Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “Smashwords”

Running with the Enemy…Forever

Running with the Enemy is the latest offering from Lloyd Lofthouse, author of My Splendid ConcubineI thought to review the book, but Lloyd is my publisher and mentor. Given the controversies currently surrounding reviews, I think it easier to present (with his permission) the first chapter and let you be the judge.

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A word, however, about Lloyd: He served in Vietnam in the Marines and I can only imagine how difficult it is to return there in your mind when writing a novel. As I sent him chapters of Unwanted Heroes, a story about an Asian-American war veteran battling his PTSD seen through the eyes of a young Englishman who befriends him, I often wondered how Lloyd would cope with it. It took a lot of courage to return there, but as one war veteran said after reading Unwanted Heroes: it is a story that must be told.

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In this suspense thriller set during the Vietnam War, a rogue CIA agent needs someone to blame for his crimes. Recon Marine Ethan Card is the perfect patsy. As a teen, Ethan ran with a Chicago street gang, and he has a criminal record. He also has a secret lover, Tuyen, who is half Vietnamese and half French.
 
Tuyen is also a beautiful Viet Cong resistance fighter.
 
Since she was a young child, Tuyen has lived under the brutal control of her older, sexually abusive half-brother, Giap, a ruthless and powerful Viet Cong leader, who has forced her to kill Americans in battle or die if she refuses.
 
When Ethan discovers he is going to be court marshaled for weapons he did not sell to the Viet Cong and Tuyen will be arrested and end up in an infamous South Vietnamese prison, where she will be tortured and raped, he hijacks a U.S. Army helicopter and flees with Tuyen across Southeast Asia while struggling to prove his innocence.
 
The CIA agent and Giap—working together with the support of an unwitting American general—will stop at nothing to catch the two, and the hunt is on.
 
The star-crossed lovers travel across Laos to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat; to Bangkok, Thailand, and then to Burma’s Golden Triangle where Ethan and Tuyen fight a ruthless drug lord and his gang.
 
In the rainforests of Burma, Ethan also discovers that a massive assault is planned on his Marine unit’s remote base in South Vietnam with the goal of killing the man he admires most, Colonel Edward Price, who is the only one who believes Ethan is innocent.
 
Ethan must risk everything to save Price and his fellow Marines. Will he succeed?

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Running with the Enemy – Chapter One

On April 11, 1880, General William Tecumseh Sherman addressed a crowd of more than ten thousand in Columbus, Ohio, and said, “There is many a body here today who looks on war as glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”

 ***

       

         His lover—a member of the National Liberation Front—was trained to kill Americans. It was possible that she had already killed some of his people, but that wasn’t going to stop him from wanting more of her.

        

         Ethan Card stared out the sunken pit of a broken window at the grounds of the former French colonial rubber plantation, which the South Vietnamese rainforest was reclaiming. Columns of mature, struggling rubber trees marched away from the dying house as if they were soldiers fighting a losing war. A patch of blue sky was still visible, but the rest was an angry blanket of dark clouds.

 

 When the French ruled Vietnam, Ethan thought, this place must have been something.

He heard the distant popping of a firefight that signaled combat and wondered who was dying: Viet Cong, North Vietnamese, Americans, South Koreans, ARVN, or Chinese communists?

The scuttle of a tiny, hard-shelled monster on the gray, wood floor of the second-story room distracted him. He knelt and flicked the insect away; watched it roll into a ball then, slipping into a crack, disappear into the floor.

 

The house creaked and he shivered. Before returning to the olive-green GI blanket spread on the floor behind him, Ethan looked around warily. Something did not feel right, and he paid careful attention to his warrior instincts.

 

He sensed Tuyen’s movement and glanced at the blanket where she lay nude on her stomach—her face cradled on her arms. Her long, dark, glossy hair hid most of her features. She was French, Vietnamese and Thai. At least that was what she had told him. There were other indications, as well.

In the village where they met, a Vietnamese woman called her a French bastard behind her back. He was sure Tuyen had heard and ignored it.

 

Her height and aqua eyes were French, but the rest was Asian. She was tall for a Vietnamese with the slender body of a fashion model. Admiring her nudity, he knelt and traced a line between her shoulder blades down her spine with his finger tips, stopping just above her hips.

 

Her silky, warm skin excited him causing his heart to race and his breath to catch in his throat. The urge to make love again was tempting, but they had already been in the deserted house too long.

 

“Why you fuck woman that fight with your enemy?” she asked in broken English.

 

“Because you told me you are not a communist,” he said. “Why are you fucking me?”

 

“Maybe you go home to America and replace me with other woman,” she replied.

 

He loved listening to her throaty, crude accented English.

 

“I am not a butterfly,” Ethan replied, “and, when I return to the United States, I’m taking you with me.” Otherwise, there wasn’t much for him in America but bad memories and a strict Evangelical Christian mother who often quoted Holy Scripture when lecturing him.

 

A loud creak sounded outside the shattered window. “What was that?” he asked, aware that discovery by either side would be disastrous for both of them.

 

A rumble of thunder shook the old house, and it started to rain. The fat drops pounded the leaky roof like a barrage of pebbles.

 

“It nothing,” she replied, as she rolled over on her back. “Only ghosts. This is old house.” Slipping an arm around his neck, she pulled him down on top of her.

