Tuesday, March 20, 2012

What The Artist can (silently) teach us all about writing and publishing.

A few months ago I saw The Artist. It was a great film (if you haven't seen it, SPOILERS AHEAD!) and it got me thinking. It is a great parallel to the state of writing and publishing today. 
The character George Valentin is the biggest star in 1927's Hollywood at the film's start. He loves the spotlight and easily pushes aside those who seem to not share his vision of his greatness. As the silent films give way to talkies, he maintains that they are just a fad and will fall by the wayside.
George is sorely mistaken.
He clings to his beliefs, even as a young starlet he helped give a break to becomes more famous and successful. His career crashes and burns while she rises to the skies. 
It immediately reminded me of the state of writing and publishing today. Most book publishers and writers still cling to the idea that independent publishing is just a passing phase and will eventually go away or flood itself in a deluge of poorly written books and cheap quality printing.
Not so fast, George. I mean, Big Houses. It's true that some poor quality books will come, but the freshness of the independent movement is today's version of the 'talkies.' New ideas and approaches will eventually push aside giants. Books will always be there, but the acceptance of the new publishing and ebook models have to be accepted or the George's of the publishing world will lose.
Just like George, good decisions can be made and art (no matter in what venue) will survive. 

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Darth Vader, Writer-at-Large

October is my favorite month. The crisp air, the rustle of dry leaves under foot and, of course, Halloween. There was never any time as a child I enjoyed more than Halloween. It was a chance to get away from who I was.
I was a withdrawn, pudgy kid. I could be obnoxious on the outside, but inside I wished I could be someone else. Instead of being able to pull my face off and reveal a new person, I realized I could just put on a new one.
Darth Vader was one of my favorites. The dark helmet and the black clothes were the perfect combination to hide who I was. It also allowed me to inflict fear upon the galaxy! Swinging an imaginary light saber, I would go through the streets to strangers' houses asking for candy. Never mind that! Vader didn't ask for candy. He DEMANDED it! The tributes the denizens paid to Darth Vader were put in his bag and taken back to the Death Star.
 Of course as I removed my mask I remembered I was home. No galaxy crushing here, just me and a bag of candy. I would always stop halfway through and clutch my overstuffed stomach as I groaned myself to sleep.  Too many years have passed since my days of hiding behind a mask. Actually, I'm not really sure about that. I do get to put on the visage of a writer. The keyboard is my Death Star and the words are the tribute paid. It's not so bad, although I don't get to eat as much candy.
I do wear the helmet once in awhile, at least in my head. That helmeted Vader you see knocking on your door this Halloween isn't me. I swear it.
Now give me some candy.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Take That, J.K. Rowling!

I lead a boring life. I teach, I write and I go to the movies. I’ll watch television a little bit before bed and that’s about it. My book signings are just about as exciting. People show up, I give readings and talk to them, then l pack up and go home. I never get many sales from these events, but it’s always nice to meet others. I never expect a turnout like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling would have.
Then things changed.
On a sunny day a few months ago, I was doing a book signing at a Barnes and Noble. The good weather meant that people were out having fun and not that many were in the store buying books. A few readers were in the store milling about, stopping to check out my children’s novel Connie Cobbler: Toy Detective and sometimes purchasing one. Not a great turnout, but it was nice to meet people who enjoyed reading. After a few hours, I had a chance to grab a cup of coffee and a brownie. As I walked back to my table, I heard a woman loudly say, “Where is he?”
A salesclerk pointed at me. “There he is.” She had a young boy with her. He looked to be about nine or ten. She waved me on hurriedly as she gave me a piercing look.
I had no idea who this woman was. Had I insulted her without knowing it? Did I scratch her car? Did I owe her money? I rushed over to the table, almost dropping my brownie.
She turned to her son. “David, this is Mr. DeSalvo. This is the man you wanted to meet.” He kept his head down, looking at the floor.
“Hi, David. You can call me James.” Still no response.
Then something amazing happened. He looked up and recited a full page of Connie Cobbler. Word for word, beat for beat. He stopped and returned his gaze to the floor.
“That was incredible, David.” He was fiddling around in a bag he brought in with him.
He pulled out some papers and slid them across to me. His finger touched mine for a quick moment. He pulled it back with cat-like speed. I was taken aback. His mother must have seen the look on my face. ‘It’s okay,’ she mouthed.
I looked at the papers and was yet again astounded. David had drawn pictures of several of the book’s characters. They were wonderful and looked just like I had imagined the characters. There are no illustrations in Connie Cobbler: Toy Detective and I was now glad there weren’t. No other artist would have done justice to the characters the way David did.
“Those are for you,” he whispered. His mother smiled.
His mother asked David if he would like to look for a book in the children’s section. He went on his way as she kept an eye on him. “Hi, I’m Amy. I want to thank you for talking to David.”
“He’s a talented child.”
“David wanted to see you when found out you were coming. He’s read your book so often out loud that I know it backwards, too.” She paused. “David has autism. He enjoys reading. He came across your book from another child at school. I had to get him a copy.”
I was unsure of what to say. This was partly because of what she had just told me and the fact that I was becoming emotional and didn’t want to cry my eyes out in front of the entire store.
David came back with a book. Amy and I said our goodbyes. “Good bye, David.” He walked away.
I framed the pictures and keep them in my office.
My book signings may never get the attention that the big authors get, but they never got the chance to meet David.
Take that, J.K. Rowling.


