2020 Vs. 20/20: What We Saw Then, What We See Now

2020 Vs. 20/20: What We Saw Then, What We See Now

Grinding through the first few months of 2021, I presume nearly everyone wants to shut the door on 2020. After all, the tragic COVID-19 pandemic and—at least in the United States—chaotic election drama left millions exhausted, overwhelmed, and just plain traumatized. As a person with over three decades in recovery, I still recall the old-timers talking about a 1940s movie called The Lost Weekend, one of the first films about alcoholism. 2020 wasn’t a lost weekend; it was a lost year.

For myself, unlike so many of my fellow artists who are constantly looking ahead, backward glances are inevitable. Not that I live in the past—far from it. But my very nature is one of thinking about certain people and things as they once were, whether that was last year or thirty years ago. It happens in my dreams in particular. Last week they featured my ex-wife, my mother as she was when I was a child, and former colleagues I haven’t seen in ages. So the continuation of the 2020 pandemic narrative, and other aspects of last year, feels natural to me.

 

Looking Vs. Seeing

I don’t suppose it’s a great bit of originality to think about 2020 and at the same time think of 20/20, long the standard considered “perfect” visual acuity by optometrists and ophthalmologists. My years in medical writing still lead me toward thinking in those terms, and a quick Google search reveals plenty of eye care pros who used the pun back in late 2019 to market their practices.

But today I want to talk about something else.

I believe we can all look at things without really seeing them. Clearly seeing your relatives, your friends and neighbors, even your country itself, isn’t always easy. And today it can be downright painful.

If you’d asked me ten years ago, I’d have said the United States is a center-right country. In fact, I got that concept from watching since-disgraced pundit Chris Matthews on MSNBC. I used to like Matthews: he had a snarky sense of humor, pushed back against the right-wing almost as hard as I wanted him to, and displayed an obvious love of America’s hurly-burly diversity that went all the way back to the Kennedys.

In 2016, however, I saw how tribalism and the thorough brainwashing administered by propaganda outlets like Fox had created a kind of American devolution, with pockets of far-right lunacy much wider and deeper than I’d ever imagined. Social contract? Broken. (“I don’t want lazy poor people getting my tax dollars.”) A military-industrial complex more out of control than Eisenhower ever could have imagined. (“Democrats are weak on defense.”) The list could go on endlessly.

 

Politics & Professionalism

Yet, in spite of all that, I wanted to think of 2016 as a kind of anomaly, an over-correction in the opposite direction. Eight years of a slightly liberal Democrat, an African-American with a life of public service under his belt, yielded to an ignorant grifter with no political experience (or knowledge, evidently), who managed to hoodwink half the country into voting for him over an unpopular opponent. By 2020, I innocently thought, most of them will have recognized their own error, admitted it, maybe even tried to make amends.

How wrong I was. Even in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, which this obnoxious, arrogant jackass bungled more than I could ever have imagined, people doubled down. Ordinary citizens treated a simple precautionary measure like wearing a mask in public as if their AR-15s were being ripped from their cold, white fingers. Every day brought more tragic news, more moronic statements—even blatant racism like Kung-Flu and China virus, as I mentioned a week ago—yet still they doubled down.

Thankfully, that hotly contested (but really not even close) election prevented the country from falling to some previously unseen version of right-wing authoritarianism. But it should never have gone that far.

 

Buh-Bye

Well, at least we now have something closer to 20/20 vision. Now we really know who our neighbors, relatives and friends are. They have shown themselves, their cute little hand signals, their intractable insanity on the 2nd amendment, their outrage about even legal immigrants coming here. And we won’t forget.

I saw a post on social media recently declaring that it’s always a bad idea for a business entity to take sides politically. Really? So it’s okay for Delta Airlines to publicly support Georgia’s horrendous new anti-voter law, but not for me to state outright that I’ll never support a right-wing cause or candidate?

