Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Alex Tasks: What's Next with "Own the Scrawny"

Now that I've finished writing Own the Scrawny, I'm focusing on a long list of what I'm calling "Alex Tasks," (after our main character) a long to-do list that I need to complete before we actually publish the book. I just finished reading the book aloud as a final review, which forced me to concentrate more closely on the manuscript than I could otherwise. For me, at least, it's otherwise easy to skim over a missing or misplaced word. It was also an excruciating experience, and tends to heighten a whole host of writing-related anxieties...

Here's just a hint of the anxieties I'm now facing:

  1. I need to finalize Own the Scrawny for publication. The paperback and the ebook require different format preparation before the hand-off.
  2. I still need to finish writing the acknowledgments for Scrawny.
  3. I need to compile and order changes to My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain, including a new cover to match the boy on the Scrawny cover, about a dozen fixes to actual book content, and the addition of the "Alexander Adventure" banner and icon.
  4. I need to finalize the Food Chain audiobook, and send it for publication (it will be available on iTunes, Audible and Amazon for digital download.
  5. I need to record the Scrawny audiobook, which I'm hoping to publish simultaneously with the paperback and ebook.
  6. I need to set-up ISBN numbers for the  Scrawny paperback and ebook, and then begin to establish an online footprint—with Goodreads, for example.
There's much more to think about, not the least of which is developing a strategy for promoting the book, and putting that plan into motion.  

It's a bit nerve-wracking, especially at this particular moment when I don't know if people will even like the darn thing! 



Saturday, October 25, 2014

"Who Took Johnny" Documentary Review/Commentary

A change of pace today...

Recently, I had the opportunity to see the documentary, "Who Took Johnny," the first feature-length film to look at the unsolved mystery of Johnny Gosch, the twelve year-old school boy that ventured out early one morning in 1982 for his regular paper route — and never returned.

If you were around then, you'll remember the story. Then, as now, there was no evidence pointed to what had happened. There were no witnesses. He was simply gone.

For the first several days, the local police in Des Moines, Iowa refused to classify the disappearance as an abduction, then a common practice in law enforcement. Johnny's case wasn't initially treated with the urgency that we would expect today.  Ironically, his case would help to change that assumption, and recognition
that action is critical during the initial hours and days of a disappearance.

Months and years- and then even decades dragged on without an answer. Johnny's mother, Noreen, became an activist in child exploitation, and was one of those responsible for the creation of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, which fights against child abduction through awareness and prevention. Johnny's was the first face to appear in a wide-ranging campaign to place the images of missing kids on milk cartons.

Noreen also has claimed that a fearful Johnny Gosch visited her once as an adult, telling a story of being abducted and sold into a network of the the rich and powerful, forced into sex slavery for years. A few years ago, someone sent her 80's era photographs of bound boys, one of which she identified as Johnny. There have also been independent witnesses who claim to have been imprisoned in the same network.

Noreen's claims don't constitute hard evidence, however. Some have suggested that she has repeatedly been the victim of those who would exploit the fears of a desperate mother. While she claims the photographs are of her older son, her ex-husband denies the resemblance. 

As a documentary, "Who Took Johnny" is a frustrating journey. There is, of course, no conclusion. The case is still unsolved. A year later, another boy was taken under similar circumstances. His case, too, remains unsolved. There are no working theories.  The case of Johnny Gosch, despite it's notoriety, remains cold.

There can be no glimmer of hope. All prospects related to his fate are bleak—from murder shortly after his abduction to exploitation in a nefarious network, or even his survival as a deeply damaged adult. He would be over forty today.

Long term imprisonment or even brainwashing doesn't seem as outlandish as it may have when Johnny disappeared. We've seen women held in cage-like enclosures for a decade. Shawn Hornbeck was freed four years after being abducted and ultimately brainwashed into submission.

Anything is possible.

Perhaps what haunts me the most about Johnny's case—and the many others that still remain unsolved—is that, inevitably, the world moved on as they were held, tortured and exploited. It moves on today as unknown numbers of children and adults in this country are held against their will by both disturbed individuals and underground networks.

There are extensive efforts today to fight child exploitation. Law enforcement around the world has tracked down and arrested entire networks of the same description that Noreen has described. When Johnny disappeared, such investigations were rare or non-existent. Today, millions are aware of the concept of human trafficking.

