Monday, November 29, 2010

Inscribed copies of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir now available

Get a personally-inscribed copy!
(Details below.)

You can now get a personally-inscribed copy of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir sent directly to you (or to anyone you like) via USPS priority mail for the low price of $12 US.

What would be a better token of the hot-blooded love running through your veins than to give someone a violent, fast-paced vampire thriller set in Sin City? (Please remember that Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is an R-rated entertainment not suitable for teenaged fans of "Twilight.")

The inscription includes any message you want, as well as my signature and the date, which I can change to a particular holiday if you'd like. I'll contact you by email to find out what the inscription should be and where I should mail the book.

If you would like a personally-inscribed copy of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir sent to you (or to anyone you like), all you have to do is use the paypal button below.

Inscribed Bloodsucking Vegas

This transaction is fully-guaranteed by Paypal, and you should act now if you want the book to arrive by Christmas!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Why Thanksgiving is My Favorite Holiday

The thing about Thanksgiving is that it's my favorite holiday because of the 3 "F's": Fellowship, Food, and Football.

You'll notice I said fellowship instead of family. It's a more inclusive term, and I love that Thanksgiving is a holiday where families are actively encouraged to include others in their celebrations. The holiday just doesn't seem right unless you've got a stranger or two in the house, whether it's someone from work who's away from their own family or just a random out-of-towner. True, the best of families include others in all of their holiday celebrations, but Thanksgiving seems to lack most of the procedural whatnot that precludes mere fellowship.

And so there's none of the gift-giving, egg-rolling romanticism that cranks up the stress factor of other holidays. Thanksgiving largely lacks the ceremonial trappings that can clog up other dates on the calendar. You don't have to decorate your house or dress up in a costume and wait dutifully at your front door for gangs of children to come begging. There are no firecrackers or uprooted, dying trees.

On Thanksgiving, you just gather into a group and enjoy the food and each other's company. Besides the logistical considerations, that's basically it. Sure, if you're so inclined, you can have someone utter some kind of prayer before you dig into the fixings, but the communal meal, not the ceremony, is the point. Bathed in these comforts, we become appropriately grateful for our blessings. No formal liturgy needed.

And the largely informal nature of the Thanksgiving gathering is why this holiday never works if you decide to gather at a restaurant. There's an impersonality that comes from being in a commercial setting that, I feel, detracts from the essential Thanksgiving spirit. Of course, in a restaurant, someone else gets to do the dishes. But, stuck in the chairs you've been assigned by the hostess, you can't flop onto the couch next to an old relative or a new friend and start swapping stories. What you gain in convenience, you lose in communion.

Plus, have I mentioned the food? I absolutely love the cuisine associated with Thanksgiving: the turkey and ham, the stuffings and side dishes, the gravy and the dessert -- not to mention all the snacks and drinks! I have been known to eat a dozen deviled eggs within the first hour of a Thanksgiving gathering. Strangely, such noshing only serves to excite my appetite rather than to satisfy it. After such feasting, I've also been known to chug a half-pot of coffee just to keep my eyes open for the after-dinner drive home.

And finally, there's the football, which, along with tennis, is my favorite spectator sport. And the proper way to enjoy Thanksgiving NFL games is in someone's house, with many people gathered around, creating lots of extraneous chatter, filled with anecdotes and differing opinions and conflicting loyalties, all playfully mingling in one's ears as overcompensated men in pads & helmets smash into each other.

This Thanksgiving, I'll be celebrating in the house of a family that's adopted me. There will be 4 generations present under a single roof, with enough food to feed thrice our number. My way of saying thanks will be to walk around and talk to every single person there, eat myself silly, enjoy some football, and then help with the dirty dishes as penance for the way I've stuffed my gullet.

Sounds like the perfect holiday, doesn't it?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Levels of Insight

Pictured above is a minute that occurs twice a day, unless you're using military time, in which case it only occurs once.

Because of the way we number things, this minute seems significant.

I captured this particular minute on my microwave, as I nuked another large cup of mint tea.

These are the kind of observations that fill my day.

Like some kind of guileless innocent, I wander around, bathed in wonder and awe at the lush detail of the world around me. I am one of those details.

