Books by Melissa Bowersock

Monday, August 22, 2016

Author Interview: Robert Redding

Continuing my little jaunt around my home state of Arizona, I am now in Chino Valley to interview my good buddy Robert Redding. Robert is clearly a Renaissance man, interested in so many different topics that it would take a full page just to list them. He brings that eclectic interest and passion to his writing, as well, and I would be hard-pressed to pigeonhole him in any particular genre. So far he has released two books, Over the Road: 37 Years of True Truckin’ Adventures and Mutual Funds Are Cheating You!  Let’s start there and see where it leads us.

MJB: Robert, I am going out on a limb here and just guessing that your 37 years as a truck driver provided you with more stories than you could ever put down on paper. Can you give us a quick peek at one or two of them?

RR: Of course, Melissa…happy to.  The book is filled with crashes and breakdowns, junkies and prostitutes, steep hills and problems with police. My favorite story is “Granddad.”  It is about a trucker hauling steel in Ohio.  He was caught in a blizzard, forced off the road, and buried in a snowdrift.  It was the Blizzard of 1998 that killed 51 people.

Five days later his son, on a snowmobile, came looking for him.  The buried highway showed no sign of his truck.  He was on a huge snow berm, looking over waves of drifts that marched to the horizon.  He realized that it was too late, his father was dead.  Dropping his head in grief, his tears fell at his feet.  Then he saw the top 3 inches of a CB radio antenna poking up out of the snow.

MJB: When did you decide to write the stories you witnessed? Did you keep notes as you drove and plan to write a book “someday,” or did it all wait until you were done with trucking and then you knew you had to write them all down?

RR: Yes, I wrote up my trucking stories as they happened.  When I retired I finished them off and put them on Amazon. 

The first story I ever wrote was about the Death Road which runs from La Paz into the Amazon basin in South America.  This road is the food lifeline to the ancient silver town.  During a weekend some friends and I were on the road.  Overnight, a massive rain storm hit.  A bridge and a hundred yards of road disappeared into the valley below.  This trapped hundreds of people, and dozens of vehicles on the dangerous and precipitous lane.  It was the height of the rainy season and repairs would take a month.  After that I became addicted to writing out my adventures, which were mostly overseas travel stories. 

MJB: And now for something completely different… mutual funds. What background and experience do you have in the financial world? And what compelled you to write about this? (Keep in mind that I am not—and maybe some of my readers are not—a financial whiz, so please keep it simple.)

RR:  My own study led to the discovery of our hard wired psychological traits that prevent most people from making money in the market.  Inevitably it seems we are programmed to buy high, and sell low.  The pain of losses is so high, that we hold onto bad investments, even though we should dump them as soon as they start to fade.  For instance, if you were to buy ten stocks, you would find that three start to lose money, four stay the same, and three start to gain in value.  It sounds crazy, I know, but what most people will do is take profits and sell the gainers, and hold onto the losers until they spiral down, and then sell at the nadir.   The truth is that every generation helplessly makes the same mistakes over and over again.  We rarely learn from our past.

Almost all of us have money in mutual funds.  It is considered to be the smart way to save for retirement, and it is if done right.  It is really very simple.  The key is decades and decades of compounding interest.  So, very early in life, buy into a mutual fund that holds blue chip stocks, and continue to invest every month.  Forget day trading, forget penny stocks, forget currency trading, forget buying gold…and especially forget buying and selling.  Buying into a blue chip index fund is investing, everything else is gambling.

MJB: I know you’re also interested in things like astrology, UFOs, symbolism and crop circles, just to name a few. Is there any one topic that pulls you more than the others, or do you find yourself jumping from one to another constantly? Which topic appeals to you the most, and why?

RR: I have always been interested in crop circles and astrology. In 2012 I flew to England and took a tour of the crop circles.  This adventure lead to a book called “Autobiography of An Alien”.  The interesting idea here is that crop circles are made by humans, but not all of them….and the difference is easily seen.

