Friday, December 9, 2011

GoodReads Book Giveaway Now Closed

Thank you to the 1,000+ people who signed up to win a copy of my novel, The City of Lost Secrets, on the GoodReads website. I was completely STUNNED by the amount of interest in the book and thank each and every one of you for entering the contest. I wish I had a thousand books to give away to all of you! Seriously, I'm simply amazed and so very grateful. You rock!

Alas, I could only give away two. The winners have been notified (by me and by GoodReads) and the books are on their way. Here's hoping they like the book and are willing to give me a review and/or feedback.

If you didn't win and are still interested in the book, it's available for purchase on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and Smashwords. If you download it to your Kindle you can get a Kindlegraph.

Thanks again to everyone who entered!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Know Someone With an Unique or Unusual Job? Pick Their Brain, Then Send 'Em My Way

I never thought being a novelist was a particularly interesting occupation. The way I see it, I’m just an average person with a side career as a writer, a job just like any other. I may be writing about extraordinary or unique or unusual people doing extraordinary or unique or unusual things, but honestly, my job as novelist—the process itself--is kinda boring.

So imagine my surprise when a few people told me over the past couple of months, while discussing my debut novel The City of Lost Secrets, that they thought writing was a fascinating career. (It’s not, just ask my husband. But thanks for thinking so.)  These same people went all Freud on me, wondering what motivated me to write about biblical archeology, asking how my husband felt about my long mental absences, and drawing conclusions about the autobiographical nature of the book.

It freaked me out at first. I don’t necessarily want people to know certain personal things about me, and I feared that I unknowingly revealed my innermost thoughts through my fiction. But whatever. What did I expect would happen after “putting myself out there” as a creator of fictional worlds and characters? It’s cool though, because these people are now fans of my work and just want to know more about me and the psychology behind it all, so of course I give them honest answers—and continue to let them think being a novelist is the shit.

So while I think “novelist” isn’t exactly the coolest gig in town, I believe there are plenty of truly interesting and unique jobs out there, occupations you just don’t hear about everyday. Like Industrial Hygienist. And Pet Therapist. And Rag Picker (more on that in a minute). And those people who travel around the country firing other people from their jobs, George Clooney “Up in the Air” style. I think the correct job title is Corporate Downsizer.

You don’t bump into people like that everyday who actually do those jobs for a living. Those are the types of people who show up in novels, right? Because let’s be honest: successful books (and movies and TV shows) are populated with interesting people doing interesting things. Lisbeth Salander, the damaged computer hacker goth girl from Stieg Larsson’s books? Yeah, interesting chic, and a character I would’ve given my left arm to have created. Willy Wonka. Harry Potter. Sherlock Holmes. Hannibal Lecter. Interesting characters with unusual jobs.

I mean, no one wants to read about a copier salesman. He’s boring, right? He’s your best buddy. The guy you play poker with on Friday nights. He may be an upstanding citizen and a great family man who makes an honest living but sorry, that’s boring. He’s just an average guy. Nobody wants to read about the average guy with a boring life.

Now, if your best buddy was a copier salesman who had a secret identity…lived a double life as, I don’t know, an undercover government agent who roughed up Russian gangs illegally importing photocopiers…now we’re talking. That’s an interesting guy with a cool story to tell! I’d want to write about him and you’d want to read a story about him (but not necessarily my story).

The show Dexter works on the same premise: A forensics experts who moonlights as a serial killer, hunting down criminals who’ve escaped justice. Interesting guy with an average job and an extraordinary, um, “side job.”

Now, remember earlier when I mentioned the occupation Rag Picker? I watched a show the other day about 19th century Parisian “rag pickers,” people who made a living rummaging through trash in the streets of Paris to collect it for salvage. Rag picking was a career most prevalent in the 19th and early 20th centuries before organized trash collection came about. Here’s a picture I found of what a “typical” Parisian rag picker looked like:

Looks like a guy with an interesting story to tell, right?

Rag pickers still exist, most notably in India and Cairo, Egypt. What instantly grabbed me was the fact that picking through garbage was and still is a noble and honest occupation in some areas of the world. Who knew? Theirs is a story yet to be told, the plight of the rag pickers, and damnit, I’m gonna tell it. I’m going to write an historical drama set in 19th century Paris about an extraordinary boy born into a filthy world who must overcome great odds in order to realize his true power. It’ll be Oliver Twist meets Benjamin Button. I’m jazzed about it and have already written the first chapter.

I’ll write the rest of that story later, right after I tackle the ones about the industrial hygienist, the pet therapist, and the copier salesman/government spy. Oh, and the eight other novel ideas that are floating around in my head. (But I’ll let the Corporate Downsizer story die—“Up in the Air” is perfect as is.)

So, if you know anyone who has a unique or unusual job, pick their brains. Talk to them. Engage them in conversation. I guarantee they’ve got some awesome stories to tell. And you just might learn a thing or two.

Once you’re done, you’ll sent them my way, won’t you?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Win An Autographed Copy of THE CITY OF LOST SECRETS

If you're a GoodReads member, hop on over to their website and enter to win a copy of my latest novel, The City of Lost Secrets. I'm giving away two autographed copies to two lucky people! The deadline is next Friday 12/9.  Makes for an awesome Christmas gift for the reader in your life.


    Goodreads Book Giveaway


        The City of Lost Secrets by Katie McVay



          The City of Lost Secrets


          by Katie McVay


            Giveaway ends December 09, 2011.

            See the giveaway details
            at Goodreads.




      Enter to win

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Does The TSA's 3 oz. Liquid Rule Still Hold Water?

I recently returned from a trip to Ireland, which I find to be one of the easiest European countries to travel to. You can fly there non-stop from Philly and the New York airports in as little as six hours, and because Ireland is a very popular American tourist destination, you can sail through customs without hassle.

Flying home from Ireland couldn’t be any easier either. The major airports in Dublin and Shannon have U.S. Customs kiosks right there in the airport; U.S. officials stamp your passport and essentially welcome you back to the U.S. before you’ve even boarded your home-bound flight, eliminating the need for your travel-weary butt to wait in a long customs queue on the other side.

Because of the ease with which I’ve traveled to Ireland in the past, I didn’t even worry when my father (who traveled with us this time) bought two large bottles of Irish whiskey at the Shannon Airport last minute before boarding our flight. As predicted, airline officials waved him and his Paddy onto the plane with no problem.

Talk about a system that works and is user-friendly. (Now how come the rest of the country can’t get its arse in gear?)

So when I recently read about a woman whose husband had an issue returning home from Rome with a few bottles of wine, it got me thinking a little more closely about traveling with liquids. I’ve flown enough to know by heart the TSA’s 3 oz. rule; I can recite it as easily as the Star-Spangled Banner. But I’m a light packer and try to avoid bringing liquids home with me, let alone booze, so I’ve never found myself in a similar situation. Plus, my father had had no problem with his whiskey. So I was curious: what had gone wrong with this poor sap and his wine?

