Getting published

     Occasionally I’m contacted by aspiring authors asking what it takes to get published and how the publishing business works. The short answer is that writing a book is an enjoyable exercise if you love to write, but that getting published and successfully selling a book can be pretty painful even under the best of circumstances. Though, I suppose, selling 50,000 copies would dull the ache!
     The rules of the publishing game have changed thanks to Amazon. I recently read that no one really knows how to sell books anymore. For example, when Borders, the second largest book store chain in the U.S., went out of business, normally Barnes and Noble, the largest chain, would have benefitted. But it didn’t. Amazon did. Nowadays, the strategy seems to be for publishers to mainly focus on the potential ‘mega block busters’ hoping for a  million-book bestseller. Most of the rest of the books are left to scramble for themselves and authors must do a lot of their own promoting. Thankfully there is Facebook and internet websites!

Exactly one month from today A Thousand Suns hits the bookshelves and approximately 100 internet web sites around the world – including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.
    
Best regards,

Jim
Zurich

Can a thriller be humorous?

     Can a thriller be humorous? This question came up because of the trouble I have whenever I see a short description of A Thousand Suns. If the description doesn’t mention the humor, I’m bothered that they missed something unique about the book. If it does mention the humor, then I’m worried people wil think the book is funny, light, and not a real thriller. So, with this post, I’d like to set the record straight about humor in my thrillers.
     My books are not humorous, but they have characters who have a well-developed sense of humor and who tend to see the humorous side of most situations. For my characters, particularly Rulon, humor is a safety value and a way of dealing with unpleasant outcomes. In fact, this humor is part of what makes ‘A Thousand Suns’ a realistic book.
     In researching A Thousand Suns, I read the book On Combat by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former army Ranger and West Point psychology professor. In it he talks about how men and women in life and death situations use humor to, in a sense, escape from reality.
     A Thousand Suns is a thriller. But it’s not a downer. It has a few laughs, thanks to my characters innate natures, but it also has scenes of courage, loyalty, love, hate, violence, disillusionment, and revenge. I don’t want readers to be crying at the end of it or laughing. I’d like them to put the book down when they are done and simply sigh, “Good story.”      On a different note: I have a new website design at: www.jimhaberkorn.com   I’ve also started using Facebook to publicize my upcoming book A Thousand Sunshttp://www.facebook.com/pages/A-Thousand-Suns/433298710075276?cropsuccess&success=1     Please free to visit those sites, and, if you feel so moved, let me know what you think. This blog post is also found on my website. I’ll be making a decision within a few days about whether to keep this blog or to simply transfer the activity to my website.

Best regards,

Jim – from Zurich

Website is a work in progress

I’m currently developing this website and, at the same time, my Facebook author’s site. If you click on the Facebook icon further down on the right of this screen, you will see it. Both sites are a work in progress – meaning I’m playing around with them, changing things, adding things, and generally stumbling along trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Please be patient with all the changes. And if you have any suggestions, please pass them along. Thanks, Jim

A short description of ‘A Thousand Suns’

A Thousand Suns is a rip roaring thriller that takes place in Idaho and Zurich. And like Einstein’s Trunk, it is a little offbeat. The opening scene with Rulon, our hero, is a fight between him and a Russian spy in a Twin Falls cowboy Karaoke bar.  But it is Yohaba who is the main character in this one. In the course of being dragged deeper and deeper into Rulon’s world of spies, revenge, and violence, she learns new survival skills that will come in very handy in book three of the series – which I’m currently working on.

