Judging Book Covers

Doctor Hightower series artwork

Writing books as an independent author means there are many tasks that I deal with that are not writing.  Obviously, I write the books; but just as important are the other items that must be accomplished.  For some of these I hire people to assist, but the decisions on what these things become is up to me.  The one I enjoy the most is deciding on the book cover.

This is an artistic, practical and money decision.  You could spend a fortune on a book cover or almost nothing.  Most writers will not spend a fortune, since they don’t have it; they will go somewhere within that range.  Most will be on the low end, like mine.

My fist book cover was The Bootlegger’s Legacy.  At that point in time, I wanted perfection and spent more on the cover than I was comfortable with because I thought everything was incredibly important.  Still have no idea if this cover helped book sales or not.  I liked the cover but probably would not select this approach if redoing the design.

Another aspect of covers is a series theme.  The next book was going to be the first of a series of books—Dog Gone Lies.  The cover was selected because it lent itself to carrying on that theme.  This was mostly color with some minor additions that would be compatible across a whole series.  Really liked the boldness of the design and the colors.  Thought the three books in this series had impactful covers.  Dog Gone Lies has been my best-selling book, but it is probably not due to the cover, more about having dog in the title.

The next series was Vincent Malone.  The whole approach here, I think, was due mostly to my jaded view of the value of covers.  I was interested but not dedicated to the process of developing the cover.  Since one of my goals at this point was to not spend much, the covers have always left me a little disappointed.  This series was not innovative and built off the Pacheco & Chino style.  Simplistic and bold. 

Durango Two Step is the fourth book in this series.  The pre-order will be available in the next few weeks.  That means a new cover. 

Once again, I like the colors, but there is something missing.  Keep in mind I don’t know what I mean by missing.  If I knew, I could add it.  Part of the issue with covers is that in most cases they are viewed as ridiculously small thumbnail sizes.  If you were in a bookstore, the impact of the cover is different than viewing the cover on-line at a small size. 

The murder books (Muckraker/Tommy Jacks books) have had two or three different covers.  I like the latest ones and even like many that were rejected.  As best I can tell all the revisions have had zero impact on sales.  Now maybe all the covers were bad, but still there should have been some noticeable impact on changing the covers.  I would say the whole effort and cost of changing that series covers several times was a complete waste. 

I see covers where there has been obviously a tremendous amount of effort and cost expended.  These covers often have unique artwork conveying elements of the plot.  They are elaborate and beautiful.  If your goal is to win a book cover award, this is the way to go; if you goal is to sell books, it is a waste of time and money (maybe?).  Even with that said, if I had the money (to waste) I would have all new covers for my books, and they would be original art with detail impossible to see at the small size and no impact on books sales.  Why, because I love book covers.

Simplistic, bold book covers can be effective in creating book sales; but the most interesting covers have real meaning within the artistic representation of that book.  Below are some that have caught my eye.  In most cases I know nothing about the book itself, it’s just the cover that caught my attention.

Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, might be good advice in evaluating people, but quite often the cover of a book does offer a way to judge and to do so correctly.

Ramblings

Making significant progress on the Doctor Hightower series for Amazon Vella.  This is a new Amazon “product” based on serialized stories targeting phone readership. It is based on episodes as opposed to chapters. This is a little different for me to be writing episodes rather than chapters.  Of course, it is also just the same.  The episodes by design are a little shorter than the chapters in a book and the total word count will be less.

Hightower was a project I really liked that got caught up in my health problems and mental malaise.  It is great to be zipping along with this story now.

Plot recap: In 1938 at Harvard University a team of scientists were working on developing a life extending drug from substances gathered by world famous scientist Dr. McAlister. This team included a young Dr. Hightower and his wife Anna. Included in the group was a hot head named Baxter. McAlister calls off the project because he is uncomfortable with the funding source (the military), the pending war and how his discovery might be used. Baxter decides that the documents about the formulae would be valuable and he will sell them to the highest bidder. To make his document the most valuable, he decides to eliminate (kill) all members of the team. This hideous objective includes killing Anna Hightower. Baxter confronts her at home and shoves her off the roof patio. She strikes her head on a fence and dies instantly. During this confrontation Hightower confronts Baxter and the result was Baxter also falling to his surmised death off the roof.