The husband in the story seemed to do everything right. He’d bought the wine at a duty-free shop after clearing security at the Rome airport; the bottles were sealed in tamper-free, see-through plastic bags; and he carried them on the plane, as Roman officials instructed him to do. His layover in London’s Heathrow Airport passed without incident. But the husband had another layover to contend with, a domestic one in Dallas-Fort Worth. And this is where he had trouble.

TSA agents at Dallas-Fort Worth told the husband he’d have to check the bottles of wine for his final flight home to Santa Monica, California.

Seriously? So he’d flown almost six thousand miles with bottles of wine essentially in his lap, but for the short 1500 mile flight from Dallas to Santa Monica, he’d have to check them? Yes, and all because of the TSA’s 3 oz. rule, which says you absolutely cannot carry any container of liquid larger than 3 oz. onto a plane originating in the U.S., no matter the destination. (As of this writing, baby products and medical supplies are an exception.) That left the poor guy with three options: pitch the bottles of wine, check them, or have one hell of a party at the airport before his final flight home.

The husband chose to check the wine, and to the airline’s credit, they were helpful with his decision.

But still, the TSA’s liquid rule is confusing and maddening. That’s because the rule raises questions that allow for no simple answers,  has rare exceptions that most people can’t utilize, and is fraught with loopholes that make sense only to the TSA’s brand of logic.

For starters, the TSA’s 3-1-1 liquid rule for carry on luggage goes like this: each passenger is allowed one (1) clear plastic zip-top bag, sized one (1) quart, filled with three (3) ounce bottles (or less) of liquid. Sounds simple enough, right?

But what’s your definition of liquid? Hairspray, glass cleaner, contact lens solution? Obviously liquids. But what about toothpaste? Toothpaste is more of a gel, but the TSA considers it a liquid, so into the quart bag it must go. Same with your hair gel, deodorant and fabric stain stick. All considered liquids. And how are you supposed to fit all your “liquids” into one itty-biddy quart bag? Most people can’t. Guess what? More shit for you to stuff into your checked luggage.

(Here’s one “liquid” that you’re banned from carrying on a plane that most people don’t think of: gel shoe inserts. My husband wears these everyday except on days when he’s traveling. Too much of a hassle to travel with, so he goes without.)

Now, if the subject of the story didn’t need to go through security again in Dallas en route to Santa Monica, he would’ve been in the clear; he probably would’ve been allowed to carry those bottles of wine onto his domestic flight. That’s because the 3 oz. rule is a TSA rule, not the airlines’ or airports’ rule. Without a security checkpoint, who’s to stop him? He could tuck those bottles of wine into a carry-on bag and no gate agent, flight attendant, or any other airline or airport rep would even know. But he did have to go through security again upon arriving from Heathrow (as well as Customs), so he was nabbed by agents and told no way, Jose. He’d have to check that wine or throw it away.

And if the bottles of wine were 3 oz. or less per container? Well, that’s perfectly fine, as long as the bottles would’ve fit inside his one-quart bag. He would’ve been able to sail through security because the wine falls within the TSA’s magic 3-1-1 scenario. But if the 3 oz. bottles of wine didn’t fit inside his zip-top quart bag, he’d be back to where he started. He’d have to check the tiny bottles or throw them away; he’d be adhering to one part of the rule, while breaking another, and that’s a no-no. With the TSA, it’s all or nothing.

Confused yet?  I know, I know. See how maddening the rule can be? The TSA claims it’s working on software that will someday make it possible for us to once again carry liquids onto a plane, thus abolishing the 3-1-1 rule that even the organization itself admits it’s tired of justifying. They even want to get to a point where passengers will be able to keep their shoes on. What a happy day that’ll be. But of course that day isn’t here yet, so what’s a weary passenger to do? Whether it’s wine or whiskey, perfume or stain stick, how can you avoid the 3-1-1 madness?

First off, try like hell to get a non-stop flight. That’s tough to do if you’re flying to/from some far-flung or hard-to-reach area, or if you live in the middle of nowhere. But if you live within a few hours’ drive of a larger airport, like Dulles, Philadelphia, O’Hare, Newark, JFK or LAX, it’s decidedly easier, because those large airports have tons of non-stop, round-trip flights all over the world. (My husband and I flew non-stop from Newark to Beijing in 2009; it was a chaotic three-hour drive to New Jersey and then a grueling 14-hour flight, but it was worth not having to layover or change planes.)  Suck it up and drive to/from a larger airport, staying overnight if need be, to reap the benefits of a non-stop flight. You won’t have to worry about missing a connection, for one thing. But more on topic, you’ll be able to bring home larger containers of liquid without worry (if you’re flying home from an international destination, that is.)

If a non-stop flight isn’t an option (and even if it is), consider buying the liquid toiletries you need once you reach your destination, if possible. On the flip side, on the return flight home, throw out any and all liquids you no longer need before packing your bags. Also, if you absolutely must have that bottle of Paddy Irish whiskey (like my dad did, because it’s not sold in the States) consider having it shipped home. And of course, you could always wait until you get home to buy your booze—or not buy any booze at all.

But what fun would that be?

Got a nightmare TSA or 3-1-1 story you’d like to share? Let’s hear ‘em! While you’re at it, sign up to receive all my travel-related blog posts. They’re frequent enough to keep you in the know, but not too frequent that they clog up your in-box. Sign up to the right.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Questions Are More Important To Writers Than Praise--At Least To This Writer

**FIRST, A NEWS FLASH**: I’ve now made it possible for you to buy my novel, THE CITY OF LOST SECRETS, directly from me. Simply click on the "Buy Now" button and use your credit card. The transaction will take place through PayPal, which is completely safe and secure, and you don't even need a PayPal account to make the purchase. In the long run it’s cheaper than buying it through Amazon, because Amazon charges shipping and I won't. The book will come directly from me--no taxes charged, no shipping costs tacked on, no strings attached. Plus, you'll have the option of receiving an autographed copy. If you’re interested, simply click on the link to the right. **END OF NEWS FLASH**

Second, a thank you. I’ve gotten some awesomely positive reviews of the book, and I can’t thank you enough. I’m so fortunate to have such dedicated readers, who’ve taken time away from their busy schedules to read my novel. And I’d also like to give a shout out to my personal “team” of salesman who’ve worked tirelessly to get the word out about the book. You know who you are… Thank you all so very much!

You know, upon the release of the novel, I hoped that readers would be engaged enough to not just say “great job” or “nice book” or “I liked it” and truly give me feedback that I could use for future installments and to make me a better writer. I was fortunate enough to get it, and then some. I received positive reinforcement and critical analysis and even suggestions for the next book in the series. How awesome is that?

And I also got something else that a writer sometimes can only dream of: questions.

You see, all writers want to hear that readers liked their book, thought it was well researched, kept them up all night, yadda yadda yadda. Those kinds of comments give us goose bumps. It means we’re doing our jobs well. Don’t get us wrong—writers love those types of comments! In fact, keep ‘em coming! But you know what’s even better than praise to a writer? Questions.

