Can I get a little help?

As authors, we write, market, build platforms, create connections, and successfully live in both the virtual and real world. We do all this because that’s the job. That is not a complaint, but a fact. People with more intelligence on the matter will discuss tribes and such, and of course they are correct. But what underlies all this activity is a four-letter word: Help.

For me, someone who is ruggedly independent (at least in my mind), I struggle with that. I don’t like asking for help, and certainly do not like to the idea that I might need it. Yet, that word and all it embodies is precisely what every author needs. I didn’t get a publishing contract without my agent. Heck, I didn’t get my writing up to spec without a writers group. And now I continue to try and raise awareness for who I am and what my work is all about on social media outlets. Social media. A multitude. Of people who help.

I am new to the social platform, and not surprisingly, am hit or miss. Yet, I recently had the opportunity to help another writer, who in the past has helped me. None of this would have occurred without our connected lifestyle. And that opportunity, more than any article I’ve read or conversation I’ve heard has made all the difference, because it had nothing to do with me helping me.

I think the term “Karma” is overused and often misapplied, but maybe it works for this situation? If so, then I feel better about “getting myself out there.” Because shouting for attention does not interest me. But seeing the circular help does.

And as I consider my work as an author, this fact doesn’t surprise me. Every piece I have ever written has an element of someone needing help–the one thing I’m afraid of seeking.

Well, then, as Whitman said, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”

Don’t we all? Therefore, I’m coming to terms with platform and attention-seeking and all the rest, as I’m sure so are many of you. I would offer then a paradigm shift on the perspective of help. We still need to help ourselves, but more importantly, answer this: How can what you post, tweet or share assist not only you, but that multitude who has your back?

Feel free to help me figure it out.

Notes from the Road

In the eight weeks since Tap Out was released, I have held six events, from bookstores and libraries to an MMA gym and a local bar. Throughout these events I’ve taken notes on what worked, what didn’t. For those of you interested, here’s what I’ve learned:

Libraries:

I went to one local library on September 25th. For those of you who are unaware, as I was, Yom Kippur began at sundown. Thus, traffic at the library was not high. Fortunately, I was able to talk leisurely with the patrons who did show, as well as the booksellers who were with me. Next year I will be much more mindful of the calendar.

Bookstores:

I held three events at bookstores. One with an independent and two with a big-chain store at two of their locations. The indie store was as charming as ever, and I spent a fair amount of time chatting with those who turned out, but traffic was, again, low. I cannot attribute this to the calendar, and can only wonder about my promotion. I relied on Facebook, twitter, flyers and postcards. People knew, but not enough, so possibly a different medium would have been a better fit.

The chain stores were a night and day experience. One was holding a book fair, and the sight of so many people flowing through the aisles would make any author or publisher smile. I received a lot of attention, both from people who knew I was going to be there, and from those who had no idea who I was. I stayed for an additional hour because the traffic was so brisk and signed the remaining copies of Tap Out. Definitely a success.

I went to the other chain store location on a Sunday, and that right there, might have been my flaw. It was quiet. Very quiet. However, I did have sales and I did meet people, who are now hopefully new fans. I even challenged a teen to read the first page of Tap Out and if he liked it, well, we could talk. If he didn’t he could throw it at my face. Fortunately, he was glued to the page, as every teen boy I’ve set this challenge to has been. It’s a wonderful sight, and for that a worthwhile event. And they let me sign all their stock, too.

MMA Gym:

If you put the author in a cage, the fans will come. Seriously. This was a fun event because of the location and its atmosphere. Fighters were sparring off to the side while I was signing. I had hardcore music playing. Everyone who wanted a copy signed had to take off his or her shoes to enter the cage with me. Just beyond cool. I would strongly suggest to any writer to find a location that in some way is an integral piece of your novel and go there. Good times all around.

