Friday, August 16, 2019

Sticking Your Bookshelf In Your Ears



Back in the 80s, I was stationed in Germany, and for about a year, I found myself having to travel to the United States every few weeks for meetings and conferences. Depending on the time of year, the flight could be up to 14 hours each way. At that time, the inflight entertainment system meant everybody being forced to watch the same two movies displayed on a big screen in the center of the cabin.  This quickly evolved into having the choice of about five movies on an individual seat display.  There was no control over when the movie started and no way to pause them. After two or three flights, I had seen everything they were showing. I could watch DVDs on my computer, but the batteries only lasted about two hours.

Fortune had it that I got an email from a company called Audible. The service was basically books-on-tape but using computer files that could be downloaded and listened to on devices like an iPod. At the time I had no iPod and was about to delete the message when I noticed that if I signed up for a year of service, they would send me a free player. I signed an agreement to buy two books or so monthly for the next year and waited on my player to arrive. The next time I flew, I had four audiobooks loaded on my player, which gave me about 30 hours of entertainment. I not only had entertainment in flight but something to listen to as I drove through DC traffic to and from meetings.

I didn't realize it until just recently, but I listen to almost 100 books during that period.  I might've read the same amount, but it is doubtful because it is hard to read while driving in DC traffic – – except during the many standstills. As a result of listening to those books, I also discovered several authors I had never heard of before, like David Sedaris and Richard Belzer, among others. To me, audiobooks were great for filling a spot of time that might otherwise be left vacant while providing entertainment and the chance to indulge my imagination. 

I eventually got an iPod, the only piece of Apple equipment I own, and I still enjoy audiobooks from a variety of sources. I also enjoy having a book to take with me when I‘m faced with the prospect of a long drive.

When I first became an author, I wondered how I could get my book turned into audiobook format. I have a background in vocal narration both from the theater and radio, so I could do it myself, but I did not have a recording studio to do it properly. When I published my fourth book, I noticed two of the book publishers I was using offered audiobook creation services. They would pair the author with various producers to create the audiobook version of the manuscript.

Where do I sign up?

Later this week, I will be delivered my first completed audiobook. It was also the beginning of the Evan Davis series, Three Paperclips and a Grey Scarf.  The book is being read by vocal artist William P. Ryan, who has done a variety of other books in the thriller genre. His voice is very much up to the task, and I just completed the final review and approval.

The next audiobook should be out by October. From Within the Firebird's Nest will be narrated by a voice artist who formally worked for the Library of Congress doing their version of books-on-tape, Joe Biedrzycki.  He is very talented and will do a spectacular job bringing the book to life.

Blood Upon the Sands is being read by Chris Abell, who has done a lot of radio and TV voiceover work. He is an Audible Approved Producer meaning he is a master of the audiobook craft. It was kismet that we ran into one another. In the end, it worked out he had some time available matching my desire to release the audiobook in late August.  In the past few days, Chris has been sending me chapters so I can start reviewing his work.  They are dynamite. Really looking forward to hearing the rest of the book.

As each of these become available (Amazon, iTunes & Audible), I will post a notice here letting you know where you can find them. If you've never tried an audiobook before, I highly recommend them. I'm not sure about the other two, but Audible does offer a trial program that lets you get your choice of several audiobooks to find out what their service is all about.



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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Death, Mourning & Today


My handling of death is based on being a military brat. No matter what base we were stationed at, almost everyone was from somewhere else.  Your extended family was never nearby, so everyone around you was reasonably young and healthy. Death for us was something that happened suddenly, unexpectedly, and usually connected to war. It was also something that happened elsewhere.

During the Vietnam War, when an Army sedan pulled up in front of a house and two or three dress uniformed men would go to the door, it was scary. Even though my friends and I didn't fully realize what it was about, all of us knew it meant someone's father was not coming back. During that war, all of the dead, at least the ones that were found, were brought home for funerals. I was lucky, my Dad came back, unwounded. I had a few friends who lost fathers and worse another whose pilot father was shot down and is still, to date, missing.

