Monday, December 31, 2012

The Current State of Indie Publishing

And so we come to the end of another year.  Time to think back a little bit about the one just past, and the state of "indie" publishing.  It seems as though the amount of content out there really is becoming enormous!  It is certainly getting to be harder and harder for a book to stand out amongst the crowd.

Maybe the biggest story in "indie" publishing this past year, as far as I can see, is that there doesn't seem to have been any one big story.  In 2010 the story was Amanda Hocking becoming the first self-published author to sell over a million e-books.  In 2011 it was John Locke selling a million+ on Amazon alone.  In 2012 it seems to me that the biggest story was the revelation that Locke actually got his first big push after he paid a service to generate fake reviews.

But who were the big, knock the ball out of the park, bestsellers among "indie" authors in 2012?  I don't know.  There are still plenty of authors making a decent living at it, but there also seem to be more and more that are struggling to find an audience.  That is certainly true in my case.

I know it is comparing apples to oranges in many ways, but this time last year I did a three-day free promo for my romance book, No Cure for the Broken Hearted.  In those three days I gave away 18,000 copies.  I had similar results when I gave away copies of the novel now called Tinseltown Blues earlier in 2011.  I think I had around 50,000 downloads in five days on that one.  Both promos led to healthy sales going forward for several weeks afterwards.

This year I released my first suspense novel, Natalia.  I promoted it just as hard as the other two, but sales have been virtually non-existent.  I sold about ten copies in the first three months, mostly to friends and family.  Earlier this week I had a three day free promo for Natalia.  In those three days, the book had about 250 downloads.  Compared to 6,000 per day, that's a big difference, even with the genre switch.

I'm still optimistic, despite the rough waters.  I'm proud of Natalia and think that it will find an audience eventually.  I'm also hard at work on a memoir that I think is going to be really good.  It's coming along well so far, anyway... 

So 2012 wasn't quite the breakout year I'm always hoping for, but being the eternal optimist, I'm looking forward to good things in 2013.  And to everyone out there in cyber space, have a great New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Natalia - Free for Kindle

Happy Holidays to all!  In the spirit of Christmas I've decided to give away my latest novel, Natalia, for the next three days, December 27, 28 and 29.  You can pick up a copy on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk, or any other local Amazon site.


Thanks, and for anyone who decides to give it a read, I hope you like it!

 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Merry Christmas from Budapest!

I was out and about today in Budapest, the first day of the year that we've had snow actually sticking on the ground.  Just in time for Christmas!  I also wandered through the Christmas market on Vorosmarty Square, where I snapped this shot of Santa Claus.


Happy holidays to all, wherever in the world you may be!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Berlin in Winter

As winter officially kicks off I'm still here in Europe, enjoying the holiday season.  It's the first time I've stuck it out on this continent into the winter, actually.  Usually I high tail it back to warmer climes by this time of year!  And I'm actually heading to Thailand in January, but in the meantime I spent last weekend in Berlin, so I thought I'd post a few photos here:

Checkpoint Charlie

Tiergarten Park

Berlin Wall remnant

Church at Mariannen Platz

Holocaust Memorial

I hope everyone out there is enjoying the holidays.  In the spirit of Christmas, I'm planning to make my latest novel, Natalia, free for three days next week, the 27th to 29th of December.  So anyone who hasn't picked it up yet can check back here for the link!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Memoir Minute: What surfing means to me

These days I'm busy working on a memoir, tentatively titled, Memoirs of a Starving Artist, all about my time as a struggling writer and the funny stories that I have to share.  I figured I'd start posting some very short snippets from whatever I'm working on at any given time.  Here's my latest paragraph, all about what surfing means to me:

"Unlike team sports, surfing is more of a personal journey. It is a direct connection between the surfer and the sea.  Surfers describe it sometimes in spiritual terms.  This might seem hyperbolic to those who don’t surf themselves, but launching yourself into a rolling wave that has travelled thousands of miles across the open ocean puts one in tune with the rhythms of nature in a way that few other sports can match."

I'll try to keep this up as a regular feature here on the blog.  An easy way to update it from time to time. :-)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Christmas lights are up!

A happy holiday season to everyone out there!  Here in Budapest, the Christmas lights went on yesterday throughout the city, bathing the streets in a bit of holiday cheer.  Here's a picture from my balcony looking down Vaci street:


We should be getting even more in the spirit this week as the first significant snowfall of the year is expected to start falling tomorrow!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Photo of the Night: Budapest Atmosphere

For the past month or so I've been living in an apartment here in Budapest on the famous Vaci street, which is the backbone of a pedestrianized zone running parallel to the Danube.  It is right in the center of town, and an ideal location to live.  I love walking around the area at night, when the neighborhood is thick with Bohemian atmosphere.  The street lamps, the cobblestones, the stylish old buildings.


Last night I took this photo, which sums up the feeling of the place pretty well, I think.  Over the last few weeks, crews have been putting up lots of Christmas lights.  They haven't been turned on yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing it when they do!


Monday, November 19, 2012

What I Learned from Fishbone

Back the 1980s when I was in my teens and early 20’s, many of us who lived in Southern California had musical tastes that seemed to be wildly divergent from people in the rest of the country.  While Michael Jackson and Madonna were topping the charts nationwide, California was home to a more raucous musical scene, full of the livelier sounds of punk, ska and reggae.

We followed local bands like X, The Untouchables, Sublime and Agent Orange.  We liked The Dead Kennedy’s and The Vandals.  From the UK we listened to UB40 and the English Beat.  Another local band that was very popular among my crowd at the time was the punk-ska group Fishbone.

Last summer when I was living up in Mammoth Lakes, California, Agent Orange and Fishbone played a free show along with two other acts.  Seeing Agent Orange was like a trip down memory lane, but I had to leave early and missed Fishbone entirely, much to my dismay.

So I was quite happy when I was standing at the urinal at the Akvarium Club in Budapest on Friday night and saw the upcoming schedule posted on the wall in front of me.  Fishbone, coming Sunday!  I couldn’t miss them twice.

Even better, I found out that a guy I know in town was screening the Fishbone documentary, Everyday Sunshine, in the attic of a small pub nearby before the show.

So last night about 20 of us gathered under the eaves in the attic and watched the documentary together.  It told the story of Norwood Fisher, the pragmatic founder and bass player, and his struggles to keep it all together over more than 30 years of drama and upheaval.  It showed Angelo Moore, the charismatic and artistically sensitive lead singer yearning for self-expression.  It talked of Kendall Jones, the lead guitarist who spun out of control and ran off to join his father’s cult after his mother passed away.