I started studying astrology in 1973 and found that I was quite fascinated with it.  I studied it for a very simple reason. If astrology was everything they said it was, then everybody should be studying it, as it gave paranormal powers. I did charts for a number of years, but soon became fascinated with astrological symbols…their source, their original meaning, and how they have evolved into what they are today.  For example, Christmas is full of symbols that we have forgotten the meaning of. 

Besides my other subjects I have discovered an interest in the Symbolism of Geometric Forms and Polarity and Duality.  Of course these are deadly dull subjects to most people.  Lately I have been asking everybody if they have seen a ghost, or a UFO, and writing out their stories.  That is kind of fun.

MJB: So far all your writing has been non-fiction. Do you think there might ever be a novel mixed in there somewhere? If so, what might it be about? 

RR: I started a novel.  I have the first chapter.  A teenager, just out of high school, starts on a cross country bicycle trip.  He arrives in Boston during a rainstorm and takes refuge in a church.  There he interrupts a church council meeting.  The Pastor allows the kid to dry out at his home.  They start talking and the kid spends the night.  The Pastor, who has just lost his wife, knows it is time for a change in his life.  He has a lot of money and is going to retire from the church.  This is what he knows.  He can go anyplace he wants, and do anything he wants.  He has complete freedom to do what he wants.  He invites the teenager along as a travel companion. 


MJB: Do you read as many far-reaching topics as you write? What books have really grabbed you? What authors have inspired you?

RR: Like most writers I’ve read hundreds of books. This is the how I see the writing process. A kitchen chief has basic ingredients all around him. But his skill comes in the re-combination of these ingredients into a fashionable new recipe. In the same way I take the ideas in these books and combine then into the newest cutting edge speculations. Because there is nothing new under the sun, the skill comes in the re-combination of these ancient concepts to provide a unique, and purely personal, perspective. After all, there is no progress without speculation.

My favorite fiction author is Somerset Maugham, a great story teller. I’m not much into fiction these days….I did that years ago. My favorite contemporary author is Colin Wilson.  I have always had an interest in the paranormal, and this author explains it well.

MJB: I noticed on your Amazon Author Page that you’re working on a book called The Symbolism of Salt, the Essential Element. Were you aware that there is a prehistoric salt mine nearby in Camp Verde? That for the Indians there around 1000AD, making a pilgrimage to the salt mine was a spiritual journey?  

RR: That’s right. Of course, we have to have salt to live.  In past times, salt was so scarce it was as valuable as gold.  Salt was also sacred because it preserved foods.   Most people know the word salary comes from salt.  Also, the main reason that the Erie Canal was built, was to bring salt from depositions near Buffalo to New York City. 

MJB: And I see you’re also working on a book called The Mystical Symbolism of the Christian Fish. How far back did you find evidence for the spiritual meaning of the fish? I’m pretty sure it predates Christianity.

RR: Because of my interest in astrology, I wrote a paper on the “Symbolism of Astrological Animals.”  This led to a book called “The Mystical Symbolism of the Christian Fish.”
In pagan times, the fish, because of its abundance and diversity, was a symbol of fertility and prosperous healthy living.  Fish were considered to be messengers from the Gods which dwelt in the Great Oceans, the source of all life.  At first used by the early Christians, it was later replaced with the cross as the symbol of Christianity.  The reason….the church fathers wanted to excise all pagan symbols from the Church.

MJB: Robert, thanks for taking some time out of your busy schedule to chat. I have a feeling you are never at a loss for things to do, read, write! Now, if people want to find out more and/or connect with you, how can they do that? 

RR: I have to admit that I am really a tech dinosaur   I have no idea what I would do with a Twitter account and never spend time on Facebook.  Here are some websites that I am on.

