Monthly Archives: December 2015

The sun came out!

Just as I suspected and hoped, the view is spectacular:


The ocean is still murky brown, but who cares! We are going outside, to have adventures and bask in the sun.

The pool looks pretty good in the sunshine, too:


According to Josh, the pool in nearby Sheraton is even better. Yesterday he went over and asked to see their rooms – for about 50% more you can have modern luxury and amazing facilities, like a proper gym and an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. With all that, there’s no security – so he just waltzed back in later and used the gym. This is the strange benefit of being white here – you are assumed to be a guest in whichever hotel you boldly walk into.

We ventured out on the town and visited the market:


Had to snap a photo of this “security” dog watching over the local mechanic shop:

IMG_2356 IMG_2357

I was happy not to see any dogs for sale, anywhere. They are everywhere, though – every other shop has a small dog hanging out at the front. In general, dogs here look healthy, well taken care of and even loved. Here are a couple of dogs napping with their owner in the afternoon shade:


We managed to do a few things, like visit a 1,300-year old temple:


Josh was told to wear a robe to enter the temple, and we had to take our shoes off. I think he’d make quite a fetching monk:


The temple is on a hill and offers an amazing view of Nha Trang, somewhat marred by the monstrosity of a hotel/apartment block under construction. Just one look at this, and you’ve got to agree, town planning laws and regulations are a necessary evil:


We climbed another hill, to see this enormous Buddha:


It was hot – at least 30 degrees Celsius, and on the way we saw a quite few people napping in the shadows (sorry, the best pic I could get without feeling like a complete intruder):

IMG_2377 (2)

In fact, afternoon naps are everywhere – I even saw one guy laying back on his motorbike, fast asleep, yet somehow maintaining a balance. Shop owners sleep on the chairs out the front, and rickshaw drivers sleep in their carts:


We had dinner by the water, in Ana’s Bar – a tranquil place full of lights. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with Christmas, but the Christmas lights are everywhere, in abundance. I was hoping to see some stars, but not with this kind of light extravaganza everywhere:


We decided to walk back, to work off some of the calories. This was apparently completely unacceptable to the local rickshaw drivers, who ganged up on us, to the point where one of them got off and very nearly tried to pull us into his cart:


We literally ran away from the rickshaw drivers and things got better on the other side of the boulevard, where tourists were expected to walk by the local restaurants, most of them displaying live or recently deceased sea life out the front:

IMG_2402 IMG_2405

We have also come across an amazing workshop, set in a tranquil garden:


It was half-workspace, with girls embroidering right in front of us and half-art gallery. This is just one of the “paintings” on display – I’ve tried to capture the fine quality of fine embroidery – it looks three-dimentional.

IMG_2408 IMG_2409

It’s not cheap, most items were in thousands of dollars, and this enormous one was about $25,000 USD:


So that was it for yesterday – today the weather has been just as awesome, and I will try to post more photos and a bit of a story later – I had the balls to ask some expats if they live here, and got some ideas for future retirement plans 🙂


Filed under General thoughts

The Upgrade Worm, Awesome Cheap Eats, and the Russian Invasion

Well, things are looking better! Not drier, by any means, but much, much better! Judge by yourself – this is the “before” view (which would have been great in hot weather, as you can open the patio door onto the pool):


And this is the “after” much bargaining with the management:


We got a fully renovated room on the 5th floor, complete with a “honeymoon” treatment and a free bottle of wine:


And who do we have to thank for it? The wriggly bathtub worm. The worm may be long dead, but his legacy lives on in the rose petals, chrome fixtures, and a jaccuzi, filled with even more rose petals. It wasn’t easy, though, far from it – it took nerves of steel and readiness to walk away from the negotiation table. The key to this dance with the management was that we actually did not ask for the upgrade, we simply asked to leave early and get a refund for the last three nights. We had Exhibit A: the worm and Exhibit B: worn-out interior. We didn’t even mention the nightmare Josh had, waking me up in the middle of the night with a bellow of “bed bugs!” (there weren’t any). I started the process by trying to call “customer relations” extension. Someone picked up the phone on the other end, but just breathed heavily, saying nothing.

“Hi,” I said trying to be friendly and annunciate at the same time.

“Hi,” said the woman on the other end.

