Wednesday, November 30, 2011


We all know what happened when the music industry coupled digitization of music formats and the internet: Chaos. (From a business perspective). Napster. File sharing. Torrent. College kids going to jail for sharing their music collections over the web. Anarchy. But the publishing industry seems to have eased into both digitizing books and the web in a little more orderly fashion. I'm not talking about Amazon, or other distributors of paperbooks on the internet, but rather digital publishing and distribution of 'ebooks'. (Which Amazon had a hand in with the kindle, of course).

In the 'olden days' (last year) authors would write a book, seek representation (an agent), find a publishing house, work with an editor and the marketing department, the book would be launched and sell hundreds of thousands of hardback copies, followed by hundreds of thousands more copies when it was released in paperback. Now, not every book went down this path, but this is more or less the Rube Goldberg process. I went down this same road, got really positive feedback from agents (but no representation) shopped my book at the big houses (positive feedback, but no thanks), the medium houses and then small presses (more than one offer to publish each book from small presses). Both STG and GOB were, as you know, published by small presses.

In order for a publishing house of the Old Guard to invest in a book they have to really believe that it will make them money. Cold hard truth; it isn't about literary merit, or the story that is told, it is about being able to move merchandise. (Most celebrity kiss and tell books have very little merit for instance, and their 'authors' rarely actually write much of the book- but... everyone wants a copy of Justin Beaver's autobiography, right?) Every rejection letter I received contained a phrase related to not being able to sell many copies. No sour grapes on my part, they were right. My books have sold in the hundreds of copies, not thousands (combining print and ebook sales). Now with stronger marketing support they might have sold more, but ...

There are other publishing venues. 'Vanity presses' for instance have been around for years. These are publishing houses that you pay to publish your book through. Some authors have done this with the thought selling their books (and there have been commercial successes). I didn't want to go down this path because I think it's easy to get myopic about your own work, and I wanted an external gut check. My Mom liked the book, my friends liked my book, I believed in it and it was the best book I could write at the time I wrote it, but how did it fair as a subjectively ranked, competent work of genre fiction?

Hey guess what? They did fine. Almost universally positive reviews (one guy really panned STG due to the editing- which has been fixed), consistent sales (though not super high) volume, and the people I meet that have read it say they really enjoyed the reading experience. Which is what I was shooting for. Now don't get me wrong, if Baen or Random house wanted to give me a big fat advance to stay home and write books I would be sorely tempted (and externally validated), but most likely I wouldn't quit my day job, as I believe in the work I'm doing in Georgia (but this is a blog about my writing life, not about being a program manager on an assistance program- so I'll get back to my writing point...maybe... perhaps...).

So, dear reader, what does all this have to do with digital publishing you ask? I have told you in previous posts to be patient, I will eventually meander back to my point.

Publishing a print book costs a lot of money. With POD (print on demand) technology it's much cheaper, but there is still a cost involved. With electronic publishing the costs are negligible. So now writers don't have to meet an agent's or publisher's subjective quality threshold (sales being the metric). But they don't really have to meet any threshold, do they? And oh my goodness, there are some self-deluded people out there publishing some real ebook stinkers. But there are also a number of competent writers who have decided to go into ebook publishing on their own, with low prices points, no middle man, and they're doing quite well, in terms of sales (which is a metric), reviews, etc.

Novlr is blog that delves into these issues in much greater detail.

So my point is that I am flirting with the idea of going it alone with my current WIP. I am a member of 'Goodreads', (part of my 'online presence') an online community for book readers and writers and I am being inundated with ebook offers, many free (the idea being to build a fan base just like Randolph Lalonde did).

So I don't know how that would work out in terms of getting my own work out into your hands (or on your eReader device). My motivation is not necessarily maximizing ROI, or sales volume, though I think running off copies of my work and passing it out on the street corner for free wouldn't meet my self-imposed vision of being a competent genre fiction writer. Hmmm, I'll have to ponder that one.

