Monday, May 31, 2010

Don't You Know Who I Am?

I read a blog post recently from a short story editor about the importance of author bios, and how often they are misused.

This particular post, which you can check out here if you're interested, was written in regard to the bios appended to short story submissions, but it struck a chord with me, as I've been working on the content for my new website and have struggled a bit with what to include in my own bio.

Self-promotion doesn't come naturally to me. In my nearly thirty year career as an air traffic controller, I've always believed in letting the quality of my work speak for itself, rather than trying to draw attention to it. My theory, and it's been borne out over time, is that if you perform at a professional level for a long enough period, people will naturally view you and your work in a positive manner.

When I began writing, I naively expected to take the same approach - write a solid book, with realistic characters, crisp dialogue, and lots of tension, and then build on that by writing another book, and another, convincing the public as I went that my work was worth spending their hard-earned money to buy.

Well, I discovered that I AM expected to do all that, but in addition, I must promote myself and my work in a way that is completely foreign to me. I've got to sell myself as well as my work.

Writing is, by its very nature, a solitary activity, and writers as a group tend, not surprisingly, to be solitary individuals. Months spent alone in front of a computer writing, editing, revising, etc, ect, ect, must then morph into the ability to convince a skeptical public that I am someone who can craft a story they will want to read.

It's not a bad thing, in fact it's quite the opposite, but it is completely new to me. I'm pleased to have built up a decent resume over the three years I have been writing short stories and working on my novels, and I'm proud of what I've accomplished at this early point in my writing career, but it's still not easy for me to talk about. I would much rather you looked at my work and said, "Hey, that guy's pretty good!" than me jump up and down and yell, "Hey, you out there, look at me! I'm pretty good!"

That's not to say I won't do it, just that I'm not altogether comfortable with it. So if you do check out my website when it goes live, and hopefully you will, don't think I'm bragging on myself when I'm . . . you know . . . uh . . . bragging on myself.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

What's an HTML? Anybody? Bueller?

Spent most of the day today working on content for my new website, which is getting closer to becoming a reality. While doing so, a couple of things occurred to me:

1) I suck at anything technical, especially when it's computer oriented, making the fact that I was even able to design my original website something of a modern miracle.

HTML? It means nothing to me. It might as well be PDF or MIC-KEY-MOUSE. Seriously. I have no idea what it means. That might explain why, toward the end, when the original website was on life support, barely hanging on, I couldn't even manage to update it.

2) Maddee James of is a genius as far as visual stuff is concerned. She took the information I gave her, along with some visual images that sort of created a mood I was going for, and came up with a design that I immediately fell in love with. Every couple of hours, I go back and look at it again, just to be sure it's as good as I remember, and it always is.

Hang on.

Yep, went and checked, and it's still cool.

As good as the design is, though, the content of the site is still my responsibility, and that's why I was working so hard on it today. The site will be live soon and I want it to reflect the level of professionalism I try to display, while still giving curious web-surfers some idea of my personality and writing style, hopefully convincing them to buy FINAL VECTOR when it comes out next February.

It sounds like it should be easy and I thought it would be, but it's like everything else with this writing gig - a lot harder than it looks.

Anyway, the process is ongoing; I still have a few things to iron out. But when relaunches, I will be celebrating with a very special contest. I'm not ready to announce the specifics yet, but it's going to be way cool. At least I think so.

Stay tuned.

And Happy Memorial Day, everybody. Sometime during the weekend, between the barbecues and cookouts and pool parties and other fun stuff, let's pause for a moment or two to remember the all the service men and women who have fought and died to defend our country over the last two hundred thirty-four years...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

So This is How the Dinosaurs Died, Part 2

Big doings at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, where the annual Book Expo America is taking place this week, featuring "the PREMIER North American publishing event." That is how it's being touted at the BEA website, and I have no doubt they're telling the truth.

What I find interesting, though, is the subject of this year's very first BEA conference panel. It featured executives from across the publishing spectrum - publishers, literary agents, booksellers, and author and Author's Guild President Scott Turow - and dealt with the possibilities and opportunities available in the brave new world of e-publishing.

As I picture this panel discussion, I can't help imagining a similar meeting taking place 65 million years ago, as the World Dinosaurs Council met to consider the possibilities and opportunities available in the brave new world of post-asteroid strike:

"Thanks for coming, everyone (cough cough). You may have noticed things are changing rapidly here on planet Earth after that big bang we all saw and heard (cough). Nothing to worry about, though, it was just an asteroid impacting our planet with a force similar to 100 million megatons of TNT, according to CNN.

"Phew, is it just me or does it seem to be getting really, REALLY hot in here? Anyway, it's come to my attention that some of you naysayers are worried this changing reality might have a negative affect on our survival. Let me just say this (cough cough): Pshaw!

