Where to begin? Probably at the beginning. Okay. Here goes.
I recently decided to give away money.
I know. I’m a moron. Or drunk again. Whatever. Don’t be a hater.
NEWS: New interview is worth taking a few minutes to check out. A good one on BLACK!
What I’ve started doing, besides donating to the local no-kill animal shelter here in Mexico, is donating via the web to try to help save animals that are on death row. They’re on the TBK lists – To Be Killed, at shelters across America, due to overcrowding in the facilities. The only way to make more space is to get rid of the current crop. The stories are always heartbreaking and usually involve mistreatment by humans. Callous owners that leave the animals behind when they move. That abuse them. That raise them to torture them. Or that discard the poor things because owning a pet seemed like a fun idea, and then life got in the way and it was inconvenient. These animals haven’t done anything wrong. They’re victims of circumstance.
And they deserve better than that. We as a species should treat them better. We too often fail them, for which there’s no excuse.
As humans, our greatness isn’t measured by our achievements. It’s measured by our compassion. In that regard, we’re lacking. Our world has virtually unimaginable riches at every turn, and yet for want of a few bucks, every day, innocent animals are killed because there’s not enough cash to support them for a while longer, or not enough spaces free to keep them alive.
I decided that since I’ve been extremely fortunate with my book business, I want to allocate some cash where it will do some good. I’m not doing some gimmick like pledging some of the income from my dog book to charity. I already do that, and when it doesn’t sell much, I reach into my pocket and make up the difference. No, I’m committing to giving away thousands of dollars every year, which is a drop in the bucket in terms of what’s necessary, but which, if I can serve as inspiration to anyone, can serve as a model.
I live in Mexico. A country with hardship. Many of the people here live brutal lives in abject poverty, working 12 hour days to barely survive. You can imagine what the animals go through.
Don’t get me wrong. I also donate to human charities. But it’s the animals I feel sorriest for.
I keep encountering this apathy among my expat friends here that annoys the hell out of me: that it’s too big a problem for one person to make a difference. That’s bullshit. One person can always make a difference. It depends on how committed they are. I’ve rescued 15 animals since living here. I made a difference to those 15 lives.
That apathy is a function of wanting to appear to care, but not actually exert the effort to do anything. As is the whole, “I’ll pray for them” bit. Great. You pray for them. How about skipping your $5 frappucino today and pledging to keep an animal from being murdered? Knock off the pretending-to-care BS where you act like offering your positive thinking is doing something. It isn’t. It’s a cop out. It’s what people who don’t actually want to act do so they can pretend that they’re doing something, while actually doing squat.
Act. Don’t ruminate or call upon a higher power. Adopt an animal. If you can’t, peel off a few dollars from your wad and do the right thing: sponsor an animal on the TBK list. That $5 or $10 isn’t going to kill you, but it could stop a tragedy from happening – a tragedy that takes place countless times every day, because it’s a crime to murder a two year old, but an animal with the awareness of a two year old’s fair game.
We should be ashamed that’s the best we can do. I find it ironic that I’m sending money from Mexico to the U.S. to save dogs and cats there. But I am. As well as supporting the shelters here. It’s a global problem that we need to address locally – one animal at a time. You can’t save them all, but if you commit to saving one, your chances of success skyrocket.
I know it’s hard out there. Everyone’s struggling. Everyone’s got their reason they can’t do anything right now. All I ask is that you make a decision to be part of the solution, dig deep, and do something besides project your empathy via the astral plane.
I recently joined a Facebook group I’d like you to look at, and if possible, join and share – the sharing costs nothing, but it can highlight an animal’s tragic plight and possibly find others who are willing to do something. It’s worth spending some time at, if only to raise awareness of the countless spirits being extinguished daily by a system that can’t or won’t do better.
For once I’m not going to ask you to buy my books. Here’s my proposal: instead of buying one, go pledge that $5 to subsidizing one of the suffering, scared animals on that list. I’ll get over it. Hell, if it’s that big a deal, make the pledge, send me an email with PLEDGE in the subject line at Books@RussellBlake.com and evidence that you made a donation, and I’ll send you a coupon for a free book of your choice. Because the animals need the money more than I do, and it’s for a good cause. I’ll keep doing this as long as you keep pledging. I’m completely serious. I’d rather see my sales decline by 50% and know that money went to helping animals with no voice than pocket the cash myself and squander it on tequila or food or whatnot. So step up. There’s really no excuse not to.