If a writer asks a reader if they liked their book, and the reader starts asking questions, then the writer knows they’re on to something. They’ve struck a nerve. They’ve connected with that reader somehow. They’ve engaged the reader enough that they’re past the “I liked your book” pleasantries and on to wanting to know more—what inspired the book, who did you interview, what type of research did you do, etc.

I wasn’t so bold as to expect to get questions from readers, but of course I hoped I would. And the top three questions I hoped I’d get asked were:

1. Is the book autobiographical?
2. Who did the artwork?
3. When’s the sequel coming out?

I wanted these three questions most of all because it meant readers were paying attention to the characters as well as the plot, they appreciate a quality book cover when they see it, and they enjoyed the book enough to want to read more. As I see it, those are the three most important qualities in a book. Did you like the cover enough to pick it up, were you invested in the character’s lives and draw possible connections to their creator (the writer), and did you love the book enough to immediately want to find out what happens next? Answers to these questions are like a litmus test for a writer to determine if we’ve done our job. A yes to all three questions is like a goldmine. A no means we have some work to do.

Luckily, those were the top three questions I was asked. Whew! That meant I’d felt I succeeded in giving readers the complete package, a totally-immersive reading experience. What a relief! You liked it! You really liked it!

There are flaws of course, and the book is by no means perfect, but it was as close to perfect as I could make it at the time.

So, was the book autobiographical? Partly. I’ll let you figure out what parts....

Who did the artwork? An awesome dude named Stan Tremblay with

When’s the sequel coming out? Summer 2012 (fingers crossed).

So while those were the most commonly asked questions, there were three others that were asked frequently enough to be printed here. They were:

Did you travel to Jerusalem for research? 
I wish, but no. But I will get there some day.

Did you interview professors or biblical scholars? 
No, I didn’t interview anyone. I could have spent time tracking down experts, but honestly, I didn’t think they’d take me seriously enough as a writer to want to talk with me. So I did the next best thing: I read every book by key experts in the fields of biblical archeology, the New Testament, first-century Roman occupied Jerusalem, and the life of Jesus.

What inspired you to tackle a controversial subject for your debut novel?
Stupidity? No, seriously. I’ve been fascinated by biblical history since I was a teenager. Don’t ask me why—it’s a long story. I knew tackling a sensitive subject involving perhaps the most controversial figure ever could end my career before it even began. Most writers start off with more commercial fare and build their name to the point where they can publish whatever the hell they want. Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code always comes to mind. That novel was actually his third published book. I did it ass-backwards. I started and stopped three novels—ones I was sure could catapult my career--before starting to write The City of Lost Secrets. The decision quite possibly cost me an agent and a fine career as a traditionally published author, but I got to the point where I didn’t care. The City of Lost Secrets was too deep-seated in my brain to let it go and I believed in it too much. We’ll see if the decision to self-publish pays off. Based on the positive feedback I’ve gotten, I’d say it has.

There ya go, the six most common questions I’ve been getting about the book. Got any other burning questions about the book you’re dying to have answered? What? Whaddya mean you haven’t read the book yet? Shame shame. Hop on over to Amazon, B& or right here on my website and buy yourself a copy. Read it and email me what you think. Better yet, post a review on Amazon.

Got a Kindle e-book version you want me to autograph? Surf on over to and send an KindleGraph request. It’s easy and free!
This post is dedicated to James Neary, who would’ve turned 101 today. He was a hell of a guy who had a dream to live to be 100 years old. He did, then quietly passed away four months later. You are missed, dear Pop-Pop.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Is Flying The Friendly Skies Safer Post 9/11?

On this, the ten-year anniversary of 9/11, we will, as a nation, mourn the loss of thousands of souls who perished on that fateful day. There will be memorials and remembrances and celebrations and lots and lots of tears shed. Today is all about the lives lost and the families affected.

 But in the days and weeks following the anniversary, the conversations will turn from emotional to political, from how we’ve healed as a nation to are we prepared for another attack?

The answer to that question is yes. But…

Of course there’s a but.

While flying the friendly skies may be safer than ever, it has come at a cost: safety procedures that test passenger patience and push the boundaries of personal privacy.

Say what you will about the occasionally stupid stuff that the TSA has done (pat downs for babies, anyone?), the federal organization has played a huge part in making airport security better. Don’t believe me? Then you’ve got a short memory.

Pre-9/11, airport security was bad. Abysmally so. Airport security was left up to private contractors, some with less-than-stellar stats. Convicted felons were hired as security screeners. Checked luggage was hardly if ever screened for explosives. People with outstanding arrest warrants were entrusted with keeping airports safe. Lax screeners allowed 20% of dangerous objects to pass through checkpoints. Performance was low and so were salaries; in 2001, agents were paid less than the starting salaries at airport fast-food restaurants. Naturally, turnover was high.

Then the TSA came in and put a few changes in place. Federalizing airport security lowered worker turnover from 125% per year to 6.4%. Professionalizing airport security meant better employees with higher salaries and enhanced screening that resulted in increased passenger safety. Gone were the “rent-a-goons” employed by private contractors that ran amok unscrutinized at our nation’s airports. Here to stay is a professional (albeit impersonal) federally-mandated organization that is not immune to public pressure. It’s an organization that continues to evolve as new threats come in.

That’s the good news.

Now, the bad.

A lot of people would argue that the introduction of the TSA has come at a huge cost—the surrender of personal comfort and privacy. Patdowns, luggage searches, shoe-removals, liquid bans. The rules continue to change and passengers struggle to keep up.

But are ever-evolving “nude-o-scans” and shoe-removal policies really that much worse than the incompetent and corrupt airport security companies that were in place before the TSA came along?

A little more than fifty percent of Americans say yes, I’ve sacrificed too much in order to achieve an increased sense of security. But 81% of Americans feel more safe at airports overall. What does that mean? Well, I guess it means that most Americans simply deal with the inconveniences that make airline travel safer (which says nothing of accepting the inconveniences), and the rest of Americans either don’t travel or don’t give enough of a shit to weigh in.

But if a shoe bomber had succeeded in the aftermath of the original shoe bomber Richard Reed’s failure because we hadn’t instituted the removal of shoes at security? What then? Well, there most certainly would have been public outcry that the TSA hadn’t done its job. “Why didn’t the TSA make the bomber take off his shoes?” national headlines would say. “Why isn’t there a shoe-removal policy at our country’s airports to prevent such tragedies?”

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

But keep this in mind: we haven’t had another successful terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.

So I ask you: Is impersonal customer-service and a sense of dehumanization worth it if it means saving your life?  Or can we strike a balance between safety and comfort?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

No E-Reader? No Problem! My Books Will Always Be Available In Print

As a writer, I thought publishing my novels as e-books on Amazon’s Kindle was the way to go.

“Everyone has an e-reader, and most of them have Kindles,” they said. “Serious readers have Kindles and you should market to them,” they said further.

