Saturday, February 29, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Author: Week 9

Welcome to Leap Day. It's an extra day for the year, and an extra day to prepare before the new month starts tomorrow.

I might have mentioned this before, but as consequential New Year's Resolutions can be, New Month Resolutions can also be helpful. I tend not to think of them as resolutions. Instead, the starts of new months are opportunities to begin a new project or, in my case, re-start a stalled book.

The Benefits of a Fallow Period 

I started the novel as part of NaNoWriMo and I made excellent progress. But I hit a snag in December and stopped writing. I didn't think much of it. December is a time for Christmas movies and books and TV specials and music. Besides, I told myself, I'd just pick up the tale on New Year's Day.

Didn't happen.

Again, I shrugged. I had just stared a new-to-me book--Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz--and I decided to read more than write. I'd get back to my own book soon enough.

That didn't happen either.

Then, I started to wonder why I didn't jump back on the book. I started to edge towards chastising myself for not writing. I stopped short. There was a reason I wasn't writing, and I decided to ride that wave.

When February started, I thought I'd get back to the book. Didn't. I kept reading, moving on to The Nowhere Man, the second Orphan X novel, and added the first few issues of the famous comic book series MASTER OF KUNG FU. I enjoyed reading and, frankly, enjoyed not writing.

But as late February took hold, I began to feel that pull. It felt good. To get myself back on track, I re-read my manuscript, and two things happened.

One, I read the story and enjoyed it. I saw the better writing, could see my progress as a writer from where I was five years ago. I actually smiled at more than one part.

The second thing was I saw what got me off track. I read and edited as I went. I made an outline on paper, keeping notes of things to fix. By the time I got to where I stopped, I knew exactly what I needed to do to course correct this book.

And I can't wait until tomorrow when I jump back on the book and move forward.

Clive Cussler

This week, the world lost a great writer.

I came to Clive Cussler late and via his Isaac Bell series. I knew about Dirk Pitt and his adventure series, but only read a book or two. Maybe only one. I think I've read one or two of the other series as well.

Isaac Bell, on the other hand, well, I'm literally listening to the latest book, Titanic Secret, when I learned of Cussler's passing. I love the Bell series and the historical settings.

I'm not the only one who loved Cussler's books. Millions of readers have loved the adventures Cussler pens. This week, as word of his passing spread over the internet, I enjoyed reading what Cussler meant to these readers. What really made me smile was reading how Cussler was the author lots of dads read.

As a writer, however, I grew to appreciate and study how Cussler structured his books. I listened to almost all of them--narrated by the excellent Scott Brick--but I would constantly take notes. I would realize how excited or tense I was during certain passages and then go back and study those passages to figure out why.

For me, reading a Cussler book was not only an adventure, it was an education.

Rest in peace, Mr. Cussler, and thanks for all the stories.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Year of an Indie Writer: Week 8 AKA Greg Rolie and Steve Perry

I've been listening to the first three Journey albums recently, and it got me to thinking if I'm in the Greg Rolie stage of my writing career or have I reached Steve Perry.

Original Journey

If you're like me, if you think about the band Journey, you most likely hear Steve Perry high soaring vocals in your mind. But he was not the original singer. Greg Rolie was.

I think I've mentioned my son has been discovering old classic rock records I've never heard. About a month ago, he picked up Journey, the 1975 self-titled debut of the band. Made up of members of Santana's original band, Journey produced three albums that captured the mid 70s vibe of prog rock and fusion, all performed by guys incredibly proficient on their instruments.

Boy, is that original album good. Sure, it's 45 years old, but I'm really digging it. In fact, I'm loving it so much I went out and purchased Look Into the Future (1976) and Next (1977) straight away. I've been jamming to them this past week. You can hear them trying to get to a place of stardom and land songs on the charts, but they didn't quite get there. This despite how well they play, the intricacies of their songs, and their incredible musicianship.

