Worst Book Ever

Note: Be sure to read the Update/Correction below.

Most of my published author friends have a book or two that’s saved on their hard drive that will never see the light of day. They’re usually books that the author wrote early in their careers—usually before they had any kind of publishing contract. They could never find a publisher for the novel (or didn’t try) and moved on to other projects. Though the books were never published, they served as good learning experiences for the authors on what to do (or what not to do) when writing fiction.

I have one of these “learning” books on my hard drive. Between Room for Two and The Third, I wrote a novel titled Angel of Light. It was my first real attempt to write a novel and I’ll flat out admit that it sucks. However, writing Angel of Light was a good learning experience for me. It taught me that I write better with an outline, that I need to work on my dialogue, and that I do a decent job hooking the reader at the end of every chapter. Without putting effort into writing that book, odds are The Third would have never been good enough to find a publisher.

One of the lessons most these author friends have continually taught is not to be tempted to rewrite these books or resubmit them for publication no matter how much the author is in love with them. Why? Because making these books public generally drags down an author’s career not only in terms of sales but loyal readers. Once an author puts crap out there, he or she risks that it will be the first book a reader picks up. And if the book is awful, odds are they’re never going to touch another one of your books again. That’s why, aside from Marathon Girl, no one will ever read Angel of Light. I will never rewrite it or even attempt to have it published. It will remain on my computer until they pry it from my cold, dead fingers. (Even then I hope to have the presence of mind to nuke that part of the hard drive before I pass on.)

So it’s sad when a talented author like Harlan Coben makes this mistake with his novel Play Dead. I like Coben’s novels and have been reading them voraciously since I discovered his books last year. But Play Dead is a torture to read. The characters have no depth and the reader hardly cares about them. The dialogue sucks. The plot had enough big holes that a three 747s could easily fly through them. The only reason I kept reading the book was because I thought there was no way the book could get any worse.

I was wrong. It got worse. Way worse. When I done reading it, I felt like I had been forced to watch Glitter and Gigli at the same time! As a result there are hours of my life and a million brains cells that I’ll never get back.

Granted, Coben warns the reader at the beginning of the book that he hasn’t “read Play Dead in at least twenty years” and that “it’s exact book I wrote when I was in my early twenties, just a naive lad working in the travel industry….”He also accurately compares the book to “that essay you wrote when you were in school, the one that got you an A-plus on, the one your teacher called “inspired”—and one day you’re going through your drawer and you find it and you read it and your heart sinks and you say, ‘Man, what was I thinking?’”

My question to Coben is this: since you knew this book sucked, what were you thinking by publishing it? Play Dead reads just like one of those novels that never should have been published—EVER. Even you seem to know this but pushed it through anyway? Are you short on cash? Is someone blackmailng you?

I only wish I had read the warning before I started reading chapter 1 because I never would have read it otherwise.

For readers, unless you’re looking for 101 class on how not to write a novel, avoid even touching Play Dead. Your brain cells will thank you for it.

Update/Correction: Harlan Coben came across this review and emailed me a correction that I’ll pass on. Apparently Play Dead was Coben’s first novel and was published back in 1990. The version I was reading is a 2010 reprint. It’s NOT a book that he pulled out of the drawer after 20 years and decided to push through the publishing mill.

This error was my mistake. After I finished reading Play Dead and seeing how it wasn’t even close to the quality of other Coben novels I’ve read, I flipped to the beginning of the novel where I read his author’s note. After reading that and seeing the 2010 copyright date, I wrongly assumed it was something he decided to publish after he had become a successful writer.

So, I apologize for the misunderstanding, Mr. Coben. I appreciate you taking the time to email me and offer the correction. So you know, I’ve enjoyed every other book of yours thus far and am looking forward to reading Live Wire when it’s released in March. Had I known this was your first novel when I was reading it, I would have been a bit more understanding as a reader. You’re a talented writer and have come a long way since Play Dead.

For readers, I retract the reasons behind the publication of Play Dead but stand by my review of the book. It isn’t Coben’s finest work.If you’re interested in reading his novels, I suggest starting with some of his standalone novels like Just One Look or Hold Tight. If you enjoy those, then check out his Myron Bolitar novels staring with Deal Breaker.

Creative Writing Goals 2011

 

After singing Auld Lang Syne at midnight, I’ll dive right in to accomplishing my 2011 creative writing resolutions. This year’s creative writing goals include:

  • Have the Dating a Widower book available by end of January. I finally finished rewriting the latest draft this week and have an editor queued up to do a final review of it. Providing the editor doesn’t have substantial changes, it should be out an available on Amazon by late January.
  • Have a final, polished draft of a novel that I hope will take me to the national market. Code named “White Whale” I’ll be pitching it to an agent the first week of May at a writer’s conference. The clock is ticking on this one. All I have right now is an outline.
  • Wrap up the sequel to The Third. The first draft is almost done but need to get it polished by fall should the publisher pick up the option to do the next book in the trilogy.

And if I can accomplish all that, 2011 will be a very successful year indeed—at least when it comes to writing. And to keep me honest, I'll be posting regular progress on this blog.

Hope you all have a happy and healthy 2011.