Amazon Author Page    

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Stop the Chop--Making Smooth Transitions

Have you ever read a book where the scene is progressing nicely, things are happening, people are talking and then … you’re somewhere else. From one paragraph to the next, you’ve gone from a moonlit beach to a crowded avenue. You were just starting to understand the relationship between John and Marsha and now suddenly you’re introduced to Tony.
“Marsha, hello,” John called brightly. He was obviously pleased to see her. His eyes shone at her with reflected moonlight.
“Hello, John.” Her voice was low, cautious. Her eyes darted nervously about the deserted beach, and she caught her lower lip in her teeth.
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her.
Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
Does this make you do a double-take? Do you have to go back and re-read just to make sure you didn’t miss something? In recent months I’ve read more than a few books that had trouble with transitions. Now I’ve yammered on before about how, when we write, we need to make sure the reader is flowing along with us effortlessly. Yes, there may be drama in the story and yes, there may be tension, but there shouldn’t be any of that in the reader’s efforts to follow the story. The reader may need to work at piecing out the story line in a thriller, may need to tease out the truth from the lies and misdirections in a mystery, but they should not have to work at following the writing. In my opinion, if the reader does have to work at that, we haven’t done our job well at all.
There are several ways to indicate a change of time or scene. A very simple way is to put an extra space between the paragraphs.
“Hello,” John called brightly. He was obviously pleased to see her. His eyes shone at her with reflected moonlight.
“Hello, John.” Her voice was low, cautious. Her eyes darted nervously about the deserted beach, and she caught her lower lip in her teeth.
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her.

Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
The space gives us a visual clue that something has changed, and it sets us up immediately — without reading another word — that something different is going on. Equate this to the “fade to black” in films. You know when the scene fades to black that you’re either going to a different time or a different place, even if it’s still a scene with the same characters.
I have to add a small caveat here. With the popularity of eBooks, we unfortunately often see formatting glitches, generally in the category of extra spaces where there shouldn’t be one (as well as indent anomalies). The single extra space between paragraphs is a simple, subtle way of indicating a shift, but with eBooks, it might be better to be more obvious, just in case. For that reason, I suggest the use of centered asterisks (either three or five) between paragraphs, like this:
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her.
Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
Another more direct way is to preface your next sentence with a reference to time or place. It might look like:
The next day, Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
In Times Square, Tony cursed the Black Friday crowds while he shouldered his way down the sidewalk. He hated shopping.
No, it’s not particularly elegant, but it’s unmistakable. The readers don’t have to wonder where or when they are. Those few words set them up immediately for the next scene.
If you don’t want to use anything as obvious as the above, there’s another way. That’s to put a period on the end of your paragraph. What I mean by this is that you can end your paragraph with a line that wraps up the scene, that gives it a final, definitive feel to it, even if it also promises there’s more to come. We see this often in soap operas (no, I don’t watch them, but I have surfed through enough of them from time to time). It might look like this:
“Hello, John.” Her voice was low, cautious. Her eyes darted nervously about the deserted beach, and she caught her lower lip in her teeth.
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her. He folded his arms across his chest, forming a barrier between her and any escape she might consider. This time, he would make sure she wasn’t going anywhere until she explained where she’d been.
“Hello, John.” Her voice was low, cautious. Her eyes darted nervously about the deserted beach, and she caught her lower lip in her teeth.
“How are you?” he asked as he stopped in front of her.
Marsha sighed in tired resignation. She should have told him about the surgery a long time ago. She owed him that much, at least. “It’s a long story,” she said. “We’d better sit.”
I realize this is all subjective and can be very nebulous when we’re trying to tie it down, but it’s like the old definition of quality. You may not be able to define it, but you know it when you see it. And you also know when it’s not working. What do you think? What tools do you use to make good transitions?
Originally published by Indies Unlimited on 8/26/2014.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Author Interview: Carl Schmidt

Today I am in Sedona, Arizona, sitting down to have a chat with my buddy Carl Schmidt. Carl has recently released the first two books of his Jesse Thorpe Mystery Series, Dead Down East and A Priestly Affair. I’m reading the first but have not finished it yet, and I have the second one sitting on my bookshelf, staring at me. You know how insistent those unread books can be. They’re just so pushy.

