May 21, 2012

My first #author reading, and my #YA #ebook still free #kindle download on Monday. Blog & photos!

Not quite four months ago, I published my YA kinda-dystopian kinda-sci-fi kinda-coming-of-age novel, Semper. On Sunday, I held my first author reading.

Quick word of advice: Don't schedule your very first-ever reading for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on one of the most beautiful Sundays in spring. It's a tough draw, and I didn't know if anyone at all would show. But 30 or more people gave up two hours of this gorgeous day to hear me read from my book, talk about writing and publishing, and eat snacks. And it was wonderful.

Most of those people were friends, and about half had already read the book. I made a few sales and got a wildly fabulous, enthusiastic thumbs-up from the one person in the crowd I had never met before. She bought the book and seemed terribly excited to read it.

Dear friends Susan and Linda arranged the whole thing. They reserved the local library's meeting room. They arranged snacks and drinks. They made signs. They made awesome signs!

They even provided a table drape for the front table. I arranged a few of the publications where my work has appeared before. Mo Poco helped by holding up the Unlucky 26.

From left to right on the table:
Thereby Hangs A Tale (defunct literary journal)
The First Line
The Unlucky Children of Marrow Moor
THEMA (behind the table, on the floor)
The 2009 San Francisco Writers Conference Anthology (on the floor)

The room was beautifully set up, with signs all over and the snacks and drinks in the back. They had "food from the book," but it really wasn't. It was an approximation, which, frankly, is good. The food mentioned in the book is really not very tasty.

Yes, I did actually read portions of the book. I've never much liked listening to others read aloud to a group, so I kept the passages short. It was difficult to pick passages that could be read without extensive background (turns out they needed background anyway) and without spoilers (turns out a couple snuck through anyway). And yes, I did not shave. What the hell, it was Sunday.

I also spoke. A lot. About the writing process. Where ideas come from. My personal progress from know-nothing to author. There were some really good questions, and in the end if the attendees had even ten percent of the fun I had, then they probably thought it a well-spent two hours.

Huge thanks to Susan and Linda (and Roger!) for putting this on and making it so easy for me. I hope I get to do more of these in the future.

My book is a free download on Kindle today (May 20 and 21, 2012). In the first day and a half, it's been downloaded 1,000 times (exactly) in the US and a handful of times in the UK and Germany. So far, the high water marks are
  • #3 in Children's Action-Adventure
  • #23 in all Children's
  • #178 in free Kindle store
The only place I know of that picked up the free run was Pixel of Ink's Young Edition. That, plus a couple of tweets of my own, are the only real promotion for this. Pretty happy with 1,000 downloads in this run but would love a few hundred more before Monday is done!

May 18, 2012

#Nepal #travelogue part 7: water buffaloes and moneychangers

This is the seventh and final of several posts about our recent totally awesome family vacation to Nepal. We worked with the fabulous folks at Geographic Expeditions to plan and book the trip.

Although the view of the Annapurna range from the Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge patio was amazing and made me want to sit there all day just gazing and sipping tea, we had a day hike scheduled and so had to grab our water bottles and sunscreen and get walking.

We sat down the night before with Jalak, our resort manager, to plan out our hike. He offered several options. The long hike would take us across a ridge with fine views, then through a Gurkha village. It looked pretty vertical and would probably be 8 hours or more. We opted for the medium hike, which they pegged at five hours. They were pretty close. It was about eight miles, I'm guessing.

We were treated to the wonderful company of a local man, Harry, as our guide. He lives in the neighborhood and knows many of the people we saw on our walk. He carried our box lunches for us and explained the different aspects of daily life as we wound our way up and down through terrace farms, past trekking tea houses, through tiny village areas, and in and out among haystacks and water buffalo and laundry strung up to dry.

For some reason (maybe the colors) I tended to snap a lot of photos of laundry strung up to dry.

We set off after breakfast, perhaps 9:30. I carried our day pack with full water bottles. Boss, the dog that had adopted the lodge as his home, decided to come with us. Good thing he did, too, because at one point we needed the protection.

Sam watches our guide, Harry, say something insightful that I have forgotten.

Harry's wife sells jewelry at the end of the lodge's long driveway. We bought some at the end of the hike. One of those boys is Harry's son; the other is his best friend, born on the same day at the same time as Harry's son. Cute kids. Lovely family.