However, Baxter survives and escapes. This begins a lifelong battle between the two mortal enemies.

Image icon for the series:

Not sure when this will be live on Amazon but would guess within the next few months.


The Hightower project has bumped Durango Two Step back a little. My estimate on the next Vincent Malone book is late summer–yes, this year. I know my credibility on this book is not good–seems like I’ve been writing this for year; but it is alive and well and I’m writing on a regular basis again. So maybe it will actually happen.


Nothing new happening with my art. Have plans for more uploads of past art in the next few months.

That means more cactus and tumbleweed stuff. There was a period of time when we were living in New Mexico that all I painted was cactus or tumbleweeds–some of these got a little weird but they were pleasing to me.

Thanks for being a reader!

Yes, You’re a Character in My Book!

No, I’m Not!

Writing books is storytelling.  It can be based on something the author has experienced, or it can be totally made-up.  No one has experienced going to another planet, but there are plenty of stories about doing that very thing.  Based on someone’s imagination.

My stories are about people who are somewhat like individuals I have known, but a lot more interesting.  One of my characters could be based on someone who mostly just took care of life, doing the everyday things normal people do.  But with just a little twist here and there, I turn him into an adventure seeking con-man, or maybe a dark foreboding detective.  This seems to help me keep a consistent core established for the character, while they do things that the real person would not do.  Maybe that is way too complicated, but it seems to work for me.

I’m currently writing in two different books; I do not recommend this –it is confusing and stupid.  One of the characters is a familiar one, Vincent Malone.  Malone’s character shares some traits with a person I knew when I was in the printing business.  My business life has covered many industries, but one common factor always existed; there were people who thrived in whatever the business activity was by cutting corners; they were crooks.  This was usually petty crime, mostly two-bit hustlers.  Cheating customers or suppliers; and usually lying to everyone.  I got to know one of these people when we joined forces for a short while.  It was supposed to be for our mutual benefit, it did not turn out well.

What was odd about this unfortunate relationship was that I knew he was cheating me, but I still liked the guy.  Most of us have known someone like that; you couldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him, but he was always fun to be around.  Our business deal did not last long.  Even though he did some things that were not honest, we parted friends.

Malone has lived a life with those types of relationships.  People liked him and thought he was good at his job; but few trusted him.  He left a trail with an ex-wife, an estranged brother, a long list of business colleagues he never contacts and many acquaintances, whose name he cannot remember.  He’s a loner.

For my story Vincent needed to be this broken man.  He travels to Santa Fe to escape life and wait for death but finds a whole new beginning and becomes a better person.

I don’t know what happened to my unreliable business associate, but I have a feeling it did not go well.  He was no Vincent Malone.

The other book features a character who in the 1930s worked on a science project that discovered a drug to extend life.  This happy occurrence was immediately followed by incredible tragedy.  His name is Doctor Hightower.  When I started writing this book, I had a complete mental image of who this person was but could never pin it down to one individual I had known.  Then it occurred to me, the mental picture I had developed matched my older brother. 

My older brother was a computer genius almost before there were computers.  In the 1960s he was working on some of the largest and most secret computers in existence.  At that time, he was a member of an exceedingly small group of people with experience with these revolutionary machines.  He had a scientific mind and a charismatic personality.  He was the perfect Doctor Hightower for my story.

My brother died some years ago, but I think he would appreciate the irony of Doctor Hightower and his adventures, including delving into murder cases with a very clever associate at his side. Lani Newcastle.  My brother was a very smart man who knew he could do almost anything he wanted, very much like Doctor Hightower.

I’m increasingly worried that as I continue to write these two stories at once that somehow, I will get them confused and have Malone and Hightower teaming up to prevent some massive injustice that is about to occur.  Now wait a minute, maybe there is something there.  Nah, neither of them would be that sociable; better just let them have their own stories.

Thanks for being a reader!

Don’t Be Angry, Watch a Movie?

Yes, this is the umpteenth issue of the blog with no subject, because I could not think of one.  So instead of something important, how about something banal; like my favorite TV/Movies that I have recently watched?

