Tuesday, April 19, 2011

This Guy Knows Better Than You...He's More "Serious," Too

I'm concerned about Bill Henderson.

Who is Bill Henderson, you ask? I don't know. I've never heard of him until today. But when you occupy a perch as lofty as Bill Henderson's, looking down on the rest of us inferior beings, it's a long way to fall, so I hope he doesn't get hurt if he slips.

Bill Henderson wrote a piece in the April 11 edition of Publisher's Weekly, where he advanced an alternative viewpoint to the generally positive reaction electronic reading devices have received as they have grown in popularity. You can read Mr. Henderson's entire piece here, if you're interested.

As an author whose first book is available solely in electronic format, and whose second book will also be available solely in ebook form, at least for a while, you would probably be unsurprised to discover I have a different viewpoint than Bill Henderson. But to each his own, right? There's plenty of room in the world for all manner of opposing viewpoints, right?

Well, apparently not to Bill Henderson. In the style typical of a person who considers himself superior to you and me, he makes arguments based on that perceived superiority. First, he quotes a book claiming that after years of digital addiction, we are becoming a society of "digital scatterbrains...even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb."

I have a couple of observations regarding this argument, and I realize we're already into the sixth paragraph of this blog post, so I hope you're still with me. But Bill Henderson offers no proof in support of the above argument. It appears in a 2010 book by Nicholas Carr, and if Mr. Carr provides tangible proof of this charge in his book, it wasn't transferred to Bill Henderson's PW piece. It's nothing more than the opinion of some guy that appeared in a (presumably) non-fiction book.

But here's the thing: Even if you grant Henderson's premise, I can, and will, make the argument that the proliferation of digital books and ereaders may actually reverse that trend. How? If the current generation of children and young adults has spent their lifetimes with their noses stuck inside computers and digital games, etc., as most would agree is the case, wouldn't it stand to reason that books available on digital devices might have a greater appeal to that segment of the population?

And if those books have a greater appeal, doesn't it make sense that at least some of these "at-risk" people (remember, this is Bill Henderson's premise, not mine) would benefit from exposure to books available electronically, discovering reading and thus teaching their "scattered" brains to absorb more than three or four paragraphs at a time?

Henderson's second argument, in my opinion, is the one that cements him as a guy with a serious superiority complex. Just so you don't think I'm exaggerating, here is the argument, in his own words. "...what serious writer would create exclusively for an ereader?"

Translation: "I'm a 'serious' writer and I hate ereaders, so the rest of you mere mortals should hate them, too. Trust me; I know what's best for you."

The notion that you're not a "real" writer if your words do not appear in ink on dead trees is pretty old-school for a guy who seems to view himself as an advanced thinker. And I have news for you, Mr. Henderson. I'm pretty serious about my work, too. Of course, (hold your nose while you read this part, Mr. Henderson) I write thrillers and horror - you know, the sort of lowbrow drivel you wouldn't waste your time reading - so I'm obviously not a "real" writer, anyway.

In Henderson's final argument, he takes on the notion that we are somehow saving trees by using ereaders as opposed to ink and paper. It's an interesting argument, and he quite correctly notes that any eco-benefits ereaders provide by saving trees might well be more than offset by the energy and materials required to manufacture and power those devices.

But again, we disagree on the interpretation of this argument. Henderson claims it takes 33 pounds of minerals, plus 79 gallons of water, to "refine the minerals and produce the battery and printed writing" in a typical ereader. But here's what it takes to produce a book: "recycled paper, a dash of minerals, and two gallons of water."

I'll have to take his word for it, because Mr. Henderson offers no proof of any of these numbers. But, again, even if you accept them as being correct, there is more than one way of looking at it. I have roughly forty books on my Kindle, which means that, using Henderson's own numbers, I have actually saved one gallon of the earth's precious water with my Kindle.

And nowhere does he offer the definition of a "dash" of minerals, so I'm unable to make a reasonable comparison there. But the point is that you don't put just one book on your ereader, you put many. Dozens, hundreds even, so comparing the energy it takes to manufacture one ereader with the energy it takes to manufacture one book is a false and misleading argument.

It's clear Bill Henderson loves books, and I applaud him for that. I love books, too, I've been reading them my entire life and will continue reading them until the day I die. But is it really necessary to pit reader against reader? Can't you maybe admit, Mr. Bill Henderson, that your way isn't the only way? Can't you come down off your high horse and admit that?

