Thursday, August 10, 2017

THOR'S DAY RANT: What being a Veteran feels like

One of my favorite things to see on the internet is veterans succeeding. That’s probably because I’m a veteran.

I enlisted in the USAF back in 1990. At the time, it was an alternative to going back to college—I had dropped out several years earlier, and simply couldn’t afford to go back. I had always wanted to join the military. I took JROTC for four years in high school, and was taking Army ROTC in college—before I dropped out my first semester. In fact, I had dreamed of enlisting ever since before I was a teenager. Life just derailed me somewhere along the way, and it took a while to get back on track.

My time in the USAF wasn’t particularly hard, or eventful. I spent two years in Germany during Desert Storm. I finished up my first four years in California at a repair depot, McClellan AFB, in Sacramento. I never got shot at, or entered a combat zone. I worked law enforcement on base (Security Police we were called). 

When I did leave he USAF, I decided to continue my career in law enforcement—I was an SP in the USAF, a law enforcement specialist. In California, a job in law enforcement was pretty much a guarantee, but I wanted to return to my home town in Southern Indiana and serve my local community.


First up, I decided to apply with the Bloomington Police Department. I even took a few days of leave and flew back to take the written test. At the test, I found out that physicals would be in two weeks. I asked if there was any way to do mine in the next couple of days, since I was still on active duty and had taken leave time to fly back for the test. Nope. No assistance for a soon-to-be veteran there.

I tried the Indiana State Police, too. Back then, they had a requirement for 62 credit hours. I had 35 or so. I asked if my military service counted for any hours, like it did with Federal jobs. Nope. Oh, but during the interview process it might come in handy.


By 1997, I finally landed a job in law enforcement: I was hired as an investigator for the local Prosecuting Attorney. I stayed in that thankless job for seventeen-and-a-half years, starting a family, buying a house and settling down. My dreams of Federal service or even a job with local departments faded. I either couldn’t move the family, or local departments just weren’t interested in a veteran.

Neither was the (Clinton-era) Federal Government. I learned that when I tried for a Veterans’ Readjustment Appointments. Those are appointments with Federal agencies that are non-competitive for veterans for two years. Basically, you get hired (assuming you meet qualifications), do the job for a couple of years, then compete for it. Kind of like an internship, I guess.

Well, the local Marshall’s office in Louisville, Kentucky needed some people, so I applied. Unfortunately, no one at the Washington D.C. Office of Personnel Management seemed to know what a VRA was, and I was forced to take the written test, competing against other candidates. I had to drive three hours to take that test, and apparently didn’t score high enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t enlist to get anything. But I appreciate there are programs out there that recognize the sacrifices of veterans—whether they be of life, limb, or just the personal freedoms we protected during our time in uniform. I just wish I had the same kind of access to these programs so many of my fellow veterans seem to have. 

During technical school, back in 1990, I came down with pneumonia, and ended up with a scarred lung, an increased risk of developing asthma, and an ability to come down with bronchitis every year or so. Staying in shape became difficult, and by the time I did complete my enlistment, I was dangerously close to being “overweight” by USAF standards.

Around 2000, years after my Honorable discharge, I found out I actually could have gotten a disability rating because of my lung. No one told me that all during my convalescence period, or when I out-processed. I wish they had, as in my part of the country it has proven impossible to get that status now, despite my damaged lung continuing to be a problem year after year. First, the VA told me that there was no record of my illness. When I later found some hard copies, they claimed there was no indication of it causing a continued problem… despite my local doctor’s records of all the times I got bronchitis. It is abnormal to get it year after year, right?

No one seems to really care about vets at all here. I’ve since said goodbye to law enforcement, retiring from it to pursue writing. I thought for sure being a veteran and a retired law enforcement officer might help me attract readers. On the contrary, it has sure seemed like the kiss of death. In particular, one local event at a public library, where I was one of many local authors, but the only veteran, I actually got sneered at by people passing my military-themed books and display. One woman even stepped out, away from the table, as though I were contagious or something.

I see lots of veterans as authors online. Or producing movies, or serving in police departments or public offices in their communities. Their service is applauded by their communities. That leaves me a bit befuddled. I don't think I've ever been applauded for my service—other than on Veterans Day assemblies at my kids schools, when all the veteran parents are asked to stand. Did I imagine serving? Am I really a veteran?