Local Bar:

There’s just something perfect about an Irish bar on a cold and rain-filled Friday afternoon that screams, “Books!” No there isn’t. What a local bar offers on a Friday at 4 pm is a place to go, forget about the week, eat, drink and be merry. And oh, yeah, check out that guy’s book. Far and away McGrievey’s was the best experience. There were many factors at play that I believe suggest why my bookseller left with only two copies: food, drinks, friends and community support. The owner was kind enough to donate appetizers from 5-7 pm; I arrived at 4:00, because that’s when happy hour begins; and people came out to be part of something fun, unique and cool. I will hold a signing for every book I sell at McGrievey’s because all the necessary elements for a good time were under one roof. And book signings, in my opinion, should be more party than anything else.

Final Thoughts:

While some events were more successful in terms of sales, it is impossible to know the effect one sale may have. Word of mouth is enormous, so I do not discredit the value of any of the more quiet venues.

Promotion via Facebook and twitter is sensible and free and worked well for me. I distributed hundreds of flyers and promotional postcards. I don’t know what return I received from them, at least not in person, so I can’t judge in either direction.

At signings, stand as much as possible. Some locations aren’t amenable to such, but if possible, be upright, even at a pub table. There’s just something natural about meeting a person face-to-face, as opposed to making them do the work of stooping and questioning.

As feasible, find a novel setting to hold a signing. Give people something else to do besides buying a book and chatting. Yes, they may love you and your work, but if you can provide more than just your presence and words, go for it.

I thank everyone who hosted me. Without your willingness I would not have had nearly as much success as I’m enjoying. Next fall, when my next novel is out, we’ll do this again. Sure I’ll tweak some things, but I’ll retain the core purpose: connecting readers to the author. I cannot stress how important that is. The people I met and had a moment to speak with will remember me. And hopefully because of my work, I will stay with them, and they will want to meet me, again.

Top Ten reasons to come out to Barnes and Noble this weekend:

10. The Twin Bridges are finally open.

9. You can get an early start on Christmas shopping.

8. I’ll be there.

7. Free Wi-Fi.

6. Not only books, but toys and games.

5. I’ll be there.

4. Starbuck’s coffee.

3. On Saturday, a percentage of proceeds go to Guilderland High School.

2. Seriously, I’ll be there.

1. You can get your copy of Tap Out signed.

I’ll be at the Colonie store on Saturday 11/3, from 2-4.

I’ll be at the Niskayuna on Sunday, 11/4, from 2-4.

If you haven’t had the chance to make it to my other events, no worries, come on out and say hey. These are the last two events I have scheduled before the holidays, so if you want a signed copy for a certain someone, this is it.

Hope to see you.

Another look at Tony

I spin the dial on my locker and then check the schedule taped inside. It’s Monday, but I don’t have a clue what day in the rotation it is. A girl nearby closes her locker. “Hey, what’s today?”

She looks at me, squints, and her mouth forms a wiggly line, like she wants to say something, but can’t find the words. It’s always like this. Kids know I’m trash from who I hang with, but not from the way I look. I keep myself clean, ironing board in the bedroom and everything pressed. I do my own laundry and make damn sure my kicks stay spotless, so if I’m on my own, they have to guess. “Monday.” She presses her books close to her chest.

I shake my head. “No. What day?” I point at my schedule.

“Oh.” She straightens. “C-Day.”

“Thanks.” She’s got her back to me before I speak, but at least she spoke (13).

Tap Out

I know my audience, and you’re in their way.

I love Tap Out  and I believe that it is relevant to today’s teenage boys while also being one that they will read. Because of the language, violent sport that is MMA and the dark situation that is Tony’s life, your book will probably never find its way to a school’s library. It wouldn’t surprise me if it found it’s way to becoming a banned book. Does that bother you?

The above question is one I am answering for a blog interview that will appear early next month, but I had to post it here, because it focuses on the exact issue I’ve been turning over since Tap Out was released.

It’s all about audience. And mine is teens. So how are they ever going to get their hands on a book that adults are afraid of?

I have no idea.

That fact frightens me, because of the missed opportunity. Tap Out is not a suitable fit for every teen. No book is. But to shoot it down because of the language, violence and darkness is a disservice to teens for whom the novel is a reflection of their lives, as well as for teens who would benefit from a bit of perspective broadening.