The thing that is most striking about this film, and about the lives of these musicians, is that the dream they share is so potent, and yet in some ways seemingly just out of reach.  They had an enormous influence on many bands that came after them, like No Doubt and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  These bands went on to stardom and great commercial success.

And Fishbone?  They have struggled to survive.  Angelo had to move back in with his mother when he was evicted from his home.  The rest have a hard time making ends meet and most of the original members ended up quitting the band along the way.  A great live act with a few hits locally, they never managed to have a big hit nationwide.  Some say their songs are just too hard to categorize.  They do their own thing and can’t have it any other way.

What is inspiring about their story is that Angelo and Norwood just refuse to give up, and they seem like such good guys that you can’t help but want the best for them.  They love making music, as though it was the reason they were put on this earth.  And maybe it was.  I’m sure that they couldn’t imagine doing anything else.  Even after they were dropped by their music label and most of the original members had peeled off, Norwood and Angelo keep on plugging away, putting out new music and touring.

Watching the movie, I found myself a little bit concerned about what might happen to these guys if and when they just can’t do it anymore.  How will they survive?  But then, the beauty of it is that they are surviving, and somehow you know that they’ll persevere.  Angelo’s mother may not completely understand him, but you can see how deeply she loves him.  Norwood may be living in a tiny apartment, but he’s right by the beach in Venice and embracing his life.  He’s learned to surf and to snowboard and seems to make the most of every day.  Perhaps most importantly, they have each other, even if that has been difficult at times as well.

All of this begs the question of what really constitutes success in the end.  Michael Jackson was also an African-American performer from Los Angeles, and roughly the same age as these guys.  He ended up becoming one of the wealthiest and most famous performers of all time.  That constitutes success in our society, but was he happy?  Arguably not. 

Michael Jackson had wealth and he had fame, but his was a tormented soul, and that torment ultimately led to his demise.  Angelo and Norwood have struggled along the way, but they wake up every day and keep going.  They play the music that sustains them and find beauty in the everyday world.

In many ways I find that my own story has much in common with these guys.  I started pursuing a career as a fiction writer more than 25 years ago.  In that time I’ve written more novels, screenplays and non-fiction books than I can even keep track of.  I’ve lived on a dream just as potent as theirs, but had only small successes so far.

It was only two years ago that I started to make a living from my fiction, but even then it wasn’t enough to survive in my home state.  I’ve had to come halfway around the world to Budapest just to find an interesting place to live where I can actually afford the rent.

Part of the reason that my career hasn’t taken off so far is that my novels are hard to categorize.  I do my own thing and can’t have it any other way.  I’ve picked up some fans along the way, but I’m still looking toward the future.  Mostly, I write because I simply can’t see myself doing anything else.

The lesson I take from Angelo and Norwood is that even if your dreams are not fully realized, it is a fool’s errand to base success on the standards of others.  I would argue that success is having people in your life that love and care about you.  It is doing what you are inspired to do.  And it is enjoying this short time that we have on the planet as much as we possibly can.

By those measures, I would indeed consider my life so far a success.  I have good friends and family who care for me.  I write what I am inspired to write.  I’ve lived and enjoyed my life as much as possible, including last night at the Fishbone show here in Budapest.  Not only did they bring the house down, but they seemed to be having a great time doing it even after all these years.

So to the guys in Fishbone, great to see you keep on keeping on, living the dream by your rules and making the most of whatever that brings.  I’ll try to set the same example.  After all, success by one’s own standards is the only true success.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Budapest at Night

I'm settling back in here in Budapest as the autumn slowly turns toward winter.  I'm enjoying the hot wine, sitting in cafes to write, and generally just being back in this city that I've come to know as a home away from home.  The other night I went out wandering with my camera to take some photos, so I'll post them here. 

Budapest at night

Fall leaves under light.

Tram in motion

Heading home?

Chain Bridge

Tram tracks
What writer wouldn't like spending time in a city as atmospheric as this one?

Monday, October 29, 2012

I guess this means summer is over

I arrived back in Budapest a few weeks ago to spend a few more months or so here working on some writing.  Last weekend it was nice and warm and I was out and about in shorts and t-shirts every day.  This week that all changed.  Suddenly it is cold, and dark, with the first flakes of snow falling on the city this morning.

Not only that but we rolled back daylight savings yesterday, so it's now just a bit after 5 O'Clock and already dark out!  Here's a shot of the view from my room a few minutes ago:


And here is looking in the opposite direction:


It's a scenic spot, in the heart of the city on the trendy Vaci Utca pedestrian street.  It's a great location, with lots of cafes nearby to write in and the city library only a ten-minute walk away.  Now it's time to get into the spirit of jackets and hats, and perhaps a cup or two of mulled wine to get through these chilly autumn nights.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

One of those in-between times

I've been a bit lazy about updating my blog since I finished my last novel, Natalia.  After focusing so hard for so long on one project, I'm now in one of those in-between times, with one project finished and the next yet to fully gel.  In fact, I've actually found myself working on three projects at one time, not sure which I most want to devote my energies to.

One problem that I've never had is coming up with ideas for books I want to write.  I suppose the opposite is true.  I have a long list of things that I want to write and have to find a way to prioritize them.  Currently, the things I've got going include:

1) A memoir that I've been working on off and on for the last ten years.  This one is full of funny stories about the life of an itinerant writer, traipsing around the world on a shoestring.

2) I've begun plotting out the next two Natalia novels and want to write the first few chapters of each.  So far sales on the first one are virtually non-existent.  I'm very happy with the way the book came out and want to write the next two, but it seems that perhaps the "indie" route isn't working this time.  Perhaps if I can present this as a series I might be able to find an agent and go the traditional route.  I figure it can't hurt to try.

3) I've always thought that Sweet Ophelia, currently titled Tinseltown Fairytale, would make a great movie.  I'd previously written a screenplay version, but after seven months of revisions to the novel, I feel like it is time to revise the screenplay to match, and maybe start sending that one out again.

So there you have it.  Plenty to keep me busy as I settle in again to Budapest, where I've just rented a room in an apartment in the center of the city.  With the temperatures falling and plenty of rain, this is definite writing weather.  Hopefully I can take advantage!


Monday, October 15, 2012

Is this party over?

I made the decision to put my books up for sale on Amazon and other e-book retailers in the summer of 2010.  Things were just beginning to take off in this space at that time, with a growing enthusiasm among "Indie" writers for the e-book publishing revolution.  Self-published stars like Amanda Hocking and John Locke were on their way to the million mark in downloads and others like Joe Konrath were trumpeting their own success stories and others.

