The Wallace Line Selected as Nelson Algren Finalist

My short story “The Wallace Line,” has been selected as a finalist in the 2013 Nelson Algren Awards sponsored by The Chicago Tribune.

I was one of four finalists selected out of more than 1,000 writers. I get $1000 – more than I’ve ever made in a lifetime of literary work – and “The Wallace Line” will be published in a special supplement later this summer by the Tribune. As someone who grew up reading the Trib in the suburbs of Chicago, this is a huge honor.

“The Wallace Line” is about a Nature Conservancy manager who takes a wealthy donor to the island of Komodo – and then things go horribly wrong. Here’s a sample:

Harold marveled at how quickly it had all gone to shit.

The approach to the beach had been perfect, as Anak expertly guided the longboat over the swell. Behind them, the sun climbed above the tranquil waters of the Flores Sea. Ahead, the pink sands of Komodo were radiant in the morning light. A warm breeze blew across the boat. January in Indonesia, when it was hot but not too hot, and while the East Coast of America was locked in ice.

A moment you could not forget, and would be forever grateful to receive. As had been planned. These expeditions were carefully organized for maximum effect. The trip had been in the works for nearly a year. Countless emails had been exchanged; permits obtained; supplies purchased; forms filled out on onionskin paper wilting in the heat of Jakarta; signatures obtained by Directors, Department Heads, Deputies and other interested parties (with the occasional bit of friendly bribery to grease the way – nothing major – an iPhone, a bottle of bourbon, the promise to write a letter of recommendation for a nephew.)

The climax, the finale, was this grand arrival onto the mysterious island of Komodo, a lost world, a paradise that remained undiscovered by white men until 1910. One of 17,000 islands in Indonesia, this particular speck of land was the most unique of all for it was home to dragons.

Komodo dragons. A billionaire had flown halfway around the world to see them and Harold was there to provide him a show he would not forget.

I was a web editor at The Nature Conservancy for three years. While I never went to Komodo, I worked a lot with TNC’s Asia-Pacific program and have long been fascinated by Indonesia. I wrote articles, email newsletters and designed web features – all to protect places like Komodo. Conservation marketing is really interesting – it’s a mix of art (pretty pictures of animals) and science (preserving ecosystems) – which is background to my story.

“The Wallace Line” is the first chapter of an unfinished new novel. The theme is that the  borders between ideas and people are disappearing in this interconnected world.

Look for a link to “The Wallace Line”when it’s published in the Trib later this summer (follow me on Twitter if you don’t already). In the meantime, check out my other novels Murder in Ocean Hall or Don’t Mess Up My Block.

My Instagram Book Cover

Joe Konrath had a really important post on how to sell ebooks. This successful indie author made the point (among many other great ones) that it was important to experiment. In his words:

There isn’t a single thing I’m saying here that you should automatically believe. Don’t trust me, or any other so-called expert. Instead, try things out for yourself and draw your own conclusions.

Or to quote screenwriter William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.”

That’s the case with art and marketing – you can’t predict what’s going to work. At best, you can try and try again.

I love my book Don’t Mess Up My Block. It’s a funny, cynical look at the way we work now. The people who have read it have liked it, especially if they have experience in the bureaucracies of Washington.

Yet, this novel is hidden far down the long tail of Amazon, unlikely to emerge from obscurity.

For my first novel, Murder in Ocean Hall, I had this great cover by Dave Newman. It’s a classic.

cover of Murder in Ocean Hall

But this time, I’m experimenting. I was inspired by Seth Godin and the Domino Project, which has set out to revolutionize publishing. He’s rethinking everything the book world does, including covers. Why do you need a title and a name on a cover for an ebook? For example, here’s his book Poke the Box:

Poke the Box

My second novel Don’t Mess Up My Block is a journey through the dysfunctional American workplace, from companies obsessed with the latest management fads to federal agencies unable to get anything done. What would make a good cover?

Fortunately, I had exactly the right picture, taken while I was at work one day. I was amused by the cheap stapler they had given me in my new job and just how beige and early 90s everything in the office was. I snapped this Instagram picture, thinking it perfectly captured the banality of the white-collar workplace.

Don't Mess Up My BlockSo, that’s it. That’s the new cover of Don’t Mess Up My Block. It’s a funny and absurd cover for a funny and absurd book.