Can't we readers all just get along?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

You Know You're Getting Old When...

My middle child turns twenty tomorrow, leading me to a couple of inescapable conclusions:

1) I'm old, and

2) I'm old.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining. I think it might have been WC Fields who said of aging, "It beats the alternative." I wholeheartedly agree, although at the moment I'm still reasonably healthy and have most of my marbles. If either of those things changes, maybe my viewpoint on the subject will change as well.

But this whole "getting older" stuff did start me thinking about how much things have changed in my lifetime. So here, without further ado, and because if I wait any longer I might forget what I'm writing about, is my list of Ways to Tell if you're Getting Old:

You know you're getting old when car commercials refer to the "command center" and you remember it as the "dashboard."

Of course, it didn't magically become the "command center." After "dashboard," some marketing genius undoubtedly came up with the brilliant notion that car companies could get away with charging more for a vehicle with an "instrument panel." In short order, "instrument panel" became "instrument cluster," which somewhere along the line morphed into "command center."

You'll notice that with all these changes, cars didn't get any cheaper.

You know you're getting old when you can vividly recall taking sides in the heated VHS/Betamax debate.

It seems almost quaint now, doesn't it? VHS or Betamax? I wonder if, three decades from now, people will be just as amused by our current Kindle/Nook flame wars.

You know you're getting old when you can remember dialing your phone by actually, you know, dialing your phone.

When I was a kid, we had one telephone in our house. It was big and black and it sat on the end of our kitchen counter, and you dialed it by sticking your finger in that plastic rotary thing (the dial) at the digit you wanted, and cranking it clockwise as far as it would go, then letting go. The plastic dial would spin around, and when it stopped, you would do the same thing again for the second digit in the phone number. And you would keep doing it until the telephone number had been completed.

God help you if the number was busy, because then you had to start the whole thing over again. Automatic redial? Forget it. Call waiting? Please. That would have been magic.

You know you're getting old when you remember "rap" as what your teacher did to your knuckles with a ruler when you weren't paying attention in class.

I don't know if education was any better when I went to school. Everyone seems to think it was, but I'm not so sure that's true. One thing I can tell you, though, is that it was a hell of a lot more painful.

You know you're getting old when you can remember filling your gas tank without maxing out your credit card.

Unfortunately, it might not be long before we're remembering fondly the days of $4.00 a gallon gas.

You know you're getting old when you remember getting your first color television and being absolutely certain TV could never get any better than this.

I grew up outside Boston, and the night we got our first color TV, we ate dinner in the living room watching it. We could receive four channels pretty well: ABC, NBC, CBS and PBS. If you didn't mind putting up with a little snow (most of the time on the inside of the TV), we could also watch Channel 9 out of Manchester, New Hampshire. And that was it.

Cable was a car in San Francisco, and TiVo was decades away from being born. Hell, the guy who invented TiVo was probably decades away from being born. High Definition TV was just a gleam in some geek's eye, as was 3-D TV.

I'll say this, though. Watching Hogan's Heroes in color was like opening my eyes to a whole new world.

There are plenty of other ways to tell you're getting old, but it's almost nine o'clock, which makes it way past my bed time. I have to leave myself a little extra sleep time for all those nocturnal trips to the bathroom. I'm not getting any younger, you know.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Interview With Bestselling Thriller Author Vincent Zandri

When it came time for me to begin looking for potential authors to blurb my first book, FINAL VECTOR, one of the first people I asked was a guy I had been following on Facebook for a while. His name was Vincent Zandri, and while I had never met him, I saw him as sort of a kindred spirit. He was a fellow thriller writer and a guy struggling to make an name for himself in an incredibly cutthroat industry.

To my surprise, not only did he agree to check out my book, he provided me with an author blurb that, quite literally, made my jaw drop the first time I read it. If you're curious, part of it is on the home page of my website.

We've become friends in the time since, and Vincent Zandri's career has taken off like a shot with his taut, gripping bestseller, THE INNOCENT. Vin is the prototypical overnight success who has been working at his craft for decades, and that success couldn't have come to a harder working or more deserving guy.

He agreed to take a few minutes to talk writing with me, and here is the result:

- You had a whirlwind ride through the world of “traditional” publishing back in the 1990’s, a ride that ended so unhappily you gave up writing fiction altogether for years. What in the world made you decide to come back and try it again?