NaNoWriMo Reflections

The stars aligned perfectly so year so I could finally give NaNoWriMo a shot this year. For those who don’t know what NaNoWriMo is, it’s basically a goal of writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. And though you can see from the above badge, I didn’t make the 50,000 word goal (or my original 80,000 word goal), I actually enjoyed the challenge and consider it a success because it got me writing every day in November and I was able to complete about 40% of a novel that’s been bouncing around in my head for the last couple of years.

And though the month is over I’m still trying to wrap up the first draft of the novel by year’s end. And even though NaNoWriMo’s over, I got Judd and his gang kicking my butt to finish it by then or else there’ll be some sort of hell to pay. Don’t worry, boys, I’m on it!

Now that I’ve given NaNoWriMo a shot, I think it’s a good exercise for anyone who wants to write a book. If anything, it got be back in the habit of writing every day instead of three or so times a week. And now that I’ve got my daily writing time set aside, I think I’ll be able to finish this novel but others are constantly sloshed around in my brain.

The only thing I didn’t like about it was that I felt I had to meet the 50,000 word goal or else I was some sort of failure. The reason I only ended up with just under 36,000 words is that about half way through the month was that the novel, at least way I had outlined, just stopped working. I went back and reread what I penned and realized that I could take some time and rewrite several chapters or I could push another 25,000 words and “win” or I could try to do it right the first time. I opted for the latter knowing that I’d just be wasting my time trying to push out words that had zero chance of being used.

In any event, now that I’m back on the writing bandwagon now it’s time for DeNoWirMo and then 2011NoWriYr. If all goes well, I hope to be able to have another novel ready for a publisher by spring. And that would be a real victory.

Finally Doing National Novel Writing Month

I first heard about National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) back in 2002. I thought it was a cool idea to try to write a novel in a month. But since I was in a critical relationship month with Marathon Girl, I told myself I’d do it next year. The next year came and I was in the middle of slogging through the first draft of my memoir. It wasn’t a project I could rush so I pushed it off another year. Every November after it seemed like I was working another writing project that couldn’t be rushed, in the middle of edits with a publisher, or had just finished a novel and was too burned out to start a new project.

This year, however, the wrings stars have aligned. The final manuscript of The Third has been sent to the publisher, the second round of the Dating a Widower guide is just about done, and I have an outline for a novel that I wrote over the summer that’s screaming to be started. In short not only am I ready to write the first draft of a novel in a month, I’m positive I can do it.

The goal, at least for me, isn’t to write a publishable manuscript in 30 days. If I didn’t have a fulltime job, a family, and other responsibilities, I could probably come close to cranking out a publishable manuscript in 30 days. My NaNoWriMo goal is to simply write an approximate 80,000 word first draft. If I could do that, I could probably have an editable manuscript by the end of the year.

For those who want to track my NaNoWriMo progress, I’ll add a widget to my home page and the side bar of this blog November 1. (I’d add them now but NaNoWriMo isn’t going to make any of their widgets available until November 1.)

Finally, if any readers or writing friends are giving NaNoWriMo a shot, leave a comment or email me your handle and I’ll add you to my NaNoWriMo buddy list. If you want to add me, my NaNoWriMo handle is abelkeogh.

Looking forward to a month of intensive writing.

I Already Wrote THAT Book

The scene: A waiting area at a car dealership. I've brought my laptop so I can write while I wait. An older gentleman with a thick book in his hand takes the seat next to me and glances at my computer screen. Old Man: What you writing, your memoirs?

Me: I already wrote my memoir. I'm working on a novel.

Old Man: ~laughs~ "That's a good one!"

The old man slaps me on the knee, stands up, and walks away.

Update: The guy turned out to be really cool. After he come back to the waiting area we ended up talking. Turns out he's an avid readers and got a kick out of meeting a writer. On his way out the door he told everyone else in the waiting room to buy both my books.

Why People Read

Why People Read

Author James Collins has an essay over at The New York Times where he frets over not being able to remember the plot to most of the books he’s read. Then he wonders why we read books if we can’t remember what’s in them.

After reading Collins’ essay, I scanned my own bookshelves (sorry, I don’t have a Kindle or Nook—yet) to see how many books I could remember the plot. I don’t know if I have a better memory than Collins or just read more interesting books, but I could remember the basic plot and main characters for at least half of the books on my shelf. Surprisingly half that I couldn’t recall included books by some of my favorite authors. But even if I couldn’t recall the plot, I certainly remember how I felt reading pretty much every book on my shelf.

And therein lies the answer to Collins’ question. People read for the same reasons they watch TV or a movie: they want to be transported to another time, place, or world. They look for characters they can identify with. It’s not Elvis Cole or Bilbo Baggins going off to save the day—it’s the reader himself going on these fantastic journeys. They don’t read to remember the plot, they read to escape reality for a short time.

Ironically Collins misses this very point in his essay—despite spending the first two paragraphs recalling how reading Allen Weinstien’s Perjury made him want to read all day instead of boating and fishing while on a summer vacation in New Hampshire. Instead he focuses on the “aesthetic and literary pleasure” and knowledge one gains by reading. This may be something English professors and their students may open a book for but most people just want something that will take them somewhere else.