They being the self-publishing experts, and the novelists who were already making their work available as ebooks and apparently making good livings. So who was I to argue? They were walking the walk, so to speak, they were super successful, and were selfless enough to share the secrets of their own success. And the secret seemed to be: push out ebook after ebook for Kindle, price them low enough to attract lots of readers, and market the shit out them using social media. Rinse and repeat.

I read about writers who were selling thousands of ebooks a month and pulling in four figures a month. People like JA Konrath. John Locke. Karen McQuestion. Amanda Hocking. Ruth Morrison.

They’ve all found success publishing to Kindle almost exclusively. Some of them have gone on to find traditional publishing deals. And all of them are doing very well for themselves.

As ebook publishers, they have no overhead because there’s no print book and therefore no printing costs or inventory.

They need very little upfront money to get ebooks published because hiring an expert to convert a manuscript and create a cover costs maybe a hundred bucks each. And if you do it yourself of course it’s free.

Tons of readers. Oodles of devoted fans. Very little upfront cash needed. Pure profit. That’s what I was being promised—as long as my book was good and I marketed like hell.

The successful authors I mentioned didn’t start out that way, of course. At first, they were selling dozens a month, but persistence and years of practice and savvy marketing pushed them ahead of the crowd to a place where they could write full-time. It took a lot of time away from writing, and more time marketing, but eventually they were able to reap the rewards. Most of them are now selling thousands of ebooks a month.

How awesome for them!   

Despite the drawbacks (less time writing, more time marketing) this sounded like a business model I wanted to get involved in.

So I hopped onboard about eight months ago and never second-guessed my decision to “go indie.” I ceased looking for an agent and decided to self-publish my writing as e-books.

Then a curious thing happened.

As I started going about the e-publishing process, I started asking everyone I knew and lots of people I didn’t if they had a Kindle. Or any other kind of e-reader. And the overwhelming majority of them said no. They didn’t have an e-reader and didn’t think they would buy one anytime soon. The readers in the bunch purchase print books, they like the simplicity that comes with owning print books, and oh by the way, they asked, when’s your book coming out in print?

I had to break the news to them that I was publishing ebooks only. In my mind, that equated to lost sales. I might have to do something about that. But more on that in a minute.

As predicted, my close friends and family wanted print books. But even the strangers and people I didn’t know too well expressed interest in a print book.

Huh. Go figure.

That went against everything I’d read about. About how while the publishing industry had expanded over all, print sales had been in steady decline. Mass-market paperback sales—those cheap, pulpy books you find in drug stores and airports—for example, had fallen 14 percent since 2008. A once robust paper-based industry was slowly being eaten away at by the digital revolution. Ebooks were chewing up the competition.

And it made sense why. Reading can be an expensive hobby. Hardbacks are priced at about $25, trade paperbacks at about $12 - $15. Voracious readers can easily plow through two, three, even four books a month, which means someone who liked to read a lot could easily drop $100 a month on books. That’s a lot of coin.

With the advent of ebooks, readers no longer had to purchase expensive hardbacks or wait for the discounted trade paperback. Within a matter of minutes, they can download a dozen novels to their e-readers for less than twenty bucks. Naturally, readers of the voracious and budget-watching variety embraced the technology. It was a natural fit.

But that’s not what I’m experiencing…

I asked a woman at work, whom I know to be a big reader, how many books she read a month. About two or three, she said. She doesn’t have an e-reader and doesn’t plan on purchasing one anytime soon. She prefers trade paperback but if it’s a writer she really likes (Sue Grafton, say), then she’ll spend the dough for the hardback in order to get it as soon as it’s released. Her house is full of books, most of which she doesn’t have the heart to get rid of. She doesn’t mind spending more money on a paper book and only shrugs at the thought of a house crammed floor to ceiling with them.

I asked professional contacts, people I usually only talk shop with, if they read novels and if so, if they preferred ebooks or print books. The overwhelming majority didn’t have e-readers; they preferred print books.

I dispatched friends and family members to ask their contacts (people I didn’t know) about ebooks vs. print books. Most of them still read books; no e-reader for them. One 40ish woman even was quoted as saying, “What’s a Kindle?”

Of the two dozen or so people who were asked, a whopping five had e-readers. Five! That certainly flies in the face of the experts who claimed that nobody reads books anymore. (Of course, some of them gave up reading altogether because of time and money constraints, but still…)

So while I don’t doubt that e-readers are here to stay, my independent research indicated that maybe they’re not catching on as quickly as all the experts claim they have.

Either that, or the print-book-reading people that were interviewed (most of them fellow Pennsylvanians) are way behind the times. Maybe Pennsylvania in general is way behind the times and slow to embrace new technologies.

If that’s the case, where are all these supposed Kindle and Nook nuts? Where are they hiding? My ebook novel, The City of Lost Secrets, has been on sale for a month now, and I’ve sold 22 copies. Nothing to shake a stick at (especially since I haven’t done too much marketing) but not exactly the first month goal of 25 I was aiming for. I’ve had almost as many people express interest in the print book. Which is the opposite of what the experts told me would happen.

Granted, I haven’t done a lot of publicity, because I’ve been too busy writing the second book, and because the experts told me to wait until I have at least three or four books written before I start branding myself and promoting my books. Which makes sense, because if someone really likes your book, you want to have more than just the one available for them. Plus, the experts also told me that I could expect first- and second-month sales to be low, because it takes time for the “Amazon algorithm” to kick in and word of mouth to spread. If what the experts say is true, I won’t begin seeing truly decent sales of my ebook until about the nine month mark.

But given that the opposite of what the experts are saying is happening to me, then maybe I’ll start seeing success with my ebook sooner than nine months. And I can expect to sell more print books than ebooks.

Which is why the print version of The City of Lost Secrets is now available in print version on Amazon. (You can buy it here.) It cost me a hell of a lot of money to make it available, but in the end it was worth it. That’s because becoming an ebook writer millionaire like John Locke was never my main goal, anyway. All I really want to do is tell a great story using likeable and relatable characters. Whether it makes me a millionaire or barely brings me back into the black makes no difference. It would’ve been worth it either way.

Because what matters most is putting out a good product and making my readers happy.

Therefore, from here on out, until we run out of trees and paper goes extinct, I’ll continue to fly in the face of the experts and have print books available for all my novels.

So there.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Was a Famous Artist's Controversial Depiction of Jesus Intentional?

Would you believe me if I said the guy in the painting below is Jesus? 

Well, it is, or it’s supposed to be, as envisioned by the great 17th century Dutch master Rembrandt van Rijn.

The painting was created sometime between 1648-1656, was one in a series of “Head of Christ” paintings, and was found in the artist’s home after he died. And now it, along with other paintings, prints and drawings, can be seen in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus” exhibit.

You may wonder what’s so special about the drawing above. Well, take a look at another one in the series of “Head of Christ” paintings.

You may be saying, “That’s not Jesus! That looks like an average bloke.”