"We dinosaurs have ruled this rock for millions of years (cough) and we aren't going anywhere. Yes? Is there a question? You, in the back, Rex, is it? Oh yes, I'm sorry, T. Rex. My bad. Go ahead with your question, Mr. T.

"The layer of soot covering the atmosphere, choking out the sun and eliminating our oxygen supply? It's nothing. We'll be fine. Trust me. Phew, it's getting so hot I wish I could climb out of my scales. Anyway, let me restate the point of this conference: There's nothing to worry about.

"Now, are we agreed to meet same time next year to discuss our eternal dominance? Excellent. Now, let's repair to the bar before we all burn alive."

Interestingly, according to the report I read in Publishers Lunch, what was intended as an upbeat discussion of opportunities quickly degenerated into a gloom-and-doom meeting focusing on two subjects: Author e-book royalties and the decline of the physical, print-on-paper book.

The major powers in book publishing have yet to reach any kind of agreement on what constitutes reasonable royalties in the e-book publishing world. According to Esther Newburg of ICM (International Creative Management), "We're getting different terms [from different publishers]. At some point we're going to have to go public about who is giving us what. And some of you are going to look bad."

Twenty-five percent of net revenues seems to have been batted around as the figure of contention, with Big Publishing justifying that number as the best they can offer in order to maintain the massive overhead required to deal in physical books and "legacy" publishing. (If you're not sure what legacy publishing is, see my previous post, "So This is How the Dinosaurs Died")

I mention this royaly issue because smaller, Indie publishers seem to be settling on e-book royalty rates between forty and fifty percent, and seventy percent has been floated as the royalty J.A. Konrath will be receiving from AmazonEncore for the e-book rights to SHAKEN, his new offering in the Jack Daniels series. It's worth mentioning that seventy percent figure is strictly conjecture, as Konrath has not divulged details due to his non-disclosure agreement with Amazon, but it seems safe to say the royalty will be well above twenty-five percent and probably well above fifty.

There was more than a little concern about the future of the mass-market paperback format in a digital world, as well. David Shanks, of Penguin USA, said, "The paperback market is not over. There are still hundreds of thousands of places you can buy paper-format books," and he alluded to the fact that over ninety percent of books sales still take place in the form of physical books.

A persuasive figure, until you consider that a couple of months ago, that figure was 92%, and only a little over a year ago, the figure was 98%! The ink-on-paper share of the book market is falling so fast you hope it's wearing a parachute.

You can almost see the dinosaurs looking up in wonder at a gray and soot-filled sky, can't you?

These were the "highlights" as presented by Publishers Lunch of the very first conference panel at BEA 2010. In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that I wasn't in attendance. I have a full-time job and a family to support and my first book doesn't even come out until next February. In e-book format, thank goodness. By February, the ink-on-paper share of the market will be down to 85%; just wait and see.

Anyway, after reading these highlights, I'm kind of glad I wasn't there. It sounds awfully depressing. Those dinosaurs can get mighty cranky.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

So This is How the Dinosaurs Died

As writers and readers, we live in an amazing time. It's fascinating to watch the publishing industry changing right before our very eyes, evolving at a speed which, given the glacial nature of change the publishing industry has traditionally demonstrated, is almost unbelievable.

Just a couple of years ago, the hot topic of discussion was whether or not e-readers would ever become a viable force in the industry. The general consensus seemed to be that the new technology was here to stay, but that the majority of readers would never pay the money for a device upon which to read books, newspapers and periodicals, choosing instead to continue reading the way it had been done for hundreds of years - ink splattered down on dead trees by an offset printing press.

Think about that for a second. Publishing has more or less been acomplished in the same manner since Johannes Gutenberg invented the movable-type printing press around 1439. That's nearly six hundred years ago! Can you think of any element of human life which has not changed in any substantial way in the last six hundred years?

Me neither.

But here we are in early years of the twenty-first century, and the world of publishing is changing in a massive way. And it's got the big publishers running scared. Check out a few quotes from Wharton's "Future of Publishing" Conference held recently in New York:

"Every part of the publishing function has to be reexamined." - Judith Curr, Atria Books.

About the concern that e-books will result in fewer customers visiting traditional brick-and-mortar stores: "If big retail chains feel declines in retail taffic and close more and more stores, that will change the game." - Peter Hildick-Smith, Codex Group Market Research.

"A big problem for book publishing is that nobody buys a book because it's from Random House." - Andy Hunter, Editor-in-chief, Electronic Literature.

That last quote, to me, is the most telling. When Hunter identifies it as a problem for book publishers, what he is saying is that it's a problem for traditional book publishers, the giants who have literally millions of dollars tied up in their relationships with large bookstore chains and the huge paydays given to a few mega-star authors in the old world of publishing.