All the young kids coming back from the Middle East get much-deserved respect and acknowledgement these days. People seem to revere and support them as much as they can. But I have to wonder, where’s my appreciation? I don’t go around proclaiming everywhere I am a veteran, but when it has come up, it’s more often than not met with shrugs, blank stares, or outright ambivalence. I sure as Hell hope none of my fellow veterans are experiencing this. But I’m sure there are many of them living in the same region as me, surrounded by communities of ingrates, underappreciated, ignored, or outright hated. 

I'm glad some veterans out there get appreciation for their service. I just wonder what it feels like...

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Book Blogger or Pirate?

The world of self-publishing is a complicated and difficult one. Not that it's difficult to write a novel. It's not. Finding the time to write one, that's difficult. Getting the word out that your novel exists, that's difficult--or expensive. 

In order to buy ads with the big advertisers of Indie Books, like Book Bub, you need reviews. Which is funny, because you generally have to have the book out, and being purchased, in order to get reviews. 

You can cheat the system a little, by directly begging for reviews--emailing Reviewers directly and asking them to read your work. This is a little like the dinosaurian system of traditional publishing, where you Query the gatekeepers, I mean, agents, and beg them to read your work and represent you. It sucks, and it's time consuming. 

I recently tried something new: a service that, for a fee, posts your book on a list for book bloggers/reviewers to see. If someone is interested, they can ask for an ARC--an Advanced Reader Copy. But you can't obligate them to read it. That goes against Amazon's review policy. 

I have hesitated to spend money on something like this before. It's like an ad to give away product. But, for my latest work, I decided, what the heck--it's only $25.00.

I was surprised to get results within a couple days: eighteen potential reviewers who were interested. I emailed them all out a PDF copy, marked "REVIEW COPY" on the title page. Within eight hours, one super-reader had already posted a review on Goodreads! Amazing. I waited for more results to roll in. 

Today, while conducting a Google search for potential book reviews, I came across my title: posted for free on a piracy site, "Hotebookdownload.com". 

Oh, and two of the downloaders from the pirate site gave glowing micro-reviews:

"Thank you sooo much!!!!"--Blanchard

"This is one of those books that is enjoyed from beginning to end. 
"Thanks for sharing!"--Steel

Yeah, thanks a whole f*cking lot, Bookmyheart. I didn't really want to sell copies of the book. I'm like one of those graffiti artists that just makes art for art's sake. No, wait--no, I'm not. I write to make money.

This is completely unacceptable. I write a very niche subgenre, and don't sell many of these. I take time away from my family to write them, and seeing my work pirated is beyond infuriating. Piracy after a book goes live is unavoidable, but before?! And from a "reviewer"?

This is the kind of thing that makes me want to throw in the towel and quit writing. I enjoy writing, telling stories, but I enjoy the company of my kids more. The whole reason I write is to earn a little extra money to spend on them. I've been doing this for five years now. I haven't sold a lot of books--at least, not since 2014. That was my best year, when book sales were high enough to buy my kids each a new laptop, take them on vacation and generally lavish them with gifts left and right. 2015, 2016, and 2017 have not been so kind. Every pirate download takes money out of my pocket. And the b*st*rds using the pirate sites don't even leave reviews on sites like Goodreads!

I've reached out to the books available-for-review site, asking for their help. I've got 18 email addresses--one of them is guilty. And, since they've posted other books, it should be easy enough to figure out who "Bookmyheart" is. If they don't cooperate, I'll have no choice but to post all eighteen names as a warning to other authors--and to post the Books available-for-review site name. 


If you hate pirates as much as me, consider buying one of my books to balance the cosmic scales. I mean, my writing cant be all bad, since I am regularly pirated, right?
Ghostwalker, Spectral Ops 2, is available on Kobo, Kindle, iTunes, and Smashwords on August 7th. Or now, through virus-filled pirate sites, if you're a scumbag.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Stranger than Fiction: Do you believe in ghosts?


I like to write about ghosts. Not because I believe in them, but because they make for good stories. That’s a historical fact, since ghost stories have been around for centuries.

What makes a good ghost story? Unseen forces moving all around us? Things levitating, seemingly on their own? Ominous visits that turn out to be premonitions of doom? I don’t know, but I do know that the best ghost stories are like lies—they have a nugget of truth in them. Or rather, what someone has claimed is the truth.

For my latest novel, Ghostwalker, releasing Monday, August 7th, I decided to knuckle down on my inclusion of the strange and unusual in my writing. Rather than drawing from modern folklore or internet accounts of the strange, I would instead draw from personal experience: a ghost tale related to me when I was in the USAF.