And therein lies Rembrandt’s genius…

You see, most of us are used to iconic images of Christ. Something like this:

Or this:

And perhaps one of the most popular depictions of Jesus:

Now take another look at Rembrandt’s Head of Christ:

See anything missing? How about the halo, the crown of thorns, the flowing robe, the throngs of followers… In the above picture, Jesus looks like an average dude because, well, he was an average dude. (At least at first.)

And that’s what’s brilliant about Rembrandt. By depicting Jesus as an average man with a human face, Rembrandt turned the entire history of Christian art—one accustomed to rigid prototypical depictions of Jesus--on its head. No other artist up until this point had broken this tradition. Rembrandt was the first. 

Kinda ballsy, right?

It’s hard to imagine this being such a controversial thing, but in 17th century Europe, it was quite a bold move for the iconoclastic Rembrandt to take. He lived during the Renaissance, a movement devoted to Christianity, especially in art. The Church patronized the arts, the result of which was roughly three hundred years of “traditional” depictions of biblical themes.

So now here was this Dutch dude, looking to break with tradition and depict the most famous of icons…as an average man?

That’s some radical stuff! That would kinda be like Stephen Hawking announcing that Earth was indeed the center of the solar system. Can you imagine the backlash such a claim would create?

But was Rembrandt’s break with traditional intentional, or just the natural progression of an artist? Did he mean to be controversial—or just realistic?

First, let’s not forget that Jesus was Jewish. We know that Rembrandt lived among a growing Jewish community in his native Amsterdam, and that he was highly influenced by their life and culture. And we know that Jewish people were often the subject of many a drawing and sketch, and that such artwork by Rembrandt grew and evolved over time as he educated himself about Jewish history. Knowing this, we can draw the conclusion that eventually the Jewish population provided more than just subject matter; it provided patrons…and people who would pose for him so that he may more realistically depict their life and culture.

There’s no doubt that Rembrandt used a live (Jewish) model in which to depict his "Head of Christ" series of paintings.

So was there a little piece of Rembrandt that wanted to shake things up, upend tradition and get people talking by depicting Jesus in a non-traditional way? Certainly. But more than likely, the “Head of Christ” paintings are a product of an artist’s surroundings, an attempt to show a realistic portrait of the most influential man that western civilization has ever known.

The “Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus” exhibit runs through October 30, 2011. Go see it because it’s the first Rembrandt exhibit to set foot in Philadelphia since 1932. Go see it because it’s exceedingly rare (Rembrandt never intended for most of the collection to see the light of day). Go see it because seven of the paintings in the exhibit are being reunited for the first time since they were found in 1656. And go see it because it is artistically, historically and culturally significant.

For information see the Philadelphia Museum of Art’swebsite.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Writers as How-To Gurus For Fellow Writers?

First, a public service announcement, and then I'll move on: I'll be in buzz mode for the next two weeks or so, as I shamefully lift my megaphone to promote the launch of my first novel, THE CITY OF LOST SECRETS. You'll officially be able to buy the novel on August 1, but to help promote it, I'm offering a FREE copy to the first ten people who respond to this post. All I ask in return is that you read it quickly (which shouldn't be a problem; it's only 60K words) and post a review on Amazon on release day (or as soon as possible after August 1).

If you're interested, simply leave me a note in the comments, or email me at kmcvay53 at yahoo dot com.

Moving on...

I say that I'll be shamefully promoting my book because wearing a sales hat doesn't come naturally to me; it doesn't to most writers. We suck at it. All we want to do is be left alone to write and let someone else do the promoting. Sad thing is, even best-selling authors have to do their own sales-pitching.

Which is why a lot of authors have turned the act of promoting on its head by morphing themselves into how-to gurus. The thought is, What better way to promote myself and my work than by offering wannabe successful writers information on how I became a successful writer? They may sell books or ebooks with such titles as: Nine Tactics I Used To Skyrocket My Book Sales Using Only Social Media; How I Sold A Gizillion Ebooks In Two Days; How I Became A Media Darling Using Twitter; and so on. (Those titles are fake by the way, so don't go Googling them.) Most of the time, this information is free, but sometimes not.
I've dubbed this tactic "Big Megaphone Marketing," because most of the time these authors make bold claims and offer big promises.

Then there's something I call "Small Megaphone Marketing," which is self-promotion on a smaller, quieter scale. The type of writers that fall into this category offer (usually free) tips and advice on anything from marketing your book for non-marketers, to formatting your self-published manuscript for Kindle, to how to start a Facebook fan page. No bold claims or fancy promises here, only solid advice from a writer who just wants to help fellow writers get recognized and get recognized themselves.

There's nothing wrong with either of these tactics, as long as it's done correctly and in a non-irritating fashion. (And you know, it has to be helpful). Hey, I'm a student of marketing, and I know that offering free information to people endears them to you, brands you as an expert, and makes them more likely to buy your books. By positioning yourself as a guru and giving fans a seldom-seen look behind the curtain, you are deemed as an authority on the subject, which breeds respect, which breeds sales.

Also, I wouldn't be where I am now without the help of writers/gurus. I subscribe to a lot of writer's blogs that offer advice and tips and suggestions and stories of failure and inspiration alike. I find them useful, so who am I to pass judgment? If an author has the chops for it, more power to him.

All I'm saying is, it's not for me.

I'm having a hard enough time figuring out Facebook and remembering to check my Twitter feed and finding enough time in the day to update this blog and write my next book, and oh yeah, eat. So branding myself as a writing guru by pumping out helpful information and advice for consumption by fellow writers ain't happening anytime soon because I don't have the time and I don't feel I have anything of value to offer fellow writers (yet). And because all I really want to do is spend my time writing great fiction.

But many writers find the time for guru branding. And I respect the ones that do it well. They've helped me and I thank them. I hope I'm honoring them here.
So, by me telling you all this, does it make me a Big Megaphone Marketer or a Small Megaphone Marketer?

Well, maybe a Mini Megaphone Marketer.

(Don't forget: if you'd like to get an advanced copy of my new novel THE CITY OF LOST SECRETS before it hits the streets, be one of the first ten people to post a comment or email me. And then please review it on Amazon the day it launches on August 1, or close thereafter. Thank you!)

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Did You Hear The One About the Netflix Brewhaha?

Unless you live under a rock (which to me doesn't seem like such a bad thing) you've heard that Netflix recently split its mail-order DVD service and its streaming video service into two plans. (You used to get both services automatically for one monthly price.) Now, if you're a new member, in order to get both plans, you have to sign up for both and pay 60% more than you did before. Or something like that.

Look, the details don't even matter. Here's the point: if you're a huge movie buff like I am (or not), and chew through eight movies a month like I do (or not), isn't the new increased price you're gonna pay a month still cheaper than one night out at the movies? Hell yeah, it is! And isn't it still more convenient than schlepping to a Redbox kiosk? Absolutely.

Honestly, I don't know what the big deal is. If you were paying $9.99 a month before for streaming and one movie at a time, for example, now you're gonna have to pay $15.98. So? I mean, come on people, don't we already pay ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS PLUS a month for cable? What's sixteen bucks more? That's, like, less than two hundred dollars a year, or ONE MONTH'S cable bill.