I write murder mysteries, so my favorite shows are often murder mysteries.  I do live in a bubble, and I like it.  As a mystery writer you should really pay attention to what I like, because obviously I know good mysteries.  This is something I choose to believe, whether it is true is subject to debate.

Mysteries worth watching.

C.B. Strike book

C.B. Strike.  This is a moody tale about a very trouble soul.  Reminds me a little of my Vincent Malone character only with more damage.  Not a lot of these but what is available is worth watching.  Based on a popular book series.

Wallander book

Wallander.  Another flawed detective dealing as much with personal grief as mystery solving.  Flawed characters can become tiresome, but this one has merit.  Based on a popular book series.

Maigret—the 2016 version.  A British moody, slow moving murder mystery taking place in Paris.  This detective is a little less flawed than mine and more intellectual.  Also based on a popular book series.

Endeavour movie

Endeavor.  Speaking of intellectual detectives here is one, Morse.  Love the pace of this story and the main character.  There is a movie and TV show with the same actors—exceptionally good.

Vera Stanhope book

Vera.  There is a trend here– this is also based on a popular book series.  The detective is flawed but in this case female.  Enjoyable but can get tiresome.

The main reason I relate to these mysteries is the common connection of strong main characters.  These are character driven stories—with good plots as a bonus. 

Entertaining in Different Ways.

Temple Grandin.  Amazing story of a woman with autism who finds a unique path to success and fame.  Touching and uplifting story.

Einstein and Eddington.  Great story about entirely different people during a troubling time in the world. 

Miss Potter.  Maybe the best movie I have seen.  This is about the children’s book author Beatrix Potter.

Have Watched Many Times—always funny.

The Birdcage.  My wife has watched this show so many times she can repeat the lines along with the movie.

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.  Just has to be one of the funniest and most uplifting movies ever made.


In the first 50 years of the 1900s much of the world was involved in two world wars.  The misery that was spread around the world during those times is almost unbelievable.  I’m sure there was a sense of accomplishment after WWII that at least the suffering ended the craziness for a short time.  Today it feels like the world is not in a good place.  Not the same as before but not good.

I keep wondering, why?  Most people are only interested in living a peaceful, productive life with their families being the priority.  Few give much thought to global matters.  And, yet we seem to be angry a lot.  I wouldn’t want to suggest this in a flip it way but maybe we just can’t be satisfied with whatever life has dealt us and do our best to achieve some level of happiness. 

Of course, I know there are people who are really suffering without enough food or adequate shelter.  Should they just try to get along?  No, they have valid reasons to be angry.  What seems odd to me is that I know lots of people who are doing damn well, who are angry.  Angry about other people, angry about this or that; just angry.  That is what seems so wrong.  I’m not sure what the anger is about.

My recommendation is to watch Miss Pettigrew and laugh.  Now if you don’t have a TV, I’m starting to understand the anger.

Thanks for being a reader!

Writer’s Log

What should a book cost?  For many years I mostly purchased hardback books—usually because I wanted to read a certain author’s book, and it only came out as a hardback for many months.  I could not wait for a cheaper version.  Often, in pre-Amazon days, those books were $25 or more at a bookstore.  Today many hard cover books are selling on Amazon for that same $25 or much less.  E-books are something else, usually $4 to maybe as high as $9—and of course there are many e-books at $2 or even free.  I would guess that, unless you wanted a particular author, you could find a “good” book to read for free every day, forever. 

I’ve talked about free books before and completely recognize this is 100% the fault of authors.  If you write books and give them away, you sure cannot complain about not making money.  I’ve done it, and I’m at fault.  Here is my product that I spent months and many, many thousands of dollars writing and developing and it’s free.  That makes no sense; it is stupid.

The reason authors do it, is because otherwise they are lost in the sea of books available on-line.  So many books, so little time; how do you stand out to readers and get them to try your book.  You advertise on a web site that has a large data base of readers and offers your book for free.  It works, sort of.  My analysis says it is marginal.  You do get a lot of readers which often will lead to the sell of other books and some recognition of your brand as an author.  However, apparently, many free book readers are just that, free book readers.  There are thousands (if not millions) of free books, and if that is your price standard, you will never pay for a book.    