The more I listened to original Journey, the more I wondered how and why Steve Perry joined the band. Turns out the band's manager wanted to take them to the next level and he knew they needed a different singer and a different producer. Props to Rolie who stayed in the band a couple more albums even when Perry joined and took the spotlight.

I did a fun thing yesterday. I listened to album three and then went right into the the fourth, Perry's debut. I wanted to hear the change. Infinity opens with the famous song "Lights" and it takes no time at all to realize the band has taken everything up a notch. They leveled up and never looked back.

How Does This Relate to Writing?

This week, my indie writing hit the five year mark. Unbeknownst to me back in 2014, my debut shares the same date as the debut album by KISS in 1974. It was neat thing when I realized it.

I'm proud of what I've accomplished in five years. Seven novels and eleven short stories for a total of 18 stories. I've got more on the way in 2020, but 18 is where I stand on the fifth anniversary of my company.

Some writers know who they are from the start: Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark, Clive Cussler, John Grisham, Alan Dean Foster, and more that you can think of. Others took a little time to discover themselves: Erle Stanley Gardner, James Patterson, Dan Brown, and who knows how many more.

In essence, the writers in the latter group had their own Greg Rolie Era before the Steve Perry Era began.

So, this week, I've been ruminating about my career. Am I in my own Greg Rolie period or did I emerge out of the gate already in the Steve Perry Era?

If I'm honest, it's the Rolie Era. If that's true, then I wonder what book will take me to the next level?

I already know that answer, too. It's always the next one. It'll always be the next one because I'm constantly learning. But as I'm re-reading an unfinished book I started in late 2019 (so I can restart it again), I'm realizing the book's pretty good. I can actually see the progress I've made over five years right there on the page. It's exciting, and I can't wait to start it up again.

Maybe it'll be like Journey's Infinity. Maybe it'll end up being in my Rolie Period. Who knows? But I can certainly see progress.

Here's to the next five years.

For your writing careers, what era are you in?

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 7 AKA Bond and Batman

Well, if it wasn’t for Matt Reeves and Billie Eilish, I’d have darn near nothing to discuss today.

You see, this has been a bit of a nothing week. After Gregg Hurwitz week last week, not much happened. I’m reading The Nowhere Man, Hurwitz’s second Orphan X novel. Really digging it and the character.

I’m also reading some Star Wars comics from the late 70s, specifically the months leading up to the release of The Empire Strikes Back in May 1980.

TV wise, I’m catching up on Magnum PI via my CBS All Access subscription. The move from Monday nights to Fridays pretty much screwed my airtime viewing of the show. When I went and reviewed the list, I realized I had only seen two episode. Now, I’ve watched six episodes in three days. Love being able to watch on my Chromebook at lunch at work.

Thus I didn’t have much to write about. Until Thursday.

No Time To Die by Billie Eilish

I’ll be the first to admit that I disliked the news Eilish had been given the opportunity to write and sing the new James Bond theme song. I’ve seen her on SNL and random other live events and I’ve been less than impressed. Even her rendition of “Yesterday” last week at the Oscars left me wanting.

Still, she’s on a terrific run. She’s following up her four Grammy wins—the four biggest of the night—with a Bond song. Bueno to her for having a moment. And, clearly, she’s popular.

But what kind of Bond song would she create? The Daniel Craig films, if I’m being honest, have batter .500. I really enjoy Skyfall and You Know My Name. I ended up only tolerating Writing’s on the Wall while watching Spectre. And I don’t like Another Way to Die, the theme from Quantum of Solace.

Fear not: the record for the worst Bond song is firmly set: Madonna’s Did Another Day. Too bad. Pierce Brosnan had some great theme songs and a bonus: kd lang’s Surrender, the best non-main-theme song of the entire Bond oeuvre.

So it was with great trepidation I dialed up Eilish’s song on Thursday night. I sighed at my son as I started the video. He left. I sat and listened.