The books that I can recall the plot and characters the best are the ones that resonated with me most. Growing up I loved reading Batman comics because Batman generally did everything without the help of others or super powers. It was something my loner teenage self could relate to. Those same loner feelings are what draws me to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. Pleasant childhood memories of summer and baseball is why I enjoyed Michael Chabon’s Summerland and David Horowitz’s autobiography Radical Son struck a chord politically.

Though Collins never figures out why people read, at least he doesn’t feel that time spent reading was a waste of time. But since he’s a writer, Collins better figure out why people read if he wants to have a shot at becoming successful.

The Third Q&A

Q: I’m excited that The Third found a new home. Who’s publishing it? A: Cedar Fort. The same publisher who took Room for Two.

Q: I can’t wait to read it. Any idea when it will be released?

A: The tentative release date is between April-June 2011. But that could change. When I get a more firm date, I’ll post it here.

Q: Did you think you’d find a new publisher so soon?

A: I was a little surprised, yes. I thought I was looking at least a year before I could share good news with everyone. When you have a good story, it makes it easier to find a publisher.

Q: I’ve read some sample chapters and love them. Are you planning on more stories with Ransom, Teya, and Dragomir?

A: I have a sequel to The Third that’s halfway done. The sales of The Third will drive whether or not I finish it. In the meantime, I’m busy with other writing projects.

Q: Other writing projects? Like what?

A: I’m working on a short guide for women dating widowers. I’m hoping to have that out in the next month or two. I also have another novel—unrelated to The Third—that’s in the first draft. I’m hoping to have that one finished by the end of the year.

Q: Can you give us any hint on what that book's about?

A: Not right now. It's too early in the process to know if it's going to be worth publishing.

Life Imitates My Unwritten Novel

I’ve always got a dozen or so different stories bouncing around in my head. While only one or two are mature enough to work on, the rest are percolating until the story finally forms. One of the stories I’ve been thinking about involves a group of thieves who break into homes after targeting people who post too much information on social networking sites. This weekend I came across a news story out of New Hampshire:

Police in Nashua, New Hampshire say they've busted a burglary ring in which the suspects targeted

Facebook users.

Police say they recovered more than $100,000 worth of property, allegedly stolen by three men.

In all there were more than 50 break-ins. Police say the thieves targeted people who posted their locations on their Facebook profiles. They started striking when the users weren't home.

Was I discouraged after reading this? Not at all. It’s telling me I’m on the right track. Now if I could only come up with a beginning and an end to the story, then I could start writing it.

The World’s Worst Book Covers

Shatner Quake: A Horrible Book Cover

While looking for a book cover for my post on self publishing, I stumbled across a blog run by a former librarian dedicated to “truly hideous” book covers. Then again, the subject matter of some of these books derserve awful covers. (William Shatner? Shattner Quake? What the...?)

Unless you’re self publishing, the cover is one of the few things out of the writer’s control of the final product. Bad covers can make a good book unappealing. That’s why any publisher will contract with or employ talented graphic designers to make their books pop off the shelves. Whoever did the covers on these blogs should be fired.

Just a few bad book covers you can find at that blog are the following.

Awful book cover

Bad book cover

Crappy book cover

You can see more bad covers here. Happy looking (or not).

Judging a Book by Its Cover

The Wall Street Journal has a fascinating article on how ebooks and other book-publishing technology are shaking up the business model traditional book publishers.

Amazon has taken an early lead, providing service tools for authors to self publish and creating an imprint last year to publish promising authors in print and online.

This month, Amazon is upping the ante, increasing the amount it pays authors to 70% of revenue, from 35%, for e-books priced from $2.99 to $9.99. A self-published author whose e-book lists for $9.99 on Amazon's Kindle e-bookstore will receive about $6.99 for each book sold. The author would net $1.75 on a similar new e-book sale by most major publishers.

The new formula makes digital self-publishing more lucrative for authors. "Some people will be tempted by the 70% royalty at Amazon," [Richard] Nash says. "If they already have a loyal fan base, will they want 70% of $100,000 or 15% of $200,000 for a hardcover?"

Digital self-publishing, or "vanity" publishing, is creating a powerful new niche in books. WSJ's Geoffrey Fowler joins the Digits show to discuss how this is threatening the traditional book industry.

Traditional book-industry players and tech companies are jumping on the digital self-publishing bandwagon. Apple last week announced a digital self-publishing program for its iPad giving 70% of revenue to authors, similar to Amazon's formula. Last month, Barnes & Noble also announced a service called PubIt!, allowing authors to post and sell e-books online.

While traditional publishers aren’t going the way of newspapers any time soon (though they’re slowly heading that direction), the shift to digital publishing is going to be a boon for talented writers. Published authors with an established fan base can sell their books for less than traditional publishers while making more money per book. New authors in the process build a fan base have another way to market manuscripts that aren’t under contract.

Talented unpublished authors can get around the often lengthy and cumbersome process of finding an agent and working with a publisher. If they have a compelling story to tell, they can immediately start selling books and building a fan base.

Of course not every self-published book will do well. As the WSJ article notes, self published books are generally poorly written and lack an editor’s touch. But in the new publishing paradigm, talented writers can hire editors to go over the book to improve the story and writing.