There is a trend toward serializing books.  Rather than chapters you have episodes.  This is really a written podcast, trying to attract an on-going audience.  Amazon has such an approach ready to launch.  Kindle Vella.  This will be another low-cost way to purchase books, only on an episode-by-episode basis.  Not sure if this is smart or not but think I will try it.

Some time ago I started a new book series called Doctor Hightower.  This was a mystery/sci-fi/fantasy book with murder, time-travel (regarding the time-frame being longer than the normal lifespan), and odd pieces blended based on my overall idea of the story.  Hightower is a scientist who worked on a team that discovered a drug to extend the length of life and prevent death by disease or accident, with very rapid healing.  He suffers great trauma due to circumstances surrounding the battle to own this drug.  Many years later Hightower became an attorney and began taking on eccentric cases based on his level of boredom and interests.  Living outside of Denver in the foothills, he is most often described as weird, and possibly dangerous.

The first serialized book will be 12 chapters of which 6 are written.  Not real sure when Amazon will have this active, but I believe very soon.  It won’t be free, but close to it.


Durango Two Step, the fourth book in the Vincent Malone series, is moving forward.  Trying to write everyday which is the only way I can finish a book.  If I take time off, it is awfully hard for me to get back into the book. 

The Malone character is my favorite.  I’ve sold a lot more Pacheco & Chino books, but the Malone character is easier for me to identify with.  He’s a loser, wow, that is odd I identify with a loser.  Malone and I both might need a little therapy. 

Malone has had a difficult life because of his weaknesses associated with booze, women, and being a loner with an attitude.  At a mature age he is now finding a new life that is promising and scary.  He is fighting his life-long tendency to screw things up.

My best-selling book has been Dog Gone Lies.  I believe the biggest reason is having Dog in the title.  People love dogs and it attracts readers.  Many reviewers will comment on how much they enjoyed the dog in the story.  In a purely crass sort of way, thinking about having Vincent take on a dog.  It would be totally out of character, here is a man who has spent his entire life only caring about himself.  But maybe a dog will make him a better person—and I can include the word dog in the title.  Durango Two Dog Step?  Oh, what we will do for money.

Thanks for being a reader!

It’s Only My Opinion

Not long ago I stated, or implied, that I thought Ayn Rand was a bad author; or at least Atlas Shrugged was an awful book.  That is an opinion.  An opinion is “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.”

My morning routine includes reading several on-line newspapers.  Much of what I read is opinion, not fact.  TV news seems to be dominated by people stating opinions.  While opinion columnists have been a part of newspapers forever; those editorials used to be somewhat segregated to emphasize their distinction from factual stories.  Today the emphasis seems to be on opinion.

Some of this, I think, is because facts can be messy.  Opinions are clear, absolute, black and white; and often stated in the form of “here’s the facts.”

Aside from news sources, how do we get our facts?  Everyday we gather facts about all sorts of things by observation.  I observed the sun came up in the east.  That is a fact.  I observed a wreck on I-25 this morning, a fact.  Much of what we know is based on empirical evidence.  Empirical: based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

Of course, much of what goes on in the world is outside of my observation.  Government happens in far away places, often behind closed doors; not something I can observe.  I must rely on someone else to tell me what is happening.  This has been the role of reporters.  But we, as a society, have lost confidence in reporters or the newspapers/television networks they work for.  We can’t observer for ourselves, and now we can’t trust reporters.  So, illogically, we have decided to “trust” non-reporters stating their opinion. 

Authors are also opinion writers.  Sure, there are authors who are stating facts, but all those facts are skewed by the author’s opinions.  When I write books, they are not factual. The story is made-up about made-up people doing made-up stuff.  I have written a book about financial matters which is a non-fiction book.  Is that fact?  No, it is opinion.  My opinion about anything is not a fact.  On the other hand, what I had to say about business could be based on facts. 

One of my characters in the Muckraker books was based on an opinion writer, who actually existed.  I knew him well, and we often discussed on an ethical basis what he wrote.  He readily admitted he made things up; he lied.  He wrote things to increase his readership and felt protected from liability because he was writing those “lies” in a newspaper.  If he could get it past the editor, he was safe.  Yes, he was my friend, but he was a sleaze-ball.  He was eventually fired.