By the time it ended, I had a verdict:

I didn’t hate it.

It was quiet, somber. Her voice actually seemed to fit. It had an elegiac vibe, pretty nifty considering this is Craig’s last bow as Bond. I actually liked the “Food me once, fool me twice” part, segueing directly into a short orchestral part.

There were some good Bond-music elements in the piece, especially the last chord.

So it looks like my opinion of Billie Eilish singing a Bond song was wrong. I do find it fascinating, however, that three of the five Craig theme songs were slow. Wonder what that means, if anything.

The New Batman Revealed

Also on Thursday night came the first images of Robert Patinson in his own Batman suit. Yeah, I only know him from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and the Twilight movies. His casting didn’t bother me. He was new. He was different. I’m looking forward to the new Batman movie. I’ll wait to see the movie before I pass judgement.

But how did the suit look? I’ll freely admit I liked Ben Affleck’s suit in his two appearances on screen. It was very comic book accurate, the best we’ve had to date.

Here it is.

But in a real-world environment—the vibe Matt Reeves seems to be going for—the body armor suit seems appropriate.

We didn’t get to see a lot of Pattinson’s suit. We saw the symbol, which looked like it that bat-symbol could be popped out and used as a weapon. Interesting. Makes me also think of the Kevin Smith-penned story from Detective Comics issue 1,000 in which Bruce took the gun used to kill his parents, melted it down, and inserted it into his suit as a breast plate. Wonder if that’s part of it.

Pattinson’s cowl looks really fascinating. There are what appear to be stitching along the front, leading me to wonder if this Bruce Wayne doesn’t have the tech gadgetry of the Nolan films. I would actually like that. I like also how the eyes are either hidden in the shadow of the red-hued film or actually behind some sort of lenses.

Oh, and that Michael Giacchino music? CanNOT wait for that. Giacchino is great at everything he does. You heard his music for 2012’s John Carter? Great.

Assumptions Busted

All in all, it’s a week of assumptions being busted. Well, only one with Eilish. I’m an open book when it comes to Pattinson.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the last Craig-as-Bond film in a few weeks and am eager for Pattinson’s Batman.

What are y’all’s thoughts on both things?

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 6 AKA Gregg Hurwitz Week

Who knew this week would turn out to be Gregg Hurwitz Week for me?

The week started with Hurwitz's author event here in Houston. He showed up at Murder by the Book to promote his latest novel--and latest Orphan X thriller--INTO THE FIRE. Much of the author talk was typical--here's my full post--but I really appreciated the answer to one of my questions.

Since Hurwitz is new to me, I asked him how he scored his gig writing Batman comics early in the 2010s. His answer proved instructive to any creative, myself included.

After a brief stint at Marvel, DC Comics wooed Hurwitz with a tantalizing offer: you can write anything you want. Thinking of how THE KILLING JOKE is often referred to as the definitive Joker story, he wanted to write the definitive Penguin story. He got his chance, and, in 2011, PAIN AND PREJUDICE was released. The mini-series got such good press and fan reaction that DC offered Hurwitz a writing gig for one of the monthly Batman books. By opting for a true passion project, new opportunities opened up.

I told this story to my book club group on Tuesday, and one of my friends made an excellent point: you never know when a break might arrive, so you'd better have something in the hopper you can trot out when that break happens.

A day after my post, I put up my full review of ORPHAN X, the debut of Evan Smoak. I enjoyed it for being a different of thriller. Some of the best scenes in the book are the ones not to include action sequences. They are the ones in which Evan merely talks to people who live in his building, his daily life in his apartment, and fixing a drink. Weird, I know, but that's what makes ORPHAN X different, and makes me look forward to diving into the second book, THE NOWHERE MAN.

I closed out the week by reading the Penguin mini-series, PAIN AND PREJUDICE. I wanted to see what a definitive Penguin story looked like and did Hurwitz achieve what he set out to do. In short: yeah. The long version: my review.