As an adult, stationed in Europe, I toured several American cemeteries from both World War I and World War II. All of them were beautiful and well-kept and appropriate monuments to the sacrifice made. I wondered how their families dealt with being told their loved one was dead, and instead of coming home to be buried would be interred in France, Luxembourg, or the Netherlands. They were given really horrible news, and yet no way to formally part ways with their loved one. There was no period in the end. Sad.

Before the Gulf War started, they requested volunteers to serve as escorts for the expected casualties that would be coming home. I did volunteer but was never called upon before I was deployed.

It's been over six months since my father passed away. Almost all of the personal business needing to be handled has been finished. Among the still outstanding are benefits due from the VA, of course. By the way, the people at the VA have been terrific, I blame the bureaucracy for the delay. As a result of those tasks being done, my father now turns mostly to memory instead of someone I deal with on an almost daily basis. This isn't to say that I'm not reminded of him several times every day by something that happens or something I do that I inherited from him. Just the formal mourning is coming to an end for me. 

I'm not really sure how I feel about that, although I understand it is healthy and normal. It just seems strange. I miss him the most when I want to share something. When a good thing happens or the great-granddaughter he never met does something cute the happy share-ables. Instead, I close my eyes and imagine telling him and him reacting as expected. My Dad had a great laugh and a great smile. In my mind and heart, he always will.



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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Way Less Stars Than Are In The Sky, But Invaluable


Regardless of what you do in life, somebody else is evaluating your performance. Even if you own the business or it is a family run business, and you're the one in charge, someone else is evaluating how well you are doing your job. Most people welcome an honest review of their efforts, as long as it is honest, and it is not placed on some kind of inflated grade scale. When I was in the Air Force, we received something called Airman Performance Reports (APRs) every year. You were graded on 10 or so performance characteristics with a score from one to nine. The problem was, the scale had become so inflated that an eight was seen as bad, a seven could end a career. What should have been considered an average score, a five, would land you outside the gate by the end of the day with your bags packed.
With the advent of the Internet, customer written reviews have taken the place of word-of-mouth for the performance of products. Most shoppers for goods on Amazon use reviews help them with purchasing decisions. I usually look for the bad reviews of a particular product I'm considering and take time to read what the person wrote. In some cases, it has nothing at all to do with the product but everything to do with the delivery or something else unconnected to the product’s quality. So, I tend to look at reviews with a jaundiced eye. But how does this work for book reviews?

Reviews for my most recent novel, Blood Upon the Sands, have started to appear on book sites throughout the realm. Most of these sites, allow readers to review books they’ve read and also evaluate the book from one to five stars. Amazon provides no guidance as to what these stars mean.  If you go to Goodreads, they provide some guidance, the stars from one to five:  did not like it, it was okay, liked it, really liked it, it was amazing. Based on that scale, two stars would be average. Barnes & Noble defines their star rankings similarly using the words: poor, below average, good, very good, excellent. Barnes & Noble really doesn't have an average, so you have a choice of either being below average or good (two or three stars respectively). I could find no star definition on Smashwords.

If I want to buy a book by a particular author, I buy the book. I could care less if John Smith from Fort Lee, New Jersey hated Dan Brown's latest book, it doesn't affect my decision to buy. However, if I'm interested in a book, maybe because of the cover or a  blurb I read, the reviews do come into play. But just like when I am buying goods, I read the worst review to see why they were given only one star. In a lot of cases, reading the review is illuminating. 

Reviews from my book coming in, (taking a moment to brag):  Self-Publishing Review rated my book 5 stars for each of their three judged categories (appearance, editing, content) as well as overall.  In addition, the reviewer wrote a very nice narrative that talked about the various nuances and was complimentary of my style and story. 

Once sales of my book started, I earned a Bestseller badge from Amazon and began to see reviews. My first 10 reviews on Amazon were all five stars. I’m a realist and didn't expect everyone to love my book, so I knew it would change. A few days later a couple of fours appeared. No big deal, especially if you took the time to read them.