Our first half mile probably took the longest even though is was the lease picturesque. We stopped to take lots of photos (most of which don't make it to the blog). The rest of the trip was pretty steady walking, at a reasonable pace. The morning heated up until it was over 80 degrees by midday and moderately humid. It was a sweaty day, but not overly uncomfortable. A good, challenging hike but not what I would call strenuous.

The little buildings all along the way were filled with character and either made of stone or very colorful.

I have no idea what this says (maybe it's one of the many schools we saw along the way but probably not because there's no English on the sign), but I love the mountain behind it.

This little girl was so happy to have her photo taken! She was a real cutie.

See what I mean about colorful houses?

See what I mean about laundry strung out to dry?

As we walked, the views from the ridge of the valley below were almost as spectacular as the views of the mountains, which were visible along about two-thirds of the hike.

This was a gathering area, where in the old days the town would have meetings. There wasn't any official town council. Instead, people would come here to settle disputes or discuss matters of import.

It's also a good place to rest.

The farmers still plow their lands by yoked oxen. Click on this picture to see the larger view, where you can see the guys walking with the plow. The farming really is primitive, although there's good cell reception. (Harry took a couple of calls on the walk.)

Another farmer walking with his oxen, carrying the yoke. We figured it was so the oxen didn't have to walk on the road and probably get run over by a bus.

The crops grown in the area are rice, sweet corn, and wheat. I'm not sure what this woman is doing, but it looks like she's separating the wheat from the chaff.

More laundry! On a stone house.

Just to change it up a little, a house not made of stone and not that colorful.

These boys were so happy to see us and walk with us for a while. We saw them again a little later. Apparently they had already been out running around and were running home.

Their sticks were connected to the wheels, which was unexpected but necessary due to the rocky, uneven nature of the road.

These boys were washing their clothes in a stream that had a stone washing area built into it. The stream runs downhill, then is channeled into this washing area, and runs on its way below. They were working hard, scrubbing against the rocks. I'm very glad we have washing machines.

This boy played the flute while the others washed the clothes. I assume he's their little brother.

After we crested the top point of the hike (not sure of the elevation gain/loss on the hike, but it was very up-and-down vertical the whole time), we came down this other side of the ridge which overlooked the big lake in the valley.

Another unauthorized photo.

I should remember to take my dorky day pack off before the photo is taken.

Better, but I should also remember to move it farther away, out of the shot.

A pretty section of open ridge top, unlike most of the walk which was a combination of dirt trail, rocky cart path, semipaved road, and stone village paths between homes.

Boss stayed close. At lunch, he was so close that he almost managed to eat half of Sam's lunch before Harry whacked him away with a stick. (Whacked Boss away. He didn't whack Sam with the stick.)

A beautiful little trekking lodge along the Royal Trek. A small part of our 8 mile walk coincided with the Royal Trek, which is a hike that covers four days and follows the route that Prince Charles hiked in 1980.

Another section of the Royal Trek portion, with stones laid out to show the way.

This little boy brought us sodas to go with our lunch from the tiny tea house along the Royal Trek path. We ate our lunch right here, on the hillside, and paid him a few hundred Rupees for the sodas.

Water buffalo wandered all over the place. Mostly we kept our distance, and they all watched us warily. At one point, we stopped while Harry peered up a side road at a gathering of people who looked very concerned. After a while, we went on our way and Harry explained that a water buffalo appeared to be dying over there, and the people were very upset. Nearly every family has a water buffalo, and it's important for sustenance (I guess milk and whatever). If a family's buffalo dies, it's very hard for them.

Another time, while we were sitting resting, a buffalo wandered near us and started looking aggressive. It was not happy with our presence. Harry said, "Come along, come to this side of the road, and we should hurry along." At that point, Boss leaped between us and the buffalo and started barking at it. The great protector, Boss! He bought us enough time to make our escape. The old man who owned the buffalo giggled himself silly, I think.

At another point on our hike, we were stopped by a very old farmer. I think he was Moses' nephew or something. He had a handful of coins, and Harry helped broker a transaction. Turns out his coins were mostly Euros, with some other unidentified European-looking coin. We estimated he had about a dollar's worth of European money. He asked, would we like to buy it from him? For a hundred Rupees, we did.

