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!