Yet the central question, "Who Took Johnny?" remains unanswered. Whether his remains lay somewhere unclaimed since 1982, or he is alive today, mired in the wreckage of a world he didn't create, the documentary serves as a reminder that these highly publicized stories aren't simply sensational headlines and dated school photos.  Johnny was a living, breathing human being.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Alexander's Adventures Continue!

It's been almost two months since I posted a blog - which is somewhat surprising to me, since I have a wide range of topics I've been wanting to share with you. "Own the Scrawny" is moving closer to completion, of course, but I also have a range of overdue news and views I'll bring to you over the next few days. It's been both a busy and harrowing time (if you work freelance, as I do, you know what I mean - more on that, too).
Today, I'll bring you up to date on both "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" and "Own the Scrawny."


"Own the Scrawny," if everything goes well, should be out on or about January 1st. 

I'm recording audiobooks for both "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" and "Own the Scrawny," narrated by the author. I've just finished recording "Food Chain," and I have some independent ears giving it a first listen before I send it off for distribution.  The recording experience was both great fun and infuriating. It also pointed out to me how the story and the characters have evolved in "Own the Scrawny."  As soon as I have the final manuscript for that book, I'll start recording. I'm hoping release of the audiobook can be simultaneous with the paperback and e-book. 

I'm in the process of switching over the artwork on the original book so that it matches the second book. The first book featured a boy that I essentially found out of an online catalog. The boy that appears in "Own the Scrawny" (known on YouTube as DrewDudeTV) and shortly on the first book, is someone who participated in a photo session specifically for my "Alexander Adventures." The photos, by the way, were taken by DrewDudeTV's brother, known on YouTube as Fur. If you're on YouTube, show your appreciation for their fine work by subscribing to their channels!

To tie the books together, editions going forward will include an icon of Alexander, along with An Alexander Adventure. I decided not to simply indicate "Parts," since I think each book can stand alone (though "Own the Scrawny" does immediately follow "Food Chain").

In a future blog, I'll share a bit of how I'm hoping to market the new book. Alexander's reaction to online trolls is a key element of this story - a topic which is particularly timely. 

I'll have more in the coming days–thanks for your continued support!


Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"OWN THE SCRAWNY" COVER PREMIERE!


For the first time, here is the cover to my new novel!


It was bad enough embarrassing himself in front of the entire school,
but it was worse when someone recorded it,
horrible when it was posted online,
...and a disaster when it went viral.
But it’s the comments on the video that just might send Alexander over the edge...

Stop the trolls...

Own the Scrawny!

"Own the Scrawny" is a new adventure featuring Alexander, the central character in my first novel, "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain." It's coming out this fall.

This cover is really a team effort. As with my last cover, Steven Novak of Novak Illustration, created this layout, and made "Scrawny" a great side-by-side partner to the first book. YouTuber DrewDudeTV (check out his channel) portrays Alexander, and his older brother, known on YouTube as Fur (check out his channel, too!) led a fantastic photo session. Thanks to all for a fantastic job.

In the coming days and weeks, expect a series of vlogs, blogs and other content as we move toward the launch of Own the Scrawny.  First up: A vlogging trip to the Santa Monica Pier!

For more info on the "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" series check out your favorite online book retailer, or visit my author site.

If you'd like to keep track of my progress:

Follow me on Twitter: @rickflix
Join the Facebook Page for My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain;
or sign up for the mailing list 

As always, thanks for your continued support!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sharing the Process: Andrew Eckhardt on Writing Serial Fiction

When I began writing “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain,” I had no desire to write in complete isolation. I This was my first novel, and I wanted to create an environment that would help me stay motived as I attempted to navigate through this entirely new territory. In short, I wanted to know I was writing something that would successfully connect with other human beings. I wasn’t looking for professional critiques, or human spell-check programs. I wanted gut reactions. It proved to be an entirely gratifying process (I wrote about it in some length in the acknowledgments in “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain”). 