People will say, "It's not about the price increase. It's the principle. Netflix is a huge corporation that's taking advantage of its customer base." Okaaay, so name me one corporation that doesn't put its own self-interests above that of its customer's.

Alright, so anyway, Netflix's VP of marketing said their research revealed that despite the ease and convenience of their streaming service, there's still a huge demand for their mail DVD service. So Netflix's decision to split the two services up is an attempt to appease the people who just want DVDs (like me). It makes sense, but seeing as I'm a marketing professional myself, I think what Ms. Marketing VP was subtely trying to say was that their streaming service is inferior so they didn't feel right charging the DVD-only customers for that service. They want to give them the option of opting out and doing DVDs only. Which is totally cool for me because that means my bill will actually go down. (Thanks, Netflix!)

That's also not really the point. The point is, maybe we should spend less time rallying around the "down with Netflix" flag and start bitching about things that actually matter--like the state of our economy, or our terrible health care system, or our deplorable public education system...

Those are some brewhahas worth fighting...

Friday, July 8, 2011


So today marks my first foray into the e-book world with the publication of my short story on Amazon. It's called THE DEPARTMENT OF LOST AND FOUND. The cover looks like this:

I think it looks kinda snappy. What do you think?

Anyways, THE DEPARTMENT OF LOST AND FOUND is about a young aiport worker named Zoe who secretly longs for bigger and better things, but she doesn't know how to go about finding herself. A chance encounter with an handsome Australian photographer reinvigorates her, imploring her to pursue her flying away with him. Does Zoe take the bait? Can she walk away from the only life she's ever known and risk it all for the promise of a new life?

You're only a few clicks away from finding out...

It's a short story so, like, you can blow through it in one sitting. And it only costs $0.99 cents on Amazon.

I'd like to think the story will make you ponder: if presented with the same propostion--leaving your dull and unhappy life behind and following a stranger who promises a fuller, richer, more fulfulling life--would you be able to drop everything and follow him?

If you've got a Kindle, buy it. While you're on Amazon, do me a solid and write a review. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Birth of a Book

So, back in April I acted all high and mighty and said on this blog that I wasn't going to self-publish The Land of Lost Secrets (now renamed The City of Lost Secrets) because...well, there were many reasons: I wanted to find an agent, I thought I needed help with marketing and publicity, I wanted to know what it was like to be in the inner circle of the publishing world.

Boy, how things change.

In the weeks after that post, I tried to purge that novel from my system and started writing the novel I thought would finally get me an agent and the attention of a traditional publisher. I got to about chapter three on that new book and then I had to stop writing. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't get The City of Lost Secrets out of my system. My thoughts kept drifting back to it. I started seeing the book cover in my head. And I started dreaming about it, for God's sake! I couldn't let the project go. So, after more research and soul-searching, I've decided to self-publish it.

Why? Well, I have writer JA Konrath to thank for that. Poor guy doesn't even know who the hell I am, yet there I was, obsessing over his blog, which dedicates itself to convincing writers to self-publish their work. His theory is that agents and publishers are unnecessary gatekeepers who don't really know what readers want. He's honest and irreverent and full of awesome ideas and his blog is a must read. His theories about Legacy Publishing make total sense. Hell, it convinced me to self-publish. After all, I have at least a dozen people clamoring to read The City of Lost Secrets, asking when it'll be available, yet no agent wants to touch it. I thought Mr. Konrath was on to something....

So I dove in head first in the self-publishing pool. And it's been grueling, to say the least. Ms. Self-Publisher Amanda Hocking wasn't kidding when she said self-publishing and publicizing her books were a full-time job. I won't go into the minutiae here, but needless to say, being your own marketer and PR director and IT department is fucking hard, man. 

But after a couple of months, I'm in the final stages of preparing the book for publication. The cover is done. It looks like this:

I came up with the cover concept myself and found an awesomely talented guy to create it for me. I had the manuscript edited by a wonderful woman who I'm proud to also call my friend. I created the book trailer myself. Now I'm just waiting for the manuscript to be formatted for Kindle and hopefully soon it'll be available for download as an e-book for Kindle and other e-reader devices. (A lot of people are asking for the print version, but alas, it's more expensive to create a print book so to keep costs low I'm publishing as an e-book only for now. If I'm lucky enough to recoup my money then I plan to make it available as a print version).

And then the marketing will begin. As the mantra goes:


And so it goes.

(The City of Lost Secrets isn't quite available yet. But I do have a short story that'll be available for purchase very soon. Like tomorrow. I'll post when it's available.)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Should Priceless Artworks Be Returned To Egypt--Or Kept By Whoever Found Them?

What do the following things have in common?

The Rosetta Stone
The Zodiac of Dendera
The statue of Hemiunu
The bust of Ankhhaf
The bust of Nefertiti
Statue of Ramesses II

I know—it's a toughy.

These six antiquities, known as “The Big Six,” were discovered in Egypt long ago and removed—some might say stolen—and the museums that currently house them refuse to give them back.

Despite mounting media attention, the museums are defending their claims of ownership, while Egyptian authorities are fighting hard to get back what they feel is rightfully theirs. Should these priceless antiquities be returned to Egypt? Or is this a case of “finder’s keepers”?

To understand the hoopla, a (brief) history lesson is in order. 

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone is part of a stela (stone slab) from the second century B.C.E. that contains the same message in three different scripts: hieroglyphics, Egyptian cursive and Greek. It was discovered in Rashid (Rosetta), Egypt in 1799 by a Frenchman during Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt. After the British defeated the French in Egypt in 1801, the nearly four-foot-tall stone came into British possession and it was transported to the British Museum in London, where it’s been on display ever since. It sat in the museum for 20 years before anyone was able to decipher the stone’s significance. In 1822 a Frenchman cracked the code by comparing the known names of Ptolemy and Cleopatra carved on the stone in Greek and the royal Egyptian names carved in oval hieroglyphic cartouches. From there he was able to decipher the message on the stone: it was a decree from Memphis, Egypt to commemorate the first anniversary of King Ptolemy V’s coronation. More importantly, the stone provided us the key to understanding ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The Zodiac of Dendera

The Zodiac of Dendera is less well known, but it’s no less important than the other five Egyptian antiquities. It was carved for the ceiling of a chapel dedicated to Osiris in Dendera, which is located north of ancient Thebes on the west bank of the Nile. Its uniqueness lies in its shape: the bas-relief is circular (rectangular zodiacs were more typical in Egypt). And there’s a lot going on inside the circle. Believed to date to 50 C.E., the Greco-Roman period (although that is contested), the stone piece maps the stars and constellations, and signs of the zodiac are represented as a mixture of Egyptian iconography and Greek symbols. There are also Egyptian spirits that represent the 360 days of Egyptian year. And kneeling falcon-headed female figures. A French expedition commissioned a mason to painstakingly remove the zodiac in 1820, and by 1822 it was installed at the Royal Library in Paris. It now resides in the Louvre. While the bas-relief’s uniqueness lies in its shape, its importance rests with the fact that it may be the only complete map we have of an ancient sky, no less than the basis on which later astronomy systems were based. 

