Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Adventures of an e-Book Bookie, 7


Last night at the restaurant where I work ( a former busgirl dined with her mother. Kate, 22, a student at Chico State University grew up in a wired world and texting etc. is second-nature to her: it is something natural and normal for her generation. After "Hiyas" and "Whazzups" she said, "Hey do you know your jokebook is on Kindle?"

"Actually Kate," I wanted to say, "I spent six weeks trying to format and upload the sonuvabitch. It was one of the most frustrating projects I've ever undertaken--and I have eight freaking children. It kept getting rejected and when it finally loaded it looked like crap. I ended up paying someone to format it for me."

That's what I wanted to say.

But I didn't. I asked where she saw it. A friend had downloaded it and asked Kate if she really knew the author of all these filthy and tasteless jokes. "Yes," said Kate. "And he also writes children's books."

The electronic wizardry that is an e-book, like all technology, is invisible to the user. I don't have to know about the interactions of speed, momentum, and traction for my anti-lock brakes to work.

I stomp; I stop.

The same is true for the new e-book technology: when all is said and done it's words on the page. It is not a gimmick or a fad.

It's another babystep in the journey of human language and communication: another skip&jump forward in the inexorable and ineluctable progress of civilization. From papyrus, to codex, to manuscript, to wood block presses, to moveable type, to linotype to electronic publishing.

No one loves books more than me, but I'm excited about all this e-stuff. Not only for the marketing opportunities it affords me but because this crowd of folks on earth right now (you and me included) might be known as the gang that saved the forests and improved the scope and utility of human communication.


A man is so frustrated with women that he falls to his knees and says, “Lord?”

A voice booms, “YES, MY SON?”

“I don’t understand women. Why did you make them so beautiful and beguiling?”


“But why did you make them a perfect shape that’s so incredible to hold?”


“Yes, but why did you make them so stupid?”


Check out "A Man Walks Into a Bar..." at :

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Adventures of an e-Book Bookie, 6



Anyone who tells you how to write bestsellers is a sham and a liar. I can tell you how I write books. I write them with fear, excitement, discipline and a lot of hard work.

—Danielle Steele

If you are suffering from pneumonia, doctors make you cough, listen to your wheezing lungs, take an x-ray and prescribe the proper medication. When your brakes are squealing you drive (carefully) to Midas, they put the car on a lift, remove the wheels and install (after their 1007 point safety check that will determine your car is a menace to public safety unless you give them an additional $300) new brakepads. No such diagnostic procedures have ever been developed for writing. We can all discern and distinguish good and bad writing—but that’s subjective. Even more subjective and riskier is telling or teaching someone how to write more betterer.

But MFA programs and writing classes do work: people finishing these courses are better writers for having completed them. But I have a sneaking suspicion that you’re a better writer for simply having attempted and finished writing a book length manuscript. The act of writing is in itself the essence of improving your writing.

I don’t think there’s any other way. And I’ve searched, for years, for shortcuts.

Inspiration, meditation, or medication doesn’t work.

But workin’ at it seems to work.

Bestsellers are the result of a constellation of writing and marketing and taste and uncontrollable societal factors aligning just so; literary style, I believe, is a collective hunch that changes every generation or two.

So the bad news is no one can really tell you, definitively, what’s specifically wrong with or how to fix your writing. But the good news is that definitive opinions, no matter how scathing (or complimentary) are primarily subjective.

As far as I can tell the only answer is: Start writing, keep writing, and wear a helmet—it’s tough out there.


Let’s get this straight right away: Writers write; everyone else makes excuses.

—Jack M. Bickham

Our only three options as writers?

We can: 1) BE GOOD 2) GET GOOD or 3) QUIT.

That’s it.

No matter how intense or honest or pure our desire to become a writer it ultimately comes down to having talent, developing your particular level of talent, or giving up. And it doesn’t matter what the public is reading, what Oprah is recommending, or how you feel.

If you are a writer you’ll start writing that book and you’ll finish it. Then whether it sells or not—whether it’s published or not—you’ll finish another.

And another.

And another.

If you don’t you’re not a writer.

This is not a particularly comfortable or encouraging proposition and the fact that it might result in a lifetime of toil that ends in debt and obscurity doesn’t, however unfair, make it any less true. When I seriously considered quitting I realized the crater left behind could never be filled with familial bliss, money, Irish whiskey, or vacations. In the end it doesn’t matter if my books are bestsellers or any-kind-of-sellers; it only matters that they be written.

