Thursday, January 30, 2014

Moving on up!

After several months of tepid sales for my newest book, Memoirs of a Starving Artist, I decided to run a sale this week along with an ad on one of the book promotion sites (Book Blast).  So far the results aren't too bad.  In fact, I've moved from 643,000 on the Amazon bestseller list all the way up to 8,807.  Not exactly top ten, but it's certainly headed in the right direction.  This also puts me at #16 on the list of author memoirs!

That's two slots ahead of Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes!  Woo hoo!  Of course, once this sale ends in another few days I'll probably drop right back off the list, but for now I'll take it.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Skating Down Memory Lane

When I was a kid growing up in Southern California, my family and two others that we were close to used to come up to Mammoth Mountain a few times a year for skiing vacations.  The other families had two boys each, one my age and one a year older.  The five of us were like brothers, and we still are to this day.

When I was ten years old, in the winter of 1976-77, there was a bad drought and by Christmas no snow had fallen at all.  Since the ski resort didn't have snowmaking in those days, that left our parents searching for something to keep us busy that season.  Before we came up, my mom went down to the nearby thrift store where we lived in Riverside and bought just about all the skates they had.

That year ended up being the winter of ice skating.  One of the families bought some hockey sticks and pucks, and some of us traded off using brooms.  We would hike to one lake or another each day to skate and play hockey.   We also went down to the valley below town to play hockey at a series of ponds known as the alkali ponds.

I'll always remember playing hockey down there at the alkali ponds, getting into games with local adults and feeling like I was in way over my head.  Still, I learned to skate and had a great time.

Cut to the winter of 2013-14.  This season we are experiencing a similarly epic drought.  While they do have snowmaking equipment on the mountain this year, it's a far cry from a typical season.  This has created a lot of pain in the tourist industry.  It has also led to a whole new interest in skating and hockey, on local lakes and down on the alkali ponds.

Right now I'm back up at Mammoth, spending some time in my parents' condo and working on my latest novel.  To break things up, today I dug through one of the cabinets and pulled out those same old skates from all those years before.  Since my dad and I have the same size feet, his old skates fit me just right.

Driving down to those alkali ponds really was a trip down memory lane.  When I'd pulled up to the side of the main pond, I strapped on those skates and away I went!  It was a beautiful day for a skate.

And just like all those years before, a group of kids was playing hockey in the exact same spot we had.  I almost wanted to jump into the game, but then again those kids would have skated rings around me!  Best, I think, to leave my hockey-playing days behind... 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Memoir only $999! Get 'em while they last!

A friend of mine pointed out yesterday that there is a link through the Amazon page for my memoir of a reseller offering a used copy for $999.11, plus shipping.  Really?  When a brand new paperback is just $10.39?  It seemed crazy, but when I looked I found that he was right.

And this ironically on a site called DailyDeal USA.  There were five other sites also offering used copies, all for over $30.  So what is going on here?  The whole thing seems crazy.

I put this question to a writer's forum and got some varying theories.  One is that the high price is the result of automated bots that go around and price books just a little higher than the competition.  If two of these bots are going head to head, the price gets boosted way up.  There was one example of a biology textbook that this did happen to.  Eventually the price went to $28 million.

So why would a company automatically price their book higher than the competition?  That seems strange in itself.  I guess the idea is that they can then buy a copy from the competition and resell it?  In any case, when I clicked through to the DailyDeal USA storefront I found that almost all of their books for sale were listed at $999.  Many of these were current bestsellers, all used.

This leads to some speculation on another of the theories, which involves money laundering.  Theoretically, some criminals could set up their own bookstore.  They could charge exorbitant prices for the books.  Then they could take ill gotten gains they'd acquired somewhere else and use them to buy these super expensive books.  As the owners of the online bookstore, these funds would be clean; simply the income from "legitimate" book sales.

It's possible.  Really I have no better idea for what's going on with these prices.  I noticed that the same retailer has my book "Natalia" at $999 as well.  And here I can hardly manage one sale a month on that title at $3.99.  I guess if they can get a cool grand for a used copy, more power to them...

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Is this winter?

Laguna Beach winter morning.

There is a quote that is often attributed to Mark Twain, though inaccurately I believe.  The quote is "The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco."  I don't know who actually said it, but anyone who has spent time there in SF in the summer knows how frustrating it can be when the cold, damp fog comes rolling in under the Golden Gate, or settles in for weeks on end.  It seems that you can never go out without a sweater.

A similar effect occurs in coastal Southern California, where I'm from.  May and June are the dampest, cloudiest months.  Known as "May Gray" and "June Gloom," these conditions sometimes stretch into July and even August.  Mother nature makes up for it in the fall when the wind direction can shift around to the east and the coast turns warm and dry.

What is really special, though, is when these "Santa Ana" conditions happen in the middle of winter.  On these occasions, we can get daytime highs of 80 degrees or more (27 C) in the middle of winter, all while the rest of the country is in the deep freeze.  That is exactly what is happening this year.  While the East Coast has been hit with the "polar vortex," plummeting into negative degree territory, Southern California has been extraordinarily warm and dry.

At times like this it feels like we are cheating.  It reminds me of ditching school in my younger days; a feeling of... glorious, unearned freedom.  Lately I've found myself thinking, "The warmest summer I ever spent was winter in Southern California."