If that’ll prevent me from making a sale, let me put it on the record: I don’t want that person’s business anyway. There’s my line in the sand.

mask

COVID-19, Discipline, and an Uncomfortable Freedom

Last week, my wife and I did something we hadn’t done since March of 2020: we walked into a supermarket without wearing masks. This might not seem radical, but a word of explanation is in order here. My mother, who turns 86 this coming May, lives up the road from us...
procrastination

New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #2: Procrastination

Last week I started a new series here on the blog, “Writer Problems.” Naturally the idea is to offer solutions, but I’m always happy to get suggestions. Feel free to reply in the comments below. Whereas last week’s blog was a lengthy meditation on insomnia, today I...
patchworks

Patchworks: A Book Review

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And Now, Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

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railroad

Getting Back on Track

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Running & Writing: A Classic Combo

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serial

If You Don’t Write in a Serial Format, Good Luck With Amazon Classifications

This week’s topic is one near and dear to my grizzled, cynical old heart—adjusting to the nightmarish landscape of book classifications. Some writers have no problem with this stuff, and hey, more power to you. But as I wrote in What I’ve Learned In Six Years of...
run

The End of a Good Run

I’ve had a pretty good run the last five or six weeks: last week’s blog post, entitled What Books Cost Their Authors: A Tale of Blood, Sweat & Tears, had the best “headline quality score” I’ve ever attained (yes, I run my headlines through an analyzer for SEO, to...
short blog long video

A Short Blog Post, But A Long Video Interview

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Breaking Into the Top 100

Recently, I posted something on LinkedIn called Author, Entrepreneur, or Authorpreneur? My point was that, if you're interested in breaking into the top 100 in your Amazon category, you're probably going to have to spend some time acting like a businessperson when it...
Is the American Dream Just a Straight-Up Marketing Campaign?

Is the American Dream Just a Straight-Up Marketing Campaign?

Warning: profanity ahead. I should just start all my posts with that from now on: profanity ahead.

I was scrolling through my Twitter feed recently when I saw someone had tweeted something like, What’s the biggest scam of all time?

Patriotic Americans might be shocked to learn that at least one person replied, The American Dream.

There were some pretty amusing answers that gave me hope, like The 2016 presidential election and Brexit, but seeing the American Dream in there really gave me pause.

And I had to ask myselfnot for the first time, I should hasten to addis that correct? Is the fabled American Dream exactly that? A fable? A marketing campaign?

Or even an outright scam?

 

What It Means To Be An American

As a lifelong American, born and bred, I feel confident saying that American citizenship is probably one of our most prized possessions. With all the nasty debate about immigration over the years, including the most petty politicians objecting to the law that a mere baby born on our soil is automatically a citizen, it’s become evident to me that most Americans value their citizenship pretty highly.

But what does it even take to be a good citizen? And does that specific legal status necessarily give every citizen a realistic shot at the fabled American dream?

All this weighs on my mind because today is supposed to be a special day for my wife and me. You see, she’s going to be sworn in as an American citizen after living here for almost seven years as a legal resident. Today should be a day of great celebration, right?

It doesn’t feel like one.

 

What’s So Great About It?

I’ve heard all my life that the United States of America is the greatest country on earth. (Where’s that registered trademark symbol when you need it?) But as time goes by, it’s become increasingly clear that the data doesn’t support that at all. In fact, by many objective measures—infant mortality, average lifespan, quality of healthcare for the average person—we aren’t even close.

Yet the myth persists, and American nationalists seem to believe more and more every day that “their” country is somehow being taken away from them…by people whose skin tone is a little darker than theirs.

People like my lovely, kind-hearted, generous wife.

You see, my wife is of Asian descent. And if you follow the news at all, you must be aware that Asian people in America don’t exactly feel celebratory lately.

So on this day, when my wife will take an oath to defend the United States of America, she’s feeling like a Jewish person during World War II. Not only will I not be able to go into the building with her because of the current pandemic rules—a pandemic, as you know, completely exacerbated by our asshole former president, who likes to throw around terms like Kung-Flu and China Virus—but I’ll have to sit in the parking lot anxiously waiting for my beautiful wife to walk back out of the building, a newly-minted American with a target on her back.

And I’ll be thinking, America? What’s so fucking great about it?

 

No Good Answer

I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question anymore. At least not a good enough one.

I’ve been thinking about a guy I knew years ago who worked with my ex. He was also an Asian legal immigrant who, like so many others, had to work hard for relatively low pay his first few years here.