Bless you if you do. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did – there’s no better feeling than making a difference. And if God’s a dog or cat, you’re into heaven like a Kardashian at an after-hours club. If for whatever reason you don’t, consider that when you’re on your death bed, praying for salvation or pity or a little bit of forgiveness, that you had the chance to do something, to save a creature yourself, and you chose not to. Let’s see how that plays. Between you and me, I don’t like your odds.
Night of the Assassin is now available as an audio book on Audible.com, and I’m lucky enough to have gotten award-winning narrator, Dick Hill, to narrate the entire Assassin series, starting with Night. Dick has narrated over a thousand books, including for renowned authors like Lee Child, Dave Barry and Terry Brooks. He’s recognized as one of the best, and for good reason.
Dick has kindly agreed to sully his otherwise sterling reputation doing an interview with yours truly. But his bad decision-making is what passes for entertainment on this site. Or at least my latest slacking excuse for a blog post when I’m largely out of ideas and in the middle of writing yet another novel…
RB: How did you get started narrating books?
DH: I was lucky enough to get my start over twenty years ago, when the industry was still young. I was working in regional theatre and a friend and fellow actor, a Brit, was doing some public domain titles for Brilliance Audio. He told me they were looking for someone to do a new war novel, American p.o.v. I got in touch, landed the job, and never looked back. I had discovered my niche.
RB: You’re called the “Golden Voice”, where did you get that title?
DH: That title is awarded by the folks at Audiofile Magazine, the top audiobook publication. To quote them… “AudioFile editors celebrate the Golden Voices of audiobooks. This Hall of Fame showcases top narrators for their exceptional audiobook work. We celebrate these actors for their commitment to the craft of audiobook narration and for their achievements in spoken-word recordings.” I’m honored to share that distinction with folks like Sir Derek Jacoby
RB: Apparently there are many audiobook listeners who look for books read by “Dick Hill” regardless of the book’s author or genre. How do you feel about that?
DH: Well, it’s very gratifying to know that there are people who enjoy my work. I hear from listeners fairly regularly who say that. I’ve probably done 1000 titles more or less, so anyone looking for my titles has plenty to pick from. Out of that thousand, though, it’s inevitable that a few might be….well, of lesser distinction? Aw hell, call a spade a spade, a few of ‘em stink. People still have to use discretion when selecting.
RB: How do you prepare for a new book?
DH: I work with my wife Susie Breck, an award winning narrator and director, who directs and engineers all our projects. Generally, she will prep a book, noting names, places, any vocabulary we need to check. She’ll make notes on characters too, list any indications about voice in the text, villains or heroes etc., and supply me with that. In most cases, I don’t pre-read, but do a cold read. I like the challenge and spontaneity of that, and she’s there to keep me out of trouble.
RB: Some of our readers are interested in what the process is for recording a book. Can you tell us a little about that?
DH: Well, you’ve heard about what leads up to it. In the past I traveled to different locations for different publishers to record. I am very much a homebody, and despite working with some wonderful people who became friends I admire and enjoy, I just didn’t like being on the road, so some years back I built a home studio. Susie, intrepid soul that she is, undertook to learn how to handle the equipment and master the necessary techniques to record our work. She also undertook the more daunting task of directing me. This means the prep work I mentioned, as well as monitoring my reads, and stopping when I make a mistake. It also means advising me when she feels I may have missed an opportunity, or given a read that wasn’t the best choice. Doesn’t happen often, especially given the volume of work we do, but when it does she voices her opinion, makes her suggestion. The final decision is mine, but most of the time she’s nailed it. When I do stumble, or mispronounce, or fart, she’ll stop, roll back to a convenient spot before the glitch, then play back while I listen till we get the spot where she stops playback and hits record, and I jump right in, continuing the read. This is pretty much a seamless procedure. Listeners are never aware of those “punches” as they’re called in the punch and roll technique. We have the luxury of starting at a civilized hour, knocking off whenever we want, so long as we meet our deadlines.
RB: Did you find any special challenges narrating Night of the Assassin?
DH: Every book is a challenge, but that’s the fun of the job. A challenge to make the not so terrifically written works better than they really are, or a challenge with the good ones to make sure you take full advantage of what the author has given you and deliver something as rewarding and exciting in audio as it is in print, simply adding that other dimension of story telling. Thankfully, yours was one of the latter, Russell. (If it weren’t, I wouldn’t be doing this interview. I’d take my check and be done with it. As it is, I’m looking forward to the rest of the ASSASSIN series)
RB: Are there any other ways that you use your voice professionally besides book narration?
DH: Used to act onstage, sometimes musicals. I sang loud and enthusiastically, but not always prettily. Did some voice over work, ads and such, but hated it. Reading ad copy can pay well, but I got no pleasure from it. Not to mention the fact that copy writers and account executives and the like are often real dicks with no idea what they’re talking about.