It’s also makes it easy for authors to overcome the second problem self-published books face: crappy covers. We’ve all be told never to judge a book by its cover, yet we do it all the time. If someone’s going to take a self-published book seriously, it needs a cover that’s going to make people want to pick it up or, with ebooks, at least read the first chapter or two. (And for those who say they never judge books by their covers, would you even consider reading a book with covers like these? Be honest!) Thankfully, there are plenty of talented graphic designers out there who can create a compelling cover for a couple hundred bucks. You have a professional look and copy and you’ve overcome two big obstacles that self published writer and books encounter.

Going the self-published route isn’t the best option for everyone right now. But it’s become a more viable business model for talented writers. That being said, I’ll be testing these new self publishing waters later this summer with a short, niche book of my own.

Stay tuned for details.

An English Degree does not a Writer Make

English Degrees and Becoming a Writer

I’m starting to wonder if former writers for The Onion are working at NPR. On the drive to work this week I’ve been listening to a series of sob stories about soon-to-be college graduates who are having a difficult time finding their first “real” job. The headlines on NPRs website read like something straight from America’s Finest News Source.

Aspiring Writer Questions Value Of English DegreeAccounting Grad Didn't Figure On Job Rejections Dream Of TV Job Remains Elusive For Montana Grad

All joking aside, the story about the aspiring writer, Heather Lefebvre who racked up $85,000 in student loans, caught my attention because there’s a big misconception out there that you need an English and/or creative writing degree to become a successful writer.

Having written a memoir, a novel, and a third book coming out later this year (surprise!) and worked in the corporate environment as a writer for over a decade, I can safely say becoming a writer has more to do with taking the time to learn the craft of writing then going to college or even having a degree.

Writing isn’t like riding a bike where you learn it once and do it over and over again without thinking. Struggling to create believable characters or a unique plot is something most writers improve upon with each novel and spend their lives trying to perfect. You’ll learn more by sitting down and writing your first book then you will in a lifetime of taking writing classes.

As a member of a local writing group I get a chance meet a lot of other authors. Of those I know personally, I’d say half have a college degree. Of the college grads, there are only a handful of English and/or writing degrees among them.

The writers who don’t have college degrees, half of them have attended college and the rest have no college at all. Some of the most prolific and successful writers in the group have little or no college. Instead they were stay-at-home moms who liked to read and write stories and ended up turning it into a full time career.

Just like painters, photographers, and musicians hone their skills through practice, you become a writer by writing and then doing lots of rewriting. A BA in English or a MFA in creative writing doesn’t translate to becoming a published author—even though many people with those degrees think it should.

Save the Date: The Third Book Launch Party

The Third by Abel Keogh

It’s official. The book launch party for The Third is less than a month away. You're all invited to join the party.

When: June 1, 2010 Where: Barnes & Noble, 6 Rio Grande Street, Salt Lake City, Utah (Directions) Time: 6:00 – 8:30 p.m. What to expect: Fun, food, and prizes.

You'll also have the chance to meet Gordon Ryan, Jenni James who are launching their new novels (American Voices and Northanger Alibi) and Paul Skousen who's launching his late father's, W. Cleon Skousen, new book The Cleansing of America.

This is one book launch party you won't want to miss!

In addition a tentative book tour is being scheduled for the Utah area soon after and an East Coast book tour later in the summer. Keep your eye on my Sightings page for more details and other upcoming appearances.

Typos You Never Want to Make

Having gone through the book publishing process twice, I can say nearly impossible to produce a book free of typos. Even with several editors and proofreaders in the mix, there are always one or two things that will get overlooked and make it into a book’s first edition. I’ve even found typos and other mistakes in novels from big name authors and publishing houses.

It’s not that writers, editors, and proofreaders or aren’t competent or don’t know what they’re doing. They’re usually word and grammar kings and queens. But they’re also human. (I've made my share of mistakes too.) As a result, there are always one or two errors like a typo or a comma splice that’s going to make it through the first edition. Generally the errors are small, don’t raise any eyebrows, and are quickly corrected in the next printing. That’s why I was surprised to read this weekend that a typo in a book actually made the news until, that is, I read what slipped past one proofreader.

An Australian publisher is reprinting 7,000 cookbooks over a recipe for pasta with "salt and freshly ground black people."

Penguin Group Australia's head of publishing, Bob Sessions, acknowledged the proofreader for the

Pasta Bible should have picked up the error, but called it nothing more than a "silly mistake."

The "Pasta Bible" recipe for spelt tagliatelle with sardines and prosciutto was supposed to call for black pepper.

"We're mortified that this has become an issue of any kind and why anyone would be offended, we don't know," he told The Sydney Morning Herald for a story printed Saturday.

I agree that the typo was unintentional, but were I the book’s proofreader, I’d be embarrassed beyond belief that I didn’t catch that one.

The Third: New Release Date

The official release of The Third has been moved to June 1. It will still arrive in bookstores sometime in May. Those who pre-order a copy will still get it before the bookstores do.

And the official book launch party has grown. Not only will Valor authors Paul Skousen and Gordon Ryan be releasing their books, but now Jenni James, author of the upcoming Northanger Alibi will join in the release festivities. With Jenni part of the festivities, this party’s bound to be memorable--in a good way. :-)

More details on the book launch party coming soon. Until then mark your calendars for June 1. The party's going to be a blast.

The Third Chapter 1

The Third
One

The tram's doors hissed open, flooding the platform with the heat and stench of a hundred human bodies packed tightly together.