His name escapes me today, but I remember his story: he had a wife and kids, and he’d had a successful business in his native country, or he could never have afforded to come here with them. He was working 60, 65 hours a week—a setup my wife faces today, at least for the time being—and although his pay was lower compared to what he’d been accustomed to back home, he and his family were scrimping and saving.

I remember the amount he had saved, because it made such an impression: he’d squirreled away $30,000. And I remember like it was yesterday, his exhausted face as he said to me, This is not American Dream.

But maybe he was wrong about that. Maybe that is the American Dream: if you come here and work harder than everyone around you, maybe you can squirrel away enough to feed your family and even send a few bucks back home.

One last story, lest I leave you with too much hope.

A friend of mine moved from Florida to Vegas not long ago. He’s been relatively careful throughout the pandemic, as he’s in his mid-60s.

So when he went to a casino last week, he was pleased to see they’re still pretty strict about enforcing masking and social distancing requirements. He felt relatively safe, I’d say, until he went to the restroom and saw a young man who had decided the rules didn’t apply to him.

My friend commented to the young man about the mask rule, to which the young man replied, Fuck you, old man, you’re going to die anyway.

Not for nothing, but nobody would say such a thing to an elder in the country where that guy who saved $30K came from; nor would anyone say such a thing in my wife’s country of origin. They respect, even revere, their elders. If I were a betting man, I’d bet the response in one of those countries would have been, Sorry, sorry, followed by a quick masking up.

But then, what the hell do I know? I’m an American.

fictional world

Creating a Believable Fictional World

When it comes to writing fiction, many authors sweat the small stuff. "Do I have what it takes to write realistic dialogue?" they wonder. "Am I creating a believable fictional world?" Or, most dire of all, "Will anyone care about my books?" These concerns are all...
Whizzers

The Glories of Language: Making Stuff Up and Other Fun Things I Do

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” - Pablo Picasso   One thing I was never especially afraid of was breaking the rules. What I was afraid of was getting caught. When I was young, I got into a tiny bit of trouble, but not much....

Lyrics: Why I Write Them, and Why I’ve Put Them Into My Novels

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identity

Who Are You? And What Do You Want?

Readers of this blog who are also movie buffs may be able to help me out today: tell me where I got that title about identity! I’m fairly certain there was an old movie or TV show where a character said, “Who are you? And what do you want?” But for the life of me, I...

Memorial Day 2019

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Top 3 Suggestions for New Authors

Today is one of those days where I can't possibly get everything done that I was planning to get done. With a doctor's appointment coming up in an hour, I'm even more pressed for time to deliver my regular Monday blog post. So here's a little spin on what's typically...
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Closed for the Holidays

This week's blog post isn't about writing or reading or even about having a great holiday. It's about self-care. Ordinarily, I don't create an entire blog post about being closed for the holidays, but this year I'm making an exception. I used to work for a company...
process

Create A Process That Works For YOU

This week’s topic: create a process that works for you. I can’t tell you how many times a fellow author’s quote has upset me for the simple reason that their opinion is presented as fact. Here are a few examples: “Write every day, line by line, page by page, hour by...
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Insanity: Writing the Same Thing Over and Over?

Sometimes I feel like I’m standing at the bottom of those steps. I’ve been really lucky: I’ve had the good fortune to publish and sell four of my novels, and I run a freelance writing and editing business as well. I have great clients who love what I do and send me...
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Have You Ever Written In A New Genre?

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When Your Sense of Humor Is One Part Vonnegut, Two Parts Hunter S. Thompson

When Your Sense of Humor Is One Part Vonnegut, Two Parts Hunter S. Thompson

Sometimes you have to really switch things up. Even shake them up. Such is the case with artists of all types, and I’m the kind of novelist who needs to shake things up from book to book. I’ve never written a series, and I don’t think I could unless my life depended on it.

If my last novel, Whizzers, was like a warm hug, my current WIP, Jihad Insurance, is more like a punch in the face. But I don’t want to hurt my readers, so let’s think of it another way. 