RB: What are your guidelines for picking projects to work on? Is there any genre you wouldn’t want to work in?
DH: I don’t actually seek out projects, in this business those are offered to you by publishers or rights holders. I won’t do porn. Did a highly popular fantasy series for awhile and had great fun voicing wizards and other characters, but the audience was primarily young people, and the series increasingly delved into sado-masochism, so I bowed out. Most people who approach me are familiar with my work and know what and what not to offer. I’m comfortable working in any number of genres though. Classics, Dostoyevsky, Dickens, Twain, Faulkner…..lots of work like yours, Lee Child, Deutermann, Connelly, but also Dave Barry, Thomas Pynchon, the Bible, and plenty of non-fiction. Currently a bio of Tim Conway, followed by THE DEATH OF SANTINI by Pat Conroy. Memoir of him and his dad, who inspired THE GREAT SANTINI, which I had the pleasure of recording some time back. I guess Conroy liked what I did with that. It was well received.
RB: What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors? Has becoming a narrator changed the way that you read?
RH: HUCKLEBERRY FINN. Greatest American novel ever. I’ve recorded it for three publishers. Never told any of them I’d have done it for free. I admire Stephen King’s skills, though generally not the sort of thing he writes. Thought 11/22/63 was masterful, the best exploration ever of time travel. Canadian author Robertson Davies, any of Robert Parker or Dutch Leonard. Funny thing, I’ve always read in my mind as if I were performing for an audience, luxuriating in the rhythms and music of the words. Did this decades before I knew there was such a thing as an audiobook. I continue to read that way.
I have to say that listening to Dick’s interpretation of Night of the Assassin was a pleasant surprise, and it was interesting to hear the nuance and spin he injected into the words I’d written. It’s tough as an author to hear others read your work, because the cadence, the inflection, usually just feels wrong. It’s just not the way you hear it in your head when you wrote it. Dick managed to impress me, and that says a lot. Not just because I’m a dick, which I am, but because he took the work to places I’d never imagined, and I enjoyed it all the more for it. If you haven’t had a chance to hear Dick’s performance, go buy the audiobook. Come on, you can’t take your money with you, and which would you rather do, buy groceries or hear a master at work? Stop being so damned selfish. Think of someone else, for once. Like me.
And while you’re at it, go pick up a copy of BLACK, which is doing well and garnering rave reviews.
The day I’ve been waiting for is finally here. My new series launches today with BLACK. I’ve got BLACK 2 being edited, and BLACK 3 in the queue. I’m targeting BLACK 2 for mid-October release, and BLACK 3 for mid-November, with December being a BLACK-fest with BLACK 4 hitting by Xmas, as well as the sixth installment in the JET series.
BLACK is a new kind of book for me. It’s funny. Humor plays a big part in Artemus Black’s interactions with the world, and much of the humor is dark. I really like the characters in this series the more I write them. Black is a fun protagonist, and Roxie, his assistant, is a hoot. Mugsy, the morbidly obese cat, Dr. Kelso, his therapist (who has anger management and sexual hangup issues of his own), Gracie, his alcoholic landlady, Stan, his bitter LAPD buddy…
They came alive on the page for me, which is what you dream of when you’re writing. Sometimes you have to prod the characters into reluctant animation, and sometimes they arrive on the scene fully formed, bursting from the page. This is one of those times.
For those of you expecting my usual breakneck-paced action adventure, this will be a slight departure. It’s a detective mystery, not a chase book. There’s still plenty of action, but this keeps to the genre, and is more cerebral, more focused on the twists and turns and plotting, and of course, the characters.
I’m really excited about this series. In the tradition of Michael Connelly, Elmore Leonard and Raymond Chandler.
Even the cover has me doing a happy dance. I actually had a photo shoot done to get a bunch of covers just for this series. They nailed it.
Now go buy it or clowns will eat your brain while you sleep. I’m so not kidding about that. Why risk it? Act now. You’ve been warned.
After much hair pulling and gnashing of teeth, I’m happy to report that my noir detective series, BLACK, is almost ready to go live. It will officially launch around the middle of Sept., with BLACK 2 already in the bag, and going out 30 days later, followed by BLACK 3 in November, and possibly BLACK 4 in December.
If that sounds like a lot of writing, you ain’t seen nuthin yet. I’ll also be writing JET VI for a December release, and have agreed to do two co-authored novels with indie authors with whom I’m friends, and also a fan. Different genres than my usual, though – one’s a dystopian prepper novelist of considerable talent, and the other’s a NA author and USA Today/NY Times bestselling author of no small repute and ability.