Don't Mess Up My Block – First Amazon Review

My novel Don’t Mess Up My Block has its first Amazon review! And it’s a good one:

As someone who spent many years dealing with consultants, federal contractors, and federal employees …. this book rings all too true. The people, places, and situations are much too familiar … for me, it was a non-fiction “day in the life” – or “you won’t believe the day I had”. Well done Joe! The author has captured life on the Beltway merry-go-round.

I know the reviewer and if anyone is an expert on the Beltway merry-go-round, it is he. Glad that my book rang so true with someone so attuned to the absurdities of life in Washington.

So, what are you waiting for? Don’t Mess Up My Block is just 99 cents on Kindle.

How to Lead a Fascinating Life but Make No Money: My Year in Writing

Lawless poster with Tom HardyThe more interesting the work, the less it pays – that’s the rule I uncovered in 2012. It’s the reason why technical writers are paid well (you want to write a help guide for Sharepoint?) while film reviewers are paid poorly (you get to see movies!).

However, it was a great learning experience to meet so many creative folks. Truly inspiring to meet people who had written books, made movies and created web sites.

The highlight of the year was the work I did for On Tap, the free monthly entertainment magazine in DC. There’s still a special thrill to see your name in print that no digital facsimile can replace. I wrote about Lawless, Beasts of the Southern Wild, The Dark Knight Rises, V/H/S, Mansome and The Sessions. Continue reading “How to Lead a Fascinating Life but Make No Money: My Year in Writing”

Don't Mess Up My Block – Free on Kindle!

Don't Mess Up My Block book coverGet my funny satire Don’t Mess Up My Block for free today and tomorrow on Kindle! This novel takes aim at self-help experts, social media gurus, business consultants and other American charlatans.

I wrote the book as a parody of self-help titles like Who Moved My Cheese and The Secret. However, Don’t Mess Up My Block is filled with bad advice. Follow the picaresque adventures of Laurent Christ, a self-appointed business expert, as he goes from disaster to disaster. Can you fake it until you make it? Find out in my funny new novel.

Don't Mess Up My Block – Free for CyberMonday

Don't Mess Up My Block book coverGet my biz book satire Don’t Mess Up My Block for free this CyberMonday! My funny novel follows Laurent Christ, self-annointed business guru, as he travels the country dispensing bad advice to clients large and small. The book skewers social media consultants, big government, corporate-speak and other evils of contemporary America.

Find Small Business Success with The Pumpkin Plan

The Pumpkin Plan

Around this time each year, you’ll see a news story about a farmer with a record-sized pumpkin, one much bigger than anything grown by his neighbors. How did he do it? How did he find success in the pumpkin patch?

He did it by nurturing his best pumpkin, a principle that can be applied to any small business. That’s the message of The Pumpkin Plan, a new book by Mike Michalowicz.

To make your business thrive, you must weed your garden, like a good farmer. This means removing the pumpkins that are too small or not worth your time, so as to focus on the one great gourd that can grow bigger than all the others.

In other words, the Pareto Principle. 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients. The key to growth is to focus on the most profitable activities of your business.

(I satirize this idea in my novel Don’t Mess Up My Block, where my narrator chooses to eliminate all distractions – even family – to concentrate on getting rich.)

The most interesting section of The Pumpkin Plan is where Michalowicz talks about failure. So many entrepreneurial titles gloss over the hard work of building a business – yet, this is the norm. Each year Americans start one million new businesses, nearly 80 percent of which fail within the first five years. Michalowicz frankly discusses how his company was eating him alive, consuming every waking hour and ruining his family life. Only by concentrating on what he did best was he able to escape this trap. He learned to weed out the activities that weren’t worth his time so as to focus on his best customers.

Michalowicz is a serial entrepreneur who started his first business at the age of 24, moving his young family to the only safe place he could afford – a retirement building. With limited resources and no experience, he systematically bootstrapped a multi-million dollar technology business, sleeping in conference rooms to avoid hotel costs. After selling his first company, Mike launched a new business the very next day, and in less than three years, sold it to a Fortune 500 company. In the Pumpkin Plan, he describes his life story as well as the stories of similar entrepreneurs.

This is not a book of theory. It’s chock-full of real-world examples from people who have had to sell products, make payroll and keep themselves sane. Chapters expand on the Pumpkin Plan concept, with checklists on how to discover what you do best and how to get back on track if you stray.

What’s your Great Pumpkin? This Halloween, find out with The Pumpkin Plan.

