Saturday, December 25, 2010

New Blog Title...Same Old Stuff

Hi, all.

I gotta share two  recent pieces of awesome news. Well, awesome for me. First, just in case you didn't know, I've been gravely ill for nearly three months, but am finally getting released from the hospital this week.

Second...I'm proud to announce I have sold my second novel, Shaken, to Quake/Echelon Press, who did just an awesome job with my first one, Killer Cows. Like Cows, Shaken is also a YA novel. More details coming.

But for now, the reason for the blog's name change. Quite simple really. The blog isn't really about cows, and now that I have more to promote, it made sense to generalize the title. So, it's the same old stuff I always do.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Randy Meyer is a Fictional Hero; Jeremiah is a Real One

Jeremiah Boland is a junior at Parkrose High School. In August of 2006, he was diagnosed with a disease called Juvenile Nasal AngiofibromaI. These are tumors that have invaded his sinus and nasal cavities. Most of his seventh grade year was spent in the hospital and at home. On May 13, 2010 he had a setback. After a nosebleed that lasted five and a half hours, doctors discovered the tumor had doubled in size and was now life threatening. The tumor had intertwined itself with the carotid artery. His team of doctors decided that surgery was too risky. The only option for treatment is Gamma Knife Radiation. The long-term effects from the radiation, compared to immediate fatality, were the deciding factor for treatment. Jeremiah has a long road ahead of him but refuses to let it hold him back. His goal is to play football his senior year.

As a teacher in the Parkrose School District, I have had the privilege of getting to know the Boland family through their wonderful children, some in my class, some by acquaintance. In either case, they are a wonderful, loving family stricken by these unexpected circumstances Jeremiah now faces. My school has rallied to show their love and support for Jeremiah through the Sparrow Club, an organization which raises money for a family facing medical expenses due to a child‘s illness. My school has been involved in this for four years now, but for the first time, the child is one from our own community, a young man many of us know and admire.

When I think of what Jeremiah and his family are going through during this trying time, and the strength they’ve shown, I see true heroism, and want to do anything within my power to help them. Which is why I decided that I will give 100% of the ebook royalties of my first novel, Killer Cows, to Jeremiah and the Bolands in order to help with the long and expensive road which lays ahead for them. When I signed my first book contract with Echelon Press, I fulfilled a lifelong dream. And, the way I see it, what better way to make the most of one’s dream than to help someone else achieve theirs? And really, it is a small gesture on my part, but one I hope can help make a difference.

And it is actually so easy. The ebook is $3.00, and half of that would go to help Jeremiah. My goal is to raise at least $1,000 for him. That's 2,000 ebooks. A huge goal, but one that's possible. So please, if you are reading this, spread the word. Everyone who buys a copy of Killer Cows will not only get a fun read, they'll be helping a great kid.

Killer Cows is available at:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Interview with Author Jenny Hilborne

Jenny Hilborne is a mystery writer, and fellow Echelon author, whose first novel, Madness and Murder, has recently been released. She was nice enough to take the time to talk with me about the book, as well future projects.

First, I have to ask…what first brought you to the U.S.?

A Boeing 747 first brought me to the US. He he, sorry, couldn't help it. A long distance romance is the reason I came to be here. They do actually work out sometimes, or at least, for a while :)

As a writer, who were some of your earliest inspirations, particular in the mystery genre?

I learned to read early, thanks to English author Enid Blyton and her magical children's books. My earliest inspirations in the mystery genre were Sidney Sheldon and Lawrence Sanders. Right after reading a Sidney Sheldon novel, full of twists and unexpected turns, I started on my own manuscript for Madness and Murder.

Madness and Murder is now available from Echelon Press. Care to tell us a little about it?

Madness and Murder, released first as an e-book, and now in paperback by Echelon Press, is an international mystery and follows the life of two main characters, both trying to escape dark pasts. Of course, nothing goes quite as planned and they soon find themselves in the middle of madness and murder.

What has the feedback been so far, both from readers and/or reviewers?

Feedback so far has been extremely positive, although people who know me expressed surprise over some of the darker elements. Hey, I can't help what pops into my head when I write. Quite a number of readers have asked for another Mac Jackson novel. I hadn't planned on a sequel, however, due to the number of requests, I will bring him back to solve another crime. Inspector Mac Jackson will be back. He's the homicide cop on the case in Hide and Seek. Older and wiser, and a little less patient.

From the first word to the final draft, how long did it take you to complete it, and when did you know you were done?

Madness and Murder took me eleven months to write from first draft to finish. Then came months of editing. I knew I was done when Echelon Press offered me the contract.

Is mystery a genre you plan to stick with, or do you see yourself branching out into other ones?

For now, I plan to stick with the mystery genre because it's what I love and what I do best. I have, however, been asked to write a real life story, set in the 1940's, and am going to do it while I work on my next mysteries. This story is about the tragedy of being away at war while suffering loss at home.

How has your experience working with Echelon been so far?

I owe my sincere thanks to Echelon Press for opening their publishing doors to me and taking my very first novel. They did not try to change my book in any way, and the editor(s) they've assigned me are wonderful.

Most of us have that unpublished first novel we ever wrote ducked away in a drawer. Do you have one, and if so, are you thankful it wasn’t your first sale?

I do not have an unpublished novel tucked away. I know I am incredibly fortunate to have both my first and second novels written under contract, both with Echelon Press. Currently, I am working on my third mystery, Hide and Seek, another chilling murder in San Francisco.

Thank you, Jenny, for taking the time to share your thoughts. Best of luck in your writing career.

Madness and Murder is now available:

Visit Jenny at:

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Own Spinal Tap Moment: Another Learning Experience

I had what many in the music industry call a Spinal Tap moment this past weekend.

For those of you who have never seen This is Spinal Tap, it is a fake documentary about an aging, has-been heavy metal band. Essentially a satire of musicians and the music business in general, it’s an extremely funny look at a fictional band, Spinal Tap, but with scenes depicted with such dead-on accuracy that many real-life bands have amusingly reflected on their own real-life “Spinal Tap” moments over the years. One such scene takes place in a record store, where the band is there to sign their latest album. Only nobody shows up.

That happened to me this past weekend.

I had arranged a book signing event for Killer Cows at a small-town independent bookstore, which has the distinction of being the oldest bookstore in Oregon. It’s a neat little place, located in one of the town’s older buildings, and stuffed with books by both local and bestselling authors. It’s the kind of place many people romantically think would be a great business to own…a bookstore run by people who love books.

The staff was wonderful, and the manager was a pretty young lady who had read the book and was very enthusiastic; she’d made flyers, put ads on the store web page, and even contacted local schools to let them know a local author of young adult fiction was coming. She also ordered a dozen copies of Killer Cows, which were on display at the front of the store when I walked in after my 80 mile drive from Portland. Nearby was coffee and cookies, and the staff seemed truly happy to meet me. With a few minutes left before the two-hour signing was to begin, I helped myself to some coffes (which was great, BTW), and sat down to do some signing. This was gonna be fun.

The problem was, during that entire two hours, almost nobody showed up. Maybe five or so customers, a few of whom did buy the book. But for the most part, I wandered the store, chatted books and music with the staff, got wired on caffeine and fat on cookies. The manager, bless her heart, was very gracious and offered that the weather probably played a factor (in Oregon, you take advantage of those rare sunny days when they arrive). And on a nice day, during a weekend, most of downtown was as devoid of people walking the sidewalks as an apocalyptic sci-fi movie.

All told, I spent more money on gas to get to the signing than I did selling books.

Still, I met some nice people, and signed a couple more books for the manager and some of her employees. And I have to admit, I do love signing. I wasn’t expecting a mob of people clamoring for my autograph, but during those lengthy times in which no one came into the store, I thought about that scene in This is Spinal Tap and had a good chuckle at my own expense.