ANTHOLOGY RELEASED – FREE!!! The new anthology, The End of the Road, to which I’m a contributor, is now out…and free!
BREAKING NEWS: An interview about Upon A Pale Horse! Check it out!!!
NEWS: New in-depth interview with yours truly at Smashwords. Worth a read if your TV’s on the blink. Feel free to comment and leave questions you’d like answered there. I’ll probably ignore them, but hey, worth a shot, right?
Whether the two co-authored deals will get done by year’s end is up in the air due to everyone’s schedules, but I can honestly say that I’ve never written this much in my life. For those keeping track at home, 2013 will be a year where I released eight of my own novels, if all goes well, and these two co-authored offerings.
Next year I am slowing the pace down to three or four of my own, and that’s it. I swear. Really. Unless the co-authored books go through the roof and I become a NA romance sensation, dancing in my lime green man thong for the tourist ladies off the cruise ship, their hungry eyes and grabby hands haunting my nights – but that’s a whole nuther topic, thank god. As it is, figure one Russell book every three months, and no more. For which my editors and proofreader are already exhaling long sighs of relief.
I will also be announcing some incredibly exciting news in November that will change the way many view indie authors. That’s all I’m going to say right now, but trust me when I tell you that it’s news that will be front-page-worthy, right up there with some of the biggest accomplishments to date. It’s a huge milestone for me on a personal level, and a game-changer in many ways. Stay tuned. And no, this is not a cheap publicity ploy to get people wondering what the big deal is. It’s not a big buildup to a completely uninteresting non-event. This is the real thing. Unless I’m lying. Which I do, early and often. So you’ll just have to wait to see.
BLACK, for those wondering, is the final title of the hard-boiled detective novel I discussed here in April or May – Artemus Black, Hollywood PI to the stars, with anger management problems and a host of other issues. It’s written with more than a little humor, and is reminiscent of The Geronimo Breach in terms of the main character’s luck. I really like this series, and can see it going for a long, long time. Lighter than some of my stuff, it’s a tip of the hat and a wink at the likes of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Michael Connelly and James Patterson. So if you like that bunch, give it a try. I’ve always enjoyed detective mysteries, and promised myself I’d write a few, so this is my toe in that water. I think it turned out really well, and hope that it’s kindly received.
That’s the latest. If you don’t see me around my usual haunts, it’s because the next 100 days is going to be a marathon, not because I hate you or you’ve offended me in any way. Except for you. And you know who you are. Don’t play dumb. It’s not going to work this time. I’ve got a memory like an elephant on meth, and I’m not going to forget your betrayal.
The rest of you, carry on. And go buy some of my crap. The price is going nowhere but up soon, so this is probably your last chance at it at these prices.
As most of my loyal readership knows, left to my own devices with covers, I’m like a hobo in a big box liquor store with a fifty dollar bill. Except slightly better dressed and groomed. Most of the time. Unless I’m hungover. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
And so it should come as no surprise that I’ve been tweaking the covers for the Assassin series. The first in that epic saga, King of Swords, is not only free for a limited time, but also has gotten a makeover. I messed with a lot of images on this one, including sticking a sniper in various quadrants, but in the end went with the simplest design, because it’s the most striking. I’ll post the also ran as well just so you can see where I was going with it.
Why am I fixing what ain’t broke? Because I want a more refined look for the series by the time we move into the Fall selling season. It’s not that I didn’t like the old covers, because I really did. It’s just that I like this approach better. Looks higher tech. More visually interesting. And most importantly, these new covers really stand out when seen on Amazon next to similar books in the genre. And that’s the main thing. We’re in a retail world, and in retail, it’s visual appeal on the shelf that gets the reader’s interest. You have to grab em in the first two seconds and convey genre, mood, level of sophistication, etc. or they flip right past you. To stop the reader, you need curb appeal. And I think the new covers have that.
First, we have the final one I went with:
Again, the goal was clean, simple, and direct.
Here’s the also ran, which I almost went with:
Now, never mind that the sniper looks a little like a scarface Chuck Norris (is that just me?) I can work with that. I just felt, in the end, that the cover was trying to convey too much in a glance, and was too busy. Maybe I’m wrong. I can always switch them if my first choice falls flat.
So what’s next? All the rest of that series will get the same treatment over the next few weeks. Oh, and I’ve hired one of the top male cover models to do a set of shots for my new one, BLACK, which should release end of August, and which I’m HUGELY excited about. Not just because of how it’s written, which is sort of Elmore Leonard/Dashiel Hammet meets Geronimo Breach with more humor, although I’m pretty stoked about how it turned out. No, it’s because the concept for the cover is so damned cool. I have high hopes for this new series, and I’ve already written book 2 and am working on book 3. The plan is to have four in that series out by Xmas, and a new JET – JET VI. That’s aggressive, especially given the project I’m currently working on, but I think I can make it. Guess we’ll all find out.