A Positive Message About Being a Writer

I've mentioned how every Thursday, Kristine Kathryn Rusch publishes a post on the business aspects of the book business. This week was something different. Entitled "Business Musings: Optimism And The Writer," Rusch extols the virtues of having a positive attitude in this business, both behind the keyboard as you write, and in public as you talk about your stuff. Read the whole thing, but here's a portion of it.

The most optimistic among us do play and make things up for the rest of our lives.
The realistic optimists, that is. The ones who know that being the best at our job requires us to keep learning, keep trying, and keep striving. Who know that the best is just around the corner.
We believe this even when our luck is bad. When events have gone poorly for us. When life conspires against us. When we get that awful diagnosis that reminds us that our time on this earth is finite.
When we can see the end.
We still keep moving forward, and trying to be the best we can be.
Because writers—professional writers—are optimists. Realistic optimists, fighting against the odds, knowing that someone gets to succeed—and if someone does, it might as well be me. At least I’m trying.
And to tie it back to Hurwitz (you know Gregg Hurwitz Week) is this quote from Wayne Gretzky via Rusch:  “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Rusch continues:

The core of any unusual profession—from writer to hockey player—is embodied in that quote. The math is pretty simple: You can’t succeed if you don’t try.
But what gets you to try? Optimism. That tiny thread of hope that this time, it’ll work. This time, the stars will align, the final bit of craft will come together, the last bit of effort will pay off.
And if it doesn’t—we’ll try again.
And again.
Until the end of (our) time.
Easily written. Sometimes difficult to believe and internalize.

Late in the week, I ran across an interview with Scott Snyder about writing comics. He said this:

"You can only write the story today that you’d like to pick up and read the most. It doesn’t have to be the smartest, it doesn’t have to be the most action-packed, but whatever it is that would change your life today that you would pick up and be like, “I love this story,” that’s the one you have to go write."

See how it all ties together? Write the best thing you can possibly write at any given time--the one thing you'd like to read--and have fun with it. Repeat.

Music of the Week: Texas Sun by Leon Bridges and Khruangbin 

Yesterday, a four-song EP dropped featuring this new soul singer out of Ft. Worth, Texas, and this three-piece band from Houston. They toured together last year and ended up making some music. Lots and lots of influences you can hear, from early 1070s Miles Davis and Marvin Gaye to dreamy psychedelic pop. Been hearing the title track for a month now. Five dollars at Amazon gets you the digital tunes, $4 if you like what you hear and want to purchase direct from Khruangbin.

Here's the title track.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Is Pain and Prejudice the Definitive Penguin Story?

At a recent author event promoting his latest novel INTO THE FIRE, Gregg Hurwitz was asked how he became one of the writers on a monthly Batman comic book. His answer was simple: I wanted to write the definitive Penguin story.

Can You Name a Penguin Comic Story?

He made an interesting couple of points in discussing his Penguin mini-series, Pain and Prejudice. One was The Killing Joke. For nearly every comic reader, that 1989 one-shot by Alan Moore and Brian Bolland is the definitive story on the Joker and his backstory. To Hurwitz's mind, Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin, didn't have one. I've been reading comics for forty-five years, and the only Penguin thing that comes to mind is the cover of Batman #228 that I owned (and still own) as a child...yet I can't think of the story at all.

Granted, I can easily remember numerous Penguin episodes from the Adam West Batman TV series from the 1960s. Who doesn't think of Burgess Meredith when you hear about Batman's rogue, The Penguin?

In fact, the more I thought of it, the only other Penguin story that comes to mind is Batman Returns, the 1992 Tim Burton film. I can't even narrow down a Penguin-centric episode from The Animated Series. Yes, the Penguin was a central figure from the TV show Gotham, but I only watched the first season, but I enjoyed what I saw of Robin Lord Taylor's performance.

But when it comes to the comics, I honestly can't think of a Penguin story.