Standing on the platform, Ransom Lawe put a hand over his nose and mouth as the air washed over him. He took a step back, waiting for the passengers to exit. Only a gray-haired man wearing a patched, navy blue suit pushed his way toward the exit and off the tram. He held a worn leather briefcase above his head. Once the man's feet touched the platform, the waiting crowd shoved its way up the stairs and onto the tram.

Ransom took a deep breath and surged forward with the others. Once on board, he used his mass to push toward the missing window opposite the door. Most of the tram's windows were rusted shut from years of neglect, and though closed windows were nice in the winter, at this time of year they turned the trams into cauldrons of heat. The second car on the tram Ransom caught to the Recycling Center each morning had a back window that had been broken for years, allowing the hot, dusty air to flow through the cabin and provide some relief.

Ransom reached the window just as the bell above the door gave out a sharp ring and the door snapped shut. Setting his metal lunch bucket on the floor, he grabbed a handrail, and the tram surged forward.

A hot breeze began drying the sweat from his face, and he took a deep breath of the dusty air, happy to have a momentary reprieve from the stench-filled car. Glancing around at the other passengers, he was bored to discover that most looked familiar. There was the man with the pock-marked face who wore the same bowtie every day and always got off on the 23rd Street stop. The woman with short hair and coffee-colored skin who always had her nose in a worn paperback. And the three employees wearing blue power company uniforms who stood in a tight circle at the back of the car, talking. They were people he saw every day on his commute to work, but he knew none of their names—strangers brought together by the thirty-minute ride into the heart of the city where it seemed almost everyone worked. No one made eye contact. Instead, they stared out the dirty windows or looked down at the floor in silence.

The lucky ones sat on blue plastic benches that ringed the inside of the tram. Ransom looked down at the two women who sat in front of him. They wore identical work uniforms—black slacks and white blouses with the word Census Bureau embroidered across their left pockets in black lettering. Ransom recognized the narrow-faced older woman, her blouse yellowed around the collar from sweat and age, but he hadn't seen the other woman before. She seemed like a duplicate of her companion, only without the crow's feet and the permanently etched worry lines across her forehead. The younger woman's blouse was clean and pressed. Ransom figured she must be the older woman's daughter, and also a recent Census Bureau hire. There was no other way to account for the snow-white blouse.

The tram arrived at the next stop, where the platform was packed. As the doors opened, a dozen people headed toward the exit and off the tram. Then the new passengers pushed forward. It was obvious there wasn't going to be enough room for everyone.

For the better part of a minute, people tried to force their way onto the tram. Ransom could feel the crowd press against him. He held tight to the handrail, determined not to lose his spot by the window.

The bell rang. The doors tried unsuccessfully to close. Over the crowd, Ransom could see three people holding the car's rear doors open as they fought for room. The bell rang a second time, and the tram began moving forward. Two of those trying to board let go as the tram picked up speed. The third man held on to the railing, probably hoping to make it to the next stop. But a hand from the woman directly in front of him shot out and caught him on the shoulder. The push caught him off guard, and he tumbled onto the platform as the doors banged shut.

Ransom peered out the back window as the tram sped down the tracks. The man who had been pushed off leaned up on his elbows and thrust his middle finger at the departing car. Two dozen disappointed passengers still remained on the platform behind him. Half of them watched the tram speed away while the rest looked in the opposite direction, most likely hoping to catch sight of the next one.

A baby's loud, piercing cry surprised Ransom. Looking toward the front of the car, he tried to catch a glimpse. At six foot five inches, he was taller than most of the passengers, but still couldn't manage to see the baby or mother. He did, however, notice that several riders near the front seemed to be looking toward the left corner of the tram. The woman and her child must have boarded early enough to land a seat.

The tram pulled up to the next platform and stopped. Between each wail, Ransom could just make out the frantic hushes of the mother trying to quiet the child. It didn't help. The baby's cry became louder and more acute. Ransom felt bad for the mother. With the heat and smell of the car, he couldn't blame the baby, though he did wonder what the woman was thinking, bringing a child onto a packed morning tram.

"I wish it was illegal to bring kids on these things," a female voice said.

Ransom looked down at the bench in front of him, thinking that one of the two women was talking to him.

"Why'd she even bring it?" the younger woman asked, looking at the older one. "Doesn't her building have a care center?"

"From the way it's crying, it sounds like it wants attention. Maybe it's a third and she doesn't have enough time to care for it properly," the older woman guessed, her voice full of contempt.

Ransom felt a flash of anger at the woman's comment, but didn't say anything. Instead, he bit his lower lip and stared out the window. He preferred not to hear more of their conversation, but they were sitting too close, and he couldn't just move to another part of the tram.

The doors swung shut again, and the train lurched forward. The baby continued to howl. Ransom did his best to put the women and the baby out of his mind. He leaned forward into the dry air.

The tram came to a sudden stop. The tightly packed passengers stumbled in one mass toward the front of the car. Ransom gripped the handrail tightly to avoid being thrown. As he looked around, he noticed that everyone seemed to be okay. He leaned his head out the window to see what was going on, his knees bumping those of the older woman as he did so.

"Hey, watch it!" she barked.

