Reviews, Views and Adventures in Content Creation

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

End of the Year Update!

Here's my end of the year update...the official campaign starts tomorrow!

Happy New Year!

Just a few words...

First of all, thanks to all of you who have either supported my work, or inspired me with your own dedication and commitment to your creative path. Choosing to create - whether writing, composing, or creating visual media - isn't easy. Bringing your work to the larger world is an even greater challenge.

I've never been one to write "holiday update" letters, and I promise this won't be filled with the dreaded TMI (too much information). However, one of my objectives for the year ahead is to be a better "authorpreneur" (author-entreprenuer) so I wanted to share a little bit of what I'm doing to connect with an audience as an independentcontent creator in 2015. 

As of January 1st, I'm officially launching Own the Scrawny, my second novel (and a follow-up to My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain, which I published in 2013).  Aimed at an early teen/pre-teen readership, it's the story of a Alexander, a boy overwhelmed by a legion of online trolls (the anonymous comment-posters that torment anyone who dares to create or appear in content online). It's great fun, I think, and a fitting follow-up to the first book.

I also hope it gives kids a better perspective on an unfortunate fact of online life. In fact, the boy who portrays my protagonist on the cover of my books, a twelve year-old whose YouTube channel is DrewDudeTV, has been invited to kill himself by commentors  on his channel simply for creating funny videos. Thankfully, he has strong family support and older brothers with YouTube experience, so he has a healthy perspective. Some kids don't have that advantage.

Now that the book is out in paperback and ebook at Amazon and all of the familiar online retail destinations, I face the challenge of creating grass-roots awareness. In addition to the tradtional routes (press and limited advertising to targeted audiences), I'm working on a campaign encompassing social media elements including Twitter,Facebook, blogs and, yes, YouTube to get the word out to kids, parents, teachers and homeschoolers. I'm also hoping to expand opportunities to introduce my books directly through various events. This coming month, I'll be interviewed on The Twirl, a cool, rock-oriented radio program in Sacramento, and appearing at an event here in the Santa Clarita Valley saluting local authors. I'm open to school visits, too.

Please feel free to share this with anyone who might be interested. Support from friends, colleagues and supporters as I launched the first book was phenomenal - it's the very heart of building grass-roots awareness.

Wishing you all the best on your own creative endeavors in the year ahead,

Rich


Upcoming Events:

January 10, 2015, 4:00 pm "Twirl Radio" - Host Mike Lidskin and I will talk about "Own the Scrawny." Available on the air in Sacramento, streamable from the link.

January 17, 2015, 10 am - 3 pm Santa Clarita Public Library  / Celebration of Local Authors. I'm be at the event all day, and appearing on a panel at 10:40 am.  Old Town Newhall Public Library, 24500 Main Street, Santa Clarita, CA 91321. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Goodreads Book Giveaway!

I've launched the Giveaway for "Own the Scrawny" on Goodreads - Take a look and enter to win a signed copy - Thanks for your support!



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Own the Scrawny by Rich Samuels

Own the Scrawny

by Rich Samuels

Giveaway ends December 20, 2014.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Sunday, November 30, 2014

High Anxiety: Closer to Publication

It's been a busy month...

As I write this, proofs of the paperback editions of both Own the Scrawny and the new edition of My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain are on their way. I'll review, make any necessary changes, and approve for publication - probably in the next two weeks or so. I already have a few minor changes I'll need to make to Scrawny; Food Chain should be okay.

It's an anxious time. I actually sent PDF's to several people, essentially to begin the process of revealing the book to a few interested people. I've had a great reaction so far, though limited. A number of people haven't responded as yet. Naturally, my mind rushes to a negative conclusion (shades of Alexander...), but at least one person has begged off reading the PDF because it's simply not an easy way to read a book. It's awkward on an e-reader, and uncomfortable reading on a desktop, so I'll need to be patient a week or two until I can provide more traditional editions. Then, I can wait anxiously even longer for more people to finish reading the book.

I've started the process of recording the audio version of Scrawny; Food Chain is already available. I'm hoping that the Scrawny audiobook will be available on January 1st, the official release date of the book.

In a few days, I'll be starting a giveaway on Goodreads.com, getting the book into the hands of readers just before Christmas. Most other promotional efforts will wait until after the holiday.

