Sunday, September 30, 2012

What's in a name?


   Happy Sunday morning, folks. The past week has flown by, and it’s already time for my weekly blog post. I wish I had some more news about the release of my new novel, The Dragon of Doughton Park, but I don’t. If that’s what you came here for, I’m sorry. Don’t leave yet. I do have something cool to share with you. And then, there’s always my incredibly insightful ramblings to follow.
   Since I joined the world of indie authors last year, I’ve made a number of interesting friends by way of Facebook groups, blog tours, etc. One of them is Maghon Thomas, who does a regular blog, Happy Tails and Tales Blog. She reviewed my first novel and I was lucky enough to persuade her to be a beta reader for the sequel. She’s also a Cajun lady, and has been trying to coach me in my struggles to nail that dialect for one of my characters, the werewolf (or, rougarou, I suppose would be more accurate?), Cynthia Lamelle. This week she vindicated my efforts by bringing the character to life on Youtube with a reading from the new book! Y’all can check it out by clicking the Maghon on Youtube link below.
                                                                   Maghon on Youtube
   Now the incredibly insightful ramblings I promised…

    I opened the fridge Saturday morning to see what’s for breakfast. All I found was a single egg and a bag of bagels. I don’t know what I was expecting, because this is the standard scenario towards the end of my two week pay cycle. Nevertheless I was disappointed. I wasn’t in the mood for an egg, and the bagels were scavenged from the leftovers of a company brunch the week before, I’d been eating them every day since, and I was tired of them. But, if life gives you eggs and bagels…

   I improvised a meal my Mom used to prepare she called Eggs Alabama, where she cut a hole in a piece of white bread, broke an egg into the center, and fried it in the pan. I widened the tiny hole in the bagel, melted some butter in the skillet, and went to work. As you can imagine, it was a poor substitute. For one thing, it wasn’t Mom’s (although I’ve been cooking for myself for over 40 years, Mom’s food is still the best). For another thing, the bagel was a little hard. Still, I covered the result with strawberry jam and it wasn’t half bad. Plus, it was mine. I decided to give it a name. I called my creation Bagelegg. Yeah, I know. Not that original. Not that enticing. But, as the Immortal Bard once wrote, what’s in a name?

   I started naming my adlibbed culinary works when I got my first apartment after graduating from the University of Georgia many years ago. Armed with a near-useless degree in English Literature and a severe lack of ambition, I got a job as a bus boy at the Wrangler Steak House, just off campus in Athens. Times were hard. The $1.35-an-hour-plus-tips wage (the tips brought it up to about $1.36/hour) barely covered my primary expenses, rent and drugs, but I could eat one meal a day at the restaurant, and I could take home any scraps I scraped off the plates I cleaned.

    Gross is the comment I usually get from folks when I share this story, but I promise you, I cleaned the meat and potato scraps I took home, and I cooked them thoroughly. I came up with two main ways of preparing the results for consumption. Sometimes I’d boil all the scraps along with a few steak bones in a big pot with sauces and spices (ketchup and salt) to make Meat Soup. Other times I’d throw the scraps in a big skillet, along with canned veggies and whatever leftovers were in the fridge, and sprinkle cheese over the top for Glop.

    Glop and Meat Soup. I liked my names, but I don’t think they were too appealing to others. A typical conversation with the rare visitor went something like…

       Hey, that smells good. What are you cooking?
       Glop. Want some?
      Uh, no thanks.
      You sure?

