The Drone Wars vs. Hot Beans!

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Okay, so I am going to try to make this not some old guy rant about, ‘In My Day…” but since The Eighth Day has achieved #1 bestseller status, many more people have been reading it and resonating with the Bronx, New York side of the story. Which elicits E-mails from fans of both the book and the Bronx. “Belly Flopping” a street game being central to the character development of FBI Special Agent, Joey Palumbo, has started a stream of E-mail consciousness that lead to HOT BEANS!

For those of you NOT blessed to have grown up on the gritty streets of the Bronx, I will endeavor to explain this particularly unique “childhood” game.

Start with a Garrison Belt, which is a serious looking strap of leather that’s around two inches wide with a mean-ass metal buckle on the end. Just like in Hide and Go Seek, one person is designated as “It.” The rest of the kids hide at “home base” around the corner. Now the guy that’s “it” hides the belt anywhere on the street. When he’s got the belt where is sure no one will find, he yell’s, “REEEEEAAADDYYY!”

Everyone comes around the corner to find the belt. The one who finds it, gets to yell, “HOT BEANS” and then gets to whip the crap out of everyone who is caught between the home base (around the corner) and him. At this point it would help to remember we are talking a heavy thick belt with a heavy buckle that can draw blood.

Believe me you don’t know what terror, fear, trepidation, caution, strategy and courage is until you play this game. Why? Because unlike other games, where the only skin in the game is playing for a win, bragging rights or the most points, in Hot Beans, your skin is actually at risk in this game.

Today, kids hardly go out into the street anymore. Their games are on a computer. The optimists and sociologists say it’s a good thing, that they are developing skills for our techno-future.

However, I wonder about those men and women who operate the drones and other High Tech, Stand Off, Remote controlled weaponry that we are embracing as national policy. I am referring to those who joystick their way through a war, one that’s been made impersonal and game-like on LCD screens. A process that transforms the deadliest endeavor of mankind to be remarkably like, Call Of Duty or Battlefield 3.

What happens if somebody pulls the plug on their console, will they, who have been raised in this kind of Sanitized War, be able to become warriors? The bigger question is, are Americans, who never played HOT BEANS and have no skin in the game but a vote once a year, citizens who in general have become war weary, will they have the grit to turn to our war fighting soldiers who have tested their mettle? Combat ready troops who are the ultimate weapon, and last resort, in defending a nation’s way of life and thus all we hold dear? Or will our techno-war complacent population cower at “home base” when some big, ugly brute from a foreign land wields an actual big belt with malicious intent?

P.S. Millions of people play war-based video games. All of these games are sold with graphics depicting “Shit Wired Tight” soldiers who are shown as stoic, deadly and dressed to kill. These are homage’s to the true warrior. Yet, millions of players, who assume these roles, never show up to a Veteran’s Day parade or write their congressperson to take better care of the actual “prototypes” of these fake computer icon warriors, when they return from the real life battle.

Those images and the exploiting of heroism has amassed many billions of dollars in box office for games and almost equal amount for movies. Unlike these computer generated figures, our soldiers have actually faced danger, unspeakable horror and have risked everything. Yet, far too many are homeless.

Here’s a thought for all you gamers out there, donate 1% to 10% of your highest war game score to Veterans Matter or text VETS to 41444.

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Upon Further Review…

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Along with the corner bookstore, many of the benchmarks of the book business have bitten the digital dust. Hundreds of thousands of books now flood the virtual shelves of the big and small on-line retailers. Marketing experts call this “fragmentation” while most authors call it “frustration.” It seems nowadays this evolution in book selling has made the REVIEW, the gold standard in determining how much buzz, support, exposure and sales potential a book receives.

“If you like your thrillers realistic enough to make your spine tingle, and well-written enough to keep you turning pages, you must pick up THE DEVIL’S QUOTA.  Tom Avitabile is at the top of his game.  Read this book.” – Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author of TERMINAL CITY and DEATH ANGEL

But how does an author garner reviews, and good ones at that? The simple answer is write a great book. The nuanced answer: start the snowball effect, the more reviews, the more people read the book, the more they post reviews and it goes on like that until you have an avalanche of reviews.

“The go-to guy for pure thriller reading pleasure, Tom Avitabile delivers with every word.” – John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of THE KEEPER and THE OPHELIA CUT

It’s also great when your big –time multi million selling, NY Times bestselling authors who huge fan bases, take the time to read your book and then serve up glowing quotes. That’s just gotta help. But in the new democracy of the Internet, average readers hold an awesome power also. Their reviews on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, iBook, Good Reads and other sites are critical in informing the large retailers where to put marketing “soft dollars” to push a book over the top.

“This gritty and interesting novel swooped me up early in it’s pages and hung on tight to me until the very last words.” – Five Stars – Good Reads by Booklover Catlady

Me personally, I would never push my reviews in your face, but it is a dire necessity today to garner as many 5-Star reviews as you can. Why? The algorithm (No, not the Al Gore Rhythm, which if you’ve watched him dance is decidedly not in evidence) but those little robotic calculators that today make decisions large and small in everything from your refrigerator, to automated factories to how Amazon decides a book is worthy of “Push”

“This is the kind of book you want to snuggle up with for a quick and quiet thrill.” – The View From the Phlipside

So the new reality is this: an author could get tens of thousands of dollars worth of boost marketing from on-line book sellers if the Al Gore Rhythm machine inside their servers counts a certain number of glowing reviews. Now this isn’t money in the author’s pocket, it’s in soft dollars or what you would have to pay them to push a book like this to their customers. Let’s just say for that kind of advertising they’d charge you four arms and six legs. But old Al Gore the Rhythm King, he’s going to bestow that windfall on a purely digital, cold, unemotional basis – namely reviews!