Haystacks also were all over the place. Every house had a large one, built by tying the hay to a tall, bamboo pole in the center. Hay would then be cut from the stack as it was needed.

I found this encouraging. Along the short portion of our walk that coincided with the Royal Trek, these garbage cans offered a place to drop litter. Mostly we didn't see much trash on the ground in the high, remote areas, but there was enough to remind us that there's really no litter or garbage control in Nepal.

Another laundry shot, with Harry, Boss, the boys, and a view.

Remember the little boy above that brought us sodas for our lunch? This is the trek tea house he brought them from.

A gorgeous stone stair leading up from a small village section painted in a lively manner.

Laundry, this time with goats. Here we paused to speak with a woman and her younger daughter. Harry spoke with them. I can't remember if he translated for us or what they said.

Along the way, we came upon an independent, organic, time-traveling coffee farm. Oh, wait, that's the Nepali year 2060. Which means the farm was established nine lunar years ago, which means little to me other than it's not as old as Swayambhunath or as young as Twitter.

The farmer and his son. They both spoke very good English. The boy said he was 14 years old, but he looked not much more than 10 or 11. Very nice gentleman. He showed us his coffee plants, the beans he was drying, and some of the product that had already been packaged. We bought one package for 300 Rupees (about four dollars). Haven't tried it yet.

A view along the road as we hiked up into the hills. This is a good look at a typical section of the rural roads, where civilization has overrun the place. Seriously, this was the most built-up section along our hike. We were in rural Nepal, and Nepal is like the rural part of the world.

But not so rural they can't charge their cell phones.

Although we had one more full day and one more morning in Nepal, this is my last travelogue installment. The day after our hike, we had breakfast and then headed to the airport where we flew from Pokhara back to Kathmandu. Our guide picked us up and brought us back to the Yak & Yeti hotel, where we spent our final night. We wandered around Thamel in hopes of finding a new restaurant to try, but it was the Nepali New Year which meant the teenagers were out in the non-tourist areas, and many of the tourist restaurants looked closed or nearly deserted. We ended up returning to the beer garden we went to on our first night, and we were not disappointed. It was even better this time.

Our departure the final morning was uneventful except that Sam had forgotten to pack his mini kukhuri knife in the luggage, so it was confiscated by Kathmandu airport security. He was really sad, but we stopped at a gift shop and picked up some Nepal playing cards. Thai Airways flight back was less good than the flight there, but it all worked out okay. Try not to sit in the last row if you want a choice of meals. (But on the final meal they did start with me because they felt bad I didn't have a choice the first time. Thai Airways is awesome.)

We overnighted at the Radisson at LAX, which would have been very nice except their phone number at all the airport kiosks was wrong, so we never were able to call for the shuttle to pick us up. Fortunately, we could walk the 1/2 mile around the airport and a few blocks to the hotel. Which was pleasant and comfortable, with a good shower. Then our final leg from LAX to SFO was delayed 90 minutes, but eventually we made it home.


May 10, 2012

Living in a city run by crime families. Self #publishing in 2012.

Warning: Don't read this. It's far too long and doesn't contain even one single kitten*.

My second job out of college was with a software startup trying to compete with Microsoft. So I know a little about trying to beat an evil empire. (If only we had ewoks, I'm sure we'd have prevailed.) What I don't know is how to live in a city run by crime families.

Today, the internet is gnashing its teeth over Amazon and the Department of Justice. I have read dozens of lengthy articles and hundreds of comments, and I'm no less baffled now than I was when I first started looking into self-publishing Semper almost a year ago.

The history seems to be something like this:

  • Big publishers sold books through regular bookstores.
  • Big evil bookstores started killing regular bookstores.
  • Amazon (the evil empire) started killing big evil bookstores.
  • Kindle became. Ebooks occurred.
  • Amazon priced ebooks very low, killing publishers.
  • Publishers forced Amazon to switch from "wholesale" pricing (where the retailer sets the price) to "agency" pricing (where the publisher sets the price) for ebooks.
  • This made everyone happy except for Amazon, and everyone who is not Amazon.
  • Somehow Apple got involved.
  • Somehow the Department of Justice got involved.
  • Pretty much everyone flipped out and started writing letters.
If you want links to all the relevant material, go visit Writer Beware. They rock.