… or sometimes…

       Hey, that smells good. What are you cooking?
       Meat soup. Want some?
      Uh, no thanks.
      You sure?
   So, what’s in a name? Apparently, quite a bit. The stuff smelled good. The dog never turned it down. But, in all the time I lived in Athens, no matter how much pot was smoked beforehand, I never persuaded one human being to try either concoction.
     Wow, man, I’ve really got the munchies.
    Want some Meat Soup?
     Uh, no thanks.
    You sure?
    Uh, I gotta go, man. Later.
   Sigh. I’m afraid a less-than-compelling name can steer some folks away from an otherwise tasty treat. Fine. If y’all don’t want to eat my Glop, I’ll eat it all myself. So, there.
   But I’m afraid the same principle applies to books, and I’ve slowly become aware that my talent for coming up with lame names may be affecting sales of my novel. The overwhelming majority of folks who’ve read The Draculata Nest have liked it. It has an average reader rating on both Amazon and Goodreads hovering around 4.4-out-of-5 stars. Folks who’ve read the soon-to-be-released Dragon of Doughton Park have been wildly enthusiastic.
   But, if you read all the reviews you’ll see a recurring theme where folks have had to overcome reservations about both the cover and title of the book before becoming pleasantly surprised at the content within.
   My know-it-all-friend David warned me about the title of The Draculata Nest when he read the first draft and suggested I come up with something better. I ignored him and stuck to my guns. I’m an artist, after all. But, you can’t argue with the readers. Critics? Sure. Editors? Maybe. Not readers. Readers are the ultimate test of the value of any book. I’d be insane to ignore reader feedback.
   But, what am I supposed to do? Perhaps I should follow convention and name the two books something like Forbidden Lust and Passion’s Release. The covers would have shirtless male hunks with washboard abs and scantily clad women regarding the reader with sultry expressions. Sorry, I can’t do that. I have some integrity left. (Actually, I wouldn’t be adverse to the scantily clad women, but if I veto the one I should be consistent, I suppose.)
   Well, I’m doing something about the cover. I’m blessed to have the artist, Ray DeLotell, to have done the cover art for both a re-release of DN and the upcoming Dragon. He’s also come up with some great conceptual ideas for the cover of the third book of the series.
   We might be stuck with the titles, though. The Draculata Nest is copyrighted and already has a year’s worth of reviews and such under the name. I’m not sure what problems it might cause to change it at this point. And, like I said, I’m not really good at coming up with compelling names.
   Maybe you guys could come up with some suggestions. Yeah, that’s it. Those of you who’ve read DN or Dragon (all except David, who’s already suggested some totally inappropriate titles), if you were naming the books, what would you call them? Leave a comment.
   And remember:
   From now until the time Dragon goes on sale, the ebook price for The Draculata Nest has been reduced to only $0.99. You can purchase DN through one of the following venues…

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Raising the Bar

  Wow, I flubbed my diet big time, but other than that some cool things happened this week in Red Wolf Novel Land. First of all, my favorite Aussie, Kristy Berridge, author of The Hunted and its soon-to-be released sequel, The Damned, posted her review of The Draculata Nest. She warned me it was coming several weeks ago, and I’d been waiting nervously to see what she said. I’m delighted to report she gave it 4 out of 5 “fangs”. Y’all can check it out on Goodreads or scroll down a little on her blog… to find out what she said.
                                                           Kristy Berridge
   Then, Ray DeLotell sent me a photo of the finished cover art for The Dragon of Doughton Park. It was worth the wait, and now I’m that much closer to getting the second Red Wolf novel published. Here it is…
   It looks like things are moving ahead inexorably to the publication of my next novel. Being a glass-half-empty kind of guy, here’s the main theme of this week’s blog…
   There’s a scene in The Dragon of Doughton Park where the reluctant private investigator, Luke Saunders, is waiting nervously as the vampire, Roland Trudeau, watches surveillance footage he’s taken of Clifford Crane. Luke is sweating it out. He knows he’s done a good job, but he’s afraid he’s done too well. He’s raised the bar, and he knows Roland will expect more from him in the future. If he doesn’t continue to perform at the new higher standard, his life could be in danger.
   Of course, like so many of the characters in the Red Wolf novels, the thing Luke Saunders fears most is not the real danger he ends up facing. But as I read over that scene last week while doing “one more final edit” as I wait for the cover art and design for the new novel to be finished, I realized I may have been subconsciously trying to work out some of my own anxieties when I wrote it.
   You see, when I finished the final scene of Dragon back in May, I realized what has since been confirmed by the enthusiastic reactions of my editors and beta readers: I’ve turned out a pretty good piece of work here. It’s something that I can and should be proud of. And I am.