My first book, No Cure for the Broken Hearted, went up for sale in late November of that year.  To my surprise, it did remarkably well, climbing to #9 on the overall bestseller list at Amazon UK.  The price was a low .49 pence, but I was selling upwards of 300 copies per day across all platforms, ultimately selling 45,000 or so copies and garnering some great reviews.

I had high hopes for my second book, Sweet Ophelia (currently Tinseltown Fairytale).  It also ended up getting mostly good reviews but sold only about a third as many copies.  My latest book, Natalia, came out one month ago.  So far it has sold about eight copies, six of which were to family and friends.

So what happened?  It would be easy to say that people just don't like the sound of my latest book, but I know that there is more to it than that.  I follow the "Indie" writer's forum (Writer's Cafe) over at Kindle Boards, and by the way many of the writers over there are wringing their hands about their sales "going off a cliff," it is clear that something bigger is going on.

I have to say, I never really did trust the system much even when my first book took off.  I always figured that what Amazon gave, Amazon could somehow take away.  Not that it is necessarily Amazon's fault.  The jury is still out on that, but there seemed to be plenty of variables stacked against the long-term potential of this publishing paradigm.  Not that I didn't hope for the best, but always with caution.

Back in 2010 I saw two possible culprits for a crash.  The first was piracy.  Quite a few writers on the boards have the opinion that piracy is actually good for independent writers, since it gets more people reading our books, who might illegally download one but then buy the next, or spread the word about a particular writer.  I never bought into this theory.  To me, piracy is stealing, pure and simple, but I don't think it is having any large scale impact at this point in any case.

Another issue was the huge surge of self-pubbed books going up online all the time.  I've read somewhere that 50,000 new self-published books go up on Amazon every month.  Some are well-written but many are just junk, put up by people hoping for a quick and easy buck.  The bottom line is that this just makes it harder and harder to stand out in this massive sea of material.

A third thing that hurts sales overall is the proliferation of free books.  Authors like myself found that in order to stand out, sometimes it pays to give away a book for free for some period of time.  Free books count towards overall sales rank, so when you go off free you have a lot more visibility than you did before.  The first time I did this, with Sweet Ophelia, I gave away about 50,000 copies in a week and then had $3500 in sales the next week.  Not bad.  But as more and more writers give away more and more free books, I think some readers become inclined not to pay for books at all.  Great for them but bad for us writers.

The last thing, and this one is the hardest to quantify, is the tweaking that Amazon does with their algorithms.  This, I suspect, is what the sales crash for independent writers is mostly caused by at the moment.  Book sales on Amazon are driven to a large degree by the "Also Bought" listings you see on every page.  If enough people buy a certain book and then another, those two books will show up on listings on each others pages.  In this way, they drive each others sales.  The more books a writer sells, the more listings they show up on and sales can grow exponentially.

Amazon has algorithms, or equations, that they use to calculate which books show up where and what a book's ranking is on the bestseller lists.  From time to time they tweak these algorithms to favor one variable or another.  Free books, for example, used to count for a lot on the bestseller lists (after they'd reverted to paid books).  Now those free books don't count for much and the corresponding sales boosts after a free run have dissipated dramatically.

Honestly I don't think that anyone outside of Amazon knows what the reasons are for the huge sales slump amongst independent writers.  All I know for sure is that I did a free run with Tinseltown Fairytale earlier this month that led to three paid sales.  Other than that I only sold one other book in the last two weeks.  That means I've earned $8 in fifteen days.  Not quite the way to make a living.

So it leaves me wondering, is this self-published e-book party really over?  I'd always expected that this day might come, but I'd hoped I could run with my earlier success a little bit longer before it crashed.  I'm not giving up completely yet.  I'm working on a memoir now and have plans for some sequels to Natalia, though with nobody buying the first one it is a little hard to motivate to write the next.

Perhaps when Christmas comes along, all of the new Kindle owners will go on book buying sprees and boost all of our Indie writer's boats.  It isn't like people suddenly stopped reading, in any case.  They are reading now more than ever, according to statistics.  Apparently they just don't seem to be buying independent authors at the moment, for whatever reason.  I'm willing to give it some more time, in any case, but it does seem that there are dark clouds gathering at the moment...

Friday, October 5, 2012

"Natalia" paperback giveaway

Natalia is now available on Amazon as a paperback, and to celebrate I'm giving away a free copy to U.S. residents (sorry international readers!).  To enter, go the the Goodreads page by clicking on the image below, and good luck!


Friday, September 28, 2012

Ok, how about this one?

After some comments from the Kindle Boards community, I decided to change up the title and cover of the former "Sweet Ophelia" yet again.  It seems that people thought the "Tinseltown Blues" version looked too much like a mystery or thriller novel, so I've opted for "Tinseltown Fairytale" instead.  We'll see how that goes.  Here's the image:



I've decided to make it free for the next few days, just to try to generate a little buzz.  So far it is inching it's way up the Amazon free list!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tinseltown Blues

I've decided to change things up a little bit with my novel Sweet Ophelia.  I'm very proud of that story, though it never did sell quite as well as I'd hoped.  A huge part of the equation is whether or not readers connect with the cover, title and description.  With Sweet Ophelia, I don't think they ever really did.

So, I've created a new title and cover.  This time around I'm trying out Tinseltown Blues.  I honestly don't know if that's any better, but I figure it's worth a try to find out.  Here is the new cover:


I'd be interested to hear what people think of this one.  Maybe it is too late and this ship has already sailed, but we'll see if it does any better this time around...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Natalia: The Story Behind the Story

My latest novel, Natalia, is out this week and this one is quite a departure from my previous two books.  This novel is a suspense set in the dark underworld of sexual exploitation in the former Soviet bloc, and as a writing project it was quite a long time in coming.

I suppose my interest in this part of the world goes all the way back to my childhood, growing up at the height of the cold war.  I was always intrigued by the Soviet Union and wondered what life must be like behind the Iron Curtain.  Our governments were at odds, but surely the citizens in the U.S.S.R. must by and large be good, honest people just like us, right?

I got my first glimpse of this mysterious place when I was on a family vacation in my teens.  On a ferry from Germany to Finland through the Baltic Sea, we went along the coast of Latvia and Estonia.  I remember marveling at this sight of the so-called "Evil Empire."

Many years later, in 2002, I finally made my first visit to these former Soviet republics.  By then the Baltic states had been independent for more than a decade.  They were not yet part of the European Union, but no longer within the Russian sphere of influence either.  It sort of felt like they were their own never-never land, struggling with this communist hangover but not yet fully Westernized.