Hurwitz was onto something.

Is The Penguin Sane?

The other, and more interesting point, was Hurwitz's comment that the Penguin was the only sane Batman villain. That one gave me pause. Clearly the Joker is bonkers. Ra's al Ghul is insane only insofar as what he wants to accomplish. The Riddler had a makeover a decade or so ago into a hyper-intelligent adversary to Batman, but insane? Not sure. Two-Face? Probably. 

The only argument I could make for a sane villain is Mr. Freeze, the version created by Paul Dini. He was driven to find a cure to save his wife, making him commit crimes to fund his research. Oh, and Catwoman. Almost every version, she's just on the edge of criminality.

But the point is well taken: Penguin is unique among the rogues gallery. So how does Pain and Prejudice hold up?

Pain and Prejudice: The Mini-Series

With art by Szymon Kudranski, Hurwitz delivers a five-part mini-series published in 2011, soon after the huge New 52 event (when DC Comics restarted its universe). Oswald Cobblepot is a crime boss, no a crime lord. In dark-hued panels, we get to see how Cobblepot rules his empire: through fear and whispers. What Cobblepot wants, Cobblepot gets.

Interspersed through the main story, Hurwitz gives us flashbacks to Oswald's upbringing and childhood. We learn the events that made him the formidable crime lord he is, and what he did to get there. The color palette for the present-day story is very dark and black. The flashbacks, however, are sepia tone. Nice touch.

What's compelling is the fear that runs through the story. You see how people stumble over themselves to stay in the Penguin's good graces. You also see how he deals with those who cross him, even if the cross is merely a mis-stated word. The Penguin doesn't do anything to you. He just does things to your family.

What changes the story is when Batman shows up. Now, everyone can see what Cobblepot himself truly fears. Not only that, his stature is diminished by Batman. Now, Cobblepot's hatred grows.

A side story is his own yearning to look good and be accepted. He's still the craggy nosed guy you see in the Animated Series and other comics (and a little of Danny DeVito's version minus the flipper hands) He has no love life until he meets Cassandra, a blind woman who views herself as something less than perfect (as do others who make fun of her). Definitely playing up the 'prejudice' aspect of the title.

Hurwitz gives us good dialogue between Cassandra and Oswald and the budding relationship. But Oswald won't let her touch his face in order for her to "see" him. He prefers she keep her image of him as perfect as possible. The panel Kudranski draws when Cobblepot realizes this is almost heartbreaking. Almost. We are talking a ruthless criminal here.

Naturally, Cobblepot's machinations afoul of Batman and there is a confrontation. Along the way, however, we see the genesis of the monocle, the umbrellas, and why he loves birds and penguins so much. He's got a knack for gadgets so there are things Batman must fight. Throughout this sequence--and, indeed, the entire run--the art is fantastic. I especially loved the onomatopoeia of the sound effects.

The Verdict

So, is Pain and Prejudice the definitive story of Oswald Cobblepot, AKA The Penguin? Yeah, it is. Hurwitz and Kudranski give us not just a story of a hero and villain, but of two antagonists, filled with depth and pathos (well, at least from Cobblepot's point of view). We know Batman's story, and I like how he's used here. He is The Other, the shadowed one, the more perfect man opposite Cobblepot's shorter, imperfect specimen.

I enjoyed Pain and Prejudice. Now I want to read the other Batman titles Hurwitz wrote to see how he handled The Dark Knight himself as well as other members of the Bat-Family.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Orphan X Review - Not Your Typical Thriller Hero

For a few years now, the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz, has been circling my radar. I'd download a sample onto my Kindle, but never get around to it. I'd see the second, third, and fourth books in the series be published, but still I didn't move off high center.

Until late last month.

In that timeless week between Christmas and New Year's Day, I was at the paperback racks at a Barnes and Noble in far west Houston and saw OUT OF THE DARK, the fourth volume in the series. My new standard for reading books is to read the book that captured my attention, no matter what number it is in the series. But when I realized it was an Orphan X novel, I was reminded that this series is one I should try.