He stirred the pot of hate and prejudice for his own gain.  Many of his readers would make the comment “at last, someone telling the truth.”  He was lying and getting credit for being a truth teller because he was passing on negative gossip, and the readers readily believe the bad gossip to be true.

We seem to have an instinct about what is true.  That instinct is based on what we already believe.  As such, we only believe what we already “think” is true.  So, if we think all politicians are crooks anything we read or hear that confirms that belief is automatically true.

When I’m creating characters for my books, I fight this truth instinct because if I don’t, all of the characters will be the same.  My bias would make the hero a good guy and the crook the bad guy.  So, is that bad?  Yes, the story needs to convey “reality” with characters who are human, with both good and bad characteristics. 

Opinion “reporters” are bad writers.  They want the entire world to reflect their narrow beliefs.  To attract an audience the opinion person must convey only one view of everything, it cannot be nuanced with confusing facts bumping into more confusing facts.  Ayn Rand was that bad writer who constructed a world view that was based only on opinion and reflected the way the writer wanted the world to be.

The Muckraker opinion writer went on in real life to publish a scandal sheet in which he spread malicious gossip.  He stated he didn’t give a crap about threats of lawsuits because he had nothing of value and was judgement proof.  He really was a sleaze-ball, like many of today’s opinion writers.

Thanks for being a reader!

Getting Smarter Every Day?

My viewing habits seem to lean towards murder mysteries, especially from Great Britain.  I write murder mysteries so maybe that’s not so surprising.  The older British shows are at a pace that is, in a kind word, leisurely.  It’s hard for me to critique my own writing, but I think I also like to build the story a little slowly at first, with lots of character development.  Sure, the whole point of a mystery story is to get to the conclusion and find out who did it and why.   But, along the way, it’s important to understand all of the characters and how they fit into the big picture.

Agatha Christie is a favorite.  She always had a vast list of suspects and lots of details on how these people were connected.  I’ve seen some horrible adaptations of her books. TV/Movie shows that did not understand the pace was a critical element of the presentation.  Reaching the conclusion was the goal, but the trip there was more important.

My first book, The Bootlegger’s Legacy, was not a murder mystery.  It was difficult for me to classify the book and led to some frustration.  The story was about the search for treasure and the circumstances that led to that search; both in the present time and the past.  It was literary fiction but had elements of an adventure story.  It was my first attempt to market a book.  The lack of a clear category became a handicap in that effort.  The result of that frustration was part of the decision that my next book, Dog Gone Lies, would be a murder mystery.  This is one of the largest categories based on book sales, right along with romance novels.

The debate for me was whether it would be a cozy mystery or hard-boiled.  That decision was not made until I started writing.  I could have gone either way.  As a result of my leaning in both directions I think my books are cozy mysteries with gritty language.  So, what did I do?  I wrote a murder mystery and then did it in such a way it did not fit neatly in one sub-category.  So much for simple marketing.

The Vincent Malone series was going to be more hard-boiled, but I could not help myself; it also ended up with elements of a cozy mystery.  My objective, at first, was a book that had violence, but not too much, a book that had romance, but not steamy, and a book that had humor.  Hopefully, I achieved that, but once again mixed marketing categories.

Why does it matter?  The biggest reason is that the reader wants to know what the book is; murder mystery, adventure, cozy murder, hard-boiled and on and on.  Readers find their niche and usually do not venture into other types of books.  If a book is mis-labeled, you run the risk of alienating readers or missing your target audience.

I always thought that The Bootlegger’s Legacy never reached the right audience, because it ended up labeled a murder mystery, which it is not.  That was partially my fault in that I did not know what I was doing in the beginning.  Know more now, but not all.  Once the second book came out as a murder mystery, I was labeled as a mystery writer and both books were categorized together.  While readers can find your books without the proper classification, it is harder in the age of Amazon.

Some of my favorite books were based on browsing in a bookstore.  Just sort of poking around with little concern for time because you loved the environment.  And then suddenly something catches your eye.  Sure, you can browse on-line, but it is not the same. 