There are many examples of authors who have written competent books and are getting them out to readers with this POD/eBook/Indy renegade author directed publishing movement. Smashwords is an ebook publisher that makes it almost painless... Most likely I will give this a trial run. I have seven short stories that I have sold to various anthology markets, online publications, etc, that I have thought I might like to collect into a small (40K word) anthology of my own. All have my signature hard-boiledish, and mostly manly action-oriented prose, and like I said they were good enough to sell once...(though one sold three times- and funny it was my only short story with a female main character. What does that mean? Do I need to spend more time in the gym? Tell me the truth, do these sweat pants make me look fat?)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The accidental Opera

I have mentioned before my challenges buying tickets for Georgian venues. It's a challenge finding out about things because there's a big word of mouth component here (and I don't really understand the words too well). Then there is the challenge of communicating at the box office (as I will explain).

I saw a poster for the Georgian Symphonetta hosting a dutch oboe-playing soloist. I fortunately also found an English language version of the same poster near the Tbilisi-State Conservatory. I went to the box office on Friday, to buy the ticket for Saturday night's performance. Well, having thought I achieved success, I looked down at my was for an opera on Friday night. That night. I went back, and knowing that an exchange was beyond my communicative talents, I opted to buy another ticket. The box office lady clearly thought me daft, but I was successful. Two tickets...So what did I do with the opera ticket? Well, I went. No idea what it was, who wrote it, but it was Italian, and cute. I am calling it the Accidental Opera.

I also made it to the Symphonetta and saw the oboist perform his solo. Mozart, Bach, Gluck and Boyce. Good seats; I sat right behind the First Lady of Georgia. (Should have figured she might come, as she's dutch).

I can also report that I have put the Thanksgiving holiday to good use, and pushed well through the middle of the WIP. Sitting squarely at 56K words, it feels like when you're on an old wooden roller-coaster and you're clank-clank-clanking up to that first big drop, the first car is nosing over the edge, the last car just finished with the chain and you get that slowly-speeding-up-as-you-go-over-the-top feeling...knowing it's going to be a wind in your face, stomach-losing dash...that's what getting through the middle feels like.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Pushing through the middle

There are many tough spots when writing a novel. Getting started, feeling like you have the characters, the basic story arc, this takes a while but really isn't that tough. Getting over the 30K word hump is a bit of challenge because that's the point at which I feel the novel is really establishing the 'voice', I know the characters, I'm getting confident with where the story is going, the basic 'vibe' is there. Often I'll tweak and futz, and cut, and uncut, and recut, and reuncut, and reorder, and insert and delete, and change, and use the 'find' function alot to make sure idiosyncracies of dialog, or naming conventions are consistent, and...and......and at some point between 25K and 30K I'll say...yah, that's what I wanted.

Then there's the middle part (about 45K-55K) where I start to second-guess myself, I can see the tempo of the story (I like the vibe, but is there enough action, do I spend too much time on character or scene development, not enough? is Cooper's subplot too overdeveloped, etc) but I reevaluate if this is really what I was thinking about for the story arc in that brief flash of inspiration several month's to a year ago, and...well that's where I am now; pushing through the middle.

As you know (if you've been following the blog) I've taken an expatriate assignment managing a project in Tbilisi, Georgia and it's a bear of a job. Overseas, new area of business, trying to meet family obligations (I know wahhh...). But the reason I bring this up for this little essay is that I'm writing much more slowly than I did in my two previous novels, so this particular angst-ridden patch is telescoping on me.

But it's not all bad, spending more time with my inner-author-insecuritites has allowed me to spend more time with the characters too, and one of the things I have realized is that my bad guys really need a voice. I've struggled with this for a while because the alien's voice, or the alien itself maybe, comes across as a Lovecraftian villain, and this inherently conflicts with the more hardboiled/pulpy/sparse voice with which the rest of the novel speaks.