One day when I was walking into the Old Town section of Riga, I saw a good-looking, sharp-dressed blond man in a brown suit.  He was walking along talking to two attractive girls that he'd just sidled up to.  The girls, it turns out, were foreigners, and I heard snippets of their conversation in English.  It wasn't enough to fully understand what was going on, except that he was trying to convince them of something and wanted their contact information.  They gave him the brush off and he continued on down the street, seemingly unperturbed.

By this point I was intrigued.  I'd heard of criminal elements recruiting girls from these parts to be sex workers in the West, often under false pretenses.  Was that what I'd just witnessed?  I decided to follow the man in an attempt to find out.

Keeping half a block behind, I trailed him through the Old Town.  Sure enough, whenever he saw an attractive young woman, he'd march right up and give them his spiel, whatever it was.  Most of the girls simply ducked their heads and hurried away.  I wanted to get closer, but how?

The man stopped at one point and stayed put in the center of one of the little walking streets, still flagging down any girls who walked past.  Beside him was a little sandwich shop.  I ducked into the shop in an attempt at surveillance.  I ordered a sandwich from a nice girl at the counter and then found a seat to watch the man through the window.

One of the girls that the man approached actually stopped to talk to him.  She was in her early 20's, tall and attractive, with long dark hair.  She nodded her head as she listened to the man, spoke a few words to him, and then took his business card.

The man continued on his way down the street.  I stayed where I was, still full of questions, and ate my sandwich.  A few weeks later I would see the same man in Tallinn, Estonia, up to the same questionable antics.

As it ends up, I spoke a bit to the girl working at the sandwich shop in Riga that day and we ended up becoming fast friends.  Jogita actually owned the shop, and when I asked her about this man I had seen outside of the window, she told me that it was not uncommon for men to come around recruiting like this.  By this time, most of the girls in this part of Eastern Europe knew what to expect from suspicious offers of jobs abroad.

I never did find out if that was what I had witnessed for sure, but a few years later I saw a documentary on public television about girls from some of the poorer countries further east being kidnapped, sold, and smuggled across the Adriatic Sea into Italy and beyond and forced into prostitution.  Later I saw another documentary about girls from Ukraine and elsewhere being sold and smuggled through the Black Sea to Istanbul.

By this point, the kernel of an interest had grown in my mind to the point that I knew I had to write a novel about it.  I decided that my lead character, Natalia, would come from Moldova, known to be the poorest country in Europe and the source of many of these girls.  Later I shifted it to Transnistria, a breakaway republic within Moldova, officially recognized only by Russia.

Following many of the true stories I had researched by this point, I decided that Natalia would be lured away under false pretenses, as so many of these girls are, and sold to a criminal gang in Istanbul.  For research into her life on the farm, I did not go to Transnistria itself.  I'd heard too many horror stories of run-ins with Transnistrian border guards demanding payment or a visa from this country that, to most of the world, didn't even really exist.

Instead I went just across the border to Ukraine and spent a month there getting a feel for what life was like in that part of the world.  I spent most of my time in the small city of Lviv, but I also saw some of the countryside, where horse carts seemed more common than tractors, even in the 21st Century.

To get a feel for Istanbul, I spent a week there soaking in that city as well.  I walked around the neighborhood where most of the Russian ex-pats lived, and where I knew the sex trade flourished behind closed doors.  Aside from a few strip bars and sex shops, the neighborhood itself does not seem particularly seedy, but from my research I knew that some of these apartment blocks hid plenty of secrets.

When I came back to the U.S. I spent a year or so working on the novel until I felt that it was ready to submit.  I sent it around to all of the publishers and agents I could find.  No luck.  I was rejected across the board.  So after all of that work and effort, I buried the novel away and mostly forgot about it.

Then in 2010 I noticed the beginnings of a sea change in the world of publishing.  Writers were actually beginning to make a living self-publishing their works as ebooks.  This looked promising.  I decided to try it out for myself.  First I revised and put up my first novel, No Cure for the Broken Hearted in December 2010.  Next I put up my novel Sweet Ophelia in August, 2011.

When it came time to revise Natalia, beginning last September, I thought it would take about 4-5 months.  It ends up it took me 12 months, but now after a long journey, the book is finally available!  All because some suspicious-looking, well-dressed man caught my attention ten long years ago.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

One Tough Business

After finally finishing and posting my latest novel to Amazon and Barnes and Noble last week, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The revisions alone took me roughly twelve months to complete.  It's not like it is a long book, either, I'm just a bit on the slow side...

But in any case, Natalia is finally out there!  To let the world know, I posted about it on my personal Facebook page, my author page, the Author's on the Cheap FB page, I tweeted it, created a thread to announce it on the Kindle Boards forum, blogged about it here, updated my website, listed it on Goodreads, added it to some Goodreads group bookshelves, etc., etc., etc.  I also started sending out review requests to some of the book blogs.

So how is it going so far, you ask?  With all of this feverish promotion?  Well, in six days I have now sold three copies.  One to my brother-in-law (thanks Dan!), one to the husband of an old college friend (thanks Andy!), and one to a friend and fellow indie writer (thanks Janice!).

Whew....  That means I've made six dollars in six days, but I also bought a copy myself, so subtract the dollar that cost me and I'm at less than a dollar a day.  Not to bemoan the fact.  I'm proud of the book, and thrilled that I finished it to my satisfaction, but I just thought I'd make a comment about how tough a business this can really be.

When I finished my first book, No Cure for the Broken Hearted, in December 2010, it seems that it was quite a bit easier to get noticed.  I think that has to do with the flood of self-published titles brought on by the stories of success that some authors have had.

Two years ago I was able to contact numerous book blogs and they were often happy to review my book.  This time around I'm finding that many of the blogs are so swamped with requests that they no longer accept self-published titles.  Some don't accept submissions at all.

So what is a budding (not-so-young) author to do at this point?  To be honest, I'm not really sure.  I'll keep on trying to promote it and hope for the best.  I think that once a few people start reading it, good word of mouth might help it move along.  That's what I'll tell myself anyway.  All it takes is one enthusiastic reader to get the ball rolling...

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Natalia Is Finished!

Ahhh, I'm finally done with my latest novel, Natalia!  It is currently up on Amazon and available for download as an ebook for Kindle.  Other formats and a paperback version will be coming soon, but for now it is just a huge relief to finally have it out there!