I'm hoping to create promotional materials and a teacher's guide for Own the Scrawny, exploring the idea of online trolling. In Scrawny, Alexander takes the negative comments about him too seriously, until old and new friends lend him a better perspective For anyone—child or adult—creating online, it's important to keep that healthy perspective in face of all the negativity.

I'm also hoping to generate more of a presence for Own the Scrawny. More reviews on the retail sites and Goodreads are essential to making this effort work. If you read the book, I hope you're consider writing one (I don't require five stars!).  I also hope to encourage more YouTube review videos and interviews (and whatever else you can think of) - they would be especially helpful in getting the word out.

As usual, I'm open to your thoughts—if you do read the book, I'd be very interesting in hearing any ideas you might have to develop my marketing plan.

And yes, review copies will be available shortly...



Saturday, November 8, 2014

Did you HEAR? Updates On My Publishing Empire!

Progress is being made - although it all feels like it's moving at a snail's pace, as far as I'm concerned.

In my last entry, I listed six tasks related to my upcoming and existing books. Most have already been accomplished, though I had a minor setback when the hard drive on my iMac died and some work was frozen. Luckily, once a new drive was installed and I restored the system, everything was there, just like I left it, and I was able to continue without backtracking.

The audiobook for "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" is now available at Amazon.comAudible.com, and iTunes. At around $6.00,  it's a fun, affordable way to pass a few hours on the way to grandma's for Thanksgiving!  I'll be starting work next week on the audiobook for "Own the Scrawny," which I'm hoping to have available at the same time as the book on January 1.

This week, I'll be submitting "Own the Scrawny" to begin the manufacturing process for both the paperback and ebook. Edits have been completed. We're all ready.

At the moment, I'm waiting anxiously for more of my "beta readers" to respond. So far, only one has. While I realize it takes time for people to find the time to sit down and read a book, my less logical side is driving me crazy - I'm nearly as neurotic as my main character!

One of my hopes this time around is that I can build some presence for "Own the Scrawny" even before the official publication.

If you're on Goodreads.com, I'd appreciate the favor of adding "Own the Scrawny" to your "Want to Read" list (press the green button). Between the beta readers and upcoming giveaways, I'm also hoping that there will be more than just a few reviews posted by January.

Once the manufacturing process is underway, I'm going to begin efforts to begin promoting the book, especially how it relates to the growing issue of online trolling. I'm hoping to conduct a series of interviews on the subject, so if you have a story to tell about your own experiences related to your creative work as a YouTuber, blogger or other online content creator, please let me know.




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?

Follow my on Twitter @Rickflix



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

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.

You can follow me on Twitter @rickflix
Please join the "My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain" Facebook Page.
Visit my author page at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Rich-Samuels



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.

Follow me on Twitter @rickflix

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.



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Quiet

The long-distance Metrolink trains that travel throughout sprawling Los Angeles County and surrounding areas include a designated "Quiet Car," allowing passengers the choice of riding in peace and quiet to their destination.

I have mixed feelings about the policy. If I take an early morning from Santa Clarita to downtown Los Angeles, I'm climbing aboard a train that's more than an our into its journey. Some passengers already on board are completely covered with blankets and/or sleeping masks, while others are bleary eyed and still struggling to wake up for the day ahead.

Even in the non-quiet cars, conversation is light at this hour, but I suppose I can understand the desire of drowsy passengers to have a reasonable environment in which to travel.

On the afternoon train, the conversation is much more energetic. People are happy to be done with their day, and some meet up with their friends and celebrate. Loudly. I've sat down at a table like the one in this blog, only to be joined by a mom and her children, and their chicken dinner. Awkward, to say the least.

So, I can also understand the desire of afternoon riders to simply ride home peacefully, and perhaps catch a little rest.

The concept seems odd, but sadly symbolic of a time in which conscientiousness has to be given a special, separate place all its own.  There are even sheriffs and security personnel who occasionally wonder the Quiet Cars and police the rule. Talk loudly on your cell phone, and you can be banished to the Loud Car. Come on board the Quiet Car with a child, and be banished as well. Play a game on your tablet without muting the volume, and get a stern lecture.

I guess you could say that they're the Polite Police...


