Monday, July 14, 2014

Why Writers Should Watch Entrepreneurs

I recently had the opportunity to see Paul Lazarus's film "Slingshot, a feature documentary about inventor/entrepreneur Dean Kamen's "15-year quest to solve the world’s safe water crisis." While many feature-length docs are simply too long and ponderous, this is a film that succeeds both in educating and inspiring the audience. In fact, it's probably one of the more inspiring films I've seen in a long while. It's worth seeking out.

Dean Kamen, from "Slingshot," a film by Paul Lazarus.
Dean Kamen holds nearly 440 patents. This list of his accomplishments is long.  As the film's website says, while he's Best known for his Segway Human Transporter, Kamen has reconceived kidney dialysis, engineered an electric wheelchair that can travel up stairs (the Ibot), reworked the heart stent, built portable insulin pumps, founded FIRST robotics to inspire young students, and on and on. Holder of over 440 patents, Kamen devotes himself to dreaming up products that improve people’s lives.

The film traces his efforts to develop a process to transform water - regardless of contamination - into usable, drinkable distilled water. As the site describes, he's developed an energy efficient vapor compression distiller that can turn any unfit source of water (seawater, poisoned well water, river sludge, etc.) into potable, safe water without any need for chemical additives or filters.

I'm fascinated and intrigued by the entrepreneurial spirit. Individuals like Kaman are extraordinary in their willingness to seek out solutions to seemingly impossible challenges.  In Kamen's case, it's a single-mindedness enhanced by a drive to "give back."

Principled and driven isn't a bad thing.

I'm constantly looking for an entrepreneurial approach to distributing my work. I can't say I've found that path as yet, but I have to admit, I have almost as much fun learning about the lives and philosophies of entrepreneurs as I have pursuing the writing process.

They're eccentric, they're flawed, yet they're ultimately successful human beings - just like any great literary hero.

How can a writer resist?

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"Own the Scrawny" Advance Team!

When I first wrote "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," I went a step further than "Beta Readers." (the first readers of the completed novel). I had readers experiencing the novel as I wrote it, in the tradition of the early days of published fiction, when an author would publish a novel in serial form, chapter by chapter, creating interest as he or she went along. For an author publishing my first novel, it was a great way of testing the waters. I was able to get an early sense of whether I was engaging readers. It worked great, and really helped build up my confidence as a novelist.
I'll be working on an entirely new
graphic design, too!

At first I thought I would take the same approach with "Own the Scrawny," the follow-up to "Food Chain." Shortly after initiating the writing process, however, I realized that sharing the first draft as I wrote it might not be as useful as I'm imagined. Though I sent out the first two or three chapters to my recruited readers, I discovered that the process in this case would be much more complicated.

"Food Chain" was based very roughly on a screenplay I'd written some years ago. Though characters and events are greatly evolved in the novel, the general theme and outline remained intact.

"Own the Scrawny" has had a much more complicated evolution, taking shape only recently and with the help of my editor (a process which is still continuing, by the way!). The first few chapters I sent to readers have been altered and rearranged to the point where they're nearly unrecognizable. Sharing the writing process further would have been confusing.  In addition, I'm excited about sharing Alexander's newest adventure in its final form. It's a fun ride, and I certainly didn't want to spoil the experience for early readers with the inevitable rewrites and dead-ends.

Mid-fall, I'll be sharing advance copies of "Own the Scrawny" with a select, limited group of readers prior to its release. I didn't do much advance work with "Food Chain," but I'll be offering some of you a first crack at the new book. My hope is that by the time the book is officially available, reviews, blogs, vlogs and perhaps other creative work will already be out there by the time we launch.  If you would like to be part of the advance team, let me know! 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Dipping My Toe Into the Short Story Pool

Once, I realized that "Own the Scrawny," my follow-up novel to "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," would have an extended development, I wanted to create something that would help keep Alexander alive for my readers, and perhaps introduce new readers to the world.

I decided to release a short story, "Why Do You Think They Call it a Ghost Town," which sets thirteen year-old Alexander in the real-life ghost town of Bodie, California.  At first wholly unimpressed by the remains of this old-west mining town, Alexander's unique anxiety and over-active imagination turn the visit into an unexpectedly creepy adventure.

I think it's great fun, and I hope you'll give it a try. Distributing an e-book-only short story is even trickier than marketing a novel, but I think this this is a fun 'extra' that both stands on its own, and adds a little dimension to the "Food Chain" universe. Building a readership for the short story helps build awareness for the full length-books as well.

You can purchase "Why Do You Think They Call it a Ghost Town." for only 99 cents from the usual retailers. It would also be a huge help if you would review, rate, etc. as you see fit.

Remember, you can also follow my activities on Twitter @rickflix
Alexander has a new mailing list, where you can find out the latest about all the books in the series. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

"Own the Scrawny!"