 

Still, that creaking noise bothered him—it sounded as if someone had shifted weight from one foot to another. His combat sense warned him to listen closer, and when he did, he heard a rat scampering across the rotting attic floor above their heads.

 

“I think us together this morning too long,” she said.

 

“Maybe it is your Commie brother, Giap, spying on us.” He watched her features closely and noticed a quiver in her lips as heat climbed into her face at the mention of her half brother’s name.

 

“No,” she said, spitting her words out as if they were laced with cobra venom. “Giap recruiting in far village.”

 

Ethan knew that something dark and brooding existed between Tuyen and her half brother, but he couldn’t ask what it was. She had made it clear when the affair had blossomed months earlier that questions of her private life and family were forbidden. To cross that line could mean losing her, and she was his addiction—his opium.

 

Then as fast as the hate in her face had switched on, it vanished. “I loving you,” she said; then kissed him on the mouth. He felt a thrill shoot through his groin as her lips pressed against his. He should have stopped, but he couldn’t resist.

 

***

 

Victor Ortega picked up the pocket recorder from the windowsill and turned it off. He leaned against the wall and stared at the abandoned rubber plantation that spanned thousands of acres across hills where the jungle was still reclaiming the land. Raindrops from the swollen clouds pelted him. It was time to leave with his evidence.

 

A smile split his tanned, leathery face. Langley would not approve of him using his CIA skills to frame an innocent man. Ortega’s part-time business—the selling of weapons and information to the North Vietnamese Communists—had put Army intelligence on his trail. He needed a goat and Ethan and Tuyen fit the bill.

 

Ethan Card didn’t know it yet, but he was going to take the fall for Ortega’s illegal operations. Ortega had been watching several armorers, and because he had discovered Ethan fucking Tuyen, that link made him the perfect patsy. Card was having an affair with a member of the NLF who had a North Vietnamese Communist cadre leader for a brother. Who wouldn’t believe Card was guilty?

 

Using a miniature, silent camera, Ortega leaned into the window and took half a dozen pictures of the nude couple copulating for the third time.

 

Perfect! These photos would be the clincher. One shot had caught Ethan’s full profile and her face with eyes closed.

 

It was time for him to leave, and he had to be careful. Ethan was a recon Marine with a tiger’s senses. Ortega took a cautious step on the blue, rain-slick tiles of the veranda’s roof. He shifted his weight gently from one foot to the other. Then a crack sounded from one of the veranda’s tiles.

 

Oh, shit!

 

Icy fear shot through him galvanizing him into action. Moving quickly, he lay against the house below the window opening where the roof met the second-story wall. Holding his breath, he waited.

 

***

 

Ethan couldn’t dismiss the noise this time. He slipped from Tuyen’s embrace, rolled away from her across the floor and grabbed his forty-five caliber M3A1 submachine gun that he lovingly called his Greaser, because it fired four-hundred-fifty rounds a minute.

 

He waited until Tuyen had finished rolling the other way, picked up her AK-47 assault rifle and pointed it toward the offending window the sound had come from.

 

She nodded, and he darted toward the window to flatten himself against the wall next to it— his heart hammering from the rush of adrenaline.

 

Moving fast, he spun and aimed the Greaser out the window until he was flat against the wall on the other side. He stared at her and shook his head.

 

“We go,” she said, and gathered her clothing.

 

He watched her long, naked legs slide into black pants. “I can be here early tomorrow morning,” he said.

 

“Giap back. I no make it.” She slipped the black blouse over her head.

 

He was disappointed at losing sight of her naked body.

 

“We together in three days,” she said. “He gone again.”

 

He finished dressing, went to her, and placed a hand on each of her shoulders. They kissed.

They should have met in another time, another place where there was no war. He worried that someday what he had with her might end. That day would be a clusterfuck! There must be some way he could keep what he had with this lusty beauty.

 

***

 

Ortega, drenched from the rain and sweat dripping from his face, rolled down the veranda’s roof. He dropped easily over the side, twisted his body like a gymnast, and reached out to grab the edge of the roof above him. His brief grip with tiles slowed his momentum, and he landed easily on his feet. Turning right, he ran close to the house and sprinted for the trees.

 

***

 

An hour later, after driving miles through the rainforest, Ortega arrived at the United States Marine Corps recon base camp. Inside the fortified camp, he crept to the armorer’s van surrounded by stacked layers of sandbags.

 

The rain pounded the metal roof of the van, masking his entrance. Storage lined one wall of the long, narrow space and a workbench took up half the other wall. Shadows smothered the small desk at the far end of the van. To one side of the desk was a file cabinet that Ortega had searched a few times without Ethan’s knowledge. His eyes settled on Lance Corporal Wilson, Ethan’s assistant, who was bent over the bench working on a weapon. The man was an idiot; a fucking lowlife fool.

 

“Hey, man, did you pick up the fucking weapons at division?” Ortega asked.

 

Wilson yelped and jumped. “Asshole!” he said, and turned revealing the Ka-Bar he was holding close to his body with the blade’s edge facing Ortega.

 

Ortega laughed. “You’re such a fucking jerk.”

 

Wilson blushed and put the knife away. “They’re here.” He went toward the back of the van, returned with a crate, and put it on the bench. “It makes me nervous when you arrive this late to pick up the goddamned weapons. What if Ethan comes back early? What the hell would I say?”

“You worry too much, man.” Ortega reached into a pocket for a roll of South Vietnamese piasters, and threw the money on the counter.