This story forms the basis for the opening scene of Ghostwalker, and it was sworn to me to be true…

I served as a law enforcement specialist in the USAF from 1990 to 1994, assigned to what was then called the Security Police. A lot of the guys I served with had also worked as Security Specialists, assigned to guard sites like missile silos. It was from these guys I heard the best stories, like this one.

As the story goes, one particular missile silo was built near an old cemetery. I would guess that makes it a Minuteman site, like those seen in the cheesy, propaganda-filled 80s movie The Day After. These sites were scattered across the West, some on farmer’s properties. Most were remotely-controlled from a central bunker site, where crews worked underground.

One day, this particular site had some alarm problems. Until a crew could fix the alarms, a team of four SPs were sent to the site, manning a “camper truck”. This was explained to me as a miniature guard shack. The idea was hey would guard the site until the alarm guys could come out the next morning to fix things.

When the guys did come out, they found the camper truck abandoned, and the four SPs nowhere to be found. That’s a pretty serious happening.

When the missing security guys were found, they spun a terrifying tale of Spooktacular proportions. In that cemetery, just outside the fence, there was a huge grave marker—my friend telling the story swore to have seen the marker, and the man-sized statue atop it. But he didn’t see the statue come alive, step down and walk toward the fenced in silo. He didn’t see it tear open the fence and calmly walk inside the perimeter.

But the camper team did. They screamed and yelled and ran away in a panic—two of them leaving their rifles behind. One was reportedly located in a hospital, in a kind of catatonic state of shock. Another was found passed out in a field or something, his feet raw from running away barefoot. And the statue? It was back in the cemetery, atop its grave marker, none the worse for wear. 


Now obviously, this is the condensed story. My pal told it better. And, when he told it, we were on night shift, in a quiet, abandoned corner of the base where no other man nor beast could be seen or heard. Third shift was spooky like that sometimes—especially when I was in Germany. It’s why we enjoyed trading ghost stories so much when on boring patrols. 

For Ghostwalker I embellished this tale a bit, moving the action to an old Titan II site. That was primarily because there’s this neat museum in Tucson, where a Titan II site has been restored and maintained as a museum, with tons of photos and videos online, and even a book all about the Titan program and sites.


Ghostwalker isn’t the first story I’ve incorporated “real world” tales of the strange and mysterious in. It won’t be the last—I have several more tucked away. But if you served, and heard a good ghost tale, add it in the comments below. I’d love to use some more of these. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

THOR'S DAY RANT: Mother's Day?!


It's that time of year again, when we are inundated with advertising pushing the Mother's Day holiday. We are cajoled and guilted into buying cards, flowers, and gifts, while showered with images of smiling, gentle mothers--the kind who kiss boo-boos, offer shoulders to cry on, and are just wonderful, glowing, soft-filtered human beings. 

But not all of us have those. 

Now, I don't begrudge good mothers a day of recognition, although I do have to question waiting until May to thank your mom for being a good mother. What I do question is the obvious commercialization of the day, and the idea that all children owe their mothers something special for birthing and nurturing them. See, not all of us had mothers growing up, and I think that in our modern age of rampant snowflake political correctness, it's high time we start recognizing that. 

There are many, many folks out there who are orphans--people who lost their parents, or who were abandoned by their parents. For them, I'd wager Mother's Day is a bitter reminder of what they didn't have as a child. I empathize with these folks, because when I was a child, I, too, lacked a mother. 

I don't mean that I was hatched from an egg or assembled in a lab. I mean that I literally had no mother for most of my childhood. My mother decided around the time I was about 5 to have an affair with a young man of 18 years of age she worked with. It was her seventh or so year of marriage to my father, and she was in her mid-20s, I believe. She again became a mother--carrying my half-brother and divorcing my father. 

For a brief year or two, I lived with my mother and her other child. This was because my wonderful parents put me on the spot, telling me about the impending divorce and asking me who I wanted to live with. My father wasn't even present for this conversation--he called from somewhere else, forcing me to pick a parent over the phone. Reluctantly, I chose my mother, not sure what else to say. 