Another lesson was learned this past weekend: Just because you write a book doesn’t automatically mean people are clamoring for your autograph, and will set time aside on a rare sunny day just to get one. Hell, I even remember attending a book signing at Barnes & Noble for Charlaine Harris (one of the biggest authors in the world), and being amazed that only about 200 people showed up. A nobody like me? Forget about it. 200 people would be like finding the Holy Grail.

Still, I’ll plug along, doing what I can to get word out about my own book, even if it takes a lot of gas for me to get there.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Meeting Dave Mustaine - A Bit of Middle Aged Hero Worship

For those of you who don’t know, Dave Mustaine is the founder and leader of the band, Megadeth, one of the so-called “big four” of thrash metal (the others being Slayer, Anthrax and Metallica). Mustaine and his band have been remarkably influential on the genre, and are still alive and well today.

The circumstances surrounding the formation of Megadeth is one of the more interesting behind-the-scenes stories in metal music. Mustaine was unceremoniously kicked out of Metallica just before that band hit the big time. Fueled by resentment and anger, he formed Megadeth with the intent of outdoing his old bandmates. While never achieving the level of success Metallica has enjoyed, Megadeth became quite big themselves, with numerous gold and platinum albums. And personally speaking, while Metallica may have sold more records, Megadeth constantly released more interesting ones. All the while, Mustaine’s own personal life was in constant turmoil, dealing with drug addiction, failed relationships of both a personal and professional nature, and his ongoing resentment toward what his former friends in Metallica had done to him.
I know all this because Mustaine writes about it in his surprisingly candid autobiography, Mustaine: A Heavy Metal Memoir. After reading this book (all in one night), I thought it must have taken a lot of guts to be so forthcoming about, not only his career and oft-publicized feuds with former band members, but his own personal addictions and shortcomings. The book is a great read, and I whole-hearted encourage everyone to check it out, even if you aren’t necessarily a fan of the heavy metal genre. It is simply a riveting story.
I have always respected and admired the guy. In addition to being a great guitarist and songwriter, he is intelligent, articulate and unafraid to speak his mind, both lyrically and in interviews. After reading his memoir, which chronicles his rough upbringing, through fame and drug addiction to becoming a Christian (though not the Bible-thumping kind), I came to the conclusion that it’s amazing the man is even alive.

That said, when I heard he would be in Portland for a book signing, I found myself reverting back to my days of worshipping my idols as infallible gods.

It’s fun and exciting to meet celebrities, of course. I met Ronnie James Dio back in 1983 at a record store event (a really nice guy, BTW). I met NASCAR driver Greg Biffle on two different occasions. I even bumped into Leslie Neilson at LAX while he was waiting to check in his luggage. These celebrity run-ins happened at different points in my life. While I was totally gaga over meeting Dio (hey, I was 18), by the time I approached Greg Biffle for an autograph, I was older and less concerned with letting him to know how big a fan I was than getting his signature on my die-cast car to increase its value (still, he was a nice guy, too). But Mustaine was different. I have been a fan for 25 years, and as I drove to the bookstore to get my copy signed, I did what I think a lot of people do…try to come up with some great statement or question to differentiate me from all the other bozos in line, to let him know I was a true fan. Yeah, as if the clouds would part and Mustaine would suddenly realize I’m the fan he’s been waiting to meet his whole life, and he’d shower me with praise, free concert tickets and his personal email address.

I am in my mid-forties (and only three years younger than Mustaine himself) and an author as well (not that this makes us kindred spirits). I felt almost ashamed that I felt like an idol-worshipping teenager as I waited in line to get by copy signed. Part of me felt like I needed to take this rare opportunity to connect with Mr. Mustaine on a personal level, though the rational adult in me understood that I was lucky just to shake the man’s hand.

The rational adult in me won out, which is a good thing.

For years, I had put this man on a pedestal, worshipping him from afar. And when the line I waited in finally moved to the point where I could see him for the first time, reality set in. Dave Mustaine wasn’t a god or some idol to be worshipped. In fact, he looked kind of tired, like he suffered from jet-lag. This was also the first time where he looked MY age. Somehow, I found this sort-of comforting. This was the first time I saw Dave Mustaine as a human being. My 15 year old daughter, who came along with me, commented Mr. Mustaine looked kind-of pissed off. I replied, “Honey, Dave Mustaine always looks pissed off.”

At any rate, despite all my ideas of coming up with the perfect statement or question for him, in the end, when it came time for him to sign my copy of his book, I simply told him I liked it a lot, and asked if it was hard for him to relive those experiences in order to write the book. As he signed, he was congenial and polite, but never really talking to me directly, on a personal level. Why would he? He’d probably been asked this question a million times before. And the middle-aged adult in me was cool with that.

Then I shook his hand, he smiled, and I was on my way. As I walked away, the gaga teenager took over once again, if only for a few seconds - I shook Dave Mustaine’s hand! And you know what? That was enough. I shook the hand of the guy who wrote some of my very favorite songs. It didn’t matter that I probably didn’t ask him something he hadn’t been asked before. He signed my book and shook my hand, as he did with thousand of other fans waiting to do the same thing.

I had a great time, though my daughter was bored. I think she’d have been more enthused if we waited in line for an hour to meet Lady GaGa.

Monday, August 23, 2010

2010 Northwest Author Fair - A Learning Experience

I just attended my first book signing event, the 2010 Author Fair, held annually at Bob’s Beachbooks in Lincoln City, Oregon. If you’ve never been to Lincoln City, it is a beautiful little costal town whose tourists constantly out populate its inhabitants. Located on Highway 101, if it weren’t for the unreliable Oregon weather, the constantly-clogged outlet mall and the casino on the north end of town, Lincoln City would be the embodiment of what most people think of when they picture a cozy Pacific Coast town.

Bob’s Beachbooks is a wonderful little store, crammed floor-to-ceiling with shelves and shelves of all those obscure little titles of various genres, mingling with the usual bestselling paperbacks and hardcovers. An indiscreet place, you’d probably pass it right by if you weren’t paying attention to where you were going.

Anyway, as a new author, I was very excited to be invited to this event. I even made reservations at a hotel in town and trucked my whole family (and dog) to make a weekend out of it. The bookstore ordered ten copies of Killer Cows for people to purchase and have me sign.

The event was outdoors, which was nice since it was sunny for once, and after setting up my table with posters and display copies, I wandered around to check out the other authors’ tables. That’s when I noticed a few things...

First, I was one of the few authors pitching a first novel, and one of the few who was pitching a young adult novel. There were dozens of authors of mysteries, non-fiction, poetry and fantasy. Many authors were self-published (not meant as criticism), and a few had books published by major book houses. The author next to me, Sheila Simonson, was one of the latter. She hauled out a half-dozen novels (some in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press). I was impressed, not to mention a bit humbled.

Second, my inexperience was obvious. Most all other authors came armed with postcards, bookmarks, business cards and flyers. I meant to at least have some bookmarks made, but did not find the time (or the money). I rued that choice once the book fair started, since those bookmarks and postcards are what most visitors grabbed at the tables. And after talking about Killer Cows with folks who stopped at my table, when they asked for my card, I was forced to sheepishly admit I didn’t have one.

Lesson learned: Bring some damn bookmarks next time!

Not that it would have mattered at this particular event, for most of the visitors were older, and based on my observations, more into serious stuff like literary fiction, mysteries, non-fiction and romantic fantasy. Lots of books about lighthouses and historical Oregon landmarks. I fitted into none of those categories; I write pulp fiction for kids.

I saw very few parents toting around kids of the age Killer Cows is aimed at. In fact, most people who stopped at my table chuckled at the cover before moving on. I was surrounded by poets and authors of books with titles like “Murder in…” or “The Realm of…” or “Midnight Musings,” and here I am with…Killer Cows. Perhaps I should have retitled it something more serious for this event, something like “Legend of the Bovine Kingdom” or “Murder in Satus Creek.”
On a lighter note, I did find a few fans. One was a six year old boy enamored by the toy stock cars and motorcycles on my table (both are major parts of the story). He stood and played with them for about twenty minutes. Another was a teenage girl who was more impressed with the Killer Cows poster I brought along, and wanted to know where she could get one.