I stated my case as clearly as possible.

“Hmm,” she said and hung up.

I then tried to dial “operator” extension. After much back and forth with the man on the other end, I’d realised that I’d called another room.

We finally went downstairs, together, as a team ready to face the opponent. The opposing team of front desk staff was so confused and stressed by our request, that it took them a while to understand what was happening. We were eventually shown to a room on the top floor, with a spectacular view, but the same worn-out bathroom and carpet. We’d asked to think about it, did some research and found that we could pay quite a bit more in Mui Ne, but get a villa in a place that not a single Trip Advisor reviewer found “terrible” or even “poor”.

We went back down and asked again, very nicely but firmly, to leave early. We were told that we could leave, but that the hotel manager will not refund any money. I then asked to speak with this hotel manager, who seemed to be some sort of a Wizard of Oz, pulling levers from back in his office. There was more confusion, and finally a polite, well-spoken man appeared. He told us that there was a misunderstanding, that he would certainly refund our money, if we would only agree to have a look at one more room. We’d agreed.

The room is awesome, the photos hardly do it justice. It turned out to be the one they reserve for the owner of the hotel, whenever he comes to visit. So, in a way, we’d ended up in a presidential suite of sorts, or the closest thing on offer. The sauvignon blanc from Chile also helped to sweeten the deal…

With this victory under my belt, and a lot of Chilian export in my veins, I attacked my frizzy hair, changed into a decent dress, and we took off for a night on the town. The second winner of the day was the restaurant called Lanterns. It’s a local favourite, and seems to be perpetually busy:

Lanterns busy

We were all smiles…

Lanterns 2

…as a personal chef cooked beef at our table in a mini-babrbecue pot filled with hot coals:

hot coals in Lanterns personal chef in Lanterns

Did I mention that the barbecue beef cost us about $10 USD? For two people?

So yes, things are definitely looking up. Except for the relentless rain, which is coming down hard, as I write this on the gorgeous balcony. I’d like to ask it to go away, but, apparently, it won’t. December is the end of the monsoon season – I shudder to think what it’s like at its peak. I’ve asked the receptionist when would be the good time to visit Nha Trang, specifically when it doesn’t rain. She thought about it for a moment.

“February,” she said decisively.

“What, one month only?”

“Ahm,” she said looking up the way all locals do when they have no idea what you just said. “August?”

Ok, I thought, if I can’t change the weather, maybe I can be better prepared for it.

“What’s the weather forecast? Will there be a thunderstorm later?”

She looked at me. “Tha…what?”

“A big rain. With lightning.” I waved my arms around, channeling Zeus throwing so many lightning bolts onto unsuspecting tourists.

“No,” she said. “Not much rain.” Then she thought about it for a moment. “Take umbrella?”

I’m trying hard to accept that I flew half-way across the world and paid tons of cash to develop a raging cabin fever. The place must be spectacular in good weather – I can barely make the outlines of the mountains framing the bay. The ocean is the hue of milk coffee, from all the waves crashing onto the foreshore. I can almost imagine it a different color, blending into an azure sky, rather than the bleak gray one. My Russian genes are stirring, aching to write Dostoevsky-style stories of soul-crushing despair, nihilism, and slow-cooking drama.

Speaking of Russians, oh my God, I have not been around so many of them in exactly 30 years! They are everywhere – I would say it’s a 50/50 mix of Russians and locals, with a few bewildered others thrown into the mix. All the signs are in Vietnamese and Russian, and it is incredibly weird to watch Vietnamese converse in Russian with their customers. It also reminds me just how un-Russian I’ve become over the years – I don’t use the same words or intonations when I speak to my family, I dress differently, and don’t wear nearly enough makeup or jewellery. I feel like an undercover agent who’s infiltrated a foreign organisation, trying hard to cover up my accent, although I’m not exactly sure why. Josh thinks this is hilarious and is threatening to use a couple of phrases I taught him just for fun, namely “I am God” and “Because I said so!”

