Monday, November 15, 2021

Near Immortality

 


Forty years ago. 

Forty years ago my novel, Banners of The Sa'yen came out as a mass-market paperback. It was supposed to be the first of a multi-volume series featuring a human forcibly marooned on a planet by some powerful entity. Having a strange name, the locals find him--or to be more precise, he finds the locals and saves them from a terrible death--and they look upon him--mistakenly--as the long-prophesied return of their god of war. And the adventure begins.

I was barely in my twenties. I had defied the odds as a writer and had my novel pulled out of the proverbial slush-pile all traditional publishers seems to have and was published. I was in heaven. I just knew the second book in the series would be immediately picked up. I was on my way to become the inevitably poor and infamous paperback writer.

It didn't happen. The publishers rejected the second book and told my that 'fantasy was slowly fading away' and they were looking to change their format. 

But crying over dreams past is not why I'm writing this little diatribe. It's the 'something else' of late which caught my attention about this book.

Forty years a few young teenagers bought the book--and fell in love with it. And, amazingly if you ask me, never forgot about it. One such teenager grew up, became an adult, eventually a parent, and had his young teenage child discover the book stored away in the attic of her home. And SHE enjoyed reading the book!

Recently at least three of these once young teenagers have contacted me indirectly through Amazon by leaving reviews. Yes, the book can be found on Amazon and a few other sites. And yes, you can even buy brand-new copies of the book (although its been out of print for at least 39 years or so.) How that's possible I don't know.

But this is the point I am trying to make. If you are a writer, and you become published, your words linger for generations in time and space. Someone will read your book. Maybe not too many 'someones' who will turn into a rich and famous author. But someone will.

And its possible your words may never be forgotten. More than that--your words may become the catalyst which changes that person's life. And no, I'm not exaggerating. Your words as a writer can give a sudden ray of Hope to those who never expected to experience in their lives. Or they can have the opposite effect. And sometimes, thankfully, these select few fans who have never forgot you, reach through the ether and vast wastelands of the internet and contact you. Returning, in full circle, that little ray of Hope you, so long ago, gave them.

And, of course, asking you to keep writing and continue to the series they so lovingly remember.

Will the Sa'yen series continue? Hmm. Maybe. Maybe not. But I do have ideas. Ideas of maybe kinda resurrecting the Sa'yen in a slightly different setting.

We'll see.

Monday, October 25, 2021

The perfect Anti-Hero

 Let's talk about the anti-hero. Those creations in fiction where the protagonist can't be easily branded as 'a hero'. Nor, for that matter, as 'a villain.' He . . . or she . . . (hmmm, interesting point; do we actually have a female character in literature who could be classified as the anti-heroine?) is someone who is not clothed all in white to represent the Good Person. Nor all in black to represent 'The Bad Guy.'

They are creatures who walk both in the light and the dark. The Good and the Bad. The Ying and the Yang. When you walk on both sides of the color spectrum you are clothed in layers of gray of various shades. Depending on which side of the spectrum you tend to dither in, your clothing can be either very light gray. Or a dark gray hovering on the precipice of sliding into the dark quagmire of being black.

The anti-hero as a character was a really big thing back in the 60's The Counter Culture, the Protest Societies, the anti-Vietnam War rallies--all contributed the the creation of a hero who was not just the do-gooder all the time. But one who didn't mind getting down and dirty when it became necessary. But since the 60's we've seen this slow and inexorable march back to a world where everything is either Light or Dark. Good or Bad--with nothing in the middle to confuse one's mind in the process.

But, if you are a fan of this oddity of a character, all is not lost. Perhaps the best fictional creation ever dreamed up by a set of writers can be found in the character by the name of Raymond Reddington. The main character on the television drama, The Blacklist. James Spader plays the Reddington, and quite frankly, his portrayal is mesmerizing. He lies, he cheats, he organizes, he manipulates people like an evil genius, he keeps secrets he refuses to divulge and sometimes he murders innocent people--but he also does good as well. Sometimes spuriously for no other reason than he wants to do something nice.