Lesson learned: Don’t bring toys.

Still, the book and its B-movie title did appeal to some, who bought copies for me to sign, which was a lot of fun. I also enjoyed talking about the novel to people. Some picked up the book and did what my wife always does…read the last page first. I never understood why people do that. To me, it makes more sense to open to a random page in the middle to get a feel for a book, but never mind…

Though I didn’t exactly sign as many books as I anticipated, I did sign more than many of those around me (except for Ms. Simonson, of course). I’m pretty certain some authors didn’t sign any, mainly those whose books were obviously labors of love and self-published, or priced so high that customers didn’t think the books were worth it.

On a related note, one fifty-something author who did gangbusters was a fantasy writer and was pitching herself like a street evangelist, passing out pre-signed bookmarks to anyone passing by, whether they asked for one or not. She also touted her book was soon going to be a major motion picture. Her book also looked impressive, enough that my wife, an avid fantasy reader, bought a copy. When we got back to the hotel later on, I looked up the author and publisher, and they ended up being one in the same. My wife got about 40 pages into the novel before declaring that it really sucked. Still, I gotta hand it to this lady…she did what she had to do to sell copies, and was savvy enough make herself sound like the second coming of Anne McCaffrey.

And by the way, based on my extensive research, her novel is nowhere near to becoming a major motion picture. But, hey, who cares? Maybe next time I’ll do that. I can just hear myself now: “Killer Cows…soon to be a major motion picture starring Brad Pitt, Angelina Jolie, Tom Hanks and a special appearance by Marlon Brando, coming back from the dead just for this film! Metallica is gonna do the film score! Oh, and did I mention it’ll be co-directed by Steven Spielberg and James Cameron? It’s also gonna be in 3-D!”

But who am I to judge? This lady sold more copies than I did.

Lesson learned: If you’re gonna BS your potential book buyers, do it big.

After three hours, the Author Fair ended. It was a fun weekend. I visited a great book store, met some nice people, some good writers. I also got a nice red sunburn, signed a few copies of Cows and spent the rest of the day on the beach with the family. Most importantly, it was a learning experience.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Sassy Gal Interview: Karen Syed, Author & Echelon Press CEO

She wears several hats - author, publisher, business person - and uses more than one name. Her real name is Karen Syed, CEO of Echelon Press and its numerous imprints. To others she is known as Alexis Hart, author of several novels and stories. For some of us who’ve been fortunate enough to be invited to share our own stories with the world, she’s also known as “boss.”

Karen is constantly busy running the business and working with her large stable of authors from many genres, so it was fortunate she was able to find some time to talk with me about herself, her writing and how she made the move to publishing.

How long have you been writing, and what first inspired you to first pick up a pen?

KS: It's funny how that happened. Actually, I'm not sure. I've always been a word girl. Started reading at four and have never stopped. I used to have books, even before I could actually write or read and if after someone read it to me I didn't like the story I would get a pencil or something and scribble between the lines, writing my own story, in my own language. Some might call it destruction of books, I call it the creative spark.

What was your first sale? Was it a short story or a book? When and where did it first appear?

KS: Now this is funny. When I met my first husband, Butthead, I was deeply in love…with the idea of being in love. I was totally smitten to being married, just not so much to him. In an effort to mold my life into something else, I wrote a piece called "The Value of Human Life." At the time I thought it was a piece about how my life was, but looking back now, I have come to expect that it was a piece about what I prayed my life could be. I actually sang the praises of the man who ultimately abused me. Go figure. It was published in a little magazine called, crap, I can't remember. At any rate. I got the notification and the check for $15.00 two days after I filed for divorce from Butthead. How's that for irony?

What made you decide to write under the pseudonym of Alexis Hart?

KS: At the time it seemed like a good idea. I was trying to get established in the book business and I thought I needed to keep that separate from my writing. Turns out nobody really cares. Writers come in all shapes and sizes and now I am just paying the price by trying to get everything into my real name so someone has a clue who the heck I am.

I must admit I’m not too well-read in the romance genre. What is it about the genre that appeals to you?

KS: When I first started writing for publication I was in the midst of marital hell and romance novels were my escape. I could read about other women's lives and how beautiful it could all be. I would stay up all night reading to avoid going to bed. I would escape into the worlds of authors like Jill Barnett and Caroline Bourne (who is actually responsible for me wanting to be a writer.) In romance novels things might get bad, but they ALWAYS end happily and that gives readers hope. Some say, but it's all fiction. But think about it, those thoughts and emotions come from real people and they must at some point have experienced them or be experiencing them, and that is hope!

Most authors have a daily routine. What is yours?

KS: My routine is pretty screwed up now that I am a publisher. I spend most of my time working to sell other people's work, but generally I wake up, brush the toofers, boot up the laptop, check my e-mail, check on my Farmville crops and livestock, then eat breakfast, maybe go work out, then plunk down in a chair to edit, format, market, what have you. Writing is very sporadic for me. I tend to write longhand, in notebooks, in restaurants or coffee shops. Ideas come to me all willy nilly and I just kina roll with it. I love to write, it is very peaceful for me.

When you’re approaching a new idea for a story, how much of it do you have outlined in advance?

KS: Outlining? Psshaw! I don't need no steenking outline. Actually, I can't outline. I am ADD and have the attention span of a gnat. If I outline and plot out the story and how it ends, I cannot write it. I know how it will end and my mind will not let me write the book out. It's almost like a mental block. Once I know the end, what's the point?

I almost always have a character's name first, or sometimes the title. I will see or hear something that triggers and idea, then I instantly have to come up with my main character's name, then I worry about writing the rest of the story and I write by the seat of my pants. I have a mystery that I have been sitting on for almost three years. I have it written almost to the end. I have five suspects, and for the life of me cannot figure out who dunnit. Seriously. I'm not kidding.

We all get writer’s block from time to time. What’s your way of dealing with it?

KS: I start a new story (I have the first three chapter of about 70 books and short stories. Sigh…) or I eat something. Neither one is really all that effective.

Of all your stories and books, which is your personal favorite and why?

KS: Of my books, DARK SHINES MY LOVE is my favorite. My hero is blind. Writing a blind character was really hard, but everyone says I nailed it. It was supposed to be a contemporary Gothic story, with the brooding recluse who falls in love with his nurse. But my damn hero fell in love with her kid first and then got a personality and the whole gothic thing went straight down the tubes. Gothic heroes don't smile and play with kittens.

Of my short stories, I think TOO FAST FOR LOVE is my favorite. It was written as an ultra-sensual story and my hero is a race car driver who is pretty full of himself-who would have think it? The banter between the two main characters and the sexual tension was really cool for me. I don't write sex scene well at all, but I can do sensual pretty good I guess.

Could you describe your latest story?

KS: Oh Good Lord. I guess I'll just pick one. I'll tell you a little about the mystery. I call it a Retro-Futuristic (I coined that phrase about six years ago, and I just discovered that someone else came up with it and took all the credit.). It is actually set in the 2030s but everything has reverted back to what it was like in the 1930s except we have all the computer technology of the present/future. The story is called DRESSED TO KILL and my main character is Gloria Gumshoe. She's a detective, despite the fact that her mother wanted her to be a nurse. Gloria's first big case is to shadow a Fashionista who is bucking to be the queen of the fashion world. She gets killed at her big universal premier. It's all very gruesome and flashy. I love this story, if only I could figure out the murderer. Hmmph!

Based on everything I’ve seen, the romance genre is really booming right now, particularly with the growing popularity of ebooks. What’s your take on the current state of the genre, quality-wise?

KS: Romance has been the top dog in the industry for decades. More than ten years ago they passed the point of contributing more than 50% of mass market sales to the industry and they have not let those sales drop. In fact, they have increased. I do think that the mystery genre is and will continue to give them a run for the title though.

