Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Board - first two chapters

Fellow author Jim Gott and I have been working on this crime thriller, which we are getting ready to shop and/or indie publish. I've described it before on this blog so loyal readers will know it already. So I'll summarize with my Hollywood-like pitch.

The Board is a crime thriller that brings Corporate America and the Irish Mob together in one fast-paced, darkly humorous, suspenseful romp. This story is raw and energetic and doesn't let up. We like to describe it as Wall Street meets The Departed.

Here are the first two chapters (still in beta draft) of The Board. Coming soon to a bestseller list near you - and to the theaters in a few years!

(RATED R!)



One

My name is Nate Charles and I’m very good at what I do.
At least most of the time. Right now I’m sitting in the public garden, my favorite lunchtime retreat, struggling to come up with a metric that tells the story I want to tell so we can close out this project and cut the final invoice.
Here’s the deal.
The client has no additional capital, works with unstructured data, and half their staff is feeding me shit information because they want my company to fail. The other half wants to hire us.
Welcome to the world of consulting.
I block out the noise of the city while the flora all around me knocks out the stink. In my mind all I can picture is a simple PowerPoint graph, the same slide everybody’s seen not quite a billion times before they reach the age of thirty. I close my eyes and try to clear my mind of the noise, of the distractions, of that infrequent sinking feeling I get about my fiancée, of that one thought I’ve had ever since I joined McAuliffe Consulting a very short seven years ago:
I want to be a member of the Board.
Nobody as young as me has ever been appointed to the Board. But I’m on track. If I can close two or three more major deals I’m in and I’ll have something to show for all the seventy-hour weeks I’ve been putting in.
I take a deep breath and remember the words of my boss and mentor, Lawrence.
It’s all in how you tell the story. We can talk about volume or we can talk about spend, or we can actually tell the truth, which is, the most value is in getting it right up front before we consultants come in and charge hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The PowerPoint slide in my mind morphs into a new, dynamic graph.
And I realize: what they need is a ratio.
I’ve got it.
The ratio tells the story.
This is where the action is, the million synapses firing at the speed of light in the grey matter filling the six inches between my ears. That grey matter helps me work in the grey area between truth and fact. What Lawrence calls the narrative. We all do this, every day, all day. We all make up the story of our lives in a way that makes us happy, or at least comfortable.
I like to talk to myself too. “All we have to do is show them—”
“There the fuck you are!”
The beautiful graph I’ve got pictured perfectly in my mind dissolves and the garden comes back into focus. Enter my boss, Lawrence Heller, well-dressed as always. Lawrence is a member of the Board and just beginning to show his age in his late thirties. All at once the city’s chorus of car horns, people, electricity, and sound hit me full force.
I get up. “Afternoon, Lawrence.”
“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you.” Lawrence waves quickly, signaling me to hurry. “Are you ready for the Board?”
I’m about to say, yes, I’m ready to join the Board. But before I say that, I realize Lawrence means something else entirely.
“Come on, kid. Don’t tell me you’re not ready for the meeting,” Lawrence says.
“I was born ready.” I smile. “What meeting?”
“I sent you the invite.”
I check my phone. No invite. “I don’t see it.”
Lawrence feigns surprise. I know he’s feigning because he always does this. He’s great at many things but God-awful when it comes to keeping his people in the loop. “Don’t tell me you didn’t—I know I sent it—IT was supposed to fix—everybody’s been complaining about Outlook not working. They really need to get on top of it.”
I keep smiling, but inside I’m thinking that my Friday night has just gotten shot to shit. I’ve been working my ass off the last month, barely seeing my fiancée. She’s great, but lately there’s been a noticeable distance between us. Jessica and I have reservations at a swanky joint downtown where I hope we can talk and spend some quality time together. But I know this is a long shot. Jessica has some interesting sexual habits, including quasi-public expositions.
You might think that’s pretty cool. And it is. The first hundred times. But anymore it seems like Jessica only cares about having more sex and more money.
With all this going on, I want to call bullshit on Lawrence sending me the invite but I can’t. He’s championing me for the Board, a position that would triple my salary and set me up for life. He has a bad habit of dumping work on me last minute. Smaller minds would complain but I prefer to see these situations as opportunities. The more he needs me, the more I’m worth.
I leave the garden and meet Lawrence on the sidewalk. It’s one o’clock and everybody is hustling. Taxis redefine traffic lanes, and the air feels dirty and stale.
Lawrence says, “You remember the St. John’s Healthcare presentation you put together?”
“We showed them how to account for claims with micro-adjustments. It was a good one.”
“I fucking loved it. But I had to completely change it.”
“Okay … so what are we presenting to the Board?”
“Are you listening? St. John’s Healthcare! I tweaked the slides and figured since you were closer to the material, you’re in the best position to speak to it. And it’s a great opportunity for you to get face-time with the Powers-That-Be.”
I motion for Lawrence to follow. “I’m across the street.”
Lawrence doesn’t follow. “Wait, are you still driving the convertible?”
Here we go. “You’re not going to bust my balls with your theory about convertibles again, are you?”
Lawrence points at me. “Two guys should never be seen together in a convertible. It’s eh … you know.”
“You mean gay, right?”
Lawrence pretends to be offended. “Did I say gay? I did not say gay.”
I smile because we both know that’s what he meant.
Lawrence raises a hand. “Taxi!”



