Sunday, November 01, 2015

A Spectacular Autumn Drone's-Eye View Of the Mohonk Preserve...

The explosion of Fall colors on New York's Shawangunk Ridge are second to none. I've spent many a weekend hiking around up there trying the capture the spectacular vista with my Zone VI 4x5 camera, but this video gives you a view of what it must be like for a raptor riding the thermals around those cliffs.

You're also provided with several unique views of the Mohonk Mountain House and of SkyTop Tower, a landmark that features prominently in my novel, Little Birdies!  Enjoy your trip...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Hike Until You Drop (But Don't)...

Towards the end of Little Birdies!, Willie Nolan, an environmental program specialist with the Bureau of Wildlife division of New York State's Department of Environmental Conservation, is at the Mohonk Mountain House and needs to get to Sky Top Tower to see how closely the birds are being monitored by the authorities. He's forced to climb the Labyrinth at night, to avoid the State Trooper parked at the base of Sky Top Road.

When he returns, two hours later, he describes the trail to Dan Grant: "It was blazed by sadists for crazy people," an observation that anyone who has attempted the near-vertical scramble knows to be true. Here's a great up-close and personal look at the entire trail, from the bottom up to the Tower:

And, yes, I've done it. My advice? Carry water and little else, wear sturdy, supportive footwear and don't fall...

Thursday, July 23, 2015

I'll Meet You in New Hampshire...

I've been wanting to move up to The Granite State for a while now, and this film just solidifies the feeling. I'm mired here right now, but, to paraphrase Peter Schiff in the film, I can't afford to die in New York (and don't intend to).

The video, "101 Reasons: Liberty Lives in New Hampshire" is a documentary adaptation of the Free State Project's list of 101 Reasons to Move to New Hampshire. It runs a full hour. It features quality, professional production values and can be viewed in 1080p high-def.  If you're a lover of liberty, and dream of escaping from under the thumb of the nanny state in your lifetime, you really need to take a hard look at this.


Don't wait for a politician or a political party to set you free; it's not going to happen. Do it yourself. I'll meet you there. I'll be wearing the smoke-colored Rand's Custom cowboy hat... Live Free or Die.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Carriage Road to SkyTop Tower...

Here's a great look at the carriage road leading from the Mohonk Mountain House to SkyTop Tower. Towards the end of Little Birdies!, Mandy and her friends track the birds to the tower, where they've taken up residence and enjoy riding the thermals during the day. Enjoy your walk...

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The End is Nigh. Is Indie Publishing's Mother Lode Tapped out?

Is it just me, or has the Indi Publishing movement turned into a modern day reincarnation of the 1849-1855 California Gold Rush? I don't mean in terms of authors getting rich - like the "forty-niners" of old, very few of us will hit the mother lode, a percentage might break even, but most end up broke and stranded.

When I published my first novel, The Third Revolution, in 2004, self-publishing (publish on demand, as we called it then) was largely a do-it-yourself endeavor and print only; the first Kindle e-reader was still a good three years away. I would order a couple of dozen of my own books, send out review copies to the relatively influential bloggers of the day who I hoped were sympathetic to my themes, cobble together some funny ads with Photoshop and run them on some of the more affordable, demographically relevant blogs using a service called BlogAds (apparently still in business today!).

I think I sold over 1,200 copies of that first book (at $16.95 for a soft cover!) before ebooks started taking over the world. My marketing formula continued to work well when I released Middle America in 2007, and, to a lesser extent, Little Birdies! in 2009. By the time I released The Last Bartender in 2010, the methodology seemed tapped out, probably because the audience for that story was less tightly defined than for the previous books, hence harder to target market in an economical way. In addition, AdBlock made its debut in December of 2009, and Adblock Plus in December of 2010, dramatically lessening the effectiveness of (simple banner) online advertising.

It may just be my visionary grasp of the obvious, but it seems like, on Twitter, at least, there are more publishing support services and consultants than readers. They're certainly easier to find. Just send out a tweet with a #amwriting, #kindle, #ebook, #author, or #freeebook hashtag and see who follows you. Hint: they won't be asking you for books, they'll be asking you for money.

If I didn't have that mute option, my Twitter feed would be one nonstop onslaught of book advertisements, book promotional services, new media campaign services, "platform" building services, $5 per thousand Twitter followers, bots all, most masquerading, in their present incarnation, as other "authors" ("helping" other authors, of course...).  Consultants and support services have become the forest; the readers are tiny chipmunks, skittering around the forest floor and hiding under rotting logs. Good luck trying to find (much less capture) them.

So what about that opening Gold Rush analogy? Famously, after the first initial, successful claims were settled and worked, the floodgates opened to hundreds of thousands of prospectors, each seeking his personal fortune. Returns diminished rapidly, to the point where the adventure cost most people money instead of making them rich. So who cashed in?

The merchants. The outfitters, the equipment, tool, food, clothing and service providers. The landlords. If you had something to sell, rent or lease to a prospector, you could likely count on a steady income stream, as long as the starry-eyed dreamers kept pouring into the state. The prospectors became the suckers, the marks, and ended up providing the start-up capital for the industrial titans of the new century (Armour Meatpacking, Studebaker automobiles, Wells Fargo Bank, and, of course, Levi Strauss all got their start during the Gold Rush).

In this present day reincarnation, for every person who's willing to give you a few bucks for a book, there are scores who are asking for your money in exchange for "expert" advice on how to find the next buyer. I suspect that the publishing gold rush will finally grind to a halt when every last failed or frustrated Indie author finally gives up writing and hangs out their shingle as a new media publishing consultant. Then we can all write free ebooks directing each other to our websites, where we'll offer each other paid advice on how to drive even more of us to each other's websites.