Well I never gave up writing fiction. I gave up crying about my predicament and got back to work. I wrote something like five books during that time including Moonlight Falls, The Remains, and parts of others. Some short stories too that did get published. I never stopped trying to get my work back out there, but so long as I was perceived as an author who didn’t sell, I was essentially black-listed from New York, after having been paid a mid-six figure advance from a Random House imprint for my first two books. Now my books, or my E-Books anyway, outsell Stieg Larson, John Grisham, Harlan Coben, and many others. You could say I’m the “Kindle champ” these days, but then you would sound just as stupid as I sound saying it.

- As I write this, your thriller, THE INNOCENT, is ranked #3 at Amazon among ALL Kindle books. THE INNOCENT was released last fall by StoneGate Ink but really began picking up steam, sales-wise, in late-winter. What was your first indication that the book was beginning to take off?

My publisher started to call me, just to say hello, and ask me if I needed any money. Ha! Actually, like everyone else, I just kept looking at my sales numbers on Amazon. But a curious thing happened to me last month. I was in the Austrian Alps where I met with healer who told me within a period of three days to two weeks, I would begin to achieve something regarding my profession that would make me very proud. Three days later I was in Rome, Italy, and my numbers started skyrocketing and not coming back down. Two weeks later I landed in the Amazon Top Ten and have stayed there ever since.

- Recently Young Adult author Amanda Hocking received a $2 million advance for a four book series with St. Martin’s Press. What would it take to convince you to reenter the world of “traditional” publishing with a “Big 6” publisher? Would anything convince you to go back?

Well, my deals with StoneGate and StoneHouse Ink are traditional now, in that they are agented deals with excellent terms and payment schedules. I’ve never been happier with a house than I am now. However, I’m a big believer in not putting all your eggs in one basket. Which is why I foresee my relationship with StoneGate and StoneHouse only growing while I entertain both traditional NYC deals (as sought out by my agent Chp MacGregor) and perhaps even a self-published book or two. The there’s foreign rights, movies, etc.

- What’s next in the pipeline for Vincent Zandri?

I’m finishing up the second in the Moonlight series, Moonlight Rises, and my new novel in a new series starring the brassy but beautiful construction business owner-slash-amateur sleuth, Ava “Spike” Harrison. It’s called, Concrete Pearl! I’m doing some travelling and photojournalism in June (we hope), the ITW conference in NYC in July, and in the Fall, the Boise Book Expo. In October I leave for Florence, Italy for a couple of months where I’ll be working on another Moonlight, and perhaps another stand alone for StoneHouse to follow The Remains.

- What writer or writers do you consider role models?

Hemingway, Mailer, Parker, Charlie Huston, Jim Harrison, Dave Zeltersman, Aaron Patterson, Al Leverone, Heath Lowrance…Girly writers…Ha!

- Hypothetical question #1: You’re going to be stranded on a desert island but are allowed to bring one book. What book do you bring?

The Bible with Charlie Huston’s “Caught Stealing” stuffed inside.

- Hypothetical question #2: You are given a choice by the Gods of Publishing. Your books can either bring you tremendous monetary wealth or they can be universally acclaimed as outstanding work by the critics. Which do you choose, and why?

I refuse to play this game with you Al…My wish is to be praised by the highbrows and read by the lowbrows.

- What are you reading right now? What’s next on your “to-be-read” list?

I’m reading A Wilderness of Mirrors by Max Frisch. After that I’ll (sadly) be finishing up the third and final in the Charlie Huston Hank Thompson series.

- You write hard-boiled crime fiction. Who are some of your favorite authors writing in the genre?

Look three or four questions upwards….

- Thanks for taking the time to visit A Thrill a Minute. Any last words of wisdom you’d like to share with my thousands hundreds dozens handful of readers?

Never check your baggage. Always bring carry-ons. You can always do your laundry when you get there.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Review - THE BASTARD HAND, by Heath Lowrance

Charlie Wesley is a drifter with a violent past, a man who converses more with his brother now that the man is dead than he ever did while he was breathing. He's traveling aimlessly, with a vague notion of heading south to Florida, when against all odds he somehow survives a brutal mugging in Memphis, Tennessee.

Shortly afterward Charlie finds a discarded bible in a laundromat with a strange hole running through the middle of the book. With nothing better to do, he begins reading, leading to a seemingly random encounter with one of the strangest preachers he has ever met, a man with the unlikely name of Reverend Phinneas Childe.