Releasing a new novel is kind of like letting your child go free out into the world.  You've shaped and coddled and focused on this one project for so long, and now it is on its own, to soar into the heavens, or fall flat to earth.  Or perhaps just entertain a few people here or there, if I'm lucky. ;-)

This book ended up taking me a lot longer that I'd expected it would.  I had a draft done from a few years back when I pulled it out to ready it for the market last September.  I'd thought it might take me four months to revise it, but it took twelve in the end.  Part of this is because I suppose I'm a bit of a perfectionist, and part of it is that I think I'm just a little bit slow when it comes to these things.  I need to take my time to let the story really percolate through my subconscious, to work out all of the little kinks.

Even now I have a hard time reading through sections without wanting to tweak a little something here and change a little something there, but after a certain point you've got to just let it go, and I think I've reached that point.

To any readers out there, I do hope you like it and I'll look forward to seeing people's reactions.  This one is quite a bit different from my last two.  Instead of a romance, it is part drama, part thriller (with perhaps a tiny bit of romance thrown in).

So there you go, I've finished another novel.  Another one of my children, off into the world.  I can only hope that it is deserving of some measure of kindness!  Now off to bed for me...

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Photo of the Day: Mt. Whitney

I started out the day waking up to this view of Mount Whitney, highest peak in the continental U.S., as the sun came up:


I was camping out down in the Alabama Hills on the way back up to Mammoth Lakes from So Cal.  The Alabama Hills are famous as a place where a great many old Western movies were filmed back in the day.  I did climb up this peak once, a long time ago.  Quite a view from the top!

And I ended the day by finally uploading my new novel, Natalia, to Amazon!  Phew!  That last little bit of formatting is always tricky.  Now it should take about 12 hours for it to be reviewed and then show up.  After all of the hard work, it is time to cross my fingers and hope that people actually like it!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Photo of the Day: Coyote

I'm still enjoying my time in the Eastern Sierra at Mammoth Mountain, writing in the mornings and getting out and about in the afternoons.  Today I went for a mountain bike ride in an area called Inyo Craters and I ran into a pack of coyotes.  I got a great shot of this one, looking right at me!


I think he was as curious about me as I was about him.  I was glad I had my camera handy!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Natalia Prologue

I was hoping to have my new novel Natalia uploaded to Amazon today, but it seems the more revisions I make, the more I need to make.  So now I'm just about there, but I might read the whole thing through again once more for last-minute tweaks before posting it.  One more week?  Two?  I'm afraid to say at this point, but in the meantime, here is the prologue for anyone interested.  Any comments are appreciated, as usual!

Prologue

            Natalia Nicolaeva stood across the street with a torn scrap of paper clutched in one hand.  Drifting down from above, a light snow blanketed the sidewalks and the road and the streetlamps in a clean layer of white.  The building was four-stories high and encased in dark soot.  Most of the windows were shattered, covered in plastic sheeting long since torn to shreds by the elements.  This couldn’t be the right place, Natalia thought, carefully comparing the address scrawled on her paper with the numbers tacked to the crumbling fa├žade.  They matched.
            Dodging a few passing cars as she went, Natalia made her way across to take a closer look.  She was tall and thin, wearing calf-skin boots, jeans and a cream-colored parka.  Her long brown hair cascaded forward across her shoulders and out from under a fur-fringed hood.  When she stepped onto the opposite curb, two men walking up the sidewalk gazed into her large round eyes longer than they should have.  Natalia put her head down and moved on past.  After a lifetime on her family’s farm, Natalia was a girl largely unaware of her own beauty.  She was a more practical type, absorbed by her responsibilities.  Free time meant gliding over the hills on her Nordic skis in winter or riding her dirt bike in the summer.   It meant stretching out on a blanket on the knoll above the farm, absorbed in a good book.  Thanks in large part to her brother’s influence, Natalia was a voracious reader.  It was books that provided her view of the outside world.  At eighteen years old, this was the first time she’d ever really been away.  Never before had she been in a city of any size.  By most people’s standards, Tiraspol didn’t count for much.  This capital of the tiny, break-away republic of Transnistria held only 160,000 souls, but compared to Drosti, it was enormous. 
            When she reached the front door she saw that it was slightly ajar, a splintered hole all that remained where the knob had once been.  Despite her inexperience, Natalia knew an abandoned building when she saw one.  This place looked like nobody had occupied it officially for 20 years or more.  Probably not since Soviet times.  It just didn’t seem possible that her brother Leon could be living here.  He’d sounded so optimistic in the few letters she received.  Now she wondered about all of it.  The job, the new friends, the room in the boarding house.  At least she knew that last part had previously been true.  She’d visited the boarding house herself that very afternoon.  It was the front desk clerk who told her about this place, though Natalia couldn’t help but think he was wrong.  Leon would not live in a place like this.  Would he?  Would anyone?  From inside, Natalia thought she heard something.  A banging sound?  She leaned closer.  Yes, she was sure.  “Bang, bang, bang,” followed by some shouts and then “bang, bang, bang,” again.  Was that Leon?  The voice didn’t sound like his, but from out here on the sidewalk she couldn’t be sure.
            Natalia’s instincts told her not to go inside, but curiosity overruled her fears.  She simply had to know.  With a light push the door slowly swung open.  She poked her head in and was met by a strange combination of odors.  A fetid, human smell mixed with rotting wood and a hint of smoke.  With nobody in sight, Natalia summoned the courage to move past the threshold.  A corridor led through toward an inner courtyard.  Again she heard the banging sound, coming from somewhere upstairs.   She took a few more steps forward.  “Bang, bang, bang,” came the noise.
            To Natalia’s left, a wooden staircase wound up and around, disappearing from view.  Where a banister was once attached, just a few lonely nails protruded at odd angles.  Natalia hugged the wall as she started up and around, mentally preparing herself to flee if she encountered any threat.  She noticed that the molding along the ceiling was also mostly missing.  Doors were removed from hinges and the frames ripped out.  It was as though the building itself were being consumed from the inside out.  On the third floor, she found the source of the commotion.  Two men stood on the stairs above her dressed in filthy, ragged clothing.  At first they didn’t notice her.  A large, stocky man held a length of metal pipe in both hands.  He swung it in rhythm three times, “bang, bang, bang,” smashing the pipe against a remaining section of banister and knocking it loose.  The second man was older, with wild, unkempt hair and a dirty gray beard.  He used his hands to pry the broken pieces free and then leaned over to stack them on the top of a small pile.  When he stood back up his eyes came to rest upon Natalia.  He said nothing, but cleared his throat to alert his comrade.
            The man with the pipe turned around but didn’t seem particularly surprised to see Natalia standing there.  His round, ugly face was covered with a few days worth of stubble.  He stared at her with bloodshot eyes.  “What do you want?” he said, standing tall.
            “I’m looking for my brother,” Natalia answered, glancing back down the stairs again at her escape route.
            “He’s not here,” the man replied.
            “I haven’t even told you his name,” said Natalia.
            “Go away.”  The man handed the pipe to his partner and then reached down and scooped up the pieces of broken wood.
            “Maybe you’ve seen him.  His name is Leon,” Natalia pressed.
            “Never heard of him.”
            “I was told he might be living here.”
            The man walked up the stairway with the older gentleman trailing right behind.  Natalia wasn’t about to give up yet.  Just like her mother, she’d always had a stubborn streak.  Following along to the fourth-floor landing, she saw the men walk on through a doorway and into an abandoned apartment.  Natalia tried not to think too hard about what she was doing.  If she thought about it she’d have turned and left, but then she’d be no closer to finding Leon.  Instead she moved across the landing and walked on into the apartment.
            A dim light shone through two intact windows.  Mattresses were scattered across the floor, along with empty cans of food, bottles, dirty blankets and stacks of old clothing.  Several other people sat around the edges of the room with their backs to the wall.  None of them said a word.  A mangy-looking dog dozed in one corner, his head resting gently on his paws.  A very small fire burned in a fireplace to the right.  The stocky man dropped his woodpile beside it and the older man picked up a few pieces to feed the flames.
            “I’m looking for my brother,” Natalia said to the others.  “His name is Leon.”  A girl about Natalia’s age stared back.  She had long, messy blonde hair and a narrow face.  A blanket was wrapped around her shoulders.  “Have you seen him?” Natalia asked the girl directly.  “Leon, from Drosti?”
            “No,” the girl replied.  “I don’t know any Leon.”
            “He’s twenty-four years old.  Brown hair.”
            The girl shrugged.  “Lots of people come and go.”
            The fresh pieces of wood began to catch, casting a flickering orange glow across the room.  “I have a photo,” said Natalia, pulling a folded printout from her pocket.  She opened it up and smoothed the creases as best she could before holding it out.  The picture showed Leon, smiling with one young child in his arms and another clutching at his leg.
            The girl squinted as she tried to make out the image.  “He has children?” she said.
            “Yes,” Natalia answered.  “Two boys and a baby girl.”
            Cocking her head sideways, the girl thought to herself for a moment.  “I might know who you mean.”
            “He’s been here, then?”
            “I… I don’t know, maybe.  Do you have any cigarettes?”
            “No, I’m sorry.  When was the last time you saw this person?”
            “Not too long ago.  Yesterday, perhaps.  Or the day before.”
            “Do you think he’ll be back?”           
            The girl put one hand to the floor and pushed herself up, rising to her feet.  “Come with me.”
            Natalia didn’t hesitate to follow the girl back out to the landing and then down the stairs to the third floor.  They moved along a corridor until the girl stopped at the first apartment that actually had a door.  She wrapped on it gently with her knuckles.  There was no answer.  She tried again a little louder.  “You might just go on in.  He won’t hurt you.  He’s nice,” she said and then walked back the way she’d come.
            When the girl was gone, Natalia stood alone in front of the door.  This one had a handle, too.  She reached down and tried the knob.  It turned.  She pushed the door open and looked inside.  The room was empty except for a warped and broken old piano, the wood half-stripped.  “Hello!” Natalia called out.  “Is anybody here?!”  Still no answer.  She moved inside.  Straight ahead was a kitchen with all of the appliances and the sink torn out.  To the right was a doorframe.  Inside the darkened room she saw a man sleeping on a single mattress in the center, his back facing her.  One arm stretched out in front of the man’s head, his hand grasping a vodka bottle.  “Hello,” she tried again.  “Leon?”
            Natalia walked into the room.  Books were scattered across the floor.  She picked one up and read the cover.  George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London, Russian translation.  Her heart swelled.  This had to be Leon.  Natalia moved around to the other side of the mattress for a better look.  The man’s face was tucked under his arm.  His condition was like the others, with dirty clothes and matted hair.  “Leon, is that you?”  She gave the mattress a slight push with her foot.  The man stirred slightly.  “Hello?” Natalia tried again.  Suddenly he sat bolt upright, bottle in the air as a weapon, his eyes wide with fear and confusion.  Natalia jumped backwards until she was flush against the wall.  They stared at each other for a few long seconds.
            “Natalia?” he said, lowering his bottle.  “What are you doing here?”