A Cover for a "A Thousand Suns"

    Below is the cover for A Thousand Suns – the latest Rulon Hurt thriller, due out in March 2013. I think ATS was a tough book to design a cover for, just as it is a tough book to describe in a few sentences. How do you capture Idaho, Zurich, Nazis, cowboys, Russians, germ warfare, asteroids, and the book’s ironic humor in a cover?
    Still, thanks to James Bond, any picture of a European city on the cover of a book suggests INTERNATIONAL THRILLER with some serious action, heroic heroes, villainous villains, beautiful girls – well, actually only Yohaba in this one, but she is enough! – and an impending calamity. Forty percent of the book takes place in Idaho and sixty percent in the environs around Zurich. I suppose if you live in Zurich then to you Idaho is an international setting! As it is, though, I really like the cover. The picture of Zurich captures the international thriller side, and the tagline brings in Rulon Hurt, our easy-to-underestimate cowboy, and also gives a hint of the book’s offbeatness: 
Don’t let your cowboys grow up to be spies
          It was important to me that readers looking at the cover not be fooled about what was inside. Yes, it is a thriller and yes there is some humor. But the well-developed sense of irony and humor is woven into the dialogue of the characters. In the end, A Thousand Suns is a serious thriller.

Best regards,

Jim
Umhlanga, South Africa

Things I wish one of the candidates would say

     As the presidential election lumbers to its conclusion in November, I have decided that the only certainty in politics is that a country always gets the government it deserves – which is both a curse and a blessing. In the case of the United States, as I listen to what each party says about the other candidate, I am reminded of the old Woody Allen quote – “Mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”  
   Which leads me to the subject of this posting: Things I wish one of the candidates would say: 

1.      Leave well enough alone. Since the 1970’s the U.S. middle class has shrunk due to the influence of lobbyists working on behalf of the rich and multi-national corporations to change laws that were working quite well up until then. 

2.      Neither a borrower not a lender be. The U.S. has a massive debt because even though we were already the richest country in the world, we still felt the need to borrow money to fund our extravagances. All of us are to blame. The legislators were cravenly buying our votes in return for promises we couldn’t afford, but we the people accepted their bribes in return for our votes. 

3.      Don’t let the fox into the hen house. The 2008 economic meltdown was caused by the economic policies of both parties. A poorly regulated housing market, two unfunded wars, and a poorly regulated financial industry were the cause. Thank you Democrats and Republicans. 

4.      Love of money is the root of all evil. The U.S. election process is broken. The supremely near-sighted U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United ruling allowing the creation of Super PACs has given the rich undue influence over elections and candidates. 

5.      The hand cannot say to the eye I have no need of thee. The country needs the entrepreneurs and the job creators, but the job creators also need the worker bees to bring their dreams to life and to buy the products and services that make the job creators rich. If you kill the middle class, you’ll still have your rich, but you’ll have fewer of them and the pie will be smaller for everyone. Note: If you doubt this, consider the economic history of the U.S. in the de-regulated 1800s as opposed to the regulated post-depression 1900s.
6.   Every abortion is a tragedy. While it is necessary in some rare cases, it shouldn’t be used as a form of birth control. No one really knows when the spirit enters the body, so, for that reason, if for no other, we should err on the side of caution when it comes to abortion. And late-term, partial-birth abortions where the child is delivered live and then put to death afterwards is legalized murder. Virtually all of us fervently cling to life even if our circumstances aren’t the best. If all those silenced male and female babies had a voice, they would plead eloquently for their lives.Best regards,

Jim
Zurich

 