Maybe that's what they mean by the "new economy."

P.S. ~ I'm writing another damn book anyway...

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Literary Comfort Food for a Fed Up Citizenry ...

How to sell books. That's the question, isn't it, at least for those of us who've chosen to commit stories to print in the hope that another will pay for the pleasure of reading them.

I've always marched to the beat of my own drummer when it came to the stories that I've chosen to tell. I've written two pretty straightforward novels of libertarian political suspense (The Third Revolution and Middle America), a soft sci-fi/adventure about a young girl and her runaway pets (Little Birdies!), a sort of speculative political thriller about a new alcohol prohibition and a group of neighborhood friends who decide to go another way on the matter (The Last Bartender), a soft sci-fi, archaeologically-themed action/suspense/political farce (The Cenacle Scroll) involving the political and religious chaos that follows the unexpected appearance of the (assumed) Holy Grail in the US, and a soft sci-fi mystery/adventure (Aqua Vitae) about a wildlife biologist who accepts a too-good-to-be-true job and ends up having to unpack several puzzling ecological mysteries before finding herself targeted by the government agency whose failed experiments have gone native.

This eclectic portfolio has been, as you might guess, marketing suicide. You don't need an MBA to see that the smart move here would be to pick a lane (i.e. a literary genre), and stick to it. Become the political thriller guy, the sci-fi/adventure guy, the dystopian future guy, the detective/crime procedural guy, the medical mystery guy, the vampire/zombie/time travel guy. Pick a lane!

Targeted advertising is easier if you pick a lane. Building a unified reader base is easier if you pick a lane. Finding a traditional agent/publisher is easier if you pick a lane. Using an outside marketing service is easier if you just pick a damn lane!

The truth is that I have picked my lane, though I've chosen to go with theme, rather than the more easily marketed concept of genre. If I may:

Ben Kane finds that he bit off more than he could chew when he takes over the Governor's office in Montana, and finds himself arrayed against the might of the US federal government, but is simply unable to back away from his principles.  

Young Mandy Grant finds it impossible to accept the death sentence demanded by a nervous public and their government representatives for her runaway pets, and plots their rescue.  

In the aftermath of a newly imposed prohibition on the production and sale of alcohol,
Justin Gardiner and his friends just want a damn beer, and they're prepared to do what they have to do to get one.

Graduate student Jennifer Goodwyn makes one ill-considered decision regarding an ancient relic and finds herself swept up in a religious and political maelstrom of her own making. It needs to be fixed, and she needs to do so without getting caught, and without anyone else getting hurt in the process.

After a string of career setbacks, wildlife biologist Jackie Bannon takes a leap of  faith, unintentionally stirs up a mystery that was better left untouched, and needs to extract herself and her friends from a sudden and dangerous game of "kill the messenger."

All of my protagonists want the usual things out of life, and take seemingly rational steps to reach those goals, modest or otherwise. Other people, more organized people (say, local, state or federal government agencies, for example) sometimes take exception to individual needs, wants or circumstances, and do what they can to thwart individual action. Some individuals (say, the ones I choose to write about) feel they have no choice but to follow their conscience and do what they have to do to get where they need to get, regardless of the forces brought against them.

So if you don't mind veering out of your literary comfort zone just a bit, I believe you'll find that at the heart, my stories have what you're looking for: regular people, who for whatever reason, suddenly find themselves up against it and, along a few close friends, choose principle over authority.

As always, thanks for your support...

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Little Digital Housekeeping...

Already a self-professed terrible blogger, I'm actually just a little bit worse when it comes to the tending and upkeep of my website. It's been close to two years since I've spent any significant time checking things out over there. A lot of that had to do with technology, and how increasingly difficult it was trying to get things done on an eight-year-old, Windows XP Dell laptop, while trying to juggle Photoshop, KompoZer, Firefox, FileZilla and multiple working files with one gigabyte of increasingly twitchy RAM. An ill-advised Adobe Flash upgrade could render the computer dysfunctional for hours. The crashes were frequent and epic; productive work not so much.

I finally upgraded my hardware a couple of months ago - I got a nice, brand spanking new Dell Inspiron 7000 with an i7 processor, eight gigs of RAM (soon to be upgraded to sixteen), a terabyte hard drive, and a high-definition touchscreen. I fear no software.

That settled, I went out in search of some new tools. I've replaced Photoshop Elements with GIMP image manipulation software (a steep learning curve, but does seem to get the job done), and am now using BlueGriffon as my web editor. So far, so good.

Newly fortified, I've gathered up my state-of-the-art technology team and started doing some tidying up over at Anthony Lewis I'm re-branding the logos (Literary Comfort Food for a Fed Up Citizenry - what do you think?), fixing the broken links, updating and fine-tuning the SEO keywords, and trying to clean up some formatting issues that have been bugging me for years.

No major changes are planned at this point. The site is simple, clean and functional - no-pop bullshit, and no rollover ads promising you a free ebook that you're never going to read in exchange for your personal information so I can put you on a mailing list for a newsletter that I'm never going to write. And none of that seriously ill-considered, incredibly rude "Are you sure you want to leave this page?" marketing suicide crap. You've got my books, each with their respective synopsis, sample chapters, a few reviews, and links to Amazon. Fast and simple...

There's still work to be done, but a few pages a day will get me where I need to be. I'm also working on a new (seventh) novel, tentatively titled: Free State. I'm only about six chapters in so there's not much to report except that it will likely include New Hampshire's Free State Project in a prominent role.

As always, thanks for your support...