The two strike up an uneasy friendship and travel together to the tiny, bucolic town of Cuba Landing, Mississippi, where Childe has been hired to replace the previous pastor of the Cuba Landing Freewill Baptist Church, a man who disappeared nearly one year ago under mysterious circumstances.

Charlie begins to believe Reverend Childe has a plan for Cuba Landing that involves much more than spreading God's word, and the more layers he peels back from the surface of life in the tiny town, the uglier things appear. An apocalyptic storm is about to be unleashed on this out-of-the-way village in rural Mississippi; one which Charlie - not to mention Reverend Childe and everyone else in town - will be lucky to survive.

Heath Lowrance is a debut author but he writes like a true craftsman. THE BASTARD HAND is classic noir with a twist. It features dirty, gritty dialogue spoken by dirty, gritty characters and in classic noir fashion you might have trouble determining exactly who the "good guy" is, or if there even is one. Purity of motive is hard to come by in Cuba Landing.

What's the twist? Religion is featured heavily; faith is used like a battering ram by a cynical preacher; a man who is a master manipulator. Over the course of nearly three hundred pages, Lowrance explores themes of good and evil, right and wrong, and whether it is possible for a sliding scale to apply.

There's plenty of action - bullets fly, knives are brandished, sex is had, people are crossed and double-crossed, and the climactic scene is one you will never forget.

I have to be honest - I've struck up a friendship with Heath Lowrance over the last several months, despite the fact we've never met in person. So I was prepared to enjoy THE BASTARD HAND. But I was blown away, both by the quality of the writing - his prose goes down easy like the finest Tennessee whiskey - and the intricate plot and lifelike characters.

This book is the rare novel that will captivate any noir fan while forcing the reader to consider life in ways he or she may never have done before. If you're a noir fan, get used to the name Heath Lowrance. You'll be hearing it for a long time.

Monday, April 4, 2011

In the (Stone)House

I'm excited beyond belief to announce that I have signed with StoneHouse Ink for release of my next thriller, THE LONELY MILE. StoneHouse is relatively new and smaller than my first publisher, Medallion Press, but these guys are on the move and extremely savvy about the future of ebook publishing. All you need to do to understand what I'm talking about is to take a look at Amazon's ebook Bestseller lists. As I write this, StoneHouse's Vincent Zandri stands at #4 in all Kindle ebooks with his gripping thriller, THE INNOCENT. If you want to get a little more specific, check out Amazon's Hard-Boiled Mystery category, in which StoneHouse authors hold down four of the top eight spots: Number One is Zandri's THE INNOCENT, Number Five and Six are two more Vincent Zandri novels, THE REMAINS and GODCHILD, and Number Eight is Aaron Patterson's SWEET DREAMS. Results like these illustrate why I was so anxious to join the StoneHouse family. In today's rapidly changing publishing environment, as a veritable tsunami of ebooks are being released onto the market by publishing houses as well as self-published authors, in my opinion it becomes critical for the author to align himself with folks who know how to achieve results. StoneHouse is a leader in thinking outside the box, from reasonably-priced Kindle editions, leading to higher sales numbers and interest in an author's other work, to unique promotional methods, like packaging works from pairs of authors, allowing fans of one author to be introduced to the work of the other. I'm eternally grateful to Medallion Press and the outstanding professionals there for believing in FINAL VECTOR and for giving me the opportunity to become a working professional novelist. I believe in the book and am certain it will continue to find its place in the universe of exciting thrillers. I'm very gratified by the fantastic reviews the book has received, and look forward to many more. That said, I can't tell you how excited I am about THE LONELY MILE. I don't have a release date yet - the ink from my signature is barely dry on the contract - but I know it won't be long before this pulse-pounding thriller hits the digital shelves. And I'm already working on my third book, hopefully also to be a StoneHouse release. I have to thank Vincent Zandri for his encouragement and his vocal enthusiasm for the StoneHouse family. It was primarily that enthusiasm which convinced me StoneHouse was the way to go. In addition to being one helluva writer, Vin is a master promoter - the man is utterly tireless - and provided me with one of the most exciting blurbs for my first book. Curious? You can check it out on the home page of my website here. More to come, but for now it's safe to say I am excited and satisfied with the day's events.