The military scifi novel features an expeditionary infantry battalion investigating a seeming natural disaster (series of meteor showers) on a colony world. The 'natural disaster' is actually an alien invasion and told from the POV of Salome (a colonist), Captain Vogel (a pilot) and Sergeant Cooper (a Grunt), with a few cameo POVs. The 'alien' invaders are based on Dictyostelium fruiting bodies, and through them I explore some of my thoughts on memes, identity, 'self' and the nature of conciousness (but don't worry- there's lots of gun-play, gallons of testosterone, a strong and independent female MC, a romantic triangle and not every body dies at the end, almost not everyone...). I've been strugling with how to convey the alien POV here in the middle of the book (see, stay with me, I usually have a point!), so I decided to include the enemy as a POV character...hey, it's a big step for me, I don't just give up my POV to any character that comes along with a winning smile and a catchy line.

Anyway, I think I've reached a compromise that works, but you, dear reader will have to be the judge.
I have also include for your amusement, a snapshot of my Tbilisi Gym.

Through a dark alley, down a rickty flight of stairs, in a moldy sub-basement, thousands of kilos of mismatched plates, dumbbells, kettlebells (measured in Pood), is my lifting heaven. These are the bench presses; two vertical pipes sunk into the concrete floor, welded rebar supports hammered into the wall, and bolts to rest the bar upon. Simplicity in form and function. Now all you have to do is pick the bar up off the pegs, lower it to your chest and put it back...many, many times.

And the tough part for me, right?

Yes, you guessed it... pushing through the middle part.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

No really...

The second thing I have to say after I tell people I went to the ballet.
The Tbilisi Ballet put on a production of
Minkus' Don Quixote at the Griboedov Theater. It was my first time at the Griboedov, lovely place, great dancers, I had never heard of Minkus before but most of the music I enjoyed.

The funnest part of the whole expedition was trying to buy the tickets. Once you know how, where the box office is, the hours of operation and how to communicate in pigeon Georgian for the purchase of 'erti tiketse, baletze, didi madloba' , it's a breeze. It took some doing, and the help of a Georgian coworker but I had it all worked out...until I got to the box office.

The little old lady at the counter was not impressed. I even tried my winning smile. Nada. She rebuffed my feeble georgian-ticket-purchasing overture and raged at me in staccato Russian..'Ar vitsi rusuli' (I don't know russian) I pleaded. Again, the same Russian sentence, but slower and louder (see it's not just we Americans who feel that if you speak your native tongue slow enough and loud enough to people who don't speak your language they will suddenly understand you).

I caught a single word in the phrase; 'djevichka'. 'Djevichka?' I said. "GoGo?' (Georgian for Djevichka) and she nodded, 'Da..russian..russian..russian..djeveichka..russian..' finger wag from outside to inside. Ah...I was getting it, 'Gogo modis?' (the girl is coming) with finger point. 'Da' said she, and shook her head at me like I needed an entrance application to a state program for the feeble minded.

Well, I waited patiently and sure enough, the djevichka/gogo/girl came in and saved me from mission failure. When I got back to the office, one of my coworkers had let me a text that he wanted me to pick up 2 tickets for him as well. The next day I went back, and getting the tickets was almost a breeze.

As I said the ballet was enjoyable, Dato and Nato and I went to the Marriott had we two boys had no desire for white wine spritzers (proof that we weren't panziefied by the experience). But just to be sure I spent an extra hour working on one-rep max bench press at the Gym the next morning. You can't take chances with these things.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Things you take for granted

There are many things I took for granted when I lived in the states. I have a very long list. But the one today is 'US Post Offices'. I know, post offices you ask? The institution that inspired the term 'going postal'? Those? Well, yes, you see the US system is Nirvana compared to our Georgian Postal service.

The first time I went to the main Tbilisi Post Office was in response to a little slip of paper that showed up on my desk. All in Georgian script, now I could puzzle out how to say many of the printed words (the handwritten Georgian- no way) but I was no closer to understanding what it meant than I was when I first picked it up. Defeated, I asked one of my Georgian staff.