The Golden Goose Drives a Model T

     Everyone knows Aesop’s story of the goose that laid the golden eggs. Eventually, assuming that the goose must have a stomach filled with gold, the owners killed the goose to get all the gold at once. As one writer put it, “Greed loses all by striving all to gain.” 
     I came across a wonderful article a few weeks ago in the New York Times titled, “When Capitalists Cared.” You can find it here: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/03/opinion/henry-ford-when-capitalists-cared.html  The article talks a lot about Henry Ford and how, in 1914, shortly after he began producing the Model T, he raised the salaries of his workers to the unheard of amount of $5 per day. The article doesn’t mention it, but $5 was double the previous daily rate, and at the same time Ford also lowered the daily working hours from 9 to 8. Was he mad? Surely, his company would go broke from such generosity. Or stockholders would flee. Or workers would be spoiled and start feeling entitled and work less. I’m sure at $2.50 per nine hour day he was paying a fair and just wage by prevailing standards. Nevertheless, he doubled his workers’ wages and shortened their work hours. 
    Again, I ask, was he mad? Apparently not. Confirmed capitalist though he was, he improved the life of his workers for three reasons. First, the Model T assembly line jobs were so boring that Ford couldn’t hang onto his workers – they were constantly quitting. When he raised the salary to $5 per day, the story goes, the wives pressured their husbands into staying. Second, by shortening the workday to 8 hours, he could run three shifts a day and increase production. But third, he reasoned that if workers were paid enough, they could own a Model T themselves, and his business would grow and all would prosper. And he was right. If he had crushed his workers under his heel, he might have made stronger short-term profits but surely his company, and probably the entire industry, never would have seen the dramatic growth it eventually achieved.    
    I believe the stories of the goose and the Model T are related. Capitalism unregulated can be a most vicious enterprise and quite capable of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs, i.e., crushing the middle class that it needs to buy its goods and services. Think of the industrial age in Britain and America, the stories of Charles Dickens, the sweatshops, the workers tossed out when injured, the child labor – all justified under the banner of freedom, capitalism, and the law of supply and demand. And it never would have changed if the progressive Teddy Roosevelt hadn’t been vice-president when William McKinley was assassinated. Roosevelt promised Americans a ‘square deal.’ He regulated businesses and busted the trusts. One of his first speeches to congress after becoming president was to ask their help in limiting the power of large corporations. He also proposed common sense regulations for the food industry.     
     A healthy society can only occur when the symbiotic relationship between capitalists, stockholders, employees, and customers is clearly understood. There was a time when I thought that capitalists could be trusted to maintain that balance, trusted not to kill the golden goose. Certainly, capitalists like Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard who founded computer company HP, were men who understood their responsibility to society. They built a company that built an industry that built a powerful middle class – who then bought HP products and other companies’ products and cars, and homes, and appliances, and sent their children to colleges and trade schools, and so the next generation prospered too. 
     But now, I sense the capitalists of old are returning and for massive, obscene personal profits would risk destabilizing society, heartlessly driving up unemployment, and squeezing the very middle class that would buy its products. Aesop’s fables have stood the test of time because they’ve never stopped being relevant.  
 
Best regards,
 
Jim
Zurich 

What Tiger Hunting and Ceramic Guns Have in Common

     With the sequel to Einstein’s Trunk – titled A Thousand Suns  scheduled to be published by Cedar Fort next March, I’m now working slowly away on the third and final book of the trilogy titled: A World of Hurt.  As I’m writing, I’m becoming ever more convinced that I’m doing myself and my readers a service when I weave interesting facts and details into the plots of my books. In ET, there were true but little known details about Einstein’s life, nuclear weapons, asteroids, and CERN. For the sequel, I’ve thrown in some interesting details on tiger hunting in Siberia, Aryan Nation rhetoric, biological weapons, and illegal ceramic gun technology that can evade airport security scanners. Note: I hope I’ve peaked your interest in the 2nd book just a little.   

     ATS, my second book, was fun to write. I really had a good time developing Yohaba’s character. While Rulon plays a major role in the first 40% of the book, Yohaba takes over for the rest of it. Without giving away the plot, let me just say that she has a deep well of character and determination that I never fully understood – though Rulon obviously appreciated those traits and her charms right from the start. 

     In the third book, Rulon and Yohaba get dragged into the swirling complex world of Russian oligarchs, macro-economics, and multi-national corporations vying for profits. Oh, and the odd asteroid coming to destroy the earth. Weird, isn’t it? Yohaba says that all these weird things happen because Rulon is a whacko magnet, but we know it’s really because of Einstein’s trunk and the events it set in motion.     
     Now that the Repubs and Dems have both had their conventions, I feel a surge of political insight  coming on. Perhaps my next blog.
 