Two


Lawrence has his phone to his ear. “Tell Melanie and the Board we’ll be ready.”
So we’re in the back of a taxi because Lawrence thinks two guys riding in a convertible is a threat to his heterosexuality. But that’s not as annoying as the fact that I’ll have to swing by here after work to get my car.
But you know what? Lawrence Heller gave me my shot in consulting. Where I am at my best and where I am meant to be. I remind myself of that every time he does something that’s kind of dick. The guy could have picked a blue-blooded bastard with familial or country club ties to the Board members, but he saw me and decided to go with the diamond in the rough.
“Yes, have the St. John’s deck ready.” Lawrence shoots me a look. “We’ll be putting on a show.”
Most of our consultants went to Harvard, Northwestern, Stanford, you get the idea. Despite my 1400 on the SATs, the Ivys wouldn’t touch me. Two things going against me: I wasn’t from the right side of the tracks and I wasn’t a minority. Screwed because I wasn’t the right kind of underprivileged.
Senior year I decided to crash an entrepreneurial fair at another university. Lawrence was there to recruit some four-point-oh, silver-spoon, stuck-up douchebag but Lawrence was running late—classic Lawrence—and he missed the captain of the prep squad’s presentation. Lawrence happened upon mine instead, a slide deck I put together ten minutes before I left my dorm on innovations at start-ups.
He was impressed.
I later found out Lawrence had followed some co-ed into my presentation. If I could find that girl today, I’d thank her a million times over. Courtesy of her bubble ass, Lawrence stumbled into the right room at the right time and here I am, seven years later.
Lawrence demanded I take him to the local watering hole that night where he complimented me on my gift for making shit up and sounding convincing, two important skills that are all too often mutually exclusive, and he went on to wow me with stories of consulting, bragging about all the money and women he’d scored as a result.
A week after I graduated (and sobered up), I was working for Lawrence. In seven years, I’ve accumulated seventeen years’ worth of experience. My first project was with an Internet start-up. Like most start-ups, the idea behind the company sucked balls but we managed to bilk these geeks out of half a mill of their VC seed money.
I picked up database encryption on that gig and Lawrence turned right around and sold me as a database encryption expert to his next client, another Internet start-up. This company was going nowhere until I figured out how to tie data tables together from totally different data warehouse systems.
From there Lawrence sold me to an old school, brick and mortar, manure manufacturer that was merging with a waste-water treatment company. I ran two teams of IT programmers, 6 interns, and a bunch of lovely (and cheap) Indians that worked on programming while the rest of us slept.
I quickly learned that “yes” in Hydrabad English actually translated to: “I don’t have a fucking clue.”
Soon enough I was waking up at three in the morning to tear Patel, Patel, Patel, and Jeff (don’t ask) a new one over Skype, then catching the mandatory quickie with Jessica, then sleeping, then hitting the gym at five AM, then shit-shower-shave and lickedy-split back to the client site by seven in the morning. I’m no IT expert but I got their data merge done three weeks ahead of schedule and McAuliffe reaped a nice little bonus.
In twenty-four months I went from analyst, to consultant, to manager. I kept up the insane pace and worked my ass off and here I am. Now a senior director.
A fucking senior director.