After the divorce, we moved around a lot, and she had different men staying the night in our apartments on a regular basis. Most days, I was shoved outside and told to "go play" while she slept off hangovers. During the school year, I missed a lot of school, because apparently her nightlife interfered with getting up in the morning to make me breakfast and send me on my way. Tardiness and hunger were a daily way of life. I distinctly remember those days of walking to school late. An airplane flew over about the time I would be on my way to school. To this day, whenever I hear a propeller-driven airplane fly over in the morning hours, I get that sensation of being late. 

By age 7, my poor school attendance was enough of an issue my father took custody of me. And that was pretty much the last time I saw my "mother". She didn't die or leave the area, she just refused to have anything to do with me; even at family Christmas gatherings. Years later, when I was 18, and about to enlist in the service, she tried to re-establish a connection with me, confiding that she had resented me choosing my father over her, and telling me about her LSD use and how her memories of the time weren't so good. 

I reluctantly accepted this attempt at reconciliation, and her offer to provide me a free place to live while I attended college. But a zebra can't change it's stripes, and my mother soon found herself another much younger man in (sixteen years younger). I determined that the real reason for my residency was really just to be a role model for my sibling, while Mommy Dearest played cougar. I bid Oedipus and his soon-to-be-bride adieu and moved out. 

Years later, when I got engaged, my future wife insisted I include my mother (once again divorced) in our wedding plans. We went through the motions, going over for dinner, meeting her, occasional visits, etc. etc. But things returned to normal when my wife and I had our first child. My mother visited her grandchild in the hospital, then disappeared for two weeks, until we bumped into her at a family reunion and she refused her own siblings' efforts to get her to hold my daughter. This ended, once and for all, any mother-child relationship I had with my mother. I may have suffered abandonment and rejection repeatedly at her hands growing up, but I was damned if I was going to subject my own child to the same misery and neglect from an indifferent grandmother. It's a decision I have not regretted once.

I realize that there are good mothers out there--I was fortunate enough to meet several of them (mothers of my friends) over the years. Many are indeed poster-worthy for this impending holiday and could give June Cleaver a run for her money. My own wife is beloved by our two daughters, and has a good mother herself. 

But the point is, that growing up, my mother wasn't there--by her own choice. I often countered the intended insult of "son-of-a-bitch" directed at me with "You know my mom?". To this day, I joke regularly that I was raised by television, and that on Mother's Day that's who I choose to spend my day with (my beloved big screen). 

This year, just as I do every Mother's Day, I'll ensure my kids will spend the day with their mom, and that she's able to get some quality time with her own mother. But for me, and the countless others like me who didn't have a mother there when we were growing up, or who had terrible, despicable mothers who were raging alcoholics, addicts, or otherwise just horrible, I'd like to ask that the rest of you rethink this weekend's holiday. Don't wait to thank your own mother once every May, and don't rub my nose in this holiday.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Secrets of Self-Publishing A to Z: Conventions


CONVENTIONS!


At some point in your self-publishing career, you may be invited to a convention, or just come up with the idea to go by yourself. Before you book that table in the lonely creator's alley, there are a few things to consider:

1. Conventions are normally on the weekends, and that's when many of us like to write. In other words, sitting at a table, trying to hawk your books means you won't be getting any writing done. 


2. Unless you're an invited guest, conventions cost money to attend. Primarily, table fees. But there's also food, travel, and if you're out of town, lodgings. These costs can quickly mount, surpassing several hundred dollars. That's a lot of books to sell. 


3. Conventions cater to a specific demographic. For instance, comic book fans. Unless your book is about comic books, or comic book characters, you're going to have a hard time competing with cover-to-cover art. 


4. Selling books in person isn't as easy as you might think. Particularly bearing in mind the fact you'r competing against art, props, toys, and a lot of other things that can much more easily be visually appraised for their value.


If you do decide to set up at a convention, bear in mind there's a LOT of sitting involved. Sitting at your table/booth that is. You can bring something to do, or read, but if you do get a visitor, you have to be ready to drop everything and give them all your attention. 


Don't get too excited about visitors though... many are authors themselves, eager to network with other authors, or maybe looking for some tips from someone more experienced. Or they could be an aspiring author who has a lot of questions about self-publishing, but no intention to buy anything. 


And don't go to the convention empty handed. Even if you're only trying to sell ebooks (or rather, direct people to them) you need stuff at your table. Bookmarks, buttons, pencils, flyers, cards... the more stuff the better. 


As you can see, conventions are a lot more complicated to be a vendor at, than they are to visit. You're probably better off visiting, then returning home and doing some writing. 