It’s not only the signs that are customised to Russian tourists’ tastes. We have ventured out this morning in search of coffee – to add to the list of grievances, a coffee is not included in the free breakfast at our supposedly 4.5 star hotel. You can buy one, of course, but it would cost $6 AUS per cup – twice as much as back home. We found a cute little venue on the corner, with a view of the ocean and a covered outdoor terrace. We’d ordered a double espresso and a cappuccino. The waitress looked at us like we were idiots or something and wordlessly pointed to the menu. The closest substitutes on the menu were black coffee and “coffee with milk”, so that’s what we ordered. When my coffee arrived, black as the night, I asked for milk. The increasingly irate waitress picked up my cup and stirred the drink with a spoon. It turned out that at the bottom of the cup was a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk. Josh couldn’t believe it, but for me it brought back childhood memories – coffee was hard to come by, and nobody’s ever heard of a milk frother, so a cup of real coffee with condensed milk was a treat. I would not be surprised to find out that this is a Nha Trang specialty, and a recipe bestowed upon the local community by the Soviet-era Russians.

So that’s it for today. I might continue with this journaling later, if anything dramatic happens. Who am I kidding, of course there will be drama! Talk to y’all tomorrow!


Filed under Shizzle, Inc.

Thank God for free Wi-Fi!

Incidentally, it is everywhere in Vietnam. The country may be lacking in physical infrastructure, but it is certainly staying well-connected. Yes, I’m looking at you, Melbourne – when will you get free Wi-Fi, at least in CBD?

I have done practically zilch work on the sequel, so I thought I might as well write down some of my fresh impressions of Vietnam in a blog post. I will translate them into Isa’s adventure in India some other time.

It’s day seven of my adventure, and so far nothing has gone according to the plan. Truth be told, the plan was not all that well thought through – from memory, every time I got on the web to research the weather or transport options, I inevitably ended up checking stats, blog comments, or my Twitter feed. As a result, we have landed in some pretty crappy weather in Hoi An (yeah, I know it’s winter in the Northern hemisphere, but c’mon! It’s supposed to be the END of the rainy season!). We were also forced to buy two pretty expensive last-minute plane tickets from Hoi An to Nha Trang (yeah, I didn’t realize it would take 10 hours by train, but c’mon! They are so close on the map!).

Josh just read the last bit over my shoulder and concurred  – but he has no right to comment, really. Every time he was tasked with booking anything online, I’d hear suspicious sounds of weights hitting a gym floor – he was looking at people deadlifting the equivalent of an average cow.

Anywho, back to more complaints (the silver lining should be coming up any moment!). Everything is more expensive than I expected – the side effect of being overly optimistic. There’s no such thing as “good and cheap” massage or food, or clothes, or anything. Just like anywhere else in the world, you can have good, or you can have cheap. You can find good and moderately priced (compared to ridiculously expensive Melbourne, Australia), so we’ve settled on that. I’ve also passed on having any clothes custom made – I’ve had one bad experience with that in Bali, that was enough. Sure, the fabric was great, but it didn’t fit right, even after two fittings.

To be honest, I’m not loving this trip as much as I was hoping. For starters, it’s hard to enjoy being served and pampered in a country of such drastic contrasts of wealth and poverty. It’s everywhere – from Mercedes on the street next to a rickshaw, to tiny toddlers trying to sell random goods to tourists dining outdoors. It’s especially hard if for whatever reason you decide to start you relaxing vacation with a visit to the war museum, and then you can’t stop quietly weeping, and decide to have a second glass of wine in hopes that it will stop the waterworks, only to find that it makes the flashbacks to the horror that much worse. All I can say is that I was happy to answer “Australian” to the question of “Where are you from?” , because I got a feeling that either “Russian” or “American” would not win me any favors. Actually, now that I think of Australia’s new immigration policies, maybe I should just keep my mouth shut and look mysterious…

I wrote the above paragraphs in the airport lounge, waiting for that unplanned flight to Nha Trang, full of anxiety and pre-flight booze. I wish it could be any other way, but unfortunately booze-induced arrogance is the only way you could coax me onto a plane these days. And it has to be planned early – I’ve learned a hard way that you can’t get a drink out of a steward on the plane until the wheels leave the tamarack. Turns out that the liquor license only starts in the air, and that the stewards won’t risk their jobs to pacify a hysterical woman. Not that I was hysterical. I mean, maybe a little.