 

“You bastard,” Wilson said. “I am taking all the risks. If Ethan find out what I’m doing, he’ll skin me alive. Do you know how crazy these fucking recon Marines are?”

 

“And do you know the strings I had to pull to get you, a regular piss-ant jarhead, assigned to this unit as its assistant armorer?”

 

Ortega stared with scorn at the lance corporal, and said, “Nothing will go wrong if you do as you are told.” He stopped talking and glanced at the wall clock behind the desk when a helicopter roared overhead. The thin metal roof of the van vibrated from the backwash. He knew it was the evening ass-and-trash flight to the division area at Chu Lai fifty miles away.

 

Once the noise of the slick was gone, Ortega continued. “You have nothing to worry about, alright, man? Soon, Ethan will be working for me.”

 

Wilson bared his teeth and pushed his face toward Ortega. “That’s easy for you to say. You don’t know the bastard. He lives by the rules.”

 

“It’s in the bag, man.” Ortega wrapped a poncho around the crate with the two M-60s in it. He shouldered the weapons and went to the door. “Now, cool it. Tonight I’ll make my pitch to Ethan. Then you won’t have anything to worry about.”

 

He left the van and went to his Jeep thinking he would have to kill Wilson soon. The man was unreliable and unstable.

 

***

 

Ethan returned from his business in Chu Lai to the recon base camp late in the afternoon. In his olive-drag Dodge M37 truck, he approached the steep narrow climb to the camp at the top of the orphan hill—an island fortress surrounded by rice paddies that in turn were surrounded by a dense rainforest.

 

A trailer-towing Jeep barreled down the dirt road toward him. Ethan automatically searched the paddies on either side for signs of life, hoping the demolition team had checked the road thoroughly that morning for buried explosive. Satisfied, he pulled his truck to one side, stopped, and waited for the Jeep to pass. His windshield wiper clicked back and forth clearing the raindrops from the glass.

 

He stiffened when he saw the man driving the Jeep. It was Ortega. The bastard had talked to him once—veiled, probing questions about weapons and how to requisition them. Ethan saw similarities between this man and members of Chicago’s Black P-Stone Nation street gang.  As a teen, Ethan knew Jeff Ford, who had united the leaders of about fifty street gangs in Chicago and called the new organization the Black P-Stone Nation.

 

In fact, Ethan had run with one of the smaller street gangs that joined Fort’s organization, and when Ethan told his fellow gangbangers he was leaving for good, they jumped him and beat him ruthlessly. He’d arrived at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot at Parris Island bruised, limping and wearing torn and bloodstained clothing that didn’t impress the drill instructors. They rode him harder than the others for the next few weeks, but he welcomed the challenge and absorbed the discipline as if it were his salvation.

 

Ethan had been told that Ortega was a civilian liaison working with tribes living in the Central Highlands of Kon Tum Province, and that his job was to gain their loyalty to fight for America. However, the rumors also said he was CIA and had an army of Montagnards tucked away in the Annamite Mountains straddling the Laotian border with Vietnam.

 

***

 

Ethan inserted the M1911 Colt Forty Five’s new recoil spring as he finished reassembling the weapon, and then rubbed his hot, itchy eyes with the knuckles of his free hand. He had also replaced the barrel bushing to increase the weapon’s accuracy. The large wall clock showed three in the morning. He needed sleep, but there was too much to do. Lance Corporal Wilson was an expert at avoiding his job and seldom kept up with a day’s work.

 

Sensing movement behind him, Ethan reached for one of the twelve-inch throwing knives he kept on a shelf under the bench near his workstation. He glanced in a small steel mirror on the wall and looked at the face reflected in the polished metal.

 

“Shit!” He hissed. Putting the knife back, he picked up a rag and wiped his hands. “What do you want?” He faced Victor Ortega.

 

“We’re about to become fucking partners, man,” Ortega said.

 

“What the hell are you talking about?” There was something strange about Ortega’s voice. It sounded as though he had just smoked dope. Natasha, one of several girlfriends he had collected during his year in community college, had sounded that way after a few joints—something he never liked about her and one reason he dumped her before shipping out for his third tour in Vietnam.

 

Ortega spread half-a-dozen requisitions on the counter. “Take a good look at your name. These are fucking weapons you signed for, man.”

 

Ethan reached out, hesitating when the hill trembled from several artillery rounds going out. The roar of the mobile, armored one-hundred and fifty-five millimeter howitzers shook the hill and everything on it causing a thin haze of dust to rise from every surface.

 

When the battery stopped firing, Ethan took one of the papers and studied it. It was for two M-60 machine guns and the date was yesterday. “I never ordered these.”

 

“Of course you did. It’s your fucking signature. Look closer, man.”

 

The howitzers started firing again, and Ortega spoke louder. “I know for a fact that those weapons are in the hands of Viet Cong, and that there’s a bank account in Okinawa with your name on it. Check the fucking receipts in your file cabinet. They go back months. Some of those receipts are for weapons that have been found in the hands of dead Viet Cong.”

 

A cold shiver of disbelief invaded Ethan’s gut. His submachine gun was in reach, but the throwing knife was closer. “What the hell is this about?”

 

“These receipts say you’re going to fucking work for me, man. My customers want what you can supply. You are going to feed that demand. After all, the United States is a demand and supply economy. Anything for money. Say no, and I will hand these papers and others like them to Army intelligence. With your history as a member of a Chicago street gang, you’ll spend the next twenty years to life in a federal pen.”

