Since the publication of A Mixture of Madness last December, I have had a little difficulty striking the flint under the tinder of book three in The Bow of Heaven trilogy. Not only have the vicissitudes of life intruded…. What kind of a word is that, anyway? Vicissitudes. For one thing, it's a word whose final "s" is almost always inextricably wrapped about the "o" in the phrase "of life." For another, it's a word whose meaning has eluded me for the past, oh, 40 years. I thought it meant a necessary intrusion, but it doesn't. It means ups and downs, an alteration or variation in the state of things. It's one of those words that shouldn't have a negative connotation, but does, like "frisbee" or "sherbet."
As I was saying, the imposition of life, planning a trip to Italy, buying a house, preparing to leave my day job to write full-time, these stressors, while they have not quite given me a case of writer's "b-word," have stolen hours and attention from the keyboard. Once you stop writing on a daily basis, once in fact, that you've left your virtual pen and ink drying in the sun for weeks at a time, is it hard to get started again? A bit, yeah. Especially when you're trying to pull together characters and chronology from two previous novels and 900 pages of narrative.
"Oh stop your bellyaching and get on with it!" That was the imagined voice of George R. R. Martin, who has a tad more to remember than I as he soldiers on trying to stay ahead of HBO.
A nice review came in last week. I mention it because of the odd sensation of vertigo I experienced just before I clicked on the link sending me to the site where I could read it. I wish I was the kind of person to whom reviews were like rain on a duck's beak, or better still, that stalwart sort who, with backbone stiff and chin held high, shuns them altogether. I'm not. I read them and try to learn from them. I will even accept your castigation and admit that when a particularly inspiring review flies across the threshold, the bellows of encouragement begin pumping harder. (Aren't true artists supposed to be consumed by their calling, eating to write, not the reverse? Okay, that's not me either. Guess I'm an untrue artist.)
Last year I was honored with the silver award in historical fiction by Readers' Favorite for The Other Alexander. A prerequisite for winning an award this year for A Mixture of Madness is a good review from the nice folks at RF. So when the email came in announcing the review's arrival, I found my toes curled over the edge of an egotistical precipice: I realized that anything short of a 5-star review would be bitterly disappointing. Yes, they did like it, it did capture five of the fiery buggers and I breathed a huge sigh of relief. But this mixture of madness (!) must stop. Should I now be crushed if AMOM doesn't do as well as TOA when the awards are handed out? For crying out loud, who gives a flying Fig Newton, as long as a few folks out there are buying the books and enjoying them?
Ahhhh. There's the rub. Awards help sell books. They get you noticed, and help do for self-published authors what the traditional publishing houses used to do for their stable of authors under contract. In the end, however, it is just too crazy-making to worry one way or the other. So my advice to aspiring authors which I must work to heed myself is this: submit your work for the reputable awards, hope your work is regarded with kindness, and keep your head down and your fingers limber. Kurt Vonnegut said it best: "Write to please just one person."
Possibly due to a stint in an English grammar school in the '60's, or to a mother who feigned an English accent whenever she was nervous, I was taught to omit it. I didn't even know until recently there was any debate about it; anyone who tossed the extraneous mark into a sentence was not only wasting a keystroke but possibly inciting to riot in as many as three or four post-graduate composition aeries around the globe. Read on and you will see, as I did, that there are occasions where the little curly devil's presence is appropriate and appreciated.
(Apologies to Billy Tucker for the black eye I gave him in 5th grade. Billy, please pass along a current address and I will remit the $2.00, with interest.)
So here goes. February 1, the exclusive, prestigious guardians of all fictional writings historical, responsible for ruining innumerable toes of otherwise impeccable Sloane Street brogues as they are slammed unceremoniously out into a cold London drizzle, the Historical Novel Society has seen sit fit to bestow (for the second time running) an Editors' Choice accolade on the second book in The Bow of Heaven series, A Mixture of Madness.
Last year, the Society was kind enough to single out the first book in the series, The Other Alexander, with the same honor. Here is what they had to say:
“I am ancient now far beyond my fair share of years,” Alexandros, the slave Alexander, tells us at one point in Levkoff’s lavishly detailed and exuberantly intelligent second volume in his “Bow of Heaven” series about the smart, opinionated philosophy student who becomes the slave to the wealthiest man in Rome, Marcus Crassus. Readers need not read the first volume in order to enjoy this current one, and Roman history buffs will be able to guess the shape of the new book’s plot: Crassus, financier, doting father and husband, disgruntled triumvir, and would-be conqueror of the East. Levkoff has Alexander the slave at his master’s side through almost everything, without ever sentimentalizing his slave status (Crassus may like Alexander, but he’s also quick to threaten floggings when he’s in a bad mood) or filling the character with improbable braveries.