The flight started off well, and Josh and I were pleasantly surprised at how new the Vietnam Airlines plane looked, compared to the dingy Jetstar Pacific one we took from Ho Chi Minh to Hoi An. Then, just before landing, we hit some pretty major (I mean, up-and-down and side-by-side) turbulence, which alone would be enough to plunge me into hysterics. To make matters worse, during one of those down the rollercoaster rides, Josh squeezed my hand and said “I love you” in a way that made me wish very, very hard that we’d opted for that supposedly terrible ten-hour train ride.

We did make it to Nha Trang, but I guess you’d probably already figured that part out. We also made it through an even crazier taxi ride from the airport to the hotel some 40 kilometers away. The driver practically flew through the torrential rain, hitting water puddles with a force of a speeding boat, spraying miserable motorbike drivers in our wake. His radio was sputtering incessantly, a woman’s voice chattering in high-pitched Vietnamese, accompanied by constant blowing of the car horn. Every driver, at all times is blowing the car horn – I’m not at all sure how it helps others, and it certainly pisses of bike riders, which sometimes shake an angry fist in protest. This time, they just hunched down under their plastic ponchos and persevered through the wet misery.

Driving through such conditions would not be a picnic on any road, leave alone a winding stretch between mountains on one side and the drop-off to the ocean on the other. Yet the driver managed to check texts on not one, but two cell phones. I’d thought about asking him to put at least one phone away, but decided against it – not only his English seemed to be limited to basic numbers and pointing, he seemed already sufficiently angry. I did not feel like finding out what his driving would be like if he was royally pissed off at some tourist telling him what to do.

We’ve now checked into our supposedly 4.5 star hotel, which looks like a Roman palace on the outside, and like a dingy 80’s motel on the inside. I’ve already found a wiggly worm in my bathtub, which looks suspiciously like a human parasite. Staff moved us to another, equally dingy room, and assured me that the supposed parasite is actually an adorable and crafty red worm which navigated its way from the soil, up the drainpipes, and into the tub on the first floor. Doesn’t matter, one way or another, it’s not a kind of assassin worm I want to get acquainted with.

Sorry, looks like there will be no silver lining in this particular post. I’ve had cookies and cream ice cream, maybe that counts? I will try harder tomorrow.



Filed under General thoughts

My first one-star review – I guess it had to happen sooner or later

This one popped up on Goodreads – thank god it’s not on Amazon, which would potentially mean fewer sales…I’m feeling pretty philosophical about it – I guess you can’t expect everyone to love a book, any book, it’s a matter of personal preference. Wish I could make sense of it, though – the main complaint from someone who loves screwball comedy seems to be that it’s “improbable” and has “too many screwballs”. The most disappointing thing is actually that I can’t use this particular critique to improve my writing. Anywho, I’m off to enjoy life 🙂

Screenshot (33)






Filed under Self-publishing and marketing

Going down to Vietnam, gonna have myself a time!

By the time you read this here stream of consciousness, I will be on a plane or perhaps already in the exotic far-away lands. Vietnam feels like an odd choice for our pre-honeymoon, at least for me – having spent half of my life in the Soviet Union, and the other half in the US, I’m used to the stories about Vietnam being all about “smell of napalm in the morning” and “Charlies in the trees”. That was half a century ago, though, so things have changed – I’m going to spend two-and-a-half weeks in the lap of luxury, eating awesome cheap food and getting awesome cheap massages.

I’m hoping for an easy trip with aghm, a very budget airline…and that I don’t freak out the way I sometimes do, when it suddenly occurs to me just how ridiculous it is to be hurtling through the air in a sardine can…

I’m also hoping to detox a bit from my addiction to social media, so I might be sparse and not answering comments as I usually do. I will try to stay true to form and post updates on the promos I got scheduled – if not on the blog, then at least on Twitter.

Please don’t forget to enter the free cover design contest or the free Goodreads giveaway – both end on 31 December. Otherwise, enjoy your various holidays, and see you in 2016!


Filed under General thoughts

Goodreads Giveaway! Win one of five paperback copies of Shizzle, Inc!

Have you noticed a new button on my sidebar? Right there, at the top?  Click on it, or enter here for your chance to win a free paperback copy of my book! I’m only announcing this giveaway now because there have been too many other exciting going-ons, what with a bestselling author stopping by, and Shizzle, Inc being available on every platform imaginable…

The giveaway has been live for less than 15 hours at the time of this writing, and already 131 people have requested it!