Ransom ignored her. Fifty yards ahead was the 16th Street station. A crowd of people stood on the platform, staring at the stopped tram. He turned and looked down the tracks. A tram heading the opposite direction was stopped about twenty yards down the line. That could mean only one thing: a power failure.

He pulled his head back inside and checked the time. It was quarter to eight. He still had fifteen minutes to get to work. If he started walking now, he might make it on time.

The infant's cry, which had come to an abrupt end when the tram stopped, started up again.

"Open the doors!" a man shouted somewhere near the front of the car. His voice was loud and momentarily drowned out the baby's wails.

"Be patient. The power will be back on in a minute," suggested a female voice from somewhere in the middle of the tram.

"Shut up!" the man retorted. "Some of us have places to go."

Two men who were pressed up against the middle doors turned and tried to pry them open.

Things were quiet for a beat. Then the baby let out another scream. Ransom looked at the men struggling with the doors, hoping they'd open them soon. A bit of fresh air and more space was what everyone needed.

"I don't care if it's sick," the man blustered. "I have a right to ride to work without your little parasite screaming in my ear."

There was another pause, then something that sounded like the mother trying to hush her child. The baby continued to cry.

"If you won't shut it up, then I will!"

There was the sound of scuffling, followed by the cry of, "Give me back my baby!"

Ransom looked to the front. A large, muscular arm held the infant high in the air by one of her legs. The baby looked about two months old. She had dark eyes, olive skin, and a large mat of brown hair that hung in loose strands toward the ground. She wore pink shorts. The bottom of her white T-shirt hung down to her neck, exposing her soft belly. He couldn't see the face of the person holding her, but the man's cruelty was obvious.

The baby quieted for a moment, seemingly surprised to find herself upside down. Then her face turned crimson and another cry burst forth.

A more delicate arm reached up and tried to grab the child, but it was quickly swatted away.

The man with the deep voice chuckled. "A breeder like you needs to be taught some parenting skills, like how to rock it to sleep."

The man swung the little girl back and forth by her leg. Ransom cringed as the baby's head just missed the car's front wall.

"Give her back now!" the mother screamed.

"I'm just rocking it to sleep," the man said. "As soon as it shuts up, you can have it."

"If you don't give her back now, I'll kill you!" the woman screamed.

Ransom felt a bead of sweat run down his back. He glanced over at the men who had been trying to open the door. They'd stopped working and were staring toward the front of the car. Just about everyone was trying to get a glimpse of the commotion, but no one made a move to step in.

Helping out was simply asking for trouble, of course. Better to mind your own business and go on with your life. Ransom looked down at the lunch bucket between his feet.

"Don't threaten me, breeder," the man snarled, "or I'll bash its head!"

The man swung the baby far enough that her head lightly struck the wall. It was so quiet on the tram that the small thud echoed through the car. The baby's face puckered up, and she let out a piercing cry.

The woman screamed. Once again, her arms reached for the child.

The man raised his free hand and brought it down on the woman. There was the sickening sound of flesh meeting flesh. "Try that again, and I'll spill its brains all over the floor!" The man's voice rumbled through the car like thunder.

Ransom found himself pushing through the crowd. He ignored the cries and cursing from the other passengers as he shoved them to the side. In seconds he stood across from the man, the baby, and the woman.

For the first time, he got a good look at the mother. She was probably five-and-a-half feet tall, with an olive complexion like her daughter. Her black hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she wore a tiny gold cross just above her small breasts. Her right eye was swollen and puffy, and blood ran from her nose onto a navy blue T-shirt. Her fists were clenched, and her eyes filled with anger.

The man holding the baby had small, deep-set green eyes. His shaved head glistened with sweat, and the muscles in his arms and neck pulled at the sleeves and collar of his black shirt. He looked to be Ransom's size, even though Ransom had a good five inches of height on him. He wore black boots and black pants. Around his waist was a belt containing handcuffs, mace, and a nightstick. A silver shield with the Census Bureau logo imprinted on it was pinned to his front pocket.

Ransom paused. Census Bureau Sentinels only had jurisdiction when it came to population crimes. Their main job was to round up women who were concealing an illegal pregnancy, or children for whom their parents didn't have a replacement credit. As a result, they had earned the nickname snatchers. They had the reputation of having little respect for the law when it suited their purposes, so their jurisdiction usually didn't stop them. They were commonly known for their strength, fierceness, and cruelty. They inspired enough fear that even the police rarely bothered to investigate complaints against them. When it came to sentinels, the unspoken rule was to leave them alone and hope they'd do you the same courtesy.

The baby's continued screams drew Ransom's attention back to the child. Her face was bright red. Two steady streams of tears ran from her eyes and down her forehead to the floor.

She was just out of reach.

Another two feet forward and to his right, Ransom could at least make a grab for the child. He took a half step toward her when the deep voice of the snatcher reverberated through the car.

"Move any closer and I'll drop the baby on its head."

Ransom stopped and faced the sentinel. He stared at Ransom through his tiny green eyes. "Back up," the man barked. "This matter doesn't concern you."

"Give the baby back." Ransom did his best to keep his voice flat and steady.

The sentinel's eyes betrayed a faint element of surprise. He likely wasn't used to someone talking back to him. "If you know what's good for you, you'll mind your own business," he said, looking back at the baby as though the conversation was over.

