Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Change of Direction

I have changed directions this month. I am taking a break from marketing Oilspill dotcom, to edit and prepare my manuscript for two upcoming competitions that focus on unpublished novels.

The first is Amazon's Breakthrough Novel contest that leads to a contract with their Amazon Encore program. I recently met Francine Howard, a member of the California Writers Club and our new marketing group. Francine’s book was placed in the competition last year and is being prepared for a significant book launch.

The second competition is the San Francisco Writer's Conference contest. I believe the fact that the competition is based in San Francisco and that much of my book is a love-fest with the city, um, the City, makes it extremely attractive.

I hope to finish my edit of the book this week and then to send it to a couple of willing friends to comb through. Then I will work on their corrections in the first week of January, before sending it off to be judged.

It seems strange that after so long of going through the publishing process with Oilspill dotcom that I am now focusing on another book. I feel like a parent, eager for the arrival of the new baby and yet feeling guilty towards the older sibling, who is used to being the center of my world.

Oh well. Today is my oldest son's 11th birthday. I'm sure he can relate to the analogy.

Happy Birthday, Pele. Good Writing, everyone else.


Alon's Website

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Another Perspective

I admit it; I fall behind on my TV shows, which is why there wasn't a blog last week (not really) and why I am a faithful worshiper of the Church of Digital Video Recorders. My biggest sin: I am behind on The Colbert Report.

Watching the show from December 1st, I was stunned to see Stephen interview Sherman Alexie, the author of 'War Dances.' Alexie was great, a Native American poking fun at the white guys. But this blog entry is not about Native Americans or white guys.

As you have seen, I am proud that Oilspill dotcom is now available as an e-book, available in all formats that exist today. I am doing my bit to save the planet. Even if I can't afford a Prius, I am taking bold steps to save the trees, energy in production and distribution, and able to help provide free copies of my e-books for our soldiers.

So I was kind of taken aback when Alexie advocated against the e-book revolution (my embellishment, not his). He will not publish his book in electronic form because:
- He fears that we are giving the government the ability to control what we read, write, see and listen to.
- It makes our work vulnerable to piracy
- It prevents any physical contact between author and reader, a relationship that he sees as essential for both sides
- It takes away revenue from independent bookstores already on the brink of extinction
- It prevents any celebration of books within the community

I want to take issue with Alexie, but I have two problems: he is correct, and he is very cool.

So I will take a week for rebuttal, and if I can't build a case, will catch up on outstanding Colbert Reports.

Good Writing,

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving, Ed.

I guess that Thanksgiving is all about doing good, feeling good, and eating…

I am not sure why, but since Veterans Day, I have had soldiers constantly on my mind. It might be that I have nearly finished my first edit of Unwanted Heroes (the latest in a long line of titles), or from making a new friend who shared with me his war experience from Vietnam and his struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Yesterday, I read the weekly update from Smashwords detailing many exciting changes. But I want to share the story of one man, a war vet himself. Edward Patterson is an established author. You can see his profile on Smashwords at:

Oh and while you are there, please check out his books.

One of the great features of Smashwords is that an author can create coupons, giving discounts for specific groups. Ed had the idea to offer a 100% discount to our troops, and began to promote the idea among fellow authors.

I just signed up and am proud that I can offer something, however small, to those far from their families. Perhaps Oilspill dotcom might provide an opportunity for them to lose themselves, if only for a short while, in something far away from the tense job they do for all of us.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I'm feeling thankful to our troops, thankful to their families, and thankful to Ed for providing this service for the troops and giving me the opportunity to do some good,

Happy Thanksgiving Ed and to all my friends.

Good Writing,

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Exciting New Direction

My novel, Oilspill dotcom, has just been published as an e-book by Smashwords. It's available for an introductory price of $3.99 and can be downloaded to Kindle, Sony Reader, iPhone or any computer. Feeling very 21st Century!
Advert aside - this is exciting!

Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords has "meat grinder" technology (his term). You provide him with the manuscript and he puts it through his grinder, producing an e-book that can work on any e-book format currently available. He is committed to enable Smashwords books to be compatible with the new Barnes & Noble electronic reader due out this month and the new Apple reader due in January.

Being an author himself and committed to the e-book revolution, Coker offers authors up to an unprecedented 85% royalty, thereby encouraging his authors to price their book at a lower level, representing the savings in materials, distribution, storage and marketing.

I am excited to be part of the revolution. The reality is that most of us buy our books used, borrow from the library, or pass along to friends. None of these methods provide royalties to the author.

$15-$30 for a book is not sustainable and we are no longer surprised to see many 'bestsellers' now deeply discounted in bins at the front of B&N, Borders, or the supermarket.

So, I'm feeling very 21st Century. Over the next few weeks I hope to offer a few insights into the e-book revolution (as I research it myself).

One request: Please go into the Smashwords website, check it out, and let me know what you think. Comment here on the blog or shoot me an email to alshalev at Bigfoot dot com.

Good Writing & Reading,

Sunday, November 8, 2009


My latest novel, completed but not finished editing, changes title every few weeks. The current favorite is: Unwanted Heroes. It is a story that highlights the plight of the homeless, and in particular, war vets.

Today is Remembrance Sunday in the UK and will be Veterans Day on Wednesday here in the US. The following passage from Unwanted Heroes is in honor of our war vets.

It is a gray, cloudy Bay Area day in the Presidio: as it should be. James meets me for an early lunch and then drives me to the cemetery. We ate in near silence and I realize this isn’t easy for him. But he never hesitated in agreeing to come. James was a soldier, still is.
The nearest I’ve ever come to witnessing military funerals have been Hollywood dramatizations. I’m immediately consumed with the intensity as the honor guard solemnly makes their way to the graveside. These young men so polished, so precise. I wondered whether this is a chore for them or whether they truly see it as an honor, a tribute to a fallen comrade they never knew.
The wind whistles through the swaying pines. For a moment I fancy I hear a voice: voices on the wind. He was one of us…We are brothers-in-arms and one day, we will all meet here.
The casket is lowered and I glance over at Tzu, his hands in the pockets of a thick coat. He stands still, every facial muscle straining, I think, to do its duty. Their children aren’t here. I doubt he even asked them to make the trip. Only his wife stands by his side; she gazes down at the casket of a man she’d never known existed.
What thoughts are going through her head? Could she have helped? Could she have made the difference, tipped the scales? Could this so easily have been her husband if they had never met? Or some point in the future?
But nothing is revealed through the heavy lines of Chinese history etched across her face. As I look at her, I prefer to picture the laughing Mrs. Tzu, siding with Jane and Tabitha to bully me, and chiding me for not writing to my mother.
The 21-gun salute abruptly jolts me from my thoughts. Birds soar from nearby trees. I cringe with each volley and feel James take my arm. I resist looking at him, he might not want me to, but I make room for his hand on my upper arm and his fingers grip tightly.
The flag is folded with incredible precision and offered to Mr. Tzu. He takes it solemnly, stares at it and then caresses it to his heart. I think I see tears in his eyes, it is hard to be sure: my own are blurry.
And then the bugler plays the Taps. His notes ring out and rise to the tops of the pine trees, up into the swollen clouds, and out towards the partly shrouded Golden Gate Bridge. Then, just as abruptly, it is over. The few people in attendance are all Asian, save for the honor guard, James and myself. We hold back as they pay their respects to Tzu, shaking hands and occasionally a stiff hug.
When only Tzu and his wife are left, I introduce James. I tell Tzu that it was a beautiful ceremony and that I’m sure his brother would have been proud. He nods and Mrs. Tzu smiles and thanks me for coming.
Tzu and James exchange words. It is code to me: numbers of units, of places where they’d fought. Then James glances to the grave.
“You buried him away from the last line. You wish to reserve the adjacent plots?”
“You cannot reserve spots, other than for a spouse,” Tzu replies softly. “But maybe when my time comes, it would be nice to be near him.”
James nods and looks back at the newly dug grave. “I have friends. I’d be happy to put in a call. Would you mind?”
Mrs. Tzu answers for her husband. “My husband would appreciate it, thank you. You have a wonderful daughter. You must be very proud.”
“Oh I am,” James replies and his pride shines through the gloomy weather.
Mrs. Tzu nods theatrically at me. “Just not sure of her taste in men,” she adds lightly.
“She gets that from her mother,” the reply comes smoothly.
As I turn with Tzu away from the grave, the conversation vanishes instantly from my mind.
They stand in two rows, a different guard of honor, leaving a corridor for Tzu to walk through. Salvador is first and there are about twelve of them; come to pay their last respects to a colleague, a brother from the street, a friend who fought the good fight for as long as he could.
Good Writing,