So about six months ago I started forming some incredibly vague but undeniably strong opinions about the whole publishing industry. All my life I'd dreamed of having a novel published. I started writing when I was 9 years old, and today I still have some stories I wrote before I went through puberty. (Writing fell off a bit after puberty. I got distracted.)

But the more I learned about the publishing industry--the roulette wheel of the slush pile, the unnecessarily grueling editing process, the ittybitty advances, the self-promotion and enormous pressure to earn out within months of publication--it all seemed so pointless at my stage in life. (My stage being two kids, mortgage, highly successful non-writing career.) Way too much pain, labor, and anguish for the reward.

In short, the dream of "getting published" was no longer worth it. I reached this conclusion after I'd penned five complete manuscripts, published several short stories and poems, and worked at a major writers conference for four years. I've put in my 10,000 hours. I know good writing. I make good writing. I do not lack for confidence in my skill, and at the risk of sounding arrogant, I think I've earned that confidence.

About this time, the awful stigmas associated with self publishing began to lessen. A few self-published authors were making bank. Some were getting critical acclaim.

An abbreviated survey of self-publishing options led me to Amazon. Easy. Free. Wide reach. Both print and ebook. Easy. Like, really really easy. Two weeks later I had the ebook for sale at Amazon. Another week and it was available in print with its own ISBN. My dream was realized, sort of. Not in the way I originally envisioned. But people bought my book. People I had never met downloaded it. And liked it.

That was 100 days ago.

Last week I heard about a local independent bookstore planning a YA night. I've been to this bookstore, bought books there, even attended a book launch there. But I'd heard that independent booksellers were unhappy with Amazon, so I inquired and was told that while I was welcome, my book was not. The person was quite friendly about it. But the phrase used was, "Amazon is against everything we stand for."

Which baffles me because I have a YA book. Some people think it's quite good. It's available for that bookseller to sell. They are having a YA night. If they are refusing to offer my book to their patrons, what is it they stand for, exactly?

I respect their right to make their own business decisions, and I won't fight them on it. I will probably even attend the event without my book because it is a great bookstore and my family and I love YA literature that doesn't involve sparkly vampires. But their behavior baffles me.

I've heard it called a turf war. Been told that independent authors are just caught in the middle. It definitely feels that way. Like I'm living in a city under the control of two feuding crime families.

Personally, I hate to have to choose sides. But if I'm being forced to choose as an author, as much as I love independent bookstores, I'll stick with Amazon. In the end, it comes down to what my personal dream looks like. It used to look like this: My name on the spine of a book on a bookshelf in a bookstore. Now it looks like this: Someone I've never met from Puerto Rico posting a five-star review of my book, saying "Semper is excellent for any age. Their characters are perfectly developed and the story as well. I'm asking for more. I really want to have a hard copy of it."

But don't worry, independent booksellers. I don't think that you're against everything I stand for. I will still patronize you as much as I have in the past. Maybe even more. Because I am not taking sides in someone else's turf war. I am simply using the service that gives me the best chance of fulfilling my modest dream. I wish you could play a part in helping fulfill my modest dream as well, but you must do what you feel is right. And if that shuts me out, so be it. Don't cry for me; I'm doing okay.

I just don't understand it.

* Oh, OKAY. Here are some kittens for you.

May 3, 2012

#Nepal #travelogue part 6: tea in the #annapurnas with you

This is the sixth of several posts about our recent totally awesome family vacation to Nepal. We worked with the fabulous folks at Geographic Expeditions to plan and book the trip.

We made it to Pokhara alive. Not dying on the Nepal highways turned out to be the beginning of our awesome luck after Chitwan, which we attribute to turning lots of prayer wheels at Swayambhunath and buying a lucky painting at Bodhnath. Our karma thus enhanced, we were in for an awesome two days at Tiger Mountain Pokhara Lodge. This place should go on your bucket list, if you have such a thing.

In my next (and probably final) travelogue post, I'll talk about our two day hikes through the villages, farms, and trekking trails around the Tiger Mountain lodge, in the hills high above the city of Pokhara.

 An unassuming, little sign for this gorgeous resort.

The city of Pokhara lies about 3,700 feet above sea level, and the lodge [Google map it] sits another 1,000 feet higher. The hills launch straight up from the valley floor, cut nearly all the way by terraces probably a thousand years old, or more. The road to the lodge is narrow and steep, and in the traditional Nepali style is more accurately described as a five mile semi-repaired pothole.