The mint tea is warm and delicious and doesn't keep me up all night.

The dog is asleep on the couch. He's a little disappointed that we didn't take a late-night walk. He doesn't understand that it's too cold out.

In the bedroom, my Princess sleeps, hopefully dreaming of me -- but not a better me. I don't want her waking up and being disappointed.

I plan on acting like this until the day I die. Until then, indulge me and reserve judgement.

Oh, and I also do a lot of writing, though I am reluctant to share what I've written with people. I prefer to tinker with it until I must abandon it in frustration and begin anew.

I am always willing to share what I've abandoned. Who isn't?

Trust me: you are not the first person to think I may need professional help.

Monday, November 15, 2010

'Four Lions' directed by Chris Morris

('Four Lions' is directed by Chris Morris)

The British film 'Four Lions' opens with an image that, sadly, has become familiar to all of us. A bearded jihadist sits, staring into the camera, and eventually begins spouting a strident, violent rationalization for his actions -- except that this particular jihadist is speaking northern English slang and he's holding a toy assault-rifle. And the man filming him starts telling him how stupid he looks.

(Waj tries to come off as a badass.)

So there's a kind of fearlessness in 'Four Lions' that I have to tip my hat to. After all, in this day and age, while it's common to see funny movies about criminals, you just don't see many comedies starring terrorists. And, it's my firm belief that, given our current national climate, there's no way 'Four Lions' would even get made in the U.S. Our atmosphere is too polarized to entertain satire that's this pointed, which is kind of sad in a country that prides itself on free speech.

But I subscribe to the notion that no subject is so sacrosanct that you can't find a way to laugh at it. And 'Four Lions' is full of laughs, especially the kind where you're shaking your head at the same time.

Despite its title, the setup is this: 5 British muslims are planning a suicide bomb attack in the name of jihad. There are, of course, all kinds of problems attendant to such a course of action, but the major hurdle these men face is that, besides the fact they've bought into a murderous fringe ideology, they're also idiots.

There's Omar, the supposed brains of the bunch, living a nice, middle-class surburban life with his wife and son but harboring dark resentments towards the society that surrounds him. There's Waj, Omar's sidekick, an airhead who seems to think being a terrorist is like being a rock star. There's Fessal, a bumbling, nearly-invisible shuffler whose own idea of jihad is teaching crows to fly bombs into buildings. There's Hassan, a young, rich, impressionable layabout who seems to think he's joined some kind of fraternity. And there's Barry, the white-skinned convert, whose pathology is particularly troubling, involving perversions that are only hinted at onscreen.

This quintet meets in secret, conducting themselves as an underground cell of Al-Qaeda, and the comedy of the situation is that none of these losers is nearly as smart or as capable as they think they are. They make their farewell videos and assemble their explosive ingredients, all the while bickering about what their target should be. And these arguments do nothing more than highlight their stupidity, which is vast and dangerous.

This becomes starkly apparent when Omar & Waj actually travel to Pakistan to meet with real terrorists, who size the pair up quickly as morons but who nevertheless agree to train our heroes in the ways of jihad, with particularly disastrous consequences. Indeed, it's only after the ending credits begin to roll that we are shown just how comically dire those consequences are. (I give nothing away by saying it's a coda that purports to explain why, as of this date, we've never been able to apprehend Osama bin Laden.)

The dialog comes quick, thickly-laden with accent and slang, but the rewards for paying close attention are immense. For me, there's nothing funnier than a misappropriated ideology, and the arguments between these daft twats are hilarious as they discuss the merits of various possible targets for their bombs. Barry (played by Nigel Lindsay) is a show-stealer in many of these scenes, as he argues that the most effective target for their jihad would be a local mosque, and his convoluted reasoning manifests itself as physical comedy. I guess it brings out the jack-ass in me to laugh at a man who punches himself in the face to prove a point. But I doubt I'm alone.

And many points get made in 'Four Lions,' where the target isn't so much Islam as it is fundamentalism (and its attendant inconsistencies & hypocrisies), especially the kind of literalism as expressed by Ahmed, a well-meaning, nonviolent cleric from the very mosque that Barry wants to blow up, whose interpretation of his religion means Ahmed can't even be in the same room as a woman. Ahmed knows what Omar is planning, but he does nothing about it, except to repeatedly try to talk to Omar about it. He's the classic ineffectual intellectual, hamstrung & cowardly.