Independent publishers, small start-ups, regional presses, and even the occasional savvy self-publisher like J.A. Konrath are using the new technologies to begin evening the field in the battle for readers' dollars. "Start-ups aren't burdened by having to protect that legacy revenue [based on the prior author relationships of the large traditional publishers]," said Perseus Books President David Steinberger.

Interesting how he phrased that point. The prior relationships of large, traditional publishers with their bestselling authors are a "burden" when it comes to moving swiftly to take advantage of the new technologies becoming available in the publishing world.

Meanwhile, Indies and startups are not burdened in that way and are able to take advantage, using well-designed covers, outstanding stories and sharp writing from relatively unknown authors, as well as quality editing to release successful books which would never have had a chance to succeed just a few years ago in the hide-bound world of publishing in the days of the Gutenberg Dinosaur . . . uh . . . Press.

I'm not saying I wouldn't love to get a book contract with Random House, or that I wouldn't love to be one of those mega-stars becoming such a "burden" to the biggest publishing houses, but I am proud of my relationship with Medallion Press, proud of FINAL VECTOR, which will be released in e-book form this coming February, and excited for the wonderful writers getting a chance to shine thanks to the quantum shift in the way things are being done in the world of publishing.

There has never been a better time to be a writer.


*If you're interested in reading the entire report upon which this post is based, you can check it out here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Family Ties - A Noir Flash Story

A very cool noir magazine just started up, releasing their first issue last month with contributors like Dave Zeltserman, Hilary Davidson, Keith Rawson and many others. It's called Needle: A Magazine of Noir, and they're running a flash fiction contest with just two rules: The story can be no longer than one thousand words, and it must include a needle in it somewhere.

This sounds like fun to a writing geek like me, so here's my entry:

Family Ties
by Allan Leverone

I've been thinking a lot about my grandfather lately. He took the needle back in '87, put to death for killing a cop during a botched bank heist. Gramps was a wheelman, one of the best they say, back in a time when banks were still legitimate targets for enterprising young men with a criminal bent.
The disastrous job took place in 1967 and went sideways almost from the beginning. It was an inside job and as you know, or maybe you don't, that type of operation is only as good as the information provided. In Gramps's case, that information was so bad it was one small step above a set-up.
The thing I can't get out of my mind, and the reason I keep thinking about a guy who's been dead nearly a quarter-century, is what he said when I asked him why he didn't just take off, drive away, save his own ass when he saw everything going to shit inside the bank. "Because, kiddo," he told me, "sometimes you just have to do what needs to be done."
I was only a kid when he told me that, and I didn't really get where he was coming from. To be honest, I didn't understand it at all. To me, he was just a stupid old man who had fucked up his life for no good goddamned reason. He told me he had meant to fire in the air just to give his crew a fighting chance to make it to the car, but instead had tagged a blueshirt right in the chest.
Bang. Dead. Capital murder. Game over.
My family disowned the old man, one final kick in the teeth for a guy who had lived a hardscrabble life because he knew no other way. He managed to put my dad through Penn Law, though, before he got sent up, and the ungrateful fuck demonstrated his gratitude by turning his back on the old guy.
I didn't turn my back, although the rest of the family had no idea of that. I was fascinated by the old bastard, and went to see him on death row every couple of months, whenever I could get time off work to travel. Once, during a visit, he told me where I could get my hands on one of his old guns, a Colt .38 revolver. "It's in mint condition," he said with a wink and a smile, "hardly ever used."
I stared at him. "What the hell am I going to do with a pistol?"
"You never know," he said. "There might come a day when you have to do what needs to be done, too. Your father, bless his soul, never had it in him to do what needs to be done, but I have a feeling maybe that particular trait skips a generation, like male pattern baldness or something." He ran his hand over his head and winked again.
Now I thought he was crazy as well as stupid, but damned if I didn't find myself picking up the Colt anyway. A buddy from the old days had been holding it for him and the old man was right on target about the gun; it was oiled and lovingly maintained and impressively deadly to hold. I had no reason to own it, certainly no intention of ever using it. That was twenty-five years ago.
I stashed it in a safe-deposit box and told no one. Every couple of months I took it out, cleaned and oiled it, and replaced it, still telling no one, still with no clear idea why the hell I was bothering.
Then I found about my wife and my best friend.
Marilyn and Bobby. The two people I was closest to in the whole world.
A four year affair, the entire thing laid out in sordid detail on the computer, courtesy of a password she didn't know I knew. Illicit weekends in cheap motels when I thought she was working, X-rated electronic love notes passed back and forth right under my nose, romps in our bed while I was away, the whole nine cliched fucking yards.
And they don't know that I know.
And I've been thinking a lot about Gramps, and I think he might have been right; maybe he wasn't quite the stupid old bastard I thought he was. I think maybe I will be able to do what needs to be done. I'm going to the bank this afternoon, gonna make a little trip to the safe-deposit box I rented so many years ago.
Then I guess we'll find out.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Can Oprah's Book Club Be Far Behind?