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Two Worlds Converge

Tomorrow I will be selling my book, Oilspill dotcom, at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center Book Festival. I am excited. The festival is about Jewish literature, and not Jewish authors, and since Oilspill dotcom doesn't have any Jewish content, I count myself lucky to be there.

I have been allowed in through the back door because my full-time job is as the head of a Jewish non-profit which is seen as a vital component in the Jewish Community - The San Francisco Hillel provides educational opportunities and support for Jewish students in a part of the US where it isn't always easy to be openly Jewish on campus.

My claim with the bookseller at the festival is that I am a recognizable figure and plan to hang out by the book table.

This is true. But it also brings up another issue. I have never exploited this circle of influence to market myself as an author of political fiction. When I launched the book, I certainly told everyone and have received varying degrees of support from students, fellow staff and stakeholders. I could have pushed for more coverage, for readings, and included more plugs in my correspondents and updates.

But generally I have kept the worlds apart. I'm not sure why. I doubt that even those who might take issue with my view of multinational corporations would hold it against me in my work at SF Hillel.

I do believe that part of my drive to write novels that spotlight and challenge social injustices comes from the emphasis that Judaism puts on Tikkun Olam - fixing the world.

So on Sunday I will wear my smarter work clothes to ensure I am recognized and will discuss political literature alongside Jewish identity, look for common ground, and hopefully sell a few books in the process.

Good Writing,

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Authors Helping Authors

Yesterday I participated in the first marketing meeting for members of the California Writers Club, Berkeley Branch. At the end of the meeting, we all passed around bookmarks, postcards and other such promotional materials. The idea, based upon the Business Network & Referrals (BNI) model, was for each of us to get acquainted with each other’s work, and pass on the literature to someone we think might be interested.

During the meeting, many of us had to fight the urge not to promote our own work or share pitches. It was quite challenging. After all, we were all there because we are highly motivated to promote our books.

I hope we can create a culture within the group of giving time to helping other authors within the group. This sounds obvious, but we never seem to have enough time in the day to promote ourselves, let alone others.

There are, however, a number of ways in which to do this. If every member of the group did one small thing each day to help promote another group member, then we would discover we are each receiving a lot of help.

Authors generally, if they are not on the A-list, need help from others. So let’s try and create a culture of helping each other. Here is a list of 10 ways we can do this.

1. Post a review of someone’s book on Amazon.
2. Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner.
3. Mention their website or blog on whatever social networking site you are active.
4. Go to the public library. If their book isn’t there, request it.
5. Mention their book on Goodreads.
6. Again on Amazon – add some helpful tags or add them to your listamania.
7. Spotlight them on your blog.
8. Attend their book readings. Ask questions that make them look good and/or authoritative. Answering questions from someone you know helps the author relax and build confidence.
9. Link your website and their website.
10. Enter their book into a fundraising raffle as a prize.

This list took me less than 10 minutes (and it’s almost midnight – not when I am thinking clearest). If you can think of additional ways, please let me know and I will add them to the list. This is all about win:win. In the middle of a recession, and a ruthless industry that is in involuntary transformation, win:win is something we could all do with.

Good Writing,


Friday, October 9, 2009

On The Cutting Edge

I’m feeling good, stoked in fact, on the cutting edge. This week I filled out my forms and uploaded my publishers’ Oilspill dotcom files to Kindle. Today I entered the Star Trek dimension – beam me up Scotty!

Only a few weeks ago, I saw a Star Trek Next Generation episode in which (Lt. Commander) Geordi La Forge, the engineer, was preparing to travel to a convention on Reiser (surpassed Hawaii back in the 22nd Century for most popular business convention destination). He told Data (the android) that he planned a few days vacation and recounted the books he had uploaded as he tapped his pad (a Staff Fleet-issued 24th century Kindle).

So I am stoked. It is not often that a Trekkie can reach out where no person has gone before (well, a few hundred thousand perhaps) and enter into that technological plane.

I believe in the e-book. There is no justification for us to cut down forests and then wonder about global warming. The transportation of books, the warehouse, the garbage generated from paper and ink, and all the other related resources that could be saved if we all went wireless.

I do, however, have to admit that I don’t own a Kindle. Furthermore, even if I did (and the male techno-envy part of my ego wants one), I think I would have a hard time completely relinquishing the written book. Touch, smell, even looking at the collections on my shelf as they passively collect dust, these sensory experiences are all part of an overall experience beyond the screen.

But I am excited, even if slightly hypocritically so, that Oilspill dotcom is now available from Kindle. It’s nice to be a part of the future. Now I’m going home to curl up with a good hardback book, The Accidental Billionaires, which I’ve just purchased. I can’t wait to hear that virgin book spine crack!

By the way: did you know that the iPhone has Kindle accessibility too? Not only that, but let’s say you were reading a book on Kindle, for the sake of argument - Oilspill dotcom - and had stopped on a specific page. Then later on that day you had decided to access it via your iPhone, the phone would ask if you wanted to pick up where you left while reading on the Kindle. Cool – Capt. Kirk never had that kind of accessibility!

Good Writing,

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Independent Bookstores.

In a past blog, I shared my frustration with an unnamed independent bookstore not willing to order my book when a customer requested it. My frustration came from a deep desire to support the uphill battle that the small bookstore wages against the online mega stores and the two big chain stores that dominate our streets. As I said in that blog, the corner coffee shop and independent bookstore are an integral part of the community and hold a special place.

This week I had a healing experience. I emailed various independent bookstores around the Bay and was invited to visit a couple. The conversations were positive and supportive, and I left copies of Oilspill dotcom at both stores. I felt in.

Not that I should promote one store over another, but…

The Bird & Beckett is at 653 Chenery St., San Francisco. Glen Park is a neat neighborhood, with cool coffee shops, diners and local businesses. What I like in particular about the store, apart from the obvious grassroots political environment, are the regular jazz performances. There is something…organic, synergistic, about jazz and political novels…I’m not sure what, but it seems kind of Beat.

The Green Apple, 566 Clement Street, is an icon in the City. When my wife, Ariela, and I would visit friends in SF every three years, we made a pilgrimage to The Green Apple. We would leave a few hours later with enough books to seriously challenge our baggage limit as we flew home.

So, with my faith restored, I am back on the road, visiting the independent bookstores, plugging my book and myself. If you haven’t yet bought my book, perhaps consider supporting one of these unique establishments.

And if you have already bought my book, perhaps consider patronizing these stores for your next literary purchase.

Good Writing,

Saturday, September 12, 2009

To promote my book, Oilspill dotcom, I have designed business cards, fridge magnets, postcards, a big magnet on the door of my car, and now T-shirts. It is not clear to me what works and what does not, but I’m sure having a lot of fun with them.