Statue of Hemiuni
You probably don’t recognize this man, but you’d recognize his work. This 26th century B.C.E. limestone statue depicts Hemiunu, nephew and vizier (high official) of Pharaoh Khufu, and overseer of all the construction projects that took place under his reign. His most famous work? The Great Pyramid at Giza. The statue used to be painted, and an inscription on the base identifies his official title: Overseer of All Construction Projects of the King. The fleshy architect—who is of particular interest to me since I work in the construction industry and have regular dealings with architects—was discovered in his tomb near the Great Pyramid by a team of German archeologists in 1912. It was immediately transported to the Roemer-und Pelizaeus Museum in Hildesheim, Germany, where it resides today. And the Germans have no plans to give it back. However, in April 2010, the museum did agree to “loan” the statue to Egypt for the opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum scheduled for 2013. The loan agreement stipulates for the return of the statue to Germany.

Bust of Ankhhaf

This guy was also an architect, the successor to Hemiunu, and vizier to the pharaoh Khafre. He may have been involved in the construction of the second pyramid at Giza and possibly the Sphinx. The limestone and painted plaster bust was discovered in a small chapel in Ankhhaf’s tomb during a 1920s tomb expedition that was jointly funded by Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and Harvard University. The bust’s importance lies in the fact that it is considered one of Egypt’s most realistic portraits—simple, unadorned, and unidealized. As a sign of thanks from the Egyptians for the expedition, the bust was given to the Museum of Fine Arts after it was found, where it resides today.

Bust of Nefertiti

Recognize this lady?

This 20” plaster and limestone head depicts the beautiful Queen Nefertiti, principal wife to Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled for seventeen years during the eighteenth dynasty of Egypt (circa 1550 – 1292 BCE). The bust dates to 1345 B.C.E. and recent CT scans reveal a more aged, wrinkled face underneath that smooth, colorful stucco. But no matter: the controversy doesn’t revolve around whether or not we’ve been misled about Nefertiti’s supposed beauty. The brouhaha centers around the Germany vs. Egypt cage match, the fight over whether or not Egypt was duped into giving her up. You see, the bust was found during a German-led excavation at el-Amarna in 1912. Plenty of other booty was discovered, and the finds were divided equally between the two countries, a pact sealed by signed documents outlining the agreement. The Germans wound up with the Nefertiti bust, which was shipped to Berlin in 1913, where it has resided ever since in the Neues Museum. Now, however, the Egyptians feel the Germans downplayed the bust’s beauty and importance all those years ago in order to take it for themselves, so the Egyptians feel they are entitled to claim it back.

Statue of Ramesses II

The Museo Egizio in Turin, Italy houses the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside Egypt, and that’s where this guy resides. The seated diorite sculpture of Ramesses II—Egypt’s most famous pharaoh—was found in Thebes and dates to the 13th century B.C.E.  A casual observer and non-Egyptian expert wouldn’t think too much of the fact that the ruler is seated, but that’s exactly what makes it so unique. It was around the time of Ramesses that the way rulers were depicted was starting to change. Up until then, it was typical to depict pharaohs standing and barefoot. Here, Ramesses is seated and wearing sandals. Also, the face is more realistic, with a nose, chin and mouth disproportionate from each other. There are eye sockets and eyelids and eyebrows, all sculpted. Beneath the pharaohs feet are nine bows, symbolic representations of foreign enemy tribes. Two prisoners on the base is also a symbol--that Ramesses holds dominion over Egypt and all its possessions. And on either side of his legs are mini sculptures of his beloved wife Nefertari and son Amunherkhepeshef. 

“The Big Six” are all important pieces of Egypt’s history, no less than archeological timestamps of bygone eras. Should they have stayed in Egypt? Because each piece was procured differently, under varying circumstances, perhaps it’s unfair to simply lump them all together, tag it “finders keepers,” and call it case closed. Only when each piece is taken on a case by case basis does the debate come into focus. Because let’s face it: the bust of Ankhhaf was simply given away, gifted to the Americans by an appreciative Egypt during a time of relative peace. That’s quite different than the case of the Rosetta Stone, which was pretty much pilfered out of Egypt during the French invasion. It takes a big set of brass balls to ask for something back that you willingly gave away--especially when that something was a gift, and especially almost a hundred years later. The Egyptians would risk looking like the world’s biggest Indian giver if they demanded the return of the bust of Ankhhaf. So no, perhaps the Egyptians should consider that antiquity gone, but not forgotten. And the Rosetta Stone? Eh, the Egyptians might be able to build a case for its return, if they can prove that it was stolen under the mask of war, and that Napoleon’s invasion was used as a distraction to take it.

The story of the abovementioned antiquities stands in stark contrast to Nefertiti’s bust, which, like the bust of Ankhhaf, was willingly relinquished to a foreign power (in this case, Germany). But the difference here is that a signed pact between the two countries allowed for Germany to keep it. So unless Egypt can prove it was fed a rufie and then forced to sign on the dotted line while compromised, getting the beautiful queen back is going to be an uphill battle. After all, it’s hard to fight a written agreement.

The Zodiac of Dendera is a tricky one. The carving was chipped away from the ceiling where it had been carved over a two-year period and then moved to Paris. What’s up with that? I can’t help but think there’s more to that story. I mean, who in their right mind would stand by and watch, for example, a robber break into their house and allow them to steal stuff? Had the Egyptian’s agreed to such a thing? Had they supervised its removal? That would be like the homeowner pointing out the 60” plasma TV to the robber and imploring him to take it because it’s the most valuable thing in the house. Seriously, this zodiac thing sounds fishy. Unless more details about the French procurement of the zodiac comes to light, we’ll have to call this a case of theft and move on without much of a debate.

The last relic for which we have information about its removal is the statue of Hemiunu. It was found by a team of German archeologists (again with the Germans!), taken to a German museum and…well, that’s it. End of story. Can there be a simpler case of rightful ownership? The Germans had the credentials and permission to dig in Giza, they found a relic, so they kept it. The Germans were nice enough to agree to loan it to Egypt for the opening of its Grand Museum, an agreement the Egyptians are upset about because it stipulates they must return it to Germany.

But still.

Sorry, Egypt, I think this one truly is a case of finders keepers.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Video Games As Art? Sure, Why Not

That’s what the Smithsonian Museum of Art in D.C. said when it decided to have an exhibit exploring the 40-year evolution of video games.

The museum was serious enough about the idea that they asked a professional programmer and gaming enthusiast to curate the exhibit, which starts next year and runs from March 16 – September 30, 2012.

Chris Melissinos, of Northern Virginia, has a background in programming, having worked for Sun Microsystems for many years. While there, he worked his way up to Chief Gaming Officer, a position within the gaming division he convinced the then-CEO to create in order to take the company to the next level. Ultimately, it was his high profile within the gaming community that led to his curator gig for the Smithsonian.