I think the quality of the stories out there has actually diminished a bit over the last decade. There don't seem to be any fresh ideas. Like any industry, the authors have glommed on to the "next big thing" and are refusing to let go or move on. I mean how many stinking ways can you fall in love with a vampire? No disrespect intended, but this is one of the reasons I have moved away from romance. I have been raving about this since I owned my bookstore ten years ago. There is so little originality. They recycle the same stories over and over with new character names and a new city. But little else changes. I call it the Harlequin syndrome. Used to be babies, cowboys, and amnesia, now it's vampires and shapeshifters.

I wish authors would go back to thinking for themselves. With that said, I think the eBook industry will continue to grow because it is the one part of the industry that does allow and encourage free thinking and adventure. The big dogs used to ridicule those of us praising eBooks. They complained about how they were ruining the industry and letting just any old person get published. Now they are jumping on the bandwagon and claiming all the kudos for having discovered the format. Bull hockey!! eHarlequin did not put eBook on the map, they just happen to be the ones who could afford to give it a big flashy sign. I have been publishing eBooks at Echelon Press for TEN years. Consistently. I have never stopped, and I have never waivered, and yet, eHarlequin gets all the glory for making it happen. Pphhllbbttt!

In addition to being a writer, you also run Echelon Press. What made you decide to venture into publishing?

KS: I had been published by small presses and had been raked over the coals several times. I had been rejected by the major houses because my stories did not fit into their molds. Seriously I have rejection letters that say almost that very thing. Quite a few editors loved my writing, but couldn't figure out which line to put it in, so they would pass. It was heartbreaking. So I decided there needed to be a place for writers like me to get published. A place where they could tell the stories they wanted to without having to fit into a mold.

It must be difficult to run Echelon and still find time for your own writing. How do you juggle the two hats you are wearing? Do you have as much time as you’d like for your own work?

KS: I hardly have any time for my own writing. I am a good writer, I have complete faith in my ability, but I feel like I am much stronger as a publisher. As for hats, I look really good in them, but they make my head sweat so I tend to avoid them if I can help it.

Between writing and publishing, which do you find the most rewarding?

KS: Definitely the publishing. I absolutely LOVE making other people's dream come true. I love the rush I get when someone sends an e-mail or tells me they loved a book I published. Or the joy of watching one of my authors, who has been rejected by major houses, accept an award for the work that I published. I admit to loving that neener-neener moment of knowing they screwed up by missing that opportunity.

Echelon and its imprints (Quake and Explorations) publish a wide variety of genres. Aside from genre, what are some of the things you look for when reading a manuscript?

KS: Originality is key. I don't want the same old stories. I don't want anything that has already been done to death, or even done. I also look for heart. I hate when authors write stories because they think they can capitalize on a "trend." Trends don't work, they really are kinda dumb. You don't know it's a trend until it has already happened. Hel-lo! Write what you love and write it wonderfully and that is what I want.

Are their particular genres Echelon has been more successful with than others?

KS: Mystery has been the very best for us. Mystery is an incredible genre and the authors are some of the most committed writers I have ever met. They love what they write and they write what they love. Better yet, the mystery genre has some of the most loyal readers out there. Mystery readers LOVE to spend money on books.

Are there any genres you would absolutely never publish?

KS: Nope. Well, maybe literary fiction. I just don't get it. Oh, and I don't do poetry.

Based on your experience as both an author and publisher, what’s the single most important piece of advice would you give a beginning writer?

KS: For the love of Pete and Mike, PAY ATTENTION. Submission guidelines are developed for a reason, don't ignore them. And remember, while your relationship with a publisher is a partnership, you are going into THEIR business. Don't assume you now more than everyone else, and DON'T expect everyone else to sell your books. Some people hate it when I say this, but it is YOUR book and it is really nobody's job to sell it but yours.

Could you describe your ultimate goals, as both a writer and publisher?

KS: As an author, I would like to write a book that sells enough copies to get on a major bestseller list. Hey, my publisher goal is the same. I want to publish a book that sells enough copies to get on a major bestseller list.

Anything else you’d like people to know about you, personally or professionally?

KS: I guess I would really like for everyone to understand why I do this. I love words, I love books, and I love helping people better themselves. I am a reader first and always, which makes it even more important to me that our books be the most interesting stories and the most entertaining they can be. Readers deserve that. I also do this to make money. I have dreams. There are places I want to see, like Greece, Italy, Aruba, and so many others. In order to make my dreams come true, I have to have good solid partners who want their dreams to come true.

Thanks to Karen for taking the time for this interview. You can check out more of her thoughts, musings and advice to writers at her website:

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Pirates Beware! by Karen Syed

Do you know what eBook piracy is? As the technologies of our society advance, so do the villians who abuse the power they have.

Have you or anyone you know downloaded a FREE copy of an eBook that is selling somewhere legally? You know the sites, they claim that since they bought it they have the right to resell it. They do not. This may work with many things, but consider the fact that an author and a publisher use the income of sales to keep their businesses running.

If you download an eBook from a site that is not legally authorized to sell it, they are stealing and you are stealing. You are stealing income from not one source, but two. The author and the publisher.

If you think you have found a pirate site, don’t repost it to your forums or groups, this just spreads the opportunity for more lost sales. Instead, send the link directly to the author and the publisher.

If you want to continue having access to inexpensive and wildly entertaining eBooks from your favorite authors, don’t support piracy.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

KILLER COWS Sci-Fi DVD Contest! (Read a great book, watch a great movie)

Well, kids & kids at heart, it’s time for a really fun little contest. Test your movie smarts and win a free sci-fi DVD of your choice!

The young adult novel, Killer Cows, makes numerous references to many other famous sc-fi and horror films. Some are directly mentioned, others more subtle. How many of those movie references can you find?

How to participate is simple. Simply read Killer Cows, listing as many of those movie references as possible, and reply to this blog entry with your list. Whoever lists the most will receive a free DVD of one of those movies! In the event of a tie, the winner will be drawn randomly.

Be sure to include which title from your list you would like to recieve!

Killer Cows is available from these online retailers:

Echelon Press at Amazon:
Amazon Books:


BONUS DVD OPPORTUNITY! If yours is the winning entry, and you include the novel's 'magic words', you'll also recieve a free DVD of the film those words originally came from!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

KILLER COWS are Paperback!

The paperback copies of Killer Cows arrived at my doorstep today. Aside from the birth of my children, they are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Two years of writing, revising and submitting, wrapped up in a glossy package with the title and my name on the cover. The only member of my family who didn’t care was my dog, who barked incessantly when the UPS driver dropped off the package.

It was almost surreal, opening the boxes and seeing my lifelong dream become a reality, neatly packaged in bubble wrap. This was different than receiving my acceptance letter from Echelon Press, different from reading the ebook edition of the novel, which has been out for months. Holding these books in my hands made all the hard work and toil worth it.

In an act of nepotism, I autographed all my own copies.

And, of course, like all flights of fancy, I'm already thinking who should be cast in the movie.

I’m now reading the book, sitting outside on a lawn chair with a Coke, the way I always envisioned other readers doing. And for the first time, I’m reading Killer Cows as a reader, not the writer, concerned with whether or not a particular scene or passage could have been written better. Unlike my wife, I didn’t skip to the last page (pointless, since I already know the ending), but knowing I could is cool.

Whether I become the next Jerry Spinelli or dwell in obscurity, I’ll never forget this day, and I have so many people to thank for it: Karen Syed (who said yes), Jenny Turner (who made a good book a great one), Melanie Stitch & Kelli Hernandez (both of whom read this in its rough form and gave valuable feedback), Laura Queen (my Yoda), Francie (my muse). Then, of course, there are my two girls, Natalie and Lucy, to whom Killer Cows is dedicated. I love you two dearly.

What a great day. I never want it to end.

I guess I should get cranking on that sequel now.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Overrated, Part 1


1. Starbucks - If you feel the incessant daily need to wait in line 20 minutes for a four dollar cup of coffee or a glorified milkshake, then you have way too much spare time on your hands. Shouldn’t you be at work by now?