“Tom Avitabile’s plots are page-turning and gripping. Good read for all fans of crime/thriller fiction!” – Crystal Book Reviews

Therefore in conclusion, you may not be able to judge a book by it’s cover but, Al-A-Gore-ically, they can, and do, judge a book by it’s reviews…

“Reading a novel is like being in a car and taking a journey. The narrator is driving. And whether he drives fast and cruises the curves or whether he’s pedestrian and pokes through the plot – he’s in control.
Tom Avitabile is a cocky chauffeur and The Eighth Day is one hell of a ride.”
-Anonymous via Amazon

Here’s some links in case if by now you haven’t gotten the clue, that I would love a good review from you.

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The Waiting Game

On Tuesday, June 17th my third novel, The God Particle goes on sale at all the usual places. Currently, I am pacing in the virtual waiting room awaiting the delivery of this little package to the world. Many things go through your mind at a time like this. Questions like; Will it ever go to college? Will people like it? Will it be healthy? Will it someday have offspring of it’s own?

College: Will it be embraced by the all important 18-25 demo and be catapulted to “must read” status by students who find resonance between what they are learning about the world and the themes, issues and concerns contained between the covers?

Likability: That elusive quality. Sure, I gained 106,000 words during the gestation of this thriller, but will people like the way it came out? 

Healthy Retail: Can this creation achieve a strong showing in sales? Will the marketing, promotion, reviews and buzz encourage readers to buy and suggest this new arrival to their friends, associates and groups.

Offspring: The God Particle itself is the child of two previous Bill Hiccock books coming together. Will this new take, focusing on Brook Burrell, the FBI agent turned secret operative for the Science Advisor to the U.S. President attract the right kind of soul mates that will produce a next generation of books?

These are the questions the parent of any book ponders as he or she waits for the signal that the labor has ended and now their “baby” has to go out into the world and make it on it’s own.  I can only hope I imbued it with all the smarts, compassion, wit, thrills and drama to succeed out in the world and make me proud. 

Our Love Affair with Lists… and being number one

unnamedDavid Letterman understood our fascination with ordinal ranking and has made a late night institution out of his Top Ten list. We all grew up listening to songs on the charts, “And now the number one hit across the nation…” Does anybody watch the 239th Nielsen Rated TV show?

We love lists. They help us decide what we consume, buy or desire. From “the number one pain reliever…” to “don’t settle for second best…” lists guide us, inform us and allow us to not think too much because someone else has already vetted, evaluated, opted for, shown propensity for, or simply bought a truckload of X.

So it was with slight apprehension that I accepted the fact that my book, The Eighth Day, had achieved a number one ranking on The Nook One Hundred. When I first got the news there was no fanfare, no drum roll under an announcer barking, “And the number one bestselling book is…” Just a lovely, one line, “fragment” of an e-mail from my publisher, The Story Plant’s, Marketing Department:

#1 bestseller!

Longer accolades and sweet congratulatory notes followed, but that was the moment. I will admit that, having been raised on lists, at that instance I experienced weightlessness. Not quite an out-of-body transcendence, but a lightness of being akin to an endorphin high greeting me after this race to the top.

Then my analytical author’s psyche chimed in. As you know, part of what it is to write is to examine all the possibilities at every beat in the story and choose the best possible words, actions and emotions that will tell your tale the way you want it told. Here is my internal dialogue, which I am sure is the reason why many authors drink to excess: “Is this a victory for me or my publisher? Are readers buying my book, or the company’s placement, merchandising and marketing? Do they know my work or are they truly buying a book by its digitized cover? Was this a result of the publisher’s clout and high-voltage push or an actual desire for the mega-wattage power of my book? Would another piece of meat have benefited from the sizzle that was applied to my steak?”

That “glass is half full” line of plot analysis gave me the worst kind of writer’s block – blocking joy. My dear friends sent along “congrats,” “knew you could do it,” “whoo hooo!” and other forms of textural backslapping which feels great but – and again, here’s that author’s dark cloud – that is a friend’s natural and very sweet form of acknowledgement. BUT they’ve already read the book, or at least bought it, so they were responding to the “list” thing. However, when I started reading e-mails from people who are not so close to me, I discovered the reason why I am able to write this and not be in some drunken stupor at the moment… PEOPLE READ REVIEWS! Those e-mails contained sentiments like; “After I read all the great reviews, I bought the book…” Variations on that theme appeared in most of the other e-mails from the more distant reaches of my address book.

So it’s a split decision. The ranking and all the hoopla surrounding the marketing may have got the attention of folks, but they were sold by the performance of the book as related by “those what read it.”

The moral of my story: even though you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can judge a book by its coverage!

I feel better now. Hey did I mention my book is NUMBER ONE, BABY!!!!