All that is fine and dandy, but let’s get back to nuts and bolts, here. Which is: can video games really be classified as art?

If you apply the standard definition of “art” to video games, then yes, they can be considered art. Art is the “quality, production, expression, or realm--according to aesthetic principles--of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.” Video games are certainly appealing to plenty of folks around the world (including my brother, who can literally spend hours at a time playing with his online buddies). Video games contain narratives and engage and influence audiences, just like that other popular storytelling medium, film. And have you seen the graphics on some of these games nowadays? More and more, video games contain sophisticated worlds with realistic surroundings and beautiful environments that make it hard to tell a game image from reality. Mad talents (and artists), those gaming programmers.

But seriously, “art” is a subjective thing, right? Frankly, I don’t see the artistic merit in Jackson Pollack’s drip paintings, but my husband thinks they’re awesomely avant-garde. And naturally, the writer (and snob) that I am, I think literature is some of the best art out there, while my husband finds most fiction boring and self-serving. To each his own, right?

Right. So the Smithsonian—and Mr. Melissinos—should go on with their bad selves and have a field day convincing us video games are an art form. Because they are.

Well, except maybe Pong.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

One Man's Graffiti is Another Man's Art (Part Two)

This post is meant to follow up on my One Man's Graffiti is Another Man's Art, a post primarily about street art and specifically about Banksy, the British graffiti artist making waves for his irreverent and thought-provoking street art.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles will be having an exhibit entitled, "Art in the Streets," that celebrates the pioneers of graffiti art in 1970s and '80s L.A. Artists such as Chaz Bojórquez and Craig Stecyk, among others, will get their due in this exhibit that opens April 17.

No doubt these aging artists--who are still going strong--influenced the likes of Banksy and other street artists of today.

The landscape of street art is changing. Has it gone from underground to mainstream? Read this recent Los Angeles Times article and find out.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Trying to Go Too Far, Too Quickly

I came thisclose to self-publishing my newest novel, LAND OF LOST SECRETS.


Well, I haven’t had much luck finding an agent--mostly because, although I’ve been writing professionally for more than a decade, it’s not the type of writing agents use to determine if you can write a novel. (I write corporate communications—press releases, newsletters, direct mail, etc. Agents want to see short stories and poems and essays in literary journals, or so I’m told.) Plus, it could have something to do with the fact that I’m trying to be the female Dan Brown and publish my (potentially controversial) DaVinci Code magnum opus as my first novel, something even Dan Brown himself wasn’t able to do.

Although I’m passionate as hell about this book, and it’s not the first book I’ve written (it’s the third), I’ve come to the conclusion that THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS may not see the light of day—at least not yet. That’s because I chose the wrong book. I haven’t written the wrong book, per se. I just chose the wrong book with which to establish myself. The right book, the book that will launch my career, has yet to be written—but I’m working on the one that will (I think).

It took me a while—and a couple dozen rejections—to reach this catharsis.

And it didn’t come easily.

I spent a year and a half researching and writing THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS, another six months editing it and showing it to industry professionals, all of whom said the same thing: it’s good, it has commercial appeal and it could be a hit. I tested portions of the manuscript with beta readers and they had similar enthusiasm—they all wanted to read it. When I thought the manuscript was ready, I sent queries and sample pages out to about two dozen carefully researched agents. And then…the rejections poured in.

I took the rejections in stride and kept sending queries out, tracked my progress and kept record of any and all responses. After about two dozen rejections, I was like, “What the eff?” I did my due diligence, so what gives? Why couldn’t I sell the damn thing?

That’s when I started thinking about self-publishing. I’d just read about Amanda Hocking, the Minnesota woman who published nine or so of her paranormal novels as e-books and made herself a millionaire. She had no writing credits and no agent either. Just a passion for writing and a need to put her stuff out there for consumption. Just like me! And J.A. Konrath—he’s a poster boy for self-publishing success. I figured I could find the same kind of success and wealth as Ms. Hocking and Mr. Konrath. I mean, I have the time to dedicate to the endeavor, and with my marketing background, I already had all kinds of promotional ideas and a rolodex of people to promote the book to…

And I thought, This could work! This could truly work for me! This may be the path I was meant to take. All kinds of successful and respected authors and speakers and self-help gurus were self-publishing nowadays--and for many reasons, one of which is because there’s less stigma attached to self-publishing.

But then reality set in…I read that Amanda Hocking found success because she treated the marketing and promotion of her books as a full-time job. Thousands of hours of emails and social networking and pounding the pavement…to the point that it pretty much consumed her life. And Mr. Konrath? Well, he already had a huge following of readers from having been traditionally published years ago.

And I was all like, “Great. I already have a full-time job that pretty much consumes me, and I don’t have a built-in readership like this Konrath guy.” I’d have to start from scratch and work like hell for people to take me---and my self-published novel--seriously. I didn’t know if I could do that. I didn’t think I had it in me. And after a bit of soul-searching and some reassessing of what I was truly trying to achieve, I realized that perhaps I shouldn’t self-publish THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS. Maybe I wasn’t meant to.

And here’s the funny reason why: In my desire to be a full-time novelist, I forgot that there’s an order to things. A step-by-step process to reach the top of the publishing world. My impetuousness was causing me to try and “make it” before the time was right. Simply put, I was trying to go too far, too quickly.
Why the hell didn’t anyone tell me?

I mean, really. A writer with barely any writing credits and no industry credibility trying to sell a biblical thriller about the life of Jesus? Any self-respecting agent would think that I was trying to become rich and famous by being controversial. Who the hell did I think I was? Lady GaGa?

No, that’s not who I’m trying to be. All I want to do is tell damn good stories and make a living doing it. Nothing controversial about that.

And that’s when I realized that THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS was a book I’d have to work up to. Take the proverbial baby steps in order to reach the point when it’d be the right time. Because THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS could be controversial, and now is not the time for that. I’m not ready for that. I have to establish myself first. Write a "Good in Bed" or a “Hunger Games.”  My time will come. I just have to wait. And be patient. And work hard.

Besides, despite the respect that self-publishing has earned, I still like the notion of being a part of a publishing “team.” An agent to guide my career, an editor to smooth out all the wrinkles, a publisher with PR gurus. Yes, I realize that the publishing industry is shrinking and that some of them don’t always have the author’s best interests at heart and that I’ll be counted on to do most if not all of the marketing and promotion, but that’s okay. I expect all that. Despite the long time it takes for a book to come out, I want to know what it's like to be on the "inside." Who doesn't like having friends in high places?

So, what’s an enterprising girl to do? Well, I’ve decided to not self-publish THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS. As painful as it is, I’m slowly purging that novel from my system and creating headspace for LAKE OF FIRE, a paranormal mystery I’ve started writing. I’m excited about it. I have high hopes for publishing it traditionally.

Because, you know, there will be a time for THE LAND OF LOST SECRETS. But first, there has to be a “Deception Point” and a “Digital Fortress.” ***

*** Bonus points to you if you knew those were the two books Dan Brown published before DaVinci Code.