Some Gamers Hate Me

This is a last minute post (I'm a touch late, but I make the rules, so it counts!), so I think I'd share with you some of the more amusing messages I've received in what's essentially only ongoing venture into online gaming on the Playstation 3. I play just one game - James Bond Legends, and often play it in multiplayer mode, which puts me in competition with other players worldwide, either on a team or independently. For ten minutes, we shoot, are shot it, are killed and respawn to play again, all in various James Bond-related environments.

James Bond Legends, however, isn't a very popular game, so even a fairly awful player like me, if I play long enough, can rise up to the top of the overall game statistics. I'm currently 13th in the world, which might sound impressive at first, but since there may only be two or three hundred players left, it might not mean all that much...

Of course, with great success comes great detractors. I've been condemned in a YouTube video for my choice of weapons (the video creator guessed that I must be a thirteen year old who gets stuffed in lockers all the time - I wonder if he read my book?),  and I sometimes receive messages that aren't very friendly:

I think his question was rhetorical.

The so-called "benladengang" is currently the top player, so I'm
in good company! I'm a bit concerned about those "guys on the internet," though...
This is the guy who created the YouTube video.
He's not very happy with me.
I'm "Rickflix" on PS3, by the way. And I'm Richflix on Words With Friends—I'm not nearly as hated over there...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Rich in the Stockade

Here I am in Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, when I was about ten years old. If I don't look particularly happy, there was a reason.

I have borderline traumatic memory of this trip. Amongst the authentic buildings, crafts and costumed actors, the venue also offers a traditional stockade, which guests can choose to try if they wish.

Most of you are familiar with the stockade in which your head and hands are secured in a wooden restraint (see the example below) . It was a pretty simple matter to stick my head and hands through the stockade and slip them out again.

A traditional stockade.
However, there is another stockade in which a prisoner's ankles were secured.

In my questionable wisdom, as I wandered on my own around Colonial Williamsburg on a late afternoon, I decided to try out the ankle stockade.

Somehow, I got stuck.

I was a little guy at the time, and though it seems as if anyone could slide their feet right out of the restraint, I couldn't. Perhaps, being small, my foot was at an odd angle. 

I just knew I was stuck.

I tried to reach forward and lift up the stockade, but my arms were too short. I was afraid that if I leaned forward too much, I would fall off the small bench I was sitting on and somehow break my ankles. 

At first, I just sat there and pondered my predicament. A couple of people walked by, but I pretended as if everything was fine.

This is the same ankle stockade I tried
out in Colonial Williamburg. Borrowed
from another blog.
But it was getting dark, and my parents were expecting me to meet them. When you're a kid, asking for help from strangers because of what you perceive as your own stupidity is...well...humiliating.

Ultimately, though, I had no choice. I had to gather my courage and call out to a total stranger and admit I was trapped. To make matters worse, the stranger I had to call on was a costumed actor. He kind of looked like Ben Franklin, I thought.

He stared at first, unsure what I was trying to say. Apparently, just saying, "I'm stuck" wasn't enough for ol' Ben. He stared as if I were speaking another language entirely.

I pointed at the stocks, "Could you let me out?"

It was as if he'd heard his cue. Instantly, he was in character, chattering with a Colonial English accent and skittering over to me, "Why certainly, young man! You've done your time!"

I was the only one there to see his performance. I waited patiently, but I really wanted to ask him, "is this really necessary?"

He lifted the stockade and I was free.

I mumbled a quick "thank you" and rushed off to find my parents, and leaving ol' Ben to fly a kite.




Sunday, June 15, 2014

Review: Boyhood, Directed by Richard Linklater

I had the opportunity today to attend a screening of Richard Linklater's latest film, Boyhood, which tells the story of a boy growing up from age six to eighteen. It captures the ups and downs, and growing maturity Mason and his family over a period of twelve crucial years in his life.

What is truly exceptional for a narrative film is the fact that the production was actually shot over a period of twelve years. The young boy we see in the first shots of the film is the same young man—the same actor—we see in the last image.