 

Ethan couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He reached for his Greaser. “Wilson is mixed up in this, isn’t he?”

 

“Don’t be a stupid ass, man,” Ortega said, almost shouting to be heard over the roar of the howitzers. “I’m not in this alone, but I wouldn’t work with a fucking idiot like him.” The battery stopped firing leaving a sudden, shocking silence.

 

Ortega glanced behind him with disgust and lowered his voice to a near whisper. Instead of staring at the barrel of the submachine gun pointed at him, he looked into Ethan’s eyes. “Pull that fucking trigger and friends of mine will turn this evidence over to the Provost Marshall in Da Nang. It doesn’t matter if I’m dead. Your ass is still mine, man.”

 

Ethan tightened his finger on the trigger. It wouldn’t take much pressure to fire. “You’re bluffing.”

 

“Do it, man,” Ortega said, and rubbed the tip of an index finger along his top row of teeth. “Go ahead. You have all this fucking honesty and integrity to uphold.” His bark of laughter was chopped off short at the sound of troops running outside. Once the squad was gone, he said, “The people I work with are all over Southeast Asia. You want fucking power. You want fucking money. Join me and you will have both.”

 

Ortega moved closer to one of the storage racks and placed a hand on the barrel of an M-16. He caressed it as if it were a woman’s leg. “If the Army catches you moving the weapons, man, I’ll know it before they can get to you. When that time comes, I’ll set you up with a warlord in the opium trade in Laos near the Golden Triangle. That will put you hundreds of miles from Vietnam. The fucking Army cannot touch you there. That is a winning deal, man?”

 

“Fuck you.” But Ethan didn’t pull the trigger. “Maybe I should take you to the Colonel,” he said, “and give him these papers—let him hear what you want me to do.”

 

“That wouldn’t be smart, man,” Ortega said. “Do that and I’d tell him you caught me going through your files. The fucking rumors are true. I do work for the CIA. Who would they believe? You, a criminal that ran with street gangs in Chicago, or me, a career agent working to preserve democracy throughout the world?”

 

“I’m not going into business with you.”

 

“Well,” Ortega drawled, “there is the matter of a little Viet Cong pussy you’ve been banging. The way I see it, you love that slant-eyed snatch. The fucking Army will hear about her if anything happens to me or if you decide not to get with the fucking plan. She will look good sitting in that China Beach prison the ARVN keep for prisoners of war. Imagine what those South Vietnamese intelligence agents would do to her to make her talk.”

 

Rage pounded inside of Ethan’s skull, and he struggled to keep it under control. His finger twitched against the Greaser’s trigger.

 

The door creaked. Ortega slid into the shadows behind the door and vanished from sight.

 

Corporal Alex Smith stood in the opening staring at the submachine gun. With the night behind him, his face glowed as if he were a ghost. “Hey, Card, calm the fuck down and aim that thing away from me.”

 

Ethan’s friends called him by his last name.

 

 “You work too hard. I went to three fucking places looking for you before I came here. I should have known. Belamy is putting the team together. We are going to Laos to pick up a downed Navy pilot. The air-rescue boys can’t get to him so get a move on. The slick flies in five fucking minutes.”

 

Ethan stared at him with a dazed look.

 

“Did you hear me?” Smith said. “Are you fucking shit faced or something?”

 

“I haven’t slept for forty-eight hours,” Ethan said. “Don’t worry. I … will be there.”

 

Smith nodded and disappeared in the shroud of darkness outside the van.

 

“When you have had time to think,” Ortega whispered harshly, “you’ll see how hopeless your situation is. Just remember, evidence is everything, and in a military court, you will be dead meat. I got you, man. You belong to me.”

 

Ethan looked at the silhouette of the man in the dark corner. “I’m taking you to the Colonel.”

“The Colonel ain’t here,” Ortega said. “He’s off to that ARVN ranger camp near Kon Tum. You’ll be going there when you return from Laos. That is, if you don’t get yourself killed first. The way I see it, man, you have only one choice.”

 

Ethan didn’t want to deal with this now. He grabbed his gear for the mission and left the trailer in a rush. The noise of a helicopter approaching the hill grew in volume.

 

The mission wouldn’t give him time to think about Ortega’s demands. Every skill he had would be called on to keep him and the team alive. There was no half effort in terrain controlled by an invisible enemy that wanted you dead. Maybe when he returned, if he survived, he would discover this was nothing but a nightmare—a joke or something. However, the anger and frustration filling him said Ortega’s threats were real.

 

***

 

After his confrontation with Ethan, Ortega flew in a Cobra gunship to the highland ARVN ranger camp.

 

Back in Puerto Rico in that fucking San Juan slum where he grew up, Ortega’s father had taught him how to read a person’s body language, and Ortega’s instincts said Ethan wasn’t going to cooperate.

 

He needed the Army to back off their investigation of the stolen weapons. Because Ethan wasn’t going to cooperate, Ortega decided to hand him over, and he would earn credit for solving the Army’s case, while staying in business.

 

He watched the sun splash brilliant colors across the horizon. The high mound of dirt to his right surrounded the camp and hid the bottom of the rainforest from his view. Logs and concertina wire ringed the top of the mound.