So, Carl, can you give us a brief introduction to Jesse Thorpe? What’s he like? What drives him? Why does he do the work he does?

 CS: Jesse is an easy going guy in his mid-thirties, trying to make ends meet in Augusta, Maine. He has three professions. He’s a bass player in a local rock band, a carpenter and a private detective. He’s smart—he has a degree in physics from Colby College—and he’s witty, but he has bills to pay, so he plugs away at work, trying to catch a break.

 Sounds like a cool guy, and someone we can relate to. Is Jesse based on anyone you know? Perhaps a composite of several people, or is he just completely fictional?

 CS: I’d have to say that Jesse is a composite of me and my son, Jaia, who kindly allowed me to put him on the cover of my first novel, Dead Down East.

 So the book is a family affair! Have you been inspired by any other fictional or real investigators? Would you liken Jesse to anyone else? Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Magnum, PI?

 CS: Humphrey Bogart played Phillip Marlowe in The Big Sleep and Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon. I’d say that Jesse is a modern day, and somewhat younger, Humphrey Bogart. Jesse Thorpe is not quite as cocky as Sam Spade. But almost. His feisty girlfriend, Angele Boucher, keeps him on edge and sees to it that he “keeps it real.”

 A Bogey for the newer generations? What draws you to write mysteries? Is it plotting out the crime and the methods to avoid capture? Or is it figuring out how to put the pieces of the puzzle together? Did you ever want to be a PI?

 CS: Mysteries are like puzzles. I like that. It never occurred to me to be a PI, but now that I’m writing these novels, perhaps I missed my calling. On the other hand, most PI work in real life is tedious and unpleasant. So probably it’s best that I never ventured in that direction.

 That’s probably the nicer part of writing mysteries rather than doing the real work: you can focus on the exciting stuff and pass over the boring stuff. Do you read a lot of mysteries, perhaps as research or reference? Or do you steer clear of them so they don’t bleed into your own stories, and read other genres instead?

 CS: I was inspired by the mysteries of Tim Cockey, who injects a lot of humor in each of his “Hitchcock Sewell” mysteries. It was the humor that got my attention, and it hung on until I finally began writing. But, for the most part, I steer clear of other mystery novels. I want my own works to be fresh and independent.

 I know you’re working on the third book of the series, Redbone. Did you plan to have three books from the get-go, or have they grown organically out of the first? Do you find it easy or hard to come up with new adventures for the same character?

 CS: It grew organically. When I finished the first one, I seemed to be on a roll. So I let it keep rolling. The real problem is getting started. Once the story begins, it takes hold and carries me along.

 Love when that happens! You’ve also written a non-fiction book, Recipe for Bliss: Kriya Yoga for a New Millennium. Which do you think is easier to write, fiction or non-fiction? Why?

 CS: At this point in my life, fiction is much easier, and more fun, to write. It’s more open-ended and allows me to assume numerous identities without judgment. It’s more free-wheeling and there are virtually no limitations.

 You graduated from college with degrees in mathematics and physics, then spent some time teaching English in Japan, all of which would seem to use a completely different part of the brain compared to fiction writing. Were you a “closet writer” during your younger years, or did you just recently begin setting words down on paper?

 CS: My life has been a progression of sorts. As a child, I had a natural aptitude for math and physics, but when I reached my 20’s, I knew I needed to branch out. So I began playing and writing music. This stimulated the other side of my brain. I try to use both sides when I’m writing. But I have to say that it took me many years to find my voice as a writer. It has been a long process, but I’m comfortable with it now. I know what sounds good. All I have to do is keep at it until the narrative rings true and tickles my funny bone. Humor brings out the best in all us. Without it, everything looks black and white.

 So is Redbone finished, or are you still writing and/or polishing? What’s next on the horizon? Do you have more books planned out, or are you thinking of doing something different?

 CS: Redbone is finished. All that’s left is to create the cover. I have a picture in my mind. I’m looking for a middle-aged Hispanic woman to represent one of the main characters in the story. When I publish Redbone, I’ll continue writing. I like the genre, so I’m pretty sure that a new case is about to land in Jesse Thorpe’s lap.