In fact, there isn't a character in 'Four Kings' who gets off scot-free, from the police to Omar's confused boss, which, for me, only strengthens the movie's sense of realism, since the world itself is essentially farcical, is it not?

(Our heroes bicker while on their self-appointed mission.)

But there's also real heart in 'Four Lions' as well. It turns out Omar is a pretty good father, and his marriage seems based on real affection. Also, his friendship with Waj is genuine, and you get the feeling these buddies are as much hapless victims of their beliefs as their intended targets are. Despite their homicidal intent, Omar & Waj become sympathetic characters of a sort. Still, they've trapped themselves in a bloody farce.

As in all farces, a rough kind of justice is served up in 'Four Lions' as our heroes finally get their due, though there's a lot of collateral damage, too, which is only fitting in a film about terrorism. It turns out that the bombs these idiots have assembled really do blow up, in ways that will make you laugh shamefacedly, despite the carnage.

Four Lions
directed by Chris Morris
written by Chris Morris, Jesse Armstrong, Sam Bain & Simon Blackwell
starring Riz Ahmed, Kayvan Novak, Nigel Lindsay, Adeel Akhtar & Arsher Ali

Sunday, November 14, 2010

My Autobiography, Part 1 - "Early Doom"

"I was born in a place I never lived, raised with a language I no longer speak, and I never thought I'd live this long."

I. Early Doom.

I'm being completely honest about this: I lived my life with the absolute conviction that I would die before 30. I don't know where this belief came from, because I had it for as long as I could remember, even when I was a kid. I vaguely recall that this notion was born at roughly the same time my mind grasped the finality of death, so I must have been around 5 or 6, but I can't recollect the actual moment.

It would be easy for me to conjure up some illustrative anecdote of me staring at something dead, like an animal or a bug, and make that the emblematic incident when I became convinced I would die young. And, truth be told, it may have actually happened that way. But I don't remember it, and I'm trying to stay as honest as I can here, with the full knowledge that memories are always fraught with uncertainty.

I do remember getting an assignment when I was in the 2nd or 3rd grade where I had to draw myself at the age of 35, and I laughed, because I just knew that was never going to happen. But I played along, treating the assignment like an exercise in fantasy, like being told to draw a picture of a unicorn. So, while the other kids were drawing themselves as doctors or firemen or astronauts or as the President of the United States, I drew myself as this short, pudgy guy with thick glasses and salt-and-pepper hair, in a dark suit, carrying a briefcase. I can't remember what profession I told my teacher I worked in, whether it was architecture or the law, because I considered such speculation pointless. I might as well have been telling her I was going to grow up to be a wizard.

By then, my belief in my young death had gone deep. It's like my early doom had written itself into my genetic code like a virus. A lot of kids at this age have an irrational fear of the dark, which, in my case, was made only worse by my certainty that death was waiting to ambush me. I started believing that some form of death -- whether it was an actual monster or not was something I had no wish to actually find out -- lived under my bed, waiting for the lights to go out so that it could reach up and claim me.

Looking underneath my bed beforehand did nothing to tamp down my fears. My only protections, once the lights were turned off, were to stay safely on top of my bed and to cover every inch of my body with a sheet or a blanket. An exposed hand or foot was certain to invite an attack. How many nights did I cower under my covers, aching to pee but knowing that I couldn't step down to the floor because something would surely grab my ankle and drag me to my doom?

And, as strong and ingrained as this belief was, I also knew that I couldn't tell anyone about it. I instinctively knew that no one would believe me. I mean, what would you think about a kid who walked up to you and said, in a completely serious tone of voice, "I'm going to die soon," even though this kid exhibited zero signs of adverse physical health? You'd think such a kid was weird, if not outright crazy, wouldn't you?

An early brush with death came when I suddenly & traumatically developed an allergy to shellfish. We lived in the Philippines at the time, and seafood of all sorts was an integral part of our diet. I remember that it was at some kind of event at the Knights of Columbus, where my grandfather presided in some sort of official capacity and where they were boiling up big pots of whole crab. I was around 7 years old, and I quickly stuffed myself with succulent crab-meat -- and went right into shock.