In short, he is the prefect representation of the anti-hero.

Reddinton is a very complex character and James Spader pulls this magical portrayal out of a hat magnificently. A simple description of Reddington is impossible. Eight seasons of The Blacklist have flown by with remarkable rapidity. The ninth season has just started on NBC. With some major changes in the supporting characters around him. The question is, has Reddington changed? Is he the same person of old?

We'll have to ride along to find out.




Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Do book-trailer videos work?

 That's the question. Do book-trailer videos work? How, and where, do you post these videos in order to spread the message out to the widest range of potential readers? How long should a video be? What sites are out there expressly designed to help authors who delve into this medium?

I haven't a fracking' clue.

To say I am taking baby-steps in exploring this venue would be mind-numbing understatement. But I'm looking into it.

So far, I've had three videos created for me. Two .30-second ones, and one a little over 1-minute in duration. All three, I think, came out pretty good looking. I'm going to share with you the longer of the three. It is your task (if you so choose to take the mission, Mr. Phelps)  to tell me if it feels long enough, or if it is too short. Should I stick with just music as a background flashing over text? Or should I find a narrator to read voice it appropriately?

Here goes. The ad;


If you want to see the .30-second ads, go to the right and click on the book face for Evil Arises, or the one for Murder Is Our Business. On the Amazon page, scroll down until you see the video and hit that.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

The Art in a Bookcover's Art


 Let's talk about the art in a book cover's art. I . . . we . . . have talked about this before. But it's always good to cycle it around and delve into it a little more. Or maybe I should call it the science in the art of a book cover's art.

The question I am asking is simple. What exactly is it that art in a book cover is supposed to convey to the reader?

Now this is not as simple as it may sound. I can hear your guffaws and raspberries now aimed in my direction. Obviously, you said, for an answer to the question, something like this; "The art in a book cover is supposed to capture the attention of a potential reader."

Fair enough. On the surface of the issue, it is an adequate answer. Yes. Art on a book cover is supposed to attract the attention of a potential reader. But my contention is this . . . merely attracting a potential reader's interest is not enough. Nice artwork can be very attractive. It can rouse a modicum of interest in all of us. But was the art designed to compel the potential reader to stop and seriously consider looking deeper into the possibility of purchasing the book?

Look at the above black-and-white image of one of my characters. What two images attract your interest the most? The character above is a a hit-man named Smitty. I asked the Spanish artist, Javier Carmona, to create an image of a man with hypnotic eyes. Eyes that would make you-the-reader pause and seriously look at. And then I asked him to put splotches of blood, in livid color, splattered across his face.

The eyes and the blood made you stop and look. And they made your imagination catch fire as to who this person is and how dark will be the story found within.  Or . . . at least, that's what I am betting on.

Here's another example. I write another series about an art thief who steals masterpieces of art and replaces them with exact copies. An art thief who is serving in the Royal Flying Corps of World War One. Art history, military history, and an intriguing character. So how do I package that all together?

By doing this.

Scottish artist, Jay Stringer created this image for me of a RFC fighter flying in the cloudy, rain-filled skies of France fighting German fighter planes. I asked specifically for this kind of image, knowing how many, many, many readers out there are armchair military history buffs. I'm betting on the possibility the reader will first be attracted and drawn into a rip-roaring tale of military history. And discovering a secondary delight in finding a character who is an art-thief and accomplished adventurer.

Here's another example. Another series I write (yes, I know . . . perhaps too many series to write in such a short period of time. But what the hell. The plots and characters keep popping into my head. What else am I supposed to do?)

The main character is a retired Army Ranger coming back to the only place he ever called home. A home filled with mostly bad memories. But with a few good ones as well. A home situated in the heart of probably one of the emptiest places on earth--the wide open plains of the Texas Panhandle. Necessity compels him to go to work as a county deputy sheriff. Where the county's emptiness and loneliness is further enforced within his psyche

The emptiness of his home county, the stillness of the air--the loneliness of  his life--all have to be projected into the book cover's artwork. Creating the image to fulfill those requirements takes planning and imagination before the actually image is created. But if it is done correctly, the image alone my tip the scales and compel the potential reader in becoming an actual reader.