 Carl, thanks so much for stopping to visit and answer my questions. Now, if people want to find out more and/or connect with you, how can they do that?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Price Pulsing: What It Is and How It Sells Books

So you’ve published your book, it’s on every internet book store known to man, you’ve set an affordable price and shouted the word out from the rooftops and now you’re waiting for the money to roll in. But … it doesn’t. What’s up with that?
By now, most of you may have heard of price-pulsing, mentioned here by David Gaughran and on his own blog, as well as other blogs across the internet. It’s a pricing strategy whose time has come, and many of us are using it to advantage.
What is it?
Price-pulsing is the lowering of the price of a book or books for a short promotional period, just like a sale in a store. For a limited time, you price your e-book for $2.99 or 99 cents or even free. Through well-planned promotions, you should see a nice spike on your sales charts, and even after you return the book to full price, you may see more modest sales continue for a time. If you’ve got other titles, you will most likely see some new sales on those, as well. Wait a while, then repeat.
Why does it work?
People love sales. People love deals. They love to feel like they are getting something for less than the normal value. JC Penney stores found out this important fact via a very expensive experiment. You may remember a few years back when Penney’s went to an “everyday price” strategy, pricing their items at what they considered a low everyday price with no sales. Most people realize that regular prices have some inflated value that can, at times, be reduced without obliterating all profit. Penney’s strategy was that if everything in the store was priced at a “sales” price every day, people would flock to the store in droves. Right? Wrong.
From this article entitled Lessons in Pricing Strategy from JC Penney, here’s the gist of how it all shook out:
As you have no doubt read elsewhere, the new pricing strategy never gained traction with consumers. Sales declined steadily over time. The chain lost $3.3 billion in sales in the first year of Johnson’s turnaround plan. Its net loss in the quarter ended Feb 2, 2013, widened to $552 million from $87 million a year earlier. Annual revenue slid 25% to $13 billion, the lowest since at least 1987.
Think about it. If you’re promoting your book, and your message is this:
Hey, buy my book. It’s only $4.99, the same price it is every day, so there’s no advantage to buying it today, it’ll be the same price tomorrow and the next day. Take your time. But buy it. Sometime.
How does that compare if your message is this:
Hey, buy my book. It’s on sale for only 99 cents for a limited time. It’s usually $4.99 so this is a great deal, but hurry; it won’t last long! Buy today!
Which one do you think is going to grab peoples’ attention? No-brainer, right?
At one point I made an effort to align my promotions, blog posts and appearances with my sales to see what worked best, but I quickly learned that splashing a promo out there doesn’t always result in immediate sales. Sometimes all it does is get my name out in front of people, and maybe next time it comes up, they’ll remember me and finally get around to ordering that book. Lynne Cantwell wrote about “effective frequency,” and that’s exactly what I’m talking about. Price-pulsing is an excellent way to get your name out there, promoting a different sales price or perhaps a different book, over and over again. Price-pulsing gives you something to talk about frequently, something that will get your name out there with a different message than just the old, “Buy my book!”
I now run promos with price-pulsing sales whenever I can think of a good reason to do so. On Valentine’s Day, I price-pulse my romance novels. On my birthday, I give presents to my readers and price-pulse a few of another genre, maybe my action-adventures or paranormals. On Halloween, I run a sale on my ghost stories. In this way, even though the core message is the same (“Buy my book!”), it’s couched in a different way: different price, different genre, different celebration. In looking back over my sales, I do definitely see a spike around promo time, but the real pay-off, I believe, is the more modest but steady sales rate that continues long afterward. I may not make a killing at any point, but if I see a few sales every day, week after week, that means I’m succeeding in making readers aware. They know I’m here, they’re buying the sales books and they’re coming back for more.
I’m on their radar and with price-pulsing, I plan to stay there.
Originally published by Indies Unlimited on August 19, 2014.