The pain was intense, and my throat closed like someone had their hands around it. I couldn't breathe, and my mother started to loudly panic. I remember my father carrying me into his car. We were at Clark Air Force Base, so it was a quick drive to the Emergency Room, where I was given a shot that stopped the pain, relaxed my throat, and made me woozy with relief.

The doctor told us that allergies like this could manifest suddenly in kids my age, but this didn't reassure me at all. A food I loved had suddenly become poison, which only reinforced my certainty that I wasn't long for this world. I loved shrimp and crab. They were staples of the cuisine of my mother's side of the family, and I was dismayed that I would never be able to enjoy them again. The doctor patted my head and told me that I would surely outgrow my allergy, that this episode wasn't nearly as life-threatening as it had felt, and that I would one day be able to eat crab again. This mollified the 7-year-old me enough so that I was allowed to walk out of the Emergency Room with a grape sucker in my mouth and a weak smile on my face.

At around the same time, I started getting nosebleeds. At first, they were minor and were quickly dealt with by shoving a wad of kleenex up my nostril. But they soon became more frequent and more serious, and they would start randomly, at any time of day, no matter where I was or what I was doing. The treatment of choice  was to have me lean my head back and hold tissue around the seeping nostril until it stopped. During the worst nosebleeds, I would be told to lie down and relax.

During one particularly bad episode, I was lying in bed, holding kleenex around my nose and waiting for it all to stop, when my stomach began to ache. Not only did it begin to ache; it also began to blow up like a balloon. Soon, it was grossly distended and as tight as a drum. I was delirious, though whether it was from loss of blood or something else wasn't clear. Once again, I was rushed to the Emergency Room.

As the doctor examined me and as my father explained my situation, the nausea rose in my throat, and I blurted out that I was about to throw up. A small, stainless steel vomit tray was held up in front of my mouth, and I released my rising gorge. What came out was a gory mixture of my most recent meal and copious quantities of swallowed blood. The tray overflowed, and I sprayed rose-colored vomitus all over the assembled equipment before a large pot was hustled in to catch the rest of it. It was a scene straight out of a Stephen King novel, with nastiness dripping from everything around me by the time I was done.

What made things worse was the fact that all the doctors and nurses knew my father. He was the hospital administrator, and his son had just exploded all over the Emergency Room.

I remember the doctor laughing ruefully as he explained to my parents that the correct method of dealing with nosebleeds was to lean forward and pinch the nostrils lightly shut, to encourage clotting and to not allow blood to flow down the back of the throat and into the stomach, where it tends to disagree with one's digestion. Once again, I was reassured with a grape sucker and the muttered admonition that "no one dies from a nosebleed, kid."

Still, I knew I didn't have long to live. I just knew it. And so, even though I was a pretty smart boy who did well in school, I never planned ahead. What was the point? My time on this planet was going to end any minute, so any idea that I should worry about my grade-point-average seemed ridiculous.

This isn't to say I was lazy. I could apply myself to even the hardest of tasks, if it was work that I enjoyed, and, as a kid, I actually enjoyed schoolwork. I liked reading and learning new things, but I wasn't reading and learning in order to achieve some future goal, like getting into a good college. I was living in the moment, enjoying the effort, which is why my education -- from grade school to university -- was always an unfocused, haphazard thing.

After all, why submit to drudgery when any moment could be your last? Such were the beginnings of nascent, fatalistic hedonism.

But I didn't die. Despite my own best efforts to create this self-fulfilling prophecy of early death (more on this later), I have survived, at least long enough to write this. And, now, over a decade past my 30th birthday, I have finally shaken off my preoccupation with my early doom. But it wasn't until recently that the last of it left me. It's not that I now think I'm immortal. I've just finally internalized the notion that I should relax about my mortality. Instead of thinking each moment might be my last, I have begun to think that maybe I should start planning ahead, saving a little money, and start building something resembling a fulfilling & purposeful life.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Self-Publishing Suckage: the regret of an independent author

(Me at the Vegas Valley Book Festival on November 6th)

Last July, I used CreateSpace to publish my first novel, a vampire thriller called Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir. I did so with an abundance of hope and a certain measure of fear. After all, I was an unknown author venturing into a treacherous marketplace without any help or guidance from an agent, an editor, or a big, established publishing house.