"You have a package at the post office," she said.

I broke out into a cold sweat. A Georgian post office! I hadn't know there was such a thing. A few days of looking at the little slip of paper, steeling my courage, girding my loins, doing my daily affirmations, and I was ready. I found a cabby with reasonably good english (as my Georgian can get me most common menu items, the check, directions to the water closet, and pleasantries in an elevator, it is NOT up to wrangling a package from a post Soviet civil servant).

After dodging in and out of traffic, up and down small alley ways and side streets, we made it.

It was a mad house.

One thing to know about living in Georgia is that you realize lines are primarily a western covention. Here they understand there's a place you want to end up, and there's the place you start, but all those people milling about between you and the front- who are they?

I eventually made it to the front of the line and proudly handed my slip of squiggly line paper to the four young women sitting on folding chairs, I was rewarded with a postit note with a number on it and a finger pointing me to another line (to pay the 15 lari to get the package out of hock). I went through a confusion of line negotiating, gave my money, got my receipt and a finger pointed me back to the first line. Another shuffle, block, shuffle and I got back to the front of line one, gave a different one of the four girls sitting on a folding chair my receipt and was handed a slip of paper for my trouble ... and sent to another line. Patiently I waited and finally a little old man showed up with a santa sack full of packages over his shoulder. He dug through the bag and I was rewarded with my mail.

All in all, only an hour of my life and a lesson in how postal delivery is done 8,000miles from home. And what did I get for my troubles? Our US-based Company President had mailed 10 pounds of Peet's Coffee! (Georgian Coffee isn't really that good. They really like Nescafe...).

Well today, a Georgian postal neophyte no longer, I received another little slip of paper. No fear. No anxiety. I sprang into action, negotiated the mean streets and alley ways of Tbilisi, and was in and out of the post office in fifteen minutes. And what did I get for my trouble? Seven kilos, two hundred grams of Oreo cookies (no Oreos in Georgia either).

And it only cost me ten lari, a 'didi madloba', and a smile. (Smiles work here too).

Thanks Steve, I'm almost down from post double-stuft sugar high...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The season

I think I mentioned that the Tbilisi Opera season is in full swing here in Georgia. There's a performance of some kind almost every weekend. Last Weekend I drug some friends with me to see the Tbilisi State Opera and Ballet Theater Symphony play a few Mozart Pieces, the internationaly renowned Turkish pianist, Zeynep Ucbasaran, played one of the piano concertos. It was pretty cool.
This weekend we fast forwarded some fifty odd years where the same symphony presented Verdi's
Attila. They did the whole opera, with glass-shattering singers and all, but presented as a stage rehersal (no props, no running around the stage, just standing there and belting it out). It was pretty cool. Later this month we have the Don Quiote and Gizelle ballets.

I will now provide you all with a cogent post comparing and contrasting the late Baroque to the mid-Romantic periods in classical music... nah, I don't know anything about about any of that. (And though it doesn't stop most people..politicians, critics, etc, from writing I try to stick with what I know).

On the WIP front, I was struggling with a turning point in my mil sci fi story. Struggling for me means I end up not trying as hard to carve out writing time, and hence, slow progress. If you've been keeping track about 3000 words in the past 10 weeks (more or less). Pathetic. Ah...but I pushed through the transition for the characters and am now driving through. Yay.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


I just heard yesterday from my Reserve Commander that I was selected for promotion from LTC (05) to Colonel (06)in the Army Reserve. This is sort of a big deal, and the selection rate this year was down in the one selected for five who went before for promotion board. Slim pickens for promotion as we reshape the force,pull our soldiers back from ten hard years of war, redefine our National Security objectives and how the Army can support that on a smaller budget.
Glad to Still be a part of it, and it's a daunting challenge in my new rank.