One reviewer said she was uninterested because the book was set in the Middle East. Even though she spent more of her review discussing that than the book, in the end, she did say "engaging characters, perfectly choreographed action and smart dialogue delivered with practiced cadence. Despite not falling in love with the story, I know this is a well-written novel and lovers of political thrillers will eat it up." To me, it was a positive and honest at four stars. But because my book was no longer all five-star reviews, will it be left unread? I am unsure why, but the reviewer graded the book only three stars on Goodreads with the exact same narrative. Perhaps because on Goodreads three stars mean she liked it. 

A different Goodreads reviewer said "great characters, a great plot, an interesting plight, most people haven’t heard of. All the things that make a great story..." Even with all the “greats” they only rated the book three stars because they felt the villain was over the top. (Note: In any book I ever write, the villain will be evil not simply bad.) I honestly had no problem with the review because the reader seemed to be sincere about what they were saying.  However, because of the inflation in the star grading system, it may cost me readers who don't look beyond the stars for why a reviewer rated it the way they did.  After all, some readers look for evil villains and there is none eviler than Maksim.

While these reader reviews were coming in so were the reviews from literary sources: 

"An accomplished thriller that’s full of pace, intrigue, and suspense..."
Piaras Cíonnaoíth, Emerald Book Reviews

"…once opened, the action and events and premises are so compelling that pausing the experience is not likely. Highly Recommended--"
Grady Harp, San Francisco Review of Books

“…an exceptionally well-written thriller”
Atlantic Way Review


Yes, all of those had a rating of five stars, but I don't really have any idea what the scale of stars meant for their particular publications.

If the praise reviews are averaged against the critical reviews, my book still averages at almost 5 stars--- but I have to admit any less than stellar review hurts. The child of any creative effort is treasured by its creator regardless of what anyone else may think. 
It is impossible not to feel the pain when someone else evaluates your creation less-than-perfect even if you understand why.  

What is the takeaway? 
  • When you review something, be honest. 
  • If there is some sort of star or thumbs up grading scale be honest with that too. Evaluate and award the rating not only based on the scale provided but be familiar with how similar things are rated on a particular site. 
  • If you do provide a less than stellar rating, say why. A review is an opinion if you have one you should be able to defend and explain it. 
  • Likewise, when you go to buy a book, take a moment to read the worst review. Figure out why the person is snubbing a particular creative work you found interesting. They may be basing their evaluation on a different scale or using a different criterion which is irrelevant to you.

Don’t pass up what could be the best thing you’ve ever read simply because someone else downgraded the rating because they didn’t like the cover of the book.

I am at a level far under than writers who have been producing work for years and are considered the best at their game. Stephen King is probably not upset Rebecca Harn rated his novel as one star because she thought the villain was over the top -- but she did and it contributed to a less than 4 1/2 star combined score for his book. 

For right now, my book is rated higher than Stephen King's - but I doubt he is upset about that either.  



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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Available Everywhere: Blood Upon the Sands



On 16 April 2019, Blood Upon the Sands was officially released.  It is now available in ePub and Paperback from the following retailers:










Against the bloody backdrop of a country simmering with racial tension, friendships are tested, beliefs are tried, and the prejudices of years are challenged…


Since the earliest days of Kuwait’s independence, the Bedoon have faced government-sanctioned discrimination. To accelerate their expulsion, an ex-KGB agent turned mercenary is secretly hired to manipulate the political climate by influencing public opinion further against the vulnerable populace.

Weaving real-world history and current events seamlessly into an action thriller, Blood Upon the Sands is a gripping story of the fight to reveal truth amid rising chaos and hate. Evan Davis is again thrust into the center of the conflict. Back, in the Middle East, this time under the patronage of a horse breeder, Hamad Al- Bourisli, Evan is brought in to write about Kuwait’s culture to improve the small country’s image in the West. Evan soon finds kinship with Hamad and intimacy with his beautiful cultural liaison, Najila.
When documents are anonymously left, Evan discovers disturbing truths about the stateless Bedoon population. Meanwhile, under the alias Shaytan, Maksim Bondreovich begins to spread terror and chaos across the country while framing Bedoon citizens for the atrocities.