What I did have was an unshakeable belief in what I had created: an entertaining potboiler that was both a variation on -- and an homage to -- a genre that has permeated our popular culture. Call it hubris, if you like. Plus, for a guy who was raised on a steady diet of B-movies and pulp fiction, the book was incredibly fun to write.

Now, I knew I hadn't written the Great American Novel; nor did I mean to. The creation of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir was less about art than it was about craft. I had crafted a deliberate entertainment designed to follow some rules of genre while breaking certain others, all in the spirit of play.

I also had the example of other artists (such as Cory Doctorow, Jonathan Coulton, and the band OK Go) who have foregone the traditional means of using a vertically-integrated corporation to represent them in the marketplace. Instead, these artists rely on the internet and social media to engender interest and to propagate their particular products. Like them, I seized the opportunity to determine both the production and the distribution of my work.

And now, roughly 5 months since the release of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir, I'm taking the time to assess what I've accomplished and learned (or not).

Since Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir "went live" on July 14th, I've sold a few hundred copies, and I've given away almost as many, sending them to everyone from family members and local newspapers to radio stations and independent bookstores.

The response I've gotten from readers of the book has been overwhelmingly positive, which is gratifying. The few criticisms I've received have been categorical in nature, from people who just hate vampires or who object to any depictions of sex and violence. In essence, the only negative comments I've gotten have come from people who already dislike the type of entertainment that my book is an example of.

All I can say to that is the finest whiskey will never please an ardent teetotaller.

But the more troubling response to Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir has come from the marketplace itself -- in the form of a deafening silence. Media organs (the antennae of the industry) have largely ignored my attempts to contact them, and bookstores have balked at my attempts to furnish them with my product.

True, there are technical and circumstantial hurdles to my entry into the mainstream marketplace. My book's cover absolutely sucks because I couldn't find a graphic designer in time. I do not have a publicist out beating the bushes in order to flush attention towards my work, and my book has not (yet) been accepted for distribution by one of the big wholesalers like Ingram. But I have addressed these particular hurdles with complimentary review copies and attractive invoicing terms.

So I can boil down the real reason for such resistance to my book to a single notion: the negative stigma attached to the self-published work.

On a personal note, it's one thing to have someone react negatively to your creation. An artist can live with the notion that their work rubs some people the wrong way. But to have your work summarily dismissed without a glance is especially frustrating. It's like getting found guilty of a crime without the benefit of a trial.

And I was warned. More than one person admonished me to resist the easy path of self-publishing because of the tarnish of vanity that could stain my artistic reputation, such as it was (or is). It's a stain, I've been told, that could taint my entire career (should I manage to ever have one).

Yet I plunged onward, into the breach of independent publishing, cocksure in my idealistic fervor that quality -- like murder -- will out.

So here I am, 5 months into my publishing career with a book I can easily give away but have a hard time selling. It's like I'm throwing copies of my book into a hole, never hearing them hit bottom.

Do I sound bitter? Well, I shouldn't. All I've done so far is taken the measure of the obstacles in front of me. I haven't actually given up.

But I will concede the following: The stigma of self-publishing is richly deserved.

I'll say it again, in more direct terms: Almost all self-published authors absolutely suck. And their work isn't worth what it is printed on, be it paper or the screen of a Kindle.

The media and the marketplace are right to be suspicious of independent authors. In my experience (and I say this with the full knowledge of how self-aggrandizing it sounds), I am just about the only self-published author worth reading.

I am being quite serious about this. Since the (self)publication of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir, I have made a concerted effort to acquaint myself with the works of my fellow independents, looking for kindred souls who might want to partner up for a book-signing or two. And I have been stunned by the pervasively sorry quality of what I've found.

Whether it's a historical novel, a romance, an autobiography, or a regional history, not only is the vast majority of self-published work written at a truly awful level of craftsmanship; it often lacks competent levels of copy-editing. Examples I've found include the number "1" where the pronoun "I" should be, blatant anachronisms, shifting verb tenses where the present and the past are inconsistently commingled, and rampant misspellings. This is writing that would doom a high-school term paper, let alone a published book.