I was sitting around, staring at my navel, and decided that I wanted to give some of my backlist a facelift. Yes, tequila was involved. And what of it? Cast not the first, and all that.
Anyway, I’m really happy with the new cover for Fatal Exchange I commissioned, so I thought it would be cool to give another favorite, Silver Justice, a new look. Nothing wrong with the old one, mind you. But I like to mix it up now and again. Because that’s just how I roll, Dawg.
As readers of my work will know, Silver Justice is a Wall St conspiracy thriller set against the backdrop of the 2008 financial crisis, and it has serious implications for anyone interested in understanding just what happened, and why. It’s been a strong seller, and has garnered generally favorable reviews, except for readers for whom the financial stuff was not their cup of tea. Why those readers chose to buy a Wall St thriller is beyond me, but so is Bieber’s popularity, so what do I know?
And yes, I understand that was a gratuitous slam, largely to attract the web crawlers looking for mentions of celebrities, which is why I’ll also include the Kardashians in this blog.
But I digress. I think what I’m really trying to say here is that I rather like the new direction the covers are going in, which have a grittier, more immediate feel, which reflects more accurately their tone. Although I want it noted that I love puppies, ponies and kitty cats, which should boost my popularity with a certain segment through the roof – at least that’s my hope.
Without further ado, here’s the new cover for Silver Justice, which everyone should go buy and read immediately, or you’ll suffer from non-specific back pain and become addicted to Vicodin and hillbilly heroin and wind up living in a shack eating from Taco Bell dumpsters while in constant danger of being boogarized by clowns as your highschool sweetheart laughs and mocks you and your parents point and shake their heads in disgust because you disappointed them yet again, as you have so many times before, which is why they wish you dead, as do your numerous enemies, who will do a victory dance on your cold unmarked grave whilst urinating upon it. Don’t let that happen to you. It doesn’t have to. Just buy the frigging book, you cheapskate. Don’t tempt fate.
Drum roll, fireworks, cue the marching band…
It’s with great pleasure and a certain trepidation that I launch my bio-thriller, Upon A Pale Horse. Pleasure because I think it’s a good read that hits a host of the right notes and tells a gripping story in a compelling manner. Trepidation because it’s so controversial I know it’s going to get slammed by some, particularly those aligned with Big Pharma and the U.S. Government. If you think that’s paranoia, read the book and you’ll quickly understand why it’s not.
There are certain things one just doesn’t discuss, and doesn’t even dare to consider. We all know what those things are. Things that are simply too jarring, too unthinkable, and if the official stories aren’t true, would mean that the world’s a completely different place than we believe it is – and that’s uncomfortable and disturbing.
NEWS: Don’t miss bestselling author Steven Konkoly’s book review of Upon A Pale Horse. It’s really a must read.
NEWS: A new interview on writing 15 hours a day at Writer’s Guide, with yours truly.
Upon A Pale Horse is fiction, but its basis, the hard science behind it, is not. And the facts are not only troubling, but once one really digs down, contradict the anodyne official accounts in a way that will have any thinking person shocked and demanding answers. And the establishment doesn’t like a citizenry that demands answers. It prefers a docile, credulous population that believes anything it reads on Wiki or sees on the news. It understands that if one can control the dialogue in certain key areas, one can control history, and the public’s grasp of what’s true and what isn’t.
Upon A Pale Horse draws back the curtain on an area of science and medicine that’s rife with corruption, hidden agendas, lies, distortions, statistical malfeasance, and the advancement of almost laughable official theories that make the clumsy old ‘singing tractor worker’ saws touted by a creaky Soviet apparatus appear to be brilliantly plausible descriptions of reality. Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the book is how completely bogus the official explanations of some things are, and how even a cursory examination of the facts leads one to immediately question those explanations, which appear to be complete fabrications once one considers the data and simply uses skepticism and deductive reasoning – sadly, two attributes that are largely missing from most dialogues on ‘loaded subjects.’