2. Cell phones - None of you are so important that you need to be reached 24/7. Cell phones make people dumber, too, and I’m convinced one of the reasons writing scores in schools continue to drop is because kids are writing like they text.

3. American Idol - Remember when music artists wrote their own songs, played a real instrument and had to actually work to become famous? American Idol has almost single-handedly destroyed both the music and television industries, pandering to the most attention-deficit music fan, who measure talent based on how well some lounge lizard can belt out a 30 year old song. To make things worse, some of the idiots who’ve appeared on the show have managed to extend their 15 minutes of fame by coming out of the closet or writing 300 page autobiographies. If you feel the desire to read about the life of someone whose fleeting fame depends on the votes of bored TV viewers, then you have even more spare time than those poor saps waiting in line at Starbucks for their four dollar coffee fix.

4. Scarface - Embraced, loved and emulated by gangstas and gangsta wannabes. How many of them have actually watched this movie? If I wanted to spend three hours in the company of an irredeemable ass, I’d hang out with my neighbor more often. And do any of you really want to dress like that?

5. Blu-Ray - How many of you got rid of your perfectly functional DVD players just so the pock-marks on Kevin Costner’s face would be more noticeable? Geez, folks, how much clearer to you need your picture anyway?

6. The “Devil Horns” hand gesture - Immortalized by heavy metal pioneer Ronnie James Dio, this once-controversial hand gesture somehow loses its meaning when you see the latest homogenized, pre-teen pop idol, Justin Beiber, do the same thing while posing for a teen-magazine pin-up.

7. James Cameron - Am I the only one who thinks the only original movie he ever made was The Terminator (and even that one was so similar to a story by sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison that the author felt the need to sue). Yeah, we ooh and awe at the spectacle Cameron gives us on a 50 foot movie screen, but try watching his movies on TV, without bone-rattling sound or 3-D glasses. Only then can you see a movie like Avatar for what it really is…Dances with Wolves in the future. And, yeah, uber-Oscar-winning Titanic was fun, but only after the ship started sinking (90 minutes into the three hour movie!).

8. Michael Jackson - Hey, were you once considered a ground-breaking musical genius, only to become a walking punchline because of your meglomaniac, baby-dangling, boy-baiting behavior? Want to be beloved once again, like you were in the 80s, and have everyone forget all the idiotic, morally questionable and borderline psychotic things you did to kill your career in the first place? The answer is simple…just die.

9. The No Child Left Behind Act - Those who champion this mandate have not likely actually read it, which presumes the only way to measure whether or not a student is learning is through high-stakes math and reading tests.

10. Television - Back in the day, when we had only three to five channels, we had trouble finding anything worth watching. Now, with Direct TV, I have over 300 channels at my disposal, but still have trouble finding anything worth watching. And even when I do, I’ve spent so much time flipping through channels that I missed anything worth seeing.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Greatest American? Ask a 7th Grader!

In my classroom, there is a daily assignment called Boardwork, in which kids (7th Graders) take the first ten minutes of respond to a writing prompt. One question I give every year is “In your opinion, who is the greatest American who ever lived and why?” I never fail to get more than a few amusing responses, not to mention an awareness that some kids aren't paying much attention in Social Studies class. The following are a few of the responses I received this year (transcribed verbatim):

“Martian Luther King because he changed the rule of black people.”

“The greatest American is Jon F. Kenndey because he is rich. He is preident for a state that I forgot.”

“Martin Luther King because he freed slaves and gave a good speech.”

“It has to be Michael Jordan. Because hes rich and when he sleeps he gets money for free.”

“Jonny Depp because hes the best actor I have seen.”

“Mike Tyson is pretty cool. I named my dog after him.”

“Chris Brown because he’s soooo cute! He also has his own band.”

“This girl I met at my friends house. She is so nice to everyone and she is a senior in high school.”

“Ozzy Osborn cuz he’s got great music.”

“I don’t know who the greatest person who ever lived. But I know the dummest. My brother!”

“Martin Luther King was one of the gates humans who ever lived. Because he started to free blakes.”

“George Washnington because he freed so many slaves. He did it even though he was going to die.”

“Martin Luther King because he made black and white get along.”

“The person who invented electricity because without electricity there would be no TV.”

“Eminem. Because he’s one of the few people who changed the world with his lyrics.”

“The guy who invented the tooth brush.”

“My grandpa is the greatest because he let me sit on his lap while he was driving and let me help him drive.”

“Abe Lincoln. Even though he drank he was still a good person.”

Friday, May 28, 2010

2010 Printer's Row Lit Fest (June 12-13)

The annual Printer's Row Lit Fest, held in Chicago every year, is coming up. I wish I could go, since my publisher (Echelon Press) and many of my author friends (Nick Valentino, L.J. Sellers and J.R. Turner and Norm Cowie) will be there, signing their books. But, alas, even if I could afford the 2000 mile trek, I'll still be teahcing and I feel like I'm missing out. Hopefully, Killer Cows will be able to have some kind of presense there in my absence.

If you're in the Chicago are during those dates, you need to check it out. There are some great authors, ready to sign some awesome novels. Here's the press release and link for furthor info:


( May 28, 2010 --

May 28, 2010–Laurel, Maryland–Nashville author Nick Valentino (THOMAS RILEY) will be one of 16 Echelon Press authors signing his book at the 2010 Printers Row Lit Fest. With the recent launch of his debut Young Adult Novel, Nick Valentino will join fellow Quake authors, J.R. Turner (SCHOOL'S OUT 4-EVER), Kieryn Nicolas (RAIN), Sam Morton (BETRAYED), Marlis Day (SECRETS OF BAILEY'S CHASE), and Norm Cowie (FANG FACE). Nothing will stop this group of authors from entertaining and meeting readers at Tent FF on June 12-13, 2010 in Chicago, IL. The Quake authors will be signing books, talking about eBooks, and doing photo opps with readers over the entire weekend. You can find more information on Printers Row online or contact the Chicago Tribune.

Echelon Press is more than a little proud of their Quake authors who offer fresh and innovative stories for young readers to dive into. Quake, a division of Echelon Press, was developed specifically to reach readers between the ages of 10 and 20. "It's exciting to discover that adults enjoy our books as much as the young readers. It is totally gratifying," says owner Karen Syed. The authors not only put their hearts into every book they write, but they live for the personal interaction with readers. This fact has made them festival favorites across the nation.

Nick Valentino is a creative force to be reckoned with. Possessing talent in a variety of creative venues, this young dynamo is a musician, an artist, and now an author. Over the years, Valentino has tried his hand and succeeded at many things, but he seems to have found a real niche in the Steampunk genre of novels. With thousands of books sold in a very short time, he has become a favorite among Steampunk fans and industry professionals. He has recently been approached about the possibility of his THOMAS RILEY character being adapted into a graphic novel.

The Quake authors have become favorites among the attendees of Printers Row, bringing back teachers, students, and librarians each year to find out what's new and to just chat. Nick Valentino will be in attendance at the Lit Fest for the first time this year. If his appearances at prior events since the release of THOMAS RILEY are any indication, the crowds will be large and happy around the Echelon Press/Quake tent.

President and CEO of Echelon Press says Nick Valentino is "A sight to behold in all his Steampunk regalia. Always smiling and charming readers of all ages and from all walks of life, Nick is just incredible."

For more info on Echelon Press, Quake, or any of its authors contact Karen Syed at 301-490-2507. On site Interviews can be arranged for the Printers Row Lit Fest.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Interview at Cynthia's Attic

Mary Cunningham, author of the Cynthia's Attic series (great reads, by the way) interviewed me recently about my writing, teaching and, of course, Killer Cows.

Check out the interview here:

Friday, May 21, 2010

My Killer Cows Interview at Oasis For YA

Another interview with me has been posted at Oasis For YA, a really cool website dedicated to both readers and writers of young adult fiction...

Jessica Sounder, who maintains the blog, also wrote a great review of Killer Cows (reprinted with permission)...

