Friday, September 23, 2016

Excerpt from Mouse's Tale: An Alpha League Supers Novel

For those interested, I'm still hard at work on the Mouse book (working title: Mouse's Tale).  Since I've been talking about this one for a while, I thought it might be fun to share an excerpt, so - bearing in mind that this has not gone through the editing process - here you go:


The first to come in was Buzz, the speedster. He was a young guy with dark hair and a lean, athletic frame. From the way he moved, I got the impression that walking at what could be considered normal speed was unnatural and awkward for him.
Next was Esper, a natural beauty who was generally considered the most powerful telepath on the planet.  Although I’d never heard of her misusing her powers, she was definitely someone you didn’t want to get on the wrong side of.
Finally, there was Alpha Prime. Handsome and statuesque, with a chiseled physique, he probably could have been a movie star had he so desired. As was usual for the most powerful super on the planet, he simply floated in. (Apparently walking was a pastime for mere mortals.) At least he had the good grace to close the door behind him.
I gave them only a casual glance – long enough for them to know that I’d seen them – then went back to puttering with the microwave.  Although it was already repaired, I took satisfaction in giving the impression that even a broken-down, obsolete appliance merited more attention than my visitors.
As they approached the counter where I was seated, Alpha Prime glided to the front of the trio, with his companions flanking him.  When he got close enough for it to become clear that he wanted my attention, I looked up.
He was already tall, at least six-six, and floating several inches off the floor probably made Alpha Prime seem even more imposing to most people. Rather than crane my neck looking up at him, I leaned back in my chair. I spent a moment letting my gaze shift to each of them in turn.
“Can I help you?” I asked no one in particular.
Alpha Prime frowned slightly. My guess was that he was used to people being overawed by the presence of the Alpha League in general (and by him in particular).
Sorry, buddy, I thought. Fresh out of awe.
“We’re looking for the owner,” Alpha Prime said after a moment, his voice a magnificent baritone.
“You’re also looking at him,” I countered.
“You’re Dale Theodore Goodson?” Esper asked.
“Every day,” I replied. “But most people call me Mouse.”
“That’s right,” Buzz chimed in, snapping his fingers once. “You were Power Piston’s sidekick at one point. I think I remember you.”
“No you don’t,” I corrected him. “You just remember the facts you read in whatever file or dossier you pulled up on me before you came here. And I wasn’t Power Piston’s sidekick. I was his partner.”
Buzz, turning red with anger, was on the verge of saying something when Esper suddenly stepped forward.
“We have something we’d like you to take a look at,” she said. At that point, I realized that she was holding a folded piece of paper. She opened it up and laid it on the counter in front of me. “Do you know what this is?”
“Sure,” I said, glancing at what was on the paper. “It’s a portion of the schematics for a suit of power armor. To be precise, this shows part of a shoulder-mounted cannon.”
“Are you certain?” she asked.
I nodded. “No doubt.”
Her brow crinkled slightly. “How can you be sure?”
“Because I’m the one who designed it.”
“A-ha!” Buzz practically bellowed, like he’d just caught a kid with his hand in the cookie jar. “So you admit it!”
I frowned. “Admit what?”
“That you built this,” Buzz said as he step forward and tapped the sheet of paper with the diagram on it.
“No,” I declared, shaking my head. “I said that I designed it. I assume that the guy I sold the schematics to built it.”
“And who would that be?” asked Alpha Prime.
I crossed my arms defiantly. “I’m sorry, but my client list is confidential.”
“List?” Esper repeated. “How many of these designs have you sold to people?”
“That’s confidential as well,” I replied. “But I will say that I do more than just armor. In fact, I can design almost anything a client wants. It makes for a profitable niche.”
“Let’s just go ahead and clear the air here,” Alpha Prime said. “We know that the client you sold these schematics to was Gun-Greave, and you can stop all the ‘confidentiality’ nonsense because he’s dead.”
Although this was surprising news, I kept my voice neutral. “Gun-Greave’s dead? When?”
“Last night” Alpha Prime replied.
“What happened?” I asked casually.
“He went criminal,” said Esper.
I shook my head. “Doesn’t sound like the fellow I dealt with. You must have the wrong guy.”
“No, it was him,” Alpha Prime assured me. “He got caught trying to break into a museum vault.”
“Yeah,” Buzz added. “And he just happened to be wearing the power armor you designed when he did it.”
I shrugged. “So what’s your point?”
Buzz placed his hands on the counter and leaned forward. “My point, asshole, is that you’re in league with criminals.”
“First of all,” I said, “he wasn’t a criminal when I sold him the design. He was a guy with dreams of maybe joining a superhero team, but his crappy armor wasn’t cutting it, so he came to me.”
“Well, that makes sense,” Buzz sneered. “Since you know all about not cutting it, don’t you?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I practically demanded. 