From the beginning.

Evan Smoak - Not Your Typical Action Hero

If you read ten thrillers, how many of them open with the main character--or a side character--running? Seven? Eight? It's a perfectly acceptable trope for the genre, but I was happily surprised ORPHAN X didn't begin that way. True, Evan is bleeding from a knife wound and he's trying to get back to his apartment in Los Angeles, but there are no bad guys chasing him. Instead, we get a domestic scene with Evan trying not to show fellow tenants of his high-rise apartment he's bleeding. Not the nosy old lady nor the single mom who lives a few floors below. But her son suspects the truth. The entire tension of chapter one is whether or not Evan can make it up to his apartment without anyone noticing he's bleeding.

That is how ORPHAN X starts, and it makes all the difference.

It tells you that you're in for a different type of thriller, one I couldn't put my finger on until I saw Gregg Hurwitz at Houston's Murder by the Book on Monday.

A Normal Situation

Another thing Hurwitz does well is showing you what Evan's typical life is like. As an orphan, he was taken out of foster care and trained to be an off-the-books assassin. The kind with complete deniability. The only contact he has is his father-figure/trainer/teacher Jack Johns. For years, Jack trained Evan until--as we learn in the middle of the book--an even takes place that causes Evan to leave that life and disappear.

Now, he's the Nowhere Man, a man hiding in plain sight. Like the A-Team, if there's a person who needs help, all they have to do is call the special number: 1-855-2NOWHERE. Evan will help you. The only payment: pass his number--once--to another person who needs help.

Thus, the opening section of the book, we get an example of this "normal" life Evan has made for himself. You see him plan how he's going to help teenaged Morena, the terrible situation in which she and her younger sister find themselves, and how he goes about solving her problem. Intricate detail that reads fast and swift, never losing tension and anticipation.

It's when the next person calls--presumably Morena's pay-it-forward charge--that things really kick into a higher gear.

The Layers Unravel

Interspersed throughout the novel are flashbacks to Evan's training days and his early assignments. You get a deeper sense of what kind of man he is, what kind of person Jack Johns is, and how the two ultimately bring out nuances in each other both probably didn't expect.

I never saw the twists coming, which made for an even more entertaining read. It's no surprise--it's on the dust jacket--that some of the people after Evan are fellow Orphans, so he's not going up against run-of-the-mill thugs, but highly trained adversaries. Hurwitz, I learned on Monday night when I attended his author event, has done his research. But I already knew that. The details not only of the fighting but the weapons and accouterments are rich and descriptive.

Why is This Book So Good?

I knew going into the book the action would be good and thrilling. What surprised me, however, were the character moments. The time in the elevator I just mentioned. The times when he's having to worry about the bad guys and some busybody confronts him about not attending the HOA meeting. In addition, seeing Evan at home, in his apartment, what he did, what he drank, how he ate, all of that is there. I gravitated toward those moments just as much, if not more, than the action.


Well, on Monday night, Hurwitz commented that part of the genesis of Evan Smoak was the idea that you never saw James Bond go home.* You never saw Jason Bourne have an awkward conversation with regular folks.

That was the key to why I enjoyed ORPHAN X so much. That's why I'll keep reading the series.

*In the novel MOONRAKER (1954)--which is nothing like the 1979 movie--Ian Fleming writes a lot about Bond in the office, in his house, and playing cards. Not exactly pulse-pounding excitement, but wonderful to read. But the point Hurwitz is probably making is that none of the films show Bond in a normal setting. Not coincidentally, it is these scenes in MOONRAKER I remember well and hardly any of the larger plot. But hardly anyone remembers the original novel. You see? Hurwitz was onto something.

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@Barrie Summy

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Gregg Hurwitz in Houston

Sometimes an author can deliver a sales pitch so good, you can't wait to see what he's talking about.