But it isn't my intention to throw stones at individual authors or books, so I'm not going to name names. I'm making a larger point here, besides the fact that my single biggest regret since the publication of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is that my book has been stigmatized with the taint created by what surrounds it.

My larger point is this: Until the overall level of quality in independent authorship rises, books like mine are like little chips of diamond buried in a mountain of sewage. I had a vague idea of this before publishing my novel, but, in the 5 months since the release of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir, my sense of this proportion has only grown more acute.

So, in the end, I maintain my naive and idealistic conviction that the quality of my book will eventually be recognized. It's just that, since this past July, I've become painfully intimate with the layers of dreck that Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir will have to rise through. These layers are deep and thick and smelly, and I sympathize with anyone who regards these piles of the self-published with horror.

I now have a better appreciation of agents and publishers as gatekeepers of quality. But I still stand by my assessment of my own novel. The quality of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is as high as anything in its genre. It needed no gatekeepers to moderate its access to the marketplace.

Still, it would be nice to have the services of a marketing team!

Now, I realize that a call for better quality amongst the rank-and-file self-published is tantamount to a cry for increased literacy across the board. In other words, I know that the very nature of the self-publishing industry prevents the installation of market-wide artistic standards. We can't all be Shakespeare, even though each of us has, within our grasp, more publishing power than he ever dreamed of.

But isn't it pretty to think so?

Fellow independent authors, it's true we have the tools to conquer the marketplace without the help of agents or editors or publishing conglomerates. We can be revolutionaries, overthrowing the tyranny of a marketplace ruled by a few, elite publishers. But we won't win until we become better craftsmen (and women).

Thursday, November 11, 2010

For Veteran's Day, My Memorial Day Repost

(Note: I wrote this post on Memorial Day, but I think its message applies just as strongly to Veteran's Day, when we honor all those who have entered into service for our country.)

On a day we rightly consecrate in order to remember those who have given their last full measure of devotion in the service of this country, I think it's appropriate to think about what it really means to support our troops. Obviously, truly supporting our troops means more than hanging a flag on our house or sporting a bumper sticker on our car.

Today, the Washington Post has published an article about the sacrifice our soldiers have made in Iraq. This article details the very real & painful price we ask of our military forces when we send them into conflict. But it also veers close to making an argument that I find very dangerous.

The dangerous argument is this: because we have lost lives in our military ventures in Iraq, we are obliged to stay there "until we win" -- which I guess means until we are able to install a self-sustaining democratic government there. (Or does it mean we have to stay until we have enacted sufficient vengeance on those who were responsible for 9/11?) In other words, to leave Iraq is to dishonor those who have died there.

This is the kind of thinking that enmeshes us in long, costly counterinsurgencies that end up wasting even more lives.

The truth is this: those who have served & died in the service of their country have earned the same amount of honor, whether or not the outcome of that service is victory or defeat. This is why American casualties of Vietnam deserve the same honors as American casualties of World War II. The outcome of a mission is something for politicians to worry about. Honorable veterans just execute the missions we give them.

To elaborate further, the decisions & policies that determine where we send our military are made by civilian politicians, just as those same politicians, as our representatives, also decide when we should end such endeavors. To put it another way, the military is our gun, and we decide where to point it, when to pull the trigger -- and when to put it back in our holster.

Think of when President George W. Bush stood on that aircraft carrier in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner a little over 7 years ago. That was an example of a politician saying one thing and doing another. The President acted as if we were putting our gun back into our holster when in fact the opposite was true. It was dishonorable political posturing, but it did nothing to diminish the honor of our military. Those who go where we send them in the service of their country have honor, no matter what our politicians say or do.

I like the way Senator John McCain refers to "blood & treasure" when he talks about our use of our military because it highlights the price that such use entails (though I disagree with him on lots of other issues). McCain's phrase also highlights how precious our military really is. It represents the best parts of us, and it deserves to be used wisely.

The question is: is it wise to continue to commit our "blood & treasure" in Iraq or Afghanistan? I don't pretend to know the ultimate answer to that question, but I can't help noticing the mounting evidence of diminishing returns in our wars in the Middle East.