“I think you know exactly what it means,” Buzz said. “You went out for the Super Trials three years in a row and failed miserably every time. Later, you barely made it as a sidekick.”
“Buzz!” Alpha Prime barked. “That’s enough.”
“I’m only quoting what’s in his file,” Buzz said innocently.
I was starting to fume. Buzz had inadvertently settled on the one issue that was definitely a hot-button topic for me. Normally I try to keep my face impassive, but something must have shown because I felt Esper once again trying to surreptitiously poke around the outer rim of my mind – this time, presumably, in an effort to keep me calm. (In fact, she’d been scanning me since she and her colleagues had entered my shop, but I’d made sure she hadn’t gotten anything worthwhile for her efforts.) I got a grip on my emotions and intentionally leaked enough calm to convince her that I wasn’t going to blow my stack. Satisfied, she ceased her efforts to pacify me but didn’t withdraw completely from my head.
“I apologize for my colleague,” Esper said a second later. “He gets a little passionate when it comes to bad guys.”
“Don’t worry about,” I stated in a monotone voice. “But as I was saying, Gun-Greave didn’t start off as a bad guy, and I just tried to help him out. I couldn’t predict that he’d get tired of walking the straight and narrow.”
“Well, your efforts are what probably got him killed,” Buzz said.
I frowned. “What are you talking about?”
“Your designs were a significant upgrade to what he’d been capable of before, and it became clear that he wasn’t going to let himself be captured,” Alpha Prime said. “With innocent people caught in the crossfire, the only way to take him down was to take him out.”
There followed a moment of silence, and then I muttered stoically, “Well, that’s a damn shame.”
“Yeah,” Buzz said sarcastically. “I can tell you’re really broken up about it.”
I gave him a hard stare.  Obviously, the speedster and I had somehow gotten off on the wrong foot, and he was taking every possible opportunity to needle me. However, before I could respond, Esper interjected.
“Look,” she said, “this wasn’t intended to be antagonistic. We’re actually speaking to you here, instead of at our headquarters, as a courtesy to Power Piston and out of respect for the fact that you two worked together.”
“That’s laughable,” I said, guffawing. “Power Piston would be the last person to show me any favoritism if he thought I’d done something wrong, and there’s no way he would ask it of his teammates.”
Alpha Prime nodded. “You’re right – he wouldn’t ask. He doesn’t even know we’re here, because we thought it would crush him to know that his old partner and protégé might be working outside the law.”
“You’ve got to stretch the facts pretty far to get anywhere close to that conclusion,” I countered. “I haven’t heard anything that implicates me in any illicit activities.”
“Doesn’t it bother you that some of your clients might be criminals, or use your work for illegal purposes?” asked Esper.
I snorted derisively. “It’s not illegal to engage in business with criminals.  It’s only illegal to engage in criminal business. If you’re going to harass me about what I’ve done, are you also going to go after the guy who sells criminals their groceries? How about the power company that supplies their homes with electricity? The department store where they get their clothes?”
“None of those other services directly enable the bad guys to engage in criminal behavior,” Alpha Prime countered.
“Touche,” I said. “But I still don’t see you going after gun manufacturers after their weapons have been used in a robbery. Or taking on auto manufacturers after one of their vehicles is used as a getaway car.”
“Stop trying to spin this like you’re some honest businessman,” Buzz said testily. “You’re as guilty as the criminals you sell to.”
My eyes narrowed. “We’re done here. You can leave now.”
“We’ll leave,” Buzz stated. “But you’re coming with us.”
I blinked. “What?”
Buzz sneered. “We’re not done talking to you. You’re coming back to HQ with us.”
I shook my head. “That’s not gonna happen.”
“We can do it, you know,” Esper said. “Like most superhero teams, we’ve got the authority to take suspects into custody.”
“Maybe with probable cause,” I acknowledged. “Which is sorely lacking in this instance.”
“Even without probable cause, we can detain you if we feel it’s warranted,” said Alpha Prime.
“You can try,” I said, casually stretching my hand across the countertop. Of course, the object I was reaching for wasn’t there, and I spent a few seconds glancing around as if bewildered.
“Looking for something?” Buzz asked. He held up a hand and I saw that he was palming a small square-shaped, metallic device with two buttons on it – one gray and one black.
“Give that back!” I demanded, coming to my feet.
“I don’t think so,” Buzz said with a leer. He turned his attention to the device. “Let’s see… I wonder what will happen if I push this.”
His finger hovered over the black button.
“Don’t press that!” I yelled.
“Or what?” Buzz said, then pressed the button.
There was a momentary crackling sound, and the air in the shop between me and my visitors seemed to flicker for a moment. They realized almost immediately that something had happened, but obviously they had no idea what it was.
I gave them a grin that was practically magnanimous. “I told you not to press that.”