Recently, I had the opportunity to get to know writer Andrew Eckhart in a Google Hangout in a Google Plus community entitled, Authors & Bloggers Seeking Cross Promo, a community of writers seeking ways to work together to achieve their individual goals.  Andrew, who has written several science fiction ebooks, also sought a path through which to connect with his readers. He took the process several steps further than I, and presented raw chapters of a writing project in serial form on a public blog, as he was writing. Though the book would evolve further as he moved toward publication of the actual novel, he chose to share the process publicly. 

In an article published a couple of years back on  the “Tuesday Serial” blog, Andrew wrote about the process of writing serial fiction, Serial fiction forces writers to focus and practice and produce...but it also allows writers to feel accomplished, acknowledged and legitimized, especially if they haven’t had the opportunity to publish before.

As I, too, felt with my tiny audience” Andrew felt a sense of obligation to maintain his output on a regular basis. Knowing that there were people out there that were waiting for his work provided the greatest incentive: Most importantly, serial fiction allows you to receive support from your readers. I promise you that whatever it is you’re writing: Supernatural Romance, Time Traveling Hijinks, a written reality television show based on the life of an amoeba that lives on the ear of a cat, you will find an audience that will enjoy your work.

He concludes that it can be stressful, hair-pullingly annoying and make one consider the pint of slow-churned cookies and cream in the freezer a viable “snack,” but it is incredibly rewarding.

In theory, I love the concept—and I hope to give it a try. In writing “Own the Scrawny,” the follow up to “Food Chain,” I had intended on repeating and slightly expanding the public side of my writing process, but soon discovered that this particular novel would be passing through quite an evolution. Sharing the process would have been, I believe, insanely frustrating for my prospective readers. The book that took shape is quite different than the book I set out writing months ago. In contrast, the original book had a fairly clear roadmap from the outset. I abandoned the sharing process after the first week.

I’m intrigued, however, with the challenge of writing serial fiction, and intend on preparing a future project with that specific approach in mind. Based on my limited experience with a hand-picked audience, the idea of creating a truly public blog and taking readers along on the adventure as it happens could be both exhilarating—and terrifying.

What writer could ask for anything less?

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Preserving Family History: "18 Miles"

One of the more interesting projects I’ve had the opportunity to produce over the last few months was “18 Miles,” a documentary/oral history project commissioned by a family that wished to preserve the story of their elderly patriarch for future generations. His daughter, Donna Weldon, turned to my colleague, Alexandra Nichols, and together we developed a concept which I hope we can replicate for other families.

"18 Miles" is the story of soldier Joseph Lincoln and his hometown sweetheart, Ruth Williams. Married for 54 years, this is the story of how they found in their lives together a union of hearts and minds. 

Through interviews with Mr. Lincoln (Ruth had passed away a year before), their children and friends, along with selected historical re-enactments, we tell the dramatic story of how Joe and Ruth met and then married in the early 1950’s. As Ruth was preparing for the wedding, Joe was at an army base, in training to earn his wings (and increased pay) as a paratrooper. His final jump was repeatedly delayed due to weather, as the wedding date drew ever closer. He achieved his final jump just in time, but he still had to make it home. A regional air force base offered a ride home – but his journey to that base would require a hike through backwoods in the deep south. As an African-American man in the 1950’s, he knew the very real dangers he might face.



This wasn’t a project created for television, cable or even online – it was created for the specific purpose of keeping family history alive. As Alexandra explains, her own heritage as an African American "requires me to honor the patriarchs and matriarchs in our communities by listening and learning from their wisdom."  Too often, family histories are lost after a generation or two. Even Oral histories—extended interviews with individual family members about their lives—don’t necessarily provide a sense of the true spirit of an individual’s life in a form that future generations can easily access and appreciate.

“18 Miles,” like any good documentary, told a story. With the help of Joe and his family, we focused on selected events in the lives of Joe and Ruth that paid tribute to their lives and their marriage, and preserved in a very real sense the spirit of who they were as a couple and a family.




“18 Miles” wasn’t just a successful project, it also brought the family together. Actors in the stylistic re-enactments included his children and grandchildren. Donna offered a rich selection of family photographs and documents that helped bring the tale to life. With the help of cinematographer Peter Bonilla, we were able to create a program created for a family that had the look and feel of a broadcast production.

Alexandra and I believe that “18 Miles” provides an exciting model for families to pay tribute to and immortalize their own history. Future generations won’t simply know their family history—they’ll feel it.

     

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?

Follow me  @rickflix