Standing at the edge of the main lodge patio, you see Pokhara stretch out before you. The airport is just to the left of that smaller hill in the middle of the city. The mountains are to the right of this photo, just outside the shot.

The lodge comprises two dozen tidy little stone cottages nestled in the hills and trees and linked by a few stone and grass paths. A small infinity pool hides below the lodge and has a view of the Annapurna range almost as good as that from the patio.

 Stone paths reveal the cottages hidden among trees and bamboo stands. Each stone cottage is beautiful on its own, but they're all set into the hills at angles that make them all seem very private and perfectly designed for their locations.

Sam in front of our cottage. The boys had the downstairs (separate entrance, down around to the right off camera), and we had the upstairs.

 Just a shot of one of the cottages, showing how many trees and how much bamboo set the mood.

The steps up to the main lodge. It's got a shotgun door with the main patio right beyond; the bar and lounge are to the right, and the dining hall is to the left.
I mentioned the infinity pool, right? Not huge, but more than enough cool water to dip your hot feet in after an eight mile day hike through the baking hills.

The rooms themselves are pleasant and very comfortable, but we spent very little time in our rooms. We mostly hung out on the patio playing chess, drinking tea, and reveling in the spiritual experience that is gazing at the Himalayan range.

 The rooms were not huge but were adequate, with very nice bathrooms...

 ... and gorgeous, little patios. You can't see the view to the right, but there's a window that looks right out at Annapurna 1.

The service is top notch. If the morning is clear, they wake you with a tea and cookies service at 5:45 a.m. If the weather is clear (or if you prefer to sleep), they won't wake you until later, or not at all. I asked to be woken up, but both days I woke before they could knock. What a treat to have hot tea and yummy cookies brought to your door, then to step outside onto a private patio and look up at an Annapurna peak.

Even so, the better view was from the main patio where they serve breakfast on days with good weather. Our good luck flowed freely--the lodge manager told us it had rained the five previous mornings, and no one saw much of the mountains. In fact, when we arrived the clouds shrouded the entire range. We marveled to see a tiny bit of snow-covered peak in a ittybitty break in the clouds... then we woke up early the next morning to this:

The Annapurna range (here we see Machhapuchhare and Annapurna II, I think) as viewed from our little, private patio through the window. Machapuchare is also called the holy mountain and is not allowed to be climbed. No one has ever reached the summit, at least not on record. So many people have died trying that it was decided the gods didn't want anyone reaching the top, so it was dedicated a holy mountain. I like the idea that there is such a peak that no one will ever set foot on.

And, as the sun rose, we got different light on the peaks and were treated to one of the very best views in the entire world for several hours. All the while, they kept bringing us tea and hot chocolate. Sam played chess with Alisa's daughter (the same Alisa we met on our boat safari in Chitwan), and the whole time was sublime.

Sam playing chess with Machhapuchhare and the others in the background.

Breakfast late in the morning on the patio. Is there anything better?

The patio set up for breakfast. Can't really see the mountains in the background here, but you get the idea.

On the second night, during cocktail hour before dinner, we were treated to a second epic, biblical lightning and thunder storm. This one included pea-sized hail, even though the evening was warm enough for tee shirts. But by the morning, the clouds had cleared off, and in fact the rain had washed the air clear. So be sure to turn the prayer wheels and buy a painting in Kathmandu when you're on your way to Pokhara.

The food at the lodge was awesome. We had to ask for the Nepali dinner the second night--the first night they served us cooked vegetables and something else I don't really remember even though it was good. But we wanted the dal bhat, and we were not disappointed. Plus, the apple cobbler was sublime.

Anyway, these mountains were the main reason I first thought I wanted to go to Nepal. Actually, I wanted to see Everest, but we never did and I don't mind. This was more than worth it. The view includes several of the world's peaks over 7,200 meters (23,000 feet). I never felt the need to climb them; looking at them with hot cup of ilam tea was pleasure enough.

The view through the shotgun front door. They really did a nice job of designing this lodge. It's beautiful and comfortable and friendly and just plain perfect. If you're going to Nepal for any reason at all, make sure you spend at least one night here. We loved every second of it.