 

The tall, thin figure of Colonel Edward Price jogged into sight. Price, an African American, was in his forties with close-cropped dark hair peppered with white. Sweat soaked his camouflaged clothing.

 

“Colonel,” Ortega said, remembering that his old man taught him it was best to talk cultured when around people with money or power.

 

The Colonel stopped, but his legs continued to pump as he ran in place. Obviously, Price had been running for some time, and Ortega saw that he wasn’t the slightest bit winded.

 

“I thought it only right to let you know what one of your men has been up to.” Ortega took several forged requisitions and the photos of Ethan and Tuyen having sex and handed them to the Colonel.

 

Price’s legs stopped moving. His granite face remained expressionless as he studied the papers and the photos. “That’s Ethan Card,” he said. “Where did you get these?”

 

“Colonel, division will be contacting you today or early tomorrow,” Ortega said. “They want Ethan Card for selling weapons to the Viet Cong, and he will be court-martialed.”

 

“This cannot be true,” Price said. “Card is a good man.”

 

“General LaBourne in Da Nang feels differently. His people have been trying to find the traitor for months. Americans have been murdered by weapons Ethan Card sold to the Viet Cong. I recorded a conversation between Ethan and a Viet Cong woman that is his contact. There’s also a bank account in Okinawa in his name with too much money in it.”

 

Price lifted his gaze from the papers and pinned Ortega with his cold, gray eyes. “I know my men. I know Ethan Card. I don’t believe this crap.” He dropped the papers and the photos to the ground and resumed jogging without looking back.

 

Ortega knelt, picked up the evidence and smiled. He was pleased. The Colonel had reacted as predicted. With Price primed and angry, Ortega would now arrange through his contacts to make sure General LaBourne called the Colonel to Da Nang. The General was an Arkansas bigot. He and Price had a history stretching back to World War II. Once the two met, Ortega might as well order Ethan’s body bag.

 

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Running with the Enemy can be purchased at any of the following outlets:

Amazon Kindle

Paperback

Amazon.com

Smashwords

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The Three R’s – Adopt An Author

‘Tis the season of goodwill and I’m thinking we should share the love. 

In Judaism, the teacher Maimonides offered eight levels of giving – the highest being to help a person find a sustainable way to lift themselves out of poverty. I have written numerous times about micro-lending, which I think is an amazing solution, but I want to focus on the world of writers. There are many new authors out there and they need a lift up to be noticed.

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I want to invite you to adopt the three R’s and adopt an author for a few months. Disclaimer – you are about to discover I am dyslexic!

R – Read the work of the author. There is no bigger compliment for someone who has spent years writing a novel than to have others read it. Believe me – when I receive a tweet or email from someone I don’t know and they tell me they are reading my books, I get so excited. 

R – Rite about the person. No put away that athame (Pagan ritual dagger) away, but make your computer your sacred space. (W)rite to friends recommending the author, blog about her/him, or comment on other people’s blogs, take to the twitterverse – it works!

R – Review. Despite the controversy surrounding paid reviews, it is still one of the most powerful tools that helps a person perusing amazon, smashwords, B&N, goodreads, etc.

 

Here are a few other ways to help a struggling author (I couldn’t find an R to begin the sentence!): 

1.     Buy their book, if not for yourself, then as a gift for a friend’s birthday, or instead of a bottle of wine next time you’re invited for dinner. Maybe as a Xmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa present. Did you know that you can buy an e-book as a gift and send it to your friend’s e-Reader?

2.     Know someone who is in a book club? Suggest that they nominate your friend’s book for the group to read.

3.     Donate a copy of their book in a fundraising raffle or silent auction as a prize. It is great exposure.

4.     Hug an author. It won’t propel them into the New York Times Bestseller list, but it means a lot.

This is my final post for the year. I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few moments each day and sharing our blog posts, agreeing, disagreeing, laughing and sighing. Thank you to Tom Rossi and Roger Ingalls for offering different voices and enriching the discussion.

Wishing everyone a year of peace and meaning.

Alon 

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

 

Unwanted Heroes – Released Today In Ebook!

Now that’s what I consider a great Thanksgiving gift!

Three Clover Press announced that Unwanted Heroes is now available on Kindle and Smashwords. The paperback will be closer to the expected January date.

They generously agreed to price the ebook at $2.99 for the present. I would like to take the opportunity to thank Lloyd Lofthouse, a fine author and a war veteran, who personally deals with and writes about P.T.S.D on The Soulful Veteran blog. I am sure it was not easy for him to edit my novel.

Lloyd has overseen the project throughout the various stages and provided me with both honest feedback and tough love.

Here is a quick synopsis:

Unwanted Heroes brings together an old, battle weary Chinese American war vet and an idealistic and somewhat pretentious young Englishmen, who share a love for San Francisco, coffee and wine. They soon discover they share even more when repressed memories bring them together, finding in each other, an unlikely ally to free themselves from the tragic past that binds them both.

Set in beautiful San Francisco, this novel is a tribute to the city, its people and those who sacrificed so much to keep it and America free, as seen through the eyes of a young struggling writer from across the Atlantic, who brings more baggage than just his shiny laptop and romantic ideals.

Unwanted Heroes follows two other social justice-themed novels, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale, that were both placed in my native England. This novel is the first of three that will be situated in San Francisco, the city I have grown to love and dare call my home. Unwanted Heroes focuses on the issue of how we treat our war veterans and the homeless. The two future novels will deal with other issues relevant to the US – gay rights and gun control. After that, who knows?