Anything less would be a waste of my life.

God help me, I’m a writer.


What’s the difference between an engineer, a banker and a writer?

An engineer says: “How can we build it?”

A banker says: “What will it cost?”

A writer says: “Would you like fries with that?”


TANTRIC ZOO is available for $11.26 at

Monday, July 18, 2011

Adventures of an e-Book Bookie, 5



Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

—Samuel Beckett

I wish there were another way.

There isn’t.

You have to put—through an effort and expense of will—your precious thoughts, emotions, and hopes into words. Then have people reject them.

Then you rewrite them; and they’ll probably be re-rejected.


Then, once again through an endeavor of sheer will, they will be rewritten, published and, if not ignored, scarcely noticed. It is impossible to muster up the requisite resolve and energy to write a book without dreaming of praise and splendor and remuneration but the fact remains that your first efforts won’t be good enough. Sol Stein says, Writing is rewriting and his words are gold: the truest sign of a rookie is to be satisfied with a first draft. I recently found, in the bottom of a closet, the manuscript of a comic mystery novel I wrote when I was 22. I remember feeling so accomplished and hopeful when I finished typing the first (and I thought, at the time, final) draft of The Jung and the Restless. These are, indeed, the emotions one should feel after completing such an intimidating task. The Jung and the Restless will never be, nor should it be published.

It is dreadful.

All the characters talk the same; the plot is linear; character descriptions drag on-and-on-and-on. The murder scene reads like a recipe for steak-and-kidney pie; the love scenes like assembly instructions for a porch swing. It sucks.

But this doesn’t make it worthless.

I proved to myself, at a young age, that I could mismanage unbelievable and underdeveloped characters for 63,000 words. I could go the necessary distance: you must be able to run a marathon before you begin training to race a marathon.

Please write, please try; and please realize that each failure is actually an infinitesimal victory. It means you’re still in the game. If you click TOOLS, click WORD COUNT and there are more words today than yesterday you are a writer.


You are a writer because you wrote today.

This may seem a naïve and simple-minded goal but I need to tell you so I can hear and believe it, once again, for myself.


Nothing you ever write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped.

—Lillian Hellman

This is a toughie; as are most true and unavoidable things—death, for example.

Writing is such an effort that the initial results should be worthwhile. But they aren’t; I suspect that if they were it would be violating some fundamental, universal law.

Childbirth, I suppose, would be a likely analogy. (DISCLAIMER: As a mere unworthy male I immediately, humbly, sincerely and in advance apologize to all women—living, dead, and yet to exist. The tiniest hint of a pang of a labor pain would make me shriek like a sissy. There.) Childbirth, to continue, is a two-pointed analogy: Anything worthwhile comes at a cost; and despite the pain we’ll willingly endure it again for the same result: another baby or another book.

First drafts are bad, but they are necessary. They are the ore, the raw materiel from which you must work. Accept this fact by resisting the urge to proofread and correct and make everything in Chapter 1 perfect before proceeding to Chapter 2. There is no surer way to murder that ineffable something inside you that might actually know what your book is about. Mark Twain said: The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say.

This is true.

I’ve killed several novels by going back and rewriting before the first draft had been finished.

Bring the first draft to full term (see DISCLAIMER, above) pointy-head and all, then begin the real

writing: rewriting. The bad news is nothing you write will be as good as you had hoped. The good

news is it can always be improved.


Why doesn't Smokey the Bear have any children?

Because everytime his wife gets hot he throws dirt on her and beats her with a shovel.


Although he owns several shovels, Rob also has eight children. Check out his jokebooks (and free downloads) at:

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Adventures of an e-Book Bookie, 4


The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother, the economy, or the president, you realize that you control your own destiny.

—Albert Ellis

I am not attempting here, as Arthur Plotnik calls it, the Death-defying stunt of telling others how to write. The following list-of-five is the scab that I’ve grown over a particularly painful wound.

My third novel, an autobiographical YA that I’d labored on for years had just been published. Norman Babbit, Scientist, I hoped, would generate some sales. I knew it would never make me rich, but I hoped that even some meager success would allow me to take time off from waiting tables—scale back, quitting is a financial impossibility—so I could write another novel that would be another meager success which would allow me to take time off to write another…..

But when I saw Norman Babbit, Scientist’s price, $17.95, I knew I was screwed. No one would ever pay this much for a 137 page YA novel. The book I’d worked so hard on had been stillborn. It would never sell—even I wouldn’t buy it for that price.