In "Own the Scrawny," my follow up novel to "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," Alexander discovers that while the humiliation of being the unwilling star of a viral video is bad, the comments on the video from compete strangers are much worse. Criticized and ridiculed on everything from his behavior, to his size and his clothes, Alexander begins to wonder if he's as weird as they say, and begins a desperate, often misguided quest to prove everyone wrong.

"Own the Scrawny!" is about Alexander's struggle to believe more in himself, rather than what other people think of him. The paperback and ebook launch this fall.

Meanwhile, here's an interview I recently recorded with YouTuber OhCurt about the first book, the second book, and living in Los Angeles. We even visit my old junior high school, a primary inspiration as I wrote both books.

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Please join the "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" Facebook Page.
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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Book Two Title Reveal (But You've Gotta Work at it!)

There are still a few months before the follow up to My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain will have an official launch, but the time has come to reveal the title...and a few details!

First, the details: here's a short teaser:

It’s bad enough to embarrass yourself in front of your friends.
It’s worse to embarrass yourself in front of the entire school
It’s horrible if someone records your humiliation on video and posts it online.
It’s a disaster if that video goes viral...

But it’s the comments on the video that can really send you over the edge...

As for the title, I've created a word scramble (remember those?) to offer my readers an opportunity to take part in the reveal (thanks to Greg's Gourmet for the idea).

As we reveal more about the book (including the cover) in the coming months, there will be more opportunities to take part—and even win some cool book-related gear!

Complete the word scramble above (don't worry, there are instructions if you'd like to cheat!) 
 If you would like to work from a PDF, there's one here

For more news, follow me @rickflix

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Today, I had the opportunity to visit a location which features prominently in my book, My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain. As part of an interview (premiering soon) I did with longtime YouTuber Curt Phillips - we'll talk about the challenges of living in Los Angeles—and about the book itself.

One of the conscious decisions I made when writing the book was to avoid too-specific descriptions of Alexander's school. My hope was that the reader would visualize the school based on their own experiences, and so make the story more personal.

Naturally, the book was inspired by my own experiences, and I did have Portola Middle School (then, it was called a junior high school) in mind. We stopped by the front gate this Sunday, a location that features prominently in the novel. It's a place of perceived danger by Alexander, and the site of a climactic confrontation.

Of course, since I walked daily through those gates, generations of kids have come and gone—and I'm sure that Alexander has been among them in an entire series of variations. Some things, including unfounded fears, are universal to kids of a certain age.

Still, as I stood there, I felt that I not only shared those experiences with all of my predecessor and successor students, but with Alexander as well. I could, if pressed, take you on a walking tour throughout the grounds of the school, and map out precisely where every action in this fictional book took place.

If you've written fiction of this sort, you'll understand: Now, this is very much Alexander's school, too!

"My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain," and a short story featuring Alexander, "Why Do You Think They Call It a Ghost Town" are available from most online retailers. I'm currently working on a follow-up novel. Thanks for you support.

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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Remembering World War II

Since I had the opportunity to visit several World War II-related sites in the UK last summer, and especially since the recent D-Day Commemorations, I've had a heightened interest in the history and personalities of World War II. I've watched a few recent documentaries, in particular  "The World Wars" a recent three-part series on the History Channel, which takes an overall look at the entire period from before the first War to the end of the second.

In addition to the traditional newsreel footage and academic interviews, this program features richly produced and somewhat melodramatic reenactments featuring pivotal moments in the lives of Hitler, Stalin, Churchill, Roosevelt and Tojo. It also includes perspectives from recent political figures, including former Vice President Dick Cheney, Senator John McCain and former British Prime Minister John Major.

While I find it fascinating to explore (or rediscover) the personal stories and motivations of historical figures, the reenactments seemed almost absurd at times: A long, slow push into the glaring visage of Adolph Hitler; the almost Hitchcockian profiles of Winston Churchill; the contemplative Roosevelt sitting alone in his wheelchair, or Stalin moving dramatically through a smokey environment. The symbolic moments were so frequent and over-produced that they distracted from the story at hand. Perhaps the inclusion of modern politicos offers a perspective that few share, but other than offer star quality to the program, I wonder if their true value to relating this history is a bit exaggerated, compared to their appearance in the program. Only John Major, perhaps, can at least share the experience with Winston Churchill of having been the British Prime Minister.

There are endless other documentaries, of course, as well as narrative films, that more effectively tell the story of a struggle that today seems barely comprehensible. There are almost an infinite number of human stories—of soldiers and civilians—that it's impossible to ever fully understand what it was like to live during that era, unsure if there would even be a future. The politically charged threats and doomsday scenarios that sometimes dominate our domestic world today are nothing compared to the very tangible international threats of that era.

Some interpretations might be better than others, but it's worth the time, I think, to honor the memory of that fading generation by occasionally revisiting their legacy.

The Battle of Britain Monument in London.