Gregg Hurwitz may be a new-to-me author, but I wasn't sure what to expect when he showed up at Houston's Murder by the Book on the first Monday in February. He was the author of twenty-one books--a fact on which he corrected me when I asked him  a pair of questions--so clearly many are reading.

Turned out the answer was a capacity crowd. By the time I walked in the door at 6:15 pm, there were no more seats. Didn't bother me. I have a standing desk at the day job, so I was perfectly fine with standing. I was even more excited to find stacks of the second Orphan X novel, THE NOWHERE MAN. You see, I'm new to Hurwitz's fiction and, as discussed in a prior post, was having the devil of a time securing a copy of the second book in the series. Leave it to Houston's best mystery bookstore to have my back.

The folks at Murder by the Book are nothing if not prompt, so a tad after 6:30, Hurwitz, dressed in black jeans, black shoes, and a black pullover took to the microphone. It's a never-ending trait of author events when you finally see these men and women in person, you realize they're just regular folks. You may be an engineer, a stay-at-home parent, a marketing writer, or an electrician, but these authors are just doing a job. Granted, their job is to make up stories for a living, but it still requires the nuts-and-bolts aspect of sitting down and hammering on a keyboard until they get to a 'the end.'

Hurwitz was the rare author who actually brought notes with him. It told me he was prepared for the evening and knew what he wanted to say. A professional, in short. Have to admire that.

His spiel centered on INTO THE FIRE, his newest novel and the fifth Orphan X novel to feature the character of Evan Smoak. He talked about where Evan finds himself at the novel opens, and the setup for the person who makes the fateful call to the Nowhere Man. Hurwitz discussed some of the returning characters, some I recognized having just read the first book in the series--ORPHAN X (my review)--and others I hadn't met yet.

I've only read the first book and it resonated with me. I knew why, but it was a phrase Hurwitz used that crystallized it: "We never see James Bond go home. We never see Jason Bourne have an awkward conversation." In short, we never see our famous professional killers in an everyday environment. It was that very aspect of ORPHAN X I loved the most. Sure, Evan was going to take out every bad guy he encounters no matter the personal cost, but his conversations with the old lady who lives in the apartment above him or the single mom a few floors below were some of my favorite parts.

After a short reading, Hurwitz took questions. It was cool to see a fellow Houstonian be recognized by the author by name. She was clearly a long-time fan. As an author myself, those are the best. She asked about the character Max (I think that's what she said) who is the one who calls on Evan for help in INTO THE FIRE. The new novel was released last Tuesday and clearly she'd already flown through it. She wasn't the only one. Hurwitz's answer focused on the difference between stories featuring a hero vs. a villain and a tale with a protagonist and an antagonist. There is a distinction. Remember: the best villains are the ones in which they think they're the hero of their own tale. There is room for nuance and character building. Conflict naturally comes from the clash of two protagonists who naturally become antagonists.

Late in the Q&A session, I got in two. The first was how he came to dream up and write ORPHAN X. At the time (2016), he had been writing professionally for over fifteen years. Did he always want to create a franchise character that would appeal to a broad audience? He answered by saying he dreamed up the concept of Evan Smoak years before the book was written and published, but he specifically wrote three other books in between. He needed Smoak to percolate in his mind. By the time he came to write the first book in the series, he and his talents were ready. The success of the series is proof that marinating with an idea can yield spectacular results.

Although I am new to Hurwitz's novels, it wasn't until I had finished ORPHAN X and did a little research that it finally clicked where I knew his name: he wrote Batman comics. I asked him how he got the Batman gig. His answer proved instructive to any creative, myself included.

After a brief stint at Marvel, DC Comics wooed Hurwitz with a tantalizing offer: you can write anything you want. Thinking of how THE KILLING JOKE is often referred to as the definitive Joker story, he wanted to write the definitive Penguin story. He got his chance, and, in 2011, PAIN AND PREJUDICE was released. The mini-series got good press and fan reaction that DC offered Hurwitz a writing gig for one of the monthly Batman books. By opting for a true passion project, new opportunities opened up.