"Give the baby back to her mother," Ransom demanded, his voice rising.

Now Ransom had the sentinel's full attention. His eyes went from Ransom's face to the Recycling Center logo on Ransom's breast pocket.

"Are you kidding me? You're a just a recycler. Why don't you go pick up some trash?"

Ransom ignored the taunt. "I'm not going to ask you again."

He took a step toward the sentinel so there was less than three feet between them. Out of the corner of his eye, Ransom saw the mother move closer. The sentinel saw it, too. His eyes darted from the mother to Ransom, then back to the mother. He seemed to realize that he couldn't stop both Ransom and the baby's mother from grabbing the child.

Without warning, the sentinel pushed the mother, dropped the baby, and lunged at Ransom. The woman's head made a dull thud as it smacked against the window. Ransom ducked under the sentinel's arm and managed to catch the infant just before her head hit the floor.

The mother sat up and rubbed the back of her head. She looked at Ransom, then rose to her feet and grabbed the baby from his arms. She retreated to the corner of the tram, where she held the child close to her breast.

The baby stopped crying.

Ransom stood and turned to face the sentinel, who had fallen into the crowd and lay atop three passengers. Everyone else was backing up, trying to get out of the way.

The sentinel rose to his hands and knees and shook his head. He grabbed a handrail and pulled himself to his feet, turning to face Ransom. Then he caught Ransom unprepared, his swing connecting with the side of Ransom's jaw, despite his failed attempt at ducking.

Ransom felt his mouth fill with the coppery taste of blood. His legs gave out from under him, and he found himself facedown on the tram's floor. Then there was a sharp kick to his side. The air rushed out of his lungs, and he curled up, fighting for breath.

Two strong hands grabbed him by the shoulders and flipped him on his back. The sentinel looked down at him with a smirk on his face. A bead of sweat fell from his forehead and landed squarely on Ransom's chest.

"I told you to mind your own business," the sentinel growled. "Maybe next time you'll listen."

He raised his leg, positioning his boot over Ransom's face.

Ransom instinctively raised his arms and waited for the blow.

It never came.

Through the spaces between his fingers, Ransom caught a flash of silver, then the sentinel swatting his neck as if bitten by a mosquito. Ransom lowered his hands and saw the sentinel staring at a small object between his fingers. It was about an inch long, half of its length in the form of a thin needle. The sentinel glanced in the direction of the woman and opened his mouth to say something, then suddenly grabbed the pole next to him for support. His body swayed from side to side before he fell to his knees. Eyes rolling to the back of his head, he fell to the floor, face-first, next to Ransom.

It was absolutely quiet on the tram.

Ransom pulled himself to his knees. He could feel his breath coming back to him. He spat blood out on the floor. His jaw hurt, and a few of his back teeth felt loose.

He looked over at the woman, confused by what had just happened.

Suddenly, the sounds of the men trying to open the doors started up again. Moments later, there was a hiss as the middle doors were forced open. A blast of fresh air rushed through the car.

The passengers made for the exit as fast as they could.

The woman picked a yellow sling from the floor and put it over her shoulder. A drop of blood fell from her nose to the fabric. She placed the baby in the sling and stepped over the body of the sentinel, heading for the exit.

"Wait," Ransom called.

The woman turned and looked at him. "Thank you for saving my baby," she said. "One day I'll repay you."

"What did you do to him?" Ransom asked, looking at the motionless body.

"Thanks for reminding me."

She knelt next to the sentinel and pried open his hand, retrieving the silver object. She slid it into her pocket, then pulled herself to her feet and checked the baby, brushed the dust from her pants, and headed toward the door.

"Who are you?" Ransom tried again.

"He'll wake up soon. You should get going."

"Wait," he called, but the woman had hurried down the steps of the tram.

Ransom pulled himself to a standing position. His jaw and side throbbed with pain. He staggered to the tram's open doors and spotted the woman thirty yards down the street. She was walking fast, weaving her way in and out of the throngs of people. Ransom hurried down the stairs and started after her. He was still winded and stiff from the fight. Within twenty yards, he had to put his hands on his knees while he caught his breath.

When he looked up again, she was gone.

Then he heard a high-pitched police whistle. Three cops were running down the street toward the tram. The middle one had a silver whistle between his lips that he blew as he ran.

Quickly, Ransom got in the back of a nearby line for a grocery store. Once the police ran past, he hurried down the street as fast as he could walk, anxious to put as much space between him and the tram as possible. It wasn't easy. He was still dazed and hurting, and the sidewalks were crowded with people going to work, groups of kids in their yellow-and-green uniforms hurrying to school, and people standing in line waiting for stores to open. To make faster progress, he stepped off the sidewalk and walked in the gutter. But even that path had obstacles. Donkey carts were parked in front of stores, their drivers unloading burlap bags filled with produce and supplies. There were piles of manure—some fresh, others days old—that had been swept to the gutter but not yet collected. Ransom ended up back on the sidewalk.

As his distance from the tram increased, Ransom's adrenaline ebbed and was replaced by fear. He wondered if the sentinel would be able to give the police a good description of him. The man had seen his uniform and knew where he worked. If police showed up at the Recycling Center, it wouldn't be too hard to figure out who he was. It was a rarity for people to be much taller than six feet. As far as Ransom knew, he was the tallest employee at the center.