Now granted, we need the rain.  This drought could soon turn desperate if things don't turn around.  The mountains have almost no snow.  I was planning to spend the winter at Mammoth Mountain in the Sierra Nevada, but with so little snow I haven't even bothered to go up yet. Instead, I am making the most of this rather unusual winter.

Right now it is just after 10 a.m. on a Tuesday.  I'm sitting in an outdoor cafe, getting ready to write for the morning.  The sky is clear blue, the Pacific Ocean in view, and the temperature is already close to 80 degrees.  It is hard to complain.  The only problem is that I'd rather be off surfing or mountain biking or hiking...  In fact, I've been doing quite a bit of all three lately, but today is a writing day.  Time to put all of those other things behind me and crank out some words.  Sitting here outdoors with my laptop on a warm and balmy winter morning... it could be a whole lot worse!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Romantic Interlude

Five years or so ago I submitted an article to the Los Angeles Times about an improbable and fairly entertaining romantic interlude I'd had, and luckily for me they actually published it.  They publish stories like this every Saturday in a column called "LA Affairs."

A few months ago I decided to send them another, as a way to promote my new book, Memoirs of a Starving Artist.  Unfortunately, this time around they didn't deem the article fit to publish, but with blogs these days, there's always an outlet, even if the circulation is not quite the same.  For anyone stopping by here, though, I thought I'd throw it on up.  So without further ado:

High-Flying Romance

            I knew from the first moment I laid eyes on her that she was out of my league.  I was a starving graduate student, wearing the requisite t-shirt, jeans and flip-flops as I waited to board a short flight from Oakland to Orange County.  She was gorgeous and well-dressed in a cream-colored business suit, wearing expensive jewelry and carrying packages from several high-end boutiques.
            Maybe it was because she was so unattainable that I decided to make a go of it.  I was tired of being all-consumed by fear and longing when I crossed paths with an attractive woman.  I’d had enough of the defeatism that seemed to haunt me.  This woman had no ring on her finger.  I was going to talk to her, I vowed to myself, no matter what it took.
            One thing I’d learned by this point in life was that the consequences of not talking to an attractive woman were often worse than the trauma of rejection.  If I made a respectful effort and was subsequently shot down, at least I’d tried.  It hadn’t worked out, but this was nothing to dwell on.
            It was when I failed to approach someone who’d caught my eye that I felt real pain.  In this case I would be absolutely certain that she was the perfect woman for me.  If only I’d had the nerve to say hello, a life of love and happiness would certainly have followed.  It was merely cowardice that prevented my one true chance at bliss.
            By the time the plane began to board, I had a plan worked out.  With no assigned seating on this airline, all I had to do was let the woman board first and then sit beside her.  Easy.
            It was only when I was walking down the aisle that I realized the flaw in my plan.  I spotted the woman sitting a third of the way back by the right hand window.  Another woman sat on the aisle, with one free seat between them.  Whole rows were completely empty all around.  How could I do it?  Taking that seat would mean complete humiliation!  But still, I had to sit there.  I’d made a vow.
            “I can do it, I can do it,” I chanted to myself as I drew near.  “I can’t do it!” my mind screamed as I took one step beyond.  “I have to do it!” I countered once again and then swung backwards, squeezing between them and plopping myself down in the seat.  “I’ve done it!” I thought happily, in sheer disbelief at my own audacity.
            By this stage the hardest part was over.  We struck up a conversation and carried it on all the way down the coast.  She ran a family business, she explained, with offices in Irvine and Oakland.  She commuted back and forth once a week.
            When the flight landed I summoned the courage to ask for her phone number.  I had to carry this through to the bitter end.  With some reluctance she gave me her business card and a few days later I called and left a message.  She never called me back.  It was just as well.  This was the ending I’d expected all along.  At least I’d had the courage to try.
            Exactly one year later a local magazine ran a short story I’d written, along with my photo.  A few days after that I received a voicemail.  “Hi, I met you on an airplane,” said a woman’s voice.  “I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner but I just saw your story and wanted to tell you that I really liked it…” 
            When I called back we chatted for a while and then made plans to have dinner.  I drove my dilapidated pickup truck to her massive two-story house.  In her garage were a brand new SUV and a classic old convertible Mercedes.
            This girl was beautiful and intelligent.  She had a ton of money, with the house and the cars.  I had nothing but my truck and the clothes on my back.  I was roiled by insecurity. 
            The two of us dated a few more times after that.  We got along well but I could never overcome the simmering shame of my circumstances.  This was Southern California after all, where status and image are everything.  When she didn’t invite me inside by the third date I assumed I simply wasn’t good enough for her.  What else could explain her reluctance?  I never called her back.
            Some years later, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to look her up online.  A quick search revealed a column similar to this one in an Orange County newspaper.  She’d written about meeting her current husband, just a few months after I’d last seen her.
            What I learn now, and never knew then, was that she’d already been divorced at that time.  More importantly, I find out that behind the door I’d so badly wanted entry through were not two, not four, not six, but seven children!
            I’d been so terrified of my own inadequacies that I’d never considered she might be harboring secrets of her own.  Everyone has their insecurities in the end.  The trick, I’ve learned, lies in moving past them.