook you with a tidy PDF version. (Paperbacks coming soon; I promise.) And no, I’m not afraid that you might hate the books. I need reviews of all kinds, good and bad.

Here’s the pitch:

Are you a think—or an unthink?

On the streets of New York City in the 1970s, this is the only question that matters.

In the age of disco, the city has become home to an underground culture of gifted individuals who can kill with a glance or heal with a touch.

A vicious madman is sucking the life out of his victims—crushing their hearts, withering their bodies, and leaving their corpses old before their time.

All with the power of his mind.

Now a skeptical young cop and a federal agent obsessed with the occult must run the killer to ground before they find themselves facing the unthinkable.

An 85,000-word urban fantasy noir by the author of the eco-thriller, Jersey Heat.

This full-length novel is intended for mature audiences.

If you’re looking for more discussion on this, I can tell you that the book is set in New York, 1979, which was an interesting time in the city’s history. It’s the age of disco, the age of the city’s most famous serial killer (Son of Sam), and the time of America’s first great oil crisis. (A gallon of gasoline hit $1 for the first time that year, which had devastating knock-on affects for the American psyche.) 

New York City was in a fiscal nightmare. Trash littered the streets; graffiti was rampant. Most of the parks New Yorkers treasure today crawled with drug dealers. The city was a crime-ridden dump because the middle class was fleeing the island for the suburbs, taking their tax dollars with them. The disaster of America’s involvement in Vietnam had wrapped up in 1975, but the effects of that war were still impacting the nation’s politics. Nixon was out of office, and Americans had elected a mild-mannered peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, as their president.

And yet, at the same time, it was a time of great flowering for artists such as Warhol, Hockney, and Serra. Gehry and Pei were designing some of their greatest architecture, and the World Trade Center was nearing completion in lower Manhattan. Part of the novel touches on the art scene of the time.

And I intend to follow up this book with two others in a trilogy, featuring the book’s two occult detectives, Soul and Fisher.

As Fisher and Soul try to track their killer, they’re forced to make sense of the killer’s powers by researching books on psychic phenomenon. So there’s kind of a bizarre paper chase going on in the plot.

When I was a child my father was obsessed with psychic phenomenon, and I suppose I absorbed this stuff by osmosis. He devoured old books about men like Emile Coue, the father of autosuggestion; Edgar Cayce, a psychic who claimed to “read” books by sleeping on them; Edmund Shaftesbury, a quack and charlatan who tried to teach people the power of “personal magnetism”; and Thomson Jay Hudson, a skeptic who tried to make sense of these bullshit claims. 

In my book, of course, all this stuff is treated as if it is true. Fisher, the cop, is the skeptic; Soul, the FBI man, is a believer.

You can page through Hudson’s book here, and see some of those old-fashioned print block designs they used in books of that period, if that interests you…
Sample page 1

Sample page 2

Sample page 3

I hope this is a good introduction to the concepts of this book. I’ll be back in a few day or so to talk about the art world connections.

Oh—in the time it took me to write this post, I sold a copy on Smashwords. Yay.


Yes, I am trying to post here more often. Thank you for noticing. If you want to sign up for my newsletter and claim your collection of free ebooks, go here. Thanks!