And don't even get me started about the supposed benefits of these wars in our "fight" against terrorism.

I also think that we don't do enough for our veterans. They deserve better benefits & compensation. But they also deserve to be better used. Just because we've incurred casualties in a given theater of operations does not mean we need to stay there until every potential enemy of America has been eradicated.

One of the cornerstones of our democracy is the civilian control of the military. It's one of our vaunted checks & balances of national power, and it has served us well. But with such power comes much responsibility. It is up to us to ensure that we only commit our "blood & treasure" in endeavors that are worth their price.

This issue is complicated when much of the information about our military activities is hidden from those of us who are supposed to be the ultimate authority on military action. I can't help but think of President Eisenhower's farewell address, in which he warned us about the "unwarranted influence" of the "military-industrial complex" in determining our national priorities and policies. He left office urging us to find the "proper meshing" of military might and peaceful methods, "so that security and liberty may prosper together."

We must remain vigilant and decisive about when & where we deploy our military, and we must be just as vigilant and decisive about when we bring them back home. This is what it truly means to support our troops.

As I write this, NBC News is airing a story on Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, where we inter those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's both heartbreaking and inspirational to see those rows of markers. They deserve our eternal remembrance.

Please take the time to remember the fallen on Memorial Day (and Veteran's Day). And from now on, pay close attention to where we send our future fallen. These honorable men and women deserve no less.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

A breakdown of "Bloodsucking Vegas" at the Vegas Valley Book Festival

(Me in my booth at the Vegas Valley Book Festival)

(Note: For those of you who want to sample the opening chapters of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir, click here.)

So, I did my hour at the Vegas Valley Book Festival today from 2pm to 3pm, and, I have to say, it was a rewarding experience.

It's not that I got overwhelmed with throngs of bookbuyers, because my particular corner of the festival had very light traffic. And, truthfully, I did get to meet a large handful of potential readers, as well as some fellow local independent authors.

I even had a drunken would-be fan come up and give me a very affectionate hug (and an awkward kiss on the neck!) before she stumbled off to the next booth, which was very cool, since I happen to like happy drunks.

Also, I have to thank my wonderful friends who showed up to throw me a little love, including the Princess, Brother Juan, Chris, Warren & his beautiful family, and my old work partner Chester & his lovely wife Lissa.

Perhaps the most sobering thing to happen to me was when I got my 2 minutes of "podium time" at the head of the courtyard. It's not that I have a fear of public speaking. Far from it. But public speaking to a largely indifferent crowd is even more daunting. I feel like I could easily get up in front of an audience of thousands of people who are giving me their attention, but when only a half-dozen or so in a moving crowd turn towards you while you talk into a microphone...well, you just have to buck up and power through it.

(The text of my remarks -- which concerned why I wrote Bloodsucking Vegas -- can be found here.)

Another thing I learned was how to launch into my "bookseller" spiel when approached by curious festival-goers. It's more art than science, as they say, ranging from an enthusiastic introduction of myself to a friendly query designed to spark up a conversation (as in, "So, are you a fan of vampire stories?").

Since the whole point of being there is to engender interest in my book, I even took the opportunity to turn a potentially-negative reaction into a positive one when a passerby remarked, "I hate vampires!" My two-fold response was to begin with, "Well, what if I told you that Bloodsucking Vegas was different than any vampire story you've ever known?" And I followed up with, "Well, do you know anyone who likes vampire stories? How would they like a personally-inscribed copy?" 

Now, I didn't actually sell a copy of my book to that particular person, but at least I got the chance to reach out to him and hone my salesmanship. We ended up having a nice little conversation where he wished me luck before moving on. And, who knows? Maybe our encounter will stick in his memory, and he'll mention my book to someone.

Finally, the performances of some of my fellow authors really brought home a notion that I've always held about authors who give public readings of their work: they should get some theatrical training or hire an actor to do their reading for them. For me, there is nothing more off-putting than a writer who gives a wooden, soulless performance of their own words, and, yet, I see it time and time again, even from well-known, bestselling authors.