I believe I can attribute at least one sale to each of these promotional tools, but my favorite so far happened on Labor Day. A dear couple that lives around the corner has kindly taken it upon themselves to create a neighborhood community. We get together every few months and celebrate living in Berkeley. In a world of intense social networking, of full calendars and work deadlines, it is refreshing to get together with people with whom you share nothing other than geography, and with whom there is no particular agenda.

So come Labor Day, this wonderful couple invites the neighborhood to a potluck in their garden. Armed with a salad of locally grown vegetables, my family and I stroll to our hosts’ house.

I just so happen (well, strategically planned a week beforehand) to wear my Oilspill dotcom T-shirt. One of the guests asks me what I am wearing and I begin to explain. Our host, upon hearing our conversation, promptly returns inside his house and brings out his copy, which he then makes sure everyone sees, while exhorting my novel.

For 10 minutes or so, I am the main attraction: me, Alon Shalev, the author. And best of all, someone walks us back home when we leave, to purchase a copy.

Now I devour marketing books, especially those ‘guerrilla’ or ‘grassroots’ marketing books. But if I learned anything that Labor Day weekend, it is that there is nothing as powerful as word-of-mouth, and no asset like a friend who believes in you.

In these days of detachment, when the mass media and Internet control so much of our social connections, all transpiring through a screen, the question I have is how can we facilitate more face-to-face opportunities to pass on the message we want to share? Or to change the world? Or even to promote something that we believe in…like a struggling author’s work?

Good Writing,

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Writing: The Solitary Path?

Picture the author: He (or she) is quiet, brooding, drinks and smokes too much, sits in a dark attic and pounds the keyboard. His hair is wild, uncombed, his razor unused, and his clothes ill-fitting and ill-matched. When forced out of his lair, he is socially awkward and impatient.

We’ve seen it in a dozen movies, read it in a hundred novels. Right?

But it’s wrong! It is a stereotype, possibly based upon someone, but I don’t believe it is the norm. True my social life mostly revolves around family, work, neighborhood, the boy’s school friends, synagogue, but I seem to have married or stumbled into these relationships, dictated by wife, children and geography. Let me stress that I love these people and value their friendship.

But there is something special when writers get together, something different. Whether this occurs at a chance meeting by the park playground, or by semi-chance while at a book signing, an author’s appearance or lecture.

Or whether it is organized – at my Writer’s group, at a California Writers Club meeting, a conference. Perhaps it is not even in person and happens online through a forum on LinkedIn, Facebook, Yahoo Groups or a dozen others

I love it when someone says: “Hey, I’ve just read your book.” I hope that thrill never disappears. But it’s an even greater thrill when a fellow writer tells me approvingly that they’ve read it. To hear someone praise your work when they truly appreciate, not just the plot, but the work that went into creating and finishing, and polishing, and putting it out there, and publishing, and marketing and…and…and…

I assume it is like this for all artists. When I tell a painter that I like her painting, or a musician that I like his music, does it matter that I can’t draw stick people without inflicting upon them unintentional deformity? Or that my tone deaf flat voice has been known to empty rooms before I even reach the chorus? Surely they appreciate the compliment more from a fellow artist or musician?

And then there is the critique, the honest suggestions from fellow writers who are investing some of their time and energy to help you craft a better story. And they are there for support – like when only two people attend a book reading that you painstakingly prepared for (and one of them is your mother).

I could never imagine writing collaboratively: my work is my own. But I could never imagine living as a writer in isolation. I would never survive the setbacks and would feel lonely even in my successes.

So here’s a Labor Day toast: to friends, to the rich literary scene and the Internet that helps bring us together.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Why Fiction?

While addressing a group about my novel, Oilspill dotcom, I apparently spent considerable time describing the McDonalds’ libel trial that transpired in London in the 1990’s, the court case upon which I had based my book.

I had been deeply inspired by the trial and meticulously researched ‘McLibel’ as it became known. My fictional timeline corresponded exactly with that of the real trial, motions in Oilspill paralleled those of the real court case, and even the more infamous quotes from the real-life witnesses found their way into the mouths of my characters.

I also allocated a fair part of my talk to the idea of writing for social justice, for a better world. This is a consistent theme of my books, and features heavily on my website – - so it begged someone to ask the question: Why fiction?

My answer was not very impressive. I think I mumbled that John Vidal, a journalist for The Guardian in the UK, had done a great job of writing the definitive book on the case.

But there is more. I feel it is possible to reach more people and on a deeper level when they, we, read fiction. We open ourselves to the emotions of the characters, the smell of the place, the textures of color, food, or wine.

But most significantly, we seek to identify with the characters, particularly the protagonists, often aligning by gender. I have heard from women who were deeply affected by my character Suzie’s ideological drive for a better world, and men who can understand how Matt needed to find a way to defend his woman.

If we can create a bond between character and reader, we open the opportunity for the reader to create an environment in which to undergo a similar transformation in their own life, outside the realm of fiction.

I believe relationships are what drive people to step outside their safe space. I am skeptical that so many people were propelled to go and vote in an African-American democrat because of the policies he advocated. The debate over the health plan probably illustrates this. I believe people were able to relate to then-Senator Obama’s (and/or Michelle’s) drive for a better America, for change. And this is what motivated so many to head to the polls.

When we relate to a person we admire, whether in fact or fiction, we consider on some conscious or subconscious level whether we could emulate that person and make a similar, courageous decision.

And when that happens, the potential for a better world seems almost obtainable.

Have you ever been inspired by a book to take action? I’d like to hear what the inspirational book was.

Good Writing,


Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Independant Bookstore

A friend went to her local independent bookstore and browsed the shelves intent on purchasing my book, Oilspill dotcom. It wasn’t there. Unperturbed, she went to the counter and asked the employee to order her a copy.

The assistant told her that they are not ordering single copies of books just now and would not be able to order Oilspill dotcom for her. Now I understand that the small bookstore has limited shelf space and there are 2 million books out there. I even understand (begrudgingly) why a bookstore where I haven’t appeared, or am not a local author, would not be sensitive to the legions of grassroots activists and readers who are seeking out my novel.

My friend went home and ordered the book online, I assume from

I am a big supporter of the independent bookstore. I appreciate the service that Amazon provides, but if I plan to buy a new book, I would rather patronize my local bookstores. I admire Starbucks – they make good coffee, have cheerful staff, and a vibrant and clean store. But providing that they match the standards, I would rather give my business to a local coffee shop.

Times are hard, and the consumer field is becoming even more competitive. If Darwin was a capitalist (I’ve no idea), he would probably suggest that Barnes & Noble, Borders, and Amazon will not need to share the field with the independent bookstore for much longer. Likewise, Starbucks, Peets, and Tully’s should be percolating the death knell of local coffee shops, grinding them into the dust, relegating them to has-beans…I’ll stop. Who said blogging couldn’t be fun?

Whether or not the mom and pop shops’ days are numbered, I would rather see them for a while longer. I feel, maybe irrationally, that they have a place in my ‘community’.

Which is why I don’t understand why the independent bookstore employee didn’t go the extra mile and order Oilspill dotcom for my friend. Perhaps they make less money from the small publisher than from major distributors, but hey, isn’t that ironic? My friend might have been able to buy my book from Amazon for less, and certainly didn’t have to leave her house, park her car and walk into the store. Furthermore, that satisfied customer might have returned to buy the next bestseller she fancies. More likely, she bought it when she purchased Oilspill dotcom and saved on the free shipping for a $25+ order.