The book is filled with intrigue and action, especially in its final act when Crassus is bent on marching to the hostile kingdom of Parthia and almost certain doom. Along the way, Alexander himself grows and changes (“I love and am loved,” he tells us at one point, “I have friends, and a life that may justly be called my own"), and readers are drawn along by the author’s sharp ear for dialogue and his impeccable dramatic timing.
Amazon.com's KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select program has been batted back and forth from every independent author and publisher from here to Singapore and back. Is it a sellout or a way for struggling artists to be seen and sold by the Jupiter of our solar system's publishing planets? If you sign one of your books up for KDP Select, you must agree not to publish that ebook with any other company: not Apple, Kobo, Smashwords or the six-year-old kids selling paperbacks with lemonade on the corner.
If you join, your books can be loaned out in the Kindle Lending Library, and each time that happens, you get about two bucks. You can also select five days during each 90-day sign-up with KDP to list your book for free, which will hopefully skyrocket your ratings and subsequently increase your at-money sales. Finally, you will be eligible for 70%, not 35% royalties for books sold in India.
Every struggling author already knows all this. I was spurred to write this entry when I read an article in this month's Association of Independent Authors, "7 Things Joining KDP Select Can and Can't Do for You," posted by M. Louisa Locke, a quite successful author of San Francisco historical mysteries. Here's a plug and a link:
Ms. Locke argues that if your book is on one of Amazon's bestseller lists or high up in one of the popular browsing categories, then members of Amazon Prime can borrow your book for free and you can cash in. In 2012, she earned over $8,000 in this way with her two books, Maids of Misfortune and Uneasy Spirits. Imagine how well she did with regular sales! Congratulations, Ms. Locke! The author also says that offering certain books for free (which Amazon will only let you do if you sign up for KDP Select) has brought her increased revenue through additional visibility.
œ If you are just getting started, as I am, KDP Select is a way of admitting that you need a leg up, and Amazon's program is a generous lift in the right direction. No one, by a factor of about 10, can come close to matching the marketing power of Amazon.com, so while I am building a following, I don't believe I am hurting the self-publishing industry as a whole by cutting my books off from Smashwords (whom I deeply respect) or from any other venue. I don't sell that many books to begin with (between 100 - 200 a month), so giving Amazon the "monopoly" of my books means losing only a couple of sales at most at those other virtual stores.
However, in my opinion, an author that has achieved a certain level of success, and each knows what that must mean monetarily, ought to leave KDP Select. In the long run, books should be available everywhere in every format. If the reader is the true leader of this new revolution in publishing, then she and he ought to be able to find any book they want wherever they want in any format. If and when my writing feathers become stable enough to fly on my own (they won't, if I keep writing pathetic metaphors like this), I'll tumble from the warm, nurturing nest of Amazon's KDP Select program and find my way back into iPads, Nooks and Sonys. Splat.
After almost a month of waiting, the audiobook for TOA (The Other Alexander) is finally available here. Audible.com has set the retail price at $19.95. Am I bovvered? That's less than 4 cents a minute. If you listen to it more than four times, it's practically free, innit? I don't know why I'm suddenly doing Catherine Tate. It must be her red hair. Anyway, I've placed a link to the Prolog at the end of this sentence so you can hear some of Andrew Randall's fine work. Podcast
So it's January, and that means New Year's resolutions, right? Nope. Sorry. Haven't got any. Wouldn't live up to them if I had. Although I have promised to complete the final book of the The Bow of Heaven trilogy by the end of 2014. Yes, well, good luck with that. I rested about three days after completing AMOM (A Mixture of Madness) before striking out boldly, or should I say stumbling feebly into book three, whose title I have tentatively changed to The Archer and the Arrow.
I am having a rather difficult time of it, for two reasons. First off, I realized that AMOM was a better book than TOA, so now I have performance anxiety. How do I know it's better? A few reasons. I'm reading more widely, thanks to Stephany and her highbrow book club, and this of course means that I am hating more authors, whose talent, wisdom and brilliance with the mother tongue really frosts my cookies. Some of it must be rubbing off, which is not quite plagiarism; more like dusting the dandruff from the shoulders of those who came before me. People I trust are also telling me it's
Secondly, I left so many plot strings dangling at the end of book two it looks like I'm wearing a tallis. So now I not only have to write well, I have to be clever. I am not known for being clever. I am known for having a bad memory. I don't see how that is going to help. Pray for me. (Tallis optional.)
I received an entreaty from ACX, Amazon's Audiobook Creation Exchange, to have The Other Alexander produced as an audiobook. Amazon has this rather nifty gizmo called Whispersync. Here's what it does:
"…the new Whispersync for Voice functionality allows customers to switch seamlessly between reading a Kindle book and listening to the corresponding, professionally narrated audiobook across devices without losing their place. Audiobooks will also be eligible for the new Immersion Reading feature, which allows customers with the new Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD devices to listen to a professionally narrated audiobook from Audible as the text of the corresponding Kindle book is highlighted on the screen."