Goodreads giveaway

Wait, it’s now 135! Blink, and it’s 137! And over 80 of them have added it to their “to read” shelf! How exciting!

Truth is, I’ve been excited about this giveaway for months, after reading various author’s testimonials on how effective they are to promote new books. So I can’t believe that I’ve posted it without doing all that much research or even reading the giveaway guidelines. (I know! So out of character!)

Better later than never, so I’ve done some research now and have learned this:

  1. There are claims that it doesn’t matter how many books you give away, you would get the same result with 1 or 10. I’m going to experiment with this – already got a spreadsheet going…
  2. Supposedly it is better to give away autographed books, rather than just free copies, even if you’re a nobody. This will be tested in future experiments. For now I have just done copies, which I will order and ship directly from Smashwords – doesn’t make sense to ship them from US to Australia and then back…
  3. Open giveaways to all countries. For now I’ve just done US, GB, and Canada – as it will be cheaper and easier to just order a book and have it shipped to the winner directly. Next one will be open to all, I promise!
  4. You may be able to create a special image for the giveaway. I don’t know how to upload it, from memory (which is not very good), it automatically takes the image of your paperback cover. But I will try next time.
  5. Schedule them ahead of time! It takes several days for Goodreads to review and approve your ad.
  6. Make your ad exciting – add quotes, awards, whatever. Add a link to a newsletter sign up, your website, etc. Market all the ways you can hook them up on your blog, series, whatever.
  7. Best one! Schedule the giveaway BEFORE the paperback release! Create the buzz for the launch day! I will schedule the next one as soon as I have the first draft and cover ready.
  8. Longer is better – mine will be for just over three weeks, but you could do it for three months, or even longer – there will be bigger numbers of people requesting, which will make your book look very appealing indeed. I’ve looked at the “top requested” giveaways, and they all run for three months or so.
  9. You can only do it in the six months after the paperback release…I only saw it on a blog, and can’t find any reference to this rule on Goodreads. In fact, Goodreads state that you can give away “new copies of an older book”, whatever that means.

If you have any other tried and true (and recent!) advice – please share! I’m gonna go check the stats…oh, look, 141 requests!


Filed under Shizzle, Inc., Win a free book!

Good-bye Kindle Select, hello all other platforms! Wait…no! Take me back! Maybe?

Shizzle, Inc has been enrolled in Kindle Select almost since the day it was published on 4 September. My 90-day commitment is up and I have not renewed, thinking that I’m no longer interested in Countdown Deals or Free Days, since Shizzle, Inc is now pretty much permanently at $0.99.

I immediately published with a variety with other platforms – Shizzle, Inc is now available on:

I was so excited! Yet another sales graph to obsess over…too bad (thank God!) it’s just one more – on Smashwords. Oh, and look, five people have downloaded free 20% samples! Oh, and look, I can set up coupons, which will let me do sales or giveaways!

Awesome, right?

That’s what I thought until I’d noticed that there was no longer a “get it free with Kindle Unlimited” button under the title. After some Googling and face-palming, I realized what I seriously should have known by now – that Kindle Unlimited is the main bait to keep authors exclusively with Amazon Kindle, not the promo options.

If you’d asked me what I thought about KU and KENP a month ago, I would have probably said “eh”. However, thanks to the recent promo blasts, the KENP graph (below) looks like the world’s awesomest mountain chain. In fact, I’ve made about $22 in the last couple of weeks just from people reading their “free” copies:

Sales on 9 Dec

That’s equivalent to about 63 copies sold for $0.99! And at the very least 18 copies read (assuming about 240 pages per copy – I never get the “normalized” part of KENP). I don’t (yet) care about the royalties – I want as many copies sold as possible, so I would need to sell about 2 copies per day from other sources…wait, that’s not so bad, right? So, was it a good idea to part with KU?

After a bit more over-analyzing and face-palming, I’d calmed down and decided to give the other platforms a go – maybe a month? Maybe two? Advertise and see what kind of numbers I get, do some more calculations, then regroup and decide if I go back to Kindle Select.