During the writing of this novel, I consulted with a number of experts, several of whom prefer to remain nameless. I can certainly understand why. In some areas of scientific endeavor, it’s best to accept the party line, and avoid refuting official theories. Of course, when those fall apart, the talking heads and spin doctors merely say, ‘it’s all water under the bridge,’ or, ‘it doesn’t matter how it happened, let’s move forward and focus on the future.’ In other words, avoid a serious examination of anything that would demand accountability, and God forbid, enable the public to truly understand how things actually work. Best to breeze over the inconvenient or the contradictory, and dismiss certain lines of thinking as ‘rejected by consensus’ – and omit that the consensus is one of scientists who are all tied to the military/industrial complex, many of whom may have played a role in whatever’s being rejected. In other words, the furthest thing possible from uninterested science is politics and power masquerading as scientific method, and that’s exactly what appears to have happened. After reading this novel, you might have some doubts as well.
When those in power wish to muzzle inquiry, it’s usually by either branding the inquirer as treasonous, or as a kook. Nobody wants to be marginalized as a nutcase, especially by a compliant media that will parrot any tripe those in power wish repeated as fact. After all, if the NY Times says you’re nuts, you must be – who are you going to believe, the experts, or your lying eyes? And as to treasonous, if you can’t get people to ignore the facts, you can simply state that to consider them in any but the approved manner is a threat to the flag, puppies, children and apple pie. It’s absurd, takes the population for fools, and generally works. Because those in power understand that the public’s apathetic, and fairly stupid, and that only a tiny fraction will think critically about anything. That’s in all societies, BTW, not just any one country. Lenin knew that if you repeated a lie over and over, it would eventually be accepted as truth. That’s apparently just as true today as it was a century ago. We haven’t changed much, and neither have those who abuse us. We get the leadership we deserve, and we routinely discover that many in power believe that the end justifies the means, and that the unthinkable is merely a matter of spin.
I hope you enjoy Upon A Pale Horse. I think that reaction to it will be either five star, or one. It should create a visceral effect in the reader, and hopefully foster outrage and anger, not merely resignation and acceptance and a shoulder shrug. I come from an ethical place where genocide is wrong and evil, regardless of the positioning. Upon A Pale Horse contemplates in a fictional manner the politics of genocide. And it does so in a way that’s bound to cause a reaction, good or bad.
Here’s the cover. I rather like it. The bio-hazard symbol over the planet says everything I could wish for, and then some. Now go buy it so I can pay my bar tab. Stop being so damned selfish, and for once in your life do something for me, or you’ll die cold and alone in a small airless box buried in my back yard. You don’t want that. Neither do my dogs. Trust me on this. You’ve been warned.
So, why would I take one of my bestselling novels, and make it free for a limited time? On a series that’s done well, and continues to grow its audience with each passing month?
Because it’s the first book in the series, and as such, really should be read first.
That seems obvious. But for the last year and a half, I’ve been giving away the prequel to King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, free. And it occurred to me over cocktails that’s not the best way to find new readers, because the prequel is really much more satisfying if read after King.
So what I’ve decided to do is an experiment. See if sales of the rest of the series increases with a different book as the free one. I’m making Night a $2.99 purchase given its length (just under 60K words), and taking King free.
For anyone that hasn’t read the Assassin series, it’s a gritty, unflinching assassination thriller series set against a backdrop of very real cartel violence in modern Mexico. It features several of the most interesting characters I’ve come up with to date: El Rey, the super-assassin known as the King of Swords, because of the tarot card of the same name he leaves at the scene of his executions, and Captain Romero Cruz, of the Federal Police, who is not only the head of the anti-cartel task force, but is also chartered with stopping El Rey before he can do the unthinkable.
The model for all the books was Day of the Jackal, which was the seminal assassination thriller of our time, and really created the genre. It’s since become cliche, as protagonist after protagonist has been written, usually ex-CIA or SAS, and always because this time its personal. I wanted to try a different approach, and create two protags, one really more of a villain, and the other a conflicted good guy slogging through doubts and conflicts that are a necessary outcome of the corruption in the system and the futility of trying to battle an adversary that’s co-opted the government and has more money than God.
For that reason, the Assassin series has found its niche. It’s different. It’s fast moving, surprising, adrenaline-filled, but also grittier than stuff like JET, which is more just unbridled, over-the-top adventure. King is more realistic – some have said too much so, in that it leaves one somewhat disturbed due to the hopelessness of the whole drug war thing. That’s a function of telling the truth, not a deliberate buzz kill. Some don’t like to read anything that conflicts with their anodyne notions of how the world works, and King is probably not the right book for that set. Actually, none of my work is, come to think of it. But that’s a whole ‘nother story.
I was recently asked who I would envision playing El Rey in a film, and after some thought, I’d have to say a younger Johnny Depp or DiCaprio. For Captain Cruz, Benicio Del Toro or a younger Antonio Banderas. So if you’re looking for my take on who I sort of see them as in my head, there’s your model.