Like maybe this image by British artist Jon Stubbington created for me in this cover.

The conclusion to my theory.

The artwork must be exceptional. But the planning before the artwork is created must be well thought out and imagined first within the writer's mind/

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Guns, Gams, Ghosts and Gangsters

 


The second book of short-stores featuring Turner Hahn and Frank Morales is now available. Another set of ten short-stories of murder, mayhem, and a touch of the supernatural. A montage of the murderous kind, if you will. With two homicide detectives who are, shall we say, unique in their own personalities.

Which, interestingly enough, creates a curious question. Do I write these stories because I am intrigued in the concept of weaving an intricate tale of dark noir? Or do I write these tales--and the novels featuring these two characters--because I am fascinated in the way the two play off each other?

Ya gotta realize a writer is just one part of the creation story in writing fiction. The writer has their set of do's and don'ts. But when characters, especially the main characters and the main villain are introduced, they bring their own set of do's and don'ts with them.

To be frank, lots of times when the characters act or speak, it's the character doing the action or the speaking--not the writer. Within the writer's mind, fully developed characters--all of them--are their own entities. They live and they breathe their own lives.

So it shouldn't surprise you to hear I've got lots of voices in my head speaking to me right now. And it's a fuckin mad house in here.


On a side-note; I don't know if you know much about Amazon sales. But books who gather significant amounts of reviews--good or bad it seems--are preferred items for sale. Makes sense, sure. But Amazon kicks in with a little extra help in advertising IF a book begins to gather a large number of reviews.

(Hint-Hint)  What I'm saying is this. Read the damn thing and write a review. All it costs is your time in writing and punching a button or two on its Amazon page to publish it. Be honest. I hope you really get a kick out of the stories. But if you find the stories suck big goobers--don't be afraid to say it!

Friday, June 18, 2021

Maybe a New Beginning?

 

To put it bluntly, we're currently doing the Big Switcheroo.  We, as  I mean myself and a new indie publisher by the name of Next Chapter Publishing, are switching all my titles of just about everything I've written over from either my self-publishing efforts, or from other publishers, and putting them into the capable hands of Next Chapter.

Yeah, I know; the above is a big, rambling sentence which may or may not make sense. 

But to simplify it all, I've signed up with a new publisher. They are an up-and-coming indie publisher who, from the folks I've talked to, seem to be rattling the indie markets and making a name for themselves. Good. I hope so. I wouldn't mind seeing a little more success in my writing efforts.  You know---not that I'm selfish or greedy, or anything like that. But I am getting tired of eating McDonald hamburgers from what I've earned so far in my creations.

However, I still live by those famous words uttered by some unknown pundit probably hundreds of years earlier, who stood in the middle of a soggy pig sty and watched marauding Vikings burn his farmhouse down.

"Hope, me boyos, for the best; but fuckin' plan for the worst."

We'll see what happens over the coming year.

We're starting out with a collection of short-stories featuring homicide detectives Turner Hahn and Frank Morales. The 10 short-stories have been edited and packaged nicely. And the artwork uses original art I commissioned a long time ago, but with new typography. Looks spiffy, I think.

Just about every Turner Hahn/Frank Morales title is in the works. Along with the two Jake Reynolds novels and the two Decimus Julius Virilis novels. And speaking for the Jake Reynolds historical-adventure/mystery series, I had some new artwork created to replace the original cover Death of a Young Lieutenant originally had. 

We'll see if Next Chapter wants to use this. But what do you think about it?


I'll admit, hopes are high and dreams of making enough money to by a plate full of tacos dance before my eyes. Who knows what the future holds? We have no choice but keep moving forward, taking one step at a time.

But the journey should be interesting. Right?

Friday, April 30, 2021

Secret Lives Never Revealed

 They're out there. Secrets walking around on two legs, nodding and smiling, expressing to one and all to 'Have a good day!' And all the time, hiding from us--and the world--secrets which would surprise and shock us to our very core.