This was a very cute read! Perfect for young adults and the young at heart who like the B-rated black and white films. I started it yesterday, and after a slow start, got hooked in, finishing it in less than 24 hours. All in all it was very entertaining, though I felt the characters could use a bit more fleshing out. All the kids pretty much felt the same,including their dialogue, minus "little dude," Cody. He was the most fascinating and unique character of the bunch.

I was worried it would be a hooky rendition of recent horror films, such as Black Sheep, but was pleasantly surprised that not only was it uproariously funny, making me laugh several times, it had a good moral that wasn't at all preachy.

The ending was not as I'd expected it, and was a refreshing contrast to the normal "formula" ones of the genre.

The only disappointment was the "Romance" between Randy and Helen. It felt as if it had been thrown in because the author felt it needed a romance. In this reader's personal opinion, it could have been left out. However, it didn't really detract from the read, just made me wonder why it was there.

The reason I gave it a 4 instead of a 5 is because I felt this book could have used a better edit. There were several typos and a few They're instead of there or theirs. And you're instead of yours.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and can't wait for the paperback edition to come out so I can give it to my son.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Interview at Literary Asylum

Matt Cunningham is a guy after my own heart...into movies, metal, NASCAR and young adult fiction (which he also writes himself). He also has a great site called Literary Asylum. So of course I'm gonna say yes to an interview request about Killer Cows.

Here's the link to the interview:

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Ronnie James Dio: Rest In Peace

I just read the news on Twitter, right after the NASCAR race was over and I settled down to get my homework done, but not before checking out my tweets...

Ronnie James Dio, one of my lifelong heroes, and one of the few celebrities I ever had the fortune to meet (who signed my copy of his first Dio album), passed away today at the age of 67.

For those of you who don’t know who he was, heavy metal lost a giant today. And for me, a lifelong fan of the music he helped to shape and symbolize, this is worse than Elvis or John Lennon dying.

Not only that, he was simply a nice guy. I knew that from the few minutes I spent talking to him one day in a music store 30 years ago, when he signed my record. Despite the hundreds of people clamoring for a pictures or autographs, Ronnie took the time to talk with every one of us, answering our questions and agreeing to pose for pictures. When I talked to him with my well-prepared questions, he was congenial, enthusiastic, and generally seemed happy to talk to me, even though I must have been the hundredth or so fan waiting to meet him. In a genre filled with more than its share of arrogant rock stars, the man had total class

Right now, as I write this, I’m listening to “Heaven & Hell,” arguably one of his greatest songs Black Sabbath ever recorded, and it’s hard not to cry. I gotta crank the volume in his honor, which makes me even sadder. He died before his time, and considering he and his Sabbath bandmates (now called Heaven and Hell) were gearing up for a summer tour, I can’t help but mourn the loss of more music to come.

I need to stop writing now. All I want to do now is listen to his songs, since there won’t be any more.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ode to Mom

The best moms never stop being moms, no matter how crazy they drive you.

I’m 46 years old, with a wife of twenty years and two daughters, one 15, the other, 6. I’ve been a teacher for 14 years.

Still, my mom laments the fact I wear my hair long, constantly comments on my taste in music (which hasn’t changed a lot since I was a teenager) and feels the incessant need to offer life-advice as though I had just recently landed on this planet.

But you know what? I love her for it. I look forward to our pointless debates over issues which seem important at the time, revel in our clashes over personal values, and despite my advanced age, enjoy the rebelling to the point she gets upset (most recently, my somewhat belated decision to get a tattoo). You know why? Because no matter what our differences are, whether I'm right or she is, I know my mom cares about me.

I love her for all of that. I love her values, even though they aren’t mine. I love the fact that she (unconsciously?) allows me to actually feel rebellious, despite my middle age, which makes me feel young again. We argue about lots of stuff, though I doubt either of us really think we’ll convince the other they are wrong. It’s the conversation with Mom I truly love.

Mom may no longer be a toting parent I grew up with, but she’s so much more sounding board, my mentor, my moral compass, my friend. We agree on almost nothing, but I respect everything she says, simply because she’s my mom and because, everything I am, everything I think or believe, I owe to her.

Mother’s Day is coming up, and I’ll likely venture to my nearby Barnes & Noble to pick up a gift card to tuck into her Mother’s Day card. Is it a gift worthy of the attributes I’ve mentioned about my mom?

Of course not.

Who else but your mom will selflessly let you know how important you think you are?

She’s my mom. I owe her everything.

And, no matter what your age, not matter what your beliefs, you owe your mom everything, too.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Google Thyself

It’s fun to Google yourself (it’s also funny how that statement would’ve sounded perverted ten years ago).

Every morning before work I Google my novel, Killer Cows, just to see what pops up. Most links are to this blog site, but a few reviews are popping up here and there. I think the most bizarre has to be from a website in Belgium (!), written completely in Dutch. Google was able to, rather crudely, translate it into English (sort of). It was a reasonably favorable review, and the direct word-for-word translation is actually kind of amusing. And who knows? Maybe someday I can have a tee-shirt made which says I’m big in Belgium! Here’s the link:

Mary Lewis at Virtual Wordsmith ( ) wrote a short but very positive review as well, which I’m grateful for:

Never assume you know what shape an alien will take, it will probably be the last thing you expected. Killer Cows is a terrific sci-fi book for young adults - action packed, fun and entertaining! But, it's also an excellent interpretation of what happens when we don't take care of the things we need to sustain us.

If you're looking for a book to add to your child's Summer reading list, Killer Cows is a book they'll enjoy reading, and also learn from.

Anyway, it’s always nice reading opinions of those I’ve never met, and hopefully others will read those reviews and decide the novel’s worth buying. As I think I’ve said before, getting word out the book even exists is hard...maybe even harder than actually writing the thing. And, Killer Cows being my first published book, I’m still learning.

Sales are low right now, but every little bit helps, and I appreciate those who took the time and thought my novel was worth writing about.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Reality Sucks

I hate it when reality rears its ugly head, especially now, since my first novel, Killer Cows, was released as an eBook in March, and is scheduled for paperback release in June.
For awhile I was loving it. I loved seeing the eBook listed for sale at places like Fictionwise and Omnilit. I got excited seeing the title listed among its current bestsellers (eventually reaching a high as #2 on both sites). I love seeing it available on, cover big and bold, and became addicted to checking out its sales rank among all the books available at the site. The eBook reached as high as #40,000, preorders for the paperback reached 89,000. Yeah, not spectacular, but when I considered the millions of books available, I was happy.

Then insidious reality set in over the past week...

And I’m learning a lot in the process (which may actually be a good thing).

First, while I’m well-aware of the sudden boom in eBooks and eBook readers (which, depending on who you ask, is the salvation of the book industry), the cold reality is, this recent explosion has resulted in literally millions of eBooks made available by, not only established authors, but countless new ones like myself. In addition, I’ve discovered that most eBook sites do not differentiate novels from short stories; they are all lumped together. Add the recent boom in the eBook publishing business, and you’ve got literally hundreds of thousands of authors (new, old, good and bad) competing for a reader’s dollar. Imagine a Barnes and Nobles store the size of the Mall of America; even if it carried only one hard copy of every eBook in available right now, it would still be unable to stock them all.

Which means it only took a few actual sales for my book to chart on these so-called eBook bestseller lists, as I found out when my publisher informed me, despite the appearance of Killer Cows on several ‘bestseller’ charts, sales are actually ‘very low.’ I’ve got no problem with eBooks. I think they are a pretty cool thing, but as an author who, not too long ago was proud of achieving his dream of publishing a novel, reality has set in again. I’m just another writer among countless thousands, once again struggling to be noticed.

And, no, this isn’t self pity. This is reality. This is the world of publishing where, if you aren’t a Stephen King or Stephanie Meyer or John Grisham, getting people to know your novel even exists (no matter how good you or others say it is) is hard bloody work. At any time, I can Google myself and see Killer Cows all over the place, but what are the odds of even a few people on this planet thinking, “Hmm...wonder if there are any books about killer cows” and searching that title? That’s the task facing me and any other new writer trying to reach beyond their circle of friends, family and equally struggling writers.