I have a friend who is a high school principal in a district wrought with poverty and at-risk youth. He purchased multiple copies of Tap Out, not just because he’s a friend, but because after reading the novel knew it would service his students. And it has. His in-school suspension room–ironically monitored by an MMA fighter–has copies on hand for students who come with no work, a common occurrence. They sit and they read Tap Out and they are glued to the pages. Others come to my friend’s office and he puts copies in their hands. One boy in particular sat in the middle of lunch, not eating, ignoring his friends, who usually help him get in trouble, and he read. He LOVES Tap Out.

Without the audacity to believe that his students can handle a piece of fiction, these students would most likely never have read Tap Out. They would never have had the opportunity to learn about how Tony fights through the language and violence and darkness of his world toward something better. He is the embodiment of the maxim: Never give up. What student couldn’t benefit from that message, especially one that emerges from such dire circumstances?

I am certain my novel will be banned, and that makes me angry, but more, it frustrates me. I have trouble grasping how other YA stories that are rife with all the unsavory qualities of contemporary teens are deemed appropriate and Tap Out is not. I think it’s the honesty of the portrayal. Tony and Rob and Charlene and Amy exist. They are not too-quirky characters that you want to date. They are hardcore, rough and tumble and genuine. Their stories have value, even if they’re disturbing. If we as readers, librarians, teachers and writers dismiss a story because it is filled with an unsanitized portrayal of the cast-offs in our society, what are we saying? What are we teaching?

You can’t handle this.

They don’t matter.

I couldn’t disagree more. I know my audience. I wrote this novel for them, because these characters, they do matter. Without certain luxuries of life, we could all be one of them. Or as the saying goes, “There but for the grace…”

So now, everyone who is in my readers’ way, please, step aside.

For those of you who don’t know Tony…

Some of you don’t know the main character from Tap Out. Well, here’s a sample of Tony. After reading, maybe you will recognize him:

I shower, scrub until it hurts and my skin is red, but I don’t mind the pain. It’s only superficial. I dress in a plain gray tee and my black jeans, cuffed at the ends because they’re too long. I slide my sneakers back on, making sure all of whatever the f— I stepped in is gone, and then throw on my hoodie. Amy keeps my hair close-cropped with the clippers she’s got from Vo-Tec, so I slide a hand over my dome and dry the remaining water. Then I rummage for food. Never did eat dinner last night, and there’s nothing in the house except some crusty bread and fruit punch. Mom must have eaten that spaghetti. I drink a glass of the red liquid and take off (24).

 

My addiction to the humanity of The Walking Dead

I am addicted to The Walking Dead. Yet, I don’t read many Sci-Fi novels nor watch any other shows of the genre. I don’t even care for zombies all that much. So why do I like the show? Precisely for all that it is beyond the obvious.

I was late to the game with The Walking Dead, having only begun watching it over the summer. I admit, the first season was, good, not great. But I wanted more, because I felt as if the show had a significant amount to offer, much like a new author and a sophomore effort. Therefore, when season two was released to Netflix, I went on a Walking Dead marathon, watching all thirteen episodes in two days.

My wife was worried about me. She didn’t understand my addiction, and was concerned about my predilection for gore. I agreed, because it was over the top, and I didn’t understand the pull, either. And then I thought about the similarities with my reading habits.

When I read a novel I love, I devour it. I read non-stop, as if compelled. Obviously the same is true for The Walking Dead–as well as Breaking Bad, but that’s a whole other post–so it begs the question, what am I drawn to in both novels and this show?

It is the focus on questions of humanity. The Walking Dead isn’t only about staving off zombie attacks, it digs for answers about how we view our worth as humans, and possibly more important, how we view the worth of others. For me, any time a novel brings this issue to light, I’m on the edge of my seat. I don’t know if it’s because I’m still looking for an answer for myself, or because I know finding one is as elusive as holding water. Therefore, I am enamored with any story willing to probe the issue.