And the strange thing is--all of us do it. We all have secrets we wish to keep secret and not reveal to anyone. Frankly, to be human is to be, at times, irrationally secretive. Oh sure, sure . . . for the vast majority of us, our most private secrets we keep buried deep in our subconscious in a locked filing cabinet in some filing room long forgotten, are nothing more than trivial oddities and idiosyncrasies which, if revealed to us, would elicit the reaction a big yawn and a ho-hum.

But.

There are a little over 8 billion people currently alive on this jagged rocky planet orbiting around a sun which is completely uninteresting to the rest of the universe. Eight billion souls. But you've got to wonder, you just got to wonder--who is out there living an apparent normal life who is truly hiding something fascinating from us?

All of the above is nothing more than a prelude to what I'm going to share with you. I'm working on the third book of the Jake Reynolds series; you know the one--the art-thief-turned-reluctant-detective character of mine who lived and worked through the first half of the 20th Century. (To the right in the long column of my books, you can find both Jake Reynolds offerings). Book Three is going to be called either, Death of a Reluctant Spy, or Death of a Killer in Uniform. To be decided later on. But in each book, I open the novel with a Prologue. An introduction, if you will, of who Jake Reynolds is and why is he now, in the twilight of his long life, revealing his secrets to the world.

So without further ado, here we go;


 

Prologue

            It sat there, on at artist’s easel, encased in a heavy gilded frame that was, in itself, a fine piece Baroque artwork. The massive piece of canvas, known throughout the world, sat on the easel with elegance and an aura of infinite power. And all I could do was stare at it in stunned silence. But internally, in my mind, my conscious was screaming in a mixture of fear and excitement! Demanding to know how this masterpiece was here. Screaming to hear the old man’s explanation on how he came into possession the most famous painting in all of the world.

            Finally, my voice returned, and I turned around and stared at the ancient man who stood close by eyeing me with eyes a
lit in merriment and a wiry grin on his thin lips.

            “Oh, my god!” I shouted excitedly, my eyes falling on the unmistakable face a woman with her eternal and enigmatic smile blazing across the obviously ancient canvas. “You didn’t! You  could not possibly have gotten away with it! The Mona Lisa?  Good god! The Mona Lisa? You didn’t! You actually, honestly, stole Leonardo di Vinci’s Mona Lisa from out of the Louvre?”

            “Well . . . yes. And no. ”

            The small man with the dark tan and startling white head of hair had a smile on his face almost as enigmatic as the smiling woman herself. But there was a difference. The old man had a twinkle of mirth in his eyes and a spring to his step I doubt either di Vinci or the countess could emulate at his current age. We were standing beside in the narrow but high ceiling hidden nook behind his fireplace in his rustic ranch home where he kept his many treasures. He was a man who had to be, I estimated, between eighty-five or ninety-five years old. His deeply lined, suntanned face reminded me of a belt of quality leather.  Still flexible. But indestructible. A piece of leather which had weathered through fair weather and hurricanes. Through dark intrigues and hair-raising escapades. Through adventures and debacles no mortal creature could have endured. Much less survived. Frankly, it’s hard to explain—or describe—this old devil who called himself Jake Reynolds. To those who know him currently, he was a gracious, jovial old man who owned a rather large ranch just outside a small Kansas city called Salina. He was an average height of a man, with sparkling eyes and an easy smile on his sun-tanned, weather beaten face. Most of the time, he dressed like the typical Kansas rancher. Blue jeans, wearing worn out looking cowboy boots, with usually a long-sleeved western style shirt to complete the picture. Most of the time he drove an old, beat up looking Chevy pickup truck whenever he went to town. Everyone in the community knew him. And liked him.

            But those who knew him back then have no idea about this old man’s past. About the life he lived when he was young. No one could image Jake Reynolds as being anything else but a straight up, honest soul. Always helpful. Always friendly. Always willing to help out anyone in a time of need.