The Muckraker series was another hybrid.  I wanted to tell the story of a major city newspaper war and all the ugliness that develops between competing papers.  But to have marketability I thought it was best to make it a murder mystery, which I did.  That could have been a mistake.  I think this series of books takes on a lot more than just a murder mystery.  The decision on the titles was more marketing.  I thought that I made better decisions on these books regarding how they would fit into marketing schemes; but they sold less than the others.  So much for having more knowledge and thinking you know what you’re doing.  Tommy Jacks was one of the best “heroes” in any of my books but found the smallest audience.

After many years and ten books, I’m still not sure what is the best approach.  However, one thing I’m sure of, the books are just fine as hybrid books that fit into several categories, murder mystery, cozy mystery, romance, humor, adventure and literary fiction.  Got all bases covered. 

Yes, that is a baseball reference, happy season opening day.  Go Rockies!

Hate verses Goodness

On some days it feels like hate is running rampant.  Hate is defined as an intense or passionate dislike.  Dislike is defined as a feeling of distaste or hostility.  As someone who writes murder mysteries, with murder representing the most hatred, you would think I would not be surprised at the level of hate that seems to run through our world.  Now this maybe mostly political hate and more scripted than real; but the evidence of real hatred is strong.

Most of my fictional hatred is very personal; usually revolving around love gone bad or money.  There is always some element of madness that runs through most murder mysteries, not real crazy, just a little deranged crazy.  Many of my characters, who are not murderers, are also a little deranged.

In my books I see the hate as an element in human existence.  Not something that is evil but more something that is “normal” for a human.  Of course, that is a fictional world.  I have had a few readers comment that my villains are not evil enough, which may be true.  My villains are often only slightly crazy but terribly angry about some offense or wrong that they have suffered.  I have never written a book about the totally insane serial killer who is evil, but awfully clever.  Those stories never appealed to me as a reader. 

The word distaste is an odd word to use in the definition of hate.  I really distaste you!  Okay, not only is that bad grammar it also doesn’t make sense.  Distaste is something you feel about someone’s diet or wardrobe choices.  My distaste for Billy led me to murder the poor sod.  Nah, that’s not right.

So here we are in our modern world of constant communication where almost every day there is an example of great hate.  One group hates another.  Murders and mayhem happen every day almost everywhere.  What is this?  Why do humans find it so difficult to not hate?

Maybe the answer is that it is human to hate.  Could it be that the natural state of humans is a lot of hate?  I hate this, I hate you, I hate that hat, I hate everything. Not a very pretty picture.  But if we think about the past, the very distant past, survival might have been dependent upon that angry hatred that gave energy to an ugly survival skill of killing or being killed.  How many generations does it take for a new survival skill of discussion, negotiation, and compromise to replace the kill or be killed instinct?  Probably many.

This feels like I’m reaching the conclusion that humans are just bad.  Well, that is not what I believe.  I believe exactly the opposite.   The most common quality I see in humans is goodness.  The problem is that the goodness of many is overshadowed by the evil of a few.  One lone madman can make the world an ugly place for the vast majority.  One good person just goes unnoticed.  Acts of kindness do not show up in headlines or breaking news.

In the past I had the unfortunate opportunity to observe human nature during some of the worst times for many people.  Court room appearances before a judge to hear their fate determined by an overly bureaucratic criminal justice system.  These proceedings had all the structure of what I would imagine a cattle call would exhibit.  Any human quality or blind justice was not on display.  People were shuffled in and out with an efficiency more akin to the DMV than a hearing to determine whether someone is facing years in prison.

The experience of observing these proceedings over many months changed me.  I observed the hearings and the people.  The accused people who were facing grave consequences.  You could see the fear, you could hear the anguish and helplessness.  These were people trapped in something that thrived on dehumanizing all involved.  But what I saw demonstrated by the people waiting to hear their fate was not hatred but caring.  Often the caring was demonstrated by one person waiting to have their name called, consoling another waiting.  These were mostly people at the bottom of our society.  They had extraordinarily little in terms of money and knew a lot about pain and suffering.  Every day as I observed, I saw acts of human kindness that touched my heart. 