So if you hate Amazon, but are interested in finding out what it might be like to work for the seventh richest man in the Southeastern United States – get Shizzle, Inc now from any of the sources above! I’m prone to changing my mind…


Filed under Self-publishing and marketing, Shizzle, Inc.

Interview with Matthew FitzSimmons, #1 bestselling author of thriller Short Drop!

Hi, everyone!

You may recall that Matthew FitzSimmons unexpectedly stopped by this blog a couple of weeks ago, to explain how The Short Drop made it to #1 in Kindle Store and gathered over 1,300 reviews weeks before its release on 1 December (it’s now well over 1,800 reviews with average 4.7 star rating!). You may recall that his debut novel was one of November offerings in Kindle First program, and that Matthew was kind enough to not only explain the ins and outs of Kindle First, he even agreed to answer your questions about his experience.

Thank you all who have contributed to the questions below. Without further adieu, here are your long-awaited answers!

matt-fitzsimmons-225-shadow short-drop-225-shadow

In your bio you mention the first novel you wrote, which you would rather forget. Can you tell us a bit more about that experience? What made you want to try again? What kept you going?

Ah the dreaded first book. Well, I spent four years on it. It was meant to be this lyrical, personal meditation on life, the universe and everything – my “great American novel.” It was none of those things. I was young and undisciplined. I worked jobs that I loathed to support my writing. I lost an early version when my hard drive died – too naĂŻve to have backed it up. And there came a point, when I began to suspect that it wasn’t very good. And shortly thereafter, I simply began to hate it. I hated writing. I hated what I’d written. It was self-indulgent, pretentious and achingly “literary.” Actually, in retrospect, there were some quite good bits, but my God they were buried under acres of manure. I decided I was done, done with writing, and that I’d wasted quite enough time on this daydream.

Eventually, I became a teacher, which I loved and was good at. I taught books, theater and coached sports – all in the same day. It was a marvelous job. I did that for eleven years. And then, five or six years ago, I began noodling about with writing again. I’m don’t remember why only that I didn’t tell anyone about it. Small things – a blog that no one read. Bits and pieces of story ideas…that no one read. I was very happy about that – the no one reading it part. It was just something for me. Then I had a bit of a personal crisis, and I began writing more seriously largely because it offered an escape from my day-to-day struggles. Somewhere along the way, I had learned to love writing again. I was older and disciplined. I backed up my hard drive like it was my job. And, to my surprise, what I wrote didn’t seem half bad. When I was halfway through, I showed it to a few friends who I knew wouldn’t be needlessly kind. “Would you keep reading if I finished it,” I asked. “Yes,” they all said. So I did.

You have quite a diverse education and background – from B.A. in Psychology, to theatre, to teaching English literature. How did those experiences, combined with living in Great Britain and China, influence you as a writer? Have you used any of your personal experiences as material for the plot or characters in your stories?

I’ve come to realize that all of my experiences – theater, a degree in psychology, teaching, coaching – have been, in one way or another, about understanding people. Collectively it is the foundation of my empathy. The same for growing up and living abroad; it’s all helped me to put myself in another person’s shoes. And if you can’t do that, then all your characters wind up sounding like variations of yourself.

What is your writing routine? Is writing now your full-time job, or are you still teaching? Do you read broadly, or do you confine your reading to certain genres? Who are your favorite contemporary authors?

Writing has been my full-time job since June. I write six days a week from seven to four. I write new pages in the afternoon and then edit them the following morning. I was writing seven days a week, but I found that if I didn’t take a day off that my brains turned to porridge. I read broadly although I read more thrillers now “for work,” than I once did. But I think it’s essential to read outside of ones genre, because genre can easily become a closed system and then everyone begins to sound like everyone else. It’s the beginning of formula, and formula is the beginning of the end of anything good. Among contemporary authors, I’m an enormous fan of William Gibson, Kazuo Ishiguro and Don DeLillo. Ian McEwan. And for my money, Daniel Woodrell is the best American thriller writer working today.

Your first published novel The Short Drop is a thriller, complete with political intrigue, murder for hire, missing people, computer hacking, and a web of lies. How did you come up with the idea for this story? Did you use early/advanced readers for Short Drop? If so, how did they affect the story?