Amazon Prime Members: Use Your Free Kindle Borrow

If you have Amazon Prime, you get to borrow a Kindle book each month from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Don’t let your September borrow go to waste! You have just a couple days left to use it. Both of my books are available for FREE through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Don't Mess Up My Block book coverDon’t Mess Up My Block

Can you fake it til you make it?

Don’t Mess Up My Block is a parody of self-help books. This funny and cynical tale follows the adventures of Laurent Christ, a man who pursues self-improvement to its logical conclusion – he reinvents himself with a brand-new name and history. He drops a hundred pounds, shaves his head and goes on the road as a management consultant.

Everywhere he goes, comic disaster follows as companies follow his glib counsel.

cover of Murder in Ocean Hall

Murder in Ocean Hall

When the world’s most famous explorer is murdered at the Smithsonian, it’s up to a cynical Washington detective to solve the case.

Bob Fundwell dies in the Smithsonian’s Ocean Hall when the life-size replica of a whale falls from the ceiling and crushes him.

Murder in Ocean Hall is inspired by true events, including the real-life controversy over the discovery of the Titanic, as well as my two decades in Washington, DC. This fact-based murder mystery takes you behind the scenes of our nation’s dysfunctional capital, revealing the real city beyond the monuments.

Borrow one now and the other in October, when you can borrow another Kindle title!

Don't Mess Up My Block – Free Thru Memorial Day!

Don’t Mess Up My Block is free through Memorial Day! Normally $2.99, I’ve marked the price of the Kindle edition of my funny novel down to zero. Download it today!

Even if you don’t have an Amazon e-reader, you can still read the book through the Kindle app on your Mac, PC, iPhone or iPad.

Don't Mess Up My Block book coverDon’t Mess Up My Block

The secret to success is to not let other people “mess up your block.”

Or at least that’s what Laurent Christ thinks, in this satiric novel disguised as a self-help book.

Laurent comes from North Dakota, like Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. He thinks his teachers got it all wrong – Gatsby is a hero.

And like a modern-day Gatsby, he reinvents himself with a new name and history. Laurent drops a hundred pounds, shaves his head and goes on the road as a management consultant, providing advice to corporations around the county. Everywhere he goes, comic disaster follows as companies follow his glib counsel.

But failure is not going to stop him. One man and a story – that’s all you need to make it in America.

As a management expert, he’s inevitably drawn to Washington, DC. But even he is appalled by the intransigent bureaucracy he finds in the city. Maybe he’s been wrong about everything. Maybe you need more than a catchphrase to find success in this country.

Laurent tells the sprawling story of his life in Don’t Mess Up My Block, a novel that examines the American faith in gurus and easy solutions. It’s a satire that takes aim at the times we live in, skewering incompetent bureaucrats, greedy consultants, social media experts and Baby Boomers everywhere.

Don’t Mess Up My Block is a fast, funny read and one that’s perfect for your weekend beach trip. And it’s free!

Borrow My Books and Keep Me in Beer Money

DC Brau

There’s a reason why Amazon is such a titan in the e-book world – it delivers income to writers. It does so seamlessly, easily and without authors having to do anything. You don’t have to hound publishers for checks or wait for the results of some sort of mysterious accounting process.

Amazon posts sales results weekly. For me, it’s just beer money, as I watch my two novels sell in dribs and drabs. Still, it’s something. My work is getting out there and I’m making some cash, even if it’s not going to get me more than a six-pack or two.

And the company constantly innovates, like with their Amazon Prime program. Among other benefits, you can borrow select e-books for free. And authors get a share of a pool of money set aside for the program. In March, it was $600,000!

Each time one of my Kindle titles got borrowed last month, I received $2.18, according to the Amazon press release. That’s a nice royalty, considering one of my novels is 99 cents and the other is $2.99.

So if you’re an Amazon Prime member, borrow my books please! You don’t need a Kindle either. There are Kindle apps for the iPad, iPhone, Mac and PC.

Murder in Ocean Hall is a great read if you like mysteries set in DC. A reviewer wrote that it will take you behind the scenes of the city and show you how things work – or don’t work. It’s a mystery novel written by someone who actually lives in Washington and knows the neighborhoods beyond the monuments.

Looking for something fast and fun? Then check out Don’t Mess Up My Block, a satire of the self-help biz. Follow the adventures of Laurent Christ as he pursues success across an American landscape littered with greedy consultants, social media frauds and incompetent bureaucrats.

Check them out! And remember, borrowing my books will keep me in beer, an essential element of my creative process 😉