Monday, July 18, 2011


Most children are afraid of the monster under the bed or the boogyman in the closet. Creaking doors in the middle of the night can send a shiver through their bodies. A shuffling heard in the hallway could stop their hearts, if only for a moment.
We have been told growing up that monsters aren’t real. Just a figment of the imagination. Nothing to fear.
Nevertheless, monsters are real. They are in daylight. You can’t see them and yet you can. They exist around us all.
Leiby Kletzky was eight years old. Only eight. He was murdered by a monster. This monster’s name is Levi Aron. The monster strangled and dismembered this young child. A child gone forever. Leiby’s family suffers and a tight knit Brooklyn neighborhood now must look over their shoulders, watching for the monster in their midst. On their streets or in their synagogues. Or at their dinner table.
Aron claims now that he hears voices guiding him to kill. A monster trying to say that imaginary monsters told him to murder this boy. Like all monsters, Aron takes no blame. He wasn’t in control, just the same way that werewolves are taken by the full moon, or Dracula’s need for blood forces him to kill.
Sadly, Aron isn’t the only monster. Having volunteered as a Crime Victim Advocate for many years, I have seen the tragedy that the monsters leave in their wake. Women abused, children molested and babies raped. Evidence of monsters.
I have met a monster in person. In 1998, my sister Kathy’s body was found in the attic of a monster’s home. She had been murdered much in the same way as Leiby Kletzky. This time the monster was a serial killer in upstate NY. I knew this monster. He worked at a school where I taught. I smiled and waved at him as he mopped the floor outside my classroom. I shook his hand. These same hands took her life. Monster’s hands in human form.
As a writer, my hands have the ability to create monsters. I understand the irony of the macabre subject matter of some of my work. My hands, however, can also destroy these monsters. With the stroke of a delete key, I can make them disappear without anyone suffering. Just hit a button.
Monsters exist. Watch for them.
For Kathy.
For Leiby.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer's the Time

As the school year comes to a close, two things come to mind. SUMMER!! and writing. I have no excuse for not writing at all. So it's time to set some goals. I must write a book in a month. It doesn't have to be good, just down on paper (or computer). I've got to get something done.
I must do everything in my power to promote Connie Cobbler: Toy Detective, Miss Mary Pennynickle's Tales of Torment for Toddlers, and Miss Mary Pennynickle's Fairytales of Foreboding.
I went to a writing conference this past weekend. I spoke with a few agents and asked about the acceptance of independent authors and publishers. I was told several times that they would not be able to take the books unless they had a following of several thousands. I had read this many times on various websites, but it had never seemed real. I was a bit despondent. Then it hit me.
I could get hundreds, if not thousands, of books sold on my own. I've read so many promotional books, and yet had not implemented any techniques seriously. Now's the time.
After all, it's Summer. No Excuses.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


So far I've had 3 book signings. They were all very fun. They were also hard and educational. The first two were through Hudson Valley Parent Magazine for a promotion they were doing. The third one was with Barnes and Noble. The bookstore signing was interesting, but not nearly as fun. I 'worked the room' a lot more, trying to get people interested. It was a good idea to find out what departments are where in the store. Several people asked me to find subjects. It was a great way to meet people and tell them about the book.
The first two signings were in large malls. They were a lot easier in terms of traffic. People had to pass me and a lot of people stopped. Parents and their kids had a lot of questions about writing and they were amazingly friendly. I even made my first little fan. He asked his mother if he could stay in touch. He came to the Barnes and Noble singing to bring me drawings he made of the characters. That was a nice feeling.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chances Everywhere

Following advice I found online, I have begun giving away samples of my books. For Connie Cobbler: Toy Detective I printed the first three chapters back to back in booklet form. I left them at various stores (with permission, of course) that cater to children and their parents. For my e-books Miss Mary Pennynickle's Tales of Torment for Toddlers and Miss Mary Pennynickle's Fairtales of Foreboding I paperclipped sample stories to mini-posters and gave them to friends who go to goth clubs, midnight movies, and independent music stores. These have proven to be very successful. This works best for the Miss Pennynickle books. I've seen a large uptick in sales at the end of the weekend once the parties have slowed down.
I have placed my book for sale on eBay. I offer it at cost to me and can personalize autographs. Charge around $2.50 for shipping and my money is made back.
If anyone has any suggestions for promotions, please let me know.