I started from a theme rather than a story. I wanted to write about the role of our past on our present. The idea of finding closure was near and dear to my heart at that time, and while Gibson Vaughn’s past is nothing like my own, I related to his desperate need for answers. The story itself, I built in a slow process of addition and subtraction. For example, Gibson’s hacker background was a late arrival, and originated from a conversation with a friend who works in computer security. One night at dinner, he told me about the Stuxnet virus, which was used to crash a nuclear reactor in Iran. It’s an unbelievable story, and I thought it would be interesting to write a hacker character that was truthful to how computers actually work.

Yes, I had an incredible group of advanced readers. Having readers who will give you honest feedback was critical to my success, but it takes time to cultivate them. A reader needs to trust that if they tell you the truth that you aren’t going to throw a tantrum. It was very important to me that the book appeal to both men and women, so I purposefully sought out women to read early drafts. Jenn Charles, for example, underwent a thorough rewrite after a woman, who had served in the army, took me to task for how I’d portrayed certain facets of her personality. She made great points, and helped me understand what the experience of being a woman in a male dominated field experiences. I adjusted the character accordingly, and Jenn Charles is a much more rounded character as a result.

The Short Drop has been complimented for well-developed characters, which is often unusual in thriller or action-driven writing. Would you say it is more plot-driven or character-driven?

That’s the compliment that meant the most to me, and I’d like to say that the book relies on plot/character in equal measure. Without character, the plot and action rarely have any impact on me. There’s an old cartoon called Bambi vs. Godzilla that illustrates this principle perfectly. In the cartoon, Bambi is grazing in a field. Out of nowhere, Godzilla’s foot crushes Bambi. End of cartoon. It’s so shocking and unexpected that we laugh rather than cry. An adorable woodland creature has just been heartlessly crushed by a gigantic, nuclear lizard, and we burst out laughing. Now part of the humor is the inherent mismatch of opponents coupled with the suddenness of Bambi’s death, but I think the cartoon also lampoons the laziness of a lot of action thrillers that traffic in murder and mayhem without investing the time to make the characters real. As a result, when the murder/mayhem comes along, the audience is able to stand at an emotional remove and simply spectate rather than feel invested in the outcome on anything but a surface level.

What is the one most surprising thing you’ve learned about the traditional publishing industry? What was it like working with Amazon’s own Thomas & Mercer? Have you ever considered self-publishing?

When I finished my book, I looked at the pros and cons of self versus traditional publishing. There are merits to both, and I decided to try my luck at finding an agent first, with the knowledge that self-publishing was always there to fall back on. I chose that path because I’m essentially lazy about things that I don’t love to do. I love to write; I do not love marketing or any of the other critical work of audience building that the self-published author must do and do well if they hope to succeed. There are self-published authors, Hugh Howey is the obvious example, who are brilliant at it. I had to be honest with myself that I would not be successful following his example.

I was surprised at how “small” an industry publishing is in the United States. Everyone knows everyone else and relationships are important. There is tremendous fluidity among the publishing house and the larger agencies. It’s not uncommon for agents to become editors and vice versa, or for staff to move among the various publishing houses. So protect your reputation and don’t burn bridges ever.

As for my experience with Thomas & Mercer, it has been tremendous. They are innovative and collaborative in a way that I’ve found very exciting. It’s fair if you take this with a grain of salt, but I feel incredibly fortunate to work with this group of people.

Your story is an inspiration to all aspiring writers and authors. Can you share with us the moment when you’ve realized that The Short Drop became or was about to become a huge bestseller? How did you feel?

I think it was the moment that I asked my agent, “is this normal?” I really didn’t know since I have nothing to compare it against. He said, “no, there is nothing normal about this.” He isn’t one for hyperbole so that kind of opened my eyes.

How did it feel? Relief followed swiftly by elation. It’s like the first time you ask someone out – you don’t have enough experience to know if they like you or not. So you simply put yourself out there and hope against hope that you aren’t scarred for life by their cruel rejection. And that feeling, when they actually say, “yes” … well, it’s brilliant. And then it’s over, and everything has changed and nothing. My desk is still in the same spot, and my chair stills squeaks when I rock back in it. I still have a book to finish, and I don’t get outside as much as I ought to do. But sometimes, I peek at the numbers just to confirm that I haven’t made it all up.