There is a fascinating report out on the state of the book industry. What makes it fascinating is that it is cautiously optimistic of a literary future. But it does challenge the future of the independent bookstore, and anticipates a time in the not-too-distant future when e-books will match tree-books for sales. The author is Danny O. Snow, who works for the Society for New Communications Research, and his report can be found at

So let us end on a positive note. The book industry is not dying, but it is evolving and everyone: authors, publishers, distributors, bookstores, need to learn how to adapt to the ever-changing reality. That includes the independent bookstores, if they want to continue to exist. And I hope they do

Good Writing,


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Request for Help

It's been a good week with the interview from Frank Mondo, of the LA Books-Examiner, buoying my spirits.

I want to ask a favor from those of you who have read Oilspill dotcom. If you have finished reading it (or when you do), could you please take a few minutes to post a review on the website.

This is becoming my main distribution channel and I need to exploit the tools they provide. I will spend the next week polishing up my amazon page to make it as attractive as possible to the casual browser.

I had hoped to focus my efforts in marketing Oilspill dotcom through the independent bookstores. I love these shops and am sad to see so many closing. A local bookstore is like...a local coffee shop (also a disappearing breed). They seem to be part of the community fabric.

However, it is not proving easy to secure readings and shelf space. These small shops have limited space, for a reading or on the bookshelf, and do not always have the staff to organize. They ask understandable, but challenging questions, like how many people I will draw to the store for my appearance. I remain (for the present) a small fish in the literary ocean.

Thank you for posting a review on Amazon. I have set a goal for 10 reviews by the end of the weekend.

Good Writing,

Monday, August 3, 2009

My First Interview...

Frank Mondo, from the LA Books Examiner, just published an interview that he gave me.

Thanks Frank.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 15th A Time to Chill Pt. 2 – Failed!

July 15th - Posted a week later...

A hippie café with a mean latte in hand, sipped in the shadow of the snow-capped Mount Shasta. Truly a ‘Garden of Eden’. The boys are swimming in the deep blue lake, the trout are biting, and my partner and I are drinking wine in the evening by the campfire. Vacation – a time to chill, to relax, to reconnect with close ones and nature.

The mistake. I should never have put an Internet option on my cell phone. An email. An interview with a deadline…one that has passed. The sympathetic reporter has sent questions via email since she has not been able to find me.

A rescheduling of tomorrow’s vacation day incorporates a mad dash to a wireless café. Once again I am pounding the keys of my laptop. In truth, the questions are thought-provoking and an hour shoots past as I immerse myself back into the dream – to become a recognized author of transformational fiction.

Whether it is the caffeine coursing through my veins, the deadline, or the dream, I’m not sure, but I suddenly feel pleasantly wired again. I probably wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t been so relaxed, fishing pole in hand, watching an osprey compete for food.

The osprey might have the upper hand on the lake, but I feel good fishing for another dream.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Vacation - A Time to Chill

My first month since Oilspill dotcom was published has been a rollercoaster. The highs of seeing the book move up the rankings and the excitement of the book launch party at The Bread Workshop in Berkeley. Both were very successful.

Since then it has become more challenging. I have spent the last few weeks trying to garner interviews, author meetups and generally networking beyond the Bay Area bubble.

Perhaps it is the slowing pace of the summer months, the call of vacation, but everything seems slower and more difficult. And, in truth, I am feeling it too. I thought it was the anti-climax after the excitement of the first month, but perhaps there is an accumulating exhaustion, trying to juggle a new commitment amidst the general chaos of a challenging full time job, a young family, and the desire to keep writing.

I need to find a way of incorporating the marketing of Oilspill dotcom, into an already packed everyday routine, without it taking the fun out of writing and being an author.

I am going on vacation and when I return, I will create a more realistic marketing plan, one that is sustainable and compatible to my everyday life. I do not intend to blog over the next few weeks, but take a break both physically and mentally. On my family vacation I plan to write, just get back to being creative, and getting the energy back.

After all, this is what a vacation is about. And marketing Oilspill dotcom can wait two weeks. In order not to burn out, I need to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint.

See ya’ all in a few weeks.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Out of the Paddocks

Last week I wrote about feeling the launch - the adrenaline and the surge of energy as the race began. Anyone who has experienced the beginning of a race or marathon knows that feeling when the gun goes off and everybody goes from static to motion. The moments prior to the beginning of the race seem eternal, while the first step so powerful.

So, Oilspill dotcom is out. The book was launched in two stages: On Friday, June 12th, my 45th birthday, many of my friends and colleagues bought copies on Amazon and we watched excitedly as the book climbed from 1.2 million to 4,500 on the Amazon rankings. Thank you everyone who made this possible.

Then last weekend, at the official launch. I was able to stand before a packed room and talk about why I write, what Transformational fiction is (another time), and about the amazing court case on which Oilspill dotcom is based.

Friends, and friends of friends, read out parts of the book in character. Alan Black, author of Kick the Balls, added his Scottish accent to provide an authentic rendition of Professor McGoughen (see earlier guest blogger). We talked about the book, about writing and drank wine together in what I hope was a great evening for all.

Now the dust of the launch begins to settle. What next? Even the title of this blog screams the question.

For a year I have collected ideas of how to market Oilspill dotcom. While I am sure that Oprah and Jon Stewart are madly juggling their other guests to find me a convenient spot on their shows, I’m not sure I should wait around for them.

This week I began sorting out those ideas. Over the summer I want to put together a few readings in independent bookstores, garner reviews and articles in local newspapers, and build a schedule that will allow me to market Oilspill dotcom, finish editing Barista, and begin writing another novel.

Oh yeah, and excel at a full-time challenging job, be an involved father and husband, keep fit and sane.

But then, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

"I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them, I shall use my time."
- Jack London 1876-1916

Thursday, June 18, 2009

And They're Off...

I really feel, in many ways, like a racehorse, fresh out of the paddocks and charging around the racetrack. Last Friday was the beginning. In the preceding days I sent emails to everyone I know and asked them to consider buying Oilspill dotcom on Friday, which happened to be my birthday.

My ranking improved from around #1,200,000 to #4,500, so it couldn’t have just been my mother! I promised myself that I would not go into Amazon to check more than once an hour – a logical decision given that Amazon only updates their numbers once an hour – and, well, I rarely went in more than 2 or 3 times an hour.

Along with the messages from friends telling me that they’d bought the book, were numerous emails congratulating me and offering many words of encouragement. I feel blessed with a large group of people who care about me and are excited for my progress.

Now I need to move on and focus on my book launch party, this coming Saturday night at 7.30pm. As already mentioned in past postings, the venue is the Bread Workshop, on University Avenue, Berkeley.

The Bread Workshop (1398 University Avenue, Berkeley) is a small community-orientated café and bakery that tries to use only sustainable products and produce. It is a favorite haunt of mine and I am proud that we are holding the launch at such a venue. There is a poster of me in the window staring out as you drive past (trust me and keep your eyes on the road) and I get a thrill every time I pass by.

I plan to have friends reading passages from the book and I am excited at the prospect of sharing the book face-to-face with people who are not in my writer’s group or family.

So if you are around on Saturday, please drop by and be a part of the experience.

It’s beginning to feel real!

Good Writing,

Friday, June 5, 2009

A Pit in the Stomach

It’s June and Oilspill dotcom has just been released! Everyday this week I have gone into, just to …well… make sure it is still there. In the next few days I will send out emails and blasts to all my family, friends and colleagues. I will post on the various social networking sites where I maintain a profile and on Internet forums in which I participate.