But right now, I am very proud to share Unwanted Heroes with you. If you would do me the honor of reading it, please take a few minutes to post a review on Amazon.com or Smashwords. Reviews are playing an increasingly critical role in guiding readers to purchase a book.

Thank you.

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Alon Shalev is the author of three social justice-themed novels: Unwanted Heroes, The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Reviewing Reviews and Reviewers

Assuming that most of us are now purchasing novels on the Internet, whether ebook or tree book, the significance of a review is crucial. We are no longer influenced by a staff member’s pick of the week or the paid for book display at the front of the store. I asked several friends (there is not pretense here to being empirical) whether they read reviews that people write on Amazon and other book purchasing websites.

The answers I received were really interesting. When you passionately follow an author, you buy his/her new release without hesitation. In fact, while many people have some form of notification to alert them when an author releases a new piece of work, they are often found and targeted by the creepy Internet spiders. 

This happened to me when I recently saw a Facebook advert for the new Terry Pratchett novel. In the past, I had relied on a friend from Ireland (he attends Discworld conferences all over Europe) sending me a pigeon with a note attached.

When it comes to new authors, or rather authors that the reader has not read before, most of my friends told me that they absolutely read the reviews and these can have a big influence on whether they will try the book. This is not even a question of book price. Most of those I asked, were afraid to invest the small window of time that they have every day to sit and read, spent on something that was not good.

The other answer that I received was from people who only read books that their friends recommend. Word-of-mouth, even in the digital age, remains a powerful influencer. I find this strangely comforting.

No one told me that they bought a book because of a newspaper review or radio interview. I suspect that had this been non-fiction, this answer would have been more prevalent.

The issue I want to raise, however, is how ‘kosher’ are these reviews? I recently heard of a man who was making more than $20,000 a month generating reviews for authors. He was exposed for not having read the books, and accused of offering a five-star review for cash.

I have to admit, I have pondered on a lesser issue. When my next book comes out, I had thought to offer 10 or so ebooks to random people (via twitter) for free, with the understanding that they will leave an honest review and generate a solid collection of reviews on my Amazon page.

Would you be influenced by the fact that the author had given you the book? Certainly, I would expect my friends and family to feel the pressure. When a friend left a so-so review for A Gardener’s Tale, I was upset. Among multiple 4 and 5-star reviews, she alone had given me 3-stars. She takes herself very seriously and I don’t think for one minute that there was anything vindictive in her grading (what she wrote was fine).

Personally, I have never given a bad review. But I have, more than a few times, not left a review because I didn’t enjoy the book, or more likely put it down after a few chapters.

So, I will leave you with a couple of questions. Answer as many or few as you want.

1) Do you read customer reviews before purchasing a book?

2) What is your main resource for reviews? (word-of-mouth, Amazon, b&n, Smashwords etc.).

3) If an author gives you a copy of his/her novel, will you write an objective review?

4) Do you use websites that specifically offer book reviews such as Goodreads?

5) Why are there so many letters in the word – abbreviation? Just wondering if you read this far).

By the way – if you ever read A Gardener’s Tale or The Accidental Activist – please consider leaving a review!

I would love to hear from you. Have a great day,

Alon

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Jewish Student Center, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

 

Writing to be Read, Speaking to be Heard

I am speaking tomorrow (Saturday, 05/26) at the California Writers Club in Fremont on the Devry College campus, 6600 Dumbarton Circle,(rm 223) . All are welcome. I think I’m talking about The Accidental Activist and why I see ‘Fiction as a Vehicle to Social Justice.’

Often, however, the talk turns at some point to craft and book promotion. Last Friday I offered a list of books that colleagues have highlighted as being instrumental in improving their craft as writers. One of the groups that I facilitate is the monthly California Writers Club – Berkeley Branch Marketing group. We come together each month prior to the general meeting and focus on a topic that one of the members has prepared.

At one of those meetings, a businesswoman suggested that we each decide on a marketing model that suits our books and our own personalities. I’ve read a number of books and they definitely change with the times. I would like to point out three which. apart from anything else, are very recent and most up-to-date with an industry that changes almost monthly.

Get Published Today! An Insider’s Guide to Publishing - Penny C. Sansevieri.

I have often shared my enthusiasm for reading from my kindle, but this time I must admit to feeling frustrated. I don’t seem able to flick forward or refer back with ease. This might be me, and if you are an e-reader expert, please share a few tips in the comments below.

Ms. Sanservieri comes from the industry but is astute enough to acknowledge the inevitable changes happening all around us. She does this with commendable objectivity, and also approaches Print on Demand in a similar way.

How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months - John Locke

This book has inspired me. The guy comes with an attitude, but he has valid claim to having earned it. He writes very clearly and succinctly and shares his model in simple step-by-step methods. Be warned. Despite the title, I do not believe this is a get-rich-quick scheme, and have no doubt that Mr. Locke works hard and invested money to expedite the process. Still if I only sell a million books in five years, I will be very appreciative of Locke sharing his success.

Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (Smashwords Guides) - Mark Coker

If anyone understands eBook business it is Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, one of the few successful publishing stories of recent years not to include ‘Amazon’ in its title.