Imagine you’re walking through a forest. In Whizzers, I walk beside you and point out all the beautiful sights and sounds—the sky and clouds, wind whispering through the trees, birds and butterflies.

Conversely, in my new book, I lift up rocks and show you what you always knew was there but maybe didn’t want to see: hideous centipedes, maggot-like worms, unidentifiable creepy-crawly insects. Maybe there’s a snake somewhere waiting to strike; maybe even an alligator. I still live in Florida, after all.

 

My Version of a Trigger Warning 

Beyond a few short quotes on Instagram, I always hesitate to post much from a Work-in-Progress. When Whizzers was still a WIP, I didn’t even feel comfortable talking about it, much less sharing a bunch of unpublished sections. But in the interest of the greater good, I plan to post a few of these here and there over the course of the next year-plus while I work on the novel.

A couple of caveats: Jihad Insurance is truly not for the faint of heart. If you’re familiar with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, that should give you at least some idea of the, uh, scatalogical nature of the book.

Except that my new novel is much harsher. While Fear and Loathing featured some periodic profane or drugged-out scenes, much of Jihad Insurance is about porn—not food porn or word porn, but actual porn porn. And because the director of said porn, protagonist J. Edgar Schnatz, is one rude dude to begin with, much of the novel explores him gleefully celebrating the genre, not to mention ranting about all manner of unpleasant topics. 

I should also emphasize that, like its predecessor—another novel about making a porno, Terry Southern’s Blue Movie—this book is intended to be funny. Yes, I’ve laughed myself silly already while writing sections of it, and I hope many readers will do the same. But I know it’s definitely not for everyone. 

Consequently, I’ve written a draft of a parodic “trigger warning” as a preface to the book, warning pretty much every sensitive type of person out there that this novel is probably not for them. Or if they plan to dive in, take a deep breath first. Again, not for the faint of heart.

 

Here We Go

And with that, here’s part of a scene I think will be characteristic of the novel as a whole. This comes from the first chapter, so one day potential readers on Amazon will be able to click Look Inside for their first glimpse of the inimitable J. Edgar Schnatz and Philip Tattaglia, his assistant.

 

Philip breathed a silent sigh as J. Edgar tapped his fingers on the passenger door of the Audi S8 and glanced out the window at a pedestrian in a tie-dye with greasy dreadlocks.

“Look at this crunchy granola motherfucker,” he said to his assistant. “Should I let him wash the windshield? What do you think?” He laughed, a short, hollow bark that turned into a cough.

“Want to drive? I can pull in over here if you want to switch.” 

“Nah, fuck it. I’m good. Seriously, though, look at this frog-faced fuck. How many white guys do you see with dreadlocks these days? He’s got some balls, I’ll give him that.” J. Edgar glared through the windshield at the endless line of traffic on the 405.

 

So that’s it, a tiny sample of the sharp-tongued J. Edgar and the long-suffering Philip. By the book’s own standard, this snippet is pretty mild—so buckle up, friend!

meditation

Which Is Better For Writers – Meditation or Exercise?

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Gratitude Week: A Thanksgiving Reflection from Mike Sahno – Author. Speaker. Publisher.

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From Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday: A Reflection

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weird

And Now, Back To Our Regularly Scheduled Programming

Now that I’ve reached the latter half of my sixth decade, I increasingly hear myself begin sentences “Back in the day…” or “I remember when….” It’s weird. In our eternally youth-obsessed culture, growing old itself is just plain weird.  And the current pandemic has...

Radio, Radio

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serial

If You Don’t Write in a Serial Format, Good Luck With Amazon Classifications

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Short Story Contest Part III

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sanity

New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #10: Maintaining Some Semblance of Sanity

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sleep

New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #8: Forgetting Your Best Ideas

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New “Writer Problems” Series, Topic #5: Creativity vs. Money

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Does Copyright Still Matter in the Digital Age?

Does Copyright Still Matter in the Digital Age?

One thing about working as a full-time freelance writer: it’s usually feast or famine.

That means exactly what it sounds like. Sometimes you’re so busy that you almost forget to market your business, and other times, you’re looking for more projects.

This month is one of those busy times.