“The St. John deck!” Lawrence is yelling into his phone. “You know the one!”
I shoot Jessica a quick text to give her a heads-up that I’ll be running late. Her response comes through a minute later:
Tonight I want you to dress like the FedEx guy.
The FedEx guy? Not a FedEx guy? I’m instantly on alert at her choice of words. Is it normal to wonder if your fiancée orders from QVC so she can bang the FedEx guy? Last fucking thing I need right now is to worry about Jessica’s fidelity.
“Hey.” Lawrence nudges me. “You got your thumb up your ass in your head in Idaho. Did you hear a word of what I said?”
“I got it all Lawrence.” I wink. “The Board wants to shop my St. John’s success story to every hospital chain.”
“Whoa there. St. John’s is my client and our job is not finished there yet. Not by a fucking long shot.”
“Not finished?”
The cab stops in front of our building. McAuliffe occupies the twentieth and twenty-first floors of the skyrise. Lawrence hands the cabbie a fifty and tells him to keep it. To Lawrence, money is as disposable as toilet paper.
“You got shit in your ears?” Lawrence is walking so fast, other people have to dive out of his way. He pulls open the door. “It’s not over.”
“But we fixed that place.” I’m really confused. There’s nothing left to do. I even got my genius but major fuck-up brother, John, a nice little gig there where he earns but doesn’t have too much responsibility and isn’t required to manage anybody.
“Whole new ballgame, Nate. James and Vaughn want to push the software for seat fees and licensing to St. John’s.”
“By software, you mean that piece of shit, untested Parallax?”
From no less than twenty yards from the bank of elevators, Lawrence in typical fashion shouts, “Hold up!” We can’t even see if an elevator is open, but this is one of Lawrence’s many endearing habits and describes him to a T. The world waits for Lawrence.
We find a pretty blonde-from-the-box holding the doors for us with pixie glasses and a sharp suit. I’m expecting the stink-eye for Lawrence’s yelling to hold the doors from such a great distance, but he flips her his sly grin and she kind of bats her eyelashes and I know with certainty three things in this life: death, taxes, and the fact that Lawrence will make a pass at this woman fifteen years his junior.
“Thanks so much,” he says, laying on the charm, invading her personal space so he can push the button for the twenty-first floor. With his eyes still on her, he says, “Nate, we need to hire more bright, pretty ladies, don’t we?”
“Wouldn’t hurt.”
Even though I’m a pretty good-looking guy and keep in great shape, she completely ignores me. Lawrence is busy holding that lascivious grin and basically eye-fucking her as the elevator climbs to twenty-one. We’ve got a meeting with the Board in a few minutes but he acts like he doesn’t have a care in the world.
Me, on the other hand, I’m shitting kittens. Parallax, our latest software offering is a complete and utter piece of shit. I can sell fleas to dogs, but even I can’t sell this program.
We reach twenty-one and Lawrence says his goodbyes to the blonde, slipping her his business card and promising an interview if only she’ll call.
You’d think the fact that the software is shit would be my biggest problem in trying to sell it.
But it’s not.
Nope.
The bigger problem is, nobody can come out and say it’s shit.
If it were possible to have an honest conversation about the merits (very few) and the issues (very many) with Parallax, we could try to come up with a real solution or, more likely, kill it and move on to something else.
But nothing in the corporate world is that simple.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Interview with JD Franx - Author of Fantasy Bestseller, The Legacy