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Photo of the Day: Lake George

I'm still enjoying my time here at Mammoth Lakes in the Eastern Sierra, getting out in the afternoons to hike and bike.  This place is not only home to a ski resort where I taught snowboarding for five seasons, but it is also a great summer destination with numerous high-country lakes which are popular for camping and fishing.


This one is Lake George, which is quite the tranquil spot on a summer evening, with Crystal Crag peaking up in the background.  A hike from here up to Crystal Lake and back is a great way to wind down after a day spent slaving away at the keyboard. :-)

Monday, August 20, 2012

New Bike!

After going down to Laguna Beach to spend a few weeks seeing friends and family, I'm back in Mammoth Lakes now, in the Sierra Nevada mountains, plugging away at the final revisions of my new novel, Natalia.  Right now I expect to have it finished on Thursday, then spend Friday formatting it as an ebook, working on my blurb and sorting out any last issues I might have.  That leaves me on schedule to release the ebook version on Saturday, if all goes well.  And if I hit any stumbling blocks, then Sunday at the latest!

In the meantime, I got a new mountain bike last week, so I've been writing in the mornings and then heading out on the trails every afternoon.


I have to say, I'm pretty amazed by the bike.  Not that it's the greatest bike in the world, but it's not half bad considering I only paid $119 for it online from Walmart.  How can they sell a full-suspension mountain bike for $119?  Those Chinese are amazing...  Plus shipping was only .97 cents and it took just two days to arrive.  Wow.  So far I've been out on it about six times, which means if I spent $20 per day to rent a bike, I'd already have paid the same.  Hopefully it won't fall apart on me, but so far so good.

So now it is back to my revisions for the day.  Hopefully I'll have a productive morning so I can get out on the trails this afternoon with a clear conscience!


Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Writer's Schedule

The beauty of a writer's schedule is in it's unparalleled flexibility.  As an independent writer with no deadlines, I can work whenever and wherever I want.  Unfortunately I can also not work wherever and whenever I want.  I can blow it off and go to the beach, go for a bike ride, or sit around watching TV all day if I want to.  Nobody is stopping me.

One of the biggest struggles for many an independent writer is with self-motivation.  Some people have an easier time with this than others.  Some writers are just driven more to pound out the work.  Others are drawn toward a more leisurely pace.