   But I’ve raised the bar. And just like Luke Saunders, it scares me a little.

   Publishing The Draculata Nest was a leap of faith. It was a necessary coda to dream I thought I’d lost many years ago. I’d started novels a number of times before, and never gotten very far. The simple fact that I’d actually finished one was an accomplishment in itself. The fact that it got some nice reviews and enthusiastic responses from some readers was a perk.

   I’d surprised myself on a number of fronts, and I’d surprised every one of my friends and colleagues, who had no idea I even harbored such a dream or had any talent for such a thing. Some folks were genuinely impressed. I began to be introduced occasionally as John Hundley, author. More important, I’d found something I truly loved to do.

   Writing is fun, y’all.
   I don’t necessarily mean it’s easy. I typically sweat for hours at a time over two or three paragraphs. But it is a labor of love, and I can now affirm what I’ve heard others say and scoffed at in the past: if you find something you love to do, it is not work!

   But now I have set myself a task that involves the expectations of others. The second book was better than the first. Will people expect the third book to be better than the second, and so on, until they reach some imagined reading nirvana? What if I I’ve already reached my peak, and it’s all downhill from here? What if…

   Okay, calm down, John. Don’t go there. Baby steps. But, on a practical level, I do have a rather daunting task in front of me. And as some of you finish reading The Dragon of Doughton Park, you’ll understand. In a number of ways, I’ve written myself into a corner.

   I won’t reveal too much here, but at the end of the book I’ve left Clifford Crane, along with a few other characters, with a major conundrum. He’s in a tough spot, and it was slightly different than I planned when I began writing the book, and I have only a vague idea how he’s going to handle it.

   And I’ve also violated a major rule espoused by many writers – I’ve fallen in love with some of these characters. (And so have some of my readers if I’m to believe their comments.) In many cases, I know they face a fate they don’t deserve. Will I have the guts to allow them to make the mistakes that will ultimately lead to their demise? Will I try to rescue them from their inevitable destiny?
   I hope not, but only the next nine to twelve months will tell.

   One final note:
   From now until the time Dragon goes on sale, the ebook price for The Draculata Nest has been reduced to only $0.99. You can purchase it through one of the following venues…
ebook for Kindle     ebook for Nook     Paperback Copies     in Charlotte

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Buddy, can you spare a cigarette?


   Hey, folks. I wrote half a blog Friday night, which I intended to polish off Saturday evening for a Sunday morning post, but it’ll have to wait until next week. Something else came up, an encounter of sorts, that I feel compelled to share with you.

   Saturday was one of those perfect late summer days in Charlotte - sunshine, billowy white clouds, temperature in the low eighties. It was the perfect day for a long bike ride. I had no major obligations, so I took the day off from writing, laundry, grocery shopping and paying bills and took off.

   It was wonderful. I took the back roads through quiet neighborhoods and made my way over to the McMullen Creek/Four Mile Creek Greenway. I cycled a little over 30 miles, taking it easy and enjoying the day. As the afternoon was waning, I cycled out of the Four Mile Creek Greenway, heading home, when I saw a young man approaching, himself on a bike. He pedaled to a stop and flagged me down.
   Ah, I thought, a fellow cyclist in need of help. He probably needs directions. And since I live to serve, and the day had gone so well, I gladly skidded to a stop next to him and asked if I could be of assistance.
  “You wouldn’t happen to have a cigarette, would you?” he asked.
  “What!” I exclaimed, incredulous. “No, I don’t have a cigarette! Are you crazy?”
  He back pedaled uncertainly at the vehemence of my reply, averted his eyes, and started to go on his way.

  Now, some of my friends who might be reading this know my history and how militantly anti-tobacco I am. Or was, anyway. I mean, guys, haven’t I mellowed a bit over the years? Haven’t I become less judgmental and more tolerant as I’ve grown older? Well, no. Apparently I’ve just been suppressing all that, because my old self came rushing out as if a dam had burst.

   A part of me felt the lecture about to begin but was powerless to stop it. As soon as he could get a word in, he mumbled something like, “Yeah, I should probably quit,” and tried to go around, but I blocked his path. I watched his eyes glaze over as I began to rail about how nicotine is the world’s most addictive poison, blah-blah-blah, then watched the glaze turn to fear as he began to wonder if this crazy old man might actually be dangerous.