JD Franx, indie author of #1 best-selling fantasy novel TheLegacy, was kind enough to take time out of his busy publishing schedule to answer a few questions about his writing, editing, and marketing process. Below is a Q&A with yours truly.

I urge you to check out The Legacy. It launched back in October and at the time of this writing, it sits at #2,000 on Amazon. Anybody who has indie-published before through 'Zon knows this is quite an achievement!

EVAN RONAN: Can you describe your writing process? I’m asking this question very literally. Where do you go?

JD FRANX: I normally write at our kitchen table, and sometimes in the summer I write outside while at our bistro set.

EVAN: What’s around you?

JD: Lol. Everything I need. Maps, notebooks of hand written information on Talohna and several flash drives of more information. Talohna's a big world with thousands of years of history. Oh, and naturally either a cup of coffee or a glass of diet Pepsi.

EVAN: Certain time of day?

JD: That depends on how I feel. I like writing in the morning, usually between 9-12, but when it's possible I do write in the afternoon. I rarely write at night, unless it's really late and I can't sleep-after midnight.

EVAN: What do you think about?

JD: When I'm writing I rarely think about anything, I very rarely listen to music and I try to just let the story flow.

EVAN: When you write, do you see the scene playing out in your head?

JD: I wouldn't say so, not really anyway.

EVAN: Hear the people speaking?

JD: Not when writing, no. When I'm not writing, yes.

EVAN: Or is the writing process more a gut feeling, where you know it’s working or not working by how your body is reacting to what you’re doing?

JD: As strange as it sounds, I don't worry about whether it's working until later drafts of the manuscript.

EVAN: How do you come up with ideas?

JD: I hate this question, lol. I've been asked it a hundred times or more and it's one I can't answer. The story is just there.

(I hate that question too, JD!)

EVAN: Do you outline or fly by the seat of your pants?

JD: This question I love, lol. I am purely a panster writer for every first draft I write, though I do tweak and adjust the story in subsequent drafts. I rarely plot ahead, though there are scenes that jump into my head that have to be written down immediately or they're all I think about. I've never had writer's block, so I look at it like this: I often wonder if us writers (or maybe just panster writers) have a 'connection' to the worlds we write. I never have a problem writing, except for motivation some days, lol. I sit down to write and the story is always just there, as if I'm tapped into another reality and this reality is showing me what is happening there in Talohna. I've heard other pansters say the same, so who knows?

EVAN: How do you create characters?

JD: Like the stories, they're just there. Though there are times when certain characters are 'louder' than others so I have to sometimes write their scenes first.

EVAN: Do you have to see, or hear, or feel, or all three before you start writing them?

JD: I do at times see hear or feel what I write, but I don't need to in order to write.

EVAN: Or do they come out organically as you’re writing?

JD: Most of my characters develop organically, though this one aspect I'm trying to improve upon. I have a lot of respect for authors whose characters come alive on the page and I believe I have a long ways to go before I'm happy with my own, if that's ever even possible, lol.

EVAN: Do you consciously think of theme while you’re planning the book, or while you’re writing the book, or does theme happen on its own?

JD: I do not. I have no ulterior themes hidden within, so any kind of religious or political, or any statement for that matter that does pop up is purely unintentional. My only plan or desire is to write a high fantasy world and characters that readers will enjoy.

EVAN: Do you model other authors? As you’re writing, do you say: “I want this book to be like XXX and YYY”?

JD: No. I do have my own favourite authors, like R.A. Salvatore or Tolkien, but I hope to keep my world and writing as unique as possible. Because I don't plot or plan ahead, there's no desire to emulate others, at least not consciously, lol.

EVAN: As you mention on your Author Page and from what reader reviews have indicated, The Legacy turns some tropes on their proverbial heads. I really admire when authors do this, because it shows they’re not afraid to experiment and give readers something new. Being that daring takes guts.

So … how did you strike a balance between satisfying reader expectations of the genre, while also subverting the genre as well?

JD: Personally I love all the old fantasy tropes. My two favourite will always be the portal fantasy and hero's journey tropes. But they have been done to death so I did consciously try to do something different during the revision stages. Most portal fantasy stories have the hero being hidden away in another realm/reality/world in order to hide him/her from the big bad. Instead I flipped the trope and used it to hide the big bad in a different world when he was born—in order to save Talohna from a prophesied apocalypse. As for the hero's journey quest, I often find in other books that the hero is perfect at everything(of which I also love) whether magic, sword-fighting, or whatever they happen to need at the time. In Talohna, it doesn't work that way and Kael spends most of his time screwing up these things and getting into trouble because of it, lol.

EVAN: What tropes were you willing to play with, and what tropes did you hold sacred?

JD: I'm willing to play with any trope that serves the plot or that creates something different, something readers haven't seen. That's what makes for a great story in my opinion—show readers something fresh. For Talohna I wanted to reassert what vampires and werewolves are to me. I grew up on Bram Stoker's Dracula and Lost Boys vampires—predatory killers. And on The Howling and Silver Bullet werewolves—massive beasts that stalked their prey on two legs and were often conscious of what they were doing. Today's beasts have been seriously neutered based on my childhood experiences, though I have to admit that hasn't prevented some incredible stories from being written. These creatures will just always hold a different meaning to me.

EVAN: What I’m most impressed with is how successfully The Legacy launched. This is your first book, so presumably you had no readership, no mailing list, in other words, people weren’t lining up to grab their copy. And yet, The Legacy blasted up the charts when it came out. What did you do to create such a successful launch?