Time is running out before Shaytan makes his biggest play yet – bombing the Hotel Sultana and placing the blame solely on the disenfranchised Bedoon population. As rising racism and public dissent become undeniable, will Evan go against his friend and employer to bring the truth come to light?



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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Talents Beyond Your Talent



Self-publishing is a wondrous world which is entirely under the control of one person – you. However, No one person possesses all the skills necessary to do a great job publishing a book. You can sit in front of the keyboard for hours and hours a day and let your imagination pour out. Eventually, the right words will fall onto the piece of paper or screen, and they might assemble themselves into the story you were trying to tell. If you are doing a great job at that, everything else beyond it will be something less. There is editing, which no person should ever even attempt to do on their own writing, and artwork and marketing copy and graphics and so many more things. Having just finished my latest opus, I thought I would share some of the talents I found that are on my global team.

When I talk about editing, I mean beyond that initial draft into what you think is the final copy. Having worked with four editors at this point, I will tell you that their personality is every bit as crucial as your own because whether they mean to or not, they will have some input into the style of the story you wrote. It is more than just checking your grammar, there are many computer programs to do that for you, it is a matter of checking your style and making sure that you're keeping your own voice and perspective. An editor will help you find a monocle to put on one character while making sure that all of the characters do not sound like you.  The best editors I've worked with have come to me through Professional Book Editing Services. Mention my name, and you will get an extra 5% off the cost of your editing. They edit any written word, not just books, and if you send them up to 1000 words, they will provide a sample of their work. I was edited by Joanne and Dr. Joe.

Most of the other talents I needed were what I consider artistic. Rather than looking for all of those talents in a single company, I went to more of a gig-based approach using something called Fiverr.  Fiverr is basically a repository of expertise that you can hire to accomplish a single job. This can be anything from designing the cover of the book to writing letters and other promotional type words. The good: They have lots of talent ready, willing, and able to provide whatever service it is you want. The bad: They seem to have a lot of turnover. A lot of people I used for my last book were no longer working with Fiverr. It doesn't mean it was negative for the provider, in one instance I was able to track down someone I worked with in my last book and found they had moved on to become an independent provider. 

One thing to keep in mind, the old adage of getting what you pay for does not always apply equally in this environment. Some of these folks are just starting out and undercharge for superior work. Also, people are charging an extraordinary amount of money for a mediocre product. Before you sign up with any provider, send them an email with a brief description of what you are after, their response and response time will tell you a lot. Take a little time to explore the providers that interest you before committing. Caveat emptor.

One thing I really like about working with Fiverr is most of the folks who have provided services have also been open to collaboration in the process. Below, is the evolution of the cover for my most recent release, Blood Upon the Sands.  The artist I worked with was Akira007, he lives in Germany and was a student at the Royal Danish Academy.  I gave him a basic concept, and then we worked our way through it jointly until we came out with the finished product. I like the end result.

  



Turning the cover into something for marketing required another gig from another provider. No problem Fiverr has artists ready to help.  I called upon the services of Prooodesign from Morocco. He quickly provided me with 15 different designs, even though the gig only calls for 10. 














Once I had graphics, I contacted Pepita1 in Bulgaria.  She put together a really nice banner for my Facebook page.  Eyecatching and it included all three of my titles, plus logo.


Ferncottleswell provided some really fired up marketing words which I used for my description. I have to admit, I was drawn to her by the profile picture, I'm not going to give it to you here, you'll have to go to the Fiverr site to see it.  She has to be showing off one of the most excited and joyful expressions you could ever hope to see. I felt there was no way a person could display that excited expression and not have the same feeling in their soul. I was not disappointed. If you couldn't tell by the name, she is from the UK.

For my back-cover description Quickprowrote, my only US provider, produced a really well thought out narrative. At the time she delivered it, I was actually busy with other things and didn't have time to collaborate with her too much directly. So, I rewrote a little of this and a little of that and came up with what I eventually used.