Our world is constantly evolving, and I’m in the thick of it as a parent, a writer and a teacher. I want to be able to provide a framework for understanding for my children, my students and my readers. Isn’t that what a good story should provide?

I think so. That message is very clear in Tap Out. I believe that is why it is so raw and moving and painful, and ultimately, too difficult for some readers. I do not deliver easily palatable answers. I don’t think such are warranted for such a topic, setting, conflicts and characters. Yet, I am currently revising my next novel. It is a much lighter affair, but still has some very dark undertones. I’m happy reading through and finding that I am still asking some very important questions. Ones that teens are asking, and want answers to.

And why wouldn’t they? It’s a crazy world out there, especially when a show about zombies may contain more substance and importance than the prime time offerings or popular writing. That’s not to say that all we should ever read or watch should be heavy and dark. But whatever we find ourselves in love with should strive for more than the superficial.

I’m into season three and am considering the novel I wrote this summer, the one that has yet to be analyzed. I will return to it as soon as I am done with my current novel, and I am certain my critical mind will be at work. Does that mean there will be zombies?

No. But there will be substance. And I hope you will fall in love.

Full Disclosure

*SPOILER ALERT* DO NOT READ THIS POST IF YOU HAVE NOT FINISHED TAP OUT.

Now that Tap Out has been in readers’ hands for close to a month, feedback is coming in. The majority is positive, just a quick look on Amazon confirms this. However, there are, amidst the positive, some negatives. Now, I fully understand that my novel is not for every reader, and that’s fine with me, so I’m not going to address the comments that reflect individuals for whom Tap Out was clearly not a right fit. Maybe we’ll connect with my next novel? What I want to discuss is the question I’ve received about the ending, the part that requires the spoiler alert warning: Rob’s death.

I think the most illustrative way to do so is to present an email from a reader, Lynne Schmidt  about this exact topic. Lynne has given me permission:

I’ve updated my Goodreads review, but haven’t posted the blog yet (sorry, I’m a little backed up on posts, it’ll be out before the end of October). I’m e-mailing you because 1) I gave it a 3/5 star rating, and 2) I wanted you to know why, so here it is:

I LOVED your writing. Words cannot express how well you drew me in to the story. Seriously. (I’m also a huge fan of cursing, so that was definitely awesome, too!!) I was all five star rating until the end. This is me just speaking personally because well, I’m me, lol. But 1) When he took out Amy at school, I understood why he didn’t, but I didn’t exactly condone it. 2) Then he lit the fire. Again, I understand the pressure he was under and he was afraid for his life, but I feel like someone else would have/should have stepped up for it…he really did kill people, and then the ending everyone covers it up, so there’s no real justice. It really, really bugged me. 3) Rob died. Rob freaking died. Really? (May or may not have been a book throwing moment). I was hoping that maybe the hammer missed, and like took out his shoulder or something…but he died. And THAT was the changing moment. Not seeing where Charity had been whored out. Not Cameron, not even taking out his own mom, or killing people… But…Rob’s death. I was very frustrated with that. (But kudos again because you got me to argue with the book, in my hand.)

So moral of this e-mail is, it was an awesome book. I didn’t agree with the ending, but it’s your ending, and I still loved the writing. I saw you have another book out, I’ll look into that one, too 🙂

Thanks for sending me Tap Out. I hope you’re well

I appreciate Lynne’s honesty, as it’s one of the attributes I most value. I also respect the fact that she rated Tap Out as she did. Lynne went with her gut and that is what readers should do. In my original draft Rob did not die and all ended up a bit more cozily (with Chaz shoving off and leaving the boys be). This was problematic, and after discussion with my editor and answering some of my own difficult questions about my writing, I came to an ugly, but ultimately appropriate conclusion.

The same is true for Tony. He is a murderer. That is not in question. But he acts under duress, and that should not be forgotten. I intentionally pushed the limits of what would be deemed acceptable because I believe this setting and these characters required such a complex dynamic. Anything else would have been inauthentic.

I truly appreciate the feedback and will address any other questions or concerns from you, so don’t hesitate to shoot me an email. Thanks.