My birthday is next Friday (06/12) and I am hoping for an Amazon ranking on that day. As a gift for my birthday, I am asking friends to buy a copy of Oilspill dotcom for themselves, or as a gift for someone else on June 12th. If people buy from, I might break into the top 1,000, which will be a feat and hopefully help attract some exposure. A few people have already purchased the book and, for a while, I broke into the top 250,000 – Oprah here I come! Currently, I think I am languishing around the 1 million mark, deep in what publishers call Amazon’s ‘long tail’.

I will continue to promote my book launch on June 20th at The Bread Workshop in Berkeley. I have posters printed and have sent press releases to local newspapers and magazines.

Everything is going according to plan, but…

There seems to be a small pit of fear that’s taken up residence in my stomach. I am not doing enough to promote…I will make a fool of myself…people won’t like the book…won’t take me seriously…won’t come to the book launch…won’t…

It’s cloudy here in San Francisco. It’s June – the sun should be shining.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Guest Blogger: Professor McGoughen

I’m really excited tae be com’g tae California for the book launch of Oilspill dotcom in a co’ple o’ weeks. Once I finished teaching law at Oxford, I had planned tae visit ma wee grandchildren in Edinboro’, but I could nae resist seeing the book o’ the trial an’ how y’ Americans perceive such a shenanigan.

Ma role was a wee one. I canna nae believe that computer wiz kid got me soo wound up tae get back intae the ring. I spent ma whole life fightin’ the multinationals. Me an Oxford law professor, an’ I still can nae imagine how two yo’ng rebels could have pulled it off.

Certainly the Internet was a powerf’l tool that I nae had in ma day. But the way that laddie harnessed it to involve so many people from all o’er the world, he deserves all the credit that this wee book gives him.

An’ I hope it gives a new generation o’ lasses ’n ladies t’ aspire an’ fight for what’s right inna way that’s relevant f’ them. Your President understood this ’n that’s why soo many people got involved in his campaign that had nae done soo before. I hear he still sends out updates to his supporters, still keeps them informed.

I want this t’ be the message that y’ people will take from Oilspill dotcom, that it’s possible to effect change, that y’ can influence what is happening. Ya need to know what is happening. When them corporate types know som’n is watching them, they might think twice ’bout their actions.

An’ remember: this trial mae have happen’d in England, but many o’ these multi nationals operate outta the US. This is as relevant f’ yoo as it is f’ Britain, Africa or Asia. Our world is all connected an’ we noo got much time. This Internet might jus’ bee the tool f’ change – an’ this is what young Shalev is tryin’ t’ tell us.

Read the book. Y’ nae look at the web in the same wae again.

Alistair McGoughen
Professor at Law, Oxford University

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Update on Launch: Oilspill dotcom

Friends and colleagues who are following this blog and the approaching launch of my novel Oilspill dotcom have asked for an update. This is, after all, the point of the blog.

The book is ready and out there. With my birthday approaching (June 12th) I have decided to make the announcement in the week leading up and will ask friends and colleagues to consider purchasing the book on on June 12th. The idea is that I will be able to secure an ranking as a birthday present.

My book launch will be the following week on Saturday, June 20th at 7.30pm. It will be hosted at The Bread Workshop (1398 University Avenue), a typical local Berkeley creation. In their own words:

The Bread Workshop creates sustainable food in a context that is community oriented. The community includes customers, neighborhood, schools, workers, vendors and producers. We are also dedicated to understanding sustainability; environmentally; socially; and economically. In doing this we are developing a cohesive logic in deciding what is sustainable or not so that we can maintain a truly sustainable production and integrate it into society.

I have a plan to avoid forcing my guests to listen to me and I am on the lookout for people with English accents (actually a Northerner, a Scotsman and some Londoners), if you fancy your acting talents. No Oscar nominations, but the appreciation of a struggling writer.

I would like to hold a launch party the following week in San Francisco and am looking for a venue. Any ideas?

For now, my time is being spent on press releases and designing promotional items (?), social networking, promoting my website ( and, of course, my blog. I find this all to be exhilarating. It is where I have wanted to be.

But I am also itching to return to writing. There is another novel completed which, while I am very proud of it, is in dire need of some severe editing. And then there is a firm idea for the next novel and a desire to lose myself at the keyboard.

Good Writing,

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Interview: The Honorable Henry Wilkins QC – sitting judge of the Oilspill Libel trial.

Henry Wilkins QC: Let me make it clear before we even begin this interview. I will not answer any question specific to the ruling of the Oilspill Libel case, as it is now known. I am a judge, a Queen’s Councilor, and proud to serve at Her Majesty’s Royal Courts of Justice. I am somewhat suspicious of blogs, of what one can or cannot write, and I am anxious to read this book by Alon Shalev – Oilspill dotcom – and see how he portrays my role or the role of the law.

Interviewer: Let us begin with this aspect of the court case. Did you ever imagine when the two sides stood before you on that first day in court that the case would last for so many years and become the longest trial in British history? Or that it would attract such a high profile?

HW: Certainly not. The mere notion that two amateurs could take on a legal heavyweight as Jeffery Sithers and fathom their way through such a complex framework as the British libel laws is baffling. Of course, no one imagined that the website would have such a profound effect or such worldwide appeal.

Int.: Did you ever feel that you wanted to help or advise the defendants because of this blatant inequality?

HW: Hmm, a tough question. With regard to the actual issues, I never felt a desire to support either side. I am most comfortable with the gown and wig that I wear and understand my role of objectivity, of ensuring that the law is respected.

But then I sat there for two years seeing two exhausted and frustrated young people, clearly committed to what they perceive as a better business and world model, but always outflanked, out resourced and, certainly out-briefed, not that such a word exists.

Then at the other table sat Jeffery Sithers, the legal heavyweight in Britain, with seven legal aides, all dressed up in their pin-striped suits, and always prepared for what was unfolding. Did you know that the company actually provided Jeffery with a young caddie, whose sole responsibility was wheeling all their documents in and out of the courtroom?

Int.: What was groundbreaking about this case?

HW: Hmmm, I think there are two significant aspects. Clearly, it exposed the need to update the British libel laws, which, I believe, have been left untouched for 500-600 years. Secondly, the whole aspect of the growing role of the Internet: that such a global informational conduit could be leveraged in such a fashion, well let me tell you, it was fascinating. And, between you and me, I have continued to learn and stay abreast of these technological advances.

Int.: How did you feel when you saw Professor McGoughen enter the fray?

HW: Ha! That old cad! I think that the only time I allowed my emotions to show was the first time I saw that old fox sitting up in the galley grinning. I never thought he could be lured out of his Oxford University sanctuary. He might seem eccentric to some, but let me tell you, he was a legal titan in his day. He pursued the multinationals and big businesses with a vengeance. I clashed with him many times over our careers and I hold him in the highest esteem. Still, I can’t say I was too happy with him when he pulled that stunt on me at the end of the trial.

Int.: Without getting into the court case itself: what lessons can we all learn from what transpired in your courthouse?

HW: Hmm. Firstly, that the law makes everyone accountable, no matter how big or wealthy they might be. It must fulfill this role. Secondly, that the Internet has an important role of keeping things in the open, so that we all make informed choices and have the information at our fingertips.

And one effect that this case had on me, personally. We only have one world and we are all responsible for what happens to it. It is a fragile world and getting frailer everyday.

Int.: Do I detect a value judgment of the court case?

HW: Good Heavens! No! Strike that from the record!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Guest Blogger: Matt Fielding

I am truly humbled. I knew Alon Shalev was writing this novel, Oilspill dotcom, and I knew he had aspirations to one day see it published, but I kind of had my doubts about the whole project.