I’d originally intended to create a brand-new blog post today, but time constraints have forced me to recycle some of my own material. Fortunately, it’s an article from last year that I planned to reference anyway, called When Do You Need to Copyright Your Work?

 

Considering the Digital Age

The idea of copyright is an ancient one, but until recently most writers figured anything they wrote was automatically copyrighted to them. As I pointed out in last year’s article, back in the days of typewriters, copyright was handled a little differently. Though many of us writers were aware of the notion that something is “copyrighted to you” the moment you put pen to paper, we nonetheless worried about people stealing our work.

One old-fashioned method of safeguarding a work of writing was to mail it to yourself and keep the unopened copy. The idea was that, in the event of a lawsuit, you could dramatically pull out the envelope and open it in court before all the witnesses, who would then be able to examine the postmark on the envelope.

Most writers still worry about theft of copyrighted work today but—to be brutally honest—it’s highly unlikely anyone wants to steal your stuff. At least, not in the sense of stealing it, slapping their name on it, and then publishing it. There’s just way too much content out there now, and tons more created every day.

When it comes to copyrighted material, a more realistic concern is that someone will take your ebook, upload it to a website, and give it away—much like music downloads depriving artists of those potential royalties. And yes, it has happened to me.

 

Making It Legal

The question of when to copyright is still an open one, but I say it’s fine to go ahead and do it right away. Once you have a few pages’ worth of something and you’re committed to seeing it through, it’s well worth spending the $75 to send it to copyright.gov. They’ll send you a hard copy of proof of copyright, which can take a few months. In theory, by the time you get your proof of copyright, you’ll have a complete, or nearly complete, manuscript.

Of course, there’s always the question of the work being “substantively different” from the original. Again, practicality should win out here. Of course it’s going to be substantively different, but enough of the original should be in your submitted manuscript so that it still resembles what you sent the copyright office. In the end, you’ll sleep better. And if it’s your first book, you’ll feel more like a “real writer” after you’ve submitted it.

One final consideration: the time of year. Copyright applies to the entire year, really. Sure, your Amazon listing may have an actual date, but most people won’t look at that. Copyright 2021 means anytime during 2021. So if you plan to milk the calendar and call something “new” as long as you can, you should publish relatively early in the year. Keep that in mind if you want to put something out late in the year—and don’t forget to update your website!

serial

If You Don’t Write in a Serial Format, Good Luck With Amazon Classifications

This week’s topic is one near and dear to my grizzled, cynical old heart—adjusting to the nightmarish landscape of book classifications. Some writers have no problem with this stuff, and hey, more power to you. But as I wrote in What I’ve Learned In Six Years of...
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Why I Think Giving Your Work Away Is (Mostly) A Bad Idea

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A Sneak Peek at My Latest Quarterly Newsletter—And An Invitation

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Authors’ Pandemic Sales and The Dubious Metric of “Necessities” Vs. “Luxuries”

​Considering everything going in the world, the past week was a pretty good one for me. Almost a year after its initial publication, my novel Whizzers—which had flatlined in the Kindle store—suddenly spiked to #179,500. When one of your babies jumps that much, it gets...

Facebook vs. Twitter

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cancel

Anyone Else Thinking about Canceling Cancel Culture?

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Cataloging-In-Publication

What’s the Risk to Not Having A Cataloging-In-Publication (CIP) Data Block?

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ledge

Nightmare On Acid Street

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Strictly Commercial In SE Asia

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money

Do What You Love, and the Money Will Follow…Right?

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Are We Ready to Make A Case For Optimism?

Are We Ready to Make A Case For Optimism?

Most anyone who reads this blog probably knows I’m not what you call a Pollyanna type.

Not that I’m a pessimist. Far from it. But as we’ve all endured the slings and arrows of the last four years—and especially the last year of Plague—I haven’t exactly been pumping out sonnets.

And God knows there’s precedence for me to see the dark side. Lately I’ve been writing a few little biographical sketches for what might someday be a memoir, and right out of the gate I explained that my first memory is of a nightmare.

So it’s a bit surprising even to me that I got up today and decided to make a case for optimism.

 

What’s So Great About Now?

Look, I get it: this year isn’t exactly a home run yet. 