   I saw his fear and came to my senses. I tried to tone it down a bit. After all, to him it must have seemed an innocent enough question. I apologized for my over-reaction, and should have gone on my way. Instead, I proceeded to try and explain myself. I told him of the friends I’d lost to cancer and emphysema. He tried to politely extricate himself from the one-sided conversation.
   That was when I started spouting statistics.
   I should never do that. Like Paul Ryan’s marathon time, my statistics tend to get a little exaggerated in the heat of passion. I told him how most people who start smoking before they’re twenty-one are never able to quit and that most who do quit try unsuccessfully to do so an average of nine-to-ten times. (The principle behind that is true. I’ve known recovering heroin addicts who can attest to the fact that nicotine is much harder to kick, but are my numbers correct? Probably not.) I told him that one of the reasons I can’t afford health insurance is due to the trillions of dollars spent each year for treatment of those suffering from tobacco-related illnesses. (It’s a lot, but is it trillions? I’m not sure.)

   Finally, the young man was able to work his bike around me and pedal away, nodding solemnly. As I watched him recede down the greenway path, I considered whether my lecture had hit home. I’d obviously shaken him up, and after all you never know when something you’ve said or done can make a difference. My speech, though harsh, may have done some good. I began to feel a little better about the whole encounter.

   But then I saw him slow down and stop beside a young couple strolling hand-in-hand. I saw the man nod his head and reach into his pocket. He pulled out a pack of cigarettes. Not only did he give one to the cyclist, he took one himself, and proceeded to light both of them.
   I stood and watched for a moment, dumbfounded, as they chatted and smoked.

   Oh, well.
  Hey, guys, I promise, promise, promise that The Dragon of Doughton Park will be released soon. I'm still waiting for the covers to be done. It'll happen, I just know it. Meanwhile, copies of the first book of the series can be purchased in the following venues...
  Until next time... Happy Reading!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Green Gambit


   Hello, folks. I must apologize again to the small core of loyal followers of my blog for the lateness of this post. As I have mentioned before, I have been nursing along a sick laptop for months now, and it has been harder and harder to keep it running long enough to do much writing or blogging.  In the next few days I’ll be facing that tough decision, should I pull the plug? More will be revealed.

  I am still waiting for the cover design for the re-release of The Draculata Nest and the cover art for The Dragon of Doughton Park. The text for Dragon is ready. All that remains is to format it for the various release venues, work up the acknowledgments page and submit it for copywriting. I can’t do much more until I get the artwork. Yes, I am frustrated and impatient, but I know it will be worth the wait.
   So this week I want to share with you a milestone of sorts. As you may remember from a few past posts, I have a son who entered my life well into my middle age and has been a constant source of amazement for over thirteen years. Several days ago he did something that he dubbed, and I quote, “one of the greatest intellectual accomplishments of my life.”
   He beat me at a game of chess.
   Okay, he does have a flair for the dramatic. I can think of several other of his intellectual accomplishments that would get my vote for his greatest. (He taught himself to read, for one.) And, although I can usually hold my own against most run-of-the mill players, I am no chess master. But I have been mercilessly drubbing him in the ultimate board game for many years. Yet, Wednesday evening, September 5, 2012, at approximately 7:45 pm, Eastern Daylight Time, he maneuvered my king into a position of check and mate.
   He did it with an opening move, which I shall henceforth refer to as The Green Gambit, so outrageous and seemingly pointless that I was drawn irresistibly to try and counter it when I should have just ignored it and stuck to my usual strategy of trying to control the middle of the board. In no time I had set up a line of my pawns that effectively restricted nearly every offensive movement from my side of the board. I saw early in the game that I was beaten and I offered to resign.
   He wouldn’t let me.
   No, even though he saw I was beaten, he refused to allow me to retain one iota of dignity. He insisted I play until every one of my pieces had been cut down and stacked on his side of the board and I had no more moves to make. Then, he took the following picture and posted it on Facebook, accompanied by all sorts of trash talk.
   But despite his efforts to humiliate me, I had the last laugh. You see, I have something that he won’t understand until he’s walked in my shoes years down the road, a father’s pride. It was the most fun I’ve ever had losing. Way to go, Seth! I look forward to many, many more challenging adventures of all kinds with you, son.
Well, that's all for this week's blog. I hope to have some cover art and publication dates to share with you next week. Until then... Happy Reading!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Young Women - Old Wolves, Part II