JD: Good question. I have worked extremely hard the last three years to build a small but loyal reader audience. I don't do the Facebook or Twitter 'like for like ladders' and instead I've tried to follow and earn follows from readers honestly interested in my series. It helped.

EVAN: How did you get the word out about this book ahead of time?

JD: Besides what I mentioned above, not much else. I didn't have the resources ahead of time, instead I focused on the release.

EVAN: How did you build reader anticipation prior to launch?

JD: Again, with the exception of my Facebook author page and Twitter, very little.

EVAN: What other steps did you take so to give yourself the best possible chance of a really successful release?

JD: I did spend a bit of money for ads during release week, which helped get me to #1 in Amazon's smaller categories and from there it just continued to climb until it hit #1 on the bigger lists. Kindle Unlimited also helped a lot, especially with reviews and visibility. Readers are a lot more willing to take a chance on a new author when they can read it for free through their Prime subscription. I think KU is a great tool for new authors, if you're willing to monitor it and report any abnormalities.

EVAN: As a corollary to that, the next thing I’m really impressed with is how “sticky” The Legacy is. It currently sits at #2,000 on Amazon and it’s been out for over three months! So … following your launch, what have you done in terms of marketing, if anything?

JD: The Legacy is selling and being read through KU very steadily so my rank and #1 positions now pretty much rely on how other authors are doing, lol. I've been bouncing around from between the 300s-1200s overall since the middle of December. Facebook ads have been my greatest investment. I tried other services and they help a bit, where as my Facebooks often pay for themselves in a matter of days.

EVAN: What actions have you taken to keep the book sticky?

JD: My ads and word of mouth now, along with the willingness to talk and engage with fans and readers at every opportunity, I think.

EVAN: Aside from writing a great book, what other factors do you think contributed to your success?

JD: Besides those I've mentioned earlier, I have no idea. Maybe luck or the cover, maybe it is the story itself—The Legacy has 115 reviews in only 3 months, most are 4 and 5 stars. Or perhaps it's the willingness and ability to spend money on ads. A combination of all the above maybe? Who knows? I guess we'll see how well the following books do, lol. Maybe then I'll have a better idea of what works for sure.

EVAN: And last, but not least, who created that cover? It’s kick-ass!

JD: All my covers are done by a friend, artist Joel Lagerwall. He's an amazing artist and a great guy. I sincerely hope I can have him do all my covers for this series.

***

Thanks again to JD for taking the time to answer some questions and provide insight into his process. It's working for him, as his sales/borrows on Amazon show. Keep up the great work, JD!



Saturday, July 30, 2016

New Release - UNDO

If you like upper-YA, time travel, and books like Me and Earl and the Dying Girl ...

... then maybe you'll like my latest, UNDO.

Here's the part where most authors will pitch you on why you should read their latest release. I'm not going to do that. My father was a great salesman, but I am not my father ;-)

What I will do is tell you about this book. It's a passion project. I've tinkered with it for several years. It's changed significantly over time. I could never seem to get it exactly the way I wanted. The idea of the story always seemed just out of reach and what I was writing was just an attempt at describing this thing in my brain that kept mocking me. Stories take on a life of their own sometimes, to the point where they feel almost out of the control of the author. This is one of those rebellious, recalcitrant stories which makes a kind of sense, since it's about teens.

UNDO was both maddening and a joy to write. The prose is highly-stylized, filled with made-up lingo, slang straight out of the Urban Dictionary, and other impenetrable argot in the vein of A Clockwork Orange. That was the best part of writing the book.

The plot is more convoluted than a Raymond Chandler novel. That was the worst part of writing the book.

The main characters are teens. I tried to avoid filling them with angst but ... their teens, for God's sake, and that's what they're usually filled with. At least in my experience.

It's a time travel book, which will have many people rolling their eyes. But it's a new take on time travel, so hopefully those who haven't rolled their eyes yet will give it a chance.

There are no zombies, vampires, fairies, trolls, or any paranormal critters running around. There are no dystopias, mutants, superheroes, mysteries, or world-ending threats only our teens can solve. There is a lot of pining, brooding, high school drama, and ambivalence as the characters try to walk the dangerous, contradictory tightrope that is adolescence.

This book attacks what I think is the most fundamental question we all have: who am I? What is self? Do people change? What makes us change? If we grow, are we no longer the people we used to be?

Those are the questions at the heart of the narrative. So if you find those sorts of philosophical wanderings of interest, then you might enjoy UNDO.