One of the Vegas Valley Book Festival's keynote authors, T.C. Boyle, is actually one of the best in the business at giving public readings, and writers of all stripes would do well to steal a little of Mr. Boyle's trademark showmanship, which is legendary. I first saw T. Coraghessan Boyle give a reading back in the mid-1990's, when his novel, The Tortilla Curtain, had just come out. He has a comedian's sense of timing, and he knows how to subtly change his voice to help delineate each character in his work. It doesn't hurt that he is a notoriously flamboyant dresser whose sense of the outrageous permeates every interview he's ever given.

Billed as the largest book-related festival in Las Vegas, the Vegas Valley Book Festival is a sign of "real" culture in Sin City, and I'm glad to have been part of this year's events. I want to thank organizer Phil Hooper for giving me the opportunity, and I hope to be back next year.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Be a patron to the Arts...

Okay, so I've been doing the starving-artist routine for the last year-and-a-half, during which I started a blog and published a vampire novel.

Not bad for a midlife-crisis. At least I didn't buy a sports car and start cheating on the Princess...

And, while I'm not exactly starving, I'm not exactly rolling in revenue, either.

Now, it's been pointed out to me by other creative hustlers that, if I'm going to make a living at this game, I need to create 'multiple revenue streams' -- and I shouldn't be afraid of actually begging.

So, while I've got the blog and the book, I am now putting up a 'donate' button from PayPal.

Here's how this is going to work:

I'm asking for donations of any amount in order to help offset the costs of printing and distributing and marketing my book(s) and blog. All donations received will be used for these purposes only, and sufficiently generous donations will receive public thanks (or not, depending on the wishes of the donor) and they may even get mentioned in the acknowledgement section of whatever project I am currently working on.

What am I currently working on? Besides the blog, I'm drafting three novels, including a sequel to Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir. Both of the other novels are comedies, although one of them is more of an action-comedy, since it features a super-powered serial killer who happens to be a doppelganger for the richest bachelor in Las Vegas. Sounds hilarious, right?

So, if you feel like being a patron to an artist, then throw me a few ducats. Hit that "donate" button! No donation is too small (and certainly no amount is too large, either).

I promise to return the love. I might even use your name as a character in my latest opus.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir" will be at the Vegas Valley Book Festival on November 6th

(The table poster I'll be using at the Vegas Valley Book Festival)

On Saturday, November 6th, at 2pm, I will be selling inscribed copies of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir at the Vegas Valley Book Festival.

The signing will last for an hour, and I will be selling paperback copies of the book for $8 cash.

The Vegas Valley Book Festival is being held in downtown Las Vegas at the historic Fifth Street School building, and the event will feature 100 different authors, including such heavy-hitters as T.C. Boyle and Dennis Lehane.

As I am a lowly first-time author who is unrepresented by a major publishing house, my table will be located in the Fountain Courtyard area, and I will be given a mere 2 minutes to introduce myself at the podium.

This is what I am planning to say:

"My name is J.J. Wylie, and I wrote a vampire thriller called Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir. I never planned on writing a vampire book, and if you'd told me 2 years ago that my first published novel would be a vampire story, I would've laughed in your face.

"But Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir is the product of 3 unforeseen factors:

"1. In May of 2009, I had a kind of midlife crisis and decided to quit my well-paying corporate job to pursue my lifelong dream of being a full-time writer.

"2. Later that summer, my girlfriend brought home the DVD of 'Twilight' which we then tried valiantly to watch.

"3. As we struggled to watch a movie that apparently had been written for virginal, hormone-addled teenage girls, I began to imagine a 'real' vampire watching this movie and getting pissed off. So, by the time the movie was over, I had 3 pages of in-character vampire ranting about how people have no idea what it's really like to be a vampire.

"Although that original rant never made it into the final version of Bloodsucking Vegas: a vampire noir, I finished the book with the idea of creating a locally-set thriller that is both a variation and an homage to the kind of vampire entertainment that seems to be everywhere nowadays.

"Most importantly, I wanted it to be fun to read, in a violent and sexy, R-rated kind of way -- as opposed to a boring, brooding, PG-13 kind of way. An R-rating just seems fitting for a thriller based in Sin City.

"And, yes, I am planning to publish a sequel. Thank you."

What do you think?

I hope to see all of you there at the Vegas Valley Book Festival.