So get yer free copy of King of Swords, and if you like it, tell a friend or leave a review, or both. I don’t know how long I’m going to keep it free, so don’t tarry, or it will go back to paid and you’ll despise yourself for your procrastination and wind up sleeping under a freeway overpass before dying cold and alone in a drainage ditch while your enemies chortle with glee and your last moments are the horror of being boogarized by clowns. You don’t want that. Trust me. You don’t even want to joke about it. Don’t let that happen to you or the ones you love. Get the book, you cheap bastard – can’t get much more attractive than free.
You have to sort of sing it with a Beatles lilt. That’s the trick.
Two years ago, I uploaded my first novel, Fatal Exchange, to Amazon, not knowing what to expect, or really, what the hell I was doing as far as marketing and promotions go. I had no specific goals in terms of sales, and only a vague sort of understanding about things like genre – I mean, parsing niggling details like police procedural or action/adventure or suspense or psychological thriller seemed silly. I wrote thrillers. That’s what Fatal Exchange was. A frigging thriller. So just deal with it, I thought.
NEWS: King of Swords, Book 1 of the Assassin series, is now free! If you haven’t read it, now’s your big chance!
NEWS: JET is now available as an Audiobook! How cool is that? The narrator did a fine job. I’m preparing to retire off its sales. Holding breath.
That first month, I think I made a grand total of $17. Might have been $18. Those days are a little fuzzy. For good reason. Since I released that little tome, which still holds up remarkably well and for which I am unapologetic, I’ve written easily two million words. Or, for those keeping score at home (and hopefully not wagering, or God forbid, imbibing), 22 novels, the latest of which, Upon a Pale Horse, will release within the next three weeks or so.
Perhaps it’s fitting that my latest creation crosses this particular milestone in my literary career in the same way it started – with a stand-alone thriller that defies easy description. Fatal Exchange combined an international counterfeiting conspiracy, Wall Street malfeasance, an execution squad, and a serial killer, in two parallel story lines that dovetail in the end. It was a 2011 Reviewer’s Choice at The Kindle Book Review, and garnered great feedback and a dedicated readership – so much so that at last count, I think it’s sold somewhere on the order of fifteen thousand copies. Give or take. I’m too lazy to look it up, but I know as of about six or seven months ago I looked and it had sold almost eleven thousand, so it’s probably over fifteen now.
My forthcoming release, Upon a Pale Horse, is also a stand-alone thriller that defies easy description: a bio-thriller that is most easily described as The Firm meets Contagion, but with a deeply disturbing basis in ugly reality that’s sure to polarize readers and is easily the most controversial novel of my career. It’s one of the few novels I’ve ever had misgivings about publishing, because it is so troubling it’s sure to create a backlash, not the least of which will be from big pharma and the medical research power centers in government. It’s an unflinching novel that invites the reader to do their own research on a topic that’s so frightening and that has such profound implications that I’m nervous about it. Because there are some things that are just not questioned, and some data that one dares not examine too closely. It also doesn’t fit into any neat slot, although I call it a bio-thriller because its basis is in biological warfare and the associated well-documented experimentation. You’ll just have to read it to understand why it is a scary, scary read.
One author friend of mine, who I asked for a preliminary take on the first draft, advised me to put everything I had into marketing it, because it was a blockbuster that deserved to be read by every thinking person. Another counseled me not to publish it because it was too inflammatory and controversial. I changed the ending several times. I struggled with whether to stick it in a drawer. In the end, I think it’s a book that raises important and necessary questions that have been ignored for too long and deserve the cleansing antiseptic of sunshine. I can say with unqualified confidence that it’s not going to make me any friends in high places. It’s written as fiction, as are all my novels, but it doesn’t take a genius to read between the lines, and what lurks between them is as unpleasant to contemplate as anything I’ve come across.
But back to Fatal, and my two year and counting self-publishing journey. Along the way I’ve made mistakes, friends, enemies, rivals and converts. I’ve also alienated many, and bitten the hand that feeds me more often than I can count, been arrogant and opinionated on a variety of topics (some of which I actually know a little bit about), and generally entertained myself, as well as a few readers, while having the time of my life.
Hard to believe it’s been two years. It flew by. And took forever to unfold. Any authors who’ve checked their sales stats fifty times a day with either a sinking heart or a joyous one know whereof I speak. A roller-coaster the likes of which I’ve never before experienced.
To commemorate the two year anniversary of Fatal Exchange and the launch of my literary career, I’ve commissioned a new cover, which I’ve posted at the end of this blog.