Another reality is the amount of patience required on my part, which I often forget about. My eBook has only been available for six weeks, and though I’ve submitted it for review to various places, so are thousands of others, all with the hope that a decent review will generate sales. I can’t imagine the glut of book review sites get every day. It would be impossible to review them all.

Another reality is that some genres make more successful eBooks than others. For example, at, one of the leading sellers of eBooks, 19 of the current top 25 bestsellers are romance novels. 20 of their 25 best selling novels in the past six months have also been romance novels. I write young adult fiction, and there are no YA novels on either of these lists. The reality is that romance is, by far, the best selling eBook genre (followed distantly by science fiction). My conclusion is that some genres lend themselves better to eBook readers than others. That actually makes a lot of sense. As a middle school teacher, I have yet to see a thirteen-year-old whip out an eBook reader, and most kids who enjoy reading tend to prefer having a physical copy of the book in their hands. For them, computers and iPods are meant for surfing and listening to music, not curling up with a good book (at least, not right now). I could look at this data two ways...that my novel isn’t selling because YA isn’t a popular genre to download, or that I’m not doing enough to promote the novel to a YA audience with Kindles-in-hand.

Then there’s the reality that there are a lot of people who don’t consider eBooks to be real books. Of course they are, but I’m also privy to the reality that most of the people I know were not impressed Killer Cows was published as an eBook, though many of them (which number in the hundreds) are waiting until they can buy the paperback. Even my own parents didn’t buy a copy until they were able to pre-order the paperback, even though it’s $11 more than the eBook. After I inquired my local newspaper, The Oregonian, about a possible review, they replied they be happy to look at the paperback, not the eBook. The school where I teach didn’t order a single eBook of Killer Cows (save for a few of my colleagues who owned a Kindle), but once the paperback pre-order was made available, they ordered 60 copies.

The reality is, even though eBook sales are booming (I, myself, would rather pay ten bucks to read my favorite authors than shell out thirty for the hardcover version), until the Kindle and other eBook readers costs about as much as an MP3, promoting and selling an eBook is a venture in which I’d personally advise any newly-published author to remember one thing: Sincere congratulations on being published. It is an incredible accomplishment. Now get ready for the real work...trying to raise your name and work above the thousands attempting the same thing.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

'The Outsiders': The Most Important YA Novel Ever

Young adult fiction is so much different than it was when I was considered a young adult (about a thousand years ago). Back then, it seemed like YA fiction consisted mostly of really old novels, ‘classics’ according to my numerous English teachers who forced stuff like The Hobbit, Cheaper by the Dozen and Animal Farm down my throat. I hated most of them, partially because I was required to read them, partially because I was already reading stuff like Stephen King, but mostly because most of them really weren’t YA novels at all. For me, the stand-out exception was S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, which was actually about young adults, who were at least depicted somewhat realistically.

Of course there were always plenty of YA novels featuring kids as protagonists, but I never found too many that weren’t either condescending and/or just plain boring. Maybe it was the teenager in me at the time, but I felt like most of those authors were older writers who simply tried to write at young adults, not necessarily about them, and if they did write about them, many characters seemed as realistic as Yoda.

But Hinton wrote The Outsiders when she herself was just a teenager, and I think that voice is one of the main reason the novel is still relevant and timely today, even after 43 years. Yeah, some of the main characters may be just a little overly-sensitive for teenage boys, but the important thing is they sound like real teenagers, not an adult’s idea of one. I don’t personally know S.E. Hinton, and I doubt she had no other intention other than writing a good story, but she captured teenage angst and class struggle brilliantly.

I also think its no coincidence that her subsequent novels, though some were very good, never had the intensity and rich characters of The Outsiders. By the time she completed her next novel, That Was Then, This Is Now, she was no longer the age of the people she wrote about, and it shows.

Young adult fiction today owes a lot to Hinton’s first and best novel, which wasn’t necessarily written for kids; it was written about them. No, you don't have to be a teenager to write about teenagers, but it sure helps if you at least know what it’s like to be one. I think that’s why such authors as Gordon Korman, Lois Duncan and Jerry Spinelli are so good at what they do. And even though I’m not a fan, Stephanie Meyer is one author who knows this better than anyone, and why her books have transcended the YA genre to become a cultural phenomenon. The only real difference between her Twilight series and other gothic romance novels aimed at adults is the ages of her characters, and the fact they sound like teenagers (well, sort of).

Twilight has since out-sold The Outsiders, and even though I personally don’t like the book at all, as a YA writer myself, I have to admit it’s pretty cool that a young adult novel has had such wide-spread appeal (the downside, of course, is the YA market is now glutted with vampire-romance novels by other writers hoping to strike while the iron is hot). In addition, Twilight, along with J.K. Rawling’s Harry Potter series, helped redefine what YA fiction can be. In modern YA fiction, no subject or genre is really off-limits.

Of course, Twilight is not of the same genre as The Outsiders, nor is it likely to become a long-time staple of novel study in English classes. But it is likely to continue to be a widely-read series long after Meyer draws a curtain on these characters, mainly because the one crucial element Twilight shares with The Outsiders is that its teenage characters feel like teenage characters...troubled, flawed, imperfect and, sometimes painfully, being forced to leave childhood behind.

Some of today’s YA novels are increasingly edgy, dealing with such subjects once considered taboo (drug-addiction, homosexuality, suicide, school violence, etc.). As with other genres, some are good, some are bad, but all of them owe more than a passing debt to S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, one of the first novels to realistically capture life as a modern American teenager.

As an educator who has since taught the novel for a few years in middle school, it’s amazing how well The Outsiders has held up over the years (even surviving a truly terrible film adaptation by Francis Ford Coppola, who seemed hell-bent on turning it into an epic). Yes, it’s a novel of its time, but its themes are still relevant, its characters are still intriguing and Hinton’s prose is so perfect that not even she was able to pull it off again.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Iron Maiden

For those of you who don’t know, Iron Maiden is a veteran heavy metal band from England. They’ve been around for over 30 years, they’re most successful period being the mid-80s. As a teenager growing up in those years, I loved them from the beginning...the crunching riffs, intricate guitar solos, soaring vocals, etc. And, of course, there’s the often lurid artwork of their album covers, which enticed kids and outraged parents and conservative groups. But what I really loved were their lyrics, which were a lot different than what most groups chose to sing about.

The band is still around, though the things which outraged so many parents in the 80s seem rather quaint today. I mean, as a parent, would you rather your child listen to a horror-inspired tune like “The Number of the Beast” (which, if you read the lyrics, is not a so-called ‘satanic’ song at all), or a gangsta rap song about killing cops or abusing women?

Being a long-time fan notwithstanding, as an English teacherr, I think that the music of this iconic band even has a lot of educational value, both in and out of the classroom. For those of you who only know the band through their image (depicted mostly by their long-time rotting corpse mascot, Eddie), you should really explore what this group has done. While other heavy metal artists sang of women and partying, Iron Maiden ventured beyond the usual hard rock cliches, writing and performing a lot of songs based on classic literature and/or real life historical figures and events.

They’ve written songs based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Frank Herbert and Allister Maclean, to name a few. They’re written songs about Alexander the Great, infamous battles in various wars, Greek mythology, events depicted in The Bible and the plight of the American Indian. And, as a teenager who’d never previously read The Bible, even their most notorious song (“The Number of the Beast”) inspired me to seek out its famous paraphrased opening passage

As a teacher, I’ve actually used some of their lyrics in the classroom, most notably “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” a 13 minute song based on the Coleridge poem. Keep in-mind I teach 7th graders, and to get them interested in a 300 year old epic poem would seem to be an impossible task. Yet, condensed as a rock song, with lyrics which touch on Coleridge’s themes using more ‘plain’ language than the original (yet still often quoting the poem verbatim), some kids actually want to read the poem on which the song is based.