Audible.com (another subsidiary of gorilla Amazon), in order to promote this growing segment of the market, is paying actors a stipend to get more audiobooks out there. Bless their little hearts. And bless Mr. Randall. So keep your ears peeled—in a week or two, book one will be through the approval process. When you have a chance, go to Amazon or iTunes and give a listen!
It is fascinating how a book wanders off the page and becomes something unintended while you are not paying attention. Originally, I had meant to tell the story of one of Rome's greatest defeats in two novels: one from the Roman point of view, namely that of Crassus, the old general leading the expedition; and the other from a young Parthian bowman enlisted to become an unwilling hero of the conflict - Melyaket of Sinjar. Well, I've written 900 pages so far and haven't even gotten the two armies to square off against each other. Plus the storyteller is neither Roman nor Parthian, but Crassus' ancient Greek slave, Alexandros, looking back on his life and adventures.
Who's in charge here? I have the sneaking suspicion a writer should be in better control of his characters. You'll tell me in your reviews, won't you? (That's the last one.)
I was very pleased to receive a new review today from the reader below. I tried to find Kelly to thank him/her for taking the time to post such a thoughtful critique. If Kelly is actually reading this blog, in addition to advising you to run right out and buy a lottery ticket, I extend that gratitude to you now.
Alexandros' loss of freedom is, of course, a central theme of The Bow of Heaven series, and yes, for dramatic purposes, it is not granted in The Other Alexander. I am not trying to sacrifice accuracy for the sake of story line, but I am trying to tell a readable yarn above all. I was, in fact, flattered, that someone who clearly knows Roman history far better than I saw fit to give me such high marks.
4.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing, well researched and great characters, November 10, 2012
This review is from: The Other Alexander, Book I of The Bow of Heaven (Kindle Edition)
I thoroughly enjoyed The Other Alexander, and as a Roman historian, I can be hard to please. I've given the book four stars rather than five simply because I felt there were a couple of plot points where the author brushed aside the character of his protagonists that he'd been carefully building, in order to achieve a dramatic moment. This was disappointing to me, but other readers may not feel the same.
(Minor spoiler follows)
I also had to take issue that the main character, who displays loyalty and courage, moves into his thirties without manumission, even after he has saved the life of a citizen and his master. He is too valuable to be given his freedom, the writer tells the reader. This is convenient for the plot, but disappointed me given how careful the author has been in crafting other aspects of Roman society and explaining these to the reader within the narrative. Manumission was not only the end of captivity for the Roman slave, it was also the culmination of a process of social integration, a process whereby the slave who had already been partially incorporated into Roman society through the social institutions of household, family, and patron-client friendships became politically assimilated into the Roman state. (Patterson, 1982). Crassus' failure to at least discuss this possibility with Alexander was a major flaw in the novel to me.
Why didn't I give away The Other Alexander for free? When I first started publishing a couple of years ago, I thought it was a good idea to get my work out there, but I have since changed my mind. Writers deserve compensation for their hundreds of hours of hard word, even if it's only a buck, and discerning readers understand that.
So, I lower the price on Smashwords, on Amazon, everywhere, expecting to see some kind o
I certainly hope that's true, because A Mixture of Madness is weighing in at over 140,000 words and I'll be pegging it at $4.99. One thing's for sure—if readers don't think it's worth the price, they will let me know in short order.
The dove which you'll find on the cover of the paperback editions and in one way or another in all The Bow of Heaven books appears courtesy of my favorite illustrator and fine artist, Lynnette Shelley, www.lynnetteshelley.com.
Here's another reason. For a limited time, at least until a month after AMOM is released, book one, The Other Alexander, will be available for 99 cents. Those who'd like to get it while it's less than a cup of coffee, please go to smashwords.com, or Amazon. Come to think of it, even when it was selling for $2.99 it was still less than a lot of latte's. (If you go to the links, and the old pricing is still up, please be patient - David and Goliath may take a day or so to get the message.)
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"No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness."
I'm feeling very excellent these days. Did I tell you the world's finest and most prolific literary critic (from Dryden to Marvel Comics), Steve Donoghue, managing editor of Open Letters Monthly, was asked to write an article for the Wall Street Journal on what's new and upcoming in Roman historical fiction? No, that compliment wasn't self-serving; if you don't believe me, just read a random sampling from his blog, stevereads.com. Steve, in addition to touting mainstream authors like Mr. Saylor and company, will be mentioning me. OK, it's a little self-serving. The article will be published by mid-October. And you can bet I'll be re-posting it here.
Do writers of the WSJ read a higher proportion of Roman historical fiction than the average reading public? You know, when you think about it, I'll bet they do.
So what's that exotic, yet forbidding graphic up there all about. Can't tell you. It's a surprise.