I know there is bad in the world, and I will continue to write my murder mysteries regarding some of that bad; but mostly I see good.  Maybe my viewpoint is more delusional than anything else.  Disregarding all the headlines and breaking news, I choose to believe in human goodness.  I’ve seen it demonstrated by people in the worst possible circumstances and trust it is a quality we all share, even if reluctantly.  We are all different and we are all the same.  Be kind.

Thanks for being a reader!

Soon after this post is published I will record the post to a new podcast. Also in the process of recording past blogs, this will take a while; but soon should have a good size backlog. If interested you can listen on Spotify or Google Podcast and a few other places where podcasts are available. Thanks.

Writing Struggles and Con-men

A likely suspect?

I’ve been writing mystery books for some years now, and the process is always bumpy.  There have been times when I just wrote, almost non-stop, until the book was finished.  Currently, I’m in one of those periods where everything is hard.  I’ll write for a while, but then it stops.  Not real sure why?

My current project is Durango Two Step, the fourth Vincent Malone book.  I’ve had the outline of this book done for longer than I care to admit.  It started off with a burst of energy for about five chapters. Then it bogged down.  I’ve written about this before, often as therapy.  If I share my problem, maybe it is the beginning of digging out of the ditch.  Obviously, that hasn’t worked as well as I would have liked.

Lately I have made progress.  Slow, for sure, but real progress.  I have an outline with all of the characters, which includes a list of suspects in the murder, a big step.  It is key to have “good” suspects.  They can’t all be obvious, but they all have to be credible.  No surprise villain—the guy no one suspected did it because he was having a bad day.

One of my favorite authors, Agatha Christie, seemed to have that weakness.  The killer was either someone nobody suspected, or it was obvious.  The stories were still good, but the endings all seem to lack something.  Maybe that demonstrates that endings are hard.

I do generally follow the Christie model, in that most of my victims are bad people.  They deserved to be killed.  So, the first part of the book is to establish that the person killed was hated by a rather large cast of characters—the suspects.  Now, sometimes I have twisted that logic a bit, but all in all it is not a bad approach to writing a mystery book.  A lot of suspects give the writer the opportunity to lay out clues without giving away the storyline.  The victim is easy; the suspects take time.  Good suspects look guilty but turn out to be innocent; or at least not guilty.

In Durango Two Step I have six suspects.  They all have motive and opportunity.  This is an important step to have a complete outline of all the suspect characters and why they could be the killer.  The other trick for me is that I have not decided which one did it.  For the middle part of the book, as the hero (PI Vincent Malone) is investigating, I still am not sure “who did it?”  This keeps me honest in that each suspect cannot be cleared until the end.  But I do have a favorite.

Now all I must do is get the words flowing again.  My target date to complete the book is June-July (yes, this year); so, we’ll see how that turns out.


If you are a regular reader you know I’m a baseball fan.  My favorite team is the Colorado Rockies.  This team goes from okay to awfully bad on a regular basis.  Most national sports writers are predicting the Rockies to be one of the worst teams in baseball this year.  Mostly because they have made few changes which included giving away their star player for a bucket of balls. 

Even though there is complete logic to the analysis that says my team will finish close to the bottom, it is spring training and hope springs eternal.  Yes, even though I agree they will most likely be a bad team, I have this preseason feeling that maybe, just maybe, they will surprise everyone and be one of the best.  This absurd “feeling’ is maybe the definition of a fan.  No matter what negative you know to be true, you will not believe it until it happens.  Optimism does not have to be logical; especially when it comes to baseball.


$69.4M NFT image?

You probably are not that familiar with non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and could care less about another strange virtual world scheme.  If you care, there is a good article in today’s Washington Post (might have to have a subscription to read—but just google NFTs if you are interested in learning more.)

I was approached about turning some of my art into NFTs.  In a nutshell this is taking digital anything and with a little computer manipulation creating something that is supposedly unique and verifiable and then marketing it into the cyber currency world. 

The whole thing feels like a modern-day con game without the endearing characters of the actual con-men participating.  But still one of these made-up creations recently sold for something approach $70 million; that is one hell of a con

Guess I won’t reject the concept out of hand, even though I should.

Cheap art?
Thanks for being a reader!