We’ve still got The Plague, and a long way to go before all the people sane enough to get a vaccine actually get one.

And the economic pain from this virus will continue for a while. Beyond the obvious and tragic loss of life, many have lost jobs, income, or even their homes.

But, just as the first signs of spring in my New England hometown appeared as tiny shoots of green, I’m seeing signs of renewal all around.

1. First, the vaccine numbers and rates of infection are looking pretty good and the rate of new cases is plummeting. That’s great.

2. Second, the stock market—which really does represent an important factor for many working Americans’ retirement prospects—continues to run higher.

3. Third, the prospect of a new stimulus package means more money in the pockets of those who need it most…which means a recovering economy, not to mention fuel for the markets to continue their upward march.

 

The Inevitable Reckoning

Of course, I’m aware that in the long term, printing more and more fiat currency is not a good thing. As the dollar continues to be devalued, and our national debt spirals higher, you have to wonder where it will all end.

And my optimism is always tempered by concern about the future of the planet—especially with the acceleration of climate change.

Still, the idea that some of the forthcoming stimulus will go toward green jobs and infrastructure gives me a little more hope, at least for this country.

I don’t know where we’re going, but I know where I’ve been and I’ve got a pretty good idea of where we are now. And today, it’s starting to feel like we can breathe a little bit easier.

Self-Publishing: The Trouble with Going It Alone

Indie publishing is on the rise but tread carefully. Self-publishing is exactly how it sounds:everything depends on you and you alone. Sure, you get to make all of the decisions, but that also means you have to make all of the decisions. Editing, proofreading,...
can we talk

Can We Talk?

I don't know how many of my blog readers are familiar with Joan Rivers—possibly not that many—but there was a time when the catchphrase Can we talk? was known to just about every adult in America. Joan may be gone, but it seems like people are talking more than ever....
cancel

Anyone Else Thinking about Canceling Cancel Culture?

Ordinarily, I’m on the side of the poor, the beaten-down, the marginalized. In short, the outsiders. But this week, what’s on my mind is something a little on the opposition side, or what I’d like to think of as the middle. Most everyone who knows me would describe me...
platform

Platform-Building for Authors

A while back, I wrote a LinkedIn article on platform-building for authors, a frequent topic for my speaking gigs and for online posts in general. Today I thought I'd revisit some of that for the blog, discussing how speaking can help an author. Building a platform...
Whizzers

Book Promotion Sites: Which Are The Best, and Are They Worth It?

I'll be the first to admit that I'm no expert when it comes to book promotion sites. When I published my first three novels simultaneously on December 10th 2015—a day that will live infamy, and yes, I know now that it was a harebrained marketing scheme—I knew nothing...
giving

Why I Think Giving Your Work Away Is (Mostly) A Bad Idea

​Free books—who doesn’t love that idea, right? Me. I don’t love that idea. In fact, I think it sucks. Now, you might wonder: why, Mike, are you so against free books? I mean, don’t you want more people to read? You’re not against libraries, are you? No, I’m not...
metaphysical

Five Ways You Can Help With a Local Book Launch Event

This week I want to write a bit more about my fourth novel, Whizzers. It’s my current Work-In-Progress, and I plan to have it finished this year in order to launch it in 2019. One of the few luxuries of being an independent author is that I haven’t set a firm...

Vaccine Follies: How My Second Shot Got Delayed and Why I Freaked Out A Little

Most of my blog posts are related to books and marketing, as you probably know if you’re here. But periodically this blog serves the purpose of a journal, and I write about what’s on my mind—and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been a lot. The virus, the...
spirituality

Spirituality in the Fictional World

Almost two years ago, I wrote a post called Talking About A Metaphysical Work where I tried to discuss spirituality in fiction. At least, that's what I thought I was doing. See, I had just published my fourth novel, Whizzers, and I knew I needed to promote it. I had a...

Feeling A Little Bit Better

There's an old, very bad joke that goes something like this: It was Christmas, and everyone was feeling merry; so Mary went home. Then everyone jumped for joy, but Joy jumped out the window. I know those only work when spoken aloud, and in the #MeToo era, it's a...