Aside from literature, Iron Maiden have written numerous songs about war, both real and imagined, about its futility and its glory. They’ve written songs about the advent of the atom bomb (“Brighter Than a Thousand Suns”), battle from a soldier’s perspective (“The Trooper,” “Aces High”), infamous military battles (“The Longest Day,” “Paschendale”) and history (“Run to the Hills,” “Powerslave”).

As such, I would put forth that, more than any other iconic artist, Iron Maiden provides educators with a unique opportunity to introduce students to new ideas and concepts. Yeah, many of the songs are flat-out, aggressive heavy metal, but if one is able to look beyond the music itself, there’s a lot a inspiration to be found in these songs, as well as opportunities for both parents and teachers to challenge reluctant students to think about themes within these songs. Sure, a band like Maiden might seem archaic to a classroom of teenagers, but I'll bet they'd rather hear, read and analyze this tuff than just a lecture or textbook chapter.

I think, for a lot of educators who aren’t life-long headbangers like myself, you just have to get past the album covers (obviously designed to sell records, not educate children). There are a lot of great engaging educational resources to be found on their records if an educator is willing to explore them.

And, no, I am not stating the members of Iron Maiden have an educational agenda. Like all music artists, they write songs which they think their fans will enjoy. I just think, from an educator’s perspective, their music is worth exploring by creative teachers and parents, even if heavy metal isn’t exactly their own personal music of choice.

The following are just a few great Iron Maiden songs (along with the albums they appear on) which offer more than the usual heavy metal claptrap, some of which could be a fun inclusion for adventurous middle or high school teachers:

“Phantom of the Opera” (from Iron Maiden) - based on the classic story by Gaston Leroux
“Murders in the Rue Morgue” (from Killers) - based on the Edgar Allen Poe story
“Run to the Hills” (from The Number of the Beast) - a song about the plight of the American Indian, told from both perspectives
“Flight of Icarus” (from Piece of Mind) - based on the greek myth
“To Tame a Land” (from Piece of Mind) - based on Frank Herbert’s novel, Dune (Herbert refused to allow the band use of his title because he hated heavy metal. what a dork.)
"The Number of the Beast" (from The Number of the Beast) - inspired by the story, "Young Goodman Brown" by Nathaniel Hawthorne.
“Aces High” (from Powerslave) - about the German invasion of England during WWII.
“Powerslave” (from Powerslave) - about the Egyption Pharoahs.
“Rime of the Ancient Mariner” (from Powerslave) - based on Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s epic poem
“Alexander the Great” (from Somewhere in Time) - based on the life of Alexander the Great
“Lord of the Flies” (from The X-Factor) - based on the novel by William Golding
“Paschendale” (from Dance of Death) - inspired by the Battle of Paschendale
“Brighter Than a Thousand Suns” (from A Matter of Life and Death) - about the creation of the first atomic bomb
“The Longest Day” (from A Matter of Life and Death) - about the Battle of Normandy.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Killer Cows update

Just to give an update on the first week of the eBook release of Killer Cows...

One site has posted a review of the novel. It can be found at . Once you’re there, go to the ‘Random Things’ link. It was exciting to read this review, which was mostly positive, mainly because these people don’t know me. They aren’t relatives or friends who’d be tempted to simply give me some ‘attaboys’ for writing the book. And I wouldn’t have cared if Mars Needs Writers wrote a good review or not. Like someone once said (probably a rock star), there’s no such thing as bad press.

Here’s the review:
Killer Cows by D.M. Anderson. Guest reviewer: Rachel Ruiz.

This is a well-written book. It's fast-paced, entertaining, with interesting characters. A lot of it is far-fetched but, since we're talking about a sci-fi novel for young adults, it's very forgivable. And it's not as far-fetched as you might think, considering its title.

Not that Killer Cows is a perfect book. Some of the characters had quirks I found annoying but not so much that it detracted from the overall book in a huge way. You know, it wasn't Dean Koontz' magic super dog/perfect amazing gorgeous humble wife/genius psychic-powered kid trifecta annoying -- and it's definitely worth a read if you're into the sci-fi YA thing. In terms of the quality of the read, it wouldn't be out of place among all the traditional paper-published YA stuff you see on the shelves; it's the kind of thing that would have appealed to me back when I was in the target age bracket, if that tells you anything.

I'm the Killer Cows readin' kind of person, I guess. And the non-g usin' kind of person, too. So I give it my recommendation. Thumbs up for Cows!

As I’ve stated before, the ebook can currently be purchased at either or for $6.00. As of today, according to Omnilit, Killer Cows is their second best selling young adult novel right now, and the seventh best selling book overall. Granted, I don’t know how that translate in numbers. For all I know, the BEST selling YA novel sold three copies today and Killer Cows sold two, but seeing the cover and title on their charts definitely strokes the ego.

It sure sounds like I’m ballyhooing myself again, doesn’t it?

It’s just that, all my life, my dream was to publish a book. In my youth, I spent a lot more time talking about it than actually trying to do it. It wasn’t until these past few years that I got truly serious about it. My first finished novel was a piece of crap, but at least I took that step to write one after years of simply talking about it. That book remains safely in a desk drawer where it belongs (in fact, I never even tried to submit it anywhere), but at least it gave me the confidence to try again, in a genre I never thought I’d pursue...young adult fiction. And when I finished Killer Cows, I had no illusions as to whether or not I could place it with a publisher. In reality, it’s the first novel I felt was actually worth trying to sell. The fact that, after over a year or submissions and rejections, I did sell it, was the greatest moment of my writing career.

The second greatest moment is what I’ve mentioned already...a few people I don’t even know think my work is worth buying. It gives me incentive to keep it up, that I can do this. And at this point, I’d love to do this for the rest of my life. But until that day comes (if, indeed, it ever does), it sure feels cool knowing I’ve touched a few people.

I personally still think my second YA novel, Shaken, is a better than novel Killer Cows, even though I have yet to place it with a publisher or agent. But over this past year, I’ve learned to never say never.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Killer Cows eBook now available at and

Things are really exciting right now. Killer Cows is now available to order as an eBook at , and now I’m going into self-promotion mode, which is something I’ve never really done before. Ballyhooing my own self. Still, it’s part of the game for a new author these days. Like I’ve said before...I’m not exactly Stephanie Meyer yet.

But it’s been fun, posting the cover, sending the sell-sheet to friends, keeping this blog and my Facebook page updated, sending review copies to those who requested it (thanks, by the way).

I loved seeing my own IBSN number, loved seeing the retail price listed on the sell-sheet, loved it all so far.

I just spent the last two days sending emails of the sell-sheet and pre-order form to every independent bookstore with a web presence on the West Coast. I don’t know if this is the right way to create awareness of my book, but it seems like it. I’m halfway through the list of shops in California, and plan on branching out east over the next several days.

I had my first interview the other day, by the school newspaper where I teach. It was actually kind of amusing. I teach 7th grade, and it’s always amusing what kids want the answers to. I had more questions about my hair (which is pretty long) than about the book. Still, it was fun.

One of my colleagues bought a copy of the eBook, then printed, trimmed and bound it, then asked me to sign the cover. My first honest-to-goodness autograph. I could get used to that.

A blogsite called asked for a review copy of the book. They, too, have a YA title coming out from Echelon at roughly the same time. They also asked why I chose Echelon Press. My response was posted this week...the first promo for Killer Cows that wasn’t originated by me. Cool!

I love seeing Killer Cows offered among the other YA titles on the Echelon website, where you can now order it by going to Also cool was seeing it available at, which specializes in electronic fiction. The cost is $6.00 at either site.

Still, a have a lot of friends, students and colleagues who’d rather have it in paperback, which will be available this summer. I prefer paperbacks, too (love the smell and feel of them in my hand), and it can be pre-ordered right now by writing to Echelon at The paperback is $13.99, though there are discounts for retailers and libraries, hence my efforts to email as many of them as I can with ordering info. By pre-ordering before April, you’ll get the book long before it’s likely to appear in stores.