I suppose I fit somewhere in the middle.  I can often be lazy about it, distracted by outdoor activities or even just surfing the web, though I do try to put the time in every day, often seven days per week.  Being my own boss gives me that flexibility to decide when and where I write, but if I'm not producing anything I'm not earning any income either.

Looking around, I see that the independent writers who are really making a living at it tend to be the ones who are the most productive.  My first two books did relatively well, but sales tapered off dramatically after four or five months with each title, which means that if you want a steady income, you really have to crank them out.

My latest novel Natalia has taken me more than twice as long to finish as I'd expected.  It has now been exactly a year since my last book, Sweet Ophelia, came out.  Part of that extended time is of necessity since I need to let these plot lines and character developments percolate in my subconscious to sort themselves out.  Sometimes if I rush it, then it just doesn't come out right.  Then again, I know I could have finished this much faster if I'd pushed myself a little harder.

But that great flexibility is part of the reason I aspired toward a career in writing fiction in the first place.  For the past few weeks my sisters and their families have been visiting California from Denver.  How could I pass up a day at the beach with my sister and my nephew, or taking him to his favorite, In and Out Burger, for lunch?  I'm grateful that my time is my own and I can spend it with them if I want to.

Now the last of the visitors has headed off to the airport and it is time to get back down to the writing!  I'm very close to being finished with these final revisions; maybe a week or two away.  No more distractions, it's time for me to get to it!  Hopefully by the time I make my next post here, it will be to announce the launch of this latest novel!  So, time to get busy... ;-)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Clean Mountain Air

I've been neglecting this blog a little bit lately as I've focused on getting my revisions of Natalia finished up instead.  I did manage to get a beta version done, and now I've received some good feedback so I'm plugging away at making the final changes.  Luckily I'm in a beautiful place to get some work done, at Mammoth Mountain in California's high sierra.



Perfect summer weather means writing every morning and then hiking or biking in the afternoon.  These pictures I took today hiking up to Emerald Lake.



It's great to get out into the wilderness to clear my mind and just let it wander where it may.  Somehow it makes getting back to the writing so much easier when I can cut out all of the other distractions of life for a while.  And besides, scenery like this is just plain hard to beat!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Independence Day!

Here in the U.S. we're celebrating Independence Day, and though it was actually cool and cloudy all day here in Laguna Beach, there was still a nice fireworks show to cap off the day:


So to all of the Americans out there at home or abroad, Happy 4th of July!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Writing Lottery

I’m putting the finishing touches today on my latest novel, Natalia, which has me thinking a little bit about its prospects.  I’m feeling pretty good about the book.  It has taken me quite a bit longer to finish than I expected, but in the end I think that it is something I can be proud of.  To me that is the most important thing, but I can’t help but wonder how it will end up being received.

Of course, whether a novel does well in the marketplace has to do with a whole lot of factors.  I’d like to think that the most important thing is the quality of the book itself, in terms of the writing, and the plot and the insightfulness and depth of the characters.

Other factors include the cover, the book description (blurb), marketing, reviews, genre, the whims of the reading public (what is “in” at the moment), and a whole lot of luck, good or bad.  Just because a book is good doesn’t mean it will sell and just because it sells doesn’t mean it is good.

This has me considering one of the big differences in the career of an independent writer like myself as compared to most sane and rational people who have more traditional jobs.  For most people, how much they are paid is directly the result of how much they work.

If you are a nurse, or a carpenter, or a lawyer, or a journalist, you do a job and you are paid a specific amount for your time, depending on your skill and experience.  If you are a writer, how much you earn from your work is a direct result of all of the various factors mentioned above.

If you have a contract with a traditional publisher, you might be lucky enough to receive an advance, but for emerging authors, those are becoming fewer and farther between.  For fiction writers it tends to be the big-name authors are given advances, especially for books they haven’t yet written.

For the rest of us, we spend years writing a book, doing all of the work, and only then do we release it into the wild to see if it either flies or crashes to earth in a big thud.  Either way, we’ve done the same amount of work.

Indeed, someone who writes a full-length novel that sells 100 copies in its lifetime has done more or less the same amount of work as someone who writes a bestseller that sells one million copies.  Both have poured their heart and soul and time into a project that makes one rich and leaves the other in the poorhouse.

Choosing to become a writer is indeed a lot like playing the lottery.  You do what you can to stack the odds in your favor, but at the end of the day it really is just one big gamble. 

You’ve got to be a dreamer to embrace this kind of uncertainty.  You take those dreams, spin them into words, and hope that others might be as inspired reading them as you were writing them.  Just a few more weeks and I’ll find out if Natalia can fly…

Sunday, June 17, 2012

New Sweet Ophelia Cover

It has been ten months since I launched my last book, Sweet Ophelia, a novel about the gritty streets of Hollywood, the film industry and second chances.  I originally had a woman's heavily made up face on the cover.  That didn't seem to work so well.  I changed it to a broken heart made of rose petals.  That didn't work so well either.  Finally I put in a cover with a woman wrapped in a towel, as seen from behind.  That worked a little bit better, but not too much.

Personally, I like this book quite a lot, though the sales have only been about a quarter of what they were for my first book, No Cure for the Broken Hearted.  Now I generally dislike when authors talk about sales at all, but I figured I'd explain why I've decided to change the cover up once again.  I've decided to go with this one:


I'm sure there are other things going on with the lackluster sales beside just the cover, of course.  Readers probably aren't as inclined to read a romance about a homeless man as opposed to a billionaire playboy like in the first book.  I also think that the title of the first book is more compelling.  That said, I figured I'd mix things up a little bit and try this cover out for a while.  Most likely this is the last change I'll make, but I'm proud of this book so hopefully it will give it at least a little bit of a boost. 

Either way, I'm moving on to the next one.  I'm hoping Natalia will be done in another few weeks.  So close now...

Thursday, June 14, 2012

What I Learned from Soccer

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, I played an awful lot of soccer.  Starting at the age of eight years old I played on local teams, all-star teams, traveling club teams, and later my high school team.

I went away every summer for a week long soccer camp to further improve my skills.  Not only that, but I actually had talent; the fastest player on every team I ever played on and always one of the stand-outs.  Still, when one of my teammates told me that he wanted to be a professional, I thought he was crazy.

Professional athletes, in my mind, were super-human.  They were like another species entirely.  Surely there was no way that I could ever reach those heights.  Right?  I mean, for one thing, I sometimes made mistakes.  Errant shots on goal, defensive breakdowns, bad passes.  It happened.  Despite my skills, I wasn't perfect and never would be.

By the time I got through high school I was so sick of all of the training, almost year-round, that I simply didn't want to even look at a soccer ball anymore.  I'd had enough.  And so I quit.  Cold turkey.