Each of the people I named above, are still available on Fiverr as of this date. I would go back to every one of them again without hesitation. The only cautionary words I can offer is that most of the quoted delivery times are far too optimistic. You will usually receive something by the deadline, but if you have a little more time to spare, you can work with the provider and come up with something really fantastic. Only two of the providers listed made the delivery time, but in the end, every one of them gave me their best effort.



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Friday, February 8, 2019

Didja Ever Wonder

This photo has nothing to do with the entry I just couldn't find anything that matched up well with the sentiment
The last couple of weeks have found me both mentally and emotionally disconnected. Usually, when I'm writing, my thoughts seem to have a certain flow to them. The passing of my father, kind of knocked it out of whack as I dealt with feelings of loss and an unusual sense of calm which comes when something expected has come to pass. Then, of course, is all the business and property matters which got dropped on me at the same time.

This morning, I was looking at my timeline on Facebook, and noticed somebody had posted the song Knock Three Times. Since I really like the song, I shared it and a few moments later a friend of mine reminded me a while back I had written this about the song.  l When I'm going to post a link to an old blog entry, I take the time re-read the entry to see if I missed any grammatical errors or need to add notes because of things which have changed. In rereading this old entry, my imagination took over for a while and I began to wonder about the people I had written about who were from earlier in my life.

The Internet is a very big place, and there are lots of things to read, see, and do but in all the time I've been writing this blog, almost a full decade, I have only heard from one person I've written about here. Granted a lot of the people I write about are women and if I do include the last name it is probably their maiden name which makes it even less likely they would've run across it.  Knowing all of this doesn't prevent me from wondering what happened to all those people.

Like most folks, there are people in my past I would prefer to leave there. But there are people in the past whose positive memory makes me wonder what they're up to today and if they are doing okay. One of the people I knew in high school was a day nicknamed Pyro (Yes, he did, in fact, blow up the high school chemistry classroom in high school). Where is he now? The experiment he was working on was supposed to be an alternative energy source derived from raw sewage. Did it ever make it past the drawing board?

Several of the talented people I went to school with have gone on to have careers in music, theater, and elsewhere in the arts. What about the ones I haven’t heard from --  the ones whose life took a different turn and ended up only singing for their own children or painting in their basement. There's nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice to know they are still enjoying what I admired about them.

Then of course, there were all the friends and relationships which wandered in and out of my life and turned me into the human being I am today. Where are you people at? Growing up as an Army brat, I would be on a base a year or two and then move on. This was at a time before the Internet and when long-distance was an expensive proposition. Usually, those relationships just ended. I wonder all those people are -- I hope they are all happy wherever they are.

Anyway, enough time pondering this-- time to get back to work on my book. But first, I think I'll give this old song a listen.  Rosetta Britton, know I remember you fondly and hope you still have reason to share your wonderful smile often. If you ever wondered – I’m doing fine.




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Wednesday, January 2, 2019

You Will Live On, Dad. Farewell For Now




As a kid, it puzzled me why my father would refuse to drive anywhere on Christmas day. The biggest impact to me as a kid was if a Christmas present needed a battery we did not have, it would have to wait until the next day. When I was older, I asked my father why he refused to drive on Christmas, his explanation was simple: he didn't want to risk getting in an accident and destroying Christmas for them and their family going forward. It would've been devastating if someone was killed. It was years later when I was in the Air Force before he gave me a fuller explanation. 

My father was a company commander in Vietnam during 1968. It was one of the worst times to be a Captain in the country because aside from the normal dangers of war, there was a bounty on the head of all company commanders. Also, America's attitudes were shifting due to the Tet Offensive. By all objective accounts, if we kept going after the Tet Offensive, we would've won the war. The press lost the war. In the latter part of December, one of his troops was severely wounded while out on the last patrol in the days before Christmas. The soldier as taken to the Evac hospital, and once my Dad's company stood down for the holiday he made a trip to the hospital to visit his wounded man. When he got there, he was told the man died. 