I’ve always been a writer (and, therefore, by necessity a waiter—see JOKE OF THE DAY, below) but this was a reality check, and it hurt. For the first time ever—and I have suitcases full of rejection slips for articles, short stories, novels, and screenplays—I considered quitting.

I wanted to send my resume to a headhunter and get a real job with health benefits, vacation pay and a 401K. Writing, despite years of effort and regular publication wasn’t paying the bills. In my fifties I was doing precisely the same thing I’d done in college: read and write during the day and wait tables at night. Despite the blithe, symmetric wisdom of: Quitters never win, winners never quit. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of fight in the dog I wanted to quit. All these clichés are true but I had been propelled to a despair that was beyond aphorisms and inspiration. I felt trodden upon, abused, and defeated.

I’d been bruised to the point where I didn’t know if I had the backbone to accept another shattering moment, not only of rejection, but of seeming success. Another published credit that didn’t get me anywhere. Another book that nobody would read. Yes, I’m proud of Norman Babbit, Scientist and it certainly beats not being in print, but just barely.

I descended into a professional depression.

Writers are masterful at appearing to be working: if I finished half the stuff I said I was working on just to avoid mowing the lawn and painting the house I’d already be an unqualified success.

After Norman Babbit, Scientist’s publication I performed “Peripheral Writing” for nearly two years: rewrites on old manuscripts, research, and writing exercises. I had quit without officially giving up.

I honestly didn’t know if I had the guts to continue being a writer.

During the last two years, after several admittedly half-assed attempts at writing another novel, I examined my motivation and my “career” up to this point and have discovered these FiveThings I Wish I Did Not Know about Writing.


When I stepped from hard manual work to writing, I just stepped from one kind of hard work to another.

—Sean O’Casey

A quiet cabin in Tahoe, your Muse whispering in your ear, a chilled bottle of champagne awaiting the final word of the first draft (Ha!) an eager, well-connected agent anxiously awaiting the manuscript…


It’s more like slurping down a cup of coffee and forgoing a nap before work to try and flesh out a scene that you’ll probably cut when-and-if you finish this third (or is it the fourth?) rewrite. Your soft-spoken Muse had better be heard over a vacuum cleaner and a screaming child or you’ll never, ever accomplish a bloody thing.

As with all professions the reality is somewhat less glitzy than the idealized perception. Perhaps I’m a wimp but I’m always daunted and more than a bit fearful and awed by the effort necessary to produce a book. Writing is work and writers, being humans, will procrastinate, make excuses and take shortcuts. I’ve really had to remind myself that market research, chatting on-line with other writers, and attending seminars aren’t writing.

Self-delusion is also another nasty trait those pesky humans possess and I too am guilty. Unless there are substantially more words on the page at the end of the day, you haven’t been—for that day at least—a writer. You may have been a writer; you may want to be a writer, but for that day, face the facts, you haven’t been a writer.

Open your current project, click TOOLS, then click WORD COUNT. If it doesn’t increase significantly (I consider 700 words a day significant—and doable) on a daily basis you are not, despite all good intentions, genetics, dreams, goals, wishes and hopes a writer.

Like Global Warming, this is an inconvenient truth, but a crucial one.

#2 "What I Wish I Did Not Know About Writing" will be posted tomorrow....


What's the best way to get a freelance writer off your front porch?

Pay for the pizza.


Rob's never delivered pizza. He prefers to bring people food indoors. Check out where he's currently working at

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Adventures of an e-Book Bookie, 3


A crap book is a crap book whether it is published electronically or traditionally (by that, I mean written in cuneiform on papyrus...) and the only way for a book to be not-crap is to work on it daily and rewrite rewrite rewrite. As writers we only have three options. We can: 1) Be Good 2) Get Good 3) Quit.