  Hi, folks. This has been a surprisingly productive week for me, and the publication of the second Red Wolf novel, The Dragon of Doughton Park, is drawing inexorably near. I got some very enthusiastic responses from beta readers, the cover art should be finalized this weekend, and the final edits from beta input should be completed next week.

  Along with the publication of the second book of the series, The Draculata Nest will be re-released with a new cover and both books will soon be available in other venues, not just Amazon and Barnes and Noble. I’m excited, and I hope you are, too.
   The only negative feedback I’m getting from The Dragon of Doughton Park is that the ending really makes you want to read the next book, which won’t be available for maybe a year yet. I’ll apologize up front for that, but y’all will just have to deal with it. I feel your pain, but I’m currently waiting for the next books in several series, myself. In particular, I’m losing patience with Richelle Mead, Samantha Young, Kristy Berridge, and Red Tash. Y’all get them to get off their duffs, then come to me crying about, “when’s Red Wolf Rising gonna be done?” Wah-wah-wah. (Hey, just kidding. I’m glad folks want to read the next Red Wolf novel, and as soon as Dragon is published I’m a be workin’ on it, hear?)

   Now…  I have a few more thoughts on the old man/young woman thing I started talking about several posts ago, after which I promise I’ll put the subject to rest and never mention it again, okay?

   When I set out to write the Red Wolf Novels, part of the story I wanted to tell is that of an older man who gets a second chance at growing up. It’s the old question that I think all of us who are getting, shall we say, more mature, ask ourselves… if I knew then what I know now, would it be any different? Now, I don’t know about y’all, but when I ask myself that question, nine-times-out-of-ten it has to do with a woman. So I guess it’s only natural that much of the angst I put Clifford Crane through involves his relationships with members of the opposite sex.

    It just so happens that Clifford’s first sexual encounter in The Draculata Nest is with a young woman not quite out of her teens. Why is that? Is it because I’m a dirty old man trying to live out my sexual fantasies through my writing? (Well, that could be part of it but, uh, no, not entirely. And I promise my readers that not all of Clifford’s – er, uh – romantic relationships will be with young nubiles.) No, it’s because he finds himself thrown back into college, he doesn’t look nearly as old as he is since he’s been turned into a werewolf with a thousand year lifespan, and he’s surrounded by college-aged girls.

   The other part of the equation is that we live in a youth-obsessed culture. Slim, trim, and young is sexy. “She ran her fingers over his muscled torso” sounds more attractive than “she grabbed generous handfuls of the sagging skin around his middle.” I’m not a good enough writer to sell the second scenario. My characters need to at least look attractive, and that equates to youth.

   Sigh. It shouldn’t be that way. I know some damn handsome women who are in their fifties and sixties, but as soon as you mention age, an image pops into your mind that is hard to overcome. Not just your mind, but my mind, too - even though I fit nicely into that older demographic myself.

   Yes, I can appreciate the beauty of a full figure and a face with lines of character, but what turns my head consistently is a young woman walking down the street. When I myself returned to college recently for a two-year refresher, I was enthralled during the spring and summer sessions when the girls wore their tight shorts and cute tops. And it’s only a matter of time until I run my bicycle into a tree along the local greenway while gawking at the girls track team going through their regular afternoon workouts.

   But as much as I may appreciate the beauty of a young girl, I really don’t think those May-December romances work out. It certainly has caused Clifford Crane some grief. If you want to see how he’s dealt with it so far, check out one of the links below.

Draculata Nest for Kindle     Draculata Nest for Nook     Draculata Nest in Paperback
Until next time... Happy Reading!