Don’t get me wrong. The decision by Global Energy Development Corporation to sue my girlfriend, Suzie, and her colleague, Bill, was pretty stunning. That the British judicial system didn’t see fit to provide them with legal aid is still hard to believe; and, of course, the astonishing fact that this court case went on to become the longest trial in British history, is all worthy of being recorded.

What I find humbling is the fact that the author, Alon Shalev, saw fit to make me his protagonist. Certainly my role as the web designer is significant. The fact that Oilspill dotcom was probably the first ever interactive advocacy website, that it became a conduit for the flow of information on a global level, and that it enabled Suzie and Bill to act and respond at the necessary legal level without any formal training, is all amazing, especially to geeks such as myself.

But Shalev goes a step further. He is not content with the mechanics of the Information Highway and the work our Dream Team undertook. He seems fascinated with me personally and the process I went through.

Let me be honest: Before meeting Suzie, I couldn’t have told you the names of our government’s cabinet members. I knew more about Arsenal Football Club’s reserve side than our shadow cabinet and, being in opposition meant Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool, not the Conservatives, Liberals and the Green Party.

I’ll be perfectly clear (I have been asked this many times in interviews): I only got involved because I fancied Suzie (love came along, but much later) and wanted to date her. I can’t tell you at what point I became politically aware, at what point it ceased to be personal.

This reckless multinational corporation hurt many people I loved and respected. My friends became victims to a business model that cannot conceive of the pain and destruction left in its wake, the devastating effect these companies have on the individual who willingly or unwillingly gets in the way of their profit highway.

Today I remain involved: being with Suzie, how could I not? My consulting agency is selective about which clients we take on and we have an internship program where we not only mentor students, but also have them work, pro bono, on projects that advance social justice and sustainability.

Not bad for a self-absorbed yuppie who was only out to get laid, huh? Only when I read Oilspill dotcom did I ever have any idea about the transformation that I underwent. I guess for this I should thank Shalev for writing the novel and giving me the chance to become who I am.

And if my story can in any way help someone else make the changes necessary to help this embattled world of ours to be a better place, well, I am proud to have been the protagonist of Oilspill dotcom.

Matt Fielding
Oilspill dotcom.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May 1st I Had Hoped…

Oilspill dotcom can be read on many different levels. It is a story of one man’s transformation from self-absorbed yuppie to political activist, it is the coming of age of the Internet, it is romance, it is (hopefully) amusing, it is (ideally) an inspiration to people to act and make a difference.

I had originally hoped to launch on May 1st, a day that is traditionally politically charged. This hasn’t happened. My publisher suggested that I read through the proof, as things often read differently when they are in book form. This proved sound advice and I did find a few places that needed tweaking.

So it will probably be another month. My birthday is in June, so I am considering launching a Buy me an Amazon ranking for a birthday present… campaign.

Ariela (my wife) is helping me find a venue for the launch in Berkeley. I think we have found a good place and hope to close it in the next week.

It was an exciting moment holding a copy of my book (the proof), Oilspill dotcom, though not as strong as when I had first held a copy of A Gardener’s Tale. I’ve read some authors talk of the awe they felt when holding their book, comparing it to holding their baby for the first time. You wait so long to hold your newborn baby, imagine how s/he will look through the long months of pregnancy etc. etc.

Having held two newborn sons, I can’t quite relate to that comparison, that wondrous moment. But at least I wasn’t scared about dropping the book on the floor!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Becoming the Personification

A new member at our writer’s group asked me what genre I write.

I answered: “Transformational fiction.”

“What’s that?”

I was asking for it, since I have adopted a phrase I heard from the presenter of a workshop at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

“I write about change – people who want to make a change in the world and by doing so make a change in themselves.”

What followed was a meaningful conversation about my books. It progressed into which causes we each work for, and what organizations we are members of and support. I felt that I left him wanting to buy my book because he had connected to me. Best of all, it wasn’t false or salesmanship. I was being me and, perhaps the fact that I was being genuine is what was most attractive.

Brian Judd in a recent Booksurge webinar recalled a man who had written a children’s book about bananas. He would dress up as a banana, which naturally became a talking point.

I have tried to make my website ( fit that transformative flavor: the Richard Wright quote, the request to purchase my book at an independent bookstore and showcasing non profits and causes that I support.

This urge to advance a persona behind the book and author feels right. It wouldn’t work if it wasn’t genuine, but since I have been a political activist and community organizer (no I’m not announcing my candidacy for President) for most of my life, it fits.

And so I will go out into the world: Alon Shalev, author of transformational fiction. And maybe one day, the person I am being introduced to won’t respond: “Transformational fiction – what’s that?”

Even better, maybe they’ll say: “Alon Shalev? Yeah I read your novels.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Death to the Publishing Industry: Long Live the Publishing Industry!

Two weeks ago I wrote about the pitfalls of an author receiving a large advance. Despite the feedback I received, I am still convinced that the up-and-coming author would be better off rejecting a $20K advance and asking the publisher to invest that money in book promotion. And yes, I am still waiting for a publisher to test my resolve!

But there is another principle, another cornerstone of the publishing industry that I wish to vilify: The Principle of Returns. In any other industry, the shop can return a product to the manufacturer if it proves defective or damaged. A bookstore can return a book if…it doesn’t sell.

Where is the responsibility? Your average big bookstore will stock around 100,000 books in their store, while taking responsibility to promote only a few. Why should they put any effort into selling any but a select number, when they always have the option of returning the books and receiving a full refund? Barnes & Noble, I understand, are taking a lead in responsible book ordering and trying to find a more sustainable model.

This has two major effects. Firstly, there are way too many trees being cut down unnecessarily and energy being wastefully expended on production (I admit that I have not yet felt a desire to purchase a Kindle or other electronic reader, despite being a fervent environmentalist and Star Trek fan – where do you think the idea came from?).

The second issue is that such a policy is blatantly discriminatory to the smaller and independent publisher, who can often receive a book returned a couple of years later. Such business practices are strangling the smaller publishers and creating a fearful environment of huge corporations that base their decisions exclusively on the bottom line.

Last month, I attended a talk by Charlotte Cook, president of KOMENAR Publishing, a small independent company, at the California Writers Club (Berkeley branch). Ms. Cook spoke about how they often receive returns up to four years after ‘selling’ a book.

But what most annoyed me was Ms. Cook’s account of a recent booksellers’ conference to which several workshops focused on teaching booksellers how to improve a returns instead of payment strategy in. Certainly booksellers who hadn't previously considered returns as a legitimate and productive business tactic, may well have left the conference thinking why not?

Like Ms. Cook, I am left pondering: why did they not offer workshops on, perhaps, how to promote and sell a book?

I have heard rumors that there are a number of well-placed people in the industry who want to abolish the returns policy, and that they are exploring the idea of creating a publishing house that will not work on this premise.

I have no idea where this stands, and have to admire the courage of anyone in this economic climate who would consider leaving a secure job to set up a new business while challenging one of the sacred cows of the industry, even if it is time to put that cow out to pasture.

Good Writing,


Btw - I am five days away from holding a copy of Oilspill dotcom in my hands.

Also thank you to those who offered feedback about my website ( I really appreciate your input.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Happy Passover/Easter/Family Gathering

It has become easier to talk about my upcoming book release and my aspirations to be a known author when talking to workmates and strangers. So why is it still so difficult when it comes to family?

It’s Passover and Easter, and common to most religions, the family gathers. They ask different questions: more probing, analytical, and in the author’s view, more judgmental.

We could avoid it: talk about the kids, the economy, sports, anything, but we feel a need with this group more than any other, for approval. They see the new website but you note that they go straight to the bio and comment on the family photo. Their eyes glaze over when you try and launch them into the blogosphere.