Friday, September 16, 2016

TiVo, Where Art Thou? (And Where's My "Lifetime" Service?)

In the early part of this century (or millennium, however you want to style it - around the year 2000, dammit), I purchased a TiVo.  At the time, I was a hardcore television junkie. I wrote in a previous blog how watching television  is a like a second job (the average American watches 34 hours of TV per week), and I was a textbook example. I spent a lot of time wrestling with video cassettes, setting timers, screaming bloody murder when I accidentally recorded over something I hadn't watched yet...

For me, TiVo was almost like the second coming. It could record tons of shows, I could watch them in any order I wanted, I could get a "season pass" and record every episode of a program - it even learned my preferences and recorded things it thought I would enjoy.  Frankly speaking, within weeks I was wondering how I had ever lived without it. (Had that uncultured, uncivilized Neanderthal with the VCR and box full of VHS tapes truly been me?)

Fast-forward a decade-and-half: TiVo and I are still going strong, a powerful and graceful symbiosis of man and machine. And then the rug gets yanked out from under me: TiVo is being bought by entertainment company Rovi. The buyout in and of itself wasn't terrible news - companies get bought and sold all the time. However, what almost sent me into a raving fit was the fact that the combined company is no longer going to support the TiVo Series 1 (which, as you might guess, is the series I own).


Apparently, Rovi's current software won't run on the Series 1, which is the first generation of TiVo devices.  Adding insult to injury is the fact that, when I bought the thing, I paid like $200 for the Tivo "Lifetime" service (referring to the Tivo subscription service that provides software updates, scheduling info, and so on). Granted that 15+ years is certainly a long time, it doesn't quite meet the definition of "lifetime" in my opinion - not when both I and my TiVo are alive and kicking.  And make no mistake: my TiVo still works.

As you can imagine, I'm a little PO'd about the entire situation, as are plenty of other TiVo owners. To give them credit, TiVo has attempted to mollify the masses by giving us $75 gift cards (which I have yet to receive, mind you).  Taking that into consideration, I'm sure someone will say that I should be satisfied.  After all, bearing in mind the value of the gift card, it would mean that over a fifteen-year period I spent $125 for service that regularly costs like $15/month.  But I'm not satisfied, dammit. I paid for Lifetime service; I want the effin' Lifetime service!  Like the guy in the Xfinity commercial below, I believe that if you sell a product or service, it should work:

Basically, if you sell a lifetime service, it needs to work - and be available - for a lifetime. Not a day, not a year, not a decade.  A lifetime.  Can you imagine the response I'd have gotten if our situations were reversed?  If I had called up TiVo a year ago and said, "Hey, I'm not going to be using my TiVo any more - I've unplugged it and now use it as a paperweight. Can I get a refund on the balance of that Lifetime service contract - say, $75?" They would have told me to eff off, that a deal's a deal, and then suggested that I perform an anatomically impossible act upon myself.