I'm excited as hell to announce that FINAL VECTOR will be featured at Book Trib, that's, on Friday, June 25, as part of their celebration of Thrillerfest 2010.

While I didn't expect to have an opportunity to promote the book this soon - the release date isn't until next February - being featured as a debut thriller author at this very classy literary site is a wonderful way to kick off my promotional efforts in support of FINAL VECTOR.

Book Trib isn't a site featuring just thrillers, or even just genre literature, it's an amalgamation of all kinds of literary efforts across the spectrum of books. If you enjoy reading, even if you don't read the kinds of books I write, I urge you to give the site a look; you won't be sorry.

For me, this feature at Book Trib represents an opportunity beyond just getting some publicity for myself and for my book. As a member of the International Thriller Writers, I am thrilled (pun definitely intended) to get the chance to support the organization in some small way. Plus, FINAL VECTOR was literally conceived as a result of a conversation I had with a literary agent two years ago, during Thrillerfest 2008.

To learn more, though, you will have to check out Book Trib on Friday, June 25. Sorry for the cliffhanger. It's what I do.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Why Celebrate Mother's Day?

It's easy to become cynical about Mother's Day. It's a "Hallmark Holiday," exploited by the greeting card companies and the flower growers and the telephone companies, all for the purpose of separating you from your money.

There are pressures - did you get a good card? What about the gift? Flowers, or are they too much of a cliche? What about candy? Or is she on a diet at the moment? And the kids, did you make sure they got their mom something?

So why celebrate Mother's Day at all?

Here's why, at least in my case:

- The two emotionally and physically painful miscarriages my wife suffered through before we were able to have our first child. Sometimes it's important to remember the bad times in order to appreciate the good.

- The time we had to sit in a doctor's sterile and intimidating office and try not to break down when we heard him say we should start adjusting to the unfortunate reality that she was probably going to lose a third baby. She refused to accept the diagnosis and that tiny life growing inside her, against all odds, ended up being our daughter Kristin, now finishing her Freshman year at Quinnipiac University.

- The horrifying moments immediately after Kristin's birth, when doctors were unable to stop the bleeding and my wife almost died. It's easy to say we would "die" for something, almost a cliche really, but this mother nearly did.

- The years of giving things up - money, time, sense of self, for her children. We all have a mother, and in the vast majority of cases, we will never fully know or appreciate how much she sacrificed for us. And unlike the stereotypical guilt-pushing mother sitcoms love to foist on us, most real moms make their sacrifices with quiet dignity, expecting - and often getting - little or nothing in return.

Happy Mother's Day. And don't spend so much time worrying about whether to get a funny card or a serious one, whether to go out to eat at a fancy restaurant or at Taco Bell, whether to get flowers or candy or something different. Tell her you love her and appreciate her. That's what she really wants. It's what she deserves.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

This Bridesmaid Dress is Hideous

The voting for the 2010 Derringer Awards concluded on April 30, with the results being released yesterday, May 1. I figured I was facing an uphill battle the minute I saw some of the competition I was facing for Best Novellette, and I was right on target.

Dave Zeltserman won with his story, "Julius Katz," and I can't really complain, it was a wonderful story with a little bit of a twist on the typical PI tale. Coming in second was Toni LP Kelner with "The Pirate's Debt," and my entry, "Uncle Brick and Jimmy Kills" finished third in the voting.

All of the stories - including the ones that finished with fewer votes than mine - were outstanding, and I wouldn't have been shocked to see any of them win, but I figured going in that "Julius Katz" was the favorite and I was proven right, although the top two stories were neck and neck in the voting.

I can honestly say I'm thrilled with my third-place finish, although I would be lying if I said I wouldn't have been happier to win. But I improved on my results from last year, when I was fortunate enough to place two stories in the finals of the Best Short Story category, only to see them finish in fourth and fifth place.

Congratulations to the winners in all four categories:

Hamilton Waymire for Best Flash Story - "And Here's To You, Mrs. Edwardson," which appeared in Big Pulp.

Anita Page for Best Short Story - ""Twas the Night," which appeared in The Gift of Murder.

Doug Allyn for Best Long Story - "Famous Last Words," which appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Dave Zeltserman for Best Novellette - "Julius Katz," which appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

Finally, chosen as the recipient of the Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer for Lifetime Achievement was Lawrence Block.