Now to the question of the day: was it all worth it? Was it worth devoting pretty much two solid years of my life to writing and selling books? Was my full-immersion approach wise or foolhardy? I can’t speak for everyone, but yes, it was worth it. I feel like I’ve built something, and I look at my backlist with amazement. 22 novels – that’s what many renowned popular novelists write in a career. Whether my books are genius or the mindless babbling of a fool is up to readers to decide, and I count myself incredibly lucky to have been so graciously accepted by so many. I’ve never confused myself with David Foster Wallace (other than bandanas, but don’t get me started), and always thought of myself as an entertainer, dancing for my dinner like Quinton Crisp in The Naked Civil Servant, who would go to tap class in the morning and then teach the lesson that same evening to his pupils, posing as a master while in fact a charlatan. As an author, it’s easy to feel that way, as we’re each of us learning our craft until the day we shed our mortal coil, and exist at the pleasure of our readership. Which is as it should be. In the end, the reader is always right, at least in his own mind, even when he’s wrong. If we are to survive or flourish, we must place the interests of the reader above all else. The reader is, for authors, the ultimate authority, because without readers, we’re back to being lunatics jabbering our stories to a cold, uncaring moon. And that sucks. And doesn’t pay well. Which is the same as sucks, only worse.
To all of you, whether new to this journey or there from the beginning, I can only say thank you, with all my heart. Except of course for my critics and rivals, who can, as always, bite me. But everyone else, I’m truly grateful for the continued warm wishes and patronage and support you’ve offered up. I can only hope that the next 24 months of my little stories are as well received as my last.
I’ve been told that my gruff demeanor is off-putting for some, so consider this to be my effort to showcase a softer, gentler Blake. You may imagine me holding a tubby tabby in my lap as I write it, if you like, while wearing flowing linen yoga pants and a dashiki. Whatever floats your particular boat.
By way of introduction, I had a long discussion the other day with a buddy of mine about how much I’ve changed since moving to Mexico, and he’s right. I have.
I’m a lot happier.
The secret to happiness, I’ve discovered, is having enough.
Or rather, feeling like you have enough.
NEWS: A brilliant new book review and interview on THE GERONIMO BREACH with Simon Jenner. Worth a quick read!
It’s the exact opposite of what’s propagated in the U.S. – a hyper-consumerism that requires that the population never feels like it has enough. Of anything. Money. Possessions. Success. Power. What fuels the big engine is an unhappiness tied to constantly wanting – no, needing – more. It’s engineered that way. You’re bombarded relentlessly with the same message. You need better. More better. You deserve more. More more more. If you don’t have more, you’re deficient. And if you have to borrow from your future to get that more now, that’s the American way.
The problem is that being a product sponge is good for those selling stuff, but not so great for your sense of self.
What happened since I moved to Mexico is that over the years, I’ve adopted the prevailing philosophy down here, which is being happy with what you have. Valuing your time more than possessions or money. Feeling like you already have everything you need, so you don’t really want anything. It’s a paradigm shift – one that’s critical to self-satisfaction. Because you can have everything, but if you want more, you’ll never be truly happy. Very Zen, with a jalapeno twist.
I met a guy the other day who’s worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He’s a hard charger, has homes all over the world, runs a successful company he founded. He spent most of his time telling me all about it. It was important for me to know how prosperous he was, and how much stuff he possessed. What’s interesting is that even with all that, he spent the majority of the discussion trying to impress me. He obviously wasn’t happy, and grew unhappier as it became clear that I didn’t give a shit. Because, well, all that idiocy really really matters.
I’ve hit a point in my life where I’m satisfied with what I have. I like my car. I like my house. I like my love life. I like my health. I enjoy writing probably more than I really should, but that’s a guilty pleasure. I’m doing exactly what I want, in the manner I want to do it, on my own terms. I’ve got enough.
I don’t know why I’m writing this blog. The idea of abundance coming from within isn’t earth-shattering information. Certainly nothing new. But for whatever reason, the other day I woke up and realized that I already have everything I want, and when you have that feeling, that sense of not wanting more, it’s freeing beyond belief, and I wanted to share.
Now to more mundane matters. I’m working hard on covers for Upon a Pale Horse, and writing Black after taking a few days off to plot the rest of it (code for boozing). Should be done in another week or two. I’m not pushing all that hard to get er done. With 21 novels out, I’m pretty sure that the world has enough Russell Blake books to absorb for the time being.
Now go buy some of my crap so I can roll around in hundreds and mock my numerous enemies and critics. That bar tab’s not going to pay itself. I may not want more, but I’m pretty sure the barkeep does by the way he’s been giving me the evil eye lately. So help a brutha out. I’d recommend Blood of the Assassin as a good place to start. Reads pretty well, I think…