In case you want to quit and are feeling guilty about it here are fifty reasons why you should toss in the towel.
  1. I have enough money.
  2. I love my day job.
  3. Especially my boss!
  4. I’m going to be the best possible negative role model for my children by never following my dream of becoming a writer!
  5. Fraiser, Friends, Seinfeld, and Will and Grace reruns are just too compelling to miss.
  6. I have nothing to say: Fox News and talk radio covers everything with such depth, eloquence, insight and clarity.
  7. I’ll finish that short story right after this beer…
  8. Every book I read is just soooo good, I couldn’t possibly write as well.
  9. I need a nap, there’ll be time tomorrow.
  10. Life is such a long, drawn out affair. I’ll have plenty of time next year.
  11. There’s no one I grew up with interesting enough to write about.
  12. There’s no one in my family interesting enough to write about.
  13. I’d just be embarrassed to see my picture on the cover of a book.
  14. An advance for a novel would just screw up my taxes.
  15. Fluffy needs to go for a walk right now.
  16. I’m hungry and with my figure, missing a between-meal-snack would be catastrophic.
  17. I couldn’t possibly miss a moment of the 14 hour Superbowl pregame show.
  18. I’m afraid of failing.
  19. I’m afraid of succeeding.
  20. I’m afraid of trying.
  21. I’ll be retired in 20 years, then I’ll write my novel.
  22. No one ever dies suddenly and unexpectedly.
  23. I only have an hour free; you can’t accomplish anything in an hour.
  24. I’m not good enough.
  25. I’m too good; nobody will get me.
  26. I’m insignificant; no one cares about how I feel or what I think.
  27. What if I start a book and can’t finish it?
  28. What if I finish a book and can’t get it published?
  29. What if it gets published but never sells?
  30. What if it gets published, sells moderately well and I’m faced with the dilemma of quitting my job and following my lifelong dream?
  31. If I died tonight in my sleep I’d be more than satisfied with my legacy and my life’s contribution to society.
  32. If I got really famous, think how long my obituary would be; there wouldn’t be room for a Sudoku puzzle in the newspaper that day.
  33. I’d hate to publish a children’s book, my grandkids would always be bugging me to read it to them.
  34. I have no hopes or dreams.
  35. I have no ambition.
  36. I’m happy being a worker bee for Corporate America.
  37. I’ve never read a book that inspired me enough to try and write one.
  38. I’d never want to see my novel turned into a movie starring Denzel Washington.
  39. I’d be embarrassed if someone asked me for an autograph.
  40. Being interviewed by Charlie Rose would suck.
  41. Being interviewed on NPR would be terrible; who listens to that claptrap?
  42. I’ve got other interests to occupy me on the weekend: golf, knitting, fishing.
  43. My 25th high school reunion would be so awkward if I had a book on the New York Times bestseller list.
  44. I never see humor in anything.
  45. I just can’t empathize with fellow humans.
  46. I have no insights.
  47. I have absolutely nothing to contribute.
  48. I have no opinions.
  49. I see everything in black&white, there are no shades of gray.
  50. I’m too busy "marketing" my book. (ie: reading bullshit posts on Facebook, Twittering and working on my blog....)

That's it for me. I gotta go write something..


A conceited guy and girl are making love. She says, "Aren't I tight?"

He replies, "No, just full."


Rob works at the Farmhouse in Forestville. He used the layout of the Farmhouse's kitchen, dining room and gardens in his latest mystery novel TANTRIC ZOO. Check it out at:

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Adventures of an e-Book Bookie, 2

We Are Always In the Same Leaky Rowboat

I love listening to books and lectures on tape while I drive. Listening, while driving and dialing my cellphone trying not to spill my beer as I negotiate one-lane construction traffic behind a schoolbus is one of the joys and challenges of suburban living.
Just kidding about the beer and cellphone and schoolbus.
But right now my commute lecture is Medieval Europe: Crisis and Renewal and it tells the story of how the seeds of the modern world sprouted only after the hierarchy of the Middle Ages had crumbled. The concept of nation states, a middle class, and personal freedom could thrive only after the feudal world had died.
This is analogous to today's publishing world.
The hierarchy of New York publishing houses and agents being the only game in town is over. The brick-and-mortar stores are flailing and failing. And writers like us have a bright and hopeful new future with e-Books and blogs and e-zines. The writing has always been our purview and responsibility but now, with social media (God I hate that sententious phrase: 97% of it is electronically-transmitted-junior-high-school-bullshit gossip) the marketing and PR is also our responsibility.
But a word of caution: the most important word in "e-Book" is "Book". And as writers we have first and always the duty to write the best books we can. Do not give in to the temptation to upload and offer for sale a book that isn't as perfect as you can make it. Just because it is now easy to publish don't be fooled into thinking that it will ever be easy to write. It will always take ten times as long as you thought it would and as Lillian Hellman said, "Nothing you ever write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped."
So don't get swept up with e-publishing fever. Don't finish your novel and immediately upload it for sale (and public scrutiny). Print out your manuscript and proof it as a hardcopy and you'll be amazed at the spelling errors you missed if you'd only read it on the computer. Data enter the corrections and don't look at the manuscript for a week and print it out again and you'll find things you've overlooked. Ask a trusted friend or colleague to read it critically and honestly. And listen to their comments. Weigh them before you utilize or discard them. Take advantage of local writers' critique groups or find one online.
When I taught my seminar, Things I Wish I did Not Know About Writing I always felt I cheated the students because I'd leave the class pumped up and ready as hell to write because I always talked about what I needed to remind myself.
I wrote this blog today because I needed to hear it.
I'm finishing up another mystery novel and I'm thinking in terms of formatting and uploading and marketing rather than rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. And that is a fundamental mistake that I don't want to make.
Despite all the crap writing that gets published and climbs the best sellers list it is a fact that for a writer it is always about writing the best book you can while you juggle job and family.
However we are published, book or e-book, we will always be in the same leaky rowboat: bailing with one hand and rowing with the other.