Monday, April 03, 2017

Secrets of Self-Publishing A to Z: Businessing the Craft out of Writing

BUSINESSING THE CRAFT OUT OF WRITING

As I mentioned in yesterday, there are a lot of people out there that want to take your money and “help” you print your books. Book doctors who’ll re-write your work for you, Cover Designers who’ll come up with that perfect cover, and even formatters who’ll ensure your work is ready for upload to whatever online service you choose to self-publish on.

But worse among them all are the business people. These folks claim that writing is a business and that you can’t succeed if you don’t treat it like one. They offer seminars (for a fee) or even consultations (for a fee). They extoll spreadsheets, virtual assistants, and acting professionally. Some of them are even authors.

Again, I have to call bullshit. Writing is a craft. We aren’t stamping out books from a mold, we’re spinning stories for readers. It’s art as much as painting or music. When you think of it as business, you’re taking the art away. The same thing has happened on television, which now features teams of writers on most shows, all methodically and systematically churning out formulaic scripts.


Whether you are saving the cat, or Denting some pulp, please don’t ever lose sight of the most important thing about self-publishing: telling a good story. Study the craft, not the marketing. Once you can master self-publishing, then you can move on to selling more copies, and then once you do that, you can worry about keeping track of expenses, maximizing your profits and all that other non-artistic crap. 

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Secrets of Self Publishing: All By Yourself


A to Z secrets of Self-Publishing:

ALL BY YOURSELF



For almost five years now, I've been actively self-publishing. You can too, and I'm going to help you figure out the secrets of self-publishing. Unlike a lot of my peers though, I'm not going to charge for my knowledge, I'm going to share it for free. AND I'm going to give you the no-holds-barred, bullshit-free truths of self publishing.

First up, I'll tell you that you don't need anyone else. Self-publishing is just what it says it is: publishing yourself, instead of waiting for someone else to do it.

Before Kindle, self-publishing was limited to vanity publishing, which really was nothing more than self-printing. Having a print copy of your work doesn't really amount to much, because you need to find a way to sell it to customers. Kindle Direct Publishing is completely different thought. Instead of filling boxes in your garage with unsold copies of your work, you actually place your work on a digital marketplace where customers can, in theory, see it without any further work from you. That is, it's available to everyone, rather than just folks that come to your yard sale.

KDP isn't the only marketplace for self-publishers. There's Nook, Kobo, iTunes. Smashwords, and even Google Play (assuming you can figure out their interface). But I'll get into them more later. 

What's really important to remember about self publishing is that it truly is DIY. If you have a computer and can put your words in electronic format for uploading, then you also have the means to make covers, to edit, spellcheck and even proofread your own work. It may indeed be true that you might lack the talent to do these things, and that's okay. But you should at least try.

What irritates me the most about the modern self-publishing landscape is all the deceitful hucksters out there insisting that if you don't have a "professional" cover, or a "professional" editor, etc. etc. you won't sell anything. I say bullshit. You don't need professional services, they are just ways to improve your odds of making sales. 

Think of it in car terms. When you buy a car, it doesn't need air conditioning. Or a sunroof. Or Power seats, power mirrors, GPS, etc. etc. Those are options. A five speed manual transmission with hand crank windows and manual door locks will get you to work. A/C will just get you there more comfortably. 

Self-publishing is the same. If you just can't make a cover to save your life, that doesn't mean you won't make any sales. It's an indicator you won't make very many, but there's still that element of dumb luck involved. 

Here's where I'll digress for a moment. A lot of people confuse luck with karma. You ca't change luck. By definition, it's random. And no matter how much money you throw at book you've self-published, it still just might not sell, and not because it's bad. On the other hand, complete crap (whether it's published by traditional publishers or you) can sell many, many units if you're lucky enough for the right people to see it, share it, talk about it, etc. 

The most important thing about true DIY self-publishing, is that you are willing to work. And no, it's not a "business", as so many other hucksters will proclaim. It's not a business until you actually are selling. Until then, it's a dream, and you have to work hard and cross your fingers that dream comes true. But the good news is that it can

Not everyone wins the lottery who buys a ticket. Self-publishing has better odds than the lottery, in that you can sell some of your books no matter how bad the cover, the editing, or the spelling. If you want to improve your odds by putting a second mortgage on your home to pay experts who themselves aren't writing, go right ahead, but please, please, please remember that all the money in the world may not be enough to sell your work to readers. 

It's a new day in publishing, and you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. It costs nothing but time to publish in our modern, digital world.