In Search of Philosophers

One of the oddest things to arise out of the US political divide is the admiration as a writer and philosopher of Ayn Rand by so many who have little idea what this woman thought or believed.  I’m sure many people have not read any of Rand’s books; much less her over-hyped tome Atlas Shrugged.  If you have read it and you are still impressed with Rand, I’m not sure what to say.

My observations are mostly non-political but literary; Atlas Shrugged is the worst book I have ever read.  I tried to read this monster back in the day of youthful belief and found it atrocious.  Thinking as the book was exalted by so many I must have not been “in the mood” those many years ago, I read it recently.  It was a struggle to finish because it was so bad.  The story is silly, the writing horrible—were there no editors available?  And the worst part; it goes on forever.  Bad books should at least be short—this is bad and long.

I detested everything about this book.  Yes, even the mostly nonsense philosophical parts.  The world really needs a social stratum that places the wealthy at the top and everyone else as takers contributing nothing to the betterment of humanity.  The wealthy and wealthy want-to-be see this as justification to demonize anyone who has not reached the elementary human objective of vast wealth (and power) along with a superior attitude that is mostly laughable. 

And yet people, generally non-wealthy, see this philosophy as having value in their lives.  Stated in the simplest terms, Rand believed in selfishness.  If it does not benefit you directly, it has no value.  What an interesting belief to be held by so many who claim to be Christian.  How is it that one poor writer who led a questionable moral existence could have such influence over people who if they had known her personally, would have no doubt shunned her?  What makes these silly beliefs attractive?

Many of Rand’s characters are denied their rightful place in the heights of success because they will not sacrifice their higher standards to “just make a buck.”  I think that is the appeal.  If you are not wealthy and successful, you can blame it on your unwillingness to lower your standards.  So, you can feel superior and still be a failure. 

Not sure what has me so riled up this morning; maybe it’s the disconnect from what I feel is important—family, caring, humanity, community, art, love and accomplishments (even, small non-profitable accomplishments) and the hollowness of selfishness.  We are all selfish.  It is human nature to have self interest at the top of your priority list; but to demonize unselfishness seems a reach for me.  What jumps out at me about much of the philosophy that comes from Rand’s writing is the need to belittle and even hate people who disagree with you.  (Maybe I’m doing that myself?)

Of course, I did not know Rand, and maybe she was a kind, thoughtful person—but I doubt it.  Now, if you are someone who thinks Rand has all the answers, you should, at least, be required to read the entire Atlas Shrugged.  Especially the unbelievably long passages where she lays out her philosophy of me-ism.  These pages go on and on.  While reading them it feels like the writer is out-of-control and mindlessly rambling.  Maybe in need of an intervention.

If asked to list our most important philosophers most scholars would say the big three are Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.  Not exactly current age folks.  At least Rand was alive in the last hundred years.  Most of us probably could not name a living philosopher—the only one that comes to mind for me is Noam Chomsky.

“Noam Chomsky, in full Avram Noam Chomsky, (born December 7, 1928, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.), American theoretical linguist whose work from the 1950s revolutionized the field of linguistics by treating language as a uniquely human, biologically based cognitive capacity. Through his contributions to linguistics and related fields, including cognitive psychology and the philosophies of mind and language, Chomsky helped to initiate and sustain what came to be known as the “cognitive revolution.” Chomsky also gained a worldwide following as a political dissident for his analyses of the pernicious influence of economic elites on U.S. domestic politics, foreign policy, and intellectual culture.”

Some might say Noam is no more palatable than Ayn Rand, just a different leaning.  And that would be somewhat true, they are on opposite ends of the political scale.  One plus for Chomsky is that (as far as I know) he has never written an almost 600,000-word book outlining his philosophy disguised as fictional literature.  To put that book in perspective, I believe the King James version of the Bible is about 750,000 words.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle might be the big three when it comes to philosophers; but if they were alive today, they would still have a hard time getting on TV.  We have hundreds if not thousands of philosophers alive today, but we don’t know them because they have no relevance to our TV viewing habits.  Maybe we need a philosopher’s channel, and please no new Ayn Rands.

“What me worry?”
Thanks for being a reader!