Dad went over the Mortuary to say farewell to his fallen trooper, and the specialist who worked there took him to where the body was stored. Looking down at the paperwork, my father noticed the man's date of death was listed as 25 December. Dad found that completely unacceptable, and asked the specialist to change it. The Specialist refused because, in the pre-computer Army, he would have to retype the entire form just to change the date. Also, the Specialist didn't want to be late for the special Christmas dinner at the chow hall. My father nodded and walked out; he returned a short while later with a fifth of Jack Daniels. 

The Specialist accepted the offering to retype the form, changing the date of death the 27th. In doing this, my father ensured the man's family would never associate Christmas day with the anniversary of his death. It was a lesson I remembered. Because of that lesson, when my father passed away, quietly in his sleep, on 21 December 2018 the only people notified were family. He would not want his passing to negatively affect everyone's holiday. I made sure it did not.

My father has been mentioned in this blog before, among them, his genius for inventing the after-breakfast nap and the frustrations of the past three years as his health declined. He was a man who actually lived three different lives as an adult. First, he was a soldier, after he retired, he became a DOD civilian, then after he retired from again, he became a gentleman farmer. I grew up with the soldier for a father, disappearing for at least two years of my life, one in Korea and one in Vietnam. My brother came along at the end of his military service and for part of his life as a DOD civilian. Both of us as adults knew him as a retiree. It may seem each one of those things is different, but they really aren't in the way he went about them. He never lost his soldier spirit and way of doing things. Along the way, he taught us the same lessons of patriotism, selflessness, integrity, caring, reverence, and charity. All of those traits he possessed and led to his being awarded the Silver Star while he was in Vietnam, read the citation above.


Dad taught me to watch people and see beyond what my eyes told me. Find the story underneath and appreciate everyone for who they are. Never prejudge anyone, because you will always be wrong. He possessed a wicked sense of humor and often would say something funny when least expected.  He was also generous with both his money and time to charitable endeavors.
Dad was very specific about what he wanted for his funeral, and we did our best to ensure the sendoff was exactly what he wanted right down to the wood coffin Like his life, there were three parts: the church funeral, a Masonic funeral, and military honors. Standing behind his flag-draped coffin, I related the story about his Silver Star and a few other tales during the church service. Most of those stories have a basis in his humility. It was revealed how silent he was about his history when local friends and associates came up and told me they were surprised to learn of his heroism in Vietnam. Many did not even know he was a Vietnam veteran. 

Even though my father was not killed in combat, he was honored with a 21-gun salute for his service. The second youngest of his great-grandchildren cried due to the noise, I found myself crying at the realization we were closing the book on his physical existence. One of the most solemn moments in my life was when Master Sgt. Ortiz kneeled in front of me to hand me the folded flag with the thanks of a grateful nation. It was difficult because at the same time I was feeling the enormous amount of patriotism while my heart was breaking at having to say goodbye. 

The last three years or so my father's life have not been easy. My mother passed away 17 years ago leaving him on his own, and he reached a point where he needed help. I found myself continually going to battle against the VA and unscrupulous charities on his behalf. In an ultimate moment of cruelty, a call came the Monday after his funeral from the VA. They were finally processing the paperwork I submitted last February. Bureaucratic bastards. 

During those years the man in front of me was slowly fading away as CTE and dementia took its toll. Anyone else who's been through it can tell you it is difficult not to be angry at the person but the disease which is not their fault. Three years is a long time to deal with those difficult emotions. Then, I was presented with an opportunity to work my way through them when I volunteered to go through his home and sort through things separating mementos from those things needing to be donated to things which just need to be thrown away. In doing the work, I rediscovered my father and all the pain of the last three years started to fade away. I would suggest it to anyone who has a parent or loved one pass away. It is a way to rediscover all the things you remember about them, and at the same time, you occasionally run across something which affirms how much you meant to them.

My father lived for almost 83 years.  Full, happy, and productive years that left behind a legacy living on in two sons, six grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren (so far).  



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