He chastised himself for intervening in something that wasn't his business. The last thing he and his family needed was for him to miss work and spend a few weeks in jail. Money was tight enough as it was. What had he been thinking?

A pack of stray dogs ran out into the street. The lead dog, a German shepherd with spots of fur missing from his body, looked at Ransom with sad brown eyes. Ransom reached down to the gutter and pretended to pick up a rock. Immediately, the pack of dogs turned and ran across the street.

Ransom checked his watch. It was eight o'clock. He was late for work.

Ignoring the pain in his side, Ransom picked up the pace and hurried the remaining eight blocks to the Recycling Center.

***

© Copyright 2010 Abel Keogh. All rights reserved. Republication of this work is prohibited without writing consent of the publisher and the author.

Book Update

Quick update. My baby is almost done. Late last week I finished the final edits of The Third--it was my last chance to make final edits to the text. Now that it's baked, it goes to a final line edit then typesetting by the editor. Then it's off to the presses. I'm excited. Look for cover art and a large excerpt of The Third up on my website soon. :-)

In the mean time, I'm in the process of outlining my next two books and hope to have them done in the next week or two. More information on them will be up soon too.

'Til then.

Authors: Sell the Naming Rights of Your Characters and Make a Fortune!

Your Name Here!

One of my regular readers, Vickie, wants to be named after one of the characters in my next book (which I’m busily writing after the kids are in bed). More specifically, she wants to be named after one of the bad guys.

And she’s not the first one to make such a request.

Being one of the bad guys I can understand. Generally, evil characters are more fascinating than the good ones. But does someone want their real name attached to an evil character in a book? What if the book became extremely popular and you name was associated with someone as infamous as Hannibal Lecter? Imagine trying to order a pizza or applying for a credit card. No one would take you seriously ever again.

However, Vickie’s request got me thinking. Sports teams sell the naming rights to stadiums and arenas all the time to make some extra cash. For example: the Denver Broncos lose regularly at Inevsco Field at Mile High, the Utah Jazz call Energy Solutions Arena home, and the Detroit Tigers play at Comerica Park. So why can’t authors sell the naming rights to their characters?

Just think of the possibilities this could open for authors, like me, who would like to write novels full time but financially can’t make that move. All I’d have to do is come up with a great plot (got it!), descriptions and attitudes of several complex but real characters (got ‘em!), and write a 5-10 page outline of the book (a draft is complete!). Those who want to be part of the novel could then read the outline and bid on the naming rights to characters. The money earned would make it feasible for me to complete the book and market it to a publisher.

Main and central characters would go for a premium, of course. Secondary and other miscellaneous characters would go for less. But wherever your name ended up, you could show the book to your friends and family and tell them that you were the inspiration behind that fictional character.

And why stop at character names? If one of your characters likes to shop, sell the naming rights to the stores he or she shops at. Sell the naming rights to the food they eat, the hotels they stay at, the cars they drive, and the guns they use! Hollywood is notorious for product placement. It’s about time authors cashed in!

Why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?

As lucrative as it sounds, I can see potential downsides.

When writing, characters sometimes take on a life of their own. Someone may pay thinking that their character is going to turn out a certain way only to have him or her become someone else. Those who bought the naming rights wouldn’t like that. The lawsuits would fly.

And then there are creative issues. If authors sell the names of their characters, I doubt names great names like Holden Caulfield, Holly Golightly, or Atticus Finch would have a place in literary history. Names like John Smith, Rebecca Johnson, and Ethan Richards don’t have the same ring to them.

So, I’m not going to sell the naming rights to my characters—at least not right now. :-) Besides, I like the idea of making money because people like my books and want to buy them, not because I had to sell naming rights. But in the next couple months I will be running a contest that will allow your name to appear as a minor character in my next book.

Vickie, I hope you enter.

Everyone else, stay tuned.

A Worthwhile Writing Conference

I rarely endorse writing conferences because most of them tend to be (bad) clones of each other. They usually offer the same kind of writing classes and bring in an author or two who give the same general pep talk followed by the standard Q&A sessions. Rarely have I found them to be that helpful in my own writing efforts. One of rare exceptions is the annual Storymakers Conference. I attended last year and was blown away by the entire conference. The classes were fantastic and taught by published authors who really knew their stuff. A lot of what I learned helped me develop and polish The Third manuscript so that it was worthy of publication.

This year’s conference looks to be even better that last years. Just a few of the events include:

* A hands-on workshop with bestselling author and writing instructor Dave Wolverton. (Word on the street is that he’s taught such authors as Stephanie Meyer, Brandon Mull, and Brandon Asnderson.) I’m going to this. You won’t want to miss it. * Over 50 classes on writing and the industry from authors who really know their stuff. (Side note: I’ll be doing a presentation on creative copywriting. If you’re going to attend, come to my class!) * A chance to network with literary agents, publishers, editors, and authors. Trust me. Getting to know the right people can go a long way towards getting published. * An awesome first chapter contest with great prizes. Past winners have been asked by publishers in attendance to submit their manuscripts for consideration.

This year’s conference is April 23-24 at the Provo Marriot. You can get more details about the conference here.

Hope to see you all there!