            But the Jake Reynolds I knew was an altogether different man. Actually, Jake Reynolds wasthe same man—but different only in that, through a different pair of glasses, this old man could be the opposite to the extreme.

            In the early part of the 20th Century—roughly from the years of 1910 to 1955—Jake Reynolds was a thief. Oh no—no, no, no. Not the smash-and-grab kind of thief who would knock off a 7/11 convenience store late and night and clean out the cash register while waving a gun around in one hand and stuffing the money into a brown paper bag with the other hand at the same time. No. Nothing so pedestrian as just another hood making a few bucks at a crack. Jake, when he was in his prime of life, was an unheralded artisan in his own brand of criminality. A master craftsman when it art forgeries. Jake Reynolds was an artist. A brilliant artist with the talent one could rightly assume as being an equal to a Rembrandt or the Italian master, Caravaggio.

            His ability to copy precisely every stroke of a master’s brush, formulate every color found on a master artisan’s palette exactly, even paint on a piece of canvas which could be dated back to the same time-frame as the original masterpiece, was Jake’s artistic genius. He once told me there are his works hanging in museums and on the walls of private collectors to this day, copies of the original canvasses, where experts and world-renown critics labeled each and every one as original. But not originals. They are copies of the originals. A Jake Reynolds copy of an original.

            I know, I know—it is incredible to believe. Impossible, even. And to make it even more incredulous, in many cases, whenever one of his fakes was recognized as being a fake, it nevertheless sold at a tremendously high price, making for Jake a rather sizable profit in the process. Only I, and a handful of his old clients yet alive—private collectors whom Jake catered to in their avarice need to add a canvas of a master into their private collection, know the truth. Jake was never apprehended for his crimes. He was never officially suspected as being this mastermind of the art world by any police or governmental agency in either Europe or the United States. He applied his trade for almost forty years without once being caught. And when he eventually retired in the 1950’s, he retired to the rolling hills of central Kansas and became a successful rancher.

            But forgive me—I am portraying Jake as a master criminal lurking in the shadowy background of the unnoticed and plying his nefarious trade without ever being thrust into the limelight of international notoriety. That would be a grievous error on my part. For in truth, this old man, when he was in the prime of his youth, and even before the war had made himself something of an international reputation. Prior to the break out of hostilities in 1914, two major sports raged with a heated fervor across Europe. Automobile racing. And endurance races across large tracks of land, even of nations, involving the new invention called an aeroplane.

            One must remember both affordable gas-powered automobiles and the new form of transportation of flying like a bird through the air, came into existence at about the same time. Henry Ford made his first gas-powered automobile which went into mass production in 1908. This was, of course, Ford’s famous Model T. And between l908, when the Model T went into production, until 1927 when the Model T was replaced by a newer model, Ford produced about 15 million automobiles. They were cheap. They were reliable. And the birth of automobile racing was inevitable.

            Five years earlier, in 1903, Frank and Orville Wright were the first to fly a pragmatic, workable flying machine using a small gas-powered engine. Prior to the Wright brothers, many other inventors, from all over the world, tried to be the first to accomplish such a feat. The vast majority of them failed. The Wright brothers led the way into the skies, and now, for the first time, the human race was no longer earth bound. And very much like the automobile, if it were new and if it could go fast, racing flying machines through the air became an overnight reality.

            In the early years of both racing venues, Jake Reynolds made his mark. Always a competitor, the young Jake Reynolds began winning a few races and having his name and his photo splashed across the front pages of newspaper again and again. By time August 1914 rolled around and war broke out all across Europe, the little man was well known. It did not take him long to enlist in the newly organized British Royal Flying Corps, the precursor to Britain’s modern RAF, and fight for a country he truly loved.

            He survived the war. And in the process of surviving, created for himself a whole new reputation—a reputation created quite accidentally—and one he always privately thought to himself as being more of a curse than a reason for notoriety.

            But enough of this introduction. What truly transpired is, by in large, accurate in almost every detail. That line between fact and fiction is almost indistinguishable. So in the end, those who read this book must decide for himself what is real—and what might be flights of sheer fantasy.