A freelance writer returned home to see his house wrapped in police tape. “I live here,” he told a cop, “what happened?”
“Your agent came over this afternoon murdered your wife and kidnapped your daughter.”
“Holy shit,” he said. “My agent came to my house?”

Rob's agent has never visited his house, with murderous intent, or otherwise. For an e-copy ($1.38) of his book: Things I Wish I Did Not Know About Writing: 15 Essays on Dreams, Sorrows, and Proofreading

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Adventures of an e-Book Bookie, 1

I am a bookie in both senses of the word. I love books and I'm taking bets on books. I am betting my career and future livelihood on books. More specifically e-Books. And for the first time in a long time I have hope.
When the advance copies for my autobiographical Young Adult novel Norman Babbit, Scientist arrived at my door in April of 2006 I couldn't have been prouder. Although it was my third published novel I had written it first and had sweated out eight years of publishing limbo as Joy Books, Cakebread Publishing, Highlights Books, Random House and other publishers held the book for up to a year (all expressing interest) before passing. At last it had arrived. I unwrapped it and when I saw the price I felt like someone had kicked me in the balls.
Norman Babbit Scientist is a sweet and funny little book with pre-teen pathos and (I think) an insight into what friendship really means. But the 32,000 word, 137 page book that I had lovingly slaved over wasn't and never would be worth $17.95. For all practical purposes the book was dead.
And I went into a professional depression.
I kept writing and shopping screenplays (more on that in later blogposts) and writing short fiction and non-fiction articles and jokebooks but, man, I am a novelist. And all three of my novels had barely sold enough copies to fill the trunk of a car.
An extremely small car.
I had pursued readings and personal appearances for all three novels and drove many miles to sell not so many books. I had a reading at a big-time independent, Book Passages in Corte Madera CA. So I took a night off work and had a great time reading and playing the celeb-of-the-moment and answering questions.
I sold 12 books, making about a tenth of I would have in a six-hour shift waiting tables. It was obvious that Egon's prediction in Ghostbusters had come to pass: "Print is dead."
But I keep writing and between 2006 and 2011 knocked out three more novels, a collection of short stories and several non-fiction titles. Sales languished. But what was I supposed to do, quit? I'm a writer, I can't quit. I'm like a predator. I'll keep hunting. If the prey dries up I'll perish, but I won't quit hunting.
And then I started hearing words like "e-book", "Nook", "iPad", "Kindle," and "Smashwords".
A new audience and market. A new vista. A new opportunity.
I have learned to upload books to these e-platforms (three so far, one pending: many more in the queue) and I'm teaching myself to market, market, market. This blog, Adventures of an e-Book Bookie will document my struggles (and failures and mistakes and hopefully successes) in this new e-Universe.
Through my local writing club (Redwood Writers, a branch of the California Writers' Club ( I announced the Smashwords e-publication of my magnum opus a 726 page 140,000+ word jokebook called, A Man Walks Into a Bar...A Compendium of Filthy, Uncouth, Lewd, Lusty, and Lascivious Jokes. The president of the club, Linda Loveleand Reid ( emailed me saying; "That's it! I'm buying a Kindle today. Who wouldn't want 700 pages of jokes for $2.99!"
And that sums it up.
I am an old school "Nothing-is-a-book-except-a-book-man" but the future is here, right now. If we, as writers, are too proud or stubborn or stupid to embrace and utilize the burgeoning technologies we have no one to blame for being left behind. Humanity has been captivated for millennia by stories told around the campfire: Kindle (and the others) are the latest, and brightest, campfire.
Stayed tuned to Adventures of an e-Book Bookie.

What kind of writing earns the most money?
Ransom notes.