Why do we crave their encouragement? We’re adults, having left the nest decades ago. They probably won’t even buy the book since we’ll feel obliged to gift them. Perhaps it is us who are out of step. Why should they have to oblige us by following every baby step we take? They probably see this as our latest craze (admit it – there have been a few)?

Ironically though, there is only one person who has read my newest, unedited manuscript from beginning to end – my Mum. She cannot always be counted upon for blind support (she hated my 2nd novel – the one that will probably never see its way into the public arena – no connection, I’m sure!). Others have read the first 50 pages or so, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, but my Mum loved the book and I feel on fire with my latest creation.

Perhaps these family gatherings that religious and state holidays afford us can serve as a reminder that the most important person who must approve of our work is actually ourselves.

Good Writing,


Saturday, April 4, 2009

Advancing Backwards

I’ll admit it upfront. No publisher has ever offered me a $100K advance, a $20K advance, or even much more than the time of day. So I can make no claim that I would stand by this blog entry should the occasion ever arise.

It was not long ago that the author’s worth was measured by the size of the advance that s/he received. Newspapers, with apparently little else to report, headlined the latest six-figure deal. I can’t help thinking that there are parallels to the housing and credit crises – money was offered/promised without any real foundation to back up whether such assumptions would play out.

The advance is essentially an advance on future sales. If a book sells for $4, the author receives a dollar on each book, and a $20K advance, s/he needs to sell 20,000 copies to be deemed successful (probably within 4-6 months). Failing this, s/he is deemed a failure in the eyes of the publishing world.

Had the same author not received an advance and sold 15,000 copies, the publisher would probably have been happy, seen potential in building this author’s platform or visibility, and gone with a second or third book. Chances are that this author would also have worked considerably harder to promote and market his/her book.

I also suspect, though I claim no inside knowledge, that the often suicidal bidding wars on the rights to an author have helped lead to the destabilization of the publishing market and the disappearance of so many publishing houses.

I have heard that a number of insiders from the publishing world are considering forming a new publishing house based upon the principle of not giving advances. Good luck to them, I say, and here’s my website ( if you’re looking for more than just a fan.

Oh, and anyone out there who wants to test my resolve with an audacious offer – same website.

BTW – Oilspill dotcom is now officially in Acquisitions phase. I’m not sure what this means, but I understand that I am only a week or so away from holding a physical copy in my hands!

Good Writing,


Friday, March 27, 2009

The Tears Bear Witness…

There is nothing unusual when reading a scene evokes a strong emotion, perhaps a lump in the throat or maybe even tears. When it is the author that feels this, it is a clear testament to his/her connection to what s/he has written, to the part of the author imbibed in the story.

But what puzzles me is, when even after reading the same passage 5, 10, even 30 times, the same strong emotion is evoked. It happened to me this week, when my publisher suggested I read through the book one final time to spot any mistakes the editor or I might have missed.

There is a particular passage in Oilspill dotcom where the protagonist, realizing that they are probably going to lose the court case, runs out of the office in frustration but is then confronted by pouring rain. He stares up at huge skyscrapers and feels helpless and puny. A delicate dialogue follows between him and his girlfriend.

I got choked up when I wrote it, choked up when I reread it, and choked up when I edited it. My voice broke when I read it out loud to my writer’s group and I remember stopping mid sentence to gulp some water.

Now, two years on, I read it for possibly the 20th or 30th time and the tears well up again. Why?

It is magic.

Even if no one else in the whole world is moved, it is magic nonetheless. There is a connection between the writer and the character that defies definition. And perhaps it doesn’t matter what the reason is or who else it affects, because no one will ever understand a character like its author.

And just maybe, this is why we write – to experience the magic.

Good Writing,


Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Final Furlough

I know, I know. I missed a blog entry last week, a cardinal sin of blogospherial proportion. Truth is, with a new cover, the text laid out in final form and the last stages of my website, it has been a critical two weeks.

Heavy pressure at work (the work that pays the bills and puts food on the table), a sick child, and my wife away from home interviewing, also made finding time to focus on my book challenging.

It is both exciting and depressing. Recently I find that if I consider the whole picture - the endless To Do lists, timetables, SMART goals – then a wave of paralysis descends, reinforced by guilt, flanked by a sense of failure, backed up by hopelessness and commandeered by fatigue, the latter from less than six hours sleep, as I burn the candle at both ends while tossing and churning over To Do lists.

A high point of the week was opening a To Do list from a few months ago and seeing that, yes, I am getting through it.

And then there was receiving the new book cover for Oilspill dotcom. After three times experiencing a sinking feeling each time I downloaded the file, it was exhilarating to feel a soar of excitement as a first reaction to a new book cover design.

Reading through the manuscript in final layout format was also exciting for two reasons. Firstly, there is a feeling of closure, going through word-by-word for the last time. Secondly, I love my characters! After all this time, reading the book 15-20 times, and still feeling sad or elated for them. Tear still welled when I read certain passages – it was like checking in again with old friends.

So, here’s to old friends. Like To Do lists, they never seem to go away, even when the book is finished.

Good Writing,


Monday, March 2, 2009

Preparing for the Book Launch – the venue

The website is coming together well, and really just waiting for the book cover to be locked down and ready to insert on every page.

My attention now turns to the book launch itself. I have decided to hold two book launches – one in Berkeley and the other in San Francisco (near SF State University) – not exactly the world tour, but it might be more prudent to focus on my home bases, to build up confidence and actually have anyone turn up!

The first question is one of venue. There are practical considerations such as proximity to the BART transit station, easy parking, a place that isn’t going to charge me much, or even better, one that will be content to profit from the food and drink. It needs to be relatively quiet, allowing my book to be the center of attention.

I would like to find somewhere eyebrow-raising, somewhere that would provide an added attraction, perhaps tip the scales for anyone not exactly sprinting out the door to join me.

Any ideas would be extremely helpful, anything out-of-the-box.

Thanks and Good Writing,


Sunday, February 22, 2009

It’s A Business!

I have many lists that are merging together into a business, or rather a marketing plan. Right now I am focused on the book cover, the interior design, reviews, the blog and soon-to-be-launched website.

But there is another list: Business Operations. On this list are such items as:

- Receipt book for books bought in cash
- New bank account
- Thank You cards
- Cash box
- Ledger

And suddenly it hits me – this is a business. Ironically, I have not been too concerned with break even numbers, how to spend the first million (okay, I have that meticulously planned), or very much on the fiscal side.

There is a budget in place to ensure that I don’t invest beyond the amount agreed with my wife, but this has rarely been a focus. The novel is finished, I want to tell my story to the world, and I am ready to put in some time to market it and seriously explore its potential.

Next weekend I will file my family’s taxes. They are very simple: a single income, a few bank accounts, my wife’s studies – all easily handled by Turbo Tax. Next year there will be an additional income stream, a home business and who knows what.

Next year it won’t be so simple … I hope.

Good Writing,


Friday, February 13, 2009

Why I Write

Al Levenson, President of the Berkeley Branch of the California Writer's Club, asked some of the members to write a short piece about why they wrote. I pondered the question for a couple of days and wrote nothing. Then it just came out:

I write, first and foremost, for myself. I love the rush when the story flows, when I can’t type fast enough to keep up with the thought process, when the characters leave the computer and shadow me at work, in the gym, at home.

I write because I hope to help create change in the world. I strive through my writings to highlight social and political injustice, and to inspire personal activism. My novels have included characters who have transformed themselves, taken on multinational corporations, overcome great personal challenges, and stood up for the homeless and war veterans. At a writing workshop I heard the facilitator try to launch the term – transformational fiction. It never caught on in the writing world, but it spoke to me.