All the best,
 
Jim
Zurich

Back in Zurich

     I’m back in Zurich now after working from South Africa for six weeks. We landed at the Zurich Flughafen about six in the morning after an eleven hour flight where we’d been unexpectedly upgraded by Swiss airlines to Business Class. I do believe the sweetest words in any language are, “Excuse me, sir, you’ve been upgraded” just as you are about to board an airplane for a long flight. After we landed, we left the plane briskly, walked along the moving walkways, took one minute to clear customs, and arrived at baggage claim to find our luggage had already beaten us there. Zurich and Swiss efficiency – you gotta love it!  But I must say that Johannesburg and the new Durban International airport gave Zurich a run for its money in the speedy luggage department this trip. We hardly had to wait at all in either place. 

     Speaking of South Africa: in my last post, I mentioned the shooting of the striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine north of Johannesburg. Here’s the rest of the story. Things settled down after forty-four people had been killed, and now the miners have tossed out their unions and are negotiating directly with the mine owners. The miners are striking for more pay. They want an increase from 5,500 rand per month to 12,500. Well, it turns out they already are making 11,000 rand per month, but didn’t realize it. Somehow it never registered that money was taken out of their monthly paychecks for taxes, medical insurance, pension, and room and board (apparently they live in dormitories). Sad. Maybe the average miner didn’t realize what their true salaries were, but their leaders certainly did, and now the South African authorities are charging hundreds of the strikers with murder – presumably the leaders – for inciting the miners to attack the police. 

    Final note: South Africa has an unofficial unemployment rate of over 40%. You can’t really see it where we are in the beach community of Umhlanga, but in Durban, or if you move inland into the townships of Ndlovu and Kwamashu, crime is very high and things are very desperate. Young men without jobs have nothing to lose. Without a job they have no prospects of getting married or having a life. In South Africa there is an ironclad tradition among the Zulus of grooms paying a ‘lobola’ to the father of the bride – usually about 11 cows at 4,000 rand per cow – an impossible sum for a man without a job. Hence, crime and desperation are high. 

 
Best regards, 

 
Jim 

Zurich, Switzerland    

The Price of Corruption

     I’m in South Africa right now and am very worried about the violence at the platinum mines northwest of Johannesburg. You might have read about it in the papers. It looks like the police were attacked by armed, striking miners and then in self-defense fired into the crowd killing thirty people. The miners are striking for higher pay but also there is friction between two unions. There is a new union stealing members from the older union by promising to triple their salary. To make matters worse, the older union is accused of being in collusion with the mining company and deliberately negotiating for lower wages. But perhaps fueling the flames the worst is the growing sense in the country that people are sick and tired of the broken promises and the rich fat cats flaunting their corruptly obtained wealth while the average person continues to live in poverty. 

     While I was here, I took the opportunity to visit an American multi-national company in Johannesburg and found out a little tidbit that relates indirectly to the violence at the mines. Back in the late ‘90s, when Thabo Mbeki was the president of South Africa, the government pushed through a law under the banner of Black Economic Empowerment that required every white company to give 20% of its wealth to black shareholders. Originally, when the powers that be came to this American company, worth about $100 billion at the time, they expected it to turn over $20 billion to people in the South African government. Notice I said ‘turn over to people’ not ‘turn over to the government’. Obviously, this company refused but then negotiated instead to put $millions into a job training program for disadvantaged black people.
     But, for the privilege of continuing to operate in South Africa, many companies did simply hand over stock to ‘people’ in the South African government, and those people and their friends became instant millionaires and in some cases billionaires. They didn’t use the money for job training or low-cost housing. They used the money for huge homes and BMWs for themselves and lavish shopping sprees for their wives in Zurich and London. In the meantime, the average South African black person continued on with 40% unemployment, very high crime, poor housing, and other social inequalities. Oh, and promises, lots of promises from the ANC, the black political party that spearheaded the struggle against the apartheid government. 

     And so now the ANC-led government is shooting strikers, reminiscent of the days when the apartheid government shot down demonstrators during the decades before it turned over power to Nelson Mandela. Will this miners’ strike be the spark that sets the country afire? I sincerely hope not; South Africa is a jewel of a country. But this much inequality is a powder keg waiting to explode.  
 
Best regards,
 
Jim
Umhlanga, South Africa