See, those mother-bleeping bleep-sucking, mother-bleepers would have demanded that I honor our deal, so I'd be within my rights to demand no less of them. I expect corporations to exhibit the same level of integrity that I expect from natural persons.  Still, it's probably not worth wrangling over legally (although I could see a class action lawsuit arising out of this).  It'll just have to be enough that I never buy another TiVo/Rovi product again.  Of course, I had the same mindset with respect to the lack of backwards compatibility for the Playstation 4, initially saying that I'd never own one and later breaking down. Somewhat. (My wife bought it for me.  What was I supposed to do, tell her it was a terrible gift???)  

In short, while I know I should never say "never," at the moment I feel that the odds of me ever buying anything from them again are somewhere between slim and none.  And, as they used to say in the old days, slim's outta town...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Exponential Increase in the Cost of Book Promotion

A couple of years ago, one of my early posts on this blog was How to Beat the High Cost of Indie Publishing.  In that post, I basically outlined what I thought was generally required for an author to produce a quality novel. However, while I covered a lot of the basics leading up to the final production of a book (editing, cover, etc.), I failed to address one of the important things that comes after a book's release: marketing and promotion.

As most indies (and even some traditionally published authors) quickly learn, book marketing and promotion is a necessary evil. Unless you are very lucky - almost lotto-winning lucky - getting and maintaining visibility for your work is an ongoing effort. Thus, at some juncture, almost every indie will turn to one of the book promotion sites.

With that in mind, I was recently doing some research into where to apply my marketing efforts for one of my novels.  (This book promotion thing has actually become a bit of a pet project of mine, with me even going so far as to add a Book Marketing and Promotion page to this blog.)  As I investigated, it occurred to me that prices for book promotion seem to have been on a steady increase for a while.  In fact, going back and plugging in some numbers from the past few years yielded the following results:

Needless to say, this is not all book promotion sites, nor all of those that have increased their charges. However, I don't mean to imply that all such sites have been raising their prices. In fact, many of them have not. Still, as you can see, the numbers have shot up significantly for a number of these venues.  That said, some of the dollar figures may seem paltry, but when you consider that many indies will promote a single title across a score of sites simultaneously, it adds up pretty quickly.

Businesses, of course, will typically charge as much as the market will bear. Moreover, indies have shown that they're willing to pay top dollar in order to reach their audiences.  However, the kind of price increases noted above can't continue without some kind of effect.  In many instances, the end result may be that authors will have to raise prices. (Although, in truth, an increase in prices should eventually be expected as a result of ordinary inflation.)

In short, while no one assumed that the cost of promoting books was going to remain static, the exponential increases are worth noting.  That's not to say that the sites that have raised their prices aren't worth it.  (BookBub, for instance, is the gold standard and worth every penny.)  The real takeaway is that, for those of us with limited dollars, it's become more important than ever to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to marketing our work.  In other words, it's time to figure out which promotional sites are actually offering some bang for the buck, because you need every marketing dollar that you spend to work just as hard for you as you did in earning it.

(***Just a quick note about the chart above:  it denotes what promoting on the listed sites cost at various times in the past.  The term "Cheapest Available" generally means the most inexpensive promotional opportunity for a paid book that I could find on a particular site at present.  That said, I tried to make this as much of an apples-to-apples comparison as possible, which meant, for instance, sticking to the same genre when feasible. By way of example, the $160 BookBub promo in 2013 was for the Sci-Fi genre; a promo on BookBub in that same genre will cost $600 today.)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Audiobook Release: Revelation is Now Available

In keeping with my commitment to produce audio versions of all my work, I'm pleased to announce that the audiobook of Revelation (Kid Sensation #4) is available.

This one actually took longer than anticipated for a number of reasons; for instance, the power went out one night while I was listening to the audio files.  (That's force majeure, man. Nothing you can do about that.) Thankfully, I was eventually able to finish, and  - like the prior audiobooks in the series - I think it turned out very well and will prove to be worth the wait.

Needless to say, it's a lot of fun for me to have my work brought to life in this way.  It's not anything I really anticipated early on when I started this writing gig, but I really enjoy it. (And it helps that I have a great narrator.)

Kid Sensation #5 is now in the [audio] works, with the anticipated completion date being in October. I feel blessed that the audiobooks have been getting a very warm reception from listeners, so hopefully that will continue - and cross over to my other series when I start releasing the audio versions of those titles. For now, though, I'm just enjoying everything about the process.  

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