Congratulations again on making it to #1 in Kindle Store and staying at the top for such a long time. You’ve mentioned that Kindle First was a godsend. What marketing strategies are in place for The Short Drop now that it is available to the general public?

Thank you! The advantage and limitation of having a publisher who is also your primary bookstore is that you’re putting all of your eggs in one basket. The tools that Amazon Publishing have at their disposal in the digital realm are unique and incredibly effective. Their ability to direct market to book fans through is unparalleled. For example, the “daily deal” when they drop a book’s price for twenty-four hours is a great tool to boost sales/awareness. However, on the flip side, it can be difficult to reach readers who are not Amazon customers, and traditional publishers are still much better at reaching them. So I’m working with a public relations firm to raise awareness of the book outside of Amazon’s channels. I’d like to say I have a deep understanding of how it works, but mostly I work on the next book and they send me emails telling me what to do next. It’s rather lovely actually.

Is it hard to concentrate on writing the sequel with so much going on at the moment? When can we expect to see it in print?

I’d be lying if this has challenged my focus for the past few weeks, but I’m learning to tune it out while I’m working. IF that doesn’t work, I may throw my router out the window. The draft of my second book, Poisonfeather, is due early next year, and the plan is to publish in October, ’16 – which feels very, very soon.

And finally, do you have any advice for aspiring writers and authors?

There’s an old adage that goes, “write what you know.” It once possessed a kernel of truth, but like many aphorisms, it’s been stripped of its context and become terrible, limiting advice. Writing only what you know would lead to a world without science fiction and without fantasy. Jules Verne didn’t write what he know – not unless he was secretly a submarine commander, a time traveler and an astronaut. He made it up. You don’t need to be a retired lawyer to write legal thrillers, and you don’t need to be a decorated Navy Seal to write a military thriller. I’m sure it helps, but it’s not essential. I have no military background, and I’ve never hacked anything in my life. For me, the best part of writing has been the opportunity to research and talk to people with different life experience from my own. So don’t only write what you know. Actually, I think I’ll offer my own aphorism in its place: Don’t write what you know, write what you want to know.


Filed under Self-publishing and marketing

This is what a CreateSpace paperback looks like

Hi, everyone!

Thanks again for all your warm wishes this week, when I’ve posted my big news – that a paperback version of Shizzle, Inc is finally available on Amazon.

I have mentioned in that post how happy I was with its quality, and a few of you have asked for the photos of the actual book. I’m not a great photographer, so this is the best I can do:


This is only one variation of the finishes you can have – glossy cover (you can choose matte) with cream pages (you can choose white). I don’t have another version to compare, but I’ve found another blog which compares glossy and matte covers.

It feels great – solid, well-made, the same quality you would expect from any bookstore. I really like the paper – it feels great to flip a page or to hold it open, and I’m once again happy with my layout. I was worried that the margins are too small, but it looks fine, again sort of industry-standard.

I’ve ordered 50 copies to gift to my family and to start pushing onto the local bookstores. It will take a month to get here, and yet the shipping cost is still more than $100! My next step is to try and get it into US brick-an-mortar bookstores, if anyone has any advice on how to do that via emails, please let me know!


Filed under Self-publishing and marketing, Shizzle, Inc.

How I plan to take over the world…

…of publishing, that is!

You would not believe it, but after many an eye roll, back-an-forth negotiations, and general pouting, management approved my long service leave! Five months! Yay! (At half pay…Okay…I can deal with that…).

Five months to write and publish two sequels to Shizzle, Inc. Five months to give this writing career one hell of a try. Can I do it?

Only Microsoft Project can tell! Well, based on the following assumptions:

  1. That I can write 20K words per week (not all of the time will be spent writing).
  2. That I will have 40K words written by Feb.
  3. That I will have the first cover designed by 29 Feb.
  4. That I will do proofreading myself (and rely on “early readers” to suggest structural changes). This way I hope to reduce costs, compared to the fortune I’ve spent on Shizzle, Inc.

I tried staggering writing of both sequels, to allow for other (many!) tasks. This is what I came up with:

Book #2:Plan for Sequel #2

Book #3:Plan for Sequel #3

Microsoft project says I can do it!

Let me know what you think of my assumptions and timelines 🙂


Filed under Shizzle, Inc.