And if I’m truly honest, I write to stand out. I want people to see me as a person with something to say, to be enthusiastic about my stories, and for my sons to show their teachers and friends my book and say proudly: “My Dad’s an author.”

Good Writing,


Friday, February 6, 2009

Looks Are Everything

Never judge a book by its cover.

We’ve all heard it before, possibly said it ourselves, but in the context of book promotion, people do judge a book by its cover. Usually it is a subconscious response, but we seem to make some pretty conclusive decisions in a matter of seconds.

Picture yourself perusing along the shelves at your favorite independent bookstore. A book catches your eye, probably from the title as it is revealed on the spine of the book. You pick up the book, glance at the cover and then, hopefully, turn it over to read the blurbs and synopsis on the back cover.

What happens in that glance at the front cover that either prompts the reader to turn to the back cover or return the book to the shelf? Is there a magic formula that we need to consider when designing our book cover?

I believe that the cursory glance needs to take in enough symbolism to understand the genre, the right color to set the mood, and then just maybe something that triggers a sense of inquiry, whether based on past experience or present interests.

This week I received the first designs for my book cover. While undoubtedly a complex work of art, I felt terribly alienated from what the artist was trying to convey. The colors were dark and sinister, with a daunting oil rig and other smart ideas such as seashells in bedrock. The idea was clearly taken from the title of the book, Oilspill dotcom, and the artist was trying to convey the malevolent nature of multinational corporations. Even the title, written in a thick black font had drops of oil falling from it.

But I want the book to convey inspiration and hope, the true message of my novel. I want a light color and clear images of a computer screen and either a gavel or scales of justice to show that this is a courtroom drama.

What really worries me is: what do I know? I am an author, with no expertise in art or marketing. The cover designer is no doubt a professional, but can s/he understand the message I, as the author, am trying to convey?

I believe in professionalism and earlier made up my mind that I would accept the changes suggested when my manuscript was being professionally edited. But there is something about the cover design that seems so personal, so fateful. In the end I need to be able to hold up the book – whether to a consumer, to a group I’m addressing, or on Oprah (let me dream) and say: This is my book.

Good Writing,


Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Author's Website

With Oilspill dotcom safely in the hands of my publisher, I need to turn my attention to marketing and creating a wide Internet presence. Clearly, a website that promotes my books and me as an author, is the first task.

Many moons ago, I went through a time of building websites for fun – remember What You See Is What You Get (WYSIWYG)? – and had a lot of fun doing them. None of them exist anymore and I should probably be relieved. They were philosophical, world changing, and political. I can’t remember much about them.

This time it’s different. An author’s website sets his persona. S/he either sees her/himself as a professional or s/he doesn’t – and you can tell by their website.

I’ve spent a couple of evenings perusing through authors web pages. Some are impressive: others are not. The clear dilemma: do I pass it on to a professional and pay from my limited financial resources budgeted, or do I try and do-it-myself?

The first people of good advice that I received was to ensure that whatever is created, I will be able to enter and easily update by myself – add reviews (the good ones!), interviews, announcements of awards garnered (let me enjoy myself for a moment – it’s cold, gray and raining right now!).

Thankfully there seems to be some middle ground. I have found a couple of interesting companies that cater for authors:
Web for Authors (,
The Author’s Guild (,
and Authors Tree (

I have a good resource book that I want to share with you: The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platform – Stephanie Chandler. At first glance Chandler’s book seems very no nonsense and I suspect that it will be well worn before it begins to gather dust on my bookshelf.

Finally, I would like to share with you some of the author’s websites that have most impressed me so far in terms of design and content. By this I mean sites that I have gleaned ideas from:

Michelle Gagnon
Robert Dugoni
Michelle Richmond

And of course, one of my heroes …

John Grisham

Let me know what you think of these sites, any advice you might have, and any novel ideas for content on the site. I do need help.

Good Writing,


Friday, January 16, 2009

The Empty Nest!

It’s gone! Left home!

My little manuscript, all bundled up, with its lunchbox full of meaningful prose, backpack full of plot and suspense, gone. It walked out of my computer and made its way to the publisher. It was so quick – an attachment, a few answers and the click of the enter button.

It’s grown up so fast. It seems like only yesterday when I was staring at a blank screen, when the first couple of chapters were coming into their own, when my plot took its first tentative steps.

Oh those sleepless nights! Oh those sick days with contagious writer’s block! But now its gone. No point perusing over old drafts, regretting scenes that were cut, ideas never added.

But neither is it time to sever the ties. There is still a long process of book size, cover, images, style … And it’s time to seriously lay out a marketing plan.

Oilspill dotcom has left home and is on its way into the big, wide world. I hope it will travel widely, make many new friends (preferably the book-buying type), and even create a reputation for itself.

Bon Voyage – Oilspill dotcom.


Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Holiday Party Season

Like many writers, I am not the party swinger. During the year, the kind of parties that I am invited to tend to be kids birthday parties, where the grand sum of conversation circulates around ... kids. Perhaps I’m not the greatest father (though I do try to be), but somehow, it seems there is only so much to discuss with almost-strangers about your child or theirs, generally theirs. I guess if I were invited to writer’s parties, I would have a ball. But I’m not, so I don’t.

The holiday season presents an intense season of parties, not necessarily revolving around children. Being in the Bay Area, Xmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Diwali, all neatly intermingle and we all seem comfortable if not excited at joining each other’s religious celebrations. It’s not hard: we all utilize light, presents, food and wine.

We also socialize.

Like most writers, I’d rather be writing, but I decided this year to approach the parties with a goal. I will present myself as an author. Fresh from the conference I attended in Baltimore (see blog entry: Elevator Pitch), with my well-practiced elevator pitch, I slipped some business cards that promote this blog into my pocket and, so armed, went into battle.

I failed. Even my wife took pity on me and tried to bring up Oilspill dotcom in every conversation that we shared, but to little avail. Twice, I never even got to finish my elevator pitch, once a child fell down and began crying near us, and one woman even spilt her plate of food (I would like to think this was an accident, rather than an act of desperation).

People do perk up their ears when I mention my blog. But they are not interested in my book or me; they are interested in the phenomenon of blogging. And all too quickly the conversation turns to: “What do you people have to say?” “Who reads them?” “My friends/family/colleagues think I should blog. Who has the time?”

And then they turn away to fill their wine glass and replenish their plate with turkey and cranberry sauce and I’m left surreptitiously returning the blog business card to my pocket and sighing.

Happy End-of-Holidays & Good Writing!


Saturday, January 3, 2009

New Year’s Writer’s Resolutions.

I’ve always considered it kind of kitsch – making New Year Resolutions. In fact, every December, I make a pre-New Year’s resolution not to make any next month, but always do. This is based on my struggles and attempts to be efficient and to set goals that guide me through each month. And the reality is that this accountability is what enables me to produce at the level I do, while holding down a demanding job, being held down by the demands of a young family, and demanding from my body to think it is still in its 30's when it isn't.

But there is something empowering about setting goals at the beginning of the year and outing it in Blogosphere. The accountability grow considerably. So here goes:

1) Oilspill dotcom will be published in March.
2) I will hold two launch parties – one in Berkeley and the other in San Francisco
3) I will market intensely until the end of the year, following a marketing program that I will finish developing in January.
4) I will sell 500 copies by the end of the summer.
5) I will continue to edit Lost Heroes (my next novel) and finish it by the end of the summer. I will then spend 6 months shopping it around.
6) I will begin writing something new during the summer.

FINALLY: I will identify myself as an author and seek every opportunity to promote my work and myself.

Wishing everyone a happy and peaceful New Year,