Cut to seven years later.  I was now 25 years-old and I started to realize how terribly I missed the game.  I began to look for an amateur team to join.  Eventually I found one, and while I was a bit rusty at first, before long it became clear that I was a much better player after my hiatus than before.  Perhaps it was the maturity that came with age.

In any case, I once again became highly involved in the sport.  I spent several years playing in some very competitive leagues in both California and Virginia.  After a few more years I began to think about the prospect of going pro myself.  But how to do it, after so much time off?  Maybe if I'd played in college it would have been one thing, but to make the leap after so long, where would I even start?

The truth was, I still didn't have the confidence.  I didn't believe in myself quite enough.  Sometimes I would play with former or future pros in my amateur games and I was always sizing myself up against them, trying to determine if I had what it took.

When I joined one team in Virginia, a former player had just been drafted by DC United in the newly formed MLS.  A bunch of us went to see his debut.  Could that be me out there next?  By then I was already 30 years old.  Way too old for a rookie, I knew.

And so I never made that push.  I never really went for it.  Of course I knew it would have meant a lot of hard work, and sacrifice, most likely starting out on a team in a second-rate, semi-pro league if I was lucky.

I tell myself that it wasn't so much my fault.  After all, there was no major professional soccer league in existence in the U.S. from the time the original North American Soccer League folded when I was 18 until the MLS was founded when I was 30.  My prime playing years.

But still, there were lesser pro leagues around.  I could have tried harder, if I'd really had the guts.  And if I'd tried, I'd know one way or the other if I really had what it took.  Instead I'll forever be left wondering.

Or course this all comes to mind because of the current European championships underway at the moment.  Whenever these major tournaments come around, I love to watch the games but it is a little disturbing for me as well.  For one thing, I realize that these pros are actually human.  They make mistakes, too.  Lots of them.

Just look at the Champions League semi-finals last month when three out of four players on Real Madrid missed their penalty kicks, costing them a spot in the final.  And these are some of the best players in the world, making tens of millions of euros each per year!

So I suppose it will be a tough few weeks for me while this tournament is going on, but why bring it up here, you ask?  Why bore you with details of me crying in my beer over childhood dreams gone sour?

The reason is that I've learned something from all of this, I hope.  I also still have at least one dream left that I can potentially accomplish, and I'd like to think I can apply this lesson here.  I'm 46 years old now, far past sporting age, but the dream that is still alive is to make a decent living and survive as a fiction writer.

Today on a writer's forum, someone posted a link to an article from Forbes magazine titled Why You Shouldn't be a Writer.  Basically it said, to all aspiring writers out there, 1) You have no talent, 2) It's too hard, and 3) You'll never make any money.

Now maybe these things are true, for me and the majority of other aspiring writers out there, but one thing I learned from my soccer experience is that it's an awful lot better to try and fail than to never try at all.

If you try and fail at something, you know that you simply didn't have what it took.  If you don't try at all you'll spend the rest of your life wondering, and there's not much worse than that.

So far I've been writing fiction for more than 20 years and never had more than a few short stories published here and there.  I started self-publishing my novels 18 months ago and have two up to date.  Earnings have averaged about $1,100 per month, but have now trickled down to about $3 per day lately.

It has been a tough road, but despite what the author of that Forbes article has to say, I'm not ready to give up yet.  Not by a long shot.  I've got another novel, Natalia, due to be finished in the next few weeks and lots of other projects on tap after that.

I sometimes think that if I'd had someone who really believed in and encouraged me more when it came to my soccer career, I might have believed more in myself and really gone for it.  Instead, this belief had to come from within, and that was a very tall order.

The same is more or less true of my writing, but this time I'm not going to let anything stand in my way.  I know I can do it, and if not, it's a whole lot better to try and fail than to never try at all.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Back in the U.S. of A.

Three months away from Orange County, California is always enough for a bit of reverse culture shock, but it's still good to be home.  I just flew in the other day after two months in Portugal and one in Budapest.  I'd thought I might stay in Europe for six months like I did last year, but in the end I decided to keep things legal this time around.  Ninety days is the limit for a tourist visa, unfortunately.

Last year I got away with overstaying my visa, but not without a bit of hassle from immigration on the way out.  Perhaps it's best not to push my luck two years in a row.  

And so I'm back to the land of fancy cars and plastic surgery, beautiful beaches and summer traffic.  I'll be here for a week or two with my parents and then on up to the mountains to spend some time at Mammoth, finishing my latest novel (so close now!) and working on my next project.

Living the itinerant lifestyle is always interesting.  In some ways I feel like I have a completely separate life in Budapest now.  I'm comfortable there, I know my way around, and I have tons of friends.

I remember the first summer I spent in Budapest, in 2009.  I went there because rents were cheap and I thought it would be a good place to write.  When I arrived I didn't know a soul.  Sometime during my first week there I took a walk around Margaret Island, a big city park in the middle of the Danube.

Groups of people were having picnics on the lawns all over the park.  When I looked at those groups of people I couldn't help but be a little jealous.  I wished I had a group of friends that I could have a picnic with, instead of simply walking around all alone.

Three years later, I think I have more friends in Budapest than anyplace else on earth, including California.  Last weekend my friend Alla organized a picnic on Margaret Island.


What a nice change from those first few days back in 2009!  Alas, it was very sad to leave this time around, but I can't complain too much.  You can't surf in Budapest.  There's no mountain biking either, or hiking without taking a tram all the way out to the Buda hills.

Budapest is a nice city to spend the summer in, as far as cities go, but how nice is spending the summer in a city, really?  Maybe two summers there are enough after all.  One thing is for sure, after some time away, it is always nice to come home.


 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Budapest Afternoon

Here are a few random shots of Budapest from yesterday afternoon, just to give a bit of a feel for the city.


This is my third visit here, after spending the summer in 2009, and then June to November in 2011.  It's a great place to write, with good cafes, a terrific city library, and a generally pleasant ambiance.  This year, alas, I've decided to head back to the U.S. for the summer so I've got one more week left here.  I'll try to make the most of it!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

View from the Cafe

I'm back in Budapest now after six months or so away, and it's been nice catching up with old friends and revisiting my favorite haunts in the city.  Today I spent the morning writing at the Massolit Bookstore cafe, a quaint and charismatic place tucked into an old building in the Jewish district.  This was the view from my seat:


This woman was hanging out on her balcony just across the very narrow street, watching the goings-on.  After I took her picture I loaded it on my laptop and had to turn it away so that she didn't see her own image on my screen.  Something about her hanging out up there just seemed quintessentially Budapest to me, though...