Linklater shot the film for a total of thirty-nine days over those twelve years, shooting every 9-18 months or so, and developing the story with the input and real-life experiences of his actors. In the film, for example, Mason develops a serious interest in photography, which reflected the developing interests of actor Ellar Coltrane. As Linklater explained in the screening I attended, if Ellar had become a wrestler instead of a sensitive visual artist, the film and its structure would been altered, and the fundamental experience would have been entirely different.

Boyhood is an extraordinary, non traditional film that has the rare feel of authenticity.  Few narrative films have managed to feel simultaneously epic and intimate. While the details of your own childhood may be entirely different, you'll identify closely with Mason's emotional roller coaster.

Boyhood, Directed by Richard Linklater and featuring Ellar Coltrane, Patricia Arquette, Ethan Hawke and Lorelei Linklater (Richard's daughter) will be released in the United States by IFC Films beginning July 11th.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Meeting World War II Veterans

 Last week, I had the opportunity to attend a 70th Anniversary D-Day commemoration at the Port of Los Angeles, and met some of the remaining World War II veterans, all of whom are about ninety years old (one female vet was one hundred and four).  They were all in their late teens and early twenties then, but still, when asked, feel the loss of all of those friends and comrades they lost so many years ago.

Nine of the attending veterans received the Legion of Honor, France's highest award, for their service in restoring freedom to that country. Some could still stand as the French Consul General pinned the medal on their lapel, others received their award in their wheelchair. Unfortunately, this may have been one of the last opportunities to honor these veterans directly.

I'd shaken the hands of World War Two veterans in the past, but shaking their hands this time took on a special significance.

In a few years, they will have faded entirely into history. I'm grateful that I had this last chance to acknowledge the enormity of what they did so long ago. Today, we know that D-Day succeeded. I think we sometimes forget how uncertain the outcome had been. These veterans didn't know they would be returning home.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander during the War, prepared this statement, to be issued in the event that D-Day had failed. It's a sober reminder of what have been.

"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based on the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."


Friday, June 13, 2014

The Dark Truth About the Platform People



Though I take the train only occasionally, I generally travel on the same morning train into Los Angeles. I buy my ticket from the automated kiosk and join the closest line. Without fail, I'm preceded in that line by the same group of regulars; individuals that have shared their place on the platform for years. They've become great friends. They share family adventures, discuss their favorite television programs, and even engage in playful teasing. They'll observe other lines up and down the platform, speculating on the lives of their fellow travelers. On rare occasions, their association has reached beyond the platform to birthdays and other family events. 

There appears to a curious limit to their friendship, however.

One of them, though clearly a part of the group, retreats to her favorite, albeit less social, queue  a few minutes before the train arrives.

For those who remain at their traditional platform position, their association appears limited to the station.  Once they climb aboard the train, they say their goodbyes and go their separate ways. They don't appear to have independent onboard social groups. The car they choose to board each morning is the "quiet car," designed to discourage the sometimes raucous conversation they typically enjoy together.

It almost seems as if they need the independent time to cool down from their free, true selves, to their more repressed professional personas. There's no greater symbol of that transition than their enforced route as they step off the train, then walk down a crowded ramp and into a narrow concrete tunnel. Fellow passengers shuffle slowly through the passage, anonymous cogs in a mindless machine.

Those last few moments on the platform in Santa Clarita, perhaps, offer them a desperate last gasp of humanity before darkness descends. 

That's my theory, anyway.

I could be wrong.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Train Writing

One of my most productive writing environments is on a Metrolink train on the hour-long trip from my home in the Santa Clarita Valley to downtown Los Angeles.  I don't think it's because of the the lack of wi-fi, however. I suspect it's the inevitable journey's end that creates an urgent, immovable deadline. At either end, I might not have the time or energy to find the quality time to create—it’s now or never.  On the train, particularly in the enforced silence of the "quiet car," I can't be disturbed. I can’t talk on the phone or with other passengers. I wrote a good portion of the my first book during these commutes, and I'm writing this blog on the way home at end of a long day.

Though I'm sometimes fascinated with the passing scenery, it also can prove somewhat hypnotic, allowing me the opportunity to concentrate on my work without the chance of getting distracted too long by a passing curiosity. 


I've played with the idea of taking a longer trip, perhaps cross-country on Amtrak, to discover what I might create with that opportunity. I actually have in mind the perfect concept–another thriller—to accompany me on the journey...

...but that's for another blog!