All three books have been published in the past 12 months,and can be purchased for less that $15 together (eBooks). Not a bad investment for a burgeoning business.  Now please excuse me. I have some books to read.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

Amazon Challenges Publishers Pt.2

This is a continuation of Friday’s post, a further examination of Amazon’s new approach to woo authors.

Barry Eisler, who turned down an attractive offer from St. Martin’s Press, and is publishing his new book himself through amazon is not deterred by the claim that he is restricting his audience by only publishing for Kindle readers. Eisler states that his book will be available without DRM (digital rights management) and therefore it can be read on any e-book reader, including the Nook and the Kobo. Many of us have, in addition to publishing through amazon, also published through the successful Bay Area start up Smashwords which I discussed a while ago on Left Coast Voices.

More telling, Eisler can sell his book at a low and attractive price for a broader audience. With a traditional publisher,  a hardcover would cost $25, and astonishing in my opinion, an ebook for as much as $13. “Availability six months earlier and at half the price seems like a pretty good deal for readers to me,” Eisler added and you can see his point.

This new strategy  between amazon and authors such as Eisler, or popular author Tim Ferriss, is a hard blow for traditional publishers. They had been more than tolerant with writers such as Amanda Hocking who created their fan base outside of the traditional framework only for a publisher to step in and help both the author and publisher profit. This new strategy, however, is pulling popular writers such as Ferriss and Eisler away from traditional publishing world.

In the process, Amazon is making the rest of the traditional industry look out-dated, inefficient, and profit-driven. If they are to woo such authors, they must shorten their publication process which is glacial in comparison to Amazon. They also need to understand that their price structure is antiquated in the face of technology.

I do not think that all is lost, however. Many of these emerging authors are businessmen and women and extremely pragmatic. Read John Locke’s new book as a case in point. 

As Eisler puts it: “My objectives were to make more money from the title, to get the digital out first, and to retain more control over business decisions. If a better way comes along … of course I’m going to take it. Publishing for me is a business, not an ideology.”

The market is such that an author will take a publishing deal if it is lucrative enough. If it is not, however, they might decide to look for other options and Amazon is ready to welcome then in. The ball is in the court of the major publishers. They need to adapt fast or risk joining the dinosaurs.

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

Accidental Activist on Smashwords

The Accidental Activist is now available from Smashwords. I am excited about this as Smashwords is a very interesting organization. Its founder and CEO, Mark Coker, was an early visionary of the ebook revolution and recognized that with the constant technological explosion, there was room for a form of ebook that would fit any electronic format. Smashwords elegantly called their technology the Meatgrinder. I love the irony of this. One of the biggest wastes of the tree book industry is the returns policy that many large publishers offer which results in millions of books being printed, distributed, returned and pulped. Greenhouse effect, anyone?

I believe Smashwords uses more cutting edge technology.

On Sunday, Smashwords reached an interesting landmark. They have now produced an astonishing three billion words with over 70,000 books. To put it another way: “…in the last four months we averaged 8.3 million words a day. This works out to about 350,000 words per hour, 5,700 words per minute or almost 100 words per second. Can you hear the keyboards clicking?”

Yes, I can. And all this in less than four years. Smashwords have other attributes. They allow the author/publisher to set the price, and offer vouchers with discounts. They helped sponsor a program where authors offered ebooks for free to US servicemen and women serving in combat zone. I participated in Operation Ebook Drop and gave away more than 100 books during this period.

Mark Coker is a tireless crusader for the Ebook industry and you can see from his articles, countless speeches and panel appearances that he is passionate about his work and his vision.

Mark Coker often speaks in the Bay Area

I love my kindle, but i must admit that I found a flaw. As Smashwords reached it’s 3 billion word landmark, my kindle screen came up blank. I concede – this has never happened with any tree book that I’ve read. Now where is that warranty?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

What’s In A Name (an author’s name)?

This post caught me by surprised. I am used to hearing of the successes of such authors as J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking, that I thought this was another example. Daryl Sedore is another struggling writer, trying to crack the social media combination to fame and fortune. He, however, found another route: he changed his name. He posted 10 novels on various e-book sites such as Amazon and Smashwords and then went to work on his blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts, all of which registered high in rank, followers and every metric except book sales.

So he tried something extremely brave in my opinion. He took his books down and no one asked where they were. He realized that he was directing all his media messages to other writers.So he changed the covers, (thanks to his very talented wife, Brenda), added new blurbs,  and re-uploaded his books.
He also used a new author name. And the results were amazing.

As Daryl Sedore, he sold just 200 books over 5 months. As Jonas Saul he sold 350 books in the first six weeks.

Now I have to admit to being intrigued? I suspect that part of the increase in his sales are the beautiful book covers. “Never judge a book by it’s cover” should be ignored by anyone hoping to sell books (theirs or someone else’s). The title of the book is also critical, no argument here.

But the question lingers: Do we pick up a book because of the name of the author? What do you think?

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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).

 

Find Me An Author Making A Living From E-books!

So there I was at a party to celebrate the season of goodwill and I get cornered by Scrooge (it’s okay –  he doesn’t have time for blogs). He is a businessman in the City and when I told him about my books, promptly asked what my marketing strategy was. Without waiting for an answer, he launched into a rather unflattering (and unfortunately rather accurate) analysis of the book industry and its bleak future.

When he stopped to inhale, I waxed lyrically (a combination of enthusiasm for my blogs and a very good glass of Merlot) about the e-book revolution and my publisher’s strategy of focusing on blogging and selling mainly e-books.