I stayed in line, talking with some of the folks. A couple thanked me for asking the question about the comic books. They had no idea. Maybe they'll head to Bedrock City or Third Planet and track down Hurwitz's comics. One lady learned I was a writer as we discussed Hurwitz's material and I gave her my website address. Who knows? Maybe I gained a reader.

Hurtwitz certainly did. I've enjoyed witnessing my wife's reading habits. When she discovers and author with an extensive back catalog, she plows through them all. Now I've found one myself. Twenty more books to go.

I got Hurwitz's signature in THE NOWHERE MAN and am eager to read it. I really enjoy Evan Smoak as a character and Hurwitz's writing style. Then there's that one intriguing little thing Hurwitz mentioned about the end of INTO THE DARK that hooked me even more: "The last three words change everything."

How's that for a sales pitch?

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Year 5 of an Indie Writer: Week 5 AKA Virtual Bookshelves Never Go Out of Stock

I couldn't believe what I saw.

Or didn't see.

Gregg Hurwitz: A New-to-Me Author

For a few years now, the Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz, has been circling my radar. I'd download a sample onto my Kindle, but never get around to it. I'd see the second, third, and fourth books in the series be published, but still I didn't move off high center.

Until late last month.

At  one of the paperback racks at a Barnes and Noble in far west Houston, I saw OUT OF THE DARK, the fourth volume in the series. Unlike in the past, when I see a book that captures my attention, I read it, no matter what number it is in a series. But when I realized it was an Orphan X novel, I was reminded that this series is one I should try.

So I walked over to the regular bookshelves and pulled a paperback copy of ORPHAN X, the debut novel in the series. This was late December 2019, in that timeless week between Christmas and New Year's Day. As an avid audiobook listener--who easily could have downloaded the audio version, I know--I resolved to read the paperback. Frankly, it had been awhile since I picked up a new paperback and actually read it. (I always pick up books, but don't always get to them.)

I read the entire book, finishing a week ago. Loved the book, the character of Evan Smoak, and Hurwitz's writing style. I'll have my full review this coming Wednesday (as part of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club) but I can tell you now it's a winner.

I was so jazzed to read the next book, THE NOWHERE MAN, that on Tuesday evening after rehearsal, I drove over to a Barnes and Noble (not the same one). I strode past the hardback section--where INTO THE FIRE sat, having been published that same day--and made my way to the paperback section.  I found the Hs and looked.

And looked. And looked. I checked the Mystery section just in case Hurwitz's books were considered mysteries by B&N. You know what I saw?

Zero Gregg Hurwitz books. A New York Times best-selling author.

Are Virtual Bookshelves Better?

If you read my column from last week, you'll remember one of my goals in 2020 is to create an online bookstore. Sure, there is nothing like going to a bookstore, browsing the books, and picking one up to read and buy. It really can be a magical experience.

But what happens when something like the absence of Hurwitz books occurs?

You go elsewhere.

And that elsewhere is either another bookstore or it is online

This is where an online bookstore has the edge. As long as an author is willing, the shelves of the online bookstore are always stocked. You can always find something you're looking for, especially if an author is willing and set up to sell direct to you, the reader.

It's not just ebooks either. I plan on having paperbacks available for direct purchase--complete with personalization. Audio will come later.

Just imagine the virtual bookshelves of an author's bookstore: ebook, paperback, maybe hardback, audio, video links, and more.

Exciting to imagine, huh?

Gregg Hurwitz in Houston

I love the serendipity of me finally buying that first book in the Orphan X series, reading it, and loving it. This coming Monday, at Houston's Murder by the Book, Hurwitz will conduct an author event and book signing. Love the timing. I'll let y'all know how it goes.