Thoroughly bored with me after about three sentences, he waved his hand and challenged me. “Get back to me when you find a fiction writer who is not already a best selling author and is making a living from selling e-books.”

Then he walked away, and I was left counting the hours before I could leave the party, get the kids to bed and fire up my laptop.

Blessed be the Goddess Google. I found someone. Thank you to Galley Cat, four writers who claim to have the “first word on the publishing industry.” Whether true or not, I am in your debt for this interview with J. A. Konath.  Since I am only going to summarize the interview and gloat, click here for the full interview.

J.A. Konrath is the author of the Jack Daniels series, his main protagonist is a Chicago cop who “chases seriel killers and other loonies.”His books are fast paced, with plenty of action, dialogue, and humor.

And yes, he has successfully built a career, which means a living wage selling his e-books, including outselling such successful competition as James Patterson.

“Unfortunately, the print world is flawed. The business model–where books can be returned, and where a 50% sell-though is considered acceptable–is archaic and wasteful. Writers get small royalties, little say in how their books are marketed and sold, and simple things like cover and title approval are unheard of unless you’re a huge bestseller.”

He also doesn’t want to put the time needed into self-publishing as what he really enjoys is actually writing. I hear you, sir!

Now down to business:

Mr. Konrath is averaging about 180 sales a day through Kindle. He also brings in royalties via the Nook, iPad and through Smashwords (a ‘meat grinder’ that prepares e-books in most major publishing formats).

With the royalty rates at 70% from Amazon and Konrath’s e-books selling for $2.99, that means he makes $2.04 per sale. This adds up to $134,000 a year. I tip my hat to you sir!

When the royalty rate for Amazon switches to 70%, I’ll be earning $2.04 on a $2.99 e-book. That’s $134,000 a year. I also plan on uploading three more e-books this month, which I expect will sell well because fans are anticipating them.

Konrath suggests that offering books for the price of a cup of coffee makes them impulse purchases and therefore so attractive. As a Kindle owner on a tight budget, I can testify that I am willing to buy a book by an author I don’t know for $3-5.

The challenge is how to make your books stand out from the masses. Konrath has tried the conventional route of reading in bookstores and conferences and no longer believes this is the right way to develop a visible writers platform and fan base. He is also focusing on his blog and website, as well as staying active on social networks.

Thank you, Mr. Konrath I am now armed and ready for the next skeptic I meet at a party!
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Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com


Book Promotion Strategy

I recently spoke to a group of fellow struggling authors and just adapted my notes to respond to a friends question about how to market his forthcoming book. Here is a summary of my notes:

Overall Strategy: Focus on Amazon, blogging and social networking.

1. Reviews – find 2-3 mid-level authors in your genre and ask them for reviews. Also find on local TV or radio people who have book or culture shows. Their names might not be recognizable, but their station is. These are future blurbs and important.

Find 10 people who will enjoy reading your book (not with your family name) and give them copies asking them to write on Amazon. Also once the book is up, you will hear from people who enjoyed it – ask them to review on Amazon. If you have trouble finding people, Amazon has a reviewer’s program – this doesn’t guarantee a good review, but guarantees that someone will read and post.

2. Get hold of The Author’s Guide to Building an Online Platform – Stephanie Chandler. Main thrust – a website and blog. Check out my website – I researched about 20 author websites before deciding on the website’s structure.

3. Online Forums: Have a signature (see mine at bottom of post – with link to Amazon pages). Participate in online forums and every time you post, add your signature at bottom. Don’t plug your book in the text, it is annoying and turns people off, but if you write an intelligent comment in a post, people will check you out. I have made a mistake of participating in too many forums for writers – my new publisher is pushing me to focus on groups that are relevant to the theme of my book – political activism for me).

4. Blog – this is very effective and requires more than a blog post to discuss it. I know an author, Lloyd Lofthouse, who has a specific and exhausting strategy and is succeeding to sell his e-books through his blog.

5. Kindle – yes you should have your book in e-book form. The topic of yes/no is exhausted and history. It costs about $200 to convert to Kindle, but is worth it. I have my book at Smashwords, which is free, and can d/load to every device out there now including iPad. I have not seen many sales there, but this might be my fault. Also, Kemble Scott swears by Scribd – I put my book up there, but also haven’t seen much – again probably my fault.

My suggestion/summary:
You only have a certain amount of time during the day to promote your books. Decide on one strategy and stick to it. Kemble Scott and the guy who is blogging like crazy are good examples. I am not.

My new publisher is pressing me to:
1. Blog like crazy
2. Focus on Amazon and leave bookstores etc.
3. Comment on online forums about political advocacy on Amazon and kindle boards.

This will be my focus since he is kind of my boss now. There are 2 books about Amazon.
Sell Your Book on Amazon – Brent Sampson
Another by a guy called Shepherd that I can’t find (if you know the book, please leave the title in comments). In searching for this, I just d/loaded another ( for .99cents on kindle) and will let you know if it is any good.

Also as a general resource book:
1001 Ways to Market Your Books, Sixth Edition (1001 Ways to Market Your Books: For Authors and Publishers) – John Kramer.

Good Writing,
Alon

ALON SHALEV
Oilspill dotcom – in paperback & currently on Amazon’s Kindle for $3.19.
More info at http://www.alonshalev.com/

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